A Tale of Two Cities, by Rich Paschall

Recently The Daily Prompt asked this question: “If you could split your time evenly between two places, and two places only, which would these be?”  Normally I am not a Daily Prompt kind of guy.  I am on the subscriber list, but usually by the time I read the email notice, it is a day or two later and I just delete.  This one sounded rather intriguing, so I stashed it away for later use.

St Petersburg bridgeIf you have been visiting this space regularly, you may have noticed that Marilyn responded to the question when is was posted over a week ago.  If you read SERENDIPITY, her choices would not have been a surprise to you.  If you missed it, you can run right over there now and read her response.  You will find it here.  Don’t forget to come back!

What would you pick?  Would your home town be included?  Would your current residence be a choice?  Remember, in this scenario you can have any two cities.  Shall it be a northern city for summer and a warmer climate for winter?  I guess you can reverse that if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.  If you are close enough to the Equator, you have no need to move away from the cold.

Maybe you need somewhere exotic as one of your stops.  Fiji comes to my mind.  There must be somewhere in the South Pacific that is warm and inviting.  If you think we must be restricted to cities, then I will say that Nadi, Fiji has about 50,000 people so we will count it as a city rather than a village.  If your home is in Nadi, I guess you can still spend plenty of time on a beach on the other side of the island.

How about a European capital?  I have always found London inviting.  Author Samuel Johnson once famously stated, “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  I guess that could be said of many of the great cities of the world.  I found Rome, Paris and Brussels all to be interesting and vibrant cities.  I have not been to other European capital cities.  Perhaps our choice of two cities should include one unknown and one known.

If you have not been to the other side of the world from where you are, would you chose a city solely on the recommendation of others?   Would you do an internet search of other places, or strictly stay with what you know?

When my father retired and moved from the cold of the Midwest to Florida, I began to understand the attraction of what they called “snowbirds” in the South.  These were the people who kept their homes in the north, but spent the winters in the south.  I loved Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota and many of the Gulf cities.  I could see doing exactly that.  Perhaps your second city would be in another warm climate.  Arizona? Southern California? Hawaii?

Actually, it did not take me long to settle on two spots.  When I eliminated the fantasies and considered what is most important, I knew the answers.  First would be Chicago.  It is a world-class city with world-class attractions.  It has major sports teams and fine stadiums, old and new.  It has theater and concert venues and the major shows and Rock and Roll acts make it here when they tour.  There is a lakefront that stretches the entire east side of the city, with open parkland, beaches and museums.  Chicago Skyline

Al Capone does not live here.  We are not the murder capital of the country, we are not even in the top 10.  We do get a lot of publicity when there is crime.  Like every big city, we have big city problems.  I would say these problems are increased by the NRA suing the city over any attempt to keep guns away from gangs and criminals, but that is another column.  We have friendly people who celebrate diversity.

You may not have heard of my other choice.  I guess it is not really a city, but rather a small town of about 20,000 people.  It is in the beautiful Alsace region of France.  You will find small towns with ancient buildings sprinkled among the vineyards.  In the distance on top of some of the hills, you will find castles left from centuries ago.  If you say that this will not do, I must pick a larger “city,” I will move a short distance to the north and the lovely city of Strasbourg, capital of the European Union.

Why would I pick such completely different places on two different continents?  Why would I choose places that have  similar climates, where neither will escape the snow and cold?  How could I spend half a year in a big city and half in a small town which holds none of the major attractions?  The answer to me is quite simple.Selestat

The locale is no longer the most important consideration when deciding where to live.  At one time it may have been important.  When I am retired and tired of shoveling snow, maybe I would desire the warm weather locations.  Now it is about family and friends.  Aunts and cousins of various generations are here in Chicago.  Friends made recently and friends since childhood are here too.

In France is one of my best friends.  He spent a year here in 2009 and when he left we maintained our friendship through visits once or twice a year, here and in France.  When I go to France we always see things I have not seen before, so it is great adventure.  If he was somewhere else in France, then I would name that city instead.  Spending time with family and close friends, no matter where they reside, makes their locations the places I want to be.  For now my choices are Chicago, Illinois and Communauté de communes de Sélestat et environs.  Where are your two homes to be?


