This is a story about a great grandfather and a great grandson, but before it is told, I think a little background is in order:
Through modern science, the ultrasound revealed that my eldest daughter One’s second child (“1.2”) would be male. The all female streak (daughters & granddaughters) was at an end. There would be a first boy cub.
Great grandfather Michael was my widowed mother-in-law’s second husband – a wonderful man who was loved by all. A man who knew a lot more than higher education could ever have taught him. Michael had a practical engineer’s curiosity. True Statement: He never stopped figuring things out.
Michael and 1.2 bonded right away. They really did. It was special. They did all kinds of things together. As 1.2 became more aware, with Michael showing him, he became fascinated by ceiling fixtures. At family functions, I vividly remember Michael carrying 1.2 room-to-room where they would stop underneath the ceiling fan or light and 1.2 would point up to it. They would each in their own way analyze it for a time and then move on to the next room.
As it subsequently turns out, thus far, 1.2 continues to exhibit an engineer’s curiosity. So perhaps there was a certain instinctual and/or even metaphysical connection between the two of them. They were virtually inseparable when in the same place.
Being faithful parents, my daughter and son-in-law made arrangements, as is done amongst protestant churches, to dedicate 1.2’s upbringing to the Lord. They were attending at the time what I could best describe as a very large church, perhaps not a mega-church, but a very large church nonetheless. The Sanctuary was well appointed with an excellent stage having good sound and lighting. Their services were ably produced. Many people attended.
1.2 was almost one and a half years of age at the time – still way too young to comprehend everything happening around him. As is true of children of that age, most language was beyond his understanding as was the full meaning of the ceremony that he was the subject of.
The pastor who presided over the baby dedications was perfect for the job. He combined earnestness in his role while still being amiable and a nice enough guy. Children generally reacted well to him. It was his duty to publicly confirm with the parents their intent to raise their child within the beliefs of the faith.
Along with that, the pastor would address the child directly, among other things making note of the meaning of the child’s name within its religious context. At the point when the pastor was mentioning to 1.2 that he too had some obligations in this matter – to be a good, obedient son, respecting his parents and being faithful to the Lord above…
…1.2 raised his hand and pointed straight up to heaven.
The congregation collectively gasped in amazed reaction at having seen the hand of God move through the hand of a child. It was on TV and streaming on the Internet. 1.2 had no idea of how far his reach exceeded the length of his small arm!
Michael and I followed 1.2’s upward motion and realized what had happened. 1.2, perhaps not giving the pastor his full attention, had noticed the colorful stage lighting above his head and reacted to it. Michael might just as well have been holding him on that stage at that particular moment. Most thankfully, someone took a picture:
I was sitting next to Michael. I looked at Michael. Michael looked at me. I think…I am pretty sure that wry smiles appeared on both of our faces. Nothing was said between us, words were needless – it was truly an amazing moment in time. In a crowd of well over one thousand, he and I, along with a few family members, knew what 1.2 was up to. To the rest, a religious act of some magnitude had occurred right in front of their eyes, and well, who am I to say, perhaps God does move in mysterious ways…
I was on my way to take my last college final exams…life had other plans for me.
It was 1981. It had been a little over four years since I had joined the United States Air Force. Almost five years since we had married. During that time we had two children. I had just received an Honorable Discharge from the military. I had been going to college full-time as well.
I had acquired an early ‘70’s Volkswagen Square Back that needed an engine overhaul and other work. Living on the coast of California, the surfer dudes were always wanting to buy it – perfection for their purposes. I received numerous offers, but held on to it.
I have never been all that mechanical, but the VW engine is not a very complicated affair. It took awhile because of the scarcity of time and the ever present lack of money. All indications were that my rehab work was adequate, but there seemed to be numerous other mechanical issues that required solving.
Deb and the girls had flown home. I rented a moving truck and with my father’s assistance drove our worldly possessions while towing our MG back to Buffalo. I then returned to California to stay with friends for a couple of months while I finished my last semester of college.
It had been four very long years away from the land I was born, raised and grew-up in. I was ready to go back. I was very much looking forward to being a civilian again. I was anxious to be with my family once more. I had been around the sun 24 times and was eager for new adventures.
The VW ran well enough for me to use while I finished my courses. I had to tinker with it a bit, but I tested it with a couple of small trips and all systems were “go” to drive it back to New York once I was done. I had grown attached to it. It was my escape vehicle. I had been the one who brought it back to life.
