decency

I walked in the door after finishing a job today and as soon as I saw Mum’s face, I knew something had happened. She was shaking as she held the phone in her hand.
“What happened?”, I asked her. As she explained, my blood began to boil.
She got a call. The caller identified himself as her Grandson. She asked which one. The caller, not prepared for the question asked, “which one do you think?” Big Red Flag. He did not know the name of my boys. The caller began to tell a tale of Covid testing, positive results, then a ensuing traffic stop which rendered my (supposed) boy in jail and in need of bailing out. She hung up on him and immediately called my son on his cell. He confirmed that he had made no such call. Meanwhile, the caller called another 4 times. All were ignored.

We’ve spent the better part of the afternoon calling the local and state police as well as the AG’s office. The number, traced back to Toronto, is on file and hopefully being investigated. The important thing is obviously no harm has come to my son. But my poor mother, having to briefly process the unthinkable. It infuriates me. How many times in my life do I have to ask the question,
“What is wrong with people?”

I don’t fear aging, I don’t worry about dying. I do, however, worry about being at a stage in life where I may become vulnerable to the ever increasing predatory scams perpetrated by people who will easily take advantage of the naturally protective and loving nature of people for the reward of a few dollars. It is daunting to realize that there really is no limit to how low someone will go to steal from another, and the bar is being set lower all the time.

For all of the advances we have made in society, we seem to lose another piece of humanity. If only people put as much effort into ways that we can be better as a society as they do into creating ways to defraud and cheat. The distrust that such behavior causes is irreversible and erodes at the very fabric of society. Want to see how bad it is? Say hi to a complete stranger in passing and watch their face, they will be 50 yards away from you before they recover enough from the surprise, ask themselves 35 ways to Sunday why you just greeted them (what do they really want!) and decide whether or not to respond. If you really want to mess with someone, sit next to them on a park bench or on public transportation. It will likely induce fear in someone.

Respect, courtesy and tolerance are all but gone in our society. Bad behavior is the norm. Volume is the new tool against logic, reason and listening. Facts are inconvenient and the truth is considered hurtful. But I know that many people, in their heart of hearts, want to believe in the good in people. They want to trust someone at their word and not have to assume the worst. Unfortunately, that basic desire is being challenged every day by unscrupulous and greedy people. Once trust is lost, I fear there is no coming back from that.

I will continue to try to see the good in people. One thing I have always believed is that there is good in everyone and I will always try to find it. I hope that I never lose that. It’s not an easy task, people test it every day. For now, I will say this.

I believe most people are good and that we only hear about the bad ones.

Spoons

“Got any spoons in the drawer today?”
“1 or 2”, Adam sipped his Chinese Tea, his chubby face forcing a smile. “I need to be careful that I don’t use them all today.”
“Gotcha.” It was a familiar conversation between him and me. Once a month we’d get together at the Asian buffet and catch up over lunch. Each time I saw him I hoped that he would look better, but it was not to be.

Spoons? you ask? I am speaking of the “Spoon Theory”, the metaphor chronically ill people use to discuss their energy level.

  • A person has roughly the same amount of energy each day.
  • Each unit of energy is represented by a spoon.
  • Healthy people have more spoons (energy) than those with an illness that causes chronic fatigue.
  • Some activities cost more spoons than others.

To my friends with a chronic illness, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then I hope you never do. Adam was all about the Spoons. If there ever was a guy that needed more, it was him.

I first saw Adam at a Masonic District meeting. He was sitting in the back corner of the room, listening intently. I was taken back by his appearance. He was very overweight, his clothes were too tight. His pantleg barely covered his absurdly swollen ankles. I was 90% sure that it was due to medications, likely steroids. I inquired about him to a fellow brother and he confirmed my suspicions.
There was a cocktail hour after the meeting and I waited patiently for a chance to introduce myself. He had a constant flow of people coming over to him and talk but I found my opening and went over to his table. sat down and said hi.
He would become one of my best friends.

