‘THE LATE, LATE SHOW’ – “GUILTY PLEASURES” (MA-XXX) – Garry Armstrong

Yes, I know. The title sounds like a promo for a soft porn movie. No, it’s not!  I don’t do that stuff. Hold on. It does involve soft porn. I’ll get to that in a few minutes.

One of the few retirement perks we have is staying up late. During my 40 plus years as a TV/radio news guy, I had crazy schedules, usually mandating I be out of bed way before the roosters and sunrise. It meant missing lots of stuff that aired after dinner and during the wee, small hours. It meant missing lots of my favorite old movies.

I’m an ardent fan of the old movies. As a 20 something, I’d set the alarm for 2 or 3 am for “The Late, Late Show.”  This was before the DVR age when all you had to be was awake to see your program. Not just the classics like “Casablanca.” I’m a devotee of film nuggets like “Jubilee Trail” a B-western from the 1950s.  I love the film’s theme song and, actually, almost lobotomized myself to see the pre-dawn airing of the film just to hear Buddy Baer and the iconic Vera “Hruba” Ralston sing the song. I sang along with them until my parents awoke and told me to shut up. “Jubilee Trail” is one of my guilty pleasures.

The Magnificent Seven
Hell is definitely coming …

Marilyn doesn’t share my fondness for these movie nuggets. Golly, my heart still skips a few beats when Forrest Tucker finally concedes his love for the adorable Joan Leslie and the “Jubilee Trail” song swells up full volume to a happy ending and the closing credits. My eyes still tear up over the romantic conclusion. Yes, a guilty pleasure for a cheezy b-western.

Marilyn doesn’t share my fondness but “gets” the pleasure I derive from these films. She’s set me up with headphones and the opportunity to nightly watch my guilty pleasure flicks as she listens to audiobooks or watches her own favorite stuff on her Kindle.  Thanks, Marilyn!  You’ll do!

Okay, last night, still recovering from my “Marathon Man” like dental session this week, I snuggled under the covers with a headset on to watch some classic guilty pleasure stuff.

I started with “Marie Antoinette,” a lavish 1938 MGM picture I haven’t seen in decades. I watched it with great anticipation.  What a cast!  Norma Shearer, Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, Robert Morley, and Gladys George just to name a few legends from the studio that boasted more stars than there are in heaven.

Norma Shearer was queen bee at MGM from the late ’20s to the early ’40s. She was married to Irving Thalberg,  Metro’s “Boy Wonder” who churned out some of Hollywood’s greatest films.  It meant Norma Shearer got all the plum roles. It didn’t matter that she was always “playing young” for parts in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Marie Antoinette.”  It usually doesn’t faze me.

However, last night I realized Norma was bringing her “Sandra Dee” take on the “let them eat cake” lady.  It was ridiculous. I stayed with this epic out of respect for old Hollywood. I gave up, however, when Joseph Schildkraut popped up, wearing more mascara, powder, and eye-liner than Norma Shearer. I couldn’t handle it.

What a cast!

I went to something I knew would be good. A Randolph Scott western. “Riding Shotgun.” a 1950s Scott cowboy saga in blazing color. I sat up straight as the credits rolled and a deep baritone voice sang a familiar range rider song. This was gonna be great!

Randy was doing a voice-over narration to barrel up a plot that was older than its venerable star. I watched in disbelief as the movie played on like a “Blazing Saddles” parody except this was not supposed to be a comedy. I gave up in disgust about 30 minutes into the western. Unbelievable!

Two classic movies, guilty pleasures, that were stinkeroos. I felt so cheated, so abandoned, so bereft and numb. I was in limbo, trying to fall asleep.

Remember my line about soft porn? Yes, guilty pleasure of a different kind. Why do guys watch (soft) porn? For its cinematic value?  Hey, I used to read “Playboy” for the articles and studied the photo layouts for their pictorial artistry.

I remember attending The Fine Arts Theater back on Long Island of the ’60s. It was a semi cultural venue. They were running “Tunes of Glory.” I went, anticipating “culture” with 40-DD breast cups. I was bummed out. “Tunes of Glory,” with Alec Guinness and John Mills, turned out to be a memorable twist on war movies. Guinness and Mills were brilliant as the disparate military heroes. Think “Bridge on The River Kwai” with a heavier bashing of heroic images.

