Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The 4th of July Parade





What with Independence Day this week, I thought you might enjoy a true story about my experience a few years ago. I had to travel on the 4th and I found myself in the small town of Areola.

It was a quaint little burg, the sort you see on picture postcards of New England, with the white steeple of a church peeking over leafy green trees; local businesses - an ice cream parlor, a barber shop, a family-owned pharmacy, a hardware store - lining Main Street; a two-story brick schoolhouse and a Little League baseball field sitting just off to the side of the school. The surrounding countryside was dotted with farmland and it was a pleasant drive into town with the windows down, listening to the occasional "Moo!" from a cow, while the melody of chirping birds carried on the warm summer breeze.

I was hungry, so I decided to stop and eat at a joint called Tom's Diner. It appeared to be the sort of place where one might get a decent roast beef sandwich, side of mashed potatoes, savory brown gravy, maybe blueberry pie for dessert and then some strong coffee for the road. I pulled into a parking spot and went up to the door. Much to my dismay, it was closed for the holiday.

I was headed back to my car when I heard the sound of a marching band. I decided to walk toward the sound, instead, and see what was up. Two blocks over, I came upon a street lined on both sides with people waving flags and cheering. It seems I was just in time for Areola's Independence Day Parade. I stood transfixed as various floats, bands, military formations, and other parade participants came by, each with a message concerning freedom.

First up was a flatbed truck loaded with people shouting obscenities and racial epithets at one another while flipping the bird to we who were spectators. While quite vociferous, they did not come to blows, nor did the people being given the finger seem to take much offense. As a matter of fact, they smiled heartily and returned the gestures with some vehemence. As the rear of the truck came into view, I saw that it sported a sign saying "Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Will Never Hurt Me!"

A float, festooned with lovely pink and purple flowers, followed behind. Twelve people occupied the float - 7 men and 5 women - and it was divided into four separate areas made to look like the insides of various buildings. In one of the mock buildings, a man and a woman were being married by a Presbyterian minister. In another, two men were being joined in civil union by a Justice of the Peace. The third little building contained two women being hitched by a Wiccan. The remaining three people, in the fourth building, showed neither delight nor distaste, carried no placards or banners showing favoritism toward one religious practice or non-religious belief system, and in general gave the sense that the practices of the others, so long as they did not foist their beliefs on them, affected them not in the least.

Next up was a cadre of marching backyard barbecue chefs. They were deliberately serving very rare hamburgers accompanied by fries cooked in trans-fat-laden oil. Meanwhile, vegetarians strode alongside, munching tofu burgers and enjoying plates of delightfully crunchy crudités and dip. Some of each drank beer, while others sipped wine, downed soft drinks, or enjoyed milkshakes variously made from whole milk, 2%, 1%, and soy. There was some good-natured ribbing concerning the supposed health risks (or benefits) of the other participant's food choices, but everybody seemed to understand that so long as they weren't being force-fed what they didn't want to eat, it was really none of their business what somebody else put into his or her mouth.

Fifteen bearded and bell-bottomed hippies came running up the street. They scattered among the crowd, flicking lighters and burning every American flag in sight. The crowd of citizens did not cheer, nor did they try to enact laws forbidding the practice. However, fifteen veterans of war followed behind, somberly replacing every flag that had been burned. As they did so, they gave a very short speech about how they had specifically fought so that the freedom to do such things as protest via flag burning would be allowed, but that they were very proud of their flag and would see to it that each burned one would be replaced by a new one. Seeing that both sides of an argument could easily be made without interference from government or legislation, the veterans and the hippies marched off arm-in-arm as the assembled throng cheered lustily.

Speaking of lust, next up was the Salute To Pornography float. A large movie screen adorned each side, and extremely graphic images were being continuously shown. However, those people who had no desire to see such things could turn away and ignore it. In order to be fair to the more prudish members of the audience, a loudspeaker on the float blared out: "Here comes the porno! If you don't want to see it, shut your eyes! If you don't want to hear it, go "Lalalalalalalala!" for the next minute or so! If you don't want your kids to see or hear it, tell them to shut their eyes and go "Lalalalalalalala!" for the next minute or so! Please move to the back of the crowd and face the other way while doing so, though, since you don't want to ruin the enjoyment of anyone else! Thank you!"

The float rolled by without major incident (a few teens were reluctant to follow parental orders, but were dragged away before they could be gratified to a greater extent than their parents wished.)

I was enjoying myself immensely. A cigarette, I felt, would make my circle of happiness complete. I asked the person to my right if she minded if I smoked. She replied, "I don't care if you burn!" Having gotten the go-ahead from her, I turned to the person on my left and asked if he'd mind. He said that he had a slight asthmatic condition and would prefer that I not light up near him. Totally reasonable response, so, rather than inconvenience him, I removed myself to the back of the crowd and lit up there, blowing my smoke away from everyone.

