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Archive for May, 2017

Have we become a world of savages? Are we de-evolutionizing as opposed to evolving? There seems to be more glorification and sensationalization of the morbid and hate-filled actions of people in our newscasts these days than ever before. If I had to watch the Indianapolis 500 crash as part of local regional and national news, I think I might have vomited mightily. As if that’s not bad enough, at one point this morning, all eight television sets at the gym were showing Bryce Harper being hit by a pitch and then attacking pitcher, Hunter Strickland, with close-ups of both men exchanging punches. The benches cleared and the cameras kept rolling and the newscasters kept commenting. I mean, come on, sure, we all know that “if it bleeds, it leads,” but what comes next? Some poor reporter in Portland is probably getting chewed out by an assignment editor because he/she wasn’t on the scene to film the knife wounds of the two would-be rescuers’ by that nut job on the rail line. That may be a bit extreme, but in this day and age, I’m not all that certain.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if we’d had television in the days of the Civil War. “We take you now to Western Tennessee where our crack team of reporters are counting the dead.”

“Thanks, Bill, and here on the Confederate side, as you can see by the dead and bleeding wounded around me [cut to close-up of soldier gurgling blood from his mouth beside three dead bodies, horribly mutilated], things don’t look too good for the Southern boys at this time…and now over to you, Sharon, for the Union view.”

“Thanks, Ted. As you can see behind me, Union soldiers are stacked up like cord-wood after Confederate artillery blew their encampment to pieces. However, morale is still high here, since President Lincoln is expected to arrive tomorrow to give a pep talk to the remaining troops. [Union soldier walks behind her carrying the severed head of a comrade, and in a cheery voice, Sharon says], we’ll be on site tomorrow to bring you the President’s address. Until then, that’s it from Shiloh, and now back to you, Bill, in the studio.”

It might appear humorous but why do we have to be exposed to this blood and gore? The answer, of course, is that we don’t. We can always turn off the tube, go to social media and learn who is trying to convince whom to commit suicide, parentacide, genocide, grandparent-a-cide, or some other cide that will be tomorrow’s headlines on television.

If you can believe this one, and I swear it’s true, I was watching the evening news the other night, and the story was about a stabbing that took place outside the entrance to some condominiums in Boston. The only thing remaining at the scene was a pool of blood, and by God, that’s exactly what the camera person and the reporter were focused on. Merriam Webster defines journalism as “the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media.” News is further defined as “a report of recent events.” Gotta tell ya…that pool of blood looked pretty congealed to me so I really wouldn’t look at it as a recent thing. Perhaps showing the spot where the blood had been cleaned up is considered “old news,” but who’s to say?

Perhaps we’re living at a time when there’s not a whole helluva lot of good news to report. Perhaps people don’t want to hear good news because they’re rather pissed off at their own life or lack thereof. Whatever the case may be, I just don’t see much to brighten up my morning, noon, or evening. Here’s a headline from a recent issue of the Chicago Tribune, “Memorial Day shootings leave 6 dead 18 wounded,” or how about this from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Woman shot in grocery store: Police searching for shooter.” I could go on and on, but it’s pretty much the same across the country, and I would imagine it’s pretty much the same with TV stations around the nation. I’m not a big fan of Donald Trump, but I’d like to have heard more of what he had to say in his Memorial Day speech at Arlington. What I heard was very good: “We cannot replace, we cannot repay, we can only remember what they did for us,” is sort of a paraphrase of one part of his remarks. But that was it for the television reports. He added, “We only hope that every day we can prove worthy, not only of their sacrifice and service, but of the sacrifice made by the families and loved ones they left behind.” That, I had to get from an in-depth newspaper report the following day. It was about the warmest set of remarks I’ve heard from this ‘leader’ of the free world and I wish the television reports would have given us more.

It may be that in my dotage, I’ve become too much of a cynic. I don’t think so, but it’s possible. I sure wish they’d bring back that old news program I so enjoyed on Sunday mornings, “Good news, America.” Yep, that just set me up for the blood and gore movie that would follow the show every single Sunday. Made goin’ to church seem almost worthwhile!

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I’m beginning to consider myself somewhat odd. While that may not sound like a strange admission to those of you who have read other little essays that I’ve written for this blog, I think I may be talking about something different. Let me tell you what happened. I graduated high school in 1952 and went straight to college. Didn’t really have a clue about what to study, hadn’t taken any college preparatory classes and, quite frankly, I wasn’t living a life. It was more like I was just a “glumpf” existing on the surface of the earth. My sister had moved away and gone to New York. Mum and Dad were doing their thing, whatever that might have been, and me, I was just sorta there. My kid brother wouldn’t be born for another eleven years. I was working in a grocery store and if you want to talk about drifting through life, you-are-looking-at-prime-example-number-one.

If you want to talk about losing track of everything hometown related, that was me the minute I stepped into my first college classroom. I remember Gil MacDonald, then Dean of Students speaking to our entering class in Room 200 of Richards Hall on the asphalt campus of Northeastern University. “Look to the person on your left. Look to the person on your right. Two of you will not be here in 1957.” That was some scary stuff. On my left was a high school classmate, George White, and on my left was Bob Dennis from Abington, both of whom, I knew, had taken classes that would prepare them for college and both, I assumed, were a hell of a lot smarter than this cookie. Looked pretty much to me, that I’d be the one left out in the cold and back stocking shelves in the A&P…not a particularly exciting prospect for the rest of my life.

