MY MISERY DOESN’T LOVE COMPANY – Marilyn Armstrong

We say stuff because it’s a thing everyone says. I mean, you know, it’s a saying. So we say it. A saying is something to say when you don’t really have anything meaningful or original to say. Sometimes, if you get the right saying, it makes you sound clever and perceptive. Mostly, it makes you sound like you don’t have anything to say. Just saying.

Today I would like to analyze Misery loves company.

This is a truism and a popular saying to which I cannot relate. What, exactly, does it mean? Do any of the following (or perhaps all of the following) apply to you?

— Miserable people like being with other miserable people.

— Miserable people like to make others miserable too.

— Miserable people hate being alone.

— Miserable people like being miserable.

— Misery spurs creativity.

— Miserable people resent it when the people around them are happy.

I don’t like being miserable. When I am unhappy, I don’t want to be around anyone. I want to hide. If I’m unable to hide, I put on my best fake smile and make a Happy Face. Being alone requires a lot less effort.

I don’t find unhappiness, depression or any kind of misery inspirational. Quite the opposite. When I’m down, I don’t want to write. I don’t want to take pictures. I don’t feel creative and I don’t care to share the feeling. Come to think of it, that’s not entirely true. When my mother died and I was in Israel, my Rabbi looked at me and said: “You’re a writer. So WRITE.”

I wrote. It wound being published and everybody cried. I guess that was my equivalent of misery loving company. And it was a near moment of fame for me. Literally, hundreds of people read the paper and cried on buses, at work, in coffee shops. I really shared that misery.

Since I hate being a drag, I usually stay away from everybody but the dogs. They don’t care about my moods. They’re just glad to be in my company, especially if I have a sandwich.

Humans, on the other hand, ask questions I don’t want to answer. Being around people who are equally miserable does not make me feel better unless it’s a funeral and misery is the heart of the event. Mostly, though, depressed friends increase my misery quotient. This concept doesn’t work for me. If it’s a truism, for whom is it true?

Are you miserable? Does your sadness make you want to be with other down-hearted people? Does it make you want to find happy people and explain to them why anyone who is happy simply doesn’t understand the situation?

Does sadness inspire you to write, paint or do something creative? Just wondering.

Because when I’m unhappy or depressed, the only thing I want is to stop feeling that way. Quickly. The world is a sad place too much of the time. I’d rather not make it worse.

LONG DISTANCE LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I used to have a vibrant and full social life with lots of lunch dates with women and dinners with couples. There were trips to museums and shows with friends, dinner parties at people’s homes, meetings with fellow volunteers and ‘play dates’ with our children.

This sounds normal, but it assumes that your friends actually live near you. That was the case when I was younger – not so much anymore. Now I’m removed from most of my friends – separated by geography. My closest friend moved from the next town to Virginia many years ago. Another close friend moved to Florida. Two other couples moved to LA and Portland, Oregon, respectively.

Several good friends live in New York City which is driveable, but very inconvenient. We often spend over two hours in the car one way and have to pay $30 or more to park our car when we get there. Two other friends live in Massachusetts, a two and a half hour drive, which is not taken often.

Other nearby friends have drifted away over the years, like the parents of my kids’ friends who were apparently only convenience or proximity friends. Add to this the fact that my wonderful daughter has lived in LA for almost ten years!

The upshot of all this is that my connection with the people I love is more electronic these days than face to face. I have had to adjust to a life of texts and emails and the occasional phone call. I actually make ‘dates’ with one friend to have a long phone conversation every few weeks to stay caught up and to just chat.

My daughter and I have long phone conversations about everything but she hates the phone so this doesn’t happen as often as I would like. I love talking on the phone so staying in touch by phone satisfies my desire for connection.

It seems that my everyday contact is more and more through texts and emails, which are good for some things but not for others. It’s great to be able to share a cute photo of my dogs or show off the new lamp, or dress I just bought. My daughter has sent me selfies from the dressing room of a store to help her pick which outfit to buy. That is great. So is sending quick news flashes about insignificant happenings.

It falls short, however, when complex things are going on in your life or when there’s an emotional issue that requires more than a few lines to explain. Sometimes you just need a reassuring voice in your ear. On the other hand, sometimes a few lines of moral support from a distant friend can be very meaningful and helpful. Not quite a hug, but not all that bad.

My intimate conversations are mostly done by phone now. I have a few close friends nearby but they are not retired yet and have very busy lives. So finding time to sit and talk isn’t always easy, even when we live down the road.