So, the day of my last finals came and off I went to be tested. I had no way of knowing the real tests I was facing. Midway there, the VW spewed an oil slick that James Bond would have been proud of. I left it on the side of the highway and hitch-hiked the rest of the way. Not the glorious ending to my college career that I had anticipated…
I managed to get the VW to a friend’s and pulled the engine. I did a quick tear down and then put it back together. Not being sure of what had happened, I took it to the local shop and they replaced an oil gasket as I recall. It was functional once again.
With haste I would soon regret, I loaded the VW with my stuff and left Vandenberg AFB (a little north of beautiful Santa Barbara) and headed home. I didn’t get too far. I was near San Bernardino when the final engine meltdown occurred. I got a small amount of cash for the VW. I gave away the possessions that I couldn’t economically ship home. I was devastated mentally and emotionally. My homecoming drive was a disaster.
To make matters worse, then President Reagan, my former Commander In Chief, was taking a stand against the air traffic controllers. They were taking a stand against their work conditions and were on strike. The nation’s airlines were basically shut down for a brief period. The exact period I was in serious need of the services they normally offered.
I got a bus out of San Bernardino and once again began my trip home. Adding further to my difficulties because of the lack of air travel, the buses were full up with travelers. I and my sadness over what had happened were closely packed with other humans who no doubt had stories of their own.
I vividly remember what happened just before the bus left the Las Vegas station. A woman with two young children came aboard. The woman got the children seated just in front of me, told them to be good and walked off the bus. Just like that. The kids looked scared. The brother was about seven, the sister about five. I could feel a lot of interest in them generated by the other passengers on the bus. Some of that interest didn’t feel so good.
Isn’t it funny how sometimes, in our own bad times, we intersect with others in even worse situations?
I was handed a mission that I could not refuse. Certainly not a mission that I wanted. I had my own troubles, but I knew that those kids needed someone to keep them safe and on course from Las Vegas to their destination in upstate New York.
I moved from my seat and began talking to them. I told them that I had children of my own, that they could trust me and that I intended on helping them along the way. I made sure that the other passengers on the bus could hear me well enough to know that the kids were no longer fair game – they had a protector.
And I took care of those kids. I made sure that they ate, went to the bathroom and slept safely. During stops along the way, I took them on walking expeditions to explore the surroundings and have some physical exercise. We talked. We laughed. We had a few occasional outbursts. I read to them. We played silly child games.
Over the course of the next few days, our route took us through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania followed and then New York. My final stop was Buffalo. I gave the bus driver primary responsibility for the kids’ safe passage for the not long rest of the way to their destination.
As it turned out, parting from them was not so easy. I have the feeling that those kids helped me more than I helped them. That’s life, ain’t it?
I think of them from time-to-time. However it has happened for them and wherever they are, I hope those kids have had good lives.
You lie still less than a foot away on top of the soft mouse pad that protects me from carpal tunnel syndrome.
I noticed this morning, through eyes not yet clarified by my first coffee of the day, your presence in my study. Odd, I thought, that you would even be present this close to Thanksgiving. It is certainly past your time of the year in these parts.
I had the presence of mind to reckon that your life must be short. Rather than remove you from my space, both physical and mental, I decided that if these were your final moments then my study could be your Hospice and I your companion.
Your flight and movement were a little chaotic, seemingly random. You nestled in the heat of the light in the globe of my desk lamp, you circled my cranium, you landed in various spots, and in and on various objects on my desk while I got about the business of the day.
Sometimes I could see you, other times I did not know where you were. Then you would rise again to a new location. I wondered if you had any purpose in this, if there was more going on than my conscious programming allowed me to realize.
Perhaps it was, in your reality, some last business to be done? Or perhaps a ritual of your species’ existence?
I hoped that if there is any pleasure in being a Ladybug that it was satisfying in some way, even so far from your natural habitat.
Then you landed on your final resting spot and moved no more.
For me, my study is a place of many good things. I hope in your last moments it was to you as well. Rest in Peace my little Ladybug. And thanks for reminding me of the preciousness and fragility of life.
The waitress brought me another drink. She wanted to light my hurricane lamp again. I wouldn’t let her. “Can you see anything in the dark, with your sunglasses on?” she asked me. “The big show is inside my head,” I said.
I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.
All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.
Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.
I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.
All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States — and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!
Wake up, you idiots! Whatever made you think that money was so valuable?
New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.
Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.
People don’t come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God.
