Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas in perspective

A message has been making the rounds on Facebook lately urging people to remember the less fortunate at Christmas. You've probably seen it. It was one of those, “if you agree, post this to your timeline for at least one hour” messages. Like all of those posts that insist you “share” the message I found it annoying. Many of them say something like, "We'll see how many people have their hearts in the right place. I'll bet 97% of you won't re-post this."

You win. I won't.

In this case I “liked” the post because I like the poster but I but didn't share it. Aside from my personal annoyance, like many social media notes it attacked a huge issue with cursory, superficial and ignorant observations.

That's how we roll in 21st Century America.

This particular message was well-intended but not very well written. It not only urges us to think of the hungry, the homeless and those who are facing great physical or emotional challenges and to count our blessings, it kind of makes you feel guilty for being happy.

That's a uniquely American social problem right now. But, I digress...

The message did make me think back to Christmas seasons in my life that were less than completely joyous. There was one in particular.

December 1981: My first wife and I had split up less than a month earlier. I didn't want the divorce but I had to move out of our home, away from the life I still loved and our four-year-old son. I spent that Christmas in an apartment more alone and lonely than I had ever been in my life. I wasn't hungry, homeless or without friends but I was a young man who had always been blessed with a large, loving family, and now my immediate family had splintered. It was not the Christmas I had always been promised.

I was shattered.

Time, as they say, heals all wounds. It also gives us perspective. That lonely Christmas 33 years ago taught me the most important lesson of my life:

Happiness and misery are transitory. Neither will last forever.

In December 1981 I learned that we don't live in a Norman Rockwell world. Christmas isn't filled with nonstop love and joy. Most of us don't have movie-beautiful homes in a soft snowfall with Grandma and Grandpa arriving on the front porch, smiles on their faces, bearing beautifully wrapped gifts and warm hugs.

Some Christmases are happier than others. Some are tragic. Mostly, they are times in our years when our exaggerated expectations fail to meet reality, and yet, we still love them.

As long as a child lives in you there is hope and happiness.

Help the needy when you can. Pray for the less fortunate if you are one who prays, but never let despair or guilt of your blessings mark your joy.

If you agree, share this message. 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good life!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I need a break

You ever get tired of yourself?

We get tired of constantly being around other people. Not always or often, but just occasionally we all need a break from even the people we love most in life: our spouse, our kids, our best buddy. They're not doing anything wrong or bothering you. You love them more than life itself but still, occasionally, you just get a bit weary. We all do. I'm no psychologist but I'm absolutely sure that it's normal and healthy and nothing to worry about. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Or, as Dan Hicks put it in his song by the same name: How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

Have you ever wondered how you can go through your entire life without feeling that way about yourself?

Geez! Everywhere you go, there you are! You wake up and you're there. You go to bed and you go with you. You know everything you're thinking and everything you're going to say before you say it! Doesn't that make you just a little crazy every once in awhile?

You understand yourself better than anybody else. You talk to yourself but you never, I mean NEVER, have an argument. You like the same foods, watch the same TV shows, laugh and cry at the same things and you love the same people.

I swear, sometimes I just need a short break from me. I need to send myself away or take a short vacation and be somebody I never met before.

Admit it, the thought of being with me 24/7 for 62 years is unimaginable, right? Sure it is! You couldn't do it, so why should I be expected to?

I know what you're thinking and, NO! Both of me assures you emphatically I am not having a break down or bordering on being dangerous to myself. I love every moment of this glorious and divine gift we call life. Why would I kill myself? I love me!

Still, sometimes I begin to have a thought and then cut it off with, "Yeah, I know, I know."

Ever feel like that?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Miley Cyrus and Sgt. Carter

I find the public reaction to the Miley Cyrus performance on the Video Music Awards Sunday night both, hopeful and fascinating. Hopeful because it seems we might finally be getting to a point where even the target audience for such acts is getting annoyed, and fascinating because Americans still don't seem to understand why this story lights us up.

In the past couple of days I have seen hundreds of negative reactions to Miley's writhing and grinding and a handful of of opposition postings on Facebook asking why we can't pay more attention to wholesome news, like President Obama's awarding of the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Ty Carter for heroism on the battlefield in Afghanistan. (For the record, we at KLIF in Dallas did talk about Sgt. Carter and his amazing story of bravery but it wasn't an easy story to stumble across. On the other hand, Miley's flesh colored bikini and giant rubber finger was absolutely everywhere.)

From where I sit, Americans have a pretty good handle on what matters in their personal lives and know when their families are under assault. Sgt. Carter is protecting us while Miley is violating our collective sense of decency.