(On the way, I tapped a few "Lalalalalalalala" folks on the shoulder and let them know that the porn float had gone by. They thanked me for thinking of them, and then asked me if they had missed anything. "Not too much," I responded. "There were some folks walking unlicensed dogs, and a car full of people making jokes about TSA's.")

After I finished my smoke, I returned to my spot at the front which had been graciously saved for me by the man whose asthma I didn't exacerbate. Ironically, I didn't get to see the Burning Leaves Without A Permit float, and he had to use his inhaler twice while it went by.

Another loudspeaker announcement was heard: "Here come the women who believe they should have the same rights as men! They're wearing no tops! If you don't want to see titties, turn your heads!" Most of the folks returning from NOT having watched the porno float sighed and walked back to their former non-viewing spots at the back of the crowd. I felt a bit sorry for them, but then my attention was drawn by the marching boobs. Hubba-Hubba! Sure, there were a few grannies with droopies (and more power to them) as well as some whose breasts were smaller than mine (I'm a 42-A) but the lovely variety of sizes, shapes, sways, bounces, and colors was absolutely dazzling. It was one of the best troops of tits (that's the scientific term) that I've ever had the pleasure of seeing in action.

After the breasts came a collection of Priests, Rabbis, Ministers, Imams, Monks, Practitioners, Nuns, Ascetics, and other assorted religious folk. They were all saying prayers of one stripe or another, with each one realizing that, since his or her deity was the only real one, it didn't matter a whit what the other folks were saying since it was all just talk, so why not let them babble as much as they want and who is it going to hurt? Some atheists tagged along behind. They joked a bit about those in front of them, but not to the extent that anyone had reason to get angry.

The parade was nearing an end. I could see two more floats coming.

The first was filled with AK-47s, pistols, slingshots, canisters of pepper spray, nunchucks, rifles, nail guns, ice picks, machetes, cricket bats, and knives. All of the various weapons were NOT in the hands of people and thus were entirely harmless. Those riding the float were explaining to the crowd that expertise with these implements could be an effective deterrent to violent crime, dictatorship, and other nasty and selfish acts. A copy of the Second Amendment was prominently displayed, and the riders took great pains to explain that, while they would defend those words in every way possible, it's always better to actually know how to operate your weapon safely than to rush out in a fit of anger to buy one while thinking there's no chance that you won't destroy someone innocent with it.

The last float was done up in tie-dye, with lava lamps strewn about, and had humongous speakers blasting Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, and Snoop Dogg. The riders on the float were tossing huge fatties of marijuana into the crowd. Those folks who liked pot lit up (after first asking the folks next to them if it was OK, of course) and those who didn't like grass just ignored the joints in the street.

(A few people in wheelchairs and hospital beds followed behind, some being assisted along the route with the aid of friends. They gathered up the leftover weed, toked up, and had some of their most heinous pains and ailments relieved almost immediately. I tossed them the handful of bones I had picked up.)

At the very end of the parade was the Mayor of Areola. He was riding in a 1997 Pontiac, not a limousine, and he was doing the driving himself. His paycheck, equal to the average net income of all residents and thus inexorably tied to the prosperity his administration brought to the town, was proudly displayed. I hadn't previously noticed the reviewing stand across the street from where I stood. The Mayor pulled up to it, got out, then mounted the steps to the stage. He stepped up to the microphone and said...

"Fellow citizens of Areola, Happy Independence Day! I'm glad you've had a good time at our celebration but, as you know, freedom must be coupled with personal responsibility. We can never have a land of freedom unless we are willing to accept the consequences of our actions. If you get drunk, you have no right to complain about the hangover you might have the next day. And none of us is truly free unless we are willing to extend to our fellow men and women the same freedoms we desire. So, please go forth with love and respect for all whose beliefs and actions may differ from yours, understanding that they are likely to afford you that same love and respect if you do so. In other words, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And know that every time you build a jail, the possibility exists that someday you might be the one thrown into it. Thank you!"

The crowd applauded heartily, then dispersed peacefully as fireworks erupted in the background. I had to be in Perineum - halfway between Boston and New York City - by nightfall, so I walked back to my car, got in, and drove off.

Later that evening, as I lay in bed in my motel room watching the 11 o'clock news, I saw that every last citizen of Areola had been arrested and the federal government had declared martial law in the town. It seems that what I thought was a fireworks display had actually been the local Internal Revenue Service office being blown up.

Oh, well. I still say it was the best 4th of July parade I've ever seen.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Jumpin' Up!


When most people in the United States think of the tradition of "Carnival", they probably do so with visions of Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans in mind. There are, however, many other such party-themed happenings around the globe.

My brother-in-law, John Purin, is an avid aficionado of the genre. He has visited - and taken part in - many such celebrations. He also writes about the subject on his website, Planet Carnival.

