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I’m Not Dead Yet!

Kirk Douglas obit 150x150 Im Not Dead Yet!

This week, People Magazine’s website posted the actor, Kirk Douglas’ obituary. Unfortunately for People (but fortunately for Kirk Douglas), he’s still alive and kicking at 98. It brings to mind that scene from Monty Python’s “Holy Grail”.

When we get to a certain age, we start paying more attention to obituaries to learn if someone we know or cared about has died.  Secretly, some of us also compare the ages of those who’ve died with our own.

And, let’s face it, reading about death in the obituaries can be a sad and depressing experience.

NPR Weekend Edition Saturday’ host Scott Simon offers an interesting suggestion:

“… an obituary strives to have the perspective of a full life. Failures and mistakes which once loomed huge can finally be seen as small bumps on a long road.

Maybe it would be a good exercise — even a gift, in the holiday season — to help write a brief obituary for someone you love while they are still vibrant, alive, and able to appreciate it. You can remember a grandmother, who may seem a little halting and crotchety now, as she was when she was young and light-hearted. You can ask a father who can seem exasperated about being an authority figure now to remember the years when he was young, unruly, and even a little sassy. Seeing your life stretched out may make you see disappointments and defeats as pointers, not missteps, along that long road”

Not Dead Yet 300x240 Im Not Dead Yet!

What do you think?

November 22nd, 1963

jfk jr 150x150 November 22nd, 1963

November 22, 1963 was a Friday.

I was a typical shallow, self-possessed, care-free teenage male in the first couple months of my first year in high school at Mount Pleasant High in Providence, Rhode Island.

On Friday’s, my last class of the day was gym. In 1963, gym class for males was an active, athletic program to prepare young men for military service and which required students to develop skills on the parallel bars, pommel horse, horizontal high bar, still rings and for rope climbing. The gymnasium also served as the school’s basketball court, so the space was cavernous and the class was noisy. Consequently, we couldn’t hear messages being transmitted over the school’s loudspeaker system.

So, on that Friday, after I’d showered and walked along the typically noisy corridor to my locker, I was in a good mood and oblivious to what was going on around me.

I  was in a good mood because that night was scheduled to be opening night for the Mount Pleasant High School Dionysiac Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s classic play, “Our Town” and my theater debut as a member of the stage crew manning the main spotlight.

My original plan had been to try out for the football team but, at the last moment, I wisely changed my mind. The football coach was also my Geometry teacher and, for some reason, there was an unsettling level of antipathy between us.

So, instead, I decided to join the theater group at the urging of my friend, Mike Grace. It was a decision that, to this day, I’m glad I made.

Arriving at my locker and fetching my things for the bus ride home to Smithfield, I was blithely mocking the sweet young woman I’d befriended whose locker was to my right. She was emotional and, because I couldn’t hear what she was saying, my initial thoughts were that she was laughing. But then I realized that it wasn’t the sound of laughter but of grief that I was hearing.

When I asked her what was wrong, I presumed that she was reacting to a misunderstanding or breakup with her boyfriend. The usual stuff of adolescent drama.  So, when she told me that the President was dead, it didn’t register. I laughed thinking that she was telling me some sort of sick joke. Then, I looked at her face…and I knew.

John F. Kennedy was a mythic figure in Southern New England. In 1963, Rhode Island’s population was heavily Roman Catholic Italian and, although JFK was Irish, he was one of our own.  His was like a death in the family.

The first reaction I can recall was wondering how this tragic event might affect the play.

Our theater group had worked hard, rehearsed and devoted much of our lives for the previous two months in order to be ready for this moment. The school wouldn’t cancel opening night, would it?

Other than the moment when I was told about the assassination and the overarching sense of loss and sadness which enveloped the school, there are two incidents that I most vividly remember about that afternoon. The first involved one of the wise guys who, like me, was bused in from Smithfield and with whom I’d shared classes since elementary school. He started laughing and making jokes about Kennedy’s assassination. I was appalled and, frankly, embarrassed for him.  Over the years, I’ve wondered if he sometimes stopped to consider how he’d reacted and, if he did, how that affected his life.

