One Sunday afternoon before my granddaughter was born, my daughter called to talk about names for her baby girl. She began rattling off the front-runners, and I must say that some of them jolted me out of my peaceful Sunday nap.
Could I end up with a granddaughter named Tennessee, or Moonbeam, or Gaga? Not that these are awful names, mind you, but earlier that morning I had watched “CBS Sunday Morning,” which featured a section on naming children. It pointed out how the wrong name could affect whether a child gets into Harvard or Stanford or otherwise impact the child’s life. If that is indeed true, most of the names parents are giving their kids today will take psychologists the next fifty years to evaluate!
It got me thinking about the names I grew up with – nicknames that kids back in the 1950s were saddled with by other kids or clueless relatives. For brevity’s sake, and so I don’t offend any of these good folks who are still alive, I’ll omit the last names. The crazy thing is that most of the people I’m talking about still go by these nicknames! Take Pissweed, for example. Now there’s one for you. I think we can probably all figure out how he got that delightful moniker. Then there were Mooie, Sketz, and Shitter (I know this is gross, but that is what we called him). The latter was actually a name conferred on a boy in grade school. Kids can really be cruel. Thank God he wasn’t a girl. Then there was my best friend Sam, except that wasn’t his given name. Someone said he looked like a “Sam,” so that’s what we called him. There were also Monk, Perk, Bip, and Sid (again not his real name, he just “looked” like one). I was also acquainted with Smeetz, Satch, BA, Jit, Legs, and Tippy. Tippy and I spent many a night getting “tipsy” when he was home on leave from the Air Force. You get the picture. By today’s standards, all the nicknames I’ve listed should have destroyed these people and their personalities, but they didn’t. I can visit my home town today and refer to the people with these dubious handles. Every one of them was well loved, and they all made something positive of their lives.
I am aware that folks in my home town will read this article when I post it. I hope I don’t get any phone threats or fires set in my yard. As for my nickname…come to think of it, they never gave me one. But after this blog, there just might be a long list of contenders.
My daughter says my blog posts are too serious, rigid, boring and a few other things, and that I need to make them more interesting so people, like her, would enjoy reading them. Of course being a writer I defended myself, as I have been so capable of doing, where women are concerned…not. So, maybe she has a point, I have a tendency to be serious, when in fact that’s not who I am. I wrote an article for the blog on September 18, 2012 titled “Travels with Larry,” I didn’t think anymore about it, except I began to receive many positive comments, one person saying that she liked my writing style, with the sprinkling of humor and the self realization moments thrown in. I went back and read Travels, and realized the style of writing I did for that post reflected the person, who most of the people in my life, really know, and yes they are proud of me for the book I wrote and the many more on the way, but my posts should be, “more me.”
So here goes, my life revisited, well portions of it, hope you enjoy.
My wife is the consummate cat lover, and I must admit to a bit of the affliction myself. Having visited Key West, Florida, several years ago, our favorite tourist destination was the Hemingway House, replete with about fifty cats (both six-toed and their less exalted five-toed relatives) descended from Hemingway’s own original brood. Typical scenes we encountered on the house tour included cats snoozing away on quilted spreads atop antique wrought-iron beds, cats curled up on overstuffed Avignon chairs, and cats languishing in the sun-dappled shade of cool, breezy walkways. A few of the more frisky inhabitants greeted us on the trail around the house and accompanied us over sprawling porches and into first-floor sitting rooms.
We were appalled to hear of the recent movement underfoot to confine the beloved cats to leashes during the day and cages at night, as well as subject them to other government regulations. It seems a visitor to the house had complained about some whimsical nuance regarding their care. These cats benefit from weekly vet visits, have the run of the house, enjoy regulated nutritious diets, and most are spayed and neutered to prevent multiplying beyond their present numbers. There are fences and foliage to keep them inside the estate – in fact, they do not attempt to leave because they have it so good, and are adept at keeping wannabe feline friends out so they don’t have to share the wealth. Even PETA has green-lighted their living arrangement.
So I have to ask – in these times of fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, healthcare confusion, waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars – doesn’t the federal government have more pressing things to do than fixing what ain’t broke? Everyone knows that dogs have owners, but in this case, cats have staff!
On a visit to her son’s home in France many years ago, my wife was startled when her four-year-old granddaughter was jumping around the living room and broke a lamp. When grandma asked what happened, her granddaughter shrugged her shoulders in typical French fashion and explained, closing with the statement, “Mais ce n’est pas important.” But it’s not important. Needless to say, grandma was taken aback by that last remark and, I’m sure, had an adequate response. Over the years I have heard that story many times, so obviously it made a big impression. Today, if you ask my wife or daughter-in-law about the lamp incident, the type of lamp is forgotten but what remains is the expression that has become part of the family lore.
