Archive for the ‘Giving thanks’ Category

Hey, let’s hear it for me…I am now officially old!

I know that I am old because I am now using a walker to get around in the house. I-do-not-like-using-a- walker, but my balance is shot to hell. I’m still in the process of finding out what actually happened that I have reached this stage of my life. Be that as it may, I have reached it. I can always hope that it’s just a middle ear infection – ha, ha, ha – but I fear that it’s just one of those things that can happen when one passes 81 or so.

There is one other thing that could be causing my balance problem. I have changed my diet. When my weight hit 261 pounds I decided that enough was enough. My big meal is now lunch. It consists of whatever I wish to consume. Well, that’s not quite true, but I do limit myself to Healthy Choice meals or a sandwich with chips. Breakfast is a container of fruit in its own juices and a bottle of Nantucket Nectar’s Orange Mango. Then it’s off to the gym. Shortly after getting home, I will have a mug of hot chocolate [with whipped cream, of course!]. At night, I eat a bowl of cornflakes with lots of berries, either blue or black. To date, I’ve lost about 18 pounds. Now, the question becomes…am I eating enough to satisfy my bodily requirements? I guess we’ll learn that soon enough.

But enough about me. We all age differently. I know people who are in their fifties who are already old. They complain of this ailment or that ailment and, frankly, I wouldn’t mind being that age again. It is what it is. We can let all of these aches and pains destroy us, or we can get on with our lives. Sure, there will be things we can no longer do…as well…or at all. Kiss what you can’t do goodbye and look forward to what you can do. Let me give you an example. I was with some visitors one day and showing them our athletic facilities. While on the gym floor, kids were playing basketball, just shooting around. One of them tossed a ball at me. “Hey, Mr. B, show us your shot. So I did. The ball never got within three feet of the hoop. I could blame the suit coat I was wearing or a dozen other excuses, but the truth is, I no longer had the hand/eye coordination to put that ball where I wanted it to go…and that’s okay. I’ll find another sport…or not…that will be more closely aligned with the skills I do have. What I’m not going to do is try to relive the “glory days” when I could shoot a basketball from outside the three-point line and, like Stephen Curry, turn around and head back to the other end of the court because I knew it would go in.
Yes, it is true that as we age, newspapers reduce the size of their type…just for us. And yes, the risers on the stairs are a bit higher…just for us. Add to that, that actors are speaking more softly than they used to, and you have every right to state that you have become old. Personally, I just believe it shows that God has a sense of humor.

As I have passed the four score mark in my life, I also find that I’ve become a racist. Yes, you read that correctly, “a racist.” I have zero tolerance for people who complain that they are being held back by this group or that group. You’re wrong. Get off your ass; find a way to get the education you need and go after the American Dream. You may never achieve it, but you’ll at least have given yourself a shot at it. If you are of a different skin color or have a name that smacks of something different, that’s tough, but it’s nothing more than another obstacle to overcome…and you can overcome it. Others have done it. Black, brown, yellow, or red, it doesn’t matter: If you have the guts to persevere and get up every time some son-of-a-bitch knocks you down, you will attain most of your dream…perhaps not all, but most of it. Don’t believe it? I was unjustly fired from a job when I was 40. I was unemployed for three years. The job I finally found required a seven thousand dollar pay cut. However, the next 20 years on that ‘new’ job brought me more than money ever could; it brought me enjoyment and the ability to do things I never thought possible.

You see, I don’t happen to believe that money is everything in our lives. Sure, it enables us to buy whatever toys we think we want, but life’s satisfaction does not come from the almighty dollar. It comes when you realize that you are doing something that brings you joy. Okay, so you can’t buy the big boat or the summer place in the Hampton’s…so what? Are they really all that important in the grand scheme of things? If you answer yes, I feel sorry for you. I pity you. I’ll pray for you…because that’s not what life is all about. Life is about feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. Life is about offering an “attaboy” to someone with whom you work or receiving the same from a colleague. Life is about planting a small garden in the back yard and watching flowers bloom or picking tomatoes off the vine. Life is finding that one person you cannot live without and who feels the same about you. Life is watching your children grow and because of the manner in which you have brought them up, succeed far beyond what you achieved. Life is just so much more than making money. Yet, that appears to be the criterion upon which we base our illusion of success.

