How Did We Ever Survive?

Steel dashboards.  No seat belts.  Those big Mercury sedans with the power “guillotine” rear window.  Power windows in general.  Lincolns with suicide doors.  Huge finger-smashing car doors.  Hot stoves.  Blistering hot light bulbs.  Outlets without child guard caps.  Bicycles without helmets.  Drinking out of a garden hose.  Huge stainless steel slides and Mom’s box of wax paper.  See-Saws.  Monkey bars.  Skateboards.  Running down the stairs.  And—wandering the neighborhood all by yourself.

When did all that change and why? 

What has made parents so darned protective?

Have we become so overprotective as parents or has this been a logical path toward a safer world for our children?  Seems over the top, doesn’t it?  My sister went off a bicycle at age 8 on a hill, whacked her head, and walked back up the hill in tears with a huge goose egg on her forehead and a concussion.  She had to be rushed to the emergency room.  The concussion and goose egg both went away—and she has led a perfectly normal life ever since. 

Aren’t we just a bit overprotective today?

Perhaps…

Skinned knees and elbows.  Wasn’t that standard childhood abrasion a right of passage?  Just to be a kid you had to have skinned knees and elbows.  Scar tissue is something we earn growing up.  You can review your collection of scars and remember how you got every one of them.  I look at my hands and arms—and even my face—observe the scar tissues, and remember how I managed to injure myself as a child. 

My knees are a study in how badly you can fall and hurt yourself.

Seems we’re most vulnerable when we are teenagers—especially boys—where we are inclined to demonstrate our masculinity beginning with “Hey! Watch this!!!”  I recall working in shipping and receiving at a local department store and slashing my hand to pieces with a box cutter clowning around.  As blood poured out of my right hand, I had to wonder how I could have been so foolish. 

There was the time—age 12—I thought it appropriate to startle a sleeping cat and learned quickly why you never startle a sleeping cat.  I still have a scar on my face as a reminder of why you never startle a sleeping animal.  I always tell people I got that scar in a bar fight in Bangkok when I was in the service. 

“You should have seen the other guy…”

Probably not a good idea to come down a hill at a high rate of speed standing on your bicycle seat— especially when you’re not familiar with irregularities in the pavement.  Gravity and kinetic energy prevail, and we generally get more scar tissue.

The same laws of bicycling and common sense apply to wheelies, burnouts, hand stands on the handlebars, jumping a huge hill, and just about any other act on a bicycle that can get you maimed or killed.

And then, there’s that first motorcycle…

Observing what can be flushed down a toilet may not be hazardous in itself—but can get you killed by an irate parent who had to pay for the plumber.  I think of that whenever I remember flushing popsicle sticks down the toilet at the age of 5.  My parents never forgot.  John Dorsey Plumbing had to come to the house, pull the toilet up, and retrieve the popsicle sticks. 

It was an expense my parents could have done without.

Has anyone ever been poisoned or sickened from drinking out of a garden hose or putting a discarded cigar butt in their mouth?  Perhaps—a little-known phenomenon known as “Discarded Cigar Butt Syndrome.”  Waiting for one of these law firms to come up with a class action lawsuit again garden hose manufacturers, claiming baby boomers drinking from a garden hose as children causes cancer. 

Perhaps…

Did sitting too close to the TV in a dark living room mess up your eyesight?  At 64, seems like it did.  I can’t see anything without my glasses. 

Mom was right…

Have you ever seen anyone with their eyes permanently crossed?  I haven’t either.  Yet, Mom always told me that if I didn’t stop crossing my eyes, they’d get stuck that way.

Ever seen a broken toilet?  Me either.  Yet Mom always said if I kept slamming the seat down, we’d wind up with a broken toilet.

There were days when I hung around her feet while she was cooking, she lamented if I didn’t go away, I was going to get burned.  She was right…

I’ve always thought sticking your finger in a light socket was educational.

It was…

You never forget the intense tingle of alternating current.

Did you ever play in the heavy rain of an intense thunderstorm?  I wouldn’t know because my mother was terrified of lightning.  She had us come in the house and take our places on the foam rubber coach (yeah…she really believed you were safe on a foam rubber sofa). 

Today—I sit outside and watch lightning.

I am still here…

Growing up, I always had an overwhelming fear of being hit by a car.  As a small child, I saw cars as the enemy.  They might run over me.  Ironic is my career as an automotive writer—for four decades.

Guess I got over my fear of automobiles.

All those things parents worry about today have merit.  They’re legitimate concerns, and a whole lot of safety equipment has come to pass as a result.  However, I’ve also found you’ve got to let a kid fall and be hurt from time to time to toughen them up.  It helps them learn to cope with physical and mental anguish.

As tough old boomers who had to trudge to school uphill in the snow – both ways – we tend to laugh at snowflake millennials for such overwhelming drama over seemingly little things.  We’re guilty of the same thing our parents were guilty of—wanting them to have a better time of it than we had.

Guilty as charged…

Basking In The Aroma of Sweet Memories

Isn’t it remarkable what our sense of smell does for memory? 

I will be in a shopping mall, or perhaps in a park, and get a whiff of a good cigar in the air and I can feel my grandfather’s embrace and hear his laughter. My grandfather was the quintessential gentlemen. He’d bounce me on his knee and show me how to make a fist and life was whole and safe.

My granddaddy was a safe harbor for an insecure little boy.  

And, what about the sweet smell of a good barbecue with burgers and hot dogs on the grille on a hot summer afternoon?  The official smell of suburbia someone should have figured out how to bottle a long time ago. 

Doesn’t this give you the overwhelming desire to go play kickball, get out your Barbies, or haul out your Tonka toys and play in the dirt?

Memory is a remarkable thing. 

Our sense of smell is an amazing memory trigger.  Any time I smell rubbing alcohol, it reminds me being five and getting a polio shot.  I can even feel the sting and hear my childhood pediatrician, Dr. Sartwell, “I’m going to give you a booster…” which meant a shot in the butt.  Shots can be so terrifying for a child and even adults.  There are those who would rather slam their hand in a car door than get a shot.

Poor souls…

Crisp, cool autumn evenings are good for the smell of woodsmoke from fireplaces that have been snoozing all summer.  It is such an incredible aroma because the smell of burning wood while you’re walking in the dusk is a smell that has been around for thousands of years.  It’s the same smell George Washington took into his nose after he chopped down that cherry tree and tried to hide the evidence from his father. 

And to think, all this time, I believed he couldn’t tell a lie.

Personally, I think we were all lied to about George, don’t you?

Woodsmoke was a euphoric reminder Christmas was coming.  As a child, I didn’t think about that much except that smell meant a huge toy fallout on Christmas Morning with the family and not having to go to school.

Big pluses.

The smell of burning plastic, which contains cyanide gas and is fatal if consumed in large quantities, reminds me of the apartments where I lived in the early 1960s.  Our apartment complex in Laurel, Maryland had trash incinerators where tenants could dump their garbage.  Each building in the Steward Manor complex had a chute on each floor.  Personnel would go to the basement of each building and start the incinerator fire, then, collect the ashes later. 

Problem with that logic was air pollution.  The smell of cyanide gas—burning plastic—permeated the complex and probably gave tenant long issues later on.  So much so that whenever I smell burning plastic, it takes me back to the early 1960s and that beloved apartment community.  The EPA outlawed trash incinerators in the 1970s. 

When I fire up the Cuisinart in the mornings for that first cup of coffee, I long for the smell of a freshly lit cigarette, which was lit by a match, to accompany that first cup.  I’ve never been a smoker—however, my father was.  He’d fire up the Sunbeam percolator.  It would perk like the Maxwell House commercials, “boop-ba-boo-boo-boop-boop!” and he’d wait patiently for that first cup. 

My father loved his coffee black.  He also loved his cigarettes and beer.  He’d light up a Salem and, my goodness, that fresh lit match and cigarette combo along with the aroma of good coffee.  Always good on a cold morning. 

Wasn’t long before there was a can of Bud’ sitting on his end table.

Also terrific on a cold morning was the aroma of a freshly lit gas furnace.  Fall mornings when my mother would switch the HVAC system to “heat” and fire our vintage Westinghouse furnace.  Dust that had accumulated on the combustors over the summer would burn off and deliver a smell signaling Halloween and Christmas were coming.

Whenever I smell green beans, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, I am reminded of a modest little apartment galley kitchen just off Route 50 and Pershing Drive in Arlington, Virginia some 60 years ago.  My grandmother would be in the kitchen with a GE twin fan in a casement window roaring along on high while dinner simmered on a small gas stove.  When it was time for clean-up, my grandmother washed dishes by hand.  Dishwashers were considered a luxury and she wasn’t having any part of that. 

