The Way We Played

Whenever I catch the aroma of a neighborhood barbeque with burgers and dogs on the grille and feel the warm sun on my face, I bask in the sweet memories of late summer and that hint of fall in the air so long ago. A late summer fantasy to remember – longing for a period of time so long ago.

Do you remember?

Memories of “Back To School…” were bittersweet.  Fall was always my favorite season and yet I was a terrible student.  I hated school.  With the seasons come a variety of complex emotions.  Each season affects us differently.  In the late dog days of hot summer when we were kids, our minds turned to the anticipation of autumn and back to school—and also the dread of winter. 

Winter, like summer, brings its own share of dread.  It is charming at first when the furnace is lit for the first time and there’s the aroma of dust burning off the combustors.  It always made me think of the forthcoming holidays.  However, it isn’t long before we grow tired of being couped up inside with the heat on just like when we become exhausted with the intense humid heat of summertime.

We grow tired of the seasons…yet we welcome them. Strange irony…

During the winter months, we found imaginative ways to play inside.  My sisters and I would play “My Friend Flicka” with our grandfather’s plastic horses.  He loved horses.  We’d break out board games (“bored” games!) like Parcheesi, Clue, and Monopoly.  We had a sheet that looked like a house you could hang over a card table and hide from the parents.  Toward the end of winter when it was still chilly outside, we couldn’t wait to get outside, air up the tires, and go bike riding for hours on end. Sometimes, January would bring a brief respite from winter, only to wind up in hip-deep snowfall in February.

I was born amid a rare March blizzard in Washington, D.C. in 1956.  

I remember taking toys designed for one purpose and using them for another.  Turning a bicycle upside down and cranking the pedals hard was good for just watching the wheels spin.  If you had a generator light set, there was joy in watching the lights come on.  A buddy of mine would crank the pedal so fast it blew the light bulbs. 

He’d smile and head home.

Kids today play differently than we did a half-century ago.  I still feel like they don’t know what they’re missing.  Yet, if we’d had the groovy playthings they have today, we would have retreated into the world of virtual reality and video games.  We’d have been all over it like stink. We just didn’t have the technology then.  And what a terrific escape it would have been.

Darned kids…

We did have the gift of imagination—which was better than any video game imaginable because we could mentally escape into a world all our own—which could be anything we wanted it to be. 

I think I’ll try that now… 

No Child Left Behind?

Are we raising our kids and grandkids any differently or any better than we were raised?  I was watching “Leave It to Beaver” recently when the subject of listening to our kids came up between Ward and June.  In 1960, Ward said he wondered if they were doing a good job of listening to their kids.  I don’t think times have changed much. 

We still question whether or not we’re doing a good job of listening.

I believe we ask the same questions from generation to generation.  It is easy to overlook the things our children and grandchildren say to us.  Parents struggle with real grown-up issues—paying bills, health problems, a difficult boss, job loss, troubles in the community, noisy neighbors, how to get the car fixed, what to do about the furnace, and a host of other concerns that consume us.  These troubling thoughts tend to bleed over into a child’s emotions especially if there’s a lot of conflict going on.

I don’t think times have changed much since we were young.  My relationship with my stepfather was never close though I loved him very much. I never had his acceptance despite my best efforts. Parenthood just wasn’t his thing. He was the result of his tough upbringing in Kansas City during the Great Depression and so it went. The way he raised me was all he knew.

I never felt like my stepfather – my dad – was listening when I was growing up. I think he had a lot on his mind.  Raising children wasn’t one of those concerns.  His priorities included watching the ball game and reading his James Michener novels.  Anytime I thought my dad might be listening to me was the occasional glance over the top of his glasses and his books along with a grunt. 

What was on my mind just wasn’t important to him.

A parent’s actions tend to speak volumes over their words. My dad was a man of few words. Few were positive. My mother, on the other hand, was a good listener if she wasn’t interrupting you.  Her mind worked faster than a speeding bullet and she was always one step ahead of me in conversation. 

I figure if you’re talking—you’re not listening. 

I spend time talking to my son, Jacob, when I need to be talking with my son.  When you’re talking to your kid, this means you probably aren’t listening.  Talking with your child indicates a two-way conversation where you’re both listening and sharing. Something we all could be working on because they grow up fast.

