Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Getting in That Christmas Spirit

So, here it is. We're getting down to crunch time. The big jolly guy takes to the stage Sunday night. And, we're all suppose to have that Christmas spirit, right? I'm sorry, but sometimes it doesn't quite hit me. I suppose, the fact that I don't have to get into buying too many presents anymore takes me out of the game a little. I haven't rubbed elbows with the anxious crowds at Macy's for a few years.   So no, sometimes it takes a while for that holiday feeling to grab me.

The wife and I never had children, so we have not had to go through the toy purchasing frenzy that many parents find themselves in at Christmas time. We've had small hints of it back when the nephews were young. Having them over to help decorate the tree always brought that Christmas spirit to the front. Wrapping up presents for the other nieces and nephews when they were kids was always fun. They're all in their thirties now and probably buy they're own toys.

No, these days I have to dig a little deeper to bring out that Christmas spirit. I've tried the Christmas music and not right after the turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. I waited until the first week of December. Then, after a few days of Bing and Nat it just wasn't doing it for me. So, I had to turn to my old stand by - Christmas movies!

Now, I'm not one to sit and watch hours of the Hallmark Channel. Did they start playing Christmas movies Labor Day weekend? I know some people like it but I really can't watch much of that kind of thing. That would get me in the spirit of canceling cable.

So, I'm more of a Christmas classics type. The first one out of the gate was "Holiday Inn". I actually put that one on the weekend after Thanksgiving which is fine, it has a lot of holidays not just Christmas. I played with the idea of watching "It's a Wonderful Life" but I've gone through George Bailey's life so many times that it's not quite as wonderful as it once was.

What I decided was I had to go with a trump card, appropriate this year I suppose. Scrooge that's the ticket! "A Christmas Carol"! But, which version? There's a lot to choose from. Dickens little tale been box office gold over the years. I've always been partial to the Reginald Owens version, although the Cratchit kids are a bit annoying in that one. In 1979, there was a made for TV version called "An American Christmas Carol" with Henry Winkler playing a Scrooge like character set in the Depression. It's worth watching. I also recommend a British made version with Alistair Sims. They skipped the real title and called it "Scrooge".

Of course, there are animated versions. Disney came out with one in 2009 with Jim Carrey. That one might be geared towards the kids a little, but it's done well. I have a real soft spot for the 1962 cartoon version, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol". That might just be the one that will do it for me.

Since I picked a few versions on DVD in the past couple of years, I think that's what I need to do to get the yuletide juices flowing. I'm sure Mr. Magoo and Reginald Owens could make the spirits bright. Then, I'll be ready to welcome Christmas and get myself comfortable that night to witness a true holiday classic, the annual Dr. Who Christmas Special. God bless us, everyone!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Plenty of Time to Read

So, I've been retired for just about two months now and I'm getting quite used to living without an alarm clock. I come and go as I please, as they say. It's kind of amazing how you can fill your days with things that aren't work or actually job related. You can really start to forget a lot of the trappings of what was once your work life. I don't know how others make this transition to the retired life but for me, I sometimes wonder how I found the time to go to work.

I've been filling my days with a lot of different activities. A lot of things are getting done around the house. A lot of long walks have taken place, a lot of them. I've even tried a little hiking in New Hampshire's White Mountains without a huge amount of success, a story for another time maybe. I have gotten reacquainted with old friends, other retirees who also have the time to do as they please. One thing I haven't been doing is keeping myself as informed as probably should.

Way back when I was a working man, the department I worked in had someone who always picked up a copy of the local newspaper. Break time was my time to sit down with a cup of coffee and catch up. Police logs are always interesting in local newspapers. You get a good appreciation for the many calls the local police departments deal with on a regular basis. The number of calls they get from people who can't find their keys, for instance. Or, the lady who often sees men on boats, in the harbor. Or, the crime wave in one township of a number of houses having cook books being thrown onto a porch or deck.

