RADIO DAYS – WMEX

We were on Fireside, WMEX in Quincy, Massachusetts. Hosted by Jim Callahan and his beautiful (in every way) wife, producer, and co-host Nancy, we had a great time. Lots of laughter. Garry had the opportunity to tell a whole bunch of his celebrity anecdotes to a new audience and he sparkled, as always.

Again, he heard the familiar refrain: “You should write a book!”

He really should.

All the pictures were taken with the Pentax Q7 and (mostly) the f2.8 5-15mm “standard” zoom.

ALL-AMERICAN BOY – RICH PASCHALL

Steve Grand music, Rich Paschall

What do you think of when someone uses the term “All-American Boy?”  You may immediately think of someone who is quite handsome.  He may be “clean-cut” and “wholesome” looking, that is to say he is neat and well dressed.  Your image may include someone who is athletic.  He may have a body that is “buffed-up.”  It may be a young man with a glowing smile and pleasant personality.  An All-American boy can be a variety of handsome and talented things to the person thinking of this term.

Steve Grand is all of these things.  In addition, he is an excellent singer, songwriter, musician.  His musical talent alone is enough to impress, but when combined with his good looks, he definitely comes across as the quintessential All-American boy.  His image as a performer both supports this and makes it unique at the same time.

All-American Boy

All-American Boy

Steve Grand, like a number of artists of the current generation, became popular as a YouTube performer.  His self-produced All-American Boy video from 2013 caught on and went viral. It now has more than 4 million views.  This is a different version of the All-American Boy, because like Steve, the boy in the video is gay.

A lot of people do not think an “All-American Boy” can be gay, but why not?  Steve Grand has the talent, drive, and good looks of America’s best. Why should he not be the “boy next door?” He works hard at his craft and is as All-American as any young man anywhere.

The huge success of Steve’s video led to a “Kickstarter” campaign to raise money to produce an album.  Kisckstarter is an online funding mechanism where people can pledge money to help support a particular project.  It is similar in nature to the Patreon campaign we describe for Tom Law Music.  Steve set a goal of 81,000 US Dollars to get his first album self-produced and out to the public.  His video success and personal performances drove the total up over 326,000 USD.  As a result, Steve has had to sign his name A LOT on CD cases.  If you pledged at a certain level, you got an autographed copy.  I have one.

Album

Album

While Steve is known as a “country artist” because of “All-American Boy” and some other selections, Steve is certainly not that.  He is a well-rounded artist of many genres.  The native of a Chicago suburb, Lemont — “one of Chicago’s blandest suburbs” — he does not mind the country label, but wants people to know he is more than that.

His new album certainly announces that he has a variety of styles to offer and a number of messages to sing.  The newly released album was the third best funded Kickstarter musical project.  Important among the messages are the views of love through the eyes of a young man.  The feelings of love desired and won or lost as described by a young man, can resonate with gay or straight people everywhere.  Steve may prove to be one whose performances can transcend his sexuality and appeal to all.  That is a hard thing to do.  Few performers can come out early in their careers and expect to do well.  Steve may be one of those.

Of course, I am always drawn in by videos where Chicago is the background.  Having an “All-American Boy” up front certainly helps the scenery.

TRAINS

ON THE WAY – WEEKLY PHOTO PROMPT

My son took these pictures on a slow, rainy train journey through the swamps and woods of the Blackstone Valley. They have lain here, in my files, waiting for a time to properly present them. A little processing to make them more painterly … and they are ready.

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The tracks are old and narrow and the train, which runs once a week and goes from one yard to another, never exceeds five miles per hour.

PORTRAITS OF MY OLD MAN – BLACK & WHITE CHALLENGE

CEE’S BLACK & WHITE PHOTO CHALLENGE: A NEW PHOTO

This week’s topic is “Take a New Photo.” You can use any photo you’ve taken in the past week or two, if you can’t get out and get new photographs today.

It isn’t hard to take pictures of my husband. It is very difficult to take pictures he likes. I like these. He said they are “okay.” I leave further judgement to you.

Garry black and white portrait 1

Garry black and white portrait 3

Taken with Olympus PEN PL-6 and a 45mm f1.8 portrait lens. Processed in Photoshop.

DOUBLE MINT – GRETCHEN ARCHER – AVAILABLE JULY 21st!

I have loved everything Gretchen Archer has written, from her first book “Double Whammy,” to this latest, greatest entry into the Davis Way caper novels.

Double mint gretchen archer

Davis is growing into herself. Still madcap, but madcap in a Sherlock Holmesian way. She knows what she’s doing. She knows why she’s doing it. She sees connections between seemingly random events. How they form a pattern. The problem is getting anyone else to see.

