Archive for March, 2012

People who smoke cigarettes are a pain in the ass! I should know; for 51 years I was one of them…and I know in my heart of hearts that I was – and probably still am – a pain in somebody’s ass. Smoking has already taken the woman I love to an early grave. It has, without question, shortened my own life. And, in all probability, it has had a negative effect on the lives of our now-grown three children.

After my first heart attack I continued to smoke cigarettes. Looking back – we all have 20/20 hindsight you know – but looking back on my smoking days, I wonder how non-smokers could even stand to be around me. My clothing must have smelled of cigarette smoke; my hair and probably my pores emitted a foul stench. As a smoker you become so contaminated with the smell of smoke that you aren’t aware of, nor do you really care about the reaction of other people. Had we been a single smoker family, it’s possible that our marriage might not have lasted half a century.

The most horrible part of smoking is that you cannot merely ask a smoker to stop. You cannot tell them that they are killing themselves because they may not be doing so. Believe it or not, there are people who smoke all their lives and never have any ill effects. Granted, they are not in the majority, but who knows; perhaps you’re asking one of those “lucky ones” to quit. There is a ‘readiness factor’ that dictates when or if a smoker will stop. Smokers, exactly like heroin or meth users, are addicts. We, and I will include my own experience here, are so hooked on our little brown and white sticks that we begin to shake and break out in sweat if we are forced to go for long periods of time without our ‘fix.’ For some, that long period of time can be a day; for others a week. I once stopped for five weeks but found that I was unable to function in my job and was nearly thrown out of the house because of my behavior. Every smoker is different. For some, the readiness factor will never be reached no matter how many gross ads they put on television or on the packs. If cigarettes reach twenty dollars per pack, they will sacrifice something else to get their smokes.

It was five months after I retired that I finally quit smoking. Perhaps I had reached ‘readiness;’ I don’t really know. I was about to undergo cervical neck surgery. The surgeon came into my room the night before. “You have a couple of choices,” he said. Before I could open my mouth, he continued, “You can continue to smoke and in about three months, you’ll be walking around campus, step off a curb and your neck will break. I can’t tell you why; it just will. There is something in cigarettes – we don’t know what it is – that inhibits spinal fusion. It’s no problem if you’re dealing with lumbar or thoracic vertebrae; they’re large enough to overcome the effect, but cervical vertebrae are much smaller and they will break.” He smiled and went on, “You can’t get too far with a broken neck.” I was about to open my mouth with some not-so-well-thought-out retort, but he again wouldn’t allow it. “Your alternative is that I put a patch on you tonight and we will continue to bring you down for the three or four days that you’ll be here. It will then be up to you.” At this point, I guess reality set in. Somehow, walking around like a bobble head doll, even for just a few steps, lacked any appeal. However, in keeping with my smartass persona, I held up my hand and said, “Waiter, patch please.” He chuckled; took a patch from his pocket and handed it to me. “Aha, I thought to myself, he’s making me the villain in this plot.”

What worked for me won’t work for anyone else. I think I must have been tired of being controlled by something that had had a power over me for over half a century. In other words, I got pissed…at the cigarettes; at myself; at all that I knew I’d been missing. The one thing that ran through my mind for those four days was this…”If I can beat this thing, I’m going to run the Falmouth Road Race next year.” It became a goal within a goal…and it worked.

Today, I can’t walk a hundred feet without having to stop. The smoking had already done its damage. I have emphysema, COPD, and heart disease. I take ten pills when I get up in the morning. I go to the gym but I can’t do what others can; those who have never smoked.  I can tell when a smoker comes in. If he or she passes within ten feet of me, I can smell it. I want to gag, but I can smell it. Most of them are older; in their fifties or sixties. There would be no sense in saying anything to them; they’d just get pissed off and tell me to mind my own business…and they’d be right. Their life is their life, and I have no right to get involved.