My grandfather was a stickler about maintenance on anything and everything.  Before he went to bed each night, he’d check the pilot lights on that petite gas stove to make sure they were lit.  Sounds odd today to speak of pilotless ignition, which has been around for decades.  To forget to check the pilots in those days meant the risk of a house full of highly combustible natural gas.

Why does the smell of diesel exhaust remind me of those headaches I got as a child?  Perhaps it was sitting in the back seat of an old Plymouth while my ol’ man navigated the streets of Washington, D.C. on a miserably hot and humid day amid those old Detroit-diesel powered GMC fishbowl busses and all that black smoke.  We didn’t have air-conditioned cars in those days.  Few people did.  We inhaled and had to like it.

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In those days, my dad would roar down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway past the Pepsi Cola bottling plant just outside the District Line and connect with New York Avenue, which vectored us to the heart of Washington, around the Lincoln Memorial, and across Memorial Bridge to the traffic circle in front of the Arlington National Cemetery.  We’d get onto the George Washington Parkway, which segued around to the west and south to my grandparents’ home in Arlington. 

In the spring and summer, you could smell clover and honeysuckle and it was so intoxicating.  In spring, it meant summer was at our feet.  With warmer temperatures came hope.  The freedom of spring and summer.

Do you remember those first heavy rainstorms of summer and the sweet smell of wet concrete as the storms unfolded? As those first raindrops began hitting the pavement, you couldn’t get enough air into your lungs. It was incredible. And, in the desert, even more incredible.  Living in California, I miss those more traditional smells and climatic nuances you folks in the east experience in springtime.

I will always be an East Coast boy…    

Another smell was hot asphalt being laid down somewhere in all that Washington traffic.  Always gave me a headache.  I guess you could call it remarkable all the things we managed to survive as kids that have fallen from grace.  They’re not politically or morally correct anymore.  Whenever I roll up in front of an airport terminal, there’s that diesel exhaust smell—yet it isn’t diesel exhaust.  It is hot jet exhaust, which comes from a very similar fuel known as kerosene.  Any way you slice or dice the smell of diesel or jet power—it still stinks.   

The smell of stale perfume.  Do you remember that?  Man, I do…

My mother loved Wind Song Perfume by Prince Matchabelli.  It must have been a combination of her body chemistry and Wind Song that made for a unique aroma that makes me ill to this day.  While Wind Song might evoke sweet memories for some, all I can remember is being carsick and memories of my mother cleaning me up.  Wind Song was first introduced by Prince Matchabelli in 1953.  According to Wikipedia, “Wind Song perfume has a complex but balanced construction that brings together florals with fruity, green middle notes. The scent finishes with hints of musk and amber.”

Wind Song’s ad slogan was, “I can’t seem to forget you, your Wind Song stays on my mind…”  For me?  Memories of throwing up in the back seat of a dusty old Plymouth.

Class Reunion—A Time for Celebration?

Amid June heat and humidity in an oppressive graduation gown at the Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, I got in line and walked up to receive my high school diploma.  Bowie Senior High School in Bowie, Maryland experienced one of its largest graduating classes ever—if not the largest at more than 900 graduates. 

June 15, 1975 was a big day for me because no one ever believed I’d graduate from high school.  I was a terrible student.  My parents and siblings sat there spellbound in a very surreal moment.  I believe my mother passed out—and not from the heat either.  I review my report card today and wonder how on Earth I did it.  I had more E’s than an energy-efficient refrigerator.  In most places, an “F” indicated a failing grade.  Prince George’s County Schools in suburban Maryland just outside of Washington had a different approach. 

An “E” was a failing grade.

I majored in Study Hall where I laid my head on the desk and napped.  I learned by osmosis.  All that knowledge in the classroom was absorbed into my head to where somehow, I wound up with a diploma.  I used to skip Homeroom for breakfast at McDonald’s  In truth, I was too stupid to understand that if you skipped Homeroom, you were counted at absent that day.  That worked until my mother got a call from the vice principal wanting to know where I was.

I wound up walking to school for the next few weeks.

Ten years later, I was invited to Bowie Senior High School’s Class of 1975’s 10th Reunion at the Capital Centre—known unofficially as the Cap’ Center located in Landover, Maryland.  When the Capital Center was razed and replaced with one of those town center shopping malls in 2002, it was a reminder of how long ago my 10th reunion was. 

At your 10th reunion, most of your classmates still look the same to where you still recognize them.  Bowie High’s Class of 1975 hasn’t been much on reunions in the years since 1985.  Hasn’t been much interest through the years.  Looks like a 45th reunion is scheduled for this fall if it isn’t canceled due to COVID. 

If you’re in your sixties or seventies, you understand the emotion I am about to impart.  A 10th reunion is one thing.  The 45th is quite another.  We will each approach our class reunions differently.  If you’ve been very successful, look like a Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine cover with greying temples, and are CEO of a corporation, you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself walking into a class reunion. 

However, if life has had its share of struggle and you’re working at the McCormick pepper factory separating pepper grains from fly droppings, there’s plenty of apprehension ahead.  Your class reunion is going to be hard on the ego and for good reason.

You’re going to have to be creative. 

Face it—you’re going to have to lie.  “Man, you look great!” which is the first lie when you’re silently evaluating how they’ve aged versus how you’ve aged.  “Yeah, I am a vice president at McCormick…”  That’s the second lie.  And, what the heck, are they really going to go to McCormick’s website to see if your name is on the masthead?  If you’re going to lie at a class reunion, lie big and tell them about the $3 million bonus you got last year and how you’ve copped a nice spread in Malibu overlooking the vast Pacific. 

Any way you slice or dice class reunions, it’s always about charting your progress against the progress of others.  When you bump into an old buddy and they tell you they’re the head of tropical medicine at Vanderbilt, you’re going to have to work up a good story quickly and tell them you’re the head of Body Engineering at Ford Motor Company.  Spool it up and tell them about the days and nights refining the new Ford GT.  Heck, who’s going to know? 

Then—hope they don’t have a cousin who’s in management at Ford.

Imagine the stories told at class reunions.  It would be virtually impossible to find a class reunion without its share of embellishment.  At this age, we all want to feel like we’ve accomplished great things throughout our lives—even if we haven’t.  Don’t tell them about the rented tux or evening gown borrowed from your cousin Mavis. 

Have your story ready weeks before the reunion. 

If you’re not feeling good about yourself, think about the lives you’ve touched and made better no matter how small.  Think about your success as a parent and what you’ve molded your children and grandchildren to be over a lifetime.  I have a granddaughter old enough to have children—which would make me a great grandparent.  That is quite an accomplishment—living long enough to become a great grandparent. 

Bask in the glow of your family’s success if you can.

Maybe, you had to raise three kids all alone.  Do you understand what a great accomplishment that is?  It is one thing to run a corporation or design a popular car.  It is quite another to raise children—alone—work two jobs to make ends meet and do it all well—alone.  If you are very much alone, there are days when you must surely feel defeated.  Perhaps, you’ve gotten a call from the school and your son has been suspended for fighting. 

Time lost from work.  Well—chalk it up to experience and scar tissue.  There’s a lot to be said for not having a choice.  You will get through it.

A modest paycheck becomes a few dollars smaller for lost time.  And, then there’s the tough task of explaining to your son why it better never happen again.  The thankless job of being challenged by a cocky teen.  Perhaps you’re an aging baby boomer caring for a sick parent in their nineties who requires constant care along with raising your kids, who perhaps failed to launch or lost jobs, and grand kids. 

An aging parent’s fragile life is in your hands.  Going to a movie or catching a bite with a friend are out because you must be there all the time to make sure a parent doesn’t injure themselves or forget their medication.  These are the life experiences that encompass heroes—not sports figures who are perceived heroes.  Caring for someone carries more weight with me than rising to the top of the corporate ladder.  Caregivers are angels on loan from heaven.  They are the ones who care for others around the clock without asking for anything in return.  They do it out of love.

Class reunions encompass people from all walks.  Those who’ve done very well.  Some who’ve held their own.  And, those who are jobless due to the pandemic wondering how to survive and feed their families.  We spend time at class reunions wondering where we fit into the picture and how to feel good about ourselves.

Tell you what I’ve learned in life, and it has taken time.  Don’t waste your energy competing with the Jones.  It is never good to look at someone who has been highly successful professionally or perhaps inherited a ton of money with envy because there’s no point. 

And, do you know why?

Because we’re each on our own individual life journeys.  Some of us were destined to be very successful professionally—and with the drive necessary to get there.  However, those with a legacy of great business success have also had to sacrifice all-important time with their families if they have any.  They’ve missed the most important dance they ever could have had—their kids and their spouse—because their primary objective has been to rise to the top—the oft told, “I’ve got this company grossing $800 million annually…”

That’s nice… 

Did you remember to spend time with your family?

I’ve always been a workaholic—a middle class automotive journalist who has spent a lot of time on the road, been twice divorced, and focused primarily on my career as a writer.  Having a career and being a good provider has always been everything to me.  Emotionally, however, my family has paid dearly because I’ve never bee successful at achieving balance.