If I sound like Pollyanna, I guess it’s because I have taken the time to reflect on what my own life has been. There have been plenty of ups and downs but in the aggregate, my life has been pretty damned fine. Our three children have certainly surpassed us in terms of their accomplishments. None are in rehab or jail. All are married and raising a trio of their own. Certainly, I wish that my wife was still living but death visits all of us sooner or later. If you’re over 65 – even if you’re not – I invite you to look back and focus on all of the good in your life. Yes, I’m aware that there may be some people who think, in retrospect, that their life really sucked, but for the rest of you…I hope you’ll bring a smile to your face.

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In the midst of a world that is confounded by international terrorism, attempted takeover of nations, barbarism, an out-of-control drug problem, disrespect and harassment of those who are different, white collar, blue collar and any-other-collar-you-wish-to-name, I find myself surprisingly happy. Perhaps because it’s Friday, but that doesn’t fit because I’m retired and every day could be Friday for me. Perhaps it’s because winter is slowly, very slowly, beginning to give way to spring. However, I’m fully aware of what a fickle bitch winter can be, having lived through a late April blizzard and a May ice storm, so that probably negates that as a reason. No, I believe my happiness of today comes from something far simpler. I’m happy because I’m alive and functioning fairly well in a world that, despite all of its problems, is also alive and functioning reasonably well.

Would I, could I be happier if I was dead? I don’t know the answer to that question. My faith tells me that the answer is yes. The way in which I look back on my life says that, in my own mind, I have many sins for which to atone…and I’m not certain whether my God is Old or New Testament. If mine is an Old Testament God, I’ll probably burn in the fires of Hell for eternity. If He is from the New Testament, I’ll still burn in Hell, but it may not be for quite as long. Am I trying to mock the writings contained in the Bible? No, of course not; none of us can, with any degree of certainty, know what lies ahead of us when we shuffle off this mortal coil. You know the old saying, “Man plans; God laughs.” But, for today and for the foreseeable future, I plan to be happy just to be alive.

I went to a new doctor for something or other several years ago. He was a specialist, but frankly, I don’t even remember the ailment or the occasion. The one thing I do remember is that after looking at my medical history, he half-jokingly said, “My God, it’s a wonder you’re still alive.” I didn’t care much for the comment which is why he and his practice escape my memory, but his words linger on. In other words, don’t judge me by what I’ve been through; judge me for who I am right now.

Think about this for a moment…you, if you’re reading this…are alive. You’re a living breathing person, complete with soul. You can look up at the sky and see the sun; you can look at night and see the moon and the stars; you can watch buds come onto trees in the spring and smell newness in the air, a rebirth of the season that has its own distinctive odor and feel. Sure, you’ve got problems; they may even be life-threatening, but not right now; not this second. This second, you have the gift of life. Take the deepest breath you can, let it out; go look out the window and shout, “I’m alive and I love it!” [Notice I didn’t ask you to open the window; wouldn’t want the neighbors calling the cops.]

If this piece was being read by anyone under 25, they’d think I was nuts…and that’s okay. I believe you have to be over 50 or even 65 to appreciate how great it is to still have a bit of a bounce in each step you take. Since Juli came into my life, following the death of my wife, I have learned to have a greater appreciation for things that grow and bring new life. Anyone who has been a care giver for a period of time will tell you that you begin to lose a bit of perspective, and when the one for whom you are caring dies, there is not only a sense of loss, but a sense of “what do I do now?” that is quite difficult. You have actually been living their life for the past weeks, months, or years and suddenly, you have to begin living your own life again. It can be quite an adjustment.

Perhaps that’s what happened to me this morning; I began to realize that I’m entitled to be happy once more. I don’t believe this was some kind of revelation or epiphany. New things happen to us every day, but we aren’t always aware of just how new they are. We hurry through our lives, rushing from one thing to another and all too often, we don’t recognize all of the wonderful things that are happening to us and around us. Yeah, you’re right, it’s the old stop and smell the roses cliché, but that’s a bitch to do in the winter.

