THE GREATEST THERE EVER WAS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

“Someday, I’m gonna walk down the street. People will look at me and say, “There he goes, the greatest there ever was!'”

It’s a familiar line. We’ve heard it from would be wonder boys across generations. It’s a line we hear now, used in admiration and derision, to describe the New England Patriots’ 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady as sports fans around the world await this year’s football Superbowl which pits Brady’s reigning Superbowl champion Pats against the underdog Philadelphia Eagles.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his former backup Jimmy Garoppolo

Eagles’ Nation, yearning for their first-ever Superbowl, unleashed the trash talk even before both teams won their division championship games to advance to the Superbowl. Taunts from fans and players barely mask their admiration for Brady who sets new records almost every time he throws a completed pass.

Sports radio and television yakkers beat the controversy drums every day. Is Brady better than Joe Montana? Peyton Manning? Steve Young? Is he the greatest there ever was? Audiences foam at the mouth in the debate. It’s the stuff media executives dream about with over a week to go before the game.  You have hours, days. So much time to fill with anything to hold your audience.

The greatest there ever was. Robert Redford echoed the line as a young Roy Hobbs in the classic baseball film, “The Natural.” Hobbs was the young everyman who dreamed of greatness. Many of us pursued the same dream.

I grew up in a generation when there were still many doors to be opened. Many challenges to be faced and answered. The social divide was still very evident in the United States. Overt racism was on display for all to see, even in so-called cradles-of-liberty cities. Women were seen, but not heard. Ogled and groped, but not respected. It’s the way we were — back in the day.  It’s also why so many of us were inspired to succeed.  We wanted to show our worth, our value. We wanted more than respect.

It was a clear road we walked — to be the greatest there ever was.

Garry – College days at WVHC (1963)

I remember a hot, muggy, September 1959 afternoon at the Parris Island U.S. Marine Corps training base. The base commander stopped to chat up a group of new Marines, just returned from a double-time forced march near the swamp infested grounds that lay outside the base. The young Gyrenes were clearly tuckered out,  cursing the sandflies who nestled in their bodies. The commander zeroed in one group, singling out a young recruit of color who had attitude written on his face. “Private, how do you like the Marines, now?”

The young man broadened his smile. “Sir, permission to speak freely, sir?

The commander nodded. Red faced drill instructors familiar with the young man stiffened in their nearby posts, braced for the worst. The recruit eyed the DI’s, smiled at them and then responded to the commander. “Sir, Private Armstrong is PROUD to be a marine, sir.  The commander smiled.

The D.I.’s seemed relieved as the recruit continued talking to the commander who could make stripes disappear quickly off a sergeant’s shoulder. “Sir, I love the Marines. I want to be the greatest there ever was, sir”.  The commander’s stoicism was replaced with a big smile. The D.I’s chuckled softly while glaring at Pvt. Armstrong.

Garry at Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame induction

I did want to be the greatest Marine ever. This wasn’t any John Wayne fan boy stuff. My brief stint had fueled aspirations for a career in the Marine Corps, perhaps their communications division.  Alas, my hearing difficulties would soon end my life as a Marine, but that was a time I’d always remember with pride. It also help me plot the course for the rest of my professional life.

In the decades that followed, I never lost the fire in the belly from my Marine Corps days. Some thought the “glamour” of TV news kept me happy and satisfied over the years.

I remember catching up with old friends over the years. They would tell me how successful they were. I heard  about how much money they were making. Cars they were driving. Vacation homes, country clubs, and so on.  I couldn’t, wouldn’t play that game. I usually wound up repeating how much I enjoyed my work. I talked about excitement, interesting people, dramatic stories … and the chance to make a difference.

There usually was a pause from the friend. I would then tell them I still wasn’t satisfied. Yes, I had awards, celebrity but there was something else. I still wanted to be the best there ever was. Best replaced greatest somewhere over the years.

I’ve been retired for more than 17 years now after banking 40 plus years on the job. I think I’m satisfied with my body of work. Satisfied doesn’t do it.

Part of me still wants to be the best there ever was.