It’s difficult to remember how often I’ve written about smoking and what it can do. Periodically, the urge strikes. Often it happens when I see teenage girls standing around with cigarettes in their mouths, or when I see a woman in a parking lot, smoking a cigarette and pushing a kid in a stroller. I thought people were smarter than that. Cigarettes and babies are a pretty bad combination.

I’m not going to describe the horror of watching a loved one die of lung cancer. Any description would be inadequate. The most articulate of writers would be hard pressed to put into words what it’s like to watch the rise and fall of shallow breath movements; the struggle to get oxygen into those failing lungs and the torment of hearing the heart thump as it attempts to move air into the oxygen-starved blood circulating ever more slowly through the body. On the one hand, you’re praying that the breathing will continue; on the other, you’re praying that the pain and torment will stop. You will never feel so helpless as when you watch that loved one slip away, knowing full well that those stinking little brown and white sticks have claimed another victim.

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Here’s some breaking news that ought not to shock the hell out of you…Mississippi is the most religious  state in America. Why am I not surprised? It’s also the state with the highest poverty rate at 21 percent and the lowest median income at $36,850.  It is also known for one of the worst educational systems in the country. Is it any wonder the citizens of Mississippi get to church more often than those in the rest of the country? They have a great to deal to be praying for and this most recent Gallup poll regarding their religiosity is merely providing fuel for the fire.

The results of the poll by Gallup regarding religion in America are that, “America remains a generally religious nation, with more than two-thirds of the nation’s residents classified as very or moderately religious.” Perhaps my perspective is colored then by the Gallup poll noting that the six New England states – Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut – are among the least religious states in the country.

Personally, I believe the Gallup poll to be highly fallacious in its makeup. What are we talking about when we discuss religion? Are we, in fact, talking about the Roman Catholic, Judaic, Mormonism, and various forms of Protestantism?  Is this a measure of how many people go to church on any given weekend or perhaps wish to declare a religious preference for the sake of saying that they are religious? It certainly poses some interesting questions.

Gallup’s results go on to say that those states that are considered to be most religious are also those which tend to vote along more conservative or Republican lines. The Democrats or “leftist liberals” as we have been called by many tend to be in the states that are least religious. In the case of New England, where I happen to reside, I would prefer to believe that because we were among the earliest to be firmly settled, that we have seen religion for what it really is and we have taken up more of a banner of spirituality rather than a dogma that insists we see things only from a single point of view.

Depending on who you read and what you read, the differences between spirituality and religion can be galaxies apart or can be as close as the house next door. I’m not about to read the over two million documents on the Internet that claim to offer enlightenment regarding the differences between the two. Nor do I intend to make this essay the definitive piece regarding those differences.

In religious terms, I know too many people who attend church on a regular basis on Sunday and who will violate the Ten Commandments all week long…not all, and not all at the same time, but I believe you understand what I’m saying. My late wife insisted that we get married in the Roman Catholic Church and the priest insisted that our children be raised in that faith. To use the vernacular of many of today’s teens, my reaction was, “What-evah.” For years I had attended Sunday Services at the Congregational Church in my hometown. I didn’t like it, but it was what the family did on Sunday morning. I believed then and I believe to this day that the minister was a pompous ass who delighted in the timbre of his own voice. I went to mass once with some friends and didn’t understand a damned thing that was being said so that was rather a waste of time. Perhaps if I’d been brought up in the faith, I might have fared somewhat better.

No matter which religion I looked at, it always appeared to me that the ‘leader of the pack,’ when you got right down to it, was saying that his church’s way was really the only way to get to Heaven.  Now, I’m not opposed to you believing that yours is the only way; just don’t try to convince me that it’s the only way. I would prefer to find out for myself, thank you very much.

What I have learned over these past seven plus decades Is that organized religion is often not what many people are seeking. Many of us feel that by living our lives as decent human beings, with all of the frailties and foibles that human beings have, we probably stand a pretty good chance of getting to Heaven. Some of us aren’t even so sure there is such a place or thing; some of us believe that when you die, you die, period; that’s the end of what was once you. I don’t happen to be a part of that latter group but…what the hell, I’m too old to change my ways.