Sgt. Carter stands for the best of all things in this country. He's the latest in a 250 year heritage of heroes we've learned to count on to protect our families and the freedoms we cherish. That's not to say he is taken for granted. He will tell you himself he was doing a job that was expected of him. And he knows we love him for it.

Miley is another matter. She, too, is the latest in a long string of Americans standing up for freedom but the freedom she has embraced is one that threatens our instinctive human modesty. Parents and grandparents see this sort of thing as an assault on the values they've accepted from their own ancestors and are trying to pass on to the next generation. Chief among those values are personal dignity and respect for others.

Sunday night Miley Cyrus tried to advance her career at the expense of little American girls everywhere, teaching them that their primary personal value lies below the waist and between their legs.

I know I sound like my own parents' parents when Elvis first shook his hips onstage in the fifties. My mom and dad had the same problem with the Beatles' outlandish shaking of their famous mop-tops. (It was just their heads, for heaven's sake!) The annoyance of parents is a social tradition. The problem is, as performers push that envelope to more blatant sexuality in order to outdo Gaga and Madonna, as we allow the margin between self respect and self abuse to be blurred, we are allowing one person's freedom of expression to set the tone of acceptability for an entire society.

These days we sometimes forget that freedom of speech includes the right to stand up and say, “Enough!” 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The death of a word

I'm one of those word nerds who drives his family crazy by correcting their speech and writing. I do it to be helpful, I really do. I've learned to lay off my friends in public because people are embarrassed if you point out an error in spelling, punctuation, pronunciation or word choice. They protest, "You know what I mean!", but they're really just embarrassed by their ignorance.

Why, then, are dictionaries enabling rather than challenging them?

English is said to be the most difficult language in the world to master. But, for its complexity it is also the most glorious. There are no true English language synonyms. Every word that essentially means the same as another has its own unique feeling and implication. These implied emotions and judgments allow really good writers to write between the lines, to manipulate perspective and emotions by inference rather than directive.

The best writers never tell you what to think or how to feel, they merely lead the way and allow you to discover yourself in their path.

That's the power of the language. 

Words are my business. I talk on the radio for a living and write a bit on the side, so this stuff is a big deal for me. I don't expect most people to understand or care about the subtleties and nuances of the language. I don't point out slightly off target utterances, not even to my wife, just the ugly errors that may lead people to misunderstand or misjudge her. But I do ask English speakers everywhere to join with me in protest of officially redefining perfectly good, very specific words simply because so many people are too lazy to learn to use them correctly.

The Oxford English Dictionary has thrown in the towel and declared that the constant misuse of the word, 'literally' is now acceptable. It can mean literally or it can be used for emphasis as in, "It was literally raining cats and dogs."

These horribly conflicting definitions are 180 degrees out of sync. The word "literally" is effectively dead.

Education is apparently no longer the Dictionary's purpose. The arbiters of our language seem to have decided it is nobler (and perhaps, more politically correct) to reflect rather than guide communication. In doing this they leave it to the reader or listener to determine if cats and dogs are actually raining down from the sky or if it is 'literally', meaning figuratively, raining cats and dogs.

And what difference does it make, you may ask? In this example, probably none but it does empower hyperbole in ways that make purists like me panic for our sudden blindness.

If I can't trust you to say precisely what you mean or to understand what I'm saying, what is the point in either of us saying anything at all?

These days we're all giving up. We shrug and say, "Whatever." Even the Dictionary is doing it.

We all suffer when our ability to communicate with specificity and clarity is eroded.

I understand that language is fluid and always evolving. I embrace that. I ply my trade using colloquial English and I adore slang, it's the spice that enriches the language but is useless by itself.

Definitions can't be allowed to contradict themselves just because people are lazy. 
At this rate, in a couple of generations communication will have devolved to grunting and pointing at things.

(That's neither literally nor figuratively literal, it's just sarcasm.)

© D.L. Williams, August 16, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

King George VI

A new heir to the British throne was born yesterday. Today his royal parents revealed his name:

George Alexander Louis.

When most of us select names for our children we consider honoring our own parents or grandparents, we think about how the full name sounds in a rhythmic, musical sense. But mostly we just look for names that sound good.

I wonder if Prince William and Princess Kate talked about calling the baby Rory, Jake or Elton? I doubt it. They don't sound royal, do they? No, they certainly had to take the big picture into their thinking.

King George VI does sound richly historic. It gives the modern British monarchy the serious stature of a traditional storybook kingdom of yore.

