WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Onerous

I have a cold. Not a lethal cold or one that will make me wonder why we got flu shots. No, it’s a regular winter cold with the usual drippy nose, hoarse voice, and sore throat. I was supposed to go to the cardiologist today, but when one is getting his or her heart checked, it’s best to not have anything else wrong with you or your readings come out strange.

Garry’s got “it” too. So does my son. The dogs, however, are fine.

Red-capped woodpecker, warbler, and a nuthatch

The doctor — the actual doctor himself — called to tell me to get some sleep, stay hydrated (whatever happened to “drink plenty of liquids”) and later, call for a new appointment. When I felt better. Which was not today.

I had just gotten back into bed (after the dogs barked me out of it). I had fed them two or three small treats, turned on the coffee, and tucked myself back under the covers.

The phone rang. It was the doctor’s office. I said I was trying to sleep, but between the barking dogs and the phone ringing, it was starting to seem pointless.

She said to call back when I felt better and I drifted off to sleep.

Bonnie barks me awake every morning. With or without assistance from the other two.

Duke doesn’t usually bark. He flings himself at the door and tries to knock it down. Once, he knocked the knob and latch out of alignment and was on the bed in a blink.

I don’t need to give him the incentive to do it again. It’s not a strong door. I don’t think it would survive another pounding. Duke’s no giant, but he’s got vim and vigor going for him. His enthusiasm knows no bounds. None. What he lacks in weight, he makes up for in pure energy.

In between interruptions, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” kept rolling through my head. like one of those earworms you usually get from commercials or Disney cartoons. It started and wouldn’t stop. It still hasn’t stopped.

I gave in and got up. By now, my back was hurting enough to get me out of bed regardless. Excessive bed rest makes everything more painful. If I was ever forced to stay in bed for a prolonged period, it would probably kill me.

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe
Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide
Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it …


Songwriters: Billy Joel

We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group


The world is an onerous place. The business of surviving it gets worse almost by the minute. I didn’t think it could get worse. I thought we had bottomed out. Apparently, there is no bottom. Maybe there never was and we all lived in a happy fantasy, each in our own personal parallel reality.

It’s a sunny day and the birds are out. I think I’ll take some pictures.

YOU ARE MY HEART – Marilyn Armstrong

Autumn, 1987. Boston, Massachusetts

Time for a little memory and a bit of nostalgia.

I was recently back from Israel. I’d been gone almost a decade. Much had changed. My friends had half-grown children who I’d never met. They had married, divorced, changed jobs, moved to different cities. The tribe had dispersed.

72-Marilyn & Garry in studio July 11

Garry was in Boston, working for Channel 7, as he had been when I’d left, but we were different. We each had survived wrenching relationships and awful professional periods. Though we’d known each other since college, we weren’t the kids we’d been. Life had beaten us up.

We were in love, not for the first time, but for the last time.

We looked at each other differently. Rod Stewart was on the radio. As I drove around — in the first new car I’d ever owned without a co-signing husband — this was the song.

I sang along. That was how I felt.  This time was our time.

WHEN TO WALK AWAY FROM THE TABLE – Garry Armstrong

The lyrics of Kenny Rodgers’ “The Gambler” are applicable in many places today, from sports to politics and beyond.

In the classic western, “Shane”, the hero has sharp words with greedy land baron, Ryker, about violence and the days of the gunfighter being finished. Ryker implies it’s “over” for gunslingers like Shane.  Shane retorts “Yes, it is. The difference is — I know it.

The closing scene of another classic western,  “The Magnificent Seven,” has the same message. After the heroic gunfighters have driven a horde of bandits away from a poor village, they are thanked by an elder who tells them the farmers are the only victors because they survive to continue normal lives. Will the gunmen be able to ride or walk away from the profession that has given them fame and money?

The Magnificent Seven

As the two surviving gunfighters reluctantly leave the calm of the village, Chris (Yul Brynner) wryly observes. “The old man was right. Only the farmers have won. We lost. We’ll always lose.”

It’s the observation that their way of life is essentially over. They need to find a new way to live if it is possible.  The day of the feared, idolized gunfighter is passing into history before their eyes. It’s a bittersweet ending for our heroes.

