Emergency!

It didn't end well.  I was walking our Lab puppy early in the morning when it was still dark.  We were going behind a car that I didn't realize was pulling out of a driveway. I yanked Abby May into the street, fell and hit my head. The car missed us, or we would have been road kill. Guy never saw us; not his fault.

          When I got up, my bleeding looked like one of those punch bowl fountains.  Soaked my favorite t-shirt and my shorts. Made it back to the house. The dog seemed fine but wearing a tasteful spattering of my blood. The wife, remaining calm,  said we should call 911. I said I was John Wayne, and we could still take Iwo Jima.  The wife differed. I called 911, said kill the siren, the neighbors deserved their beauty rest.

          Fire truck and EMTs showed up.  Six guys as concerned about the dog as me.  Hey, I'm over 70 and not very cute.  The bleeding had almost stopped. They clean the gash and wrap up my head so I bear a striking resemblance to Boris Karloff in The Mummy. Decide that taking an ambulance to the emergency room is a smart bet. Don't want to get blood stains in our new mini-van.

          EMT in the ambulance asks me if I have ever enjoyed this mode of transport before. I say no, but I have watched many episodes of  Live Rescue, if that counts.  Bummed because I don't get the EKG monitor or the lecture on living my life more responsibly since I didn't OD.  The EMT poo- poos my concern that the dog may develop PTSD.

          At the hospital emergency room, they triage me while a passing EMT looks at my blood soaked shirt and shorts and says, "Someone sprung a leak." An incredibly insightful comment. While I would make a great photo for the next hospital fundraising appeal, initially they put me in a wheelchair and push me to a waiting room where the TV is trumpeting the merits of dental implants.  Where the hell have I ended up?  The wife finds me, and my son also shows up, bringing me a muffin and fruit juice, both of which I can't have in case head trauma precludes those brands. A nurse brings me a blanket since the air conditioning is kept at a cozy 60 degrees. Registration shows up, delighted I have old gummer coverage which will pay the freight for this little episode.        

          They decide I need a CT scan of my head to make sure I'm not in the humpty dumpty category.  It's still early in the day, and after briefly acknowledging that I exist, the two techs pop me into the scanner while continuing their conversation on what pizza toppings are most noxious. I'd go with anchovies, but they don't ask my opinion.  I would like to know if the banging noise in my ears is normal, but the techs pull me out of the tube just before I become severely claustrophobic.

          They then find a bay with a bed for me on the trauma floor. I'm in number 13, hopefully not a harbinger of things to come.  My wife is brought back, and Cheri, a perky (politically incorrect) strawberry blonde RN, says she will be with me shortly, but I don't see her for thirty minutes. Not her fault. Two trauma cases suddenly show up: a woman who has suffered a severe stroke and a guy who just went through a windshield. While this is going on, in a bed across from me, a Hispanic male covered with tattoos seems to be writhing in pain, the alarm on his vital signs monitor is going WAA, WAA, WAA, WAA incessantly. Turns out his heart had stopped and they revived him with CPR before bringing him in. With my narrow world view, I figured heroin overdose, but the guy had been on kidney dialysis and something went wrong. These other situations make my problems seem like chump change.

          Cheri the RN finally returns and unwraps my mummified head.  The CT scan results are back, and my skull seems to be in one piece. No need for brain surgery. Next,  June, a statuesque (politically incorrect) nurse practitioner, looks at my gash and says it will require staples to close it. I imagine those guns with one inch staples that they use at construction sites. Maybe brain surgery will be necessary.  As I wait for the numbing cream on my noggin to kick in, my blood pressure spikes and my vital signs monitor starts going WAA, WAA, WAA.  I ask my wife to push every button to try to stop it, but she is afraid doing so might make be blow up.

          Finally, NP June returns with staple gun in hand. She says I might feel something. You think? She goes POP, POP, POP -three staples- and the deed is done.  It feels no worse than me banging my head against a wall. They are now happy to bring the discharge papers, which I sign in triplicate. June says I might experience concussion symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and double vision. And I had a big weekend planned watching football players get concussed. As we exit the emergency room, the registration lady gives me the thumbs up, acknowledging that I have survived and that my medical insurance has cleared.  It's been over six excitement packed hours. I get in our mini-van; devour the stale muffin and drink the fruit juice.  I don't care what brand goes poorly with head injuries.

          In the days that follow, I get donuts for the EMT guys (they're not only for cops) and gift cards for my nurses. Fortunately, I don't suffer concussion symptoms other than mild headaches. The other good news is that all of the blood washed out of my t-shirt, and it does not appear that the dog has PTSD. The bad news is that my son says I have to wear a headlamp and three other lights on my body when walking Abby May.  I vacillate. All I know is that John Wayne didn't wear no stinkin' lights in The Sands of Iwo Jima.

         

The Box

Almost everyone has one. A repository for keepsakes. It could be an old cigar box or an ornate wooden chest.  An army trunk can be the resting place of valued items from a long military career, or a shoe box full of faded Polaroids from a by gone era.

          The traditional "hope chest" or "cedar chest" was used by prospective brides and contained such items as clothing (including a special dress), table linens, towels, bed linens, quilts and occasionally dishware. Things needed to get the marriage off on the right foot. Long before fast food and TV dinners.

          My box had belonged to my mother. It is cedar; 18 L x 9 W  x 10 H.  There is a painted image of Mandarin Chinese on the side .   Most of the items are from childhood through the teen years. Baby tooth, marbles, lead soldiers, Boy Scout patches, first driver's license, prom pictures, foreign coins, Mickey Mouse watch, draft registration, letters from my father.

          What about the memory boxes of our lives:

 The School Box

          Crayons. Gum erasers. Sister Mary Eloise. Rapped knuckles. Math. Concrete playground. Best friends forever.  Bullies and mean girls. Cafeteria mystery meat. Hating gym class. School play - forgetting lines. Teacher that cared. Falling asleep in history class. Admiring graduation tassel. The real world...

 The Work Box

          First job: Flipping burgers. Babysitting a little brat. Life guard at a decrepit city pool.  All dressed up for a real interview. Healthcare and wage scale package. Cubicle farm. Dress code? Idiot co-worker. Pride in project completion. Mai tais at the annual convention. Pink slip. Networking for a new career. A fresh idea! Trash cans never emptied. Gold plated watch.

 The Vacation Box

          The tent that wouldn't stay up. Burnt pancakes that never tasted so good. Canadian geese taking off  from a mirrored lake. The sound of wind through tall pines. Poison ivy. The warmth of a sleeping bag. Hotel from hell. Hotel from heaven. Lost passport. Finally, a villager that speaks English.  Ancient ruins at sunrise.  Candlelight dinner in the town's old quarter. Your kids saying they're sick of museums.

 The Romance Box

          First kiss. Dating. Heart about to burst. Too much perfume/cologne.  Brilliant conversation. Saying really stupid stuff. Breakup-makeup. Finally moving on. Finding the one. Making incredible love. First house. Picking out drapes. Life as compromise. Diapers. Teenagers. Where did the years go? Age spots. Last kiss in hospice.

 The Spirituality Box

          God is dead. God was never alive. God is.  The invisible hand. Making sense out of the senseless. Fellowship of believers. Too many questions. Just enough answers. A calming during the dark night of the soul. The true friend. Ribbons of light across eternity. 

