Friends

Old friends
Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
On the high shoes
Of the old friends

Old friends
Winter companions
The old men
Lost in their overcoats
Waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city
Sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders
Of the old friends

Can you imagine us
Years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy

Old friends
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fear

Time it was
And what a time it was
It was . . .
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago . . . it must be . . .
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you

Old Friends. Paul Simon

Who knows where life will take us? We can only know where we are and where we have been.

And this is what I know. I am where I am because of the family I have and the friends I have enjoyed all my life.

We are moving on to a new chapter in life. Yet the friends I have are why I’ve had an amazing life and why they will always be close to my heart no matter the distance that separates us.

I don’t have to say the names…you know who you are.

Side-Effects

I’m not much of a TV watcher, I prefer the more intimate companionship of an enjoyable book (actually, seeing some of the stuff on TV, even a bad book is better.) But when we travel, I sometimes find myself drawn to the siren’s song of the remote and the beckoning of the giant screen often placed in every room of wherever we’re staying.

Most of the time, I can tolerate just a few moments of the “my six-hundred-pound real housewife of LA murder reality series” but sometimes I find an interesting show. Since most of the premium services sans commercials are not available without cost, I often watch those channels with ads from various companies.

My favorites are the medical advice commercials for various drugs to treat a host of ailments and their troubling side-effects.

The ad goes like this.

Scene 1: mature 60ish well past childbearing age couple running on the beach

Voice-0ver (normal speed, authoritative): Is your constipation keeping you from enjoying life? Now there’s FREETOGO from the researchers of Plaxo-Johnson-Poopmore.

Scene 2: Man emerges from bathroom, smiling, and runs to embrace his love with the knowing smile as their run toward the bedroom.

Voice over: (4x normal speech pattern, authoritative and serious) Cautionmaycausevomitingdiarrhearashacneheartattacknosebleedsloosestoolsbelchingflatulencelivermalfunctionexcessicehairgrowthorblindness. Nottobetakenifyouarepregnantorplanningtobecomepregnant.

First thing that pops into my mind is why would they use a male constipation sufferer if there is a risk to pregnant or planning-to-become-pregnant women? It troubles me to consider a medication from a company that apparently doesn’t understand basic reproductive process. Not to mention using actors well beyond childbearing age, let alone gender.

But clearly the most troubling aspect is the risk of dying from taking the medication treating something that could be dealt with in a less risky manner. Try eating a salad for goodness’ sake. Although I suppose if the medication doesn’t relax the bowels and allow things to emerge death will.

I am sure constipation is a painful condition but so is Cautionmaycausevomitingdiarrhearashacneheartattacknosebleedsloosestoolsbelchingflatulencelivermalfunctionexcessicehairgrowthorblindness.

You are free to go…

Oh, the Places You Will Go! (Apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Tempus Fugit, Time flies. What was my future will now be something my grandson sees as ancient history. It occurred to me, while looking over the latest images from the Webb telescope of far-off galaxies and exoplanets, that my grandson’s future is something almost unimaginable when compared to my own time as a wide-eyed 18-month-old bundle of possibilities.

In January 1958, when I was the same age as Levi, there were only two Satellites orbiting the earth. The Sputnik I was Russian made, weighed only a few pounds, broadcast for only three weeks, and burned up in the atmosphere on January 4, 1958. Sputnik 2 lasted 165 days in orbit before burning up. The first American Satellite, Explorer 1, didn’t launch until January 31, 1958.

It was a wake-up call for the USA and a major contributor to the cold war.

Today, there are thousands of satellites in orbit. Two American spacecraft, Voyage 1 and 2, have left the solar system and are now billions of miles into interstellar space. For Levi, the launch of a satellite won’t even be newsworthy unless it blows up, and he’ll miss the genuine drama of having a TV show cut off by, “We interrupt this broadcast….”

In 1958, the first passenger jet flight from New York to Paris took place. 11 crew members and 111 passengers. Flight time was 8 hours and 42 minutes with a fueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland, because the plane could not carry sufficient fuel for the entire flight.