Has this happened to you?

Are you wondering what happened to time?

There’s the adrenaline of career success and the pursuit of the next wrung on the corporate ladder.  And—there’s the endless passion of doing what I do as a writer.  One day, you find yourself semi-retired in the wake of another layoff wondering what’s next. 

You’ve missed the dance, and your kids and grandkids have moved on.

Be not someone who envies another’s success.  Be grateful for what you have.  If you have the love of family and friends surrounded by those who love you—that’s your mark of success.  There’s nothing greater.

And don’t forget to pick up your tux.    

Things That Continue To Befuddle Us…

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Actor and Comedian Eddie Murphy was correct when he said the mind was a terrible thing.  Mine gets really terrible at times.  I like to think of the things most of us think about, but rarely talk about.  I remember my mom unloading our GE Filter-Flo washer back in the 1960’s – lamenting the clothes were inside out.

She was plenty flustered, having to turn all the clothes right side out.  This was a pain in the ass in 1965 and remains a source of real rectal discomfort today.  We had those traditional classic American-made washing machines with their oscillating and reciprocating agitators that rarely needed repair and lasted more than 20 years.  Where they fell short was that bizarre “clothes inside out” phenomenon. I swear you could load clothes inside out and they would emerge from the machine inside out.

It’s a conspiracy…

Fast forward a half century to 2020 and these new-fangled water-saving washing machines with “Tilt-A-Whirl” agitators, which do nearly everything short of hanging clothes up for you and offering you a drink and what happens?  Clothes still come out of the darned machine inside out!  And now, it is I who is lamenting clothes being inside out.  And, yes, I do the laundry in the household.  I vacuum and I clean too.

Why?

Because I enjoy cleaning.   I like the time-honored custom of taking something cruddy and making it nice.

I confess—I am textbook obsessive-compulsive and deeply nuts.

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In the 50 years since I was an impressionable adolescent, we’ve put humans on the Moon, invented night-vision laser-guided weapons, developed global positioning to where there’s nowhere to hide, and improved the average bowl of chocolate pudding (that makes your poop green for St. Patrick’s Day) yet we can’t develop a washer that delivers clothing right side out.  There needs to be a multi-million-dollar government study with strobes and stop-action cameras to determine why this continues to happen.

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Take A Step Back 

This is but one thing I’ve been thinking about that has me perplexed. Can anyone explain why—when you can’t find your glasses—they’re always on your head? Or here’s another one. Why when you’re coming down a flight of stairs, you think you’re at the last step when you’re actually at the next to the last step and you trip and fall on your face?  My staircase has 16 steps.  Normally there are 13 steps with an 8-foot ceiling.

What keeps us from mentally counting steps on the way down?

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Package Store

This one pertains to men only.  For decades, perhaps centuries, men’s underwear has been equipped with that little fold access door in front that enables men to pee standing up at a toilet or urinal.  Ditto for most men’s pants and pajamas.  Men are equipped with outdoor plumbing.

Seems straightforward to me.

Can anyone explain to me why that little access door has vanished from some men’s undergarments and pajamas?  Man, when I gotta pee in the middle of the night I don’t feel like searching for access, then find I’m forced to sit down.  There’s nothing quite like marching up to a urinal fumbling around with your underwear and personal parts only to discover the that little access fold isn’t there.  If you’re lucky, there will be an empty stall for you to reserve your seat.

A woman conceived this idea for men’s underwear because no man ever could –  especially if they’ve been half asleep in the middle of the night and pee’d all over themselves, and had to mop the floor and change pajamas afterward.

What the hell is this—gender-neutral underwear?

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Taking A Brake

How many times can anyone release a parking brake?  For me—dozens of times it seems.  I hop in my truck, start the engine, release the brake, put it in gear, release the brake, start backing up, release the brake, begin to drive, and release the brake again—just to be sure.  It’s a strange form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) where you’re not sure you’ve released the parking brake—so you keep checking to see if you released it again and again.

Senior moment?  Perhaps…

Except I was doing this 20 years ago…

There’s a reason for this madness.  A good friend of mine was participating in the Cannonball Baker Sea To Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (a coast to coast road race from New York City to the California Pacific) in a 1965 Shelby Mustang when he stopped for gas in New Mexico.  He forgot to release the parking brake and wound up with no brakes.  That cost him any chance of winning the race because he had to stop and get it fixed.  The spoils went to a guy with a Porsche Turbo Carrera, who probably remembered to release the parking brake.

Repetitive Speech

Remember when your grandparents told the same old stale story again and again?  Do you find your kids and grandkids saying, “You’ve already told me that…”  Best to keep a computerized list of stale stories you’ve told.

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Doing All the Same Stuff Your Parents Did

Man, are you kidding?  When you entered adulthood, did you ever find your parents decidedly annoying?  Perhaps, more annoying than when you were growing up?  My parents never put plastic over the upholstery or kept the same Western Electric dial telephone—but they did lay guilt trips.  “It would be nice to hear from you, Jamie…”  and “Only a real creep forgets his mother’s birthday…” or “You really hurt your sister’s feelings…”  All this by age 35…

My mother never allowed me to forget…

Leaving Home Movies as…Home Movies

We live in such a digital age.  Seems everyone is converting home movies, audio tapes, and snap shots to some form of digital media.  Are you one of those who refuses?  Time to see Super 8 home movies of that trip to Cypress Gardens in 1966.  Where did I last store that old Bell & Howell movie projector?  And, the screen.  Where the hell is the screen?  Oh—down in the basement.  Damned thing’s all moldy.

Are you one of these?

Dozens of home movies still in film format.  Cassette and reel-to-reel tapes still in their boxes.  Photo albums full of snap shots from the time you were born.

If you’re like most of us, the parents are gone and who you gonna share these old relics with?  Do you think your kids are going to want to see them?

Nah—pass…

Now’s the time to digitize.  Yes…really…

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Finding Yourself Hobbling Along Like Amos McCoy…

Ever find yourself hobbling around the house because everything hurts?  You don’t even realize you’re doing it until your grandson says, “Granddaddy, did you hurt yourself?”  “No why?”  “Because you’re walking funny…”

Time to take another look at your stride… 

Obsessing Over The Squirrel

You know you saw your mother do this—and swore up and down you’d never do it.  Welcome to the gateway of old age.  My mother sat by her bedroom window at age 75 and watched nature outside.  If I heard about the squirrel once, I heard about it five thousand times.  I wonder what she did when the squirrel went into hibernation.

Fast forward to the here and now.  At 64, I find myself obsessing over the weather in a place where there is no weather—California.  I am an East Coast Mid-Atlantic guy who used to watch for the weather.  It varied from day to day.  Warm and Humid.  Chance of rain.  Severe thunderstorms expected.  Winter storm warning.

It gave you something to look forward to.

Los Angeles is one of those places where it is pointless to look out the window to see what it’s doing.  Yet, I continue to do it.  Define insanity…  Los Angeles TV news proudly announces Triple-Doppler radar with digital technology.  What are they looking for?  Not a cloud in the sky and they have Triple-Doppler radar?  Why does Los Angeles even have weather forecasters?  There’s nothing to forecast, yet I keep looking out the window for something that isn’t there.  It’s like my mother looking for a squirrel that has died or moved on to someone else’s yard.

Good grief!!!  I’ve become my mother!!!

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Voicemail…

Talk about something more pointless than California weather?  Leaving a voicemail for young people.  They never check their voicemail and their voicemail is always full.  What’s more, they never leave a voicemail—they just hang up.

Their cop out?

Caller ID meaning you should know they called.

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One More Thing About Voicemail

Back when answering machines were a new phenomenon, callers needed instructions.  “At the tone…leave your message…”  Someone please explain to me why we need extensive detailed instructions today on what to do when you hear the tone.

Too Much Choice

Find yourself irritated with multiple choice?  You call the bank and are presented with an array of choices known as prompts.  Anything to keep you from reach a human.  And, another thing….stop calling tellers BANKERS.  “To speak with a banker…press 4…”  What the hell is that?!

Trying to return an item?

Good Luck…

You are presented with more prompts than anyone could ever remember, not to mention the cost of shipping something back.  They’re hoping you will just go away.

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Due To High Call Volume…

Know what’s getting my bowels in an uproar?  That recording advising you that due to the high volume of calls there’s a 20-minute wait or you have 46 people ahead of you.  Does anyone really buy this malarkey?  Truth—they’ve laid off 462 phone staffers and there are three left to handle call volume.  Keeps stockholders happy.

The best of luck to you.

The Elimination Of Phone Numbers

Have you noticed the disappearance of telephone numbers from websites?  There’s email and there’s chat.  Good luck on that.  Rarely do they respond to an email—too easy to ignore.  Or an automated chat where you think you’re actually talking with a human.  Technology has made it such that you perceive there’s a person on the other end when in fact you’re chatting with a server.