(Here, I need to make a confession. When I began blogging, John was something of an inspiration to me. Long before I was ever paid for any of my inane scribblings, John was being published. And, whenever I wrote something and put it out here, receiving a comment from John was treasured. He often visited here, leaving the occasional comment, and it always thrilled me when he did. If an actual paid writer such as John paid me a compliment, I knew I had probably done something about which I didn't need to hang my head in shame. Of course, being John's brother-in-law, I sometimes wondered if he was only being kind to his sister's idiot husband. Being the egocentric that I am, I usually dismissed such thoughts rather quickly.)

Planet Carnival is always an interesting read. I've never been much of a Mardi Gras-type reveler. If it's a hot day, I prefer to play softball. Actually, I prefer to stay indoors in the air conditioning, but softball is played outdoors so I sometimes have to actually venture outside. However, anyone as passionate and knowledgeable about his subject as John is about Carnival intrigues me and makes the reading about it fascinating. I've learned more about the traditions and the people involved than I ever expected to do. My mind has been broadened (which is always something of a miracle) and I'm almost tempted to go outside for some reason other than softball.

This being the week of July 4th, including a certain American holiday that usually involves celebrations, I thought you might like to visit John's site and learn a few interesting facts about celebrations elsewhere around the world. I especially recommend that you click on the link near the bottom of the page, entitled "Jumpin' Up", for the fascinating history lessons. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I promise you there isn't a single solitary word about softball anywhere in it.

Soon, with more better stuff.



Saturday, June 16, 2018

On Fathers Day


This is Fathers Day. I've published these photographs, and the thoughts that go with them, a couple of times before this. Can't think of a better time to do so again.


My Dad died 24 years ago. He was 62 years old (just one year older than I am now, which is somewhat sobering.)

At the age of 56, My Dad suffered a heart attack while he was in the hospital for something else. The doctors who examined him determined that he had had multiple previous attacks, but had probably passed them off as an upset stomach or perhaps a muscle spasm. Shortly after this diagnosis, he underwent triple-bypass surgery.

He was never quite the same afterwards. That isn’t to say he never had any good days again, or that he never laughed, but the bad days far outnumbered the good, and the laughs were less numerous than they had been before.

The main problem was this: before the surgery he carried an inner sense of utter invincibility. He had been a boxer earlier in life, so he feared few men when it came to physical encounters. He served in the navy during the Korean conflict, so had discipline and grace under fire. He had briefly attended seminary, so had a rock-solid belief in God. He also had innate inherited intelligence. He wasn’t some pug with a cauliflower ear, ducking imaginary flocks of birds. He was erudite, had a great memory for jokes, and trained his somewhat pudgy fingers to do amazing things with cards. He also trained himself to become a very decent amateur chef. So, he was extremely independent, with a belief that he could accomplish almost anything to which he set his mind. He asked others for help on occasion, but he always knew that, when push came to shove, he could do it himself if need be.

After the surgery? He was as weak as a kitten. He became exhausted from a walk around the block. Just getting dressed was a chore. He did almost no exercise because he feared another attack. As a result of the no exercise - and by not giving more than a cursory nod to changing his diet - his heart went from bad to worse. He was regularly in the hospital with congestive heart failure.

He had almost always been a bit overweight during the years that I knew him, but heavily muscled. As time passed following the heart surgery, his weight went up and he lost muscle mass. I recall trying to make him feel better, on a visit to his house in New Hampshire, by giving him a nice backrub. I was shocked when I felt bone under my fingers where once there had been thick slabs of muscle.

Before I go on, I’d like to make sure that you know My Dad wasn’t some pitiful character. He had a pretty rich life, overall. He traveled to exotic places, made love to beautiful women, ate high off the hog, and got to realize more dreams than most. One of his favorite expressions, usually spoken about some poor unfortunate soul who never even had a chance to realize his dreams, was “He never got a kick at the cat.” Well, My Dad had enough kicks at the cat to cost it all nine lives and then move on to another cat altogether. This is the anniversary of his death, however, so despite the abundance of good times, that’s what I need to get to.

On the day he died, he was in the hospital - again. I had taken the day off from work, and I planned on driving from Boston up to Plymouth, New Hampshire, where the hospital was, and visit with him. Then I’d go to his house in Thornton, about 15 miles up the road, to mow the lawn and do a couple of other housekeeping chores. I was going to get an early start, perhaps 6am or so, to avoid traffic and to give myself plenty of time.

At about 4am, our phone rang. It was My Dad. He told me that he wasn’t feeling too good, that the doctors were going to have him doing some tests, and that I should just enjoy my day off and not make the ride, since we wouldn’t be able to spend much time together. I asked him if he was sure about it. He said that he was. I told him I loved him, he said that he loved me, and I left it that I’d call him the next day, or maybe the day after, to re-schedule a visit.

At about 8am, the phone rang again. It was My Dad’s primary physician, calling to tell me that he was dead.