The second incident occurred when we discovered that the school administration had, indeed, canceled opening night for our production of “Our Town”. Of course, it was the appropriate decision under the circumstances. But, we were emotionally invested in our work and had difficulty accepting the decision. What shocked me was when the student who played George Webb, one of the play’s primary characters, lay down on the stage and while pounding his fist sobbed “Why did he have to go get killed on opening night?”  I understood the kid’s angst but found his self-absorbed attitude embarrassing.

The Mount Pleasant High School Dionysiac Players production of “Our Town” did go on as scheduled on Saturday night. And, as I recall, the show was well-received by an audience which was probably affected more than usual by the play’s story of day-to-day life, youthful love, premature death, sorrow and grief. That play continues to touch me to this day.

On Sunday afternoon, while continuing wall-to-wall commercial-free live coverage of the weekend’s sad events were being broadcast on the existing three television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), Mike Grace and I were doing a project for Mike’s aunt and uncle in the living room of their home when I happened to glance over at a TV and noticed the Dallas police escorting Lee Harvey Oswald down a corridor. It all seemed pretty mundane until, all of a sudden, a man in a black hat stepped out from the crowd, shoved his hand towards Oswald’s stomach and shot him. The black-and-white photo we’ve all seen over the intervening decades of Oswald crumbling in pain is still shocking. But, to see an actual murder occur live on a national TV broadcast as it happened was stunning. At first, it seemed unreal. And, thinking that I might be imagining it, I asked Mike if he’d just seen what I saw.

The 48 hours from the moment  when JFK was killed on Dealey Plaza until the moment when Jack Ruby’s bullets ended Lee Harvey Oswald’s life,  were surreal and shook America’s sense of order and complacency to its core.  This was a time in American life when we lived daily on the brink of nuclear holocaust in our conflict with the Soviet Union. We were all subconsciously concerned that, at any moment, we might get word that the missiles were coming in.

Leading up to this anniversary, journalists have been focusing on how coverage of the events of that weekend changed news because it was on TV. I would argue that it changed America.

For the first time, we were able to not only hear but to see events as they happened. Radio had provided us with theater of the mind. With TV, we were there…watching Jackie grieve at her husband’s coffin, watching little John-John salute the passing caisson, seeing Lee Harvey Oswald murdered in cold blood.

On that weekend leading into Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, we were shaken to the core.

When World War I began, we got our news on time delay via newspapers.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we learned the news from radio.

John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the first calamitous event which we Americans shared communally through television.

It remained the most significant historical event of my lifetime through the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in the late 1960s, the Kent State Massacre, the murder of John Lennon and other tragic events which we experienced through the years.

For me, a change began to occur when I watched the Challenger disintegrate as Dan Rather was covering its launch live in 1986. It became obvious to me that I was going to continue to witness these occasional tragedies through my remaining days.

Then, of course, came September 11th.

jfk gravesite 150x150 November 22nd, 1963

 

An Election Day Parable: Remember to Vote

While walking down the street one day a Corrupt Senator was tragically hit by a car and died.

His soul arrived in heaven and was met by St. Peter at the entrance.

“Welcome to heaven,” greeted St. Peter. “Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we’re not sure what to do with you.”

“No problem, just let me in,” replied the Senator.

“Well, I’d like to, but I have orders from the higher ups. What we’ll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity.”

“Really?, I’ve made up my mind. I want to be in heaven,” said the Senator.

“I’m sorry, but we have our rules.”

And with that, St. Peter escorted him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.

The doors opened and he found himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance was a clubhouse and standing in front of it were all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone was very happy and in evening dress. They ran to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They played a friendly game of golf and then dined on lobster, caviar and the finest champagne.

Also present was the devil, who really was a very friendly guy who was having a good time dancing and telling jokes.

They were all having such a good time that before the Senator realized it, it was time to go.

Everyone gave him a hearty farewell and waved while the elevator rose.

The elevator ascended up, up, up and the door reopened in heaven where St. Peter awaited him, “Now it’s time to visit heaven…

So, 24 hours passed with the Senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They had a good time and, before he realized it, the 24 hours had gone by and St. Peter returned.

“Well, then, you’ve spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity.”

The Senator reflected for a minute, then he answered: “Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell.”

