Archive for April, 2014

What is it that we find so fascinating about quotations? And what is it that makes someone, anyone’s happenstance remark go down in history as a ‘great’ quotation?

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I’ve come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” It’s a remarkable quotation. Why have Marc Antony’s words stood the test of time? They have been used as an exact quotation; they have been used in part, but no matter their use, people still say all or a part of it today. The “never give in; never give up” remark uttered by Churchill when he spoke at Harrow in 1941, has been used and abused by athletic coaches – and others – probably the day after it was said. It, too, has stood for decades.

A friend of mine, an archivist at Babson, was complaining one day and said, “The only time I get to be in the loop is when they’re putting it around my neck.” I’ve Googled it until my fingers were sore, but for the life of me, I cannot find another source. Therefore, to my friend and colleague, Ron Rybnikar, congratulations, Rip, you’ve made my quotes pages.

Every Monday morning, I edit my e-mail signature. Below the standard closing, I will always pick four or five inspirational quotes at which recipients may or may not take a peek. As a matter of fact, there is one person who is sent a blank e-mail – well, nearly blank – each week. She doesn’t give a damn about hearing from me, but she enjoys the quotes. Where do I get these ‘gems?’ I have two word files, both of which contain single spaced quotations; each file is nearly 400 pages in length. I will die before I run out of quotations to send. Should my great, great grandchildren decide to carry on, they would die before finishing the number of quotes I have. Perhaps it’s just another sign that if not over the edge already, I’m tipping that way rather quickly.

How many quotation sites are there on the web? A quick Google search came up with one billion, nine hundred and sixty million. While many, I’m quite certain will have some degree of duplication, what is quote worthy in the United States may differ greatly from the importance of a quotation in Tanzania or Portugal, Denmark or the Dominican Republic. For example, one Tanzanian proverb goes like this: “Little by little, a little becomes a lot.” I could find nothing that comes close to it in Portuguese but neither do the Tanzanians say, “Visits always give pleasure – if not the arrival, the departure.” Time, if not space, determines that Danish and Dominican quotes be put on the back burner for the time being.

I find that often I’m sufficiently intrigued by this or that quote that I become eager to find out the circumstances under which it was spoken. While some, e.g., “The quality of mercy is not strained…” come from plays or movies, others merely pour forth from the mouths of the famous or the totally unknown. Presidents are notorious for quotes they would rather forget, e.g.,  “They misunderestimated me,” as President George W. Bush once stated so eloquently. To be fair, “There were a lot of times when we were alone, but I never really thought we were.” – President Bill Clinton said in his grand jury testimony – can you say, “tap dancing.”

I can remember hearing Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s telling a group of college students, “Find something you love to do; throw yourself into it heart and soul…and don’t worry, the money will come.” His audience consisted of business students who wished to become entrepreneurs. Many of them, I’m quite certain, wondered why a man like Kroc, would take a chance at the age of 52 to take over a hamburger stand, but it certainly worked for him. These students heard similar advice from Soichiro Honda and Berry Gordy on the very same day. How wonderful for those students to hear from “the masters” not about making money, but about loving what you are doing.

One of the best quotes that I have ever is not a quotation at all, but a commencement speech given by the President of the Babson Institute in 1928. It is sufficiently short that it can be regarded as a long, long quotation, but it certainly says a great deal. Here it is, printed in its entirety:

“You are going out to make a living. You are not likely to forget that. At the very same time, you will be making a life. Very likely, you may overlook that. You are bent upon business. What you really want is life. Business is only a means to that end.

“The fullness of life will not be yours if you have no thought but to get all you can out of business for yourself. Make your business serve life, your life, the other fellow’s life, the life of society, and you will not only find the wherewithal to live, but you will also find life worth living.

“Many a man (and woman) who has made money wants to know what it all amounts to. If he has added something to life, he is satisfied.”

And with those 130 words behind him, he sat down. If more commencement speakers could deliver such significant remarks in as short a space of time, there would be many more satisfied graduates!

Take some time to read some quotes; I know you’ll be happy that you did.

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Privacy vs. what?

Call me crazy or whatever derogatory term you might wish to use, but I don’t give a damn about privacy laws. Unless you happen to be the type who doesn’t want anyone to know what you had for dinner last night or what time your daily bowel movement takes place – gross, yes, but you get the point – then what do you have to hide? Sure, there are many, many people who don’t want their lives examined in detail and perhaps with good reason. As far as the rest of us are concerned, what the hell does it matter?

It was Will Rogers who said “Live your life so you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” It’s good advice, although I’m willing to bet there are very few of us who could live up to it. There are few of us who could stand the parrot’s scrutiny but my question is “So what?” Is missing the toilet bowl or leaving the seat up such a big deal for all the gentlemen out there? Is getting so drunk and puking over the open window of a car when you were underage such a nefarious crime…as you can obviously tell, been there; done that; never wanted the T-shirt.

