I can count on one hand the number of people that have died in my life that came as no surprise. Friends and family that had been diagnosed with this or that "life threatening" illness that came to pass. There is however a far longer list of people that have crossed my path and in turn, their crossing from this life have come as a shock, that short kick in the gut which leads to the fog of disbelief.
My friend Robert Pino has left the planet, leaving his wife Adela, and his children other family and friends along with clients, readers and followers stunned. He was an Aikido Master, an author and seeker. He was a presence in the room and in the world, for what now seems a very short time for so many.
Robert called me when his first book “Absolute Victory” came out in 2000 and in just a few minutes I knew this guy was about his business. I had him on my radio show and somehow he invited himself up to where I live in the UP of Michigan and like a Dutch boomerang just kept coming back, usually with others in tow that came to him for guidance and coaching. It was however the conversations off the air that I remember most.
I was driving back north from Chicago and Robert had hitched a ride with me. We turned the radio off and started to dissect the greater things in life, the meaning of coincidence and how this incredible matrix of experience at times shows its perfection. Robert was just beginning his role as the "Life Alchemist" based on the ancient concepts of the ability to transform heavy base metals into more “noble” and metals, turning lead into gold and in doing so shifting the energy into a higher frequency resulting in a greater value. His concept was that humans are much the same, with veins of heavy lead filling our existence from the pounding of life itself and the only way to “find the gold” within is to fully engage in the same processes that alchemist did- transformation by fire. Either you were consumed by the process or transformed by it.
It was quite a ride.
The last time I saw Robert was a couple years ago and he looked fit and happy, having recently married the love of his life, Adela. He was moving to Hollywood to be the “Alchemist to the Stars” and just last December released “The 24 Laws of Influence” and was working on some projects for television. We stayed in touch like most of the world, via the electronic landfill of Facebook. Adela was doing a fair amount of make-up for the Oscars and we joked online that with all her skills to make people look great - his appearance hadn’t changed for the better.
About a week later, this past Thursday, Robert took his very last breath.
I turned 55 last December, and you would think by now that hearing the news of what we called an “unexpected death” would be something that loses its shock value over time.
It hasn't, and that is a good thing.
Perhaps it’s the fact that Robert and I are about the same age, have worked in similar disciplines, authored books and did the media thing. Perhaps it’s because we are about the same size and demeanor (at times) and both of us are pretty intent about what we feel our work is in the world. It could be that the talks we had about life post-divorce, the effect on our kids and the deep need fathers have to have all the answers that bound us together at a core level.
In many ways Robert was a mirror for me, his friendship and teachings had me looking in the mirror at my life and the ways I could find the alchemist within, to transform the lead of life into the gold of living before the sands of time run out.
I have long held that we come in to life right on time, live the time we have and then leave right on time. That belief does not diminish my existence but rather enhances it every time I have to say goodbye to a friend-the lesson shows itself and quietly pronounces… “The clock is ticking John and it only goes in one direction-forward.” Death, the great reminder of of how life ends-no exceptions.
Robert proclaimed that the life we “dream” of does exist already, it’s our choices and decisions that often block our experience of that which we seek. It’s not “somewhere out there” it’s “right here in me” if we have the courage to overcome, the gallantry to move forward, the power to forgive and the willingness to follow the inner light that guides the way.
There is a void in the Universe on the physical level but “The Life Alchemist” lives on in the hearts of those of us that were fortunate to have been in his orbit. While the first question that always comes up is "how did he die?" I think Robert would reminds us to ask a more important question... "how did he live?"
Godspeed Robert, well done friend.
It's March 1st, the first month of the year that usually signals the death knell of winter (but I am not so sure of that) and the boys of spring that hopefully will become the men of summer as the weather warms and the long johns are replaced with short sleeves. Major league baseball has been in camp for a month now and a couple days ago I happened upon the first televised Cubs game from sunny and sun soaked Arizona. It was the middle innings and the predictable baseball banter about hope for the new season, how so and so’s arm was feeling, the new variety of hot dogs that will be available and what a neat new training facility the Wrigley Kids have and how they can boast on one of the top farm systems in all of baseball…something to be very proud of.
As I was listening to the pandering on the subject of how good the Cub pitching staff is shaping up, an Arizona Diamondback batter crushed one over the fence for a three run dinger. I changed the channel immediately knowing that its way to early in the year to feel that angst in my gut over another season of “woulda, coulda and shoulda. “ “There is still snow on the ground, no way I am gonna get bent yet.” I mumbled under my breath. It’s then that I realized (again) how much of a fossil I am, a “Ball-a-saurous Rex” (for lack of a better term.)
A million years ago when Leo Durocher whipped a bunch of skinny no-names (with the exception of Ernie Banks) into contenders that made a run for the crown in 1969, I was a ten-year-old boy in left field with a freshly oiled catcher’s mitt that had been broken in over the winter as backstops had done for years. A new baseball slapped into the crotch of the glove that had been lubed up with half the Vaseline that we had in the house, closed tight and bound with one of my dad’s belts, and then shoved under my bed in the darkness to wait out the frozen months until spring. The unveiling of that glove signaled the start of baseball and a summer of endless possibilities. The Cubs came up short that year, giving way to the Mets and thus began a domino effect of “almost made it” seasons with a few bright spots over the years. “Loveable Losers” became the marketing slogan and while Cub fans had little to cheer about in the past 45 years since a black cat sauntered in front of Ron Santo at Shea Stadium, the team continued to rake in major cash, without winning, and since baseball is no longer just a game but also a business, winning a World Series was not essential to the bottom line both on and off the field.
After billionaire Sam Zell used the team as a pawn in the game of high finance, and enduring “The Bartman Incident” in 2003 (another testament to the victim mentality developed over the years by Cub fans) a kid who used to sit out in right field convinced his wealthy family to purchase the team and restore the luster and grit that so many of us fossils remembered. Enter Tom Ricketts, the Gary Cooper of owners who walked the hallowed concrete steps of Wrigley, shaking hands, talking with fans and putting a face on the game that had been lacking any sense of identity for years. What I observed was nothing short of dream come true for a kid who loved the Cubs as much as I did.
What I did not see coming was the nightmare that followed the dream.
The “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field needed a serious upgrade. While it was nostalgic to head into the men’s room between innings and wait in line to whiz in a trough, lined up like cattle at a milking station (matter of fact it’s not uncommon to hear “mooing” when standing nuts to butts with other male humans with full bladders.) The player facilities needed serious help; there were games when nets were strung up under the bleachers to keep fans safe from falling concrete. A real person still manned the “Green Giant” scoreboard in centerfield. Ricketts committed $500 million bucks to upgrades and renovations that would keep the basic ballpark intact for purists but bring the grand old structure into the 21st century with signage and a “Jumbotron” in left field for effect. Those changes pissed of the surrounding neighbors who claimed foul over a contract negotiated before Ricketts owned the team and threatened a lawsuit if Wonder Boy went through with construction. As aldermen huddled and Rosemont, (the Disneyland of Chicago) offered free land and no taxes, two things kept coming back at me like tipped balls into my fingers behind the plate.
The Chicago Cubs have the longest drought of winning a championship of any North American sports franchise-105 years AND no matter how many bells and whistles they add to the bleachers, at some point a winning team will have to take the field otherwise going out to Wrigley to watch our “national pastime” will become a “waste of time” for fossils like me, who think that perhaps, just perhaps if the Cubs started to win some games, the front office wouldn’t have to come up with gimmicks, I shudder to think what is next. Will some marketing guru copy the Brewer’s highly popular “Sausage Race” wherein various meat products try to outlast one another around the park, or the National’s “President Race” pitting big headed versions of Teddy Roosevelt , Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Taft (really…Howard Taft?) in a head to head heat to the cheers of the crowd? Will the ivy covered walls become a backdrop for the likeness of Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse trying to beat “Clark The Cub” and some “lucky fan” around the bases to win a T-Shirt?