So St. Peter escorted him to the elevator and the Senator descended down, down, down to hell…

When he arrived, the doors of the elevator opened and he was in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He saw all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash fell from above

The devil approached and put his arm around his shoulders.

“I don’t understand,” stammered the Senator. “Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there’s just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?”

The devil smiled and replied :

“Yesterday we were campaigning, Today, you voted..”

Vote wisely

vote 150x150 An Election Day Parable: Remember to Vote

Halloween Trick-Or-Treat Tips

 Halloween Trick Or Treat Tips

 A few reminders which you might find helpful as your kids get prepare for some Halloween fun:

*Feed them a healthy meal before they leave the house.

*Make sure costumes are non-flammable.

*An adult should accompany elementary school-aged kids. Older kids should trick-or-treat in pairs or groups and carry a working cell phone.

*Set a curfew. Stick to it!

*Reminds kids that its hard for drivers to see them even when they can see an oncoming car.

*In neighborhoods where cars are parked on the street, remind kids to not enter the street between two parked cars.

*Trick-or-treaters should carry a flashlight, glow stick, or wear reflector tape on their costume.

*Kids should only approach homes that have lights on or a lighted display.

*For ALL trick-or-treaters, they shouldn’t eat anything until it’s been inspected by a parent.

Happy Halloween 150x150 Halloween Trick Or Treat Tips

World Series 2014: Confessions of a Fair Weather Fan

Postseason=The beginning of the Major League Baseball season for me.
KC Royals logo 150x150 World Series 2014: Confessions of a Fair Weather Fan
SF giants logo 150x150 World Series 2014: Confessions of a Fair Weather Fan

Don’t get me wrong. I like baseball. I just don’t care about the MLB until post-season. The same is true for the NFL. It wasn’t always this way.

I was raised in a small New England village with a great baseball field about 100 yards downhill from our back porch. Between the ages of 5 and 13 , during the daylight hours when I wasn’t in school, doing homework or participating in organized sports at another venue, that’s where you’d probably find me with the other guys from our neighborhood playing baseball in Spring and Summer or touch football in the Fall.

Since I was a New Englander, I grew up a Red Sox fan. The Yankees represented the Evil Empire. New England didn’t have an NFL team in those days and the Jets didn’t exist, so the New York Giants was my default team of choice.

In later years, I lived in Pittsburgh where I became a Pirates and Steelers fan.

But now I’ve lived more than half of my life as a resident of New York state and, although during some of those years I’ve been a half-hearted Yankees fan, I’m not emotionally committed to any of the New York teams. I may, at times, like certain MLB and NFL teams more than others but I’m not passionate about any of them.

I’m a fair weather fan.

Which is why baseball season has just started for me. Now that “the wheat is separated from the chaff”, “the cream has risen to the top”, or whichever metaphor you choose to use to describe the process which has brought the Royals and the Giants to the World Series, I’m now getting interested.

I’m looking forward to a World Series of close games, late nights, emotional ups and downs, and watching some amazingly gifted athletes and managers perform under pressure.

I find watching them to be inspiring and educational….even if I’m just a lowly fair weather fan.

SanFrancisco.Giants.MLB.com/                                                        KansasCity.Royals.MLB.com/

 

My Mom

I wrote this a couple of years ago. Mom celebrated her 95th birthday earlier this year. May is the month when we pay tribute to our moms, so I thought it was worth re-posting.

REB ADB 150x150 My Mom

My mother was the first born child of immigrants. She was born Alice Della but has been referred to by her nickname, “Del” for most of her life. Mom’s mother was from England and her father from Canada. Except for a few months during World War II when she and my father lived in Washington state and California, she has always lived in Rhode Island. Mom was the eldest of five kids the youngest of whom she was frequently responsible for babysitting. I always thought that her parenting skills were honed during those days when she was taking care of her little sister and brother.

Mom grew up during The Great Depression and, like many others, her family struggled financially. When she was 15, my mother quit school in order to take a job in her uncle’s mill. I’m not sure how she felt about that but, as an intelligent young woman, I suspect that she wasn’t happy about it. Yet, I’ve never heard her complain about having to quit her education in order to help support the family. She felt it was her duty and she did it.

