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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let us make some assumptions…you may believe them to be unwarranted and that’s your privilege. However, that is the Royal “us” which means that I am the one making the assumptions, and you, well, you’re just along for the ride.

The first assumption that I will make is that I, you, me, we, am dead. We have crossed the great divide, gotten on board our particular plane, seen the bright light and heard the most beautiful music we’ve ever heard, etc., etc., etc. By the bye, this really isn’t an assumption; like it or not, there will come a day when whatever is on our bucket list will have to remain there because we have kicked that particular bucket.

The second assumption I will make is that we – you and I – have been reasonably good people. Without fanfare, we have supported charities, given a buck here and there to a homeless person, not committed murder, although we have stolen things from the office, lied about a few “small” things, seen a special human being along the way and, as President Jimmy Carter once remarked, “Lusted in my heart.” All in all, though, our former life had more ups than downs, and, except for that time when our bracket got totally busted in the first round, life has been good.

The third assumption I will make is that we – thee and me – went directly to the first level of heaven. No, it’s not like Dante’s first ring of hell. And, this isn’t like purgatory where you get to serve time before you go ‘up’ or ‘down.’ This is a nice place…with one exception. When you arrive, you are immediately assigned a seat in a beautiful glass building. This chair to which you have been assigned and to which you are magically transported, is known as the seat of heavenly knowledge. You see, for as good as you and I have been, we still have to ‘earn’ our wings, so to speak. While we thought that we knew the consequences of our actions on earth, here we are to learn precisely the results of our actions. For instance, remember the time when you nudged that golf ball a bit to the right to help you make that shot that got you out of the woods. You didn’t think anyone was watching, but your young caddy saw it; saw you get away with such a simple thing; he went on to be a world class money manager who robbed people of their savings…and you can just imagine the consequences of that. But that’s okay because in front of your seat is a long desk. It has books that tower out of sight. You will stay here and read every one of those books. You will ponder what happened worldwide when you took every single action in your life. Once you have completed reading, you will be asked what you might have done differently, either to make the results other than they were or to leave them as they happened. This isn’t a quiz on which you’ll receive a grade…well, not as we know grades…no, this is a quiz to determine your eligibility to move on in the heavenly scheme of things. By the way, cheating isn’t an option. Saying that you didn’t actually move the ball will just put you on another plane…very quickly…and it isn’t going up…get the picture?

So you sit in your seat, looking up at the tower of books. Next to you is another heaven-bound individual. His book tower is somewhat smaller than yours. You ask him why his book tower is smaller. He answers by telling you that he died over 3,000 years ago. This rattles you just a wee bit and you look back again at your tower. “Holy crap,” you think, “I’d better get busy.” As you say this, the first book, the one at the very bottom of the tower, slides out before you. Before opening it, your curiosity gets the best of you and you turn your head this way and that, to the left and right; then you turn and look back. The seats and desks go back far beyond your ability to see all of them. What you can see is that some seats are empty; others have towers of books larger and higher than your own, and some are much smaller. Looking ahead you see the same thing…seats, desks, occupants, small towers, larger towers, everyone reading, everyone concentrating on the book in front of them. You begin to read.

Each second of each minute, of each hour, of each day, week, month, and year appears to be contained in these books. As you read, you find that you and everyone, everything, every moment of your life affected the lives of millions of others. You learn that you, along with everyone else who ever has been or is now existing, is part the Chinese butterfly effect which, in turn is part of the chaos theory. Let me give you a simple example: In your middle years, for no reason at all, you passed a street musician, stopped, listened as she played the violin, and she played well. You dropped a five dollar bill in the hat in front of her. With that five dollars, she went to a fast food restaurant. Her violin case was seen by a man who was having a quick lunch. He asked if she played. He heard her music and took her to someone he knew in the music business. She went on to become a concert violinist of such renown that others were influenced to pick up a violin and being playing, etc., etc., etc. And all, of this happened because you took the time to drop a five dollar bill in a hat. Obviously, there were a thousand steps before the violinist achieved her dream of having thousands or millions hear her music, but you were a part of that. It has been said that a butterfly, flapping its wings at just the right moment, may someday, cause a tornado in Kansas. True or not?

