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

Saturday, August 20, 2022

As you go off to college - As true today, as it was then.

 

As you go off to college - As true today, as it was then.


Circa 2009.

Yesterday I was at the YMCA, exercising. Ash, Emma (age 8) and Ed (6) were there as well. They were at a birthday party, which was a pool party first, then cake and presents later.

 Twenty-five six-year-olds frolicked in the pool as moms and older siblings (Emma) watched. My grandson Eddie, however, stayed on the sidelines, on the bleachers.

 For some reason I got the bright idea I should go back into the locker room, put on my swim trunks and try to swim with Ed, thinking I could cure his shyness and encourage him to join his fellow toddlers.

 So, I did this. I returned to the locker room, and donned my bathing trunks. I tried to ignore the voice in my head which said, “Don’t be an idiot. It’s a kiddie party, plus spectators, all the 30, 40-year-old moms watching.” I was 70 at the time.

 Finally, I returned to the pool, wearing my too-short, old-man bathing suit, very self conscious,  but forcing one step in front of the other, inching toward the water at the shallow end.  The children, and a dozen young moms watched (gulp) as I lowered myself into the pool.

 Slowly, I waded over to the side, near where Ed sat on the bleachers. He didn’t move, just stared at me.

 I held out my arms. Still no movement. I waited.

 Then suddenly he stood up. He walked toward me and jumped into my outstretched arms.

 I paddled around with him for a few minutes, and soon he joined the others splashing about until the call came for the cake eating to begin. 

Mission accomplished. 

Reflecting today, I know if I had the choice for my last day on earth – publishing the great American novel or having Ed jump into my arms in that pool in Madison, I’d choose the latter.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

What kind of bread do you have? ... circa 1981

                It is a school day morning, early November. The kids have been at my house for the past few days. Brett, age 13, rises early, around five AM, whereas sister Ash, 11, must be dragged out of bed. Brett starts working on things right away; first homework, then hair, all between phone calls. By seven, I am up, adding my two cents to the morning mix. The first thing I do is to get Ash moving, and then I go downstairs to make breakfast and sandwiches  for lunch. Doubtless my lunches differ from most. Very health foody here.

                I hear Brett talking to Ashley, “Hurry up Ash, I get detention if I’m late.” 
     No comment from Ash. I’m guessing that detention is a big girl (6th grade) thing.
   
                I yell up, to anyone, “What kind of sandwich do you want?”

                Brett responds, “What kind of bread do you have?”

                Immediately I sense a predicament. I pause my words, for I know what she is thinking. I have only whole wheat bread; and worse, it’s from the health food store, the organic variety. I know if I say, “only whole wheat”, she’ll say, “forget it, I’ll borrow lunch.” I change subjects, “But what do you want - Peanut butter or cheese and tomato?”  I am proud that they have both accepted the switch to natural peanut butter. 

                Again the reply, “What kind of bread do you have?”
                I give up. Reluctantly I admit it. “Whole wheat,” I say, but I say it overly enthusiastically as if whole wheat is the greatest thing since … well … since sliced bread.

               “I don’t want a sandwich.”

    I’m not sure which one shouted that but it was just as I predicted.

                Now I am forced to initiate what might be called a more lively debate (lecture) during which time I will try to persuade and educate my daughters about the merits of whole grain bread and healthy eating. I proceed with this but if something sinks in, I am unaware. Then suddenly to my surprise Brett suggests a compromise. She’ll take the Peanut Butter, but she’s going down the street to a neighbor’s house to borrow some white bread.

                “Whatever,” I say - not pleased. I just hope that she doesn’t come back with Skippy Peanut Butter too.

As she leaves Ash yells, “Brett, get me two slices too.”

In a short while, Brett returns with four slices of white bread and I accept them without comment and spread the natural peanut butter and all fruit jelly. I add a banana to each bag and a peeled carrot. Good nourishment I think to myself. I don’t ask if either daughter wants the carrot or the banana.