          I have another box. It's made of teak and has carved scenes of Filipino natives. It has small pull out drawers and belonged to my grandfather.  It contains swatches from my adult life. Old driver licenses. School pictures of the kids. Social Security cards for me and my wife. Military insignia spanning twenty-eight years of service. Political buttons. ID cards from my teaching career. A photo of my wife when we were first dating. The years ticking away.  Go find your box. A touchstone. A life fully lived.

The Elderly

I was perusing the local newspaper, and in the law and order section, an “elderly man” was assaulted during a home invasion. The victim was listed as being 70.  Now when I was twenty-five, I would probably have equated “elderly” with anyone over 60.  However, now that I am in the eighth decade (70-79), I take it as a personal affront being seen as "elderly."

          To the younger generations, “elderly” connotes a barely moving, toothless individual, swaddled in Depends, who can’t remember his/her phone number. Have I lost a step, do parts of my body ache that I didn’t know existed? You bet. However, the brain is functioning just fine, thank you, (except for all those senior moments) and I plan on driving until they remove my cold dead hands from the steering wheel.

          Of course, in discussing the “elderly,” you do have to pay attention to cultural and historical contexts. Asian societies have traditionally venerated their older citizens.  The wisdom that comes with age is valued, and it is expected that mom and dad live with the kids when they can no longer thrive on their own. In fact, in most societies where life hasn’t become artificially processed and formed, the older folks are seen as an asset, not as tomorrow’s trash.  However, in many “modern” first world Western cultures, one of the biggest industries going is warehousing the geezers in assisted living ghettos. Out of sight, out of mind; let them keel over at the bingo table.

          If we take a step back in history, the average life expectancy looked pretty grim. In biblical times it was around 35 years. As late as 1907, the average life expectancy for men was 45 years.  Hardly enough time to sell these folks a decent chariot or replacement buggy wheels.  The Weekly Scroll in Rome might have had the lead, “Senator Flavius Valerius dies in the Forum at 36. He was a true elder statesman. Leaves behind strong but brief legacy.”  The point is, senior status may be both in the eyes of the beholder and in the sweep of history.

          Now, I realize that we all reach a life stage where heavy duty assistance may be needed, but too often, those Americans in their golden years are perceived as a blight upon the planet.  There is a reason the prime demographic for advertisers is 25-54. How much profit is there in a bottle of Metamucil and heating pads? We old folks rarely buy a new car every other year. We hold onto the rust bucket for at least ten years, cherishing the cassette tape player and engines that a mechanic can understand.  We buy our clothes at Sears (Oops, the dustbin of history) and have phone landlines (that’s right, my cold dead hands). I may not see myself as “elderly,” but I have a lot of preferences that place me firmly in the Luddite camp.

          Who says the relics can’t get it done? Picasso was still painting and fathering kiddos into his 70’s and 80’s.  Frank Lloyd Wright was cranking out the architectural plans until he assumed room temperature at 92.  Kurt Vonnegut was wielding the mighty pen into his eighties. Mother Teresa was heading a missionary group when she was almost 90. In short “elderly” shouldn’t mean comatose.  Me, myself and I plan on writing the great American novel sometime in my mid-eighties. I just might have enough life experience by then.

Demolition Derby

27 miles. That's what the odometer showed on our new vehicle, a Chrysler Pacifica mini-van. A real step up from our worn out twelve year old trade-in. Within 3 1/2 months of buying it, the van was involved in two accidents, being rear ended at a stop light and clipping a car going twenty-five miles under the speed limit.  Reminds me of that saying, "You just can't have nice things." The collision damage made me reflect on the various types of bad drivers that clog the road on a minute by minute basis.  The egregiousness of their driving habits is listed in no particular order.

 

Homo snowbirdalis - These old folks flock in from the Midwest in late fall and cause havoc until they fly home in the spring, Blind, hard of hearing and unsure of their surroundings, they ignore lane markers and drive so slowly that they are regularly passed by bicyclists. They also crash into buildings after experiencing "medical incidents."

Homo aggressis - Can be male or female. They drive like they own the road and are competing in Formula 1 at Le Mans. Weaving in an out and crossing over three lanes of tight traffic so that they can cut right in front of a car before making an immediate left turn. Have perfected the California rolling stop and believe that red lights are only an annoyance to be ignored.

Homo imparis - Juiced up on alcohol, drugs or weed, these drivers blithely skim along the highway without a clue that they are a death threat to all around them. At a police stop the refrain usually goes something like this, "Hey bro, I only had two beers." "Dude, I don't know what that white stuff is, These aren't my pants!" "I just lost my medical marijuana card. That scale isn't mine. I don't know why my car reeks, I last smoked weed three days ago." Society's creme de la creme.

Homo cellphonator - Technology from hell. Usually drivers under forty who talk, text and search on cell phones while being vaguely aware that they are in a sea of traffic. Skype your best friend while going around hair pin turns.  Browse Amazon while driving sixty mph in a construction zone. Text your agreement to a business proposal as you engage the side of an eighteen wheeler.  Ain't progress great?

Homo illegex - Suspended driver's license; no auto insurance, expired car registration. Burned out headlight and brake light. "Officer, I was going to take care of all of this as soon as I get paid from a job I'm starting in two weeks. Can you just give me a warning?"

Homo mornians - Guys are shaving while driving or trimming their mustache. The ladies are applying makeup and curling their eyelashes while steering with their knees. They already think they're in self-driving cars. RIP Sally Musgrove. She was pulled from the wreckage, still clutching hair spray in her left hand.

Homo gluttonus - Breakfast, lunch, dinner. They all taste better when consumed behind the wheel.  Shove that breakfast burrito in your maw as you maneuver through morning rush hour. Look down at the salsa that's dripped on your pants as you belatedly marvel at the car that slams on its breaks in front of you. Crush the monster burger while someone eating sushi in a Subaru is about to crush you.

Homo boomboxicus - At a stoplight, the guy's car is shaking so hard from loud rap music, that it's about to leave the ground. You don't dare look over because that could obviously be a sign of disrespect that would get you shot with a very large handgun. Enjoy the moment.

          While I don't claim to be the "perfect" driver, I've had a lot of years of observing what not to do on the road, and committing same to my memory banks.  Defensive driving is only way to survive the free-for-all attitude of today's road warriors. "Is that lady really making an illegal u-turn with two dogs on her lap?" Be safe my friend.

Address Change

It seemed like a simple request.  My wife had received a notification from one of her medical providers that had been sent to our previous address and then forwarded with one of those vapid yellow labels. I had already tried three times to input  our new address with this organization. After going through phone tree hell, I finally was talking to a live, semi-sentient human being.

          "How can I be of service?'

          "My wife was sent a notification to our old address"

          "So you want to do an address change?"

          "I've already tried three times."

          "Since it was sent to your wife, she has to make the request for an address change. Is she available?"

          "No I am calling for her."

          "I am looking at her file, but can make no changes without her authorization."

          "She is my wife and we live at the same address."

          "Sorry sir, I must speak to her."

          "I also have an account with you; can you pull it up?

          "Certainly sir. Let me put you on hold"

          (Ten minutes later)

          "Sir, how can I be of service?"