And so you read…

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Four score and a bit over a year, it has come to me that the Lord, yes, the same God who judges us all after we exit stage left, right, or into the orchestra pit, has a remarkable sense of humor. Man works like hell to solve problems, and it seems that just when he has the answer to one, the Good Lord smiles and tosses man another little problem to solve. Examples? How about the diseases that plagued London in the 18th Century? There was sewage in the streets and filth everywhere; smallpox was killing people by the thousands. Bye the 19th Century, however, man had semi-conquered smallpox with a new device and sera called vaccinations. No sooner was smallpox considered more of a minor irritant than cholera and typhoid appeared. It was rather like the God saying, “If you’re going to do nothing about sewage and cleanliness, I’m just gonna keep tossin’ these little diseases attcha until you wake up!” Of course, mankind did finally wake up, which is perhaps one of the reasons for the cliché, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but let us attempt to keep the clichés to a minimum.

In 1845, the Great Famine that killed over a million people in Ireland was another little gem tossed to the beings on the planet. It took 168 years to figure what the hell it was, but in 2013, scientists finally figured what the infestation was that caused crop failures worldwide, but that hit Ireland particularly hard. According to one source, Ireland has yet to recover its full population.

I really shouldn’t say the God is responsible for the famine and disease that has plagued the earth since the time Eve took the first bite of an apple. Man seems to have done a fairly good job of mucking up the gene pool on his own. The Native Americans were far healthier than the European settlers who landed in North America. According to Native American Netroots, “The diseases brought to this continent by the Europeans included bubonic plague, chicken pox, pneumonic plague, cholera, diphtheria, influenza, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. The diseases introduced in the Americas by the Europeans were crowd diseases: that is, individuals who have once contracted the disease and survived become immune to the disease. In a small population, the disease will become extinct. Measles, for instance, requires a population of about 300,000 to survive. If the population size drops below this threshold, the virus can cause illness and death, but after one epidemic, the virus itself dies out.” Nonetheless, our European forbearers did a pretty good job of infecting the Native Americans with disease. Other than stealing their land, this seems to be a pretty good reason for the Indians to be pissed at the settlers.

When I was a child (okay; no wisecracks; no, I did not know Adam and Eve…or their kids), my world was terrified of chickenpox and measles. It was believed that exposing us to a neighbor child who had one of the diseases would give us a lesser case or at the very least would give us immunity after the disease had run its course. Today, we know that the chickenpox virus remains in the system and can result in shingles in later life. It was just last year that my own doctor recommended a vaccination to prevent the virus from resulting in shingles. In addition, I don’t believe it’s any accident that one of my pox scars later turned into a basil cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that is rather easily cured.

Another frightening disease throughout my childhood was infantile paralysis or polio. It’s a disease that has been around probably has long as man has been here. In The History of Vaccines, it is noted that “Polio reached epidemic proportions in the early 1900s in countries with relatively high standards of living, at a time when other diseases such as diphtheria, typhoid, and tuberculosis were declining. Indeed, many scientists think that advances in hygiene paradoxically led to an increased incidence of polio. The theory is that in the past, infants were exposed to polio, mainly through contaminated water supplies, at a very young age. Infants’ immune systems, aided by maternal antibodies still circulating in their blood, could quickly defeat poliovirus and then develop lasting immunity to it. However, better sanitary conditions meant that exposure to polio was delayed until later in life, on average, when a child had lost maternal protection and was also more vulnerable to the most severe form of the disease.” The one thing that I know for certain is that a 16-year old named Jerry left work at the A&P in Rockland on a Saturday night in 1951 feeling great. On Tuesday Jerry was dead from polio. I still pray for his soul. He was a good kid, and I’m sorry I never got to know him better. Thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk and company, polio has nearly been eradicated, although 250,000 cases still appear annually in lesser developed countries.

Like polio, cancer has been around for thousands and thousands of years. Hippocrates, yep, the same guy for whom the oath was named, used the terms, “carcinos,” and “carcinoma” when describing some ulcer like sores that spread and killed. Today, we are still fighting the fight to find a cure for the disease. I do not know of one person I have ever met who has not, in some way, been affected by cancer. I lost my wife, my Dad, and two grandparents to the disease. You have either lost someone or know somebody who has lost a parent, child, or some other relative. Cancer is the most insidious disease I have ever known. Yes, Jerry died of polio and that was terrible. Worse is watching as your spouse, the mother of your children, waste away and stop breathing. Cancer will not be cured in my lifetime. Hopefully, it will be eradicated by the time my great grandchildren are born.

It’s easy to toss a lot of the disease and death in God’s lap. ”Man plans and God smiles.” No, that’s not really it. Perhaps the Good Lord did throw us a few speed bumps when things first got going, but we have certainly done a fine job of creating our own little killer bugs. I wonder what’s next on the agenda.