She and Bradley make a great team. They have that “thing” which makes husband-wife detective couples so much fun — the ability to communicate so cryptically no one else understands. But they “get” each other … and it may save a life or two.

It serves them well as the complex plot unrolls. Finding themselves living in the Bellissimo Casino itself (it’s temporary, isn’t it?), in the most hideous apartment imaginable. There’s a conference of bankers going on and Davis can’t get in. Not even for a quick security scan.

Why not? What’s really going on?

Bankers who have their own security people? Who look and act like thugs?  What’s going on with that super-secure vault? What does the apartment’s previous occupant and (shudder) designer, have to do with it? Has Fantasy gone nuts? Where is No Hair when you need him?

Mysteries within mysteries call for Davis’s clever mind and extraordinary ability to see what no one else can see. Will anyone else “get it” in time?

Another taut mystery and hilarious romp through the world of casino gambling, mysterious bankers, and sealed vaults. Not to mention gigantic heaps of money. Or something like it.

RESERVE A COPY NOW. AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PAPERBACK.

Prepare yourself for a great mystery. An intelligently written, perfectly plotted, marvelously witty, clever detective tale you’ll love from start to finish. If you are anything like me, you’ll wish it would never end.

MEDICARE TO SENIORS: WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE?

If you’re on Medicare, that’s the message you’re getting.

Out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up annually, with ever-higher deductibles and premiums and a massive doughnut hole in prescription coverage that like the energizer bunny just keeps going and going and going. Many of the most fundamental, critical medications aren’t covered at all — emergency and other inhalers for asthma sufferers, nitroglycerin, newer antibiotics. Out-of-pockets costs are terrifying. Now, they’ve added a new twist. Something special to make us feel the love.

Coffin

I had my semi-annual physical a few weeks ago. These are supposed to be no-cost, no deductible preventative visits. Included in the visit were some standard blood tests and vaccinations. Three of the vaccinations were boosters to the vaccinations we got as children: polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping-cough (which is making a come-back). One was against shingles, which apparently is an issue for anyone over 60 who had chicken pox.

When I got my statement from Medicare, I expected to find maybe $20 due for the lab. Instead, there was an outstanding balance of $464, all for vaccinations. More than $300 of those dollars was for the shingles vaccine. No way can I come up with this amount of money on our fixed income.

Medicare had covered none of it. It said my “other insurance” (what other insurance? I’m on a Medicare PPO Advantage plan) didn’t pay anything either.

medicare confusion

When my husband’s Medicare statement for his physical arrived, there was another $265 for vaccinations, all boosters. I compared the statements. Garry is not on an advantage plan. He’s on straight Medicare with a “Medigap” policy that never seems to pay anything no matter what the claim.

That was when I realized how they’d done it. Vaccinations are no longer a medical expense. They are prescription medication.

Medicare reclassified vaccinations as prescription medication so they now fall under Medicare Part D. None of the prescription plans ever have — or ever will — cover vaccinations.

Medicare decided it’s cheaper to let old people get sick (maybe they’ll die and save even more money) than to vaccinate them against disease. Because while millions might avail themselves of preventative measures (we are old, not stupid), many fewer will actually contract the illness. Cost analysis won.

I’m so angry, so upset, I’ve been waking up early in the morning already in a rage. Brooding on the kind of mentality which leaves us — people who worked our whole lives and paid tons of money into this system — vulnerable because our government has misused our funds.

I will not go into the history of this mess, except to say it started under Reagan, and has continued apace. With everyone crying crocodile tears over Medicare — while spending the money earmarked to keep us safe in our senior years.

Meanwhile, I’ve got about $700 of medical bills I have no idea how to pay. They never said they won’t pay for vaccinations. They just reclassified them as “medication,” knowing full well that no plan would pay for it. No Medigap plan covers prescriptions, so you are well and truly screwed.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a downhill slide.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped by MassHealth (Medicaid). I hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I’d been on disability for years which was why I was entitled to MassHealth.

No problem getting around that. Social Security simply reclassified (sound familiar?) me. I’m just old, not disabled. They switched me to standard Social Security. I get the same monthly money, but without medical protection. They also lowered the poverty guidelines so we no longer qualify for the extra help on prescriptions.

“Why don’t you just die already? Stop using up valuable resources.”

Obviously, we’ve outlived our usefulness. So how come we are not dead yet?

When did the United States become such a mean-spirited country? When did we decide it would be better for us to get sick or die rather than give us proper care? How did we come to this? Who are we?

I get the message. Just die already. If you are not outraged, you must think somehow this will never affect you. Think again.


NOTE: Well said, for all of us — of a certain age. The old man was right!