Mom was raised a Catholic but for reasons about which I’ve never been quite clear decided to leave the Catholic church and began attending youth group meetings at a Methodist church where she met my father. Apparently, the pastor of the church, a Dr. Metzner (sic) was a charismatic man who had a great deal of influence on both my father and mother. I remember them both smiling in obvious enjoyment as they told my brother and I stories about the doctor and their adventures with the youth group. I believe he was the minister who married them.

Mom and dad met when they were 16 and it was apparently love at first sight. Except for the years when Dad was away during World War II, they were never apart. And they always seemed to enjoy one another’s company. Every morning that I can recall, Dad would stroll into the kitchen, bellow “Good morning, Alice Della!”, sweep Mom into his arms and give her an enthusiastic kiss. Her return kiss was just as enthusiastic. It was the kind of overt display of affection which provided a strong sense of security for an impressionable young boy like me.

Like any married couple, they’d sometimes quarrel or disagree often when Dad would take a detour down some unchartered route to see which way it might take us. Mom preferred the known to the unknown but I think that she secretly enjoyed Dad’s sense of adventure. Recently, Mom observed that they’d never had a fight. (Imagine how warped my perspective on married life was coming out of that environment!) .

As was normal in those days, Mom was a housewife. She didn’t even know how to drive. In fact, she didn’t get her driver’s license until she was in her 40s. However, when I was in elementary school, Mom became the first woman president of the Smithfield (RI) PTA. Smithfield was a small New England town and that was a big deal. My father was well-known in town because of his business activities and members hips in the Lions Club and Volunteer Fire Department but it also made me proud when I saw the respect with which teachers, school principals, and prominent members of the community treated her. My mother is not an ambitious person so I suspect that she was nominated for the PTA presidency by people who wanted someone in the position whose opinions they respected and integrity they trusted.

One prominent memory from my younger days is Saturday nights at our house. As the big sister and surrogate parent, Mom always hosted her younger siblings and their families on Saturday nights. Invariably, we males would congregate in the living room to watch TV and banter with occasional conversation. But I can still see all the women gathered around the dining room table to get my mother’s opinion. It’s not that she sought to impose her opinions on them but that they seemed to value her insights and advice. My observation was that they always thought of my mother as well-grounded and a source of common sense. They trusted her opinion.

Dad died just after Thanksgiving in 2006. After all their years together, it’s hard for her to not have Dad but she’s adapted well and has realized how self-sufficient she really is. With age have come some challenges but she is still surprisingly alert and present. Since I take after my mother and her side of the family, I find this especially encouraging!
I know that everybody feels this way about their mother but my Mom is a very special lady. I’m proud to be her son and especially pleased that I was able to bring a granddaughter into her life.

Boomers Reimagined

“In the mid-1880s,…growth of colossal corporations in the aftermath of the Civil War had produced immense, consolidated wealth for business owners, but the lives of the working people…had become increasingly difficult.” In her book, The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes one of Teddy Roosevelt’s political rivals as observing: “We plow new fields, …open new mines,…found new cities…we add knowledge and utilize invention after invention. (Yet) it becomes no easier for the masses of our people to make a living. On the contrary, it is becoming harder.”

Sound familiar?

Although America’s unemployment rate has been dropping, long term unemployment remains a major issue. It’s estimated that over a million Baby Boomers are members of the long term unemployed cohort.

More than 15% percent of the approximately thirty-six million Baby Boomers born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1954 are expected to live active, healthy lives into their 90s. Since retirement savings for many of those Boomers were severely diminished during the recent financial crisis, many of them will need to continue working at jobs which are both psychically and financially rewarding well past the traditional 65 year old retirement age. Meanwhile, American businesses including the legal and medical professions are reducing their labor forces through the use of automation and robotics.

To remain a successful capitalist economy, America needs consumers for the goods and services it produces. Although many of American industries’ customers may come from outside of the United States, it will also be necessary for Americans to consume local goods and services. To do so, they will require sufficient incomes.

As columnist Tom Friedman points out, the US needs to rethink its social contracts because labor is important to a person’s identity and dignity as well as to societal stability.

