Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

So I get this e-mail that asks the only thing that is ever on my mind, “Are you suffering from facial wrinkles and sagging skin?” Hot damn, I’m 80 fucking years old and you have the audacity to ask me a question like that. If I’m that age and I don’t have those problems, I wouldn’t be able to move my mouth to answer because my plastic surgeon’s work would be completely undone when my face split open. What, are you crazy? These people show you pictures, one of an old woman with a frown, wrinkles, and hardly any hair. They say, “She is 70, but now…” and they show you the after picture with her hair slightly tinted and looking marvelous, and a not so subtle airbrush job with the lady smiling, and they add, “…she looks 40.”

She’s 70 and she looks 40; so what? Who cares? What’s your point? Are we looking for a massive ego boost here? You are what you are. Face facts; you’re friggin’ old. It’s not how you look; it’s how you feel. There are days when I feel 80; others when I feel 50. However, if I tried to do at 80 what I used to do at 50, (a) I’d probably have a heart attack and die; (b) if I didn’t die, the doctors might from laughter; (c) every muscle in my body would ache for months, and (d) I’d finally realize just how old I really am and would wind up a quivering mass of tears in a straight jacket somewhere. No, this is just not acceptable.

A man I know just died of a massive heart attack. He was 69 years old. A fine physical specimen of a human being; looked to be the picture of health; took a long walk every day; had a marvelous outlook on life…he died. He didn’t reach 70; he died. “So what?” you ask.  “So what,” is forgetting about trying to be something that you’re not. If you want to be a 70 or 80 year old beauty queen, that’s your business, but frankly I’m more interested in what’s inside your head and your heart than I am about how you look. If you’re a man and you want to look the way Jack La Lane did when he died at 92, great; more power to you, but I’d be more impressed if you could intelligently discuss the latest book that you had read or how you see the crises facing the United States in the next ten years…of course, if you’re 92, maybe you aren’t too worried about the crises facing the United States in the next ten years; five maybe, but not ten!

These television ads the promote youth and beauty are fine if you’re young and beautiful. Oh, wait a minute…if you’re young and beautiful the ads don’t mean crap to you. Yes, I know there are people who look in the mirror and see something completely different from what the rest of the world sees. “I’m too fat;” “I’m too skinny.” “My eyebrows are too thick;” “My eyebrows aren’t thick enough.” “My this is that, and my that is this and….and…oh, I’m a wreck.” Screw it! Get over yourself; you are who and what you are. If you’re a woman, ask yourself one question: “Am I a bitch?” You really have to think about this rather than give a quick and absolute, “No.” The same is true of a guy. Can you look in the mirror and tell that guy that you’re not a real asshole sometimes. Stop being a bitch and stop being an asshole and the world will take on a new and wonderful meaning. You don’t need phony creams or body sculpting or huge muscles. There is not a medicine made that can help you be a better you unless you begin with a bigger and better heart.

Let me tell you a little secret about feeling better about your own image. It’s called “volunteering.” Some call it giving back; others say it’s paying forward. It doesn’t matter what words you use. The minute you give time and effort to a cause that makes others feel better, you’re going to begin feeling better about you. If you’re young, you probably have so many expenses that you can’t afford to give dollars and cents. That’s of no consequence. Heck, on some volunteer jobs you’ll even get a free T-shirt. It’s the beginning of feeling good. If someone is interested only in your physical appearance, what does that actually say about them? For the most part…well…I don’t want to say they’re jerks ‘cause that’s not really fair, but for me personally, I’m more interested in who they are as a person; how they think; why they choose to give up time to help others.

Can someone have both? Can they be beautiful or handsome and still have a good heart? Sure, why not, but is it really necessary to have the perfect body; the best eyebrows, the toned arms and face and whatever? I used to be six feet, three inches tall and weigh 145 pounds; I’m now six, one, and weigh 250, and guess what…I couldn’t care less. I go to the gym regularly in hopes of preventing a fourth heart attack. I can’t give the time I once gave to some organizations, but, thankfully, I’m now in a position to modestly donate money to them…know something…the money is nothing when you can’t be with your fellow volunteers. Yes, it helps, but it’s not the same thing. It’s not, as some have called it, sweat equity, about the best kind of equity there is.

Forget the television ads that try to convince you that you look like shit unless you use their products. Give back; give back until it feels so good, you know that you’re making a difference…and you will be.

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So I get this e-mail that asks the only thing that is ever on my mind, “Are you suffering from facial wrinkles and sagging skin?” Hot damn, I’m 80 friggin’ years old and you have the audacity to ask me a question like that. If I’m that age and I don’t have those problems, I wouldn’t be able to move my mouth to answer because my plastic surgeon’s work would be completely undone when my face split open. What, are you crazy? These people show you pictures, one of an old woman with a frown, wrinkles, and hardly any hair. They say, “She is 70, but now…” and they show you the after picture with her hair slightly tinted and looking marvelous, and a not so subtle airbrush job, with the lady smiling, and they add, “…she looks 40.”

She’s 70 and she looks 40; so what? Who cares? What’s your point? Are we looking for a massive ego boost here? You are what you are. Face facts; you’re freaking old. It’s not how you look; it’s how you feel. There are days when I feel 80; others when I feel 50. However, if I tried to do at 80 what I used to do at 50, (a) I’d probably have a heart attack and die; (b) if I didn’t die, the doctors might from laughter; (c) every muscle in my body would ache for months, and (d) I’d finally realize just how old I really am and would wind up a quivering mass of tears in a straight jacket somewhere. No, this is just not acceptable.