“Generosity. That was my first mistake.” Obviously, not my last.

Apparently we have outlived our value to the society we served so long and so well. You are welcome.

Garry Armstrong

ORDINARY WAYS

CEE’S WHICH WAY CHALLENGE: 2015 WEEK #21

Welcome everyone to Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge. This challenge’s subject is the roads, walks, trails, rails, by which we move from place to place. You can walk them, climb them, drive them, ride them — as long as the way is visible. Any angle of a bridge is acceptable, as are any signs.

I’m always looking for exciting and interesting roads, but most roads are just roads. No big deal, nothing special. They do their job. Signs point the way. Bridges cross over roads or rivers.

Some of these pictures are Garry’s — check the signature if you aren’t sure!

BIRDS, HANDS, AND BUSHES

Racket had gotten out of his cage. Nothing unusual about that, except that usually when I let him loose, I’d make sure to put away anything I cared about to avoid having Racket destroy it. It was  futile but I felt obliged to try.

Racket, as his name implied, was a charming, noisy Sulpher-Crested Cockatoo. He was the perfect example of why cockatoo owners invented stainless steel perches. Racket could reduce anything made of hardwood to splinters in seconds. He had gone to work on the sofa not long ago … not the upholstery. I think the upholstery wasn’t a sufficient challenge for him. He had gone all out to redo the carved wood frame, perhaps with the intent of correcting the original artist’s errors.

The arm of the sofa nearest his cage was a pile of wood chips and splinters. No evidence of the original design remained. Having completed his work on the sofa, he had refocused his efforts towards acquiring wisdom. He began ingesting the Encyclopedia Britannica, one volume at a time. At this time, he was about half-way through the project. I could see that he’d had a busy morning and had consumed two more volumes.

There wasn’t much I could do about it. I had no where else to put the books. The flat was tiny and there was no storage space. Racket couldn’t spend all his time in a cage. Parrots need freedom, at least an hour or two a day. They are smart birds. They need to interact with the world, with us, to explore and have fun. Racket was doing what Cockatoos do for fun: tearing apart everything on which he could lay his beak.

I wasn’t sure who’d let him out that morning. Probably one of the kids. But he couldn’t stay out all day. I had to go to work and no sane parrot owner would leave their bird loose, unsupervised with no one at home. Or at least no one sane would leave this parrot unsupervised.

Sulfur Crested Cockatoo playing

Cockatoo photo by Miguel

I shuddered at the thought of how much damage he could do given an entire day to wreak havoc. It was time to put him back into his house.

“Come on, sweetie,” I cooed. “Time to go home. Mommy’s got to go to work.”

“CAWWWWWWW! SQUAWK!! ACK-ACK-ACK!” (No M’am, I have other plans) he said. Ah those melodious tones.

He was a tame bird, bad habits notwithstanding and would stand on my hand, nibble on my ears. So far he hadn’t taken it into his head to remove my ears, though he had tried to rip an earring out.  But tame and obedient are in no way synonymous. He knew I wanted him back in his cage and he clearly didn’t want to go there. I needed a proper bribe or he could easily elude me for hours.

“Come along, baby,” I continued, sotto voce. “Mommy needs to get going and we don’t have all day to hunt wild birdies.”

I offered him my arm and teased him with a piece of watermelon in my other hand. He was ever so fond of fruit. Finally, after trying his birdy best to get the fruit without having to climb up on the arm, he gave in and climbed aboard. Quick as a wink, he was back in his cage, a squishy piece of red fruit dangling from his beak.

I pondered how much worse this would have been if I not have been able to get him in hand and instead, had been left with two just like him safely hidden in a bush. It boggled my mind.

ALL OUR YESTERDAY’S

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

Whether or not it’s a tale told by an idiot or a slightly less stupid narrator, I doubt there’s an action anyone takes in their life (assuming they’ve made it to adulthood) which is not in some way shaped by past experience. What other point is there is “learning the hard way?”

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the hard way seems pretty much the only way. That’s the way my life has gone. If someone has found an easier, less bumpy path to learning how to live, would they please be kind enough to tell me?

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Is your life in shreds? Out of work? Homeless? Hiding from the repo guy? Other half dump you? Bank threatening foreclosure? Don’t take it personally. It’s a joke. Your debacle is life’s way of pointing out how little control you have over your fate.

No weeping. No one likes a cry-baby or wants to hear your sad story. Unless you turn it into a funny story. Then everyone will listen.

The first time my world went to pieces, I walked away from a dead marriage, gave everything to my ex and moved to another country. The joke was on me because I promptly married a guy infinitely worse. After that fell apart, I staggered — bloody, dazed and penniless — back to the USA. When I stopped feeling like I’d gone through a wood chipper, I married Garry, which I should done in the first place. Except he hadn’t asked.

