Pick My Best Friend Growing Up?

Running through a recent setup for a site required answers to security questions.

Mother’s maiden name? No problem, although the “maiden” part brought a chuckle, I doubt my mother ever considered herself a maiden.

First Car? Again, easy.

Cumberland High School

Then came the tough one. Who was your best friend growing up?

Dead stop.

How the hell do I choose that? Perhaps I am more fortunate than most but for me this question does not have one answer. It has four. Each with their own justification for being the right one. Growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island was a most fortunate thing for me.

For introducing me, at the tender age of 16, to the song Brooklyn Roads by Neil Diamond and a lifetime appreciation of music, I have a lifelong friend named Tony Afonso to thank.

For becoming my Latin Buddy in the eighth grade, driving my grade down as we struggled to pull his out of the negative numbers, I have a lifelong friend Ralph Ezovski. A mere ten years later, we were working plainclothes anti-crime assignments for the East Providence Police department and, much to our surprise, never needed Latin. Not once.

For pushing me to limits greater than I ever would have done on my own in school, I have a lifelong friend Cam Nixon.

And for his permanent smile and infectious sense of humor, I have a lifelong friend Clyde Haworth.

Each of these friends have molded my life in different ways. From the days of the Hurricane Brothers Bowling team (a fictional group we invented that never entered an actual bowling alley) to our maintaining a connection all these decades since eighth grade. Each has made an impact, and I consider them all best friends growing up.

The question troubled me. How do I choose?

I would choose another question. But before I did that, I wondered if I might face an even more troubling choice.

What if they asked Who is your favorite child? I mean how do I answer that? I only have one but still it might be at a moment when I’ve questioned that decision. (Just kidding Kelsey, you are my favorite. It wouldn’t be that hard a question.)

What if they asked what is your favorite color? How do you pick one color out of a rainbow when each is necessary for there to BE a rainbow?

What if they asked who is your favorite teacher? How do I pick one out of so many who taught me? Some I may not have appreciated then. Some I still have doubts. But I know each played a part. Although if forced to name names, Dan Walsh is right up in the top 30 or 40%. (I had to say that because he sometimes reads these rambling pieces.)

What if they asked what is your favorite time of the day, or time of the night, or favorite star in the sky, or season, or flavor of ice cream, or a favorite song, or favorite memory? How do I pick one thing out of a lifetime of experiences, places, people, or moments?

So, I decided my best friend’s name growing up is TonyRalphCamClyde and hit enter. The response brought a smile to my face.

Invalid answer, too many letters.

And right then I knew I’ve had a life worth living.

Passages

William Shakespeare said life is an “uncertain voyage,” and, as I add more days to my past, it seems the uncertainty grows.

Except for one thing.

timeThroughout this uncertain voyage, we share experiences. Often, we experience the most meaningful ones with good friends. It is in this friendship that life’s uncertainties can be managed and endured.

I have been most fortunate to have a group of friends I have remained close to since we first met in the 8th grade almost fifty years ago. The warranty on most things doesn’t last that long, yet we have.

Ralph Ezovski, Tony Afonso, Cam Nixon, Clyde Haworth, and I have almost five decades of being friends. During those many years, we’ve experienced the many stages of life.

High school with all it’s cusp-of-adulthood explorations of the trappings of life; girlfriends, surreptitious beers, parties, driver’s licenses, and graduation, followed by college and jobs and marriage and children and all the highs and lows of being human.

The one consistency of life is change. Nothing, no matter how permanent it may seem, remains the same.

The passing of one’s parents is one of those shared elements. For some, that experience came way too early. For others, it was spaced over the course of our friendship. Yet these shared experiences, whenever they occur, are the threads that hold the fabric of our lives together and bind us to each other.

One of the other realities of life is that parents of friends influence our lives even when we don’t realize it. How they raise their children, the expectations they set and the character they mold, affects us all. It is one of my great fortunes to have friends raised by kind, intelligent and most of all caring parents.

Firm when necessary, gentle when possible, and caring about us all.

One parent, Clyde’s father, recently passed away. He enjoyed a long and plentiful life enriched by his family and friends. His manner and example having an untold influence on this group of friends.

For that, we are all the better for it,

It is at these moments we reflect on such things. While no one can alter the passages of life, we can take time to appreciate how fortunate we are to experience them.

Friends are not something one collects or counts. Good friends make this uncertain voyage worth the journey.

