Thirty days ago, I came face to face with my mortality. It probably wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time I realized what was happening. I wasn’t afraid, but I certainly was paying attention.
I was having a heart attack and spent the day telling myself that my symptoms were something else and if I just sat still a while longer, I would get better. It was a Friday and finally around 10:00 pm I accepted the truth and dialed the dreaded three numbers – 911.
Within moments I was under the care of a voice on the phone and soon the flashing lights were outside and my living room was home to three paramedics. Endless questions, sensors and wires and I was getting an EKG in front of my flat screen TV sitting in my old comfortable chair.
Minutes later I’m in the back of the ambulance looking out the back window at the streets that I travel every day. I was grateful for the oxygen lines that made my breathing easier although I had them in my mouth.
I told the paramedics I was a mouth breather and laughed. After thirty days I understand that being a mouth breather is a result of being a pack a day smoker for forty-five years. I haven’t smoked in these thirty days and pretty much I breathe through my nose again, amazing.
I was admitted to the hospital through the ER on Friday night, spending several days in ICU and then discharged on Wednesday afternoon. I was given an external defibrillator to wear at all times. I’ve nicknamed it “Sparky” and it’s either around my waist or slung over my shoulder.
“Sparky” is by my bedside overnight and is only away when I’m in the shower. “Sparky is plugged into my “mansierre” which contains sensors and three paddles that will restart my heart if needed. Yes the “mansierre”. That’s from Seinfeld if you’re struggling with the term.
The “mansierre” has about all the sex appeal as my mother’s Playtex bras that she would hand wash and line dry on the shower rod. And yes, that’s exactly where my spare hangs. There is limited sex appeal since it is a front closure garment as two of the paddles are between my shoulder blades.
Back to the serious stuff. Congestive Heart Failure (CFH) is my diagnosis. I actually had a heart attack back around Thanksgiving but didn’t realize it. But the amount of damage showing in my heart indicated that to be the case. Currently I have what I think they call about a 15% “pump out rate”.
Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a cardiologist to figure out what that means. Eighty five percent of my heart is currently not working. I was not a candidate for stents, bypasses or any type of surgery during my stay. I am currently taking about every kind of heart medicine, blood thinner and what ever else that you see on TV every day all day long.
My cardiologist referred me to a “specializing cardiologist” in another city and that was somewhat unsettling, initially. You see this guy works in a clinic that has a part of its title “Heart Failure and Transplant Clinic”. Now those are words that get your attention, right?
Of course, I only had a couple of weeks to dread the drive to find out what other life changes I would be confronted with. To say that I was filled with apprehension and dread would be an understatement.
But things turned out better than I thought. My new friend, Dr. Gulatti, and I got along fabulously. He was full of knowledge, confidence and clarity. Those are the kind of characteristics that you would want in a heart failure cardiologist, right?
He was one of these guys that you see take charge. You know the one, the guy that steps forward and tells the less bold “Here, hold my beer, I’ve got this!”. Within minutes he explained to me his version of the next 30, 60 and 90 days and where we may or may not windup.
I don’t know exactly how this is all going to wind up, but I do know what the options are and how we are going to progress. One of medicines was doubled at that visit and will be doubled again in another couple of weeks. Four days later, I can tell a difference and yep, I’m feeling better.
I’m not out of the woods yet and I can’t even see where the woods stop and the clearing begins, but I do know a couple of things. After forty five years I’m done with tobacco and most likely alcohol as well. I have no intention of becoming a crusader trying to reform all remaining smokers. I made my decisions, including the one to stop and that’s the end of my responsibility, as I see it.
If someone seeks my help, I’ll be happy to help. That is what I hope to do as I write about my journey. I tried to write about this when I first got out the hospital but I just didn’t understand my feelings. After 30 days, my sense of humor has returned. I’ve greeted mortality and I hope to be able to write about my journey for some time to come.
A common saying these days is “life comes at you fast” and it only seems to come faster as we age. When we’re young and think we will live forever we begin to place milestones in the future as we hope it will unfold. Well this isn’t about me or any regrets that I may have, I talk about that enough, too much in fact lately.
This is about my daughters. They were born seven years apart and are as different as night and day, but so much alike. It amazes me to watch them as they interact with each other even today. My amazement I guess comes from the fact that I was an only child so every day is still new to me.
We don’t get together as much as we used to. The last time was just over two weeks ago for my birthday. The oldest has her family including her son Graham, now six months old. The youngest is a senior in college and tomorrow is a big day for her, she sits for her GRE.
The oldest is a pharmacist with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. This was what she had determined was her path in life when she was in high school. When my youngest was a junior in high school, I had a mid-life crisis, but I was in my late 50’s. After a period of time, I got my act together, but there was an impact on my youngest. In her senior year of high school, I realized that I was in no shape to get her to college.
I asked her if she could wait one year, an eternity for a high school senior, while her classmates moved on. I promised that I would get her where she wanted to go. It was tough news for her, but she worked, I worked and one year later she entered the university of her choice.
After three and a half years, tomorrow is a milestone day for her. She has an overall GPA of about 3.8 and can pretty much pick and chose where she wants to go next. There is a lot going on in her world and I am so proud of her.
There is a lot going on in the world in general right now, in the United States in particular. Tomorrow, promises to be a day like we haven’t had in this country in quite some time.
For me, tomorrow is a day of pride. My baby sits for the GRE tomorrow afternoon. That’s a milestone for her. It’s a milestone for me. I’m so very proud for her. I know she’ll do well. The rest of tomorrow, for me will just be noise.