The cynic in me wonders if William and Kate ever had a real choice at all or if royal scholars brought pressure to bear on naming the new Prince of Cambridge.

Certainly they child has no choice but to live in a fishbowl his entire life.

On one hand I love the fairy tale representation of the British royal family. But from my own, limited, American perspective, I also find it very sad.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sensationalism

As I write this, midday on Tuesday, July 9th, country music superstar Randy Travis is lying a few miles away in a Plano, Texas, hospital fighting for his life. He was admitted last Sunday with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscles caused by a viral infection. At last report he was listed in critical condition.

All of this is being dutifully and accurately reported by the local Dallas and national news media outlets but many of them can't stop there. They can't just tell you the guy is seriously ill and then move on to the next story. Most insist on harkening back to last year when Travis, who lives near Pilot Point, north of Dallas, was arrested twice for offenses related to public drunkenness.

Randy Travis is a very famous man. His arrests were news last year but not now.
Yet, everywhere I looked on the Internet and on TV news this morning I saw Randy's ugly mug shot, the one where he's scowling, sporting a cut over his nose and a black eye. It's a picture taken nearly a year ago when the very sad side of Randy's personal life became humiliatingly public.

It was news then. It's not now. 

Now, Randy Travis is fighting for his life and that alone is apparently not dramatic enough to satisfy the reporting instincts of people who seem to wish they were writing movies rather than news. The media accounts are conflicted, disguised as sympathy while piling on the retelling of Travis' bad behavior nearly a year ago leading the reader/viewer to tie it to his current life-threatening condition.

The implication is clear: Randy Travis is a drunk. He did this to himself. And, from what I can learn by researching viral cardiomyopathy, long term alcohol addiction can, in fact, be a factor. Randy's doctors haven't said that it was and by law they can't. So, without attribution the journalists just suggest it by retelling the story of Travis being cornered drunk and naked one night last year, resisting arrest. Not long after that he reportedly got in a fight.

The nasty mug shot is exciting. Let's bring that back!

And, in our reporting we must sound very sad and noble about it all because it is our uncomfortable duty to impose on this great, though tortured man's privacy and dignity and to reveal his personal demons again, with heavy judgmental implication.

These days it's not enough to simply report the facts, we must give you context and lead you toward a conclusion, suggesting what you should think and how you should feel.

You are the public, after all. You have a right to know.

Update, July 16th, reported by TMZ:

Randy Travis
' heart issues which landed him in the hospital a week ago ... are NOT the result of drug or alcohol abuse, according to his doctors.

Doctors at the Texas hospital where Randy is getting treatment just said -- based on images of Randy's heart -- it's more likely that a family history of cardiomyopathy is to blame for his ongoing heart trouble.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Our Ladybug

For the second time in less than four months I find myself writing about the loss of a pet.

Lady came to CarolAnn and me a few years ago when her master died of old age. Homer was a wonderful neighbor in Glendora. Whenever he went to visit his family out of state Lady stayed with us and gradually became a member of our family. 

From the beginning she was the sweetest animal we've ever known. We loved Cricket more at first because we had loved her longer. But Lady came to us gently, quietly; satisfied with our kindness and patient with our distractions. 

When Cricket died this past February, Lady became the light of our lives.

These pets. They crawl into our hearts and nest there. They ask nothing of us except love and security. In return they give us the most purely selfless devotion that can exist in flesh and bone.

They won't quit on you, no matter what.

When your heart aches they flood it with comfort. 

Lady died as she lived: quietly, with gratitude and never a complaint.

If you ever had a dog that loved you, you know the love of God. 
  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

No biggie.

May 6th - AC stops working in our Toyota Sienna minivan.
May 7th - Toyota dealership fixed AC, $759.45.
June 7th - AC stops working again.
June 8th - Toyota dealership determines the new part broke and they don't have another one. They tell me to bring it back Tuesday, June 11th.
June 7, 8, 9, 10 - Hot days, driving with no AC. Then, back to the dealership...
June 11th - They still don't have the part. Nobody ordered it. They'll call me in the morning.
June 12th - They did not call. I called them. Yes, they have the part! Bring in the van, we'll fix it and give you a free rental car.
June 12th - I take the van back to the dealership. They have the part but no rental car. Guy says they will call me tomorrow. I drive home with no AC.

...to be continued...

But here's the point:

Three or four guys dropped the ball and I will be talking with the service department manager soon. Still, this is life. Stuff happens. People screw up everyday. I sure do.