I have often asked the question, “Who is the more religious, the person who attends church on Christmas and Easter only, or the little boy…or man…or girl/woman…whatever, who daily goes to a private place and converses with a rock set on a stone and asks some unknown being or the rock to bring in a good harvest; to make that day’s catch sufficient to supply the entire village; to bring the rains or to stop them…but on a daily basis?” Who? Which one? The answer is that the former is not a religious person but may be very spiritual. The latter is exceedingly spiritual but not very religious. Who is “right?” The better question to be asked might be, “What is right?”

In my mind, and remember, this is only me; religion is a set of rules and regulations that if I follow them faithfully will take me to stand before God and be judged for my behavior while alive. If I am deemed to have been a good follower, I will be granted entrance into Heaven and eternal peace. Spirituality, on the other hand and in my own mind, means that if I obey the laws of society and one other, that I will stand before my God to be judged. Again, if found worthy…etc, etc. That one other law that I must follow is, very simply, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s right, the Golden Rule. We all talk about it, but none of us truly live by it. In our hurry to ‘get ahead,’ we cut corners. We do things that aren’t truly harmful to others, but if ‘others’ did what we have done, we’d be hurt, pained, uncomfortable…you get the picture.

So, Mr. Gallup, don’t tell me that just because I don’t go to church, don’t follow along like a lemming, that I’m not religious. You’re just playing with semantics. I’m just as religious in my own way as all of your Mississippi holy, church-going folks. I and the rest of my New England colleagues just don’t shout it to the world.

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Let us strip away all of the ancillary comments, shall we? “He was a drug dealer.” “He attacked me and I was forced to defend myself.” “He’d already been arrested for vandalism.” And the one that I truly love, posted by a New Orleans police officer who has now been suspended, “Act like a thug die like a thug.” Oh what a twisted web we weave when we practice to deceive, as the saying goes.

There are really only a couple of things that matter in the Trayvon Martin case. First, a 17-year old boy is dead. Second, he was shot to death by a man who had been told by the police not to follow him. Now, I don’t know about you, but that sort of says it all to me. Stand your ground law be damned; George Zimmerman, in a recorded 911 call was told not to follow this kid. He did and he killed Martin.

Perhaps Trayvon Martin was the “baddest dude in the whole damn town.” I don’t care. The police told George Zimmerman not to follow. He did and he killed Martin. It’s possible that Zimmerman didn’t see that the kid was carrying a box of Skittles and was talking on his cell phone. It’s possible, but I rather doubt it. I like to boil these things down to the simplest explanation possible. “Don’t follow;” George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin and shot him in the chest and killed him.

“Well, if he shot him in the chest, the kid must have turned around and been attacking him.” Okay, and at 140 pounds to well over 200 pounds, it was necessary to use a gun and fire a shot into the kid’s chest and kill him? Er, well, I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong; there are only two people who know what happened that night. One of them is dead, and one of them is so frightened that he is going to say anything, and I mean any friggin’ thing at all to keep his ass out of jail. He may already have said too much. When authorities begin to examine the 911 tapes very carefully, they will find a prejudicial remark made by Mr. Zimmerman which may very well be just the nail that puts George in a coffin or at least behind bars.

Neighborhood watches can, perhaps, be a good thing. Most of us who live in small neighborhoods have an eye out for strangers anyway. In a gated community, it would seem that everyone would always be on ‘high alert.’ Was it ‘captain’ Zimmerman’s night to patrol the neighborhood? Does everyone in the neighborhood watch group carry a gun? If that is the case, shouldn’t that be posted somewhere at the entrance to the community? ”This community protected by armed neighborhood watch committee.”  Or perhaps, “Trespassers will be shot on sight.” Or, to use George Zimmerman’s own words, “Fucking coons will be shot on sight.” Not nice, Mr. Zimmerman, but that certainly is what you sound like on your 911 tape.

