Archive for June, 2011

Every state must have them. You know precisely what they are. In Eastern Massachusetts, we call them, “The W’s.” These are communities where laws and good manners apply to everyone but the residents. If you live in this part of the State, you are aware that these towns include Wellesley, Weston, Wayland, Winchester and Westwood. The last is a recent addition that has been struggling for years to achieve “W” status. There are other towns in this part of the State whose name begins with ‘w’ (Please note lower case), but to put Watertown, Winthrop, Whitman, Walpole, or Weymouth in with the five mentioned above would cause fainting spells…and those are the men!

Don’t get me wrong. There are probably some very nice folks who live in “The W’s.” I lived in Wellesley for several years and am now a resident of Westwood. It’s not a horrible town; property taxes are high – my neighbor is the tax collector and he’s a nice guy – and prices in the grocery store (note singular) are pennies above most other chains, but what the hell, they probably have to pay the cheap part-time help, that is, those who come from Norwood or Dedham, something above the wages other stores offer. The school system is demanding and gets whatever it needs…rather like the 800 pound gorilla. Meanwhile, some of the roads are in pretty poor shape, but priorities are priorities. Pink and green are the prominent colors one sees around town; a sure sign that yuppiedom and the dinks have finally reached this far south. One does not have to look far to find Pendleton or Talbot’s skirts, sweaters, and blouses. Golf and tennis are the gentlemen’s games and “This is a heart safe community” signs abound…usually on the outskirts because no one wants signs anywhere near the centers. At one time, Westwood, among others was a “No Place for Hate” community in cooperation with the Anti-Defamation League. When the League refused to acknowledge Jewish betrayal of Armenian Jews during WWII, the “No Place for Hate” group was replaced with the Westwood Human Rights Committee, and all of those “No Place for Hate” signs were taken down. I guess that it’s okay to hate as long as you’re “heart safe.” In other words, hypocrisy reigns supreme in many of these towns.

I don’t have a grudge against any of these communities; I just find the majority of the people I’ve met who live in them are snobs. I don’t like snobs. They aren’t real people; they pretend to be but they’re not. From what I’ve been able to gather, there is great emphasis on where one goes to college – you did go to college, didn’t you – and who your friends are. My daughters happen to qualify to become Daughters of the Mayflower Compact; we never pursued that. It’s just not a big deal. Several of the residents of “The W’s” will be quick to point out their pride of membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution or some other group that does God only knows what to help others. It’s that kind of an attitude that I find off putting.

Okay, so maybe I’m a snob of a different sort. I’ll buy that. I like people who are willing to get their hands dirty when they’re out in the garden, folks who’ll shop in discount stores because they really want bargains. I don’t believe that any one of “The W’s” has a Walmart or a MacDonald’s. As for me, I enjoy going to Ocean State Job Lots and Walmart. I enjoy reading fiction, what some might call trash, but I really like it. I read and perhaps that might offend others; I don’t know or care. I just find that people who attempt to be pretentious, no, who are pretentious, tend to let you down if you are depending on them to do something that’s important. If you have a different view, I’d like to hear it.

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America abounds with millions of brilliant, informed, articulate women. Unfortunately for America, few of them decide to seek public office as a career. Instead, we are subjected to media whores like Christine O’Donnell and her coven, Sarah Palin who can see Russia from her front porch, and most recently, Michele Bachmann who probably believes Genghis Kahn was a flaming liberal.

At present, there are nearly 80 female members of the House of Representatives and close to 20 in the Senate. For the most part, I would conclude that the ‘old boys’ network’ is still holding the big stick. In some ways – although I’m not certain what they are – that might be a good thing. After all, we’ve been conditioned to see man as bread winner and woman as homemaker…what a crock that is. Look at the women who are heading huge corporations and do a helluva lot better job than many of their male counterparts.

Am I advocating that Candice Miller, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, or Kristi Noem throw their hats in the ring? No, because unfortunately they would get undeservedly tarred with the same brush as those mentioned above. Right now, these three, along with many, many more are seemingly content to do the job for which they were elected.

The same cannot be said for Bachmann who represents the Sixth Congressional District in Minnesota. She appears hell-bent on getting to the top as quickly as possible and in any manner possible. It’s possible that she didn’t study United States History at Anoka High School, but if she did, she’d know that the “shot heard round the world” wasn’t fired in New Hampshire but in Massachusetts. She might also have known that John Adams was not one of the “founding fathers” of our nation. Although she was born in Waterloo, Iowa, she confused the city as being the birthplace of John Wayne…sorry Michele, but it was serial killer John Wayne Gacy who was born in your hometown. You would have been better off noting that Waterloo was the hometown of the five Sullivan brothers who served and died together aboard the USS Juneau during WWII or Dan Gable, the Olympic wrestling champion and great college coach. The only actors I can find who claim Waterloo as their hometown are Julie Adams and Nancy Youngblut, neither of whom are exactly household names.

If Michele Bachmann twists the truth to serve her purposes at this early stage, just imagine what havoc she could wreak if she ever became President of the United States. I don’t think it’s President Barack Obama who is “threatened by my candidacy” nor is fearful of her. However, the American public should be terrified of the possibility that this smug, audacious, uninformed person might actually become the leader of the free world.