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The gym rat is an interesting species and comes in many forms.

While most would consider the gym rat a person who is constantly working out, this is a fallacy. I have been in gyms where, when one opens a locker – generally a bottom locker and one that actually opens without the use of a pry bar –  a genuine, a-number-one gym rat will jump out and slink away, finding some hole in a wall that has either been kicked in or punched out. These particular gym rats are not sociable, have little to say, but they will feast on athletic gear that has been left behind for any period of time…including sweat socks and old jock straps. You might wish to consider moving away from this nominally-named gym rat at a rapid pace or send it on its merry way with a good swing of your gym bag. Do not concern yourself that this particular species will fight fair if it decides to challenge your authority; it does not work out on either cardio nor with free weights. Its only form of protection lies in its mouth…a rather nasty set of incisors which can cause a surfeit of damage.

There are many more species of gym rats, some to be avoided at all costs, and others to be admired from afar…or up close and personal if you have no fear of being torn limb from limb by some crazed martial arts specialist who’s just been dying to try out her newly-acquired-skills on some unsuspecting fool. It’s also necessary that you understand that species of gym rats vary from facility to facility and name to name. For example, at some establishments it is possible to see a species of gym rat known as “Musculature-excessivitis.” The male of the species can usually be found around the free weights rack, admiring both the free weights and the image of himself in the mirrors that abound in this area. If you should espy one at a time when he is using these free weights, you will note that the weight is sufficient to cause each vein in the body to appear that it will soon burst through the skin and send a torrent of blood skyward. In all fairness, it should be noted that all well-muscled members of the species are not steroid users, merely men so in love with their own musculature that they are constantly attempting to improve the way they believe men or women will find them more attractive. The female of this species is exceptionally deceptive for their manner of dress differs markedly. It ranges from the floppy sweatshirts and pants to spandex that appears to have been spray-painted on the body. The former are generally friendly and will offer suggestions if asked. The latter are usually too busy admiring their own bodies to be concerned dealing with yours.

The species or category of gym rat that I have found to be most common in the several gyms I have attended are the “Preservationists.” These are what I might refer to as “my folk.” They or we, whichever floats your boat, are the middle-aged to seniors who attempting to preserve some form of dignity with whatever they have left on their decrepit frames. Most of us have suffered through some life-altering experience that has set us on a long-term plan to not suffer such an experience again in the near, middle, or even distant future. The exercise pattern is not complex by any manner of means. It is a combination of cardiovascular exercise, accomplished by use of a treadmill, elliptical machine, stair stepper, rowing machine, or some other sweat creating torture device, with either free weights – those dumbbell type ‘thingies’ – or machines that, when first viewed, scare the living daylights out of the prospective user. In total, the preservationist may spend as many as two hours in the confines of the gym, a minimum of one hour of which will be spent chatting with others of their type regarding various aches, pains, and lack of sleep. Preservationists are harmless. Their desire is to live a bit longer than others who do not exercise or, as in the case of some, live just to see another sunrise.

Many gym rats are hybrids, the only thing classifying them for what they are being that they are consistent in their use of the gym. Six days a week, generally at the same time, you will find them exercising. For some, it’s a regimen for dropping pounds in order to fit into last year’s shirts and suits; for others, it’s wishing to fit into last year’s bathing suit or skirt. For almost all, it’s an attempt to look and feel better, both physically and mentally. From over 20 years of experience, I can say that on those days when I return from the gym, I feel energized, and I find that my mind is just a wee bit sharper than when I don’t exercise…wisecracks about my state of mind are always accepted!

Are there other pure, non-hybrid gym rats? Of course there are. To classify most of them, however, would be insulting. The “Look-at-me-look-at-me” and the spandex crowd are more pathetic than pure, and those who use the gym merely as a hangout for an hour or so are just comedic. I have been fortunate in my years as a preservationist. I have met men and women from all walks of life; from drug dealers to headmasters; from police officers to doctors; from prosecuting attorneys to those involve with homeland security; from teachers and nurses and everyday housewives just trying to stay in shape; all have been nice to me, and I’ve enjoyed my conversations with each and every one. The heterogeneity of a gym is remarkable, and I love every minute of my time spent there…rats and all!

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What will you miss?