Survival Skills: The Lost Art of Self-reliance

The backbone of America has always been the courage and indomitable determination of its people, no more so than in the wide-eyed enthusiasm and optimism of our youth.

But something has changed. Something fundamentally dangerous has weakened the latest generations. Not all mind you, but an increasingly significant number have no intestinal fortitude.

tireSome of the signs have been with us for a bit of time.

Handing out trophies for 9th place in a 9-team league.

Mercy rules to control the margin of victory (actually to anesthetize the pain of losing.)

The need for warnings about trigger words or safe zones where no one need be offended by, well, anything.

It is from the whirlwind of our disagreements that our best solutions arise. We chose to ignore this because somebody’s feelings may be hurt when we point out they are whining idiots.

Nothing better illustrates the “sissifying” (oops, trigger word warning, politically inappropriate term for those who lack self-respect or backbone)  of America than a commercial on various TV channels.

Two young men stand at the side of the road next to a disabled car. The car has a flat tire. One young man is on the phone with his father listening as the father explains their insurance company doesn’t have roadside assistance. Between the two men, they don’t know what a lug wrench is.

The father, instead of whining about the insurance company, should be teaching his son how to change a damn tire. I mean, you put the kid in charge of a several thousand pound mobile projectile lacking even rudimentary skills to perform such a simple task? It borders on child abuse.

We have raised a generation of illiterate and dependent mice on which rests the future of the country.

Frightening.

And then there’s the bullying phenomenon. It is as if bullies are a new invention no other generation ever faced. It’s not. Life is not fair. Get over it. I know I’ll hear from those who have some perceived example of extreme bullying, but I have an answer.

I honestly think this nonsense all began when parents switched sides in schools and adopted the mantra of not my kid, turning teachers into the enemy. If we once again gave teachers the latitude and respect they deserve, things might change. With our renewed support to let teachers quickly and forcefully address bad behavior, instead of looking for some external factor to blame, it would pay dividends in the future.

Instead, some parents blame teachers for the poor performance of their kids without making the least effort to support the teacher’s efforts at home.  Your child’s education is not something you order online; it is something you participate in and reinforce.  If your kids are failing it is not due solely to the teachers.

At the high school I attended, Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, there was a legendary teacher named J. Richard Charland.  He taught a business course and was the Dean of Students. The title Dean of Students is a kinder and gentler way of saying head disciplinarian.

When you were there, you lived in fear of crossing him. He would often tell us that he had spoken to our parents and they gave him permission to knock us around if we got out of line. Whether it was true or not, most of us believed it.

Some had it demonstrated.

Mr. Charland recently passed away and the universal outpouring of admiration and respect from several decades of CHS graduates (and even a few who may have had a shortened high school career) was telling. He made a difference and helped steer generations of CHS grads towards being better adults.

His reputation was built on a demand for mutual respect and underlying love of students. He dealt with those incidents that inevitably arise in the hormone-ravaged teenaged years firmly, swiftly, and appropriately.

No one sued the school when they addressed problems. No one blamed teachers for bad grades. No one looked to some psychological excuse for bad behavior.

I wonder if we can ever reclaim the courage, heart, and endurance that built this country if we have generations who lack fundamental respect for teachers, basic math or literacy skills, or can’t even change a tire?

Please don’t bully me or say things that may trigger my anxiety.

 

LFL (not ROFLMAO) The Little Free Library: Preserving the Art of Reading (and thanking a teacher)

On Sunday, April 24h, I had the pleasure of donating copies of my novels to Cumberland’s Awesome House of Books. (https://www.facebook.com/CumberlandLFL34034/)

This is one example of the growing phenomenon of small, volunteer-run, free-standing places where one can borrow, read, and return books. There are no library cards (who remembers those?) No late fees. No time limits.

It harkens back to a time when people trusted each other and accepted the responsibility of that trust. Meeting Arlene Griffin Smith and her family, the caretakers of the library, was a pleasure.

In a world where “Brevity is the soul of wit” is twisted, corrupted, and compacted into a 140-character assassination of writing, preserving the art of words and books is a worthy goal.

At a time when HD TV putrifies imagination, books serve as the last defenders of our ability to use our mind’s eye.

For a writer, people who read are our most precious commodity. Without them, our words remain just symbols on a page. The act of offering books to preserve the joy of reading is one dear to my heart.

I want to thank Arlene for devoting her time to such a worthy cause and encourage all to stop by, visit, find a book, and lose yourself in an author’s world.