Today was supposed to be my day off, not a bad way to start your week, right. I woke up later than normal and turned on the coffee and sat down at the keyboard. Soon after, I received a text from a co-worker wondering if I might be interested in swapping days off this week. My answer was elaborate. NO.
I had every intention of going into work late and leaving early like I normally do on my day off. In car sales it never hurts to check in to see if someone who on Saturday swore they weren’t buying until year-end might have changed their mind in the last couple of days.
My plan, as usual, was to roll in around 10:00 and be gone by 4:00 at the latest. Another text arrived at 8:30, this one from my manager, informing me of mandatory training at 9:00 AM. I cheerfully replied that while I would be in, 30 minutes would be an outlier for my arrival, but that I would be in shortly.
In the car business, mandatory training means that the owner has paid good money for an outside trainer to come in and teach those of us that have been sales forever that we have been doing it all wrong. It’s usually entertaining for the new people and they generally overlook the fact that this person is telling them that their parents totally screwed up raising them.
So, assuming that it would be a 2 hour training session starting at 9:00 to be followed by a second session a few minutes later for another two hours, I rolled into work just before 10:00 am It’s my day off, remember? The joke was on me.
I was informed by co-workers that the first session was three hours and the second session would start at 1:00 pm. So, I was basically three hours early on a day when it was steadily raining, which is not the best weather for selling cars. Right on time, my co-workers and my manager returned almost precisely at noon. My manager declared it to be useful training while my co-workers were less than effusive in their praise to say the least.
At 1:00 pm, four of us went across the street to the training location. The class was a mixture of seasoned veterans and green peas, or new sales people and a couple of managers thrown in for balance. Our trainer was introduced by one of the owners and pronounced as legitimate further stating that he had been thoroughly vetted and thus he had the house stamp of approval.
I knew instantly that we had been had when the trainer/speaker/owner of his own company told us that he had the privilege of working with Tony Robbins at an early age. When I hear that name, alarm bells go off in my head. Huckster, television personality and a guy that used to hold seminars in hotel meeting rooms and sell you a series of tapes, CD’s and monthly newsletters, for a monthly recurring fee of course.
Not to pick on Tony Robbins specifically, but this is an old con. The secret to success in life can’t be revealed in one lecture, but requires continued devotion and monthly updates to the source of knowledge. The source of knowledge usually jets around the world in his Gulfstream spreading the “gospel of success” to those that haven’t been to a Hilton ballroom lately.
My afternoon session, took a break at the half way point in the scheduled three hours right on time. During this time, the presenter, sat down in a chair and lowered his tone of voice and talked to the non-smokers that remained. Shortly after, he was back on his feet pacing and times, shouting at us again. Then came the role-playing. We were to use the tidbits that would make us successful and make impromptu presentations.
Having basically been in sales since I was fourteen, I lowered my head even further than it had been hoping to totally avoid eye contact with the presenter. I was successful for a couple of rounds, but he tracked me down. Now, truly the crap he was preaching is Sales 101, 102, 201, 202, etc. Finally he locked in on me and it was decision time.
So, given the scenario I was to respond to, I said, fuck it. I’ll answer his challenge, but in my own damn words. Most of my co-workers had responded by reading answers they had carefully written down. Not me, not after a lifetime in sales. The scenario was after a test drive, the customer turns hostile and demands your best price. What do you as a salesman do?
Well, I’ve been faced with this situation more times than I can remember. When the presenter looked at me and said “what about you?” I said “sure” and went into one of my standard customer complimentary dialogues that always ends up inside, with the customer seated with a bottle of water or cup of coffee in their hands. When I finished, my co-workers were laughing, which really isn’t unusual.
There was another session and another role-playing exercise and another go around the room for show and tell. Once again, I was called out directly to respond. Unfortunate. I had nothing written down and stood up holding an imaginary phone to my ear and talked my way through the hypothetical problem covering all of the presenter’s points in a slam dunk, tour-de-force performance.
Well, the joke was on me. Our three-hour afternoon session turned into a four-hour session, about three hours and forty-five minutes longer than it should have, conservatively. When we were discharged, released or perhaps paroled, we walked outside and the rain had moved on and the sun was glorious in the late fall afternoon.
The bad news after all of this? Another training session tomorrow. This time, I think I am due for the morning session. I told my manager on the way out the door this afternoon that I was scheduled for out-patient hip replacement surgery in the morning and wouldn’t be available for a couple of days.
Motivational speakers, televangelists and certain politicians give me sharp pains in the ass. 2017 has been especially trying. My left hip just can’t take sitting through this much longer. Today, was Monday, it really did suck and frankly I’ve had enough of all this crap for a couple of days. I hear titanium replacement hips are all the rage these days, especially if you’re going through TSA screenings.
Today I had occasion to travel the brief fifty miles back to my hometown. I live in Greenville, SC firmly planted midway between Charlotte and Atlanta along Interstate 85. I grew up in Greenwood, SC and lived and worked there for almost 60 years. Greenwood is sort of in a Bermuda Triangle of north-west South Carolina.
Greenwood is south of Greenville and Anderson, also along Interstate 85. Greenwood is north and west of the capital of South Carolina, Columbia and thus in the middle of nowhere. People often say, “It’s a nice town with friendly folks, but you just can’t get here from any where else”.
Greenwood has four lane access to Greenville, but it’s not interstate. You can look at all of this on Google maps. Access between these two cities is by way of US 25. US 25 was designated an US Highway in 1926 and originally ran from Brunswick, Georgia to Port Huron, Michigan. Currently it terminates in Covington, Kentucky at the Ohio River.
