Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Movies! Ya Gotta Love 'Em

I love movies, I always have. It may be something I inherited. My parents loved movies. They loved watching a good movie on TV, but they really loved going out to the theater to see a movie. For them, going out to a movie was a great time. They were children of the depression and going to the movies was their high end entertainment. My Dad use to tell me about going to the movies when he was a kid. He grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts, as did I, and he said he had seven different theaters to choose from. He would go to the Saturday serials for a nickel, get to watch a couple of serials, a newsreel, cartoons and a movie. He told me about those days with great fondness.

By the time I got around to going to the flicks, there were only three theaters in Lynn. However, I started making my own Saturday memories. I remember walking up over the Highlands and down Rockaway Street to Joyce Street and around the corner onto Union Street. The Paramount Theater was there on the right, maybe a hundred yards down the street was the Warner and then further, where your mother didn't want you to venture, was the Capitol Theater.

Saturdays were great times back then. Thirty five cents would get you into seat to watch two movies, if you were lucky you got a couple of cartoons in between. Many times we would stop into the five and dime next to the Warner and grab a ten cent sleeve of pop corn. Many other times Mom would have us pop our own corn and save the dime. It was rare that we ever bought anything at the concession stand inside the theater. Once in a while, if you were able to save some of your allowance, you got a box of Good 'n Plenty. Then into your seat, the lights would go down and you were all set for three or four hours.

I read on a friend's blog about his memory of going to the movies. He recalled how he and the other kids would cheer or boo for the action up on the screen. I guess I had forgotten that we use to make a little noise ourselves. I do remember cheering loudly when the film you had been waiting for started to light up the screen. I almost got tossed by an overzealous usher one time because he thought I was little more animated than he thought I should be. That, with a hundred other kids screaming and yelling. Go figure.

These days I don't go to the movies anywhere near the amount I did as a kid. The big factor is the cost. Now we're talking ten bucks to see just one flick. Years ago, they stopped letting you bring your own pop corn into a theater. If you want to chomp on the kernnels, you have to buy from them. Some places seem to have a full menu at the concession stand. I feel kinda weird sitting down with a soda, a burger and a plate of nachos at a movie theater.

The prices at the concession are gonna break you, too! Seven bucks for a bag of corn no bigger than the sleeve I paid ten cents for. Yeah, ok, we're talking maybe fifty years have gone by. But still!

Anyway, I just went to a flick recently. I had a gift card I had gotten, so no cash had to come out of my wallet. I started waiting in line to get a bag of highly inflated pop corn, then thought better of it remembering my youth. So, went straight to my seat in one of these narrow auditoriums they call theaters. I sat there waiting through more commercials than I would suffer if I were home. Had to listen to them instruct me to turn off my phone. Come on, really? Then the lights went down and the show began. I had that kid feeling again. It was a good flick. And, when the end credits rolled, there were a few people applauding. Yeah, I joined them.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Let's Have a Happy December

And, so it is December. It means the tenth month even though it is the twelth. It is known as the most festive month, however, it does lead us into winter. I actually like December. The lights are going up, people are decorating the house, the tree and the music starts playing on just about every station. Of course, the shopping frenzy has already started, I'm one of those who like to go out in the thick of it. At least once or twice during the season, I like to go out into the mall and mix it up with crowds. I like bumping elbows within the throng and I try not to get too stressed. I don't like to see others stressing out, either. So, in a Dickens way I try to be of good cheer, wishing people Happy Holidays.

I like saying Happy Holidays! I like it for a few reasons. I have friends of different faiths and friends of no faith, saying Merry Christmas to them seems a bit awkward. Also, Happy Holidays sounds a bit more cheerful to me, you know, like happy! And, it seems to cover all the bases, its more encompassing. I can start saying it the week before Thanksgiving and I can keep on saying it right through the first of the year. I like it because it's been around awhile, too. I remember people saying Happy Holidays back when I was a kid. And, they all seemed to mean it, too. Why, they even made it into a song, a nice one.

