An Ending


The names were typed in a list, on a sheet of paper hung on a bulletin board in the hallway that lead into the offices. I don’t remember who told us about it, that the news was out. It’d been anticipated for weeks. Rumors about impending layoffs, and how many would be impacted. I just remember standing there, looking for my name. I figured I’d put in more than two years now, and that I’d be just on the edge if they took the ten percent that’d be about forty of the four hundred Conrad had estimated the totality of the union membership consisted of.

After weeks of speculation, the announcement came on a Thursday afternoon. It turned out that Conrad was right, it was a ten percent reduction in the work force. His estimate of four hundred was pretty accurate as the actual number was 412, meaning that there were forty one names on the list. The list was sorted by seniority, defined by start date, which was a column after name, sorted in descending order. I was number 37, with my   start date of 8/5/77 a week after number 41, “Platt, George 7/29/77.” If I’d started a week earlier, I’d still have a job.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon. After I found my name, I read the paragraph above the list. It was written in a bunch of legalize, and included an effective date of 10/31/ 79, the current date, four days before my twenty first birthday. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around to see my foreman, Mike.

“Sorry, Dave. I was really hoping you wouldn’t get cut. You got any questions?”

“Today’s my last day?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“So I got about an hour left.”

“Yeah,” he said, “they say it works better that way.  No confusion about when the layoff starts. Better to make a clean cut of things – at least that’s the theory.”

I walked back to my department and took my working spot alongside Lew Reed. “Are you okay?” he asked. Word was already out.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said

Conrad and Jack and Jeff spent the better part of the remaining hour trying to buck me up, telling me that I’d be able to sleep in late in the morning, and that once I got signed up for my unemployment checks I’d be okay, and that I’d be free to go hunting every day.  Conrad said they’d probably be calling me back in about three months. I smiled and said that’s all true, and that I’ll be thinking of them when I roll over in bed and go back to sleep tomorrow morning.

I couldn’t tell them what I was really thinking. I couldn’t tell them that I knew with certainty I’d never enter the window factory again. I couldn’t tell them what they meant to me, and that without my job to go to, without them, the days were going to be as long and empty and lonely as the nights. I was trying hard to commit their faces to memory, etch them in my mind, knowing that I’d never see them again.

Lew, forty five years old and baby-faced, rolly-poly with a soft middle, in his olive green work shirt and trousers and that ridiculous fishing cap covering his bald head. Conrad with his snow white hair and goatee. Jack, burly and broad shouldered in his flannel even at sixty, his beard equal parts dark gray and white.  Jeff, my age, with his thick brown hair cut like a salad bowl had been placed on his head.

The last hour went by quick and easy, with nobody doing much work. Roger and Louie came in and joined the festivities, telling stories and ripping on each other like only a bunch of guys who’d spent the week days of the last two years together could. They had enough material on me and my antics to fill more time than we had to kill.

Then 3:30 came and we all walked out together, like we did every day, punching the time clock on our way out the doors of the loading dock to the parking lot.  I remember saying good bye to the guys, and waving to Wayne Cooper, an acquaintance from another department. I looked around and I realized that this, the factory and the guys I worked with, would continue, would still be here, only  with somebody else doing my job, snapping together the aluminum frames.  Who I could only guess.  I just knew it wouldn’t be me anymore.  Whoever it was going to be, I hoped they’d appreciate it as much as, until that moment, I’d taken it for granted, and that they’d listen and maybe even smile when the guys told stories about the goofy twenty year old kid who used to jump up on the tables and caw like a crow.

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Sixty


How does it feel to be sixty years old?

Not so great.  To quote the late, great Leonard Cohen, “I ache in the places where I used  to play.”

Physically, I’m worn down and wiped out, and carry the greenish bruises on various parts of my body from falls I’ve taken.  My eye to hand coordination and my sense of balance have degraded to the point that simple things, like, hanging insulation in my work shop to typing this piece, have become difficult.  My vision becomes blurred and cross-eyed as my eyes grow tired, and my voice has grown weak to the point that too often I’m drowned out when I try to communicate.

Every day I’m witnessing new levels of ugliness that I’ve never seen before in this great country that I love so much. The places, the people, and the values that’ve been so important to me have faded and worn away, and I feel alone.  These dark days of violence and selfishness, cowardice and unfounded fear, prejudice and hatred, have turned victims of horrible violence into vile foreigners to be feared instead of embraced, to be met with a closed fist instead of open arms. It’s a place I don’t recognize anymore, where a charlatan and liar has taken control of our collective psyche and divided us with language and actions so despicable and outrageous that every day achieves a new low, and we become more numbed and anesthetized than the day before. I don’t recognize these soulless zombies walking the countryside, and in the empty and expressionless glances they shoot at me, it’s obvious that they sure don’t recognize me.  I’ve become a relic, a stranger in a strange land, a solitary time traveler, from out of a dark and forgotten past.

And then, just when it seems that things couldn’t get any grimmer, or darker, a number on a calendar becomes a representative for today, my 60th birthday, and I find myself surrounded by family.  Empty shadows and silence are replaced by warmth and laughter, and I and my faith are restored.

