Leaving Colorado

After almost 20 years in Colorado, I have returned to Florida, land of my birth, source of much of my DNA. I was born in South Florida, as was my Mother, and my maternal grandparents and one set of great-grandparents came to Florida Coloradoback in the 1920’s. Florida was much different in the 1920’s. Hell, it was much different in the 1960’s, and even in the 1990’s when I returned after a nearly 20 year absence.

At various times in my life, I have been ashamed of Florida. Bush vs. Gore for instance, and that incidence of the “hanging chad” on voters ballots. That isn’ the Florida I knew, although the Florida I knew was racist, a picture perfect snapshot of Old Jim Crow. When I was a small child, my mother had someone in to help with housework. I can’t recall her name, but I know she was the daughter of Rose, who ran the company store where my Dad worked in Bean City. Bean City was a creation of the Billy Rogers farm, where Bean City-Pike3Dad worked and serviced the huge machinery that it took to grow the corn, green beans and celery. He would often bring home fresh cases of whatever vegetable was in season. We took it all for granted, we thought everyone got corn off the cob right out of the field.

Rose had a very prominent gold tooth front and center, wore a bandanna around her head, and was very short and very stout. I sort of remember an accent, so she probably was from the Bahama’s, as many of the black workers around us were. Her daughter used to come help my mother with housekeeping and ironing. This was back in the day when my mother’s house was neat as a pin, so clean you could literally eat off the floor. Later, she devolved into something just this side of a hoarder. I don’t know what caused such a drastic change, but when you are a kid, there is so much that you simply fail to notice.

I know from pictures that my mother was once slim enough for my dad to nearly be able to put his hands around her waist. When she died in 2006, she was way north of 300 pounds. But, above her favorite chair in the double-wide trailer she had, was a picture of her and Dad when she was very slim and very pretty and very trim. I think she wanted to remember those days.

I’ve always had an inferiority complex. Several of my bosses were frustrated by it, and even though I know for sure that I’m smarter than your average Joe, because I’m awkward, because I’m gay,. because I’m from the south, because I only have a high-school education, because ..well, for a lot of reasons, I assume nearly everyone else is better than me at most anything. Even though I have evidence to the contrary, this complex persists.

I did quite well at working, even though it seemed to be all accidental. I went from High School to the Navy. I managed to get myself thrown out of the Navy, albeit with an honorable discharge and all the benefits accorded to a Vietnam Era veteran. I walked into a radio station in a small Tennessee town and asked for a job, and got one, with no experience. I have sold life insurance and installed cable television services and eventually ended up working at the corporate office of the worlds largest cable tv company, being paid far more than I though I was worth, which allowed me to retire far younger than most people can or should.

USS Edenton (ATS-1)

USS Edenton (ATS-1)

I’ve visited Bermuda, Spain, The Azores, England, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Tunisia, Japan and Venezuela. I actually lived in Okinawa for a year, and Venezuela for nearly four years. I lived on Oahu in Hawaii for almost four years. I enjoyed all of it and wouldn’t exchange any of it for anything. Since 1998, I have made Colorado my home. At first, it was a grungy little apartment in Glendale, a suburb of Denver, famous mostly for it’s proliferation of strip bars. I used to come home and find my kitchen crawling with roaches, so I’d spray and drive them to the neighbors. A few days later, he would spray and they would return. Eventually they raised the rent to something pretty unreasonable, and I bought a condo where i lived for a few years until John and I met and we bought a house together.

mountainsI spent some time with a jeep, running some of the mountain trails in the Rocky Mountains. I fell in love with the hot springs at Glennwood Springs. I never tired of the mountain views, often snow covered, even into July and early August. I lived in Colorado longer than I ever lived any other place in my life, including the 17 years I spent in Florida before leaving for the Navy. It was as much home as Florida.

The house on Berry Avenue in Centennial closes this coming Friday, the 24th of June. The new owners will take over, and I hope that they appreciate the Iris’s that bloom, the deck we spent tons of money on, and the other little improvements we made over the years. I’m sure they will do things to make it their own place, things we will never know about.

We are now in Florida. I’m not really all the comfortable here in the condo we have had for a few years. There is very little for me to do. I’m not happy just sitting around reading or playing video games or looking across the marvelous view of the lake. I need a bit more. So, we’ll look around for a house, as much as I know that John really would like to just stick with the condo. He is pretending to be enthusiastic, but I know that if I decided we should stay in the condo, he’d be just as happy. I want a yard. A place I can grow things, even if it is just in pots. I want to be able to hang my fishing poles out in the garage. I’d like a pool and a hot tub. I want to be able to putter around and spend my time on little projects that never really amount to much, but make me feel good about having gotten out of bed to do something. I’m sure we’ll find something that we can afford. We’ll hang onto the condo, unless we need to sell it to afford a house, and perhaps we’ll return to it in ten years or so.

In the meantime, Colorado is now in the rear view mirror. I loved it, and will miss it a lot.RVMirror

An Open Letter to Hillary

Dear Secretary Hillary:

I was listening to a radio show on PBS the other day when one of your spokespeople was asked a question about whether or not your relationship with the rich hedgefund managers of Wall Street might give voters pause. Your spokesperson jumped right in with the answer that she didn’t think it was an issue, and that voters would not be concerned at all with the fact that you received big money from Wall Street, or that you were personally friendly with anyone on Wall Street.

I wanted so much to jump through the radio and confront her, and by extension, you. Your relationship with the wealthy of America is precisely why I have lost faith in you and Bill. Your hillaryhusband did great things as President, and a lot of us were hoping that should you win the presidency, you too could do great things, perhaps even greater than your husband. It is after all, a new century, a new time, and more things are possible than they were when Bill was the President.

Unfortunately, in that time, you and Bill have become multi-millionaires. You socialize with Wall Street. You live in New York. You spend time with, and share values with other one-percenters and by virtue of that lifestyle you have taken on, you have lost touch with the every day common American.

