OLD ACQUAINTANCES – Garry Armstrong

We meet once a month.

I slug the Google calendar with “Ol’ Farts Luncheon” to schedule the event, time, and location.  We usually meet at 12:30 pm and wrap maybe two hours later. It’s an event full of old war stories and a few well-worn memories as we eventually go our separate ways.

Our group is mostly retired broadcast news people — predominantly cameramen as well as a reporter or two, and a few newspaper folks.  We all used to cover the mean streets of Boston, from the last days of non-electric typewriters and film to current day electronic media. We’ve all been around from old Remingtons to mini-cameras emitting images that air instantly while watching the rise of social media and purported news writers who post stories that are raw. Unchecked for truth or validity.


Our friendships date back half a century or more. Once, we were the young Turks, ambitious and breathing fire to bring fresh air and relevance to television news we thought was maybe too stiff and formal.  The old guard regarded us with suspicion,  annoyance and I suspect, a little envy because they’d been the same way a mere few decades earlier.

We’ve shared triumphs, tragedies, marriages, divorces, births, and deaths. Lately, we’re bonded by attending too many funerals of people who used to attend our lunches. We know that sense of mortality we so casually dismissed to the old guard in earlier years.  Now, we are the old guard.

It’s interesting to follow the thread of how our lives have changed in retirement,  away from the daily spotlight of events on the center stage of public life.


A relatively small gathering for our latest luncheon.  Nine very mature gents around the big table. Seven of these fellows are retired (or semi-retired) cameramen, video technicians, van maintenance, and uplink pros.  All have worked at least 40 years in the TV news biz.  That’s at least 280 years which is a pretty a conservative tally — untold days, nights, weeks, months and years. Collectively, we’ve covered just about all the major news events over the past half-century.

Although Boston-based, we’ve followed stories around the world.  We were there when the Vietnam War became an awkward part of history, when Watergate brought down a president, and when the Berlin Wall tumbled. We were there when Three Mile Island became a national scare,  when sexual abuse scandals ripped through the Catholic Church (including a prominent local Archbishop), and when court-ordered school desegregation put Boston in a very uncomfortable international spotlight.

All of us were there for these events that, like a thousand tiny paper cuts changed our world, our neighborhood, and how we view ourselves.  Their cameras delivered images that have become part of history.  History not often covered in textbooks — paper or electronic.

Most of these unassuming fellows have taken home multiple Emmys, Pulitzer Prizes, Murrow Awards and other honors recognizing their bodies of work, most of which they have done their work in relative anonymity.


One suit, with typical executive lack of respect, called them “button pushers”.  That suit’s tenure was relatively brief.  Ironically,  we worked for many suits who simply did not respect the quality of the work or dangers faced by pros “just doing their job.”

Preserving anonymity, one of my colleagues dealt appropriately with a suit who endangered all the lives of techs and talent in a TV remote van.  The suit, in the middle of a thunderstorm with huge bolts of lightning, insisted the signal rod be kept upright so the van could transmit a news report.  If the exec’s order had been followed, there was an excellent chance that lightning would blow up the truck with everyone inside.

So one of these fellas ignored the suit’s order, suggesting that lives were in jeopardy and, perhaps the suit would like to come and put up the rod himself.  Newsroom applause drowned out the suit’s expletives as he stomped back to his corner office.

Another of these “gents” braved jail time with his reporter rather than reveal a source for a high-level story.  Like some of the Pols on the Impeachment Inquiry, the suit didn’t grasp the meaning of “confidential source’.’  He didn’t comprehend that the source and his family’s lives would be in jeopardy if he was identified.

So “the button pusher” and his reporter opted out for adjoining jail cells rather than yield to high pressure from yet another suit who probably should’ve been working at a car wash.  The suits and the company lawyers blinked.

There are multiple, similar stories around this table. I was around for many of them.  Often, I hid behind them as they took the brunt of self-serving, second-guessing suits who seemed oblivious to the complicated life on the streets.


It bears repetition that these under-appreciated news people — reporters without microphones — are responsible for most of the hardware I’ve taken home.  I’ve always felt obligated amid the warm applause at award ceremonies to thank the folks behind the cameras for cleaning me up, straightening me out, and making sure we always had the full story.

It’s a joy to spend time with them.

HERE’S YOUR HAT. WHAT’S YOUR HURRY? Marilyn Armstrong

I used to be the Entertainment Queen of my crowd. It was close to 40-years ago, but I was the hostess with the mostest.

I fed the hungry, housed the homeless, cheered up the downhearted. I rescued cats, dogs, and lost people. No living creature was ever turned away. It got crowded and if feeding the birds is expensive, imagine feeding 20 extra people every week. I think I was in the kitchen whenever I wasn’t at work.