The “Field of Dreams” has become the “Field of Screams.”
Residents of “Wrigleyville” are threatening to sue the team that has put serious coin in their pockets, as they rented out garages, walkways, gangways and constructed their own bleachers on rooftops. The Wonder Boy owner has to battle the very city that stands so much to benefit if he keeps the team at Clark & Addison, Rosemont waiting in the wings as the default location should push comes to shove. The diversion of Jumbotron’s, fancy restaurants and VIP skyboxes cannot erase more than a century of losing.
But winning can-and that should be the focus. By All-Star break fans will know if they should be getting ready for 2015 or… not.
The ten-year-old boy inside me that took two buses to the Wrigley after earning money from cutting the grass for three weeks wants them to win so badly. The kid that put on a yellow hard hat to be part of “The Bleacher Bums” aches to see the Cub banner atop the rest of the division swaying in the wind. The kid that wrapped his glove for the winter and brought it out every spring also realizes that forty five years has passed, and that while the game has changed, part of me has not.
No matter how many losing seasons, imported players that don’t pan out, top prospects that don’t pan out, players that get traded and have their best seasons after leaving Chicago, rotating play by play guys and the vows to never watch again, apparently like so many other fossils that having incorporated Chicago baseball into the fabric of our lives, I still bleed "Cubbie Blue." While it might seem to masochistic to endure such ongoing pain year after year, I prefer to think of it as the price I pay for keeping hope alive for that skinny blond kid inside me that still gets excited when he hears "Play Ball!!"
Somehow that seems ok with me, even if the Cubs lost 15-3 yesterday.
After bouncing around a bit when it comes to securing income in-between speaking engagements and other such non-traditional routes to paying the bills I decided to get back in the classroom, not to take a new course of study to further my career, but rather in front of the room teaching, not in the back of the room sleeping. Last year I took the required online course to get certified as a substitute teacher in Michigan and so when I am "up north" I can contribute more than just taking up space in the woods. As the holiday hiatus ended, school ramped up and after figuring out that my phone ringing at 5:30am was neither a crank call or bill collector but the opportunity to enlighten, inform and inspire young minds I was off to the blackboard jungle in earnest.
I quickly found out there are no blackboards anymore, replaced by "whiteboards" with dry erase pens taking the place of chalk. One of the teacher's best weapons, the dreaded shriek of chalk on slate was removed from the arsenal. It has been over 20 years since I manned the big chair in the classroom, then it was at the same high school I had attended years before. As I recall it was more like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" than higher education. I have alway been more comfortable in the high school setting where for the most part you don't have to tie anyone's shoes or wipe their nose, unlike the smaller life forms that reside in the elementary grades. So when the phone rings its usually a call for a male presence in grades 9-12.
However all that changed last week, the Thursday before Valentine's Day. The phone rang later than usual in the morning, a cheery voice on the other end asking me if I could cover a class last minute. "Sure I said...no problem" "Oh thank you so much," the lady on the other end of the line had hooked me in without the specifics. "What high school is it?" There was a long pause..."Honey it's not high school...it's 2nd grade."
WHAT WAS THAT? "Did you say 2nd grade?" My mind was swirling with images of little kids grasping at my coat or pawing on me with their little hands or worse...runny noses. But how could I say no after I had already said yes? OK...I will do it, fairly sure that by 3:30 that afternoon I would be nothing but a carcass, my brain picked clean by questions like "Do fish fart?" Or "Why is there air?"
I hurried to the school a few miles away, after taking time to coffee-up and walked into the classroom to meet the kids who were getting instructions from the principal. I walked in and if they looked like lilliputians to me, I must have looked like a bearded giant to them. When the principal introduced me to my charges it was as
Over the years I have been in some tough situations but as I stood there with 20 pairs of eyes on me waiting for the first words to come out of my mouth I couldn't remember any of them. The teacher I was filling in for had left explicit instructions as she was out with laryngitis and so what was first on the docket?
Something I had not done since I was a student at Belding Grammar School in Chicago, some forty-five years ago...
We all stood up, faced the red, white and blue flag and began our day together..."I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
I was near tears as these little life forms, in practiced perfection recited some of the most revered words in America, their voices so clear and small, yet full of conviction and power.
What a way to start the day...any day actually.
It was a roller coaster ride to say the least, as I blended subtraction problems in math with a story about how much I loved to read when I was a boy. We talked about the snow that swirled outside during recess like a snowglobe and if dogs are better than cats. I needed some help at times, so when I asked for "an expert" in everything from when lunch was to the music class later on in the day, every hand went up, to help the giant in front of the room navigate his way to the final bell.
Being the day before Valentine's the kids had a free period to make cards and bookmarks for their parents, so out came the blunt scissors and construction paper, the bag full of plastic hearts and beads to adorn the keepsake cards which would eventually end up in a storage bin only to be pulled out twenty years later. The line formed at the desk as I cut paper into cards and gave them each a handful of goodies to paste on as they pleased. They worked at their minature desks like elves getting ready for the big day.
When recess came, the entire school bundled up and headed out to the blizzard, giving those teachers not on duty a respite from the boundless energy and constant motion of 8 year olds. A few female teachers stopped to check in on me, making sure that my "maleness" was still intact as the only other fellow in the school was a computer teacher. On a longer break I talked with the teacher in the room next door, so impressed with the dedication it takes to mold these little humans, grade by grade into more advanced life forms. "28 years I have been teaching." When I asked the secret to her longevity it was one word.
"I love these kids like my own" she said. I could only imagine how many hundreds of children benefitted from her nearly three decades of good energy. We chatted for a bit, and as I walked back to the room just before recess ended, it struck me how much good energy had come back to me from the 2nd graders, how fortunate I was that the phone rang and that I had said yes.
The last ninety minute of the day had one kid handing out heart shaped sugar cookies from his grandma, ten minutes of me sharpening pencils by hand as my right thumb turned red, got numb and swollen from trying to get the right point on those #2 pencils. The smell of sawdust and lead was intoxicating....by now the pawing, runny noses and silly questions didn't really matter.
With just a few minutes before I was to let them out in the hall to dress for home, three little humans came up to the desk and told me to close my eyes and hold out my hands...to which I obliged.
"OPEN YOUR EYES MR. JOHN!"
There in my hand was the prettiest, most heartfelt Valentine's Card that I have ever been given. The big red heart on the cover was a reflection of how this day had knocked the rust off my own ticker and much like the Cowardly Lion, I was reminded of what real courage is.
Teaching 2nd grade.
Its -6 below zero with a windchill of -23 below in the tiny hamlet of Rapid River in the UP of Michigan. I am swaddled in layers of clothes to ward off the chill as I sit in a building that has been a retail outlet for furniture, a flea market and other various businesses before being purchased last year by friends and their non-profit for use as a cultural center for Native American teachings, concerts and other various programs. Its a comfortable place to work from, half the furniture in this oblong structure used to be in my living room, the walls resemble a log cabin interior and there is a fire place at the end of the room. One glance out of the big window to my right captures the height of winter so very far north, with the snow pushing up against the window pane itself, the sun bouncing off the flecks of shimmering ice like tiny acrobats as the trees stand stark and naked, awaiting the thaw.
I am not working out of this place by chance but by choice-or rather the lack of. My fingers are tapping an ancient keyboard attached to a ten-year-old computer tower that also used to be in my house, so I know this beast well. It has sat unused for the most part so its taken three days of cajoling, cursing, downloading and defragmenting to get this thing up and running. I am not hacking away from some sense of nostalgia, but doomed to yesterday's technology because the ghost in my laptop apparently gave up, which started a domino effect of reflection (technology has taken over my life) insight (we are one tech glitch away from oblivion as a species) and righteous indignation (how is that a laptop that is 48 months old can take a dump and there no parts to be found in the western hemisphere?)
