Merry Christmas to all!
A friend emailed me info about a popular boxer who just improved on his very impressive record. I had to admit knowing nothing about the prizefighter. I’m a self-proclaimed baseball maven but know nothing about professional boxing these days. I’m not a fan.
I don’t get my jollies watching two people bashing out each other’s brains. This is no ethical line in the sand. I enjoy football but never have fantasized about tossing a final second ‘hail mary’ pass to win the Superbowl for the home town team. I flinch when I see the guys grinding each other into the dirt just to pick up a few yards.
We used to watch the likes of Kid Gavilan, Chico Vejar, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong (no relation), Rocky Graziano, Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Floyd Patterson, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Ingmar Johansson, and the young Cassius Clay – Muhammad Ali.
Joe Louis was Dad’s hero. Unfortunately, I only remember seeing Louis in the declining years of his memorable career. Dad used to describe listening to his fights on the radio when “The Brown Bomber” was in his prime.
I remember seeing Louis’ pictures in the homes of many Black families. He was more than a boxer, more than the heavyweight champion of the world. He was a folk hero and legend to people of color. Louis was a sport and cultural icon before Jackie Robinson. My Dad could recite, chapter and verse, round by round, of many of Joe Louis’ fights.
As a young boy, I looked at pictures of my Dad in his boxing prime. I was always awed. Dad was 6-feet plus a few inches. A tall, matinee-idol handsome man. This isn’t fog of memory sentiment. My Dad never lost those strikingly good looks – even in the autumn of his years. My girlfriends visited, they would stare at my father with jaw-dropping admiration, then glance at me with a, “What happened to YOU?” look. It always deflated my ego.
When we had visitors, it was like living with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, or Denzel Washington as my Dad. All three of the Armstrong boys addressed our parents as “Mommy and Daddy” even when we were adults, well into our professional lives. It may seem bit old-fashioned now but it felt normal for the 50-year-old Garry Armstrong, noted TV News Reporter to talk about his “Mommy and Daddy”. My friends always smiled with appreciation, maybe a little envy.
I am drifting here. Typical Garry. William Armstrong, Sr, the pride of Antigua and World War 2. Decorated Army Veteran ( The EAME Service Medal, The WWII Victory Medal and the American Service Medal), did a lot of amateur boxing during the war where he saw lots of active duty and action, including the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, Vineland, and Central Europe.
I don’t recall Dad’s boxing record. He said it was recreational. An avocation. Something to do between combat. I suspect it was Dad’s way of getting respect during a period when our Armed Services were still segregated. When asked, he begrudgingly said boxing was relaxing for him and his opponents were usually friends or Army peers. As I write, I don’t remember if Dad ever fought a White opponent. I never thought to ask that question as a kid.
Dad taught his 3 sons some basics about self-defense but never made it a big deal. He never tried to force boxing on us. I’m not sure he shared our passion for baseball.
Dad showed rare outward passion when “nice guy” Floyd Patterson suffered boxing defeats. He always thought Patterson should’ve been a little tougher but the one-time heavyweight champ had a very sensitive outward demeanor that rankled some old school boxing fans.
Rocky Marciano’s undefeated career record was always appreciated by my Dad. I wanted to say my Dad commented “Good stuff for a White Guy” but, no, my Father wasn’t given to such acerbic comments. Leave it to his oldest son with a slightly bent sense of humor.
During my Boston TV News career, I met Marvin Hagler, the pride of Brockton, Ma. and a champion pugilist. We struck up a friendship beyond reporter-prizefighter when I talked about my Dad and his love of boxing.
I managed to score a painting that showed Mavin Hagler and “Bill” Armstrong, head to head, in a boxing match. An artist friend did the painting and Hagler was kind enough to add a personal sentiment to ” a fellow boxer” for my Dad. It was an emotional TKO for me.
When I presented the painting to my Dad, he gave me the biggest smile he’d ever shown me in my life. I felt a deep tug in my heart and barely held back the tears. My Father really LIKED the gift. It’s hard for me to explain how important that was for me.
Years later, after my parents had passed and we were on the verge of putting the family house up for sale, my two brothers and I were deciding who would get what. It surprised me when they said I should get most of Dad’s boxing stuff. I didn’t expect it because my two brothers were closer to Mommy and Daddy in their final years while I was busy with my career in Boston. I didn’t forget them but my visits were fewer. Yes, I felt a little guilty because I was so focused on my job.