When my wife was dying of cancer, a priest friend of mine came to the house to pray for her and to give her Holy Communion. He did this not because I had asked him; he did this because he had asked me if he could. “Would you like to take communion, too,” he asked me. “Father,” I said, I’m not even a Roman Catholic.” His next words shocked me…”Killed anyone lately?” he queried. “You’re thinking of my brother,” I replied. “Done any other really bad things?” he asked. I had to admit that I had become a pretty responsible adult for a 73-year old. He then blessed me, absolved me of my sins, and gave me Holy Communion. Say what you want…it was an emotional, no, very emotional moment. You see, I’m not big on organized religion; I consider myself to be somewhat spiritual, but I don’t like being told what I have to do or what I can’t do to please God. I already have some pretty firm ideas of what will make Him happy and what will piss Him off.

There’s no question in my mind that there are folks everywhere who would either be embarrassed to have their lives examined, but as I said before, for most of us, it just doesn’t matter. It’s choice; I accept that my life is an open book, or I want you to keep your hands off. Perhaps my personal position stems from the fact that I had to be investigated at one point to receive a certain level of security clearance. There were people all around my home town, my university, and my places of former employment – right down to when I was a bag boy in the A & P, who were asking questions about me. My parents were getting calls from people they hardly knew asking what the hell I had done that I was being investigated. And when you’re strapped into a polygraph, particularly if you know you’ve done nothing wrong, and the only things you can say are “yes” or “no,” it can be rather enlightening.

Will Rogers also stated, “Life your life so that when you lose it, you’re ahead.” Perhaps we’re all in the position to feel that such is the case. If that is so, I guess we’re all deluding ourselves…or we’re a bunch of damned liars! Have I done things I’m not proud of? Of course I have, and if they were exposed, I’d be embarrassed, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Some of these folks who are so damned private give me pause to wonder what they’re hiding…not that it’s any of my business, but unless it’s something for which I’m going to be sent to jail [and be in the same cell with some towering monster named Bubba} I frankly just don’t care.  My Mom lived by a poem that I’ve always remembered; it goes like this: “A friend is not a fella who is taken in by sham; a friend is one who knows your faults and doesn’t give a damn.” I’d like to believe that all the people I’ve ever called “friend” have felt that way about me, just as I hope I’ve felt that way about them.

We are fallible, thee and me. We are fallible because while we may have been created in God’s image, we are not God. We are given to mistakes. It’s the degree to which we abuse the live we are given; it’s the degree to which we dishonor our parents and our Creator that determine whether or not we want to hide in the shadows. We all have our own moral and ethical codes. If our moral compass says, “Screw the other guy; I’m getting mine any way I can and as much as I can while I’m here, great. If that’s what you want, go for it. However, if you do it outside the confines of established rules and regulations, don’t be surprised if Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson find you someday, or if you wind up in a small room with bars on the door. It’s your choice

One of the questions asked by the polygrapher – one of the few I remember – was, “Have you ever stolen anything?” This is just another example of how good your memory gets when you’re hooked up to one of these machines. “Yes,” I responded…machine is turned off for a moment and the gentleman conducting the interview says, “So you lied on this form you filled out?” “I just remembered,” says I. “What did you steal?” he asked. “I remember stealing a baseball from Peterson’s when I was in the sixth grade,” I responded. “Let’s go on,” he said somewhat disgustedly. It’s amazing what you can recall when you’re on a polygraph…unless you have something to hide. Then you take lessons on how to beat the damned thing.

None of us, not one, is as important as we might think we are. As Rogers put it, “No man is great if he thinks he is. It’s great to be great, but its greater to be human.” It is my sincere hope that you have been as fortunate as I have been in my lifetime. I’ve met and I’ve known some pretty great people, but more important, it seems the greater they are, the more human they are…and for me, that’s the measure of the person.

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They tell me that I’m old and shouldn’t try to understand it.

They tell me that times have changed and that it’s more common that I’d believe.

They tell me that there’s more pressure today.

They tell me that children are very different from when I was in school.

I tell them that’s a crock of shit!

I tell them that kids today have lost the ability to choose between what is right and what is wrong.

I tell them that parenting today has changed; not the children.

I tell them that today, the desire to possess the materialistic has replaced the desire to put children and family first.

I tell them that they are so flooded with information that the overload is diminishing something we used to call “common sense.”

I tell them, “The Jones’s are in debt.”

They don’t appear to understand that so they just go right on trying to keep up with the latest, the brightest, the shiniest, the most popular.

They tell me that I don’t get it!

What the hell is “it?”

There is not “it” in my life. I have a smart television set; I have a smart phone; hell, I even have a smart girlfriend, and I have no desire to stab to stab her in the face or neck if she doesn’t want to go with me to Walmart or out to dinner, or whatever. I was once married for more than 50 years, and I never had the desire to kill my wife…or harm her in any other way shape or form. We had three kids; they all graduated from high school and college; they are all happily married and each has three kids of their own…no killing; no shooting; no stabbing.

So, I have to ask myself, “Why Littleton? Why Newtown? Why 28-year old mothers collaborating with their boyfriend to kill her 5-year old? Why pipe bombs left in suburban streets?” I don’t remember these things when I was younger. We had fire drills in school. We didn’t have lockdowns. What has changed? What makes life so cheap today that the alternative to being told, “No,” is to kill?