As I write, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are giving the Los Angeles Chargers a nasty whipping in a playoff game that many felt would show cracks in the vaunted Patriots’ success, would show signs that Brady, the esteemed “GOAT” (Greatest of all time) would show age catching up with him.  So far, Brady and the Patriots are winning,  running the table with impressive success.

If victory is sustained, will Tom Brady continue to play until he’s in his mid-40s — or retire while he’s still at the top of his game and is recognized as the greatest quarterback in professional football history? It appears to be a no-brainer for Brady while many of his greatest admirers feel Tom Terrific should walk away he’s still physically intact.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws during the first quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Los Angeles -Chargers at Gillette -Stadium on January 13, 2019, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When to walk away is a problem faced by many successful people who never want the music, money, or applause to stop.

In politics, it goes beyond the lives of the public official and his family. It impacts countless families represented by the Pol. Power is the elixir that our elected officials are reluctant to yield.

John McCormack with President Ford

I remember afternoons with the legendary John McCormack,  the one time widely respected Speaker of the House. I lunched with McCormack who usually sat alone at one of Boston’s iconic restaurants. “Old Man Mac” as he was affectionately called by friends, would observe people at other tables. Usually younger politicians, their aides, and lobbyists trying to curry favor.

“Mac” would chuckle to himself, wiggling his fingers at the other tables. He’d speak to me in a somewhat hoarse voice. “Son, those fellas don’t get it. It’s not a game. They don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care. They’re ignorant and blissfully happy in their ignorance.”

I’d listen closely as this venerable man schooled me in living history. He said the younger officials were making deals for reelection while ignoring promises made in their previous campaign. He laughed sadly, “You’ll never get the job done unless you listen to the people. It takes years.”

He paused, shook his head and continued, “Just when you get to know what you’re doing, it’s time to walk away.”   I stared at John McCormack. “You must walk away because you’re too old. Your mind argues with your body. But it’s obvious when you shave with toothpaste.”

I repressed a smile but he was laughing. “It’s not funny, really. You’re young, but it’ll happen to you. Trust me.”

I remember sharing the McCormack stories with Tip O’Neill, another widely respected Speaker of the House who shared lunches and stories with me.

Garry with Tip O’Neill

All Politics Are Local was O’Neill’s mantra. He was a man of his word. He nodded in agreement about John McCormack’s advice about knowing when to walk away. Tip O’Neill was keen about helping young politicians who could “carry the ball” when he walked away. He shared stories about colleagues who snored their way through crucial hearings. I’m sure Tip had advice for then young and rising Congressmen like Ed Markey — who we profiled in a shameless rip off of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”

These days, we look at video snippets of veteran pols who walk in lock step with the President.  These are seasoned officials who’ve made countless promises to do the right thing for their constituents. The recent mid-term elections were loud mandates for some of these pols that it’s time to walk away from the table.

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler



It appears some of our leaders prefer to hold their cards. Maybe they should listen to “The Gambler” again.

2020 is coming … and hell’s coming with it.

INSTRUMENTAL AND PERFORMANCE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Instrumental

I started learning the piano when I was four. I was so tiny, I couldn’t reach the pedals. They had to add blocks — like on an old-fashioned bicycle — so I could use them.

By the time I was 10 or 11, I played pretty well. Not as well as I was supposed to play, but well enough to play complicated music, which, as it turns out, could be heard all over the neighborhood. It was amusing listening to all the neighbors humming whatever I was practicing.

The house I lived in was on top of a hill and the sound of the grand piano wafted with the breeze.

By the time I was 16 and starting college (I skipped 7th grade), I decided to be a music major. Not because I was a brilliant pianist. I wasn’t. But I really liked my piano teacher. Coming as I did from a dysfunctional family, she was the nicest adult person I knew and I adored her.

The problem was not that I didn’t play well. I played almost well enough to be a professional. In the music business, the difference between playing “almost well enough” and “well enough” is a gap the size of an ocean. It sounds like a minor thing, but in music, it isn’t small. It’s huge.