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Stop me if I’m in error here, but does it seem to you that we make more about what is wrong with our country than what is right with it? Since his capture in California, the Boston, New England, and even the national media has taken a disproportionate interest in James “Whitey” Bulger and not enough in how the people in Joplin, Missouri and other hard hit parts of our country are banding together to rebuild their communities. Hell, even in Springfield, Mass, which doesn’t see that many natural disasters, folks seem to be working closely with one another to help everyone get back on their collective feet.  But what does the news focus on? Whitey Bulger, of course.

I will join the throngs who are enthralled with Mr. Bulger for just a moment. It seems to me that his capture, after sixteen years on the run, is not the story that should be told. The story lies in the ineptitude of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to locate him during the past decade and a half even though he was sitting practically under their collective noses. It’s akin to the government of Pakistan proclaiming, “Osama; we have no idea where he is. No, we just don’t have a clue. Oh, you found him? How dare you send troops to our country without notifying us?” It’s called “deflection of the truth.” When someone tells the local Santa Monica PD that she saw Bulger sitting on the pier reading a book, perhaps they should have taken the time for a quick peek.

Here’s my hypothesis: When Whitey disappeared, he told his FBI handlers where he would be. As long as they left him alone, he wouldn’t blab to the media about what he knew of their underhanded dealings. What he didn’t know was that the Fibbies had told Catherine to keep them informed about Whitey’s mental state. If his brain began to go south, she was to notify the feds and they would “capture” him. Yes, she would be taken in with him, but any time she had to serve would be minimal and in a country club…sort of a Lindsay Lohan house arrest type of imprisonment. So, when Whitey hit the big 81, he began to get a bit ‘cocky’ or is that ‘kookie,’ and Catherine put out the word. Had Whitey found out, of course, Catherine would be sleeping with the fishes, which is probably why no one has yet identified the tipster.

 The FBI, in my mind, seems to have outlived its usefulness as a government law enforcement agency. This isn’t the first time in recent memory that they have been a laughingstock. If one of their charges is to keep an eye on homegrown terrorists, militia groups, white supremacists, etc., they certainly didn’t do a very good job spotting Tim McVeigh. Yes, they caught him; had him tried and executed, but it was a bit late for the 168 victims of the Oklahoma bombing. Then, there was the episode with Coleen Rowley, FBI agent in Minnesota, who, along with her fellow agents, wanted to grab a computer belonging to Zacarias Moussaoui who had been arrested on immigration violations. The Minnesota office had enough to go on that could have made America more aware of bin Laden’s plans. Would it have stopped 911? I don’t know. However, FBI HQ in Washington threw so many roadblocks into the path of its Minnesota office that agents later joked about Washington being in cahoots with bin Laden. Perhaps “joked” is the wrong word when you’re talking about the death of 3,300 people.

We have too much bureaucracy in our federal and state governments. When I worked at the Pentagon over 40 years ago, there was a glut of people who appeared to do little more than roam the corridors or sit on their collective butts all day. Get to know a few of those people well and they would admit that theirs was a rather ‘cushy’ job. I’m quite certain the numbers have exploded exponentially as government has grown larger and larger over the past four decades.

I truly wish that I had the time, the intelligence, and the accounting background to scrutinize the Federal Budget. It would take a Murray Blum – Charles Grodin in the 1993 movie, Dave – to interpret what is going on. His classic line, “If I ran my business the way the government runs theirs, I’d be out of business,” says a great deal. There is just too damned much pork and mystery about what our government is doing with our money that I have begun to question the honesty of anyone who tells me that he or she is a government employee. Why, for example, is the military getting $1.5 billion for miscellaneous equipment? What the hell is so miscellaneous about $1.5 billion? Perhaps a few pieces of that equipment might just get itemized so we can see what the hell we’re getting for our tax dollars…do ya think?

Given the opportunity to do so, every single government agency, from the White House to Congress to the local Social Security Office in your hometown can justify its excesses in spending. The usual problem is that by the time it gets down to that local Social Security Office, so much has been skimmed that they truly aren’t getting what they need to do their jobs properly.  As one goes back up the ladder, from local to state to regional, and eventually to the federal side of things, the pork load gets larger and with it, an increase in the bullshit that is shoveled in our faces to justify the stupidity of government spending.

Is the President to blame for this? Sure Obama can take some of the responsibility, but he’s not completely at fault. If blame were horseshit, there’s enough to submerge Washington to a depth of about ten feet above the Washington Monument. Once you grab onto a fiefdom in the District, you become lord of all you survey and rather than doing what’s right, your principal job becomes growing your fiefdom so that you may have more vassals to control and more power to wield. Sounds rather feudalistic doesn’t it? You bet your boopy it does, baby, and that’s precisely what it is.

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Too young or too old?

You really have to love it. When you’re young and don’t have a job, adults won’t listen to you because they think you’re too young to know anything. When you’re old and retired from work, younger people won’t listen to you because they don’t believe you’re “current,” whatever the hell that means.