Time moves along. I fix breakfast for Ash and call up to Brett who is putting the final touches on the hair, and making a last minute phone call to a classmate, “Brett did you have breakfast?”
“Yes.”
“What did you have?”
“Honey Nut Cheerios with foul disgusting, grossining skim milk.” Grossining is her word. It’s not in the dictionary. It means gross, or really gross - i.e. bad.

My food is not a hit this A.M. More minutes go by. Finally we’re ready, almost.

“Lets go, lets go!” Brett says, to me.
“Yes we’re ready,” I say, “As soon as I find my keys.”
Brett goes to the car while I look around the house.
“Can we go!” Ash says.

“Yeah, yeah,” I say, “I’m looking for my keys.” I notice Ash is quite loaded down with books cradled in her arms. “That’s quite a pile of books you have there, want me to show you a good way to carry them? Just wait a minute.”

I dash upstairs and grab my web belt from the closet. I present it to Ashley and tell her that she can strap the books together and then sling them over her shoulder. I demonstrate with the belt alone. “Like this,” I say throwing the belt over my shoulder.

Ash looks up at me, not impressed. “No thanks Dad.”

“Why not? That’s good, they don’t all fall apart like this, and it’s a good way to carry them. I used to always carry books like this, in college even.” I deftly strap together three books and demo again, this one live. “Watch, I say, flinging the books skyward. They clear the right shoulder; arch nicely and crash, a hardback corner piercing into high area of my back that I believe is called the scapula. I wince, but quickly force a smile. “See?” I say, smiling broadly now.     

“That’s O.K. dad,” she says. Neither the college thing nor the live demo impress her.

I cannot understand this. I used to love carrying my books like that – especially in college. But there is no use I know. I am dispirited, but I try to let it go. “O.K., O.K. Anyway my keys are really lost this time.”

“They’re not lost,” Ashley says. Strangely this actually makes me feel better.

“Yes. They’re lost. Really, really lost. That’s it. I’ve looked everywhere.” My thinking here is that if I overly exaggerate the certainty of the lost keys, the Gods will descend and prove me wrong. It has happened. 

“Dad, they’re not lost.”
“Well then where are they?”

“All right, you want me to find them?” she says, and sets down her books joining the search.

I really am convinced that they are lost beyond hope. I have looked everywhere. I dare the Gods to prove me wrong. Brett, from the car in the driveway, toots the horn twice. I open the front door to tell her about the keys, but just before I speak I hear Ashley’s admonishing voice, “Dad!” she says, and I know she has found the keys. Somehow the kids always find the keys.

                “What?” I say in my trying-to-sound-perplexed voice.
                “Where did you put them?” she says.

                “Ash! If I knew where I put them I wouldn’t have been looking all around.” I know that this is an old joke, but I still like the sound of it and I reason that at 11 and 13, they haven’t heard it too often. I could be wrong.

                “They’re right here,” she says and points to my keys resting atop the thermostat on the living room wall.
                “Yeah, well, I put ’em there so I won’t forget to turn down the heat before we leave. See?”
I turn down the heat. “Good idea, huh? See, this way we can’t leave …”

                “Dad!” Again the admonishing tone.
                “O.K., you ready? Let’s go.” I check the heat again, making a point. Then out we go.
                “I’m done for,” Brett says as we climb into the car. 
                “Yeah, we know all about it, major detention right?”
                “Yes,” says Brett, not amused. “What took you so long?”
                I don’t answer. We’re on our way now, and to me it looks like we have plenty of time, actually.

As we drive I notice a flock of blackbirds performing wide loops high above and against the sky ahead of the car. Strangely I’m also aware that my own music cassette is still playing, not the usual blasting radio stations, but instead Louis Armstrong is singing, “It’s a wonderful world.” I swear that the birds rise and fall in time with Louie’s song.  My mind drifts gently to birds, how they sing to greet each day. Apparently we humans are not sure why birds sing so, but maybe it’s something like kids jabbering away in the schoolyard, before school. As with the children in the schoolyards, the birds do this every day and they usually finish in about a half hour also.