This leads me back to the importance of listening to our children and embracing their imaginations. Although I remember being a child, I get caught up in my own dance as an adult and forget to embrace what my son is trying to tell me. I tend to avoid Harry Potter and Marvel movies because they don’t interest me. Yet where is my sense of adventure – that element that kept me staring out a frosty bedroom window a lifetime ago?

Things important to a child haven’t been important to us in a long time because priorities change.  This is where we have to work at listening more and talking less.  As we grow older, we’re probably chatting more with our grandchildren than we are our children. 

Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle” hit from the 1970s sums up this dynamic completely. It still brings tears to my eyes.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, dad”
“You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when”
But we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw, I said-a, not today
I got a lot to do, he said, that’s okay
And he, he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
It said, I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when”
But we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?
He shook his head, and they said with a smile
What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when”
But we’ll get together then, dad
You know we’ll have a good time then

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
He said, I’d love to, dad, if I can find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when”
But we’ll get together then, dad
We’re gonna have a good time then

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Harry F. Chapin / Sandy Chapin

Cat’s in the Cradle lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc

The Emotional Confusion of a Toxic Relationship

How we feel about relationships we’ve had for a long time can be complicated. If we think about them logically, it’s easy to sort out.  If we think about then emotionally, it becomes more involved. 

Emotionally means there’s a lot more at stake.  It keeps you awake at night.  A toxic relationship – a once solid relationship gone bad – can be your best friend—someone you grew up with, a sibling, your spouse, a high school or college chum, your kids or grandkids, a coworker, someone you bowl with, a poker buddy, a business associate, or perhaps a neighbor. 

What to do about a relationship that has gone off the rails?

It depends on what the relationship means to you.  More importantly, what the relationship means to both of you.  It is challenging to be in a relationship alone and rather pointless if you ask me. When it is one-sided, you’re in it all alone. If you find you’re the only one reaching out, the question answers itself.  Time to pull back and see if they even notice. If they’re unresponsive, you’ve got your answer even when it’s not the answer you wanted – then – it’s time to quietly move on.

Less said – the better.

Moving on can be painful. It means what you once had is gone and not likely to return, especially if you had a bad falling out. Losing a friend who has moved on tends to be worse than if they had passed on.

When someone passes, there’s closure. When you’ve both moved on, it becomes all those things you wish you’d said and didn’t – especially when there’s unfinished business – which makes people crazy.

I’ve found some friends – acquaintances – ebb and flow in and out of our lives. You were friends – but never really close. Or – you thought you were close and – in reality – you weren’t. The neighbor you were close to and barbequed with for years who moves away and is never heard from again. Someone you worked with closely for decades. A buddy you fished with for years. Sometimes – it’s your baby girl who grows up and moves away – leaving you wondering what happened to the closeness you once shared.

Relationships that drift apart aren’t always personal, but a life changed -with circumstances in the person’s life that require their every attention. These are the elements we don’t always think about when someone goes away.

Each and every human life is a unique thumbprint. What goes on in one life affects the lives around it. This is true of families, workplaces, and circles of friends. When one relationship goes sour it affects everyone who lives around it. The best you can do is reach out, let someone know you are there, and let it go.

Gazing Into the Darkness…

I recall a crispy cold post-Christmas evening with strong Northwest winds, single-digit temperatures, snow on the ground, and an imagination long on imagination.  One thought always led to another when I was 12. I couldn’t stop dreaming about the future. I couldn’t wait to grow up.  I’d gaze into the winter dusk deep in thought as our neighborhood descended into darkness.

The heat in our home would come on – whistling a wavering tune from my closed vent. It is a sound that will never be forgotten for long as I live. The vent in my room was always closed because my sisters who shared a room downstairs needed warmth. My folks never knew how to properly adjust the furnace damper.

As darkness ensued and strong winds blew, music of the period was playing on my portable photograph.  I grew up appreciating all kinds of music.  My father exposed me to jazz and Louis Armstrong.  My mother loved classical music and opera.  She loved vocalists of the era like Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis.

She’d be doing dishes singing the songs of her time.

Most of us remember portable phonographs and stereos.  Seems they all had lids and a single volume control whether you had two speakers or one. You could close them up and take them anywhere.  Tone arms had twin needles—one for LPs and one for 78s. When the LP needle wore out, I tried the 78 which ruined a lot of records. Sound quality from these low-buck phonographs was debatable—always on a par with a drive-in movie car speaker.      

