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Archive for May, 2016

What are we?

Is it really any wonder that elderly people generally develop some form of dementia? Think about it for a moment…particularly if you’re in your 80s or 90s. I mean, at one time or another, we have been anti-gay, anti-straight, anti-conservative, anti-liberal, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, and certainly anti- anything that even smacked of an Asian/Buddhist/Taoist/Maoist/Istist religion. We’ve been anti-war, anti-peace, anti-cult and anti-freeze. We hate the cold in the winter and heat in the summer. We dislike people who garden and think those who don’t are selfish and perhaps even narcissistic. Given the degree of negativity we possess, thank the good Lord for the number of younger, and as yet initiated, go-getters who have kept us on our daily trip around the sun.

Why are we the way we are? Well, let’s see. In my own case, I’ve seen one really bad world war and several shooting situations where others were trying to kill Americans and Americans were trying to kill others…generally because someone in America decided way back when that when the shit hits the fan, America will always come to the rescue. This ‘someone’ by the way is not one of those who will be doing the shooting or getting shot at by others…unless, of course, you happen to enjoy hunting with Dick Cheney. The advice then is to watch yourself at all times. If you happen to live in the Middle East, you have probably been fighting and killing since you were a child, if only because the tribal elders of one group decided that they had been insulted by the tribal elders of another group…you figure it out because I sure as hell can’t. Should you happen to live in Europe, your borders appear to shift with the wind. One year you’re this; another year you’re that. You must adjust to the political whims of whoever wants to be on top this time around. Are you beginning to see why old people get a bit whacked out every now and again?

We have been terrorized not only by other people but by things of which we cannot even conceive. For example, polio, that dreaded crippling killing disease. According to NPR, “In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died. Hospitals set up special units with iron lung machines to keep polio victims alive. Rich kids as well as poor were left paralyzed.” It was the year I graduated from high school, and the year I lost a friend to the disease. Again and again, unseen germs or diseases of another kind have threatened us. While we’ve made great strides, cancer is still with us; is still killing; is still as unpredictable as ever. Zika and killer bees pose new threats, but who knows what they will bring?

We are a strange breed, we things called ‘man.’ We are generous to a fault and as stingy as Scrooge. We, not the old Soviet Union, are a riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma” but as Churchill also noted, perhaps there is a key. That key is our own self-interest. Therein lies the reason we are as we are. We are molded by the lives we live and lead. There is a degree of selfishness in all of us, deny it if you dare. It’s really quite strange how we proceed through life with the views that we hold at one time or another. In our early years, those views are based on what our parents and our social grouping believe. As we age, we attempt to form what we think of as our own views but which, if we are truthful about it, are based just as much on the beliefs of others as our own.

So, from those of us who are old and demented, to those of you who are young and as yet unimpaired, be kind. We once were as you are now. We watched our world turn from the rose-colored glasses of our youth, to the mud-spattered and scratched glasses of our aging. Advice? Sure, advice is cheap so I’ll give you all that I’ve got. When they tell you you’re wrong, don’t believe them. When they tell you no one will listen, keep talking. When they tell you it can’t be done, remind them of the poem by Edgar Albert Guest:

“Somebody said that it couldn’t be done

But he with a chuckle replied

That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one

Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin

On his face. If he worried he hid it.

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

That couldn’t be done, and he did it!”

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Around The Corner

 

Around the corner I have a friend,
In this great city that has no end,
Yet the days go by and weeks rush on,
And before I know it, a year is gone.

And I never see my old friends face,
For life is a swift and terrible race,
He knows I like him just as well,
As in the days when I rang his bell.

And he rang mine but we were younger then,
And now we are busy, tired men.
Tired of playing a foolish game,
Tired of trying to make a name.

“Tomorrow” I say! “I will call on Jim
Just to show that I’m thinking of him”,
But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes,
And distance between us grows and grows.

Around the corner, yet miles away,
“Here’s a telegram sir,” “Jim died today.”
And that’s what we get and deserve in the end.
Around the corner, a vanished friend.

 

Charles Hanson Towne 1877-1949

 

Has this happened to you…yet? It’s probably going to happen someday. Yes, it’s true we drift away from one another because of this or that. Perhaps our job, our travel, our marriage, our, that, or the other thing interferes to make staying in touch a difficult proposition. Then, one day we get the word that this classmate, playmate, former colleague and friend has died. “I was just thinking about him or her the other day,” we say to ourselves. Sorry, too late; the time for that has come and gone.