My daughter recently became engaged, and her fiancé is with her as she visits this weekend. The more I get to know Zach, the more I appreciate what a kind, generous, and decent guy he is. It’s amazing to see my daughter in love, and the fact that she’s found the perfect match restores the faith I’ve lost in myself, and in the world where I live. It’s the simple fact that in a world so ugly and divided that love not only still exists, but that it is still the most powerful force in the universe

So how does it feel to be sixty years old?

It feels damned good.

Dog Days


They say that a dog can be man’s best friend. I’m finding that this is true, especially ever since my English Shepherd, Tucker, and I learned how to telepathically communicate with each other. As an example, let me recap a conversation we had this past Friday night.

It’d been thundering and lightning for a few hours when, at about 2:00 A.M., the storm intensified to the point that Tucker woke me up with crying and whining sounds.  He was sitting next to my bed, staring at me. I looked into his dark eyes and opened up the telepathic channel we frequently communicate on.

“What’s the matter, Tuck?” I asked.

tuck“I was wondering if you’d like to throw the tennis ball around for a while. I’ll chase it and bring it back to you.  I promise.”

“Tucker,” I said, “It’s the middle of the night. I’m not getting up to throw the tennis ball.  Now what’s really bothering you? Is it the thunder and lightning? Are you scared?”

“Yes,” he replied sheepishly, betraying the bravado he normally presents to the outside world, “I am.” He lied down on the floor.  His eyes were big and dark.

“Well,” I said. “You remember the last time we had a lightning storm? When I told you about how heavier, negatively charged particles fall to the bottom of a cloud, and how a giant spark occurs between these negatively charged particles and positively charged particles at the top of the cloud? And that as long as we stay inside the house, we’re safe and sound?”

“Oh, yeah, I remember all that. That’s not what’s bothering me.”

“Okay, so what is it?”

“Climate change.”

“Climate change?”

“Yeah, climate change. I mean, a severe thunderstorm now?”

“Actually,” I said, “a thunderstorm in October isn’t that unusual around here.”

“I understand that,” he replied. “It’s more the amount of rain we’ve gotten that concerns me.  Have you looked at the lake in the backyard?”

“You can’t …”

“I know, I know,” he telepathically interrupted me.  “You can’t look at specific events and determine if they’re caused by climate change, you have to look at trends over time.  But with the hot summer we just had, and the number and frequency of severe storms, well, they’re all consistent with the model.  Look at Debby’s flower garden, how some of her flowers are blooming for a second or third time, apparently confused by the warm weather we’ve been having.  Look at the hordes of mosquitoes we’ve had all summer now into the fall. They’ve never been this thick. I know, I run the risk of sounding like Chicken Little, yelling ‘the sky is falling, the sky is falling!’ But shouldn’t we at least be having some conversation about it?”

“I suppose we probably should…”

“But we won’t, because we’re so divided, and because the people in power don’t want to do anything about it. They’re making too much money on fossil fuels and such.”

“Well,  you have a …”

“And another thing that’s been bothering me.”

“What’ that?”

“These Kavanaugh hearings.”

“What about them?”

“Well, you remember that old Logic textbook you gave me?”

“Yeah?” I said. Tucker raised his back right leg and started licking himself. “Don’t do that.”

“Okay,” he said, and he sat up. “Anyways, Aristotle said the first law of logic is the law of contradiction, that for all propositions p, it is impossible for both p and not p to be true.”

“So?”

“So if we make p be the proposition that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford, then ‘not p’ would be that he didn’t.  So how can all of these people that thought Dr. Ford was credible and truthful in her testimony, who believe her when she said she was the victim of sexual assault, not believe Kavanaugh was the perpetrator when she testified that she was 100% certain it was him? “

“They say she was assaulted but maybe misremembers by who.”

“But if that were true, if she misremembered who it was, when she says she was 100% certain it was Kavanaugh, then she’d be misremembering the very point of the allegation, of the hearing, which would destroy any credibility she might have. A way to summarize would be: For proposition p where p = ‘Dr. Ford’s testimony is credible,’ you have to believe that Kavanaugh was the perpetrator. Only in the ‘not p’ of ‘Dr. Ford’s’ testimony is not credible’ can you say you don’t believe her. But Republican after Republican came out and said that while they believed Ford, they also believe Kavanaugh. But you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

“But what if, like they said, they really didn’t know who was telling the truth?’

“Then you do what they set out to do, you investigate and try to find supporting factual information that either corroborates or contradicts the accusations. But the FBI ‘investigation’ as ordered by the White House was such a sham that they didn’t even interview the material witnesses let alone any number of other potential witnesses who’d come forward.  Now we’re stuck with a sociopath on the supreme court for the next thirty or forty years. Overturn  Roe v Wade, uphold Citizens United. We’re looking at a long, dark road ahead.”

A long telepathic silence was finally broken when Tucker stretched out and started chewing on what was left of a rawhide bone.  The thunder and lightning had receded, when Tucker telepathically intoned, “Well, I’m getting sleepy.  Thanks for the talk. Good night.”

“Good night,” I replied.  Soon I could hear Tucker, blissfully snoring on the floor next to my bed. I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep, my brain lost in the orange glow of a wide awake nightmare.

The War of Yorkville Avenue


Throughout the course of history, there have been key events, seminal moments that acted as a catalyst for igniting the flames of war.