I’ve gotten used to this situation and can feel satisfied after a good phone talk in lieu of an in-person interaction. I don’t love Face time or Skype. I don’t feel seeing a small, usually distorted photo of my friend on a small screen, really adds anything to the conversation.

My son has also moved one and a half hours away so we talk on the phone every day and text a lot – mostly jokes and memes and quick updates. I still feel very close to him, which may be easier because I get to see him every few weeks.

These in-person visits add to the relationship because they give us time to just hang out together. I’ve realized how important that is. I’m closer to my boat friends because we spend lots of time sitting on each other’s boats, talking laughing, drinking or just reading together. It’s this unstructured time I miss most when I have to rely on my cell phone for personal contact.

My future holds more texts, emails and ‘phone dates’ and less in-person contact as more friends retire and move away. I’ve coped so far, so I guess I’ll just get to love my phone more as my main contact with the outside world.

TOM ELLIS: A TRIBUTE by George K. Regan, Jr.

Tom Ellis was a pillar in the media community. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. In celebration of his life, we are hosting “Tom Ellis, A Tribute,” tomorrow at The Seaport Hotel, Plaza Ballroom from 2-4 pm. I hope you can join us in memorializing the man, the legend, and our dear friend, Tom Ellis.

Tom Ellis, A Tribute

Tom Ellis, a member of the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame, lived the great American life – from working as a young roughneck in the Texas oil fields in the early 1950’s to recording one of President John F. Kennedy’s final television interviews, to the decades spent as a leading television news anchor in both Boston and New York City. Thomas Caswell Ellis died on April 29, 2019, at his home in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. He was 86 years old.

Ellis was born on September 22, 1932, in the Big Thicket area of East Texas, where hard work was valued and money was hard to come by. Ellis was put to work at the age of 13 in the construction trades in Carthage, Texas. While he enjoyed physical labor, Ellis loved the spotlight of theater and entertainment and found side jobs as a professional actor and a carnival barker in his teens.

During the Korean War, Ellis served as a cryptographer in the U.S Navy’s Security Service in Washington, DC. He graduated with honors from Arlington State College in 1955 and from the University of Texas in 1958.

His handsome appearance and commanding voice soon caught the attention of a small radio station in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was hired as a staff announcer for 50 cents per hour. Ellis then moved to San Antonio, where he broke into television news in as an anchor-reporter where he earned several awards for his reporting from the Associated Press and UPI.

He was among the local Texas reporters dispatched to Dallas, where he landed a brief interview with President John F. Kennedy on the day before he was assassinated. In 1968, Ellis moved to Boston after he was hired as a lead anchor for WBZ-TV where he covered major stories, including student protests against the war in Vietnam and the Chappaquiddick tragedy involving Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne.

Ellis was lured away from Boston to New York City in 1975 to anchor the prime time news on WABC-TV where he earned New York Newscaster of the Year honors as well as the top ratings in the market. Also during this time, Ellis made a return to acting and landed a role in the big screen thriller Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman and Sir Lawrence Olivier. He played, of all things, an anchorman. Other movie roles would follow.

Ellis returned to Boston three years later to join the anchor team at Channel 5 that included Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson. During his tenure there, Ellis hosted a Peabody Award-winning documentary called Fed up. He then moved to WNEV-TV (now WHDH) where he co-anchored newscasts from 1982 to 1987.

Ellis’ career is distinguished also by the fact that he is the only journalist to have anchored top-rated newscasts at each of Boston’s network affiliates in the 1960s, 1970’s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, Tom Ellis became one of the first television anchors for NECN (New England Cable News) where he continued to cover major world events close to home, such as 9/11 and the plane crash that took the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law. Tom Ellis anchored his last newscast in 2008.

Longtime friend George K. Regan, Jr remembered Ellis this way: “Tom Ellis was not just a great journalist, he was a great human being. I got to know Tom while working as the press secretary for Mayor Kevin White. My respect for him as a newsman grew from day one and we later became the closest of friends. Tom Ellis was family to me. There wasn’t a holiday or special event we didn’t spend time together or simply reach out to talk. My thoughts are with Tom’s lovely wife Arlene. I will miss my dear friend, ” Regan said.

He loved living on Cape Cod, surrounded by nature and also giving back to his community. He was also deeply involved with various charities, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. He had also served as Chairman of the United Way of Cape Cod. He predeceased by his mother, Mary Eunice Ellis, father Herbert Caswell Ellis, and sister Mary Grimes Ellis.