I sat in the dark, mesmerized by the film but disturbed that it wasn’t a Hugh Hefner/Russ Meyers product. Gee Whiz! It wasn’t a total loss because the film introduced Susannah York who I immediately adored. So, a guilty pleasure? Yes!

I must “out” myself on another guilty pleasure type film. As a kid and young man, I was addicted to westerns and war movies, normal for any red-blooded young fella. I cringed when the action paused for “mushy stuff.” I didn’t understand critics who praised the work of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy and other notable actresses of Hollywood’s golden age.  The gooey love stuff was so boring. Nowadays, I never miss the films of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Myrna Loy and the other legendary ladies which I dissed as a young movie maven.

I like the pluck displayed by these women on and off-screen. They fought the studio bosses for quality roles and against movies and parts that demeaned women. I didn’t get this when I was younger. Now, as an old fart, stereotypes, and ageism, resonate strongly.

Guys are not supposed to like romcoms, chick flicks, melodramas or other movies where women have equal standing or are stronger and savvier than the male co-stars.  Reality bites!

When I hang out with the guys, we mourn the demise of westerns and dramas where a man was a man. If I mention Davis or Crawford, I can see the eyebrows rise around the lunch table. You have to be discreet with guilty pleasures, right? No, wrong, dammit! Our current political culture is egregious enough without ridicule of your entertainment preferences.

I wonder how Duke Wayne, Papa Hemingway, Bogie, and their brethren would deal with today’s good old boys and the too-long delayed exposure of their moral decay.

I’ll take my guilty pleasures, thank you, and enjoy their stories.

What’s it all about?  As an iconic movie private eye once observed, “Uh, the stuff dreams are made of!”

THE MAVEN ANNOUNCES “IT’S MOVIE NIGHT AT THE UXBRIDGE SENIOR CENTER”! – Garry Armstrong

Hey, movie mavens!  Tomorrow night it’s “Roll Everything!” as I host “Rustlers’ Rhapsody” at the Uxbridge Senior Citizens Center on Main Street in downtown Uxbridge.

It starts at 5:30 pm with refreshments and trivia prep time.

At 6pm, it’s curtain time for “Rustlers’ Rhapsody,”  a wonderful 1985 spoof and homage to those wonderful “B” westerns of our childhood. Surely, you remember the Saturday matinees at your favorite neighborhood theater? You know, where the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black.

The plots were simple. Good versus evil. Good always won. The heroes had nice outfits. The villains usually wore dirty, ill-fitting garb you could smell from your front row seats as you chowed down popcorn, juji-fruits and hot dogs.

At 7:45 pm, it will be Q&A time as we swap trivia about favorite movies.  Maybe the featured film will sharpen your recall of those golden olden days.

“Rustler’s Rhapsody” fondly remembers heroes like Roy and Gene. There’s a nice bit of surprise casting that will leave you smiling. If you know who I’m talking about, mum’s the word.

You’ll find yourself singing along with the wonderful ballad at film’s end that definitely will have you recollecting your days of innocence, lost in the wild west where there was no doubt about law and order.

So, saddle up your cow pony and ride the high country to the Uxbridge Senior Citizens’ Center tomorrow night.  We’ll start the show at 7pm. We need your help to smoke out all those bad hombres.

That includes YOU, Pilgrim!

WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR – Garry Armstrong

If you’re reading this today, it’s the 29th of September. It’s the end of the regular major league baseball season. Two-thirds of the 30 big-league teams, who had April dreams of grandeur, head home to ponder what went wrong.

It’s “Wait Till Next Year” for the dispirited fans of the disappointed teams. “Wait Till Next Year” was also the fabled slogan of the old Brooklyn Dodgers who, until 1955, never won a World Championship, usually losing to the damn New York Yankees.

“Wait Till Next Year” also was blues anthem for the Boston Red Sox who went without a world championship from 1918 until 2004 — almost 9 decades — usually losing to those same damn Yankees.

This year, the World Champion Red Sox are again wailing the blues, unable to repeat last year’s phenomenal success, their season for the ages.

The suits for the 20 teams who failed to make it to the postseason, will soon be in “spin mode.” We’ll all hear about how great things will happen next year. You can believe the jibber jabber of their hot stove league rhetoric. How they’ve solved all their team’s problems.  You can believe it as you’re shelling out big money for season tickets to see your team reach the promised land.  (“See the rabbits, Lenny?”)