Although your home state is Arkansas, you have probably not set foot in a Wal-Mart in the past dozen years or so. Do you know who shops there? Not because they necessarily want to shop there, but because it is the only choice left to them because Wal-Mart has forced the closing of tens of thousands of other businesses across the world. The loss of jobs and security have been nothing short of phenomenal.

Have you ever had to go grocery shopping with a calcuator? Knowing that before you hit every aisle in the store that your budget would be exceeded? Have you ever had to face a child who was jumping up and down in the cereal aisle with a box of their favorite breakfast poison, only to have to make them put it back and take a box of the store brand instead?

Hillary, you used to be special and you used to give reassurance that you understood the underdog. That you were on the side of those of us with less. That you empathized with the single mother who worked four part-time jobs just to pay the rent.

You can no longer do that. You are in bed with the rich, and should you win office, you are beholding to the wealthy. You will not make policy based on what is best for the country, but instead you will make policy based on the people to whom you owe favors, and trust me, the list of those favors is growing quite lengthy.

I do not believe the people who say you are at fault because of what happened or didn’t happen in Libya. I do not believe the people who say that you will let Bill make the actual decisions of your presidency. I do not believe that you actually think that you would be a bad President. However, I do know that you now carry way too much baggage and can no longer be trusted. You don’t tell the truth when the opportunity presents itself. Neither did Bill by the way, and we didn’t hold it against him, but now we are holding it against you.

You no longer represent the best interest of the common, every day, get up and feed the dog and go to work American.

I have never voted other than as a Democrat, and I’m here to tell you that we don’t trust you.

The Law vs. Ethan Couch

Unless you have been living in a cave the last few years, you have certainly heard of Ethan Couch, otherwise known as “The Affluenza” guy.

While it may seem like this guy is first cousin to Typhoid Mary, he isn’t. In actuality, he was a sixteen year old boy, blond haired and fair of cheek, who decided to go driving off in his pick-up truck while drunk.

He killed four people.

ethanBad luck at the very least. His defense lawyers, paid in full by his parents, decided to pursue a rather novel defense strategy. Because he was so rich, and because rich people consider themselves so much above such mundane rules as “the law”, poor Ethan Couch simply did not know any better than to get into a truck and drive down the road while drunk out of his ass.

Were it you or I, poor reader, we would have the book thrown at us and we would expect to spend the rest of our days in Jail. But, this is Ethan Couch. Blond haired and perfect, and he was raised to know that he was the King Of The Earth. He could do no wrong.

He was sentenced to probation, and had he kept his zipper zippered, and prevented any of his friends, acquaintances or random strangers nearby from taking any photographs, he could have managed the years between sixteen and twenty-six without any offense. Unfortunately, even a person of his wealth was unable prevent pictures from appearing on the internet of his transgressions, particularly his appearance at a party, apparently drunk out of his mind. An obvious violation of his probation.

ethan-blondeAs soon as the pictures appear, his mother Tanya collects her precious baby and hightails it off to Puerto Vallarta. By the way, I’ve been there, it’s one of my favorite towns on the planet. How dare Ethan and his mother Tanya sully the reputation of this excellent paradise?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who I am sure have done many marvelous things to assist society, have started an on-line petition to have Mr. Couch brought back to America and then served up justice in an adult court. They feel that the mere fact that so many mothers’ have spoken means that someone besides the news outlets will take notice and things will happen that will make them feel all warm and cozy.

Not so. We do still have the rule of law in this country. Not even Donald Trump and his wayward hair can overcome “the law” in this country. At least while the rest of us are paying any attention.

Ethan murdered four people while he was a mere lad of sixteen. He was tried and convicted in a juvenile court, he was sentenced in a juvenile court. While the claim of “I am so rich I can’t possibly know right from wrong because my rich parents never bothered to teach me” triumphed, it still happened in a juvenile court. And, it happened in the great state of Texas, where of course we all know that more often than not you are sentenced to death for stealing food.

I tend to like poor Ethan. He’s pretty. He’s also apparently immensely stupid. It’s quite visible that all the money in the world can’t make you smart.

He will be eventually returned to Texas. The law of the land will prevail, despite the petitions signed by MADD. But, fear not! Ethan Couch is not a smart person, and sooner or later, despite his money, his good looks or his mother, the law or an aggrieved parent will catch up and Ethan Couch will get what he deserves.

Amazon has killed off any chance of finding a good book …

booksOk, I have two varieties of kindle devices, I’m as guilty of creating the problem as Jeff Bezos might be, I can only plead that there isn’t much alternative because Amazon has made the old-fashioned bookstore an anachronism.

I have a largish bookcase in my home filled with books that all have a central theme around being gay. Not a one of them would be classified as pornography. They are literature.

Today, if you search Amazon for “gay” books, you have to weed through hundreds of thousands of self-published authors, nearly all of them really terribly written porn. It’s not even good porn, it’s just words on a page, uploaded by someone who thought they were an author.

It’s not just gay literature that is hard to find. Search any genre you like. From self-help to cookbooks to “literature” you can find hundreds to tens of thousands of results – and the overwhelming result is not worth the digital space they occupy.

There have always been bad books. Since man learned to string words together as a story, there have been books that might not have been anyone’s particular cup of tea. Yet, you could pretty much figure that if they made it onto a shelf at a bookstore, they were at least worth looking at the cover. Perhaps even most of them could be read without finding a misspelled word or grammar that was invented by author.

Amazon allows anyone to publish anything at no cost. You can write anything you want, upload it to Amazon, set a purchase price, and Voila! you are an author.

That doesn’t mean you should. It also doesn’t mean that you should buy the crap you find. Even if you subscribe to the remarkable Kindle Unlimited – where you can ready any of nearly a million published books for just 9.95 a month, you’ll find a hard time finding something readable.