As night settled in, I wondered of the world beyond my bedroom window.  There was a big world out there waiting to be discovered and I couldn’t wait to get out there and see it.  Although half of us were into the darkness of night, I couldn’t grasp half the planet being in daylight.  How could it be dark here and light somewhere else? Dawn always intrigued me as did dusk. I’d stare at the horizon and watch the sun disappear and reappear hours later. I’d look at the pre-dawn darkness and hear music in my head. Dusk always brought the peace of the night.

Night brought with it a mystique I cannot explain even to this day.

As old-fashioned shaded incandescent streetlights came on, I wondered who turned them on.  Was there a man at the electric company flipping switches?  If there was, he had a huge task and blisters on his fingertips to show for it.  I didn’t understand the concept of photocells and automatic timers.  I didn’t understand how streetlights just turned themselves on. I only knew if you flipped a wall switch, the lamp came on.  I couldn’t know at that age how light came from a wall switch to a lamp sitting on the table.  I’d learn about that later when I stuck my finger in a live light socket and felt the miserable intense tingle of alternating current.    

That’s the sweet naive innocence of childhood.  It was something on the order of Santa Claus.  I’d wonder how he traveled the world and get all those toys in his sleigh for millions of kids around the world.  My analytical mind just couldn’t let go of that question.  When my mother told me Santa was a myth and wasn’t real, I felt a huge element of sadness.  A dreamy fantasy that was never realistic was gone. 

To this day, I refuse to believe Santa is just imagination. 

The magic of a cold night intrigued me.  My bedroom window was frosty.  I’d breathe against the cold glass and wonder why it fogged—then, cleared up.  I had to wander outside and feel the cold air and take in the sweet aroma of woodsmoke.  The frigidness of winter stirred my imagination wondering where everything went.  It still does.  Where were all the birds?  Why did I not hear the sound of crickets?  What made sounds so muffled when temperatures neared zero? 

In winter, everything went to sleep only to awaken in the spring.  I wondered where fresh leaves came from when a tree had been bare for months.  I wondered where all those leaves we raked from last fall went.  They just seemed to have vanished in the wind.  There was the same kind of magic in spring that there was in autumn.  Transitional seasons yielded a rush of euphoria. 

Fall meant the holidays were coming.  The magic of Halloween night when neighborhood kids and their parents came calling—one of those rare occasions when friends knocked on the door and you could catch up.  Spring was always an awakening with renewed hope.  It was time to wear a light jacket and enjoy the sweet aroma of honeysuckle and fresh clover.  The sound of lawnmowers and edgers.  The smell of fresh cut grass. 

These sweet childhood memories never leave you for as long as you live. The olfactory nerves gather the aroma and the brain stores memories from more than a half-century ago – returning like an old friend you made memories with so long ago. Sometimes, it’s music from the time that grabs you by the emotional throat. Whatever it is – it is good to close one’s eyes and bask in such sweet memories.

Herb Alpert & Lani Hall…Enduring Greatness

I was in bed for a week with horrible flu in the summer of 1966 when I first heard Herb Alpert on an AM radio at my bedside.  It was “The Work Song” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.  It had a lively beat to it, with the sound of stakes being driven into the ground throughout.  A lifelong passion for such a great talent began.

I still enjoy listening to it and hundreds of other tunes by the TJB.

The following fall, my mother brought home Herb’s “What Now My Love” album by the Tijuana Brass and placed it on the phonograph.  I liked it immediately.  I just couldn’t get enough of the Brass.  I wanted all of their albums.  For Christmas, I got the “South of the Border” album and couldn’t get enough of it either.  I played it until you could hear Side 2 on Side 1.  For my birthday in 1967 I got Herb Alpert’s “Going Places” and played that thing into extinction. 

There were so many others from the TJB in the years to follow. 

A half-century later, I retreat to my garage, work on a 1967 Mustang restoration (my high school car) and listen to the Brass from a library of TJB CDs.  My garage is a nice quiet escape from the troubled world in which we live today.  Oh sure—the 1960s had more than its share of troubles—the Vietnam War, three assassinations, and a lot of social unrest.  The world was changing fast. 

I suppose the home garage, a turntable, and Big Band music were a nice escape in those days.  However, Big Band came of a world war and tremendous losses in the wake of the Great Depression. Big Band was upbeat, optimistic, and lively. It helped us forget our troubles if only for a short while.  Not much changes as human life evolves.  Always something to worry about—and escape from. 