For example, there were the shots fired at Bunker’s Hill that started the revolutionary war. The assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand triggered the start of World War One. The Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor escalated World War Two and pulled the U.S. into the conflict.

And we must never, ever forget that it was the potty-training of Sprinkles the kitty cat that opened up the floodgates of the War of Yorkville Avenue.

A little background:

I grew up in the town of Union Grove, Wisconsin in the sixties and seventies. In the house next to us, to the north, lived a family that we will call the Brady’s. They were cut from the same middle class, rural, blue collar cloth that we were cut from. I’m going to give them alternate names. We’ll call the parents Fred and Wilma.  Fred and Wilma Brady. They had three kids, we had four.  Their two older children were girls (who we’ll refer to as Laverne and Shirley) that were about the same age as my brothers, and their third was a boy (Mork), about the same age as me. My younger sister completes the cast of characters.

Fred and Wilma were hard working, simple people. Wilma worked as a nurse, and Fred drove truck, a fuel truck for the Pugh Oil Company that he kept parked in his driveway, while my dad drove semi-trucks out of at first Chicago and later Milwaukee.

When I was six or seven years old, my dad built a big sandbox just outside the back door that I loved. I’d spend a large part of each day playing in it, with my toy trucks and cars.  At some point, I became aware of the fact that one of the apparent properties of sand was that occasionally, it would roll itself up into these little black balls. I thought nothing of these anomalies, using them as freight for my trucks to deliver.

Then came the day my mom looked out the window just as Mork dropped his kitty cat, Sprinkles, into what until that moment we’d thought was simply a sandbox. What we soon discovered was that, unknown to us, for some time it had been doubling as an enormous litter box, and that the little black balls I’d so enthusiastically loaded my Tonka trucks with were in fact cat turds.  Deeper digging revealed levels of contamination so prevalent that it (The sandbox, not Sprinkles) had to be destroyed.

When confronted by my Mom with the evidence, Fred, instead of being contrite, took a “so what” attitude. Thus the bad blood began. It was as if the Brady’s had declared war on the Gourdoux’s.

They had no way of knowing the Hell they were about to unleash.

In the immediate days and weeks following the Sprinkles incident, things remained relatively calm. It wouldn’t be until a couple of months later, after the pea-shooting crisis, that tensions would really escalate.

The Brady girls, Laverne and Shirley, had horses that they boarded in a barn off the end of the street. They’d ride them and bring them home, letting them graze in the back yard. The lead that they tied them to was just long enough to reach past the border between their yard and ours, under the clothesline my mom used to hang our laundry out on to dry. After grazing their horses in the back yard, they’d eventually do what it is that horses frequently do after grazing for a while – right under my Mom’s clothesline.

Hopefully, you’re noticing a trend here … first, cat shit, then horse manure.

My Mom complained about this to my Dad, with no results other than him shooting the horses with my brother’s BB gun – all it did was made them jump, but it didn’t move them away from the clothes line.

Sometime later, on a warm summer Sunday afternoon, Laverne and Shirley, armed with hands full of horse manure, and myself, my weapon being a pea-shooter I had purchased at the Ben Franklin store downtown, were engaged in a minor skirmish.  For those who don’t know, a pea shooter was nothing more than a big straw, and its ammunition was dried and hardened peas. You’d shoot it like a blow dart. I was only about seven years old at the time, but I could get enough speed and distance into my shooting to leave a little red mark on an exposed arm or leg that would fade after a second or two.

Meanwhile, my mom was complaining again, for the “umpteenth” time, (I still don’t know the precise numerical value of the number “umpteen”) about the obstacle course her clothesline had become.  My dad, for whom the number umpteen apparently represented his breaking point, finally snapped. He went out, grabbed a handful of the stuff, and knocked on the Brady’s back door.  Fred came to answer, and my dad proceeded to take his handful of horse shit and smear it all into the mesh of the screen door that divided the two hulking men.

“You’d better be careful,” Fred said. “I’ve already called the cops about the pea-shooter.”

Some perspective:  At the time, Union Grove was a very small town, population less than two thousand.  The town had only one policeman, who, being as it was a Sunday evening, was off-duty at the time.  So Fred’s call was forwarded to the Racine County sheriff’s department in Racine, about a half hour away from Union Grove. At the time, Racine had one of the highest rates of violent crime and murder in the country. So when Fred’s call about a seven year old kid armed with a pea-shooter came in, I’m guessing that it didn’t exactly jump to the top of their priority list.

Several hours later, a police car, its lights flashing brightly in the dark, pulled into our driveway. I remember sitting on the couch in our living room, feeling infinitely smaller than my minuscule seven year old frame already was, waiting in abject terror for the police to pull me out of my home and take me to prison.

Two policemen got out of the car, and we could hear the muffled sounds of laughter as they made their way to the porch. They entered through the front door, revolvers holstered in their belts. My Dad pointed to me and said, “There’s your culprit, officers.”

I was crying as the officers were trying their best not to laugh. They lectured me. “A pea shooter is a dangerous weapon,” one of them said, and after having a good laugh at my expense, they left, making the half hour ride back to their headquarters in Racine. I stopped crying and started thinking the whole episode was pretty cool, since it didn’t include jail time, and that they turned on their flashing lights just because of me.