When I started going through Dad’s stuff, a flood of memories came back. All those Friday evenings watching boxing matches. Dad’s expert take on the state of professional boxing (he didn’t like where it was going). Dad’s own recollections when he sifted through his equipment. The gloves, the shoes, the pictures. I could see my Father reaching into his own past when he was the boxer, master of his own moments in the ring, and maybe a magic moment in Madison Square Garden — standing beside his boxing heroes.
Top of the World, Dad! You made it!
But Then Again, Why Mention?
We all have regrets, that’s for sure. You can not lead a life without them. You may regret that first stumble and fall, if you remember it at all. You may regret dropping that toy. You may regret letting go of that balloon. You may regret throwing food on the floor. You may also regret spilling the milk, but why cry over that?
As you grow, I guess there are plenty of things to regret. How about the day you did not do your homework? How about the time you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar, literally or figuratively? How about the time you were grounded for not doing _________ (fill in the blank).
School years can be filled with regrets. Many of them will actually have to do with getting caught, rather than what you did. Of course, if you fell off old man Jones’ garage and broke your arm, you will probably regret that. If you picked on someone smaller and got your butt kicked, you probably regret that too.
When you could not work up the nerve to ask Sally or Janie or Billy to the prom, you may regret it years later. This especially stings if you find out the person you wished to ask, liked you too and was hoping you would ask him or her out. There are a lot of friendships, especially at the high school level, that may have developed into something, if only you had the courage to move forward.
This is especially tough for gay boys and girls who feel they may be the only gay ones in their class and are afraid to approach anyone on this topic. Recently, I learned a high school classmate was gay so I went back to look at his yearbook picture. I wanted to see if he was the person I remembered. He was smart and handsome and someone I would not have thought I could approach.
Adult life may be filled with a series of sorrows over decisions made. Should you have gone to college? If you went, did you pick the right school? The right major? It is easy to spend time at the fraternity parties and local bars. Will you later wonder if studying harder would have made a difference in later life?
There was a good friend of mine through elementary and high school who also went on to the same University with me. We took many of the same classes, not all. We frequently studied together. Sometimes, OK many times, our studies started with a trip to a deep dish pizza place where we would order pizza and pitchers of beer. Since deep dish pizza took a long time to make, we might get 30 to 40 minutes of studying in before the pizza arrived. After that, it was just pizza and beer. I guess I do not regret this one too much.
After college I cultivated many groups of friends. A lot of these friendships revolved around local bars to watch sports and drink beer. In later years it might involve karaoke too. We loved our nights out, at least we thought we did. As I look back on those years, I am not sure I remember who came along or what occasions we enjoyed most. They were just nights out, killing time.
Then, of course, it would be easy to regret all the money we spent at these various places. Some nights, we poured money over the bar just as fast as they poured drinks into our glasses. Buying drinks for others, especially if they did not have a lot of cash, seemed like a great idea. They probably do not remember me, just as much as I do not remember them.
My mother spent a lot of time in the local lounges, one in particular in my lifetime. The time spent took up more than 50 years of her life and all of her spare money. At these places, I am convinced she felt she made a number of deep friendships. It was important to get to these places on Friday or Saturday night to see her “friends.” When she had a stroke at 73, a couple came to see her once or sent a card. After the first few weeks, we never saw any of these people again over the next 16 years. I did wonder if she regretted any of the time spent at the Lounge. In her case, I just don’t know.
If you married the wrong person, you may have deep regrets. If you married several wrong people, I guess it could be a lot of regrets. Friendships and marriages are sometimes chosen in haste. They need to be corrected rather than regretted.
The thing about regrets? There’s nothing to be gained from them. You should learn from mistakes, but regrets aren’t worth anything. You can’t get back time lost. You can’t get back money spent. You can’t undo painful history. There’s nothing to be gained from dwelling on mistakes. Take the lesson. Move forward. Skip the regrets.
Don’t look at yesterday when today offers you the opportunity to look forward. You can’t change what happened. Maybe you don’t really want to. Everything you’ve done — good and bad — is part of you.
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way.
I am retired which is, by definition, adrift. This is a good thing and the real reason we retire. After a life of deadlines and commuting, some drifting seems like a good idea. So here I am. Just drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweed … with memories of those great cowboy movies of childhood.
Hi Roy! Hi Trigger! Hey, Bullet! Hope y’all are doing well. I miss you. All of you. You were the good guys. We trusted you. Where are you now, when we need you?
Meanwhile, I’ll just be drifting. Considering one thing and another, I might also be asleep.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
In an endless attempt to clean up and store all the extra stuff in life, the final polish is to put it away permanently by finding a place for it which will be forever safe.