 

That happened to me recently. I’ve always been terrible about staying in touch with darn near anybody, including some pretty close friends. Several years ago, however, I began to make it a point to drop an e-mail off to a few classmates on a weekly basis. It resulted in some renewed friendships and even luncheon meetings with a couple of them. We laughed about how old we looked and talked of others who had departed. I continued to write as did they, but time and distance became an even greater problem. Then, their e-mails stopped. There was no explanation. They just stopped. One, I later learned, had been killed in a single car crash. Two were stricken with cancer…they had never spoken of their illness in their e-mails, but, obviously, they were battling the disease even as we exchanged correspondence.

 

Recently, it happened again. A friend living in California didn’t return my e-mail. “Is she dead,” I wondered. Perhaps she’s on vacation, but no, too much time has elapsed for that to be the case. I don’t really wish to see if I can find her telephone number. Perhaps that’s cowardice; perhaps I just don’t want to know that another friend, a friend like Jim, is gone.

 

So here’s a bit of advice. Don’t be like me. Remember those friendships. Send out those e-mails. We’re on this earth for such a short period of time. Let’s make the most of it.

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Here we go again

It was deeply disturbing and disconcerting to learn that Donald J. Trump has secured the number of Republican delegates to place his name on the ballot for President of the United States come the 2016 national election.  It’s disturbing because I cannot believe that Americans can be taken in by slurs and racist comments uttered by someone who has offered no detailed plans on the economy, immigration, foreign policy, income tax reform reducing the national debt or any of the other pressing issues in our society today. I’m not talking about blank rhetoric such as “We’re gonna build a wall,” or “We’re gonna ban all Muslims,” because those statements are made by someone who is ignorant of how America operates. His Ponzi scheme to lower the national debt may sound great to the 44 million adults who are now unable to read a simple story to their children or to the fifty percent of American adults who cannot read a book written at the eighth grade level. These are the people to whom Mr. Trump is appealing. To the 45 million who are functionally illiterate and read below a fifth grade level, Trump sounds like a godsend. He’s rich – although not as rich as he claims. He’s a Washington outsider because that’s what he says he is. He’s determined in his statements, although he flip-flops so often, it’s difficult to determine what his determination actually is. By the way, the figures noted above are not pulled from my butt. They come from The Literacy Project and its Foundation, a respected organization of which, I have no doubt, Mr. Trump is totally unfamiliar.

There are several things that are disconcerting about Mr. Trump. One is his total misunderstanding of what a great political rally should be. He seems to feel that heckling and disrespect should be the hallmarks of a good rally. In other words, he knows how to appeal to the Nazi-types in his crowd, but God forbid, if someone with an opposing view dares to speak out, they are treated as the Brown shirts treated those who dared to speak out against Adolph Hitler. Am I truly comparing the two men? Why, yes, I am, and the difficulty I have is that Trump is now under the protection of the United States Secret Service, ergo, they turn into duly authorized Brown shirts for this madman whose finger may someday be capable of pushing the button that will bring the end of civilization as we know it in less than half an hour.

This brings us to the potential Democratic candidate, Mrs. Hillary R. Clinton, a former First Lady; a former United States Senator; a former Secretary of State. Mrs. Clinton is everything I oppose in a potential candidate. Let’s leave Bill out of it for a moment. She is the epitome of the Washington insider. She is pure Teflon. Benghazi? “What’s the difference?” And stop pretending that her pleas about the four people killed there meant a damned thing to her. Sure, she testified for hours on end about Benghazi and about her private server because she knows precisely how to testify. The Inspector General’s report about her private server and e-mails drips from her without breaking a crease in her pants suit. Certainly, she has the experiences to qualify her as a legitimate Presidential contender but who would benefit from her election. Would it be “same old, same old,” or would we continue with our contentious wrangling’s in the houses of Congress with nothing being accomplished…and naming the bison as a national emblem does not count as “getting things done.”

So, where do we go from here? Oh how I wish that I had an answer. Perhaps it all comes down to Vice Presidential choices. I believe that each Presidential nominee is fully aware of that and, hopefully, will make an intelligent, respected candidate his or her second-in-command. Or, maybe life-long Democrats and life-long Republicans should toss aside their party loyalties and take a very serious look at the people themselves. It’s people, not parties that will run the country for the next four years. Perhaps by that time we will have found a real candidate.

This is going to be one of the most mud-slinging campaigns in American history. Please, pay no attention to the mud. Let’s put the candidates feet to the fire. Find out what they really have planned for you, me, and the rest of Mr. & Mrs. America who have only a minor say in the outcome. We need strength in our leader, not childish name-calling or smooth-talking political hacks.

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Graduation Day

A young woman missed her college graduation ceremony the other day. Thankfully, she was found safe and sound later in the day. She is the only person on earth who knows the reason why she chose to miss the ceremony, often viewed as a highlight in a young person’s life…and she will probably never reveal those reasons. I don’t blame her for keeping her reasons private.

