THIS REALLY IS SCARY

 

I think that I have been asleep for about 20 years or so. I have just awoken from a wonderful dream filled slumber to a dystopian post-apocalyptic world. My senses are not trained to accept the things that I am seeing and hearing. The last thing that I remember was an election in which the two presidential candidates criticized each other’s positions on the economy, values, military actions, and education.

I am fearful that, like Woody Allen in “Sleeper,” I will find some people trying to clone Hitler’s nose, or being told that I must enter the orgasmatron. How did all of this happen? I now see where all of the bad language, no manners, uncivil private conversations have morphed into a public domain filled with holograms of human beings.

I am certain that the people that I see and read about are not really human, but androids created in a laboratory by a 21st century Victor Frankenstein (or Fronkensteen). The drapes are closed and one of main characters in this tragedy walks towards the audience in a cloud of noxious fumes to berate us for not liking him, or critiquing him, or not coming to his aid when others attack him.

His words are spiced with threats, self-aggrandizement, hyperbole, and narcissism. I try not to look, but I am compelled to watch this presentation. There is no end to this reality. It is as if, I am looking at a Canticle for Leibowitz with the world has been recreated from a scrap of paper that contained Leibowitz’s shopping list.

People seem to be either dancing in the streets, shooting each other, or screaming epithets across a police line. Nowhere is there any sanity. I turn the channels to try and find some calm and rational voices. Even the Saturday morning cartoons are filled with casual violence. It appears that what I first thought is true. We have become desensitized to death, violence and hysteria.

News shows seem to demonize everyone. There is not a moment when there are calm voices presenting factual information. It appears that only opinion counts.

With all of this, I crawl back into bed and hopefully, wake up in a better time.

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SOMETHING POLITICAL FOR BILL

 

One of my very best friends, Bill, spoke to me today and said that he was really tired of me writing about being old and having bathroom problems. I always take Bill’s words seriously. In the 36 years that I have known Bill, he has always been someone who has lifted my spirits with his positive attitude and his sense of humor. Our families have traveled together, done some political things together and have laughed uncontrollably at silly stories or jokes.

I am writing this blog as a sort of payback to Bill for his constant friendship.

Bill and I are registered in two different political parties. We don’t really disagree much about many issues, but he belongs to one party and I the other. For most of my life, I have been an independent. Since I represented a very conservative constituency in the rural areas of Pennsylvania, I decided a number of years ago to register as a Republican. That was not the only reason.

My involvement in politics began a very long time ago, as long as 1948 when I touched Henry Wallace’s shoe when he came to the lower East Side of Manhattan. As I approached my 21st birthday, I was eligible to vote. The constitutional amendment had not yet been passed to allow 18 year olds to vote. I had just come back from the service and was very interested in the national election of 1960. In the debates that I saw between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, I saw the possibility of going to war in Vietnam and China. Mr. Kennedy seemed to be saying that he would defend Quemoy and Matsu islands off China. I was really concerned that he would start a war in the Far East. Just a few years before, we had completed the Korean War. I did not think that another war in the Far East was a good idea. So I voted for Mr. Nixon.

I was registered as an independent for the longest while. I never voted a straight party ticket and still don’t.

In my years as a superintendent of schools, I had many dealings with the political world. It was at that time that I began my interest in lobbying for rural schools. When I became an intermediate unit director, I saw an opportunity to expand the organization and do some economic development. I decided to approach then Governor Thornburgh. I had an opportunity to meet him and speak to him about some of my ideas. Ginny Thornburgh was a conduit for me to the governor. She was very interested in special education, as I was in charge of a large special education program. I presented the governor with some ideas for economic development (created by my associate Mike V.)

He was very interested in these ideas and sent a young man who was in charge of economic development for the cabinet. I do remember his first name, George, but not his second (I do remember that he was a member of the Bloomingdale family). We did do some job creation and business creation. His administration supported the things we did. The economy not doing well at that time and we had vast unemployment (20-27%).