Between the ages of 16 and 21, you are supposedly gaining “experience” and “knowledge.” You can’t legally go to a bar where knowledge is passed out in abundance depending on the group at the bar and how much they’ve had to drink. You can legally serve in the military where, if you don’t gain knowledge and experience rapidly, you just might not live to gain additional knowledge and experience. That’s not meant as a joke; that is the unvarnished truth. You could get lucky and be assigned stateside, but if you’re a volunteer grunt in today’s military, chances are pretty good you’ll see action somewhere. Speaking of words, “action” is interesting. “You’ll see action,” ie, you will get to kill people before they kill you. It’s a terrible way of putting it but that’s what “seeing action” means. I served a couple of times but the closest I came to action was when I was coaching another trainee on the firing range. His rifle jammed and he pointed at me, telling me it was jammed and demonstrating the fact by pulling the trigger. I never realized that my reflexes were that quick. I grabbed the rifle from his hands by the front stock; slammed the butt on the ground; the gun went off, and I damn near pissed my pants. Even in hindsight, this is not a humorous story. Why, in the name of God, would you point a gun at someone and demonstrate that it wouldn’t fire by yanking on the trigger. Suffice it to say, my opinion of this young man – he was 18; I was 22 – from a reasonably intelligent being to moron, all in a split second.

You may also gain experience during your “youth” by holding a job of some type. The experience you gain here is known as accountability and responsibility…if you’re lucky. Accountability means, quite simply, that your actions have consequences. If you decide that being late for work every day is okay, (a) you’re not being responsible and (b) you will probably get fired…actions have consequences, and you are accountable for your actions. It all sounds so simple, yet people truly push this envelope of being accountable and accepting responsibility. Let me give you an example. I go to a gym where the average age of the young people working there is about 22. This is skewed by the 39-year old who opens in the morning…responsibly. One morning, as he was checking the locker rooms before opening, he came upon the young woman who had closed the night before. She was asleep, as were the two young men on either side of her…perhaps I’m being too generous with that word, “asleep;” better to say, “They were passed out.” Evidently, after closing, she and the boys had a little drinking party. She’s 21; she should know better; she should have been discharged immediately for her actions. Come to find out, she was not fired. It seems that the ‘boss’ was keeping her around in order to give her more “experience” in other areas…it’s good to be the boss!

You could go to college, gain valuable knowledge and insight from your faculty, and hold a part-time job. That would be, theoretically, the best of all possible ways to gain “experience” through your work, and “knowledge” through your classes. Because I spent most of my life in higher education, I’m often asked if a school is ‘good.’  There was a time when I could answer yes or no, based on my own experience with people at the institution or comments from faculty friends. Over the years, however, I learned one simple thing…a college or university is only as good as the student wants to make it. If someone is eager to learn, they will do everything in their power to do so. If their goal is merely to get a degree, they will be able to fake their way through most colleges and universities in this country. It’s a terrible thing to say, but all one has to do is look at the ‘product’ that the institutions of higher learning are turning loose on society. Many of them can’t string two sentences together. “C U ltr WTF!” You can’t text the person who is your boss in most cases, just as it’s difficult to text clients, customers, or patients. Now we’ve added “communication” to “experience” and “knowledge.”

Between the ages of 22 and 50, everyone listens to you because you have…what else, experience, knowledge, and you know how to communicate. Young people listen to you because you are the Zen master. Older people listen to you for a couple of reasons: (a) you just might have something intelligent to contribute; (b) you’re supposed to know what the hell you’re saying, and; (c) if something goes wrong, they can always blame you! In today’s contemporary workplace, blame for screwing up seems to be falling away. The days when a single person became the hero or the goat are going away. Working in teams to solve problems is much more likely…and it works.

Once you pass 50, you’re either in a leadership position where people must listen to your views or, if not, you’re part of the “over the hill and on the down side” gang. Younger people will listen to you, but unless you’re spectacular, they will often disregard your advice or comments. Those older than you will listen carefully to what you have to say, weigh the merits of it, attempt to counter it, and come back with alternatives. This is a good thing for the most part. The only bad thing that can happen here is that the older folks realize how valuable an asset you are but won’t promote you because you are so valuable. In other words, if you don’t make your mark early, you’re in deep doo-doo!

Once you retire, you are considered the elder statesman…for about three years…maybe five if you’re lucky. After that, you are often considered out-of-date in your thinking. It doesn’t matter if you have maintained more than a passing acquaintance with your field of endeavor. You may be an engineer who reads volumes of newly published material. You may know more than younger people who are working so hard they don’t have the time to keep current. That’s tough…you’re old…you can’t possibly know today’s techniques, etc, etc, etc. It’s really quite sad.

I have a friend who is in his 80s. He has all sorts of experience in higher education, from being a member of faculties to administrative posts as high as president. He’s brilliant; he’s well read; he stays current in his field. He’s in his 80s…and therein lays the problem. It’s rather sad because age is just a number. You can be brilliant, knowledgeable, and experienced at any age. Yes, at any age. There are very young people who can see problems and explain problems that those in their thirties and forties have yet to see…but, “They’re too young.” There are people in their seventies and eighties who are still extremely productive in their thinking…but, “They’re too old.”

Medical people will tell you that we know nothing of the human mind when compared to what we could know. We don’t know why or how fast cells deteriorate or grow. The key for all of us is to listen, whether it’s to one who is young or one who is old. We never know from whom we just might glean a nugget.

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Years ago, my mother ingrained in me an interesting philosophy. “Never speed unless you’re in a hurry,” she said as we were driving from our summer rental on the beach to pick up dinner for some guests who had arrived unexpectedly. I believe it was a year after I had lost my license for six months for speeding, which was approximately two months after I had first received my license. How was I, a young lad of but 16 years, supposed to know that it was illegal to pass an unmarked car with a Registry of Motor Vehicles officer at the wheel? Somehow, it just didn’t seem fair! We did get dinner and returned to mother’s guests without incident; however, I’ve often thought of that occasion, smiling as I could just see my mother explaining to the police officer who would have stopped us, by saying, “I told him not to speed unless we were in a hurry, and we really were in a hurry. You can understand that.” My mother stood barely five feet tall and could charm the feathers off a chicken. I’m betting we might have been allowed to go our merry way…sans ticket!