In the course of organizing my pictures, I lost this one. I have no idea how. I must have deleted it, but I didn’t do it on purpose.
Maybe while I was setting up a new computer and transferring files, this one fell between the chairs? Or got lost in some device, like maybe an ancient hard drive that no longer works. Or on an old DVD or floppy disk. Regardless, it is gone. I really liked it.
I have this picture because once upon a time, I printed this on canvas. I gave the picture away, but before I gave it away, I took a picture of the picture.
I lose things.
It’s not new. I have always had a habit of putting important items – papers, jewelry, lenses, cameras — in a safe place. Because, for some inexplicable reason, I have decided wherever it was, wasn’t safe enough. The problem is, wherever it previously was will be the place I remember it being. I will not remember the new, safer place I put it. If, indeed I put it anywhere and didn’t just put it down, go do something else, and forget about it completely.
The new, improved place to which I moved it is guaranteed to be a place I will never remember. It’s also possible I move things in my sleep. Yes, I sleepwalk. I know this because other people have seen me sleepwalking. Also, there are other things that only make sense if I did them in my sleep. No rational (or waking) explanation is possible.
The jewelry I found in the bottom of Garry’s underwear drawer? I’m pretty sure he didn’t put my necklace there. In any conscious state of mind, I would never put anything there, other than his underwear. Or, for that matter, the bundle of jewelry I discovered in the piano bench. Why would anyone put their jewelry in the piano bench? Even me?
The worst losses are accidental. I have something important in my hand. I need to do something else, so I put down. Temporarily. Life moves on. I meant to go back and deal with it, but I have a 15-second short-term memory, so if I put it down and don’t deal with it immediately, it could be in another universe.
The ONLY way I find this stuff is by retracing my steps. What rooms was I in? Could I have left it in Garry’s bathroom? My bathroom? Did I shove it in my camera bag? Which pants or jacket was I wearing? Have I washed it yet?
Occasionally, this results in finding the missing item. Mostly, it doesn’t, probably because the retracing was imperfect. And I forget about pockets. How many were there are and how much stuff you can shove into them.
Lost stuff can appear years later while I am hunting down something else that has gone missing. It can be a thrilling discovery … or it’s a duplicate of important papers I’ve already replaced.
A couple of friends of mine recently became widows. One of them strongly recommended I put our papers in order. Things like the deed to the house which I actually found by accident, so I know where it is. Garry doesn’t know where it is, but if I told him, he’d forget anyhow. Fifteen seconds isn’t nearly enough time. We have our birth certificates and our passports which will do in a pinch. I don’t have to worry about dealing with our fortune since there is none. In fact, it turns out all we will need — either of us — will be our birth certificates, social security cards, and a few passwords.
One sheet of paper in a manila envelope. I don’t even have to worry about the money needed to bury one or both of us because there is no burial money. Presumably, we WILL get buried, one way or the other. I think they have to do something with our corpses. Garry and I discussed this, then realized, “Why worry?” Garry is too old to buy life insurance (I think 75 is the cutoff) and I’m too sickly. For any price.
So we agreed to stop worrying about it. I figure the state has to do something with our bodies. I don’t think it’s legal to just leave us lying around and rotting. It might make an interesting TV show, though. Just a season or two. We could call it “What Should We Do With Mom?”
Too bad we aren’t allowed to be buried on our own property. We’ve more than enough room and our earth would be happy to have us. Meanwhile, I’m searching for that missing picture. Not all the time, but every time I’m in one of my storage drives. It may turn up, someday. Or not.
I’m pretty sure Garry has our birth certificates and passports. So we’re good to go, so to speak.
We are about to celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. As I ponder the upcoming 29th — a year short of the big 3-0 — I hear distant bells.
I remember the wedding. The thrill of ultimate victory, the agony of getting there. How, by the time I got to the altar, I was a nervous wreck, but Garry was cool as the proverbial cucumber and looked dashing in his tuxedo.
After it was clearly established that we were definitely, unquestionably, without any doubt, getting married, it came down to details. Dates. Rings. Caterers. Bakers. Flowers. Music. Photography. Videography. And (trumpets) a ceremony.
I had been married twice before — okay, three times because I’d been married in a registry office in London, then the whole Jewish medieval ceremony in Jerusalem. Having been there and done that. I wanted to elope or maximum, go to city hall, have the mayor marry us. He would have. We knew the guy and still do.
Garry wanted a Real Wedding.