The Secretary of Education, Bob Wilburn gave me all the help that I needed with the special education programs, which flourished with the great staff that we had. Our pre-school program was not challenged by any other intermediate unit in the state.

Yes, Governor Thornburgh was a Republican. However, it was easier to deal with his folks than I had experienced with others. He increased school funding at 7% and 8 % in successive years. I always believe in putting your money where your mouth is.

As I got to know Western Pennsylvania people, I was contacted by our Congressman, Bill Clinger. He and his executive director Rick Peltz usually backed up most of our strange ideas. They came to our events, whether a speech by Buckminster Fuller’s associate, or a meeting about starting a race track in Clarion County, or a toilet bowl factory. Yes, we dickered with a Swedish conglomerate to get a factory in the area. In another amazing coincidence, we encouraged Senator John Heinz to help us with the project. He was kind enough to help out. I wish that the company had come to our area. They did not. They went to Mexico. However, the idea that these people supported us was wonderful.

One of my very good friends was Senator James J. Rhoades. He was the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He came from a small mining town in upstate Pennsylvania. Jim had been a junior high school principal, the same time I was. We met once in a while at sports meetings. As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, he was foremost a white knight for rural schools. Over and over again, he came forth to support funding and programming that helped rural schools. He also was a pusher for economic development in rural areas. Jim passed away in an automobile accident. I will never forget the phone calls that I got from him asking me to get over to the capitol and talk to him about some problem in education or asking me to go see some folks who were opposing something that he wanted to do. I miss him still today.

Many of you remember William Scranton as the Governor in the mid 1960’s. He was the guv who consolidated the over 2500 school districts into 505 school districts. He was a man of principle and the consummate gentleman. At the outset of our equity suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I was taken to meet him by our attorney, Fred Speaker, who had been the Attorney General under Governor Scranton. We met at the Scranton club and Mr. Scranton taught me lesson that I have not forgotten. He supported our case but warned that the wealthy school districts would try to stop us from changing the funding system. He was eventually correct. Wealthy districts entered the case against us. He also said that we should not back off and he was right. We may have had no decision in the case, but his advice to lobby hard paid off in giving more dough to rural school districts. I will never forget him or that meeting.

Many of the people mentioned above have passed away. I still have communication with some that are still around. I still call for advice from some of them. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but they were all Republicans. Sure, there were many Democrats that came to our aid, but the above people helped me personally and I will never forget them.

THE TRUTH ABOUT OLD FOLKS- PART 3

The third day of fun and frolic began with a delightful breakfast filled with healthful foods. Most of the food tends to make the rest of the day be as smooth as a baby’s behind. That is also the part of the body from which we exude the processed food that we eat. Old folks really to follow a regimen that is conducive to proper bathroom activities. Since most of us are on some sort of chemical enhancements, we know exactly when we have to eat and deposit the effluence in the bathroom.

If the above does not sound quite right to you, then you are not old enough. “An elderly gentleman went to his physician and told him that he could no longer pee. The doctor asked him how old he was. He said 93. The doctor said, you’ve peed enough.”

All of this to say that as you age you watch your activities and time them that you are near a facility at all times.

Bob could not go with us to our next adventure. We were off to the craft show in the convention center in Ashville. Our plan was to go to the craft fair, then go to Malaprops, an unusual and great bookstore and then head on back. Since there were five of us operating at different speeds, the rate of completion was varied. My sister-in- law Ann must look at every item at every display. There is no passing by or giving some jewelry a passing glance. Therefore as Ann and her husband Martin operate at 5 miles per hour, Bob’s wife Judy operates at about 25 miles an hour. My wife, Carol goes at 35 miles an hour and I am at 50 miles an hour. You can see that none of us will complete the turns at the same time.And we don’t.