The other pastime the papers were good for was obituaries. I had one lady in the department who would check the obits, make sure she wasn't in there and declare, "Well, I guess I have to go back to work". However, it was useful in the event that you did see someone you knew and find out if you had to prepare for wake later that night.

And, that leads me to the purpose of this essay. Since retiring I have been remiss in keeping abreast of the local news. I've not read a local newspaper for two months. I get a Boston Globe each Sunday, I glance at the headlines, I check the sports page and then look at the TV listings to plan my evening, but that's it. So, I've missed reports of car keys that may have been found or of any new recipes have caught on locally. I have also missed out seeing the obituaries which can be a bad thing.

Recently, a friend whom I've known since childhood lost his remaining parent. Years ago, we lived across the street from each other. We played the neighborhood together, went to school together, we were close back then. My parents were friends with his parents and even when my family left the neighborhood we all remained friendly over the years. I didn't see the obituary for his father and I missed a chance to go and pay my respects. I feel bad about that.

Coincidently, last week I ended up having breakfast with my friend just days after his father's funeral. Oddly enough, nothing was said about his loss and I still had no idea. We parted and planned to get together again. It was later that day that I found out about his father's passing.

I have since called my friend and gave him my condolences and apologies. Of course, he said there were no apologies needed but, I knew there were. I recalled how he was present when I lost each of my parents.

So, now I've added checking local newspapers to my routine in retirement. Believe me, those police logs are worth it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Take a Hike, Pal!

So, I've got this question I've been wrestling with lately. It's not one of those burning questions that keep me up at night. Nevertheless, I keep wondering about it. I wonder at what point does a walk become a hike? Is it a distance thing? Yeah, a hundred yards and you're just out for a walk, as soon as you step out to 301 feet, well, now you're taking a hike. Maybe its the terrain. You're walking down the sidewalk or across a parking lot, as soon as you go off road with a little gravel under your feet you've changed gears and you're hiking. It's a little thing, but its been on my mind.

I've been thinking about it lately because in the last few weeks with this warm weather pattern, which is undoubtedly caused by global warming, I've been out several times for long walks. Could these have actually been hikes? I can remember back when I lived with my folks, my old man would occasionally say he was going to take a hike up to Rich's, this was a department store in Salem up the hill from where we lived in Lynn. Now, I've done this trip, many times before I had a license. It's not that far. Other times after making that announcement, my father would go out the door and get into the car. Did he mean he was going to hike from the car to the store? Rich's parking lot wouldn't be considered huge. Now, I'll agree, that once he was inside the store he may have done a lot of walking around looking for whatever items he needed, would we call that hiking.

Like I said, I've been out there stretching the legs not only because the planet is on a path to destruction but I'm trying to keep up with the Jones's. On Facebook, I have several friends who have mentioned getting into hiking, recently. Some of these friends, none of them, by the way, named Jones, are folks I grew up with and knew in high school. So, I'm attempting to keep pace with other old people.

Unfortunately, several months ago I started having a pain in my right foot. I went to a doctor, at least my assumption was that he was a doctor. I did, in fact, see some of those framed certificate things in the office. However, I never got close enough to read. Anyway, upon a brief examination, he declared I was suffering from gout. Now, I enjoy good food and I'm fond of many wines and ales. So, I supposed it wasn't out of the realm of possibilities to be inflicted with the so-called disease of king's. But, after blood work and further co-payments, the fine doctor rescinded his diagnosis and convinced me he had no idea what was causing the pain. So, my plan was to obtain new foot wear and just walk it off or, perhaps, hike it off.

I'm glad to say that my plan has not made anything worse. In fact, a new pair of New Balance Walking shoes have made some long walks if not comfortable at least quite bearable. Now, the question is, can I actually hike with these shoes and, really, have I been hiking all along. I believe the question does have to concern terrain. Even though this global warming thing will, I'm sure, eventually make winters in the White Mountains of New Hampshire seem like early fall, I don't think it's going to happen on my time table. I would like to get back into hiking through some of the trails in that area. However, I think I'll have to wait until mid-spring. Also, I don't think the New Balance shoes will quite handle the rough trails in, say, the Crawford Notch area. I may have to start checking out real hiking shoes.