Interestingly enough, George and I were both in the College of Business Administration, he a finance and insurance major and yours truly studying in the field of marketing and advertising. Bob, well hell, Bob went completely off the rails and jumped into the College of Engineering. Over the course of our five years – Northeastern being a co-op school – we rarely saw much of one another, except when we were carpooling. George was the only one with a car. We’d pick up Bob in Abington, Kevin Ferullo, ‘Chooch’ McGlone and George Loud in Weymouth, and we wouldn’t see one another until the end of the day when we’d gather at the car or when George would just leave with one or two of us because the others had late classes or, as in my own case, had gotten involved with unrelated curricula activities. It’s funny how I remember these things. The kicker is that, in looking back, something unique occurred at the same time. Those five people became my “world of friends,” because if I wasn’t in class, serving in student government, rehearsing for a play, pledging a fraternity, or doing some other diddly-ass thing, I was in the car – which was really crowded with the six of us – in class, studying, doing homework into the wee hours, or working. Old friends from high school? I don’t have a clue as to what rabbit hole they dropped into. I’m quite certain that many of them went on to college. Some, I later learned, went directly into the service, but whatever they were doing, they dropped completely from my life. And this is what I find rather odd.

On April 8, 1957, with my last final exam taken and passed, I came home and went to work. On April 10th, I began a new career, working as an administrator at Northeastern. In June, I, along with George and Bob – so there, Gil – received our degrees. Less than a month later, I was getting married, moving to Westborough, and in December of that year began my first stint in the Army. I did not return to my hometown, other than to visit my folks, for another 45 years.

In 2002 my high school celebrated its 50th reunion. Although I didn’t attend, someone sent me a program of the occasion. It was only then that I learned how many of my classmates were no longer living. It was shocking. It shouldn’t have been because that’s the way life is. People die every day, but it was still something of a shock to see all of those names. My best friend from high school, Tom, ‘Po-Po’ Roberts was on the list of deceased. That hurt. I learned later that he’d died from cancer while he was still rather young. After contacting a few classmates, I learned that this one also died of cancer, another of a heart attack, another drank himself to death and so on and so forth. I’d spent twelve of my formative years with many of those people, but I hadn’t been around when they died. Our town was relatively small. If we weren’t in elementary school together, we certainly met in junior high and spent that and high school in the same classes or in some sports arena or other. We all knew one another, at least, I thought we did, so there was also a feeling of some guilt that I hadn’t been there for those who had died.

If there is a moral to this long tale, I guess it’s that one should never forget one’s friends. Oh, sure, move along with your life. Make the best of what you have, who you are, and what you’re able to do. Develop new friendships…but don’t forget the old. Before you know it, you’ll wind up in your 70s or 80s, wondering what the hell happened to the kid you once were. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could at least share some of those memories with your old BFF with an emphasis on that last F?

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That New Car Smell

Dad loved cars. Growing up, he could afford to buy new ones. Then the crash of ’29 crushed the family business, and it was no more new cars for my father. That didn’t lessen his love for the darn things, and he could always be found, on a Saturday or Sunday morning, either washing, waxing, polishing, or tinkering with whatever vehicle we happened to have in the driveway at the time. Even though the Wall Street disaster found my family trudging through the lower half of what was then called “the middle class” – come to think of it, I don’t believe there were such labels back then – my dad still managed to find a way to buy a new car every three to six years. I think what he most liked about the new cars was the smell, you know the one I mean. There’s something about climbing behind the wheel of a brand new car and taking a deep breath that can be absolutely intoxicating. To hell with those fake little pine trees, hanging from the rear view mirror. It’s the smell of new leather, new fabric, new vinyl, new…new…new car!

I learned to drive on a 1936 Chevrolet four-door sedan. It was the car dad would take every Sunday down to Assinippi, a four-corner intersection of Norwell, Massachusetts, and where we would load up everything from The New York Times to the Boston Post with the Boston Globe and Record-American tossed in. We’d pick up the papers shortly before five in the morning – often having to wait a while for the final sections of ‘The Times’ to be delivered – loading the car with enough weight that the rear bumper damn near hit the road…which it actually did on a few occasions because all of the roads we traveled were not that well paved. Once loaded to the gunnels, we would head up to Hingham to begin our morning trek. Dad would drive. I’d be riding shotgun, reaching over to grab a paper or so, ready to jump out before the car had completely stopped and running to a front, side, or back door, to put the paper inside a storm door, under a rock, or in a mailbox. The money was generally waiting somewhere, and tips would range anywhere from a nickel to a quarter. Our route took us from Hingham into Hanover and from Norwell back into Hingham and then back to Norwell. We generally finished our run by 11:30, but it was a lot of running and a hell of a lot of driving. I got all of the tips and dad was paid by the news dealer. It was during these trips that dad would instruct me on how to drive the standard transmission Chevy, and how I was allowed, near the end of our run to put what I’d learned to his test. And I have to tell you, dad was a taskmaster. I learned the sounds an engine makes when it’s telling you to go from first to second to third – no classy dials to tell us when shifting should take place. This was all about listening. On the way home, I’d generally be told how I did, the mistakes I’d made, and how I could improve my driving skills. Dad wasn’t all that big on compliments, just “adjustments.”

In early 1941, long before World War II occurred, dad bought a new Chevy. Other than a Terraplane somewhere along the line, I think Chevrolet had a firm grip on dad’s wallet. This new set of wheels was the first we’d ever owned with an automatic transmission. It was called “Powerglide,” and as you might imagine, because of its ‘newness,’ we spent many an hour at Clark & Taylor Chevrolet in Weymouth while the bugs were worked out. Actually, it was a great car, and I can even remember that it was seafoam green. I also remember…the new car smell. To top it all off, the car sold for well under $1,000!