Tom Ellis is survived by his wife Arlene (Rubin) Ellis of East Sandwich, Massachusetts, Arlene’s sister Debbie Berger and her husband Michael of Newton, Ma., daughter Terri Susan Ellis of Freedom, CA., daughter Kathy Denise Cornett and husband Randy Cornett of Hamilton, OH, and son Thomas Christopher Ellis and wife Beverly Ellis of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ellis also leaves behind five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

All the best,
George

George K. Regan Jr., Chairman
Regan Communications Group

BUT ANYONE COULD DO IT … Marilyn Armstrong

We all have friends who do stuff we can’t do.

They make a perfect pie crust and the filling is great, too. They build and refinish their furniture. They tune the car and rewire the basement on Saturday afternoon and still have time to make dinner for company.

You love them, with just a hint of hate because they can do it all and you can barely drag yourself out of bed, brush your hair, and have coffee before mid-afternoon.

They do a little painting, a bit of carving. Frame their own pictures. Repair anything that breaks. They are never worried about anything because they know exactly what to do.

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These are the woman who breezily raises two children after dad leaves while working full-time and never do they seem overwhelmed or even tired. The men build corporations, sell them, build another one — and don’t know why you can’t do the same.

It’s so easy.

They throw great dinner parties and the food is delicious. The dishes match or are charmingly casual yet coördinated to look casual in a fashion magazine sort of way. But you know they are supposed to look that way and no matter how hard you try, your version of “casual” just looks … well … casual.

Because that look takes work and an “eye.” It’s an art form.

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When you ask about that wonderful pie crust, they say “Oh, it’s nothing. Just a bit of butter and flour. A bit of sugar. Cut everything up with a couple of butter knives, roll it out, and there you are.” If you are lucky, you get a demonstration and it does look easy.

You go home, get all the ingredients together and give it a try. Which results in an unusable lump of muck which ultimately, you toss in the trash.

After which you buy a pie crust or better yet, buy the whole pie. Because it isn’t so easy. Not for you, anyway.

Modest, humble people who do brilliant stuff about which they are completely offhand. They seem baffled why you would think any of it is a big deal. Apparently, it isn’t. To them.

To you, it would be a minor miracle if you could accomplish one little piece of it. Yet they will always say “But it’s so easy. Anyone could do it.”

Anyone except me. I can’t do it.

A GRADUAL CONGREGATION – Marilyn Armstrong

It turns out, there are a lot of variations of congregate meaning “to get together, join together, group together, party hearty.”

With some fish, it also means collaboration to make baby fish. Or is that conjugation?

But there is no word which means “someone who congregates.” No congregator. Congregationalist? Congregationistic? Congruent?

 Way back when, in the days when I had energy, enthusiasm, and I liked most people, I was much more enthusiastic about “getting together.” I was considered sociable and I almost agreed with that.

I was never quite as sociable many thought. I was a party “edge person.” I would look for whoever was standing along at the edges of a party and engage them in conversation. I never like big groups of people in one place because you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone when everyone was trying to talk.

I made exceptions when I gave the party because if it was my party, I didn’t expect to engage in conversation. Party giving was more about flitting about and making sure everyone else was having a good time. I gave a few good parties through the decades (generations?), but mostly, I preferred having a friend or two or three — and a great conversation about everything.

Remember conversations that lasted until dawn? We covered philosophy, government, the meaning of life. Travel to the stars, reincarnation and the best books we’d read lately. No one was bored or left out.

Later, people got old. Died. Drifted into a world of their own, moved to senior housing “somewhere near their kids” which was always hundreds of miles from us. Others simply drifted.

What we had previously held in common — work — it was no longer relevant after we all had stopped working.

Those of us with functional marriages who really liked our partners have been lucky. Singleness is fine when you are active enough to travel and gadabout, but these days, it’s an abiding joy to have a partner whose hand you can hold while you watch old movies, cuddled by dogs with cold noses.

We’ve been talking lately about how few friends we have remaining. This isn’t unusual at our age. People leave and don’t come back. Many others don’t like traveling. Or driving any distance. More don’t like going to places with which they are unfamiliar. Everyone like their own bed.

If you have pets, it gets increasingly difficult to find someone to take care of them, especially as your pets get old, too.