In the mean time, I'll have to settle for going for walks. I can spend the winter enjoying good meals. I can sit down with a few nice glasses of port and burn plenty of wood in the wood stove. Who knows, maybe next year we can have those warm fall days in the middle of February.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Never Again? Are We Sure?

Never again! We've all heard the phrase. A slogan taken up by victims of the Holocaust of World War Two. Just a two word phrase meant to give strength to morally right minded people to stand up to atrocities wherever they may be rise.

In 1948, after the Nuremberg trials, member states of the United Nations General Assembly, repulsed by the scale of crimes committed by Nazi Germany passed the Genocide Convention. The signatories agreed to punish perpetrators who oppressed and murdered victims simply because they belonged to an "undesirable" national, ethnic or religious group. The moral consensus in the United States and the rest of the world was that these crimes against humanity should "never again" happen.

The phrase has gone on to be the slogan of the Jewish Defense League and is a sort of rally cry in the face of injustices being brought upon any group. It is meant to solidify the resolve of people, of nations, everywhere to not allow a group to be put upon by another because they dislike their ideas, the color of their skin or the way they worship.

In the America I grew up in, we seemed to embody the meaning of this phrase. We, as a nation, would not let it happen again. The civil rights movement made us look into what we had done to African-Americans. Then the truth of what was done to Japanese-Americans became public. But, the country faced these atrocities of our own and tried to make right the wrong that was done with the echo of that phrase present throughout. Never again!

Now, we find ourselves faced with a deadly threat coming from a number of members of a religious faith. This is a dangerous worldwide threat and many are looking to blame the entire faith for these actions. The Islamic State, a radicalized branch of the Muslim faith, kills indiscriminately on their quest for a new Caliphate. They post their depraved videos of beheading western journalists and hostages for the world to see. Many see this as an all out war against western civilization. However, the killings of fellow Muslims is vastly outnumbering that of non-Muslims. Thousands of Muslims continue to flee the embattled regions. Many hoping to get their children out of harm's way.

Never the less, we now have a faction in this country who believe we should not allow refugees from the Middle East to come to this country because of their religious belief. There is a leading candidate for the office of the President of the United States who believes we should shut down places of worship. He wants to ban any Muslim from entering the United States. He wants members of a religious group to carry identification papers. Will he next suggest they should have the star and crescent sewn onto their garments?

Is this how it starts? Is this how it began in 1929 Germany? Will Americans garner such hatred towards a group of people to once again bring us to the brink of segregating them away from the rest of society? We are already at the point where otherwise sane, logical people are out buying weapons. People who had never in their lives entertained the thought of owning a gun are now standing in line waiting to get their hands on a Glock or Ruger. Will these gun-wielding citizens follow in lock-step with the Donald?

This campaign of Donald Trump's has stopped being amusing. His talk of collecting data and issuing ID's for a certain class of American citizens is dangerous. Dangerous because he continues to have rising poll numbers. This means others believe as he does, that it is just fine to take away the rights of people in order to feel safe. Would we be alright watching our Muslim neighbors being "relocated"? Do you think this sounds far-fetched? I don't, not after I listen to people being interviewed as they exit a Donald Trump rally.

Not again? I'm not so sure about that, anymore.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Just a Couple of Months

A couple of months. That's all it took, a couple of months. I had visions of myself enjoying the feeling for... a while, not just a couple of months. In the back of my mind, I kept wondering how long it would last. Each new day, I would breath in and wonder... when will this stop. You keep it to the back of your mind though and you just enjoy. You do tend to forget about it. Every once in a while, you might buckle up and it comes back to you and you just crack a little smile.