But one thing would soon become clear – the pea shooting crisis galvanized my family into a series of strong and decisive responses. The war was on. Some of the noteworthy battles included

Borderline protest: First was the picket line. While Fred was as usual in his garage tinkering on some old car, my brother and sister, now about four years old, and I marched up and down the property line between the two houses, carrying protest signs with things like “Bradys go home” and ”Pugh! Something stinks” written on them

It was apparent to us all by this time that Fred didn’t have a very refined sense of humor, if he even had one at all, and didn’t appreciate being protested against while in his own home, especially by a seven year old boy and a cute and pudgy little four year old girl.  The fact that by this time we were calling him “Old Man” didn’t help matters. From our vantage point, we couldn’t see Fred in his garage, but when we heard the occasional metallic crashing sounds from him throwing a tool of some sort, we knew we were getting through to him.

Suds Away:  The Brady’s  had a little swimming pool, about two feet deep.  Mork would put on these big flipper shoes, goggles and a snorkel, submerge his head under water, and kick his feet violently, pretending to be Lloyd Bridges  in  Sea  Hunt.  One day while the Brady’s were gone, my brother Don and I emptied an entire bottle of dishwashing soap into the pool.  The next day, we watched as Mork, decked out in his scuba diving best, “dove” into the pool, face down and snorkel in, and proceeded to kick, like he always did.  What he couldn’t see with his face underwater and aimed at the bottom of the pool was that on the top of the water, a tower of suds that reached as high as the roof of their house was developing.

Attack From the Rear:  Wilma Brady was a rather large woman with a sour disposition. What Fred lacked in the sense of humor department, she made up for in girth. She didn’t seem to handle stress very well, and was often angry.  We could hear her frequently yelling at her children.  My brother Don came up with what would now be considered a horribly politically, incorrect nickname for her – “The Fat Fury.”  I know, that’s wrong on so many levels, but you have to remember, these were extraordinary times – we were, after all, at war.

Wilma took solace, she found peace, by tending to her back yard vegetable garden.  Keep in mind that she was a large woman, and when she weeded her garden, she’d bend over at the hip, without bending her knees, her butt in the air, assuming what looked like an NFL offensive lineman’s stance.

Our Aunt from up north had recently visited and left, but not before presenting her nephews with the gift of a toy Bazooka air-gun slash cannon thing that made an epically loud ka-boom when fired. We were eating dinner when my dad looked out the window and saw Wilma, in her weeding stance, her backside facing us. “Dave,” he said, “take your bazooka and very quietly get as close you can without her seeing you, and shoot it.”

I had no choice bur to do as my dad instructed.  I was able to get about five feet behind her behind without her knowing I was there, and I pulled the trigger.  The ka-boom echoed through the early evening air, and a startled Wilma went airborne, her feet and hand leaving the ground while she maintained her three point stance.  She landed and bolted upright, and looked at me, bazooka in hand. I thought, here it comes, I’m going to feel the brunt of the Fat Fury’s fury, but she just turned her head  and proceeded to walk back to her house, all the while muttering words that I hadn’t learned yet.

Snow Job: Months and years went by and still the war raged on.  There was the time, during Christmas break, when a big snowstorm hit, dropping about five inches and ending in the early evening.  Fred spent about two back breaking hours shoveling his driveway so he could get out and get to work early the next morning. After their house was dark for a couple of hours and it was apparent everyone inside was asleep, my brothers and a couple of their friends went out and silently shoveled all the snow back into Fred’s driveway, only piling it eye high right behind his garage door.

The Simmons Conundrum: One day, we discovered, in the classifieds of the Racine Journal Times, that Fred was selling his Station Wagon. After listing all of the vital info, the ad ended with Fred’s phone number and a “call after 5:00.” My oldest brother Mike’s friend, Bill M., was recruited because his voice was deep enough to sound like an adult and foreign enough that Fred wouldn’t recognize it. We picked a random name and address out of the Racine phone book – an  “Ed Simmons” who lived on the far north side of Racine, somewhere on four or five mile road.  We then had Bill play the part of Ed Simmons and call Fred up. Suffice to say that Bill gave a brilliant performance, feigning enough interest in the car that Fred promised to drive it out to the Simmons residence for a test drive the very next day.  So if the real Ed Simmons happens to be reading this. a fifty some year old mystery of why a stranger named Fred Brady showed up at your door one day to give you a test drive in his station wagon is finally solved.

The Final Conflict:  Things went on like this for a couple of years, very one sided in our advantage, until the epic Halloween Conflict of either 1965 or 66.

The sixties were about the last time that innocent mischief like soaping windows or egging or TP’ing a house was accepted, and even condoned as the “trick” in response to the question, “trick or treat.”  For us, Halloween represented an opportunity for escalation in the war that we’d been looking forward to for a long time.

There was a whole series of events that night that my brothers, (with encouragement from my Dad, no doubt) perpetrated that I ‘m simply too old now to remember.  I do remember my brother Don, taking a pumpkin and raising it to his shoulders and shooting it just like I’d seen him launch a thousand jump shots in our driveway at the hoop my Dad had installed above our garage door, only this time it was a pumpkin, and the target was the Brady’s roof.  It bounced loudly down the peaked surface of the roof and landed and smashed into pieces on the ground, next to the Brady’s house, while their dog, Nikki, barked insanely.