I'm home now in the air conditioned house. I'm healthy. My family loves me. I'm happy. The stupid AC will get fixed sooner rather than later.

As Jimmy Buffett said, "Life is just a tire swing."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Our silver anniversary

Our wedding carriage with the fringe on the top.
Yesterday was our silver anniversary. Carolann and I have been married for 25 years. Like everybody else who is blessed to reach this milestone we keep wondering, where did the time go?

25 years!

It sounds so long but lived so fast.

Our kids were kids. Jeremy had just turned eleven, Nathan was only seven. The four of us shared a Western wedding at Milhaus Ranch just outside of Nevada City, California, a June day that began overcast and ended with sunshine streaming through a tiny break in dark gray clouds; a single ray of sunlight that landed on nobody but the two of us standing before the covered wagon altar. At the time everybody said it was a sign of God's blessing.

Now I'm thinking maybe it was.

In our memories and photo albums 25 years is all a happy blur. We remember (or reinvent) the best of times vividly. The rough patches just seem like faint scrapes on a perfectly aging portrait.

Yesterday somebody asked the secret to our marriage. It's no secret, I said. We were good friends before we fell in love and we make each other laugh.

Milhaus Ranch, June 4, 1988
Very rarely we make each other cry.

A good marriage is like a carousel ride. You go up and down, around and around, accompanied by weird, happy music.

You laugh a lot.

And it seems like it will last forever.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Just ice cream

Last night I lost a crown while eating ice cream.

Let me repeat and clarify that: a gold crown fell off of a tooth while I was eating ice cream. Not while I was chewing on taffy or beef jerky...

Ice cream.
  
Not crunchy butter brickle ice cream; not nutty sundae, rocky road or Ben and Jerry's Preposterous Peanut Brutal ice cream...

Just regular chocolate ice cream.

And guess what? It doesn't hurt at all, not a bit. I have no need to rush to a dentist for an extortionately priced bicuspid emergency. The tooth has been dead for years. My whole mouth is dead, apparently. I'm just going to leave it be.

And that, friends, is the thin silvery lining surrounding the big black cloud of aging. When you reach a certain point pain apparently serves no purpose.

Willie Nelson famously said, "I've outlived my pecker." I'm pleased to report I have only outlived the nerve endings in my gums.

Yippee? 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

First kiss

I got my first kiss from a girl when I was in third grade. That's what, about eight years old? That seems ridiculous, though I'm sure I was there.

Her name was Mary Alice Brannon and I recall her only vaguely before and after the moment she appeared out of nowhere and, for no reason I can recall or imagine, kissed me on the playground.

Let the record show I did not return the kiss, but I liked it. 
 
I don't remember if either of us said anything before or after the kiss. I don't remember if I thought she was cute before then, though I sure as heck thought so afterward. 

And let's stop for a moment right there and ponder something psychologists have no doubt picked apart into tiny, tasteless, tedious pieces:
How can pre-pre-pre-pubescent kids be instinctively attracted to a person of the opposite sex? Isn't there a biological component required to engage a chemical reaction that third graders haven't begun to physically develop? 

I didn't desire Mary Alice and I'm pretty sure she didn't have any such feeling for me, either. We were eight, we weren't capable of desire.

So, why was it a happy thing? Mary Alice kissed me on the cheek and I liked it. 

But, why?

She was a beauty, I remember that. She had long reddish brown curls and a light complexion befitting her apparently Irish surname.

If I was writing a sizzling novel of elementary school lust I'd probably describe her skin as "florid" and I'd throw in a passage about the flirtatious, dancing fire in her eyes. That's the way I remember her now, anyway. The experience of an eight-year-old sifted through five-plus decades of life is very sketchy and requires a dash of imagination.

Mary Alice had an older brother named Bradley, I remember that for sure. He was probably in fifth grade at the time. I steered clear of Brad because he was just too cool to approach, Eddie Haskell to my Beaver Cleaver. And, because I was afraid he'd find out what happened on the playground that day and beat the ever-loving snot out of me even though it was his sister who had kissed me, not the other way around!

But I didn't just fear Brad, I envied him, too. Brad was grown up (ten or eleven!) and cool. He lived in the same house as Mary Alice. He watched TV with her, ate dinner with her, went on vacation with her for cripes sake and probably even saw her every night and morning in her pajamas!

Mary Alice Brannon changed me forever. She injected an Adam and Eve aspect into my life I couldn't possibly understand at the time and still don't. But I do remember that moment.

She kissed my cheek and I liked it.