Today, the Airbus 380-800 can carry a maximum of 853 passengers with a range of 8,208 miles without refueling..

In 1958, polio was a serious threat. Over the decades, the threat was eliminated, yet it once again has reared its ugly head. Levi is inoculated as part of the regular series of vaccinations given to children (at least by parents who are intelligent enough to ignore bad science about such medical matters) but he missed out on the exciting times when we got the sugar cube treatment for polio.

The changes seen since 1958 until today were unimaginable in that seemingly black and white world I was born into. Levi’s world is in some ways more expansive (in his lifetime travel to the moon or even perhaps Mars as a tourist option may be a reality) than mine, yet in some ways smaller thanks to the speed at which we can travel around the globe.

The possibilities of change, and the rapidity with which these changes occur, are almost unfathomable. Progress seems to expand exponentially over time.

His generation face challenges we only barely understood or could not envision. Nuclear weapons, climate change, and extreme radical philosophies all pose genuine threats to the survivability of this country and the world.

Yet, I have a strong faith in the ability of humans to correct the errors of their ways and find a path to not only survive, but to thrive.

When Levi is my age today, sixty-six years old, it will be the year 2087. Such a date seems more a title to a science fiction novel than an actual date. What the world will look like, what our exploration of the deepest recesses of the universe will have uncovered, what our scientific efforts will have produced, where we will be as a society and as a planet, all are unknowable to us. Yet I hope as he looks back on his life, he will have made many journeys, met many people, seen many things, and played his part in the future.

Oh, the places he will go…

Perspectives and Points of View

We all have our own perspectives and points of view in life. Often, we resist the opportunity to imagine what a different perspective might offer toward informing us of the flaws in our own. Instead, we cling tightly to that which is familiar and comfortable.

This tendency toward confirmation bias, embracing that which supports our point of view and ignoring or belittling that which contradicts it, leads to diminishing our ability to compromise and collaborate.

When one looks up at the night sky and sees Ursa Major, aka Big Dipper, Orion, or Cassiopeia, these sky shapes directly depend on our point of view. Travel some 10 to 100 light years away from the earth; these familiar forms are unrecognizable. (as a sideline, those enamored with astrology should bear that in mind. The astrological influences upon which the practice depends are unrecognizable in the overwhelming vastness of the universe.)

Perspective

It might do us good if we could take the time to look at things from a different perspective. Understanding those with different viewpoints is the first step toward compromise and progress.

I know this may infuriate many people, but one’s religious perspective—no matter how sincere it may be—is a product more of geography and, thus, perspective than any other basis. For example, if you are born into a family practicing a particular religion, you are more likely to adhere to such faith; historically, this was primarily geographic. Likewise, while not as certain, one’s political perspective exhibits a similar pattern.

We are all influenced by those who raise us and by those who we interact with. Suppose we ignore the opportunity to communicate with those of different backgrounds and perspectives. In that case, we risk diminishing our capacity to learn and expand our understanding of the many other points of view.

Our politics have become a zero-sum game. Our willingness to listen to different perspectives is now seen as a weakness. If our point of view does not dominate, we blame farcical conspiracies and invisible dark forces arrayed against us. All of which diminishes our society.

One does not have to agree with another’s perspective to understand it. One does not need to concede an error in your own perspective to see something from another point of view. One does not show weakness by allowing that others may have an equally valid, if different, point of view.

But remember that those constellations seen by humans for millennia are only there because of our perspective. They are not fixed in place, nor are they the same everywhere in the universe.

It’s time we remember some simple rules. No one ever accomplished anything of significance on their own. Every single advance by humankind resulted from cooperation, a blend of talents, perspectives, and ideas. Unless we embrace the philosophy of collaboration and compromise, we risk letting the divisions between us tear apart this country. A country based on diversity and differences.

Banning Books to Homogenize America

‘Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.’

George Orwell, 1984.