It would be really helpful if Amazon would allow you to sort your search results by the number of reviews posted instead of just the quality of the review. I’ve found that the more people who have posted a review of a book, the more likely the book is to be readable.

There are lots of books on Amazon that have five-star reviews. Yet you’ll find that 98% of the five star reviewed books have less than ten people reviewing it, and I’d bet a paycheck that a majority of those posted reviews are from people who are personally acquainted with the author. Whether family or friends, those reviews are tainted and shouldn’t be allowed.

It was never easy to find good books. We’ve always relied on the opinions of others, which is why Amazon has a sort option based on the number of stars.

The problem is, that by eliminating the traditional path to being published, we are now subjected to utter garbage, and who has time to weed through all the newly self-published crap that litters our digital worlds?

It’s no wonder that reading a book is no longer one of the favorite things to do of a great majority of our young people. They’d rather play a video game – and don’t get me started on how much video games have been dumbed down to suit the masses.

I am officially an old person. I miss the old days.

Losing Someone Important

We’ve all suffered loss. A parent. A sibling. A boss. A best friend. If you have lived at all, you’ve lost someone important to you. Sometimes you don’t even know you’ve lost someone important until weeks or months later.

You may think that people in your past are no longer important. You can kid yourself until the cows come home. It’s simply not true.

My second ex-wife just died. September 27th, 2015. She was 72 years old. You know of course that 72 is not old. My mother died at 71. One of my grandfathers at 71. I used to think 70 years old was ancient. It isn’t. People live to be 90. 100. 85. 72 is not old.

Lynne Harding Leahy Richardson died on September 27th, 2015. I thought I was done with her. I thought that although we were friends, we were over. We were through. We made Amanda, one of the most important people in my entire world. Then we were over  – I gave her Amanda so I could live the rest of my life. Amanda is still here, still one of the most important parts of my life.

I’ll miss her.

I do miss her.

Did I make a mistake? We never know until the end that we should have walked other paths. I’m happy. I truly am happy. I still have Amanda, or at least the parts she is willing to share. Lynne is part of the stars now.

Cherish the ones you love because you never know when the end will come.

 

 

 

Rusted Copper Tears

As of 2014, the population of the United States was about 318.9 million people. According to an article at Infoplease, the population of Native Americans is about 5.2 million people.

I don’t claim to be a math genius, but even my weak skill have determined that this mean that over 99% of all residents of the United States are either immigrants, or descend from people who immigrated from somewhere else.

One of my hobbies is genealogy, and I know exactly how three branches of my family arrived here. The earliest was in 1609, as part of the Jamestown companies, and you can’t tell me that there was a “legal” way for those people to get here. In fact, if memory serves, the Jamestown settlements almost didn’t survive the winter of 1623/24 because of Indian raids, and nearly 85% of the inhabitants were either killed or starved. That doesn’t sound like a very welcoming foreign government if you ask me.

Now, I’ve also documented arrivals of parts of my family in the 1730’s, as part of a mass migration from what is now Germany, people who were fleeing civil war and weeping-statuereligious persecution. They just showed up in Philadelphia, got off the ship and moved on to new lives. There weren’t a lot of formalities involved.

Ok, I’m being simplistic, but my point is that this country, as it exists today is truly a melting pot of peoples and cultures from every other corner of the world. Whether your ancestors came on a boat and passed under the Statue of Liberty and spent time clearing formalities at Ellis Island, or whether they came across the Straits of Florida strapped to a floating barrel, or came over from China in 1870 to build railroads in the west, or slipped over the border into Texas on a hot steamy August night, the point is that they were trying to get away from a place that was terrible to a place that promised freedom, or at least a place where you weren’t just a bag of flesh and bones made to serve the state.

There have always been undesirables entering the country. Thieves and bullies of all types came here and made a killing because they could. Honest people eventually find them out and deal with them.
Today, we are afraid of “terrorists” and some of our most prominent political wannabe’s and even our own Congress are beginning to think that our doors shouldn’t be so open to some people. Or that we should start a database and register some people of a certain religion.

It’s simply wrong.

Yes, we can screen those who wish to come, yes we can be cautious, but to slam the door to an entire people simply because we are afraid is shameful and should cause all the ghosts in our national cemeteries to rise and haunt us until we regain our reason.

The terrorists win when they force the entire rest of the world to cower in fear, to shut the doors, and spend time, money and effort to allay our fears and “make the world safer”. I call bullshit by the way – if a powerful bomb can be built in a used soda can and left in an airplane cargo bay by a ramp worker – how can you make the world safe from that?

The answer is not to curl up in fear and slam our doors and gather everyone who is different into a locked box and point at them and declare ourselves safe. We did that with the Japanese in 1941 and it’s a stain on our conscience that can’t be cleared away, and it did nothing to make us safer.

I have no answers, I leave them up to the professionals, yet in my soul I know that denying immigration to an entire people because we are afraid of them means that we have already lost our war on terror.

 

So Long, Goodbye

deathThe list of people who wake up in the morning and think to themselves “Today is the day I’m going to die”, is probably pretty short. I’d imagine it would be limited to people who have planned a suicide for some time and death row inmates. The rest of us just muddle along through life, never knowing the means or the moment of our impending demise.