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Synthesized Human Voice

Ever experienced this?  Phone rings and it looks like a local number when, in fact, it’s a robocall.  The voice is synthesized—fake—usually beginning with “Hi!  Just calling to tell you about new lower mortgage lending rates!!!”

Yeah…tell your story walking.

Self-Checkout

Here’s another attempt for Wall Street to eliminate humans from the retail process.  Lowes, as one example, has a bunch of checkout stands and four self-checkouts.  Self-checkouts are out of order or cash only or card only.  There are all these checkout stands with the hopelessness of the light out—on a Saturday when people are doing that home improvement thing.

Someone explain to me why anyone should engage in self-checkout.  Hey Lowes, you gonna give me a discount for doing your job?  Self-checkout…  Eliminates jobs and forces the customer to double as a checkout person.

I refuse to use it.

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There’s always a line of hopeless patrons without a prayer at Lowes and at Home Depot.  Six feet apart to where few customers understand where to stand.  There are those unscrupulous characters who like to cut to the front of the line claiming they didn’t know where the line began.  That’s always good for conflict and Jerry Springer Show style fist fights among the uncivilized.

The economics of America.  These big mega stores like Lowes and Home Depot managed to run all of the Mom and Pop hardware stores out of business to where they’re the only game in town (at least where I live).  And now, being the monopoly they are—“Unhappy with our service?  Too bad…”

And now…Amazon is running them out of business.

Too bad…

Investors Who Don’t Invest

True investors actually invest in something that will grow.  At least that’s the way it is supposed to be.  These short attention span, attention deficit types who hopscotch from one investment to another in a matter of days don’t invest in anything.

They take…

Real investors—like Andrew Carnegie, J. Paul Getty, Henry Ford and like industry titans saw the value in investing in people and in communities.  They conceived companies that provided good paying jobs with benefits that enabled their employees to afford and buy the products they made.  Henry Ford clearly understood that if he paid a decent wage, employees and their friends and neighbors would buy Fords.  The circle of success.  Take good care of your people and they will take care of you.

We’ve lost our way.  It’s all about now and to hell with the future.

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This Won’t Hurt, Did It?

The human mind hasn’t changed much in 100 years.  It takes a certain amount of time to process what’s placed in front of your face.  Yet—millennial mindset seems to be in nanoseconds.  This won’t hurt, did it?  With the speed of a rabbit having sex.

Sorry, Gang, I am a baby boomer who thinks at “33 1/3” vinyl record speed.  Watch the news and you will see what I mean.  They post a graphic that vanishes before you’ve even had a chance to read it.

Good grief!!!

Slow your roll…

 

These are but a few things befuddling me this morning.

The Ebb and Flow of Photographs and Memories – And Friends…

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Do you have friends you’ve never dreamed you’d be without—“adopted” brothers and sisters who’ve become extended family through the years? I think of long-time friends as soulmates—kindred spirits who’ve become an inseparable part of my life.  The biggest challenge for me as a friend has been the need to do a better job of staying in touch. I have a profound hearing loss, which tends to keep me from the telephone.

Thoughts often turn to those who have flowed in and out of my life.

Does this ever happen to you?

There are friends you’ve never thought would fade away because you’d done so much together.  You’ve worked with them.  Been neighbors.  Traveled together.  Taken cruises together.  Slept in the same tent or crashed in the same hotel rooms.  Dirtied the same towels together.  Gotten drunk together.  Seen them through both pain and good fortune.  Watched them raise kids.  Grieved losses with them.  And – enjoyed many a cookout together.

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Life’s stories with great friends become endless and ongoing and you just can’t get enough of them.  One day—they move away, take a new job, retire, become seriously ill, or cultivate other interests and you drift apart.

They move on…

Perhaps it was you who moved on…

It seems once a close friend or neighbor moves away, your relationship is never quite the same though you each have the best of intentions.  Distance sometimes does that.  Staying close takes commitment and tenacity.  Rare is the acquaintance who stays in close touch.  Sometimes, you find yourself reaching out, yet the reception is lukewarm.

It aches and it hurts – and becomes a profound sense of loss.

I’ve been in the publishing business for 37 years and I’ve lived all over the place.  Not all moves have been career.  I left my home in Maryland to enter the United States Air Force at the age of 21.  I returned to Maryland for a short time following military service, then began pursuing a career as an automotive journalist and historian.  I was handed the opportunity of a lifetime at age 28.  It opened the door to the rest of my life.

There has been the heartbreak of divorce—two of them.

Sometimes, moves are just wanderlust—the desire to be someplace else.  I’ve lived in places I’ve hated.  I’ve lived in places I’ve loved.  My most favorite place in the world is the American heartland—the Great Plains.  In particular, St. Louis, Missouri.  The Illinois prairie.  The rolling hills of Missouri and Iowa.  Incredibly flat and wide-open Oklahoma.  The Texas low country.  I will always have a deep passion for Mid-America.

There’s no place I’d rather be.

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The American heartland is real.  It loves.  It hates.  You always know where you stand for better or worse.  People are genuine.  They become your friends and there’s no doubt you will keep those connections for the rest of your lives.  They will always stay in touch.  The prairieland gives and it surely takes.  Winters are harsh.  Transitional seasons can be hell with violent weather.  There’s either no rain or more than you ever wanted.  Weather patterns in the American heartland teach us Mother Nature is in charge.  She’s always there to remind us.

The Midwest is life in its most genuine form.

In all these moves, I’ve lost treasured friends who just faded away.  Extraordinary friends stay close regardless of circumstances.  Like homing pigeons, they always fly home.  You’ll be watching a movie or working in the garage and the phone rings, “Hey Jimbo!”  They’ve returned and you pick up right where you left off.

That special connection never died.

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When I think of lifelong friendships, I think of a brother in arms back home in Maryland—Karl Endlich.  We met through a passion for classic Ford Mustangs.  We launched The Eastern Shore Mustang Association.  He was 17.  I was 25.  We met and just clicked.  We’re now considerably older now—each with health issues—but hell bent to hang on.  Karl has always called Maryland’s Eastern Shore—the Delmarva Peninsula—home.  He was brought up there and never left.  His passion is farm implements, making love to the soil, and watching life spring from the dirt.

An authentic Shore boy.

Karl and I met and have been the best of friends ever since.  We understand each other in an extraordinary way.  We share a passion function.  Doesn’t matter what it does long as it functions.  Karl once said to me, “It is when a whirling mass of titanium steel blades spin in a circle, ignition and fuel are applied, and that whirling mass of steel becomes a living, breathing thing.” Karlie was talking about the Rolls Royce RB211 turbofan jet engine, which has powered a number of jetliners including the Boeing 747, 757, 767, and the Lockheed 1011.

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Karl and I have gone for years and not spoken.  Yet, we always pick up right where we left off and will burn up a phone line for hours.  Subject matter?  Anything…  We have very similar beliefs though we don’t always agree—and that’s okay.  Karl has turned up with cancer and is fighting it with everything he has.  He’s tough.  He’s a shore boy and that’s all you need to know.  We will always be brothers.

The time I spent in the USAF yielded another lifelong buddy—Lt. Col. Doug Jantzen, who was my sponsor, my boss, and ultimately my neighbor at my first and only duty station at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.  Doug and I became the best of friends, and for a long time.  We met in November of 1977 and never really lost track of one another.  He showed me the ropes of C-5 Galaxy and C-141 Starlifter aircraft.  Few knew these aircraft better than Doug.  If Doug couldn’t fix it, you might as well throw it away.

He could fix anything…

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I’ve lived all over the place as had Doug.  He served his country like few have.  He tied his heart and his mind to three things—his wife, Sherry; the United States Air Force, and God.  Fierce commitment to what he believed—Sherry, God and Country.  Doug served his country for 41 years and was mandated to retire or he would have stayed in the USAF until he expire.  He loved the Air Force and the people he worked with.  There wasn’t anyone who didn’t love Doug.  When he retired, people came from all over the world to Columbus AFB, Mississippi to witness this event.  Few ever stay as long as he did.

Tears flowed…

Seemed unfair.

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More unfair was Doug’s diagnosis with a brain tumor seven months into his retirement.  He fought a tough fight for two and a half years with Sherry at his side, then, passed and returned home to God.  Doug was a loyal friend and for a long time.  He always managed to find me, and I always managed to find him.  He’d call and I’d hear his all too familiar voice, “Jimmy Boy, this is Doug…”  And so it went for a long time.

If ever you’ve served with someone, they become a brother for life.

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And finally, there’s my high school sweetheart, Robin Kramer, whom I’ve known since 1974.  We were young, in love, and had a lot to learn.  She loved me to a fault and I was decidedly self absorbed.  We both moved on and found love in other people.  Had she and I married, she never would have met Terry – and Terry was a good man who worshiped Robin.  They had it good for 24 years until Terry was lost to a massive heart attack.  It devastated her like nothing ever has.  I wasn’t sure she would even survive the grief.  However, Robin has always been a unique kind of survivor.