Music is a nice escape.  It feeds our souls.

Herb Alpert comes from humble beginnings in the Boyle Heights region of East Los Angeles.  His folks were of the Jewish Faith—immigrants from what is present-day Ukraine and neighboring Romania.  That Herb Alpert became a musician was no accident.  He was born into a family of talented musicians. It was in his blood.  His father was an accomplished mandolin player. His mother taught violin. His older brother was a successful drummer. 

Alpert took trumpet lessons at age eight and cut his teeth playing at dances in his teens. Inspired by his own success as a musician, he experimented with a recording device and learned the ropes of recording music.  Overdubbing—the process of overlaying sound in a recording—was pioneered by Alpert.  When you listened to his work, you were under the impression he was accompanied by another trumpetist.  That was actually Alpert accompanying himself via overdubbing—a recording or recordings over a recording—which is very apparent in so many of his works.  The harmony was unmistakable.

Upon graduation from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles in 1953, Alpert enlisted in the U.S. Army and further refined his craft in military band performances. When he got out of the Army, Alpert considered an acting career, which didn’t last long. He understood what he did best and became focused.  He continued his agenda for being a great musician.

When Herb was attending USC in the 1950s, he played in USC’s Trojan Marching Band.  After college in 1957, he joined forces with Rob Weerts, who was a songwriter for Keen Records. These guys cowrote several hits, some of which became Top 20 hits, including “Baby Talk” by Jan and Dean and “Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke. 

By 1960, Alpert was well on his way as an established musician.  His recording career began, ironically, as a vocalist for RCA Records under the name of Dore Alpert. By 1962, Herb and his newly established business partner, Jerry Moss, formed Carnival Records with “Tell It to the Birds” being their first release on the “Alpert & Moss” record label.  After Carnival Records released its second big single “Love Is Back In Style” by Charlie Robinson, Carnival Records became A&M Records (Alpert & Moss) and a legacy of great recording talent began in earnest. 

During a visit to Tijuana in the early 1960s, Alpert observed a Mariachi band at a bullfight. The raw emotions of that bullfight and its music inspired him to further investigate the feelings invoked during that cultural experience. He saw promise in combining Latin music with American jazz and an amazing phenomenon was born.  From that moment in time came “The Tijuana Brass” and his first album, “The Lonely Bull” in 1962.  He captured the very essence of a bullfight and put it to music along with the sounds and nuances of a bullfight.  The Lonely Bull became a Top 10 hit in 1962 and the Tijuana Brass was well on its way to being a phenomenal success.

Herb Alpert is credited for bringing along great musical talent—such as The Carpenters at the cusp of the 1970s.  When you hear Karen Carpenter’s soulful voice from the 1970s, you hear a chorus of Karen Carpenters in the background.  That was Alpert-inspired overdubbing. It added a strong element of awe to what you heard. There was so much overwhelming emotion in what you heard. 

The Tijuana Brass’ success during our youth can never be overstated. It has touched every portion of the population from the very young to the elderly. You heard it in commercials and even in The Brady Bunch.  Alpert’s efforts a lifetime ago continue to live in garages, family rooms, and motor vehicles everywhere.  Alpert never stopped growing as a musician, cultivator of great talent, and philanthropist.  

In the late 1970s, Alpert went solo and continued to perform, cutting albums and performing around the globe.  Who can forget “Rise” in 1979 and dozens of other efforts in the years since? He never faded from public view. 

Alpert’s contributions to music and society have never stopped at just being a fabulous horn blower. He founded The Herb Alpert Foundation, the Alpert Awards in the Arts with The California Institute of the Arts. Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall, donated $30 million to University of California, Los Angeles in 2007 to fund the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music as part of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.  Their contributions collectively are so many and varied and virtually impossible to cover here. Suffice it to say they’ve left their mark on the world.

At age 87, he and Lani, continue to do concerts around the country in small intimate venues where audiences can be close and connect with them.  When they perform together and you are seated in front of them, it is nothing short of a mind-bending experience because you are in the company of greatness.

True greatness endures.   