Before proceeding further, allow me to outline my qualifications for making the following statements. I toiled in the halls of higher education for 40 years. During that time, I saw students go through so many changes in their lives that I’m just glad I was not in their shoes. From the walk of shame between residence halls to alcohol poisoning requiring emergency life-saving runs to local hospitals; from unwanted pregnancies to pressure-driven suicides, I won’t say that I’ve seen it all, but I have seen one whole hell of a lot…and it’s terrifying.

Many people don’t realize that commencement day for many seniors is not a day of celebration. In fact, it’s a day that evokes great fear and trepidation. Many is the senior speaker whom I have cautioned to watch his or her classmates for the “change” midway through the ceremony as the realization takes place that they will not be returning to the sanctuary of campus the following year. Those who are still grinning when the graduation ceremony ends are either too drunk to realize what took place or those who are fully prepared to face what lies ahead. But don’t kid yourself, the latter are few and far between, depending entirely on the subject matter lobotomized into their skulls over the preceding four or five years.

Think about this: One enters college as a freshman, generally following a summer of sun, sand, sea, and surf or some other exotic eight-week vacation. It’s conceivable that this is the first time away from home without the restraints generally applied by mother or dad or both. Freedom! This is the magic word…freedom, freedom, freedom. Depending once more on the reins put on by the college or university administration, this freedom may be total or quite limited. You don’t have to attend classes unless the faculty member takes daily attendance; that’s a pain in the butt for the faculty member as well as the student. The faculty member has subject matter to impart; the student is expected to be sufficiently mature to understand that not attending class will result in severe consequences…many do not understand that.

The college freshman not only requires the maturity to understand the importance of class attendance and participation, but must also possess the smarts to stay away from the partying with its accompany alcohol and drugs. I’m not against partying, but upperclassmen have been known to pull pranks that exceed the boundaries of good taste and decorum. It isn’t until tragedy strikes, that the “We didn’t know” or the “It’s not my fault” excuses happen. Too late then if someone happens to wind up with a toe tag and lying on a slab.

Let us, however, get back to graduation day. Moms and dads, perhaps grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters are all in attendance to celebrate the academic achievement of the former frosh now ready to face the world. If this graduating senior has already received an acceptable job offer, their confidence level is pretty high. If they are still searching, this is the day to join with family in an “it’s finally over” celebration. Sitting there, under a warm May or June sky or perhaps under a tent or in a large auditorium, the graduating senior revels in seeing familiar classmates…until about the time just before the diplomas are being handed out.  As the ‘Abbott’s’ and the ‘Anderson’s’ and the ‘Arno’s’ and the ‘Barry’s’ are being called, realization sets in. There will be no long summer vacation. On Monday you go to work…that horrible four-letter word that will govern your life for the next half century. Perhaps you won’t be going to work – I know I’ve changed tenses; live with it. Perhaps you will continue your job hunt, hoping against hope that all of those rejection letters you’ve already received meant nothing. Better get it through your head quickly that you are not the only one who received a sheepskin this year. Hundreds of thousands of college graduates, many of whom you are in competition with, are doing the same thing you are…seeking a job to make money. A degree is nothing more than a license to hunt. It is not a guarantee that you will get a job in your field; that it will be well-paying; that you will even like the first job you get. That’s right…no more cutting class because of a hangover. No more letting the world revolve around you. There are many, many, many “no mores’ because you are now a college graduate. That’s right…life’s a bitch and then you die.

Is this picture too gloomy? It probably ranks right up there with some of the most dire you have heard. Thankfully, today’s college seniors appear to be a bit more serious about what they are going to do upon graduation. Most are also going to graduate with massive debt which (a) will take a long time to pay off and (b) which may find them working in a field totally unrelated to their degree. Only in the most specialized of professions, ie, medicine, nursing, etcetera, will the graduate proceed with eyes wide open. In business, the arts and sciences, and even some fields of engineering, advanced or even terminal degrees will be required…more money and more debt.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for education. In fact, I’m a proponent of life-long learning. I don’t believe, however, that the majority of secondary school graduates are prepared to make a life decision upon graduation. I would prefer that two years of work, two years of a junior or community college, or two years of community service be required before college becomes an option. Of course, I’d also like to see many colleges tighten up their freshman year programs so that they don’t become Grade 13 for the students.

No, college graduation should be a wonderful day. Unfortunately, it’s just not true for everyone and the pressure of realizing that can make college seniors do some strange things.

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Laying one’s life bare on the Internet is not something to be taken lightly. Once it’s there, whatever you have decided to print or show is there forever. You may take down that skimpy underwear photograph or something worse, but someone has already copied it and pasted it and sent it to friends everywhere. It’s not dissimilar to an old police promo, “Think Before You Drink,” or some equally nonsensical billboard. I say that because if people are going out and they drink and they get behind the wheel, they aren’t or haven’t been thinking in the first place.