I read all of these statistics from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that say “crime is down?” The FBI tells us that crime is down. Sociologists tell us that crime is decreasing. Some ‘authorities’ are saying that crime is, statistically, where it was in the 50s and 60s. ‘Authorities tell us that the cycle of crime is far different from the cycle of business; that it is a longer, broader curve that can’t and should not be measured in the same manner we measure anything else that might be cyclical. In an article in The Christian Science Monitor a while ago, six reasons were given for the decrease in crime in the United States. The first of these was “incarceration.” We have built more prisons and put more violent crime offenders away and this – so the article reports – is a major reason for the reduction in violent crime. Excuse me, but more violent people are still growing up in our society and our population growth hasn’t diminished. Better policing procedures in listed as another reason for the reduction in violent crime, and this is one with which that I can partially agree. If one works in a nearby city, one’s picture is probably snapped half a dozen times a day. There is more police surveillance but it’s confined largely to urban locations. “Law enforcement has worked with community groups for years to develop social programs to keep youths engaged, provide them outlets, and combat crime. Those efforts may finally be paying off, criminologists say.” Tell that to the parents of kids who have been gunned down at school or sitting on their front porch. Another reason given is simple demographics. That is, younger people who commit crime are now a minority in the population. The ‘baby boomers’ and older make up the majority of the population and – according to some – are not the violent criminals. “Some theories suggest that the more government support an individual can receive – through unemployment benefits, food stamps, controlled rent, and other forms of welfare – the less he or she may be encouraged to commit financial- or stress-motivated crime.” There is some logic to this but benefits alone are not going to stop crime, because of the more, more, more attitude that seems to pervade society. “If I don’t have what you have and I can’t get it…oh, yes, I can,” and despite the obstacles, the “I can” attitude will take over. The final reason given by the CSM article relates to fewer opportunities; that high unemployment with less cash and valuables on hand make it not worth the criminal’s wile to attack…that is just downright fallacious!

It is my personal belief that while fewer banks are getting robbed; fewer homes are getting invaded; fewer armed robberies with loss of life are being committed, new crime has taken its place. We all know about the problems taking place because of white collar crime. I had a notice the other day that my medical insurance information had been stolen. I was one of 7,100 whose information, including Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, and all that other ‘stuff’ is now floating around in the Ethernet. Around the holidays of last year, we all heard about the episodes of data theft from Target, Lord  & Taylor, and several other stores. It’s frightening, but it doesn’t threaten my life. No, what threatens my life is the kid who has no values; whose parents abrogated their parental responsibility to bring the child up to know the difference between right and wrong; whose parents are so busy with their own lives that they leave their kid’s education to the few hours of formal schooling and then turn to Grand Theft Auto and other video games, or Fast and Furious, part whatever to learn about ‘real’ life. The pressures of adulthood today mean that something has to be given short shrift, and it appears to me that it’s the children who are suffering, growing up and learning from X-box and television, movies and music that promotes violence. It’s too damn bad, and I just don’t know where it will all end.


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FDR smoked Chesterfields and drank martini’s…oh, and he also had an affair with Lucy Mercer, his wife’s social secretary. Harry Truman didn’t smoke, but he drank bourbon, played poker on a regular basis, and swore to beat the band. LBJ was a blackmailing son-of-a-bitch who knew where every skeleton was buried in the Senate and the House and used that knowledge to get a civil rights bill passed along with the most extensive education bill to date. This could go on, but you get the drift. These were all pretty darned good presidents of our country and they had their ‘shortcomings,’ if that’s what one wishes to call them.

Today, it would appear that Americans are unwilling to elect a leader who is anything less than squeaky clean. Rather than looking for someone who can do a job, we seem to be electing people, both to the White House and to Congress who are either pansy-assed or so contrary that nothing is able to get accomplished…and that’s just wrong.

On the one hand, we have the President. He seems to spend more time defending his decisions and apologizing for mistakes made by staffers than he does sending legislation to the Hill and promising to crucify anyone who votes against it. Next, we have John of Orange, the majority leader of the House of Representatives; nice enough man; like several other leaders, a smoker and drinker; is also capable of being bullied by the more radical members of his party…more about that group of crazies later.  It would appear that John’s pants maybe a bit too tight, thus preventing him from “growing a pair” as the saying goes. At least LBJ realized that and told his tailor to “drop the crotch a couple of inches to make room for my nut sack”…perhaps not as tactfully stated as a John Adams might have spoken, but then, LBJ spoke the language that could be easily understood. So, while John maybe a leader in name, it appears that he is also an appeaser who has elected to serve the party rather than the people. Therefore, we can’t really consider John of Orange a true leader. The Senate Majority Leader, Dirty Harry Reid is something of – as they used to say about Russia – “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” using political maneuvering and cajolery to gain lucrative contracts and deals for his home state of Nevada.