Oh, how times have changed. Granted, dad wasn’t making 25, 50 or a hundred K per year, and bread wasn’t upwards of three or four bucks or more a pop, but I sure wish I could afford a new car the way he could. My first car was a 1941 Chevy Coupe. It had belonged to my grandparents. You know the old sales pitch, “Driven by a little old lady who only took it to church on Sundays?” Well, that was just about the truth for my first set of wheels. They were meticulous in their care of that car. So what did I do? I spray painted the dashboard matt black with fire-engine red highlights everywhere. Then I replace the dull gray fabric door coverings with some god-awful plastic black and white Jackson Pollock-esque vinyl that made the interior to resemble a whorehouse on wheels…which it never became…dammit! It was a great car, and if I had it today and hadn’t screwed it up so much, it would be worth a small fortune…ah, well.

However, as much as I loved my old Chevy, I have had a few new cars along the way to my dotage. Now, I stare at the ads on TV, thinking about how much I’d love to own a “newy.” Of course, I know better. My trusty 199 Toyota Camry – which I purchased for damn near three times what dad paid for that ’41 Chevy – has well over a hundred and sixty thousand miles on it, and I’d get squat for it as a trade in, so I might’s well just keep putting a few bucks in here and there and forget the new car smell. Even with the extra money they give for recent college graduates – does 1957 count as recent? – it’s still not enough to entice me to wreak havoc with my bank account. Someday, someone will come up with “New Car Smell In A Can” and we can all refresh our old wheels without breaking the bank or having to take a second mortgage on the…oops, forgot about the kids’ tuition…make that take out a third mortgage on the house, just to buy a new car with that smell. Okay, time to go sit in the car and dream…thanks for listening to another rant from yours truly!

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Without question, what happened in Manchester, England is beyond comprehension. “Evil losers,” as Donald Trump has called those responsible, perhaps begins to describe those responsible, and yet, I’m not certain there are any words in the vocabulary of any peoples that adequately describe the mindset of what we now classify as “terrorists.”

We are attempting to ascribe to others our own morality, and we are attempting to apply our own cultural mores, ie, “the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community,” to those who are completely different from any of the characteristics, customs or conventions of any community. Their moral compass is 180 degrees from that of Western Civilization. What these “radical jihadists’ have done is to cannibalize all of the beauty of the religion of Islam and turned it to their own egregious ends. In effect, they are completely ignorant of the Quran, its teachings, or even their own end game. Their ultimate goal appears to be killing for the sake of killing and terrorizing those more culturally developed nations into fearing them purely for the sake of fear. I have yet to hear anyone in any leadership position within ISIS, ISL, Al Qaeda, Taliban, or whoever happens to be calling the shots these days, issue any statement of purpose or what it is they wish to achieve.

As I understand it, Salman Abedi used to be a “lovely kid” when he first attended Didsbury mosque with his father. Something changed. What was it? Was he confused by his family, his schools, the study of business management, his friends, what? We will never know. Perhaps this was a young man who turned to radical Islam as an escape from pressures that he felt, but that others didn’t. We will never, ever know, why this man/child exploded a device that, so far, has killed 22 and injured more than 160 people of all ages.

I have a theory. It goes something like this: I believe that all of these people who blow themselves up in the name of something they don’t fully understand are weak-willed and ignorant immature sheep. I would classify them as lemmings, but we all know that that is a myth created by a Canadian film crew back in the 50s. I’d say that they should be driven out of the Middle East the way St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland except we also know that never happened. No, these people are sheep, searching for a shepherd to lead them and give them some direction. Unfortunately, the leadership they find is with arrogant, ultra-conservative groups and individuals who brainwash the sheep into believing that they will live a much better life after death, and that their ‘ultimate’ sacrifice will please the god they worship. All of this, of course, is pure fabrication consisting of half-truths and outright prevarications.

Following a religion is a bitch. Seriously, being tied to a single faith, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hindi, or any one of a million other faiths, only tends to create problems with those of other faiths. As stupid as it may sound today, I was banned from having a serious relationship in high school because my girlfriend’s family were strict Roman Catholics and I, god forbid, was a Protestant. As life would have it, I married a woman who was Roman Catholic by religion, and our children were raised as ‘they’ wished to be raised. We took them to a variety of Christian churches and were allowed to make their own decisions regarding faith. Would we have blessed an inter-religion or inter-racial marriage? I don’t have an answer for that, largely because it never became an issue. Look, if you will, at the restrictions imposed by the Holy See. They may not lead to war, but there are some pretty strong “Oh, no, you don’ts’ in that faith. It appears that the Muslim faith, as practiced by some sects in the Middle East is akin to, “My way or the highway,” and in this case it’s the highway to death. Can you imagine, for example, a minister, priest, or rabbi telling his or her congregation to stone a woman to death because she went out in public without her hajib or because she wanted to divorce her unfaithful husband? The people who are putting forth laws created in the time of Caesar or before have no concept of gray for anyone other than themselves. It’s fine for them to rape, rob, and pillage wherever, whoever, and whenever they so desire, but they do so in the name of their god without fully comprehending the messages of their god.