What will you miss when you’re dead? Everything, breathing fresh air, walking, and talking don’t count because we’re all going to miss those…or not. I will miss sitting on the couch and patting my dog. Her fur isn’t soft like that of a kitten. It’s thick, sometimes greasy or dusty or so filled with pollen that I have to take an antihistamine just to be able to pat her…but she’s mine. She’s mine to pat and to get to turn over so I can rub her belly and come as close to purring as a dog can possibly do. She’s not really ‘my’ dog. I purchased her; wrote out the check, but I put her in the name of my companion, Juli. You see, I’m too old to have a dog, at least not one with as much energy and bounce as this one seems to have. So, yes, when I’m dead I will miss being able to pat my dog.

I will miss the changing of the seasons; watching summer fade; the leaves changing color; going back to their birth shades, if you will. Not everyone knows that…that the leaves are only turning green because of their chlorophyll. Otherwise, we’d be seeing those reds and yellows and oranges and various other colors along the spectrum from spring until the fall. It’s a nice thought but without the chlorophyll, this would be an entirely different planet, therefore I guess I could add that I’ll miss chlorophyll (How can one miss something one knows so little about?). I can guarantee that I will not miss the snows of winter. Some might tack on that where I’m headed I’ll have no worries about that. I’d tell those people to “go to hell,” but then they might and it’s possible I could run into them.

I’ll miss watching Juli turn tiny little seeds into beautiful flowers of so many colors and types; vegetables, of which we had so many that I would bring piles to the gym for anyone to use. “I’m going to make a tomato quiche,” one woman told me, “because those tomatoes you bring are really great.” How nice to hear that and what a compliment it is to Juli’s skills as a gardener.

We don’t really think about what we’re going to miss when we’re gone. Then it’s too late. Maybe, just maybe it would be a good idea to sit down and make a list of the things we’re going to miss when we “shuffle off to Buffalo” or wherever it is we shuffle off to. Then we could place more emphasis on those things, knowing…well, you understand what I’m saying. Some folks might say, “Aw, that’s just that thing they call a bucket list,” to which I would respond, “A bucket list is things you’ve never done; this is quite different.” This list might consist of things you’ve done a hundred times or more, but every time you do it or them or whatever, it gives a great surge of pleasure…so, dammit, do it! And yes, I know, some of you would like to change a letter in your bucket list, but if you’re going to be serious, you’ll understand just how much of a mistake that would be; life is altogether too short to be making that kind of list.

We take life too much for granted. If you think that’s not true, I invite you to visit Children’s Hospital in Boston or St. Jude’s in Memphis or any one of a hundred or more kids’ hospitals around the country. Some of those children would give just about anything to be in your shoes or mine. Admittedly, I don’t know what your shoes are like, so let me just say they’d give anything to be in my shoes. Visit an Alzheimer’s Center where there are young people with early onset of that disease. You’ll be amazed at how fortunate you find yourself feeling.

I don’t want to be a sad sack here, but let’s face it, the end – or the beginning if you like – is going to come to all of us. Let us determine to live our lives rather than just exist until the end comes. I am both envious and jealous of people who can go to Old Silver Beach in West Falmouth. They can park their cars and walk over the sand to the water’s edge. They can go into that water, that beautiful salty water, and swim to their heart’s content. I can’t do that anymore; I’d very much like to, but I can’t. I wish that I had done it more when I could have done so. It’s too late now. I can’t walk that far; that’s not figurative, it’s literal. My body won’t allow me to do so…and it pisses me off no untold end. I’ve even reached the point where I have to use a walker on occasion…and that really makes me mad. I can’t shoot hoops with the kids across the street anymore, and it was such fun to do so. I’d regale them with lies about my basketball career – well, not all lies, but mostly – and they’d lie back to me about what they were doing or going to do, and we’d all laugh. I’d like to have done that more often. The truth is that there are so many things I wish I had either done or done more of that it’s kind of sad. Perhaps everyone over a certain age has that same reflection, and it’s probably somewhat unhealthy to dwell upon it. “Look ahead, because if you keep looking back, that grim reaper is going to catch up sooner than you expect.” I put quotes around that because someone else probably said the same thing at one time or another, and I’d hate to be accused of plagiarism.

So do those things you love to do while you’re still able to do them, and if there are things on your “round tuit” list, don’t wait until it’s too late to get around to it. When I was younger, older people would say something like, “Live your life to the fullest,” or “Live as if you’re going to die tomorrow.” Like every other young person, I’d go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, okay…” and go on my merry way. Ah, what wisdom they were uttering, and how foolish I was not to listen more clearly. Now it’s my turn to say those same things. Remember, when you’re on your death bed, it’s not the things you did that you’ll regret; it’s the things you never got around to doing. Don’t miss any of it, my friends, not one single thing.