A man I know just died of a massive heart attack. He was 69 years old. A fine physical specimen of a human being; looked to be the picture of health; took a long walk every day; had a marvelous outlook on life…he died. He didn’t reach 70; he died. “So what?” you ask.  “So what,” is forgetting about trying to be something that you’re not. If you want to be a 70 or 80 year old beauty queen, that’s your business, but frankly I’m more interested in what’s inside your head and your heart than I am about how you look. If you’re a man and you want to look the way Jack La Lane did when he died at 92, great; more power to you, but I’d be more impressed if you could intelligently discuss the latest book that you had read or how you see the crises facing the United States in the next ten years…of course, if you’re 92, maybe you aren’t too worried about the crises facing the United States in the next ten years; five maybe, but not ten!

Our hangup with external beauty is probably what’s wrong with a great many Americans. We are so concerned with the exterior that we forget to look at what’s inside. Whether it’s the physical beauty of the person, the exterior bells and whistles of an automobile, or the phony promises of politicians, we don’t take the time to search for what’s below the surface. Then we wonder why the physical beauty turns out to be a bastard or a bitch-on-wheels. We go ballistic when the automobile that we thought was so perfect suffers a recall because its this, that, or the other thing will cause it to be a potential death trap. And as far as the politicians are concerned, there is one rule that one should always, always follow…Anyone who wants to run for political office should never be allowed to do so, no matter what they say or promise. This holds true generally at the state or national level. Someone wants to run for school committee or town council…well, maybe not so much…but keep an eye on them.

Would I like not to have a gut or flabby boobs or still be able to run up and down a basketball court? Sure, of course I would. Would I like to still wear a 42 long suit jacket and have a 32 inch waist? Who wouldn’t, but I’m also very much aware that I’m one of those who suffers from furniture disease. That’s when one’s chest sinks into one’s drawers. I’ve had enough surgeries on my knees and back that instead of being six, three as I was in high school, I’m now just over six feet tall. My metabolism has slowed sufficiently that I now weigh a hundred pounds more than I did when I wore that cap and gown to receive my diploma…and that was for my undergraduate degree.

We cannot prevent the ravages of time. If we’re fortunate enough to have the time to ‘suffer’ them, we should consider ourselves very, very fortunate. There are many people who didn’t get that luxury for one reason or another. Forget the facial wrinkles and the sagging skin. Be proud that you’re still walking around and that you wear both as badges of honor. Do you love? Have you compassion? Can you see…perhaps with a bit of help from your bifocals? Do you hear…eh, maybe not as well as you’d like, but what the hell. Can you walk down the hall or across the street or through the grocery store? Can you smell the flowers of spring? If you are possessed of these blessings, you’re ahead of the game.

Forget trying to be what you were. Welcome what you are and what you will be.

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How many dry skin creams have you tried? Winter comes on; the skin starts to crack, and it’s “Okay, which one shall I try today?” It’s worse when you’re old. Your skin has thinned out. You definitely don’t have the seven layers with which you were born. There are some creams or lotions that you try and you have to rub the darned things in for the day. If anyone went to grab your arm they’d slip away as if you were the greased pig at the fair.

I think I’ve probably tried every skin cream known to man, including…yes, I admit it…some of those one o’clock in the morning television ad creams that you know are fake. I have two bottles of Vaseline Intensive Care sitting in my nightstand. I can’t make them work for me. Neutrogena proved a failure from the outset when a finger-full slipped off and landed on my new khakis. Like most of the rest of them, it stains. Clinique, Oil of Olay, Gold Bond, and a variety of others have also been wanting. The reason I bring this up is that the skin of the elderly loses its moisture. When you get an itch and go to scratch it, you stand a good chance of removing enough of what’s left to draw blood. It is ugly. So then you bleed all over the book you’re reading or the dinner you’re preparing – don’t gag – or whatever else it is you’re doing and it’s very, very embarrassing. ‘No, the meat isn’t that rare; it’s just me.” I mean, come on, you want to say that to your guests…tacky, tacky, tacky!

All of these skin creams must be absorbed into the skin for them to work, right? This does not mean that one dabs on a light application and pray for osmosis. It means that the lotion/crème/gel/whatever, must be rubbed into the skin. Let it be sucked up by the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. That’s fine, except that the sneaky epidermis, the one that is supposed to be the outermost, strongest layer that gives us such great protection also has some layers. These are the stratum basale, stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum, stratum lucidum, and the stratum corneum [you don’t have to remember this; it won’t be on the test]. So or Therefore or yuk, it appears from an article in The Journal of Dermatology, that the epidermis does, in fact, lose cells to some degree as we age. In one study that was done, they took skin from near the navel to study. I don’t know much about this but it seems to me that if they were going to do that, they should also have taken some from the face or any other area that is more exposed during a lifetime. I mean, how many people do you know who rub Aveeno around their navel?

Anyway, I have concluded from all of my Internet research that I am completely and utterly screwed when it comes to using any skin softening crème, or lotions for my poor hands and arms; I will just {head thrown back and the back of one hand gently touches the brow in an expression of “I’m doomed} suffer through the winter months with skin that tears like tissue, fingers cracked and bleeding..ah, suck it up and behave like a man you wimp!