I remained a music major despite all hints to the contrary that said: “You aren’t going to make it.”

Piano lessons

These hints included having very small hands, which meant a lot of “large” music was impossible for me. It included a number of teachers pointing out to me that doing well on exams wasn’t going to “do it” for me as a musician. I was okay, but I wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be a music teacher and I wasn’t a composer.

I didn’t see myself as a conductor either — and piano was the wrong instrument for me. Unfortunately, it was the only one I knew — other than a little bit of messing with a guitar or a ukulele. And even worse, I had a case of stage fright so severe I couldn’t play for my teacher, much less an audience. I should add that I never overcame it.

I was one credit away from finishing my music major when I realized there was no future for me in professional music. I switched to speech & drama (a combined major) which was the degree I eventually got.

It was even less useful than music. By the time I completed college, I realized what I really wanted to do, but I would need an extra year of school to make up for some of the basic courses I’d missed — like “economics,” and “political science,” et al. Somehow, without realizing it, I had actually finished my major as well as the required number of credits for graduation.

No matter how hard I begged — and my professors begged with me — they would not let me stay an extra year and complete a second B.A. These days, it would be no problem, but back then, schools were a lot more rigid than they are these days.

I didn’t have the basics for an M.A. in anything in which I was interested, so I said “screw it” and went off into the world where I did what I always wanted to do anyway: write.

Until a few years ago, though, I could still play. The only thing that stopped me was pain from arthritis in my hands. Unlike arthritis in the rest of my body, “hand” arthritis is the result of years of playing the piano. Almost every serious pianist retires by the time they hit their 60s because their hands no longer work. It’s the price you pay for pounding on the keyboard from age four.

My piano teacher had trouble playing for more than a few minutes and her older sister, who played brilliantly, could barely perform at all.

Everything comes with a price tag. The funny thing is I knew this, even when I was quite young. But “60” was a million years in my future … and now it’s a pretty long way in my past.

I finally sold my piano. I couldn’t play anymore and it killed me to see it waiting there and not be able to use it. I still have a ukulele, though. Just in case.

SO, HOW ABOUT NEW YEAR’S EVE? – Rich Paschall

The Jackpot Question, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

By now you are expected to have a good response. So what is it? What are you doing? Certainly, your friends have been asking and you must have something interesting to say. Unless you are under 18 or over 80, you do not get a pass on this one. So, what’s it going to be? Party? Dinner and dancing? Will you be outside watching fireworks or in where it is warm? If you are in Florida or Arizona, I guess you could be outside watching fireworks where it is warm.

Happy New Year!

Since there seem to be so many different things to do, the question might actually be more or less logical. Restaurants, bars, and hotel ballrooms all have some sort of package deal. There are shows and concerts of every type. Whether you are in a big city or a small town, plans for the celebration abound.

For some strange reason, everyone is expected to have a plan.

One year, when downtown Chicago still had a glut of movie theaters, I was on a double date at a late showing of a movie that finished up just before midnight. I do remember which movie, but not the date. We had just enough time to empty out into the intersection of State Street (that great street) and Randolph where Chicago used to conduct a poor man’s version of the final countdown. Since it was quite cold and we were not loaded with anti-freeze, we stayed for the countdown and ran off for warmer places. It was an experience I do not need again. If I watch the ball drop in Times Square, it will be on television from another locale.

Since then I have ventured to house parties, bar parties, restaurants, and shows, but I am not sure any of these supposed grand events were particularly memorable. They certainly did not ring out like many of the grand events we see in the movies. If you missed all of them, then I will suggest that you put “movies with new year’s eve scenes” in your internet search so you can find a lot of them. Maybe you will get some cool ideas.

Since the death of one year and the dawn of another seem to evoke feelings of nostalgia, then you may know that “When Harry Met Sally” contains one of the most memorable and nostalgic New Year’s scenes of all. Indeed it is the climax of the “will he or won’t he?” scenario. It has all led up to one fateful New Year’s Eve moment.  The typical New Year’s Eve hoopla only adds to the drama of the moment.  (SPOILER ALERT). I love making dramatic “spoiler” pronouncements, and here is that great scene from one of our favorite movies.