A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were big things.
And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
I will say, too, that lovemaking, if sincere, is one of the best ideas Satan put in the apple she gave to the serpent to give to Eve. The best idea in that apple, though, is making jazz.
Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.
People say there are no atheists in foxholes. A lot of people think this is a good argument against atheism. Personally, I think it’s a much better argument against foxholes.
True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.
To be is to do – Socrates
To do is to be – Sartre
Do Be Do Be Do – Sinatra
I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.
Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.
If you can do no good, at least do no harm.
Make love when you can. It’s good for you.
Ting-a-ling mother fucker.
There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look.
Until you die…it’s all life.
Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.
Life is no way to treat an animal.
The insane, on occasion, are not without their charms.
There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.
No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious & charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.
A saint is a person who behaves decently in a shockingly indecent society.
What you can become is the miracle you were born to be through the work that you do.
My soul knows my meat is doing bad things, and is embarrassed. But my meat just keeps right on doing bad, dumb things.
She hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.
And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years. It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period. This is it: “Nothing.”
A sane person to an insane society must appear insane.
And so it goes…
The problem with youth is that it is wasted on the young, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw.
But does it need to be that way…in today’s age?
I think that most of us who survived our youth have said something like, “If I only knew then what I know now.”
Ah, there’s nothing quite so compelling as 20/20 hindsight.
Perhaps, just perhaps, today’s youth can have a better opportunity to enjoy their youth, if we let them.
In 1910, about 100 years ago, average life expectancy was 49.2 years.
If you were born in 2009, your average life expectancy is 78.7 years.
So, in a century we’ve added about 30 more revolutions around the sun to the average person.
It wasn’t that long ago that it made sense to be married and have a child by age 16, but those days are fortunately behind us.
Luongo – “Young Mother With Child”
We are living longer. We should thoughtfully consider letting our kids grow-up longer.
I think that with the exponential advances in technology, we will soon be able to add another 30 years of life expectancy to newborns. Could well be more. Seriously.
But the exponential rate of technology is not without its cost. There is a lot more to learn now than there used to be.
Yet, it seems that we are trying to push all the new knowledge into the same time frame that older adults were subjected to when they were kids.
That doesn’t make sense to me.
I see parents today vying to get their kids into the best pre-pre-school. I know that they mean well, but it reminds me of the horrible images I have seen of children’s beauty pageants.
As a parent I find this painful
Frankly Francis suggests that we should let kids be kids a little longer than we used to.
With longer life expectancies and more to learn today, let them take the time to absorb it.
And give them the time to enjoy the process. We have it to give. We will all be the better for it.
As my friend Kent says, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
As Frankly Francis says, “Enjoy the moments as they come because there is no rewind button.”
As Marv Levy says, “Where would you rather be than right here, right now?”
We are in a very unique position geographically, economically, historically and politically. Perhaps never before in recorded history has a nation had at its disposal what we have today.
For the most part, it has been handed to us.
Seriously, as far as life as we know it on this planet goes, we have hit the big lottery.
So through apathy and sloth, will we waste what we have been given? Or will we further multiply it?
Social evolution is a non-linear pathway – we tend to get distracted along the way. What can safely be said is that humanity has yet to achieve its full potential.
I have an idea that in the long run, our Founding Fathers will be thought of more as practical philosophers rather than as revolutionaries. How they embraced the potential of mankind is really remarkable, especially in the context of the time that they lived in.
Indulge me and re-read these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Now over 230 years old, what powerful and well chosen words these are.
How symbiotic…first, amongst each other, we are all equal. Because of that, I have the absolute right to my own life. And given that, I have the liberty to live and pursue my own pathway.
Or in regressive terms, I cannot pursue my own happiness if I do not have liberty… and I cannot have liberty if I do not have the right to my life…and I cannot have the right to my own life unless we are all equal.
It all fits.
And it remains revolutionary to this very day.
But that’s not the intriguing part for me. The intriguing part is the glossed over, subtle and almost hidden words “among these.”
“Among These” expands our individual rights beyond the enumerated “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
What else does this include? Have you ever speculated?
Could it really, actually play out like this?
I may choose to do whatever I want, so long as I am not infringing on anyone else’s right to do what they want. Simply put, my right to throw a punch ends at your nose. However, if you stick your nose into my business, well then you face the consequences.
I believe that it is our unique individuality that needs to be maximized during the brief time allotted to us. Fight the Power Brothers and Sisters. And teach your children too.
