A Tale of Two Salutes

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

I don’t think there is anyone presently alive that doesn’t think that perhaps the most famous opening line ever written in fiction doesn’t apply to England and theUnited States in the opening two decades of the 21st century.

The contrast seems to be on display on an almost daily basis.  In England there is Brexit struggle – do we go, do we stay.  In the United States there are the ceaseless tweets emanating from President Johnny Pontiac’s unsecured iPhone.  The sides are evenly divided in England, in theUnited States it always seems to be the President against the world, with the President occaisionaly taking on the role of Victim in Chief.

The last several days have provided a clear contrast between the best of times and the worst of times,  the death of President George H W Bush the 41st President of the United States. 41 was probably the last everyman President our generation will see.  There will no doubt be others but not in this half of the 21st century.

41 was a war hero, an ambassador, a spy, a devoted husband, father, grandfather and if you believe Maureen Dowd he was also a closet nice guy to liberal journalists, while the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania ?Avenue is an openly Machiavellian manipulator supreme without shame or scruples.

So there you have it, this week our focus has been drawn to 41 vs 45 as if we are on a nationwide debate as to which Super Bowl ranks as the greatest of all time.  For me it has quietly come down to two very brief moments in the Rotunda of our nation’s capitol.  Two salutes.

One from President Johnny Pontiac with his dark haired Estonian Barbie first lady at his side.  This salute looked so plastic, much like the Esotonian Barbie’s smil.  President Pontiac standing stone faced, no doubt suffering from year sof agony caused by the after effects of stone bruises that prevented him from learning how and when to properly salute.

The other salute, rising from a wheel chair with great difficulty and assistance came from a lifelong competitor, war hero & friend.  Former Senate Majority Leader, permanently disfigured and disabled World War II veteran Bob Dole.

I close my eyes and reflect upon having seen both salutes to the last great everyman President and come to the same conclusion time and again.  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..”

Shut Up and Rake

And there you have it California.  President Johnny Pontiac blew in like a reverse Santa Ana wind from the east and pronounced the solution to your problem.  Rake the forest. Works for Finland, right?

Well not exactly.  It seems as though there are some differences between Johnny Pontiac’s advice and facts, once again.  It seems that the year round climate in Finland is about 60 percent wetter than that of California. Not to mention a large portion is covered in snow 4 or 5 months of the year, has more rain than California and many other factors which have nothing to do with raking.

But facts, truth and other sticking points that many of us contend with while raising children, conducting business with integrity and going about our daily  lives are of no concern for President Johnny Pontiac.

The main concern for President Pontiac is optics. How does it look?  Will the thing that I did or say cause me to become the story and obscure the suffering of others?  It always the same script and the only thing that varies are who is getting attacked by President Pontiac.  And what ever their suffering, it’s nothing in comparison to President Johnny and the wrong done to him or his family.

A caravan of folks walking up from Guatemala, walking a couple of thousand miles has no suffering in comparison to the persecution felt by Ivanka for ignoring government e-mail guidelines.  The thousands of deaths attributable to the hurricane in Puerto Rico are nothing compared to the insults hurled at the paper towel point guard that flew into San Juan for a couple of hours never to be seen again.

And so it goes.  President Pontiac thrives off of the challenge issued by Irving Berlin for the 1946 Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun”.  The line repeated over and over in that song “I can do anything you can do better” is the mantra for President Johnny.

President Johnny can do it better than you, he can insult louder, harder and more hateful than you, and he can be injured more grieveously than people with no electricity, food, water, homes or who have died due to inflated or made up death tolls.

He was doing it long before he got off that escalator and came into our lives on a non-stop basis.  It’s as if President Johnny is like some sort of televangelist that has control of our TV’s, our phones, laptops and computers.  He pops up at will with a new crisis justifying his need for a new private jet.

We can be hopeful that some combination of scandal, indictments or charismic opposition candidate takes Ole Johnny down in 2020.  In the mean time we should all follow his advice and just shut up and rake.

Johnny Pontiac

I just can’t seem to make up my mind these days.  Since my recent unpleasantness on Groundhog Day,  I thought that by now I would have a potential NY Times Best Seller at the printer soon to be ready for Christmas release.  As visions of sugarplum fairies, autograph parties and one hour appearances on C-Span at 3 am danced through my head there was a mid-term election.

I’ve sat here at my keyboard staring at the screen watching the backspace key furiously at work reinterpreting what appears on the screen.  I’m not sure if my problem is a direct result of my recent unpleasantness, the election or the fact that I have spent way too much time on Twitter.  Honestly, I belive its the latter.  It was my intent to write about the former but cardiac hunor is just so dark while Trump humor is so much lighter and happier, right?