There will be more attacks, particularly on Western Civilizations, particularly on countries that are predominantly other than Muslim. On the other side of that coin, however, there are millions upon millions of Muslims who understand perfectly well what Allah’s teachings were and are. They are at peace with their religion and religions as practiced by others. Do they understand these other religions? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Do those of us in other religions understand Islam? Perhaps so, perhaps not.

I’m quite certain that there are some people in the Middle East, Taliban, ISIS, and all of the others, who consider themselves to be “freedom fighters” as opposed to terrorists. I don’t know what freedom they are fighting for, nor do I really care. I’m certain also that they believe those who are attempting to exterminate them are, in their own right, ‘terrorists,’ and that includes the American and other nations’ soldiers who are shooting at them. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Most important of all, how do we prevent these extremists from continuing to kill innocents. If you have an answer to that one, I’m all ears.

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Kindness…perhaps

I walk with the aid of a cane. No big surprise there, but it certainly does help me to get around. Recently, I visited a nursery, searching for a particular type of tomato plant. The nursery has several buildings. Next to the parking lot is a small building where bird seed, garden implements, and plant food are sold. Beside that is a small arbor that connects to the building where flowers, pots and (very expensive) decorative fixtures are sold. Plants are located in a greenhouse some thirty or forty yards beyond these buildings. The scene is now set.

Emerging from my car, I notices a man wearing the logo of the nursery on his shirt. He was sitting in the small building, which I should also note is open in the front, but anyway, the man was sitting on some of the bags of bird seed. As I approached, he rose and asked if I needed assistance. “Yes,” I replied, “I wonder if you have heirloom tomatoes and, in particular, I’m looking for a Black Crim.” “I don’t know,” he answered, “you’ll have to check at the greenhouse.”

I won’t kid you. There was a time when I could have run to the greenhouse without a problem. My late wife and I had purchased many plants and flowers from this nursery and had been highly satisfied. The walk to the greenhouse this time around was an effort – goes with age, I guess. In the greenhouse, I found a very knowledgeable young woman who told me that, at the moment, they did not have the tomato plant for which I was searching, but if I would follow her, she would check to see if they were expecting any. Back we walked to the flower building, where she reached through an opening, grabbed a walkie-talkie and called someone – who knows who – to ask if they were expecting any Black Crim tomato plants in the future. “Some coming in next week,” was the reply. “I can’t really save one for you,” the woman told me, “but here’s our card. Give us a call early next week, and I’ll have better information for you.” She was great. I was pooped. The walk to and from the greenhouse did a number on me.

There was a distance of maybe fifteen feet from the man with whom I first spoke and that open space where the walkie-talkie was. The man wasn’t some young kid, of whom I’d expect such lack of service. He was a man probably in his mid-forties. He saw how I walked across the parking lot to ask him a question. He could have said something to the tune of wait a minute and let me call somebody. Instead, he chose to send me walking to the greenhouse…and the more I think about it, the more pissed I become. He was just being a lazy, rude son-of-a-bitch. The woman and I walked back, as I say, to within fifteen feet of where this guy was sitting. I cannot, in my wildest imagination, accept the fact that he was unaware of that communication device, how to use it, or whom he should call. I will call the nursery, and if they have my plant, I will purchase it. If that lazy, rude, SOB, is there, I will tell him just what I think of him. I’m old. I’m tired of people sending me on journeys of further than ten yards. I have illnesses that hinder my breathing, and I have injuries that make it difficult to walk. People who see me walk recognize that there is a problem. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of my problems, but they’re there.

I related this story to a friend at the gym – by the way, my workouts are on a recumbent bike with weights being done on machines – and his response was this: “Funny that you mention this because I’ve noticed of late that there seems to be a lack of kindness in people.” He cited such things as men not holding doors for women whom they are with; people who cut in lines; those who honk their horns because the traffic isn’t moving fast enough when a light turns green; employees snapping at each other, and a few other examples. As I thought about his comments, I said to myself, “He’s right. That’s exactly what I’ve seen, and I’ve seen more of it lately.” It makes me wonder, are we, as a people, losing our respect for our fellow man to the extent that we can’t be patient and kind? Are we not caring about others anymore? Is it becoming, “Hooray for me and to hell with you?” Maybe it’s time that each and every one of us took a step back in our minds and tried to recall the last time we went out of our way to be polite to someone else. You may think that you’re polite all the time. I’d like to think that I am too, but in reality, are we always? Is it important? Does it matter if we are rude because we’re having a bad day, or maybe someone else was rude to us and its retaliation time? And I’m not certain that ‘rude’ is even the correct word. Perhaps it’s more a case of just not seeing or thinking or having something else on one’s mind that causes us to act in a manner that others consider to be discourteous.

Perhaps I’m way off base here, but I don’t think so. Perhaps I should have asked the first man if he could call someone to see if my tomato plant was available. Perhaps his day was not going well. Perhaps a lot of things, but perhaps we should all – me included – take a second look at how we behave toward others.

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“No, no, no, no, no, no, NO, he’s gone. That’s it, period.”

“Aw, c’mon, maybe he thought the cameras were on. He’s used to that.”

“I’m tellin’ ya, he’s gone. He pushed the envelope too far this time.”

“Look, calm down…you telling me you did everything right the first time you got a new job?”

“New job? New job? You get this job, you better be prepared for whatever happens. This isn’t like becoming the head of GM or Ford…or even Goldman Sachs for god’s sake. I’m telling ya, he’s G-O-N-E!”

“Geez, Paul, Mitch thinks it’ll be okay. He just wants a little less drama. I don’t see why you gotta be so pissed.”