However, that day comes. You climb into that vehicle that you're starting to get very comfortable with and you notice. For the first time, something is missing. You notice, this now just smells like your car. It's not a bad smell, I keep the car clean. But, it's not that new car smell!

Dealerships must have cans of this stuff to spray into cars. Nowadays, even used cars, I'm sorry, previously owned vehicles come with that new car smell. There is a feeling, though. A feeling that you get sitting in the car and smelling that smell. And, after you sign those papers, you drive off the lot and that baby is now yours, you take pride in that smell. When friends get in for their first ride, they've looked around the car and given you an approving nod, then they settle in and you watch as they start to fill their lungs. Then, they look over at you and you see the hint of a smile. Yeah, that's a new car smell.

Well, you get to enjoy that smell every time you open the door and step in. As the days go by, you drive along and that new car smell is giving you a feeling that has a smile stuck to it. You don't have to smile, you're just tooling around and that smile is planted in your head somewhere. You enjoy the ride, you play with a few gadgets on the dash, you give a glance into the back seat, you might even go a week without opening the windows, maybe two weeks. You get in, you get out, you get back in, you're thinking to yourself, this car is really something. The thing is, a lot of that might just be because of that new car smell.

Of course, then you really do start to take ownership of car. You not only transport yourself from work and back, you start to do errands. You do the grocery shopping. You pick up a few things at Home Depot. You get dressed up for a night out with the wife, you might even decide its time to take a little trip. Maybe, just a couple of days. A night or two at that motel/resort you've been to before. Well, maybe that's when it starts to wear off. Now, you're carrying a few things with their own special aroma, shall we say. You've had some fruits and vegetables in there, you've traveled with a couple of different coats, oh yeah, you had to bring laundry back with you, but it was a nice trip.

So, that's what happens and one day after work, you open the door, you get in, buckle up and you notice it's not there. You take a couple of extra sniffs. Nope, it's gone. That new car smell is no longer there. Yeah, there's a little feeling of melancholy, a little something has worn off your new toy. But, now, you can really start to fall in love with this machine. Now, you start really settling in and getting comfortable. This is the car you wanted. You might even start adjusting the bass and treble. You're not really adding any unpleasant odors, you're just putting your own unique stamp on the vehicle.

And, you know what, if you really find yourself missing that new car smell, I really do think the dealerships have it in spray can form.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Well, I've Got My Health

I have been very lucky in my life. I have always been reasonably healthy. I have had very few illnesses through the last six decades. I've had a couple of broken bones, I think I might have had my tonsils out, I've still got my appendix although I'm not sure what its doing for me, I've never had any major surgery, a few colds, a flu here and there, a couple of whopper sunburns, a recent bout with pneumonia and mononucleosis when I was a second grader. Sorry, I can't kiss and tell about that one. Anyway, the point is I'm healthy. And, believe me, its not like I've worked at this. In fact, a lot of times the exact opposite was true.

In high school, I had my share of drinking parties and foolish pranks and stunts. In my twenties, I took up smoking along with turning drinking into an art form. I experimented with whatever drug was handy at the time, I drove recklessly and I took stupid risks. Through all of this I stayed pretty healthy.

When you have your health, it's very easy to take it for granted. When you come across sick people sometimes you get that little feeling and you say to yourself, "I'm glad I'm not that poor bastard". Of course, as you grow up and hopefully you get more responsible, you try to help others, you give to charities, but there still might be a little of that, "Damn, I'm glad that's not me." feeling.

However, the whole concept of health starts cutting deep when people close to you are on the wrong end. When close friends and relatives start getting sick, seriously sick, attitudes change. When you're faced with the prospect of losing someone you care about then you wish there was a way you could share being healthy.

I've watched parents and in-laws suffer and die. Yeah, it's that circle of life thing that the aged go forth before the young but the loss is still painful. Then, I've had some really tight friends get ill and have to fight like hell, some have lost the fight. I've had my siblings suffer through ailments and sometimes you find yourself giving the only thing you can, comfort.