When I write something for this blog, eg, “A stranger in the family,” I think very carefully before publishing it. Who will see it? How will people react? Is there anyone out there who will try to use this as an intimidating factor for any reason? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Therefore, when I describe something as vastly different as the recent, “Two Different Lives” or “Hail, Hail to Michigan,” I do so fully understanding the potential consequences of my actions.

When I read that more than 50 teenagers from one community have posted photographs of themselves online and in near or complete nudity, I am truly appalled. How low must the self-esteem of these youngsters be that they are doing something so stupid? Of course, that’s me; I’m not their age, nor do I comprehend what and why the youth of today do a whole hell of a lot of the things they do. I have not dealt with students of high school or college age for nearly two decades. When I did, I found them to be extremely bright and dedicated. I hope that holds true today and that the idiocy of these 50 young ladies is just an uncorrectable life error. It would be a simple matter to wax rudely about this occurrence, and even say something like, “Look, Johnny, this is what grandma used to look like when she was younger!” Oh boy…hot damn…and any other expression you’d like to use as the kid looks at the hologram of grandma baring her soul and everything else.

All of that aside, I have to admit that I was somewhat shocked to read on AOL today about the eight things that “you never tell your doctor.” The first of these is that people don’t tell their physicians if they are taking herbs, vitamins, or supplements. Excuse me, but do you really want to put yourself in that much danger. Believe it or not, prescription drugs can and do interact with over-the-counter (OTC) preparations. Why would you not tell your doctor? You’ll ask for a prescription for Viagra or for birth control pills? What’s wrong with telling him or her that you’re taking Echinacea or Glucosamine, or even Ginko…whoops… that last one can negatively interact with blood pressure medications. One doctor recommended that I stop taking a medication a few weeks ago; I now wonder if that was a contributing factor to my recent heart attack.

Doctors ask if your stools are very black or if you’ve noticed blood in them. Who looks? Truth of the matter is – as gross as it may sound – take a peek every now and again. You might just be saving yourself from problems later on. Many people hold out on their physicians; will not say how they really feel. Years ago, I complained to my primary care doc (PCP) that I just felt like crap. We explored the statement further, until he finally said, “You’ve just told me all of the signals of depression.” Frankly, I never associated the two…feeling poorly and clinical depression. It’s very hard for us to let go of everything that might be of concern, even to our PCP or should I say, “particularly to our PCP.” After all, how often do we see the doctor? We’re more likely to tell our best friend things we wouldn’t want to share with our doctor, right?

When your doctor asks about your diet or exercise program, do you tell the whole truth? Many people lie. Why? Are they afraid the doctor’s going to chew butt like a drill sergeant? That’s not what they’re seeing you for! Their job is to see that you challenge Methuselah for the old age trophy. Tearing you a new one is not going to help that along. When I read this next one, I found it nearly impossible to accept. “People don’t tell doctors when they quit their medications.” Why not just tie a couple of cement blocks around your waist and jump off the highest bridge you can find? That’s just insanity. If you are taking medications and it comes down to a choice between meds and food or meds and paying the rent, tell someone. Don’t just quit. The cement blocks will be quicker and less painful.

Finally, if you talk with the doc about everything else, you may well be loath to discuss your sex life. By not doing so, you may also be exposing yourself to some hidden illnesses that a low libido suggests. Here, I will take control of my own comments and say nothing other than that this is something with which to speak with your physician, and…no, no, no…I promised.

It’s not easy to talk with a doctor about a whole lot of things, but think of it this way. This man or woman has seen you at your most vulnerable. He or she has probed, prodded, and poked the very essence of your being. If you cannot be open and candid with them about everything, who the hell can you possibly talk to?

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I really like my University of Michigan clothing. My son has sent me a sweatshirt and heaven only knows how many different T-shirts in maize and blue emblazoned with Michigan swimming and diving on them. In fact, it was just such a combination of sweatshirt and T-shirt that I was wearing Tuesday morning as I prepared for my morning exercise routine at Planet Fitness. The muscle ache on the right side of my chest and in my right shoulder, I attributed to lifting one too many weights.

At the gym, and before working out, I sat at one of the client tables in one of the hand-shaped chairs, feeling that this shoulder and arm pain really weren’t getting any better. “Aw, to hell with it,” I thought and headed to my car instead of to the bike awaiting me at the gym. Home I toddled, laying down beside my sleeping partner carefully in order not to rouse her from slumber. After a few minutes of restlessness, I decided that the pain might just not be the result of a muscle pull or tear. Time to get this checked out.