Lately, there's been a lot of people claiming we shouldn't be saying Happy Holidays. They're saying we should only be saying Merry Christmas. That seems a little odd to me. There is more than the one holiday and Merry Christmas is great, I say it myself, but, hell, what if you don't know whether someone celebrates that one holiday. Well, Happy Holidays has you covered.

People arguing over a salutation like Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays seems a little petty to me. Especially at this time of year. That good will towards man thing should be the important part of the season. Why do people want to harp on a harmless greeting. There are a few out there that say that this is all part of a war on Christmas. A war on Christmas? Seriously? Have they seen the parking lots at the malls? This country embraces Christmas, lock, stock and Santa Clause! Commercialized? Yeah, of course it is. It has been since the beginning. The birth of Christ? That has been a marketing thing since day one. They didn't know when it was, so they stuck it into December which already had some festivals and they have been selling it ever since.

It caught on though. And, people have been shaping it and repackaging it through the years. It can be a very religious holy day to many and that is fine. If that is how you keep it, cherish it. But, it can also be a party to bring friends and family together. And, that's fine, too. However, there are other celebrations going on as well, there are those who are lighting they're menorahs, some are celebrating the Solstice, hell these days there's even people putting aluminum poles up and performing feats of strength. And, why not? It makes them happy and theree's nothing wrong with having Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lest We Forget

The Boston Red Sox winning the World Series was a little different this time around. Much like saying ...this time around is different. Three rings within ten years, John Henry you're the man! But, no, this time I ended up having to deal with life and ultimately death. Oh, I stayed in touch with what the Sox were doing. Every morning before work, I wasn't just turning on the tube for the weather, I was checking the scores of the last night's game. However, I had something else to deal with that kind of took my head out of the game, as they say.

My good friend, Ray had been dealing with a genetic disease called Alpha 1 for the past ten to fifteen years. I suppose being genetic you could say he was dealing with it his whole life. However, it's been the last five years that this thing has really taken hold of him.

Ray and I go back a long time. We met when we were both in the Army back in 1972. That first summer together we both volunteered to be stationed at Natick Laboratories in Massachusetts. It was a big deal for us being stationed in our home state. As a couple of kids, we were just out of our teens, we made the most of the situation and had a hell of a summer. When it came time to move on to our next duty station we said our good-byes and felt we'd never see each other again. Fate changed all that and we kept connecting several times over the next few years. Then, five years after we met we found ourselves sharing an apartment in Lynn and attending Salem State College.

A couple of single guys going to school on the G.I. Bill and both with full time jobs, yeah we had some more great times. It was through Ray that I met the girl I married. Ray would sometimes bring a crowd back to the apartment after working his bar tending shift. That is how I met Karen at 2am after being awakened by a small gang in my living room.

That's how it was, though. Ray and I stayed in touch throughout the years. We talked about the times we had in that flat, our days in the service, going to school, playing darts at the Blue Note, all the shit that friends have to talk about. A lot of times we did just talk. He would call me or I would call him. Many times during games, Red Sox and Patriots. A good play would make one of us pick up the phone and start dialing. Ray was at my place for two Superbowls. We both caught Janet's nipple. For the World Series runs in 2004 and 2007 the phone lines stayed open even though the games went late into the night.

This time there were no phone calls. Oh, back in August we talked. We joked about how this team might even go deep into the playoffs. When it got to the playoffs though, Ray wasn't doing well. When he went into the hospital, I would visit and we looked at each other, and baseball or football was no longer on our minds.

When Ray was in his last few days, through Facebook I learned of another friend who was suddenly in ICU. I grew up in the same neighborhood as Kevin Doyle. We hung out with the same group of guys. I don't ever remember Kevin saying a bad thing about anyone. He was the type of guy that even though I wasn't real close with him, I respected him.