Having said all of that. The drive from Greenville to Greenwood this afternoon was one I had not made in several months. It started as a partly cloudy day and was mostly cloudy by the time I arrived in Greenwood. I was meeting a new friend to retrieve a valuable family heirloom found in a thrift store.
The drive down was not congested at all and I was able to reorient myself with several landmarks along the way. Throughout my lifetime there have always been two places along this highway that made and sold concrete yard ornaments. You know what I’m describing here, right? Birdbaths, squirrels, horses and bears. Things we here in the south proudly were once known to use to decorate our yards.
Today, I noticed a new addition to the concrete statuary competition. An old single story farm-house with a collection of concrete statues within a former chain link dog pen. And there they were. Lawn jockeys. Not just raw, freshly poured concrete statues, but those painted in black face, with orange, yellow and red overalls ready to take home and proudly plant in your new flower bed. Really?
I haven’t seen those in years. They have become a rare sighting. I mean if you live in South Carolina you’re more likely to see pickup trucks with dual flags in the back. You know – “Don’t Tread on Me and the Confederate Stars and Bars” mounted in jacked up trucks flapping in the breeze as they speed past you. But black-faced lawn jockeys? Where is the market?
I was really flabbergasted to see these on the side of the highway today as I journeyed to my hometown. Based on what we have seen in Charlottesville and other cities besieged by hatred this year, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Anyway, the reason for my trip was to retrieve the previously mentioned family heirloom. After a delay, the lady with this treasure arrived. She knew me from earlier life, though in all honesty, I didn’t know her. Soon she drove up with the portrait of my daughters that she had bought in a thrift shop simply for the frame. She didn’t have any idea who the two girls were but had put out word on Facebook that she would surrender the portrait to the rightful owner.
We talked for a few minutes about our past lives, hugged and shook hands. She had the portrait wrapped in a baby blanket and insisted on showing me that it was in perfect condition. She was so happy that she had found the rightful owner and it showed in her eyes. I was tickled and repeatedly thanked her for her kindness and loaded the portrait in my Blazer and headed back to Greenville.
On the drive home, I passed the black-faced lawn jockey statues again. My thoughts going back home were different from they were on the way down. Going down, I was almost incensed by the presence of the lawn jockeys. Headed home, I thought hopefully there are at least two people looking to return treasures to their rightful owners for every one that’s looking to purchase back faced lawn jockeys.
We all have family that we care about. Family that we treasure and love beyond belief. I have one remaining Uncle at this point in life. When my Dad was initially diagnosed with a brain tumor in early 1996, I couldn’t go to Duke for the diagnosis. My Uncle went.
I felt so helpless. My Dad had always been there for me and now I couldn’t be there for him. I won’t go into the reasons, but there was just no way I could leave town and travel to Duke. My Uncle and Aunt went, they had time, or maybe they just made time, but they went.
I talked with my Uncle on the phone when they were at Duke and my Uncle said to me – “this is what families do”. That comment has been ingrained in my soul for the last 20 years. I have repeated this phrase to my two daughters time and again as we have sought to cling together in the tumultuous times together in these last 20 years.
I had four uncles 20 years ago. Three were brothers of my Dad, the other married one of my mother’s sisters. Two of my Dad’s brothers are gone now and tonight one of my daughters told me the one that was married to my mother’s sister was also gone. He died about a year ago.
He was a conflicted individual to say the least. My mother’s sister suffered from Alzheimer’s and Lord knows when she died. They had no children, only each other. I don’t want to go into the things that happened as my Mother’s oldest sister died, that’s done and in the past.
I just hope that the money that he got from my other aunt’s estate eased his journey into hell. She had written her will so that pretty much everything, including her house would go to her church. Well this SOB left her church standing at he altar, if you know what I mean.
As my Aunt was dying, her friends from childhood could not get in to see her and console her. She was held captive in her sister’s house by this asshole previously labeled as my Uncle. I told one of her closest friends from childhood that there would be a special place in hell for certain people and an express lane reserved for a special few.
The bastard has been gone now for over a year and his descendants have his money. They also have my other Aunts money, but they didn’t get my Mother’s money. That went to my two daughters. They are fine for now.
Twenty years later, my other Aunt’s church is fine. I hope that the bastard’s great-nephew has enjoyed the money and is fine. When he looks in the mirror and it has a wiggle in what he sees, I hope it gives him pause. His great-uncle was a great big ole pile of crap. Full Stop.
This afternoon we here in the Upstate of South Carolina will be graced by the inconvenience of hosting the greatest inconvenience this country has ever seen. Air Force One is set to land at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport at 5:25 pm. To appreciate this tidbit of information, let me give you some local color on what happens at 5:25 pm on Interstate 85.
Nothing, Zip, Nada. You see the airport is at Exit 57. BMW’s only North American manufacturing plant is at exits 58 & 60. Michelin North American headquarters is at exit 54. Beyond exit 60 to the north is Charlotte. South of exit 54, well that leads to Atlanta. Are you beginning to build the mental picture I’m trying to paint for you? Traffic doesn’t move on a good day, much less a Monday.
Donald Trump will be attending a fundraiser for our accidental governor, Henry McMaster about two miles from where I work. Henry is accidental in the fact that we sacrificially gave up our elected governor, Nikki Haley to Donald Trump. Nikki is now on Sunday talk shows explaining that she agrees with Donald, it’s just that he keeps leaving out details when he says he is going to wipe North Korea off the map.