For the country’s future well-being, political and business leaders need to focus not only on helping millennials who are entering the workforce but also on redeveloping the American economy to keep healthy Baby Boomers engaged in jobs which are both psychically and financially rewarding. The challenge will be to create opportunities to unite the natural resources of Boomer experience and expertise with the 21st century skill sets of Millennials.

Suggestions?

Confessions of a Fair Weather Football Fan

seattle seahawks logo 600x337 150x150 Confessions of a Fair Weather Football FanDenver Broncos 150x150 Confessions of a Fair Weather Football Fan
The NFL season has just gotten started for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I like football. I just don’t care about the NFL until post-season. The same is true for baseball. It wasn’t always this way.

I was raised in a small New England village with a great baseball field about 100 yards downhill from our back porch. Between the ages of 5 and 13 , during the daylight hours when I wasn’t in school, doing homework or participating in organized sports at another venue, that’s where you’d probably find me with the other guys from our neighborhood playing baseball in Spring and Summer or touch football in the Fall.

When I was growing up, New England didn’t have an NFL team and the Jets didn’t exist, so the New York Giants was my default team of choice.

In later years, I lived in Pittsburgh where I became a Steelers fan. But now, although, I’ve lived more than half of my life as a resident of New York State, I’m not emotionally committed to the Giants or the Jets. I may, at times, like certain NFL teams more than others but I’m not passionate about any of them. Although, during the Broncos/ Patriots game I was definitely rooting for New England. But, since the Patriots lost, I have no Superbowl preference.

I’m a fair weather fan.

Which is why the NFL season started for me earlier this month. Now that “the wheat is separated from the chaff”, “the cream has risen to the top”, or whichever metaphor you choose to use to describe the process which brought the contending teams to the playoffs, I’ve gotten interested.

So, I’m looking forward to the SuperBowl’s emotional ups & downs, and to watching some amazingly gifted athletes and their coaches perform under pressure. The commercials will be fun, too.

I’ll find watching them to be inspiring and educational….even if I’m just a lowly fair weather fan.

Let Us Turn Our Thoughts Today To Martin Luther King

The centennial of the Civil War was being commemorated in 1962. Nelson Rockefeller was New York’s governor. Racism was matter-of-fact for most white American, whether overt or unconscious. So it took a certain amount of political courage for the Republican governor to select a controversial African-American like Martin Luther King, Jr. to deliver Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

No one had heard Dr. King’s speech for more than 50 years until last Fall when staff members of the New York State Museum in Albany discovered a long forgotten reel-to-reel tape.

You can listen to it here http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/mlk/index.html

Sherlock Holmes, Season 3

sherlock season 3 start date 300x157 Sherlock Holmes, Season 3

 

I’ve been a fan of PBS’s updated version of the Sherlock Holmes series but I’m concerned that I’ll be disappointed with Season 3.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has perfectly captured the main character’s charismatic, highly intelligent, extremely analytical, anti-social, and slightly annoying personality. The concentrated blue-eyed gaze,deep voice, and unkempt air of the unknown British actor made for compelling TV.

During the series second season, Cumberbatch had gained a bit more exposure to American audiences in supporting roles in the remake of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “War Horse” but those roles didn’t diminish Cumberbatch’s credibility in his primary role as Sherlock Holmes. I had no problem buying into the premise that Cumberbatch was Sherlock or that Martin Freeman was Dr. Watson. As a fan and viewer,  I bought into the premise and identified the actors with their roles.

However, prior to Season 3′s debut things have changed.

Not only have appearances by Cumberbatch in prominent roles such as the lead in HBO’s “Parade’s End”, the latest Star Trek movie, and the voice of Smaug in The Hobbit become more frequent. But Martin Freeman’s role as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films have also heightened his profile.

So, my concern is that as I watch Season 3, I’ll find it more difficult to become as emotionally involved in the series as I have during the previous two seasons because my objective, analytical brain will be reminding me about the actors’ other roles.

I’m hoping I’m wrong.

Postscript:

After watching the first two episodes of Season 3, I sensed a certain smugness which I found disappointing and off-putting. However, after reading Emily Nussbaum’s assessment in The New Yorker http://ow.ly/t6EQB , my attitude has been somewhat altered.

 

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