Seasons in the sunset - A seventy (+3) year old looks ahead and back

Seasons in the sunset - A 80 year old
looks ahead and back

Monday, November 18, 2019

Candles For Sale

I’m picking up Johnny, age 13, after school. I spot him walking across the school lawn, coming toward me with his friend and 8th grade classmate, Ryan.

As they pile into the back seat I notice both are carrying what looks like a magazine. “What’s that?” I ask pointing at the magazine.

“It’s a catalog,” Johnny says.

“May I see it?” I say reaching for the magazine.

I flip through it, noticing mostly glossy images of candles and prices. “We’re selling those.” John says.

I pause, collecting my thoughts.

“John,” I say, “I only say this because I don’t want you to be disappointed. Nobody wants to buy these things.”

John replies, “It’s for the 8th grade dance.”

“I know all about it,” I offer in my know-it-all tone. I then add, “Tell you what, I’ll donate ten dollars to the dance, but you can keep the candle. How much do you make for each candle you sell?”

Ryan pipes in, “Twenty percent.”

“OK,” I say, “so if a candle is twenty dollars, you make four dollars. So I’ll give you twelve dollars. That’s like selling three candles.”

“We can’t do that,” John says.

“I know, I know,” I say, “but honestly, I don’t understand why you can’t do that. You’d make twelve dollars. Isn’t that the point?”   

“We can’t,” Ryan says in a soft, apologetic voice.

I’ve tried this strategy before, must be a hundred times, over the last forty years, beginning with my two daughters, selling candy bars mostly, but also oversized popcorn tins, and I think too, candles as well. Now it’s the grandkids. Why are contributions not accepted?

Don’t ask. It’s always a no.

The boys are silent.

“So Ryan, you’re coming to John’s house?”

“Uh huh,” he responds.

Along the way, I notice a neighbor out on his front lawn. “Here,” I say, “why don’t we stop and ask this guy - what’s his name? - if he wants to buy a candle. That will prove my point. I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”

No comment from the boys. Of course I really wasn’t going to stop.

Further along we pass a middle age man strolling down the sidewalk. He’s a familiar figure, always out walking about. “How about this guy,” I say.

Again, no comment.

I let the whole issue drop. Just hope they’re not disappointed, that’s all. I don't recognize that I'm making a fool of myself.

I pull into the driveway. The boys get out, go inside for some snacks. I stay in the car. I forget about the candles. I open my computer, start to read the Times newspaper, online.

Time passes. I look up from the news. Wow, almost an hour gone by.

A few minutes later I notice Johnny and Ryan walking up the driveway from the front sidewalk. They’re carrying their catalogs and some other papers. I immediately surmise that they were out selling candles. Poor kids, I think.

My hunch is that the papers in their hands are order forms. Maybe they actually sold one, but I doubt it. I'm sure the order forms are blank. Sad.

I lean toward them and shout through the open car window.  “Where were you guys?” I say.

“Selling candles,” they reply.

“How’d it go?” I ask.

“We sold fifteen candles,” John says, “almost two hundred dollars.”  

Hmmmm. "Wow, that's great," I say.

OK, this doesn't say a lot for grandpa’s wisdom, but there is much to be said for the innocence, faith, and yes the wisdom, of youth – beautiful! So happy for them. And that they knew enough to ignore me. 

Oh well … live and learn. 

I take a picture of them holding their sales orders. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Camping with Emma

My grand daughter, Emma, was six years old when her mommy, on a whim, bought a tent at Target.

I told Emma that we could “camp out” some night if she wanted to.

“OK,” she said.

A few days later I pitched the tent in the yard, eight steps off the back porch. Emma said she wanted to bring some of her puzzles, and some of her books, which we did.

Inside the tent, as darkness fell, I read the book, "Dora the Explorer", propping up a flashlight and shining it on the pages, which were fabric, not paper. Cute, I thought, as Emma crawled into the sleeping bag while I read.

Lying on her back, head peeping out of covers, she looked over at me. “I can’t go camping with you tomorrow,” she said, apologetically.

I said, “OK.”

“Cause I have to sleep over at Grammy’s for forty days,” she explained.

"That's OK sweetheart," I said. I made a note not to plan on tomorrow, or anytime soon thereafter, which likely was Emma's point.

I continued reading.