“Pissed? Pissed? You haven’t begun to see me pissed. He says we’re gonna ban Muslims…and that didn’t work…not once…but twice he said it, and it’s still not working. Then he says we’ve got a great repeal and replace health care program when he knows it’s a piece of crap. Then he blames us because his shitty health care program doesn’t get passed. Blames us, the crazy a.. idiot. What the hell is he thinking.”

“You gotta calm down man. You’re gonna work yourself into a heart attack. Okay, so he’s not sticking to script. Whadda you want me to do?”

“Do? Do? Talk to Ivanka. Talk to Jared. Talk to Kelly. Talk to the general. Somebody has to put a rein on this guy before he starts to give out classified information to the world.”

“Ah…ah…Paul. He, uh, he met with the Russian Ambassador the other d…

“Awe, cripes, don’t…you’re not…no, you’re not tellin me…”

“Ah, yep, sorry, Paul, but yeah, he did.”

“How bad?”

“Top Secret Code Word, Paul. I mean, he threw the Israeli’s right smack under the bus.”

“Aw, no, and right after Comey…aw, no, what is he thinki…no, there’s the problem right there. He’s not only not thinking, he doesn’t even have the capacity to think…Russian collusion, Mike Flynn, Comey, giving away top secrets, and now he tells them it’s the Israeli’s…aw man…

“…Well, he didn’t really say that it was the Israeli’s.”

“Whadda ya mean, he didn’t really say?”

“You know, it’s just that, well, you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know where it came from.”

“Oh, great, just great. Mossad’s really gonna want to share intelligence with us now. What’s next, Sarah Palin going to head up the FBI?”

“Paul, Paul, Paul, don’t say that too loud. We don’t know where the bugs are!”

“Oh, I know where the bugs are. The bugs are in his head. That doofuss couldn’t run an airline, his vodka business went up in flames, he’s got the Russians running their own ops out of one of his buildings, and all he can think of is grabbing more land from national monuments, probably to give to his oil drilling buddies, or for some new freakin’ golf courses!”

“Look, Paul, you’re the Speaker. You’ve gotta help us. We don’t know what to do. What do we do, Paul?”

“My advice? Now that everything has hit the fan, you come to me for advice? I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you call his son-in-law, Jared? He’s doing everything else right now, maybe he can take the guy’s computer away…or double his medication dosage…or just send him overseas and let Pence take over for a while. Nah, that won’t work either. He’ll take Pence’s batteries with him if he goes overseas. Think of it this way, now every other country in the world knows that Americans can vote even while they have their heads stuck up their collective…no, no, say, ‘heads in the sand.’ As for me, I’m going home to the first district and watch some Packer re-runs!”

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Happy Mother’s Day

I have a problem with Mother’s Day. In truth, the word should not be ‘problem’ but ‘guilt.’ You see, for the last three years of her life, my mother and I had no contact. Why? For the life of me I cannot tell you what caused the rift between us. All that I can tell you now is that it was something stupid that one of us – probably me – said that caused that schism which, even more idiotic, left us apart to the point that when she died, I didn’t understand how she could have died without saying goodbye. Stupid, eh?

My dad died of cancer. I had plenty of time to say goodbye, to talk, to reminisce, and to remember other times. Even now, however, there are questions I have that I never got to ask him. Mother was a different story. She was going to live forever. We would make up at some point, and we would go on just as if nothing had ever happened. That was my mother. That was our relationship. We would be distant and then we would be close…but she was always there, always around, always available…and then…she wasn’t. I never got to say goodbye, to talk to reminisce, or to remember other times. That’s my fault, and I will carry that to my grave.

My mother was easy to laugh, hated to get her hair wet when we went to the beach, loved her aprons – of which she had many – and could make us all laugh at her, sometimes, rather outrageous comments. We sat beside my mom and dad at my wife’s mother’s funerals. Mom turned around at one point and said to the woman behind her, “I always attend these funerals so that they will attend mine.” It took but a moment, before Joan and I just burst out laughing. This was a serious occasion. My friend and former colleague, Reverend Charles W. Havice, another man who laughed easily, had not heard what mom had said, but he paused, looking at Joan and I as though we had just taken leave of our senses. Suddenly, mother realized what she had said, and, stumbling for words, stated loudly, “I didn’t mean, Joan, that your mother would…well, you know…no, you don’t…Oh, God…oh Reverend…oh, I’m so sorry. Then, she sat back and roared with laughter. My dad just say there, shaking his head, probably thinking, “Oh, crap, Rae, you’ve done it again.” That was my mother…at times the sound voice of reason, and at other times, well, at other times, she was just cuckoo! We were renting a beach house one year in Marshfield. You stepped out the back door, walked down a flight of stairs, and, depending on the tide, walked eight or ten feet to the water. One afternoon, my dad was at work, and a friend called, asking if she and her husband might come over for dinner. Mother, ever the gracious hostess, told them that of course they’d be welcome. When she hung up, she informed me that they would be over in half an hour. She also said that we had nothing to feed them and had to get to the grocery store…several miles away. I had recently gotten my license…sixteen and ready. “You drive,” she said. I think she wanted to conceive a grocery list on the road. Now, remember, at sixteen, with a license still drying on its paper, and with your parent in the car, it was not as if you were cruising with friends. Caution, caution, caution…you kept to the speed limit. At one point, my mother insisted that I speed up, well over the limit, but she did so with this admonition, “Never speed unless you’re in a hurry!” Those words, too, will bring a smile to my face whenever I think of mother.