Memories Of an Extraordinary Friend

It was a warm sticky summer afternoon in 1974.  I was 18.  I was at a party with friends when I spied this pretty lady in the kitchen.  She had creamy skin and beautiful blue eyes.  She had long brown hair.  She was doing what she did best—cooking and preparing in the kitchen.  I just had to know who she was.  We were introduced and a really sweet relationship ensued.  We became engaged.  We traveled together.  Discovered so much together.  As high school sweetheart relationships generally go, we ultimately went our separate ways—yet we remained fabulous friends in the decades to follow.  We just didn’t have enough in common to go on as a couple. 

Her name was Robin.

Robin in 1975

Robin A. Kramer was as good as they come.  A heart of gold and a sweet gentle demeanor.  She was that way all of her life with everyone she knew.  Ironically, Robin never had it easy yet remained positive and optimistic through it all. She went through an abusive marriage that didn’t go well.  She always pulled her own weight.  She earned her living as a checker on her feet for most of her adult life.  She bought her own home not far from where she worked and managed to make ends meet. She learned to tough it out on her own and never asked anyone for anything.

Robin and I stayed in close touch for years following our courtship.  We followed each other through life’s many ups and downs.  Sometimes, she’d cry.  Other times, it was me who was in tears.  We held each other’s hands through a lot of tough moments.  During a call in the early 1990s, Robin told me about a nice man she’d met and was falling for.  She loved his huge heart and sense of humor.  Terry had been through a lot in his life and needed a safe harbor. 

Robin was a perfect fit. 

A part of me felt a twinge of jealousy.  I was at a very dark place in life at that time fondly remembering Robin and me in more youthful times.  I thought to myself—lucky guy—and he was.  Robin and Terry spent a lifetime searching for one another.  They were crazy about each other.  They loved sports and spent their time rooting for the Orioles, the Nationals, and the Redskins.  Being a Redskin fan could not have been easy either.

Terry was a butcher and Robin was a checker for the same grocery store chain in the National Capital area.  They both worked very hard for decades doing what is traditionally very hard work. They worked long hours on their feet for not much money. They’d come home exhausted.  When it was time to retire, they migrated to Hagerstown up in Northern Maryland and settled in for some peace and quiet.  They both had surely earned it.  They enjoyed a lovely home on a quiet street backed up against the rich Maryland woodlands. 

They treasured one another’s company for 24 years.

Robin and Terry both struggled with serious health issues.  Terry had a genetic heart defect.  Robin fell ill to a virus that attacked her heart and required surgery.  She suffered from Muscular Dystrophy, which presented huge physical challenges for her.  She underwent heart surgery to repair damage done by the virus, which improved her health for a long time. They expected her to live five years. She lived over a decade.   Terry continued to put off his heart valve surgery like a lot of us might have. The idea of heart surgery frightened him.

During a visit back to Maryland many years ago, I went to breakfast with Robin and Terry, and we had a nice visit.  Terry’s breathing was labored.  He didn’t look well.  When it was time to say goodbye, Terry and I engaged in a deep embrace—with both of us in tears. It was a very emotional moment. We looked at each other and we both knew—we’d never see one another again. 

Three weeks later, he was gone.

Robin and Terry in front of their Hagerstown, Maryland home.

Terry entered the hospital to have a CT scan of his heart and get his surgery scheduled.  He coded on the table.  Healthcare professionals worked feverishly to save Terry’s life.  It was not to be.  They were not able to revive him.  Robin got the shocking news Terry had passed. 

Because she and Terry were soulmates—the news was devastating.

For the first week, Robin was in utter shock wondering what to do next.  Then—she went off a cliff emotionally.  She’d lost everything – the love of her life, her home, and her dignity. Paralyzed with grief, she couldn’t speak for months.  Psychiatric professionals worked hard to save her life. Thanks to their professionalism, she managed to hang on but was never the same. With medication and grief therapy, she survived as the tough survivor she always was. In time, she recovered – yet she never got over losing Terry.

Losing a soulmate is like that.

Robin’s tough tenacity and commitment to survival enabled her to hang on for five more years. Last fall, she suffered from a bad fall and broke her leg and foot. She never told anyone about it. No one but immediately family knew the trouble she was in. During my last conversation with Robin, she didn’t sound good to me.

Robin passed peacefully in her sleep in early February. She had given up the fight and passed on to take Terry’s hand in eternity.