While we assign degrees of importance to things, a child’s simple explanation puts into perspective the reality of what counts: people, family, friends, co-workers, and everyday contacts. They are more important than any object ever will be. As a society, we have a tendency to believe that the more we own, the better we feel about ourselves. You know, “the one who dies with the most toys wins.” We seem to put things on a higher pedestal than human relationships, which is sad because as you grow older, you forget about the things. Relationships live with you forever.
My hope is that as our granddaughter progresses into adulthood, she never forgets the valuable lesson she taught us…the possessions in life are not that important. It’s the people in our lives that count the most.
“The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating …and you finish off as an orgasm.”
― George Carlin
One of the most difficult parts of living is saying good-bye to a dying friend. As we grow older, we’ve already experienced death in the loss of a loved one, but our friends – people our age – people who have been around as long as we have – some of them have passed on. I attended my fiftieth year high school class reunion several months ago, where I witnessed first-hand the collective loss of too many classmates. The reading of their names to an audience of several hundred people, including former teachers, was profound. Each name was read aloud, and a small vignette of each life was eloquently presented, not only honoring their lives but taking the rest of us down memory lane to a time when we were young and indestructible and had not a care in the world, indeed to the best times of our lives. At that reunion, we said our final good-byes.
Recently I visited with a friend whose step-father was dying from complications brought on by Alzheimer’s. The family had gathered in a beautiful room provided by Hospice, sadly, to say good-bye. Even though this beautiful man who suffered through the ravages of Alzheimer’s had long ago left this world in mind, his body had stayed with us, and we said good-bye to the total person whom we had known and loved so dearly. Trying to find the right words is impossible because there are no right words at that time. So you do the best that you can.
I remember as a teenager in love, the lingering good-nights on the doorstep of her parent’s home, where we agreed not to say good-bye because it was too final. How many times have we heard, “Never say good-bye because it’s too final.” People have said good-bye and died unexpectedly the next day, or had to say good-bye because they would never see that person again. Extreme? Remember how Humphrey Bogart says good-bye to Ilsa in the movie Casablanca? Now that was a good-bye!
Victor Laszlo: Are you ready, Ilsa?
Ilsa: Yes, I’m ready. Good-bye Rick. God bless you.
Rick: You better hurry. You’ll miss that plane.
The words not much, but the scene, spectacular, the heavy fog surrounding the plane at night, two people in love saying a final farewell, their expressions, their body language said the greatest goodbye ever. Sometimes Hollywood gets it right, and the lesson here is, in the end we are here for each other and guess what there really are no goodbyes.
Many years ago I sat in my car on the top of a mountain with a friend. The view was expansive; you could literally see for miles – lush green forests as far as the eye could see under a clear, blue sky punctuated with the occasional floating white cloud. She posed a question: “Do you see that horizon, that place which we cannot see beyond?”
I thought for a moment, not fully comprehending the profoundness of her statement and how it would stay with me for the rest of my life. Now I realize we live our lives surrounded by horizons, seeing so easily what is in front of us but not actually seeing beyond. Yes, we may think we do. We make elaborate plans for our future and believe we know what lies ahead. We may have been there just moments ago, but do we truly ever know what lies beyond our immediate line of sight?
Yesterday afternoon my wife and I were driving home from a short trip when I looked up and noticed a ridge of mountains ahead. It formed a horizon so clear and vivid that I pointed out how the mountains ended in a skyline and how even though we couldn’t see what was on the other side, still we may think we know what’s there. The truth is the other side of the horizon is never attainable because it’s always moving away from us. As we move, it moves, and we never really know what lies ahead because we will never reach the end.
I like to think this helps explain our purpose on earth – the realization that even though we cannot see what lies beyond the horizon, we should never be afraid of reaching the other side.
I was planning on taking the weekend off – watch football, eat chocolate, drink coffee. Just relax and enjoy myself as a way to clear my head. I felt that might get my creative juices flowing again. Then I came across this quote by Orhan Pamuk: “I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” Suddenly the mists of recollection rolled in and I was transported to another time and place…Kenitra Morocco 1964, Naval Air Station Kenitra and the base library, where I worked as a part time (sixty-five cents per hour) librarian. My main job was being an air traffic controller. The library, like air traffic, was often slow and working 24 on/48 off afforded me lots of free time. So what does a librarian do when things are slow? He reads. At the time this was more than a stretch for me – it was a leap. Reading was a chore, something I did because it was a requirement. Remember that high school reading list for college-bound students? It was enough to ensure that most of us never read again.