Adam lived at home. 2 streets over from me. He lived with his parents after a series of heartbreaks rocked his world. A Cancer diagnosis at age 30. A recovery against a survival rate of 15% two years later. A divorce that cost him his house because his wife couldn’t handle him being sick. Visitation with his son every other weekend, which was tough for him because he hated his young son seeing how sick he was.
But he pushed on, despite the lack of spoons. He always had that smile.

In the time that I knew Adam, I learned volumes about the value of not complaining. Often, people make the mistake of greeting someone with a “how are you?”. Some people feel inclined to actually tell you, not recognizing it as a mere formality. Adam would always smile and say “good”. Even when we all knew he wasn’t. In the course of the 6 years that I knew him, he had 2 near-fatal infections, a stroke, a pacemaker installed, 2 new knees and a hip. Not to mention 2 other lengthy stays in the hospital for fatigue, one of which almost killed him. It was exhausting to be his friend because we worried about him so often. But it’s a labor I will never write off as unworthy, for he was as good a friend as any, and his ability to ask how everyone else is doing when he was clearly suffering just exemplified his kind and selfless nature. Truth be told, he didn’t like to talk about his health. Not unlike most Chronically ill people, he hated being the “sick guy” and wanted to be treated as “normal”. I’ve been there, I often longed for someone to greet me just once without saying “how are you feeling?”.
That’s why we limited most of our conversations about our respective help to spoon talk. It became our thing.

Adam never truly recovered from the Cancer. In medicine, for every action there is a reaction. For every cure, there is a side effect and a new set of symptoms. And another pill. The treatments are what ultimately killed him.
10 years after he was “cured”, he was dead. Out of spoons at 40 years young.

I miss my good friend. I miss his kindness. His self-deprecating jokes. His drive to do something, anything, every day just to feel normal inspires me. His memory serves to make me a better man, one that thinks of others before self. See, therein lies the secret and once you learn it you can’t unlearn it.

When you are thinking and acting on someone else’s needs, your own problems disappear. Even if for only a moment.

I wonder if he knows that every time I go to the drawer for a spoon, I think of him.

the Caretaker

My mom is 75. Up until this year she worked. Not because she needs to, she just likes to be busy. Working with Special Needs children here in town gave her so much satisfaction. But, with Covid being what it is, and my health (I’m in the most vulnerable category there is), she took a leave of absence.
I hate that she had to do that, knowing that she did it for me.

She has been relentlessly puttering about the house looking for something to clean. Something to sew. Projects to complete. It’s confusing to me because she has a RV ready to go in the driveway, a boyfriend that is always telling her that she should quit working (she does not need the money) and travel with him, and she has me to watch her house should she choose to go someplace.

A month in and she hasn’t spent any additional time with her boyfriend and she has made zero effort to make any plans whatsoever. The other day I asked her about it.
“What, are you trying to get rid of me?”, she asked.
I explained to her that I just want her to enjoy her retirement, to take advantage of not having financial constraints, to do all of the things that I long to but can’t due to the rigorous demands of my dialysis schedule. We talked about it and she was uncharacteristically quiet. I got frustrated and asked her why again. She spun around with a face on that I haven’t seen in years.
“Bill, do you remember what happened 2 years ago?” You would be dead right now if I hadn’t been here!” She was on the edge of tears.

There it is. The truth comes out, and an inconvenient one at that. Despite all efforts to the contrary, beneath it all I am a burden to her.

My mother is a Caretaker. She cared for both of her parents during their decline and she, with little help from the Teamsters, VA and Medicare, cared for my father as he succumbed to Parkinson’s over an eight year period. It took almost everything out of her. She put her life on hold for him. Once he passed, I had hoped that her caretaking days are over. In her eyes, clearly they are not.