I offer a few comments. “You know arriving late to you guys is not getting to school at least a half hour before the bell. This is because you want to socialize, get everything rolling; you know, find out what’s new etc. So do you ever listen to a schoolyard from a distance? With every kid putting his two cents in, all the screeching sounds like just what birds are doing when you hear them early every morning, chirping away in the trees. Don’t you think you’re just like the birds?”

I add, “They usually go on for about a half hour also.” I pause for a reaction.

Ashley seems unmoved, looking straight on.

            “You love that,” Brett says.
            
            It occurs to me that I have never been happier than I am right now. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Eat my Bubbles - November 2010

                Eat my Bubbles - November 2010     
                Home of the Lions
 I am in the basketball gymnasium of local community college. It’s a Sunday in November, 2010. “Home of the Lions” the scoreboard says. Approximately 200 un-lion-like children age 8 – 13 mill about before me. Most are barefoot, attired in wet bathing suits soaked from their recent excursion in the official Olympic size pool across the hall. They scurry about this gym dancing as they chatter, moving always with the grace and lightness of water bugs. 
 
Between the pool and the gym is a hall that is filled with myriad tables where vendors (mostly mothers) hawk various swim team necessities from chocolate chip cookies to the requisite bananas and apples, to sandwiches and pizza, to racks of swimsuits, goggles, flannel pajama pants (the travel attire of choice for swimmer kids), car decals for swimmer families, and, of course, tee-shirts. As you may have guessed I am at a swim meet – my granddaughter’s.
                     
                    Invitational Meet
The event here today is labeled “Go for the Gold.” It is classified as an Invitational Swim Meet, as opposed to Dual, two teams, Invitational, from my perspective, means you’re here for the long haul – a full day. 


                    Swimmer Gymnasts
       This is my first swim event as swim-grandpa. In a past life, a generation ago I was a “gymnastics dad” at a time before silhouette car decals of cart wheelers were popular or even existed. My memory comes back now – “I Love Gymnastics” was the (only) bumper sticker preferred in my “gymnastics dad” years, the late 1970s, the Nadia years.  
       Actually it appears that kids still love gymnastics. Each corner of this gym today is packed with circles of small swimmer girls doing cartwheels and round-offs in between their swim events. The gym floor is sprinkled with crumpled towels arranged by team. Intermittently an adult with a clipboard approaches a cluster of swimmer-gymnasts and dispenses essential information.

                          Long Haul Parents
       Waves of kids come and go here, first into the building, then incessantly back and forth from the pool to the gym. I move over to the pool area where races are grouped by age. Theoretically some waves should vanish as others appear, but this does not seem to be the case as the pool area crowd, if anything, grows. 
 
       There is much down time in large (invitational) swim meets for nine to twelve year olds.  Your child swims once – or twice, maybe three times – for a minute or two, whereas the meet itself - that’s a five hour event. Experienced parents prowl the hallway bending over the tables of swim gear and then moving along to check the time-sheets taped to the wall. In the pool area their seats are saved by piles of coats and towels. With them as well is a plethora of parent essentials. The most critical is the pass-the time equipment  such as  fold-up chairs, books, newspapers, kindles, laptops, pencils, and also cameras, stop watches, meet programs and Speedo backpacks.  Some parents yell encouragement at their children as they glide by in the water, their shouts timed with the part of the stroke that brings the ears above water. It is my opinion that the swimming children are oblivious to this, but I am uncertain. Coaches, pacing at poolside, also offer vocal encouragement, their shouts also timed to match their swimmer’s breaths.

                    Pressurized Predicament                    
       I tell myself that the scene today is different from those “Nadia years” gymnastic days. But I am unsure about why. On the trip down this morning Emma (age 9), recognized her pressurized predicament just as my daughter Brett did in 1978. Emma was in the back seat as we rolled south on Interstate 287. She knew that she was on the swim team and despite the performance anxiety that she felt there was no turning back. She had no choice. Today I was driving my daughter’s SUV/Van. Thirty some years ago I was behind the wheel of my Datsun 210B hatchback with four nine year olds stretched horizontally in the way back. As the hatchback approached the gym I would say, “OK, here we are; this is the turn.” A chorus of voices would respond, “Keep going, we don’t want to go.” But they too knew that there was no fighting the inevitable. They were nine. This was life. They had no choice.