Kevin was part of the same group of guys that I get together with every year for a weekend of golf, kayaking and friendship. As we all grew older, he was one of these guys who stayed in pretty good shape. So, hearing that he was in critical condition came as a shock. However, as the outlook for Ray got dimmer, the news about Kevin improved.

I was at Ray's service when I got the news that Kevin had passed. That was last Sunday, both the Sox and the Pats were playing. I didn't see either game. I knew the Sox were coming back to Boston with a 3 to 2 lead. I watched game six of the 2013 World Series in my living room. As I watched I wish I could have picked up the phone. I thought of both of these guys, Kevin and Ray. They both loved watching the Red Sox. In the ninth inning with two outs, I picked up the phone and texted my friend Ray, "This is it, Buddy". It's different, but I don't think I'll forget this World Series.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A View to a Kill

I've had a lot on my plate lately, some good some not so good. I'm not one of those people that posts a tremendous amount of personal stuff on Facebook. I'll show a picture of a trip I've taken, I get into threads about bike riding, I've talked about losing my mother recently. But, I don't get into a lot of details, so your not going to see pictures of my breakfast or my ham sandwich at lunch. Just like I don't post whether I had a bowel movement, today.

However, Facebook is a great tool to catch up with friends you don't get to see for awhile. It's fantastic to get the word out about an event. It is now being used to help raise funds for local, regional and even national charities of every kind.

Some people don't like it but Facebook has become a bulletin board for political views. I happen to like that aspect of this network. In a way, it is like a digital version of the old neighborhood soapbox. Anyone can climb aboard and have at it. You can post how you feel about congress, the President or whatever party you support or oppose. It can get quite interesting. Sometimes people bring things to a thread you hadn't realized. It may even make you take another look at your own view.

The problem these days, is that like our society in general, Facebook reflects the partisan views we share. And, like our good friends we've sent to Congress, we get pretty adamant concerning our hard held views. So that we start lashing out at folks that might feel differently about an issue. The people that disagree with us become assholes because the reps in government that disagree with us are assholes. I'm thinking this is why a lot of folks feel that posting anything political sucks!

It is a shame it has to be that way. My feeling is that even an argument can be fun. People can oppose each other, even throw a few lighthearted barbs at each other, but at the end of the day still be able to sit down, have a couple of pops and watch the Sox. And, if you can't go along with that philosophy well screw you!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Time to Play the Ant

It was just a beautiful weekend, weather-wise. Nice blue skies, warm but still a little crisp in the air. Great New England early fall weather. The kind of days you'd like to go out for a hike, get a bike ride in or maybe just go watch a high school football game. Saturday would have been ideal for walking around downtown Salem, mixing it up with the tourists who are now streaming in by the busload.

So, where was I while we had such great weather? Jim was in his back yard. I knew I had to cut the lawn. The damned weeds are still growing. I also took a look at all the patio furniture and knew that had to be put away.

I hate to put the backyard table and chairs away. That to me is definitely a harbinger of winter.

Well, I put aside any thoughts of enjoying the weather in any recreational manner and got down to preparing the yard for the coming season. I emptied the shed, pulled the snowblower out and got it to the garage. I refilled the shed with all the summer things, got the yard-vac by the door ready for the freakin' leaves. Yeah, a stack of lawn bags near by.

The lawn got cut. Probably won't be the last time. Stacked some wood over by the wood stove. Ok, so it felt good to have this stuff done. The shed is packed just right, summer stuff to the back and in the loft, tools I'll need for the fall right by the door. I'm ready.

Still, it would have been nice to goof off. Maybe take a ride to the north see some foliage. Go pick a few apples, carve a pumpkin, hell I don't know. How the hell did I get to be an ant, anyway? The damned grasshoppers seem to be having way more fun!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sometimes You Can Go Home

I cut the lawn at my parent's house in Lynn, yesterday. We've been trying to sell the old homestead now that both of my parents are gone. We actually rented the place out for a while, however, we thought we had a buyer recently so the tenents moved on. The renters were great people and kept the place looking good. They did shoveling during the winter and cut the lawn throughout the summer. You can say, I had it easy as a landlord.