I can see why she feels this way. You never stop being a parent, no matter how old your children are. I can’t imagine how she felt to come upstairs to my loft, after calling my name several times with no answer, to find me on the floor unconscious. Does it matter that I was 53 years old at the time? No, she was terrified and thought her only child was dead. It changed her, she is burdened with walking around with that image in her head. And she’s afraid that if she goes away it could happen again.

I’m smarter now about being honest about my health. I tried to assure her that I know enough to call 911 if I am in trouble. But she is standing firm. It is what I love and hate about her.

I want to be so many things in life. A burden is not one of them. I wish I could erase that whole ordeal from her mind. But I can’t. It happened and in her eyes she is permanently vigilant in the event that it will again.

I’m forever the burden, she’s forever the caretaker. That’s what being a parent is. If you do it right, it never ends no matter how old they are.

The wayback machine

“Mr. Peabody, set the Wayback machine to 1976…”

Music is transformative. Music is time travel. The right song, as it drifts through the speakers, has countless beautiful memories clinging to it. I’ve gotten away from music for a long time. Apparently my grey hair dictated to me that talk radio about sports and politics was the only thing for me. Sure, it was intellectually stimulating, but nothing reminds me of how beautiful life is and was like music.

Today as I was driving back from the clinic I had the volume low on the car stereo. I was thinking about the morning while simultaneously planning my day when I heard a magical strumming of guitar faintly playing. I immediately turned it up to see if it was…YES it was Bob Seger’s Night Moves. I turned it up as loud as it can go.

Sooooooo many memories. I think I have been delighted every time this song ever came on the radio but today I went all the way back. Back to the days of AM Radio. I recalled the small transistor radio that only got 3 stations and working outside in the fall air when I was 11 years old. I vividly remember splitting wood in the cool afternoon air. I should have been cold but I was in a t shirt and jeans and the chill of the autumn air didn’t faze me. The older kids drove by with their car stereos blaring, the neighborhood kids of my age stopped by and asked me to join them in a football game. I declined. I wanted to get my work done just so that I could see the pleased look on my Dad’s face when he came home from work.

The neighborhood kids didn’t understand. Not only did I need to do my chores because we needed the wood to heat the house in the pending winter, but I also liked the work. I felt strong as I swung the 8 pound splitting maul. The cool afternoon breeze cooled my brow. I felt powerful. I was young and strong. I felt accomplished. And despite being alone, for much of my early years I suppose, I was never truly alone because I had the radio.

Do you remember the days before Pandora and Spotify? Before 6 disc changers and countless radio stations? Do you remember hitting the record button on the tape player when your favorite song came on? And did you curse out the DeeJay for talking over the introduction? Hearing Bob Seger belt out Night Moves brought it all back to me today and it has put me in a melancholy but wonderful place.

I crave the simpler times. The times before life sapped all of the youthful energy and optimism out of me. I miss the days when I had strength and endurance to spare. When the simple tasks of getting through my day didn’t leave me drained and in pain. I miss the days of having only thoughts of the future and waiting for my favorite song to come on the old Transistor radio. For all of the complexities of adult life, right now I would trade them all for the cool Autumn afternoons of October 1976.

Now if you’ll excuse me there are some songs that I want to search out and truly live out this moment.

I have to go work on some of my Night Moves…

Enough

I can’t believe that I am actually reading tweets and FB posts from people hoping that our President and First Lady die of the Coronavirus. What is honestly wrong with people? Such unadulterated hatred is unfathomable to me and it marks a new low in our civilization…and I am speaking loosely here.

This is not a political post. I rarely post anything political on here, for the same reasons that I don’t post my politics on FB. My politics are my own and I don’t try nor do I expect anyone to follow suit or come over to “my side”. There are no sides, only our God-given and Constitutionally guaranteed rights to a individual and protected voice. You can feel however you want but I draw the line at forcing your beliefs on me. That includes hateful speech.