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What is wrong with being bald? Where is the problem with having gray in one’s hair? Have you ever seen a man or woman with snow white hair? It’s singularly beautiful. I’m not talking about the dirty gray that you see on some, but if the genes are right – mine don’t happen to be, but what the hell – it seems to enhance the beauty or at least detract from the ugliness of the person so blessed. In terms of being bald, I guess the classic actors were or are Telly Savalas, Yul Brynner, Stanley Tucci, John Malkovich, and several others, none of whom appeared to be concerned about the fact that their heads were shaved because they were mostly bald.

The ads on television that push hair restoration for “that younger look,” or adding coloring to hair or beards in order to ‘score’ with women are embarrassingly simplistic and downright insulting. What, you think that by going through a process that puts hair on your head or color in your beard, you’re going to be more attract6ive to the opposite sex? My guess would be that you’re trying to look younger in order to think younger, act younger, and make a damned fool of yourself.

You are what you are, and while hair coloring works well for most women – except for the purple-headed grande dames – I’m not all that certain the same can be said for men. Unless a man has his hair colored professionally, it usually comes out as five shades of brown as opposed to fifty shades of gray.

After Joan died of cancer, I did two things to honor her memory. First, I had my wedding ring made into a heart and attached to the cross I wear around my neck. The second thing I did and will continue to do until I die, is to shave my head. Did she undergo chemo and lose her hair? No, she refused chemo because (a) it was too late, and (b) she preferred quality of life over quantity of life. So no, I didn’t shave my head because Joan had lost all of her hair. I did it as a tribute to her memory. Was I going bald anyway? That’s a tough call. I had a small tonsure on the back of my head and a couple of runways on the front, but by and large, I still had to get to a barber every couple of weeks to look presentable. Today, while I still haven’t mastered the art of shaving my head with a straight razor – I admit to crazy; not to stupid – I keep the old scalp as bare as possible. Let me put it this way: After I’ve shaved my head, it glints. That’s enough for me.

People do all sorts of crazy things to make themselves what…more attractive to the opposite gender? That seems rather shallow to me because it would appear that the person is starting out with a deception. If that’s what floats someone’s boat, beautiful, go for it, but understand something very clearly; you are a victim of the advertising community. You also probably have insecurities about how you look, and the advertisers are doing nothing but pandering to those insecurities. My personal insecurity about my looks took place when I was in high school. During the summer, between my freshman and sophomore years, I grew nearly a foot in height, all the way up to six feet, three inches. The only problem was that my weight didn’t grow with me. At 145 pounds, I could stand sideways to a sapling and disappear. I wasn’t the tallest kid in the class; I was the tallest person in the school. The most polite of the nicknames was probably “Bones,” but those days are gone forever. Looking back, I can chuckle about how insecure I was over my height as well as my weight. Today, at six, one, and 250, I’m still somewhat insecure about my weight…no I’m not; it is what is, and at 80, I just don’t give a damn any more.

The exterior of a person is really quite meaningless. When Robin Williams committed suicide, all the gory details were part of the police announcement. Zelda Williams, his daughter, shut down her twitter account because of some of the nasty comments she was receiving. Now time has passed, and the public is learning about the real Robin Williams; not Williams the comedian; not Williams the actor; not Williams who constantly battled depression. People are learning about Robin Williams, the generous man who entertained troops in Iraq and Afghanistan without promoting his tours; who taped a ‘take care’ message to a woman in New Zealand who is dying of cancer; who regularly did fund raising for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital; who was one of the kindest and most generous people in Hollywood; who was probably haunted by the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Outside, he was…talented and strange. Inside, his heart was filled with kindness and generosity.

You don’t have to add hair or shave your head. You don’t have to Botox your face or use a particular brand of skin softener. You just have to be the best you that you can be. As one quotation goes, “When you were born, you cried and all of those around you smiled. Live your life so that when you die, you are smiling and all around you are crying.” I can think of no finer tribute.


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There is a great deal to be said about an early September day when it arrives in the latter part of July. Yesterday we were bombarded by rain and an F2 tornado that struck not too far from here, but today…today has brought with it sunshine, white puffy clouds, and air so dry you can create static electricity by walking across the grass in your bare feet. Not such a morning as this has struck and been cause for celebration in many a moon.

I arose early this morning. Although all of the windows were closed and the air conditioning was in a lull, there was something that had permeated the house, giving it a fresh feel that fairly screamed, “Wake up and celebrate this morning…get up dammit, get up!” Never one to disobey a ‘fresh feel,’ I dragged my weary bones – getting less weary by the second, I might add – and let Widget, our Cairn terrier out to perform her morning ablutions. Even opening the back door, I could feel the beckoning call of cool – not cold or warm – breezes telling me to get out of the house and enjoy…which I did.

Now, I must describe our backyard to you. As you step out onto the concrete patio, you are assaulted by the smell of flowers…roses of many kinds, poppies, petunias, hibiscus, and heaven only knows what else assault your senses with wonderful aromas. Flowers in window boxes; flowers in pots; flowers in beds; flowers just about everywhere; well everywhere that there aren’t tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Yes, our backyard is a multiplicity of gardens. Fear not, however, for there is a pathway to the lava rock patio surrounding an eighteen by thirty-six foot irregularly shaped swimming pool. I say that the patio is lava rock not because of its color, but because no matter how hot it gets, this patio never gets above 72o..