We still have friends. They are old friends. Friends forever. Who knew the people we knew and share memories of the times through which we’ve lived. Have common political and philosophical beliefs — and hopefully enjoy the same movies.

So let us congregate to our greater enjoyment! Or try, anyhow.

DREAMING ABOUT CHICKENS – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night I dreamed about chickens.

It looked a lot like it does around here. A bit hilly. Lots of trees. There was a movie star living in the house. She was supposed to be young, but her skin looked like the bottom of an old leather suitcase and was a trifle orange. She was going back to California where she believed she would be better off.

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That left me with 200 chickens. The fowl were arriving (shortly) by truck. Healthy, young, hens and roosters. Enough to start a nice little chicken farm.

Except I didn’t want to be a chicken farmer and I was pretty sure, neither did Garry. I couldn’t just leave the chickens to die of hunger, thirst, and cold. I’m a responsible person and I love animals. Even chickens.

Chickens don’t get lost

I was still baffled over the whole chicken conundrum when I finally gave up, opened my eyes, and began my day. Coffee would banish chickens. Garry said it was from a movie we’d seen and I was caught in an old movie loop.

Sometimes, the absolutely best storyteller in the world has got to be my subconscious. I would never consider creating a story involving me and chickens.

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens
Author Gordon Winter, Garry, and chickens

Not counting authors since this prompt doesn’t concern that … who tells great stories?

Garry tells wonderful stories. He makes us laugh. I don’t know if the story is true or maybe just a little true, but whatever, it is great entertainment. Tom tells great stories too and he usually has a good closing line, which is probably my biggest story-telling issue. I can tell a good story but I run on too long and am not good at wrapping it up. I’m good for the yarn’s first three-quarters.

Story-telling is the glue that makes friends want to hang out with each other. If you can keep the crowd laughing, you’ll never be alone.

It’s not booze, movies, or video games. Certainly not texting. It’s stories. The tales of our experiences, things we remember, times and places and people we’ve known.

Photo: Ben Taylor

I keep wondering what people will do when they realize you can’t live forever with just a cell phone? They don’t seem to have a clue about having conversations or telling stories. From whence will their stories emerge?

Our stories are our personal mythology. Will our children and grandchildren have stories? Or anyone to tell them?

It worries me. It really does.

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF TINKER BELLE – Marilyn Armstrong

Can you set a price on love? Can you set a number to it? Can you calculate it by the cost of health care, toys, dog food? Grooming?

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Tinker Belle was a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, also called PBGVs or Petites. They are a medium-sized, shaggy rabbit hound from the Vendée region of France, but have become over the past 20 years, quite popular as pets, though they are definitely not a dog for just anyone. They are smart, funny (they will do almost anything to make you laugh), noisy, and into everything.

Tinker Belle was special. From the day I brought her home from the airport (she had just flown up from her breeder’s home in North Carolina), she wasn’t like any other puppy I’d ever met. She was incredibly smart. As a rule, hounds are intelligent, but she was something else. Housebreaking? We showed her the doggy door. She was henceforth housebroken. She could open any door, any gate and close them behind her. She would open jars of peanut butter without leaving a fang mark to note her passing. All you’d find was a perfectly clean empty jar that had previously been an unopened, brand new jar.

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She was deeply sensitive. Probably born to be a therapy dog, she knew who was in pain, she knew who was sick. She knew where you hurt. She was the only dog who would never step on a healing incision but would cuddle close to you, look at you with her dark, soft eyes and tell you everything would be fine. She never hurt a living thing, not human or anything else … except for small varmints she hunted in the yard. She was, after all, a hound and a hunter at that, born to track, point and if necessary, kill prey.

She was the smartest of our five dogs, the smartest dog of my life. Not just a little bit smarter than normal. A huge amount smarter. When you looked into Tinker’s eyes, it wasn’t like looking into the eyes of a dog. She was a human in a dog suit. She knew. We called her Tinker the Thinker because she planned, she remembered. She held grudges. More on that. For all that, she was Omega (the bottom) in the pack, we thought it was mostly her own choice. She had no interest in leadership. Too much responsibility maybe? But the other dogs knew her value. When they needed her, other dogs would tap into her expertise in gate opening, package disassembly, cabinet burglary, trash can raiding and other criminal activities. Throughout her life, she housebroke each new puppy. A couple of hours with Tinker and the job was done. It was remarkable. Almost spooky. She then mothered them until they betrayed her by growing up and playing with other dogs.