I consider that my daughters were very fortunate. They also had a chance to say goodbye to their mother. When Joan was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, the girls would visit almost daily. Near the end, their visits became fewer. Watching a parent die over a 13-month period is not a comforting thing to do…in fact, it’s a bitch…I kid you not. Looking back, I remember that my visits to dad lessened, particularly after he went into the hospital. Our son couldn’t make it home to see Joan before she passed. He had one of those 24/7/365 jobs with which coaches everywhere can relate.

I pass this on to those of you whose mothers are still alive and able to celebrate this day with you. Take full advantage of it, please, because you don’t know when the next Mother’s Day will roll around that you cannot take “Mom” out to lunch, or send a card, or just make a phone call. Don’t be as stupid as I was. You’ll wind up seventeen years later, still calling yourself a jerk, and still wondering about all of those questions you wanted to ask your mother, but never had the opportunity to do so.

To “Mom’s” everywhere…Happy Mother’s Day. To my own mom…”See ya soon!”

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You think domestic violence doesn’t happen in your town? Let me tell you something: Every nine seconds, that’s seconds folks, somewhere in America a woman is beaten in a domestic violence episode. In addition, a woman is shot to death in America every 14 hours by a spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend, or someone she was dating. If that doesn’t scare you, I’m not certain what will.

Domestic violence is a term we toss around pretty casually. The “It doesn’t happen here” syndrome is something like sticking your head in the sand. It happens in my town, on my street, but I don’t know where. I knew when it happened in my workplace, although all I could do was tell human resources what I thought and what I saw…they chose to do nothing. I was told to stay out of it…and I did…and I probably shouldn’t have.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.”

“Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. It is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior that is only a fraction of a systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and in severe cases, even death. The devastating physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime.”

Thankfully, domestic violence has never been in any part of my family. Do I know people who have been victims of domestic violence? Absolutely. Other than the one case that I saw at my place of employment? Yes. My late wife and I sheltered a women who was a victim until she was finally able to escape from years of psychological abuse from a domineering husband. Until she came to us, we were completely unaware that there was any kind of problem. I believe that’s the way it is with a number of these cases. Often, the victim is nearly paralyzed with fear, sometimes feeling that she or he – yes, men can also be victims of domestic violence – has or is doing something wrong that triggers an episode.

Recently, in Massachusetts, a 51-year old man shot his 44-year old ex-girlfriend. After a two-day manhunt, the man was found dead in the trunk of a car, a self-inflicted wound to the head did him in. The victim left behind three children. Just another news story that filled the screen for a couple of days and was replaced by some other tragedy. However, it’s not just a news story for the three kids or their grandmother. It’s a shock that may never go away completely. It’s a loss that will gnaw at them, probably for the rest of their lives. Again, I quote from the NACDV, “Additionally, domestic violence does not always end when the victim escapes the abuser, tries to terminate the relationship, and/or seeks help. Often, it intensifies because the abuser feels a loss of control over the victim. Abusers frequently continue to stalk, harass, threaten, and try to control the victim after the victim escapes. In fact, the victim is often in the most danger directly following the escape of the relationship or when they seek help: 1/5 of homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within two days of obtaining the order; 1/3 are murdered within the first month.”

What can you do about it? The first thing is to be aware that such a problem exists. In today’s world, violence appears to be an acceptable way to solve problems, whether it’s on an airplane, or at a political town hall meeting, or just about anywhere else. That attitude can often translate right into the home…but it shouldn’t. What are the signs to look for in a relationship? There are many, and some are so subtle as to easily escape detection. Does the abuser try to tell the victim what to wear or control who they can see, what they are allowed to do, or where they are allowed to go. Here are some of the signs put forth by NACDV:
• Telling the victim that they can never do anything right
• Showing jealousy of the victim’s family and friends and
time spent away
• Accusing the victim of cheating
• Keeping or discouraging the victim from seeing friends or
family members
• Embarrassing or shaming the victim with put-downs
• Controlling every penny spent in the household
• Taking the victim’s money or refusing to give them money
for expenses
• Looking at or acting in ways that scare the person they are
abusing
• Dictating how the victim dresses, wears their hair, etc.
• Stalking the victim or monitoring their victim’s every move
(in person or also via the internet and/or other devices
such as GPS tracking or the victim’s phone)
• Preventing the victim from making their own decisions
• Telling the victim that they are a bad parent or
threatening to hurt, kill, or take away their children
• Threatening to hurt or kill the victim’s friends, loved
ones, or pets
• Intimidating the victim with guns, knives, or other weapons
• Pressuring the victim to have sex when they don’t want to
or to do things sexually they are not comfortable with
• Forcing sex with others
• Refusing to use protection when having sex or sabotaging
birth control
• Pressuring or forcing the victim to use drugs or alcohol
• Preventing the victim from working or attending school,
harassing the victim at either, keeping their victim up all
night so they perform badly at their job or in school
• Destroying the victim’s property

I’m not asking that you either get involved or become some kind of avenging angel. I’m asking that you understand that this problem is more pervasive in this country, as well as others, and it should be a concern to all of us. If you know of someone you suspect is a victim, and if you’re speaking with her or him casually without the suspected abuser around, you might ask, “How can I help you?” It’s an open-ended question. If they ask, “With what?” you can always respond with a non-committal, “Oh, I don’t know. I thought you might want to talk about something.” Eventually, if the victim understands that you are sincerely concerned, they will get around to telling you. Sure, it’s vague, but you can’t really come out and ask, “Is that son-of-a-bitch being mean to you?” I guarantee that will earn an unqualified, ‘NO!” and the conversation will end right there. The subject is delicate, and so must be the approach to opening up about it.