The director of the movie needed no special music as “Auld Lang Syne” made the perfect background song. And what does this sentimental tune actually mean? We don’t know, something about goodbye and hello. It doesn’t matter, our sentimental feeling just associates with it and that is all that counts. So will you have a sentimental moment?

For some gentlemen, the coming of New Year’s is met with all the anxiety of asking someone to the high school prom. You know you are supposed to do something. You know it is supposed to be really good. You know it is going to cost you money, which you are not supposed to care about. You also know, just like the high school prom, you might get shot down when you ask the “jackpot question.” Unless you want to get teased by family and friends, you may just have to ask the question anyway.

Ooh, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance:
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

Did you ask yet? What was the answer? If you haven’t asked, what are you waiting for?

Seth MacFarlane is the creator of Family Guy, American Dad!, The Cleveland Show and stars in “The Orville.”

TEMPTATION WITH BOATS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Temptation

Of all the singers in the universe to whom I would have attributed this particular song, Perry Como is not the guy.

I was wrong.

It’s Perry Como singing “You Are Temptation.” What’s particularly odd about this are the boats. He’s singing about temptation. Doesn’t that imply something … you know … sexual? Hot?

Tempting?

I have to assume that this particular individual was seriously into boats. And found them tempting.

DISCOVERIES OF AN OLDER (ELDERLY?) CHRISTMAS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Discovery

Owen does Thanksgiving and we go out (or not, but we always talk about going out) on birthdays … but it seems that come the night of Christmas Eve, it happens here. Like it or not, this is home for the holidays.

I spent far too much money on a “special” roast from the butcher — flank steak wrapped around cheese and veggies (it needed salt but was otherwise pretty good). Vegetable. Baked potatoes and I forgot to put out the sour cream. Which was my best because it was the ONLY thing I forgot to put out.

A five-pound roast (I asked for a four-pound roast) is too much food for us these days. Garry and I don’t eat that much. Actually, no one eats that much. I think I’ll roast a big chicken next year and stuff it with something. Maybe add cranberries. But the baked potatoes and veggies are a keeper.

Why don’t they sell mince pies anymore? For that matter, where are peach pies? There was apple — three kinds of apple — and cheesecake, various kinds of cream, key lime, and lemon meringue … but no rhubarb or even rhubarb with strawberry. Something called “mixed berry” and cherry, which is too sweet for everyone. One fork and that’s it for me.

We managed to eat 1/2 a cheesecake, never opened the key lime. The apple pie is still frozen against future holidays.

Maybe just as well since we were all barely moving from the preceding dinner, leaving us with at least two pounds of leftover beef. All the potatoes disappeared, though. Too many baked little bread thingies. We even have remaindered apple cider.

I told everyone to eat more, please, but they couldn’t, didn’t, and I’ve got a defrosted lamb roast waiting and NO appetite. I could live on sandwiches and one frozen pizza would be more than enough.

We discovered — among many discoveries — that no matter where the holidays may roam, Christmas stays here. Because we are here. For how long, no one knows, but as long as we are breathing, this is where Christmas happens.

Owen and the old recordings on a 78 rpm record player

And it turns out the little gifts are every bit as exciting as big expensive ones, advertising and television notwithstanding. Short of someone actually giving us a lot of money, I was really happy with a new nightie an a pair of warm little slippers (and they were the right size and go with everything. Garry got new stretchy pants and Owen got the same chopper that I ordered after Judy Dykstra-Brown suggested it (I really love it) and I just had to warn him not to whack to excessively hard. He’s very strong and it’s pretty sturdy, but he’s a big guy and plastic just IS.

I gave Kaity and Sandy Volumes 1 and 2 of Animusic. It turns out you can’t explain Animusic. You have to see and hear it. If you want to read more about it, they are an interesting organization and not like anyone else. They create the animation and the animation makes the music.

And I got a new pair of pants and two shirts, blue and gray, which I wanted because I bought them myself so at least they would fit. Garry thinks I’m a LOT thinner than I am, the darling.