The first death I can remember was my beloved great-grandmother Dora Eggleston Browne. She was 87 years old, just a few days shy of her 88th birthday, and I was all of 12 years old. I remember coming home from school and going to her little house which sat nannyon my grandparents property and she would always fix me a snack of some kind. She was the kind of old lady who rose in the morning and got dressed – all the way down to her sturdy, sensible shoes and her pearls. I never saw her in anything other than something fit to go out in the evening. Unfortunately, the last couple of years she lived she suffered from dementia, and was placed in a nursing home,  and from what I’m told she was unable to identify even her own children, but I still remember “nanny” as one of my favorite people in the world. Hers was the first funeral I ever attended, and as it was an open-casket showing, I of course made a dramatic scene and probably embarrassed the hell out of my parents.
BerthaHighsmithSpellThe next death I can remember was my Aunt Bert. She was actually my great-aunt, a sister of my mother’s mother. I remember going to her house in Indiantown, Florida where she lived with her husband Uncle Jack and an adopted daughter named Donna Gail. My brother and I were never particularly excited about these trips as there was really nothing for us to do. Uncle Jack was rather corpulent, and Donna Gail — well — the problem with her was that she was a girl, and her bedroom was all pink and frilly and there just really wasn’t anything to keep us amused. She died in May of 1969, about a year after my great-grandmother, and just weeks before my parents uprooted my entire world and moved us from where I had lived all my life  to a new town way upstate. I didn’t attend the funeral that I can recall, but I do remember feeling sympathy for my grandmother.

The next death in the family that affected me a great deal was my mother’s father, we kids all referred to him as “grandie”, I think because he detested all of the more traditional references to one’s grandfather. As far back as I can remember he had been ill. He suffered horribly from emphysema – apparently he was a fairly heavy smoker of unfiltered Pall Mall or Camel cigarettes for much of his life. I seem to remember him smoking even when I was a very young child – probably the very late 1950’s or early 1960’s. He did eventually give it up, but all family gatherings were held at his house and most of my relatives smoked. My RayMBrowne-abt1970Dad smoked these awful smelling cheap cigars, as did a few other men of the family, and several of the women and men also smoked cigarettes. This was the 1960’s – way before the dangers of second-hand smoke were ever contemplated – and we thought nothing of it, even though at times my grandfather was tethered to an oxygen tank to help him breath.

I spent a few weeks in the summer of 1972 with my grandparents. We had moved to central Florida in 1969, but I had talked my parents into allowing me to spend time with my grandparents the summer I was 16. I don’t really recall a lot of what I did to stay entertained, I probably read a lot – I was and still am a vociferous reader and my grandfather had loads of books to read.  I was also scheduled that summer to spend some time in Sweetwater, Tennessee with my Dad’s brother, Uncle Hubert and his wife Aunt Mary. So – I ended up traveling from Belle Glade, FL to Tennessee, sharing a car with my cousin Clyde and Aunt Mary and probably 4 or 5 other people — it was crowded.

While in Tennessee, I managed to run over my right foot with the lawnmower and remove a few toes – it was out by the old outhouse, the grass was wet, I was barefoot and 16 year old boys are stupid.

I was recovering in the hospital when I got the news that my grandfather had died. It was July 11, 1972, five months before he would have turned 72. At the time, I though 71 was ancient, but I know now it’s really not. I was completely and utterly devastated. I had just known that I should have stayed with my grandmother, even though there wasn’t a single thing I could have done. He suffered terribly, and had been put into the hospital – and while I don’t know all the details, I’m sure that his death was a relief to both him and my grandmother who had taken care of him hand and foot for years.

I got off pretty light for the next decade – sure, we had deaths in the family, but they were distant, and I was very busy with my own life. I had graduated from high school, joined the Navy and was off in far places, rarely home, although I did keep in touch with phone calls and letter writing.

It was February of 1984 the next time death came calling. My second ex-wife and I were living on my Mom and Dad’s property in PaulRichardson-Headshot-1961rural Monroe county, TN. Dad and I had not really spoken much for most of a year – I had left the Navy suddenly and not really explained why to my parents. I had married a woman I had only known for a few months, was taking in stray kids left and right, but was mostly flat broke and living hand to mouth. We’d had a disagreement and I’d chosen to just not deal with him much – in fact we’d started looking for a place to move our trailer to so we wouldn’t be so beholding to Dad.

On the night of February 11, 1984, Mom and Dad were watching Johnny Carson, as they usually did. From what I’m told, the show ended, and Dad got up out of his recliner to head down the hall to bed, but instead, grunted three times and fell on the floor, dead as a doornail. It was a massive Coronary Thrombosis. He’d suffered from non-Hodgins Lymphoma for a few years, and was being treated for that, had developed a horried allergy to ultra-violet rays – couldn’t go outside or even sit under a lamp for long, he was living a miserable life – but we never knew he had a heart issue. He’d been to the doctor for a checkup just that morning and was as well as could be expected. He was only 68 years old. Again, I was tormented, particularly in light of the fact that we’d had a spat and I wasn’t really back on good speaking terms with him. For years I was tormented that I never really got the chance to say goodbye.

thumb_mildred_highsmithMy grandmother – my mom’s mom, the only grandmother I ever knew, died October 30, 1990. I had just moved from Rhode Island to Miami for a new job, and grandma was living with my Aunt Rustie in Juno, Florida. I was lucky enough to be able to make the 2 hour trip up to see them several times the summer of 1990 – and although grandma suffered from dementia and we were never sure what she was thinking, I truly believe she knew who I was and was glad to see me.

She was 81 years old, had lived a long and productive life and was cherished by all of her family. My Aunt Rustie went out of her way to make a great home for her during her last few years, and although I was very sad to see her go, it wasn’t as traumatic as previous family deaths had been. I still miss her peanut butter cookies – no one seems to be able to make them just the way she could.

In March of 2006 we were all called to Tennessee where my Dad’s only remaining brother had passed away at age 93. Uncle Hubert was a character. He’d been nearly blind for a couple of years, and had horrible phlebitis in one leg, but every time I swung through that area I’d drop in to see him. If it was at all chilly, he and Aunt Mary could be found in the small room just off the kitchen, a room about 10 x 10, with a good third of it occupied by a roaring wood-fired stove. It was always around 100 degrees in that room, but they were old and frail and I suppose it’s what they needed to feel comfortable. Uncle Hubert lived a long life, and although I don’t know much about his younger years, he always seemed to be happy, puttering around in his workshop or in the garden.