He was 48 years old. Never married. This would be his one and only wedding and by golly, he was going to Do It Right.
“I want a real wedding. In the church in which I grew up. In New York,” says Garry. “And I want my old pastor to officiate.”
“Pastor G. is retired … like fifteen years ago.”
“Why can’t we just do something in Boston? New York is 250 miles away. You haven’t lived there in 30 years. Everyone you know except your parents live in Boston or some other part of the country.”
Garry’s face was set and stony. He wanted a hometown wedding in the church he attended as a child. With the Pastor who ran the church when he was a kid. Who was very retired.
Did I mention my husband is stubborn? He is very stubborn.
“We can,” he repeats, “Work it out.” There was that we again.
“Fine,” I eventually agree. “We’ll have a wedding. In New York. At your church.”
There were caterers to hire. Music to be arranged. A bagpiper (don’t ask). Battles over the guest list. A cake to be designed. The cake was my favorite part. It went like this. Having settled on a vanilla cake with lemon filling, we needed to decide on decorations.
“Do you want the bride and groom in white or black?”
“Can we have one of each?” No, we could not. In 1990, they do not have a mixed couple cake topper. I offered to take a marker and paint the groom black, but inexplicably, Garry found this objectionable. I suggested they take two sets and cut them in half, but it was deemed too complicated. In the end, I opted for wedding bells, the DMZ of wedding cake toppers.
So, Garry got his wedding. It was (for him) as simple as simple could be. Marilyn arranged the wedding. Garry showed up in a tux.
You see? We worked it out.
P.S. I eventually learned that “we’ll work it out” always meant “you’ll take care of it for me.” That included moving, packing, unpacking, cooking, arranging vacations, airline tickets, mortgages, and car loans. For Garry, it meant “show up nicely dressed and smile.”
Jeff and I got Mao as an 8-week-old kitten in the fall of 1965. We had just gotten married the month before, and of course, we had to have a cat right away. Why a Siamese? I don’t know. Karma maybe?
From the very first day, Mao was Master of All He Surveyed. Although I have had many cats through the years, Mao was the first and by far the most utterly unique.
He was very smart for a cat. For instance, when we were out-of-town, we would have someone “house-sit” for us. No matter who that person was, and no matter how much Mao ordinarily liked them, while we were away, Mao would attack him or her (or them) virtually continuously during our absence. He would hide behind the bushes and attack legs as they tried to open the front door. He would wait around the corner and then pounce. He would launch himself from atop the bookcase, landing on a victim’s head, sometimes causing serious damage.
The moment we returned, Mao ceased his attacks and commenced purring. He figured, I believe, that he needed to drive out the interlopers so that we could return. Since we always DID return, his belief was consistently reinforced!
Mao protected us from bed goblins. If you were on Mao’s “family member” list, he would stop by your bedroom every night. You had to lift the covers so he could walk to the foot of the bed and back up. No goblins tonight? Good, I will go now, and he did.
Mao was the only cat I’ve ever known that perpetrated acts of vengeance hours or days after your perceived offense. If, for example, you shooed him off the table during dinner time, he would wait until you were sitting on the potty with your pants around your ankles and could not chase him. Then he would casually bite your shins. Tail held high, he would stroll away.
Mao patrolled the perimeter of the grounds like any good watch cat should. Every day of his life, he performed it, almost as if it were a ceremony. During his closing weeks with us, he began to patrol in the company of a younger feline, Mr. Manx. As if passing the torch to the next generation, he taught Mr. Manx to walk the perimeter, and inspect the beds, which Mr. Manx then did for the rest of his life.
In October 1978, Mao, who had been diagnosed with cancer some months before, disappeared. We never found his body, though we were sure he had gone off to die. For the last couple of weeks before his departure, we had noticed that he felt different. Where his muscles had been hard, they were now soft. He slept most of the day and moved slowly.
It is many years and lifetimes later. Jeff has passed. I live far from that place where Jeff and I and Mao and all the other fur-people lived. But I remember him. We all remember Mao, the most special cat.
Mao, I am sure you were there for Jeff when he came to the Bridge. I’m sure you will be there for me, too. You and all my other furry friends who I loved will be there together.
But you were and will always be, utterly unique and entirely unforgettable.
Early this morning, I woke from a dream I wanted to remember. It was full of people, but I don’t remember who they were or what they were doing or for that matter, what I was doing.