I was the least biggest fan Barack Obama ever had. It had nothing to do with the color of his skin, I strongly questioned his character and his politics. I never once wished harm upon him, I just patiently waited for his term to be over. I respected the office. What happened to that?

The word humanity cannot exist without the word “human”. The word humanity implies distinct qualities only attributed to mankind. The ability to reason, to empathize, to love, to show kindness; most but not all of these things qualities that the lower species are supposedly incapable of. I have begun to question our propensity for Humanity when I see people blindly attacking each other and wishing death upon them.

We’re better than this, people.

Or are we?

Just friends

“Let’s just be friends…”. Undoubtedly the most unwelcome words for a guy to ever hear. Nice guys, and I’d like to think I am one, are cursed to hear those ugly words many times in life. I’ve certainly been kissed off more than my share by them. It ultimately feels like rejection, only covered in confectioner’s sugar to sweeten the taste.
Today, I think I would welcome those words.

Why did you have to take my note, after I caught the wedding ring and tried to pull it back? It would have been so much easier if you let me down easy that day. I was ready for it. Going into any situation you must be prepared for any outcome. I was poised for rejection, it’s my usual pose. I wasn’t prepared for you to want to get to know me “as friends”. I wasn’t prepared for you to pry your way through the very small wall of scar tissue that I call my heart and make me want you more. I wasn’t prepared to invest myself emotionally in you, to want to make up for the poor manner in which your husband treats you. You deserve better and it is my nature to want to give better to you. I want to take you away.

But I can’t.

I’m not financially secure. I’m in poor health. I have no place of my own. I am in no way an upgrade for you. You need security in the comforts of life that I cannot provide. If only good intentions were currency.

This will not end well, I just know it. I can let myself enjoy the waltz of the initial flirtation, getting to know you on a deeper level, to lie in bed thinking of those hungry, stolen kisses. But to what end? It’s just not fair to you. You deserve better.

5% of me is shouting down the other 95% of me to do the right thing. The blare of reason is the only thing loud enough to drown the raucous roar of my beating heart.
I want you.
I need you.
But you are not mine to take.

Until something changes on your end…please tell me you want to be “just friends”. I will hate it. I will fight it. But I know that I will learn to live with it. After all, It’s the only way this can end well.

Wait, don’t. I want to savor the moment for a while…

The Ring

“I like your jewelry. You have a very unique style.”
She put her hand to her ear as if to say speak up.
Fuckin’ masks.
I’m trying to make small talk through my mask, a plexiglass screen and her mask. I had to try, though. I was too intrigued not to. Lisa the pharmacy tech had been all I could think about since I first saw her.

Tan, blonde, a pretty smile, outgoing personality and awesome personal flair with the jewelry; an abundance of bracelets and rings and neckwear ranging from Native American themes to what I would find was her Grandmother’s ring on a chain about her supple neck. She reeked of individuality and she seemed to be about my age. I was smitten.

Over the course of several medication pickups (not a big deal I’m there all the time lately) I attempted to get to know her a bit. Last time I was there I sensed a twinkle in her eye when she saw me in line. I’m pretty bad at physical cues and I haven’t been laid since Obama’s first term but I do vaguely remember the dance of flirtation. I had to make a move.
Today, before I fired up the Fatboy to head to the pharmacy I decided that I would make a move. I feared public humiliation and I didn’t want to get her in trouble at work so I made a little note and tucked it into an envelope.
Hi. I think you’re amazing. If you’re not married, engaged, or dating, I’d like to take you out.
Name and phone #

When I approached the pharmacy I was excited to see that she was working today. She looked up and there was the twinkle again. Then another cashier summoned me from Lisa’s line. I obliged, only for Lisa to finish with her customer and jump over and offer to take care of me. I lowered my mask and said hello. As I did I pushed the envelope across the counter.
“You’re so sweet”, she said. As she grabbed it with her left hand I saw it. The friggin’ ring.
“I need that back. After seeing your ring finger I think I made a mistake”, I said.
“Nope”, she said. “I’m opening this.” I went home feeling somewhat defeated. I changed clothes and began doing some yard work. My phone chirped 2 hours later.
Hey! I feel the same way about you. Yes, sorry but I am married. I hope that’s ok I would like to get to know you as a person, even if it’s as friends. Is that ok? I could tell you my situation but you don’t want to hear about it.