Well, I’m here to tell you that from personal experience, the answer is yes.
I’d like to think that I’ve always been a bit of a romantic, but in high school, I devoted myself to playing in a band for the purpose of lots of sex & drugs & rock-n-roll. Let me be brutally honest – it worked beyond my wildest expectations! In fact, it worked so well, by the time I was 18, I was kind of tired of the whole thing…
So, I’ve just about graduated from high school and I go to this superb outdoor concert with my girlfriend at the time. Great bands and great times to be had except that my girlfriend really does not want to be there and really wants to leave. In fact she’s making me so miserable that leaving is the best alternative. So we go.
Then It Happens
On the way out, as I’m walking a little behind my soon to be ex-girlfriend, I see a vision of female beauty approaching me:
Tall, blonde, short-shorts (that’s what we called ’em at the time), tube top, dangling earrings, calf-laced platform shoes…yeah, that’s the way it was.
I distinctly remember saying to myself, “I should not be leaving, I should be staying to meet this woman.” And let me be very clear here, she was a woman, I was still a boy.
I left with my unhappy girlfriend. So it goes…
So now I’ve graduated from high school. It’s 1975 for those who care about carbon dating. My close friend, Cocaine Corey, suggests that I go to Hairstyling School. The movie “Shampoo” had just been released (starring Warren Beatty & Goldie Hawn) and Beatty was having a pretty good time. Seemed like a great idea, so it’s off to become a Cosmetologist.
It Really Happens
First day of Hairstyling School. I’m surrounded by a lot of very hip people older than myself. Intimidation is taking its toll on me. I settle into my chair, but realize that I forgot something, so I leave the room.
At the doorway…right smack dab in the middle of the doorway…I mean, at the exact center of the doorway, I literally walk right into (you may have guessed it) my blonde Goddess from the aborted rock concert a few months before. The impact is so strong, we literally almost knock each other unconscious. Not only am I seeing stars, but I’m seeing stars.
She Likes Me
The blonde Goddess, who happens to be a couple of years my senior and maybe not as smart as she should be in picking a guy, actually falls for me and within a few months we are engaged. About one year later to the day we are married. A little more than one year after that our first child is born. Guess we were really stupid or just really in love…
She Still Likes Me
35 years later. 3 daughters and a few grandchildren. We are still living life’s adventures together. I tell her she has been punished enough by my presence, but she still lets me in the house.
Like everyone, we’ve had our share of ups and downs, but I would not walk this planet with anyone else.
P.S. I dropped out of Hairstyling School – I had no talent for it. But I ended up with a whole lot more than a certificate and a vocation!
So last weekend was spent going to a couple of graduation parties. Lots of fun, good to see people, proud of the graduates. Got me a little reflective…
I have never attended one of my own graduations. I intend to keep it that way. Pomp & Circumstance does have its place amongst us and I respect that for others.
I had what you might call a less than wholesome attitude in high school. I wanted to live. I wanted to experience things. And authority and rules were needlessly restrictive.
You know what it was about? It was playing in a rock-n-roll band and enjoying to the fullest all that went along with that. I never got caught up in school spirit. I was doing time when it came to that place…
Hence, I decided to my skip my graduation. I took a nap during its scheduled time. Never regretted it.
Fast forward a couple of decades. Number Two daughter (I refer to my children by their birth order rather than by their names) was graduating from the very same high school. It meant that I had to go to the graduation ceremony. I really did want to attend her graduation, but I still wasn’t too keen on being back at my old alma mater.
Grad ceremony time and, well, I’m getting though it just fine. As she stepped up to the podium, I noticed that the Valedictorian had colored a rainbow on her headgear.
She took a moment to make the standard acknowledgements and opening remarks.
She then launched into a searing harangue about how mean and awful her fellow classmates were to her and to each other. Accusations of cliques and cruelty shot from her lips like bullets from an AK-47.
She was clearly deviating from her pre-approved speech. The school board members and faculty were squirming in their chairs behind her.
Then, to my wonder and amazement, she topped it all off by formally outing herself! Yep, she played that card in front of a full house. Remember the mention of the rainbow earlier?
Graduates were openly yelling and taunting her. Parents were saying very nasty things loudly. The school officials looked ready for retirement.
Bedlam and anarchy all around me. Chaos.
Truth being stranger than fiction in front of my eyes.