As Widget took off a) sniffing to see what wild animals had been in the yard last night; and b) at some point getting to the pee and poop part of her day, I headed for my favorite chair. This is no ordinary chair I want you to know; this is my ‘special’ chair! When I sit in this chair, I am magically transported; my entire focus on life changes. I sit and the chair begins to surround me; I lay back and the chair lays back with me until I see my toes – ugly little suckers – and I can stare at the sky. This morning, with the cool air and puffy clouds, it was my idea of perfection. The blue of the sky; the blue of the water, the cool breeze…everything combined to release every bit of tension from me. I was more relaxed and more at ease than any time since my “gym incident” of a couple of weeks ago.

This may all sound like a bunch of hooey to you – bullshit, if you want to get downright crass about it – but this morning was beyond beautiful. We happen, at times, on a flight approach to Logan International Airport in Boston. We can easily identify what airline is flying in and sometimes even those flying out. At the height at which we see them, they aren’t all that noisy and this morning, they merely looked like huge silver birds. In addition, a flock – or whatever one calls them – of Canada geese flew over silently. Have to tell you that I’m not all that crazy about those birds. They’re as bad as turkeys in terms of leaving deposits that let you know they’ve been around your area. Usually in flight, I hear the damn things honking to beat the band, but these were so silent and so low, you could hear the flapping of their wings…hot dam!

I lay there from shortly after six until darn near 7:30. Widget did her thing as I stared at the sky. At some point, I must have drifted off, only to be awakened by a harsh dog bark. Widget seems to take exception to joggers as they go by…either that or it’s her form of greeting…yeah, right.

It’s now 11:30 in the morning. The sun has risen above the pine trees and is now shedding light on the pool. The temperature has risen, although it’s only supposed to be in the seventies today. I do believe that this is too beautiful a day to waste. It seems to me that the wisest course of action to pursue is to take a hot shower, jump into a bathing suit, grab a quick lunch, take my Kindle in hand, and head back to my chair. Will I take a dip in the pool? Who knows, but on a day like this, anything is possible. Gotta love this day and cherish every one like it!

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There are too many people with big egos living in America today…and there are too many charlatans who are more than willing to play to those egos and to take the money of the egotists.

Have you seen the number of ads for this cream or that treatment to make you look younger? Perhaps it’s me but I don’t understand why we all can’t be who we are. Why do we need to spend thousands of dollars – not covered by insurance by the way – to make ourselves look like who we are not? Since these are the types of people who would sue my ass big time if I mentioned their names, I’m not going to give them the opportunity, but you know who they are; you’ve seen the commercials; you’ve seen the before and after photos that, while they may not be retouched, they are certainly posed in a different manner, clothed in a more attractive fashion, and lit in a more complimentary way….ah, the tricks of the trade!

I don’t understand this desire to look like you’re 40 when, in fact, you’re damn near 80. We’re not who we are on the outside. What makes us us, is who we are on the inside. You may be the handsomest guy on the block but it will soon become apparent that you’re a son-of-a-bitch the minute you open your mouth or take some kind of action that shows your true colors. Women who may be gorgeous to the eye may also be beautiful on the inside but there are others who, when the make-up, false eye lashes, hair extensions, and other ‘additions’ are removed, show what makes up the real person.

One night I was sitting at dinner with a member of the Babson College board of trustees. I have no idea how it came about but I began speaking of my mother. In her later years, I told this lady, mother began to lose her hair. My aunt, who was a hairdresser, asked mom if she’d like to have thicker hair. While I never considered my mother to be vain, she was excited at the prospect. Evelyn, my aunt, would give mom some kind of hot oil treatment and sure enough, mother’s hair grew much, much thicker. When she died, it was with a full head of hair. The trustee asked if she could speak with my aunt about restoring her hair. When I asked her why, she grabbed her hair and lifted it straight up for everyone to see. “This show you why?” she asked. I’ve seen billiard balls that had more hair than her head. I mean, it glistened. All I could do, along with the rest of the people at the table, was roar with laughter. Talk about someone who didn’t give a damn what people thought; it was wonderful. This lady was a well-known philanthropist and a member of the boards of several organizations and businesses. She was who she was; she didn’t care what others might think, and, I absolutely loved her for it. Unfortunately, my auntie Ev was gone from this earth so putting hair back on this trustee’s head was moot.

If you really want to know how someone looks, go to a gym at five o’clock in the morning. Men and women stagger in with no make-up, hair that looks like it hasn’t seen a brush since yesterday – a lot of the women wear headbands or bandanas; the men just the cowlicks stick where they are. These people don’t give a damn about what they look like; they care about how they feel. They come to the gym to sweat and stay healthy and they couldn’t care less about what others think.

I look at wrinkles on people as signs that they’ve lived life more fully than those who parade around with “a pound and a half of make-up on their face.” My high school and college classmate, George, has so much hair, he could probably grow it out for ‘Locks of Love.’ Me, I’m a bit different. My wife died of cancer; although she did not go through chemo, her hair fell out. I shave my head as a tribute to her and every time I shave, I think of her and all of the fun times we had together [In case you’re interested, I also talk with her every night]. She didn’t care too much for make-up, and yep, she had the wrinkles to prove it.

As I said earlier, we are who we are; what we look like makes little difference. We’re loaned this shell we call a body for a very short time in the whole scheme of things. As hard as we might try; as many face lifts as we may get; as many crèmes as we may use, we might change what we look like, but we can never change exactly who we are. It’s not what we look like or how we dress that makes us. It’s what’s inside; it’s how we treat others; not how we treat ourselves that shows our true beauty or ugliness.