Since those early years, I’ve kept a relatively clean and unencumbered driving record. Well, that’s not altogether accurate. I’ve been stopped in Ohio, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas; been followed for a while in a few other states, but have been stopped very infrequently in Massachusetts. The last time, several years ago, the Massachusetts State Trooper’s first words, after “license and registration, please,” were, “How could you pass me in the middle lane going 74 miles per hour?” My answer must have been something of a shock: “Because you were only going 65 in the left lane!” The speed limit on this particular stretch of highway was 55. I guess I could have said something about him also breaking the law, but I’m not certain he would have been receptive.

We live near a school. The only true way to get to my house is to pass that school. The speed limit around a school zone is 20 miles per hour (mph). About three years ago, because very few people were obeying that particular law – yes, it is a law – neighbors got together and had signs printed that read “Children’s Neighborhood.” The second line requested that drivers proceed at 25 mph. This is not an unreasonable request. I have tried very hard to obey these signs even though our children are grown and have kids of their own. I find that coming to a complete stop at the octagonal red sign at the intersection just before the school doesn’t cause me any tension either. Whenever I see a news story on television about some senior citizen or other crashing into a drugstore or elsewhere, I notice that the reporter always notes that “it’s another senior who probably shouldn’t be driving,” to which I respond, “Bullshit!” All the crazy-assed drivers I see are either young kids or soccer moms who overbook their schedules and race like madmen to appointments for which they’re always late.

I love setting my cruise control to 25 mph, particularly when there’s a ‘honkin’ SUV behind me, loaded with school children. The mother is generally on her cell phone, looking frazzled and ready to kill me for not moving more quickly. There are just so few joys in life for we seniors. We have to take our pleasure where we find it. For me, this is one of those small things that I find pleasurable. I’m so damned self-righteous that it’s sickening…what a colossal pain in the ass!

I also enjoy pulling up to stop signs and actually stopping. It’s what you’re supposed to do. In my youth I would breeze through these signs just as so many do today. I find that people actually blow their horns when I stop at these signs. I once put the car in park, got out of the car and asked the person in the other car if there was a problem. “Whatcha stop for,” he asked. I just pointed to the sign and waited. He rolled up his window, backed up, and went right around me and through the sign. My wife thought I was crazy. I couldn’t have cared less.

Perhaps as I’ve aged I’ve become more curmudgeonly. In fact, I know I have. You want to shoot me for obeying the rules of the road? That’s fine; feel free; I’ve had a great life; just get me with one shot, please.

They tell me that highway traffic fatalities are declining. I don’t know how. I was on a highway the other day where the speed limit is 65. That’s the speed at which I was traveling…in the right-hand lane. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles were going by me like I was standing still. Were there other people in my lane? Surprisingly, there were a number of people who were staying right at the limit. Granted, I’m retired so now it’s easier to obey the traffic laws. Would I be doing so if I was still working? I can’t answer that question…probably not. See, if you don’t have a job you don’t have to speed! Wow, there’s a slogan!

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It was as though someone had finally opened the curtains that seem to have blinded President Obama for the past three years.  “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” Excuse me, but it’s been time to do that since about 2006. You might not have been in office yet Mr. President, but you sure as hell were aware enough to see that getting this nation back on track was the first order of business. These ‘wars’ that have been killing young men and women are meaningless because we are not fighting a single nation. We are fighting tribal warfare that has gone on for thousands of years.

There are those who would say that the Iraq war began on March 20th, 2003. That is when the bombing began perhaps but plans to invade Iraq were underway long before that date. President George  Bush maintained that war was only one of the options being considered to halt Al Qaeda training and growth in the country; however, according to Washington Post Assistant Editor, Bob Woodward, the President “…began meetings with General Tommy Franks and his war cabinet to plan the U.S. attack on Iraq even as he and administration spokesmen insisted they were pursuing a diplomatic solution.” Hawks like Dick Cheney and a few others were actually the bullies who felt that war was the only answer. Since the first soldiers put boots on the ground, I think we have seen that our fight has not been with any country but with beliefs that can never be conquered; never be changed; never be made to function in a way that would bring comfort to any American.

Iraq consists of approximately 150 tribes. The tribe is more important than anything from what I have read. One may live by the tribe or, quite literally, die by the tribe. When a particular tribe rises to power as did the Tikriti tribe, to which Hussein belonged, loyalties had to be to that particular group, although other tribes were free to make modest adjustments, allowing them to keep many of their own laws and social ways. If we think we have it tough with Democrats and Republicans trying to get along in Washington, just try to imagine what it’s like attempting to get 150 different tribal leaders to reach consensus on anything! So, how do you control them? Viciously and violently is the answer. Can we honestly expect that Big Brother USA is going to ever be taken seriously? This is somewhat akin to the teenager telling the parents how the household should truly be organized and run. We may remove our troops from Iraq and ten years from now they will be back to the same old system of tribal rules and civil wars. Meanwhile, we’ll be counting headstones and bemoaning the fact that our children died trying to bring freedom to those who didn’t really want it. What a shame!