We’ve been texting all day. Her last text was a pic of her in a bathing suit. What have I gotten myself into? I would never touch a married woman. But I like her sooooooo much.

Friggin’ ring.
Friggin’ luck.
Nothing is ever friggin’ easy.

I may have to end this before it starts

the bottle story

In 1981 my Great Uncle Cyrus died. He had a big house on Cape Cod, about 300 yards from the water. My family was tasked with cleaning it out.
My Great Uncle was a kind and giving man. On my 16th birthday he gave me his late wife’s 1964 Ford Falcon as a present. I was grateful yet conflicted, I barely knew the man. Amazingly, the distance between us and the Cape was enough to keep me from seeing him more than 5 times in my life. And there I was cleaning out his house, charged alongside my mother, father and Grandparents with deciding what was “junk” and what wasn’t.

There I was, a 16 year old exploring a old house. I meandered to the basement where I found a dusty tool bench with some really cool but unfinished wood working projects and a lot of unorganized stuff scattered around. I stooped to check out the bottom shelf and I saw a bottle. I blew an inch of dust off it and I studied it. It was a bottle of J&B Scotch, a fairly middle of the road blend and a very popular drink in its time. I was intrigued by the label “half gallon” and realized that this bottle was old. The stamp revealed that it was bottled in 1949.
“Hey Dad, check this out!”.
Dad came over and agreed that it was a find. We brought it home with us and stored it in my grandparents basement.

Saturday I had my installation ceremony as Master of my Masonic Lodge. Due to Covid restrictions we were only allowed to have 50 guests and we reached that number. My children and my mother, several brothers from other lodges that I became friendly with over the years graced me with their presence. One of them had told me 5 years ago that should I become master he wanted to be there. So I invited him. The remainder of the crowd consisted of lodge members and their guests who all came out to support the new line of officers.

It was an AMAZING ceremony, the same one that was conferred on George Washington in the 1700’s. Once complete it was my turn to say some words. I had it all planned out. In fact, I have had it planned out since the day I decided that I would move through the chairs to Master.
“Brother Marshall, would you retrieve my conversation piece?”
The crowd was intrigued.
Brother Marshall is my good friend and past master Basil who promised to help me in any way should I take the big chair. He winked at me and walked to the back of the building and came back with the bottle of J&B. He handed it to me with a wink and sat back in his seat.
I hoisted the J&B in the air and told the story.
“I am a lover of objects, for their significance and place in history. Objects do not contain memories but they have important associations. For example, I wear my grandfathers watch and cufflinks. I wear my fathers motorcycle helmet. They hold memories for me and mean something. This bottle is not just a bottle, it is a reminder of a different time”.
I told the story of cleaning out Uncle Cyrus’s house, who I later found out was an esteemed and beloved Freemason (it explained why he gave me a car) and how the bottle in my hand has fascinated me all along.
“This bottle has never been opened, it was bottled in 1949”. The crowd was hanging on every word now.
“This bottle was owned by a wonderful man. It was also bottled during the era of Harry Truman, my favorite President. Harry Truman, you may not know, was a Freemason. He served as Grand Master of the state of Missouri as Vice President yet he never discussed it”.
I asked the crowd if they knew that in a Masonic lodge everyone is treated the same regardless of social stature. I told of how Harry Truman went to a regular lodge as Vice President and later President and wasn’t greeted with fanfare and adulation…he was simply “brother Harry”.
“This bottle represents a simpler time and I hope to run this lodge as Harry did his own, with humility and honesty”.
It was a hit, everyone applauded. After, I rounded up all of the shot glasses I could find and I opened it. We toasted and took a drink. After 70 years in several basements, I finally shared my find with those people closest to me.
A week and a half later, people are still talking about it. They agreed with me that it wasn’t just a bottle.