          "What is the address listed on my account?"

          (She reads it to me)

          "That is our current address, but my wife is receiving your correspondence at our old address."

          "I can neither verify or deny that sir."

          "I am holding the envelope in my hand."

          "Sir, I need to speak to your wife about her account."

          "You are looking at her account and my account. Can you tell me if the address is the same on both?"

          "That is privileged information, sir."

          (I am about to have the vapors)

          "How do I get permission to speak on my wife's behalf?"

          "Is she there with you, sir"

          "I've already said, she is unavailable."

          "You can have her fill out an Acknowledgement of Permission form."

          "That lets me speak to you on her behalf?'

          "Yes, it will be mailed to her. It requires being filled out in triplicate. It must be notarized and then resubmitted every three months."

          "But, I don't know if you will be sending it to the right address."

          "Sir, I must speak to her regarding that, unless you currently have a power of attorney filed with us."

          (I'm melting into the floor)

          "I give up."

          "Sir, I didn't catch that?"

          "It's alright. Forget it. I will have the Coast Guard airlift my wife back from an Alaskan ice flow so you can talk directly to her."

          "Sir, that is the best approach. How else may I help you today?         

          "Does my medical plan with you cover Valium?"

          "Sir, I would have to check the formulary."

          "That's ok. Just send me the info to the correct address on my account." 

          "Sir, it was a pleasure serving you. We have a survey..."

          "Thanks! You've been veeery helpful. Goodbye."

The Warmth of the Sun

I should be ashamed of myself, complaining about how cold it is in Tucson,  55℉ day and 32℉ night. In the Midwest, the polar vortex is wrecking havoc. Chicago was at -25; -77 at Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Still, context is important. In Tucson, I am use to bubbling along at 105 in the summer months. Cook an egg on the sidewalk. For me this is the norm, and I like it! Thus, when there is a "real" desert cold spell, I am quickly swaddled in a down jacket, wearing lined gloves and a sock cap over the ears.

          In life's journey, I inherently knew that I wanted to keep my keester in the warmth of the Sun. Three winters in Kansas during my middle school years was enough cold weather to forever fill out my ice skating dance card. Snow up to my waist: wet shoes, soaked pants, knowing what a popsicle must feel like. Frozen gloves that could stand on their own. I was happy to head for Oz if it meant getting out of Kansas.

          After three damp rainy years in England (story for another time), I finally ended up in Florida, land of sunshine and oranges. At the University of Florida, I didn't need a parka, but with the humidity, I soaked through a couple of shirts a day while watching alligators frolic in a nearby swamp. Still, in a heartbeat, I'd take that humidity and an occasional sunburn over turning blue and watching my breath freeze. When it came time to leave the womb of academia, I knew that I must follow the sun.       

          Arizona appealed to me because of cowboys and the dry heat. Kind of like the back blast of a nuclear explosion.  So I lived in Phoenix, and during July I accepted the fact that I would feel like a bird rising from its own ashes. However, during most of the year, the weather was so copacetic.  Mr. Sun warming everything to just the right temperature. I still kept the parka for those few days in January where Kansas shipped some excess prairie frigidity our way. On those anomalous cold days, I would still turn my face toward the sun and let the faint hint of warmth wash over me.

          Mountains and cactus were followed by 21/2 years in the San Francisco Bay area where I became intimately acquainted with fog and earthquakes. Swallowed up by the primordial mist. I finally fled back to the desert and Tucson where I traded in my navy pea jacket and fisherman's cap for buckskin and a Stetson. Hello Sun!

          The Beach Boys have a song called, "The Warmth of the Sun." The guy in the song is bummed because his girl has dumped him: The love of my life/ She left me one day/ I cried when she said/ "I don't feel the same way." After he gets past the boohoo aspect, he realizes that love is a renewable resource  which he can use again in the future. In fact, love and Mr. Sun have a lot in common: My love's like the warmth of the sun/ (Warmth of the sun)/ It won't ever die/ (It won't ever die). Well, the sun may flame out in a few billion years, but for now, I'm really digging its rays - keeping me happy and filling my vitamin D quotient. Hot! Hot! Hot!

At 70

How did this happen?  Earlier this year, I reached the big SEVEN O. It was an unexpected shock to the system.  Why was this milestone any different than the many that had gone before?  I had already accepted the given that "we are all terminal." That death stalks us from birth.  However, there was something about turning 70 that created amazement at the "accomplishment" as well as giving pause for reflection on the past.

          My parents had both lived into their seventies, but they were "old." Lots of physical ailments and a myopic view of  new technologies. I feel like I am in my twenties, trapped in an old geezer body and driving an old geezer car (a Buick).  My health is pretty decent, and while I don't understand many of  the new technologies, I am not afraid of them.  My dad used to say that microwave ovens were "The devil's work!"  How could you cook food without heat?  I am cowed by many features on my smart phone, but I could program a VCR back in the day.

          This age thing is not that, despite all the good stuff, I will never have accomplished some of  the bright and shining goals I had in life and that my bucket list is barely crossed off. It's more how fast everything has gone by. I first listened to that new sensation, the Beatles, at 16 with a full head of hair and slim build; I listen to the Beatles now - bald and paunchy. Same songs. What happened in between?

          I am part of the generation that was to trust no one over thirty. Now I live in a world where you're not sure if you can trust anyone.  I've maneuvered  through the official stages of life: child, student, husband, soldier, teacher, father; and am now firmly settled into a final societal status: decrepitude,  second childhood, senility, the autumn of life and the golden years (if you like golf, whiny grand-kids and cruises to nowhere). I prefer to be seen as "well preserved."  I am not bitter or unhappy, just wondrous at how close I am to dancing with Jesus under that great silver disco ball in the sky.

          I can't catalog all life's ups and downs in a short reflection (that's what the memoir is for), but I do have a couple of thoughts. When your mother said wear clean underwear in case you ever get in an accident, she was on to something.  How we present to other people determines a lot about how our life will go. One of my father's admonitions was, "There is no excuse for being rude."  Being a jerk does not usually enhance your profile or your life. If seventy years has taught me anything, it's that the golden rule is more than a platitude on a plaque hanging on the kitchen wall.

          My father did not personify perfection, but he had several admirable qualities.  Another of his sayings came from the Brits (use the appropriate accent), "Everything matters, but nothing matters terribly." Or to quote an American parallel, "Don't get your panties in a wad!"  Slow and steady, with an understanding that at times life is going to crap on you, gets the job done. You can regularly use angst and histrionics to get to the finish line first, but behind you is nothing but scorched earth, and you have probably  peeled a few years off your life.  This is why many high achievers drop dead in their forties and fifties.  I may have been a turtle, but I left a lot of burned out hares by the side of the road.

          Seventy years have shown me that if you don't have a spiritual center, you're just an empty husk. Gotta believe in something larger than yourself. My first thirty years were roiled with questions about how I fit in the world's fabric. Did I exist for any purpose?  Was my name any more meaningful than just a scrawl at the bottom of a check?  Then the big guy, God, got hold of me. A large dollop of grace and a plan for my life. Huge improvement. I was no longer speeding toward a cliff with brakes that didn't work. Now, not everything turns up lollipops and rainbows, but with the Son of God riding shotgun, the journey makes more sense, now and for eternity.