At 6:15 in the morning, one does not go to the local physician. Instead, I took the direct route to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. In a situation not dissimilar from going to the dentist for a toothache only to have it disappear just before you get there, the pain began to subside…and I began to feel like a damned fool. Nurses came and nurses went. Doctors came and off they went. Blood was drawn and it too disappeared into the ‘who-knows-where’ cloud of something or other.

“I’d like to run another test,” said the attending physician, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. This one, I knew, was to determine if there was somewhere, floating around in this magnificent 81-year old body, a nasty little thing called a blood clot. These are fine unless they happen to wind up in your brain where they can cause a stroke or in your lungs where they can cause the ultimate step.

“The scan is clear; the x-ray is clear, but the blood enzyme is borderline,” said the doctor. I was acutely aware of what he was saying, having been through three prior heart attacks. “Are you saying this is an infarction?” I asked. “No, he replied,” obviously impressed that I could use such a terrific technical term – no dummy, this kid – but the troponin level is such that I think we should do another test. I will pause here to tell you that enzyme testing is an excellent way of diagnosing whether or not what the patient is experiencing is heart related or not. The only problem is that enzyme tests have to be performed six hours apart. By now, it was getting nigh on to noon and that meant that it would be well into the evening before the results were known. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t care to spend any more time in a hospital than absolutely necessary. They’re filled with germs and sick people and they are real morale busters. “You want to admit me, don’t you?” I glared with steely eyes (like that?). “Yes,” he said, with a look that matched my own. After arguing the advantages and disadvantages, I had to admit that his case for staying was somewhat stronger than my own arguments for leaving, thus I was taken to a bed in the main hospital, prepared for a sleepless night. Who the hell can sleep in a hospital?

Sometime after dark, this same emergency room doctor came smiling into 543A and proudly announced that my enzyme level had risen, thus indicating a heart “concern.” Translation: You have had a heart attack and we have stabilized you. Okay, that was heart attack number four, but the first one where any semblance of pain had occurred. Heart attacks are funny things. They don’t always behave as we have been told time and time and time again. Pain is not a necessity. Radiating tingling in the left arm doesn’t have to happen. Symptoms of a heart attack are all over the place, bear witness that the muscle ache (I thought) was on the right side, not the left, and while the muscle ache extended to the shoulder, it hardly “radiated” down the right arm. Still, it was a heart attack.

The following morning, there was no pain and I was ready to get in the car. It was over and all was right with the world, right? Young doctor whozit abused me of that idea early on. “We’re sending you in town for a cardiac catheterization,” He said. For those unfamiliar with this procedure – I had been there and done that so was fully prepared (yeah, right), a needle is inserted into the femoral artery [mistake one] in the groin and is threaded up through the heart, looking for blockages. If everything is clear, so is the patient. If a blockage is found, it is cleaned out and a stent implanted. A stent is a tiny piece of wire mesh that is used to keep the offending artery open. “Piece of cake,” I thought. “No pain; everything should be clean and clear [mistake two].

Late Wednesday afternoon, I was taken by wheelchair to the “cath lab.” They prepped the groin area and when the surgeon came in, he announced, “We’re going through the wrist.” I had heard of this procedure, but the radial artery seems so much smaller than the femoral that I didn’t understand how this would be possible. In addition, having a probing needle thrust into my wrist was not something to which I was looking forward. “Don’t worry,” said one of the nurses, “you won’t feel a thing.” While I was conscious throughout this ordeal, she was right. Whatever Kickapoo joy juice I had been given put me on cloud 9 and 10 and 11…good stuff.

I have no idea how long I was on that table, but it seemed like forever. When it was all over and the lights came up, I remember asking if everything was clear. Hardly, replied some doctor from somewhere. It seems that one artery was blocked 99.9 percent and a few others needed some plaque removal. Ergo, I was one lucky sumbitch that a doctor in the emergency room at Newton-Wellesley refused to let me make a fool of myself and go home.

To Doctor Adam Lurie; to Ryan Flanagan; to Doctor Colin Hirst and his team; and to all of the wonderful people I met at both hospitals, thanks for your dedication, patience, warmth, and understanding. Nursing care at both hospital was fantastic and guess what…I even liked the meatloaf lunch I was served just before departing for home on Thursday…in my Michigan sweatshirt and T-shirt.

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Less than a month after graduating from college, I was walking down the aisle of a Catholic church in Waban – that’s one of the many villages of the city of Newton – marrying a beautiful girl that I had met seven months before in one of those quirks of fate ‘thingies.’ I had been exercising my option on a second major and doing some substitute teaching and on the first day on the job, was smitten with an arrow from Cupid’s quiver. She was smart, beautiful, and the weird part was…she liked me! I’d already had one bad breakup over this Catholic vs. Protestant religion idiocy, and while I wasn’t certain about spending a lifetime together, I was damn well certain that that would not get in the way with this girl.