                    Body Art
       Another new twist today is that the swimmers write on their body with sharpies. Newcomers like Emma with a swim-mom-challenged mother do not know what to write – nor do I - so Emma draws a smiley face on her arm. I gaze around at the other participants. No other smiley faces. Most seem to have what looks like Chinese letters printed on their arms which appears to my unfocused eye like biker tattoos. Could it be?  I make it a point to decipher the body art. Finally I spy a serene looking kid and risk a question, “What did you write there?” I say to a girl standing with her mom.  It is not Asian writing.
She holds up her arm. I see tic-tac-toe-like lines with words and numbers – in English.

       “It’s my events,” the girl tells me and her mom smiles. I am happy I did not offend her, always a concern when a senior citizen encounters a young celebrity athlete. I do make out a few other body-ink inscriptions without help. “Eat my bubbles,” is a popular one for Emma’s team. It is written across their backs. Cute. 
                    The Young and the Befuddled
       There are numerous grandparents here and to a person they seem especially befuddled, if not outright unhappy. Stuck in a traffic jam comes to mind. I think that the wet concrete bleacher seating may be an issue, as well as the muggy heat-wave-like weather in the pool area, which could be especially harsh on overly bundled seniors. But I could be projecting my own thinking on them. Honestly - I jest, because I am not unhappy, not at all. At age seventy this is my greatest joy, not so much the meet, nor the competition but just being around the happy kids, watching their enthusiasm whether they are cart-wheeling or paddling through water. And about the water - these young kids all go full force, up, back, up, back, four times – in practice, eight laps - slapping the water with a vengeance, kicking on and on without let up. I am overly impressed. Thankfully, it seems, there is not a heightened emphasis on winning, though I could be naive about that. In the meantime, knowing that Emma is part of this group, that she is such an athlete. Honestly, it warms my heart – immensely.        

Friday, April 1, 2022

I'm a novelist - August 2010

I'm a novelist - August 2010

                It is 9 AM, my phone rings. It’s daughter, Ashley, from four blocks away.
           
                "Dad, can you come over?"

                "Yeah, what?" I say.

                "I’ve got to go into the school and I don’t want to bring Johnny."

                  It is mid-August and my teacher daughter wants to get her classroom ready for September  start of school. Johnny, age four, is known to be a bit of a thorn when there is work to do.

                "Yeah, OK, when? I’m busy at the moment," I say.

                "What are you doing?"

                "Stuff!"

                "Like what?"

                 "Stuff," I repeat.

                  "What?" says Ash.

                "Ash," I say, "I’m a novelist."

                "Yes we know. Can you put it aside for an hour or so and come over?"

                And so it is that over the years I have settled on the quip "I’m a novelist" when questioned
by one of my daughters, "Are you busy?"  It brings a chuckle, something that is enjoyed by all, and it more or less answers the "busy" question: "Yes, I am busy, and I know that you don’t consider my "work" real or important but nevertheless – I am a novelist, so I’m busy." Ha ha.

                 As you may have guessed, and before you ask what I have written, let me say that I’m not really a novelist, despite being infatuated with writing for much of my adult life. Should I mention this to someone other than family they invariably ask, "Have you written anything?" They mean published anything.  It is only recently that I have settled on an answer, which is, "No, I just write as a hobby."

                 My hobby started some forty years ago, jotting observations, and thoughts that I wanted to keep, for later, when I might actually become a novelist. I wrote on odd slips of paper, grocery receipts, junk mail envelopes, napkins and the like, filing them in a manila folder labeled “Future.” Often there was an attempted every-man aspect to the observation, but how to express it or just what it was, I was unsure, much less connect it to a story theme. What I would see was likely nothing more than the common sight of a man with lunch pail in hand and seemingly full of purpose, trudging off to work, hurrying across the railroad tracks before the gates came down, in Bethlehem, PA. There’s a story there I would think as I watched and I scribbled a note on the newspaper that lay on the passenger seat of my car – "man with lunch pail going to work at Bethlehem Steel Company." That newspaper was dated October 9, 1967.