Back to this afternoon. It will be an invitation only, private closed to the press, fundraiser at one of our swanky hotels for out-of-town business guests. The hotel is located on a ritzy connector road between two major thorough fares that dump traffic onto Interstate 85. Meanwhile, several miles away in the downtown district there are protests scheduled that are open to everyone.
In light of this, my escape route home involves none of the traffic and hopefully I can peacefully slide away from work under the radar and get home in my usual 25 minutes. Speaking of radar and people and things that fly under it, I’ve written a little jingle about this afternoon’s visit that you can sing along to. Once you read it, you should pick up the tune quite easily. In honor of our visitor and to celebrate the Christmas (NOT HOLIDAY) season.
I‘m living in doubt, he’s telling a lie
He makes me wanna shout, I’m telling you why
Donald Trump is coming to town.
I‘m making a fist and shaking it twice
Where in the hell is that bastard Tom Price
Donald Trump is coming to town.
He tweets when you are sleeping
He never takes a break
He doesn’t know if he is bad or good
“Cause he never makes a mistake!
I’m living in doubt, he’s telling a lie
He makes me wanna shout, I’m telling you why
Donald Trump is coming to town.
Little tin hats, little tiny hands
Vegas is great – Puerto Rico must wait
Donald Trump is coming to town
This is not meant to be all-inclusive. There were several topics associated with certain letters of the alphabet that while noteworthy, didn’t make the cut, Procrastination being the last to fall. For me this has been an exercise that has lasted for most of a week, an ambitious task for a beginning writer. I used the alphabet as my outline as opposed to writing contemporaneously about the world. It’s lengthy, at times southern, mostly introspective, but I hope humorous and practical.
A: Algebra – The whole x-y/z = a x b+c thing has always escaped me. Not because I don’t have a curious mind. I just never understood why you have to mix the 26 letters of the alphabet with the 10 numbers of simple math and throw in the Greek Alphabet to boot. I have a degree in accounting and for a time made a living from that. I was in a fraternity in college and learned the Greek alphabet. I’ve been in sales for almost thirty years and I understand the power of words.
B: Biology – Two of the most serious cuts I’ve ever inflicted on my body occurred in Biology class in high school while dissecting frogs and earthworms. I haven’t had a serious encounter with either of them since then and have read no reliable studies of research indicating that either of those species pose a threat to mankind.
C: Cars – I’ve been selling cars since April of 2000 and they puzzle me still. When I was young my Dad taught me how to change oil and lubricate the front end of the car. At some point in time, suspension systems no longer had fittings for my Dad’s grease gun, they stopped using carburetors to get fuel into the engine and distributors disappeared. This morning my 21-year-old Blazer wouldn’t crank. I walked down to the corner independent shop and left the key and called a co-worker for a ride to work.
D: Divorce – Having been a participant in more than one such proceeding, I’m familiar with the process and procedure of it all, but the emotion continues to escape me. Two people decide that life together is no longer tenable and agree to call it a day. That is usually the last thing that these two people agree on especially how much should be budgeted. The emotion surrounding the property settlement far exceeds the cost of the things that are in contention, unless the settlement includes children.
E: Elections – November 8, 2016 was the day that put this item squarely on my list. I’m not overly educated, but after having been in sales for almost 30 years, well, I thought if I knew it, surely everyone else knew it, right? Wrong. I grew up in the age of Bar B Q’s, stump speeches and soaring rhetoric designed to appeal to our better angels. Algebra came back to bite me in the but in 2016. Those damn algorithms, Facebook and Twitter. Crap, as Reba McEntire was known to say on her TV show.
F: Fake News – (See also Alternative Facts discussed by others and E: above)
G: – Grizzard, Lewis – How could anyone so talented have been taken away so soon? If you’re not from the South, you’ve probably never heard of Lewis. If you haven’t, you should be jealous of those of us who have. We all grew up with a friend like Waymon C. Wanamaker, great American. Lewis brought Waymon to life through tales like “sitting up with the dead.” PS: Go to YouTube and search for “Last Confederate Soldier”
H: High School – I had a pretty good time in high school masquerading as a cool guy when in truth, I was just a nerd. My arrival in the 10th grade coincided with the end of voluntary desegregation in the fall of 1969. A new school was built and the old white school moved and the old black school was closed. The new school had the name and mascots of the old white school and that festered for the next three years. There were struggles and even a couple of riots and then came compromise. I’ve always wanted to find someone who was in charge back then and ask them a simple question – “who told you that we would be good lab rats?” But those people are all gone now, and so is my youth.
I: IQ Tests – This has been in the news today and our president says that he scores high and would like to challenge his Secretary of State to an IQ challenge. His spokesperson says it was a joke. MENSA has offered to administer any such challenge. My Dad was a member of MENSA and he joined not to validate himself, but to continue learning. Most people don’t talk about their IQ’s, whether they have one that is rated high or low. You would think that based on his public persona, our president would find something else to talk about. FOOTNOTE – Thursday was my birthday and one of my daughters brought me something unexpected. In a zip lock bag, was my Dad’s last wallet. It contained his MENSA membership card.
J: Journey – If you understand this one, you’re in better shape than me. Life has been an interesting combinations of twists and turns and just when I think I know where I’m supposed to be, down the rabbit hole I go. But I guess that is life for most of us. A few of us are disciplined enough to choose a profession and stick with it, then there are the rest of us. As Joe Walsh says in his song, “Life’s been good to me so far”. But some days it’s as if Lewis Carroll is in charge, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do!” I have no regrets about anything I’ve done, I’ve outlived those. I don’t know where I’m going at this stage of my life, “I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime.”