Earlier, I mentioned the crazies. This is a group, largely in the House of Representatives, who call themselves Tea Party Republicans. There is little about them that is Republican in the true sense of that word and more about them that is like the bunch of crazy white men who dressed up as Native Americans and tossed a couple of hundred crates of tea into Boston Harbor, thus beginning the practice of pollution. There is no such thing as a sensible leader among them, particularly if one considers Virginia’s 7th Congressional District madman, Eric Cantor as the leader of the pack. Cantor, who has a $2 million campaign war chest, is already attacking his Republican rival with television ads, calling his opponent a “liberal college professor.” Excuse me Congressman, but how is this ‘professor’ with less than two hundred thousand dollars some kind of a threat to you. This, by the way, is Cantor’s second television ad prior to the Virginia primary; the first was a campaign to position himself as the vanguard against President Obama’s policies. It wouldn’t matter what any of these policies might be; Cantor is against anything dealing with a Democrat. This man isn’t a leader of anything but himself; an arrogant, self-centered, immature, and ignorant child.

My point to all of this is that we don’t appear to have leaders in this country any more. I blame a great deal of that on the media as well as on the fact that each and every person living in this country has flaws that can be exaggerated to the point that should they choose to run for political office, they will be haunted and hounded by those flaws until they finally recant and withdraw. Whatever fault you may have, it will be found…and don’t kid yourself into believing that there are some leaders out there who are so pristine and pure that the only thing they cannot do is walk on water.

Thus, we are beset by people like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Joe Biden, Rick Perry, and a bunch of other Democrats and Republicans who are just plain frightening. There has to be, somewhere in this nation, a male or female with a vision for how this country should be governed; who recognizes that the division of wealth scales have been tipped too far to one side; that the federal government has lost the respect of the states and that these states must be brought back as part of the “United” States of America, one nation and if you feel like adding “under God,” go for it, but let us get back to being one nation. There is a great deal of work to be done if this country is going to remain a leader on the world stage. We are in dire need of a leader who, in addition to vision, must take a stand against the current Congressional makeup to ensure that the Legislative Branch of Government becomes a conduit rather than a concrete dam blocking national progress. If we are a two-party system, let us be just that and not tolerate people with critical views without intelligent solutions. As for us, the average voters of this great country, let us not go to the ballot box and vote the way our mothers and fathers voted. Let us take the time to question the candidates; to learn what they are going to do for the people because it is by the people and those we elect that we will move forward or become merely another short-lived project on scrap heap of history.

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Public Broadcasting Television offers such a wide variety of programming that I rarely watch it. I’m more of the NCIS, Criminal Minds, and CSI kinda guy. Fortunately, there are times when cooler heads prevail, and I find myself completely absorbed and enthralled by programs, most often something by Ken Burns. Whether it’s baseball or the Civil War, Burns has a way of bringing a new perspective to whatever he does.

I have read nearly every book about the Civil War by Bruce Catton, but perhaps I’m more visual than auditory because this afternoon I watched another of Burns’ masterpieces. In it, the Gettysburg Address delivered by President Abraham Lincoln played a prominent role. The program that followed was about the Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont. Greenwood is a school that For over thirty years has empowered bright and talented boys who face dyslexia, related language-based learning challenges, ADHD, and executive function deficits with the skills necessary to bridge the gap between their outstanding promise and present abilities.” One of the things I found interesting is that each boy, before he graduates, must learn and recite from memory the 272-word speech delivered by our 16th President over 150 years ago. There’s no question in my mind that it is one of the greatest speeches of all time, but I question whether or not it is an appropriate speech for people to memorize and then attempt to accept in today’s America.

Think about this for a moment; picture you standing alone, on the battlefield at Gettysburg. It’s July 4th, 2014. You look out over the rolling hills and you can almost hear the guns, the deafening noise of battle and the stench of decomposing bodies in the hot summer sun. You stand there and say to yourself, “What has changed. The premise was great, but what has really changed. If Lincoln was standing here today, what would or could he say that would be so very different.” Then you begin to recite in your mind, “Twenty score, three decades, and eight years eight years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” You stop, and your mind ponders those last five words…all men are created equal. And you realize that the truth of the matter is that here and now, that isn’t quite true, only it’s not a matter of slavery although such a thing does exist; we just don’t call it that…”a rose by any other name and all that wonderful poetry notwithstanding.

Your mind returns to Mr. Lincoln, standing on that platform with a blistering smallpox fever as he says, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” If we believe that the proposition that all men are created equal is false today, then how can our nation possibly sustain itself in the long run? With due respect to the immigrants who originally built this nation into the greatness and awe in which it was held from the 17th through the 20th Centuries, it appears that our more recent immigrants would prefer that we revert to an age of barbarism, something that has never been particularly appreciated from Maine to Florida or from the outer banks of North Carolina to San Francisco Bay.

As you stand there, staring across at Little Round Top, you realize that we are, in fact, engaged “…in a great civil war, testing whether” [any] nation conceived in the principle that all men – and women – are created equal can long endure. The world has become our battlefield, not because we have asked it to do so; not because we insist that every other nation share our beliefs; not because our dead, American dead, lie so far from their home, killed because we care about the rights and beliefs of others; we are engaged because others would attempt to take the freedoms, which we hold so dear, from us.

