Wednesday, June 29, 2011


My high school 40th reunion is going to take place in well, three weeks from Friday!  It seems impossible that so much time has passed.  I really have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that so much time has passed, and while the people I graduated with have changed, at the fundamental level, very little has changed.
We were – we ARE – a unique class.  Our school was an experiment in interracial/intercultural relationships that went against the grain and actually – against the odds – worked!  I mean, we were the experiment that really worked!
So as we prepare for our reunion it’s only natural that one of the questions we ask is who is still together?  You know what I mean.  Which of the high school classmates who were Sweethearts forty years ago are still sweethearts?  Do we even remember our high school sweethearts?  Are we still in touch with them?
The answer to that is as varied as could possibly be when over eleven hundred students are involved, so I can only speak for myself.
Forty one years ago, I met a girl, and I fell deeply, madly, completely in love with her.  I asked her to marry me.  We vowed we would love each other forever.
It lasted about 4 years.  I bored her.
I understand – I’m a kind of boring guy, but when it ended, it still broke my heart.
I think that’s the tale most of us of the class of 71 would tell.  When I did eventually marry, it was not to the auburn haired beauty who so captivated my heart all those years ago, although it is probably safe to say I never really got over her.  You don’t, they say. Get over your first love, that is, and I suppose I’m no exception.  My high school sweetheart was my first true love, and for a lot of years I guess I never got over her.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to old age.  I met someone quite by accident, in the last sort of place where one might expect to meet someone, and frankly, after I had decided that I would be content to grow old alone.
That was eight years ago.  In October, we’ll be married seven years, and when I go to my reunion, the sweetheart I introduce to my friends from forty years past, is not the sweetheart they knew.
In her place they will meet the woman who filled the empty place in my life.  It took me over thirty years to find her, and admittedly I didn’t find her until I stopped looking.  But, she is worth the wait.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Facebook and the Death of Relationships

How many of you remember when Social Networking was the ice cream social after a Sunday night Singspiration at church, or a neighborhood BBQ on the 4th of July, or having all of the kids in your neighborhood over after school for a birthday party, game of hide-n-seek, or slumber party?  Or when you had to listen and count the number of rings and the ring pattern to know if a phone call was for your house because you were on a party line?  Or when to place a call you tapped the handset cradle a couple of times and then waited for your local operator to come onto the line and place the call for you?
Getting a phone call was a social event.  Not everyone had phones, and that very fact brought neighbors together because the telephone was a luxury you only used when you couldn’t just walk next door or across the street and have a face-to-face conversation with whomever it was you needed to speak to.  Yeah – I know – bed grammar.  Probably should have said ‘with whomever it was with whom you needed to speak,’ but let’s be honest – even we who are called the grammar nazi’s find speaking like that in real life a little over the top.
Point is that back in the day, as it were, social networking meant actually speaking with someone, and most of the time doing it face to face.
My, how things have changed.  No one talks anymore.  They – which is to say, WE text, tweet, and post our status.  And it’s easy.  You can hide behind a telephone screen and keyboard, or a computer screen in ways you never could when socializing meant looking each other in the eye.  And, with the inherent anonymity of a smartphone-smartpad – facebook world, you can be as rude, crude and obnoxious as you want because you never have to actually look anyone in the eye.  You never have to see the hurt your snide comment makes in the eyes of the person reading it.  You never have to witness the consequences of your words when you’re hiding behind a broadband or 4G wireless connection.
And you say things and post things in a public forum you would never dream of saying if you were in the same room, sitting across the dinner table from someone.  You air your dirty laundry in ways you would never dreamed possible when you can hide behind a high resolution camera equipped iPhone.
Some might argue that things like YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook have brought the world together, and there is some truth to that.
But it has also made narcissistic voyeurs of us, and created a mean spirited, cruel society of nameless, faceless cowards who hide behind their technology blissfully unaware of the pain they cause by their not so clever witlesscisms. 