                  Over time I accumulated many a note, and I subsequently lost many as well. It was years later that my newspaper note plus other jottings resurfaced in a mildewed box in my basement. Sitting there, on the basement floor, alone, with my thoughts, I gathered the pack of scribbles in my hands and looked at them again. It was like looking at a pile of old computer punch cards that had spilled off a truck and being asked to organize them into proper order. What I thought might one day yield a treasure of ideas I now saw as not that at all. I returned my writings to their time capsule and retraced my steps back to the real world, feeling more than a bit disappointed that my scribbles, saved all these years seemed to be worth nothing.

                 As time moved along I graduated from notes on newspapers and napkins to jottings in small spiral bound hand held notebooks, steno pad type. I misplaced or lost fewer of these, but the words, even the thoughts, seemed, sadly, to still lack poignancy, among other things. Later I went with bigger notebooks, 8-½ in. by 11 in., the black and white school days type. I told myself that when I filled one of these I would have written a book. I once read some encouraging words by Kurt Vonnegutt. Something to this effect: "Just write, don’t worry that it is not a masterpiece, write a bad book, but write." The big notebooks didn’t do the trick; they remained incomplete. I had yet to write my bad book.

                 It was the summer of 1981, when I filled my first seventy-two sheet University Notebook with generally unrelated drivel, but nevertheless, I felt a small sense of accomplishment. I told maybe one person about this and no one of course read it but me. It was something, - think journal - but it didn’t rise to the level of the "bad book." Then I read a comment by renowned author Joseph Wambaugh that went something like this: "If you want to be a writer and you want to call yourself a writer, then you must write every day. Otherwise you just fool yourself." Wambaugh wrote a thousand words every day. He said that if you didn’t do something like that with a scheduled regularity, like daily, then you’re weren’t a writer." I got the message. I was not a writer, and not a novelist either.

                 But I persisted. In 1984 I graduated again to a new form, this time to those blank books that sold in stationary stores. I liked them. They looked like real books that one could place on a shelf. I thought that they gave credibility to the contents. I started with palm size and half filled a couple of them. Then during that summer, after school closed, I started a practice of going into a church every morning for meditation and prayer. At the same time I started to write into a larger, blank book - best-seller size - with a hard cover. Loosely applying the theme of the morning prayer, and searching for meaning of life.

                 Yes, I know. Don’t laugh.

                  I filled the two hundred and sixteen pages (approximately 75 typewritten I would guess) with hand printed words by summer’s end. When people asked what I did over the summer I ventured that I had written a journal. Not a book yet, but I was telling people that I had written. Sometimes they asked what it was about and I didn’t know what to say, so I said "The influence of poetry on my life." There were a few pages related to that subject and thankfully, most people were kind enough not to pry further.
 
                  It’s hard to believe that was fifteen years ago (now 2023 - 39 years), because I thought that was the beginning of a consistent writing effort. Obviously it was not to be. I had made it to another level but I was still on the first floor, even lower.

                  Today it is the computer era, which has been very helpful. No more blank books. Instead I have word-processing files. These are much more manageable for a writer like me.  I am back to Wambaugh’s advice now, in this year before the millennium. I am trying to write my one thousand words and in the last ten days have fared as follows:
 
Day 1 - 1,150 words
Day 2 - 1,037 words - after two days, I’m moving right along here
Day 3 - 0 words - mowed lawn, got ready for garage sale
Day 4 - 0 words - Prepare for Garage sale      
Day 5 - 721 words
Day 6 - 0 words - Worked on [daughter] Ashley’s application for grant
                related to teaching job
Day 7 - 0 words - Worked on Ashley’s application
Day 8 - 0 words - Worked on Ashley’s application
Day 9 - 422 words - still working on Ashley’s application
Day 10-300 words

                 Clearly there is still a need for discipline, especially when presented with other tasks, all the normal stuff that gets done around the normal house, including famous authors, but somehow doesn't interfere with the prioritized work (writing). Regardless, my problem with writing is not the interference of various household tasks, unless one considers daydreaming as a task. 