Wait until next year is also the slogan for the myriad Democratic presidential wannabees trying to unseat the current squatter in the Oval Office. We’ll have a better sense by this time next year who’s the top gun meeting the incumbent in the ultimate political showdown.

It’s hard to handicap who’s the best political gunslinger right now for the Democrats.

The top three players

We certainly have plenty of diversity from which to choose, but there’s no one with the certainty of Paladin’s “Have Gun-Will Travel” assurance to clean up Dodge which is slowly sinking into a swamp bigger than any seen since the Earps cleaned up Tombstone.

And as of this moment, Warren has the lead — which is fine with us!

The boss of the White House gang is shiftier than Liberty Valance. No one seems to be able to get an upper hand.  It would seem appropriate for the political farmers and cattlemen to put differences aside and band together to deal with Donzo and his Desperados.

Wait until next year is also the unofficial slogan here at the Kachingerosa. Next year, Marilyn and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. I hope it’s a memorable shindig.  In 1990, the handicappers weren’t sure the newlyweds had the stamina, trust or fortitude to go the distance.  We looked good but the external youth would undergo changes over the next 3 decades.

External and internal.

Photo: Garry Armstrong
Garry and me – Thank you Rich!

Our furry children think the world of us. They’ll vouch for our love and steady hands doling out the treats. I’m not sure what Las Vegas is saying about us. All I can say is we’ve got a good track record, pretty good breeding, and we’ve overcome more than enough adversity.

So place your bets, go with your guts, put a little money on us – and “Wait Till Next Year”! And hold your breath because these are battles we need to win.

GARRY’S FARM IN THE VALLEY – Garry Armstrong

We were hoping for some color in the leaves. There was a bit, but not much. Still, the cows were out and more importantly, the cats were everywhere. It is surprisingly difficult to get good pictures of cats. They sit very still until that final moment when they turn their head so all you get is the back of their neck.

But this beauty sat nice and peacefully for me. A happy cat on a happy farm!
Shooting through a wire fence, these are impressionist chickens. Need eggs?

The barn and road is always beautiful. Just about when I started shooting, the clouds thickened up and the light started to go away. We just made it back to the car as the rain began to fall.

The farm road. Follow it if you want to see the horses.

And this was the last shot before the drops began to fall. No rain predicted, but it still rained.

The barn and corral and our car, tucked in the corner. happy weather watching.

REMEMBERING “FAST AL” McNAUGHTON: A NEW ENGLAND TV NEWS LEGEND – Garry Armstrong

Those of you who don’t live in Massachusetts or a neighboring New England state won’t be familiar with Alan “Fast Al” McNaughton. He left us on Sunday, 80 plus years young and a legend in the TV News business for over 50 years at Boston’s Channel 7/WHDH.

“Fast Al” was a Damon Runyon-type character. He loved horse racing and was well known for spreading the green stuff on ponies he was sure would win. More importantly, Al was one of the last of his kind, a TV News photographer who began his career “souping film” in labs long before the advent of electronic newsgathering, tape, and digital editing.

The “Fast Al” label is lore from his “inside knowledge” and tips about horse races, local and national. He was also known for his uncanny ability to sniff out overtime and sweeten his salary. It’s an ability admired by all in the TV news biz.  I met Al when I joined Ch 7 in 1970.

To see a full-size picture and its full caption, click on the actual picture.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEORGE RIZER,
BOSTON GLOBE, MEDIA OF BOSTON

I believe he was doing double duty as a film processor and a cameraman. Others filled me in about politicians, crime bosses, historical landmarks and geographical pronunciations. “Fast Al” told me about the local racetracks, the horse owners, trainers, jockeys and, of course, which pony would win at a certain racetrack.

Al was an advisor when I did a Walter Mitty type feature, living a fantasy as a jockey at a popular racetrack.  He made sure I looked the part even if I couldn’t ride well. I was a pilgrim when it came to horses and wagering. Fast Al told me not to worry when he tipped me about a favorite pony and insisted I put down good money on a daily double. Guess what?

The long-shot horse came in first — by a healthy margin. I bought the drinks that night!

Horses aside, Al McNaughton was witness to Massachusetts and New England history dating back over half a century. He was a familiar face at news conferences involving the likes of James Michael Curley, JFK, RFK, Ted Kennedy,  Albert “The Boston Strangler” DiSalvo, Whitey Bulger, Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, “Princess” Cheyenne and the ladies of Boston’s infamous “Combat Zone” and lots more. He frequently was on a first-name basis with many public figures who disdained talking to reporters. On many assignments, Al would break the ice with,  “Governor/ Senator/ Mayor. Garry is a fair reporter. He knows his stuff. You can trust him.”