“You don’t understand the intricate complexities of why we invaded Iraq,” you may say…and you’re absolutely correct. But then, I’m not certain then Secretary of State Colin Powell understood all of the complexities when he stood before the United Nations and spouted the bullshit that had been spoon-fed to him. The only people who know why we invaded Iraq will carry their secret to the grave. One would like to believe there were humanitarian and protective reasons for doing so. I don’t believe it. My feeling is that there was a profit motive behind our interference. Saddam Hussein didn’t send those terrorists to attack the World Trade Center and other targets; it was Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda wasn’t governing the nation of Iraq. Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. Why? Why did we see fit to attack a nation that really was not a danger to the United States?

Pulling out 10,000 troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year? Pulling another 23,000 out by the end of next summer? This still leaves 68,000 troops on the ground in a country that’s nearly as tribal conscious as Iraq. This is another nation that will never, under any circumstances, consider America as a liberating influence on their own situation. I do not now, nor will I ever believe that these countries of the Middle East will ever stop hating us for our interference. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not on the road to defeat; they are merely gaining support, recruiting new members, and changing their strategies on how best to cripple the “Great Satan.” I find little difference in their approach to war than the approach taken by the Colonists against the British. “If we can’t fight ‘em toe to toe, in great big lines, let us take to the woods and fight them from behind protective cover.” I put quotation marks around that statement purely because someone, I know not who, must have said that at some point!

“Nation-building at home.” I love that phrase. It means so little. How are we going to do that Mr. President? We still have vast numbers out of work. We have illegals flooding our borders from North and South, East and West. If we welcome them all to America, we will continue to lose jobs. What are we creating that will make more jobs for more people? What new industries are we developing? Why is the Federal Government funding research studies that should be funded by private industry? What the hell is going on? Where will those 10,000 troops find jobs when they come home? I do so wish I had a few answers. Alternative energy source research should be providing jobs for people. They may have to undergo some retraining but that opens up possibilities for teaching. We have states that are under populated; have we asked ourselves, “Why are there so few people living in these states and what can we do to bring people into those states and give them jobs?” I’m certain the folks in Wyoming, the Dakota’s and a few other states like things just the way they are, but that’s too damned bad because we have to begin making greater use of the vast resources we have in that part of the country.

If we’re really worried about the boundary between Mexico and the United States, let’s clear a three-mile ‘no man’s land’ on either side of the border. Anyone without a reason to be there, eg, checking motion sensors or mines, will be shot. If the cartels want to dig six mile tunnels, good for them…I have my doubts they will consider that an option. You want to create more jobs in this country, then how about more inspectors for these huge container ships that are coming into ports every day? It just seems to me that we’re looking at small things and not considering a big picture approach to solving some of our problems. We have some pretty smart people in America. I used to hear the words, “think tank” a lot. Where are those ‘thinkers’ and what are they thinking about? Let’s get proactive and not always be playing catch up.

“Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times,’’ President Obama said last evening. That’s embarrassing. At a time when our nation was facing the problems that we have today, we were dropping a trillion on war? That doesn’t even make sense. I’m not saying it’s this President’s fault, but he did continue the practice of spending money on war. Let’s get the hell out now…completely…and let’s start spending money at home on peace and prosperity.

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One Lucky Man

Four o’clock in the morning. The alarm didn’t go off; it didn’t have to. One of the things you learn as you get older is that the kidneys and the bladder can be unkind. They wake you at all hours of the night, telling you in no uncertain terms that if you wish to continue sleeping in the dry comfort of your bed, you had better relieve yourself. So, what the hell, when the kidneys, bladder, and whatever else is sending out alarm systems early in the morning, you get up. Besides, the crate in the kitchen is beginning to rattle a bit so you know that the dog is stirring. If she stirs a bit too much, the barking will begin. It generally starts off as a low, experimental woof. After all, the house is still reasonably dark; she probably can’t hear the sound of me peeing into the toilet…yeah, right, I swear this one can hear a single snowflake falling the wrong way on one of the pine trees. Rather than have her begin to really exercise her lungs, I finish my business and stumble out to feed her. Put on the sneakers; pull on the shorts; toss on the sweatshirt – still a bit chilly this June – stagger down the hall and turn on the kitchen light. There, now you know I’m up dog; no loud barking please; very bad for the eardrums. Half a cup of kibble in the dish; grab a banana; sit at the kitchen table, and munch. She finishes the kibble darn near before I’ve peeled the banana, but that’s okay because she’ll just sit beside my chair, staring up, begging with mournful eyes for me to break off a piece of the fruit and give her a treat…screw that! Eventually, I will relent and give her a morning treat. They call them, “breath mints for dogs.” First, they don’t look like breath mints, although I’m not completely certain what a doggie breath mint is supposed to look like, and second, they sure as hell don’t smell like mint. She gives one ‘crack’ of the ‘mint’ to snap it in half; swallows, and heads for the back door.

