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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

I am a man, just a man. I bear the burdens of all other men. I have the flaws of all other men. And yes, I even have some of the assets, skills, and intelligence of all other men. I have seen my grandparents die, and I loved them both. I have watched cancer kill my Dad, and I loved him. I loved my Mother, but we had quarreled over a period of time, and I was not there when she died. I watched my wife die at home of the same disease that killed my father. I loved my wife as only a spouse can over a fifty plus year period. I still speak to her every night as I’m quite certain other spouses speak to their own loved ones who are deceased. Love is love is love, and loss is loss is loss.

There is one loss that I have not experienced, nor do I believe I could ever survive. It’s the loss of a child. Yes, Joan and I lost three children before our first was born. However, these were miscarriages. We never knew our child or even its gender. Our first is now in her fifties and has three of her own. Our second is a year behind her, and he and his spouse have three of their own. Our youngest is also blessed with three. If any of these twelve people died, I know I would soon follow. The spouses? Yeah, they’re great, but they aren’t mine. My children are mine. My grandchildren, strange as it may sound, are mine…and I would die.

Where am I going with this? I’m going where, perhaps, I should have gone a long time ago. We see on television and in the newspapers that this 16-year old was killed walking on the railroad tracks, and we, or at least I, wonder, “What the hell was he doing walking on railroad tracks…oh, well.” And I think little more about it. Then my eldest calls and asks if I saw the news. “Oh, shit,” I think, and she goes on to explain that he was the only child of a young woman I knew very well when she was a student. She goes on to explain that the boy’s uncle and his wife were at dinner with my daughter just a couple of nights before. I knew the uncle, too, as a student. Then it dawns…what are these people going through? What could possibly be said to comfort them? The answer, of course, is nothing. There is nothing you can say to someone who has lost a child. There is no “closure,” oh God, how I hate that word. “Closure” implies to me that something good is going to come of what happened. A child is dead, not just that, but in this case, an only child, and I sincerely doubt there will be another for this family. What will they do? What can they do? How the hell will they get through the rest of their lives together? Will this make their bond stronger or will it turn into a blame game ending in divorce and two more lives destroyed? Pause for a moment and consider this…every time, this young couple sees a train while they’re out driving, every time they hear the mournful whistle of a train as they are going to bed or getting up in the morning, they will probably be reminded of their son’s untimely death. Not a particularly pleasant thought, is it, to have such an obvious reminder of this terrible tragedy.

If this is all too morbid for you taste, tune out now because I’m just getting started. Over 20 years ago, friends of this same eldest daughter lost their first born to SIDS. He was under a year old. I had held that child and then he was gone. I guess I was just trying to be a good Dad when I accompanied my children to the funeral. I remember thinking that I was going to have to be the ‘good’ one, the one who held my family tight as the funeral progressed. Pall bearers carried the tiny white casket to the front of the church. The Mass began. Everything was fine. My kids were weeping and I had my arms around their shoulders in comfort. “Stay strong,” I remember repeating to myself, even though I was fully aware of just how close I was to not staying very strong. Then a soprano in the balcony began to sing Michael Joncas’ On Eagles Wings. That was the end of my ‘stay strong’ period. It’s one of my favorite hymns, and, frankly, I fell apart. When the service ended, it was my kids propping me up as we made our way to the car.

Children who die before adulthood, think of what the parents have actually lost. There will be no pictures of high school or college graduations. There will be no pride of having a son or daughter join the military because it’s something they had always dreamed of doing. For Dads, there will be no walking her down the aisle or the joy of seeing him standing at an altar, watching his life partner walk toward him. There will be no grandchildren to love and to hold…and, of course, to spoil rotten. No, all of those things will be denied, and that means that the word, “closure,” is a nothing word. It connotes nothing to the parents who have lost everything.