Fifty years, three children, and nine grandchildren later, we buried the girl who’d become a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and my best friend. But as you would know had you read “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, it was neither the date of her birth nor the date of her death but that little line between them that made our lives together so wonderful. If there was ever any truth in the statement that “opposites attract,” it certainly applied in our case. She was an only child from a reasonably prosperous family and lived in a large city. I was one of three from a family that struggled mightily after the Great Depression and who, by comparison, lived in a rather small town. Finding one another as we did, well…you could only describe it as quirky.

The first seven years of our marriage was a series of highs and lows. The highs came in attending numerous shows in Boston, having a place of our own on the Cape and attending every performance that the Falmouth Playhouse had to offer; dining in some of the finer restaurants around and generally enjoying our jobs. She became Director of Admissions at Tufts Dental School, and I was slowly moving up in my job at Northeastern. We commuted together, tried new recipes together, did a few crazy things together that you don’t need to read about and in total, had a wonderful life. The lows came as we lost three children before they were born…and if you haven’t been there, it’s pretty low.

The first two children might have been called Irish twins, they were born so close together. The third came along a few years later. As those of you who are married well know, life with young kids is a life unto its own. They become the center of your universe. We were no different. Elementary school, Cub Scouts, Brownies, PTA, Little League, and a host of other activities combined to eat up that time formerly dedicated to plays, movies, and restaurants. In our case, swimming became the dominant focus. I swear that our car could have gone from Newton to the Brown University swimming facility on its own. As parents, we maintained our “slim” figures by sweating it out at day-long swim meets where the indoor temperature seemed well into the triple digits.

Then…she was gone. The kids, by now, were married with children of their own. The house…well, the house was empty…except for a man growing older with little to do. A few years later, a new lady came into my life…all the way from California. Life became worthwhile living once more. This love was different…and so was the lifestyle. From restaurants and shows, it became craft fairs and drives around New England. It was learning the history of this part of the country and teaching me the history of her part of the world. It was a renewed form of education. From Boston Duck tours to a helicopter ride.

The rite of spring became building of raised garden beds – she did the building – to watching seeds turn into summer squash, jalapeno peppers – wow, could they be hot – and tomatoes. I was taught about heirloom, pear, cherry, yellow, and beau coup other types of tomatoes. We had radishes – who the hell eats radishes – cucumbers, and even a season or two of green beans and peas. All of this was totally foreign to me and to what my life had been like. Other parts of the yard were taken over by a variety and abundance of lilies, sun flowers, forget-me-nots, and hyacinth. Roses included Mr. Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, cocoa, roses-within-roses, yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and on and on. Flowers were planted that bloomed in early spring, followed by late spring, followed by summer. It appeared that color appeared from April through October. My new love sprayed with her own concoctions of both fertilizer and bug killer. Diatomaceous earth, normally used in the pool filter, became a barrier against slugs; lily beetles were plucked with tweezers, and tomato worms quickly learned the errors of their ways if they were gutsy enough to get anywhere near our plants.

Why do I tell you these things? Why would I lay a part of my life bare for all to know? There are many answers, but perhaps the most important one is directed at those who are widows or widowers. Life does not end when your partner dies. It does not end when the nest empties and only the two of you remain, often as strangers because so much of your time has been devoted to children rather than each other. You may have to learn to love again, but it will be a deeper love and yes, it will be a different type of love. And then, as I have said, you will be alone. Friends will come and they will go; few, if any, leaving the footprints on your heart that were already deeply imprinted. If you are as fortunate as I, and you may well be, someone will come along, and you, you will find a totally different world…again, just as I did. Remember, life is worth living to your very last breath.

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I’m gone and there’s nothing anyone can do about it…especially me. By ‘gone,’ I simply mean that my days are numbered, and it really is up to people so much younger than I to help move this nation toward greatness. No, I’m not so naive nor so egotistical as to believe that I ever did anything to make a difference in America’s history. I voted; I served my country…twice. I bitched and wailed in a few newspaper editorial opinion pieces about this, that, and the other, but I really don’t think it made a hell of a lot of difference. Now I’m an old man who is widowed and whose children and grandchildren see little of. I’m tired and grouchy, cynical and curmudgeonly, but I refuse to give up on America.

It’s my understanding that Civics hasn’t been taught in public schools in a long time. I’d bet there’s no such thing as a Problems of Democracy course any more either. In my dotage, I can look back and say that neither course interested me that much at the time. I don’t really know how you convince younger people of what they really have and who they really are when [or if] they say to themselves, “I’m an American.”