The fair is filled with jewelry, pottery, furniture, all sorts of wooden things including Native American flutes, unusual clothing, leather items and the most interesting thing of all- an all female shit kicking band. They were really good foot stomping noise. I waited downstairs at the quilting table and showed the women my wife’s great quilts (one day they will be in the museum of modern art) and they were impressed. Because of their interest, I bought 2 raffle tickets.

Carol and I walked around downstairs, saw the rest of the craftsmen and women and called our group and told them to meet us at Malaprops. Now, you wouldn’t think that a bookstore would have such meaning to a group of oldsters, but it does. Actually, I am really afraid to go in there. A number of years ago, we six (at a more talkative part of our lives) ventured in Malaprops to hear an author talk about his book. The title was kind of misleading. It was something about a trailer or mobile home. The author was a man of early middle age, who explained the story, why he wrote and why you should buy it. We did, in fact, buy copies and waited on line to have him sign the book. My sister-in-law’s husband, Martin, the erstwhile book critic and medical doctor took one look at the author and told him that, because of his goiter (a la Marty Feldman), he would probably die early. The author was angered and foul mouthed poor Martin, who showed no signs of having heard him. We all dragged Martin out of the store and asked him why he did that. He told us, in all sincerity, that he was only trying to help the guy.

So, our meeting at Malprops went well, with iced coffee and our yearly tour of the unusual books that inhabit their shelves. This year I purchased nothing. I was anxious to finish the 10 books that I already have waiting for me at home.

We went to a pleasant restaurant in town and ate lightly, expecting that our evening meal would be as sumptuous as Judy usually makes. She did not disappoint. Judy and Bob’s daughter, Karen, and her beau Don joined us. In some ways, I worry about how we are going to do this in the future. I don’t worry as much about Carol and myself, but do worry about the others. This will have been the 18th year (minus one for illness) that we have been doing this. Our original intent was to celebrate the lives of our forbearers, now the conversations are more on health, cars, food and trips taken in the past. Let it continue to be so. It is always a crazy gathering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT OLD FOLKS- PART 2

 

It’s about 95 degrees when we park in the large lot in front of the brewery. Actually, it was more like a theme park, than a brewery. It had all of the accoutrements of a Six Flags kind of place. It was infested with parents, grandparents and children of all ages. Remember, this is a brewery not a water park or a children’s place to go on rides.

The big glass windows show the large polished copper looking tanks with some mean tubes and pipes emanating from the tanks. We were lucky enough to find a space right in front of the souvenir shop, the tour place and the restaurant. As the six of us went inside there was a discussion of what to do first. It was closing in on 2:00 p.m. Frankly, I was hungry and wanted to eat right then. The others mewed and calculated how we were going to eat and go on the tour at the same time.

All was settled, when we learned that guided tours had a 6 month waiting list. I thought that all of the hearing challenged people with us had finally run out of battery strength. I was so wrong. The wait WAS six months. However, you could take your own silent tour and not understand anything that you were seeing. That was the decision of 4 of us, except for Bob, who could not walk on the tour and sat reading his book (I was told) on a bunch in the cool inside.

Carol and I went inside and found out that there was an hour and one half wait for a table for 6. Somehow that did not diminish my appetite. We asked if there was another way of accumulating food. We were told that there was kind of a snack place right outside in the 95 degree heat. I must admit that I was crestfallen.

We began to wait on the snack line in the sun. Carol called me over and said that one of our group had attached herself to one of those buzzing things that people give you when you have to wait till either your bladder of stomach fails. Carol mistakenly thought or misheard that we were being called to a table. We were not.

We went back outside to wait on the line again. It was longer this time. Carol found a table for us and sent a teenaged girl over to tell me that she had secured a shady place for us to sit. I finally got to order some food. The bare was meager- Carol got a wrap and I got a tuna fish sandwich without the bread.

Of course there was beer. There were over 20 choices, but no gluten free beer or lite beer. I took a chance and got a darker colored beer and ordered a pale ale for Carol. However, you see that I could not get two beers myself. The man in front of me had to show the bartender that his 85 year old wheel chair bound dad was sitting waiting for the beer. I got the bar tender (waiter) to walk me over to Carol. We ate pleasantly and drank our brews. They were o.k.