There was also an unexpected bonus to my visit. A teacher I first met in 1969 at the brand new (at the time) McCourt Middle School (Cumberland, RI) was there.

Dan Walsh, a teacher I had for quite a few classes, and I spoke of those very different times in school. Both of us had the pleasure of growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island at a time quite idyllic. We shared the nostalgia of a Cumberland from a different era.

As I progressed from middle to high school, Dan moved up with us. He was among several excellent teachers my fellow CHS class of 1974 members were fortunate enough to experience.

Dan taught English. He offered many classes in subjects such as Elizabethan Poets, Composition, Writing, American Literature. I took as many of them as I could.

I sometimes cannot remember what I had for lunch, but I recall the beauty of the words of William Blake, The Tyger,

Tyger, Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

Or William Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn,

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness!

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time

I have always enjoyed writing and reading. The joy of taking bits and pieces of imagination, mixing it with twenty-six letters and assorted punctuation and producing a character, a story, or an entire world is as close as one can get to being a magician.

Teachers like Dan Walsh gave me the magic. They unlocked the power of words. They taught me to think.

For that, I am eternally grateful.

Sometime in 1974, I walked out of my last class with Dan Walsh. But I thought he might like to know that those classes never walked out of me.

(Now I must go back and make sure there are no grammar errors in this piece. Forty some years later and still apprehensive of the critical eye of Dan Walsh.)

Generational Perspective

Here is a bit of a perspective for my fellow members of the Cumberland High School Class of 1974.

In 1974:

The President of the United States was Richard Nixon, until August 9th, and then Gerald Ford after Nixon resigned due to the Watergate hearings. Ford pardoned Nixon. Both Ford and Nixon are dead

The Soviet Union was intact, armed with nuclear weapons, and still our sworn enemy. Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin was the premier. He is dead

There were no cell phones, internet, or cable television

We landed on the moon for the first time 5 years before in 1969 and for the last time in 1972. Only 12 men have ever walked on the moon. We have not been back since nor do we have a real timeline for returning.

The Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patty Hearst. She later joined them and participated in a series of bank robberies. She is now 61.

Muhammed Ali fought George Frazier in the Rumble in the Jungle. Ali is 73 Foreman is 66.

A gallon of gas was $.55

The speed limit was changed to 55 to conserve gasoline.

President Ford announced an amnesty for Vietnam War deserters and draft evaders.

The Kootenai Native American Tribe in Idaho declares war on the United States. It settled peacefully. The only time a war was declared and resolved without a shot being fired or anyone killed.

The World Population: 4 billion. (now 7 billion)

India successfully tests a nuclear weapon. They become the 6th Nuclear power. (There are 9 now, 15923 total estimated nuclear warheads in the world as of 2015)

The first MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is developed.

After 84 days in space, the American astronauts aboard Skylab return to earth.

A 3.2 million year-old hominid skeleton, 40% complete, is found in Ethiopia. She is named Lucy. Dr. Johanson, the paleontologist who found her, says he named her for the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

The pocket calculator goes on sale. (I got one as a graduation present, it cost my parents 84$)

Bar codes are used for the first time.

Salty Brine was still on WPRO announcing “No school, Foster Gloucester.”

Movies of 1974

The Sting, The Exorcist, Blazing Saddles (my favorite), Serpico, Death Wish

#1 Song of 1974

The Way We Were

Other songs:

Time in a Bottle, Hooked on a Feeling, Band on the Run, Can’t Get Enough of You Babe, Kung Fu Fighting

(How many of you sang these songs as you read them?)

1974 holds the record for the most #1 Billboard hits in one year, 35.

TV Shows:

Kojak, The Price is Right, The Six Million Dollar Man

Here’s one that may bring some of you to tears

Born in 1974:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Alanis Morrisette. Jimmy Fallon, Victoria Beckham

So why the walk down memory lane? The end of a year lends itself to a momentary review of things. A recap of the path of our lives. We have come a long way from 1974, some of those class members didn’t have the opportunity to reach 2015.

As time moves on, as the year changes from 2015 to 2016, as we all approach our 60th birthdays, I thought I would remind us of where were all those years ago, the events that shaped us, and, more importantly, get us all to make the most of the time we have left.

The reality of life is that most of us will not be around when a Cumberland High School Class of 2016 graduate writes a similar memoir of his or her graduation year. It is important for all of us to be mindful of today and use the time we have wisely.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year, I apologize for reminding those of you trying to ignore the significance of 2016 age-wise, and hope you all have many more memories yet to create and cherish.