We post things on Facebook we would never dare say to someone in person, and for some reason think no one else but the people on our friends list will read it.  And that’s true, right up until a friend ‘shares’ it, and a friend of theirs ‘shares’ it, and a friend of theirs ‘shares’ it.  It’s called Six Degrees of Separation.  Only now, it’s viral.  That stupid, mean spirited, cruel remark you would never make in public or in person is now suddenly posted in a medium that can potentially reach billions of people.  Oh, you can delete it from your wall, but it doesn’t end there.
Technology can be a great thing, but it can also be a tool in the machine of an isolationist, cowardly, mean spirited society that never has to face the consequences of their tweet, video, or status post.
You think your words, videos, pictures and tweets are harmless, personal, private matters that don’t really hurt anyone because no one will ever know?  Yeah.  That’s what Bret Favre and Anthony Weiner thought too.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

I should be headed off to church this steamy and certain to become more so New Port Richey morning, but instead I’m sitting – uncomfortably - in my desk chair writing this while waiting for the muscle relaxer and pain pill to convince my back that such tactics are not required to garner my full attention.  Really, a cup of coffee and a simple good morning would have sufficed.
Today is Father’s Day.  I have celebrated this thirty three times as a Father, nine times as a grandfather, and in varying degrees for fifty eight years as a son and/or grandson.  My story is not unique, and I don’t have all the exact dates, times and ages at my fingertips – a point I blame on the cumulative effect being a father and grandfather has on you, but events are clear enough to paint you a picture, even if the timeline is lacking pertinent detail.
I knew the man who was my sire for about eleven years.  Midway through this time he and my mother, for reasons they know better than anyone, went their separate ways.  As is most often the case we three boys went with my mother.  I was five or six.  I’m not entirely certain which.  I know we lived in South Plainfield in the two-story house with dirt parking lots on the north and west sides, and a huge grass field to which I once accidentally set fire to on the south, and I was in first grade at Roosevelt Elementary School.  He played the sweetest trumpet you ever heard, taught me to love Ellington, and Mom was his drummer.  He taught me to fish, swim, and hunt rabbit, although I only actually excelled at swimming. 
Somewhere along the way Daddy stopped coming home at night and ‘Uncle Gene’ started.  In the late summer of 1964, just before we moved to Florida because it was presumed the job market would be better, I spent my last Sunday afternoon with him.  We moved to Florida with my new Dad and I never saw the biological one again.  He kinda disappeared.  No records.  No paper trail.  No nothing.  He just vanished – ‘Disappeared’ as thoroughly and completely as if someone, somewhere signed an edict (like “in the forty-third year when Nebuchadnezzar was king over all the land, he issued a decree saying…”) demanding that my father be ‘disappeared’.  And thus it was.
A funny thing happened in Florida.  It was like another decree had been issued by another king.  This new king stipulated that the preface ‘step’ be removed from and all familial titles.  Likewise, the word ‘half’.  The use of titles like ‘step-father, half brother, and the such faded from our everyday use more by the example set than by any decree, official or otherwise.
Don’t worry if this seems to be jumping around a bit.  The muscle relaxer is taking effect.  Under these conditions, when combined with the petite motor control issues in the fingers of my left hand, a switch gets flipped from WORST to WORSTER.
Any way, we were one really big (8 kids plus strays – stray kids, not dogs), dysfunctional family instead of two smaller ‘blended’ dysfunctional families shrink wrapped together under the same branded logo.  This is not to say that it was either utopian nor was it purgatory,  It just was.  We had our problems just like any other family except we had them together and with our own secret eleven herbs and spices tossed into the blend.  In December of my twentieth year I graduated from Jr. College and got a job.  The following January I moved out and got a place of my own.
Sometime between South Plainfield and graduating from junior college, ‘Uncle Gene’ became ‘Dad’.  Sometime after I moved out, he became ‘Pop’.
For fifteen of the twenty years I lived under my mother’s roof, he was the man I called Dad.  For ¾ of my life to that point, this is the man who raised me.
I learned a lot from him, some intentionally, some not so much.  Both ways by example.  He taught me to fix my car by bringing out a beach chair, umbrella, his tools and a cooler full of beer.  “Give it a go,” he said, “and when you f**k it up, and you will, I’ll show you what you did wrong and how to fix it.”    I did, and as promised, he did.  Until automobiles became so packed full of electronics that you need a degree in computer science to read the altimeter, I could maintain my own car without having to take it to Mr. Goldwrench.