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Robin is one of those very committed friends who has been a close chum for 46 years.  Though we broke up and never got back together, we’ve remained lifelong friends.  Her commitment to our friendship has never wavered.  She has been through a lot of health issues and nearly been lost to heart issues that began with a virus infection.

She is a tough survivor and wonderful friend.

I’ve lived in the Southern California desert for 26 years and I’m feeling that wanderlust thing again.  Yet, I am 64 and not feeling it when it comes to moving.  You know, the idea of packing up a house and leaving a place you’ve lived for a third of your life.  Been in this house 20 years—the longest I’ve lived anywhere.  I came to Los Angeles for a career opportunity approaching three decades ago.  I had a five-year plan to gain experience and wound up staying.  Been through two layoffs—the joys of the instability of the publishing industry.  I never wanted to live here to begin with because—well—I am an East Coast boy and always will be.  I like exciting weather.  Southern California doesn’t have that.  If you don’t like the weather in California, stick around, it will be the same.  Perpetual sunshine all the time…

Expecting rain?  Forget about it.

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In a strange sort of way, Los Angeles and the surrounding desert lands have become home, due mostly to the people I’ve known and bonded with in the three decades I’ve lived here.  It will be emotionally hard to leave So’ Cal’ when the day comes because it’s always hard to say goodbye.  Instead – it is best to say “so long…”

What about you?  What’s your story of friendship?

 

Simple Times…But Were They Easier?

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My how we romanticize the wonder years of mid-20th century America—simpler times, less to be concerned about, homemade pie, riding our bikes, playing kickball, hide and go seek, Mom’s meatloaf, cool period toys, sitting on Grandpa’s knee, listening to old-time stories, walks in the neighborhood and— retreating to the world of sweet imagination where anything was possible.  If you could believe it, it could be done.

The good old days…

However…were they always good?

When we were growing up in the fifties and sixties, we were just goofy kids with not a care in the world.  Worrying was for grownups—not us.  We romanticize the 1950s and ‘60s because we had little to worry about unless we grew up in troubled homes—and there was plenty of that to go around.  Abusive parents or grandparents.  Alcoholism and drug abuse.  Physical and mental abuse.  Battling parents.  Divorce.

Memories that have haunted us all our adult lives.

It has often been said kids are resilient—they will grow past it.  But, have they?  How’s that working for you—especially if you were a victim of some unspeakable form of child abuse.  Only your imagination can limit that one.  I was naïve.  Abuses went on in my neighborhood I’ve only recently learned about from victims who are now in their sixties.

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If you grew up with a mentally abusive parent or grandparent, you undoubtedly struggle with low self-esteem and high anxiety.  If you were raised by supportive parents, you’ve no doubt enjoyed a better adulthood and passed the goodness along to your kids.  Sometimes, childhood is more a mix of good and bad.  One loving parent and one decidedly abusive.  Or—one parent suffering from mental illness.  If you were a popular kid in school, life was good.  If you were like me, a chubby dork with horn rim glasses, you had a target written on your forehead, and every bully within a mile could sniff you out to knock schoolbooks out of your arms.

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Seems those who were popular in my high school haven’t accomplished much as adults.  They never grew beyond high school.  They were big fish in a small pond.  Enormous egos got the best of them and they became complacent.  They’d never been through any real adversity as children and got whatever they wanted—ultimately facing tougher times as adults without Mommy and Daddy to catch them.  They haven’t been able to cope with the pressures of adulthood.  They’ve resorted to drugs and alcohol to feel better about themselves instead of doing what they could to get ahead.  Just my observation based on what I’ve seen since high school.

By the same token, there have been kids who were among the huddled high school masses who’ve been successful adults because growing up was always about struggle.  They had to toughen up or be swallowed up by the bullies, beauty queens, and jocks.  They entered adulthood ready to take on the world.

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The innocence of childhood was what isolated us from what was going on in the world in the 1950s and 1960s.  If you grew up in a nice quiet suburban American neighborhood where friends played together and bonded, life was good—like the TV show “The Wonder Years.”  That show from the 1990s reminds us of why we love our childhood memories.  “The Wonder Years” also captured the struggles of adolescence, and there was plenty of that.  The older brother from hell.  Greatest Generation parents with more conservative values.  History class, which put us to sleep.  Teenage crushes.  Being rejected.  Discovering the arrival of adolescence on a hot day when you learn you stink very much bad and need a shower.

Damn, never noticed that smell before.

Most of us grew up in the cocoon of suburban life while others lived the toughness of urban life in a city walkup with bullies on every corner.  I grew up in an isolated tract house community 26 miles outside of Washington, D.C.  When we moved into our new home just before Christmas of 1965, this Bowie, Maryland community was as quiet as it gets because we were in the middle of the vast no man’s land between Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis.  We were out in the country and self-contained.  Rural Maryland was a magical place to grow up because there was little to worry about—that is, for a kid.  Plenty for adults to be worried about.

For adults, who had huge responsibilities at the time, there was a lot to be concerned about—the Vietnam War, the draft, civil unrest, the Cold War with the Soviet Union and China, a rising cost of living, debt, financial worries, diseases we don’t have to sweat today like Small Pox and Polio, and more.  Great parents made sure we didn’t know about these things.  They wanted us to enjoy childhood.

We’d be grown soon enough.

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We romanticize the 1960s.  Yet—there were three assassinations including a young U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, in 1963 and the utter shock of two more including a greatly admired civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, and the slain president’s brother and esteemed senator, Bobby Kennedy, at a political rally in Los Angeles—both in 1968.  There were riots over the war and civil rights.

The 1960s wasn’t at all what we boomers believe it was.  Great for kids living in quiet suburbia.  Not so good for adults trying to make sense of it all.

The oldest boomers had it tougher because they had the draft to sweat out.  A whole lot of us born between 1946 and the early 1950s had the Vietnam draft and the lotteries to worry about.  I personally knew several who went to Vietnam and never came home.  There were others who came home badly wounded.  The Vietnam War was a faraway place for a boy like me at age 12.  That is, until my stepbrother lost his right leg to a Claymore mine in Vietnam and was brought home to the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington.  That’s where I saw men badly torn up from war.

Vietnam was suddenly very real—and bloody.

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The 1950s was a regroup period following the end of World War II.  However, it was no picnic if you were being drafted and shipped off to war in Korea.  There were WWII Veterans who were promptly drafted back into service and sent to South Korea to engage in yet another war.  They never got a break.  Most survived Korea.  A lot did not.  Anyone who has seen real action (death and carnage) understands what I am talking about.  The fog of war is lost across the vast oceans.  Prior to 9/11, post-war America never witnessed wartime on American soil.  What would we know about war?

Boomers like to reflect on the good old days.  We’re doing the same thing our parents did a half-century ago.  The “good old days” seemed better than they actually were.  In the troubled times we’re living in now, it is easy to reflect on what we perceive were better times.  Like troubled times we’ve lived through in the past, these times we’re in now will pass.  Use troubled times to become stronger—to toughen up—because as we get older, there are going to be huge challenges.  You can count on it.

This—too—is gonna pass…

Trying To Think And Nothing Happens…

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The weather forecast for my vicinity is foggy with a chance of confusion.

Do you ever find yourself trying to think and nothing happens?

More astute mental health professionals you see on Fox, CNN or MSNBC call this “CRS” or “Can’t Remember Shit.

Now, where was I?

What happens to our minds in middle age and beyond that hinders our ability to remember such simple things?  When we are 40, we tend to write it off as nothing more than being overwhelmed by work, career, kids, and more.  Too much agenda.

Perhaps…

When you crest the sixties, memory becomes more of a concern—yet, what can you really do about it?  Always some baby boomer targeted commercial for memory improvement supplements.  None of it proven, of course.  And – I never had memory to begin with.   You can remember useless minutia, such as the color of your house shutters from fifty years ago, yet you cannot remember what you had for breakfast this morning.

What the hell is that?

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Perhaps, you’re in front of a group giving a presentation and your mind goes completely blank—not because you have to pee, but because your mind just went blank amid an important fiscal meeting with the company bosses.  Everyone laughs because it is happening to you—yet, you walk out of the meeting feeling foolish.  The best you can hope for is you will not be able to remember the meeting tomorrow.

Memory is a fleeting element isn’t it?

Sure is, because I’m trying to remember what I was going to say next.

I think the UFO’s came and got it.

Yeah—that’s it.

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Today is a Saturday—9:40 a.m. to be specific.  I still remember how to tell time.  To be more specific, I cannot remember exactly what I had planned for today.  A big housecleaning project…  Yeah, that’s it.  It was easy to forget that one because it involved my having to scrub a shower that hasn’t been touched in—well—I forget…

Scrubbing the shower was an easy one to forget.