Al’s word was gold. The lauded Armstrong report was possible only because Al McNaughton vouched for me. He also fed me background with perspective on stories that gave me credibility.

You can’t buy trust with a smile or handshake.

During Boston’s volatile court-ordered school busing years, the region was a tinder box. One errant picture or misquoted interview and the result was disastrous on the local, national, and international stages.  It was like walking on eggshells for those of us on the front line. Al McNaughton with that familiar smile and assurance helped many of us cope with the racial tension. He seemed to glide through angry groups to get the video we needed to tell the story fairly and accurately.

He was calm in the middle of agitated groups who were waiting for a reason to riot. When Al had the video he needed, he’d whisper to some of the community leaders who had no use for the news media. A few would allow us interviews, often looking to Al for assurance. He was a peace broker at a time the TV stations thrived on violent images. A lifetime of trust gave many of us street credibility. You rarely — if ever — heard that mentioned in our reports.

Alan was part of a small, elite group of Boston TV News photographers who would help reporters with words as well as video.  There’s nothing in their IBEW (Union) contract that says they need to do this. It’s an act of kindness, reaching out to those of us frequently praised for our on-camera reports.  Veterans like Al McNaughton were walking nuggets of history.  They were working when the so-called “talent” (mic holders) were in college or just getting started as novices in “the biz”.

I’ve become infamous for my stories about celebrities interviewed across the decades. Hey, it really was a hoot!  What’s not known is that many of those celebrity “sitdowns” only happened because of people behind the camera – local photojournalist legends like Jack Crowley, Nat Whittemore, John Premack, Richard Chase, Richie Suskin, and Al McNaughton to name a few. Frequently, the celebs trusted the people behind the camera more than reporters panting for their gilded time. I plead guilty to hanging on the coattails of the pros who rarely received credit.

Let’s rewind the tape or disc to 30 or 40 years ago. Mickey Rooney was starring in “Sugar Babies” in Boston’s theater district. All the entertainment reporters wanted “their time” with the legendary Hollywood star. I drew the Channel 7 assignment (begging the assignment editor may have helped) for the ‘Andy Hardy’ interview.

Mickey Rooney wasn’t in a cheery Andy Hardy mood when we showed up. As I pondered how to pander, Al McNaughton cornered Mickey Rooney and soon both were laughing like old friends. Mickey was taking notes as Al talked. Yes, Al was giving Mickey, a noted lover of the ponies, some tips on the local horse talent.

Presto! Rooney — smiling broadly — sat for the interview which was smooth and funny without any glitches or retakes. As I checked my notebook, I heard Rooney and Al making plans for an afternoon at one of the local racetracks.

I must’ve been pouting because Al smiled at Mickey, “Hey, Mickey –whadda ya say. Let’s bring the kid with us. He’s okay. Maybe we can educate him a bit.”

My cameraman and the Hollywood legend laughed at me with thumbs up.

All of Al’s ponies did well. Clearly, Rooney was impressed with Fast Al’s tips. Al had a catchphrase: “There goes swifty!” I believe it referred to the professional dog races and the ‘lead’ dog.  The “Swifty” refrain was almost simultaneous with Al’s arrival or exit from scenes. As we left the track that afternoon, Al and Mickey Rooney were yelling, “There Goes SWIFTY!” They were laughing and congratulating each other. I smiled to myself. A typical “Fast Al” day.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I received lots of praise for my Mickey Rooney interview which aired on several newscasts. Critics said I had a clear personal touch with Rooney and the interview avoided familiar, cliche questions. I beamed but knew the credit belonged to Al McNaughton. I have myriad similar stories on my resume.  The praise and awards are always appreciated. But I know I have them because of people like Al McNaughton and his colleagues. Most other veteran reporters would say the same.

“Talent” tends to get the applause and appreciation from viewers, but there’s no story or interview without the savvy and support from old school video newsies like Fast Al McNaughton.

This week we share the memories, the laughter, and awe of more than 50 years in the tumultuous TV News market of Boston. This is when we realize that “Fast Al” McNaughton was unique.  They don’t teach Al’s skills in journalism classes. It’s learned on the street where you need to know how to do the right thing.