I hope you’ll take a moment – after you finish reading, of course – and make a couple of columns on a piece of paper. Write down every single reason you’re happy to be alive on one side and on the other, reasons you’d prefer to be dead. When you finish, I’m willing to bet that ‘alive’ column is going to be a hell of a lot longer. Hopefully, it will help you or reinforce your belief in just how great it truly is to be alive.

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“I cried because I had no hat till I saw a man who had no coat.
I cried because I had no coat till I saw a man who had no shirt.
I cried because I had no shirt till I saw a man who had no socks,
I cried because I had no socks till I saw a man who had no shoes.
I cried because I had no shoes till I saw a man who had no feet.
I cried because I had no feet till I saw a man who had no legs.
I cried because I had no legs till I saw a man who had no life.”

The author of this poem, to be best of my research and knowledge, is unknown. Some say that it’s somewhere in the Holy Bible, although no one seems to be able to find it. Others attest that it is an ancient Persian Proverb, and there is research to support that thinking. Attribution to a single author, however, is sadly lacking. Whatever and whoever may be responsible for this aphorism, it is something with which each and every person should identify.

I’d love to have a larger pension; then I talk with someone whose IRA was stolen by this crook or that, and now they have damn near nothing. I’d love to be able to go someplace warm in the winter; then I hear about people who have lost their homes to foreclosure or to tornadoes. I’d love to get a new car, and then I see the people who don’t have cars and rely on public transportation. I’d love a lot of things, but I read that proverb and think, “You really are one lucky son-of-a-gun; you have three children who are successful; you have nine wonderful grandchildren; you have a roof over your head, reasonably good health, and twice you have been blessed by women who love you and whom you love. What the hell more could you want out of your life? Go ahead and die tomorrow ‘cause it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Lately, the Boston news media have been covering the situation of David Ortiz, the designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz was a great acquisition from the Minnesota Twins when the Red Sox traded for him. He has been a wonderful addition to the roster and certainly has, in part, been responsible for the success of the team over the past few years. Ortiz, however, has a bit of a problem. It seems that a $12.5 million dollar a year contract is not enough money for Ortiz to stay in Boston. He wants the Red Sox to either ante up or he’ll go where the money is. Ortiz is 37-years old, and in major league baseball parlance, that’s getting near the end of a career. Ortiz’s net worth is $45 million; that sure seems to me to be enough to put his three kids through college; to buy a few homes here and there; and  still have a couple of bucks left to buy a new car or two each year. If, per chance, you don’t agree that Ortiz should be making much more money than he is, you are, in his own words, a “hater.”

On the one hand, Ortiz says that he loves Boston, that it’s his city, that he loves playing baseball here; after the Marathon Bombing last April, Ortiz addressed the Fenway faithful, saying in part, “This is our fucking city. And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” That it came from the heart, there can be no doubt; that he went on to have a great season, there can be no doubt; that his contribution to the 2013 World Series Championship, there can be no doubt, but David, I have some words for you…”You didn’t do it alone; I can’t begin to name every other player, but each one contributed in some way to that World Series win.” Twelve point five million dollars a year is a lot of money for anyone to be making, particularly when there are so many who are making less than twelve thousand dollars per year. Yes, Ortiz, like any professional athlete, can suffer a career-ending injury at any time, but with a current net worth such as his, there should not be a problem.

Should Boston allow Ortiz to go elsewhere? No, no, this is a case where John Henry and company should ante up. Ortiz means a great deal to this city, but to be really great, both sides should come together before the start of the season in a sensible fashion. That means that Ortiz stops publicly speaking about his salary and that the Red Sox make a fair and equitable offer that will allow him to finish his career at Fenway Park.