Vacuuming and mopping the floors?  Another easy one to forget.

I believe I will think about that tomorrow.

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Names… Whatever happened to the ability to remember a person’s name?  Or, where I put something a minute ago.  How is it possible to forget the name of someone you’ve known for 30 years?  Or, your best friend’s telephone number?  Or—heaven forbid, your Social Security number?

Worse yet—your home telephone number!!!

What’s with that?

It isn’t all that often we call ourselves, which makes that one forgivable.  However, if you forget to call your significant other to tell them you’re gonna be late, that could backfire badly—especially if you waltz in at 1 a.m. and they’ve been wondering where you’ve been.

Going to be hard to explain that one.

It’s like that episode of Dick Van Dyke (Antonio Stradivarius) where Rob gets hit on the head with a violin in a skit rehearsal and suffers from temporary amnesia.  He winds up in a party—miles from Alan Brady’s penthouse apartment in Manhattan where he was supposed to be and his home in New Rochelle living it up with a blonde who was scarcely aware of her own existence.  Then, he regains his memory, lost and confused on where he is and attempts to drive home.  When he gets home, Laura, obviously very upset, wants to know why he never called.  His response?  “I didn’t think of it…”

That didn’t win him any points and he wound up on the sofa.

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Isn’t this how you feel at times?  Just didn’t think of it let alone remember it?

Have you ever been cruising down the freeway on the way home from work and wondered how you got to that particular spot on the freeway?  Man, did I just drive 25 miles in my sleep?  WTH?  Or, worse yet, you pull up in the driveway with no memory of the entire journey.  Worst case scenario—you pull up in the driveway of a similar tract house, put the key in the lock and it doesn’t work.  Then—call a locksmith to come let you in and you’re arrested for breaking and entering.  What’s more, it’s not even your street.

Now, there’s something to share with the grand kids and your new minister.

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I own an Oxford White Ford F-150 Super Cab pickup.  You see yourself coming and going because Oxford White has to be the most popular F-150 color.  Plumbers.  Electricians.  Construction contractors.  Municipalities.

It is endless.

White F-150 trucks are everywhere.

It isn’t surprising I was coming out of a mall, walked up to an Oxford White F-150, hit the keypad and the damned thing didn’t unlock the doors.  Figuring my keypad battery was dead, I tried the lock.  What’s with my key—it doesn’t work?!  I walked to the back bumper to discover a different license plate number.  Befuddled, I looked all around the parking lot to discover my truck was seven spaces away.  I looked all around the parking lot to see if anyone saw me looking stupid.

Where did I leave my glasses?  That’s a popular one.  Looked all over the house—the bathroom (library), the kitchen table, out to the garage.  Nothing…  Walk into the living room and look in the mirror.  They’re on my head.

I’m hungry…  Just ate breakfast an hour ago…

Yes…I forgot.

Rushed to get to the airport in Atlanta to make a flight home to Los Angeles.  Walked up to the Delta Air Lines ticket counter with luggage in tow.  Handed the agent our tickets and identification, and waited for boarding passes.  The Delta agent, looking baffled, said, “You’re rather early, aren’t you?”  “What do you mean?”  “You’re scheduled to Los Angeles tomorrow night at this time…”  The Delta agent, a kind and forgiving soul, booked the first flight to LAX the next morning.

Ever done something this forgetful?

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Logged in at my doctor’s office.  Sat down in the waiting room.  The receptionist called my name and I thought – wow that was fast.  She advised me I was a month early for my appointment.  Well, at least I was punctual.

I’ve ordered stuff from Amazon and, the next day wondered where my order was not realizing less than 24 hours had passed.  Lord…

The most popular memory lapse for most of us is walking into a room to grab something and forgetting what the “something” was.  Feeling defeated, we walk out of the room discouraged over wasted energy going there in the first place.  Sometimes, we retrace our footsteps in hopes we remember.

Nothing…

It’s 3 a.m. the next morning.  Everyone in the house is sound asleep.  You’re in a sleepy mental fog—yet can remember what you went into the room for.  You quietly tippy-toe into your son’s bedroom trying to be quiet—and stub your ingrown toenail on the dresser, waking your kid and causing quite a stir in the middle of the night.

You feeling decidedly foolish?

You’re in good company because a while lot of us struggle with the same thing.

Few things are more humbling than reminding your child or grandchild to flush the toilet – only to discover you’re one who forgot to flush.

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There’s always a certain amount of pleasure in hearing the young being forgetful with the same senior moments seniors have.  It gives us hope because memory is the darnedest thing in all of us at all ages.

Now, if only I could remember what I was going to say next.

 

Saturday Night Under The Lights!!!

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I must confess…I’ve been a car junkie for most of my life.  I’ve had the good fortune of earning  a living writing about automobiles for most of my life.  My passion for automobiles dates back to childhood in the 1960’s when Detroit brought us style, size and sportiness.  Automobiles were works of art, not jelly beans with beards automakers seem to be pushing today.  They’re just downright ugly.  Back in the day, automotive styling made a statement and you could tell the brands apart by their styling.  You could see the difference between an Oldsmobile and a Chevy.

Must be frustrating to be an automotive stylist today because aerodynamics and fuel economy have become priority over raw sex appeal.  Limits your freedom as a stylist when there used to be so much creative freedom.

My passion for automobiles caught fire when my father handed me an worn out hardware store brand power lawnmower to tinker with when I was 12.  It had a 3.0-horse Briggs & Stratton vertical shaft engine and a 20-inch steel deck.  He took the blade off to ensure I didn’t wind up losing a foot.  My dad had a very modest tool arsenal void of socket wrenches and ratchets, which made it challenging to tear an engine apart.  He was very good at reading novels and watching the ball game.  Bending wrenches was never his forte.

Tools?

What tools?

I bought 3/8-drive sockets to work on the Briggs.  Because I could not afford a ratchet, I used pliers to turn the sockets.  Their handles fit into the 3/8-inch square hole perfectly.  I got a Husky socket set for Christmas and felt like a real mechanic.  I could fix anything!  I still have the Husky ratchet to this day, which made it easier to loosen and tighten bolts back in the day.  It was dreamy for a young teen to have real hand tools.

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I pulled the Champion J-8 spark plug and finned aluminum cylinder head—turned the crank and watched in amazement as the piston and valves took on momentum.  The intake valve came off its seat illustrating how fuel and air entered the combustion chamber.  I continued turning the crank and watched the piston rise to top-dead-center, which is compression/ignition stroke where power is made with the fuel/air light off.  Then—the exhaust valve opened and I got a good look at where spent exhaust gasses went into a door knob-shaped muffler.  I was hooked on internal combustion from the get-go.  The business of “suck-squeeze-bang-blow” was intriguing to me because I could envision the light off above the piston where the fuel/air mixture ignited and became heat energy, mechanical motion, and power.

This was where I learned something about how power is made.

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When it was time to button up that old Briggs and pull the cord, it was exciting to hear it fire and run.  That’s when I began to understand the magic of firing an engine for the first time.  I still feel that way in a dyno room when we fire an engine for the first time.  It is a religious experience.

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I went to the drag races in my adolescence and began to take on a passion for speed.  I’ve also grown rather fond of circle track, road racing, and autocross, which can really challenge your driving skills.  Off-road racing in the dirt and mud never did much for me, however, I admire those with the tenacity who are tough enough to engage in it.

There are those around the world who don’t see much point in the way we race in America.  They don’t get chasing one another in a circle (NASCAR), which keeps Europeans laughing at us because those guys enjoy driving like mad men at high speed through small towns and the twisties just to make sure they can do it and remain alive.  It is the challenge of racing in some of the toughest conditions imaginable because these European crazies also do it in the rain.  That’s real racing.  There’s something about getting sideways on wet pavement and surviving that will make a real driver out of you.

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I remember taking my 1967 Mustang to Capitol Drag Raceway half-way between Washington and Baltimore in the 1970s.  First time I pulled up in the staging lanes, I was advised by track personnel to come back when I had a helmet.  Like I really needed one of those?  It was a letdown, but it was about safety and obeying NHRA rules.

I came back to Capitol the following weekend and cracked a 15-second quarter-mile pass at roughly 100 mph.  Not bad for a worn-out 100,000-mile Ford 289ci V8 engine with Edelbrock intake, Holley carburetor, and badly tweaked (plum tore up…) Mickey Thompson headers with a 3.00:1 axle ratio.

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One Saturday night, I was in the staging lanes at Capitol, did my burnout, and staged.  Yellow lights came tumbling down the Christmas tree and I got the green.  I launched and the darned thing wasn’t near as fast as it was the last time.  I’d blown the clutch and barely made it home.  I drove home with open headers, which was quite interesting considering it was 11 p.m. on a Saturday night when I arrived home.