K: Kryptonite – OK, we all that this a term that was invented to show that even Superman was vulnerable. We all perceive ourselves to be invulnerable at times, but that feeling is usually fleeting. Depending on the situation, something, just one little thing, tears down our defenses and renders us helpless. At various times in my life Kryptonite has been a shape shifting obstacle. At times, it has been emotions, feelings and uncontrolled passions. Examples have been: Being a custodial parent of two young girls (i.e. don’t mess with my family); this lottery ticket is going to change my life; my attraction to curvy members of the opposite sex. We all have kryptonite in our lives. Please don’t judge me, I wouldn’t judge you.
L: Life – OK, so this has been a three-letter link. Journey, Life and Kryptonite. I’m not that different from you. I’m not exactly where I thought I’d be, based on my thoughts when I was 18, 21, 25 or even 30 or 40. Actually, none of those thoughts ever came into being. The reality has been better than the plan. With youth, there is idealism. With age there is reality. Looking back, I’ve decided that life is a compromise between those two. At this point, I don’t feel as though I have settled for anything less than I deserved.
M: Marriage – This one is very personal for me. I’ve been married more than once, the total number isn’t important, but it’s less than Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor. Marriage is defined, depending on the reference source, as an “intimate or close union”. Well , I had those. Now I live alone. My last marriage resulted in a close friendship that may last a lifetime. My marriage that resulted in my two beautiful daughters, and there will never be a friendship. She lives with that and I do as well.
N: November – I don’t think there has ever been a November like 2016. Forty years ago, I wasn’t too sure about Jimmy Carter, but in the end, that turned out OK. He was a good man, with a good heart and he came into office during a time of great turbulence. Circumstances overwhelmed him in the aftermath of Watergate and he was back in Georgia after 4 years. November of 2016 was an outright shock to a lot of people, me included. Watching the returns that night, I realized that what I thought to be a close race, was a close race going in the opposite direction. I have voted for the loser before. That day, I voted for the loser, but strangely, the loser won.
O: Oh, say can you see? – I just really don’t get the turmoil surrounding the kneeling by football players during the National Anthem. I used to go to NASCAR races. When the Star Spangled Banner was played, people were looking through their binoculars trying to see their favorite driver in the pits, talking to each other and some actually took off their caps, placed them on their chest and at least tried to sing along. I never heard anyone tell anyone else to put down the binoculars or anything even bordering on controversial. I haven’t been to a football game, college or professional, since before I stopped going to NASCAR races. If I were to go, I would stand during the National Anthem. My Dad was a Marine, he loved America and I would stand in his honor. What anyone else does is none of my business. I have a full life and am thankful that I do.
P: Pedicures – When, and if, I wake up in the morning, my feet and toes and for that matter the rest of me will be 63 years old. And for 62 years I have done my own clipping of fingernails and toenails. When I worked in a drug store as a teenager, we sold “Trim” nail clippers to our customers. Today, I am the proud owner of a pair of “Sure Grip” clippers with the stamp “Korea” on them. I have a pair of nail clippers in my computer bag that I bought in 2000 that have a pink lever with a yellow palm tree on them. Both do the same thing. I don’t understand why men go to nail salons to get a pedicure by women wearing masks talking to each other in Vietnamese. Yes, my toes aren’t as straight as they used to be, but my feet smell a lot better than they did when I was a teenager. I’m not insecure, but I just feel better knowing that I’m not talking about how funny my feet look in a language that I don’t understand. Tomorrow morning, I won’t need to use my Korean made “Sure Grip” or my pink palm tree clippers on my birthday, but they’re there if I need them.
Q: Quitting – I’ve always had trouble with this one. I refer you back to the letter D – Divorce. Maybe it’s my DNA. I’ve always had a sense of accomplishment, when I complete a task, I assume everything is stable and it’s time to move to the next objective. Then things come unraveled. I usually look back and ask “what the hell happened?” By then it’s too late. I was taught a basic principle – “you don’t quit on anybody, especially family!” It’s that old-fashioned thinking – “Your word is your bond, period.” Maybe I should go back to the letter “M” and instead of Marriage, the topic should have been “Maintaining”, or maybe not. I haven’t been accused of being a quitter in a long time. I’m not sure that these words cover the topic, but at least it’s open for discussion, if you care to join in.
R: Regrets – In Frank Sinatra’s anthem to the greatest generation “My Way” the second verse starts with the following words: “Regrets, I’ve had a few, But then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do, And saw it through without exemption” My personal regrets, maybe your’s too, center around the words that came out of my mouth that I didn’t mean for public consumption. I’ve been in sales and negotiations for more than 35 years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve literally seen the words that came out my mouth that should have never been spoken, personally and professionally. Once they come out, there is NO taking them back. I’ve been selling cars for almost 19 years and I can remember the customers and the words that killed deals. Once the words are out, they’re out.
S: Scrabble – Scrabble the board game is probably where most of us were introduced to outright lying and cheating.. I’ve always thought that board games were the ultimate challenge of intellect, or so I thought. The game came with printed rules that told you what you could and could not do, period. Every game of Scrabble I’ve ever played ultimately broke down into an argument of whether the tiles on your tray were really a word or not. Maybe if we made candidates for public office play Scrabble on ESPN a week before Election Day, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.