          Another key life lesson: you don't have to become your parents when raising your own kids.  If you came from a Beaver Cleaver family, great, but most of us didn't.  My parents kept me clothed, fed and housed, but emotional support was parsimoniously given.  No hugs; I just took up space. With our kids, the wife and I turned a lot of pages. Plenty of hugs and encouragement. Involvement in their sports and school activities.  They may have been little people, but they were people.  The big payoff: family dinners without cell phones.

          When I was twenty-two, I remember thinking, with wonder, that I might still be alive at the turn of a new century.  What would have happened by that point in my life?  In the years that followed? What would be my legacy? Well, the word legacy is overvalued.  While I hope that I will be  kindly thought of  by those I leave behind, my physical imprint will be just a pile of dust. And  my name won't be on the side of a building or on a park sign, but it will be  clearly written in God's Book of Life. So now, I take a deep breath, exhale and carefully mull over much that has been deposited in a seventy year memory bank.

The Graveyard of Good Eats

         One way of defining lives is what goes in our stomachs. There is that old bromide, "You are what you eat." A slight variation of this might be, "You are where you eat."  Do you have champagne tastes on a beer budget?  Or are you comfortable in the slough of a meat and potatoes diet? Over the years a certain number of restaurants become family favorites and create enduring memories. And over the years many of those places cease to exist. Our own family story shows the downside of really liking eateries that then end up in the proverbial garbage pail.

          I want to start out with a positive. Kathy and I met at a church singles breakfast at Village Inn, a chain restaurant that focuses primarily on the breakfast and lunch trade. We are still a couple almost forty years later, and bless their crepes, that Village Inn is still functioning, if more than a little worn for wear. Unfortunately the same can not be said of the staying power for most other such places we used to frequent.

          While the following list of now closed gastronomical establishments may be unfamiliar to many, the common associations may ring a few bells.

           Googs - Mid priced dinner house where I was a server. Took care of a three month  ladies bowling congress. Had to really pump them for tips. Lousy name for a restaurant.

          Carlos Murphy's - Irish Mexican restaurant in the old train depot. Kathy turned green when they brought combo plate with refried beans. She had recently moved from Ohio.

          Ponderosa Steakhouse - Buffet style - family friendly. Kathy and I went there the night of our engagement. A diamond in the rough.

          Lamplighter - Tucson favorite along old motel row. Stuck in the forties. Went night of our marriage. First time I said, "My wife will have ..."

          The Good Earth - Kind of a health food nirvana with lots of whole grains and eggs from free range chickens. Ambience was California hip.  Went under because of a trademark dispute.

          Bobby Mcgee's - Servers dressed up in costumes. Food just adequate, but getting served by Wonder Woman made up for it. Closed before our kids could experience being served by the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

          Piccadilly - Southern based cafeteria chain. Kids ate cheap. Always got take home containers when our crumb crunchers were small. Never knew if they would throw a hissy fit and we had to leave quickly.

          Coco's - Value priced chain. Kids would crumble saltines while sitting in high chair. Uber mess and revenge for my own time as a server.

          Sirloin Stockade - All you can eat, buffet style. Our kids loved it, but it went broke with folks going back for their fifth helping. Was turned into an office complex for urologists. Some kind of weird karma there.

          Swensen's Ice Cream Parlor - Was part of a large shopping mall.

Where you went with the kids when your dogs got tired. Great banana splits, but that toy train going round and round and round? Arrgggg! Place got traded out for a health and fitness store. Irony!

          Lunt Ave Marble Club - Funky name, great deep dish pizza, giant drinking glasses that resembled pots for plants. Not a marble in sight.

          China Rose - Yep, a Chinese restaurant. Great egg rolls and moo shu beef. Our two year old son cried very loudly after grandpa gave him spicy yellow mustard. Torn down and replaced by an auto body shop, trading rice for grease.

          Long John Silvers - A national chain. The only fish Kathy would eat because it was so heavily breaded, it didn't taste like fish. Loved the hushpuppies. Our youngest had a horrific poopy dipes episode there. Local stores closed over franchise disputes.

          Mimi's Cafe - Classy breakfast. New Orleans motif. Soft jazz, French lace table cloths, vibrant flower beds, Kate the super server. Change in corporate ownership. Switch to rock and roll, no tablecloths, no flowers, no Kate. Place finally bulldozed. Put up a drive through coffee stand.

          The Solarium - Lots of glass walls, water features and wood accents. Held my parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary dinner there. The next week the place burned to the ground. Kind of like their marriage.

          Mcmahon's Steakhouse - Very pricey. Their idea of a salad was a quarter head of raw lettuce sitting on a plate. They bellied up. Ya think?

          Marie Callender's - The pie place. Also had fill you up sandwiches and a decent salad bar. Started looking like a worn shoe. Chain went bankrupt. Didn't sell enough rhubarb pies.

          Anthony's in the Catalinas - Also very pricey, but at least their salad added a few carrots. Great for really special occasions. Extensive wine list. No MD 20/20 or Thunderbird. Went down because owner convicted of cooking the books.

           You undoubtedly have your own list of restaurants now consigned to the empty cupboards of history. They say nothing good lasts forever.  At the very least you can remember that first taste of linguini or that last savor of a medium rare steak at some long gone eatery. Now it's time to discover that new food emporium. Bon appétit.   

                                                                    

Citizen!

           I was invited by a British colleague to the ceremony for him to become an American citizen. It was held in a large wood paneled courtroom at a spanking new federal building. Around fifty people were being "citizenized." The inductees, in Sunday best, were grouped in the front of the courtroom. In the back, the ceremony was being witnessed by a large collection of family and friends. I was sitting on a hard wooden bench with a Polish guy on my left who was holding flowers for his wife, a soon to be American. To my right sat an older Hispanic  woman, all in black, who was working rosary beads as her husband and others took the oath of citizenship.

          A world weary judge admonished the inductees to not screw up this opportunity; vote as if your life depended on it. A video played with stirring music and patriotic visuals of flag waving, amber fields of grain and Mt. Rushmore. Another video had President Trump congratulating the new Americans, "You are hugely important, hugely, to making this country really great."  Finally, the oath of allegiance was read in a glaring monotone by a stick thin female clerk at the front of the room.  Thankfully, the participants were much more animated as they repeated the oath, their right hand raised. The oath basically said that new citizens would be all in for the good old USA, and would defend it if needed.  Probably not politically correct, but at the end of the oath, the folks agreed to do this, "so help me God." Following the oath and a moving recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance,  each newly mintied citizen received a certificate of naturalization, as relatives crowded around to take photos. A little chaotic, but hey, this is hugely important. Glad that I was there to support my friend and the other new citizens.

           Depending on the time and place, officially being a citizen can be a big deal.  During the Roman empire, claiming citizenship got you props: ability to vote, advantages before the law, freedom from certain taxation, you couldn't be whipped or tortured. The apostle Paul got out of a few jams because he could claim Roman citizenship, having been born in Tarsus, a "free" city, which was under the control of  Rome. Modern nation states began to form in Europe in the 17th century. It was a matter of pride whether you saw yourself as French, German or an Englishman (women had almost no rights as citizens). European wars were often over territory so that there was more room for a country's growing citizen population. Hitler was focused on a new Germanic empire which would encompass most of the world. He wanted Herr Franz to open a Nazi uniform store in Brooklyn.