May they always walk together… 

The Elusive Vacation

When I was growing up, we never took family vacations.  I watched other families leave for summer vacations to Florida and other popular destinations.  If you grew up like I did in suburbia with a stay-at-home mom, family vacations were an economic challenge at best or perhaps you had parents who’d never heard of a vacation.  We simply couldn’t afford a day at the beach let alone a vacation.  The closest we ever came to a “vacation” was a one-day trip to Ocean City, Maryland with friends when I was five—and that was for a long day at the beach and back home that evening.

Not much to report when I wrote an essay on my summer vacation. 

In nearly seven decades, I can honestly say I’ve never taken a vacation.  To be honest with you, I don’t even know how to take a vacation. I’d have to actually relax and take time off – something I’d never do.  I mean—what is that like?  I am a confessed work-a-holic.  Baby boomers are a generation that has never known how to take time off and relax.  We are a generation of relentless overachievers.  I don’t know how to put work down and enjoy a sunset. 

I have a buddy—an automotive magazine editor and editorial director for two magazines—with two previous successful magazine titles to his credit.  He doesn’t know how to put work down either.  I get emails and texts from him at two in the morning to discuss assignments.  Being a work-a-holic is an adrenaline induced way of life.  We just don’t know how to put work down and escape.  It just isn’t in us.

We are the generation that stays late and awakens early.

Sixty years ago, boomers were planning for all kinds of leisure time later on.  Retirement communities like Sun City and Leisure World went up across the country at the cusp of the 1960s.  These planned communities were built—yet because boomers have chosen to delay retirement, many of these communities have evolved into something else entirely. Let others retire…  Planned retirement communities have become a spot for “really old” people.

Vacations are something I like to think about yet never actually do.  I cannot imagine life on a cruise ship for seven days or at a resort.  I mean—what would I do with all that free time?  If I couldn’t write or watch a classic sitcom, I’d be pacing in circles like an anxious dog in the middle of a thunderstorm. I’d be anxious to get home and back to work doing what I love most. 

What do people do while on vacation?

I used to love road trips and I’ve taken my share in a lifetime.  I’ve driven coast-to-coast several times and seen sea to shining sea through a windshield. I’ve even driven from border to border. The only state I haven’t been in is North Dakota. Because the public highways have become decidedly unsafe with motorists who believe traffic laws are for others, there’s little joy in a road trip anymore. I’m tired of young people trying to kill me out there. I prefer to arrive alive.

All this said, I am up for suggestions.  What is your favorite vacation?

When Bowling Alleys were Community Gathering Places

I am quite sure I’ve addressed this subject before, and I just can’t help bringing it up again.  Bowling alleys…and the thrill of old school bowling establishments with telescores, cigarette smoke, and the bittersweet aroma of beer and lane conditioner.  There are fewer of them around these days and what few there are left aren’t what bowling alleys used to be.  You’d walk through the door and pick up that aroma I just spoke of.  If that smell didn’t draw you to the control counter—the sweet essence of burgers on the grille would lead you right to the snack bar for a pump primer. 

Bowling Alley snack bars did the best burgers. 

The time proven practice of bowling was something of a weekly pastime for a lot of people prior to the advent of the automatic pinsetter in the early 1950s.  There just wasn’t much else to do, especially on a rainy day. Pin boys were a necessary evil.  Someone had to recover pins and return the balls.  Someone also had to risk life and limb—getting beaned by a stray ball, beat up by an angry disgruntled bowler, heat stroke, and hordes of other hazards facing human pinsetters. 

The automatic pinsetter put a lot of pin boys out of work at the cusp of the 1950s.  However, it helped the bowling industry grow to unimaginable proportions in the years to follow.  Many of those pin boys learned how to service and repair the machines that replaced them, which was when foe became friend. 

Post-War America was an incredible time to be alive.  Modern bowling centers—thousands of them—popped up from coast to coast and around the world.  Seems my dad, who was an avid league bowler, was there for every grand opening.  Bowling was so popular in Japan that Brunswick contracted with local industry to build its A-2 pinsetters for the Asian market.  And, when Asia’s passion for bowling began to dry up, bowling centers went under and many of those Japanese pinsetters wound up shipped around the world to countries where interest in bowling was rising. 

What I love most in my bowling memories was the cozy nature of the dusty, smoky old centers I frequented in my youth.  I grew up in suburban Washington-Baltimore where bowling could be found everywhere.  Not only were there bowling centers, seems every suburban community had several bowling centers—one near you.  You couldn’t find an available lane anywhere on a Friday or Saturday night because every house was full and there was a waiting list.  If you could get a lane all the rental shoes and house balls were already spoken for. 