Though I have no idea why.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No worries

Like you, I worry a bit. Okay, maybe more than a bit. We all do.

We worry about our jobs and money, our personal relationships and whether our kids are healthy and happy.

We worry about big stuff like climate change and politics, we stress over little stuff  like our weight or a new gray hair.

Worry, worry, worry!

We even worry about that.

On  Friday September 12, 2008, 25 people got out of their beds long before dawn, prepared themselves for work, kissed their families good-bye, left the house and died. They were killed in a freak commuter train crash in Southern California. My KNX radio partner, Vickie Moore, and I told their stories with relative dispassion because that was our job but I never got over the soul-jarring realization that you can walk out of your home one morning and never return.

It happens every day all over the world, of course, but we never imagine it happening to us. Among all the trivial stuff we worry about it never occurs to us to be worried about sudden, dumb luck death.

It happened last night in the nearby, very small town of West, Texas, which one resident described on the radio this morning as "a Mayberry kind of place." There was a fertilizer factory in West which employed and supported a good portion of the 2,600 people who live in the town. It caught fire at 7:30 p.m. and 25 minutes later it blew away everything within a five block radius.

Now, almost 18 hours later, they're still looking for bodies, alive and dead. Texas officials tend to play their cards quietly. Ten hours ago they allowed that there may be as many as five to 15 deaths. Most likely there are dozens of others who died with no warning, people who hadn't even been aware of the fire but were close enough to have life literally blown out of them as if they were birthday candles while they finished supper, watched TV with their families and fed their dogs.

When things like this happen and my work day is done I wonder about that. What's it like to die with absolutely no warning? One moment you can be laughing and the next moment you're nothing.

There is no sense to be made of this sort of thing.

But today I'm not worried about anything. Nothing at all.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A true baseball story

It's early April. The North Texas wind is, as they say, blowing like a bandit. White, fluffy clouds are scooting east fast, and I have that comforting, aching feeling again, the one I've had every March and April of my life in memory.

Soggy dirt, wet grass and chilly afternoons.

Baseball season is back.

Roughly 47 or 48 years ago, when I was a kid of 13 or 14, I spent my summer days on a baseball field on Thomas Drive, one block over from my home with my buddy, Norm Miller. We always got there early and that's where we spent our days.

Sometimes we were eventually joined by other kids. Often we were not. Didn't matter to us. Norm and I would throw baseballs to each other, taking turns swinging for non-existent fences, absorbing imagined cheers from the imagined crowd.

We peopled our fantasy with our Northern California heroes of the early 1960s: Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal and Hart. We gave them reality by batting left or right handed as they did. We announced their advancement to the plate at Candlestick Park:

"The batter, number 12, Jim Davenport!"

That's how Norm and I spent our spring weekends and summer afternoons, in baseball heaven.

Late one afternoon a man wandered up behind the backstop and watched for awhile as I threw slow fastballs and flat curves to Norm, who was always a sucker for any pitch high and away.

Balding, portly and puffing on a cigar the man behind the backstop watched. Norm and I thought nothing of him until he finally hollered, "Hey! Mind if I take a swing?"

In those days it never occurred to any kid to say no to any adult request. It never occurred to us that his request was weird or that we should run for our lives and report the strange, fat, balding cigar sucker as a potential child molestor.

He just wanted to hit a baseball and we said, "Sure".

Together, Norm and I had acquired a kid's treasure trove of baseballs. We had maybe three or four between us. Some of them had their covers taped shut, maybe one had its seams intact. That's the one I picked up as Norm ran out to center field.

Something told me I needed to show this guy my best stuff. I was only 13 or 14 but on that particular day I had never been older and I had never played baseball with an adult.

I concentrated, made my best imitation of scraping my toe at the pitching rubber, peered in at the non-existent sign from non-existent Tom Haller and fired in my best non-existent fast ball.

"Thwack!"

The fat, bald guy slammed it on a line into centerfield and hadn't missed a puff from his cigar.

Two or three more times I threw baseballs as hard as I could and the old man peppered them around the deepest outfields, left to right. Poor Norm Miller was run ragged shagging them down.

The old man smiled, dropped the cigar on the grass beside him and got down to business.

"THWACK! THWACK! THWACK!"


He slammed everything I had that came anywhere near the plate. A couple of pitches, the ones twelve or fifteen feet away, he let pass, easily ducking the ones that were boring in straight for his head.

It ended when the bat in his hand splintered. You could say it simply gave up, glued, nailed and taped together as it had been to begin with.