Perhaps I’m wrong to pick on David; in fact, I’m not really picking on him. He just happens to be the most public figure on the greed scale at the moment. I was talking with Ted Williams years ago. We were walking across the campus at Babson while his son was speaking with folks in the Admission Office. We talked about a lot of things, but I remember Ted saying how much he loved playing baseball. “Where else can you have a job that is playing a kids’ game every day, outdoors in the sun, and they pay you money for doing it?” he asked…or words that were certainly very close to that. I later heard some line like that in a movie and it reminded me of Williams.

Times have changed since the Williams days. I’m not certain that there isn’t more pressure to build that bank account because who knows what’s around the corner; what the economy is going to do; what climate change may hold for us. It’s a “Get it while you can” mentality and that may be fine, but what’s enough? How much is too much? What do we do to help those with nothing? Better yet, how do we help those who have given their body parts on our behalf…the men and women who have defended our country and paid for it so dearly? We may cry because we only feel deprived; how about those who have actually been deprived?

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Come back with me for a moment. You and Buddy were eight, just a year older than me and Tommy Roberts. Sunday morning in Hawaii; it’s almost eight o’clock, but we’re up early to play catch; get out of the house. It’s pretty quiet until some planes go over; that’s funny; never seen that red circle on a plane before. Buddy asks us if we have, but no one really seems to know, so we just wave. Boy, they really are flying low. There’s another group over there; the ones who just flew by look like they’re going to land at Hickam field.

“Land my ass,” says Tommy, the wiseguy of the group, “that plane just dropped a, a, a, a freakin’ bomb; look at that. Those bastards are machine gunning the base.”

“Hey,” says Buddy, “Look at the harbor…that other group is bombing the harbor. They’re bombing our ships in the harbor. Aw, cripes, lookathat; they’re bombing the ships!”

We’re all pretty much in shock as we watch the planes at Hickam Field get bombed and machine-gunned, and as the ships in the harbor begin to belch flames and black smoke. The USS West Virginia gets hit and goes to the bottom of the harbor quickly. We just stand there, paralyzed, and not really understanding what the heck is going on.

“Aw, shit,” says Tommy, “Look at the Oklahoma – I think – yeah, that’s the Oklahoma that’s rolling over; ah man, that’s not right. They can’t do that.”

No, that can’t do that, but they are doing it. Suddenly, the Arizona just seems to blow up; it just blows apart. We don’t know it at the time, but 1177 members of the crew of that ship went down with it. No one knows exactly what caused the Arizona to sink in about nine minutes. We saw that it was still burning two days later.

By now, some of the smell has been borne to us in the air. The stink is terrible. We have no clue that it’s a combination of oil, gun powder, and human flesh. All we kids know is that the stink is pretty bad.

As we watch, as much terrified as horrified at the sight before us ship after ship goes down, we can’t look away. Without realizing it we stand there for nearly two hours, just watching. When it’s over, we would learn that twenty-one ships of our ships at Pearl Harbor were sunk or damaged. In addition to the West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona, we lost the USS Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee. There were cruisers, destroyers, seaplane tenders, repair ships, minelayers, and even the old target ship, the USS Utah. Over 2,400 died and close to another 1200 were wounded.

Playing catch would never be the same for any of us. You and Buddy, me and Tommy, we couldn’t do anything; we were kids. Oh, sure, we picked up empty cigarette packs and took the ‘silver paper’ out, not know that it was the aluminum foil that was so useful to the war effort. We listened to the radio and to Mr. Roosevelt. My folks listened to Walter Winchell; “…Good evening, Mr. & Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press…;” at least that’s what I think he said when he began his program. We listened because everything was about the war and when it was over, we weren’t in Hawaii anymore. Somehow, magically, you and Buddy, Tommy and I were all living in Rockland, Massachusetts. We all went to the victory parade that went along Union Street, to watch and cheer as some of our soldiers and the fire engines and the band from the high school and somewhere else all came marching by. We yelled and cheered and really never even considered the cost of human life, or those who were left crippled forever. We didn’t use terms like post-traumatic stress syndrome, and the only prosthetics we ever saw were hooks for hands and people with plastic legs who usually walked with canes or crutches. We never realized; thank God, we never realized.