Now, this being East Tennessee, his funeral service was conducted by not one, but TWO preachers, both of them fired up with messages of hellfire and damnation. Since Uncle Hubert had never been seen passing over the threshold of a church, they were all fired up about how poor Hubert was now roasting his toes in Hell, and that the rest of us still living had better take this opportunity to get right with God and get saved so that we wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

My brother David and I were sitting in a pew just behind my Mom – and she turned around to us and shook her finger at us and told us that we’d better make sure that her funeral wasn’t so much of a hell-fire and damnation service or she’d come back to haunt us.

Sadly, we just didn’t know that just a few days later Mom would suffer an Aortal Aneurysm, and just over a month after Uncle Hubert we would be attending her service. She too was young, just a few weeks short of her 72nd birthday. I had flown back to Mom-Venezuela-1996Colorado after Uncle Hubert’s death, and on the news that Mom was in the hospital, I debated flying to Florida where she was located. She was in and out of the hospital for a few weeks – always on the verge of getting better – and it made the decision for me to cough up $1500 or so for a plane ride very hard. Finally, just before Easter Sunday of 2006, she went back in the hospital and I decided enough was enough and I bought a plane ticket.

I remember that for some reason I got upgraded to first class – and I was seated in the very first row. We had to stop in Atlanta – because of course you can’t fly anywhere in the Southeast without going through Atlanta – when my phone rang. It was my brother, asking me where I was — I told him I was in Atlanta – and he told me that Mom was gone. It didn’t sink in. I asked him where she was going? It was a Monday morning, and she was due to be released from the hospital to go home again. When it finally did sink in that she had died, I was completely and utterly grief-stricken. There I was, on an airplane full of strangers, and my mother had just died, just hours before I could get to her. It was the longest 90 minute flight I think I’ve ever taken, and for days afterward I would just utterly break down like a little child.

Apparently she had just been up walking the halls, waiting on her doctor to release her, when something happened and she collapsed. From what I know, they worked on her for several hours, getting her heart to restart, and then it would stop again. She even regained consciousness a couple of times – but in the end, she just died. She had plans for the upcoming Easter weekend, her sister was coming up to cook, I was in town – needless to say to anyone who knows me – I was a total mama’s boy – but on April 6, 2006, she just up and died.

More recently, I’ve lost two first cousins – Evelyn and Clyde, both children of Uncle Hubert and Aunt Mary. Evelyn was just 62, and Clyde, who passed a year later was only 64. Evelyn also had a sudden heart attack, and Clyde died alone, on a sofa in his childhood home from pneumonia.

Just this year, I was oddly affected by the sudden death of my ex-brother-in-law Bill. I’d known Bill since we were both in our early 20’s – although he and my sister divorced several years ago, I’d seen him on and off again at various family functions. Bill had one of the most disarming smiles of any person I ever knew, and when he was younger was very handsome. I remember he used to wear the briefest of cut-off jeans, I often wondered how he kept everything covered – but, it was the 70s after all.

He died just a few weeks ago, age 57, of an apparent heart attack. He lived alone, and it was several days before people realized they weren’t hearing from him – he was found on his kitchen floor, apparently he was warming up some pizza in the microwave. From a recent picture I saw of him, he obviously wasn’t taking the best care of himself, and he apparently was still a smoker, even though he’d had a heart attack in his mid-30’s. I don’t know why, but his death interrupted my sleep patterns for a few days. He was just two years younger than me, and should have had at least 30 more years ahead of him.

Finally, just this past week, my first cousin Mike passed away at age 52 after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. When I saw him last mikeayear, as he and his childhood sweetheart reaffirmed their wedding vows, I was startled – I wouldn’t have known him had we passed on the street. Cancer can take away a lot, starting with your appearance. Mike fought it hard, but pancreatic cancer is just so brutal.

Still, even though we’ve known this was coming for at least a year, it hit hard. Mike is the first of the generation that I grew up with to go. I’m sad that I really didn’t know him well as an adult. He spent 20 years in the Air Force and for much of our adult life we were a continent apart, if not more.

My partner John is the last of his immediate family. His father, brother and sister died relatively young, and like my own dad, his dad went suddenly of a heart attack. His brother suffered for some time with lung cancer, and his sister for a short time with other ailments, but nevertheless, before their times.

I guess the point of all this is to reinforce that for most of us, the time, place and manner of our death is unknown. We don’t have a mark on the calendar for when our demise will occur. Sure, some of my relatives surely knew their time was near and approaching. When you live to be in your late 80’s or into your 90’s, surely you must embrace each day as possibly your last. However, it’s human nature to deny to ourselves that we are mortal, that our time is limited, and most of us are pretty good and never spending much time on the fact that our next trip to the grocery store or the dentist or the back yard could be our last.

For awhile, I was angry at my Dad for dying before we’d had a chance to make up. I was angry because we were both so stubborn that neither of us wanted to give in first. Neither of us know we were out of time until the clock stopped. I’ve since come to terms with my Dad’s death and I no longer blame either of us. Death is a natural thing that happens to us all. Sometimes we help it along by not taking very good care of ourselves. We smoke, we drink, we eat unhealthy food, we spend too many hours watching TV and too few hours walking the dog.

Yet, I see also that death claims even those who take care of themselves. They exercise daily, they eat healthy food, they limit their alcohol and refuse tobacco, yet still, the grim reaper knocks on the door at the most inopportune times. We are never ready.

What I’m learning is that we have to love the people in our life despite their flaws. We have to love them and understand that none of us is perfect. We have to know that life is a gift, and we have to cherish whatever measure of it we are given, long or short. All of the people in my life that I’ve mentioned above enjoyed their lives. They made the most of it that they could, and for the most part, never gave more than a passing thought to how it would end.