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Let’s play a game. Well, it’s not so much of a game as it is I ask questions and you answer them, okay? Some people would say this is foolish, but what do they know? You and I both know that this could be a very interesting game. Of course, there is one slight problem. I am dependent on you being truthful in your answers and you are dependent on my not exposing your answers. This last is probably not so much of a problem since you aren’t going to tell me your answers anyway, right?

Before we begin the game, I’m going to make some unwarranted assumptions about you as a person. The first assumption I’m making is that you’re a reasonably good and honest person. The goodness part comes from the assumption that you haven’t killed anyone during this part of your lifetime – other lifetimes we won’t worry about right now, but for this one, you’re in good shape. The honest part, that’s entirely up to you. You have to make your decision regarding that. The second assumption that I will make is that you believe in some form of Deity. Call it God, Adonai, Allah, or whatever. I have no idea what the little boy on some faraway island, who worships that rock perched on a stone calls that rock, but he does believe; that’s all I’m asking.  My third assumption would be that you have a working knowledge and a feeling that there just might be something like a Heaven and a Hell…like your mother went to Heaven and Hitler went to hell type of thing…we still together on this stuff?

There are many more assumptions that I could make about your relationship with an all-knowing and all-powerful Being. Frankly, I’m a New Testament kind of guy, and therefore, I believe in a loving and merciful God. If not, I guess I’m up to my ass in alligators and I have no idea where the plug is to drain the swamp.

Ah, the game. Okay, let us begin. When you die, this shell you call a body is left behind for others to do with what they will. Question one; When does your ‘soul’ leave your body? Next, what happens to your soul after it leaves your body; part two of this; does it go somewhere on its own or is it escorted. Does your soul go straight to Heaven or Hell or is there a stopping off spot. Let me give you an example here: Picture a huge waiting room in a railroad station or airport…without all of the shops. If we assume that Heaven is above and Hell is below…a highly unwarranted assumption by the way…then you just know that people like Mother Teresa, several of the 20th Century Popes and a few others are a shoo-in for the Heaven express. On the other side are several Saudi Princes, Idi Amin, Genghis Khan, and others which you may feel free to consider. Think of it as their plane or train has no seats and they don’t get an in-flight movie or a free drink. Somewhere in the middle is where you and I remain. We don’t yet know whether we’re bound for Heaven or “The Other Place.” Is this place Purgatory? Who is to say? Let’s just call it a way station on our route to where Washington and Lincoln might reside or where Jack the Ripper and Bonnie and Clyde might have residence.

So, here you are…no, there’s really only one question left, but we’ll get to that. There is a large curtain at one end of the station and people move right along. Each person appears to have an escort on their right side. The escorts aren’t there; then they are. You notice that they are all, well most of them, very similar in appearance. The people who enter don’t come out, but just keep moving in. Only the escorts come out. You get in the line – not much else going on here so this must be the place. As you near the curtain, an escort appears at your right arm. He/She/It – it defies gender specification. The escort smiles but says nothing. As you enter, another escort – definitely a woman, a most attractive woman, asks your name. You politely tell her, and you are told to go to the left. It’s at this time that you first notice all of the others who have come through the curtain are male souls. You don’t know how you know this; you just do [if you are a female reader, reverse the gender; after all, I’m the male writer here]. You board what appears to be an airplane. There is no sound. You just know that the plane is moving; that you are in some kind of seat, and that all around you is peace. If asked to define what you mean, you know that words would fail you. It’s just…there.

Soon, you, too, are ‘there,’ wherever that happens to be. Now you find yourself in another station, this one smaller and more beautifully appointed. A different escort appears at your arm and indicates that you are to follow her; yeah, this, too, is an attractive woman. What you notice more than her beauty is her gentleness. There is a ‘goodness’ about her that makes you feel very much at ease. You sit for a while; then she guides you toward a door. With just a smile and a gesture, she bids you to enter and then she disappears. Inside the room is a chair facing out into nothingness. You sit…and you sit…and you sit. As you do so, the scene before you changes. It varies from day to night; from sunshine to stormy, dark skies. It changes from emptiness to children in a field, to young lovers walking hand in hand though autumn leaves; an elderly couple makes their way along a snowy path; a plane crash, and you try to scream a warning as a man shoots another. This is all more real than a movie. It’s beautiful and it becomes horrific and back to pleasant. A man walks toward you and sits down opposite…you never saw another chair…was it there before?

“You are a decent person,” the man says. “Why are you here?”

Oh, boy, there is the question of all time, ‘Why am I here?’

You have no idea where you are. You have no idea whether you are in a good place or a bad place. This calls into question every part of your life, and your life begins to play before your eyes…the times when you lied; the times when you gave blood for a friend; the times when you cheated on an exam; the time your child made you so mad that you slapped him; the time you lost your job and yes, the time when you received a promotion in your new job; the time you just knew that he/she was the one; the birth of your first child; the loss of your loved one. All of these images are indelibly imprinted on that space before you.

You respond “………………………………………………….”

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There was a time…many moons ago…when I was a commuter…a single passenger commuter. I would drive to and from work via back roads and never, in any part of my professional life, did I worry about traffic jams or, to be politically correct, commuter traffic.