Perhaps this is my way of saying that I will never, ever, take the loss of a child quite the same again. Whether it’s because the kid was speeding and he/she survived while others were killed, or because all were killed because the 17-year old had found someone to buy booze and was drunk at the wheel. It just doesn’t matter. It’s a child or children who are lost and cannot be reclaimed. The SIDS death mentioned above was, in its own way, favorable in that the couple went on to have two more kids who are now young adults, but that’s just not always the case. So whether it’s a child shot in a drive-by, or a teenager who overdoses on fentanyl, it’s still a child who is lost to this world, and that’s a burden that you or I never wish to shoulder. To every family who has ever lost a child, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it took me so many years to understand the depth of your loss.” May the Good Lord find other ways to bring positive blessings into your lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There was a time when I was color blind. It’s only taken me something over 80 years to learn that perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps I wasn’t color blind all those years after all. Black people seem to have a greater propensity to commit criminal acts than other races. Jeff, Beshama, Jimmy, Ernie, Joe, Sandra,and so many more black friends can feel free to call me out on this, but I’m sorry folks, check the Department of Justice figures. I don’t believe they have been skewed or fiddled with or offset in any way just to make the members of our black population look bad.

I watched the news recently as a disgruntled V. Lester Flanigan shot a white reporter and cameraman on a local television station. No, admittedly, I didn’t see the actual shooting; I just heard one gunshot. The camera was then dropped as V. Lester continued his rampage. Now, I don’t happen to be gay and I don’t happen to be black, but I do know what it’s like to be fired without cause and without recourse. Disgruntled? You bet your sweet patootie I was disgruntled. I guess knowing where the next university president was having his affair, with whom and on what day was just cause to him, but it certainly didn’t appear that way to me. What the hell, I’d known for a few years what he was doing. If I hadn’t told anyone before, what kind of a fool would I have been to tell others now. Therefore, yes, I was somewhat more than irritated when I was informed that my job was being abolished (can you say “bullcrap”?). However, I didn’t publish a manifesto and I didn’t go out and shoot people. I consider that my regard for human life is just a little higher than that.

On that same television newscast, another black man was fighting with police as they attempted to bring him into court for arraignment on a second murder charge.  When they read the charges against him, I wondered how one human being could do that to another. There are times when I wonder just how my black friends must feel when one after the other of their own race gets paraded before the television cameras for some heinous deed. Hopefully, they just let it bounce off in much the same way I do when I see a crime televised that has been committed by a white idiot. That’s what I consider all of these people to be, idiots. Nothing, nothing in this world with the exception of war, justifies the killing of one human being by another…nothing. Losing a job does not; racial slurs do not; nasty comments about one’s sexuality do not; a perceived insult is not a cause for killing. You want to kill someone? Kill yourself, but what others say and do, while somewhat painful, is no cause for ending their lives.

I’ve searched and searched and searched for accurate statistics regarding violent crime by race in the United States. One study claims that,  “… during the 2012/2013 period, blacks committed an average of 560,600 violent crimes against whites, whereas whites committed only 99,403 such crimes against blacks. This means blacks were the attackers in 84.9 percent of the violent crimes involving blacks and whites. Interestingly, we find that violent interracial crime involving blacks and Hispanics occurs in almost exactly the same proportions as black/white crime: Blacks are the attackers 82.5 percent of the time, while Hispanics are attackers only 17.5 percent of the time.

“Some observers argue that what causes the overwhelming preponderance of black-on-white over white-on-black violence is “chance of encounter,” due to the fact that there are five times as many whites as blacks in the American population. However, there are only about 30 percent more Hispanics than blacks, yet black-on-Hispanic violence is almost as lopsided as black-on-white violence. This suggests blacks may be deliberately targeting both whites and Hispanics.”

This is all well and good except that the organization releasing this data is a conservative think tank, known for its right-wing thinking. I’m not saying that the data is wrong or right; what I am saying is that I’ve seen too many occasions when statistics have been twisted and skewed. Nonetheless, just looking at the raw data presents a frightening picture of black crime in the United States. And it’s as frightening to members of the black community as it is to other ethnic groups. Civil rights advocate, Van Jones, wrote in a 2005 article, ‘Are Blacks a Criminal Race?’ “African American youth represent 32% of all weapons arrests [and] were arrested for aggravated assault at a rate nearly three times that of whites. A 2012 study by the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention revealed that in 2010 black youths committed six times more murders, three times more rapes, 10 times more robberies and three times more assaults than did their white counterparts.