I’ve tried, I really have.  I started writing a few weeks ago seeking the answer to the question:  “What if Christopher Hitchens had been at the bottom of the escalator in Trump Tower that ominous day in June of 2015?” But I soon found myself entrapped in Hitchens razor which isn’t really Hitchens’ but nonetheless states that what is asserted without reason can be dismissed wihtout reason.  My only conclusion after several days of thinking about it was that there really is no reason for Donald Trump to exist, so I trashed that one.

Last week I went aligator wrestling with the phrase “Body of Work”.  Once again politics and Twitter dominated my thought process and totally wrecked my writing abilities.  I didn’t see this crash coming.  I thought I would transition from politics and “don’t look at my 50 votes to abolish healthcare” to Heather Densch and the NCAA Bowl Selection mess trying to justify including Ohio State in the College football playoffs again.  Somewhere I thought that I would put a bow on it about 1,800 words down the page. Wrong, another crash and burn.

I think the 300 lb gorilla in the room is Donald Trump.  I don’t just consider him to be a public nuisance, which he is, but the man knows no bounds.  He is even more dominant in American Society than he realizes or he could hope to be.  I curse his very existence and not because I think he is truly evil.  Nope, he knows what he’s doing, well for the most part.

I mean he went to Paris and holed up in his hotel or the Ambassador’s residence and ditched his appearance at an American cemetary commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  Which incidentally was about the time the phrase “the war to end all wars” originated.

This phrase was popularized by H.G.Wells and was the title of his book “The War That Will End War” released as a series of articles starting 1914.  Most know Wells as the author of “War of the Worlds” published in 1898 and popularized that Sunday night in 1938 when a young Orson Welles captured a nation via the radio airwaves.

So then Trump leaves Paris early to fly back to Washington presumably in time for Veterans Day.  Well by 10:00 AM the White House had announced there wouldbe no Presidential events for the day.  No wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  No parade with nuclear weapons, nothing but Executive time.  The man don’t show up and dominates the headlines for doing not one damn thing.

And you wonder why I’m pissed at him.  He reminds me of this guy in the sixth grade named Johnny.  Johnny had a second shift job and drove his Pontiac to school, when he bothered to show up.  That guy did nothing.  Except pushups, he did pushups in the back of the class when he was bored.  Then he’d get up and comb his Vitalis soaked hair in the best Arthur Fonzarelli style.  I need to point out that Happy Days and the Fonz were still about 10 years from coming into our living rooms.

I think I’m going to start calling Trump President Johnny Pontiac.  Maybe then I can put up with his arrogance, constant intrusion onto my television and news feed on my phone.  I’m not going to put down my phone for anyone, not even my cardiologist and I do like him.  I probably need to stop using Twitter because the sub 300 character count is definitely killing my writing style.

But now, I have a new and refreshing perspective.  I’m no longer plagued by the ever intrusive orange headed lout from Queens.  Close your eyes and imagine a new image.  A guy with dark slicked back hair combed into a greasy ducktail wearing a tight white cotton t-shirt, tight jeans, white socks, black lace up shoes and a shiny black leather jacket.

President Johnny Pontiac

Adapting to the fact that I’m no longer Superman, hell I really ain’t Clark Kent either.

Well here I am, the day after my 64th birthday just feeling all mere mortal wondering what happened to my invincibility?  I no longer have the ability to leap over tall buildings in a single bound and I sure as hell can’t out run a speeding bullet.  But I am able to sit here and type and my brain works pretty well, still.

My typing skills seem to have deteriorated and the backspace key more frequently serves as my early warning spell check than in the past.  At first I though it was this laptop but then I have a new company computer at work with a “Chiclet” keyboard.  They both have the same defective keys on the left side of the keyboard.

While my typing skills have fallen off, my eyesight has improved greatly.  I accomplished my main health goal coming in to 2018 a month early.  Yep. I spent about $500 on new progressive lens eye wear and then experienced nausea every time I walked with my eyes open for about two weeks. 

I don’t know about anywhere else, but in South Carolina you can get a driver’s license that serves as an ID when going through TSA to board a plane.  So I got a copy of my birth certificate from the health department and then carried a bank statement, a utility bill, proof of insurance, the renewal form, my old drivers license, my favorite recipe book – just kidding – to the DMV and I now am the holder of a REAL ID and can board a plane with it.

Problem is I haven’t flown since early 1988 and I sell cars for a living.  The only time I go near the airport anymore is on a test drive.  However, my youngest daughter has moved just beyond comfortable driving distance.  She left South Carolina for Salt Lake City and who knows, I may go for a visit.  If I do, I am prepared.

Back to my mortality.  I am enjoying my first weekend off since I returned to work after my recent unpleasantness.  That’s a saying we have been using in the South for the last 150 years or so.  We use it when we refer to something that happened in the past and when we want to claim no responsibility we call it “recent unpleasantness”

Frequent examples here in the South include: “the war of Northern Aggression”, “what happened in November of 2016” and in my case “the events of Groundhog Day 2018”.  Now I don’t totally deny that there is a causal effect between smoking for 45 years and congestive heart failure, it’s just the after effects that I’m not too happy about.