As my 60th birthday approaches, I’m saddened by the loss of people who were part of my life, but I’m encouraged to live the life I have to the fullest that I can – to enjoy each day as it arrives and not worry about the days gone past or the ones yet to come.

I don’t know who is next on the list kept by the awful man with the scythe. But as I age, I think I’m becoming more equipped to deal with the fact that nothing is permanent, even my own self.

 

 

 

 

The Bathroom

privy2The modern bathroom has only been with us for a little over 100 years. In fact, they haven’t really changed much in basic design. Fancier fixtures, whirlpool tubs, a lot more glass and polish, but the basic arrangement of a tub, a sink and a toilet have remain relatively unchanged.

Before the “standard” bathroom evolved, the acts of washing up, bathing and elimination usually took place in wildly different places. One washed up at the washstand provided in the bedroom, or often on the back stoop. Bathing, which took place off and on, but not regularly, was done in a galvanized tub, usually placed in the kitchen near the stove where the water was heated. The act of elimination was done in a chamber pot, or the outdoor privy.

The modern bathroom was a luxury of course. Here in the United States, the Statler hotel in Buffalo installed a bath in every room. Unheard of at the time, but, over time, bathrooms began to appear in homes. Most families had one bathroom of course, they were expensive to install and it was just more practical to have the one because of the expensive plumbing and fixtures required.

When I was a kid, we had a regular ranch style house, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen, and then down the hallway was the bathroom and the bedrooms. We never thought anything about having just the one bathroom to share among my parents and three kids – it’s just the way it was.

There were of course the “emergencies”, usually occurring on Sunday mornings when for some reason Dad seemed to take more time than usual in the bathroom. But, for us boys, being told to go pee in the backyard became common. Otherwise, we somehow developed a schedule where everyone had their required time, no one seemed to be left out, and we never thought that we needed more than the one.

I can remember the first time I saw a privy. It was 1964, our first visit from South Florida to visit my Dad’sfordfalcon
brother Hubert and his family in Tennessee. It was a special trip because Dad went out and bought a new car. A brand new 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon.  As cars go, the thing was a turkey – the paint started coming off of it almost immediately, but, it was great fun for us, finding room in the back making our beds and trying to sleep as much as we could. Of course it didn’t have air-conditioning, and since much of I-75 was still under construction or didn’t quite exist, the trip from South Florida to Tennessee was the older US highway system and seemed to take forever.
privy2Anyway, we kids weren’t quite sure what to make of Uncle Hubert’s outhouse. There was a separate “wash house” that was outside the back kitchen door that held an old wringer washer, and I believe a shower stall, but, there was no toilet as we were used to having. Several years later a toilet was added to the wash house, but for several years we had to resort to the dreaded outhouse when we visited Uncle Hubert.

I can remember one of dad’s sisters having nothing but an outhouse as late as the mid 1980’s – long after I was grown up and had my own house, one with the luxury of TWO bathrooms.

The point of my story though is that bathrooms have evolved over the last 100 years or so from a luxury item, had by few, to a necessity, with even the least of us in America having at least one bathroom.

My partner and I own two homes, and between them we can count 4 full bathrooms and one half bath. You would think this might be enough bathroom space for a small army, at least compared to what we had to work with when we were kids.

Yeah. About that.

I am not familiar with the bathroom arrangements my partner had when he was a child. He’s a decade older than I am, but since bathrooms in this country have evolved fairly slowly, I’m going to assume that he and I had similar experiences, or perhaps he may have even had a bit more luxury in his life as he grew up in a town, where I grew up mostly on the outskirts of town – not quite country, but definitely not “in town.”

In Colorado, the master bath has an L-shaped counter with two sinks, a shower, and in a separate area behind a door is the toilet. A perfectly adequate arrangement one would think for two adults without children. Then, on the same floor, just around the corner, is the “guest” bath. It’s more your typical arrangement, not unlike the “standard” bath of 1915 – a tub/shower, a commode and a sink.

In Florida, the master bath and the guest bath are more typical of the “standard” arrangement as well, although the guest bath has far more counter space than does the master bath. Odd, but probably because the master bath has one of those triangle “garden” tub things that look better than they are practical.

Again, I digress.

The other day we got up early so that I could get my other half off to the airport so he could visit with friends and family. I’m an early riser, so my “early” is always a bit before him, and I’m accustomed to spending 30 minutes in the hot tub each morning.

When I came in, ready to take my shower so we could go, I find him occupying the master bath, shaving and bathing, so I figure I’ll just take a quick shower in the guest bath. I don’t often go in there, as I am usually able to meet all my needs in the bathroom attached to the master bedroom.

Nope. He has clothes spread out all over the guest bath and not a towel to be seen anywhere. I knew that if I tried to use the shower I’d end up getting something of his wet, and since he’s not the world’s best traveler, I didn’t want o take a change on adding to his stress level. I ended up waiting.

On giving it thought, it occurred to me that he does this in both houses. He seems to stock his razor and toothbrush in one bathroom, where he also bathes, but uses the other bathroom for medications, and for laying out his clothing both at night and in the morning.

I find this odd. Why does he need to sprawl across two bathrooms? In both houses? Is this behavior a result of being deprived of bathroom time and space as a child? Most of the time it’s not a bother, but if he’s occupying one, and has the other one tied up with stuff spread all over, it leaves little opportunity for other members of the household to also get ready. I thought the whole purpose of having two bathrooms in a house was for more than one person to be able to do whatever one does in a bathroom at the same time.

At night, I usually just toss my clothes on the chair next to the bed, and then put them back on again the next morning — or, on regular occasions will toss them in the hamper and get new ones out – but I don’t see the need to go to a different room and spread them out.