Memorial Day is coming up at the end of this month. It’s a day of remembrance for all of those who died while serving in the armed forces of this country. It’s a day to remember Harry Hunt and Ed Hurtig. It’s a day to remember Washington Burns and Giuseppe Pialmo. It’s a day to seek out the monument in your hometown that lists the names of all of the men and women who died so that we might live the lives we do without fear of anyone telling us what we can or cannot do; where we can or cannot travel; who we can talk to and who we can’t. We are so blessed…and we take it all so much for granted. We wave flags and watch as the fire engines and the marching bands pass by. We might even spend a bit of time at the veteran’s memorial where some old guys wearing funny outfits and hats stand up and talk about their experiences in one war or another. There may even be a few people in wheelchairs down front, and some of them will have tears running down their cheeks before the whole ceremony is over. Other, younger people will walk away without really understanding of what was said or why the tears were shed.

How many of us have ever walked the battlefields of Manassas or Gettysburg or visited the site of the Battle of Pea Ridge or Glorietta Pass? We talk about our vacation to Bermuda or our trip to Paris or Rome, but have you ever heard someone excitedly speak of the time they spent at Lexington or Concord, soaking up the history of our nation began. Plymouth Rock may be no big deal to look at, but it is the place where a small band if dissidents came ashore to begin what we have become.

“I pledge thee my allegiance, America the bold…for this is my country, to have and to hold.”  I wonder what was going through the minds of Al Jacobs and Don Raye when they composed the song, This Is My Country.’ Were they thinking about those who had fought and died? Were they just writing another patriotic song? It doesn’t really matter why they wrote it; it’s a wonderful song.

I’m not certain that today’s Americans know, understand, or even really care about who they are, just as long as they can have the latest electronic gadget; as long as they can get a medal for just participating; as long as they don’t miss the next episode of whatever it is they want to watch on some streaming video. Perhaps my message should be this: America doesn’t run itself. It requires intelligent, hard-working men and women who are committed to ensuring the nation’s future; people who put the welfare of the nation ahead of the welfare of their village, town, city, or state. America First is not just some slogan to be bandied about. Who is out there, what young man or woman, who is willing to work his or her butt off to ensure that our country will remain free and that its citizens will all receive a fair chance without regard to their race, color or creed?

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I must be going blind. This is not a literal statement, but in a figurative sense, there is no question that my vision has taken a bad turn somewhere. I cannot see why anyone in their right mind or with corrected vision would ever consider Donald J. Trump to be Presidential. Custodial perhaps, but Presidential? It’s not difficult to see why many Americans believe Trump to be a Messiah of some ilk. He boasts; he brags; he puts forth plans that, on the surface, appeal to those with little or no knowledge of how the plans would actually work. He’s a showman; a carnie man, a television personality, a failed businessman who bends the truth to meet his personal requirements.

Trump states that he inherited one million dollars from his family. History shows and Forbes Magazine confirms that the amount was closer to $40 million. With that money, he has amassed an enormous net worth of, according to him, $10 billion. Again, going back to Forbes, that net worth is closer to $4.7 billion. It’s still a lot of money but how it’s been garnered is open to question. In the 1980s, when Trump Plaza was being constructed, a sub-contract when to S&A Concrete, a company partially owned by the mafia. “Trump World Tower, supported by the Quadrozzi Concrete Company, is also tangentially related to La Cosa Nostra. The head of the company, John Quadrozzi Sr., was tied to the Lucchese crime family and indicted for making illegal payoffs to the mob in 1992.”1 The list goes on and on about Trump’s nefarious dealings with the mob. If one of the qualities of a President is assumed to be “A person of strong character,” Trump fails to meet the standard.

Let’s take a moment to look at some of Trump’s business failures: The Eastern Airlines Shuttle from Boston to New York and Washington ran for 27 years. Many was the time that I would hop a 6:30 am shuttle to head to either destination. It was a great convenience (plus free parking). In 1988, Trump purchased the service for a reported $365 million. He improved the look of the service by adding maple-wood veneer to the floors, chrome-plated seat belt clasps and gold bathroom fixtures. It didn’t work and the Trump Shuttle never turned a profit. The high debt accrued forced Trump to default on his loans, and the shuttle ceased to exist in 1992. In 2006, Trump introduced Trump Vodka, designed to compete with Grey Goose. If you happen to own a bottle of Trump’s vodka, hold onto it because it’s highly doubtful you’ll find it on liquor store shelves today…but you will find Grey Goose.

Claire Sudduth of Time Magazine noted in an article about Trump’s bankruptcies, “”I don’t like the B word,” Donald Trump said in 2010 while testifying in a New Jersey bankruptcy courtroom about his gambling company, Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., which had filed for bankruptcy for the third time. Given the number of times Trump has flirted with bankruptcy, you’d think he’d be used to that word by now.