Its been said you don't really know what you had until its gone, a saying more focused on personal relationships, but could easily be applied to the gadgets and gizmos that are supposed to make our lives easier but often become the antagonists of our little dramas- a least for awhile.
"The laptop was fine" I told the guy dressed like a geek at the big box store. "Sure it had a couple of glitches but that's normal right?" This twenty something wearing white socks with black shoes prodded and probed my trusty, dusty computer with the skill of a neurosurgeon. "It might be the mother board and if that's the case you might as well just buy a new one" he said, his voice trailing off. "This computer cost three times a much as my first car" I sputtered, and after a quick glance in my direction he realized the living fossil he was dealing with. "Lets send it off to the service center for evaluation" he said back, in some vain attempt to quell my growing angst. So off the laptop went to someplace in Kansas or Kentucky where a whole team of geeks could dissect it-and in short order conclude it was a goner-that there was no way to get parts to fix it and that it would end up on the scrap heap somewhere.
"How is it possible that I can get parts for my 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora built by a company that doesn't even exist anymore, but a computer that is four years old and had a tune-up and check-up six months ago is now nothing more than an organ donor for R2D2?" I cried in anguish to anyone that would listen.
Being cut off from the civilized world is at first a terrifying feeling, what with Facebook updates, emails and breaking news of Bieber's latest antics. What would I do if I couldn't hit "like" on the zillionth picture of a dog dressed like Groucho Marks or post one of my
"Every Moment Matters" quotes of the day? Sure I have a really cool phone that has more technology in it than the first lunar module, but it's tough to try and write "Notes From The North" on a screen the size of a Pop Tart.
So its back to the Model T, the bruised and battered old HP model that was the "state of the art" issue back in the day a decade ago. I had planned to rant and rave about how we have become slaves to the very devices that are supposed to serve us, how the next generation of kids will have worn out their opposable thumbs by playing weird video games all night, thus creating hordes of vampire like humanoids that cannot pass Algebra I because they fall asleep in class, but can annihilate aliens from the safety of their bedrooms, something that always looks good on a resume'.
But my fingers are cold and my mind is a bit foggy so I am going to leave the undoing of the human race for another time, as the little machines we created begin to tap into every facet of life until one day.....aieeeeee! Nothing left of us but a smudge of carbon.
Buckminster Fuller, the great inventor once exclaimed "We are creating all the right technology, for all the wrong reasons." Amen Bucky, amen.
While "Polar Vortex II" clenches its icy grip tighter around the Midwest, closing schools and businesses, prompting humans to boast on where the coldest spot on the planet is, stalling cars and freezing nostrils I am always amazed at how much the weather become headlines as if this has never happened before. Six months ago the media yappers were garbling over the intense heat as if Hades had opened and now it’s reporters dressed like woolly mammoth's to ward of the wind.
This too shall pass.
The deep freeze was the perfect opportunity for me to get my spring hair cut from a guy who charges $10 bucks in my old neighborhood. With warm weather only a couple months away I figured I would get a head start on a trimming and as I suspected the subzero cold had shortened the line at the shop considerably. The man is a wizard with clipper and scissors, an immigrant from Morocco who learned his craft at the hands of a master barber in his country. No formal training, just thousands of haircuts over three decades and a steady demeanor that lets you know your hair is in good hands, gotta respect a guy who knows his way around a straight razor. As I sat waited my turn, watching the heated exhaust from cars lined up at the stop light create a haze of white, my mind quickly traveled back to a far simpler time in my life and how cold days like these were cause for celebration not concern…just a couple blocks from the barber’s chair.
We moved into our big Victorian style home in 1966, just a couple months before the massive snow storm of 1967 dumped a couple feet of snow in Chicago. The city was frozen in place, headlines then too heralding the end of civilization (at least for a week or so.) The snow that snarled traffic in place, closed schools and caused more chaos than Justin Bieber at a PTA meeting, wreaked havoc on the “Second City.” For me and my pals it was perfect conditions to build the most incredible snow forts ever, complete with tunnels and igloos and turrets. Snowballs were made and stockpiled for the impending battle that was sure to ensue once a neighbor kid decided to launch a full frontal assault. My front yard was transformed into a Fort Knox of sorts; the precious gold was buried inside each and every hour that passed by as I lay in wait for the next adventure.
But alas…mom would eventually intervene… “Time to come in before you freeze to death” as if my eternal resting spot would be the same place my dad cut the grass in the summer.
After a few hours of digging, building and laying on the frozen tundra of Berteau Avenue, my mom would put down the drawbridge and coax me in with promises of hot chocolate and a warm pair of mittens, to replace the bone stiff ones I had one. Most times I would put on a pair of gloves first and then the mitts over them for double protection but how can you make a really good snowball with all that padding? My fingers near frostbite, I would give in to my mom’s invite and predictions of my demise and lock the fort down until further notice. The front hallway had a massive heat vent with a shelf just under the book case and it was the perfect place to strip off the endless layers of sweatshirts, long johns, socks and coats along with scarves, those full face wool hats that always smelled like damp dog’s feet to me when they got wet. All that stuff went into a pile in front of the vent to thaw out with just enough room left over for a pair of feet to warm up has the hot air buffeted the hallway. Kids don’t feel cold the way adults do, focused on playing outside instead of how cold it is outside but man that vent covered with an ornate iron grate right above the furnace was wonderful way to melt back to room temperature.
The guy in front of me finished his haircut and I waited until the barber had swept the floor before I jumped in for my turn. “4 on top, 3 on the sides?” he quipped. “Yep” I murmured. The time passed quickly and after a final trim of my four month old facial hair I was out the door. It seemed like my car was on autopilot as I headed down Montrose Avenue, made a quick left at what used to be Beil’s Bakery and down the street toward the house I grew up in. There on my left was Belding Grammar School in some ways looking the same as it did when I graduated in 1973 but just a little drive further down the block had me pulling to the yet to be plowed curb to gaze at the empty spot where the Field House used to be and the open space where we used to skate until our legs and lungs ached in from the cold. I sat there for a few minutes surveying the scene as the memories crept in…
Mr. Speck the groundskeeper rolling out a fire hose to begin the process of creating an outdoor rink, adding layer after layer of water to create the perfect frozen surface. My sister and I putting our skates on at home and walking a block on the tips to the park so we didn’t have to change out of our shoes in the weather. The battered old metal speaker attached to a light pole behind the Field House blaring out polka music for the skaters off a turntable hooked up inside the building, that music becoming the background for the whole neighborhood in winter until lights out at 9pm. The Menzer Boys bringing their formidable hockey skills to the rink along with Dale Discher, the master of the slap shot as we played endless games in the fading light of winter.
My cellphone rang snapping me out of my memory bank; it was my daughter reminding me what time we were meeting for lunch. “Stay warm dad, it’s really cold.” “Oh it’s not so bad” I said…"back in 1967..."
Most mornings I ponder the more absurd aspects of life, something I have seen on the tube like the "10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Hunt" or why someone thinks there needs to be another "Real Housewives of (fill in the blank)" show. I ingest my morning java trying to understand why the Cubs need a mascot instead of a closing pitcher and that so many of us are astounded that it's really cold in the middle of January in certain parts of the country. This particular morning that comes around only once a year pulls me back to things that are far more important than politicians behaving badly, celebs on their third round of rehab and “the 18 reasons you must watch Survivor Cagayan” (no idea where Cagayan is and didn’t realize Survivor was still on the air.) Today is a different day...
It’s my son’s birthday.
Andy came into the world twenty-three years ago today, making it his “golden birthday” a term whose origins are not clear, ranging from ancient Druid writings to some smart person at Hallmark who made the whole thing up as a way to sell cards. Either way it’s his turn to claim the lucky prize of having the day of his birth lineup with his twenty-third year on the planet.