“If we are camping, we need some marshmallows, and wood,” Emma interrupted.

I explained that the stores were closed. Emma responded with tiny whine - soft and sweet.

“The next time, we camp we’ll get some,” I said. She whined again, a little louder, but just as sweet.

Emma fiddled with her other books, as I read on.

She asked me to take the berets out of her hair. I did this and she seemed to be getting sleepy. This is it I thought as I gently unfastened the berets. After all, we were "sleeping in the tent," so was that not the ultimate goal?

Then she said, “You know, papa, camping is not so much fun if you miss your mommy.”

I looked at her, she at me. “Do you want to go in and see mommy?” I said.

"I don't want anyone seeing me talking to mommy."

“Why is that?” I said.

“Because they’ll laugh at me,” she said.  

"Don't worry," I said as we crawled out of the tent.

Inside, I told her mommy that Emma wanted to speak with her alone.

After talking to her mommy, I took Emma up to her room. I sat on the bed as she got under the covers. I sang some songs like I used to do with my daughters, Brett and Ashley. “Golden Slumbers” and “Summertime” were my favorite bedtime songs to my children. The songs seemed to make Emma sleepy.

“Papa?” Emma said.


“When are you going to go downstairs?”

“Are you sleepy,” I said.

“Uh huh.”

I kissed her goodnight.

The camping trip was officially completed. But that small experience is one of the most beautiful and memorable things I have ever done.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

John, Red Schoendienst and me

June 7, 2018   New York Times
     Red Schoendienst, Cardinals Star and Oldest Hall of Famer, Dies at 95

When I read last week that Red Schoendienst, the St Louis Cardinals all-star second baseman, had died I immediately wanted to call my brother John and talk about an incident from long ago that involved Schoendienst, John and myself. 
But my brother, an avid Cardinal fan, died two years ago, so I was alone with my thoughts.

The incident with Red Schoendienst happened during the early 1950s. My dad, John and I, were at the Polo Grounds, home field of the then New York Giants. The Giants were playing the St Louis Cardinals, my favorite team as well.

Our seats were on the third base side, maybe twenty plus rows up from the field. Soon after arriving John and I raced down the stadium steps to the railing, next to the grass for a closer look at the players. Here we tried to get autographs, leaning over the rail, waving pencil and paper. I had a collection of almost fifty, which today, somehow, has vanished.
One day, as we stood there, Red Schoendienst  emerged from the dugout carrying a bat.

He walked toward us and handed me his bat. I looked up at him in disbelief.  

Schoendienst's bat was - really - like none I had ever held or seen before. First of all, it was big, probably 35 inches and shaped like a milk bottle, overly fat at the hitting end. But holding it, it seemed light, especially for its size. Schoendienst's name was engraved into the barrel.  

Brother John and I retreated to our seats with our treasure. As a scrawny eleven year old, Red's bat was a bit large for me. John, however, was an adult size high school sophomore and the starting second baseman on the varsity.  He used the bat throughout the remainder of his season.

Over time the bat began to show signs of wear and tear. There were cracks, splinters in the handle and eventually it became a dreaded broken bat. Still, we didn't want to give it up. We examined it, surgeon-like, and applied "stitches." We hammered small brad nails around the splits and finished our  repairs by tightly wrapping  the handle with black friction tape. The bat was weakened, had lost it's power, it's pop, but it was still Red Schoendient's bat.  

John kept using the bat in his high school games.

Exactly when the bat became entirely unusable I'm uncertain. Nor do I know where it ended up. Of course, I wish we had saved it, but as children, with eternity before us, we had little interest in mementos, however cherished.
Which is why I wanted to call my brother. It's a feeling I have often, wanting to share a moment from my childhood, with a person who was there too. "Did you hear about Red Schoendienst?" I would have said, then, immediately, I'd mention the bat: asking if he remembered it, what it looked like, how and when it broke, how long did he use it and finally what happened to it? That would take a few minutes, but after that we'd keep going, drifting back in time and rehashing old baseball (Cardinal) lore, Like, "Do you remember where Schoendienst batted in the order?" He batted second. Or we'd try to name the players at each field position. We'd mention that Stan Musial batted third, but who batted clean-up in the 1950s? I'd say Enos Slaughter.

Things like that: Just one of a thousand reasons I miss my loving brother every day.