In a few moments the other four members of our group assembled near our table. They had taken the self-guided tour and were really not impressed. Bob, of course, was not impressed at all because he did not go on the tour. The tour was no longer a topic for conversation.

With a few moments of masticating and drinking beer, we strolled over to our van and headed back to the house. I believe that we were pleased to get back, because some of us went right for the nap.

 

 

 

 

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT OLD PEOPLE

 

When I was a kid, I thought that 77 years old was beyond ancient. Some of our grandchildren, even now call those years, “The Cave Days.” I guess some of this is payback for some of things I thought about old people when I was a squirt. My mother’s parents died in their late 60’s and early 70’s. My father’s parents died in their mid-70. So, what should I think about me, as a 77 year old.

Funny, I don’t think of myself as old in my head. My memory has not yet clouded and I can still do my walking without cane or a walker. I am not yet tottering, although I do find myself repeating some of the jokes that I have heard. Three Jews walk into a deli . . .

Yet, my mind goes in different directions once a year. It is in July or early August that we trundle on down to Ashville, NC to visit with my sister-in-law’s relatives. Her husband’s sister and HER husband live there for a good part of the year. Now let’s get this straight. My wife is 73, I am 77. My wife’s sister is going on79. Her husband is 82. His sister is 78 and her husband is 79. So, you get the picture. These are 6 people who are not spring chickens.

I could tell you a fib and say that we are spry for our age. That would be a load of bull. Some of us have canes. Some of us have to sit down after a walk. Some of us a partially deaf. Some need a nap in the afternoon and we all of live better through chemistry. Going out to dinner or some other place requires some planning. First of all, we all need to go in one car. Following each other is useless. Even if we were towing each other, we would not get to the same place.

So, one of us has to have a vehicle that holds six people. That would be Carol and me. We have a mini-van that sits six comfortably. The loading of the car is part of a silent movie by Charlie Chaplin. The first problem is having someone in the front seat next to the driver who knows where we are going. Once that is settled, we have the usual, “Do we have the sun screen, hats our wallets or our purses…” Do we have water, if we aren’t near any place that has water? O.K., now we are ready to load the other four people. Getting into the back seat, which requires folding the middle seat down, is the venue of small people. Unfortunately, we have 5 small people and me (a moderate sized person). There are discussions about who is going to get in first and can we please put up the air conditioning (it is 91 degrees). At last the back seat and the middle seat are occupied. I really don’t look back to see where anyone is.

I start the car, not realizing that I have the hand brake on. The car lurches forward and my front seat mate, Bob, says, I think the brake is on. All this as I am backing up close to the edge of a cliff that could send us down into perdition.

The next move is to get down a really steep hill. These folks have a house that could actually be an eagle’s nest. It is high up on top of a mountain (actually the Pisgeh Mountains). I make sure that my gears are down to the lowest and that I drive oh so carefully, because the road really does not accommodate 2 cars. I do this successfully and utter a sigh of relief when we get to the main road.

We lurch out into traffic and head towards a number of quilt shops that interest some of us. The male people are not so interested. We kind of wait outside these places or go to other places in the strip malls. We spy a Fresh Market store (like Whole Foods) and wander through. The prices are beyond high. It is obviously for folks who don’t mind overspending for olive oil and esoteric wines and pastries. I center on lactaid milk, some fancy cheese and a gluten free bread. All of these run me $28.01. I think I can buy a pair of shoes at Payless for less.

We finish the quilt shop tour in 90 degree heat and head over to a brewery that has become a destination place in Ashville. It is called Sierra Nevada. It really is a massive place and it is crowded up the kazoo.  More to come.