What Zimmerman did was wrong. He killed someone without reason. Even most cops are loathe to use their guns. If Zimmerman was that skittish that he felt he needed to carry a deadly weapon with him, he should not have been part of the neighborhood watch. Using the excuse that there had been an excessive number of burglaries in the neighborhood over the past several months is no reason to be walking or driving around with a piece in your lap or on the seat beside you.

Who trained this neighborhood watch committee? How was it formed? Did the group even approach the local police department and ask for training or assistance in how they should act? In hindsight, everyone knows that things could have been done better. Unfortunately, hindsight does not help a 17-year old kid, lying on a slab with a bullet hole in his chest. Sorry, George, but you made a mistake. Now it’s time to pay the piper.

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A bad guy won

I probably should have known that Dick Cheney was looking for a heart transplant when he took a ‘friend’ hunting and then tried to shoot him. Maybe he just wasn’t the right blood type. Can’t you just hear it now…some Secret Service agent yelling into Cheney’s earwig, “No, no, Mr. Vice President, the blood test just came back. He’s not a”…BLAM…’match; oops, too late!”

It would be a hoot if the donor turned out to be some Black or Latino Democrat and the former Vice President’s entire political ideology turned ass-end upward. While the chances of that happening are somewhat rare, at least now Mr. Cheney will have a heart. I’m certain that one of the reasons for his two-year wait was because his bodyguards had to check each donor’s background as the organ became available….”Eek! Take it away. It’s from South Boston!”

After five heart attacks, I suppose that one might say someone is entitled to a heart transplant. However, I believe that there are a number of younger patients with longer prospects of living than this 71-year old man. It really doesn’t matter to me that he happens to be the former whatever-you-wish-to-call-him. The very fact of his age should have ranked him pretty far down the priority list. Isn’t it amazing what money, influence, and probably threats can get for the have’s while the have-nots are allowed to languish and die.

In point of fact, Dick Cheney did not deserve a heart transplant. He deserved to be allowed to die just like the thousands of young men and women he sent into Iraq as cannon fodder were allowed to die. To give him a new life, at least in this writer’s mind, is like cloning Adolph Hitler and giving that son-of-a-bitch a second chance.

There are still a number of questions surrounding a heart transplant for a man of Mr. Cheney’s age. At one point, UCLA Medical Center used 55 as a cut-off age for transplant recipients. That was later raised to 65. Today, barring other health issues, there appears to be no age limit for such transplants. Still, it’s difficult to believe that there was not someone younger than Cheney who would have been better served with this donor heart.

If all of this sounds like sour grapes against Mr. Cheney, it most certainly is. His life has been that of a pit bull, with little regard for those who stood in the way of his personal beliefs. It’s difficult for me to conceive of a person less deserving of a second chance, and I feel badly for those who may die or may have died to give this war-mongering profiteer a second chance to do more damage to America and its image.

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I’m not a poet. That will probably be very clear when you read below. However, it’s strange the things that happen to you at two o’clock in the morning. You know, that time when you realize your bladder is saying, “Empty me;” then, of course, you can’t get back to sleep. The dog’s not barking to be fed quite yet, and you don’t want to start a habit for which you’ll be sorry. You tiptoe to the computer and pray that the clicking of the keys won’t wake ‘the beast;’ you play solitaire, and hearts and mahjong tiles for a while; read the news to find out where Tim Tebow is next headed, and all of a sudden, you want to write. You really don’t know what; heck, you’re not even certain why…but there it is, an open Microsoft Word blank white page staring you in the face. Then the 3:15 train whistle mourns in the distance and you begin to think back. You begin to think about four years ago and what a bitch it was to watch the one you love struggle against a disease for which there would be no cure. You think about the number of nights you sat there, watching her fight for each breath, feeling as helpless as some newborn that really had no clue. There are hundreds of people who are doing that same thing at this very minute, so I know I’m not alone, nor was I alone then. I hope there’s no one out there who is so callous as to say, “Hey, it was four years ago; get over it.” My response is that if you’ve ever truly loved, you never get over it. So I begin to type – not this paragraph; that came later – and the first words that appear on the page are…

                                                  Why can’t I weep, Lord;

                                                  Why can’t I cry?