INSCRUTABLE, LIKE LIFE

Life is inscrutable and messy. 


in·scru·ta·ble  (inˈskro͞odəb(ə)l)

Adjective: Impossible to understand or interpret.
Synonyms: Enigmatic, mysterious, unreadable, inexplicable, unexplainable, incomprehensible, impenetrable, unfathomable, unknowable.


Life is a puzzle. Inscrutable barely covers it. I used to think that at some point, it got easier. Simpler. Cleaner. Neater.

Instead, it has gone in quite the other direction. As we get older and more fragile, like has gotten profoundly complicated with no obvious answers which is to say — inscrutable. It would seem age does not limit the complexities of life. If anything, they get more complicated and difficult to address. Now you aren’t just trying to “get stuff done,” but you are trying to get it done with little or no money when you are no longer physically able to do it yourself (assuming you ever were). Since you no longer work, there’s no “waiting” for the next “extra money” to come in. It isn’t coming.

Our vehicle, the Jeep in a blizzard Photo: Garry Armstrong

Inconvenient though it is, the rotting window still awaits as does the broken faucet, the tired old toilets and sinks (remember when they were shiny and new?), the washing machine that’s on its last legs … and a door that urgently needs painting and finishing. And the car’s rear brakes.

We’ve got the parts. What we don’t have is anyone who has the time and willingness to take care of the work. We were never handy anyway, but there was a time when we at least could hire someone to take care of business. To be fair, a fair number of them were schleppers too. Good help has always been hard to find.

Life is like a Chinese puzzle. All the piece have to go in “just so” or it the pile collapses. Meanwhile, just to liven things up, there’s a special breed of  local criminals who prey on people like us. They look like normal people, but are crooks.

Are their lives so dreadful they can live with the damage they do? I know everyone needs to make a living, but I’m pretty sure my conscience would kill me for causing so much hurt to people who can ill afford it. Meanwhile, I keep getting whacked because I keep thinking these are regular people — and they’re not. Why do they want to hurt us? Because they are not very good criminals and we’re the easiest of all victims?

Photo: Garry Armstrong – In the blizzard

My son helps, but he has a life and he works and there’s only so much time …. and many of the problems just need someone handy and available to fix them. This is the stuff that neighbors used to do but we don’t have that kind of neighbor. Not the kind of people who help clear the snow … or offer to help with errands. Or even say “Hi.”

So this won’t improve. However inscrutable life is now, it’s bound to get worse. The money that disappeared into the water heater and the door and the parts to repair the brakes and the rotting downstairs window that I can’t replace and needs boarding up? On permanent hold.

I can’t even enlist anyone to help me paint the inside of the door or finish the outside of it. I can’t get the new faucet I bought installed in the bathroom. No one is ever going to properly clean the house. I do my best, but my best isn’t very good. It isn’t that I don’t want to. I DO want to but I can’t and I doubt I’ll ever be able to do it again.

When you live in a house and you see it start to disintegrate, at first it seems like no big deal. A little bit of this, a pinch of that. Little things. It’s only when it starts to accumulate that you realize you are in actual trouble.

So what’s left? Will we outlive the decline of our house? Maybe not. If we can time our certain demise to conclusion of this house’s usefulness, that would be a mitzvah. Of sorts.

Garry, photographer – Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Did I mention the washing machine is on its way out? While they kids lived here, they beat the hell out of it, so I’m not surprised. The new ones aren’t built as well as the old ones and I’ve already been warned that we can expect a maximum  of eight or nine years. By which time our car will be pretty old too.

It’s nice to have something to look forward to.

All of this is keeping me up at night. Just little stuff but little stuff with the potential of becoming bigger stuff. The longer it goes undone, the more potential crisis lies in wait. The world may be entering an exponential stage of scientific growth and development, but here at home, I can’t afford new door knobs or a washing machine and I live in terror of needing a new car. Ever.

At home with the good toys.

There’s a gigantic split between the brilliant future that is waiting for humanity — and the gradual collapse of the lives we live. The great things we dreamed of will happen, but they won’t have anything to do with us.

The brilliant future will be for the young, wealthy, and healthy. We are none of those.