Today, my trips in the car consist of a 4:30 am trip to the gym that generally gets me home before traffic begins to get heavy. If we’re doing our shopping, it’s in the middle of the day, ie, no traffic…until last Thursday and the entire bloody weekend; yes, Saturday and Sunday also!

If you wish to hear the rest of the story, gather round kids, ‘cause it’s a beaut!

Once upon a time…no, no, no, scratch that. We have had dogs in our house since 1961. Our first came four years after our marriage and about three months after we moved into our first house. What’s a house without a pet, right? From that time forward there has always been a pet – in our case,  dogs – in our homes. We’ve had as many as three at one time, and they have ranged from “Sooners” [sooner crap on the floor than outside] to “Americans“ [mother was a slut and dad was a horehound] to purebreds with championship lineage [I’m not allowed to brag here}. As you may have read in another piece, our last dog, a Cairn terrier, and she – Vikki – actually was the first to know that my late wife, Joan, was ill. In April 2013, Vikki went blind; two weeks later she suffered a stroke; and two days after that she was euthanized.

When your pet dies, you vow on a stack of Holy Bibles that you will never get another. Pets don’t live as long as human beings and the pain one feels at having to put the pet down is the equivalent to losing a child. Pets are as much a member of the family as any human. I don’t know this for a fact when it comes to cats or fish or even guinea pigs, but I certainly know what it’s like with dogs so they become my point of reference. Juli, my partner was with me in the vet’s office; she cried; I cried; the vet, who had cared for Vikki for over a decade, was crying as she administered Vikki’s final injection. And just like before, I swore that I would never own another dog. Let’s see now, that was last April. By September, both Juli and I were in what might be called “doggie depression.” The house was too quiet. We love each other, but there is a certain ambience that dogs emit; that fill the house with an essence that two humans, together yet alone, just cannot duplicate.

Sneakily and somewhat discreetly, I inquired of a breeder friend regarding the availability of another Cairn being available. Yes, we could have gone to an animal shelter, but my love for the last two dogs – both Cairns – was so great that I wanted a third member of the breed. “We have nothing,” Arlene said, “but we’re going to a show in a couple of weeks. I’ll ask around.” When she came back, I received an e-mail indicating that there might be a puppy available in Maryland. Contacting the breeder at tintopcairns, I learned that there was one puppy left. You now know why and how I have become familiar with commuter traffic.

We left for Leonardtown, Maryland on a Thursday. We consulted with AAA and received a ‘Triptik’ that indicated we would be traveling to the western tip of the state. When I say western tip, it means that Leonardtown is damn near the last town at the southern tip of the western tip. I mean, it is down there! In 2010, the population was almost 3,000 people…my graduating class from college were more than the entire population of this town! However, getting there was not half the fun. Some idiot once said something to the effect that it’s not the destination but the journey that’s important. I’d like to meet that person…so I could beat him to a pulp, reconstitute the pulp and beat him to a pulp again! Morning traffic moving along a freeway into and out of Hartford, Connecticut, going 75 miles per hour in the right lane, with less than a car length between you and the car in front of you and certainly not that much difference from the car behind you is…is…is…indescribable. I am not a Roman Catholic, but you never heard so many Hail Mary’s in a car in your life! If I had to do that each and every day, I would not be able to handle it. People in the left and center lanes were doing 80 mph and above…one handed…drinking coffee…talking on the phone. To draw a poor analogy, I was in the undergrad lane; the middle lane was reserved for those earning their master’s degree, and in the left lane were the Ph.D’s and above. One glitch would be enough; one glitch and every hospital in Hartford would fill up in an instant, at least for those who survived. I was tempted to take off my seat belt so that when the crash happened, I could fly out the windshield, arms extended, screaming as my last words, “Up, up, and away!”

As if heart attack Hartford wasn’t enough, the next day we repeated the exercise with traffic going into and out of Baltimore. To bypass the City of Baltimore, there is a thing called the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. I had driven through the tunnel on a regular basis when I was stationed at the Pentagon. I remembered the tunnel as a nice respite from the highways which had been narrow, cramped at crazy. That’s how I remembered the tunnel. Over the years, I can now safely say, some bureaucrats have shrunk the tunnel. It’s either that or cars are wider…or maybe both. The tunnel was dark, dreary, dank, and although the speed limit was 50 mph, we wound up doing our usual 75 just to keep up!

I kid a great deal about the traffic…but it’s not kidding. We Americans are in on hell of a hurry to get wherever it is we’re going. The speeds are frightening; the distance between cars is frightening; and you cannot help but become a part of it. I don’t mind being passed by another car most of the time, but when a Smart car and several Mini Coopers go by me like I’m standing still, that’s a bit discouraging.

Leonardtown is beautiful. Its small town America but the next town over, California, comes equipped with a three-mile stretch of every store, restaurant, and shop imaginable. All of them are set back and not crowding the main highway. It’s intelligently design, partially hidden by a frontage road and trees and bushes. Leonardtown is American history, with plaques and maps providing a wealth of education about early America, the War of 1812, and the town’s efforts for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Meeting with the breeder was another educational experience. We spent nearly four hours with her, learning things we never knew despite having owned Cairns in the past. We met ‘Widget’ who would become our new family member, although the streaking she did around the room in which we met her tempted me to call her ‘Red Blaze’ because that’s about the speed with which she ran around from end to end of the room…a born class clown if ever there was one.