It would seem George Orwell was a bit off in his apparently mis-classified yet seminal work, 1984. The world he described took a bit longer to come to fruition and perhaps we should reclassify his work as a piece of future history.

Throughout the history of this country—which has prided itself on being the leader of the free world, a shining beacon of openness and inclusiveness, a standard by which all other countries should be judged—we claim to embrace our differences. Calling ourselves a melting pot of cultures and ideas all considered equally open to both discussion and inclusion, we stake our claim to being a free society.

Many of our citizens often point to the 2nd Amendment as a prime example of how we both embrace and enjoy our freedom by prohibiting the government from taking our firearms.

Apparently, that concept of freedom and openness does not extend to ideas. Now we have a significant number of Americans who seek to ban books because they are apparently even more dangerous than guns.

When Bob Dylan sang,

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
-Bob Dylan, The Times They are A’Changin’

I am willing to bet he had no idea how true those lines would still be to this day. Those who seek to criticize what they cannot (or more likely will not) understand merely parade their ignorance and narrow-mindedness to the world.

The list of fifty of the books in the sights of these modern-day zealots follows this article. While I haven’t read them all, I intend to.

The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.’

George Orwell, 1984.

Perhaps, as a voracious reader all my life stemming from the encouragement of my family and my teachers, I can assuage the angst of those who see banning ideas or depictions in books of the things they fear as a solution with this.

I have read books about Pirates; I did not become a pirate.

I have read books about cannibals; I did not become a cannibal.

I have read books about witches and warlocks; I did not become a warlock or a witch.

I have read books about Nazis; I did not become a Nazi.

I have read books about Roman Gladiators; I did not become a gladiator.

I have read books about Red Sox fans; I did not become a Red Sox fan.

I have read books about bigots; I did not become a bigot.

I have read books about totalitarian governments; I did not become a supporter of totalitarian governments.

I learned something from every single book I have read and it has made me a better human.

“The heresy of heresies was common sense.”

George Orwell, 1984.

Reading a book about that which we do not understand does not force us to become the subject of the book. What it can do is foster understanding so we can be empathetic to those deserving of our empathy and it can inform us to be aware of those who might subvert the freedoms we proclaim to embrace.

Destroying books to stop the spread of the ideas it contains is like building a dam on the beach with sand. Bad ideas or practices die in the light of intelligent and informed decision making.

Banning books that depict alternative lifestyles—lifestyles which may seem alien to us—won’t deter those who live those lives because they are not choices they are examples of the diversity of nature. Trying to suppress them based on some artificial, and often irrational and selective, moral or religious code accomplishes nothing.

It seems to me the overwhelming majority of books these misguided zealots seek to ban concern LGQBT issues. They apparently operate under the erroneous impression that it is reading about homosexuality that turns one into a homosexual. That’s like saying reading about geniuses would make you a genius. (If it did, I would buy them the book to enlighten their perspectives.)

The founding principals of this country are based on freedom of expression. One is free to write or read anything one likes as long as there is no intentional, unlawful, and deliberate harm to another. Misunderstanding those who are LGQBT does not constitute suffering harm. Instead of trying to ban human lifestyles that have existed since the evolution of Homo Sapiens (no pun intended) and a phenomenon that is not unique to humans but exhibited in other creatures as well, we should seek to understand not undermine out of ignorance.

‘The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth.’

George Orwell, 1984.

Before we reinvigorate Mr. Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a world, we need to let reason and rationality regain dominance in our actions. We need to educate our children in tolerance and understanding. We need to bear in mind that suppression of one group is always a precursor to suppression of many.

All people are created equal (look it up, I read it in a book) and deserve our respect.

“The heresies of heresies was common sense”

George Orwell, 1984.

Here is the list of books. https://www.listchallenges.com/top-50-banned-books-in-america. Ironically enough, 1984 did not make the list! My guess is they didn’t read it.