I sat up in bed for almost an hour trying to get a grip on it and I almost had it. I considered opening my computer and actually writing down something because I know that if I don’t write it down, it’ll be gone. Yet I hold fast to some idea that if I try really hard, I’ll remember at least a tidbit and be able to build a story on that.
You’d think I’d know by now. Dreams slide away faster than my memory of why I’m in the kitchen looking wondering and knowing there IS a reason. I will remember it about half an hour after I go back to the recliner and relax.
Dreams are much more slippery. About the only coherent thought about the process is for about an hour, I remembered it. Then, blearily, I went back to sleep and whatever thoughts I had grabbed onto went silently into my sub-conscience where presumably they will permanently remain.
I have a question about this, actually.
Do we really remember the things we forget? Is there a place in our brains where the stuff we knew and were sure we’d remember are collected? Is the door to that area which is locked, but if we found the key, could we open it?
Those little wood or metal boxes that held the key to our roller skates, a postcard from a long-forgotten friend, a report card from fourth grade and a poem we wrote on our thirteenth birthday which we were sure was going to take the poetic world by storm? Except there would be so many more things in our brains. The Tylenol we forgot to take and the toast we neglected to toast. The time we didn’t water the plants because we came into the kitchen to water them but left with a glass of ginger ale?
These days, I forget more than I remember. I’m trying to figure out if there is a special place in our heads where all these forgotten pieces live in mental cold storage. One day, the door will fly open and it will all explode outward. I better hire a mental maid to clean it all up.
When I was growing up … and even when my son was growing up in the 1970s, kids went out to play. Alone. Unsupervised. Unstructured. Disorganized with not a single adult to keep an eye on us. We built “forts” and “clubhouses” out of crates and old boxes and anything we could find that mom wouldn’t miss.
We played stickball with old, pink Spalding balls that were often long past bouncing or even being “round.” You didn’t go and buy a “stickball set.” You found an old broomstick and someone had a ball, or what used to be a ball, or you all chipped in and bought one in the local (!) toy store.
Remember toy stores? Not “Toys R’ Us.”
Local shops where you could buy a ball or a bat or a Ginny doll for a few cents or a few dollars. The shopkeepers were always grumpy old guys (probably a lot younger than we are now), but they had a gleam in their eye. If you don’t like kids, you don’t run a toy store.
We ran around a lot. Playing tag was basic. Even dogs play tag. “Catch me if you can,” you shouted and off you went. If you got tagged, you were O-U-T. But if you could run fast enough, you could grab whatever was “home” and one shouted “Home free all!” and everyone was back in the game.
There was Hide and Seek, another classic. Someone hid, everyone hunted. You had to be careful. If you hid too well, your friends might get bored looking for you and go do something else. But no one’s mother came to complain that you were being bullied. This was stuff you dealt with because there will always be bullies. Unless you were in real danger, it was better (then and now) to cope on your own. Much better than waiting for rescue.
In the real world, rescue is rare, but bullying is not.
Jump rope. There was always an old piece of laundry line somewhere. They actually call it skipping rope in other parts of the country. In the cities, the Black girls played a variation called “double Dutch” using two ropes. We all knew how to do the double Dutch ropes turning, but none of us ever mastered the technique of actually jumping. More like an intricate dance — and I also wasn’t ever much of a dancer.
Klutz that I was and am, I was barely competent on a single line, much less two. I remain in awe of how incredibly graceful, athletic, and coördinated those girls were … and are. There was a feature about them on the news a couple of weeks ago and I am no less awestruck now than I was more than 60 years ago.
Along with jumping rope came chanting. All those weird little ditties we sang as we jumped. They mostly were alphabetic and involved names and places.
“I call my girlfriend … in …” when we were playing in a group. You could gauge your popularity by when and who “called you in” to jump in tandem. Looking back, I think the problem was not unpopularity, but being a washout as an athlete. I was a slow runner, an indifferent jumper, and a terrified tree climber. On the other hand, when it came to derring-do, I was a champ. I could organize games of pretending –pirates and cowboys and outlaws and cat burglars.
We burgled, but we never stole. We weren’t thieves, just little girls trying to prove we could do it.
I don’t see kids playing outdoors these days. Almost never, except as organized groups with one or more adults supervising. Calling the plays with whistles and shouts. Children are not allowed to “go out and play” anymore. Everyone is afraid of something. Bullying, kidnappers, traffic, skinned knees. Unlike we kids who were always covered with scabs from a thousand times falling down on the sidewalk or street.
Come home with a bloody knee today and they’ll call an ambulance. Growing up, unless you appeared to have broken something, a bath was the remedy of choice and usually, beneath the dirt, was an unbroken kid.