I learned to have a good work ethic from him, the importance of family, to not drink or smoke, and that it is never good form to strike a woman. 
This was the first score of years in my life.  It wasn’t perfect, and I skipped over a lot of things.  Think of it like Moses wandering around in the wilderness for the first 80 years of his life so he could be fit to lead the Nation of Israel to the Promised land during the last 40.
I learned to use much of what I learned in the first two decades in practice during the next two when I would transition from ‘son’ to ‘father’.
It was also during the second score of years that he and I would reconcile our differences, and in a move I would not have placed in any spot on my bucket list, I would be called upon by my Mother to conduct his funeral.  I’m not going to go into any details.  That was twenty years ago, and it’s still difficult to relive.  Suffice to say that when I got home from the funeral I sat at my dining room table for over an hour crying bitter torrents of gut-wrenching sobs, because now that it was all over, the reality that I would never again hear the words “Give it a go,” he said, “and when you f**k it up, and you will, I’ll show you what you did wrong and how to fix it,” settled on me like a blanket of Mississippi river mud, and when all was said and done, I missed my Dad.
And I suppose that’s really the best tribute I can give the man.  He never said the words ‘I love you, Son’ but even when I was too rebellious to grasp the reality of it, I knew he did.  He described me to his family and friends as ‘his son’.  Not step-son, but son.  When he married my Mom, he took upon himself the responsibility of raising three boys he didn’t father, and did it without ever looking back.  He fathered five children of his own, but never to my knowledge made the distinction.
He was sick when Grandchildren came along and we lived almost fourteen hundred miles away, so Sunday afternoon visits were never part of our program.  I wish my children could have known the good parts of him better.  They outweigh by far the human frailties.
No, I’m not looking backwards through rose colored glasses to canonize him, but neither can I demonize his humanity.
What I can do, for my mother, my brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles and cousins, and probably, truth be told, most of all for me – is just say simply, Happy Father’s Day, Pop.  I love you, and I miss you.
Your son, David.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Almost Summer

Right now it is precisely 10:00:53 according to the atomic clock at the web site displaying the ‘official’ time for the US Eastern time zone.  This important because with this information in hand, one may deduce that Summer in the Eastern United States will arrive in precisely seventy-three hours, fifty-nine minutes, seven seconds from when I posted that time.  That gap will, of course tighten even closer as I continue to write this, and closer still by time you read it, assuming you do.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in conjunction with the National Weather Service (NWS), Punxsutawney Phil, and  Leroy’s cousin’s best friend’s pet hamster Bubba’s knees, summer will officially (as opposed to the ‘unofficial start of Summer on Memorial Day) arrive at 10:16 AM the morning of 21st June, 2011.
I’m not entirely certain the arrival of the longest day of the year will even be noticed.  After all, so far the first eighteen days of June have included half a dozen days when both my official at home Weather Channel personal weather station and WeatherBug’s local monitoring station in Tarpon Springs have recorded triple digit high temperatures and heat indices topping 130°, including two days with heat indices over 150°.
Heat Index is sort of the inverted version of Wind Chill.  Using some formula I don’t really understand, temperature, wind speed and humidity are tossed into the weather blender and out pops the Heat Index – the measure of what it ‘feels like’ on your skin when you walk outside foolishly leaving the comfort of your air conditioned man cave.  The term, like that of ‘wind chill’ is the weatherese equivalent of the Hallmark Holiday; a made up event, or in the case of wind chill or heat index, made up term to make ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ feel colder and hotter, and justify every local television outlet hiring an ‘NOAA Certified Meterologist’.  The title is a technical term for an individual who stands gesturing  in front of a green wall while watching a moniter to assure he or she is pointing at the right place when they tell you how hot or cold it’s going to be (or not to be), while at the same time taking credit for the beautiful sunny day as he or she is  engaging in fill time of playful allegedly humorous banter with the news and sports anchors.
If the aforementioned individual were reading our local data stream to you right now, said individual would be telling you that the current temperature is 95.9° and the heat index is 117°.
It’s not a dry heat. 