Similar statistics were released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the “Uniform Crime Reports.” They determined, “In the year 2008, black youths, who make up 16% of the youth population, accounted for 52% of juvenile violent crime arrests, including 58% for homicide and 67% for robbery.” By contrast, the only categories where white youths surpassed blacks were in liquor law violations and driving under the influence.

I don’t know the people who make up these statistics. I know plenty of black people. They don’t fall into any categories in this statistical data. So where are all these black criminals? People like Al Sharpton and other ‘injustice collectors’ will find every reason in the book not to blame crime of any kind on blacks but on the white society in which they live. To me, that’s just plain wrong. Is there greater poverty among members of the black community in the United States? Yeah, possibly. The bigger question is why? Although he’s no longer the hero he once was, Bill Cosby has made some good points. Black fathers should be assuming more responsibility for the children they create. Black mothers should be saying, “No,” and meaning it when more sex is going to lead to more kids and they can’t afford to properly raise the ones they already have. I think there is an innate fear on the part of white people in this country to confront the social ills that affect the black community. Black gangs form because there is safety in numbers; well, screw that. Let’s cut down the numbers so that black kids won’t have to worry about walking down the streets in their own neighborhoods. If more police are required, let’s get them; if more prisons are required, let’s build them; if stricter enforcement of laws are necessary, let’s enforce them. At the same time, however, let us not paint every black person we see with the same damned brush that says, “You’re black, therefore, you’re a criminal to be feared;” that, too, is bullcrap. Let us eliminate the United Negro College Fund and make it the United American College Fund with just as much money going all ethnic groups. Let’s eliminate Black Entertainment Network and Miss Black America contests, and let’s begin to unite, integrate, and truly integrate all races into one giant community. I’m not proposing that we gather in the circle and sing Kumbaya; that’s nonsense. But whatever we’ve been trying so far sure hasn’t worked. The black community and the white community are still miles apart in this country. Let’s stop talking about why we can’t do something better and let’s start talking about how we can do something better. Please, before I die, I want to be color blind once more.

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This is part two of my friendship series. If you enjoyed reading about Sy, I hope you’ll enjoy these three characters.

It’s now possible for me to talk about Sy Sheehan without mentioning some of the other people with whom I worked. Since the A&P was the first real job I had, it also provided an opportunity to learn about the people who had committed their lives to the company.

Among my favorite people was Herb Foote, ‘Herbie’ to his friends. He was the bookkeeper, head cashier, and a real prick about having register tapes and money in the draw equaling exact amounts. Many was the time when Herbie would politely rant – he never raised his voice – about an overage or shortfall on the register. As I progressed through the ranks from bundle boy to shelve stocker, to taking in a load of groceries and marking them with the prices for other shelf stockers to deal with, I would also be called on to run a cash register now and then. Back then, as many as four people might use a cash register, but if you were the last one on it at the close of business, you were the one to catch Herbie’s wrath. He would quietly fault you and your acumen until you almost began to believe that anything wrong really could be your fault. Herb would always wind up his oration by admitting that it might not have been your fault, but you were the last one holding that cash register’s fate in your hands. Yes, there did come a point where it was all any of us could do not to laugh at Herbie’s rants and raves. He used words like ‘accountability,’ and ‘responsibility,’ and these are the words that remind me of him. He was meticulous in his attention to detail, and it’s very possible that Herbie Foote was another in my line of A&P mentors to whom I’ve never given enough credit.

Dick Murray was the assistant manager under Sy Sheehan. Tall, blond, ready smile, and a true ladies man, Dick was always ready with a witty remark for customers or fellow employees. He could stock a bakery faster than any man I ever saw. Loaves of bread, rolls, coffee cakes, and other assorted bakery items would literally fly out of the cases in front of Murray, but somehow, they always seemed to land in the right spot, right side up, and appearing as though they had been placed in position by loving hands rather than being flung there by Machine Gun Murray. Don’t get me wrong; Dick had his serious side and he could let you know in no uncertain terms when he thought you were slacking off.