It makes me wistful, thinking about it. My family was dysfunctional, but I could escape by going out to play.
“Bye, Ma, I’m going out,” and off you went. It was the best part of being a child. Those months between school and hours after school (much less homework and we still learned more!) contained what seemed unlimited freedom. That was the freest I would ever be in this life.
Once you were out of the house and too far away to hear your mother calling, you could do whatever you liked. You could be whoever you imagined. There was nothing you had to do, no place you needed to be. Until the streetlights came on.
You had to be home when the streetlights came on. It was a fundamental law, the bottom line. Do what you will, but be home when the streetlights come on. In those warm summers of childhood, the days flowed in an endless stream.
Darkness fell late. There was more than enough time.
When I look back at what I miss from my old days, mostly, I miss the pants. The wide bell bottoms were the most flattering jeans I ever wore. They made my legs look longer and my hips narrower.
From 1969 and for the next few years, fashion and I were simpatico.
My shirts had purple fringes.
I wore granny glasses with rose-tinted lenses. My hair was cut in a shag. I had my baby in a sling on my hip, a Leica on my shoulder and a song in my heart (probably the Beatles). That was a good as it got for me.
I miss that clothing, the bell bottoms, the fringes. I really miss my old Leica. Mostly, I want my bell bottoms back!
Every night, I fill up my cup, grab my bag o’ medications, pet the puppies, and hike the hallway to the bedroom at the other end of the house.
After arriving, I put the bag where it belongs. Adjust the bed to its TV viewing angle. Turn on the television for Garry. He watches with headphones while I read or listen to an audiobook. I fire up my blue-tooth speaker. I put my medications into a cup which is really the lid from a medicine bottle. Convenient and it keeps little round pills from rolling off the table.
I never remember everything. Typically, I forget to turn off the fan in the living room or in winter, turn down the thermostat. I sit on the edge of the bed trying to remember what I should have done but didn’t.
“Ah,” I think. “Thermostat.” I go back to the living room. Turn down the temperature. Pet the dogs. Assure them they are not getting another biscuit no matter how cute they are.
Back down the hall. Brush teeth. Sit on the edge of the bed. Oh, right. Need to refill antihistamine bottle. It’s empty. Back to the kitchen where the big bottle is stored. Fending off the dogs, I limp back to the bedroom. And get the nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something else.
Ah, that’s right. I left an extra light on in the living room. Up the hall to the living room. Turn off light. I am currently embattled with the electric company about my bill. I pet the dogs again, which with three dogs always involves some kind of weird arrangement of arms and hands. Then, it’s back to the bedroom.
Garry shows up, having done whatever it is he does for however long he does it in the bathroom. I recently relocated all of our copies of National Geographics and The New Yorker to a shelf in the bathroom. Right in front of the toilet. I suppose I have only myself to blame.
He settles into watching highlights of a Sox game, followed by a movie or three. I turn on my audiobook.
An hour later, I’ve got a headache. I’m not sleepy. Everything hurts. Why are my medications not working? There’s nothing more I can take. Panic sets in.
Which is when I realize all the pills are still in the cup. Where I put them. Like two hours ago. With all the walking up and down the hallway, I never got around to taking them which explains why they aren’t working.
I laugh. Garry takes off his headphones long enough for me to explain why. I got to the punchline, he looks at me and says: “You didn’t take them?” He Laughs — and puts the headphones back.
As our memory — collectively and individually — gets less dependable, we have substituted routines, calendars, and Google. If we do everything the same way at the same time every day, we’re less likely to forget. Or fail to remember if we did it today or yesterday. If that fails, there’s Google.
Google is not useful for remembering if I have a doctor’s appointment or whether or not I called in that prescription, but it’s great for all the other trivia of life. All the missing words, titles of books, movies, TV shows, actors, historical events, kinds of dogs.
Actually, I use posts the same way. I may not remember whatever it is, but the odds are pretty good I wrote it down in a post. If I could only remember the title of the post!
The other evening, we were watching a show that included a dog. Garry assumes I know every dog breed at a glance. He’s right, usually. I know the breeds, but these days, I may not remember its name. I will usually remember the group — guarding, herding, hunting, hound, terrier, non-sporting (“other”), toy. If I remember that, I can go to the AKC site, find the group, scroll the list and find the dog.
Recently, they’ve changed the AKC website, so it’s not as easy as it used to be to find simple information. In fact, the whole AKC site seems to be a place to sell puppies — something I find more than a little suspicious.