So for the last eight months I have been smoke and alcohol free and I feel better.  Despite my misgivings neither Reynolds Tobacco nor Anheiser-Busch have filed for bankruptcy protection thus far.  There really haven’t been any withdrawal symptoms or mental side effects from giving up that deadly pair.  If there have been any, they are greatly overshadowed by my newfound fear of riding in the back of ambulances.

My breathing is much better and I eat healthy, monitor my sodium intake, take my blood pressure and weigh twice daily and try to make sure that I average least seven to eight thousand steps every day.  I have realized that running is not an option and often joke that I can’t run across the street but at my age I already know whats on the other side anyway.

A couple of months ago I saw where there was going to be a “MAJOR” Cornhole tournament here in Greenville the same weekend as my birthday.  Now I don’t think I’ve ever written about this but a decade ago I played competitive cornhole and traveled around the south in pursuit of my youth while in my 50’s.  I probably won about 40 percent of my matches and a lesser number of tournaments but I had a good time, made a lot of friends and was in pretty good shape for a guy my age.

In reality, I was an average cornhole player about the age of most of the other players parents.  However, I was married to Karen and she was a fantastic photographer with a great eye.  Karen made me and a lot of other guys famous with her wall of Facebook pictures from all the tournaments that we traveled to.  As time went by, we stopped going to tournaments.  We also stopped being married but remain very good friends.

So, back to this weekend I decided to play in this tournament knowing full well that my somewhat lacking skill set from a decade ago would be seriously lacking. A few weeks ago I entered a very competitive social tournament and promptly had my ass handed to me in short order.  I found out that the bags I had played with a decade ago were now outlawed and purchased a set of bags that “everybody likes and uses”.  I attributed my early exit from that tournament in part to these new bags.

In the interim I practiced when I had time with these new bags “that everybody likes and uses” but I just wasn’t comfortable with them.  I did however, find the many things wrong with my delivery, release, arc, foot position and my music list playing in my ears.  But there was still something about those bags.

Well yesterday dawned and it was my 64th birthday and the first day of the two-day tournament.  I ate breakfast, took my morning meds and packed my book bag with a towel, a couple of bananas and “the bags that every body likes” and set off to recapture former glory, yeah right.  I was hoping just not to embarrass myself.

I was virtually one of the first arrivals and my old buddy Ryan, the tournament director, informed me that bags were furnished and that there were four styles available and approved for use.  Well I found a set that closely resembled my old “back in the day” bags.  After a few throws my spirits were buoyed as reality began to resemble my memories.

If you’ve never been to one of these tournaments, you try to get there early and throw for at least a half hour or longer to get loosened up and to find out if the humidity will affect the bags, are your shoes too tight and in general to gauge the competition.  I threw for about an hour stopping only to drink plenty of water.  Remember my recent unpleasantness?

The first event was a blind draw doubles event and I was paired with guy about my age.  I had watched him warm up and figured that we were about the same.  I didn’t think he had a chance to win outright but surely we would win a game or two. 

Then we started throwing.  It was over in six frames and we didn’t score a single point, we got waxed.  My partner and I each gave up about the same number of points but I thought I threw like crap but not really any worse than my partner.

After about a ten minute break we were called back to our losers bracket game.  As I walked over I noticed I was a little wobbly and light-headed but didn’t think too much about it. Once the game started I couldn’t seem to get my feet under me and well you can guess how this game turned out.  We did manage to score about 8 points and prolonged the inevitable until 9 frames.

As I walked away I was extremely dizzy and found my chair and water bottle thinking I just needed a break.  I ate a banana and propped up for a while.  When I got up to refill my water bottle my gait remained unsteady.  So I approached Ryan, told him I didn’t fill like I needed to be there and I would see him the next day.  I got home and ate a lite supper and proceeded to go to sleep for the night at 5:30 in the afternoon. I didn’t get back up until  seven this morning.

When I did get up I felt like I could lay back down and sleep another 14 hours.  The morning proceeded at the pace of a good college hangover morning.  In just 24 hours yesterday’s 64-year-old Superman had become this morning’s ClarkKent that felt like he was 84.  But then again Clark always seemed to be ready to go in his suit, eyeglasses and fedora. Not me.

Today I realize that a couple of hours of leaning over, bending over, walking back and forth playing a simple game like cornhole is now something that I should no longer attempt.  That’s pretty disappointing but I guess this is my new reality.  I really can’t run across the street and now I really do know whats on the other side.

Greeting Mortality

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.

 

 

Lawn jockeys and new friends.

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.

 

 

 

The ABC’s of things that give me pause.

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.