Lincoln said, “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” You think, “Yes, Americans died here; they also died in France and Belgium, Iraq and Vietnam, Korea and Iwo Jima, and so many other places that I can’t even begin to name them all, and they died defending the right of those nations to live free,” and even though you don’t regard yourself as a sentimentalist, staring out across the fields of tombstones and statues, you feel the tear falling down your cheek.

You think to yourself, “You were right, Mr. President, ‘The world will little note, nor long remember’ what is said at any of these dedications, ‘but it can never forget what they did here’ or the world over. And yes, ‘It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated her to the unfinished work which hey who fought here [and on so many other battlefields] have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from {our} honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here’…238 years later…’highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’”

As you stand on this battlefield, as you recall Lincoln’s brief remarks, as you consider the sacrifices that so many of your fellow countrymen have made, it strikes you that your grandparents were part of that immigrant hoard that made America into what it was and what it can be again. You think briefly of the Oklahoma City bombing, of the attempt on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the devastation of September 11, 2001, of the Boston Marathon bombing last year, and of the places throughout the world where American troops are in danger every single day, and of how new immigrants are trying to impose their values on the rest of us…you think of these things and you say to yourself, “We will not give in to the cancer that is trying to eat at us from the inside any more than we will allow those from outside to destroy us. We’re Americans, one nation, under God, and that’s just how we’re going to remain.”

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Hey…I have a new phone!

Not only do I have a new phone, but I kept my old number. It would be somewhat unfair to tell you the name of my former provider, but Verizon was – oops, did it, didn’t I? – very cooperative in transferring my number to my new provider.

Here’s the story. Last year, Juli purchased a phone on QVC for a hundred bucks. In addition to no contract, she receives triple minutes, but she started with a promotion 1,500 minutes. Since she’s not a big caller, it works out well for her. Who knows how fast I’ll go through them, but few people call me anymore. Most are dead so I don’t expect to hear from them; the rest are living in Florida; and the kids rarely call, so I’m probably on pretty safe ground.

Anyway, the real story of this new telephone is what happened when I went to activate it. As usual, the new phones come with bells and whistles that are totally foreign to someone like me. That is to say, that had this phone been given to a child between the ages of ten and thirteen, registration, activation, manipulation, and any other ‘ation’ of which you can conceive would probably have been completed within ten minutes. For me the process required an hour and a half, and I’m still not certain that everything has been done properly.

However, to quote the melancholy Dane,” …there’s the rub,” and he wasn’t speaking of a massage parlor or sleep. The ‘rub’ came in the form of some fraud in North Carolina who had usurped my e-mail address and already had opened an account using said e-mail. How the heck he got away with doing this is beyond my computer mastery; however, I have my secret weapons. Ever the Nick and Nora North of the 21st Century, Juli – she was Nora, by the way – and I not only managed to learn the serial number of his phone, cancel his account and change the password to one of my own, together, we figured his password question and used that to utterly destroy him. His comeuppance was complete…ta da…drum roll, please!

I make this sound like a simple process. It was not, particularly since the customer service for this particular phone is in other than the United States. I’m all for outsourcing, but not when I cannot understand the speaker at the other end. Farsi, Hindi, and Mandarin have never been my strong points, but for a while that appeared to be my wont when I was attempting to get computer questions answered. While I do not consider the English language as spoken in Guyana – it is the official language – to be without accent, Tanecca, the young lady who first attempted to be of assistance, had the patience of Job with this old man and carried me up through the first several steps of my registration and activation. When it came time to transfer my existing number from Verizon to her wireless carrier, she suggested that a transfer was in order; thus I was sent to Daryl – not that Daryl, but the other Daryl. I never learned where this Daryl was located – I think it might have been in Suriname or French Guiana. This gentleman was also extremely helpful. If I had to be put on hold, he explained that he would be gone for less than two minutes. While I never timed his absence, it never appeared more than 30 seconds. Like Tenecca before him, he had less trouble understanding me than I did understanding him – shades of the “Ugly American.” Eventually, even Daryl ran out of knowledge – this time, how to get rid of the fraud’s efforts.

Finally, it was on to Christian in Guatemala City. Christian pulled the plug on the fraud, but indicated that there was a problem with Verizon. My account and telephone number weren’t matching up. What did Christian do – I told you these folks were sharp – he called Verizon and set up a three-way conversation. Within minutes the problem was solved; my phone was activated, and all was right with the world.

“Will that be all, sir,” Christian asked, despite having been told on several occasions to please call me “Dick.”

“No, Christian, it won’t,” I told him. “I would very much like to speak with your supervisor.”

He did not question my motive or ask if something was wrong, but merely said, “One moment please, sir, and I will put him on.”

“This is the supervisor,” said an older voice.