Motley crowd on Coney Island boardwalk.

One day, I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted some privacy. I didn’t want to clean up the mess or cook gigantic meals. I was tired of spending all my money on other people. The crowd that assembled nightly in my living room weren’t really friends. I had become a facility. A place to crash. Where there was always music, food, something to smoke and probably a good conversation and a sofa.

So I started locking my front door and asked people to call before showing up. About half the crowd never came back … and I never missed them. Others drifted off in the course of time. A few are still my friends today.

Where friends … and guests … are concerned, quality is not necessarily quantity. Actually, these days? Less is definitely more.


AND NOW, TIME FOR A CLASSIC JEWISH JOKE:

A very poor man goes to his Rabbi complaining his house is too small and he can’t stand it anymore. “What should I do?” he asks.

“Get a big dog,” advises the Rabbi.

Puzzled, the man buys a sheepdog and brings him home. The house is even more crowded, and the man returns to the Rabbi. “It’s worse,” he moans.

The Rabbi nods his understanding. “Get a goat. He can be friends with the dog. Oh, and get a cat too.”

Even more confused, the man does as instructed. The house is unbearable. He returns to the Rabbi. “Please, Rebbe, it’s horrible at home. The dog, the cat, the goat … and it smells really bad.”

“I think you need a lamb,” says the Rabbi. “And a calf.”

DogsSlayThe BeastieDutiful to the end, the man gets a lamb and brings it home. The noise alone is deafening. There’s hair everywhere and the place stinks. Finally, he goes back to the Rabbi, now desperate for relief.

“Rabbi, OY VAY, IT’S TERRIBLE. The animals go all over the house and they chase each other. We have no peace, no privacy.”

“Get rid of all those animals,” orders the Rabbi. The man heaves a sigh of relief and the next week returns to see the Rabbi.

“Rebbe, it’s wonderful! We have so much room. The house is clean. Life is wonderful!”


Today, as promised I began the process of crating dolls. As boxes come in, anything big enough becomes storage for dolls. Many of these are more than 50 years old. Some are older than me, but they are effectively like new. Most will end up at the Salvation Army. I hope little girls get to play with them and love them as I did.

But the process of letting go is not merely getting rid of things, but recognizing you no longer have control over what happens to those items. That may be the most painful part of the process.

MY OLD NEIGHBORHOOD – Marilyn Armstrong

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

96-Holliswood1954

It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining mature white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

First contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

Oak woods

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends were inevitable.

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined the lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

Three friends

October 1952

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, battles raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and goodwill, there was neither.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other, thought each better off than ourselves. It would be long years before we learned each other’s secrets. By then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed as we grew up. Lonely in our big old houses, all those years ago.

THE GRAND EST REGION – RICH PASCHALL

Today we are off on our latest adventure to Alsace. On this trip I will be joined by my frequent travel companion Lewis and a friend of his. We are going by way of Paris, as Lewis wishes to see this great city again. After our brief stop over we will be off to Strasbourg and a visit with my best friend there. We will try to bring back great travel news and pictures, but in the meantime here is a look at one of our past adventures.

A Visit to Strasbourg by Rich Paschall


Just across the Rhine River from Germany, in the northeast corner of France, lies the capital of the Grand Est (East) Region.  It is the largest metropolitan area in Alsace and home to the European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union.  Because of its central location in Europe and proximity to Switzerland and Luxembourg, as well as “Allemand” (Germany), it is a major confluence of architecture, culture and cuisine.

Gare de Strasbourg

Whether you arrive by train from Paris, or other city or town around France, or come via the Lufthansa bus from Frankfurt, Germany, your first stop will be at Gare de Strasbourg (or Strasbourg railway station).  You can get a nonstop train from Paris, but you may find it easier to fly to Frankfurt and take the bus direct from Frankfurt airport.  Having made this trip many times, my preferred route is via Frankfurt.  While the French have made it easier in recent years with a direct train from Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport, rather than having to go into the city to Gare de L’Est, you are likely to find the air fares from USA TO Frankfurt to be much cheaper than going to Paris.

Like most European cities, there is no need to rent a car.  Public transportation will get you around town and around the region.  Strasbourg is a great walking city and small enough to reach most of the sites on foot.  Tram and foot power will take you where you want to go.  Of course, a local friend with an automobile is a plus, but not necessary in the city proper.