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So, Dylann Roof was afraid that black people were taking over the world. Well, maybe that’s just not such a bad thing after all. I can hear the screams now…”Are you out of your friggin’ mind?” “Oh, come on, you can’t be serious!” “Didn’t you see all of those shootings in Dorchester and who committed them?” “Yeah, right, and all those black gangs would be taking over our neighborhoods and killing all the white people; that’s what would happen you idiot.”

Yep, possibly true. But why is it true? It’s true because a minority of the minority make all of the headlines because of their actions. I have seen the riots; I have seen the black banners; I have heard the yelling and screaming, and; I have seen the way in which we ‘educated’ whites have treated “uppity n___as” for over 200 years.

Despite all of our legislation; despite all of our efforts to integrate blacks and whites, nothing seems to be working. In one of the most advanced civilizations in history, we cannot overcome something as seemingly simple as two races living together in some kind of harmony. Even when we elected a black president, there was sufficient racism in the legislative branch – and other branches – to stop any kind of progress from being made. Anyone who tries to tell me that racism isn’t behind the gridlock in Washington is a goddamned liar! “We won’t let him get anything passed in the House.” Those are as close to an exact quote as I can remember from one Representative. “Him,” the word was “him,” and who was “he?” He was the first black President of the United States.

America was not ready to accept anything other than a white person for the Presidency. It is doubtful that America will ever be ready for anything but a white presidency. It’s too ingrained in us over our two hundred plus year history to accept anything else. We are creatures of habit; we are NIMBY’s such as there has never been. We talk of how we have advanced our civilization by trying new things, and that’s true, we have. But we sure as hell don’t want to disturb the status quo when it comes to the who of how we govern. Someone said to me, “When the Obama’s leave the White House, they’ll take all the china and silverware.” The person was only half joking. Why? Because that is the impression too many of us have of men and women in the black community. Wait a minute; who gambled away the White House china? Why it was President Warren G. Harding. How many alcoholic white presidents have we had? Too goddamned many. How many wheeler-dealer crooks have we had in the White House? Too goddamned many.

I have no sympathy for Dylann Roof; don’t get me wrong. Certainly, trying to start a race war is not the answer to bringing this country together. He deserves to pay the ultimate price for his actions. My gut feeling is that if he has already confessed to these murders, there is no reason for a trial. “That’s not the American way!” Bullshit…why isn’t it the American way? Why waste time and money to satisfy the blood lust that the media will create over this senseless and heinous act? The same should have been true with the Marathon bomber, the theatre killer, the one who shot Gabby Gifford and others, as well as Edward Hinckley. You did it; we saw you; you pay for your actions in the same manner as your actions. Within 24 hours of your capture, you are on your knees with two shots behind the ear. “Oh, my God, how brutal; how you can even think such a thing; this isn’t China where they do that. This is America; we’re not savages@” Oh, really, what would you call the people I’ve listed above…preachers of God?

Over the past 15 years I’ve watched this country begin to come apart at the seams. Statisticians tell us that crime is going down…and we’re supposed to believe their bullshit! The FBI, the Justice Department, this one and that one tell us how we’re better off than we were a couple of decades ago. Guess what, I don’t believe them. I think they are covering their butts and lying to us. Perhaps it’s because when something like Charleston or Newtown happen, it makes a big splash. Perhaps the media is doing a “better” job of covering the sexual assaults that are taking place on our city and suburban sidewalks and homes. I don’t know what it is, but things sure look pretty fucked up to me.

So what are we looking at for the future? Dylann Roof will go on trial, be convicted and when his execution date comes – somewhere in the next 10 years because of all the automatic appeals – the whole thing will be rehashed and America will once more be told that we cannot tolerate this kind of behavior, the population will be up in arms once more. Will any action have been taken to sort out the potential Dylann Roof’s in our society? No! Will any action have been taken in an attempt to control who and how guns are distributed? No. Will the NRA still own Congress? Yes. Will people still be going on rampages of killing children, classmates, adults of all colors? Yes.