I told him how wonderful it was to work with the three professionals who had helped me over the past hour and a half. I explained that while he might not personally know Tanecca in Guyana, nor Daryl in wherever, he certainly knew Christian, but that all three had exercised great patience in being of assistance. It sounded as if he was waiting for the “but” so I didn’t disappoint. I said, “But I’m certain you get complaints whenever your folks are unable to help; therefore, when I receive the kind of help I received this evening, I believe you should hear that also.” There really was a pause on the line before the man came back and said, “We rarely get your kind of call, senor” – yep, he called me senor – “So I say thank to you and I will certainly pass this back to Christian and his colleagues.”

We parted ways, but it made me feel rather good that maybe Christian will get an “atta boy” or however it’s said in Guatemala City. It would have been better if I could have told him in Spanish. Still kinda nice, though.

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You have reached your mid-thirties. You have found the woman of your dreams, and after a brief courtship of two years, you have achieved wedded bliss. You never thought this would happen since her older brother, the Nebraska lineman, threatened to beat the crap out of you each time you went to pick her up for a date. “You lay a hand on my sister, I’ll grind you inta cow chow,” was one of his favorite descriptions of how you would be treated. Her mother always referred to you as a “nice boy,” but her father gave you the steely stare that Superman used just before his x-ray vision destroyed the bad guys in their supposedly indestructible hideout.

Following the wedding reception, you received a big welcome-to-the-family hug from the brother, prompting you to wonder if a honeymoon would even be possible – crushed spines do not for a pleasant honeymoon make – a lovely and sloppy kiss from your mother-in-law who was well into her cups, and that steely stare from your father-in-law that Superman used…well, you get the picture.

You have a wonderful job and a boss who is terrific…on the third day of your new employment at $80K per year – after all, you do have an MBA – he told you that if you played ball with him, he’d shove the bat up your butt, prompting an immediate posting of several resumes to many other firms. You later learned that he says this to all the new hires, thereby endearing him to you for never, but you’ve found him to be truly supportive over the past five years and you’re not certain you’d wish to ever work for anyone else [big mistake].

You have two kids and the wife is five months pregnant with your third. You have been working your proverbial butt off and finally, finally, you’re taking your first real vacation. Two weeks of sun and sand on Olde Cape of Cod. The weather to date has been absolutely gorgeous, prompting you to look forward to a little body surfing, a lot of sun tan lotion, and a few nights out with the bride, sucking down raw oysters and feasting on boiled lobster. Being the considerate husband that you are, you’ve even hired a 16-year-old local high-school girl to accompany the family and babysit the younger ones.

The house you’ve rented is spic ‘n span when you move in late Saturday morning. You’re within walking distance of the beach; the sun is shining; the sky is blue, and; it looks like the start of a great vacation. After slathering the youngsters with SPF 5000, off you, the kids, and the babysitter head for the beach, leaving your soon-to-be-mother-again to get some rest. It’s a glorious afternoon. The teenager takes great care of the kids, although her bikini seems to attract the attention of some of the teenage boys – have to speak to her about that; mmm, maybe ask the wife to do that. You all watch a beautiful sunset, but by the time you walk back to the cottage, everyone is exhausted and just a bit cranky. “I know,” you say, “How about I get some pizza?” That seems to please everyone, even the babysitter who is madly texting on her phone after taking care of the kids.

The pizza is a smash hit, but your skin is feeling a bit tight and sitting back bothers your back…too late you realize that you forgot to slather yourself with SPF 5000, and it looks like the sun was a bit too strong for you. By midnight, when everyone else is sleeping, you are in what the lifeguards call “agony.” You will not be going to the beach tomorrow.

It’s now Wednesday. The past several days have been fantastic. The kids are turning a lovely shade of tan; your wife is well rested and has joined the family at the beach while you hide out at the cottage, wearing a white shirt buttoned to the neck and wrists, long pants, and a beach hat that makes you look, well, rather a bit less than masculine. The pain is nearly gone, and you figure that by the weekend, you’ll be back in the water…remembering that this time, you will cover yourself with sunscreen before doing anything else.

On Thursday, you feel well enough to take the wife out for dinner at the local hot spot…a restaurant where reservations are a must…and you have them for 8 pm. The teenager promises that she’ll get the kids to bed on time, and off the two of you go to enjoy your first vacation meal on your own.

The meal is wonderful; the ambience perfect; your wife is lovely; and even the mild stinging on your body is not a bother. The sunset could have been better but what the hell, the rest of the evening was fantastic.

Arriving home, the cottage is fairly dark. Trotting up the stairs your wife precedes you to find the babysitter and one of the teenage boys from the beach engaged in what could only be defined as a compromising position on the living room couch. This is followed by some yelling and screaming as you totally lose it; the boy doesn’t even use the front stairs as he jumps from top to bottom while you wave a golf club – a nine iron actually, for plenty of loft – threatening to send a portion of his anatomy into orbit…which we all know is impossible with a nine iron.

The babysitter has run crying to her room to call her parents. Your wife is crying in the bedroom, shocked that a 16-year-old would be doing such things – her memory of what she did with you at 16 a vague and distant memory; the children have waked, wondering what the hell is happening; and you’re standing in the living room with a nine iron in your hand looking somewhat the fool because your face has cracked from your sunburn and the heat on your back has gone back to feeling like the Gates of Hell!