We had a great lunch together to celebrate, I found a cool looking watch that should do well on his wrist but it was the Hallmark people (again) who had me in a puddle in the corner of the store. On the front of the card was a baby boy cradled in muscular arms “I can’t really hold you in my arms like I used to…” and on the inside “But I will always carry you in my heart.” It was worth the $3.99 plus tax ($4.99 in Canada) to have him respond with “wow dad…I love you too.” I have bench pressed 450 pounds but don't have the strength to hold back tears when I hear those words from him.
As we sat there gnawing on burritos I do what I have always done when I spend time with Andy. I look close not to just see who he is but also who he is becoming. The sandy blond hair now cut for some modeling work, his shoulders, chest and arms thicker than the last time I saw him. Like his dad he spends more than a few hours in the weight room, and the genes he got from his great-grandfathers, men he never knew are self-evident. His laugh is quick even when he goes to dab some hot sauce on the burrito and someone had taken off the inner cap flooding his food with flame inducing liquid, laughing out loud at the thought of some clown who knew at one point a customer would open the bottle and get a mouth full of hot sauce. He of course ate it anyway, eyes watering the whole time. The longer we sat and talked the stronger the heat in my chest got, and it had nothing to do with Mexican food.
There is a feeling I get in my chest every time I see Andy and when that warmth comes up in my sternum I remember the exact moment it was created. He was about five months old, it was a warm spring day in 1991 and it was just the two of us home. My wife had taken our daughter out somewhere and I was in charge of the little man. In the living room our couch was right underneath the windows where sunlight was streaming in along with the smells of spring creating the perfect place for the two of us to take a nap. I stretched out full length, placed Andy’s body right along the middle of my chest in the sunshine and in moments he was asleep, rising and falling with my breathing. I was captured by his energy, the way he smelled, the texture of his hair and the strength in his little fist as he slept. As I drifted off I absolutely knew that a connection was made, an invisible chord was uplinked and the forged steel bridge from father to son was welded in place.
That’s when the bond was secured, heart to heart as we took a nap together.
I have watched him these past two decades plus three grow from a white haired little boy to a sturdy teenager to a young man who absolutely knows who he is and where he comes from. His confidence strengthens mine just by being in his orbit and while I see so much of myself in Andy, more and more glimpses of the man he is meant to be shine through.
I gave him a watch for his birthday; perhaps subconsciously reminding him (and myself) that time is so very fleeting and much shorter than we think. The hands only go one direction-forward- and soon enough he will celebrating more birthdays until one day he hits 55 and is sitting down with his own son and has the chance to look in the mirror…marveling at how much he reminds him of himself and his Poppa John.
“I can’t carry you in my arms like I used to”… “But I will always carry you in my heart.”
Thanks Hallmark…and if you did make up the whole “Golden Birthday” thing thanks for that too.
This morning its -14 below zero in Chicago with a wind-chill factor making it feel like -50 below zero to skin which would freeze in less than five minutes if exposed to the elements. Yesterday the Green Bay Packers lost their play-off game to the San Francisco 49ers in sub-zero temperatures where I am sure there was exposed skin. The Packers lost on a last second field goal and it will be some time before the fans thaw out from the loss. All across the Midwest record low temperatures are the focus of nearly every news channel who feel the need to send out some poor soul with a hand held thermometer to show how to become a human popsicle.
The cold of winter has become the hot topic and not only makes humans in the contiguous United States forget the record breaking heat just six months ago but three days of deep freeze turns real estate moguls, politicians and talk radio pundits into scientists.
Enter…"The Donald"- “Hair Apparent” to the throne of that other noted climatologist Rick Santorum the former front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination when he called climate science a "phony theology" – Santorum has said, "We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth's benefit." Right…so we can do whatever we want to the planet that sustains our lives and not have any consequences to our actions? I learned in 5th grade science that if you don’t have a healthy “host” anything living on that host will eventually die off- and that would include humans.
But back to "The Donald"…man of many talents, the guy who bought a worthless airline and created “Trump Air” financed by 22 banks for $380 million and when it flopped defaulted on the loan. The man who put his name on “Trump Ocean Resort Baja” and raked in $32 million from investors then promptly sent them a letter saying that loan negotiations had collapsed and then closed by quoting the part of the contract that said the company was allowed to spend the deposits anyway. Mission accomplished, Trump removed his name from the project the next month. The guy that has lead the charge for the “birther movement” and gets paid to say “You’re Fired!” can now add climate expert to his credentials.
A tweet from "The Donald…"
“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice!”
As a veteran of the United States Coast Guard I can with much certainty confirm that every winter somewhere in the world a ship gets stuck in ice…that’s why the Coast Guard has these amazing vessels called the “Polar Star” and the “Polar Sea” as “ice breakers.” The fact that a group of scientists got stuck and needed help getting out along with another ship sent to rescue them made headlines does not dispel global warming trends across the globe.
Rush Limbaugh aka “El Rushbo” another name from the annals of climate science exclaimed “I would love to see Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Hillary sitting outside on the 50 yard line of the Green Bay the whole game, and then afterwards do a presentation for us all on global warming. Sit there the whole game outside.” Uh ok…the NFC Wild Card Game is the scientific marker for global climate change. I have long held that the main reason Limbaugh dispels global warming as a myth is because he lives in an air-conditioned bunker in Florida – it’s always a perfect 72 degrees no matter what is going on in Haiti, or Brazil or Australia or any other part of the planet.
Our “Achilles Heel” is that because we seemingly “have everything” then we then must “know everything.” If its -14 degrees below zero today then it must mean that global warming is wrong, a hoax or liberal conspiracy, that myopic view of the world is our downfall and weak spot. It's called "global warming" for a reason. If the only spot on the map that was having problems was Green Bay, Wisconsin that would be a valid conclusion but other than getting bumped from the playoffs Green Bay is not the hot or cold spot that determines the blood pressure of the planet.
When the “Flood of The Century” wiped out half of Boulder, Colorado six months ago the critics were quiet. When the Greenland Ice Sheet receded it was ignored by those who dismiss science. When climate models show that wild swings in weather are part of global climate change including more severe weather in both winter and summer along with less frequent but much stronger storms it is ignored because the wind-chill today in Chicago is what it is most every single day in Antarctica. Just because “The Donald’s” hair gets frozen upright like a windsock at LaGuardia does not mean that a bald guy in Bali is sweating less as “global cooling” takes place in The Big Apple.
Why? Because we live in a friggin biosphere. A terrarium of sorts which we dwell in. Again...5th grade science or as Chief Seattle said "Continue to contaminate your bed, one night you suffocate in your own waste."
The 7 billion humans that walk, crawl, swim and fly around the blue planet have one thing in common-we depend on the health of the planet for our survival and the survival of those generations to follow. So we can “have dominion over all things” but that does not mean that we are not responsible on some level for doing whatever we can to ensure that future humans have access to clean air, water and food. Science is never 100% so if all the storms, floods, tsunamis, wild weather swings, droughts are not a good enough indicator that we are in the midst of change I don’t what it will take. Even if human have a 5% to 10% impact on the systems of earth we need to make changes…or we can just listen to these words of wisdom from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) cited God's post-flood promise to Noah as evidence we shouldn't be worried. "The Earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over," he declared. "Man will not destroy this Earth."
I actually agree with Rep. Shimkus…mankind will not destroy the earth. We will find a way to destroy ourselves in the process. You don’t need seats on the 50 yard line to see that…unless you do.
It’s New Year's Eve in these United States, already 2014 in other parts of the world. This is the honorary Day of Atonement for the past year and time to revel then resurrect hope for the coming 8,736 hours and hopefully do it all again one year from today.
Much like all the other significant dates in my life, New Year’s Eve has changed over the years. When I was a kid my parents would go out for the night to raise a glass or nine at the local gathering place while I mostly built airplane models and watched the events unfold in New York on the Sears television with my Aunt Eleanor who always conked out long before Guy Lombardo launched into “Auld Lang Syne.” When was my turn to go out and kill off some brain cells as a way to say goodbye to the previous year and ring in a new one I did so with gusto, bravado and Alka-Seltzer. Eventually I worked in the same establishment that I spent so much coin in and patrolled more than a few New Year’s Eve nights throwing guys filled with liquid courage out on to Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. More parties than I can remember, even more that I would like to forget but all in all....the entire New Year’s Eve thing has always fascinated me for one simple reason.