          Being called "citizen" can be a two edged sword.  During the French revolution, Citizen Jean and the rest of  the hoi polloi got hold of the government and offed the king, the queen and most of the nobility. But during the Reign of Terror these citizen leaders of the revolution turned on themselves and quite a few got an unwanted visit to the same guillotine where Marie Antoinette lost more than her cake. Native Americans were "citizens" of their particular tribes with plenty of cultural rights, but the white man came along and made the Indians worth less than dirt (they were after their lands). It wasn't until 1924 that Native Americans were given U.S. citizenship. Women had finally attained the vote, constitutionally, in 1920. Now they both could vote for the corrupt power structure. 

          As a welcoming gift, I got my "new citizen" friend a blue polo shirt with a raised American flag on the left breast, right over the heart.  May he always be aware of the good far outweighing the bad in America's long journey.

Out of Place

            As I step in the shower and turn on the water, I notice in one corner, a tiny frog, about the size of a nickel.  How did it get past the glass door? Is there a way that it came out of the drain? Whatever path the frog took, it is certainly out of place in a big way. That makes one consider other places and situations where there is a sense of not belonging, of being "out of water."

          Growing up, many kids experience situations where they feel alienated in some way. They don't possess certain desirable toys or stylish clothing. Depending on the era, they don't have the right phonograph, cassette or CD player or their smart phone/tablet is off brand.  You are what you consume. This goes beyond things, to personality and who you run with. In high school, there is a hope to be part of the in crowd, or if not, at least hang with the jocks or the greasers. Nerds tend to operate on their own island, marooned with abilities that will eventually make them money but probably won't get them a date to the prom. Feeling out of place is even more endemic with the barrage of social media now telling kids that they don't measure up to shifting ideals.

          As adults, rugged individualism was supposed to be a positive trait; however, the lemming model is usually more revered. Go along to get along, as the edge of the cliff looms nearer and nearer. You are out of place if you alone stand on the street corner shouting, "The emperor has no clothes," while there are thunderous cheers from the crowd as the royal carriage passes by.  While traditional societal values continue to fracture, opening up more acceptable "alternatives," it may seem ironic that alienation is ever increasing. But it can be hard to fit in when rules and expectations are inscribed on the walls of sand castles.

          Still, being out of place has its benefits.  Many geniuses; be they great inventors, incredible musicians, artists, or entrepreneurs, did not fit in with societal norms. They are and were outliers, marching to a different drummer whose rat tat tatting helped them churn society in a positive way.  These brilliant iconoclasts often have prickly personalities and/or strange personal habits.  Einstein couldn't tie his shoes; Van Gogh thought he only needed one ear. Even if you are in the Joe Un-average category, there are benefits to not fitting in. You can pursue your own muse without catering to the boring regimen of those around you. Drive a restored Edsel rather than a Lexus. Wear only clothes that you buy at the Goodwill store.  Put peanut butter on your bananas (an Elvis thing).

          During my college teaching career I was big on cowboy hats, boots and vests (I have almost thirty). I carried my office with me on a hand cart. Was plugged into a fifteen year old iPod classic. Drove a Buick old geezer car before I was an old geezer.  I was out of place, but in place with my comfort level. I rocked the idiosyncrasies.

          After my shower, I get a small container and flip the little frog into it.  I take him outside, put him in the grass and hope he will make it through the day without a lizard viewing him as lunch. Because just making it through the day is more than enough.

Guarding the Unicorns

    As we cycle through life on this spinning orb, most of us come to know that the time is too short, that we will be checking out before many of our big plans/dreams are realized.  We have that bucket list, but even then, most of it won't be fulfilled.  Life has often dealt us a bad hand. This creates a conundrum.  Do we only grieve for our broken lives, for the failures, for all the good that will not be done, or do we remember those moments throughout life that created awe and wonder? Are we guarding the unicorns?
    Many years ago I was in personal crisis and working a temporary landscaping job. the company where I was managing editor had gone bankrupt. A seven year marital relationship had imploded in a fireball; not even the ashes were left.  Future prospects seemed dim. As I began planting a flower bed just after a rainstorm, sun rays highlighted a group of rose and violet petunias. For a few seconds, I was mesmerized by their beauty and grateful for the image. A ripple of light.  All of us should have those times that we can embrace and then file away in a mental scrapbook, to be recalled when the darkness threatens.
    You are riding a Greyhound bus from point A to point B. You have just experienced the devastating loss of a close family member. The weather outside matches your mood; bleak with little sign of lifting. The bus seat is uncomfortable. This trip will not end soon. As you begin to nod off, a woman a couple of rows back begins to quietly sing, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  At this time, at this moment, it is what you needed to hear. A ripple of light.
    A young soldier has served overseas in a combat zone for fifteen months.  Unending heat and dust.  Death. The unknown of IEDs and sudden ambushes.  The swoop of fighter jets in response. The Dear John letter comes one month before return to the real world. Three years of dating and one engagement ring up in smoke.  The young soldier disembarks at a hometown airport.  He is met by a girl who was a classmate in high school. He had almost forgotten about her. She is smiling broadly. A ripple of light.
    You have been on a camping trip. The family dog has disappeared. Lost among the tall pines. You spend hours frantically looking for the dog without luck.  The children are devastated.  You return home, having left your phone number at the ranger station. Nothing. Two weeks later at 3 am you hear a whining and scratching at the back door.  It is the dog, worse for wear. It has traveled forty miles and found its way home. A ripple of light.
    She has worked for the same company for almost twenty years.  Invested most of her waking hours into being exceptional at her job. Gets a pink slip out of the blue.  Company's operations moving to China.  No farewell party.  She sends out hundreds of resumes. Nothing. Savings almost gone.  Out of the blue a former college roommate calls.  Wants her to run the business end of an online startup for pet needs. Begin next week. A ripple of light.
    The block you live on has just been devastated by a sudden tornado.  Miraculously your house is unscathed. There is even power. You don't know many of your neighbors by name, mostly just faces.  You open your home to those who have lost everything but their lives.  You make coffee and sandwiches. A family arrives at your door. A small child is clutching a wet teddy bear. He thrusts the bear towards you, says it wants a cookie. A ripple of light.
    Your elderly father is in poor health. You drive him, probably for the last time, to visit his surviving sibling. It is in the mountains, away from everything. The two of them reminisce about old times. Mostly good, some very bad. A real history lesson. Your father can't sleep that night. He asks you to take him outside. Both of you slowly walk to a nearby field. You hold him close, feel his warmth. You both look up. The sky full of a billion stars. A cascade of light.  You are guarding the unicorns.
 