By 3 am, the babysitter has been whisked away by her parents with little or no explanations about why the departure is so sudden; the children have gone back to bed; against doctor’s orders, your wife has passed out from consuming half a bottle of scotch, and you are sitting on the front porch wondering just what the hell happened…and then your worst fears are realized…

The days have been so sunny and despite your personal tragedy of the sunburn and the in flagrante of the previous evening, your family has enjoyed nearly a week of sun, sand, and surf…but now this. The first sign of the horror to come sounds from out of the dark…the foghorn…this is followed by the white mist flowing over you like a clammy ghost. It’s the dreaded Cape Cod fog. It may last a day, a week, or even longer, but it has arrived and you can only pray to Poseidon that he will take it with him when the morning dawns.

He doesn’t. It stays…and for the next eight days, you and your family are trapped. The cottage has no heat. The fog and mist seep into everything, sheets, blankets, upholstered furniture, the rugs, even the breakfast cereal which becomes mush on its way to the bowls. The blasted foghorn is a constant reminder that the sun may never shine again. Tempers grow short…children yelling at one another about nothing to do; parents yelling at children to play games or read; children yelling back or crying until finally, the Saturday of departure arrives. As you pack up the car, the glorious sun makes its appearance, taunting you. The fog has lifted; the sky turns a brilliant shade of blue; tempers no longer flare, and as you drive home, window down and watching your skin peel away, you think to yourself…”damn, but I’m happy to be going back to work!”

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Holy Sha-moly, Batman; I knew we had an obesity problem in the country, but I never realized until today just how prevalent it is.

Juli and I went shopping at Walmart this afternoon. I needed a prescription, and she, well, let’s just say that she had some grocery shopping to do. I hesitate on that because ‘grocery shopping’ at Walmart generally means that the dog winds up with a new toy; the garden will be getting some new plants, and; some kind of powdered fiber, along with Fiber One bars will be gracing the kitchen counter for a while. I also note that there is bird seed listed on the receipt…hmm, a new kind of dinner treat?

Juli went her way and I hustled to the pharmacy, picking up the ‘scrip’ and hustling back to the car. As luck would have it, we’d found a place very close to the front entrance, and since I’d forgotten to bring my Kindle, my wait became an exercise in people-watching. And there was a lot to the people I was watching. One couple, who had parked nearby, climbed into their car and I saw the whole thing sag about six or eight inches. I mean, c’mon folks, Monroe makes heavy duty shocks. Save your car! You go over railroad tracks and your exhaust assembly’s gonna remain behind. These people were not fat; fat is too kind a word for them. They were grossly overweight; a pair of heart attacks just waiting to happen. There is no humor in this. I can only hope it is some rare type of thyroid condition, but I’m not counting on it.

I’m six-one and weigh about 245. I should probably lose about thirty pounds. At one point I weighed in at well over 260, but with the encouragement of several doctors, Juli, and a few friends, I’ve managed to lose some of the fat and look forward to losing more. It’s tough; once you pass 50 years of age, the weight goes on easily, but is harder than hell to remove. You make a determined effort by joining a gym and working out every day, but the minute you begin a weight regimen to go along with your cardio, you find yourself in more trouble. Since muscle weighs more than fat, the first few weeks will find you gaining weight rather than losing it. One can become easily discouraged.

But enough about me; what do you think of me…as the old joke goes. There I was, watching people going in and out of Walmart and thinking, “I’m going to have to sit outside of Whole Foods and see if this is endemic to Walmart or is it true at all stores that sell; that sell; that sell…what exactly? Sure, they sell candy, but so does every other food store. They also sell a whole range of other things, most of which are non-food-related. Based on that, the majority of people who enter a food store should be obese – I know that’s fallacious, but it makes for good copy. So what is it about Walmart that attracts people who are unquestionably obese?

Let me make one thing perfectly clear – whoops, isn’t that what Nixon said – I have no prejudice against people who are seemingly unconcerned about their weight. I’m quite certain that the women would prefer to be a size two model in Milan…or not…and the men would like to rid themselves of that six months pregnancy bump that they’re carrying around…or not. It’s just that…well…I feel for them. It can’t be any fun lugging that extra weight around. I know that I feel better now than when I was 260 and if I can drop the other 30, I’m going to feel even better. I have no desire to run a marathon or even a 10K; it’s just knowing that the more I lose, the less strain I put on my back and legs and both could use more relief.

Obesity is a problem in this country. It wasn’t when I was growing up. Hell, if anything, most of us were too thin. Maybe it’s not us; maybe our food has become so chemically altered to please our taste buds that we can’t resist making gluttons of ourselves. Whatever the case, obesity kills and those who are had better wake up to that fact.

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The Palestinians don’t want to recognize that Israel even exists. The Russians want to take back the Ukraine. India and Pakistan are ready to push the button if one even spits across the other’s border. North Korea wishes to be able to bully anyone it so chooses just like its cousins, Al Qaeda, and everyone’s pissed at America because we have so much and they have “so little.” That about sum it up for you, Bunky?