I knew the dog that Garry was asking about was the same kind of pooch as the dog Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) had on his show. The dog’s name was Eddy. I remembered that. No problem. The breed name was on the edge of my brain, but not coming into focus. I gave up and Googled it.
Search for: “Breed of dog on Frasier TV show.” Except I couldn’t remember the name of the TV show. First I had to find the name of the show.
Search for: “long-running comedy on TV about a psychiatrist.” Up popped Frasier. Phew. I could have also found it by looking up that other long-running comedy, “Cheers,” in which Frasier first appeared, but I couldn’t remember its name, either.
One of these days, I’m going to have to Google my own name. I hope I find it.
Marilyn and I watched an old Dick Cavett interview with Robert Mitchum on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) last night. We laughed a lot. It was a reminder of how good late night talk shows were. It also showed the legendary tough guy Mitchum as an affable and literate man who didn’t take himself seriously.
The Cavett show originally aired in 1970. I met Robert Mitchum the following year. Turned out to be a memorable encounter.
Robert Mitchum was in Boston to shoot “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, a film about small-time criminals. There was nothing small-time about Mitchum. I lobbied for and got the TV interview assignment. Those were the days of “The big three” television stations in Boston. Two of the stations had prominent entertainment reporters. I was the “go to guy” at my station.
The established entertainment reporters had first dibs on Mitchum. Fine by me. I waited until shooting had wrapped for the day. I lucked out because they finished just before 1pm. The star was in a good mood because his workday was over. We shot one reel of film and I got everything I needed.
Mitchum seemed surprised we weren’t shooting more. Actually, he smiled when I said we had a wrap.
I was getting ready to leave when Robert Mitchum asked what was next for me.
Nothing, I told him. I was through for the day unless I was called for a breaking news story. I also assured him I probably would not be reachable. He smiled. He asked if I knew any quiet places where he could have lunch without being bothered. I nodded and he invited me to join him.
It was a small, dark place. It could’ve been a setting from one of Mitchum’s film noir of the 1940s. He smiled approvingly as we walked in. Several people greeted me. No one gave Mitchum a second look. We settled back with the first of many rounds that afternoon. At one point, Mitchum took off his tinted glasses, looked around the place and said I should call him “Mitch”. I nodded. He wanted to know how I could just disappear for the rest of the day. I told him I had recorded my voice tracks, shot all my on-camera stuff and relayed cutting instructions after the film was “souped”. Mitch smiled broadly and went to the bar for another round of drinks.
We spent the next couple of hours talking about sports, music, women, work, and celebrity. He noticed how people would look and nod but not bother us. I told him this was one of my secret places. Blue collar. No suits. He wondered why I hadn’t asked him about the “Eddie Coyle” movie or shooting in Boston.
Not necessary, I told him. Everyone knew about that stuff and it would be mentioned by the anchors introducing my stories. He smiled again, lit one more cigarette, and ordered another round.
It dawned on me that Mitch was leading the conversation. Talking about me. How I was faring as a minority in a predominantly white profession. Just like the movies, I told him. I explained I did spot news stories to get the opportunity to do features which I really enjoyed. He laughed and we did an early version of the high 5.
We swapped some more war stories, including a couple about Katherine Hepburn. He talked about working with her in “Undercurrent” with Robert Taylor when he was still a young actor. Mitch said Hepburn was just like a guy, professional, and lots of fun.
I mentioned meeting the legendary actress after I was summoned to her Connecticut home during my stint at another TV station. Mitch stared as I talked. I had tea with Katherine Hepburn who had seen me on the Connecticut TV station. She liked what she saw but had some suggestions about how I could improve what I did. I never could fathom why Katherine Hepburn would choose to spend time with this young reporter. No modesty. Just puzzlement. Mitch loved the story and ordered another round.
I glanced at my watch and figured I couldn’t stay incognito much longer. This was before pagers, beepers and, mercifully, long before cell phones. Mitch caught the look on my face and nodded.
Mitch walked me to my car and asked if I was good to drive. I tried to give him a Mitchum look and he just laughed. We shook hands and vowed to do it again.
Mitch headed back to the bar as I drove away.
I married Jeff in 1965. I was 18, he was 26. I was still finishing my B.A. Both Jeff and I needed to get out of our parent’s homes and make a life. It was a classic “jailbreak” marriage and for a long time, it worked well.
But time marched on and I wanted to move on. He wanted everything to stay the same — and so we parted. I went to Israel and he stayed where he was.