Rue du Vingt-Deux Novembre

From the train station there are many reasonably priced hotels within a short distance, even if you are toting luggage.  Straight ahead from the station is the Rue du Vingt-Deux Novembre. The picturesque street will take you past shops, restaurants, a large and very old church (of course), as well as hotels.  From this area you will enjoy many lovely trips around town.  If you do not have phone service outside the country, download a city map to your phone or tablet and use it as your guide.  If you are lucky, your hotel or other tourist stop will have a map that is actually printed on paper.  Strange, I know.

Place Kléber

Of course, it you forgot your iPhone or whatever electronic device you can not live without, you can always make your way to the large public square known as Place Kléber to visit the Apple Store.  I guess the techies will know by this stop that city is up to date and not just filled with ancient churches and quaint restaurants.  I will just sit by the fountain as you go in and gaze at all things Apple.

Wine Producers exhibition

The large convention center is home to many events.  We were lucky on one trip to make it to the wine producers convention.  Here the wine makers try to interest stores and restaurants in their latest wines.  Of course we could not stop at all of the many hundred booths to sample all of the products.  Fortunately, my friend was familiar with the wine producers of the region and was able to point me in the direction of the best ones.

If you appreciate a good stroll through town, you will find grand architecture and important historic sites.  There are cozy restaurants and side-walk cafes.  You can walk east and see the Rhine and another country across the way, or amble past the rivers and canals.  Going by the sites on a car or tram means you may miss the beauty of the ancient city.  If you can, take a walk with friends.

A tour with friends

Cathedral selfie

Almost any walk around Strasbourg will bring you to the spectacular Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. The height of its tower makes it visible from almost anywhere in the city.  It is 466 feet and it was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874.  At present it is the 6th tallest church, and the tallest building surviving since the Middle Ages.  Other structures were on the site previously, but this cathedral was begun in 1015 and celebrated its thousand-year anniversary in 2015.  Much of the first structure burned to the ground in 1176 because of the wooden framework.  Construction began again on the current structure and was not finished until 1439.  This remarkable edifice was 424 years in the making.  It is the pride and joy of this region and a must stop for your travel itinerary of Alsace.

The complex west façade, or front of the building, is decorated with thousands of figures.  Do any of them represent actual people of that era?  The Gothic style of the front of the building is considered a masterpiece.  Some see the design as random, perhaps it is not.  The north tower rises to a great height, but the south tower was never built.  The result is a uniquely shaped building.

When I see these old structures, I truly wonder how they built them without modern construction equipment.  On the other hand, only craftsmen of that era could have built this.  Nothing like it is built in modern times.  During World War II the stained glass windows were removed and stored in a salt mine in Germany.  They were recovered and returned after the war by the American Military.  Seeing these windows today, you have to wonder how they got them in originally, as well as removing them to safeguard them.  The church suffered damage during air raids by British and American military.  It was not until the 1990s that the repairs were complete.

From Rue Mercière

I have seen the structure often and been inside a few times.  There can be lines of tourists outside, and they now employ a level of security that was not there the first time we visited.  If you encounter a line, be patient.  The trip inside is worth the wait.

Source: Strasbourg Cathedral, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg_Cathedral
Related: Destination: Friendship

THE CLASS OF 1969 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Going to a 50th High School Reunion can be an exciting prospect – if it’s yours. I recently went to my husband, Tom’s 50th Reunion in Schenectady, New York, and, to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I’m shy in big groups and pictured myself following Tom around and having nothing to say to a room full of strangers.

Tom’s ID badge with his senior photo

I was pleasantly surprised. We met three of Tom’s high school friends and their spouses at a local tavern before the official opening cocktail party. Everyone was delightful and friendly and we had a great time. Tom’s high school best friend, Stewie was there with his wife, Mar-C. In preparing for the reunion, Tom and Stewie discovered that they had been living an hour away from each other in Connecticut for over thirty years! We got together a few weeks before the reunion so I already knew two other people. And Mar-C and I had compared notes on what to wear to each of the reunion events so my comfort level was pretty good by the time we arrived in Schenectady.

Tom and me with Stewie and Mar-c

After our private dinner, we headed over to the party and mingled with the 130 members of the Linton High Class of 1969 who showed up. Everyone was easy going and so nice. I realized from attending 20th and 40th reunions of my own, that as we all get older, the whole high school dynamic changes. You don’t have the cliques anymore or the high school rivalries. People are no longer trying to impress everyone with their job or professional accomplishments, or, as time went on, the jobs and professional accomplishments of their children.

The main topic of conversation was – are you retired yet? If so, good for you and what are you doing to have fun? Most of us had reached the stage of life when we can wake up whenever we feel like it and spend the day doing whatever we feel like doing. Everyone I talked to seemed genuinely happy and fulfilled. No competition any more. Just stories of hobbies and grandchildren. Some people still did projects for work but on their own terms and schedules. Some people were traveling and having a ball exploring the world.