Erasing History

        The vile participants of the march in Charlottesville are justly condemned. Since the ensuing violence, there has been an intense push to rid the country of any positive reference to the Confederacy or those who led and fought for it. The immediate response has been to remove statues honoring Confederate "heroes." Somehow these actions are expected to heal a nation that many feel is racked by racism and an endemic hate. It is unclear that this purifying will have the intended consequence. Rather we are creating a slippery slope which will rid America of any reference to unpleasant facts in our long history. Human beings are flawed. They do bad things; many of which are inexcusable as seen through a modern prism. However, are we really better off cancelling the participants from our history rather than keeping their "sins" accessible in the public square so that we can learn and grow as a country from these failings?
          Besides erasing most of our founding fathers, others must receive a similar hit. Taken to its logical conclusion, Andrew Jackson should be eviscerated from our history because of his attempt to solve the "Indian problem" by moving tribes West on the Trail of Tears, a form of ethnic genocide. Give no thought to his heroics in fighting the British during the War of 1812 or the many positives of his presidency. Rename the towns, cities and colleges named after him. Custer was clearly a bad dude, who got his just desserts at Little Big Horn. But that is not enough. His name also graces towns, parks and monuments. The Custer battlefield should now be the Sitting Bull battlefield. The winners write history.
          FDR was responsible for the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. A dark stain on the national fabric. The good done by the New Deal cannot make up for this. Any reference to FDR must go. Woodrow Wilson was a racist, a cringe worthy flaw. So what if he pushed, unsuccessfully, for American participation in a League of Nations which would try to stop further war after the horrors of WWI. Senator Joseph McCarthy fomented a witch hunt going after Communists in government, "the Red scare." Obliterate him from our history. No cautionary tales worth keeping there. Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace after Watergate. Give him no credit for an opening to China or trying to end the Vietnam war. Bulldoze his presidential library and the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. These are the tactics of ISIS.
          The point is this. We wish that throughout history men and women would always listen to their better angels. However, the way we are wired, this is never going to happen. Human failings are built into the cake. Better to learn from them as part of the American experiment rather than erase them from our consciousness. We are on a path to have our history books filled with blank pages. Never forget that profundity by George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Electronic Hell

       So I'm trying to copy some music from a CD to my iTunes file. The first part goes ok, but then I try to create a new playlist for the music, and it won't let me drag and drop like I've done in the past. Is this a new version of iTunes? Have I just gotten dumber than I already am? I switch to the podcast section, and again I'm suddenly in a format that I don't want.  The electronic gods are messing with me.

          I check in on Face Book, a guilty pleasure.  I have three years of notifications I am unable to delete.  Why do they make me keep these things?  When I try to revise my security settings, I first need to self-identify my gender.  There are fifty-two choices to choose from. Huh? What happened to male and female?

          There is an important news site on my computer that no longer loads properly.  I go through all the protocols suggested by the help tab on the browser. No dice.  I call up my computer savvy son.  He can't figure it out.  The problem only happens on my computer.  The site loads on my smart phone but the print is so small I will get squint lines.  I try to clear old messages on the cell phone.  Won't work.  These guys must be hooked up with Face Book.

          A program keeps loading repeats on my DVR.  I only want first run versions of this particular show. Ok, it's a stupid machine, but why provide me with programming choices if they are just a mirage?  How many times would I want to watch the same episode of the dog whisperer?

          The onboard computer in my car tells me to check my engine. Something ain't right.  I take it to my mechanic. He runs a diagnostic check, Has to do with the emissions system. I fork over two hundred bucks to have a five dollar replacement part installed.  A week later the check engine light comes back on.  Mechanic clears it.  Comes back on. I put black tape over the glowing engine icon on my dash display.  Problem solved.

          What if there were a time and place where I didn't have to spend so much of my short life in electronic hell? It's fifty years ago: I am a sophomore in college. My music choices are limited.  There are two top forty stations on the transistor radio, or I can play a 45 or LP on my box like portable record player. Easy choices.  I need to call home. I know when mom will be available; there are no answering machines. There is one phone available, on the wall at the end of the hall in our dorm section.  It works if some drunk hasn't beat it up over the weekend. 

          I write letters to a couple of out of state friends, then it's time to get an afternoon paper from the dispenser in front of the dorm.  Most of the news is more than a day old, but Hey!, the world doesn't move that fast anyway.  That evening I go to the dorm's common area to watch Star Trek with some other fans.  The school just installed color sets. Awesome! If I miss this episode, can't see it again for years until the show goes into syndication. The next day, my roommate wants help changing the spark plugs and setting the points in his car. Doesn't take long, plenty of working space. Engine compartments haven't really been updated in years.

          I have this recurrent dream where Marty McFly comes by my college dorm in the DeLorean. He has the time gizmo set for 2017. I say, "Marty, don't do it! It's a terrible trap!"  Marty goes anyway, and I am left standing on the sidewalk, desperately clutching a TV Guide and the Beatles' Rubber Soul album.

Pot Pies

          In 1980 I was back in Virginia for a few months.  I was living in a boarding house, had a room at the top of the stairs.  We were free to use the kitchen, and one night I cooked a Banquet beef pot pie.  When I dug into it I realized there was only a top crust, no crust on the sides or the bottom.  It was a great disappointment. Who makes a pot pie with only crust on the top?

          Recalling this experience reminds me that while life is to be savored and viewed as the glass being at least half full, there are still many small irritants that we must deal with.  Things we have no control over. What ticks us off varies from person to person, so while my list may be idiosyncratic to me, the general concept of discomfort still applies.

          I was an only child, so I didn't like people messing with my stuff. Everything had to be just so. When I was about eight,  friends of my parents dropped off their seven year old son to spend the night. I was not informed this was going to happen, and the kid went through my room like a hurricane. It took me a week to get things back in order, and I begged my parents to never let any other kid sleep over without my permission. A little dramatic? First borns or singletons will understand.

          Back in college, during the dark ages, I was working on an important research paper.  Physical card catalogs, no personal computers or smart phones.  Journals and magazines only accessible in the library stacks.  I need one article from a particularly esoteric journal to complete my research. In a musty corner on the fifth floor I find the particular bound journal I am looking for. Eureka!  I turn to the needed pages; THEY HAVE BEEN RIPPED OUT!  Some idiot couldn't bother to just photo copy what was needed. It will take two weeks for me to have replacement pages sent from an out of state library. Arrggggh!

          I am a training officer with a basic training company at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. The recruits have just come off the range and are returning their weapons to the armory. All except private snuffy. Where is private snuffy and his weapon? Two hours later, still no private snuffy. I am responsible for this guy. My ruined military career passes before my eyes. Finally after a frantic search, he turns up. His girlfriend was visiting from out of state, so he hopped in a car with her to go off post to get a burger.  Of course he keeps his weapon with him. All of this is unauthorized.  Thankfully, with his return, my career has been salvaged, and snuffy is no longer a private or has any connection with the U.S. military.

          My rear brakes start squeaking. Pads and rotors are new, so why this problem?  The tech makes adjustments. Works fine for a week, then squeaks again. New adjustment, new pads. Squeaks after a week. The brake gods are laughing.  One year of squeaks later, I finally have them try aftermarket hardware that is not recommended.  Works like a champ. No more squeaks. So much for expert advice.

          The DVR is set to record a National Geographic special: Shrunken Heads of the Amazon.  Fill the cranium with cool info. However, there was apparently a lightning storm during the transmission which disrupted the satellite feed. Half the program is random pixels.  I search everywhere for a rebroadcast. Not there. Am very unhappy. Only option is to spend $25 on the hard copy video from Amazon (ironic?).  Do I really care that much about shrunken heads?  Maybe just watch a program on greased pig races.