Driving home on Sunday, I was hoping for a bit of peace and quiet. Between the church goers trying to get home for Sunday afternoon football – they do love their Washington Redskins down there – and the other crazies, we again prayed our way to the Motel in New Jersey where we would spend the night. I will not tell you about Monday morning except to say that we bypassed Hartford, but were forced to hit every other major city in Connecticut with the same results. We have been home now for the better part of two days. I still have the shakes and my nightmares all regard cars and traffic. As I said earlier, the State of Maryland is a beautiful place to visit. If you decide to make the trip, avoid every single highway that you can. Fly, if you will; take a train; hop a skateboard; take half a year to get there, but don’t drive 75. Oh, and don’t forget to bring back a puppy!

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The late Academy Award winning actress, Bette Davis is quoted as having said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Now that I’m only a couple of years away from when she died – she passed away at the age of 81 – I’m beginning to understand precisely what she was saying.

Getting or growing – your choice – old is a process, along with everything else. If you are diagnosed early on with a terminal disease, you never have the chance to experience what some might call the torment of growing old. My friend Jerry – and at my age, I’ve forgotten his last name – died of some damned thing called poliomyelitis. I saw him on Saturday night, when the store in which we both worked closed. He was fine; no problems. Evidently, he woke up Sunday morning with some aches and pains; by Tuesday, he was dead. He never had his chance to grow old. Neither did my friend, Joe Thompson. Joe quit school in our senior year to join the Marines. On the way back to camp one night, on some Georgia road, Joe and three of his buddies wrapped their car around a tree. Joe hadn’t hit 20 yet.

It’s been said that only the good die young. Personally, I think that’s bullshit; you die when you die. Life, at least to me, is a big gamble. Every day the dice get rolled somewhere and you live or you die. That is, perhaps, a bit morbid, but it’s one way of looking at it. I’ve also been known to say that every morning I pull back the covers and put my feet on the floor, the Devil says, “Oh, shit, he made it through another night.”

Depending on the “expert” with whom you speak we begin the process of sarcopenia anytime between the ages of 20 and 50. Gotcha with the big word, didn’t I? Don’t worry I also had to look it up. It’s the age at which we begin to lose muscle mass. Sure, it’s possible to slow the process through strength training, and I suppose if you’re Mark Maguire, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, or a few others, you can even reverse the process, but (a) I would prefer to grow old at the regular rate, (b) I’m not certain I have the money to pay for that ‘stuff,’ and (c) I’m not all that big on injecting myself if I don’t have to do so. If you’ve ever had to inject yourself with insulin or Lovenox or anything like that, you know what I mean. The point is that as we age, we can’t lift the things we once lifted. We can’t do what we once found fairly routine. I well remember being in the gymnasium at Babson, watching a group of students playing basketball. One of them yelled over, “Hey, Mr. Bishop, wanna play?” Certainly, I was too wise to get into that gig, but they did convince me to take a shot. I stood where I had remembered standing in high school – my ‘spot’ on the floor from which I once had been a deadly shot. It was about 25 feet away from the basket and just off to one side. I took my shot and it fell about five feet short of the rim. I laughed; they laughed, but it was a clear indication that when you’re in your late fifties, you don’t shoot hoops the way you did at 17.

As I say, aging is a gradual process. If you’re lucky (and smart), you exercise to stay healthy; you eat right to stay healthy; you don’t smoke; you don’t drink to excess…everything in moderation – even moderation itself. With luck, cancer steers a wide path around you, although many of us find the basal cells of our sunbathing youth and they must be removed. When I grew up, smoking was an acceptable habit, and so in middle age, were its consequences…COPD and emphysema. Quitting helps but the damage is done. You can’t run as far or as quickly…if you can run at all. You learn that the meals that tasted so good also took a toll on your heart. If you’re lucky, you survive the first attack, and if you listen, there may or may not be a second and more severe one.

Time moves along and the print on the newspaper gets smaller and a bit more indistinct. You see an eye doctor and he may tell you that he can improve your vision or that you’re condemned to bi- and then trifocals. In my case, procedures had advanced whereby, laser surgery removed cataracts and my vision was restored to the point of buying eyeglasses off the rack. Some folks aren’t so lucky. Their vision keeps fading until it’s all but gone. The same is true of other senses. Hearing seems to fade…very, very, very slowly but it fades. Hearing aids become a part of one’s wardrobe along with greater caution when crossing the street.

One morning, we wake up and something seems to ache as we’re getting out of bed. Hell, which can happen any time from 10 on, I suppose, and if you’ve been an athlete, it happens the morning after every game. At some point, the ache or the pain doesn’t go away and you realize that the cartilage which once was there is either torn or worn away. The doctor says it’s the onset of arthritis, that you need surgery, or that, “we have a pill for that.” If it’s your back that’s hurting, they have injections for that or you can go ‘under the knife’ and pray for the best. You see, aging today, is not the same as it was in the day of your mother and dad. And it most certainly isn’t the same today as it will be 50-100 years from now. If you followed Star Trek, you may remember when Bones, Kirk, and Spock, returned to earth in the late 20th Century to rescue one of their crew. They found him in a fairly modern hospital, yet Dr. McCoy called the doctors of that period, “barbarians” and “butchers.” I can honestly say that I’ve seen some of that in my lifetime. My left leg has a six inch scar from the first knee surgery; the second – a year later – has two one inch scars on either side of the knee. My youngest child, whose knee surgery was done about 20 years later, had three tiny pinholes which we can no longer see. What next, you ask? What’s next is already here. Doctors are growing cartilage to repair or replace that which has worn down or gone altogether. Gall bladder surgery, which once left a nine-inch scar on one’s chest, is now accomplished with a miniature vacuum cleaner that leaves a barely noticeable mark. But still, we age.