 I, for one, will endeavor to read each one and encourage my grandson to do the same when he is ready for such reading. Instead of banning books, we should be putting books in the hands of every child to replace the mindless video gaming with something that can lay the seed for a bright and accepting future.

Those who seek to suppress what they do not understand are cementing their own ignorance and perpetuating the most dangerous of human behaviors.

Shattered Glass Shattered Memories

I have always had a visceral reaction to shattered glass. Not out of any particular phobia or sense of loss. Not out of any particular apprehension of injury or stitches. But the sound triggers a memory buried deep within my subconscious.

Many years, neigh decades, ago, I was a carefree four or five-year-old living on Robinson Avenue in Pawtucket, RI. when something that can only be explained as a moment of weakness took place through the actions of my father.

He brought home a German Shepherd puppy. Demonstrating the future brilliance of my then undeveloped creative skills, I named the puppy Shep.

I know, sheer brilliance in its originality.

The puppy was my sole focus for many weeks. Living in a tenement house, the selection of a dog that could grow to 90 or 100 pounds may not have been the wisest of choices, but for me, it was the best thing in the world.

The dog slept in a garage next to the house. I have no memory of this, but I would suspect it was the garage for either the dog or my father at my mother’s insistence. Every morning, I would rush out to feed the dog and play with him in the backyard.

I am not sure the dog ever came into the house. That part of the memory is forever missing, but I know he was the center of my life.

One day, after rushing out to feed him, I found Shep lying on the ground, lethargic and whimpering. Not knowing what to do, I ran to the one person I thought could fix this: my mother. She and my father, then just getting ready for his return to the Rhode Island State Police Barracks where troopers stayed back then during their tours of duty, came out to examine the dog.

From this point, the memory clouds. The last I saw Shep, my father was taking him away. The once exuberant puppy had the saddest eyes and was clearly in pain. We never replaced him, how could I?.

I later learned that the older boys who lived in the house had been playing in the yard, broke a small window in the garage, but never told anyone. The shattered glass fell into the food dish where I had put his food and Shep ingested the shards.

Thus, shattered glass always triggers the memory. I can still see those sad eyes as he left. They were a mixture of confusion, sadness, and, I hope, forgiveness.

Most times, we forget the shattered shards moments after we sweep them away, but sometimes they remain embedded in your heart forever.

Beach Logistics 2022 vs 1972

The other day, we ventured down to Capt. Roger Wheeler State Beach (aka Sand Hill Cove although there is no cove or hill to speak of) to let our grandson enjoy the pleasures of covering himself in sand and seaweed and ingesting whatever tasty morsels he could uncover in the sand and thrust into his mouth before I could extract them.

As I was making my third trip from the car, it occurred to me that the logistics of my beach experiences have changed considerably since my days of beach expeditions at 16 or 17.  I don’t even recall hauling this much stuff when we took my daughter to the beach.

The logistics for the landing at Normandy were simpler.

Back in 1972, all that was required was a car to get there. Towels, blankets, chairs(never) were optional. Once we’d acquired the mandatory altered driver’s license attesting to our faux legal status as adults, a supply of cold beer was essential.

Had we had to choose between blankets and chairs or the beer, well, you know the answer to that.

Sunscreen was something we never even considered. On the contrary, we wore our sunburns and peeling skin as proof of our time in the sun. So far, that hasn’t come back to haunt us.

But back to 2022. After laying out a beach covering assigned to us by our daughter—a covering I might add that could be used during a rain delay on the infield at any major league ball field—arranging chairs, setting up the tent-like structure, and distributing the myriad toys, the real work began.

Trying to get a fifteen-month-old who has fully embraced his newfound skill of walking (albeit a bit like the exodus of a bar after last call) to cooperate while one covers him with sunblock on every square inch of his wriggling, arching, leg-flailing, arm-waving body is an exercise in futility. Within seconds he is coated with a layer of sand which either enhances the sun block or magnifies the sun rays.