Fast Al, here’s looking at you, kid.  May all your ponies come in first!


POSTSCRIPTAl McNaughton’s family requests that memorial contributions be made in Al’s name to The New England Equine Rescue Association.


 

YESTERDAY WHEN MY WORLD WAS YOUNG – Garry Armstrong

No, I didn’t pick the wrong day to give up sniffing glue!

If you write, professionally or just for fun, you’ll probably understand.  I’m trying to set down the words that have been conga dancing in my brain as I just showered and shaved. I probably shouldn’t have shaved because my fingers kept poking my brain in rhythmic harmony.

It’s the end of a truly bad week for Marilyn and me. We’re sharing a bug that includes migraine headaches, queasy stomachs and bodies lurching from one room to another.

Our Vineyard house

It’s the capper to a week where Marilyn has been battling the insurance company to pay for repairs to our house battered by the spate of recent storms and very vulnerable to the next storm on the horizon.  You’ll be shocked to hear that the Insurance Company is stonewalling us, oblivious to damage documented by one of their investigators and tone-deaf to our meager social security and pensions that cannot pay for the repairs.

As we assess the latest debate by the Democratic Presidential wannabees and aren’t as excited about a viable candidate to oppose the guy now squatting in the White House, we are staring at each other, two seventy-something wunderkinds, wondering how quickly we slid from the top of our game to “seniors.”

What happened to the world of youth, energy, and expectations?

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. It used to have a huge rope hammock.

My bathroom conga line of memories, with bongoes banging on my brains, was back in the ’70s and ’80s. I was living in Boston, in my prime as a TV reporter with earnings that promised to rise with no end in sight. Life was a  pulsating 24-hour trip that kept recycling.

Work and play blended seamlessly. Everyone was young with boundless energy. I slept little, worked hard, and played harder. I paid little attention to health or finances. My pockets were always full.

I had a tendency to forget life wasn’t like that for most other people.

Those days of wine and roses were most obvious during my Martha’s Vineyard summers. There were more than 20 magical summers with other media friends who shared a house. We had the kind of life you thought only existed in F. Scott Fitzgerald novels.

The wine never stopped flowing. My box of unpaid credit card bills, growing in volume, sat ignored as I plied myself with more of that feel-good liquid.

Best of all, the summer Sundays. I was usually up with the roosters. A tall bloody Mary and the Sunday papers to peruse slowly. The sports section came first. Baseball box scores studied with the scrutiny of a lifetime fan whose life revolved around the fate of the Boston Red Sox.

Looking down on the Sound

The Bloody Mary intake accelerated as I looked at the stats of Yaz, Rice, Lynn, Pudge, Dewey, and the other Fenway bats.  I would always need to strengthen the drinks to pace myself — absorbing the gaudy numbers of the sons of Teddy Ballgame.

The numbers were always robust during the New England summers when home runs battered the old cathedral of baseball. The bloody Marys now had me dreaming that this would be the year the Sox would finally defeat those damn Yankees.

I gave little attention to the Sox pitching which was wise. Even with the alcoholic bliss. I thought that fall we’d hold the lead and not succumb to the chill of autumn and the Yankees’ superior pitching. I always ignored the suggestion of friends to eat a little something to balance out the alcohol which had been replaced by Cape Codders. Then, as sunset crept across the Vineyard, moving on to a sturdy rum with just a dash of coke.

All was blissful as someone started the barbecue in the backyard which faced Nantucket Sound.

We rarely talked about work. Our TV jobs were in another world where the less fortunate continued to toil while we played. As twilight faded into warm evenings, we would sit on the back porch, staring at Nantucket Sound. There was a mutual agreement: “We were living the dream.”

Vineyard art

I gave little thought to my future. Life was now. In the moment. If you worked in TV news, there was always a collective fear someone would call, demanding we leave our reverie and cover some breaking news – murder, fire, weather, or another politician’s dirty laundry uncovered.

We often ignored the phone. That was the world before computers and cell phones made it impossible to hide. Now and then, we did ponder a future. Maybe a communal home on the Vineyard for our lives in retirement.  Those idle thoughts were lost in the pungent haze that floated above the back porch. In my mind, I could see a vague future. Lots of free time, good health, and no money worries.