It was in the Kenitra library that I started reading to learn, to enjoy, and get lost in books. Books could take me anywhere in the world; more importantly, that’s where my love affair for books really began to blossom. I met people who loved to read and had many book-related conversations in the library. It was on one of those slow nights that I came across “The Pumpkin Papers” by Whittaker Chambers, a story about the famous American spy who was instrumental in forming the United Nations, all the while being a spy for the Soviet Union. I had an epiphany from that book: that knowledge is boundless and that the truest knowledge is right at our fingertips…in classic American and English literature, as well as classics from other nations translated into English.
It was then that I read “Atlas Shrugged.” I discovered Henry Miller’s books, then banned in the USA, and – to my amazement – “The Story of O.” In comparison, “50 Shades of Gray” is just a modern rehash. “The Story of O” was written in the 1920s, also by a woman, and is the true classic in the genre.
Like Orhan Pamuk’s, my whole world changed from a book. In a small Moroccan library. Back in the mid-1960s. Thankfully, it’s never been the same.
I hate to be the one to defy sacred myth, but I believe he’s a she. Think about it
Christmas is a big, organized, warm, fuzzy, nurturing social deal, and I have a tough time believing a guy could possibly pull it all off!
For starters, the vast majority of men don’t even think about selecting gifts until Christmas Eve. It’s as if I hate to be the one to defy sacred myth, but I believe he’s a she. Think about it.
they are all frozen in some kind of Ebenezerian Time Warp until 3 p.m. on Dec. 24th, when they – with amazing calm – call other errant men and plan for a last-minute shopping spree. Once at the mall, they always seem surprised to find only Ronco products, socket wrench sets, and mood rings left on the shelves. (You might think this would send them into a fit of panic and guilt, but my husband tells me it’s an enormous relief because it lessens the 11th hour decision-making burden.) On this count alone, I’m convinced Santa is a woman.
Surely, if he were a man, everyone in the universe would wake up Christmas morning to find a rotating musical Chia Pet under the tree, still in the bag. Another problem for a he-Santa would be getting there. First of all, there would be no reindeer because they would all be dead, gutted and strapped on to the rear bumper of the sleigh amid wide-eyed, desperate claims that buck season had been extended. Blitzen’s rack would already be on the way to the taxidermist. Even if the male Santa DID have reindeer, he’d still have transportation problems because he would inevitably get lost up there in the snow and clouds and then refuse to stop and ask for directions. Add to this the fact that there would be unavoidable delays in the chimney, where the Bob Vila-like Santa would stop to inspect and repoint bricks in the flue. He would also need to check for carbon monoxide fumes in every gas fireplace, and get under every Christmas tree that is crooked to straighten it to a perfectly upright 90-degree angle.
Other reasons why Santa can’t possibly be a man: – Men can’t pack a bag. – Men would rather be dead than caught wearing red velvet. – Men would feel their masculinity is threatened…having to be seen with all those elves. – Men don’t answer their mail. – Men would refuse to allow their physique to be described even in jest as anything remotely resembling a “bowlful of jelly.” – Men aren’t interested in stockings unless somebody’s wearing them. – Having to do the Ho Ho Ho thing would seriously inhibit their ability to pick up women.
– Finally, being responsible for Christmas would require a commitment. I can buy the fact that other mythical holiday characters are men………
– Father Time shows up once a year unshaven and looking ominous. Definite guy.
– Cupid flies around carrying weapons.
– Uncle Sam is a politician who likes to point fingers. Any one of these individuals could pass the testosterone screening test. But not St. Nick. Not a chance. As long as we have each other, good will, peace on earth, faith and Nat King Cole’s version of “The Christmas Song,” it probably makes little difference what gender Santa is. I just wish she’d quit dressing like a guy!!!
Thanks to Susan Birkenseer
On a recent trip to the UK, my main objective was to explore Rosslyn Chapel in Edinburgh, fraught with Templar and Masonic history as well as notoriety from The Da Vinci Code and special interest to me as regards my book The Red Serpent. The night before the tour we were cheaping it out at a London McDonald’s, when the fellow at the next table joined our discussion. Turns out he was a long time Mason who visits the Chapel frequently, and he pointed out many key features we shouldn’t miss. Before we all left, he and I shared the secret Masonic handshake. Later, my wife declared the man resembled the actor Jake Weber from TV’s “Medium.” I thought not, but she googled that Jake Weber is indeed a London native who had recently participated in a Masonic celebration in LA. So who knows?
In chilly Edinburgh weather several days later, armed with even more incentive to visit Rosslyn, we went to meet our huge, full-size expedition bus for the only tour that week. We soon discovered we were two of only three on the roster! Our driver explained that normally a group of three on a bus this huge would be cancelled, but for some inexplicable reason this day it would run as scheduled. We sat right near the very personable driver, who turned out to be vastly interesting and informed on centuries of Rosslyn history, legend, and myth.
Due to a confluence of serendipitous situations, our visit to Rosslyn Chapel had been staged and carried out against all odds. For this I will always be grateful to the universal powers that be.