The most terrifying experience I ever had with Dick Murray occurred about three years into the job. I was working at the speed checkout register; you know, the one for ten items or less. We were smart enough to make the aisle for that register sufficiently narrow that a shopping cart would not fit through. As I was busily checking the customers through, Dick came over and whispered, “The fire chief is going to come through your register. He stuffed four package of meat in his coat pocket and has one and a few other things to check out. I want you to ask him if he’s sure he doesn’t have four more package of meat to be paid for.” I whispered back something to the effect, “Are you shitting me; this guy knows me and my family; I practically grew up knowing this guy.” “He’s shoplifting,” replied Murray, losing his grin. “Just do it.” Sure enough, the chief came through with just one package of meat. Sure enough, I asked him if he wouldn’t like to show me the other four packages. Sure enough, he got pissed; and sure enough, there was Murray, placing his hand on the chief’s shoulder and asking him to step to the office. The last I saw of the chief was his coat flailing behind him; then I saw Murray walking back toward the meat department, four packages in his hand. The chief never came in the store again, and I realized that ‘hail fellow-well met’ Dick Murray was much more than a grin and a glad hand; he had a pair of the sharpest eyes in the store and could spot a shoplifter just as easily as he could stock a bakery. Dick  taught me how to pick up on the movements of those who would steal and how to approach them in a friendly manner while confronting them with what they were intending to do.

Bob Kenney was a quiet Navy vet who ran the deli counter. He kept the milk stocked, the cheese cut, weighed and priced, and even found time to grind the coffee beans for the customers. By chance, he also became a good friend. I said that Kenney was quiet. He’d nod but not speak unless spoken to; his mouth was always closed and straight across…no smile, no scowl. One day, I was cutting and pricing some incoming groceries in the downstairs part of the store. Muller’s macaroni came in a tightly packed cardboard box. If one wasn’t careful, it was easy to slice the packages as well as the cover of the box. Perhaps it was that caution that caused the box cutter to slip and create an inch and a half gash in my wrist. The blood was rather plentiful, so I went up to the meat locker to get some gauze. The funny part was that two butchers were busy slicing up hinds of beef when I walked in. Both took one look at my wrist and damn near passed out. Kenney had seen me come up, holding my wrist. He grabbed a clean apron and wrapped it tightly around my wrist. He took me to his car and then to Dr. Anthony Sabino, our family doctor. The nearest emergency room was in Weymouth, some miles away. Dr. Sabino couldn’t stitch the wound because of its diagonal cut, but he did manage to stop the bleeding and bind the wound.  I remember him saying that another eighth of an inch and I would have hit the radial artery. While I didn’t know what that meant, I have a better understanding of the dangers today. Kenney stayed with me the whole way. Driving back, we stopped at a drug store for a soft drink. It was at that point that the blood loss began to tell and Bob stopped me from sliding off a counter stool and passing out on the floor. He then got me home, helped into the house and told my mother what had happened. Bob Kenney and I were very good friends following that experience, but something I’ll never get over would be the look on the faces of the two butchers, aprons and hands covered in cow’s blood and damn near passing out when they saw my wrist.

Three good people, friends one and all. Thanks guys, thank you for the memories.

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Sy

This is the first in a series of short essays about the people who have been an influence in my life. Is this of interest to you? I neither know nor do I really care. These are people who cared about me, and it’s about time I paid some homage to them. I invite you to read these stories, but if you don’t we’ll both survive.

As I lay in bed this morning, quite awake and wondering why I wasn’t heading to the gym, some things popped into my mind. These were the things that kept me lying there, and soon, the gym was really put on the back burner. These things are really of interest to anyone but me; however, should I drop dead today, they may give you some insight as to what can and possibly will happen on your final day on this earth.