Anyway, the buyers backed out, the tenents moved on and Jim finds himself cutting the lawn he was quite familiar with 40 someodd years ago. Actually, I don't mind cutting grass - too much. It gives me a chance to really listen to those voices in my head.

Funny thing happened as I mowed the old family estate. I was, all of a sudden, transformed into that 17 year old kid who cut the grass Saturday mornings as part of my family chores. When I was in high school, my old man gave me two things I had to do during the summer cut the grass and take care of the pool.

I suppose there were plenty of times that mowing the lawn seemed like a heavy burden. As fall approached, I do remember not being able to head out to the football game at Manning Bowl until the lawn was cut. Yeah, it sucked being in the back yard and listening to the crowd at the Bowl. The old Manning Bowl was great for crowd noises. We heard them pretty well at the house and we were a couple of miles down Western Ave. I bet you don't get that same effect from Manning Field. That's too bad, another Lynn memory lost to Father Time.

As I was cutting the grass yesterday, there was a moment when in my mind I looked up at the patio and there was my father sitting there having a beer, smiling as I labored over his yard. It was good to see him again even though I was thinking it might be nice for him to pick up a damned rake and lend a hand. It's kinda cool how you can picture things that haven't been for decades. Just up and down that yard, maybe for one of the last times ever, life as a teenager and a son came flooding back to me. Hey, it was one of those moments, what can I say.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Try to Remember

Twelve years have past and what was true then is true today. It was a day that changed America. It changed the way we travel, it made changes in the way we gather, it made changes in the way we think. 9/11 was a horrible murderous act of terror brought to our doorstep. It set in motion a war to hunt down the architects of the crime and it provided the fear that would allow the country to let itself be led into another war. 9/11 is a day to be remembered. It's a day we can't forget.

On this day, twelve years later, there are many memorials, many remembrances, more stories are written, individuals post their thoughts on twitter. One can imagine that it will be like this every year for many years to come.

There were many posts making the rounds on Facebook today linking 9/11/2001 to 9/11/2012. These posts were making the case that the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon are in some way similar to the tragic events in Bengazi last year. Yes, they are indeed both terrorist attacks. The assault on the consulate that left four men dead including an American ambassador was a premeditated act of terror carried out by Islamic extremists. That is without doubt exactly how to describe the attacks of 9/11. The 9/11 we remember from twelve years ago.

9/11 has become a term over the past dozen years. When you say 9/11, people know exactly what your talking about. That's why I think it is wrong to try to attach Bengazi to this term. Bengazi has a strong political undertone to it. There are many who want to put blame for Bengazi in the lap of the President. Or, they want to hold Hillary Clinton personally responsibile. This is differnt than 9/11. Tragically, 9/11 brought the country together. There was overall support for President Bush's decision to take the fight to Afghanistan. Bengazi separates the country. Bengazi, in a way, shows us where we are today, twelve years later.

There are those screaming for President Obama to be impeached over what happened in Bengazi. This, after Senate investigations reveal a tragic event but no specific wrong-doing that led to the attack. Bad things can happen in bad countries. Ronald Reagan found this out when he left a company of marines in a barracks in Beirut. However, there are those who just want to accuse. And, there are media outlets that will continue to fuel this debate, insisting the President and the State Department did something to cause the attack.

So, we can remember Bengazi. It should not be forgotten for the tragedy that it is. However, I'll remember 9/11 as 9/11 and how different it made the whole country feel.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

This is Getting Very Scary

So, I walk into a CVS a few days ago. I hadn't been there or, apparently, any other stores for awhile. But, I had to pick up some presciptions, so there I was. As I'm walking to the back to the actual pharmacy area, something catches my eye.

Out of the corner of my eye, I start seeing skulls. No, not real ones! Rememeber, this is CVS not Wal-Mart. These are decorations. Skull lights, skull ornaments, talking skulls. And, they're not alone. There's spiders with them and ghosts, too! Then I see the wind-up walking Frankenstein toys and, of course, baskets full of bags of candy.