It meant something.

the green eyed monster

It’s funny when you figure something about someone and all of a sudden it just makes sense.

My cousin Mike, who I have written about before, is a Facebook junkie. It is not enough for him to be a know-it-all, he also has to be that guy that comments on every post. I love him to death, I really do, but even my kids have remarked to me that his constant comments are over the top because they really don’t know him that well (that is not his fault). I tell them to deal with it, he does it to everyone.

Everyone but me. He never comments on my posts.

Saturday I was installed as Worshipful Master of my Masonic Lodge (in Olde English ‘Worshipful’ means worthy of respect). With the exception of my children’s births and my wedding day, it was one of the biggest days of my life. I posted about 10 pics of the day, me with my kids individually and together, several of me and my Masonic brothers and made a post about it. Well over 125 people “liked” or commented on it. Not Mike.

I hadn’t noticed it before, this time it stood out. So I went back over my page and looked to see if he commented on previous posts. Nope. Nothing. NADA. It’s not an anomaly, it’s a pattern. Apparently he’s still jealous of me.

Still? You ask? Yes, still. I’m not sure what I have to be jealous of, I’m pretty sure I’m as broke and behind the 8 ball in life as he is. All I know is whenever something good happens to me he’s nowhere to be found if being happy for (or with) me is in order. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances because what I do know is that I MAKE the good things in my life happen, it’s not circumstance, luck, or serendipity.

Flashback to 4 months ago sitting on the common of our old home town under the mighty oak:

“Can I tell you something?”, he said.
“By all means”, I said and took a bite of the Steak and Cheese sub we had just gone for.
“I didn’t go to your graduation party because I was pissed at you.”
“The Graduation party that I had in ’92 when I graduated College?” I asked. Perplexed.
“Yes”, he said. “I was annoyed that your parents paid for your college and I didn’t have such an opportunity.
Annoyed, I turned to him. “Well, you missed a fun party. And you’re wrong, idiot. I worked 55-60 hours a week and carried a full course load to graduate college. No help from Mom and Dad. How dare you assume that?”

He tried to make a case, but I told him that it was jealousy and it was petty. I was pissed.

So again, something good happens to me and he is nowhere to be found.

I think I see a pattern here.

random nuggets

If one were to notice someone’s absence it would be safe to assume that they haven’t been up to much. Much worth writing about, anyway. The opposite is true for me. It’s not that I have nothing to write about, it would be safe to say that I have too much. Where do I begin?

For a guy with nothing to do I’m pretty dang busy.

My detailing gig is taking off. Lots of word of mouth referrals from happy customers. I do a very meticulous job for a reasonable price and people appreciate it. It has supplemented my income a bit and I expect it to grow further. I actually say no to work now.

Dialysis is a drag and I have been feeling pretty crappy lately. I’m not worried about it, it happens every few months. I am really anemic right now and they don’t know why. I suppose I should be worried about that but I’m sure it will work out. It always does. My teflon coating is still intact. For now I just have to push through the moments of pain and weakness.

I was elected Master of my Masonic Lodge this past month. My term begins this month and I’m terrified. The amount of work involved in running a lodge is surprising but the motivating factor is that my brothers have entrusted me with leading them for the next year and I can’t let them down.

The family is great. The kids are thriving, the ex got a new job (for a person with Borderline Personality Disorder change is devastating so this is good news) and is doing better financially. Everyone is happy and crushing this thing we call life. Being a proud Dad has never been easier.

Well, I think I’m caught up now. Now that I’ve touched on the broad strokes, I’ll start to dig down on the small but beautiful details.

Namaste, y’all