I thought back to September 1, 1950, the day I first met Sy Sheehan. I had been hired, at 16, to begin work at the A&P in my hometown; Sy was the manager. It wasn’t that I was particularly interested in going to work. I was a sophomore in high school with all of the raging hormones and thoughts that most 16-year olds have. Work would interfere with any number of other, more pleasant activities, but – and here’s a hell of an admission – we weren’t a particularly well-off family. My folks had three kids to raise. Dad’s job at the Quincy Shipyard always seemed to be in some kind of jeopardy. Warships weren’t being built as rapidly as the period between 1941 and 1945, so as things slowed down, “The Yard,” as it was known, was laying off people on a regular basis.   My part-time job would become part of the family cash flow. I didn’t need much money; I was still in school after all and back then, you didn’t have to pay to play…it was certainly a different time. Better? Worse? Who am I to answer that question? Minimum wage was probably around seventy-five sense an hour, but then, bread was five cents a loaf. I ought to know that one…I stacked enough loaves on the bakery shelves to qualify as something on an authority.

Anyway, let’s get back to what I was saying about meeting Sy. He would be my boss. My main job would be to bag groceries for the cashiers – they weren’t called checkers then, and there were certainly no magnetic strips on products or at the counters. When things weren’t busy, I would stock shelves with goods that Will Owen or Tommy, his brother, had marked with prices “downstairs.” At night or when the store was closing, my job was to sweep the floor. We had a bucket of green “stuff” – only name for it – that I would toss on the floor to help pick up dust and dirt that had accumulated. I have no idea what this stuff is or was, but I’ll bet some environmentalist has had it banned for one reason or another. It smelled like Pine Sol, although that hadn’t been invented yet, and the fact that I just put my hand into the bucket and tossed it on the floor might well explain why I have no fingers – just kidding!

The first two weeks were enjoyable. I didn’t see much of Sy, although I later learned that he was seeing much to much of me. I’d bag, help people to their cars with their bundles…no tipping allowed…most folks couldn’t really afford to tip anyway; mine was not a wealthy town. It was not ‘hard scrabble,’ by any means, but neither was it all that much of a white collar community. Then it was back to the store for more bagging, stocking, or sweeping. That was the routine, and I was rather getting to enjoy it.

On Saturday night of my second week, Sy asked me to stay for a couple of minutes after work. Seems he had some things he wanted to tell me. I don’t rightly remember, but I’ll bet I was thinking he wanted to tell me how great I was and what a fine job I was doing. Ah, the fantasies of a 16-year old, unused to the ways of the world. You might well imagine that what was forthcoming was the antithesis of my hopes and dreams, and you’d be right. But wait, this isn’t really about me; it’s more about Sy. Picture, if you will, a man, a big man; a bit over six feet tall, with hands that could probably palm a wrecking ball and more than likely could throw it at a building causing severe damage…never saw hands like them before or since…just huge. A chest that was, to say the least massive…I’d seen him pick up four wooden boxes of bottled tonic water without a stress or strain. Now, we get to his face; certainly the most expressive part of the man. Aside from the map of the old country outlined by the red and blue veins, his nose was the most impressive feature.  Huge is much too bland a word to describe it, but man, it was the large economy size…and it could breathe fire…which it did that fateful night. That was Sy Sheehan, an Irishman who could curse in half a dozen languages, speak Italian and German like a native, and one scary son-of-a-bitch when he was mad.

“You’re an embarrassment to your family and to yourself. You’re a kid who doesn’t know the meaning of hard work and if I didn’t know your parents better, I’d throw your ass through that plate glass window without another thought. But I’m not gonna throw your ass though that window…yet. I’m going to show you what it means to really work and to be proud of what you’ve done. And I’ll tell ya something else; if I can’t turn you into a worker in two weeks, I will kick your ass out the door and down North Avenue right to the front of your door and I’ll tell your parents what kind of a little shit you really are!”

Stunned? Oh yeah. Ashamed? You bet. Confused? You could say so. I thought I was working. He knew that I wasn’t. I wasn’t thrown but I walked out the front door, and if I’d had a tail, it would have been between my legs…way between my legs. The next day was Sunday and stores weren’t open back then, but I had plenty of time to reflect on the reaming – today they’d call it being torn a new one – that I had received on that Saturday night.  Sunday afternoon, the “mads” set in. “Who does that son-of-a-bitch think he is?” ran through my 16-year old head. “I’ll show that bastard,” my tiny little 16-year old brain thought. The idea of quitting came and went so quickly that it was barely an entertainable thought. No, I would go back to work Monday afternoon after school and I’d work like no one had ever worked. He’d thrown down the gauntlet, and I was too stupid to recognize that it was nothing more than his version of a coach’s half time talk.