Back in the day, I was a bracket racer, which actually meant amateur clutch dumper.  I could participate in racing like the professionals.  To rev my engine and dump the clutch made me feel like a real stud at age 17.  Open headers made my Mustang sound like a real racecar and—to be honest—I felt like a bad ass.  I could hear the crowds roar (in my mind) when I left the line.

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My point is—mankind loves speed.  And, if mankind can get out there, make speed, and feel in control, that’s food for the soul.  It feeds our typically fragile egos.  People, male and female, love speed—which draws people to racing venues all over the world.  Drag racing puts fans right there at the track, which provides excitement and some element of danger.  People like that—as long as it’s someone else getting clobbered.

Road and circle track racing are other exciting auto racing pastimes that have long had huge audiences.  Back in the day, stockcar and road racing drew thousands.  In NASCAR, stock cars were actually STOCK cars built for circle track racing.  Enthusiasts could actually relate to the racecars because they were cars enthusiasts drove daily.  What won on Sunday sold on Monday, and the automakers knew this.  They support racing and were active participants in the sport.  Today, stockcar racing isn’t stockcar racing anymore.  Chassis, bodies, and engines are boilerplate and it’s no longer run what you brung.  It is more about driver skill and identical racecars.  Boring, if you ask me.  The real thrill of NASCAR for me went away when it stopped being stock cars.

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Back in the day, audiences rushed to racetracks around the country.  Racing has always been a national pastime—watching racecars at speed.  Of course, the Indianapolis 500 remains the Greatest Spectacle in Racing every Memorial Day Weekend.  The Daytona 500 down south in Florida has always attracted more of a grassroots crowd.  Road racing at places like Riverside, Watkins Glen, Road America, Sebring, Willow Springs, Laguna Seca, and Sears Point have always drawn big crowds.  Automakers were more on board in those days because racing success on Sunday meant car sales on Monday.

Cars have always been an integral part of American life, especially in the years following World War II with suburban sprawl and growth in the number of cars each family had.  With the demand for individual transportation came a steamy passion for automobiles.  As a rule, car buyers always wanted something stylish to be seen in.

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When Ford’s sporty affordable Mustang hit the showrooms in April of 1964, it brought forth a whole new persona to the American automobile—the pony car class.  Camaro and Firebird followed along with Barracuda, Javelin and AMX.  In 1970, the Barracuda caught fire with the ‘Cuda option and a whole lot of power including the 426 Hemi.

Pontiac’s GTO in 1964 was the official launch of the musclecar era—followed by the Olds 4-4-2, Chevelle SS, and even the Buick GS luxury musclecar.  Plymouth and Dodge had hot midsize competitors to compete with all the muscle coming from General Motors, Ford, and AMC.

America received one hell of a reality check in the winter of 1973-74 with the Arab Oil Embargo – and later in 1979.  I can remember sleeping in my car in line at 4 am at a local Mobil station waiting for the station to open at 7 am to get my five gallons of gas.  I had just received my driver’s license and felt very ripped off.

What?

No gas?

All those musclecars everyone wanted in the 1960s no one wanted in the 1970s.  Owners dumped them for pennies on the dollar on the market everywhere they could, not understanding what these cars would be worth in the future.  As the 1980s unfolded, musclecar prices went through the roof as baby boomers rolled into more disposable income.  Like real estate, investors bought up clapped out musclecars, restored and flipped them for whopping sums of money at auction.

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Classic musclecars took on incredible value for nostalgic reasons.  Baby Boomers wanted to relive their youth via the roar of 425 horsepower and the smell of burning rubber and high-octane gasoline.  Today, it is those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s who want the cars they grew up with back then—cars us old timers said would never be collectible or worth anything.  People love nostalgia – and that’s what makes things collectible.  We like to amass things that make us feel young.

Times have surely changed since the 1980s and 1990s when it comes to musclecar values. Attitudes are changing and baby boomers are growing older and sliding into poor health.  Muscle classics are hitting the auction blocks for less money depending upon the type.  Rare limited production musclecars like ZL-1 and Z-28 Camaros, Hemicudas, LS-7 Chevelles, Boss Mustangs, the AMX and the like are still fetching large amounts of cash at auction.  Many are being snapped up by buyers overseas and shipped to places like Australia, Europe and Asia.  They like hot American musclecars.

More mainstream collector cars are beginning to lose value because so many were produced.  Supply and demand have always affected value.  They always will.  That said, I foresee a glut of classic cars in the marketplace as time marches on.  What will happen to them in time is anyone’s guess.   The same thing happened to those antique cars our parents grew up with.  Ford Model T’s and A’s used to cop big numbers when they were so popular and collectible.  As The Greatest Generation began to die off, so did values.

As retiring boomers, we have to keep seeking what keeps us young at heart and eager to bounce out of bed each morning.

That said, my feet hurt…

The New Rule Is No Rules!

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Consider society in the good old days versus the here and now.

Such freedom today, I tell you.

Freedom to do what you want when you want.  Staying up all night.  Driving as fast as you want regardless of conditions.  Thumbing your nose at  law enforcement.  Informing the boss you will be in whenever it suits you.  Making a left turn from a right turn lane.  Blowing the red light.  Ignoring a stop sign.  Closing the elevator doors on someone trying to enter because you’re in a hurry.  Parking in a disabled space.  Marching up there to get your diploma without having to attend school and actually earn it.  Stepping over the ropes at Disneyland and walking right up to the front of the line.  Being rewarded for doing absolutely nothing.  Going to the beach and patronizing crowded night spots when there’s a global pandemic, and not wearing a mask or practicing social distancing.

Wow!

How’s this new “no rules” approach to life working for you?

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But hold on…someone just kicked your front door in and wants to rob you at gunpoint.  They’re also demanding your car keys.  Call the cops, right?  Nah—hold on a minute.  The new rule is no rules.  No order.  No police.  No hope.

You are void of options because there are no consequences for the bad guys.

Your freedom.  Your rights…  That’s what it’s all about, right?  No one’s going to deprive you of the freedom to do whatever you want when you want.  So—unless you’re able to beat the crap out of the model citizen who’s broken into your home and trying to harm you, you get to lose your valued possessions and—well—at least you have your freedom.

Free to do what we want.  How dreamy.  However—not free from the consequences.

You weren’t planning on this break-in when you were demanding freedom and being able to do what you want when you want.  It just shook out that way.  Rules were for others.  That works until you become a victim of a decaying society—then, it begins to suck.  Rules—laws that govern society—have always been there to maintain order and ensure your safety.  Without some kind of order, the relative peace and security we enjoy in America goes away.  Then—we’re under anarchy where anything goes including the violation of your safety

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In 1968, when society was unhinged over the Vietnam War, equality issues, and the bloody establishment, Senator and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey reminded us in a speech that society without order cannot stand.  Young people at the time viewed HHH as a stuffy old establishment politician with old-fashioned views while they were frolicking in the tulips and getting all that free love.  Free love often turned into the responsibility of a baby or perhaps sexually transmitted disease.

There are no free lunches—someone always pays.

Humphrey was right.  A society without order cannot stand.  Look at the mess we’re in now.  Here we are again more than a half century later bemoaning the same issues that were bugging us in 1968.  There were those who wanted unlimited freedom and those who understood why rules exist.  People want the freedom to do whatever they want—and without the consequences.

It has never worked that way and never will.

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Rules have always existed in great societies for the safety and security of citizens.  And—for those who have refused to follow the rules, there have always been those prickly consequences.

The United States is facing the worst pandemic it has seen in over 100 years.  One-hundred years ago, Americans understood and followed disease prevention protocol because it was just good common sense.  One-hundred years later, we’re decidedly spoiled, with politically motivated leadership that’s more concerned with getting votes than it is saving lives.  Human life has been thrown to the four winds.

Agree or don’t, we lack good solid, consistent direction from the top down.  Instead, we’ve gotten a very confusing message on many levels of government on how best to handle a global health emergency.

Government has failed us.

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Most of the rest of the civilized world has understood how best to handle a deadly pandemic and made the sacrifices necessary to manage the deadliest pandemic in a century—but not the United States.  Instead, the new rule has been no rules both on a federal level and in states where COVID has spun completely out of control.  Despite the number of sick and the increasing number of dead from coast-to-coast, denial continues despite raw evidence of just how deadly this pandemic is.

How’s that “no rules” thing working out for you?

When I look at states most affected by COVID, I look at misguided policy on both state and local levels.  States with priorities mired in political agenda have the highest infection rates and deaths.  Such is the price of freedom—getting what you want when you want.  That goes for politicians who put money and politics ahead of human life.

This isn’t all on the carelessness of politicians, by the way.  California has had a very aggressive COVID management program from the get-go when Washington never had a national plan to begin with.  Governor Newsom took charge and managed the COVID emergency, beginning with lockdown orders, beaches, public venues, and businesses ordered closed, mask orders, and strict monitoring.  This policy was very effective and it kept COVID at bay.