                  Regardless, my daughter has told me that I have too much junk around my house and that I need to have a garage sale. So I hop to it. I put the ad in the newspaper which commits me to a sale five days hence. "I don’t have time for this – garage sale. You know?" I say to my daughter, "being a novelist."
                  That excuse doesn’t work, but I used it, as mentioned above, when said daughter Ash asks for help composing a ten page application for some lottery-odds-teacher-of-the-year contest grant (see Day 6, 7, 8, 9 above).

                 "Come on Dad, you’re a writer," Ashley says.  I can’t say no. I give it four or five days. What I am is a slow writer.

                  This kind of thing happens to me at work also where I’m often called upon to write the words for various projects because most people now know that writing is my thing. I hate those projects and truthfully though I do bang out the words, more or less, they never seem to sound especially silken, and no one ever says, "That’s great, you’re a great writer." They just say thanks and more than a few times offer suggestions and spelling corrections.

                 Well, I never said that I was a good writer. Remember I’m trying to write a bad book. I honestly don’t think that I am a good writer; I know I’m not in fact. I’m just like the guy who plays golf every day, never breaks a hundred, but still loves to play golf. He’s a duffer and he knows he's a duffer. I’m a duffer of a writer who wants to "play" every day, but doesn’t always get to it because well -life gets in the way sometimes. 
 
Plus, I think I have ADHD.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

In and Around Newport

In and Around Newport 

At Starbucks, Newport, RI

                Coffee in hand, I locate a seat. I sit, look around and take a sip. 
 
                I notice a slight woman nearby. She's dressed in a tank top and shorts. Her cheeks are sunken and her hair matted. She is sitting with her elbows propped on the table, her hands wrapped around a paper cup with tea. The string and tag from the tea bag rest on her knuckle. I notice a dark blotch beneath her left eye. 
 
                A bruise? 
 
                I hope not. 
 
                A very content, handsome baby is next to her chair, on the floor, in a car seat. The woman is running her hand over the floor next to the car seat the way a blind person would search for an object. I see a child’s toy just beyond her reach. I decide to walk toward her.
 
                “May I help you? Are you looking for the toy?” I say.
 
                “Yes,” she responds.
 
                “Are you blind?”
 
                “Yes.”
 
                “Is there anything else that you need? Are you OK?” I ask as I hand her the toy. She concentrates on reaching toward the baby, feeling for the child’s hands, to give him the toy. The baby, takes the toy. I again notice his bright and happy eyes, same as they were without the toy.
 
                “Thank you,” she says.
 
                “You’re welcome,” I say. “Your baby is a beautiful child. A boy?" I add, noticing blue colors.
 
                “Thank you,” she says. “We’re just waiting for my husband. Yes, boy.” 

                I hope some more - that the story about the husband is a fact and that he is wholesome looking with a gracious manner, but I don’t stay to witness this. I speculate that the baby looks too good, too wholesome himself, for anything to be amiss. The woman is at a table in the center of the cafĂ©, people all around her. The staff and other customers seem not to be concerned about her. I conclude that all is OK. That she has been here before, that she is well known in this cafe. 
 
               I wait for a time, several minutes. Eventually I decide to leave, but as I do, stepping out to the street, thoughts of the woman, her baby and her circumstance stay with me.             
               
               For days, and beyond I think about the woman and her child. What could I have done? I could have inquired to the Starbucks staff and made sure all was OK? I should have done that, because despite feeling all was well, at least I would have felt more content.

                All I can think is that I did something - I picked up the toy. That's all. 

Out on the Street

The day moves along. It is now evening, after dark, I am walking on Thames Street, a main thoroughfare in Newport, RI. 
 