We fight. Not about anything important. Never about important stuff. We agree on everything that matters. We have stupid arguments. Who does more housework. Or doesn’t do enough. Or doesn’t appreciate how much the other one does. Who left the bedroom door open so the dogs could get in the trash. How come someone can’t remember where the big serving spoons go or learn the difference between a pasta server and a soup ladle.


You’d think after more than fifty years of being friends, lovers, companions and even occasionally co-workers, we’d have doped out no one ever wins, not when the combatants are totally   committed to having the last word.


Maybe yelling at each other is the closest thing we have to a contact sport. We used to go riding (on horses) together, but we can’t do it anymore. We wander around taking pictures, but I don’t believe it qualifies as a sport. Nor does hanging around doctors’ waiting rooms, our other shared activity.

Or surfing Netflix.


It’s November. Already. The year passed at warp speed.

On Starship Armstrong, no one has the bridge. We just blast through space and hope we don’t bang into an asteroid.


The “What Ifs” of Life, by Rich Paschall

Certainly you have seen some of the various questions surrounding you being stranded on a desert island?  If you were stranded, who would you like to be with?  What 5 things would you take along?  What 5 things that you have now could you do without?  What one album would you take?  What electronic device would you need?  This assumes you would not run out of batteries I guess.


These, and questions like them, present interesting challenges to a person that they may not consider otherwise.  Who is the most important person in your life?  Is that the one you want by your side?  Perhaps you would rather have someone with survival skills.  Perhaps you would not want the other to be stranded too.  Perhaps you would rather be alone.

What 5 things would you take along?  This really calls for creative thinking.  You may consider clothes, but do you need more than you are wearing?  You might consider your music, but would that come ahead of other basic needs.  Perhaps you are one that considers music a basic need.  I know some of those types of people.

Birdie Beach

Would you think of camping supplies?  If you are not already a camper or outdoors person, would any of that mean anything to you.  I guess you could be clever and say you need a lifetime supply of canned goods, but then don’t forget the can opener.  Or something to start a fire.  I have heard all my life that you can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, but I have never seen anyone actually do it.  Can you?  If so, you may be on my stranded island list.


Would you consider tools to build a shelter?  Just exactly how handy are you and what kind of tools would be suited to your skills?  I guess an ax could serve many useful purposes.  Did you have it on your list?  Did you add a hammer?  You may not need it if you have an ax?  A knife? A pick?  A power drill?  Oops, no power.

Let’s say you had an electric device whose battery was solar-powered or recharged.  What then would you take along?  I think you will not get the internet, although some day you may get that from just about anywhere.  What will you do on your island in the meantime?

Sunrise Strider

If you could take just one album, what would it be?  This is a hard one for me.  When I get an album I like, I can play it over and over, but I do get tired of it eventually and put it on a shelf.  I guess I would pick someone’s greatest hits album, but whose?

Let’s forget about the desert island for a moment and bring you back home.  What if you had just one day to live?  What would you do?  Who would you see?  What would you say?

The “one day to live” scenario is thrown out there on social media and elsewhere about as often as the desert island scenarios.  It is even more challenging as people think of all the things they were going to do, but never got around to it.  The long trips are out.  The classes to learn some skill are out.

So we may be left with planning a last meal.  Are we making this feast or heading to a favorite restaurant?  Perhaps it is neither, as we go to someplace we have never tried before.  I hear there is a new French restaurant in town.  Maybe I want to go there.


Are there people to whom you absolutely must say something?  Do you need to say good-bye to someone?  Do you need to tell someone you love him or her?  Do you need to apologize for something that happened in the past?  With a limited amount of time, which people are on the list for final conversations?

The 24 hour time frame automatically eliminates a lot of possibilities.  Would you watch a movie, go to a show, see a play?  Those all seem like such a poor use of precious hours to me.

Would you go to an expensive concert if you had tickets, or would the expense no longer matter?  Perhaps you should give them away and do something else.  Would you watch television, You Tube videos, surf the internet?  I guess those practices would begin seem like quite the waste when “the days (or hours) dwindle down to a precious few.”


What is we lived our lives like only a few things were really important?  What if we lived our lives like there was only a day left, even if there were 25 thousand days left?  Wouldn’t it be richer and more meaningful?

There is nothing wrong with looking down the road, but too many of us are not living for today.  That is why those stranded island and one day to live scenarios are so scary.  They immediately call to mind all the things we missed out on in life and can not go back to fix.