Despite medical marvels and advances, the human body is not built for longevity. Our organs begin to function less than optimally no matter what we do, take, exercise, or eat. Sure, it can be slowed down; sure medical science is making fantastic strides; sure this and sure that, but…we still wake up with a new pain here or a new ache there every day or week or month. The beauty of it is and if this is the case just think of how fortunate we are. We’re still alive to see the beauty that is the world around us. Yes, for some, we awake to see the ugliness that is around us, but I guess I’m luckier that I’m in the first group. I watched Juli’s morning glories open again this morning; the purples, the blues, the reds, and yes, even the whites open to signal the beginning of a new day. And yes, I don’t feel particularly well because of my aches and pains and other problems…but I’m alive to see those flowers come alive; to see the blue jays come and grab the peanuts Juli has tossed out for them; to see the squirrels, chipmunks, and wild turkeys come to eat the grain and see that she’s thrown out. It all reminds me of just how lucky I am to have made it to this age and to think of how sad it is that so many of my peers have not.

Life is a treasure; a blessing. Getting old may not be for sissies, but it sure as hell is for the experience of seeing just how much beauty there is in it and how fast it’s changing. If life in the 1800s and early 1900s plodded along like a horse, and if life in the 1950s move along slowly the automobiles of the time, the 21st Century, by its end, can certainly be a time when, instead of our progress being measured arithmetically, it will be measured in exponential growth. I would love to have a crystal ball to stare into to see just what I won’t live to experience.

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I’m going broke! No, this isn’t an appeal for funds, just a statement of fact. The reason for this is squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, hummingbirds, gold finches, doves, and turkeys…yes, turkeys! Allow me to explain…

…Juli, my partner and lady love, is an avid gardener. She does not want garden pests such as the above have been known to be, to chomp on her vegetables or her flowers…her many, many flowers. Therefore, her solution to this potential problem is to feed the critters outside of the fenced yard to ensure that they will not become the ‘munch bunch’ on the inside of the fenced yard. Since a good part of the fenced yard is four foot high chain link, and since squirrels, rabbits, etc., can easily stretch their bods through this chain link, it makes some kind of sense to feed them outside…it says here.

You, dear reader, should be aware that we have two patios…sorta makes it sound ritzy, doesn’t it…it’s not. The patio leading to the back door is about twelve feet long and eight feet wide. This leads to a Florida room – I have no idea why the hell they call it that – and a door on the other side leads out to a larger patio that is the main entrance to the garden. Okay, got that?

For three years, everything worked wonderfully. Juli would toss out some feed for the critters and they stayed out of the garden…except for the occasional blue jay who would steal a raspberry or two and the occasional woodchuck who enjoyed plucking a few strawberries and leaving evidence of his deeds by dropping a load near the berries…nice.

Last fall, a couple of wild turkeys showed up on the patio. Wasn’t this just wonderful; we could sit in the family room and gaze out the window not only at the birds and the rabbits and…well, you get the picture, but now we even had a couple of wild turkeys; how marvelous.

This spring, as the birds returned, something else happened. The turkeys reappeared. This time, it was not one or two, but the whole damned family. At first, it was two mothers with their brood of nine. Up went the grain bill. Next, it was another couple of moms [hens if you prefer], this time with a gang of twelve. These were a bit older…and hungrier than the first family. My grain bill increased. Next came the five members of the turkey mafia; these are five of the meanest sum bitches you would ever want to meet. If there isn’t enough food on the patio, one or more of them will peck on the window until Juli tosses their preferred food onto the patio. Smaller birds, squir…you get the picture…they disappear faster than they do when a hawk swoops down for his periodic buffet – have you ever heard a blue jay scream when its being slaughtered by a hawk; not a pretty sound.

Anyway, this is why I’m going broke. You know the expression, “You’re eating me out of house and home?” It’s generally reserved for teenagers shortly after they’ve gone through that growth spurt that all teenagers seem to go through. This is nothing like that. Okay, two or three, even four teenagers can do a number on your budget, but try feed more than 30 turkeys day in and day out. Those suckers can really put it away, and they don’t even leave an egg in repayment. Well, they do leave something but now we’re back to the woodchuck deposit.

“Why not just stop feeding them?” you ask. Sure, that would work, but then we’d be denied the joy of watching the youngsters grow up; of watching the baby fuzz disappear from all of the chicks, to be replaced by the beautiful feathers that shimmer in the sunlight. We’d miss the anxiousness that comes with counting the babies [and the teenagers] in fear that one or two of them may somehow have not made it through the night.

Do I really begrudge feeding the turkeys and the…ah, forget it. Of course not; I’m just kvetching. Are they truly breaking the bank? Don’t be ridiculous. Yes, it does cost close to a hundred bucks a month, but I know of nowhere else where I can sit on the couch, watch TV, and as a pleasant distraction, look out the floor-to-ceiling windows at nature at its finest. We’ve had deer in the back yard, and we’re only 15 miles from Boston. We even had a fox once, but we couldn’t allow him to stay. I just hope that the turkeys continue to return day-in-day-out. They may be wild but we feed them good grain. After all, Thanksgiving is just around the corner…heh, heh, heh!

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