 

 

GOLF YESTERDAY

 

For most of you, that title will mean nothing. Some of you don’t play gold, don’t want to play golf and are not interested in gold. Some of you are golfers and enjoy walking around these beautiful parks and watching a little ball bounce around a pasture. Me, I have no idea what I am. For a number of years, I would go out once a  year with friends and relatives to a place far from home and eat, drink, gamble and play golf. For me, the least important thing was the golf playing.

We had traveled around the U.S. to as many casinos as we could because our maître d’ was a gambler and was able to get all sorts of comped stuff. That was playing golf in my mind. The riding around in the carts and getting off once in a while to strike a white dimpled ball was just an add-on to the frivolity of the meal, the drink and the gambling. It is forever imbedded in my mind.

I got a call from Tom a few days go saying that he had seen my name on a list at the pro shop. I had said that I was a duffer (another name for an incompetent golfer) and that I would be able to play some golf on short notice. I was really hesitant to answer back and say no. I agreed to play if it was nine holes on an executive course. I was encouraged when he said that was his plan. Who can play 18 holes in 95 degree heat? I guess there are many people who can do that. I did see some of them. For me and Tom and Bob (a really good golfer) and Gary, 9 holes was the limit.

I even wore my Puerto Vallarta poplin white jacket to shield myself from the blazing sun. I doused myself, mostly my face, with unguents and potions to keep from frying. As usual, my first hole was a disaster. I could see the looks on the other gent’s faces. They were with someone who was going to hold them up just looking for lost balls. What I did tell them was that I usually don’t look for lost balls. I let them lie quietly under the moss, trees, and long grass that surround most of the fairways.

I believe that 8 strokes on a hole on this Executive Course (which means small and hilly) was an ominous prediction of what might happen later on. Surprising to say, that was the worst of it. While the others were parring or bogeying holes (one over par), I was satisfied with getting sixes on par 3 holes. I even managed to get a couple of 4’s. My final score was legitimate 48, only 18 strokes above par.

My lasting memory of yesterday’s golf is the amount of water that dripped off me as I walked to my car. There was no part of my body that did not exude my saltiness. I am not sure where this will lead me, but I am sure that I am not going out to golf in 95 degree heat anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAYBE I’M JUST CRAZY?

 

I haven’t watched 60 minutes since Andy Rooney died in 2011. I used to love to watch the program and respected all of the news people who did reports on various issues. Their interviews with well-known people were an especial favorite of mine. I can just see the malice in Mike Wallace’s eyes when he cornered someone who had been circumventing the question or was in the process of producing a fairy tale. Wallace would pounce on them and force them to tell the truth.

My evening was never complete until Andy Rooney was finished with his commentary- sometimes newsworthy and most times very personal. His five minutes always completed the hour for me. 60 minutes is no longer that kind of program. How do I know? I actually watched an episode this evening.

Lesley Stahl was interviewing Donald Trump and his new Vice Presidential nominee, Mike Pence. Since I was slightly familiar with Lesley Stahl, I guess I was expecting a machine gun questioning technique that would peel away some of the rubbish that these two men have covered themselves with.

On the contrary, Ms. Stahl threw up a number of softball questions and then when the questions grew more incisive, she let these two get away with bloody murder. Even when Governor Pence was ready to answer a tough question about the horrible things he had said just a few short months ago about Donald Trump, she allowed Mr. Trump to interrupt and answer the question himself.

It saddened me to see how this great program has retreated into a cavalcade of sameness. When it began in 1968 with Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace its freshness and thoughtfulness continued for many years with Ed Bradley, Morley Safer and Dan Rather. You may not have liked what these folks had to say, but you really had to listen. When they did special reports, whether Meredith Viera or Steve Kroft, you watched just to be informed.

Maybe this news cycle is doomed to make us all plain. The media is not the 5th estate that it once was. I believe that we got more real news from Jon Stewart than from real news shows. I would love to see Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore and Samantha Bee covering the news than  Wolf Blitzer. Bring back the excitement of real news, send Christiana Amanpour out there among the stories and let’s get on with it.