If I had taken the ride up there as scheduled, I would have arrived at about 8:30 or 9:00. He would have already passed. And there I would have been, alone in Plymouth, crying. In addition, MY WIFE would have gotten that hideous phone call and then would have had to wait in dread to pass the news on to me. Instead, I was home and MY WIFE hugged me as the tears came. MY WIFE gave me that hug, God bless her, but being home to receive it was My Dad’s last gift to me.

He died on Thursday, June 16th, 1994. His wake was on the following Sunday.

It was Father’s Day.

These are some pictures of My Dad, from infancy up to the year of his passing. I hope you enjoy them. If your own father is still living, even if it’s a few days before or after Father’s Day, do yourself a favor. Give him a call. If he's near you, and he likes such things, give him a nice backrub. I guarantee you won’t be sorry. Ask anyone whose Dad is no longer around. Being sorry only happens if, while you have the chance, you don’t take advantage of the opportunity.


My Dad, with his Mom & Dad.



With his cousins, Patty & Dorothy.



Confirmation, probably at Saint Andrew's in Jamaica Plain, the neighborhood of Boston where he grew up.



Wedding to My Mom, 1955.



With Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, during My Dad's run for Congress, 1956.




I'm in this picture from early 1957, but you can't see me. I'm hiding in my Mom's stomach.




Years after his death, I bought the same tie My Dad is wearing in this photo, independent of knowing My Dad had once owned its twin. The pattern is the same as used in dress kilts for the MacPherson clan of Scotland. That was his mother's (My Grandmother's) maiden name. Our family has since found out she was adopted by the MacPhersons, so that blows my Scottish heritage out of the water.


Me, My Grandmother Sullivan (MacPherson), My Dad - Hialeah Race Track, Florida.
I was such a snazzy dresser in those days.



With My Dad in Monaco.



With Mom and Dad in Amsterdam.



My Dad with My Grandfather Sullivan, London.




The realization of a lifelong dream. My Dad's thoroughbred race horse, More Now, winner of the first race on April 15th, 1971, at Suffolk Downs, East Boston, Massachusetts.
He owned a minority share in the horse. It was the only horse he ever owned any part of, although he had money invested in many horses throughout the years...

He and My Mom were divorced about a year later. Not the only factor, I'm sure.



My Dad was Tony Soprano before Tony Soprano.
Note the now mostly-defunct brands of beer - Schlitz and Schaefer. The Schaefer would be My Dad's.
He wasn't much of a drinker, but when he did drink it was Schaefer
 ("The one beer to have, when you're having more than one", according to their jingle.)



One of My Dad's lovely culinary creations. He crafted this bird from an apple, using his Swiss Army knife, while on an airplane. Nowadays, you could get arrested for such a thing.



Always a well-dressed man.
He took many cruises in his later years. No doubt, this was just prior to one of them.



On one of his many trips to Singapore.
He worked for Singapore Airlines, so attended many meetings there.
It was a long haul to go to a meeting.



My Dad and I in Thailand. I'd say circa 1977, from the clothes and my skinniness.



Hong Kong, same trip as above. I was so skinny then I wore my wristwatch halfway up my arm.



My Dad in Teheran, Iran, prior to the Shah being deposed and Khomeini coming into power.



As I said, always a well-dressed man. Not his car. He looks right at home with it, though, doesn't he?



In the press box at Suffolk Downs.
Note the carrot/pepper palm trees on the table, which were no doubt his creation.
Everybody else in this photo worked there, either for the track or as newspaper reporters.
My Dad, on the other hand, just liked to hang out there and the professional handicappers considered him their equal. He really was quite good.



With his friend, Sidney Yeung, on the occasion of their joint 55th birthday party.



My Dad's street sign. He petitioned the town of Thornton to have the name of his dirt road in New Hampshire changed. They said OK, as long as he had a sign made. He did, and there it is.
He was mighty proud of it.
After his death, the bastards changed the street name back and took down the sign. I wish I had it. So far as I know, it was just taken to the dump. Fuck Thornton, New Hampshire.


*****************************************************************

This is what I said to My Dad every night I was in the same house with him at bedtime. It was said as it is written here, without what would seem to be some necessary punctuation; no pauses, like a magical incantation. I haven’t said it to him in 24 years, but here again, for good measure.

Good night God bless you.


Won't You Be My Neighbor?





MY WIFE and I just got home from watching the new documentary about Fred Rogers, Won't You Be My Neighbor?

It was magnificent.

Lots of good background about Mister Rogers, with interesting commentary from family members, co-workers and others. Many tears were shed in the theater, including quite a few from my eyes. I highly recommend seeing this movie.

Here is a nuanced review of the film.

Since Fred is "hot" right now, here are some thoughts I wrote concerning him a few years back, with a few slight edits to reflect the current day.

************************************************

I think Fred Rogers was a living, walking saint among us.