When you are left on an island or reach the final day, make sure you did what you wanted and needed to do.  That you respected everyone.  That you told people you loved them, so you don’t leave with regrets.

Be sure that you mended fences in case there is no time later to do it.  If you do this, the one day to live challenges on social media might not be so scary.  By the way, if you are stranded on a desert island, it helps to have a volleyball named Wilson.


Yesterday upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today …

Gee I wish he’d go away.”

Childhood ditty 

When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never lonely because I had friends who understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. More accurately, they consolidated and acquired a more sophisticated persona.

“They” became a “she.” My narrator. And she as been with me my entire life. A companion for sure, but also a “shadow me.” She sits on my shoulder and almost never shuts up. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, I can blame it on the narrator. It’s all her fault.


My narrator remembers everything. She fills in my back story. Technically, I’m in charge of my life, but sometimes, I wonder. My narrator seems to know what will happen before I do. She never stops telling my story.

She is my third person perspective on life — as I live it in real time. I’m so accustomed to her running commentary, that during her brief silences, I become alarmed by her absence. She is so much a part of how I make sense of life (the universe and everything, thank you Douglas Adams), I’m unsure whether or not I could understand anything much without the accompanying narration.


As long as I can remember, my narrator — who is me but not me — has had no name except maybe a form of mine. She is writer-Marilyn. She has a job. To fill the gaps in my story. To add “he said” and “she said.” To describe the things people do. Sometimes supply a little mood music, suggest changes to the script, and scenery. She “fictionalizes” reality.

My unreal pal distracts me and has no respect for “the moment.” No respecter of persons either, she will make me laugh precisely when I shouldn’t. Over the years, she has gotten me into trouble with bosses, teachers, spouses, and complete strangers. I can hardly explain it’s not me laughing at them … it’s that damned narrator.

Despite the perils of the relationship, I’ve learned a lot from my nameless friend. She has taught me to view life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, hilarity, weird characters, strange coincidences, tragedy, romance, hope, and despair. Because she weaves the story lines together into the epic of my life, I have a better world view, a more cohesive vision of how I fit into the fabric of others’ existences — and how other people fit into mine.


She complicates my life and at the same time, simplifies it. My only job is to follow the script, even when it makes no sense, and to fix the typos when I spot them. My narrator takes care of the rest.


When I was a small child, I wanted only one thing which in my life I never got. A happy family. More specifically, an entirely different father.


I wanted one who loved me. Who would be kind, gentle, and caring. Of whom I could be proud and unafraid.

Sadly, that’s not one of those “dreams that came true.” I never stopped yearning. Sometimes, I tried to convince myself he really was that father … but he always proved me wrong.

Eventually, I moved on. And life was just fine.


I live in a small town. Just under 13,000 people call Uxbridge home. The village, or as we say around here, “downtown,” has a classic brick town hall, circa 1879, an elegant old library, and several other historic buildings.

Our neighboring town, Millville, makes Uxbridge look like Metropolis.

Their town hall is a unit in an old condo building. The center of town is a sub shop. There’s no sign to indicate you are in Millville, so it’s easy to miss. When you get there, it will be closed anyway. The following notice is posted on Millville’s website:

Due to budget constraints, effective immediately the Town Clerk’s office will only be open on Mondays from 9am-1pm and Wednesday evenings from 6pm-8pm for public assistance. If you cannot be at the Municipal Center during these scheduled hours, please call the Town Clerk’s Office to schedule an appointment.m

There are approximately 3100 people living in Millville, spread out thinly.

Perhaps 7  or 8 years ago, the town of Millville decided they needed a Deputy Animal Control Officer. I don’t remember how I heard about the job. It may have been a tip from our local animal control officer who knew I liked animals and needed part-time work.


This was about as part-time as a job could be. The pay was $1200 per year, payable semi-annually. Before taxes.

Millville already had a Senior Animal Control Officer who was theoretically in charge, but passionately fond of golf. I suspect he also had a full-time job elsewhere. So, in exchange for $600 every 6 months, I would have the official title of Deputy Animal Control Officer. I would be on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

I’m basically an optimist. I figured Millville is tiny. How many calls could there be? I took the job. I was sworn in, just like in the movies, hand on the Bible. I promised to protect and serve.