When California began lifting stay at home orders, it was like that scene in “Jaws” on the beach where the Mayor Vaughn (actor Murray Hamilton) of Amity Island strongly suggested one of his political cohorts take his family into the water.  The man and his family approached the sea with great caution and slowly ventured into the water.  Hundreds then roared into the water kicking and splashing.  Wasn’t long before a child and a man in a rowboat were killed by the shark.  Think of the shark as Coronavirus and beachgoers as average Americans doing what they want when they want.

It’s the same thing on a metaphoric level.

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States that have lifted restrictions remind me of another scene from “Jaws” in the hospital emergency room where Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) grabbed Mayor Vaughn by the arm, drew the drapes, and said, “You’re the mayor of Shark City, these people think you want the beaches open!”  The mayor didn’t want the beaches closed because it would upset the locals and cost him votes.  Politicians who want to open everything back up, get kids back in school, lift stay at home orders, and get businesses open are doing it at the expense of human life, much as the mayor did—and that’s all it is.  It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on—this is just wrong.

Apparently common sense remains in short supply.

Managing COVID has never been about taking away our personal freedoms.  Quite the contrary.  Accepting personal responsibility for controlling this disease has always been about living or dying.  The personal decision to follow stay at home orders, wear a mask, exercise social distancing, use a hand sanitizer, and limiting travel is the difference between living and dying.

You get to choose.

Choose wisely—and stay alive.

ADHD…They Used To Call It Daydreaming

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Okay, I admit it.  I always hated school.  I was one of those goofy awkward kids with a vivid imagination.  I stared out the window, played with my ruler, picked my nose, made noises, distracted those genuinely interested in actually getting an education, bit my nails, played with my fingers, looked around to see who was as bored as I was, always pretended I was somewhere else, and irritated my teachers endlessly.

I got sent out in the hallway a lot.

My name is Jim Smart – and I have ADHD…

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It is ironic, I suppose, I’ve become a journalist without any real formal education.  I’ve always emulated great writers hoping some of their greatness would rub off.  It has taken a lot of rubbing.  Because I am textbook Attention Deficit, distractibility has always been both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing when your mind is all over the place like a pinball in a pinball machine—which is where great ideas come from.  A curse when two weeks’ worth of laundry is piled up on top of the washer and the kitchen sink is full of dishes.  Or, perhaps your problem is years of back taxes and the grass is two-feet high.

My report cards always said the same thing, “James would excel if only he’d stop daydreaming in class…”  My grades were always below par.  In fact, they were terrible.    I haven’t the faintest idea how I graduated from high school.  I always found myself in the company of like-minded students of educational hopelessness.  When I was in 7th grade, I came to know a character who has become a lifelong buddy—Ray Hinson of Roanoke, Virginia.  Together, Ray and I were as hopeless as it gets in a classroom.  His mother couldn’t stand me and considered me a bad influence.  She didn’t want me hanging with her son.  What she didn’t understand was, Ray and I were both bad influences.  We were cut from the same genetic cloth—brothers from different mothers.

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Ray and I were inseparable.  We attended a lot of classes together.  Must have been a matter of design by the Prince Georges County School system in Maryland because Ray and I always wound in the same classes.  No matter how determined educators were to separate us, it just didn’t work.  Ray would be behind me and I’d hear him giggling and making flatulent noises.  So, naturally, I had to cultivate ways to let him know I was thinking of him.  A return report…  When the teacher’s back was turned, I’d throw something at him.  I always wound up in the hallway.  I’d get hit in the back of the head with a wad of clay from art class delivered by Ray himself and it was hard to contain my laughter.  I always had to find a creative way to get even with him.

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The lunchroom at Samuel Ogle Junior High School in Bowie, Maryland was always long on great potential for mischief.  A tray full of food and eating utensils was euphoria for Ray, his brother Rick, and me.  Those large soup spoons and chunks of carrots were great weapons of mass destruction.  You could wipe out a whole lunch table with one carrot.  Ray would use the soup spoon as a launch pad.  He calculated how much pressure to apply to the spoon based on the weight of the carrot, then, liftoff!!!  Within seconds the roar of someone getting whacked in the head with a wet carrot 30 feet away.  One time at lunch, I asked Ray why they called it a tossed salad.  His response?  He tossed my salad…all over the lunch table.  Other times, he’d wait until I was drinking my half-pint of milk and chose that moment to make me laugh.  Thank God I wasn’t drinking a soft drink.

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Of course, our vice principal, Mr. Turner, was not amused.  He’d walk up to us and invite us to examine our behavior.  Oh—we did, of course.  Our strategy was always a focus on improvement.  Depends on what your definition of improvement was.  We needed a larger carrot.  We also had Mr. Arthur Lakin, a tall imposing figure who had just come out of the District’s school system over in D.C.  Lakin was a tough ex-marine who tolerated nothing.  He’d pin me up against a locker and ask me if I’d like to be torn apart.  “No Sir…”  It only took once and I wet my pants.

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Back to Ray and me…

Ray was one of the first kids I’d ever known who could pass gas on cue.  He could even burp and flatulate at the same time—and that takes enormous talent.  When we ran out of approaches to annoying other students and faculty members, we retreated to the restrooms to see what we could get into for cheap entertainment.  The objective was to get all toilets and urinals to overflow to see if the floor drain worked, and that took huge amounts of toilet paper, paper towels, and water.  There was always the disappointment of discovering the custodial staff had not yet restocked the restrooms, which were out of paper towels and toilet paper.

I seriously considered trying to flush my math book.

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We’d be walking down the hallway and, Dale Hall, our metal shop teacher, would identify us as the “Gold Dust Goof Offs.”  Mr. Hall drove a cool 1965 Chevelle hardtop.  He was a good friend and a terrific shop teacher  He tolerated us just short of killing us.  Ray and me in shop class – imagine the possibilities for federal disaster assistance.

Of course, there was music class with Mr. Collins, who drove a new 1967 Mustang convertible.  Our presence in his class was never about music, of course.  It was more about making disgusting sounds.  I thought we sounded pretty good.  Physical Education with Mr. Hildreth—which was never about physical education.  Those of us who didn’t dress out (Ray and I never dressed out) were sent to a storage room to strip Hildreth’s antiques for his antique store.  One way or the other in Ken Hildreth’s PE class, you were going to work up a sweat.

When school let out, Ray and I connected and rode home on our bikes.  Ray looked hysterical on a bicycle.  I don’t know what it was, but I always got a fit of the giggles as he roared up my street on this big clunky bicycle.  We’d cut grass together and split the proceeds.  We also fixed lawn mowers.  One time, the muffler fell off a lawnmower and Ray asked me to pick it up.  Mindlessly, I reached into the high wet grass and learned quickly why you never pick up a hot muffler.

So tell me, Ray – did you suggest I do that just to be funny?

The problem with Ray and I was ADHD and a committed appetite for mischief.  We just couldn’t contain ourselves and be responsible citizens.  No one knew what our problem was in those days because no one understood ADHD.  We were prone to mischief in a quest to carry out our distractibility.  I suppose some of it was boredom—nothing to do and looking for something to do.  Ray and I always found something to do.  Our mothers would be wonder where we were and what we were doing.  We could be found at the school plugging up the potties.

In the summer of 1969, Ray and I had both managed to flunk 7th Grade.  Our parents put us in summer school.  We had a terrific summer schoolteacher.  I fail to remember his name; however, he was very good at what he did.  He had an impossible job with us.  He also didn’t know us.  We got into trouble on a regular basis.  And, as impossible as it may seem, we managed to flunk summer school and wound up repeating the 7th Grade—together.  You’d think by now the system would have figured us out and put us in different towns.  By pure luck or the administration’s desire to push us on up the line, we made it to graduation as the Class of 1975.

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Decades since Ray and I hung together was the arrival at birth of our 12 year-old son, Jacob, who was welcomed and adopted into our lives back in 2008.  Through the years, Jake has managed to hone his extraordinary craft of humor and become nearly as dangerous as Ray and I were a lifetime ago.  And, because I refuse to grow up, cutting up with Jacob is second nature.  His gift of humor is beginning to come to life at  nearly the same age Ray and I were back in 1968 in Social Studies class.  Only I don’t expect to be plugging up the school toilets with Jake anytime soon.

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I lost track of Ray for a long time—decades in fact.  We found each other via Facebook.  Ray and I have both had good lives with great families.  I still look at Ray and get a belly laugh.  I just can’t help it.  We started out that way in the 7th Grade back in 1968 and the laughter has never really ended.  Our plan is to return to Samuel Ogle Middle School and plug up the hoppers.  This time, we have to make sure we don’t get caught.

And, Ray—bring toilet paper and paper towels…