When you watched Fred Rogers, there was absolutely no pretense. What you saw was the real man. That same gentleness and childlike quality displayed on the screen was present always. He was not an actor. You may be surprised to find out what he actually was.

Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. His special charge, given upon his ordination, was to minister to children through the media. He did so – and continues to do so, even after death - with amazing grace. He has been a part of TV, in one way or another, for well over 60 years now.

He planned on becoming a minister while still a very young man. He was attending Rollins College, in Florida, earning a degree in music composition. The plan was that he would enter the seminary after graduation. However, on a visit to home – Pittsburgh – he saw television for the first time. What he saw appalled him. It was a children’s show and there were people hitting each other in the face with pies.

If there was one thing that made Fred Rogers truly mad, it was when one person demeaned another person. This feeling stemmed from his childhood. He had been a fat kid and teased a lot because of it. He developed a strong sense of advocacy for the underdog. What he now saw on this new medium was despicable to him. Fred thought that hitting someone in the face with a pie was about as demeaning as it gets. He thought it was a horrible lesson to be teaching children. And, at that moment, he changed his plans. He decided to go into television.

Since television was in its infancy, it wasn’t as hard to get into as one might think it would be for a man with no previous experience. Using his musical degree as a way to open doors, Fred landed a job with NBC in New York, becoming stage manager for The Kate Smith Show and other musical programs.

After gaining valuable insight into how television worked, he went to WQED, a fledgling public television station back in his hometown of Pittsburgh. This was his first opportunity to actually do something for children. He, along with a woman named Josie Carey, created a show called The Children’s Corner. Josie Carey was the host, while Fred was never seen on camera. He stayed behind the scenes, manipulating and providing voices for puppets, writing songs, etc.

(Meanwhile, during his lunch hours, he worked towards his degree in divinity. It would be some seven years of lunch hours later before he finally became an ordained minister. During this time, he also married his wife, Joanne, whom he had met while at Rollins.)

After his ordination, he received a call from the Canadian Broadcasting Company. They wanted Fred to develop a children’s show for them. He assumed that he would once again operate out of sight, as writer and puppeteer, but the head of the CBC had seen Fred interact with children and what he saw was a man with a gift. He knew that if Fred could get that quality to come through on camera, it would be something special. And thus was born a show known as MisteRogers.

He was “Mister” because, despite changing from suit coat to sweater, and dress shoes to sneakers, on every show, he remained an authority figure, albeit an extremely friendly one. He would be akin to an uncle or perhaps a very nice neighbor (or, as he aged, a kindly and gentle grandfather, which he himself had become in real life by the time he stopped production of the show on PBS almost forty years later.)

The Canadian show was relatively short-lived, but Fred took the concept back across the border and started Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. It was - and remains, if you are lucky enough to find it still airing in your vicinity - the most relaxed children’s show on television; thirty minutes of peaceful talk, thoughtful songs, whimsical visits to a very well-delineated “Neighborhood Of Make Believe”, and pacing that encourages children to express their emotions freely, but in ways that will not hurt others.

I said at the beginning of this piece that I believe Fred Rogers was a saint walking among us. I came to this conclusion through both personal interaction and then further reading concerning his life.

I wrote a letter to him, back in the early 90’s, asking him a few technical questions concerning the show. As you may know, I was involved in what might be loosely termed “show business,” although in an extremely tangential way. In any case, I was interested in how certain aspects of his show were created and performed. I expected a short reply, if any at all, knowing that I was asking for an expenditure of his personal time.

Instead, Fred Rogers replied with a multi-page handwritten letter, explaining in great detail the answers to my questions. In addition, he included 20-some pages of printout material concerning the show, as well as an autographed photo personally inscribed to both MY WIFE and me (as seen at top of this page. I had told him that we both watched the show, even though we had no children. This was the truth. MY WIFE and I found the show extremely relaxing, the video equivalent of a martini after work.)

To say that I was impressed by his response would be understating the matter. I had written similar letters to a few different performers whose work I admired. Some remain unanswered to this day. Those that did answer did so by dashing off a couple of quick lines. Fred Rogers was the only one who sent me a handwritten in-depth reply and it was obvious that he had given my questions quite a bit of his time and effort.

From that point, Rogers could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. And from everything I’ve ever seen or read concerning him, Fred Rogers did no wrong, period.

Seeing this new movie has re-energized my own sense concerning what a Christian should do, what actions he or she should take. I like to think I might try harder to keep Fred’s example of patience and forbearance in mind, while attempting to see that of Christ which is alive in others. I’m no saint, by any means - heck, just a few minutes after leaving the theater, I was cursing out another driver on the way home. I'm ashamed of that. - but I hope I’ll hold on tighter to some of the lessons that Mister Rogers has taught me, even at this advanced age for childhood.