But, I know that people can be weird about their bathroom habits. I suppose I’m lucky that I haven’t been banished to a wash-stand and tub in the basement, heating water for baths over a hot plate. But, there are days where I just wish he’d pick A bathroom instead of using pieces of all of them.

…and the next President is ….

The older I get, the more politics makes my stomach hurt. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my tolerance for bull shit is diminishing, or if today’s political coverage is just done in such a way as to make any thinking person clutch their tummy and head off to lie down.

While generally a Democrat with a socialistic lean leftward, parts of me conflict and have a slight tilt rightward, especially when it comes to money. It’s hard to reconcile the two.

This cycle, the media seems to think that Hilary Clinton is the odds-on shoo-in and apparently the DNC should just get things out of the way and proclaim her the candidate.
bookshelvesFor months it was said that Jeb Bush held the opposing role for the Republican party, and the other dozen to two dozen candidates might as well go back to whatever it was they were doing. Amazingly, Donald Trump seems to be giving Bush a run for his money at this early point. (I have to reach for another heartburn pill every time I read that statistic.)

hcYet, as liberal as I am, I am very uncomfortable with Hilary this time around. Aside from the fact that she’s a woman, her politics don’t seem to be any different than any other mega-wealthy, obligated to big-business candidate. Under the hood, there really isn’t much difference between her and Bush – and in fact, according to an article I just read in The Guardian, just like Jeb Bush, most of her money seems to have come from big company lobbyists.

This would mean that if elected to office, Hilary is much more likely to be in favor of policy and legislation that would end up benefiting the companies that these lobbyists represent – companies like Chevron, Facebook and the most evil of them all Goldman Sachs.

Despite the hype, Hilary has never been about the little person. She is way to deep into the camp of big money.

The list of announced candidates for the Democratic nomination is far shorter than the Republican side, and is strangely full of people I’ve either never heard of, or who I might be familiar with only because I recognize I’ve heard their name somewhere fairly recently.

candidates

I know nothing of Lincoln Chaffee, however I do remember his father John Chaffee. I lived in Rhode Island for a few years in the later 1980s, and John Chaffee is/was a big deal there. John Chaffee was also Secretary of the Navy my last year of high school – and I joined the Navy Reserve in January of 1973 while still a high school senior.

But his son Lincoln? Nothing. I draw a blank. So, I turn to the web and try to see what his platform might be, and it appears his biggest news  draw is his desire to take the U.S. to the metric system. Didn’t we try that earlier only to have it flop miserably? And if that is his lead item, I’m not even going to bother to read up on the rest, he’s obviously a lightweight if he thinks that one of our biggest problems right now is that we still use inches and feet instead of whatever the hell the metric system uses. Cross him off my list.

Next on the list is Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland. Never heard of him. But, looking at him on the issues, he doesn’t appear to be too bad with the exception again that he appears to be soft on corporate taxes. His view on legalizing low-level drugs is also old-fashioned and out of touch with reality. I don’t care for his stand on education either – charter schools have been the cause of our public school system coming apart at the seams. On The Issues has him as a moderate liberal, but I guess I’d want to know where he gets his money and whether or not he’s a trust fund kiddie himself.

On The Issues has Jim Webb, the most recently announced democratic candidate also as a moderate liberal. Isn’t that the definition of a Democrat? I think he’s a bit more of a military hawk than I’d like, but he is also a U.S. Senator and I’d like to know how friendly he is with the above said lobbyists before I would give him much more thought.

Interestingly, when it comes to Bernie Sanders, On The Issues does have him pegged to the far left corner of their chart – and calls him a “Hard Liberal”. He’s a self pro-claimed socialist, so it’s not a secret, but it’s really not that much further to the left than any other Democrat – at least if you look at the position of the red dot on their little diagram.

It’s hard for me to find something not to like in the man. He’s opposed to embryonic stem cell research. I think that’s bad – as long as the cells are going in the garbage anyway, why not let someone research on them? We may be stomping on our own nuts by not doing so.

I mean, were it not for the fact that for some reason “socialist” seems to have the same ugly connotation as “communist”, if you look at what the man stands for, it’s nothing that a reasonable middle class person trying to raise a family wouldn’t want. It’s all reasonable stuff. Of course, if you are part of the 1%, controlling 90% of the wealth in this country, I can understand why you might be looking around and hoping for an assassination attempt. That’s ugly – but from what I can see, Bernie Sanders would like to turn this country upside down and make it a decent place for the average person to work and live without worrying where the next mortgage payment is coming from, or rather or not the corporation down the street is pouring chemicals in the drains or stacking the deck on a chance to just live in peace with enough money to make it to the end.

Surely Bernie Sanders is a much better choice than Donald Trump?

dtrump

So, I’m torn. While I agree in large part with Bernie Sander’s ideals and policies, I’m not sure that a lot of this country can get past his “socialist” label. But, maybe it’s what we need.

buttonIt’s still early. We are 18 months away from an election. Maybe someone else will come in that will catch my eye.

It’s time for us to stop being the worlds cops. It’s time for us to stop being the first in the world to rush in an army wherever we think it might be needed. It has us hated by a good half the world, and I’d rather have a new bridge or a decent highway to drive on than pay through the nose for peace in Iraq or Syria.

I’d like jobs to come back to this country instead of being farmed out to whatever the next cheap labor place in the world is going to be. I’d like corporations who move their operations offshore to avoid taxes to be penalized – or even sanctioned and sold off.

The difference between “rich” and “not rich” has never been greater in our country. It makes the tycoons of the early 1900’s look like middle class. And the political power welded by the  wealthiest companies and individuals in the country should not be allowed. Simply should not be tolerated.

I keep promising myself to just ignore politics. I’m retired now, and as long as I can keep on enjoying my life, does it matter who has the power in Washington. Yes, it does matter, I do care, and if we don’t make big changes soon, the United States of America as we’ve known it since the days of FDR are gone and what will take its place may not be a very nice place to live.