By this time, the first rays of light are creeping in. I’ve finished the banana; taken my eleven morning pills, inhaled my Spiriva, and downed a bottle of water. The dog is being very good, standing cross-legged at the door with a look that says, “You don’t let me out soon, we will have an accident.” Grabbing the latest novel from the kitchen table, I troop to the door and take the dog into the back yard. At this point I must tell you that the ‘backyard’ is no longer. It has been transformed into a horticultural paradise by Juli, my partner. Juli moved in a year ago. She is an avid gardener and has been for many years. Last year, we had a very simple six by six single plot with strawberries, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce. This year, it’s just a wee bit different. We have four plots…in one section of the yard. Our crop has increased to include cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, cucumbers, summer squash, several different kinds of tomatoes, potatoes in a bin and potatoes being raised in trash bags, peas, yellow and green beans, red, yellow and green peppers, jalapeno pepper, elephant garlic, and herbs out the wahzoo. Did we buy all of these as small plants? No, we did not. Over the winter, Juli turned the ‘hot room’ into a mini greenhouse. She began most of these crops from seed and transplanted them when the ground was warm enough. As soon as the snow was off the plots, she covered them with black, plastic trash bags to speed up the warming process. Never having had a garden of my own, I was and remain absolutely fascinated by what she has been able to accomplish. She has created trellises so that the cucumbers and squash can grow up instead of out. “They’ll provide shade for the lettuce,” she tells me. I gather that lettuce needs a minimum of sun…don’t ask me!

As if the vegetable garden was not enough, she has beautified other areas of the backyard with floral beauty. Rose bushes, pansies (which she purchased at the ‘dead’ table at Lowe’s and brought back to life), Peruvian daffodils, flowers of every type and description and from ground cover to sun flower height, are all arranged to create a near formal garden. When you understand that this entire area is dominated by a swimming pool, you can probably begin to understand the beauty. The flower gardens are also home to various mini-statues, ranging from a gnome being kidnapped by chipmunks, a troll picking its nose, the face of ‘Screaming Simon’ caught at his last moment – something like Han Solo being encased in carbonite – and a dreamy little gnome standing in the midst of several purple plants that I could never possibly name. What was once a ‘backyard,’ has become a yard of true beauty and utilitarian delight.

As I sit on the patio, gazing at the beauty surrounding me, I’m confronted by the sounds of birds singing their morning songs. As long as they come from the cardinals and the red-winged black bird, I’m fine. It’s when the damned grackles begin their squalling that I remember how much I dislike them swarming our feeders. The cacophony of the morning traffic on a highway more than a mile away creeps in to intrude on my peace and quiet, but I supposed that’s the price of not being further into the country.

Last Wednesday was the third anniversary of the death of Joan, my wife. I went to the cemetery, place a single yellow rose on her grave, talked with her for a while, said a little prayer, and left. Joan would have loved to see the backyard as it is now. She loved beauty in all of its forms. She loved roses and we have ten rose bushes – the yellow one hasn’t bloomed yet, but it will. It’s rather strange; the woman I love has created beauty for the woman I love. Juli has created a masterpiece of which Joan would be so appreciative. I really am one lucky man.

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The sun as God

Stay with me on this one: There are over 3,000 galaxies in the known universe. Ours is but one tiny little planet in one tiny little galaxy. What we know about the other planets in our own galaxy is somewhat subject to question. Oh, sure, we’ve sent out probes and we’ve landed men on the moon – although there are conspiracy theorists who doubt even that – and we’ve had telescopes even more powerful than Hubble to tell us “everything” we should know about the Milky Way galaxy. What if the surprises are even greater than that?

As I sat in the backyard this morning, admiring all of the work that my partner has put into turning that dull area into a beautiful garden, I was impressed with the plants – gladioli, lilies, roses, and other plants – that followed the sun. It occurred to me, and this is just about as sacrilegious as one can get, that perhaps the sun is actually God. Yes, there was a man called Jesus, but he had been sent from the sun to determine if there was intelligent life on this little blue marble (and, of course, he found there was not). What if it’s the plants that are the more intelligent form of life on earth because so many of them die and regenerate at the ‘request’ or seasons of the sun, itself? What if, and we all know this is true, the young sun worshippers who oil up their bodies do so because they haven’t completely lost their innocence or their dependence on ‘the sun their father?’ Remember, the Egyptians had Ra, the Sun God, and look at all of the marvelous things their culture gave to us. Other civilizations, too, worshipped some form of the sun. Were they all wrong or did they just have better gardens?

What if every galaxy has its own God? It is the hub of each galaxy. It spews forth life in a variety of forms that we are too ignorant to even consider. I can just hear some Valley Girl saying, “Ooooh, that is so kewl!” What if 3,000 galaxies is only the tip of the iceberg? What if it’s closer to three trillion – still less than the national debt, I know, but what the hell, we have to begin somewhere.

Suppose those ‘sun spots’ we talk about that blow off the surface and have magnetic effects on earth, are just God getting pissed off. “It” only knows, we on this planet give “It” plenty of reasons to be irritated on a 24-hour basis (that’s our 24-hour cycle; we don’t know what the sun’s cycle is…well, we think we do). Suppose the sun is really Hell and that if you’re a rotten son-of-a-bitch, your eternal damnation is to be continually cooked on the surface of the sun. If you really piss off the sun, you become part of a spot that “It” throws thousands of miles into the air and you come back – splat! – right back into the boiling cauldron. If you were a reasonably good person, you’re sent off to one of the other galaxies (with whom “It” has a peace treaty, of course) and become another form of life, perhaps even one that’s intelligent enough to create beauty, die, regenerate, and do it all over again. That’s it! You become a perennial!