Of course, we never know what to say about death, but we delight in making up little stories to give us solace. Here's one from me: "John probably met Red Schoendienst  in heaven and right now they're talking about the bat he gave us at the Polo Grounds."  

I'd bet on it. Thanks Red.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Why Does the Sun Keep On Shining?

Monday March 19, 2018

 6:40 AM
Just out of bed. Knelling on floor, I do four back exercises, thinking of lifelong friend, Bill Rezak, who is now in heaven and who showed me the exercises forty years ago. 

Downstairs I make Coffee with re-usable Keurig cup. Take up usual position on couch to read NY Times online.

An article from Books section catches my eye: 15 Remarkable Books by Women of the 21st Century. I jot two author’s names, Rachel Cusk and Jenny Offill,


I leave for Ashley's house to pick up two grand kids, Eddie (14) and Johnny (12), to bring them
to middle school, along with car-pooling neighbor, Sara. 

Ride to school is quiet. Kids (boys) mostly on phone.

"Good bye, I love you," I say as kids get out in front of school.
"Love you too," both say back.

I watch them walk in and my heart warms.


Back home. Reading paper again.
At almost 9 O’clock I feel I should get moving, get off the couch - do something.

I go to Starbucks, with the intention of doing some writing. Inside I order, “A Dark please.” Hand over my Starbucks card.
I find a table, set up the laptop. Laptop screen says “Working on updates 60 % complete.”  Hmmmm. Could be a while. I sip my coffee, look around. Tables are full, not unlike a busy office, everyone on laptops. How the world has changed.

Finally update finishes. In a little less than an hour I write 187 words. Not bad, for me, wanna-be writer.

I take a breath, start writing again. Suddenly my thoughts are interrupted by the Starbucks sound system playing a melody that touches me.

I can’t make out all the words. I catch only “Why does the sun keep on shining ...” I stop my writing and begin a search for those lyrics in Google. The song is “The End of the World.” I click on Amazon and find a rendition by Julie London. I download the song.

I get up for a free coffee re-fill, say hello to Carol, “my barrister,” behind the counter.  Carol asks, “Still driving grand kids all around?”

“My favorite thing to do,“ I say.

“You’re wonderful,” she says handing me the re-fill. "Thanks," I say, smiling at her words. 


I drive to library, find Cusk and Offill books. I read four pages of Cusk when my phone buzzes. I whisper, “Hello,” as I walk out to the lobby. 
It’s daughter Brett calling from CA. She tells me Mike (16, home for spring break from prep school) wore his “Andover Hockey” jacket to local HS Lacrosse game last night. “So cute,” she says.

I get to tell my team jacket story, of wearing my Lehigh University Varsity Football jacket with tan leather sleeves to Middletown-Port Jervis Thanksgiving football game in November 1962. Brett tells me she heard the story before.


I leave library with two books.

Home again. I try to put the End of the World song on the phone. It's not easy. I give up. Finally I do a Google search for “phone location of transferred songs.” Answer is: This PC / Samsung-SM-J320A / Phone / ATT Mobile Transfer. Who knew?

I decide to move the song later.

I make breakfast: Trader Joe’s Oven Toasted Old Fashioned Organic Oats, Strawberries (not organic), Trader Joe’s Raw California Walnuts Halves & Pieces, 1% Low Fat Milk  
I eat the cereal, then transfer the Julie London song to phone.

I drive to daughter Ashley’s home to let dogs out. I grab Offill’s book to read at stop lights. I get through page one at the light at the end of my road.
A quote:
… all our stories ….
So why do they come back to me now? Now when I’m so weary of it all. 

Is that me?

At daughter's home, I speak to the dogs, “OK, let’s go,” I say as they bolt out to the grass and start sniffing. “Go!”I repeat, following daughter's advice that "Go" is the magic word.

Tired of standing I get into my car. With warm sun on me, I cycle through songs on the car’s “Bluetooth” thing-a-ma-gig, looking for the new - “The End of the World” – song that I just copied to my phone.

Can’t  find it.     

I play it on the phone. OK, that works. I try it again through the car speakers (Bluetooth). A miracle. It now plays. I'm happy.

I coax the dogs back inside, then leave for home. Julie London’s soft voice is singing.

Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don't they know it's the end of the world
'Cause you don't love me anymore?

The words, the melody, her voice – all of it, touches me. Don’t know exactly why, but a happy feeling sweeps through me as I move up the street.

It seems that the words, "When you don’t love me anymore" are what triggers happy feelings. Why I wonder?

Perhaps because it reminds me of a time when young love was center stage, when words like “you don’t love me anymore” were relevant. I attribute the pleasant feeling despite the five sad words to having been there once. When it was possible to feel and believe such things. Like many thoughts, it's just a guess.

I play the song, over and over.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Gift of Slime


It is 7:45 AM. I am in my car, headed for my daughter’s home 2.6 miles away.

Each morning I drive grandson Johnny (age 10) to school. It’s my favorite way to start the day.

Today is my birthday. I’m 77.

When I arrive Johnny greets me at the door. “Here’s your birthday present,” he says, handing me a Tupperware container of what looks like Guacamole.

I recognize it immediately as slime.

“Just what I wanted,” I tell a beaming Johnny  -  and it’s true.

If you haven’t heard of slime, you probably don’t hobnob with the pre-teen set and you’re also not employed at a store that sells Elmer’s glue - or Borax*.

Never heard of Borax either? OK, so you’re younger than 77.

What you also may not know is that “slime” is currently a national craze. According to USA Today, “Parents across the country are reporting a shortage of glue in stores and many are naming the simple, do-it-yourself "slime" as the culprit.

During our ride to school Johnny gives me instructions on how to use my slime.

“You can use it for about a minute, then you should put it back for less than a minute, then you can use it again.”

“What, exactly, do you mean when you say, use it?” I ask.
“Just squeeze it in your hand for a while, move it around,” he says.
“Got it,” I say.

Crazes in my day (1950s) were a far cry from those today. No internet hype. I remember two such crazes at my school back in the last century – 1950s: water pistols and yo-yos. Water pistol mania was halted prematurely by the authorities (school principal). As for yo-yos, they likely faded on their own.

The internet obviously helps crazes along. In the case of slime there are myriad broadcasts of new twists and turns such as varied ingredients, new colors and countless videos of nerdy, now world famous, children actually making the stuff.

Trust me, it’s riveting.

Johnny’s slime endeavors began a few weeks ago. He took things a step further when he and friends created a quasi commercial enterprise to manufacture and market slime, called Cameroon Bank. 
The name Cameroon, dreamed up in the halls of Brooklake Elementary School, apparently comes from a fellow executive and 5th grader named Cameron. I’m told that he doesn’t make slime like other officers, but that he authored the Cameroon company song and … well ...

“He’s the king,” John says, “He doesn’t have to make slime.” 

The bank started with six charter members, all 5th graders. Each - excepting Cameron - manufactures DIY slime at home from raw materials purchased by grandpas, parents and the like (no overhead). They market their product, neatly packaged globs of slime, almost exclusively at school. The first day John came home with over $10.

Needless to say, his parents were aghast.

Regardless, production hummed right along. Mornings before school, it was not unusual to see John stuffing varying amounts of folding money, along with containers of newly minted slime into his backpack.

Meanwhile, adults in the family were imploring John to return all profits.

Not sure if that happened. Last I heard he had given it all to charity, but again, details are fuzzy.
Finally I was told that the school principal had banned slime sales. I’m assuming he banned in-school possession as well, but, honestly, you'd never know it from seeing the kitchen table most mornings: various sized containers filled with multi-colored pudding, labeled with description and price. It seems that sales are still brisk - at least on the street. And I wouldn’t bet against on school grounds.

Meanwhile, along with my birthday container of green, beaded slime which, I’m told, retails for $5, I was officially appointed a Vice President of Cameroon Bank (after all I'm a major investor). I signed a contract, written on the back of my birthday card, and which the six officers of the Bank verified as binding (see below).

Needless to say, I'm honored.

* Borax: I actually bought Borax recently. Finding a store that carried it was a challenge, but I finally located two boxes on a shelf at CVS. The internet told me the Borax would discourage ants from coming in under my front door. Borax was the ant equivalent of a have-a-heart trap for mice. They’d smell it and turn back. I sprinkled the Borax on the floor inside my door and it worked – I think. I say I think because I also laid down a batch of cinnamon so can’t be sure which did the trick.