An elderly gentleman approaches me as I'm licking a cone of frozen yogurt. The man is dressed in a plain white tee shirt and long pants. The shirt is old, but it's clean, thin material, a well-worn look, but not wrinkled. He's not a tourist, I decide..

“Ice cream cone is not good for you," he says, "not at your age - no. 

I look his way, give a half smile and pause, eying him for a second without speaking. Finally I offer, “I know. It’s yogurt, but you're right, not good." Then add, "Nice night for a walk.”

To which he responds, “I’ve been in the house for six months. I was afraid to come out. I got very nervous. Every time I came out I got nervous. The doctors didn’t know anything.”

I consider my words. Do I want to start a conversation here? 
 
Finally I say, “Can you sleep at night?” I think of my own trouble, and try to commiserate.

His answer: “My parents were born in the Azores. It’s near Portugal. I have eight brothers and sisters, my father died when I was six. I came here when I was twelve.”

Hmmm. 
 
I'm unsure how to respond.

“Yeah, well …,” I say, but my thoughts trail off.
 
 Finally I offer, “You’ll be OK, just keep walking, going outside. Don't stay indoors.” I look him in the eye. He seems harmless, my age, maybe a bit older, but with a full head of gray wavy hair, so I add, “You’re a young guy.”

“I’m eighty-five.”

This does shock me. “Really!" I say, "I’m sixty eight. I thought you were younger than I was. You look it.” This is a minor exaggeration. Though he holds a walking stick, he appears to get on well without it. Plus he converses with full animation, and a strong voice. Never would have guessed his age. If it's true.

 “No," he says, "you’re a good looking man; you're young looking.” 

The man is eighty five, an apparent agoraphobic, possibly somewhat off mentally and a complete stranger. So why do I feel myself liking his compliment? Plus I am inclined to accept it, like believing him, despite the questionable circumstances. Doesn't take much, I think to myself.
.
                “Yes, yes,” I say, as if to politely dismiss his kind thought. "That was nice of you to say that."

“You’ll get married again,” he now says. OK, this is strange. Does he know I'm not married?

“Make sure you get married again,” he says, as parting words.

"OK," I say, then with a friendly wave I'm on my way.

Continuing my walk, I give this a little thought: Minutes ago I was strolling alone down the main street of this vacation city. I definitely wasn't thinking about getting married, but it did occur to me as I stepped along the sidewalk that it would be nice if I had some company on this night. Then I meet this character and ...

Just a little bizarre, no?

In the Car, at a Light

                I am in a traffic line waiting for a green light when I notice a man weaving down the sidewalk, coming toward my car. He's a bit unsteady. Suddenly he stops, bends down reaching for something. It's a cigarette butt. 

                He plucks it from the pavement. 

                Straightening up now, still tottering, he holds the cigarette with two fingers in front of his nose -inspecting it. His face is whiskered, and his complexion is purplish, overly tanned. I know the look - homeless plus drugs, I assume.

               Suddenly he flings the butt into the gutter. Not up to standards apparently. 

I just happen to be riding with someone (girlfriend) who has a pack of Marlboros and they are sitting next to me on the console between the front seats. I reach over, pull out a new Marlboro. I roll down the window. The man looks at me. I flip the Marlboro his way.

 “A cigarette for you,” I say.

He hears me and his glistened eyes catch site of the white stick as it falls on the sidewalk in front of him. Again he bends down, stretching gingerly toward the pavement, tottering. Suddenly, he lurches forward. He steps on the cigarette - mashing it.

What to do?

I'm still at the light so I grab another. “One more,” I say, tossing the second. He smirks, to himself, eying the cigarette on the walk. With some effort, gives a half smile to me. I take it as gratitude. He looks back down, trying to focus. He bends slowly again. This time he succeeds.

I catch his smile, albeit labored. The light changes and I roll forward. Now I second-guess my humanitarian gesture, a gift of a cigarette. Not humanitarian at all.