I figured I’d always look the way I seemed to look for so many years. No worries. I’d always be “the kid.” I smiled to myself. Another rum with a hint of coke and I was ready for dreams about a world I figured would always be good to us.

Things promised to get only better when Marilyn came back into my life, solidifying our relationship that began in college when LBJ was president. Marriage began a new chapter in my life. Little did I envision how the future would change life’s trajectory.

All the things I’d ignored awaited us. I had a lot of maturing to do as reality began to check-in. There would be the termination of a job I thought would go on forever. The joys and nightmares of homeownership in a misty mid-region valley. A plethora of health issues that almost took Marilyn’s life.

A wakeup call for me about my own health issues, finding recovery and the backbone to be a dependable spouse. Facing survival in a world I never thought I’d see.

POSTSCRIPT: I finally put a cork in the bottle on December 7th, 2004. I’ll always be grateful to Marilyn and my family for the support, patience, and encouragement as life seemed to be going down the drain for me.

Now, I celebrate those olden days with raspberry lime rickey and lemonade mixed with ginger ale. All current problems notwithstanding, I’m a lucky guy. And I’ve still got a working liver!

AN EARLY VISIT – Garry Armstrong

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

That lends itself to our professional sports teams and our current financial dilemma. Our Boston Red Sox are almost officially eliminated from postseason play. The lamentations about the Bosox lengthy hangover from last year’s World Championship are filling up bars across Massachusetts. But sorrow is mixed with elation for the Brady Bunch aka the New England Patriots’ who opened THEIR world championship defense with a sound thumping of the Pittsburgh Steelers, always a worthy adversary.

Sports is our Rx as we try to deal with an insurance company that refuses to do the right thing. It’s an insurance company that’s had our very loyal business for 40 plus years and paid nary a cent to us. Our home has been battered by recent storms and two sides of the house could cave with the next storm. A storm due within hours. It’s a major league headache for Marilyn and me who, coincidentally, are battling a bug that leaves us wondering — who did we antagonize?

The house and health problems have prompted us to cancel two planned trips we’ve looked forward to with enthusiasm. It’s a bummer. We’re not feeling very sociable these days.  It reminds me of that old Kingston Trio song, “The Merry Minuet” about international social discord with the refrain “… and, we don’t like anybody very much.”

That’s the cue for today’s happening. The welcome sign outside our home has drawn precious few visitors — family or good friends — in the 19 years we’ve lived in picturesque Uxbridge. We almost feel like Lepers.

I was startled when Marilyn awakened me with news this morning that we had company coming — in FORTY minutes! I felt like yesterday’s garbage as I got my act together. Company?  We NEVER have company. Why TODAY? Gee Whiz!

Turns out that our visitors were one of the two families we had to cancel on because of our problems.

Garry and Karin MacMillan

Karin and her business associate lit up our house with amiable good cheer. Karin actually is a good friend of my “Baby Brother,” the noted Dr. Anton Armstrong, head of the illustrious St. Olaf’s Choir.

We’ve been swapping emails for weeks so Karin was up to speed on our problems. Despite our visit cancellation, Karin was determined to meet us and spread some cheer.

It was like sitting with old friends. We rambled on with cross conversations. I, as usual, held court with stories of my celebrity encounters. Our visitors didn’t seem bored so I kept jabbering with one eye on my watch and finally gave myself the hook — time to shut up and let the others share stories.

We laughed a lot. I was the target of some of the laughter but it was just fine. It was good to laugh, taking my mind off the headache, queasy stomach and other gifts from the stubborn bug. I was surprised about how much family stuff we shared. That’s a good indicator of relaxation with newly made friends. It doesn’t happen often with us.

We emphasized our gratitude for the visit. As mentioned, we don’t receive many social calls. You wonder if you’re a leper after extending invitations and no one shows up.

It’s been a special day. One of the last warm, sunny and perfectly golden days of summer. Our front yard has been manicured. It’ll never look better even with the furry kids staking out their territory. If we had smell-o-vision, you’d really appreciate how nice our yard looks.

It can’t obliterate our concern about the sides of the house which are in danger with the next storm on the horizon. An Insurance investigator recently documented the damage but bluntly told us not to expect much from the insurance company. We’ve reached out for help but everything is in limbo right now.  We feel very, very vulnerable. Senior citizens, surviving on social security and puny retirement funds.

For a few hours, on this day, we could laugh and relax – thanks to the kindness of strangers who now are definitely friends.