It worked. Sy Sheehan, that big Irish bastard, became my first mentor. I was truly blessed to know and to work for this man. He’s gone now, but every single night I will pray for his soul. He certainly knew how to train this 16-year old, and I will be forever grateful for our little chat on that Saturday evening.

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Oh, what strange beings we are. I’ve talked at length about the schism that exists between some of my children and me. Others have written and said things like, “Don’t worry about it; we have the same problem in our family,” while others have commented in different, sometimes unsolicited obscenities about me or the children. Families are funny things. It makes what I viewed today all that more important, and while it’s only the second day of the new year, Juli and I both had tears in our eyes by the time the people behind her got up and left.

Please understand that we are not conscious eavesdroppers.  The man, who was facing me, spoke in a raised voice because his father was quite elderly and may have had a hearing problem. He spoke not in a condescending fashion as some children do with older parents but as you or I might speak to a friend. “Papa, are you sure you don’t want more pizza?”  “Papa, do you remember when…” and it was obvious that the father was recalling a joyous time or event the son was mentioning. “No, Papa, put your wallet away; I’ll take care of this, Papa; you’re always too generous.” When the check came, the father still pulled out his wallet, and the son laughed, saying, “Okay Papa, we’ll split the check.” I’m not certain how he did it, but the son kept giving money back to the father, saying that there was too much money on the table. I couldn’t swear to it in a court of law, but I’m betting the father got back as much, if not more, than he had put in. Before they left, the waiter came over and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want change,” and the son responded, “No, thanks; my Papa is a very generous man. With that, the son got up, retrieved the father’s walker – the dad by the way was about six feet tall, and the son a bit taller – and helped his father into his coat…”No, Papa, stay seated. We’ll get the coat on this way.” Never, in my entire years on this earth have I seen such a loving exchange between child and parent.  The son was easily in his forties; the dad’s age was indeterminate.

After they left, I looked at Juli. “Have you ever heard such an exchange in your life?” I asked, starting to tear up even as I was raising the question. Her response was to grab a napkin and to begin wiping the tears from her cheeks and eyes. “That was just remarkable,” she finally said. There was a great deal more to the conversation between father and son, all of which added up to a love and devotion that I haven’t seen or heard in a long, long time.

What we saw and heard today was just wonderful, almost heaven-like in the devotion of the son to his father. Put the dialogue in a movie and the critics would write about it being a bunch of bull crap; it wasn’t; it was genuine; it was real; it was…how it should be between children and their parents. To some extent, it embarrassed me. Because it made me remember just how little I visited my own parents when Dad had cancer and Mom was taking care of him. It shamed me into remembering what an inconsiderate son-of-a-bitch I had been. Oh, okay, yeah, I delivered the eulogy to my Dad, but I never did anything close to what I saw today. And yes, I have all of the old standby excuses that all children have… got to take care of the kids; can’t leave the kids alone with their mom because I have a responsibility to them, etc, etc. The kids become an excuse. Mowing the lawn becomes an excuse. Almost anything can become an excuse until the excuses come easier than the idea of taking the time to remembering the people who gave life to you and who raised you as best they could.

Naw, I’m not going to tell you to get off your butt and call or visit your mom or dad; it’s not my place to do so. I only wish that you could have been beside us in our booth today to see how a loving son really does treat his father. It was just beautiful, and I’ll not soon forget it.