Today, you’re just a memory. Cancer took Tommy. Buddy and I are among the last of our group, but we don’t see each other much. However, I’m willing to bet that both of us remember that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when our whole world was turned upside down; when we saw war for the very first time.  We’ve been to war, but it was later, and it wasn’t a world war; in fact, some weren’t even called wars, but we made it back. Other buddies, pals, comrades, brothers, they didn’t. We try hard not to remember them, but they sometimes show up in our dreams. Pearl Harbor though; that was a different time; a time when we grew up; a time when we saw real war; its stench, its noise, and even from that hill, we could hear the screams. Oh, God, I never wish to see that again.

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It’s no longer enjoyable to give or receive Christmas presents.

Like you, I think, I’m not crazy about Christmas promotions that begin sometime in late September. Also like you, I recognize that need for merchants to sell goods, make a profit, even create jobs to help keep the economy growing, but I truly believe pushing some of this crap that you never see advertised at any other time of year is just plain tacky, tacky, tacky. For example, when else do you find ‘Clapper’ ads being pushed so hard, or the plush animals with all of their pockets? Want to drink fizzy flavored water, buy the stream dream or whatever the hell they’re calling it this year? I must admit that Chia Pets don’t appear to be big this year, but energizer bunnies are getting another shot in the arm.

This year, Christmas ads are vying with health care promotions; thus, it would appear making it unnecessary for writers to develop scripts too complicated. While there may be rules and regulations regarding how many minutes of advertising can be crammed into an hour of programming, I get the gut feeling that those rules are suspended between Halloween and the Super Bowl.

The one market that has yet to be tapped by the advertising agencies or the manufacturers is the over 70 group. Since some are saying the, “Seventy is the new fifty,” there must be a Christmas market there somewhere.  You can’t really sell them a “year’s supply of…” anything because while you’re preaching youth to these folks, the fact of the matter is they could go anytime…and they know it. Since so many seniors are computer literate, selling board games (a) isn’t particularly profitable and (b) can easily be found as an “app” somewhere. Pushing a Nook or a Kindle also becomes a complex issue when dealing with seniors, most of whom will tell you they “…like the smell of paper and ink” that a book gives them, and what do you say in a thirty-second spot to counter that one. Gift cards are great but for how much? Is the degree of importance measured by the amount of a Walmart card? Not only is it a gift card – which shows just how little you think of me” – but to what store…”you know I never shop there” – which means you’re just going to regift the card anyway. Understand something very, very clearly: When you are searching for a gift for a senior citizen, there is a ninety-nine point nine percent chance that you will screw up!

I sort of came to an agreement with my three kids years ago, after they were married and had children of their own…I won’t give to them and they don’t give to me. I will give only to the grandchildren and because I have no idea what they like – our ages being as separated as they are – I give money. Obviously, it can never be enough but I figure that’s their problem, not mine. If I have a rough year, they have a rough Christmas…my answer to their downturned-little-mouths is a very silent, “tough shit; get over it!”  I say that the agreement to give or not with the children versus grandchildren only, because the kids will sometimes try, but then, they don’t know my tastes, nor do they know that I really don’t need anything. I’d rather they put what money they spend on me into reducing their mortgage or buying something extra, like a good steak, for their refrigerator…”I don’t friggin’ need anything.” That’s not to say I have everything I want. Sure, I’d love the winter home in Boca or the Grand Caymans. The jet to get me there and back would also be nice, but who the hell is kidding whom. At my age, I like my bed at home; I don’t like flying anymore; and Boca in the winter is just as bad as it is in the summer – it’s God’s waiting room and who wanted to be reminded?

When Joan was alive, I would give a gift in her name to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It was her favorite charity. If you asked her why, she wouldn’t have been able to give you a good reason, but she loved what they were doing. She may have seen a story on television or something that impressed her. To me she would give a gift in my name to the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge to help benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. I have lost so many friends and family to that insidious disease that anything that can be done to find a cure makes me happy.