God help you if you landed at a house full of leagues, which consumed most of the lanes for hours on end.  What’s more, you couldn’t get an open lane next to a league.  League bowlers were on the order of golfers.  Their concentration could not be disturbed or there would be hell to pay.

So – what happened to America’s bowling mania?  A changing culture perhaps. Social Media, a collective sociological short attention span, the ever-increasing passion for electronic video games, work-a-holism, and a huge array of alternative entertainment venues.  What made bowling so appealing in its day was less distraction and people actually sat down and chatted with one another between frames and games.  Bowling centers were such a terrific form of entertainment that people would come to the house without bowling in mind—but instead to visit.  Face time, without a personal computer or cell phone.

My 13-year-old son spends most of his time on his laptop or cell phone visiting with his buddies.  When I suggest he go visit with them in person, he looks at me like I have three eyes.  However, it’s more about how I keep two eyes on what he’s doing.  He’d rather chat with them via electronic medium instead of eyeball time in person.

It’s the darnedest thing I’ve ever seen.  For such a connected society, we’re decidedly disconnected.  When I am texting someone and they ask me to call them, I am thinking, “What?!”  That’s how far reaching it is.  I am a baby boomer who would rather text than chat on the phone when I always enjoyed talking on the phone.

I also have a significant hearing loss. 

I have sweet memories of a Saturday morning youth bowling league in Odenton, Maryland when Bowl America up on the hill above Route 175 was buzzing with activity.  There were leagues around the clock seven days a week.  Leagues were what kept bowling centers profitable and open.  Over the past three decades, interest in bowling has faded into oblivion.  People aren’t committed to something as regimented as a bowling league.  They’d rather sit at home and watch HBO or mindlessly play a video game.  Our world has surely changed.          

Mourning Those Who’ve Passed

Never have we been more reminded of the circle of Life than we are now.  And, never more than in the past two years have we been reminded of how short Life can become.  The COVID-19 pandemic has had a greater effect on us than anything else in our lifetime. We’ve experienced horrific losses and sociological change as a result of COVID.

Two years later, we’re still feeling its effects. 

We’ve been extraordinarily blessed with good economic times and have had a good handle on disease control since the end of World War II. A century ago, we weren’t so lucky.  The Spanish Flu of 1918 took roughly 40 million lives worldwide.  These staggering numbers came to be so great that doctors describe the Spanish Flu as the “greatest medical holocaust in history.”  I’d bet the great plagues of Europe generations earlier took even greater numbers of human lives. 

Does anyone know what made the Spanish Flu so deadly—along with other vicious flu strains that have killed so many in the past century?  In 1918, doctors were only beginning to understand viruses and what made us sick.  In fact, they really didn’t know what was making people so sick in March of 1918.  There was so much yet to be known in terms of disease research.  The 20th Century brought forth great strides in disease research and the introduction of vaccines. 

There have been various flu strains in the century since—some worse than others.  I recall the Hong Kong flu strain of 1968, which affected our household.  It landed my dad in bed, who traditionally never got sick.  In the summer of 1966, I fell ill with the worst flu I’ve ever had with a temperature of 104 .  No idea where it came from nor why I had it. I was down for a week with my face in a barf pan. It was a frightening time for a 10 year-old sick as a dog.

In the summer of 2009, with wildfires burning all over Southern California, I was hit with the flu at a Van Nuys car show and went home with a temperature of 103.9—burning up with a high fever and horrible chills.  The next morning, I was fine as though I had never been sick. I thought, WTH?  A week later, I was drowning in my own fluids.  Turns out I had contracted Swine Flu. At times, I thought I was going to die because my lungs were full of fluid and I could not breathe. It took weeks to recover.

The past two years have been a time of horrific losses for families and communities worldwide.  At its worst, COVID-19 has taken out entire families.  At the least, families have been unable to see their loved ones at the end of their lives. A great many have been maimed with long term health issues from COVID. 

A close friend of mine, a retired airline pilot apparently in great health at 75, was one of the first COVID deaths on April 1, 2020.  His daughter unknowingly brought COVID home from a cruise ship, which infected the entire family.  No one was permitted to see him in his final hours due to the spread risk to everyone.  This is surely a story told time and time again in surviving families. So many have been forced to die alone without family and friends at their side.