          We all must deal with similar bugaboos throughout life.  Hopefully they are frequently balanced out by things that do go right.  In my sunset years I have found a Marie Callender's beef pot pie that has a thick crust: top sides and bottom.  Now if I can just figure out what keeps tripping the stupid smoke alarm...

I Love My Shirt

         There is that old chestnut, "Clothes make the man (or woman)."  What we wear, frequently says a lot about our personality, whether casual clothing or work attire.  Do you dress for success, acutely aware of the image you project?  Or do you just dress, throwing on any old thing to protect you from the elements or because wearing clothes is a social norm.  In either case, there are probably certain pieces of clothing that have a special place in your heart; that foster a sense of well being when worn or looked at.

          In the stone age, Gronk probably had a mastodon skin shirt that he liked better than the saber tooth jacket that his wife Hunga made for him. Of course if you only owned two or three pieces of clothing, picking your favorite was simple enough. However if you were Louis XIV, it might be a little harder to pick a favorite shirt out of the hundreds that had been made for you. So much to wear, so little time as you paraded down the hall of mirrors at Versailles.

          Favorite clothes don't usually involve items that constrict or restrain. The ladies expressed great relief when the winds of fashion deep sixed corsets and layers of petticoats.  Men were glad when three piece suits and starched collars where no longer de rigueur for business transactions. Most kids hated school uniforms because it stifled their individuality (precisely the point).  Clothes that are meaningful to us have to engender that personal connection.

          I like to dress comfortably and wear things that match, but I have never been a fashion maven.  My one indulgence is vests. That's right vests. In my hippie days I started out with a top hat and two discarded blue suit vests which I got at a Goodwill in Berkeley. Over the years I have acquired many more vests and am now pushing thirty.  Blue ones, black ones, tan, brown, white and maroon. I wore vests regularly during my teaching career (Why does Mr. Matte wear so many vests?), and they still pop up regularly at Sunday church services. While vests as a group are my favorite clothes, other individual items make the greatest hits list.

          I have this sweatshirt from college. It has the University of Florida logo on it and is faded out and full of holes. I probably haven't worn it in thirty years, but it hangs in my closet in case I ever want to put it on, reliving forgotten youth.  The Eagles are one of my favorite musical groups. Visiting Winslow, Arizona, I found a t-shirt featuring the line, "standing on a corner" from the song "Take It Easy." I love that t-shirt. Should have bought more than one. There is this brown leather bomber jacket that has a name patch with infantry insignia that commemorates my Army days.  The way it crinkles when I move... 

          The point is that favorite clothes often help us remember a time, place or event that has real meaning, no matter how ephemeral the moment. Life may seem like it's in the crapper, but if I can go in the closet and put on my favorite jeans, that special shirt and a pair of well worn boots, topped off by a sweat stained ball cap; maybe things aren't so bad after all.  

Father's Day

         Some see Father's Day as a sop to those ticked because mother's get all the attention on their day in May. But most dads want the world to know that they are more than sperm donors, though some in the modern feminist movement would be happy with that limited categorization. In the U.S., it wasn't until 1972 that Father's Day was recognized as an official holiday. Tricky Dickey was trying to do a good thing before Watergate fell on his head. Unofficially, a day to honor fathers has been around in this country since the early 1900s.  Probably about the same time Hallmark started spewing out an unending line of greeting cards.

          So exactly what is so great about dad that we set aside the third Sunday in June to give him a fishing rod or a tire iron with his name engraved on it?  It used to be that a father was the sole breadwinner in the family and thus provided a roof over your head, decent clothes and something in the pantry. His ability to do this was worth celebrating. In today's fractured world, most families, if intact, have two earners. The little woman has to supplement the income because of major changes in the economy. Dad doesn't go off to the same high paying job for thirty years. No more gold watches or company funded pensions. You can work for the government for thirty years, but by the end you are so brain dead that playing dominos in the park is a challenge.

          Enough of the negativity.  Dads come in all shapes and sizes and run the personality scale. Wife beater t-shirts to Armani suits.  Beer to bourbon, F 150s to Ferraris. The key thing is how do they treat the distaff side and the kids. Are they a Norman Rockwell painting or do they lean towards Sons of Anarchy? Honoring a father who actually listens to his wife and spends more than five minutes a day with the kids does seem like a good idea. This can also be a good prescription for avoiding divorce and not having your progeny grow up to be drugged out hulks. Family vacations can help cement positive relationships if you don't go to Wally World with the Griswolds.

          My own journey as a father required a few bumps in the road. I was an only child so didn't understand the sibling thing.  My parents were preoccupied and emotionally distant, thus my parental modeling was severely deficient. Before my first child was born, I had to spend a few sessions in the church nursery to see what kids were like. Did they first speak at six months or six years? How did you talk to a child? Gibberish or grownup words?  Thankfully, with the help of an understanding wife and Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, I took to the fatherhood thing and avoid many of the negatives associated with my own childhood. I even coached my sons in a soccer league though I didn't know the difference between a goalie and a goldfish. We drove the Oregon Trail on a family vacation with two teenagers and everyone survived (the Indians were busy running their casinos).

          So, having a special day for fathers is maybe not such a bad idea.  Give Dad the card and the present but realize that what's really important happens the other 364 days of the year.

Memorial Day 2017

In May of 2017 a young man graduated from college and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army.  A month previously, the United States had declared war on Germany after multiple provocations including the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats. This young man and many others would soon be going "over there" to become one ofa million American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen to be involved in World War I.

          One hundred years later, we again remember those who served and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation.  On Memorial Day we pay homage to over three million men and women who have been killed and wounded in American wars.  The spilling ofblood and treasure that has helped keep us safe for almost two hundred and fifty years.

          The Great War, World War I, was to be the war to end all wars, so horrific was its destruction, both to military personnel and the millions of displaced civilians.  Europe had exploded, and America was desperate not to become involved.  However, after Germany's resumption in 1917 ofunlimited submarine attacks on passenger and merchant ships in the Atlantic, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany and later,  Germany's ally Austria-Hungary. From America's entry in the war in April 1917 to the armistice on November 11, 1918 over 2.8 million men were drafted into the American military.

          The infusion ofAmerican troops helped break the stalemate on the Western Front. The names of the battles and campaigns have resonated through history: the Marne, the Somme, Belleau Wood,  Chateau-Thierry, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne.  However, none of these victories came without tremendous costs.  In only nineteen months ofU.S. involvement, 53 thousand Americans were killed and over 200,000 wounded. To put this in perspective, around 52 thousand Americans were killed in the ten years of the Vietnam War. Defending freedom, no matter the time or place, always exacts a high price.    

          Those who serve, to protect us all, are the bulwark of the American experiment, a nation founded on the premise that the individual can make a real difference with God given gifts.  Memorial Day makes us remember that true freedom requires eternal vigilance and accompanying sacrifice.

          The young soldier mentioned at the beginning of this reflection was my grandfather, Paul J. Matte.  After serving on the battlefields of WW I, he went on to a long military career including service in WW II. His service established a tradition where four generations of Matte men, including my father and I, have been in uniform, in war and peace, for ninety out of the last one hundred years. My wife's father and brother also served proudly during this period.  My oldest son, currently posted to an airborne unit, served in Africa and has jumped out of planes over various countries in Europe.