Meanwhile, back in the lower 48, the Blacks hate the Spanish; both hate the whites; the Asians hate each other. Immigrant sub-groups are trying to take over neighborhoods by violent methods. The Jews are trying to celebrate Passover, and some asshole from Kansas who doesn’t believe in anyone’s civil rights but his own, goes on a shooting rampage to kill them. We have crazy people walking into our schools and shooting or stabbing students, teachers, and administrative personnel. At the same time, we have 435 idiots in Washington who probably couldn’t agree on how to wipe yourself, much less pass legislation that will allow the government to function more effectively and efficiently. We have state governors telling the federal government to fuck off because the states are going to do as they damn well please…and all of this is what future generations have to face and solve. Kinda makes you wonder about bringing children into the world, doesn’t it?

Is this a messed up world or what? It rather makes you wonder where in the hell you could go to get away from all of this nonsense and maybe set down some roots [pronounced however you please] somewhere in the boonies or backwoods of…aw, who the hell knows. Can’t go to a tropical island; never know when an earthquake will hit ‘n sink the whole damned thing. Besides, television sucks. If you wish to move to the back snow country of Alaska, good luck and write when the temperature gets to be around 70 F; I’ll come for a short visit.

However, I have some wonderful news. There are still towns right here on the continent where you and I can go for some peace and quiet; rest and relaxation…as long as you mind your business and I mind my own. If you agree to those terms, I’ll let you in on the secret.

Mother Nature Network has listed twelve towns that sound ideal for getting away from it all. If you’re looking for fine dining and nightlife, you may as well stay where you are, but for me Monowi, Nebraska doesn’t sound bad at all. Hell, I could double the population just by moving next door to Elsie Eller, the Mayor, librarian, and bartender…she’s the only resident living there now. Time was her husband, Rudy, was around but he passed back in 2004, so Elsie’s the sole resident. Monowi was a boomtown back in the 30’s with 150 residents, but the draw of the big cities with greater job opportunities just whittled that population down to Elsie and Rudy.

There’s a big question regarding whether or not I’d be welcome in Lost Springs, Wyoming. There’s a great deal of controversy. Somebody put up an official-looking sign that says Lost Springs has a population of one. Mayor Leda Price, who’s been living there for nearly 40 years, says that’s wrong. Even after the coalminers left, she says that the town has always had three or four residents. Controversy aside, it seems to be a hospitable place; even has a post office and the general store…which is owned by none other than Mayor Price.

I’ve actually driven through Tortilla Flat, Arizona. That was back in 1953. It’s the “…last surviving stagecoach stop along the Apache Trail” but no, we didn’t have to fight the Apaches. Tortilla Flat [there is no ‘s’] is Arizona’s smallest official community that has a post office and voter’s precinct. It also boasts a restaurant, gift shop, and a saloon. Right now, the ‘town’ is owned by a couple who bought it in 1988, but if you’re willing to kick in $5.5 million, the place can be yours. With my luck it would be bought by a gambling syndicate and turned into another Vegas…guess I’ll pass on this one also.

If it weren’t for the summer’s heat and humidity, I might consider moving to Weeki Wachee, Florida. “It’s home to just four residents, according to census estimates, making it the only city in the world with more mermaids than people. The deepest naturally formed spring in the U.S. runs through this small town, and Seminole Indians named it “Weeki Wachee,” meaning “little spring.” The spring is so deep that the bottom has never been located, and every day more than 117 million gallons of fresh water flow into the spring from subterranean caves.

“When former U.S. Navy SEAL trainer Newton Perry came across the spring in 1946, he saw a business opportunity and built a theater into the limestone below the surface of the spring. Perry trained women as “mermaids,” teaching them to swim, dance and perform beneath the water, and the Weeki Wachee mermaids were born. The mermaids transformed Weeki Wachee into a tourist hotspot in the 1960s, attracting thousands of people to the small town, including celebrities like Elivis Presley. The city incorporated in 1966, making it one of the nation’s smallest cities — and the only one with a mermaid mayor. Mayor and former mermaid Robyn Anderson now oversees both the city and her underwater kingdom of mermaids.”

I know two small communities to which I won’t be going. One is Centralia, Pennsylvania. There was a time when the mining town boasted a population of 3,000. Today, that number is down to ten. Ya see, what happened there was that in 1962, some workers set a trash fire in an old mine…damned fire’s still going. The state condemned the town – even took away their zip code; that’s about as low as you can get – and the state spent $42 million just to relocate the townies. The other ‘no-no’ place on my list is Picher, Oklahoma, the spot dubbed the most toxic place in America by the Environmental Protection Agency. At one time, this was the most productive lead and zinc mining area in the world, but the mine waste contaminated everything in the area, turning the local creek red. “Picher was declared too toxic to clean up in 2006, and was further devastated by a tornado in 2008. Despite this, six residents remain; can you say, “dumb?”

So whether your search for peace and quiet takes you to Buford or Emblem, Wyoming, Freeport, Kansas, Bonanza, Colorado, or Gross, Nebraska, just remember…somehow, the IRS will find you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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