(One thing I think I should clear up is the seeming dichotomy between my liking Fred Rogers and also liking, say, The Three Stooges. He found people being hit with pies demeaning. I find it funny. To each his own.

OK, that’s a bit too flippant. I look at it this way: He was seeing people hitting each other with pies as being a bad object lesson for children. Maybe so. I think it depends upon the child in question. I love slapstick comedy. I also love violent cartoons, i.e., Tom & Jerry. I never considered hitting someone on the head with a frying pan as a way to truly solve problems, nor do I have an urge to run a ripsaw across anyone’s noggin. I was able to determine what was reality, and what was humor, at an early age. This was largely because I had parents who made sure I knew the difference. If a kid has less insight and non-caring parents, maybe it would be a different story; I’ll concede that point.)

Anyway, please see the movie. It is a beautiful thing. Bring tissues.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Sunday, June 03, 2018

Keep Your Hat On


We may end up miles from here.

(That's the punch line to some joke or another, but I can't remember the set-up. I recall it as being a dirty joke, so it's probably just as well I don't remember it all.)

This is an exercise in... well, I'm not quite sure. I'll start with an explanation of sorts.

I've become somewhat disenchanted with writing. Since losing my spot as a regular contributor to the op-ed pages of the Boston Herald - see HERE for a partial explanation of that situation, although since then I was published some 9 or 10 times more, and paid, and also had some pieces published elsewhere - Anyway, I just plain don't have an urge to subject myself to the rejection notices, at least for a while. So, what to do?

This space has always been a safe place wherein to write whatever in hell I feel like writing. The rejections are rare. So, I'm going to just let my train of thought chug along until it derails. I'm going to write about the first things that pop into my mind at any given moment, then write about whatever that might suggest to me, then another thing that may or may not interest anyone but me, and so on.

It may go on for months, years, until I die or it may peter out any moment. The moment it becomes uninteresting to me (to you, that may occur sooner) I will stop. As soon as I find myself feeling that it's a chore, no more.

Today, that moment has come. Tomorrow, or the next day, or who knows when, I'll jump in again. In other words, this blog may become what it once was; a place of entertainment, rather than someplace to flog what I've written elsewhere for money. We'll see.

If you bear with me, you may like it. Who knows? Could be an utter waste of your time, though.

Soon, with more better stuff, used to be my sign-off because I usually believed that to be the case. Time will tell.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Happy Birthday, Mom!


May 16th, which may be the date as you read this, is My Mom's 85th birthday. I hate to think how old that makes me. I must be at least 28 by now; maybe even 29 or 30. I''ll ask My Mom when I see her this weekend.



This is a rerun, of course. You faithful readers have seen it 5 or 6 times already. If you're new here, however, ignore those previous two sentences. It's all brand new and spiffy and surprisingly delightful! Anyway, whether you've seen it before or not, I expect you to read every word of it. It's My Mom's birthday, damn it, and it's the least you can do.




Being the crummy son that I am (despite being a very sharp dresser, as seen above) this is pretty much the best present she will be getting, although there will be dinner (and she asked for donations to St. Jude, so if you want to help, go here - https://www.facebook.com/donate/1353361448129323/1353361451462656/.) However, one of the reasons I adore My Mother is because she's OK with my seeming ingratitude. And, if she is, I don't expect any guff from the likes of you.

Cripes, I'm really not being very nice to you. You probably like me a lot less than you did when you first got here. Oh, well. My Mother loves me. And that's the point of this.

No, wait. The point is that I love My Mother. Even if I don't make it readily apparent (Ha! A parent!) by doing anything more than re-printing the same damned tribute to her that I've published several times before, except I threw in a few different photos this time and also polished up this hideous introduction. Happy Birthday, Mom! With each passing year, it becomes more obvious why I'm an only child, and the world thanks you!




My Mom always goes out of her way to have eclairs for me on my birthday. Meanwhile, I... Did I mention she always has eclairs for me on my birthday? Yes, she does. Someday, I'll let her eat one.




My Mom and My Stepfather, Bill, both getting stoned, as they usually did. No, no, no. This was at the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of MY WIFE and myself. Knowing the two of us, they had every good reason to get soused, but they didn't. Bill was a wonderful man and I miss him dearly.




My Mom, showing off the acting skills that have won her numerous Tonys, Emmys, and Bills. Hah! She was married to two guys named Bill, see? It's like I almost made a joke there, if any of you knew. I won't embarrass My Mom by talking about the Tonys, and the less said about the Emmys, the better.





That's My Mom on the left. I wasn't born yet.


I'll shut up now. Here's the stuff I wrote a few years ago and which I'm trotting out here again.



[My Mother, left, and her sister, Jeanne, Easter 1950]



You know how some people have a birthday on or around Christmas and it kind of gets lost? It just sort of gets melded into the larger holiday and that person gets a little cheated out of two special days? My Mom's birthday is like that. She was born on May 16th, so her birthday always falls within a couple days of Mothers Day. As a result, some people believe she gets the short end of things from me.