It’s an illusion...kinda.
Celebrating the end of the year has been going on since it was reformed from the Julian Calendar and adopted as the Gregorian Calendar, so named because it was created by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 (a point I often tried to make to the guy sitting next to me at the bar between shots of Wild Turkey on many a December 31st) The motivation for the adjustment was to bring the date for the celebration of Easter to the time of the year in which the First Council of Nicaea had agreed upon in 325. Although a canon of the council specified that all Christians should celebrate Easter on the same day, it took almost five centuries before virtually all Christians achieved that objective by adopting the rules of the Church of Alexandria. Gregory dropped 10 days to bring the calendar back into synchronization with the seasons. Accordingly, when the new calendar was put in use, the error accumulated in the 13 centuries since the Council of Nicaea was corrected by a deletion of ten days. The Julian calendar day Thursday, 4 October 1582 was followed by the first day of the Gregorian calendar, Friday, 15 October 1582 (the cycle of weekdays was not affected).
Hey! Let’s chop off ten days and start all over again!
So as we have free license to do what we want, and if we can get enough people to buy into the idea…voila’ we can basically bend time, change dates and make anything mean what we want it to mean. I am fairly sure that when Pope Gregory XIII dropped ten days off the calendar 431 years ago to get Easter lined up, he had no idea that the “new” last day of the year would make Dick Clark famous, but that is how the ripple effect works. Tonight thousands will gather in Times Square in homage to Adolph Ochs who had the idea to perch an 11,875 pound ball banded with Waterford Crystal and let it slowly drop, squeezing out the last minute from December 31st 1907. But not everyone can be in The Big Apple on The Big Night so we have created other ways to ring out the old year by dropping stuff. In Pennsylvania, Marshmallow “Peeps” get dropped and in Wisconsin they drop various types of cheese. In Atlanta crowds gather to cheer on the descent of a giant foam and fiberglass peach and my favorite has to be the “Possum Drop” in North Carolina where that talented mammal is caught and then slowly lowered by its tail from a pole signaling the New Year. While the possum is set free after it has done its duty, PETA sued to have the event cancelled in protest because it’s a live animal. I suppose you could get a dead possum and no one would know the difference.
Bottom line for me is that we make the whole thing up, and that can work for or against you depending on how you interpret it.
There is something very profound and powerful in watching the numbers on a year fade away and be replaced by new ones. In the case of Y2K millions of humans gnawed their fingernails waiting for Armageddon because no one actually knew if all the man-made toys and technology would recognize the 1999 become the year 2000. We held our breath waiting to see of Australia might evaporate from the face of the earth as they are a day ahead, and when celebrations went on as planned, a collective sigh of “I knew it was going to be ok” was felt across the land.
For some, New Year’s Eve is just another day on the calendar, they will work the third shift and in some empty building flip on a small TV and watch humans act really goofy counting down the final moments of MMXIII, watch the pundits talk about Mandela and Miley, Obamacare and Duck Dynasty. For others it’s truly a new beginning. It’s a time to start anew and use the change of digits as leverage to forget about the difficulties and disappointments of the past year and look forward once again.
How ever you are spending your New Year’s Eve, be it alone or surrounded by thousands, may the coming 8,736 hours be your best yet.
I really try to not blog on the weekends mostly because I have it in my mind the 48 hours that book ends the rest of the week should be left for reflection, contemplation and other manly pursuits like sports. But unfortunately this rant cannot wait, as 1.3 million Americans are about to be cut off at the knees because they haven't found a job and are putting our great country at risk-of what I am not sure- but leave it up to a guy that has never stood in an unemployment line to mouth off on something he has no experience in.
More about that a few paragraphs down.
In 2006 I was part of a team of media professionals, this was a high profile, high paying gig that I was convinced was a landing pad of sorts for all the years of work I had done previous to signing on the dotted line swearing an oath of non-disclosure till’ death do us part. In the span of 36 months I went from hero to zero as budget exploitation and other assorted financial flotsam made my position non-existent. I was reminded of what happens when I confuse expectation with reality. The expectations were valid as they were based on conversation and conclusions by those higher up the food chain, but the reality is that humans will often say one thing and do another-especially in the corporate climate. So I was cut loose, and sure that within a fairly short period of time someone would come knocking, due to my credentials, experience and contacts.
That was four years ago.
In the past 48 months the ripple effect of losing that job has me in a unique, select group of people that once bought into the illusion that if you work hard, get a degree, work even harder and climb the ladder of success that eventually you will find your place in Nirvana. I joined the 5 million other Americans that lost homes to foreclosure simply because our source of income was cut off and we were unable to find a job or career to replace it to the point of being able to function at the same level we once did. There is not enough space for me to dig back into the emotional toll foreclosure takes, for it guts the very essence of that “America Dream” commercial I grew up with. What’s even more debilitating is that in most states banks can sue the former owner for the deficiency between what was owed on the mortgage and what the house sold for-another factor out of my control-the housing market. Nothing like turning over the keys to the same lender that gave them to you- and then getting a nice letter in the mail asking for 80 thousand bucks…and have a good day. Great…the banks get bailed out but the people that keep the banks in business do not, got it. A lawyer reveals that the only way out of that debt is bankruptcy.
The American Dream….has become a nightmare for millions. It took me nearly a year after I was “released” from my last media job to file for unthinkable…unemployment.
I have been working since I was 15 and was brought up to pay my own way, stay on the job until it was finished and put everything into whatever I was doing, be it making donuts at 4am, pumping gas in the rain, pouring concrete, serving in the military or creating a radio talk show from scratch. So that awkward fumbling on the unemployment website, getting all the right info into the correct boxes online and then pressing “send” went against everything in me about what it means to provide not just for a family but by this time, myself. For reasons that eluded me, I could not get by without help from the government. I had exhausted all my savings, borrowed money from sympathetic friends and sat in a big house waiting for a very small check that was a portion of what I used to earn. I used to cringe every two weeks when I went into the unemployment office, a few people nodded my entrance as I wore the weight of my circumstance like an overcoat, silently acknowledging the same hit to their self-worth without work, contribution and earned income. My more spiritually minded friends reminded me that it was so very important not to confuse “who you are with what you do, because when you are not doing it you feel like nothing.”
A couple hundred job applications, a few temporary things that I hoped would work out from a week long on-air tryout on the Martha Stewart Radio Channel (learned how to make a brick into a centerpiece) to a couple of years on and off the air in Chicago to speaking engagements that helped me maintain my spiritual equilibrium and the gnawing feeling that even with all my smarts and abilities I still needed that unemployment check every two weeks. Eventually I used up all that was available to me and became part of another fraternity- joining millions who live in "the gap”- sure where we have been, less sure of where we are going.
In just two days another 1.3 million Americans will be put into “the gap” because funding for those without a job past 26 weeks is in jeopardy. What to do about this quandary? The obvious answer is to keep funding the unemployment program so food stays in kids bellies, a least a portion of the bills get paid and the lights stay on for those who need it most.
However, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) sees those without work -those who at one time had a career, put their money into the economy and now need assistance as a liability and puts America “at risk.” "Does it make sense for our country to borrow money from China to give it to the unemployed in America? That is weakening us as a country," Paul told NBC News. Right…the American companies that have outsourced jobs to China and other countries putting millions out of work haven’t weakened America, it’s the money needed to feed those people that is the problem.
Paul grew up studying the philosophy of Ayn Rand, attended Baylor with honors and eventually went to The Duke School of Medicine earning his MD and then opening his ophthalmology practice has never once had to stand in an unemployment line or tell his daughter that he couldn't give her $40 bucks for a coat or borrow money to put gas in his car. Paul contended that the checks allow people to go unemployed for longer and become less desirable hires for employers. "When I said it's a disservice, I meant it - I am worried about the workers. Not that I think they become bad people by becoming unemployed longer, but that the longer they're unemployed, the less likely they are to ever get a job again.”