When I was sad, Jeffrey used to sing to me. This is the song he sang.
For one birthday, I bought him a wind-up snow globe. It played “You Are My Sunshine” and had a big green frog on a lily pad in the water. When you wound it, it played that song. He kept the globe as long as he lived, which was not nearly long enough.
Happy birthday, Jeff. You would have been 80 years old today and I wish you were alive so I could tease you about your age.
You should still be here.
This week’s provocative question came to mind when my son asked me a question. He wanted to know where we lived when I sold my motorcycle, and I couldn’t remember whether it was in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. I tried and tried, but came up empty. I couldn’t even recall the last time I rode it.
So, I decided to ask a question about human memory, which has been shown to be incredibly unreliable. With that in mind, here is this week’s provocative question:
“How do you know which of your memories are genuine and which have been altered over time or even made up?”
I have forgotten a lot of things. Not important things for the most part, but small things that (I assume) were not critical to life and survival. I don’t remember every day of my life in Israel, but I remember the important pieces. When I see movies or documentaries with pictures, often a lost memory comes bubbling to the surface.
Sometimes, I see pictures from New York and remember that at some point, I ate in that restaurant or took pictures under that bridge in Central Park. I have a very visual memory.
I don’t think I have any “false” memories. I either remember or I’ve forgotten it. A forgotten memory can sometimes be brought back by a friend who was there, although it’s not unusual for me to look at them and say “Really? I don’t remember any of that.” And I don’t. There are organizations I belonged to I’ve completely forgotten and there are a couple of years of elementary school I don’t remember.
I remember my friends — the real ones that mattered to me as opposed to acquaintances. I remember my entire family, some better than others, probably because I spent more memorable time with them.
What I’m missing is gone. My remembering isn’t altered, made up, or rose-covered. Just entirely missing.
I do not know if this is typical or it’s just me.
When I forget something, I really forget it. I forget who was there with me, who I met, what I did. I forget I was ever there at all.
My childhood is very patchy, but that’s likely a form of dissociation. I was an abused kid. We lose the worst parts of that period and, as one shrink put it: “What you remember is bad enough. No need to stir up the stuff you don’t remember. It may come back to you over the years, but if not … I think you should not stir that pot.”
I haven’t stirred that pot. I don’t think I’d find anything I want to know in its mix.
My favorite place in Jerusalem was the Western Wall, sometimes incorrectly called the “Wailing Wall.” In Hebrew, it’s Kotel — it rhymes with motel.
I used to go to the Kotel to pray and leave messages for God.
I loved the approach to the Temple mount. I would stand for a while, looking down at it from the approaching steps, trying to form an image of what it must have looked like when it was the hill where God talked to Isaac, where God said that He would never again ask for another human sacrifice.
So what was with all the war and massacre and death? Doesn’t that count?
Then I would walk down the stone steps to the wall and get as close as I could get, so my nose grazed the Wall. I would lay my cheek and the palms of my hands flat against it and feel the humming of power in those ancient stones.
From close up, you see the messages, tens of thousands of messages rolled tightly into tiny scrolls tucked in the crevices between the rocks. Every kind of prayer, every kind of message, all on tiny folded pieces of paper, cradled by giant stones.
Tucked between the stones were all the prayers, hopes, fears, and gratitude of people who came to this special place to leave a messages for God.
The Wall talks to you and says “You can leave your message here. God always checks his messages and He will get back to you.”
I always brought a message and tucked it into the stones. I knew God would read my message and get back to me. As surely as I knew Jerusalem is the center of the universe and closer to Heaven than any place on earth, I knew I lived down the street from his message center. If every prayer is heard, prayers left at this address got to Him sooner.
There were groups of rabbis who spent their lives praying at the Wall. For a small fee, they would pray for you. If you believe there is a special potency to the prayers of pious men, the rabbis of the Kotel were worth a donation. They didn’t ask for much – whatever you could afford and for your money, you got a prayer specialist to put the word in for you.
I probably went to the Kotel more than a hundred times over the years, but I most remember one day above all others. I went that day because my mother was dying. I wanted to ask God to give my mother and I some time together.
It seemed pointless to pray for her cancer to be cured. It had spread too far, had invaded too much. I knew it was her time. I accepted death, even my mother’s, but a little time didn’t seem too much to ask.
I bought prayers from the rabbis, then went to the Wall and left my message among the stones.
More than thirty years have passed, but I bet my message is still there, exactly where I left it. With all the other messages left for God in the Western Wall at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.