However, I'll tell you that my mother isn't all that worried about it. A shallow person she is not. She is very intelligent and she understands the situation. This is not to say that she wouldn't want two parties or two bunches of gifts or two of whatever; everybody likes twice as much good stuff if they can get it. But she understands. And I love her all the more for understanding that I love her just as much, even though I sometimes may not show her how much twice in the same week.

This is my birthday card to my mother. You may or may not "get" everything I write here, but she will and that's what matters. These are mainly just short fond memories of times I treasure; times I had with my mother and things we did together. The greater parts of them are from my childhood. So are the pictures, which look the way they do because I only barely know how to use a scanner and photoshop. If I waited until I knew what I was doing before publishing, this space would be blank for about a decade.




I suppose it makes sense to start with the usual Mom-type stuff.

She wiped my tears and bandaged my scraped knees and kissed my boo-boos and made them better. She vacuumed and made the beds. She did the laundry - early on with an actual washtub and scrub board and wringer - and she hung the clothes to dry on the clothesline in the backyard (or, in the winter, on a clothesline we had strung in the cellar) and a bit later we got a dryer. She did the ironing while watching Loretta Young and Mike Douglas. She was almost always ironing when I got home from school, it seemed.

She nursed me through all the usual illnesses and gifted me with my first copy of MAD magazine during one of them, and thank you for trusting me at such a young age with such revolutionary material, Mom. She put patches on my pants, as I needed them.

(Does anybody put patches on pants anymore?)

She gave me eggnog to drink for breakfast - an actual egg stirred into a big glass of milk, perhaps with chocolate syrup. Those were the days when it was considered healthy to feed your child eggs and milk every day, even raw eggs - maybe especially raw eggs. She gave me vitamins.

(One time, I decided that if a single vitamin tablet was good for you, then taking a whole bottle might turn me into Superman. Mom was the one who called the doctor.)

She packed my lunchbox with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, slices of apples or oranges, usually a cookie or two, and always a thermos of milk.

(How many thermoses did I break? Many. You'd drop one of the things and hear that shattering of the insides and you knew without checking that your milk now had big shards of glass in it. Mom always bought me a new one.)

She made dinners of swordfish or fish sticks or tuna casserole. My Dad did much of the cooking, and he hated fish, but when he wasn't around Mom made sure I got enough of the seafood that I loved. She would buy salmon and tuna just for me to eat straight from the can - something I still do often, although now I might spoon it out onto a plate first. She made me macaroni and plain tomatoes, still one of my favorite simple dinners - and one that, as it turns out, is quite healthy.

We would do some cooking together. We made peanut butter cookies. We made bread pudding. She would bake a cake and I would graciously help out by licking the bowl clean. I was always glad to do my part.

Sometimes, we would go out to eat, just Mom and me. We might go to the Liberty Deli in Lower Mills, or perhaps we would end up at a restaurant called Colstone's in downtown Boston. Both of these would be places we visited after we had been to church to say a prayer and light a candle. The Deli after Saint Gregory's; Colstone's after Arch Street. She would put a coin in the poor box at church and let me light the votive candle. She taught me to pray and she taught me reverence for holy places. She gave me a great sense of God as benevolent and likely to listen to me. It was, and is, a good thing.

She sang, always. She loved to sing; still does. She sang standards around the house. She had a lovely voice; still does. She and her sister, Jeannette, actually had their own radio show when they were teenagers, on WJDA in Quincy. The story, as I remember it, was that they had spoken to the station manager and complained that there wasn't enough programming for teenagers. He told them that if they thought so, maybe they could come up with some themselves. They said, "OK" and went on the air. Pretty gutsy stuff, that.

I owe my livelihood to my Mom.

[2018 Editorial Comment: Oddly enough, even with losing my job as a voice-over artist and producer in 2013, this next paragraph still works. I have gone from one job with which it fits - announcing, and voice-over work, and producing commercial recordings - to another that I'm trying to make a go at - writing, fact-checking - that requires most of the same skillset.]

Even before I went into kindergarten, she was teaching me to read. I was always the best reader in my class in school. I am still one of the best readers I know and I work with professional readers every day. Without that early acquisition of knowledge, provided by Mom, I wouldn't have the job I have today. I am very grateful for that.

She taught me an absolute love for the written word and she taught me that acquiring knowledge doesn't have to be a drag. She would buy me books at every possible opportunity. I still have a half-shelf of Golden Library Of Knowledge books, which she bought for me - one at a time - from a store downtown every two or three weeks. I learned about dinosaurs and the planets and insects and the elements and animals from far off lands, and learned about them before I had to learn about them in school. I glided through much of elementary school because my Mom gave me such an enormous head start.