T: Trigonometry – This one will be short for obvious reasons. I don’t know what it is, didn’t even bother to Google it. Somewhere somebody knows what it means and contributes to society. At my age, I have to assume that these are responsible people in charge of something that betters my life and let it go at that. If you have an explanation for trigonometry, I welcome your comments. Seriously.
U: Umbrellas – Something that we all use, right? But when they break, they are absolutely useless. The more you spend on one, the more likely it is to fail you when you need it the most. Someone please tell me what you do with a dripping wet umbrella when you come back inside? Do you put it in the umbrella stand that none of us own? Do you shake the rainwater off of it incessantly before going inside? Do you leave it outside? Here again, I welcome your comments.
V: Visitation – Losing a loved one is tough on a family no matter the circumstances. In the South the family of the departed usually has to make three trips to the funeral home over the course of two or three days. The first trip is the decision-making trip or if the deceased had planned ahead, the confirmation process. The last trip of course is the funeral itself. The second trip, in the south at least, is where the family of the loved one is confronted with pain of loss. Over and over and over. The more beloved the departed the more grievous visitation becomes. The more beloved and well-known , the longer the line of well wishers, the more painful the process. Each person in line tries to provide words of comfort and share special memories. When my Dad passed away he had been employed by one company for almost 40 years and been a leader in his church for over 30 years. It was the most stressful thing that I’ve ever endured in my life up to that point and since then as well. I vote for the elimination of the second trip to the funeral home. But I live in the South and I doubt that will ever completely disappear.
W: Washington, DC – I’ve never been there and probably won’t ever go there. I had a chance to go, but immaturity kept me at home. The time-honored tradition of eighth graders making the spring pilgrimage to the nation’s capital after having studied US History and government escaped me. My grades were good enough, but my conduct in class disqualified me. I stayed behind with a skeleton crew of offenders and we washed windows and other mundane chores as punishment. Washington is a city that has alternatively fascinated me but more recently has repulsed me. Elected officials once served to find compromise in this great country, now they seem only to go to advance narrow positions. It seems as though the behavior now being exhibited in Washington would be better suited for college debate class.
X: The letter X and, while we’re at it, the letter Z – With apologies to the letter Y, these two letters seem intertwined in their usage in 21st century language. Besides, this gives the letter Y prime positioning in concluding this rambling effort. Actually, the intertwining of these two letters didn’t start in this century, but they did get a huge boost in 1958 with the introduction of the Xerox 914. This was the first commercially available copier available and began to replace everything from typewriters and carbon paper to offset printing presses and college exams printed in hideous blue ink. You can see why I have linked these two letters together, Xerox begins and ends with the letter X, but sounds as though it should begin with the letter Z, while it should more likely end in the letters KS. So, would it be nearly so commonly referred to if it had been called ZEROKS? Probably not.
Y: Youth – As I end this, nothing seems more fitting for the final discussion as youth. In sales and I guess writing as well, we always ask the basic questions. Who, What, Why Where, When and of course How? Youth drives everything on our planet, whether we are considering the future of our children, will a new car accommodate the needs of my children, what foods do we prepare in our homes.
Who defines youth? The face I shave most mornings is the same face I’ve been shaving for 50 years. I’m restless when business is slow the same as I was in elementary school when it seemed as though the bell would never ring for recess.
What is youth? Is it when you’re excited to see the first fireflies, or lightning bugs as we call them in the South, of the summer. Or is it that same feeling now related to events like knowing your Social Security deposit is in your bank account?
Why do we lose our youth? Youth is a state of mind, not of body. When I was young, my Dad had several close friends in the neighborhood and one of them was always playing practical jokes at the expense of the group. None of them were harmful, some were simple suggestions indicating advantage of one over another, but there were a couple of quite elaborate ones. One I remember involved and old fire engine siren under one guy’s house that went off in the middle of the night. All of the crawl space and basement doors had new locks on them, so this one went on for quite a while. These guys were in their late 40’s.
Where do spend our youth? This one answer depends on whether you concede that youth actually ends at some point. If you are of this group, then the neighborhood(s) you grew up in or the summer vacations you spent with your parents. If you’re like me, I haven’t grown up yet mentally. Emotionally and physically, yes. But, as I wrote above about my Dad and his friends, I still enjoy workplace humor but now, its much more cerebral and subtle. But trust me, it’s every bit as enjoyable.
When does youth end? For some, it never really gets started and for others it never ends. Death of a parent, divorce and the break-up of a family, addiction or economic circumstances can steal away the smiles, happiness and innocence of youth. When youth is taken away by forces beyond your control the only thing that can help is family, if there is any. If you aren’t that fortunate, then adulthood, in one form or another stares you in the face and is no more welcome than a pair of shoes that are a size too small.
How do we extend our youth? Depending on your psyche, belief system or faith you have different answers. I’m a curious optimist, though more disciplined now. I’ve always been someone who was willing to turn the rock over just to see what was under it. I’m not one of those that quote sayings like “You can’t cheat Father Time” or “Your days are already written in the Book of Life”. That type of outlook to me, focuses on a finite point and that just isn’t me. I have self-diagnosed, not clinically, ADD and I guess that keeps my outlook bright and youthful. Besides, If I’m not here tomorrow, I probably won’t realize it.
If you’re my age, you’ve no doubt had an encounter with corduroy in your life time. As I look back, I’d like to call it the “fabric from hell” but that really wouldn’t be fair. If you were a teenager growing up in the 1960’s, it could be the most embarrassing pair of pants you’d ever wear.