All that seemingly pointless pain and suffering was not for nothing. Stories of hideous mistakes and calamitous outcomes are the stuff of terrific after-dinner conversation. A few drinks can transform them into hilarity. Misery and disaster fuels humor.

Funny movies are not about people having fun. They’re about people in trouble, with everything going wrong, lives in ruins. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is that tragedies usually end with a pile of corpses. Comedies (usually) don’t. Otherwise, it’s just timing and style. Funny stories aren’t funny when they happen. Later they’re funny.

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Our personal traumas are collateral damage in the battle to survive. Mindful of whatever tragedy lurks just over your personal horizon, why not prepare some clever repartee? You can give it a test drive at the next get together with your pals. Something to look forward to.

So no matter how bad things are, not to worry. Black depression will ebb. That crushing weight on your chest will be replaced by a permanent sense of panic you will call “normal.”

Life trudges on. Everyone will point out: “Life doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” You have my permission to whack anyone who says it over the head with something hard and heavy.

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015-7 – HANDS

SERENDIPITY PHOTO STORY PROMPT

WEDNESDAY – 2015 #7

Welcome, again, to Frisbee Wednesday. Today we celebrate … Hump Day, or Middle-Of-The-Week. On this day absolutely ordinary day, we write something about a picture. Or think about it doing it. My picture, your picture, someone else’s picture.

This week’s picture is …

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Please try to add your own ping back (links). If you aren’t sure how to do it, put your link in a comment. That works too.

Every Wednesday or until I throw in the towel, I’ll publish a picture and write something about it. If you find my subject and/or my photograph interesting, by all means, extrapolate. Any length is acceptable from a couple of sentences, to a chapter from your upcoming novel.

Please link back to this post so other people can find you. And me.

WHAT ARE a “STORY” AND “PICTURES”?

Story. Words. Poetry, prose, fact, or fiction. A couple of lines, a fanciful tale.

Pictures. Video if that’s your thing. Scanned pictures from your scrap-book. Weird pictures from the internet. Cartoons. Pictures of your family vacation and how the bear stole your food. Any picture plus text. Short or long, truth, fantasy, or fiction. Prose or poetry.

To get notices of these posts, you’ll have to subscribe to Serendipity. I’ll try to title posts so you can easily recognize them.

My effort for this week follows.


 HANDS

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Everyone talks about how expressive eyes are — windows to the soul, they say.

Hands are more telling. Just look at the callouses. You can see what work each person has done — or not done — during his or her life.

Hands can be nervous, all motion, darting about like birds. Some of us talk with our hands. Sing with them, pray with them, build with them. Eyes see and reflect, but hands work and play. And make love.

Hands can be folded when a body is at peace. I look for competent hands, hard hands, take charge hands. Knowing hands.

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Our destiny is written on our palms, they say. The paths we’ve walked are also there. Join hands to feel a life.

BICYCLES AND THE ZEN OF PHOTOGRAPHY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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As HEDley Lamarr once said, “My mind was a raging torrent,” as I saw the bicycle and the folks settled in front.  They were dipping their toes in the lake on a warm, sunny day.

Actually, I was thinking of a scene from one of my favorite movies, “Night of The Hunter”. There’s a shot through a cobweb of kids playing in a field. So, my inspiration came from Charles Laughton, the acclaimed actor in his his only directorial effort.

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The bicycle, its spokes, the people, the lake and beyond offered many possible stories.

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The images on images also reminded me of dream sequences. I was so inspired that I lay down on my stomach to get some of these shots. I would later regret that effort.

File this under my fountain of youth/Fellini picture shoots.

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A RUN-OF-THE-MILL NIGHTMARE

Timely prompt since I woke up to a nightmare this very morning.

I had just graduated college or something like it. I had a sister (not my real sister) and another sister/brother — he/she kept switching back and forth which, in the dream seemed perfectly normal. Whatever he/she was, definitely no relation to real me.

My parents (not my real parents, definitely, absolutely nothing like my real parents) were getting them ready for the world. Buying them clothing, renting apartments for them. Getting them cars.

I keep begging for attention, to help me get a car. I needed a car because whatever I was going to do (no idea what it was), I needed to travel. I was just out of college. No money or credit and as I recall, nowhere to live.

Both siblings had professional positions. Vague but  seemingly important. I (apparently) did not. As the dream wound down, I knew no one would help me. Or notice me.

I woke up, realizing I would manage. Because I always manage. I couldn’t go back to sleep, though. I’m worried about money. Again? Or is that still?

Given the way life is, I always will be.


Nightmares