A mere couple of hours later, I got my first call. A homeowner had found an almost dead skunk by their trash bin and wanted it taken away. It was my first call — a Sunday morning — so my “senior officer” thought he should come along, show me the ropes as it were.

Photo: Greenshield Pest Control

Photo: Greenshield Pest Control

Luckily, the skunk did the right thing and went from nearly dead to absolutely dead while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I was informed by my erstwhile boss that the skunk had probably been rabid and I should not touch it. If the skunk had not died on his own, I would have been obliged to shoot it.

Me: “Shoot it?”

Boss: “Yes, shoot it. With the rifle.”

Me: “Rifle? What rifle?”

Boss: “Oh, didn’t I mention that? We have a couple of rifles in the office. When an animal is behaving suspiciously, you have to shoot it.”

Me: “Behaving suspiciously?”

Boss: “You know, approaching people rather than running away. Acting weird. Most of the animals you’ll get calls about are rabid. There’s a lotta rabies around here so you don’t want to get close. Just shoot’em.”

Rabies. Shoot the animals. $100 a month. I was getting that creepy feeling I get when I think maybe I’ve signed up for something, the implications of which I had failed to fully grasp.

After we bagged the skunk to send to the county animal medical examiner, I promised to go to city hall as soon as they reopened to discuss guns and the other equipment I would need. Like shovels, leather gloves, heavy-duty plastic trash bags (the non-human version of body bags), tags for the medical examiner. Forms to fill out. Oh, and where to put the corpses. Turns out, you can’t just stack them up in city hall.

My boss was not upset that I’d never handled a real weapon. I’d never shot anything currently or previously alive. I was puzzled about what I was supposed to do if I got a call, actually needed a rifle, but it was locked up at city hall which was pretty much always closed.


Would the offending animal make an appointment for a more convenient time? Or wait for me to call someone, get them to unlock the gun cabinet, then hang around while I drove over to get it, then drove back to shoot him? Are the rabid animals of Millville that cooperative? Was I supposed to keep the big hunting rifle in my house in case I needed it? The rabies thing had me spooked, too.

When I was finally able to get to city hall, I demanded a rabies vaccination. No way was I going to handle rabid animals without a vaccination. They pointed out rabies vaccinations are expensive and I was only the deputy. They suggested I pay for it myself.

Me: “How much will it cost?”

Clerk: “Around $450.”

Me: “That’s four and a half months pay.”

Clerk: “Well, we don’t normally pay for it.”

Me: “I’m not doing this unless I’m vaccinated.”

It turned out that the animal medical examiner could provide me with the appropriate vaccination, so Garry — who had begun to look alarmed — drove me to the doctor. While the doctor prepared the inoculation, we got a rundown of exactly how common rabies is in our neck of the woods.

“Why,” he said, “Just last week they found a deer with rabies. Chipmunks, skunk, fox, coyotes, squirrels, deer … even possums get rabies.” The only exceptions are rabbits who are naturally immune. Go figure.

The following day, I got another call. A really big snapping turtle had wandered into the road and was blocking traffic. It didn’t sound too threatening, so armed with my shoulder-high heavy leather gauntlets (no rifle), I drove to the site and met the snapping turtle from Hell.


Keep in mind that there is water everywhere in the valley. Not only the Blackstone, but all its tributaries, feeder creeks, lakes, brooks, ponds, pools, and swamps. Snapping turtles are called common for good reason. They live just about everywhere you find water. Undoubtedly, the big snapper had wandered into the road, lost his bearings. Someone needed to grab the turtle and carry him back on the river side of the road. That someone was me.

This turtle was not in the water, not docile. His beak was sharp. His neck was extremely flexible. Not my kind of nature pal.

So there I was, by the side of the road, trying to figure out how I could grab him. He was approximately 30 pounds of pissed turtle. He seemed pretty agile to me. He could move. Okay, maybe he’d lose a footrace to a rabbit, but he could trundle along at a nice pace. And he had that snaky neck and was determined to bite me.


Meanwhile, an entire construction crew — big brawny guys who were supposed to be repairing the bridge — were watching. They didn’t seem eager to help. In fact, they were the ones who called in the first place.

I eventually herded him across the road. I looked at those jaws, looked at my leather gloves, did a quick mental calculation as to strength of gloves versus power of turtle’s jaws, decided the gloves weren’t all that sturdy.