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Okay, here we go. Let’s get all of the members of the Asia and Hispanic communities across the country to protest the assassinations of Wenjin Lieu and Raphael Romero to get out there and protest. We can smash windows and loot stores and have Lieu’s new wife and Romero’s widow and children appear on television screaming, “Someone has to pay, and it has to be Black people because a Black man killed our husband and our father.” Then the President has to weigh in and say something like, “Wait a minute; these were police officers. They’re expected to go out and die for the city. Then Al Sharpton can get a few more minutes on the boob tube telling the public about what a great big, jolly fellow Ismaaiyl Brinsley really was and then the Blacks in Bed/Sty and other cities, particularly in St. Louis will have a reason to go out and break more windows and loot more stores and…ah, fuck it, this whole thing is just getting completely out of control.

Michael Brown was a thief and robber; Eric Garner was selling cigarettes illegally and resisted arrest; Tamir Rice was waving around a toy gun from which he had removed the orange cover denoting a toy. What the hell was the crime that these two police officers committed? Were they involved in the Garner takedown? I don’t think so. Was it because they were sitting in their patrol car in Bed/Sty trying to keep peace in the streets? Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.  I’m told that Brinsley had a long criminal record so what the hell was he doing with a gun? Answer that one for me NRA. I’m told he had an “undiagnosed mental illness.” What, in the name of God does that mean? If it was undiagnosed, how do we know that he had a mental illness? Behaving like an asshole does not necessarily qualify one as having an undiagnosed mental illness. I have an undiagnosed brain aneurism. Does that mean I have one or not. Well, I get these headaches so that’s what it must be. Now, if you swallow that one, I have a bridge in the Bed/Sty section of Brooklyn that I’m going to sell on the cheap. If you’re interested, drop me a line.

Seriously, the Michael Brown case is over. To Mom, Dad, and Step-Dad, the kid could do no wrong. The video of him shoving the store clerk shows a different side. To the family, he was just a big kid. To Darren Wilson, he was a credible threat. Eric Garner was a big man. He didn’t want to be arrested; wasn’t going to be arrested without a fight. The police jumped him. As I watched the video again, I heard him keep saying that he couldn’t breathe. If he couldn’t breathe, how come he kept saying it? Did the police overreact? Possibly, but why didn’t they just taser the guy and drop him like a sack of flour. “You’re under arrest” means put your hands behind your back after you’re down on your belly. It doesn’t mean, “Fuck you; stay the hell away from me.”

We’ve lost perspective in this country when it comes to law enforcement and how to react when people in law enforcement attempt to do their job to the best of their ability. “Put wings on pigs,” my ass. To me that mean that it was open season on Ismaaiyl Brinsley, and it’s just too damned bad that he got to fire the first shots.

I’ve got news for you Mr. & Mrs. Black America. Too many of you aren’t paying close enough attention to what your kids are doing. Those who are see their kids accomplishing great things. They see that because they are on top of their kids activities from the moment they leave for school in the morning. They pay attention to the report cards; they go to the meetings with their children’s teachers; They encourage their kids to do the right thing. How involved were you Mr. & Mrs. Brown? How involved were you Mrs. Garner? What was Tamir Rice doing out at night playing with his toy gun, waving it around in the park, and where were his parents?

Please, stop trying to excuse the actions of you and your children by telling me I’m white and don’t understand. That has been the bullshit excuse for decades. Just because the color of your skin is different from mine doesn’t mean that you “deserve” greater consideration or that you have “permission” to do things that would get my ass hauled into jail. We are people; you owe me nothing; I owe you nothing. What I do understand is that I know a hell of a lot of Black people who are smarter than I am, and I have great respect for them. I know a hell of a lot of white people who are dumber than I am and I say the same thing to them that I’m saying to many of you…”Get off your ass and do the best with what God gave you. Stop bitchin’ and start thinkin.’ Berry Gordy, Jr. was a prize fighter who was known as “Canvas Back.” He saw the light; borrowed $50 from his mother and if you don’t know the rest, go look it up.

Years ago, after being beaten to a pulp by some true idiots in the Los Angeles Police Department, Rodney King asked, “Why can’t we all just get along?” I don’t care about “getting along” with the Browns or the Garners or the Rice family. They screwed up…and they won’t take responsibility for screwing up. Wake up Black America. There are some fantastic role models out there for you to emulate. Get with the program and start emulating them.

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