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So, there I was, comfortably ensconced in my favorite chair on the back patio, admiring the containers of potatoes, garlic, onions, peas, and yes, even carrots, looking at the eight pots of impatiens we had just purchased from Lowe’s and wondering how I was going to transplant them to the containers on the fence (whew, long sentence), when a fly landed on one of the posts of the raised bin and asked me what I was doing. Yep, you heard right…a bloody fly landed on a support post and had the audacity to ask me what I was doing. Seemed to me that he had a lot of nerve…well, I thought it was a he at the time…to ask a question of someone sitting on their own patio. Heck, I could hardly understand him, the way his wings were flapping so loud. Guess he was probably yelling. What? Oh, you don’t speak fly? Guess you’re not from New England then. Hey, look, if Harry Potter could talk to snakes, you know, well New Englanders – least I haven’t met one yet who can’t – well, we communicate with all sorts of animal species…’cept cats. I’ll be damned if I can figure out what cats are saying. Most of my friends feel the same way. Cats just give you that smirk that says, “I hear you, slave, but don’t think I’m going to dignify what you have to say by answering you…go, go away before I do something evil…which I will do later anyway…when you least expect it.”

Speaking of anyways, this fly and I, we got into a conversation about why we’d started some of the garden but not the whole thing. He was rather funny looking, blue eyes, glimmering wings, and a little yellow spot just above the eyes. I said, “You’re not from around these parts, are ya?” and the fly allowed as that he was from Virginia and was really just stopping off for a while before he flew on to Maine for the summer. Seems the South gets a bit too hot for him and his family during the summer. “You got kids,” he asked, and I said they were all grown up and had kids of their own. “So, you’re a family man,” I queried, and he nodded his beady little head up and down, actually rising an inch or two above the post before settling back down. “How many kids you have?” I asked. He seemed to ponder that question for a moment, then responded, “At last count, I think she told me it was around six-point- two million…but that’s just a guestimate.” “Your wife told you that?” I asked. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” he said quickly. “Heck, the wife only knows about a couple million. No, my girlfriends told me about all the others.” “So you’re what one might call and adulterous fly, is that right.” “C’mon, man,” he said, “It’s what flies do everywhere. It’s no big deal. You should see what the mosquitoes and grasshoppers do. Wow, it’d kill me to try and keep up with them.”

Juli came out with a cup of coffee. “Who you talking to?” she asked, but then spotted the fly. “Oh, hi,” she said, “You going to Maine again this summer?” The fly nodded, and I looked at Juli. “You know this fly?” I asked. “Met him last year,” she intoned. “Really,” I said, “you know how many kids he has?” “Well, last year, I think he said around five million…is that right?” she asked, looking at the fly. By now, of course, even though it was only 7:15 in the morning, I’m thinking it’s time for a couple of fingers of Glenlivet or at the very least, a strong Bloody Mary. But, by the time that thought passed through my brain, Juli and the fly were involved in what appeared to be deep conversation.

“You never mentioned that you had a fly friend,” I said. “Would you have believed me?” she asked. “Hell no, I wouldn’t have believe you,” I responded and continued, “I probably would have called your brother to take you to the funny farm. Matter of fact, when he leaves, I might just head there myself. I mean, I know we can talk to flies and stuff, but this sure as hell is a first time for me!” The fly flew over and landed on my knee. “Look,” he said, “it may seem strange at first, but you’re the one who told me that New Englanders can talk to us and others. We’re cool with it, and Juli and I were just talking about the compost bin over there,” and he turned and nodded at our bin in the corner. “She was kind enough to put some rotting food in there last fall so we could stop for a snack on our way back home.”
“Well, I gotta buzz off,” the fly said, “Nice meeting you, and Juli, don’t forget, the oranges were really good last year. Gave us a lot of energy for the rest of the flight.” With that, he hovered, did a couple of loops around our heads and headed north.

Juli and I just stared at each other. She finally broke the silence. “Don’t forget to write oranges on the calendar around Labor Day,” she said. “They come back a day or two after.” What could I do? I just nodded, went into the house, and looked for the calendar. Now where the hell’s that scotch?

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Didn’t seem to be a big deal. Fellow came by yesterday. We were sitting at the kitchen table, just chatting, and he asked, “Do you know those little Tedeschi stores?” I just smiled and nodded that I did know them. Maybe my smile gave something away, I really don’t know. However, he followed up with, “What, why are you smiling?

I had to ask, “Do you know the history of the Tedeschi’s?”

“No, whadda you mean?” he asked.

Well, you know me, I’m not one to let an opportunity pass, so I had to tell the story…at least as I know it, and so I began…

Years ago, gosh, I couldn’t have been older than six or seven, we lived on the first floor of a two story house in Rockland, Massachusetts. The house was on Belmont Street, number 51 to be exact. Down the street from us was a little neighborhood grocery store. It was actually attached to the residence, but it had a parking lot that was big enough for maybe six cars. The husband and wife who lived there were Angelo and Katherine Tedeschi. There were days when my dad would take his shotgun and some shells, walk down the street and into the store. He’d yell, “Hey, Angelo, get the dogs and let’s go hunting,” and Angelo would tell Katherine to mind the store, and off he and dad would go to hunt. Remember now, this was late 1940, early ’41. If they were lucky, they would bring home a number of rabbits. Angelo would skin them and put them in his freezer. I have to tell ya, this store was just a little big larger than a two-car garage, so when I say it was ‘neighborhood,’ I mean, if you walked in there, you knew right away who was shopping. They were your neighbors. They knew you. You knew them, and it was a gathering place for neighborhood gossip as well as for picking up that night’s dinner.