And when the old, fat, cigar-chomper came out to the field, grinning from ear to ear and offering to pay for the bat, we asked him -- with the ignorant innocence of youth: "Did you ever play baseball?"

He smiled again and took the wallet out of his back pocket. Then he carefully fished out a yellow newspaper clipping nearly twenty years old.

I'm sorry to say it didn't mean anything to me at the time and I remember nothing about it now. But his wallet also displayed his driver's license, and having never seen one from New York before it caught my attention:

Carl Furillo.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Carl Anthony Furillo (March 8, 1922 – January 21, 1989), nicknamed "The Reading Rifle" and "Skoonj," was a right fielder in Major League Baseball who played his entire career for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. A member of seven National League champions from 1947 to 1959, he batted over .300 five times, winning the 1953 batting title with a .344 average – then the highest by a right-handed Dodger since 1900. Noted for his strong and accurate throwing arm, he recorded 10 or more assists in nine consecutive seasons, leading the league twice, and retired with the fifth most games in right field (1408) in NL history.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

I'm a morning person.

Did you know that people really do have biological rhythms which define us as morning people or night people? Neuroscientists have discovered some fascinating differences in how our brains are wired.

For one thing, night people apparently get stronger and more energetic as evening grows late. We morning people tend to hit our peak well before noon and then our energy and brain functions level off until drowsiness overtakes us just after the evening meal.

On the other hand, morning people are supposedly happier than night people! Who would have guessed that? I always suspected there was a party starting just as I was going to bed. That's apparently a large part of the problem for you owls. One study calls it "social jet lag," a disruption of circadian rhythms caused when you stay up late but are forced by responsibilities to get up early the next morning whether you want to or not.

(And by the way, your grumpiness really puts a damper on our bubbly morning effervescence. Try to keep it to yourself, okay?)

Here's one final scientific finding that supports everything we've long believed: the older we get almost all of us become morning people even if we were night people when we were younger.

Does this sound a bit suspicious to you? I believe the science but the more I read I keep coming back to a physical reality that circadian studies just don't seem to support.

I'm tired because I'm old. I wake up at four or five a.m. because I fell asleep in front of the TV ten hours ago.

Stick that in your MRI and smoke it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Our little guy


I've been calling him, "Twirp" but I have to stop.

We found this Yorkie just over a week ago in a pet adoption center at the Dallas Irish Festival. He's eight years-old. The adoption agency told us he was a "surrender", meaning the people who owned him gave him up voluntarily. I suppose there are a thousand reasons you might give up a precious, loving companion but I can't think of even one.


His name was Fonzie, but we didn't care for that. So, after a couple of days of trying out different monikers we finally settled on a name that had belonged to Sharmayne's dog and fit him perfectly. We decided to call him, Gizmo.

He's a five pound bag of bones, too skinny, and he has bad breath. But he came with very official veterinary papers assuring us that he is healthy and has been through the gamut of examinations, procedures and vaccinations needed to offer a healthy animal for adoption.

Yesterday we took him to our vet for a checkup and to find out why he's so skinny. The staff cooed and pampered him, gave us some meds just in case he has a vile creature living inside his gut and feasting on the food we provide.

Gizmo. Not "Twirp", even though he keeps annoying the cat and confounding Carolann and me.

He's very well house-trained. He eats everything he can get his mouth on but for now he's still a bag of bones.

Gizmo looks at us intently with big, mysterious eyes.

He sleeps between Carolann and me. When we're at work we talk on the phone about how he's adapting and whether he and the cat, Cora, will learn to put up with each other.

We give Lady special attention now that Cricket is gone and she's the reluctant queen of our hearts. But Gizmo is finding room in there.

Our baby girl is gone and can never be replaced.

Still, it's nice to know that our hearts are big enough for a skinny bag of bones with bad breath and big, Margaret Keane eyes.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Our baby girl

Cricket is gone.

I miss her jumping with excitement simply because I'm home from work, and at night when she snuggled in my arm alongside me in bed as we fell asleep together in security and comfort.

She's not here to gently tap my face with a soft, insistent paw to tell me she's hungry or thirsty or needs to go outside.

She'll never lick my nose again to comfort me when I cry.

Our baby girl died Thursday.

If you ever had a dog that could make your eyes tear with love for no particular reason; a dog who could lift you from the depths of sadness and pain by simply nudging your face with a cold nose and bright eyes, you are a believer.

For me God has the face and the endless, unqualified love of a Yorkie named Cricket.

She crawled inside my soul and will live there forever.






Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Clara's a quitter

Clara Cowell stopped smoking last week and chose her birthday to mark the occasion. 

Her 102nd birthday. 

The British mother of four, grandmother of nine, great grandmother of 12, and great-great grandmother of four decided, after 89 years and tens of thousands of cigarettes, she might be pushing her luck.

Clara’s 72 year-old daughter is more concerned that her mom might be tempting fate. She says the secret to Clara's longevity has been a lifetime of cigarettes and whiskey. Why stop now? She said it cheeky but may have a point.

Everybody knows that smoking is bad for your health, it’s not arguable, but when I read a story like this I wonder if our culture-driven fears aren’t at least as hazardous as the actual risk factors. 

Why are we all so scared? Because we're told we must be. We live our lives surrounded by warning labels and bombarded with real-life horror stories mixed with rumors and urban legends. We’re scared of cancer and heart disease and every sort of illness whether attributable to poor nutrition and lousy lifestyle decisions or just dumb luck and dna.

We live in constant fear of things that will probably never happen.

And here’s the kicker, the ultimate damned-if-you-do-or-don't irony: the same health experts who shake their fingers at us when we eat a Big Mac or don't get enough sleep insist that stress will kill us deader than anything else. 

Yes, of course we should be careful when we’re driving and mindful of how much bad stuff we ingest but is a lifetime of worry helpful in any way? Of course it isn’t. 

Lynda Fowler and her 102 years old mum, Clara Cowell
Hand-wringing worrywarts are everywhere. They warn us with no uncertain gravity that sugar and butter are bad for us but artificial sweeteners and butter substitutes may be even worse. They extol the virtues of exercise and then some famous long distance runner drops dead from a heart attack.

Sure, don’t smoke. But, diet drinks? Less red meat? I don’t know.

I think we can be too careful. And when you see a 102 year-old woman giving up cigarettes after 90 years I think there are times when a pound of prevention is a silly concession to cultural prejudice.

Moderation in all things, especially moderation.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sharmayne

I've often thought how strange it is that we never get tired of our own company.

I suppose some slightly screwed-up people might hate themselves but if we're reasonably well-adjusted and strive to be good we can pretty much live comfortably with ourselves for every minute of our lives. It's really amazing when you think about it. And it's nearly impossible to honestly say that about anybody else. Even the closest husbands and wives need a bit of separation now and then.

As Kahlil Gibran so perfectly instructed, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.”

If you're really lucky, maybe once or twice in a lifetime you'll meet somebody who makes you feel valid, love-worthy and whole; somebody who is as comfortable to be with as you are in your own skin.

I was really lucky. I met Sharmayne.

The funny thing about our friendship is I can't remember when or how it began. I'm sure we met at Stagedoor Comedy Playhouse and I know it was more than thirty-five years ago but the specifics just don't exist in my memory. Over time I've learned to shrug it off and just accept the fact that Sharmayne and I have always been together.

And, I'll tell you something else: we always will.

Sharmayne and I were always able to talk about everything without shame or discomfort. Often we didn't talk at all. We could, and did, sit together in a car for many miles comfortably lost in our own thoughts together. And when we did talk the natural understanding we shared always had us peppering our conversation with knowing nods and exclamations of, “Yes, exactly!”

We talked a lot in her final year of life and we held nothing back. There was no need because sharing our thoughts was as natural to us as having them in the first place.

Some months ago, before Carolann and I moved to Texas, I sat with Sharmayne just after she had stopped working and was fully involved in her cancer treatments. I asked her if she was in pain and she said, no, not usually but that every little ache or the slightest cough scared her. At the time the finality of her illness wasn't a foregone conclusion. She was still fighting hard to win and live. I asked her if she was afraid to die and she said she didn't know. It's actually a very difficult question to answer, having never died before. We agreed on that and thought it was kind of funny.

Talking about the cancer and the unknown path of her immediate future – whatever may remain of it – didn't upset her. When she did cry it was when we talked of Olivia and Lorelei. Sharmayne had lived more than 62 years and didn't regret a thing but the idea of not watching her daughter's daily journey through life and motherhood or her granddaughter's full blossom pissed her off. It wasn't fair, she said. She told me that giving life to her daughter and watching her grow, sometimes by the minute, was the miracle that had given her life all its meaning.

“Yes, exactly,” I agreed.

But as much as that hurt her heart, Sharmayne's only fear was that her granddaughter wouldn't remember her. I tried to assure her that she would but frankly, I remember darn little about the people in my life when I was five and of course that was the first thing Sharmayne pointed out in response.