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When Griffin, our big male Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen came to live with us a few months after Tinker, they became The Couple. inseparable, deeply in love. They ate together, played together, slept together, sang together. When about a year later, we briefly had a little Norwich Terrier pup and Griffin (what a dog!) abandoned Tinker to go slobbering after Sally … well …

Tinker’s heart was broken. She became depressed, would not play anymore with humans or other dogs. For the next 10 years, Tinker refused to so much as look at Griffin. Worse, she apparently blamed us, her humans for having brought another girl into the house. In retribution for our crimes, Tinker began her Reign of Terror.

Tinker took to destroying everything she could get her fangs on when she was three years old. She’d done a modest amount of puppy chewing, but nothing extraordinary. She was more thief than a chewer. She would steal your stuff and hide it. Shoes, toys, towels, stuffed animals. After Griffin betrayed her with that stupid little bitch — Sally was indeed the polar opposite of Tinker being the dumbest dog I’ve ever known and ill-tempered to boot — Tinker was no longer a playful thief.

She was out to get us.

Nothing was safe. She had a particular passion for destroying expensive electronic devices. Cell phones, remote controls, portable DVD players, computers. If she could get a fang to them, she killed them. She would do more damage in under a minute than I thought possible. For Garry and I, it meant we couldn’t leave the room together unless we put everything away where Tink couldn’t get it. Tinker would strike quickly and she was lethal.

Kaitlin’s toys were safe if Kaity was currently paying a lot of attention to Tinker. If not, she was punished with the beheading of any doll Tinker could find. She didn’t bother with limbs but always went straight for the head. She gutted stuffed things with grim efficiency.

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During one memorable intermission, Garry and I went to the kitchen to grab something to drink and she dismembered our remote controls. We were gone, by the clock, about a minute. The kitchen is adjacent to the sofa where we watch TV, so she managed to do this with us not 10 feet away. It cost me a couple of hundred dollars to replace them.

She pulled off the backs, tore out the batteries (but never ate them), then ripped out the wiring and boards. She didn’t waste any time, either. If she had the leisure, she’d also tear out the keys and generally mangle the cases, but if time was limited, she went straight to the guts of the thing. She was good.

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For 10 years, we lived under siege. If you didn’t want it Tinkerized, you couldn’t leave it exposed, not for a minute.

Yet we loved Tinker and for the last year of her life, after we brought Bonnie home, Tinker became a real dog again. Under the influence of Bonnie, the friendliest, happiest, most charming Scottie on earth, Tinker came out of her sullens and played with Bonnie. She ran around the yard and played tag, joined the chorus when the other dogs pointed their muzzles at the sky and sang.

Hounds have such beautiful voices and Tinker’s was the most beautiful of all. When she sang, nature sang with her. I suppose this is a matter of taste, but for those of us who love hounds, you know what I mean. Singing is a social function for canines. When a pack sings, it isn’t an alert. It’s a chorus. They are really truly singing together. Each dog has a part, joining in, then pausing and rejoining at the right moment. Tinker was a baritone, the deepest and loudest of the canine voices and Bonnie is a coloratura soprano, very musical, but light.

Tinker died of cancer at age 12. She had shown no symptoms except a slight slowing down and a very minimally reduced appetite. One day, she collapsed. She was riddled with cancer. How in the world she had so effectively hidden her illness is mind-boggling, but she did. A couple of weeks later, Griffin had a massive stroke and died. They were almost exactly the same age and I don’t believe for a minute that the timing of their passing was mere coincidence.

The house was so quiet with the two hounds gone. We didn’t have to hide everything anymore, though it took us months to realize it was safe, that I could leave my laptop out at night and no dog would bother it. After the two hounds passed, the pack did not sing for half a year. One day, mourning ended and they started to sing again. Now, they sing twice a day, early in the morning (get up Mom) and in the evening (pause that show, time for the chorus).

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What was Tinker’s true cost? We paid $700 for her when she was a puppy. Who knows how much her medical care cost over the years? That’s such a basic part of the contract between dogs and their keepers. They love us, we care for them. Other damages? Thousands of dollars in electronic gear, furniture, shoes, books, DVDs, videotapes, dolls, stuffies and who knows what else.

But she paid us back, you see. When I was terribly ill, Tinker never left my side. When I was back from surgery, missing another piece of me and in pain, Tinker was there, never placing a paw where it would hurt me. How does it add up?

How much was the love worth?