“In 1990, the banking institutions that backed his real estate investments had to bail him out with a $65 million “rescue package” that contained new loans and credit. But it wasn’t enough, and nine months later the famous developer was nearly $4 billion in debt. He didn’t declare personal bankruptcy, although his famous Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J., did have to file for it  Trump’s economic troubles continued through the early ’90s, while he was personally leveraged to nearly $1 billion. In 2004, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts also filed for bankruptcy. The company was only a small portion of Trump’s real estate empire, but he did still have to personally cough up $72 million to keep it afloat. In 2009, the same company filed for bankruptcy again. Yet during all of this, no one ever told Trump, “You’re fired!” Probably because no one could.2 In case you weren’t counting, Trump has gone bankrupt four times. He later claimed that those were not his failures as a businessman but strategic decisions to help him make more money. In other words, he manipulated the system for personal gain. Gee, isn’t Bernie Madoff doing time for that, along with several other sleazebags?

Much more could be said about Mr. Trump and his potential candidacy for President of the United States. In truth, he’s a bully, a bigot, a racist, a sexist, a liar, and perhaps the worst individual ever to be considered for the highest office in the land. I never cared much for Mitt Romney when he was Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but you can bet your boots that should he run as a third party candidate, I will be checking his name off in the voting booth.

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  1. Politifact…a division of the Tampa Bay Times
  2. Claire Sudduth, Time Magazine, April 29, 2011

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“And no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.” I can’t really tell you why but that song lyric hit me as we were driving home from Walmart today. It’s raining; the windshield wipers are doing their whop, whop, whop thing as we travel silently home…neither one of us in much of a mood for conversation. Juli did her shopping and picked up my ninety dollar insulin prescription, but it really is just a yuck, yuck, yucky day. Because driving slowly was the only option, it gave me a chance to look at some of the houses we passed. I couldn’t help but wonder what really does go on behind some of those closed doors. Are the people who live there, in that red house with all of the white trim as happy as I am just to be alive? Is there tension in the house on the right, the brown one with the gables on the pitched roof? Is someone in there sick or dying in that tiny salt box on the corner? Is there a drug problem at that huge gray place on Washington Street where the FBI was a few weeks ago? How many of those houses I passed have a domestic violence problem, and alcohol problem; a cancer problem? Hundreds of houses and all with closed doors.

Truth to tell, of course, it’s none of my damned business what goes on behind those closed doors. It is, however, fun to speculate, to create one’s own fantasies about what could be going on behind those windows with their lacy drapes, swags, or curtains that are closed for some strange reason. Think about it for a moment. There’s that one house that you pass every single day of your life, whether it’s on your way to work or on your way to the market or hardware store…that one house where you never see anyone outside. It’s just a house…but is it? Perhaps it contains a hundred or so marijuana plants in the basement, set up in such a way that any smell is directed straight up through a series of filters, thus eliminating any off-chance odor that might arouse suspicion. Perhaps these are the local drug dealers who have many exits and entrances without having to use the doors you see every time you pass.

What about that other house that you pass only occasionally but that appears isolated, set back, up on the hill…you know, the yellow house that looks in need of a paint job…or at the very least, a good power washing. You’ve seen kids a couple of times, outside, playing on a swing set that looks rather new. What happens when those kids go in? Are they hugged and kissed and told how wonderful they are, or do that get a whack on the backside because they got their new sneakers dirty, and “Don’t you ever wear those new sneakers outside to play again, you dirty, little bitch.”

Have I piqued your interest yet? Have you begun to think of the houses you pass every day without really noticing? Do houses with well-cared-for yards offer any clue as to what the people are like behind those closed doors? What about the ones with the messy yards? Is that an indication of trouble? We don’t have one single idea but oh boy, is it ever fun just to speculate?

Looking down an empty road, a character in the movie, “The Magic of Belle Isle,” asks his companion, “What do you see?” She responds by telling him that she sees an empty road. “What don’t you see,” he asks? To which she says, “Huh?” You may never think of those houses you pass as anything but houses. Sure, Ted and Sarah Burns live in that contemporary monstrosity that they couldn’t pay you to live in, but the Burns’ seem to like it. Why? Why do they like it and you consider it a monstrosity? Are they strange for liking that house? Of course not…or are they?

Imagination is such a wonderful thing. It’s what makes for great reading, writing, and art of every kind, and certainly technology that has led into this new Century. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have worked with some highly creative and imaginative people who have broadened my horizons in ways that remain a mystery to me. It’s those people who have caused me, on a rainy day, when the driving was slow, to say to myself, “I wonder what goes on behind the closed doors?”

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