As you walked, you would hear this sound , swish, swish, swish and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t silence the sound you made with every step you took. But corduroy was warmer than normal dress pants and even blue jeans. But corduroy wasn’t limited to just pants.
There were, of course, sports coats and as God is my witness, corduroy suits. The pants were one thing, but coats were another. Here again, the warmth factor was undeniable, but corduroy sport coats were stiff and and offered restricted mobility. Outer coats made of corduroy were more comfortable and if they were lined were certainly warmer.
As an only child, my Mom held disproportionate power over my wardrobe choices, especially when it came to corduroy. I grew up in the era of Sears and Roebuck catalogs and Mom was the first to peruse the newest catalog since she didn’t work and the mail was usually delivered before lunch, every day.
After a day, she had recommendations for my upcoming seasons wardrobe and approached my Dad with a plan as to how I should appear in public. For a period of time during my early years as a teenager, corduroy was the “fabric of my life”, so help me God. Well, as you can guess, the order was placed at the local Sears store and after a few days the phone call came that informed my Mom that the package was in and ready to be picked up.
So it went for several years, then came a reprieve. Corduroy as an element of interior design. The textile company my Dad worked for had a plant already making corduroy, but then that company purchased a plant that dyed and finished corduroy. Soon corduroy came out of the closet and into the living room.
An old floral chair and matching ottoman were the first victims followed by two accent chairs whose cushions were soon history. That was it for a while as the antiquing craze that I mentioned in an earlier post also took hold. the next appearances were simply recovered accent pillows on beds and the two couches. But their was one more target.
I had mentioned that when we sat at the cherry dining table now serving as my work station, it was covered by a tablecloth and a pad. Mother had a rich dark green table cloth for Christmas that set off her Christmas holly china. Soon that china found itself planted on a bright red corduroy table cloth. It never really worked with the gold medium shag carpet. But that’s another story for another time.
There isn’t anything in life that lasts forever, especially the past. Someone is always coming along re-writing it, re-inventing it or re-shaping it. It’s like that with everything I guess. Religion and the church, athletics, the military, family life. It’s all changing and I doubt its ever going to stop.
One thing that caught my attention almost three years ago was the changes in Greek life on campuses. I was fortunate to be involved in a fraternity during my extended tour of a liberal arts college in my hometown. I knew a lot of the guys in my fraternity when I entered college and soon I was a pledge traveling the path to brotherhood.
I did so well my first semester that I made dean’s list. Not the one that is published in your hometown paper, but the one that says “your son or daughter is performing at a prekindergarten level and we will only accept your tuition payments one more semester. The fraternity still loved me, but as a commuting student living at home, my Dad held veto power over my fraternity life.
Interim spring grades came out and the college confirmed that would still accept tuition payments to be applied towards a degree which was now likely a five year endeavor. Shortly after mid terms and spring grades, fraternities always conveniently schedule spring initiations. On April 27, 1973, I became the 63rd initiate of my local chapter of a national fraternity founded right here in South Carolina.
Pi Kappa Phi fraternity bestowed chapter rights on a group founded by local guys that became Gamma Rho Chapter at Lander College in 1970. There were seven founding members and twenty eight charter members. In the fall of 1973 our fraternity was in need of new members and two of my closest friends from high school came aboard with a number of other local guys.
Over the next year we assembled a team that would work together for almost three years. We experienced growth in numbers and our accomplishments were many but we had stumbles along the way. One fall when we had plenty of money, we spent big on “rush season” and got only one pledge that turned out to be a keeper.
His name was Ralph and he was about 6’7″ tall and he was more than welcome on our intramural teams. We called him the “Six Million Dollar Man” reflective of the amount we had spent that fall. As it turned out, Ralph knew other people and that thought our fraternity house was a good place to hang out, growth continued as it was supposed to.
Somewhere along the line, I had dropped out of school and was working. I was still involved, not that I was an alumni, but somehow I was on the board of the Housing Corporation. Now that’s a job that no one wants and everyone should have for at least 10 minutes. You’re responsible for everything these guys do and don’t do.
You pay the rent on the house and every bit of expense associated with it, just like your own home. We had a small problem that reared its ugly head every now and then, the oil fired furnace. In all honesty, this was a problem of our making that took a few years to come back and bite us.
In a nutshell, when we leased that old two story Victorian, we had a budget of a few thousand dollars. The house had no heat, no paint – inside or outside and was missing many other things. We opted for the oil furnace installed on the ground floor level and vents upstairs in the floor directly above the blower. It was a good theory, but it never worked.
Early on, we were a small group and everyone agreed that clothes needed to be worn until bedtime in the winter months. As the years went by and new guys came in, their definition of clothes was different. Winter clothes became shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. The thermostat became the insulating factor for these guys and the oil burned and burned.
What initially was a three tank plan for the cold months became a five tank plan and at more than $300 per tank, you can imagine what that does to your budget. Like I said, everyone ought to be in charge of a fraternity house for about 10 minutes.
As time passed, others took over and I re-enrolled in school, at night. I was married and had a career plan and my employer told me that if I finished my degree in accounting there was a future for me. I was working in the corporate office of a local large privately owned textile company.
The same textile company that held the lease on the fraternity house was my employer. The lease was held by one of their affiliate companies and of course I knew everyone that worked there. From time to time, I would get word that my labor of love, my fraternity was seriously behind on the rent payments. Embarrassed, I would venture forth and find who ever holding the 10 minute job, find out exactly how much cash they had on hand and return with a check that I was sure wouldn’t bounce.