 

Gay Marriage

rainbow_whitehouseNow that the Supreme Court has decided that same-sex couples can also enjoy the rights and benefits and responsibilities of marriage, some of the far religious right seems to have resorted to the same tactics used by a stubborn toddler at the dinner table who refuses to eat peas.

I empathize with those who are deeply religious and have objections, but I feel they no longer have any right to object. At least in this country, marriage became a civil institution many years ago, and while some marriages are performed in a church with all the requisite religious ceremony, many millions of marriages are performed by civil servants in a public hallway at the county courthouse, or by notary public’s in many states, or even at drive-through chapels in Las Vegas.

A 2014 article by CNN disclosed that at the current rate, our young people of today are on track to be the least married of our citizens in our history – with nearly 30% of the current generation remaining unmarried by age 40. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t partnered or having families, they simply choose to skip the formality of traditional marriage.

While we hear strident calls from gay people about equality, in the end, I think that all we really wanted was to have thereligious_right
same advantages given by the state to the families we create as are given to any other non-gay family in the land. While there are fringe elements in every movement, I believe that the core of the gay citizenry who have been clamoring for marriage all these decades are perfectly happy now that they can enjoy all the civil benefits of marriage and family, and most could give a rat’s patootie about any religious meaning to their unions. I’m unclear how a legal, but civil marriage would change how any religion wishes to treat marriages among their members.

Despite the lopsided influence of our many religions in America, we remain a mostly secular country.

The current call by some of the more hard-right politicians seeking the next Presidency for a constitutional amendment
that would call for our Supreme Court members to stand for review and election at periodic intervals goes completely against our original founding intentions. It would violate the delicate checks and balances that keep our American engine running.

rainbow1Yes, we are a Republic, not a democracy, and we elect representatives to run the country for us. A true democracy would require that the citizenry vote on every single issue, every single policy, and our founders were wise enough to know that this would quickly become unwieldy and instead devised a method where our elected representatives go make the laws and policies they feel the country requires. The checks and balances on our Congress are the President and the Supreme Court. The three divisions of our government work together to ensure that the basic tenets of our constitution remain inviolate, that the majority is not allowed to stamp out the minority, that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law.

And, in certain extreme situations, Congress can attempt to modify or amend our constitution. It was not made an easy thing to do – a whole lot of people have to agree, and that is very difficult to achieve in this world we have today. Our system has worked for us for 250 years, and most of us are wise enough to know that we should let it stand as it seems to be better than what most of the rest of the world has devised.

Just like the decision in 1967 to allow inter-racial marriage, I think that in time the pot will cease to violently boil and we’ll find a balance where most of the country is happy with the way things are and we’ll move on to new issues. In the meantime, especially in light of the upcoming election year grandstanding, we’ll have to put up with a bunch of nutcases trying to figure out how to say what they think their audience of the day wants to hear, and it will all be meaningless and a waste of time.

Gay-Culture-DeadWhat I’m afraid of more than these right-wing nuts is assimilation. The gay “culture” in America has been a unique sub-culture of strange and wonderful people who more often than not moved over to accommodate nearly anyone. As long as you were identifying as gay, there was a place for you somewhere in the culture. As we gain more equality, our culture is beginning to die and fade away. Gay bookstores for the most part are already gone, and gay bars and clubs have been closing by the dozens.

A great part of me embraces that culture of the 70’s and 80’s where in any big town there were dozens of bars and clubs that catered to any fetish or fantasy you might have, where gay bookstores were a center of the gay community, providing intellectual stimulation and literary marvels that were focused on our community, our struggles and our unique way of life.

I see all this fading away as we assimilate into the greater society and become just another couple on the block with kids bikes in the yard and a judywhomembership in the local PTA.  Some say it is a good thing, and perhaps it is, but those of us of a certain age find it somehow harder to handle than the younger crowd who grow up today and are “out” of their closets before puberty has fully set in.

As for marriage itself, while I am happy that we can now marry and gain all the civil benefits (or encumbrances) of the institution, I’m still not comfortable. I find it very difficult to put into words, but most all gay couples I know, of any age, are not like straight couples.

Most gay couples I know, married or not, have a very different relationship than most straight couples I know. To start with, there is monogamy. Most of the couples I know are mostly monogamous, but if one or the other isn’t on the rare occasion, it’s not a deal breaker for the relationship.

Since most gay couples don’t have children, there is an entirely different dynamic. Sure, a lot of the younger crowd are adopting, or using surrogates, but still, for the most part there are millions of gay couples who are childless and will always be childless by choice.

What I’m trying to say, and not doing a very good job of it, is that in my mind the word “marriage” is word that belongs to heterosexuals. It describes a way of life and has a pre-defined set of behavioral expectations that simply don’t fit the way most gay couples I have ever known actually live their lives.

I think maybe we need a new word, one all our own, but still gives us the same civil benefits, responsibilities and rights as any other legally recognized familial unit in our country.

And, is marriage for me? I was married to two different women in my life and had children with both. Eventually both marriages failed, and while there is no single reason that can be pointed too for either of them, I recognize now, some 40 and 20 years later (respectively), that for the most part, traditional marriage made me deeply unhappy and was the underlying root cause of the failures. I’m very reluctant to screw up the relationship I’m enjoying now by getting married, although I suppose that for financial, inheritance, taxes and a plethora of other reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the way we feel about one another, I’ll eventually succumb and we’ll tie the knot — but I guarandamntee you – any marriage I get into in the future will have it’s own set of rules that won’t be anybody else’s business and won’t meet anyone else’s expectations but mine.

So, I’m a bit like John Roberts. By all means – let’s celebrate, but I’m not sure that in throwing out the old dirty bathwater that we didn’t lose at least some of the baby with it.