Christmas is a great Holiday. It’s also a great Holy Day. Sure, scholars can prove six ways to Sunday that Christ was not born on December 25th. I don’t care; that’s the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christian’s Lord and Savior. My rabbi next door and my Jewish friends at the gym all wish me a Merry Christmas and, tomorrow being the first day, I will wish them a Happy Chanukah. Our faiths may differ but I’d like to believe we all have faith. My prayers may be a bit longer around the Christmas Holiday, but that’s not to say that my faith is weaker throughout the rest of the year. It seems at Christmas I just like to spend a little more time talking to the Big Boss. Gifts don’t seem as important as prayers that He somehow help to unscrew this screwed up world.

My gift to myself is to watch White Christmas and a few other movies on that day. It’s a day when I cry some because Joan is no longer here to celebrate with me; and I cry some because I have a wonderful woman with whom to celebrate the holiday. I’m a pretty lucky guy when it comes right down to it. I pray that you feel lucky too.

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We are entering – once more – the season of insanity.

Thursday, November 28th is the fourth Thursday of this month and, by tradition, a day on which we celebrate Thanksgiving.  Defined, it is often referred to as “…an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey. The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621.” Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. George Washington named Friday, November 26th, 1789 as a day of “public Thanksgivin,” and until Lincoln, every President made a declaration of when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The Sixteenth President declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. That was fine until…

…In 1933 and again in 1939, November had five Thursdays. In ’33, some retailers asked President Roosevelt if he would move the celebration back a week indicating…”You will appreciate the importance that an additional week incorporated in this great holiday season will have upon the distribution activities of the entire United States and the added impetus that will be given thereby to the efforts of the administration and the N.R.A.1 to increase employment and purchasing power.” Roosevelt declined but in 1939, he did relent and move the celebration back a week. It was until 1941 that a Congressional declaration set aside the fourth Thursday in November as the official date for Thanksgiving. Two things become clear here: (1) Retailers pushing for more shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas isn’t a new thing; it’s been going on since the nation was coming out of The Great Depression, and (2) Congress has been sticking their fingers in the pie as far back as 1941 [the pie, of course, being mince or pumpkin].

Today, retailers are even more aggressive in their approach to relieve consumers of the contents of their wallets, and while most appear to desire green, any color will do if it happens to be plastic. The Friday following our day of thanks for the bounty that we, in some cases, have is known by many names, among them “retailer-salivation-day,” “come-on-suckers-and-bring-your-cash-day” “Ooh-have-I-got-a-deal-for-you-day,” and by its more acceptable terminology, “Black Friday.” This term has been applied because it is supposed to be the biggest shopping day of the year, and the one that will put retailers firmly in the black. Saturday is now being named “small-business-Saturday.” Thanksgiving, the day when families are supposed to be gathered around the harvest table and giving thanks is now being called “Brown Thursday.” It would appear that some retailers’ greed exceeds their consideration for family togetherness and therefore, their doors will be open on this national holiday. Woe befalls the employee who calls in sick or declines to work this day. Managers and supervisors need only remind them of the seven point three unemployment rate in the country or some other bullshit story, and they will be at work.

I don’t shop on Black Friday and I can tell you right now that I sure as hell will not be shopping on Brown Thursday. Next thing you know, we’ll have mauve Monday, taupe Tuesday, and Wisteria Wednesday…and those will be before Brown Thursday. This year, the day after Christmas is going to be renamed “Take Back Thursday” while “Find Bargains Friday” will follow.

I’m happy that our economy is on the rebound. I’m delighted that the Dow finally broke sixteen thousand. I’m pleased as hell that the United States is no longer dependent on foreign oil. I’m happy as a clam at high tide that I have a roof over my head, heat in the house, a new ‘smart’ television set, a car – albeit thirteen years old – in the garage, and a new puppy that is already housebroken. I’m even more delighted that I have a wonderful partner with whom to share all of these things plus all of the joys of the holiday. The pup was an early Christmas present to her and Widget has already brought great joy to both of us.