The next thing I remember is both families, everybody but my little sister, standing facing each other in the dark between the two houses. The excrement was clearly going to hit the fan.  We noticed that the Brady’s had a basket full of ripe tomatoes, from their garden, nearby and at their disposal. They were prepared for battle, we weren’t, until my oldest brother, Mike, slipped away in the darkness to his friend Bob Pink’s house, two driveways to the south of ours, and came back with Bob and a basket full of tomatoes of our own.

The battle lines were drawn when Fred started loudly complaining about the blatant lack of respect that us kids showed for their elders when, in mid-sentence, I interrupted him by yelling, “Shut up, Old Man,” proving his point powerfully and succinctly.

Fred was incensed. “You see? That’s just what I was talking about.” Shortly after that, someone fired the first tomato. I don’t remember which side it came from, but it smashed against the other side’s house.  Soon all the tomatoes were released. I don’t recall anybody on either side getting hit, which seems unlikely, given my brothers and I were normally pretty accurate when it came to throwing things – apparently, even we weren’t ready to cross the line that hitting a Brady with a tomato represented – both sides settled instead for the cathartic release of firing as many tomatoes that our baskets would hold at the other’s house.  It was dark there between the houses, and it wasn’t until the morning that we could see the full extent of the carnage afflicted to both houses, big red splotchy stains that would remain uncleaned for months.

Peace  An uneasy peace soon settled between the two families, with the tomato stained sides of the two houses serving as a mute reminder of the childish antics that we’d engaged in for so long.  We finally started acting our age, and came to a tacit understanding of where each side stood. Fred, or Old Man Brady, wanted nothing more than the respect that he felt children should show their elders, and he had a point, although there is also something to be said for having to earn respect.  On our side, we just wanted Fred to acknowledge that he was wrong in letting his horses shit under my Mom’s clothesline, and for letting their cat ruin our wonderful sandbox.

Now, well into the 21st century, when everybody is so sensitive, the war of Yorkville Avenue could have never occurred.  Police, doctors and lawyers, if not guns, would undoubtedly be part of the equation. Whether that’s good or bad, I’ll let you decide, but I will offer this: there’s a place for mischief in the world, so long as no one is hurt. The war of Yorkville Avenue not only brought our family closer together, it also provided us with a lifetime of stories. And in the long run, that’s worth fighting for, if you ask me.

Chaos and FrozenYogurt


It seems unlikely at best. That is the understatement of all time.

The butterfly effect (the scenario associated with chaos theory, not the bad Ashton Kutcher movie that came out a few years ago) speculates that a single flap of the wings of a butterfly can set off a series of events that can culminate in a tsunami occurring on the other side of the world. The universe, according to chaos theory, operates on the randomness of events put into motion by other seemingly random events, and the present is constantly creating and modifying the future.

I just finished eating a bowl of frozen yogurt. Consider all the things that had to happen since the dawn of time to bring me to this moment, at this time, in this place.  Somebody had to invent the bowl. Somebody had to make the bowl I ate the frozen yogurt out of. Someone had to invent yogurt. Someone had to come up with the idea of freezing yogurt.  And so on, and so on; billions and billions of things had to happen.

Consider this: My folks had to meet and procreate in order for me to even be here. My mom and dad met at a New Year ’s Eve dance, about ten years before I was born. What if some strange guy named Frank Furter hadn’t been standing behind the front door right when the guy who played organ in the band tripped over the threshold on his way in? Well, if Mr. Furter hadn’t been there to break his fall, the organ player would have hit his head against the corner of the wall, splitting it open and causing him to be rushed to the hospital, causing the band to cancel its gig. My Mom and Dad would have never met, going their separate ways with their friends, to separate other dances, and I wouldn’t be here some seventy years later to eat my frozen yogurt.

When I write, I try to tap into this energy. I’m always asking myself, where am I, and how did I get here?

In November of 1979, a 19 year old woman and a 21 year old boy were living in different states, eastern Michigan and northwestern Wisconsin,about 600 miles apart. To the best of their knowledge, their paths had never crossed. Unlikely, indeed.

Then, on a Monday night in January of1980, only two months later, their journeys brought them both to Gateway Technical College, in Kenosha, in southeastern Wisconsin, to a classroom where a class in Computer Programming in FORTRAN IV was being held. She had green eyes that glowed deeper than any he’d ever seen before.  They soon found that they had classes together four nights a week, Monday thru Wednesday and Friday. They spoke their first words to each other (her: “Hi, Dave,” him “Hi.”) on the Wednesday of the second week.

Literally thousands of things had to occur in those prior two months to bring them together. But this was no little butterfly flapping its wings.  This was a freight train powered by a hurricane, and it’d been thundering down the tracks since the dawn of time until it reached its destination, its destiny.

It took until Friday, Mach 28th, 1980, for him to finally ask her out, and on Wednesday, August 15th, 2018, they celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary.