          Without the support of those in this great land, no man or woman in uniform can effectively carry out their sacred responsibilities. I close with a quote from General of the Armies John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing, most famous as the commander of the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front in World War I.

The point I wish to make is that many things cause the soldier to remember that the people at home are behind him. You do not know how much that is going to mean to us who are going abroad. You do not know how much that means to any soldier who is over there carrying the flag for his country.

          May God continue to bless the United States of America.

At The Hop

      Where were you in ’62?

          In a Back to the Future moment the wife and I recently attended a retro concert: The Doo Wop Project. Five guys wearing skinny ties and black shark skin suits. Incredible harmony and synchronized dance moves are king. They were reliving the glory days of doo wop, mid 50s to early 60s.  The audience was mostly over 60, but the energy level of the crowd and performers harkened back to long lost youth.

          The guys reprise such iconic classics as "Remember Then," "I Wonder Why," "I Only Have Eyes For You" and "Itty Bitty Pretty One." They also do early Four Seasons, such as "Sherry" since most of them at one point appeared on Broadway in Jersey Boys. The joint is absolutely hoppin'.

          Spring 1962. The jr. high sock hop at George S. Patton Jr. Jr. High School (not a typo folks).  I spend forty-five minutes combing my hair (I had some back then).  My penny loafers gleam and my madras sports coat, a size too small, hugs my chest. Having just learned how to tie the thing, my maroon tie is a bit askew. Clearasil covers my zits and, hopefully, Old Spice deodorant and cologne will do wonders for how I smell. Dad drops me off at the front door of the gym, and I prepare to brave the uncertainties of the teenage social scene.

          Boys languorously cover one wall; girls with big hair and full skirts huddle in animated groups on the opposite wall. A local band of high school kids are forever tuning their instruments and yelling "test!" and "check, check!"  Finally, the band kicks in with "Let Me In" by the Sensations. They then segue into "Blue Moon" by the Marcels. A few guys have asked girls to dance. Other girls continue to chatter in small groups or dance with each other on the fringes of the gym floor.  I have been keeping an eye out for a female classmate who might put up with my awkward dance moves, but she has not yet arrived.  There is a large punch bowl filled with some watery red substance.  It is an excuse to move away from the wall.  I hold a Dixie cup and a handful of pretzels.  The band finishes up with Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow by the Rivingtons and then goes slow with "You Belong To Me" by the Duprees.

          My classmate finally arrives in a cloud of pink taffeta.  She is a few inches taller than me, not unusual in jr. high. After some stumbling conversation, she agrees to put up with my clammy hands on the dance floor. After a couple of songs, I get her some watery punch and a gooey brownie made by one of the teachers who is a chaperone.  I don't know if I'm in love, but I do know that talking to a girl for more than a couple of minutes is a major victory. And she actually responds to what I am saying! After taking a much needed break, the band moves into new territory with "Sherry" by the Four Seasons and "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" by Neil Sedaka.  I never get to break up with my classmate because her parents later determine that she is too young to date.  This will be a big disappointment for a socially challenged fourteen year old. However, tonight I am just reveling in the moment.

          Fifty-five years later, gray heads bounce to the bewitching beat of The Doo Wop Project as they finish their performance with on point versions of"Gloria" and "Speedo." Five guys whose footwork, hand movements and harmony are always in sync. The sheer pleasure of reviving joyful music that speaks to a much simpler time.

          As we exit into the desert night air, I almost expect to see Dad ready to pick me up in his '57 Bel Air, a warm bed and hopeful future awaiting me.

Lazy Days

          When trying to figure out what constitutes a lazy day, it may be helpful to look at a standard definition for "lazy": disinclined to activity or exertion,  not energetic or vigorous, encouraging inactivity or indolence.  So a lazy day is one where you basically do nothing.  For hours, you lie in a hammock, float in the pool, stay in bed. Is it possible, however, to also extend the definition to what actually seems to be energetic activity?

          The idea of wallowing in inertia as a way to spend my lazy day has  never been appealing to me. Sitting on a dock or a river bank for days with a cane fishing pole is anathema. Laying on the beach results in having grains of sand everywhere. Curling up with a good book/kindle for hours is paralyzing. What is going on in the rest of the world while I'm buried in a book? Same thing with TV. Binge watching a ten hour series sounds more like visual torture than pleasure. Some would see a lazy day as going on a twenty mile bike ride. I see sunburn and painfully sore muscles.

          My idea of a lazy day is anything other than work, where I can cram in as much in as possible. Walk the dog, check mail and news updates on-line. Go to the bank, the hardware store, the grocery. Come home; take a power nap. Blow the front porch. Add pool chemicals. Check news updates. Write for thirty minutes. Feed the dog. Start dinner. Water plants. Check email. Talk to the wife for five minutes. Channel surf two hours of TV, including sports highlights. Go to bed. This is how I relax. 

          If someone ever offered me a free seven day cruise, with the chance to endlessly rearrange the deck chairs and indolently eat until I explode, I would pass in a nana second. A boat to nowhere is not my idea of a good time.  Rather, give me a day with a new activity every fifteen minutes. I would be like a pig in slop on steroids. That's my lazy day.

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

         We are use to having something go wrong in our lives on a regular basis, but every once in a while a tsunami of  frustration descends on us in short order. Not long ago I had the privilege of experiencing such a day.

          I had just received a bill for $1,500 from my wife's health care provider. It was supposed to be covered by insurance. I called the provider. Not their problem. I called the secondary insurer. Nothing to see here. I called Medicare. It's our problem but it's not our problem. Glitch in the system.

          I try to open e-mail for an important insurance document but the system is down. Attempting to get in three different ways is fruitless. The message says,  "We are sorry for the inconvenience. We appreciate your patience." Yeah, well I'd appreciate them hot footing it back on line.

          So, guess this is a good time to cut the grass. Only the riding mower won't start. Dead battery, assume it's bad. I call the battery store. No replacement in stock.  The lawn is screaming, "Cut me!"

          I go out the side gate to get to the garage to look for a battery charger. The gate won't shut properly. First time this has happened. I examine the gate. Repairs will require a socket wrench, a hammer and a lot of elbow grease.

          Maybe I can lower my blood pressure by doing something fun. I will print out a picture of our dog to send to a friend. I put photo paper in the printer tray. Hit print. Message reads, "Error, add paper to tray." I just did that. Add more paper. Hit print again.  Same message. Aaarghh!!

          So, do I just crawl in a hole and curse my existence? Might have been a short term solution, but I have to consider the long game.  Stuff happens; deal with it.  God is on my side.

          Turns out Medicare will send me paperwork which, theoretically, solves our billing problem. A modicum of hope.  The e-mail is back on line, but I still don't accept their apology. Under a pile of stuff in the garage, I find the battery charger.  Can cut the lawn in a few hours. Fix the gate in twenty minutes.  Good for a few hundred more swings. While the printer is still saying, "Add paper," I discover another way to print the dog picture using a 4X6 inch setting.

          Thus, the day has been somewhat redeemed. I get a celebratory soda out of the fridge. Only one left. Pop the tab. The pull part breaks off without opening the can. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.