We pay Sen. Rand Paul $174,000.00 to come up with that conclusion? I am always amazed that the political types that demand a smaller government, all work for the government. I am profoundly touched he is “worried about the workers.” I am profoundly offended he thinks cutting off their life support is the answer. So how about this…
As of Jan 15 all the members of Congress-435 congressmen and women and 100 senators-535 in all take a cut in pay (that is funded by taxpayers and perhaps some money from who knows where…) According to reports nearly half of congress (47%) are millionaires- so they get $1 a year- the rest of their money goes into a pool that pays into the unemployment program. Congress has an approval rating of 9%- so they are not doing their job, and the consequence is that if you are a Senator you get a flat $100 grand a year- that extra 74K goes to help someone that lost their job. There is an extra $7, 4000.00 in savings-on top of the $4,645,800.00 from the 47% that don’t get paid their congressional salary-for a total of nearly $8,000,000.00 bucks that Rand Paul doesn’t have to worry comes from China.
Is it perfect? No…but it works for me…pun intended.
I feel for Sen. Paul whose net worth is a paltry $500,000.00 and I applaud his heart for not thinking those without work are “bad people.” He is an ophthalmologist who needs an eye exam because the way he sees this issue is way out of focus. I am more than willing to show the Senator from Kentucky what “the gap” looks like and just as a reminder, when Sen. Paul “loses” his congressional “job” you and I will make sure he gets paid the rest of his life.
I was working away on the computer when the news broke of the school shooting in Colorado. CNN was showing footage of students being led out of school with hands help up, walking in a straight line like it was a fire drill except the kids were being checked for weapons. The information came in quickly that yet another teenage boy decided at some point the best way to resolve whatever situation he believed he was in was to kill a teacher. In the end he wounded two students and turned the shotgun on himself ending his young life. I took note of the story and went back to what I was working on, having seen all this play out before.
It took me just a few minutes to realize I didn't even flinch when I saw the footage. I had become used to seeing the images so many times that it had no effect on me.
Today marks the one year anniversary of Sandy Hook, a quiet hamlet until another troubled young man first killed his mother and then went on to massacre twenty first graders ages 6 & 7 and six teachers before finally putting a gun to his head. It was the worst school shooting since the Virginia Tech massacre which became the worst since Columbine. We now have a scorecard for school shootings.
I was aghast at the carnage in Columbine, overwhelmed by the shootings in Virginia and deeply sadden by Sandy Hook, but yesterday I didn't flinch. I have become conditioned after years of watching the increase of school shootings to expect them to continue. Since Sandy Hook there have been twenty five school shootings, and with each one a layer of disconnect is forged as SWAT teams on campus become the new norm.
The first question that always surfaces is of motive. Why would a young man plan such an attack, deciding that the best way to resolve whatever pain they are in is to inflict it on others? Why is it young men? What goes on in schools that make them the killing ground? What goes on in their homes to prompt these thoughts? Inevitably the puzzle pieces show up, a divorce or unchecked mental problems, video games or bullying. “He was a quiet boy”… “He seemed to be a loner” … “He kept to himself.” As the picture gets clearer about the latest shooter a portrait emerges of a kid that attended Bible study and was generally liked but the motive as in most all of these incidents were lost when they put the gun to their head.
I will leave the gun rights and conspiracies to others, this morning I am thinking of the parents of the shooter and the kids in the school all wounded either physically or mentally. “School shooting” has long been part of our culture as history has shown.
The earliest known shooting to happen on school property was the Pontiac’s School Rebellion on July 26, 1764, where four Lenape Indians boys entered the schoolhouse near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania, shot and killed schoolmaster Enoch Brown, and killed nine or ten children (reports vary). Only three children survived.
On Jun 12, 1887 Will Guess went to the school and fatally shot Miss Irene Fann, his little sister's teacher, for whipping her the day before.
On April 24th, 1890, while the pupils of the Meridian Street School were at play, Ben Corbery drew a revolver and shot Cora Brubach, aged 10, seriously wounding her in the face. The reason for the assault was that the girl had informed the teacher of Ben's misconduct.
December 28, 1898 Sioux City, Iowa. Teacher May Thomas was lured out of the schoolhouse by a student named Harry Garvey who was devoted to her, but she had refused his further attentions. He then pulled a revolver out and shot her dead, then killed himself.
May 20, 1988 in Winnetka, IL Laurie Dann, shot and killed one elementary school student and wounded five others, then took a family hostage and shot a man before killing herself.
Long before Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Arapahoe schools have been a kill zone with hundreds of deaths, far too many to list here. Outside of the violent video game theory that could only been applied since Columbine, apparently it’s the unresolved conflict within that eventually has someone pick up a weapon; turn it on someone else and eventually themselves.
I don’t know anyone personally at Columbine or Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook or Arapahoe, but the ripple effect from these repeated bloodbaths splayed out on television with every intricate detail pounded on the never ending news cycle has created victims of another sort. Chunks of our humanity fall away as we become conditioned over and over again to the carnage. Last year was the first time in my life I looked suspiciously at a guy in a long coat standing in the darkness of a movie theater in the aisle. I had an attack plan should he make a move, the slightest move that I deemed a threat- this in response to the shooting at the theater in Aurora, Colorado. I watched the movie with one eye on the screen and the other on him. I would have taken his life to preserve mine, a thought I never had before with a box of “Snow Caps” in my hand.
As it’s been said, those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it and repeat it we will.
It’s not a matter of if but when, a matter of where and how many.
That thought does make me flinch.
When I heard the news that North Korea had executed Jang Song-Thaek- the uncle and mentor of “dick-tater” Kim Jong Un my first thought was...the more things change the more they stay the same. “Dick-Taters” always resort to asserting their illusion of power by offing those close to them to maintain the fear base. Cross a line (real or imagined) no matter who you are and you will get hung up by your Buster Browns…or sandals or whatever.
Or in the case of Uncle Jang you get yanked out of your seat, made to face trumped up charges then face a machine gun that cuts you in half. Then the headlines read “Jang is traitor, worse kind of human scum and is lower than a dog.” This comes less than a week when the benevolent Kim Jong-Un allowed 85 year old Korean War veteran Merrill Newman to return back to the US after reading an “apology” for his “war crimes” 60 years ago. Newman had visited North Korea as a tourist but the official line was that he was “deported” back to the United States.
North Korea is part of the “Axis of Evil” as determined by the “Texas Tiger” President GW Bush along with Iran and Iraq back in 2002. Since then Iraq became a battlefield that will linger for decades, another country that has the blood of American soldiers buried in its soil and Iran has broken off nuclear talks (again) because of US sanctions. Perhaps the hub of the axis is then…North Korea where executions are becoming a pay-per view event. It’s hard to imagine that in the 21st century there still exists a place where goose-stepping in the public square goes on and giant images of a 28 year old spoiled brat dominates the landscape. Sabre rattling is one thing, cutting off heads in public is another and left unchecked North Korea will continue to be a rotten apple in the basket. What is the solution? What could possibly turn Kim Jung-Un into a human being? Is it even possible?
I think we have an ace in the hole when it comes to overthrowing the North Korean "dick-tater." To be more direct I think it’s going to take a worm in the hole to accomplish mission impossible.
Yes, it’s time to unleash… “The Worm”…Dennis Rodman.
Rodman made headlines this year when the traveled to North Korea and “really hit it off” with the pint sized man-child with the Moe Howard haircut. Rodman said “Before I landed in Pyongyang, I didn't know Kim Jong-un from Lil' Kim. I didn't know what country he ruled or what went on in the country he ruled ... Fact is; he hasn't bombed anywhere he's threatened to yet ... All I know is Kim told me he doesn't want to go to war with America. His whole deal is to talk basketball with Obama. Unfortunately, Obama doesn't want to have anything to do with him. I ask, Mr. President, what's the harm in a simple phone call?"