In fact, it’s actually more like a ‘make sure your gills are functioning’ sort of heat, driven by a five mile an hour breeze coming in from Orlando and probably generated by the passing of the Hogwarts Express at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and Theme Park.  So what we have here is a sweltering mid-August day cleverly masquerading about as the next to the next to the last day of Spring, and not doing a very good job of it.
The Atlantic tropical weather season, AKA the hurricane season, is into its eighteenth day, and has thus far been a bust, but then again, Hurricane Season has been sort of a tragic bust ever since someone at the National Hurricane Center decided that it was necessary to be politically correct and alternate genders and swim through cultures when naming tropical cyclones, the term used for Pacific storms so as not to confuse we who are mere mortals and can’t tell the difference between two of the exact same kind of storm, separated geographically from each other by the North, Central and South American continents.  Not that I’m saying I want a hurricane, but a slow moving, temperature reducing, steady soaker of a tropical system would certainly offer some relief from the current monotony of not yet actually but still every bit as hot as summer late Spring in a year that has already seen record snow, cold, and rain in other places.
And we’re now down to less than seventy–two hours.  Enjoy Spring while it lasts.  I hear summers are real scorchers here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Eat Any Good Books Lately?

There’s a line from the first or second season of Star Trek: the Next Generation (TNG) that I’ve always liked.  My favorite TNG and later (Deep Space 9 and Voyager – Enterprise doesn’t count as Star Trek as far as I’m concerned) series bad guy is hands down ‘Q’, played brilliantly by John DeLancy.  During one of his frequent appearances on Captain Picard’s bridge, Q asks Mr. Worf, the Klingon Chief of Security played by Michael Dorn, “Worf – eat any good books lately?”
In a sense, I am once again eating, or devouring, if you prefer, books.  In the last couple of weeks I have read and reviewed four  books.  That may not seem to be a big deal to anyone but me, but it IS a big deal to me.
Give me a moment to ‘splain it to you.
I started reading at the tender age of five, mostly because I had to wait until I was six to start school, mostly due to an error in timing.  My error.  I was born at 10:14 am January first – exactly ten hours and fifteen minutes after the cut-off date and time to start school for my district.  My mother taught me to read.  Mostly I think she did it as a matter of self preservation and survival.  She had three boys under the age of six at home at the same time.  I was old enough for her to teach my letters, and it just sort of took off.  By time I hit first grade, I was reading at a fifth grade level.
When I was twelve and entering sixth grade, I was reading at high school level.  I had to get written permission from my Mother for the Miami Dade County Public Library to allow me to check out books from the ‘adult’ section.
No, not that kind of ‘adult’ books.  This was the good stuff.  Stevenson, Stoker, Hugo, Melville, Shelley.  The scary stuff before Stephen King, Peter Straub, Ann Rice and Dean Koontz, and none of that wussy R.L. Stine stuff either.  I entered their summer reading gig and read sixty ‘real’ books that summer.
I’ve never really looked back.  At one point my personal library included nearly 5,000 volumes, both technical materials from cramming eight years of college into twelve, and ‘recreational’ reading.
Then a terrible thing happened to me.  I had a stroke.  Two of them.  Suddenly, the part of me that could devour Gone With the Wind, Moby Dick, Les Miserables, or The Stand in one sitting couldn’t concentrate completely enough to finish a golden book in a week.  John Grisham, Jack Higgens, Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Creighton, Jean Auel and J. K. Rowlings took weeks instead of hours…if I could even concentrate long enough to finish them.
That first stroke was almost seven years ago.  It will be seven years on July 20th; my wife’s birthday.  The second one will be three years, two months this coming Monday, June 20th.  Seven years struggling to read a good book.  Oh, it could have been much worse.  I know that, but I did lose some things I loved.  Thankfully, this one is making a strong comeback.  Over fifteen hundred pages in two weeks.  It’s still slow for me – that used to be a two day read, but it’s getting better, and by the grace and good will of God, I’m still here to whine about it, so maybe it’s not so bad after all.
So many good books – so little time.  But, writers beware.  I’m back, and I’m hungry!
So – devour any good books lately?
Yup!  And more to come.