It was later in 1941, December 7th to be exact, that America changed. We were drawn into a Second World War. Angelo and my dad were too old to join up, but some of the Tedeschi boys, as I was later told, went right down and enlisted. Ralph, the oldest, went into the Army as an officer. He fought in Europe and was promoted to the rank of major. To his misfortune, he was captured by the Germans. Ralph’s treatment at the hands of his captors was not too good. He was severely beaten. He was urinated on, and a number of other rather vile and despicable treatments were his wont in the camp in which he was held prisoners. He was isolated and thrown in a cell that had a dirt floor. As I understand it, he found a small stick at some point, and that dirt floor of his cell and that stick probably saved his life. You see, Ralph would diagram on that dirt floor his ideas for a new kind of market that he and his family would build when the war was over and he could go home. Different stores, different designs, different this and different that…all on the dirt floor as he was recovering from his beatings and his interrogation. Eventually, Ralph was freed from his captors by Russian soldiers. He was reunited with his family, and he began to plan.

The first “supermarket” opened by the Tedeschi family was on Market Street in Rockland. Ralph’s family, including brothers, Sam, Nick, and Bobby, as well as sister, Etta, were all part of the team. There could have been other brothers, heck, I could never keep track of all of them. Anyway, Angelo and Katherine were able to retire and watch their boys build a small empire. Stores in Braintree, Hanover, and a couple of other towns followed. Eventually, Stop & Shop, another major New England chain of supermarkets took notice. They offered to buy out the Tedeschi’s, and Ralph, as I understand it, drove a pretty hard deal, one that resulted in reasonably good wealth for all members of his family. Oh, and there was another proviso in the buyout. Ralph was prohibited from opening any other supermarket with the Tedeschi name for a period of ten years. Hey, they were all now millionaires, right, so what’s the big deal. Well, not so fast. The Tedeschi family hadn’t gotten to the position they were now in by being lazy and sitting on their collective butts. Within five years, the supermarket bug that had bitten Ralph was back and chomping away. As a result he opened some supermarkets on Cape Cod under the name of his father. They were called, “Angelo’s,” and they were big! As time went on, Ralph turned the business over to his brothers and other relatives. Eventually, another chain came and, once again, purchased the stores.

That, however, is not the end of my tale. My own Mother and Dad were in Florida when Angelo Tedeschi died. They read of his passing in a paper, and Mom called me. “Will you please go to the wake and the funeral and represent our family?” she asked. It was an honor I couldn’t refuse…probably would have gone anyway. When I walked into the funeral home, there they were, all of the brothers, greeting people who had come to pay their respects to this wonderful man who, along with his wife, had raised some pretty damned good kids. Ralph walked over and asked, “Excuse me, but who are you?” I explained that my folks couldn’t come and that I was representing the family because someone from our neighborhood had to be there. I no sooner got the words out of my mouth than Ralph grabbed me in a bear hug and carried me into the room where Etta was sitting with her mother, Katherine. “Look,” said Ralph, “It’s Dickie Bishop!” [Gad, how I hated that nickname…still do]. I spent some time with the family and, really, it was old home week. It was also the last time that I saw Ralph alive.

Years later, my wife and I were spending a vacation in Bermuda. As I was heading for the water at our little beach, a lady ahead of me yelled out to her friend, already in the water, “Wow, not like Green Harbor,” – a beach on the Atlantic to which our my family and all of our friends frequently visited. Being the smart mouth that I am, I responded from behind her, “Not like Brandt Rock either,” another haunt of our neighborhood and right next to Green Harbor. We both laughed and went for our swims. On getting out of the water, I told my wife of the brief encounter which she thought to be rather amusing. About half an hour later, I noticed one of the women talking to a man on their blanket and point over toward me. “Ah, what the hell,” I figured, “might’s well walk over”…which I did and introduced myself. “I’m {can’t remember the first name] Tedeschi,” he said. To which I responded, “Whose are you?” This rather confounded them, and I asked if they were from Rockland. “No,” the man said, “We live in Norwell.” I repeated my question, adding, “Which one of the brothers are you the children of?” It was as though the lightbulb went off, and he responded, “Do you know my family?” I allowed as how I did and asked them what they knew of their grandparents. Turned out that both Angelo and Katherine had passed on before these young people were born. “Did you know my grandfather,” I was asked, and thus, once more, I had the privilege of telling some folks a bit of their own family history. Did I embellish just a bit? Of course, because Angelo and Katherine deserved to be embellished. They, along with their children, believed in and became the American Dream.

I write this not out of a need to tell a story. I write it because another fellow came by yesterday, sat at the kitchen table, and asked if I knew the name Tedeschi. This fellow, too, is an immigrant. He and his mom, escaped from the Soviet Union about thirty-five years ago. He owns a small business, and I can see in his eyes and in his work ethic, that he, too, is pursuing this thing we call the American Dream. I think he’s going to make it, maybe not the way Ralph or his counterparts did, but I really think he stands a good chance of realizing what just about every immigrant dreams of when he or she enters the shores of our United States of America.

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