Yeah c’mon Mr. President pick up the phone and let your fingers do the walking. He just wants to talk hoops. Maybe you can invite him over to one of your pick-up games at the White House or something.
It’s time to nominate “The Worm” for the Nobel Peace Prize-matter of fact Rodman went on to say "I'll tell you this: If I don't finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something's seriously wrong."
I agree- something is seriously wrong when a highly tattooed, multicolored haired, former basketball player, addicted to gambling, alcohol, drugs and Madonna has become the unofficial ambassador to North Korea. That being said it’s time to utilize his off court skill set, let him go back to North Korea with a few cases of his “Bad Boy Vodka” and perhaps autographed pictures of Carmen Electra and see if he can get Kim Jung-Un to lighten up on a bit. Maybe they can shoot a few baskets (instead of shooting people) and have a chat about…hmmm….not sure what.
It’s obvious at some level these two connect (could be their warped childhoods) and it might just be best way to slowly change the Communist ways is to baffle Kim Jung-Un with the thing he craves the most, attention. Put Rodman and Kim into a reality show kinda like the “Odd Couple” or let them switch places for a day. The Worm can run the country and Kim Jung can put on a wedding dress for effect.
Sanctions haven’t worked, military threats haven’t worked, I say turn “The Worm” into the official ambassador to North Korean and see what happens.
Can’t get any worse than it is….right?
Andy Samuel Griffith was always a storyteller. Growing up in rural North Carolina as an only child he was shy and kept to himself but every time he told a story he gained new friends. At one point he wanted to be a preacher but instead chose a degree in music from UNC and began to put his stories into the printed word.
Griffith's early career was as a monologist, delivering long stories such as "What it Was, Was Football," which is told from the point of view of a rural backwoodsman trying to figure out what was going on in a football game. The monologue was released as a single in 1953 on the Colonial Records label, and was a hit for Griffith, reaching number nine on the charts in 1954. He would move on to the Broadway stage and numerous movie roles including "No Time For Sergeants" and his highly acclaimed performance as Larry Rhodes in "A Face in The Crowd." Famed producer Sheldon Leonard took notice his abilities and decided to create a television product for the up and coming actor and used the smash hit "Make Room For Daddy" with Danny Thomas to introduce audiences to Griffith in an episode that had Thomas being stopped for speeding in small rural town that had Griffith as the justice of the peace and editor of the local newspaper...and sheriff.
“The Andy Griffith Show” was born on October 3, 1960.
The fictional town of Mayberry, NC was brought to life with a cast of characters that quickly became imprinted in the hearts of millions of viewers. Don Knotts as the bumbling deputy “Barney Fife”, lovable and sweet Frances Bavier as “Aunt Bee” future mega director Ron Howard as “Opie” and a slew of unforgettable characters like Floyd Lawson, Gomer and Goober Pyle, Otis the town drunk, Thelma Lou and Helen Crump. One of the most memorable characters, Ernest T. Bass (played brilliantly by Howard Morris) who’s performance was so strong he was limited to only six episodes as not to overshadow the rest of the cast.
The themes of the show were of faith, family, community and of course laughter. The show was set in the 1960’s but had a feel of an earlier time, a sort of land locked place that revered family values and simple pleasures. During the upheaval of the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights and MLK, Mayberry was a safe place where the doors were never locked, the sheriff rarely carried a gun and the community rallied around its people.
As I sat last night laughing at the antics of Barney and Floyd who were held hostage by three escaped women convicts I couldn’t help but wonder if Sheldon Leonard who created the show could have possibly known that 53 years later the “black and white” way of seeing the world back then would stand the test of time and be so needed today, as it was during some very turbulent years during its original run of 249 episodes. For some reason, when the show went into color production for the last two years it just wasn’t the same.
We live in turbulent times too, the incessant pounding of 24/7 news channels bringing every bit of fodder imaginable, the endless stream of mindless reality shows, programming that speaks to the lowest of human behavior and the constant focus on what is not working in the world is enough to push even the most optimistic among us to the brink of mental exhaustion without ever leaving our living rooms.
For me, all it takes is the familiar whistle of “The Fishin’ Hole” and the image of Andy and Opie making their way through the back lot of Desilu Studios with fishing poles slung over their shoulders and I begin to feel my shoulders relax. Immediately I am transported to this Norman Rockwell-like place that was the brainchild of Leonard and held together by the sturdy presence of Andy Griffith who admitted he never really had to act but rather just brought forth the rural values he grew up with and he let the cast of characters run with the show as he played straight man.
I really don’t like much of anything on television, trading 22 minutes or 48 minutes of my life to watch humans’ behaving badly has no value for me. However, these time tested themes of days gone by, beckoning us to treat each other better, watch out for those close to us and laugh away the difficulties of life keeps the bubble in the middle of the life level for me, which can be so very hard to do.
Most of the main cast is all gone now, Andy passed away in 2012 and Don Knotts a few years earlier. Floyd, Aunt Bee, Emmitt and Otis have gone to the great reward; Ron Howard of course is a force in Hollywood as a director. But no one ever really dies because of reruns, and there they are every night, frozen in time as they were back then, dispensing wit and wisdom that got the country through some rough waters. The laughs were canned, the sets built on a back lot and the characters created by writers but none of that matters all these years later. The influence and energy of Mayberry lives on and for so many millions longing for peace, Floyd has a chair open at the shop , Aunt Bee is still busy in the kitchen and Andy still grins from ear to ear beckoning us to follow him to the fishin’ hole.
My brain is fried.
That's really the bottom line. I know this because the mind contained within the brain can no longer sort out the incoming information into any logical order. The mental file drawers marked “common sense” is fairly empty while the ones labeled “are you kidding me” is overflowing. How can the human mind possibly absorb and store the constant barrage of garbage?
With one click I was off to the races. The “homepage” popped up an offered its morning does of fodder.
“41 whales stranded off beach, UN status sought for beer law, why bald guys are better dates, slain second grader mourned, LeBron to make acting debut, skulls found under playground, 5 stocks you should sell now, turn your home into a fortress, report concludes that Castro's death a suicide, guess the celebrity baby bump, First Dog knocks down toddler, GOP takes classes on how to run against women for office, Kanye angers Jewish leaders, bear attacks Florida woman, shark kills swimmer in Hawaii...and its winter and there are storms with snow and ice and cold.”
Ground breaking stuff...all presented as if I should know about it, that somehow my life is enhanced with the knowledge of which states are most addicted to smoking.
Every morning when I take to the virtual landfill of the internet, joining millions of other humans that have been conditioned like a Pavlovian dog to fire up the laptop or mobile device to see what is going on in the world, only to find out that what is going on today is basically what was going on yesterday. 99.9% of which I can't do a damn thing about as much as I would like to, yet the steady diet of flotsam and human fodder flows forth, filling up the mind with billions and billions of atoms of information that for the most part don't add up to a cup of spit.
The internet is like a giant brain filled with everything we can imagine and a lot of things we cannot imagine, all constantly being presented over and over again, burrowing mental passages in our central nervous system to the point that we feel the need to make comments on people, places and events that are only part of our conscious because someone at Yahoo! or Google or MSN says they are …“trending.”
Do I really need to know if Paul Walker survived the initial crash only to be consumed by flames? Do I need to hear the 911 calls from Sandy Hook? Do I have to give one brain cell to the wife of an Ohio judge who tried to poison him with anti-freeze?
No I do not.
In “Network” Peter Finch yells “I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore” Eventually we all keep taking it because we have become conditioned to take it and the piles of bovine scottogin is produced every day. Life is hard enough with its own built in BS but MBS (Man-u-factured BS) makes it even more difficult. So when the brain is overflowing and the mental drawers are full and my inner Andy Rooney is beginning to whisper “Does anyone really care why marshmallows are addictive?”