While I was in school, she kept a scrapbook. It is in my possession now. Entitled "Jimmy's School Years", it is an amazingly embarrassing collection of inept crayon drawings, declining-in-quality-as-I-moved-into-high-school report cards, class photos (who are half these people?), and other assorted ephemera from my times at the Gilbert Stuart, Boston Latin, the Woodrow Wilson, Boston Latin (again), and finally, Boston Tech. Grades K through 12 wrapped up in one overstuffed segmented package. While it is embarrassing, even for me to look at in private, I am so very thankful she did it.

I remember something I wasn't thankful for and which non-thankfulness I have been ashamed of ever since. One day, when I was perhaps four or five, Mom came home from a trip downtown and she had a small present for me. It was these two small replicas of phonograph records, one reading "YES" on the tiny label in the middle, and the other "NO". I don't know what their actual purpose was, but I suspect they were part of some advertising gimmick. I seem to remember that they came from Filene's Basement, but I may be mistaken.

Anyway, she had had a small little nice thought when handed them by whomever - "I'll bring these home and maybe Jimmy would like to play with them". My Mom came in and handed them to me, saying something to the effect of she wasn't sure if I wanted these but, if I did, I could have them. I behaved like a bratty little shit and said I didn't want them; why would I want them?; something entirely ungrateful. Maybe I was expecting something else from her for some reason? I don't know.

(Silly thing to remember, but I do. And I am ashamed about it. I was ungrateful for a gift given with love. I'd almost guarantee my Mom doesn't have the slightest idea what I'm talking about. She remembers good stuff about me and forgets bad stuff. Well, I apologize anyway, Mom, and now I feel better.)

Well, you see, I'm getting into small weird things here and, if I keep on like this, it will be a book before long and even then it won't feel like enough. In the interests of getting this thing published by her actual birthday, I'm going to just list a few things now, things that - if you aren't my Mom - may well sound bizarre or psychotic or both. She'll read each and every one, slowly and lovingly, and have memories - perhaps many memories, and strong - conjured by each.

*******************************************************************

You were the savior of Davy and the unfortunate bearer of bad news concerning Tippy.

You were Sugar's midwife, twice, and every cat's best friend, always.

You were the teacher and player of Fish, Casino, Rummy 500, Chinese Checkers.

You were my pass to the cafeteria at Prudential and then to shuffleboard in the employee lounge afterwards.

You are the gatekeeper of the "For Now" room.

You were the grower of the rose bush, the tiger lilies and my willow tree.

You gave me a box of kitchen matches and a bowl of water.
You were the magician who made stars appear on my bedroom ceiling.

You allowed my jumps down the stairs and piled the pillows to land on.

You put up with marbles in the bathtub.

You made me believe that the second half of The Wizard Of Oz was in glorious color even though I was watching it on a black-and-white television.

You came to see me play at McCarthy's and you actually stayed through the second set.

You were the buyer of South Station bowling.

Your room had the jewelry box filled with shiny things and a Kennedy/Johnson campaign button, the atomizer, the radio that played Jess Cain every morning, and sunbeams that never were as warm after you left.

You were the person with me as I watched The Flintstones, The Addams Family, Camp Runamuck, Hank, Bewitched, That Girl, Fractured Flickers, The Hathaways, It's About Time and I'm Dickens, He's Fenster. At the very least, three of those were shows you could barely stand, but you watched them with me anyway.

You brought me to a brave radical church and I gained a new circle of friends.

You introduced me to MY WIFE.

You were the saver of newspapers - "Kennedy Assassinated", "Man Walks On Moon", "Red Sox Win Pennant" - and I wish to hell I had been the saver of them, too.

You were the person I reported the Dow Jones to every night. Why? I haven't the foggiest notion.

You were the person who brought me the news of a death of a person I knew; the first death I actually felt and understood the finality of. "Ma died", you said. And you held me close and I knew that in this world where people I had imagined as permanent were not, your love was.

You are possibly the fairest person in the world. At the very least, you always listen to everybody and give serious consideration to their thoughts and feelings. I've inherited some of that, but not nearly enough.

You were my traveling companion on the railway in the sky that took us to Ma and Pa's for Easter.

You are the child at heart who played miniature golf and skeeball, took swings in the batting cage, ate ice cream sundaes and candy bars, and did assorted other young things with great relish and panache, on your 65th birthday.

All things considered, you're probably the best mother I've ever had.

(Hey, I got some of this sense of humor from you, so stop rolling your eyes.)

Something like this could go on forever, but I'll close with this:

I've described a large number of idiotic episodes of my life on this blog and will no doubt relate many more. I've done things that were illegal, immoral, stupid, and that otherwise seemingly reflect badly on my upbringing. Every single one of those things came about through my own volition.

Meanwhile, every good quality I possess - and every good thing I've ever done - came about as a direct result of how I was raised. That may sound like hyperbole, but it's the absolute stone cold truth.




Thanks, Mom. Happy Birthday!