Class of 1969 yearbook and 50th reunion yearbook update

At the dinner the second night, there were fun games with prizes for the winners. Who’s been married the longest? 50 years! Who has the most kids? Six. Who’s kids are the oldest? 50! And the youngest? 23. I was thrilled that Tom tied for the coolest job – he was a CBS network news director and audio engineer and the other guy was a documentary filmmaker.

Tom was well known at his high school. He ran for student council every year against the guy who always won. So Tom’s campaign speeches were more of a stand-up comedy act, the comic relief. They were apparently greatly enjoyed and appreciated by the other students, so lots of people came up to Tom with big hugs and cheerful greetings. I was very proud of Tom, especially when he got up to introduce the three videos he created for the reunion. These were the centerpieces of the dinner presentations.

By the time we left, I knew lots of people by name and we had promised to get together again with the ones who live a reasonable car ride away. I really felt like I made new friends and Tom got to renew friendships from long ago.

Tom and Stewie

We left the reunion happy and wired – until our car died before we even got out of Schenectady. Luckily we broke down right at a service station on the NY State Thruway so it only took AAA a half hour to get a tow truck to us. We rode the 2 ½ hours home in the back of a truck with zero suspension. It felt like we were driving over cobblestones for the entire ride. We got home at 3 AM but even this unpleasant finale didn’t dampen our positive feelings about the weekend we spent in a time capsule. We captured time in a bottle and loved every minute of it!

Tom and me at the dinner

WE MADE IT – Marilyn Armstrong

The first thought I had this morning was “The phone is ringing. Answer the phone.”

Getting to the phone from bed is a stretch and a twist. I could make it easier if I moved my Disney “Someday my Prince will come” lamp. But this would also make it more difficult to turn the lamp on and off. Since I use my lamp more often than I answer my phone, the phone stays put.

Regardless, answering a ringing phone from a dead sleep is one of my more acrobatic moves. Most times, when it rings early in the day, it is either a telemarketer or a doctor’s office reminding me about an appointment. This time, it was a friend from whom I was glad to hear.

“Hey, Rob!” I said. You’ve got to love Caller ID.

“I’m alive,” he said. He sounded great. Considering he had just had two heart valves replaced during the previous week, that’s not such a small thing. I was amazed, delighted and impressed he sounded so perky and clear-headed.

Rob goes way back into the early teenage years of my life. We met at the college radio station. He was 13. I was 17. I felt very superior since I was obviously four years more mature than he was.

He always had a baby face, full of freckles. He still does, though the hair has become mixed with gray. Our lives have continued to intersect throughout the decades. When he was 14, he got cancer. He was treated. Went into remission. Decided to skip college because he figured he was going to die young.

Not.

He taught himself computer programming and morphed into a software developer. He learned to fly. Bought a small plane. I got to fly it too, even though it was a pretend flight as “co-pilot.”

It was fun, scary, and made me realize I love to fly. As a passenger. No piloting for me, unless I can grow my own wings.

He went to live in Brussels. I went to live in Jerusalem. Both of us came back and got married. My first husband — with whom we were all friends because he ran the college radio station where we met died following a mismanaged mitral valve replacement. I was married to Garry by then, having met Garry at that same radio station.

No exaggeration. Everything started there.

First dawn of spring 2017

So you can see why everyone in our crowd is more than normally nervous about heart valve replacements, even though Jeff’s death was at least partly his fault though I think more the result of an arrogant doctor who failed to take fundamental precautions during post-operative care.

Hearing from Rob was heartening. He had two valves replaced, the mitral and the aortic. He had previously, some years back, had a coronary bypass, so he was a little cranky this surgery. He takes exceptionally good care of himself — and his wife, Mira, would personally fight back death with her bare hands. I wouldn’t mess with her.

We had talked several times about surgeons, hospitals, mechanical versus tissue valves. I explained why I preferred tissue. No blood thinners and with all the other medical issues I’ve got, who needs to deal with potential bleeding issues too? Rob is not exactly free of other medical problems, either. He’s got his original cancer lurking. He will never run out of things to worry about.

Nonetheless, he sounded terrific. Alert. Alive. He had made it. If you live around here and you need serious heart surgery, I highly recommend Beth Israel. They are terrific. If there’s such a thing as a great hospital experience, you will have it there. I don’t say this lightly, having been resident in pretty much every one of Boston’s highly-regarded facilities.

It was deeply reassuring to not lose another friend. Given how small our “herd” has become, we try to grow closer. Because now, we really know time isn’t forever.

We are a strange herd of oddballs — musicians, writers, artists, mathematicians and more. Long may we live.