I look over at my friend. Should I mention again the bad effects of smoking? My friend has her eyes straight ahead. She knows what I'm thinking.

“Was that a humanitarian gesture?” I ask.

“Not really, she replies.

              We continue on. I decide that I feel good about it regardless


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

It's Still the Same Old Story

It's Still the Same Old Story 

I awake in plenty of time. 


It’s 8:30, the last day in the school year at Franklin School in Summit, NJ where daughter Ashley teaches - third grade, Special Education 
 
Today I've been asked to pick up grandson Johnny at the school. He came to the school with his mom for an early morning play-date with one of Ashley’s students, Jason. It's a special last day favor for Jason.

"Don't be late," my daughter reminded me, the night before. 
"Alarm set," I replied.

I leave my home at 9:20 toting two cups of coffee. The day is perfect – sunshine, humidity, temperature, all perfect. An old Sinatra CD is in the player. The song - "It Could Happen to You." The vegetation along the road is lush, the earth having broken the spell of a worrisome April drought. All windows are open; the air is crisp, cool on my face.

Rolling through residential streets of Chatham, my cell phone rings. I have what is called a “Bluetooth” connection in my car. Like many high-tech terms, years went by before I learned what “Bluetooth” actually meant.  Still not certain, but I’m guessing it means talk through car speakers because a dashboard display says Bluetooth whenever the phone rings in the car. So Bluetooth, “phone in car” or “hands free talking,” either one.

The call is from my daughter. “Did you get any of my texts?” she says.

I remind Ashley that I’ve only recently abandoned my vow to make it through life without ever texting and so am not in the habit of looking for text messages. You know? 

“I’m almost at your school,” I say.

“Johnny’s not here,” she says.

“Oh?”

“But that’s OK, because I have Eddie’s bike in my car and he wants it to ride to the pool. So you can take it back.”

“OK, great,” I say.

Ashley is waiting for me in the parking lot, standing next to the bike.

“Will this fit in your car?” she says.

I grab the bike, grunting as I hoist it up and into to my hatchback-like trunk, then shoving it, with some more effort, past the seat back, barely clearing the trunk's bottom lid. Did I hear a rip? Not sure. 

Definitely tore some upholstery, I think.

"Is it in?" Ashley says.

“No problem,” I say.

With bike packed, I head back to Ashley’s home. Passing through the streets of Summit, again, a warm feeling comes over me. The small city, with people up and about on a beautiful day. Kids on the street corner carrying ice coffee cups, straws poking out of dome lids (ice cream sundae in a cup), a serious jogger woman on the shoulder ahead, seemingly pulled by a dog on a leash, pre-teens on bikes they have outgrown, riding on sidewalks, two smiling grandparents together pushing a triplet baby stroller.

Just saying ... really feeling good today.

At my daughter’s house son-in-law Tom is in the driveway. "Got Eddie's bike." I announce.

“Eddie doesn't need it; he already left for the pool,” Tom tells me.

“He did?”

“He couldn’t wait. So we found a spare bike at Grandma’s house. I drove over (ten minutes cross town) and got that one for him.”

“Wow,” I say, then add, “Whatever.” I'm thinking, that was a lot of effort just to get Eddie going to the pool a few minutes earlier.

Tom and I haul the, now unneeded, bike from my trunk.  

Eddie is 11. The reason he could not wait, I now suspect, is that two weeks ago, according to his mom, Ed sent a text message to a girl in his class asking if she would be his girlfriend. She said, “Yes,” and so began their fifth grade courtship and, I might add, at least in my view, a bit of new urgency as it relates to some of Ed's summer activities.  

The manner of children officially declaring affection has changed over the years. Today texting apparently does it. First, however, there is still that time honored school days tradition, as follows: float the idea, not among the principals, but rather, among friends of principals. In other words, have Eddie’s friends ask Mary’s friends if Eddie were to ask Mary to be his girlfriend would Mary say yes.

If the answer is affirmative you pop the question - by texting of course.

As for the rest of the story, well …actually ... from my observation it seems that it's still the same old story – the fight for love and glory.