However, I’m mad as a son-of-a-bitch at the greedy bastards who have decided to open their doors on November 28th and who have pressured their workers to come in. I’m madder yet at the idiots who will elect to go shopping on that day. If you are one of them at least have the courtesy to apologize to the sales person who is ringing up your purchases. But, for cripes sake, don’t wish them a “Happy Thanksgiving!”

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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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I live on a fixed income. What that means is that I have gone from being part of the…well, to be blunt, part of the upper middle class to the very top of the poor class. Yep, it can happen that fast. I retired fifteen years ago and felt pretty damned good about where I was heading. Okay so a good part of the pension depended on the way in which the market went, but there was also a part that was reasonably solid. Things were good; they’re not at all that good right now. What happened to the economy and, conversely, what happened to the cost of living have created a whole new life. The economy appears to be recovering slowly; unfortunately, the cost of living seems to be rising a bit more rapidly.

We used to clip coupons if we saw a great deal in a food store or if Macy’s was having a “spectacular one day sale,” and we wanted whatever was on sale. “Wanted” is a word I don’t use anymore; today, that word is “need;” do I really have to have it? If I buy this today, what will I have to give up? These are questions to which I really never paid attention. Today, I pay very strict attention.

In Thursday’s paper, there was an insert from our local grocery store which read, “Giant meat sale; five for $25.” Included in that sale were pork tenderloins. I happen to like “the other white meat,” and perhaps the Chick-Fil-A ads are getting to me, but early Friday morning, I was one of the first in the store, making a bee-line for the meat case where those tenderloins were ready for the plucking. Of course, going to a grocery market for one thing is asinine so I did buy a few more items. After unpacking my forty-one dollars and thirty-seven cents worth of groceries, I took a quick glance at the register tape. Try this on your bippy…I saved more money than I spent! That’s not true of course, but my savings were $41.81. I saved a whole forty-four cents! That just doesn’t happen to me.

I don’t know anyone in the retired category who doesn’t print or cut coupons. If you live on a fixed income, it’s mandatory to do so. Between Coupon Suzy and all of the other sites on the Internet, plus reading the weekly newspaper inserts carefully, it’s almost possible to live otherwise if you’re living on a fixed income.

Do I know people worse off than I? Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do. It’s one of the reasons we grow vegetables and give them away. I have a friend whose wife has dementia. He was caught in the recession and lost his job at 59. It’s tough to find a job when you’re that age. He and she will be okay, but they certainly won’t be living as they once did.

This is a wonderful country in which you and I live. We are free to travel through 49 states without travel documents. Hell, we even free to go to our 50th state if we can afford it. The shelves in our stores are well-stocked and there are fast food restaurants on damn near every corner. We’re not told how many children we can have or for which political candidates to vote. There aren’t soldiers on every corner with a weapon slung over their shoulders. You and I are free. Ours may not quite match the freedom of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffet, but then again, who is to say that they don’t have problems that you and I aren’t experiencing. Does that sound ludicrous? It really isn’t.

My point is that while I may not be able to live as I once lived, I’m alive, happy, and received a couple of good medical reports this week. Hell, what more could one ask…saving forty-five cents at the market maybe?

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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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Dream with me for a moment or two.

What would you change if you could have come from a different womb? Would you wish to be born to someone other than the parents you have or had…or perhaps never even knew? At this time, when we are enthralled by the birth of George Alexander Louis as the third in line to the British throne, let’s take a look backward at where we might wish we came from and how it might have influenced our lives. I’ll dream with you and insert my own life because I surely don’t know where the hell you came from. If I had been born to parents of great wealth, it would have been a miracle. To the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t one millionaire in the whole damned town. That, of course, could have been deception at its finest, but the people who attempted to pass themselves off as wealthy were not people I would have wished as parents. It’s my understanding that my Dad had come from wealth. That’s why he quit school in the ninth grade. He rather enjoyed the life of a playboy and dabbled in tennis and golf “at the club” until the business went down the toilet in the late 20s and early 30s. By then he was married and had no marketable skills. This meant that he went to work for Bethlehem Steel at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. During those depressed years of the early 30s, my sister was born and that had to put more of a strain on the family. A year later, the nation put their faith in Franklin Delano Roosevelt as their new leader. It couldn’t have been an easy time for my folks but during my life I never heard them speak of that period other than to hear them say what a great country this is and what a horror WW II was for so many of their friends. Three years later I came along. On my 5th birthday, Hitler invaded Poland – I really had nothing to do with that, honest – and a couple of years later we were launched into the Second World War. Working in the shipyard and because of his age, Dad was exempt from military service. He never talked about it but in some ways I think he resented that.