Now, my writer questions:  Where am I? Answer – I’m in Heaven

Q: How did I get here? A: I’ve always been here

If I Could


If I could tell her

I’d tell her that her smile is like a sunrise

Lifting the day out of the dark

Ripping daylight from the clenched fists of the night

 

If I could show her

I’d show her how her laughter is like music

Played by the early morning songbirds

Flooding the empty silence of the dark with harmonic grace

 

If I could love her

Like I’ve always loved her, complete and inadequate

I’d wrap my arm around her waist in the infinite darkness

The universe rising and falling with each beat of our sleeping breathing heart

Fourth of July


In what seems like another lifetime ago, I was a senior manager of I.T. for a Fortune 500 company.  In the late nineties, I hired an independent consultant named Boris who had only recently come to the United States. He did a fine job for us, and I hired him for other projects and when those were completed I recommended him to other I.T. Managers for other projects.  This went on until a couple of years ago, when he finally was hired as a full-time employee.

One summer day I stopped by his desk and looked at the new photos he’d posted on the walls of his cubicle. There, staring back at me, were the smiling images of him, his wife, and his two young sons, proudly waving little American flags and wearing the same dark blue t-shirts with the flag embroidered on them. It was the Fourth of July, and they were all beaming, a beautiful young family, proud to be Americans.

When he came to this country, in the early nineties, he had nothing.  The only work he could find was for a janitorial service, far beneath his skill set and intelligence.  Boris had studied Computer Science before emigrating.  He was also a chess master, one of those guys you hear about or see on television, able to defeat as many as six simultaneous opponents.  He may have been, in terms of education and intelligence, the most over qualified janitor in Chicago, but he never complained.  He was excited to be an American, and grateful for each opportunity that presented itself, more through his hard work than any stroke of good fortune.

Boris now lives in an upscale suburb.  His wife, who came to America with Boris, has been an executive for a privately held company for some time now.   They put their oldest son through Harvard, and I think their second son is about to finish high school. The last time I talked to Boris, I know they were considering Harvard for him, too.

Somewhere along the line, Boris became a citizen and, much to my chagrin, a hard line Republican.  We don’t see eye to eye on many things politically, but we both respect and appreciate each other’s love of our county.

Boris and his family are a true American success story. It’s a story of how hope and hard work and decentness were rewarded with opportunity, and it’s only one out of millions of such stories that could only be told in this great country.  There have never been better citizens than those who came to this country from elsewhere, those we welcomed from terrible circumstance with open arms.

Now our arms are closed and we are disgustingly taking children away from parents. This “crisis” at our southern border is a completely false narrative drummed up for political purposes.  The facts are that crossings at the Mexico border are at their lowest levels in recent history, and have, in fact, been decreasing steadily every year since peaking in the year 2000. The policies enforced by the previous two administrations were largely working.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. In order to energize his base and distract the rest of us from his legal problems, the president and his Attorney General have ripped thousands of children away from their families. We’ve all seen the disgusting footage on television. And please, let’s not get into the argument about who came her legally or illegally  – from those asylum seekers who’ve traveled hundreds of inhospitable miles to those simply seeking work and lodging, nothing can justify separating children from parents.

I keep thinking back to those photographs of Boris and his then very young family with their little American flags, and how much they love their country, and I can’t help but wonder, how will these children separated from their parents look at us ten, fifteen, or twenty years down the line? What kind of primal hatred will infest them and fester in their souls?

It is love and its ability to overcome hatred that’s made us great before, and will eventually make us great again. We must, and we will, rise up and reject such inhuman acts. We are still a decent and loving people, and we still see ourselves reflected in the eyes of the victims of these atrocities.

The president keeps saying that you can’t have a country without borders, and that we need to build a wall. But for more than two hundred forty years now we’ve managed without walls. We’ve not only had a country, we’ve had the greatest country in the history of the world, made great by the blood, sweat and tears of people and their children who came here from all over the world, and by the open arms and un-walled hearts of enough people to welcome them.

Summer Solstice


“It is difficult to be convinced of the death of one whom we have deemed to be another self.”

                                                                                                     Nathaniel Hawthorne                                                                                                                           From “The Wives of the Dead”

In the north, as June approaches the solstice, the sun stays in the western sky higher and longer, and long after it begins its descent into the horizon, the shadows of trees lengthen and darken, until the ground is a patchwork mosaic of shadow and dimming light. Nocturnal animals, both predator and prey, are driven by hunger and hormones into the waning light, risking everything until the familiar blanket of night covers the landscape in blackness.

After the weather report on the 10:00 news, she stepped out the back door and looked out over the trees and fields to the western sky. The sun had collided with the earth, and a firestorm painted the entire sky blood red; the sky was bleeding and hemorrhaging in front of her. He’ll put it out, she thought. He’ll be back any time now. Feeling the chill of the night breeze in her face, she wrapped her shawl tight around her shoulders.

June 21st, the anniversary of their wedding, and the anniversary of the warehouse fire.  Paul was 23 when he was taken, handsome and fireman fit, with thick brown hair that Rachel loved to run her fingers through.  He’d be thirty now, still young but still two years older than she was, and they’d be celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary.

She still rented the same farmhouse outside of town that she and Paul lived in at the time of his death. She rarely left home, and she lost contact with all of her old friends. She was still, after seven years alone, stunningly beautiful.  With porcelain skin and dark eyes and an hourglass figure, she turned heads on her infrequent trips to town, the heads of middle aged men congregated in the barber shop or the teenaged to twenty something year old gearheads perpetually fine tuning some classic car in Lacy’s garage.