This pattern continued until, I was informed by my employer that the lease was going to be terminated for cause and all back rent would be waived, but eviction would be imminent. There were howls of protest from these people that I barely knew, but they agreed and soon found more modest quarters in not nearly as good of a location.
The sweetener for them was that my employer had signed a contract for the demolition of the old house to begin on the first day of the following month. The contractor began staging equipment on adjacent property for the fraternity to see. Things appeared to be going smoothly and I was relieved.
What I didn’t know was that in true Animal House tradition, they had scheduled one last keg party in the old house on the last night of the month. Everything had been moved out, It was an empty house with electricity and running water that would be disconnected the next morning.
When I was in school and active, we had some parties in that house, but these guys broke all known records for parties that night. Supposedly there were record crowds and the city police paid more than one visit, but apparently no one was arrested.
The house was about three blocks from campus and was situated in a transition area between residential and commercial properties. The visits by the police were not the first and this was about 1980 and we had held the house for seven years. The day after the party was one I wasn’t prepared for at all.
Even though I was no longer actively involved, I was summoned by the property manager who always called about the derelict rent payments. He called my desk phone and said abruptly ” I’m headed to Stanley Avenue and you need to meet there ASAP and he hung up. 506 Stanley Avenue was the address of the fraternity house needless to say.
When I arrived, the property manager was pacing back and forth across the front yard and said let’s go. Up the steps we went and through the wood and beveled glass door we went. As you can imagine, it looked like a keg party had been held there the night before. The carpets were soaked, the place reeked of beer, smoke and whatever else.
The sight I wasn’t prepared for jumped out at me just as I was getting used to the smell. Every window in the house was broken out. I’m talking about 100 year old rolled glass two sash windows that were on average six feet in length. One window at the bottom of the staircase was nearly ten feet in length, it was also broken. Not just cracked, but knocked completely out.
Rolled glass isn’t safety glass. It doesn’t shatter or spider, it pretty much breaks out just like in the movies when a bad guy gets thrown through one. Needless to day in 1980, rolled glass was already rare and valuable. Back to the contract to demolish the house.
An integral part of the contract for demolition was the value of the rolled glass windows, the heart pine floors, the stair case and all of the other beautiful mill work found inside. When the contractor came that morning to verify that he could start work, he called and notified the owner, that the contract wold have to be adjusted to compensate for the damage done to the windows. There was other damage to doors and the staircase, etc.
The reason I was summoned as a witness. My counterpart, the property manager had just taken a serious butt chewing and was told that the owner, my employer fully intended to sue the local fraternity, the housing corporation and perhaps the national fraternity.
Having relayed this message to me with similar force as it had been passed on to him, he patted me on the back and said “we know they don’t have any money or anything of value, but you go tell them what we said.” So I did. I finally located someone responsible for the housing situation and arranged a meeting with a couple of guys that had been at the party the night before.
I forcefully, but calmly delivered the message that legal action against my brothers was looming on the horizon. They were serious looking as I talked. Finally, I asked them: “What exactly happened over there last night?”. The explanation was jaw dropping. It had been a “pony keg” party. Pony kegs are smaller than full sized kegs.
Every time a keg ran out, they simply tossed it out the window it was sitting in from of. Then somebody got the bright idea to go outside and throw it back through the next window and so on and so on. The party was over either when the beer ran out or all of the windows had been broken. I was astounded.
That day was the beginning of the end for my fraternity chapter. Oh they hung in there another thirty years until the fall of 2014. But it was the beginning of the end. They went through periods of time when they had no physical presence in the community.
Then all of a sudden it was on the front page of the local daily newspaper, above the fold. In bold font: LANDER FRATERNITY CHAPTER CLOSED, COLONY SUSPENDED. The article said the chapter was closed by the college, the list of reasons were numerous and the door was closed as long as any current members were still undergraduates.
Ouch! That’s kind of like the “death penalty” in college football. I wasn’t exactly surprised but somewhere down inside of me I was pissed that the one thing I had worked so hard on for so many years was gone. I started making calls to the brothers of my era and was met by a mixture of anger and indifference.
A group Facebook page was soon filled with messages from those wanting to take action and demand that this decision be reversed. A few of us got together for lunch a couple of times and soon wound up dong nothing more than talking about the old times. We were getting nowhere fast.
The Dean of Students was a friend of mine and had been there serving on the college staff from my student days. I sent him an e-mail and soon we were on the phone having a very frank discussion about the events of the last year that had led up to this decision. To put it frank terms, the patient had been on life support for a year and refused to sign a DO NOT RESUSCITATE ORDER.
The chapter had been out begging for money from alumni, calling in favors where they could find them but continued to act as if they were invincible. When the end came, there were no more favors and the money and patience had run out. So that was it. After 44 years, it was over, done and finished. It was hard to accept but time faded.
The results have been played out over and over again across the country on campuses large and small. My national fraternity hired a polling company to e-mail alumni and find out what we thought could be done. I answered honestly and thoughtfully on more than one occasion. What happened to the data they collected, I never heard back.
A couple of months ago I read an article in the Charleston Post and Courier about how the College of Charleston had closed Alpha Chapter, the birthplace of my fraternity. The current President of the college is a gentleman that was a member of Alpha.
He had a long history of of involvement over the years with the fraternity both locally and nationally. He had been a member of the state legislature and had risen to Lt. Governor. But the repeated violations of school policy with no signs of reform or remorse were too much.
When I was in school we partied. But we were always a visible part of the college and tried to give back to our campus and the community. I guess that just doesn’t fit in with the lifestyle anymore.