The key question here is would I rather have been born to different parents. The answer is that despite some reasonably tough times growing up, my parents were always loving; that to me is the key. Mom and Dad both enjoyed a drink, but neither was a drunk. I never recall any shouting in the house although I do remember their headboard striking a rhythmic beat on their wall a few times. After I was old enough to understand, I don’t remember whether I thought it was gross or just thought…”you go, Pop!” So, no, I can’t think of any other parents for whom I could have wished.

Would things have been better if I had grown up as a Ford, or Carnegie, or the son of a Wall Street baron? Hell, I don’t know. Had I grown up in a palace with parents whom I rarely saw and with tutors who taught me from an early age that I was the be-all and end-all of humanity, would I feel differently? Certainly, but I don’t know anyone like that, not to the extent that I would ever ask them. What I had was great; we had food on the table each night and ice cream on Sunday. Because my great aunts lived in Cohasset, we could get a pass to Sandy Beach – where the water was so cold that walnuts became raisins – and where Mom would do the weirdest damned stroke I’d ever seen. Dad had been some kind of a champion club swimmer and taught us by example until we could almost stay with him on the way to the raft about 50 yards from shore. Those were good times.

I grew up being bullied by older kids and picking on younger ones. It didn’t happen often but it happened. Did that happen to the kids of other parents? Yeah, probably it did unless, of course, you were brought up in a glass bubble and not allowed to associate with “that kind of rabble.” We didn’t consider ourselves rabble of any kind; we were just kids who came from loving homes who didn’t mind getting into a small amount of trouble. Seems to me that despite all of our advances, kids today don’t get into small trouble; unless someone dies, the trouble isn’t trouble at all. It that’s progress, I’m just as happy that I grew up when I did.

So, if I wouldn’t change my parents, is there anything I would have changed? Oh, yeah, you betcha! I certainly would have been more serious about my education. My folks hadn’t finished high school; my sister was satisfied with a high school diploma before she left for a modeling career in New York, and I had no intention of pursuing a college education until Mom pushed me into it. I know they cashed in a life insurance policy to pay for my first year, so I guess I would wish that we might have been a bit wealthier…but we made it. I barely made it through college and it wasn’t until I was married and going back to grad school that education became important to me. Hell, if the graduate school dean wasn’t a friend, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed entrance; not with my record.

I’d like to have made more money in my life but then, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and we survived. I’d like to have been a more loving husband; I just don’t think I loved my wife enough. I’d like to have been a better father; I don’t believe I loved my kids enough either. Perhaps my memory isn’t as great as it once was, but I believe that we could all always do a better job of loving our spouses and doing more for our kids in terms of affection.

Another change I guess I’d make is that I would have kept in closer touch with some of those people with whom I first work and with whom I’d grown up. We grow; we change; we drift away; we get new jobs and new challenges; we make new friends; we may move far away; we find new loves and build our own families; we lose track and that’s okay, because those same people who might wish they’d stayed in touch have done exactly the same thing. Then one day, you see a name in the obituary column and memories return. As you age, the obituary page becomes mandatory reading. Then you get a call from an old classmate who wants to have lunch. You go and you aren’t certain about the subjects you discuss. Eventually, you end up talking about who’s dead and who’s alive; who has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel; how many kids you each had and what they’re now doing. If the classmate was a real friend, you don’t try to play the “my kid’s better than your kid” game; you just talk. Then one day you look at the Irish Sports Page as you’ve come to call the obituaries and you see your friend’s name. You wonder what you missed in that last conversation; what should have been said but never was. Then one day, your name is in that page…and you really don’t have any reason to be concerned about what it was you might have changed.

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