Wednesday, October 17, 2018

If Past Performance Is Any Indication, The Future Is Bleak

I miss candy cigarettes.

 [Image from]

I think easing children into hideous vices by plying them with candy was a swell idea. There also used to be bubble gum cigars but those were for the rich kids. I haven't been in a candy store lately but, given the past, I assume these days a kid can buy a set of works made from spun sugar; maybe a licorice whip to tie off a vein.

Oh, OK, I suppose that's farfetched. Spun sugar would break too easily. It's probably Gummi hypos. By the way, you can still buy candy cigarettes on-line. They generally don’t come with a red-painted tip suggestive of being lit, they don't have packaging that features an actual brand-name cigarette logo, and the manufacturers calls them “candy sticks”. We older kids know what they used to be, though, and  - as some places selling them suggest - they could be a dandy gift for someone trying to quit the real things (but not for me, if that's what you're thinking, because if you give me candy cigarettes you'll just put me on the road to Type II Diabetes in addition to my incipient emphysema.)

Let's move on to another old fart ramble before I start thinking too clearly about what I just said. Does anybody patch kid's clothes these days? Sooner or later, every boy in our neighborhood wore something patched. I remember having a pair of jeans with both knees, both ass cheeks, and a spot on the crotch patched. The only other person I ever saw with pants like that was Emmett Kelly.

Am I wrong in assuming this was a boy thing? Were girl’s clothes patched? I don't recall seeing any girls with patches on their asses (and I was looking.)

Moving right along to the next station on this haphazard train of thought, what about paperweights? They used to be ubiquitous but I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts you can't put your hands on one right now (and, of course, donuts cost more than a dollar now, so that phrase has become meaningless.) I've heard of people who collect paperweights – and we should probably keep an eye on those folks - but does anybody still use them for their intended purpose of guarding a stack of paper from being blown away by a sudden gust of wind? Heck, never mind paperweights. Stacks of paper are redundant.

Hey, here’s something else to make young people laugh derisively at me! How about toy guns? Do kids still get toy guns as presents? I don't mean water pistols. Those will always be around. Who doesn't like giving someone a face full of water now and again? But what about cap guns, miniature Thompson sub-machine guns, realistic wooden rifles...

[photo from Daily Caller, where you'll find an article all about toy guns]

I suppose BB guns still exist. I sure hope so, anyway. That was the coolest gift ever, even before A Christmas Story became so popular. What kid in his right mind wouldn't want a toy that could shoot someone’s eye out? The only thing more entertaining was a chemistry set with which you could attempt to blow up your entire family.

[photo from MY ARTICLE in DISCOVER Magazine. Imagine that!]

What else can I go on about like a boring old geezer with no life? Hey, I've got it! Do you hang out clothes to dry? I'm willing to bet treasury bonds to donuts you don't. Hell, clotheslines are banned in some places. This is because the hideous yuppies elected to city councils in those locales decided clotheslines were an eyesore. Never mind that clothesline manufacturers now had to use the last of their stock to hang themselves. And another thing! Where do butterflies sleep?

Wow! That may be the best non-sequitur ever! But, seriously, does anybody know the answer? Worms sleep underground, ants have hills, moths seem to enjoy spending the night wherever my wife keeps her clothes, and I suppose Miley Cyrus might have a crack house someday, but butterflies? I have no idea. Maybe they used to sleep on clotheslines but now they're homeless, you yuppie bastards!

Why are they called BUTTERflies? Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:

 Astoundingly Stupid Contest
93 Winsor Avenue
Watertown, MA, 02472.

Please enclose $5 processing fee. You might be a winner (although if you fall for this and send me the five bucks, I doubt it.)

OK, I've yearned nostalgic for stuff most people are glad is gone; made a fistful of obvious jokes; and thrown out a shot in the dark at suckering you into sending me money. I guess that’s enough for today. It’s almost Halloween, so Merry Christmas!

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.