Every year, as the 21st approached, she’d go to town and repeat the same sad ritual. Everybody knew that she’d pick up two New York Strip steaks and a couple of baking potatoes from the IGA and then she’d swing by the liquor store and purchase a bottle of the same wine.  Everybody knew that she was preparing the same meal that she prepared on that night, and like she did on that night, she’d wait for her husband to come home. The first year or two, most people were sympathetic to the tragic circumstances and the profundity of her loss, but the last couple of years that sentiment was shifting to why can’t she just get on with her life, and why doesn’t a beautiful woman like that get out once in a while, she’s driving herself crazy living in the same house amongst all the same things. She remained completely oblivious to the fact that she and her sanity had become the subject of rumors and speculaion.

It’d been seven years since the first time she set the table with her grandmother’s china. Paul had just taken the steaks off of the grill when his pager went off.  They looked at each other in utter disbelief, and laughed at the timing, saying they’ll just have to put off their celebration for a couple of hours. As he got in his truck she told him to be careful. Don’t worry, he said, I’ll always come back to you. They kissed through the truck’s open window and she waved to him as he backed out of the driveway onto the highway. She watched the red taillights fade in the low light of dusk as he drove off.

Maybe it was because there wasn’t a body to bury. Maybe it was because of the promise he’d made in his last words to her. Or maybe it was simply that she loved him too much to give up on him.  Whatever it was, it was strong enough for her, despite all reason and logic, to look for him in every face she saw, and to see him sometimes in the shadows cast by the June sunsets.

This year, June 21st was like every year since that first June 21st. It was warm outside, and fireflies flashed on and off through the yard. She set two places at the table with her grandmother’s china, put out the bottle of her and Paul’s favorite wine and took two steaks off of the grill. She lit two candles and sat down and waited for Paul to return.  And when the sun had finally set and the bottle was nearly empty she heard the gate by the machine shed loudly squeak open, and through the dining room window she watched the darkened figure approach the back door. She heard him softly speak her name through the screen door, Rachel, and she said Paul, oh Paul and she let him in. They quickly shed their clothes and make love in the darkness of the new night.

Then she was alone again, drifting off to sleep as from the highway the roar of the dual exhausts from a  1965 Ford Mustang echoed and faded in the night.

Max


One doesn’t buy a pet.  That would imply that it’s a simple financial transaction. It’s much more complicated than that. When you pay money to take ownership of a cat or a dog, you are making an investment.  You are investing in your own capacity to love and be loved. Unconditionally. The real cost that you have to consider is the fact that no matter how much and how well you love your pet that you will likely outlive him.

A little bit more than14 years ago, a Gordon Setter my children would name Max (after a setting on a hair dryer) was born, and a couple of months later, he came home to his new family, which consisted of five humans, two cats, and one aging and overweight and utterly charming Golden Retriever named Sid.  Max was a good puppy. House broken and kenneled at night very easily, he was physically the opposite of Sid.  Where Sid was lethargic in his old age and obeyed a strict economy of motion, Max was constantly on the go. He quickly learned the boundaries of our 2 ½ acre yard. This was the most satisfying thing about our relationship with Max.  We gave him the freedom to explore a world that he absolutely loved, and he’d run all day every day, chasing birds and squirrels and rabbits and even butterflies, running in graceful and long strides, a lean mean running machine, muscles rippling, a display of fluidity.  Nothing could slow him down, not even a bout with heartworm several years ago from which he recovered fully and quickly. After running all day, he’d curl up on the back of a couch and rest and begin the same pursuits the next day. Not that he ever actually caught anything. That didn’t matter in the least. He found true joy in the chase, the pursuit. I recognized this and I think I’ve learned a thing or two about how to view the world from the way Max loved every inch of our property, or more accurately, Max-land.

Over the past couple of years, in his old age, Max’s long strides shortened to a trot, and he’d come in earlier in the afternoon and rest longer on the couches.  He’d spend much of his outdoors time laying in the grass, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, content to be among the familiar grass and flowers and birds of the world that was still his.

A couple of months ago, very suddenly, on a Sunday, after letting him out, we found him barely breathing, laying in the back yard.  After a trip to the E.R., he was diagnosed with Pancreatitis and Aspiration Pneumonia. They kept him for three days, and after several medications and a new diet regime, he seemed to be doing much better, but he’d changed in subtle ways. He only wanted out when my wife and I were out, and he’d stick close to our sides, for the most part forgoing the adventure of the chase.

Then came today, when he woke up with a strange and foreign panic in his eyes and fits of coughing. My wife took him to the vet and he was running a high fever, and the vet suggested that it was probably time, so my wife made the soul-wrenching decision. I was up north at our cabin with our other dog, a four year old English Shepherd named Tucker, when my wife called and informed me that she had to have Max put down.  I’m up here trying to write, but I didn’t anticipate having to write about this.

When Max was three or four, we had to have our beloved Sid put down, and eventually both cats, too. Max mourned each loss with the rest of us, just like Tucker will undoubtedly mourn Max when him and I return home. We’ll come home to a house that will suddenly be emptier, and a yard that will still, if only in dreams and memories, be graced by the fluid black blur of a very special dog who created in its 2 ½ acres  a world big enough to encapsulate a lifetime of adventure and wonder.