                                                  Why won’t the tears come

                                                  For my Love who died?

                                                  She was my life, Lord,

                                                  But now that she’s gone,

                                                  I cannot cry, Lord;

                                                  I cannot fawn.

                                                  Is it because my heart is so cold?

                                                  Is it, perhaps, that I am just growing old?

                                                  Or maybe I’m not just playing the fool,

                                                  Because her death, so horribly cruel

                                                  Had torn me apart by the time it occurred

                                                  My heart now broken; my tears more inferred.

                                                  She lives in your arms, Lord,

                                                  And she lives in my soul.

                                                  Please treat her with kindness, this love of my life.

                                                  We’ll reunite soon, as man and as wife.

                                                  Perhaps that’s the time when again I will cry,

                                                  Perhaps it will happen, just after I die.

And when I finished writing this poem, I looked at it. I read it; I read it again. And rather than feeling sad, I nearly burst out laughing. My late wife, my Joan, my English teacher…she would probably tear it apart and being the generous sort, would give it something like a C+…just to placate me.

(I questioned whether or not it belongs on the blog for others to read. Will David question my love for his sister because I’m writing about my late wife? Don’t worry, David; our love is just as deep and just a little different. Will Georgia read it and be reminded of her lost love, but Georgia is a strong woman. She won’t be hurt but she’ll understand. Will Steve read it and think, “Ah, that sentimental slob; he was that way at work, too.” But still, Steve will understand. I really don’t know of any other readers. I suppose there are some. However, I write this blog for me. I’m always getting these messages about how to increase my readership, but I don’t really care if that happens or not. I enjoy writing for the sake of putting words on paper about things in which I believe. Yes, I love to share, but it’s not a necessity. Ah, well…life does go on.)

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When one experiences a winter of the severity of 2010-2011, New Englanders as a group vow never to be caught ‘that’ off guard again. After all, roofs collapsed; roof rakes couldn’t be kept in stock. Power outages were everywhere and folks suddenly found themselves in the dark for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Food spoilage wasn’t really a problem. If you could finally get a door open, you merely shoved your perishables into the snow bank directly in front of you. Put bluntly, it was one hell of a season from November through late February.

Juli and I figured it this way; if we planned….really planned for a blizzard or six this year, it would be a guarantee that we would have a Sacramento winter. Juli, being from Sacramento, practically swore on a stack of Holy Bibles that our winter would be bland. Now that the winter is nearly over – watch, June will see a Nor’easter – I will share with you my partner’s secrets for the seduction of winter:

  1. Buy a roof rake at Loewe’s or Home Depot the minute you see them in either store. Announce loudly that this is but a first step in driving away the winter demons. Be sure to shake the roof rake over your head as you’re walking from the store to your vehicle.
  2. Ordering ‘bear paws’ online is an absolute necessity. These are ice grippers that you slide on over the toe of your shoe or boot and attach by stretching them over the heel. You can practically run on ice and not fear of falling. We didn’t have them last year and after the first storm, Juli went outside to feed the birds, slipped and fell flat on her ass, cracking the ice and (although she’d never admit it) busting her coccyx.
  3. Buy new boots. Your old boots may be perfectly fine, but if you really wish to guarantee a mild winter, new boots are a necessity. Eventually, you will look longingly at them sitting in the hall or kitchen closet and you will chuckle. Never mind; the investment was worthwhile.
  4. Buy a converter box and antenna so the when cable goes out…and cable as we know, has a propensity to ‘go out,’ you will at least be able to watch the major news stations. Do not depend on an honest answer from cable; you will not get one. Should you have Dish, fuh-ged-aboud-it!
  5. Power outages are also a guarantee. If you wish to buy a generator, be certain it is one that will set you on the path to bankruptcy. However, there are easier ways to work around this problem. Battery powered lanterns provide plenty of light, particularly if you put them by each side of the bed, by your seat at the kitchen table, and by your favorite chair in the television room. This was a summer project, equipping various rooms with a variety of these little goodies… now gathering dust.
  6. Stock up on non-perishable foods and wooden matches. Fill the garage with them. Remember, even if your power does go out, you can still light the gas stove by hand and make plenty of mac and cheese for the kids.
  7. Set out and carefully mark your driveway with plow markets. This will demonstrate to everyone in your neighborhood that you are fully prepared for an onslaught such as we suffered through last year.
  8. Finally, over mulch and protect your flower beds like there’s no tomorrow. This single move will absolutely guarantee that we will not see snow in 2012.