My personal weapon: a Red Ryder BB rifle

My personal weapon: a Red Ryder BB rifle

Have you ever tried herding a turtle? Of course not. You can’t herd a turtle, but I did. I don’t know exactly how I got him across the road. I know there was a big shovel involved, but otherwise, it’s a blur. The next thing I remember doing after getting the turtle over to the river side of the road, was calling the clerk and resigning.

The turtle was enough for me. I figured if I didn’t get out quick, they’d have me hunting rabid coyotes with a large gun and I’d shoot my foot off.

They tried to bill me for the rabies shot. We settled for not paying me. I think I got the better part of the deal.


A Hall of Fame Teacher

There are a lot of dedicated teachers.  Many find a good school and stay with it for decades.  Most of us can recall a teacher like this.  The fortunate ones will encounter several as they go through school.  I had such a teacher.

It is rare that 20 years after a teacher retires, her legacy lives on.  At my parish and high school, current administrators frequently hear from alumni the stories of a teacher they never met.  “Mrs. Kittler was the best teacher I ever had,” many remark.  The praises have not stopped long after the teacher retired and moved away.

Photo Credit: St. Benedict HS archive

Photo Credit: St. Benedict HS archive

Laurette Kittler started out with a brief foray into acting and would seem to have a promising future.  She decide to follow another passion however, and went into teaching.  In the spring of 1959, St. Benedict High School asked her to come direct a show they had already started.  Apparently it needed help, and a lot of it.  At that time she was teaching at another area school.

The production of Tekakwitha was rescued, more or less, and in the fall of 1959 she moved to St. Benedict where she taught and directed shows for the next 37 years.  Most years it was not one play, but many productions.  Summer shows were frequently part of the program too.  It was not just the drama students who participated.  Often other students showed up to participate in the spring musical.  You just were not cool if you did not join the show.

In recent years a facebook group dedicated to Mrs. Kittler has been formed and hundreds of former students have posted thousands of pictures and programs from past shows.  It seems the legacy was not only contained in the dusty store rooms of the former convent at St. Benedict’s, but also in the albums, cabinets and closets of the former students and parents.

Photo: Courtesy of Monica Kaepplinger-Bofani

Photo: Courtesy of Monica Kaepplinger-Bofani

Now, at the age of 87, Mrs. Kittler has decided to answer the call of her former school and students and return to Chicago from southern California.  She will be honored as a “Hall of Fame” teacher, and current and former students will entertain her with songs from shows she directed.

Alumni wish to thank her for the impression she made on their lives.  Students wish to meet the teacher whose name still echoes through the halls of their school.

It’s The Theater, by Rich Paschall

She said “Project!”
I thought I was screaming
At the top of my lungs.
Be loud
And also strong.
You have to be heard
Up at the highest rungs.

And you’ll be great.”
She said that I mumble
And words are not too clear.
Sounds nice
And clear to me.
Why can’t she hear it all,
When she’s standing oh so near?

It’s the theater.
I love the theater,
It has taught me how to act,
And has taught me how to sing,
But more than that.
I learned of life.
Now I hit my mark
When I’m doing anything.

“Hear you!
I can’t hear you,”
Came a voice out of the dark
From the furthest seat away.
I cannot see her,
But I can hear her,
And I’m told I must be louder
In everything I say.

“I’ll go east.
I could go east.
You have to play the show.
And you have to do your best,
But I can walk,
And my hat will float.
I have shown you all the way.
And now you must do the rest.”

So we pray.
It’s time to pray.
We are asking Saint Jude
If he can save the day.
But we’ve been taught.
We learned our lines.
We are ready for our moment
When we can start the play.

It’s the theater.
I love the theater.
It has taught us understanding
Of the world all around.
Not just emotion,
But its compassion
Has us soaring through our lives
With our feet back on the ground.

It’s the theater.
We thank the theater,
The teachers and director
Who helped us find our way.
The lessons learned
Went way beyond
The shows and the songs
To reward us every day.

Note: I recently had to explain the “walk east” reference to a current student. It was a favorite saying of Mrs. Kittler. She would tell students in her own unique way, that when the curtain opens, they must stay and do the show. Her job is done at that point, and she could always walk east until her hat floats if the show is not ready. Lake Michigan is east of us.