Do I have reasonable solutions to all of these problems? No, not to all of them, but I have a few thoughts:

  • Any member of Congress who takes money from any lobby should be immediately ousted from his or her seat in that law-making body.
  • Members of the House of Representatives should not be allowed to serve any more than six terms. If they cannot get the job done in twelve years, it’s time to go.
  • Senators should be allow to serve two terms in office. Once more, twelve years in Congress is quite enough.
  • Certain lobbies are so powerful that they should be disbanded in some way, shape, or form. These include the tobacco, public utilities, pharmaceutical, gun advocacy, and several other vote-buying bastards who serve no useful purpose in our government.
  • Certainly our jails are overcrowded. We do not possess the laws to discourage crime. Opponents of the death penalty maintain that the threat of such punishment is not a deterrent, and they may well be right. However, have we ever really tested this? One execution every ten or twelve years is not testing. Executions every day for a couple of months might get a few bad guys to change their minds about committing a serious crime.
  • The Second Amendment, at least to me, means that if you own a gun, you do so to protect yourself and your home and that you are a part of a militia to guard the country. Fine, let’s put you to the test. If you voluntarily purchase or possess a gun, you will be trained and sent to wherever the United States is engaged in a ‘police action,’ or whatever we’re calling our conflicts these days. You will serve one year in a front line unit. If you survive, you will be allowed to keep your weapon when you return. However, you will not be allowed to keep an automatic weapon or more than 100 rounds of ammunition.

These are very rough plans and will have to be worked out…by whom? Aha, therein lies the rub. Who creates and who enforces these rules and regulations? Won’t be me; I plan to be dead. Good luck, America; you’re going to need it!

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“Wow, what a bunch of lucky dogs!”

“Yeah; Barcelona for a couple of weeks; that would be just so cool.”

“When I took French last year, we went nowhere. That sucked!”

“Yeah, what a bunch of lucky dogs.”

“Oh-my-god!”

“Did you hear?”

“Yeah”…starts crying…again.

That’s dialogue. I don’t know whether it’s anywhere near what was said before and after the plane crashed into the Alps. I have no idea if that’s the way it went, but to this day – sixty-three years later – I can tell you exactly how those kids felt. I can tell you how fast the news spread through Haltern, Germany. I can understand the shock of fellow students, although not to the extent that comes from losing that many. But, I understand; I remember.

I remember sitting in a funeral home on Webster Street and looking at a casket who’s lid was closed…and sealed…because there wasn’t anything the funeral director or embalmer or whoever makes a corpse look life-like could do. I remember wondering how much of him was in the casket. Did they find all the pieces, parts of his body? Did he see it coming? Was he aware that he was about to die? Did it hurt much? We’d never toss a football around, ever again. He wouldn’t be one of the first ones picked when we bucked up for teams, never again. Yeah, I remember.

The “he,” in this case, was Joe Thompson, a friend who decided to leave high school in his senior year to enlist in the Army. He loved a good fight and wanted to go to Korea. He was at Fort Benning in Georgia; had come home on leave. He and four of his Army buddies were heading back. We never really knew precisely what happened; whether someone fell asleep at the wheel or what, but they all died. I don’t even know where the others were from, but Joe was from our town, a town of about 10,000. Word traveled fast. In those days, we didn’t light candles or create little shrines anywhere. We went to the wake at the funeral home, sometimes in groups, sometimes alone. One of the other things I remember well is that the walls of the funeral home were white, a stark white, and I remember thinking that they should have been something other than white; funny, the things you remember.

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s one or sixteen; whether it’s the jock or the class nerd; it’s a classmate and he or she is dead from this, that, or the other thing…and you won’t see them again. It doesn’t matter whether you were a good friend or not; this was a classmate. Kid could have been the biggest jerk in the school, but now the jerk got killed, and that changes things. As kids ourselves, we may not express it or even understand it, but it’s an indication that we aren’t immortal, invincible, or inviolable. He or she was a classmate – same grade or different; it doesn’t matter – and high school is nothing if not a community unto itself.

Is this as tragic as Newtown, or Littleton, Lockerbee or Malaysia flight 370? Sure it is. Nearly all death is tragic. It’s more so when it’s young people who die; even more when it’s a violent end to young life. The people of Haltern will get through this…almost. The pain will last for years. Memories will come back after years have passed and those classmates will remember an episode and they’ll start to cry. Someone may ask them, “What’s wrong?” and they’ll just shake their heads; perhaps look at their own kids. They’ll dry their tears and get on with what they were doing.

Some memories fade quickly. I used to believe that it was the bad ones that faded the fastest; that the good ones remained far longer. However, as you can see, there are times when even the bad ones come back to bite you. Just ask someone who lost a friend when they were young.

 

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