Personally, I maintain it was the roof rake that we purchased last summer that did the trick. Either that or the good Lord, in all of His mercy, decided that Alaska needed a little reminder of what it’s supposed to be.

Whatever happened to the Winter of 2012? Juli called it a cool Sacramento winter. My single hope is that we don’t offset this with a hot Sacramento summer. When the temperature hits 108 at noontime, don’t look for this kid to be jogging down the streets.

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The President of the United States of America makes approximately $600,000 per year. It’s a salary of 400K plus a few perks. Not a bad deal for being considered the leader of the free world. When the baloney goes into the Westinghouse – shit hits the fan to those who don’t understand – the rest of the free world generally turns to the top dog at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and expect that he will make an informed decision that will not bring the entire world to nuclear Armageddon. Does that sound about right to you? I mean, stop me if you think I’m being overly simplistic about the incumbent and the 43 men who preceded him. It would be nice if we could say men and women, but we haven’t reached that level of civilization yet; we are still a young nation after all.

All of the above being said, can somebody tell me exactly why some of these company presidents, company presidents mind you who are only responsible to a group of greedy stockholders, are making upwards of $15 million dollars or more. It just doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to me. The President of the United States is responsible to over 310 million people. They are dependent on the decisions that he makes to keep them from sudden annihilation. So why do we not compensate him in the same manner that we compensate some of these people who believe they are worth millions? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really not in favor of bringing the President’s compensation into line with the CEO of Citigroup or even the members of his ‘executive team.’ I’m quite certain the Citigroup executive compensation is quite in line with what other corporate giants are paying their chief executives in salaries and bonuses. Of course, many of these same chief executives were crapping their pants a few years ago until the U.S. Government came along and bailed their asses out of a truly big jam. Amazing how quickly they recovered with our money – that’s what it was, your tax dollars and mine – and now they’re back paying the big bucks to a bunch to are members of the ‘good old boys club.’ It really is rather sickening.

It boggles my mind to think that people like John Hammergren, Ralph Lauren, Vikram Pandit, and a number of others should be so egocentric and narcissistic as to believe they are worth more than the President of the United States. Just think of the good that could be done with some of the monies that are going into the pockets of these people. Are they good people? Of course they are. Have they done well by their stockholders? There is no question that they have. Are any of them worth more than $100 million in compensation? No, they are not, but in at least one case, that is what the CEO is making…at that rate, I figured it should be capitalized. My biggest question is, “What do these people do with all of their money? Are they philanthropists who support the arts, colleges and universities, hospitals, cancer research, etc? Do they give money to charities other than those mentioned?” I’d like to see how they use this huge compensation package to benefit their fellow man. After all, you can only own so many houses in so many countries. You really don’t have time to be on your 200 foot yacht if you’re trying to run your company. Granted, country clubs are expensive and greens fees are going up regularly, and doing business on the golf course is important, but really…gimme a break!

I’ve heard it said that the President couldn’t manage some of these companies. Well, perhaps that’s true. After all, Harry Truman failed as a haberdasher, and Abe Lincoln had a lot of failure in his life before he became our Sixteenth President, so I suppose there could be some truth in that statement. I’m also willing to bet that damned few of these so-called business geniuses would be hard pressed to hold the job of President of the United States and live on $600,000 per year. As we have in so many areas of life, we Americans seem to have our priorities just a little bit mixed up.

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