In the past two years, I’ve personally witnessed the loss of a number of friends to COVID and the inevitable passing from old age.  With age has always come poor health and accidents from cognitive issues (falls, car crashes, stove left on, etc.). I’ve also lost a number of friends to COVID.  However, most have been lost to age-related issues or what the experts call natural causes. One friend in his eighties lost his balance, fell down a flight of stairs, and was killed from head trauma.

We are endlessly reminded of our advancing age by our own mental and physical health along with the loss of friends and family.  What is happening to us has been happening to generations all throughout history. A time to be born and a time to die.

Most important to remember is – a time to live. Never stop living. Despite painful losses throughout life, it is vital for each of us to remember the importance of living. Fear not dying. Embrace the pulse and each breath – and remember to let those you love know how much you love them.

And, remember something else. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. Take time out to grieve as your heart dictates. Follow your heart. Grief and tears allow you to set the pain free and find a way to keep on living. Take time out to laugh with a friend and remember the good times you’ve had with those who’ve passed. In due course, it will become easier and your heart will become stronger.    

How Did We Ever Survive?

Ever feel like we’ve gone overboard on safety?  Of course, you can never be too safe.  However, I believe we’ve become ridiculous on the subject—in fact so ridiculous we perceive we are safe in an 80 mph crash.  Air bags and crush zones won’t save you at 80.  A sudden stop at 80 mph is still a sudden stop. The car stops. However, your vital organs do not.

A bicycle helmet probably won’t protect you when you can’t see the distracted Volvo driver about to run into you.  A panic button necklace hanging on your chest isn’t going to save you from a widow maker cardiac.  Stair railing won’t help you when your arms are entangled in a winter coat and you fall on your face. 

Your birth certificate ensures your death certificate.  Sunrise – Sunset…  Your origins—and your journey along the way—still determine your destiny. 

The question remains how did we make it as far as we have?  We grew up with open station wagon tailgate windows, no seat belts, steel dashboards, lawn darts, BB guns, tall sliding boards and slip-sliding wax paper, asphalt and concrete playground surfaces, galvanized steel monkey bars, see-saws and crazy friends, and Howdy Doodie. 

Some of us grew up in homes long on corporal punishment with belts, switches, and 30 minutes with your nose in a corner not to mention the torture of “wait til your father gets home…”  We managed to survive all of that.

When and why did we become so overboard on safety when we managed to survive rough and tumble childhoods when all this safety equipment didn’t exist? Because agencies enlisted with public safety have studied this issue enough to know we needed to be safer.  The answer is also common sense.  There were things we knew not to do because we were told not to do it.

Some of us were stupid enough to do it anyway.  Doing a handstand on a bicycle seat going down a steep hill was something most of us knew not to do.  Doing a backflip too close to the high dive would cause brain damage and we all knew it. 

What saved most of us was survival instinct—and that age old fear of pain and physical harm.  A lot it, too, comes from what our parents taught us growing up.  Don’t touch the hot stove.  Don’t run with scissors.  Hand me the knife with the handle toward me.  Don’t touch the prongs when plugging in a lamp.  Refrain from putting aluminum foil in the microwave.  Keep your bike off the slippery ice.  Don’t hang outside the car window.  Look both ways before crossing the street. 

All common sense issues. 

Some of us have born in common sense while others of us had to be taught.  I still believe in Darwin. Despite our rough and tumble pasts, there were friends who didn’t survive while others wound up in wheelchairs and special care facilities. I recall being a passenger with a crazy friend at the wheel who put the pedal to the metal going down a twisty winding hill at a high rate of speed. I felt panicked, wondering if we were going to die because he almost lost control. We managed to reach the bottom in one piece and got home safely. None of us was wearing a seat belt and our transportation was a 1968 Chevy Impala.

I often wonder of others who went through the same horror who didn’t survive. A friend of mine was killed in front of his home at a high rate of speed with a drunk buddy at the wheel in a Chevy Nova. They struck a parked car and he was crushed to death upon impact. It was a shocker for all of us and a reminder to drive safely.

I believe we are survivors because we’ve chosen the path of caution and safety. Common sense thinking has kept most of us out of harm’s way. Raising a glass to those of you who’ve survived.

Take heart in where you are today. You are a survivor.