I was ecstatic! I think I yelled “You Go Girl!” Frankly Francis sidebar: please place the phrase in the time context that it was delivered in – prior to this millennium.
It was the best graduation I’ve ever witnessed!
However, cinematically, the best commencement address I’ve ever heard was delivered by Rodney Dangerfield in the movie “Back to School.” It went something like this:
“Thank you, Dean Martin, President Sinclair…and members of the graduating class. I have only one thing to say to you today…it’s a jungle out there.
You gotta look out for number one. But don’t step in number two.
And so, to all you graduates…as you go out into the world my advice to you is…don’t go! It’s rough out there. Move back with your parents. Let them worry about it.”
That pretty much calls it the way it is.
I’ve decided upon my life’s goal:
I want to be as good as my dog thinks I am
Emma, our resident feline (aka Mrs. Peal) is really a pain to winter with. She loves being outdoors, but does not like to go out in the snow. A few years ago, we decided, before the complete winter lock down, that we would get a kitten to occupy our soon to be cabin fevered cat.
As is typical of most of our planning and execution, we came home instead with a dog…a male Chihuahua puppy to be more precise.
Thus, for better or worse, Martini (Tini) Oliver joined our clan.
We’ve not had much dog experience, and what we have had has not been all that good. So it was with certain trepidation that we began our life together.
The Early Days
He beached himself on a step as a puppy. That was it for stairs. We put in a small ramp in the foyer so he could get around the first floor of the house, as he firmly decided he wasn’t going up or down steps.
He flat out refused to wear a collar. In fact, he became a lawn ornament when a collar was placed on him.
He loved to go for walks, as long as I carried him…
…and that became harder and harder as he seemed to continually put on weight.
He became a 14 pound pork roast with stick legs. Tini moved up to the heavyweight division.
I began referring to him as “My Last Meal.”
His Owner Gets Smarter
Tini now will go up a few steps, but still refuses to go down.
He will now wear a collar. He ultimately fell for the line “only the best dogs get pretty necklaces.” Turns out dogs are as gullible as men!
We go for walks where Tini actually walks…
And we are seriously working on the weight thing.
The Big Picture
By Canine standards, he’s not much of a dog, but he’s my dog.
Animal Planet did a show on the 10 breeds of dogs most removed from the wolf – of course, the Chihuahua (pronounced ”che-hoo-a-hoo-a” by my Vet & his staff when they think I can’t hear) came in first place – the dog furthest from the wolf. No mystery where that was going…
Tini is an excellent early warning system. For whatever value a security system has, Tini maximizes it. And very economical – low input, low output.
His teeth are small – I refer to them as “The Tiny Daggers of Death.”
If holding on to something in his mouth meant anything, he would rule the world. In human terms, he could only hope to get to a capillary – veins and arteries are out of the question.
Tini’s Got Shotgun
He loves car rides. I mean he really, really loves to ride in the car. In dog terms, an hour in the car for Tini could be the equivalent of a day at the amusement park.
That he likes car rides suits me just fine, as driving continues to be one of my personal pleasures.
And This All Leads To…
When I come home (or often, even upon entering the room), Tini reacts like it is the best thing that ever happened. Circles and wiggles all over the place!
So, yes, I aspire to be as good as Tini (as psychotic as he is) thinks I am. I’d sure hate to let the little guy down.
Sometimes I can be a curmudgeon, and sometimes I am proud of that.
I’m waiting in the drive-thru lane, I’m still waiting, I can see myself aging, pigs are flying above my car, Hell is freezing over. OK, I’m overplaying it, but it seems like an undue amount of time. And all I want is a black coffee.
I’ve long maintained that the propensity to get “order screwed” in the drive-thru lane is the price that one pays for convenience, but I can’t even get up there to place my order.
Finally, I’m at the window. The young lady rejects my money and hands me my coffee. She says that it’s on the house for the wait. I offer to pay again, but she insists that the manager insists.
Why Thank You, Wendy’s…I’ll be back again.
What a unique experience. One that I’ve never had before at fast food: understanding of the customer and the desire to mitigate the delay.
Imagine that, it’s almost like they think my time might be valuable. I’ve had that notion before, but it is affirming when others feel that way as well.
I’d like to think that I’m easy to please, that I’m as understanding and forgiving as the next guy, but I’ve seen the next guy in action on many occasions and it hasn’t been pretty. And I have had my moments too.
I don’t mean to take my pleasant surprise over the top. I know it was just a coffee, but it is a response worth noting nonetheless.