Those days on Tom and Sharmayne's couch led to many long phone calls between California and Texas. And, I don't want to give the impression that our conversations were all sad ones. Quite the opposite. Our time together gave us wonderful shared memories and we relived them often.

In early December Sharmayne and Tom decided I needed to come for a final visit. I wanted desperately to do so but couldn't afford it. They made it possible and for that I will always be grateful.

Ridiculous as it sounds given our natural bond I was nervous as I approached Sharmayne's bedroom for that final goodbye. I had spent four days on the road wondering what I could say that would be loving and warm without being maudlin or reeking of false bravado. Would she cry? Would I? I expected we would and I knew it would be okay but still, I was nervous as I entered the room.

Sharmayne was lying in her hospital bed, a bit groggy from her meds and having just awakened. I admit to being a little shocked at her appearance because she seemed older and more frail than I had ever seen her. It was to be expected, I guess, but I hadn't thought about it before that moment. And, she was bald, of course. That didn't bother me in the least but it was a dose of the reality I was only now beginning to see. But then she looked at me and smiled and all was right with the world again.
 
This was Sharmayne as I had always known and loved her.

“David,” she said simply, “I like your hair.”

“I like yours,” I replied with a grin.

“Liar,” she shot back. And fear left the room.

Over the course of the next few days we did our usual reminiscing. We talked about how our kids had grown up together and how astonishingly perfect they had both become despite our serious flaws. We remembered road trips and theater parties and jazz festivals and the people we had known back to a time that seemed to promise forever. We didn't talk much about her illness at that point. We weren't avoiding it, it just seemed unnecessary. She was resigned to the truth and we were both making peace with it.

A small tear did trickle down her cheek when I hugged her goodbye. Mine too, of course. But as I turned back at the door to give her a little wave before I walked away the truth of what little we had just told each other draped me like a warm blanket on a cold and dreary day.

This isn't goodbye, we said. We could no more lose or leave each other than if we had never existed.

I asked her to be there for me when I arrive and she promised she will.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Beautiful Existence

This morning on my Dallas radio show I shared the story of a woman in Seattle who has gotten some minor national attention for her resolve to eat every single meal of her life this year at Starbucks. Eleven days into the year she's apparently on track.

The source story doesn't say why she wants to do this. She says she's not employed by Starbucks and isn't making any money for the stunt but I suspect that's her plan. We all remember the young guy named Jared who became a spokesman for Subway sandwich shops by losing a boatload of weight eating there. If this is what this Starbucks woman has in mind, I kind of feel bad for her. For one thing, it has already been done. And really, Starbucks doesn't need any help. They're so successful they're opening new stores on both sides of every McDonalds in the world. The other problem is that for every fru-fru croissant and muffin they put in the display case leading to the cash register Starbucks is still basically a purveyor of coffee. Jared didn't get the best-balanced diet in the world at Subway but at least he got a reasonable portion of veggies and some protein with his carbs. Ms. Existence may find her health flagging by the end of February.

Wait, I didn't tell you her name, did I? It's Beautiful Existence.

Apparently that is her legal name and if you're boringly normal like me your first thought is that she's a nutball. That's what I thought but after a few seconds of reflection it occurred to me that this woman, for whatever reasons related to her life experience, lives on a different plane than most of us. She travels to the beat of a different drummer. A drummer with a banjo.

My good friend Chuck Woodbury spent many years of his young adult life traveling around the western United States in a motorhome gathering and reporting the stories of such people in an wonderful monthly publication called Out West.  One story was about a young man Chuck met in some small town in Utah or Wyoming. The details escape me but I think this guy's name was David. He earned a living as a dishwasher in a local cafe. He spent all of his spare time at home, alone, with one of those adding machines from the 80s that kept running tabulations on a long roll of paper. He started with 1+1=2 and proceeded from there to add 1 over and over and over and over and over again. This guy had his house filled with carefully cataloged rolls of used adding machine tapes.

Before I left work this morning I wrote and recorded a radio report about Ms. Existence at Starbucks for use later in the day and I can't stop thinking about her. She might be a nutball or she might be just a Jared copycat.

David, the adding machine dishwasher, might be a genuine looney from where I sit.

On the other hand, "crazy" is a slippery word and though I don't know any of the trials and tribulations of the lives experienced by Beautiful Existence or David the dishwasher, part of me greatly envies them.

They wake up every morning with a plan, they follow through and go to bed each night with a sense of fulfillment.

They serve nobody's expectations except their own.

If that isn't life well-lived, what is?
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