I’m not trying to put down God, or Creationism, or Evolution, or whatever other theory you may have about why we are here, who and what we are, or “whatevah!” I’m saying that if you have a garden; if you sit in your garden early in the morning and watch the sun move around the sky, you’ll notice that many plants follow it. Are they just sucking up? Are they receiving messages? Are they looking to the sun to continue their growth? There is probably some very serious-minded individual out there who will begin to tear my theory apart in an extremely astute and ethereal manner when all I’m doing is posing a question based on sitting in my backyard on one spring day when the sun was shining brightly. Oh, speaking of that, have you ever noticed how some flowers don’t open on cloudy or rainy days? I don’t want to spook anyone, but hmmm.

Perhaps, as we grow older, we don’t require so many UV rays to keep us going. After all, what happens to old people who have remained in the sun too long? What do we say about them? “Geez, her skin looks liked dried leather.” Could be a ‘him’ be let’s be sexist about this. God, in this case our sun, is trying to get the message across, “Hey, I fed you the UV’s when you needed them; now put on a hat or dry up.” Very outspoken, this sun of ours, and we should probably listen.

I happen to be a Christian, with all of the Christian beliefs and hoopla that surround being a Christian. I have many friends who are Jewish and Muslim with all of the beliefs and hoopla that surround those particular religions. Do I believe in God? Yes, I do. Do I believe that God could be but one of many for each galaxy? I really don’t know. I happen to believe that God is in everything we do and everything we see that is natural to us. Do I see good in everyone? Absolutely not. Why are these people allowed to populate the earth with the rest of us? I don’t have a clue. Does God or the sun really punish bad people and reward those who have led honorable lives? How would I know? You have to die to learn that, and I haven’t spoken with too many who have died and come back to talk about it. Oh, I’ve known a few, just as you have. I often see them on visiting days, but as I age I find it more and more difficult to get up from the floor of a padded cell.

Wouldn’t it be a hoot, however, to be sitting in your garden some morning, staring at the beautiful begonias; absorbed in the alyssum; contemplating the carnations; salivating over the salvia; ogling the orchids…well, you get the picture…and have one of the flowers turn to you and say, “You are such an ass!” This might or might not happen. If it did, you’d never tell anyone. You’d die of shock and, unlike the flowers themselves, you wouldn’t be able to come back. Makes you sort of wonder, doesn’t it?

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Years ago, the quote was, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.” Sometimes forgiveness was given; other times it wasn’t. Sometimes, you were told that you should have asked permission because you screwed up sufficiently that you were out on your proverbial ass.

Today, it’s different. You do it; deny, deny, deny; finally admit that you did it; don’t ask for forgiveness, just apologize. Then you go to rehab – no shortage of rehab centers for everything – for teaching you how not to show your private parts while tweeting, sexting, climbing out of a car, or entertaining at the Super Bowl…oh, wait, the boob show merely enhanced Janet Jackson’s popularity for, hmmm, what, perhaps 48 hours. Sorry, Jan, it still takes more than big boobs and your dead brother’s name; it takes talent to make you a star.

NY Congressman Anthony Weiner is just the latest in a long line of liars, deniers, apologists, and rehabites to come along in today’s fast moving United States of Idiocy. It must be something in the New York water supply that gets to these elected officials. Between Weiner – oh Lord, please don’t let me make more out of that name than is already “hanging out” there – Representatives Chris Lee and Eric Massa, and Governor Eliot Spitzer, New York is one horny state. Perhaps other members of the New York delegation are just a great deal more intelligent when it comes to hanky-panky. At least the other three had the good sense to resign. Weiner appears to believe that an insincere apology and a few days at a sex addiction clinic will have him back to work in no time. What he fails to understand is that he lied and lied and lied. Members of Congress do that all the time; the crime isn’t that he lied; the crime is he was caught doing it. That’s the real no-no in Congress. The biggest laugh I got was Nancy Pelosi stating how much of a bad thing Weiner had done in lying to his constituents…can you say, “Pot calling kettle black!” and don’t give me any crap about that being a racist remark because we both know better.

In fact, all of these people who get caught up in and become news fodder for their inappropriate actions are rather tragic. Okay, so Mel Gibson is anti-Semitic. Those are his views. There have been specific times when I might have been called an anti-Semite. I don’t believe I am – and it’s not one of those, “Some of my best friends are…” You get caught up in the heat of the moment and you want to hurt. You know immediately that you’re the one who’s behaving like an ass. If I didn’t believe that, then perhaps others would be right in calling me anti-Semitic. I’m still bothered by an incident from high school when I called one of my good friends the ‘n’ word. It was the heat of the moment again; nevertheless, I should have known better. We’ll get together on “the other side,” and I will apologize once more.

There are times when “stars” appear to allow their celebrity get in the way of their common sense. As Robin Williams said, “God gave man a brain and a penis but only enough blood to run one at a time.” I may have partially paraphrased but you get the idea. You can’t tell me that when you have a wife like Elin, Tiger Woods was using his brain when he was off screwing around. “I am Tiger Woods; you will want to sleep with me!” Yeah, right, Tiger…get your Johnson back in your jeans and go practice your… whatever. The same was true, I gather, of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He parlayed his pecs and sired love children. When he said, “I’ll be back,” he meant it!

Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, any member of the Kardashian , Osbourne, or Simmons families, could all be called guilty of insecurities or celebrity-itis. They have to do something to call attention to themselves because they need that rush. Outlandish behavior = press coverage = my face (well, not in Brittany’s case) = exposure (in Brittany’s case) = they really love me! No, no, it doesn’t mean that at all. That kind of behavior merely makes you seem like an idiot. Polish your craft – what is your craft other than wealth, Paris – and get on with your life. Okay, you’re a star…so what? Congratulations on having talents that I can’t dream of having. I’m happy for you; now go out there and kick ass. Show the world that you really do have something of which you and all of your fans can be proud. Remember, once you go public with your stardom, you become public property. It isn’t right. You should be entitled to your privacy, but you chose to give that up. If you don’t think you can be hurt by what you do, check in with Michael Richards and find out what he’s up to these days.

Am I just being malevolent and loathsome about this? Yes, I probably am. I get mad when I see people with a gift just wasting it. I get even madder when I see elected representatives of my country out screwing around rather than doing the jobs we elected them to do. We live in a different world; if you fart in public and someone has a cell phone camera, it will appear on U-Tube or Facebook or some other social network. Ours is an age of instant communication. A new motto to adopt: “If you don’t want it seen, don’t be mean.” Life is too short to make a fool of yourself by being an idiot.

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Angela died last night; Susan e-mailed me about it this morning. I guess now Angie’s story can be told. I don’t know all of it, nor should I, but she told me just enough to make me realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a loving home. Oh, sure, we had some tough times but nothing compared to what Angela went through. It certainly is Cinderalla-ish, but before the glass slipper fit, there was a whole lot of other ‘stuff.’

Angela ran away from home when she was 14. She didn’t care for the sexual abuse and the beatings. Running away from home in 1945 was a little bit different than running away today. World War II was coming to a close; bread cost ten cents a loaf, and the idea that anyone would abuse their child, either physically or sexually was a concept that was totally foreign to police, to neighbors, even to other family members. In that regard, it really was a time of ignorance or “what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Running away meant hiding, and on the streets of Boston, it meant hiding sometimes with people who were almost as bad as those you were running from. At 14, Angie would have been a freshman in high school. At that age and at that time, it meant you knew damned little except that Japs and Germans were bad and if you saw a Black person on the streets of Boston, you were probably scared shitless because you didn’t know who or what they were or would do. It’s probably impossible to create an adequate picture of just how bad things would have been for a 14-year old with no money and just the few clothes she could bag up before getting away. Figure if the police had found her, she’d be put right back in her intolerable home situation. If the streets got her, she might just wind up dead. Are you getting the picture?

It’s my understanding that Angie lived on the streets for about five years. How she actually survived and what she actually did, I’ll never know. I understand that at one point in her street years, Angela was befriended by a lady who took her in for a while. Angela never forgot this woman’s kindness and visited her up until last year. The lady was then in her nineties. She may have told a few others but from what little she did tell me, I rather doubt it. “They were tough times,” she told me one day at the gym. “I just did what I had to do to survive; I was hungry a lot, but you learn to live hungry.” A simple sentence with so much behind it that perhaps I really didn’t want to know.

At some point along the way, she encountered a young man named Jim. He was about her age; actually four years younger. He liked her; he liked her very much, enough so that he began to take care of her. Eventually, they married. Jim was a go-getter, the type of young man who would go places…and he did… and Angela went with him every step of the way. Did Jim get rich? I guess you might say that. They had a lovely house in the country; they traveled; she drove a Mercedes and always looked as though she’d just come from a day at the spa. Then she’d get rockin’ and rollin’ in her exercise classes or on the treadmill and Angie would begin to sweat hard, just like the rest of us. She was real. She was a lady. The last thing I would ever think of when talking to Angela was nouveau riche. It just didn’t fit. As my folks used to say, “She was good people.”

Angela threw a birthday party for herself when she was 75. The majority of the guests were from the gym. A couple of us spoke. We poked fun at her. We talked lovingly of her. We gave her a framed poem and some gifts. We had one wonderful time…and so, I hope, did Angela. The only thing missing was Jim. Angie had nursed him through to his death from cancer. It gave the two of us a bond that only those who have had a spouse die of that disease can understand.

I couldn’t get to Angie’s 80th birthday party. I’m told it was a smaller group, but that it was also one that loved celebrating such a milestone with her. The cancer hit shortly after that. She was on vacation in Florida. She was at the gym, “stepping away” in an aerobics class and began having difficulty breathing. That afternoon her friend, Marilyn, took her to a clinic.  She knew something was really wrong. I suspect she knew exactly what was wrong…and she was right. The clinic confirmed a diagnosis of lung cancer. Angela flew home that afternoon; spent five weeks in a hospital and rehab center; then she went home to fight her battle with her family by her side.

It took almost fifteen months for the cancer to kill Angela. It came too closely on the heels of my own wife’s death and I asked others to tell Angie that I was afraid to visit her. “That’s okay,” she told one of them, “I know he’s thinking of me.” Thursday was the usual visiting day for people from the gym. At the outset she welcomed everyone. Then, as the cancer tightened its grip, there would be weeks when she’d call Susan and ask that no visitors come out. I remember days like that with Joan.

Life will go on. Services will be held while outside, kids will be playing baseball and going to the beach. Others will tend their gardens or go off to work. For those who knew Angela, our lives are a bit poorer because we won’t have our friend anymore. Heaven is a little richer because another good person has joined those who went before.

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