Then, after he skillfully avoids spending any time on our carefully covered acre of beach, he drags me to the water’s edge where he spends time examining each rock, selecting it, picking it up, glancing at me to see if he could manage a quick taste, shuffling to stand in the seaweed engorged waves, throwing the rock into the water, then repeating this act with the obvious goal of returning EVERY rock back to the ocean. (Do you know how many rocks there are at Sand Hill Cove?)

Soon the responsibility of our duty to care for him kicks in and we have to extract him from the beach and the sun. He let’s out a few last squeals of excitement at passing seagulls, airplanes flying by, or at anything else that catches his eye.

We make the first of several trips back to the car, my wife getting him settled into the car seat and topping him off with a bottle or one of those squeeze packages of squished mush with the strangest combinations of ingredients (bananas, apples, and peas? Really?) while I trudge back, disassemble our bivouac site, roll up the infield covering, and reload the car.

Infinitely more complicated than the beach days of 1972, but whoever said a simple life is the best life never had the pleasure of a beach day with my grandson.

Yet despite the difference in the logistics, and while I know the endless summer days of my youth were memorable, these memories are some of the best one’s to hold onto for a lifetime.

Confession is good for the…

I have a confession to make. Confiteor Deo omnipotenti…(that’s about all I recall from my time as an altar boy,)

I’m not proud of it, but I am certain I will never give it up.

Not one day at a time.

Not by the intercession by a forgiving and loving God.

Not through any well-meant intervention.

I will march into hell upon my death if need be, because I will never give up this addiction.

Yet I am compelled to confess to the world.

I have eaten, secretly and repeatedly, raw cookie dough.

Not the fake stuff in ice cream. Real—made from scratch (did you not know I am also a closet cookie baker?) flour, sugar, and raw eggs—cookie dough that is nirvana on the taste buds.

Judge me if you will. Scorn me, belittle me, hold me in contempt, Warn me, caution me, tell me all the risks it entails. I don’t care.

Because I will never stop enjoying the pure ecstasy of raw dough despite everything.

I would rather die for what I love than live on things that are healthy. For life is to be enjoyed not prolonged by abstinence of things we desire.

Sometimes It’s the Little Things…

Watching the world though the eyes of our fourteen-month-old grandson, it is easy to see how those first memories that stick with all of us are so vivid and enduring. To those bright, blue eyes, everything is new, intriguing, and worth investigating.

Everything is memorable to a memory just in its early stages.

But I wonder, in this very different world from my time as a child, if he’ll miss out on some memory opportunities. Not the big stuff—birthdays, first days at school, first love—but the less significant albeit often most enduring experiences.

The other day I was teaching him several important life lessons, the lyrics to “great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts…” and “Comet, makes your teeth turn green. Comet, tastes like gasoline…,” when the memory of another anthem popped into my head. Something that he may never experience in the same way we did.

On the last day of school leaving Ashton School in Cumberland, RI, during that glorious bus ride home—without bus monitors, seat belts, or restrictions on jumping between seats—heading into the first days of summer vacation, all the way to our final stop—and not at the end of our driveway but at a central bus stop where we all scattered to our homes— we would scream at the top of our lungs,

“No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.”

We undoubtedly damaged the hearing of the poor bus driver as we repeated the chant over and over. The entire way.

I wonder if Levi will have such an experience.

Or, during the middle of the winter, waking to see snow falling at a healthy pace and the sound of WPRO radio and Salty Brine’s distinctive voice intoning, “No School, Cumberland.” Just those words seemed to keep you warm enough all day to play in the snow. As a side note, since it seemed even on cloudy days there was no school in Foster-Gloucester, I wonder if anyone ever finished a school year there?

Or the simple joy of wandering in the woods between Broadview Acres and Lippett Estates in Cumberland at the tender age of six or seven-years-old without raising any parental concerns or triggering the summoning of search dogs and police officers to track us down.

While I have no doubt Levi will experience many memorable moments, some of which will stay with him for a lifetime, I hope he does remember all the words to “Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts…” and holds tight to the memory of the simple things.

After all, traditions are the framing of our character.