These things make me appreciate the health I have. I try to take better care of myself these days. I've learned to be thankful for my good luck. I try to help family and friends fight the battles they get stuck with because I can. When you have your health and others don't, I'm finding that maybe the best thing to do is be there.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Giant Leap

July 20th is one of those dates that will always stick in my head. It's like June 6 or December 7. I always stop and reflect a little on these dates. D-Day and Pearl Harbor stuck with me because of my father. These dates were huge with him and there was no way I'd forget them after hearing about his experiences on those days, every year!

I suppose if you live through historic events the dates will stay with you. I'll always remember where I was for November 22, 1963 the same with June 6, 1968. Those tragic dates seem to get seared into everyone's memory banks. July 20, 1969 wasn't like that. That summer day 45 years ago was more of an exciting day for me.

I was always a space nut when I was a kid. Early on, I remember watching the adventures of Captain Midnight and he had a Skyrocket that he named the Silver Dart. He didn't exactly go into space, but that Silver Dart flew pretty high. Then there was Men Into Space. This was a show with astronaut Col. McCauley, played by actor William Lundigan, who's name was close enough that I thought we could be related. Anyway, this show had moon landings and space stations, this was the real deal, my friends. Then, of course, I had to have props. I must have had a dozen different Aurora models of space crafts. I had the Mercury space capsule, the Gemini and Apollo capsules, the Lunar Landing Craft, sometimes different versions of each. I remember trying to talk my parents into letting me buy the 4 ft model of the Saturn V rocket complete with the Apollo spacecraft including Command Module, Service Module and Lunar Landing Module. Hell, what kid wouldn't want that. Of course, I never got it.

Throughout the sixties, I followed what was really happening in the race to space. I would sit in front of the television as Walter Cronkite would explain what was happening. Not to mention he had every plastic model you could ever dream about. But, he would use those models to explain how the astronauts were carrying out their missions. He showed you how they would open the hatch of the Gemini capsule to perform the first space walk. This was fantastic stuff for me.

So, in the summer of 1969, I had to stay glued to the television as Apollo 11 took off on one of mankind's greatest adventures. Unfortunately, my father felt that high school aged kids should be out working for the summer. I did get a job that summer. I worked making sandwiches in a Lena Sub Shop on Western Ave. in Lynn. On July 20th, I was behind the counter working the evening shift.

Now, the way this moon landing worked, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin put the Lunar Module down in the Sea of Tranquility early in the day. Then, they sat there, waiting. What! You're on the moon for cryin' out loud! Open up that damn hatch and get out there. We want to know if there's green cheese there or blood sucking insects or big huge black monoliths. What are we waiting for?

Well, as Walter would tell us, they were to land then go to sleep for a while before taking the moon walks. However, I guess the astronauts were just as excited as the seventeen year old kid making foot long Italians at Lena's. So, I couldn't wait to get home and see this actually happen on television. One little problem for me was, I was the only one working the shop that night and I had to close up.

Now, I think closing time was 10pm, and the place had been very slow since earlier in the evening. I figured Tony Lena wasn't going to mind if I closed up early on such a historic occasion. About twenty past 9, four people walk in and stand there reading the big menu board and thinking and reading. Meanwhile, I'm tapping my foot looking at the clock. Finally, I shout out, "For Christ's sake, make a decision. There's people on the moon!" They walked out. I got home just in time to see that small step for man, which wasn't quite that small.

That was 46 years ago. I am really amazed that we don't have bases on the moon. That is what we were led to believe. It's as though we got there and that's it. Nothing left to do. There are those who believe we should be spending resources here on Earth. Make things better here. Yeah, well, how's that worked out? I believe man's destiny is to push the envelope, to explore the beyond. Somehow, I think ventures like the moon landing bring the human race together. Anyway, I thought it was fun while it lasted.