Tough Enough


Throughout junior high and the first two years of high school, because of where my birthday fell, I was one of the smallest kids in my class.  I was also emotionally immature, not being able to control my big mouth. It might not seem like much, but when you’re early in the double digits of years, being a year younger than most of your classmates can be a big deal.

My brother, on the other hand, four years ahead of me, was in the opposite situation, being amongst the oldest in his class. So different were we that he was considered one of the toughest guys in town, while I was known as a little smart-mouthed wimp. When I was in 8th grade, my brother was in his senior year in high school, and I’d hear through the buzz about some new fight he’d recently gotten into, and how he once laid a guy out in the middle of an intersection in Burlington. I, on the other hand, had no such proclivity for fighting, and was, in fact, due to my mouth, the frequent target of bullies and bullying. Fight or flight?  That was always an easy and consistent answer for me in those days.

But perhaps my biggest fear back then was that word of my wimpy-ness would find its way to my brother, just as word of his exploits found their way to me. This was part of my motivation when one day, in 8th grade, I decided it was time for me to show off my hidden toughness. It was time for me to kick some ass.

The target of my aggression would be Jimmy K., who happened to be not only the son of the school principal, but also one of the two or three guys in my class that was as small as I was (I was at least smart enough not to pick a fight with the 97% of the boys that were bigger than me.) Jim had done something to piss me off that afternoon, and I remember telling him, you just wait until after school, you just wait.

Then we were released, and walking across the grassy yards of the middle school lot. Other kids were swirling around us as I followed after Jim, taunting him, jabbing him in the shoulders. He just continued on, silent, with his head down, not looking at me and absorbing my verbal abuse without reaction, carrying his books.

His books. Jim’s not responding was emboldening me to push harder to get a reaction from him. I reached out and knocked the books out of his hands, folders and papers falling to the ground and scattering in the breeze. How do you like that, I snarled. And then, within an instant, though I can see it all now, forty some years later, as if in slow motion, he turned around, his right hand balled into a fist, and landed a perfect punch to my face, to my left eye. I remember my eye welling up with water, from the impact, not because I was crying, well, mostly not because I was crying.  Whatever, the fight was over, and by the time I walked home I had a bona-fided shiner, my eye socket swollen and purple from Jimmy K.’s perfectly thrown right cross.

When I gott home, I told my mom that she should see what the other guy looks like, though I know I  wasn’t very convincing. In the days that followed I wore the bruise on my eye socket like Hester Prynne, instead of a scarlet “A,” a purple “W” for wimp.

A couple of years later, in the summer between ninth and tenth grade, I suffered through my last encounter with a bully. It was a kid in my class who I shall call G who for some unremembered reason took an intense disliking to me. Looking back on it now, I can’t for the life of me figure out what it was about this kid that I feared.  He was was ridiculous looking, short with long hair and a big soft stomach that protruded well past his belt. I guess it was the fact that he smoked and hung out with some older kids who also had long hair and smoked that intimidated me so much.

One summer day, after stopping in the hobby store on Main Street and purchasing some poster boards (on which I was going to design golf courses, having decided recently that would be what I’d someday become famous for.  I was ahead of my time in that the words “nerd” or “geek” weren’t part of the culture yet.) when I spotted G in the alley across the street, smoking with four of his friends, all of whom were older than him. He saw me and yelled “Gourdoux!”

I ran, and as I took off, I saw his friends start running across the street. I ducked into an alleyway between a couple of the stores and emerged in the bright sunshine of the empty parking lot behind  Main Street only to find that I was quickly flanked on all sides by G and his friends.

“Didn’t I tell you I didn’t want to see you around here?” G snarled.  I almost answered that no, I don’t seem to recall ever hearing you say that. Two of the older guys held me, pinning my arms back. I was unable to move, but I felt myself recoiling right before he delivered a sucker punch to my gut. I bent over when I realized that his punch didn’t even hurt. He’d hardly hit me. My big mouth started to say the words, is that it, is that all you’ve got, but for once, my brain was faster than my mouth, and I realized that G’s heart just wasn’t into beating me. Perhaps one of those friends that held me was an older brother who G had to impress. Perhaps he chose me to be his victim because I was an eaasy target. Whatever his reason, when he hit me, it was clear to ne that bullying didn’t come naturally to him, and that he was no more a tough guy than I was when Jimmy K. landed “the punch.” He mumbled soething about me not being worth the hassle and told the guys who held me to le me go.

They disbursed as I reached down and picked up the poster boards and headed for home.  I was thinking, that didn’ even hurt, why had I been so afraid of G for all that time, when am I going to stop being such a wimp? I also remembered wondering why G didn’t punch me harder, and the more I thought about, the better I understood, and I saw more than just a chubby kid who smoked. I saw a kid who, when he had a chance to really hurt me, chose not to, and I understood the toughness that took.

In the following year I’d go on my big growing spurt, going from 5’6” to 6’1” by the time I’d start eleventh grade. I’d never run from a fight again. Even better, I’d never start a fight again, either.

Now I can say, with all of the confidence I lacked in those days, that I am one tough S.O.B.

 

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