It’s then that I take the most strident steps I can do preserve what free mental disk space I have left.
I turn everything off. I take a walk in the woods or sit by a river and watch the water flow.
I just sit.
The landfill will be there when I am ready to return to the world of pundits and politics, religion and rhetoric, absurdity and absolutes, drama and dogma. Brainstorms used to mean something productive, creative and useful.
Not so sure about that anymore.
I have always been fascinated with words. The English dictionary has about 500,000 words in it that humans can use to describe everything from the first word "A" to the last word "zymurgy" which describes the art and science of the fermentation process. Humans love to cut and paste (which is something that was once confined to third grade) and create new words out of old ones. A few examples that come to mind are "twerk" which combines "twist" and "jerk" (if you look up the word "twerk" in the dictionary Miley Ray Cyrus is pictured." Another fun use of word play is "asshat" which combines the word "ass" which is a burro of sorts and the word "hat" which is a covering of the head. If you look up "asshat" in the dictionary you can see people wearing burros on their heads.
But there is a new word that has been proclaimed "WORD OF THE YEAR" by the Oxford Dictionary. The word is "selfie" which used to mean a solo outing (no further explanation needed) and it combines the word "self" with "i.e." which means (in other words) and if you look up "selfie" in the dictionary you can see a picture of a woman getting her head chomped on by a large camel as she captures it on her camera/GPS/scanner/lighter/smoke detector/movie camera/remote starter/internet/Xbox/radio/compass all brilliantly disguised a "cellphone" (note- the word cellphone combines of course the word "cell which usually refers to "jail" or "confinement" and "phone" which used to mean a device to call other humans.) The debate of course rages as to how confined we are to the prison of technology.
The first photographic camera developed for commercial manufacture built by Alphonse Giroux, a French fella in the 1800’s and the first picture was called “The From The Window” in 1826. Its grainy image showing the overlook from a building with a guy standing in it, probably a French guy who appears to be looking down at the street below or it’s a Rorschach image that is a moth being eaten by an iguana. For 150 years humans captured billions of images of everything you could imagine, photographers became famous for their “eye” and from babies to buffaloes, from JFK to RFK, from WWI to Iraq, from “LIFE” to “TIME” we viewed the world through the lens, capturing the essence of earth and the sanctity of cosmos.
That all changed in June of 2000 when Samsung figured out that combining a phone with a camera was a great idea and it was the people of South Korea that got to be the first “selfies” something I am sure they are very proud of. Maybe if someone sent the dick tater in North Korea a bunch of phones with cameras he would spend more time taking pictures of himself than detaining 85 year old war veterans from America.
Since then humans have turned the camera on the most odd of mammals-ourselves- in some endless quest to attain a greater insight on human behavior (hence the camel gnawing on the woman’s forehead) but that image is tame by most standards. “Funeral Selfies” showing the deceased in the background with a grinning relative flashing a “thumbs up” in the foreground. “Disaster Selfies” on the scene of a bloody car accident with bodies strewn about with a grinning gawker flashing a “thumbs down” while flames are shooting out from under the hood. “No Thank You Selfies” wherein political wannabees, (Weiner Man) faux journalists (Geraldo) and pop tarts (Bieber) capture images of their shortcomings.
As much as we like to look at each other, Samsung figured out that if they put a camera in the phone that is surgically attached to our hands, we’ll take endless pictures of ourselves thus ensuring another century or more of images nobody really cares about except for the person taking the picture.
Apparently it was a Playboy Playmate Shera Béchard who started taking “selfies” and flooding “twitter” (a word derived from bird movements) and the images went “viral” (which used to be something you treated with anitboitics) on her weekly offering “Frisky Friday.” When she got over 50,000 views and grew her twitter account by 300% Oxford decided it should make “selfie” WORD OF THE YEAR.
Well at least it knocked “twerk” off the list.
Its been thought to take 21 days to make or break a habit. When it comes to using a camera built into a phone that time is down to 21 seconds. We are a species that thrives on expressing ourselves and technology has given us all the opportunity to be Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz…or to get our heads chomped on by a camel.
The last African western black rhino has been killed by poachers and is now officially extinct.
These magnificent thundering beasts that have roamed the earth in various forms ranging from the Sumatran Rhino to the Woolly Rhino to the Great White Rhino for 15 million years are being systematically killed off based on one thing.
Their "horns" (which in fact isn't a horn at all but hardened keratin or hair that has evolved over millions of years as a protection device) has put this massive animal at risk of total extinction because of one man-made myth-that the "horn" has magical healing qualities that can alleviate everything from depression to impotency. Recently an uptick in killing rhinos comes from demand in Vietnam. Accounts vary as to how and why this is, but the story goes that sometime in the latter half of the past decade a senior politician or other public figure in Vietnam was dying from cancer and given weeks to live – but after ingesting powdered rhino horn, the condition miraculously went into remission and the patient fully recovered. As with any urban myth, attempts to track the story to its source have been unsuccessful. It would have to be a miraculous cure for sure, since the rhino “horn” is basically made up of the same stuff as your fingernails. I never heard of anyone who “bites” their nails being healed of anything.
But the slaughter continues…such is the power of a belief.
Vietnam has one of the highest cancer mortality rates due in large part to the serious lack of environmental regulations on industry that use the waterways as a toxic dump and the leftover defoliant “Agent Orange” from the Vietnam War. Seeking relief from these mad-made disasters humans will do anything to find a cure for the incurable- and all it takes is a sweeping rumor and the poachers go into high gear selling snake oil or in this case rhino hair to the highest bidders-up to $300,000.00 (US) for one single horn.
Some countries where rhinos still roam on game preserves have hired 24/7 security teams to keep the beasts safe but often out-manned and out-gunned these ancient animals still fall prey to poachers. In 2012 668 “protected” rhinos were shot and had their horns hacked off by chainsaws, left to bleed to death on the grasslands. That figure was up by 50% over 2011 statistics and at the rate it’s going that is what the rhino will someday be- nothing more than a statistic.
When I see the images of rhinos with their faces chopped up so someone can “cure” a hangover or cancer, “feel” less depressed or some guy that is impotent can get a woody- I am reminded of a biblical verse…
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Gen 1:26-28
Somewhere along the line man confused the word “dominion” with “extinction”- maybe it was the word “subdue” that caused all this chaos.
Humans have subdued the earth for our own purpose, pushing other species to the brink of extinction and beyond in the name of progress or an erection. An entire species-the Carolina Parrot was wiped out because their feathers looked good on ladies hats. The plains buffalo was nearly eradicated for their hides, thousands and thousands of carcasses left to rot in the sun. The passenger pigeon wiped out because its meat was sold to feed slaves, the last group of 250,000 birds wiped out by hunters that knew it was the final flock and could get a higher price. The list goes on and on and on…millions of sharks killed by the practice of “finning” for soup, manta rays slaughter past the bounds of reproduction for their gills that are dried and offered as an elixir.
Efforts to educate have fallen short-you cannot undue a rumor once it’s been started so perhaps the only way to save some of the remaining animals that are on the brink is to start a new rumor- that cures for cancer, impotency and hangover comes from the consumption of dog shit. If we can just find some politician that has a life threatening illness and...Voila the need for pooper scoopers is a thing of the past…but then again dog is on the menu in Vietnam…man’s best friend in more ways than one.
I no longer hold out hope for the rhino, in time the numbers will drop even more and efforts to protect them while valiant will fall short. Some will be saved from the chainsaw in zoos but even then as the demand increases and supply decreases I will not be surprised to read a headline that reads:
“White Rhino Slaughtered Behind Bars For Horn.”
When the rhinos are gone what beast will bear our burden next?
“Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God.
“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it-what he does to the web he does to himself…all things are connected.” Chief Seattle.
Farewell great rhino…in 150 years we did what 15 million years could not do.