So, it hits me. This is all crap for Halloween. But, its only freakin' August. Is all this junk going to be hanging on the shelves for over two months?

I like Halloween, I really do. When I was a kid I loved making my own costumes, fake blood, fangs, everything. One year, I had a Frankenstein mask to die for. The Universal Studios Frank. Then, in the late '70's, us babyboomers took over Halloween as party time. I went to some killer parties. Plus, Halloween was always a great time to crash parties. The masks? Nobody could tell who you were? Are you following me here?

Yes, there were some great times at Halloween. Making costumes, planning parties, there had to be some time to prepare. Maybe a couple of weeks! Not two plus months! What the hell is going on here? I start thinking about this and I'm saying to myself, what about this freakin' candy. This stuff is sitting out here for over two months? Or, is it? So, retailers have caught on. You like Halloween, we'll give you Halloween. People are going to buy this candy in August, start having a nibble or two and they'll be back in a couple of weeks for three more bags. The night before the little goblins show up at the door, they'll be running out for more.

They do have us trained, don't they. Folks will be hanging those decorations in the front windows right after Labor Day weekend. Those bite-sized Butterfingers will be showing up at the office in no time. But, I'll still have my fun. The fake blood is coming out, I'll find my fangs, I'll get a CD with spooky music and come All Hallow's Eve I'll be scaring the bejeesus out of those little urchins!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Old Neighborhood

This past week, I got into some Facebook exchanges with a couple of guys from an early neighborhood I lived in. For one thing, its just really interesting to even hear from these guys since its been over fifty years since I ran around those parts. But, another thing that strikes me is how different we turn out after thinking we were just kids hanging out doing the same things.

I have to say, I had a pretty damned good childhood. My folks were the picture of middle-class. They struggled to make ends meet, all the time. However, I remember Christmas mornings waking up and finding some nifty toys under that tree. I also made the best of what I had. World War II was not a very distant memory for the country when I was starting my formative years. So, kids like me, we went out and played "war". That's how we said it, too. "Hey, Allen, let's play war." But, we would just pick up a wooden stick and in our minds it transformed into an M-1 or a Thomson machine gun.

Parents didn't make a big deal out of us kids pretending to kill each other. I don't know, it didn't seem like such a big thing to us, either. We were left to our own imaginations, a lot. The neighborhood mothers didn't hover over us. We didn't have a lot of schedules to meet. We seemed to be on our own a lot. I remember the first time going into Ray's Corner Store on my own. This place was just two blocks away from my house, but it seemed like such an adventure. Ray was a cranky guy sometimes, but you never felt like you might be in any danger in that little store. I guess you could say grownups throughout the neighborhood seemed to look after us kids.

We forged some memories during those years. I know they're memories that stay with me decades later. The guys we hung around with, we thought we were all the same. We had fun playing "war", we took our sleds down Gertrude Street in the winter, we pushed the envelope every Haloween to see just how many streets we could cover and how many pounds of candy we could end up with. I guess we never thought how different we might be from one another. We all did the same things why would we be any different. But, life comes along and starts shaping you. Experiences you encounter, impact each of us in they're own way. The gang from the neighborhood start heading in many different directions.

So, it can be quite interesting to touch base with men you only knew as young boys. Sometimes finding that these men have outlooks vastly different then your own. It makes you wonder what paths they may have gone down during their life's journey. Then, again, you might just sit back with a glass of wine and say to yourself, "Ray had some great penny candy in that store".

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Maybe I Need to Invest in Combat Gear

I've been doing a lot of bicycling lately. Ten to fifteen years ago, I got into mountain biking. I got a rugged bike and I rode through the dirt roads and trails of the Lynn Woods Reservation. It was really quite exhilarating. I also could have broke my damned neck.

I survived though and twelve years ago I moved from Lynn to Beverly. In the past dozen years, I got away from the bicycle. I had things to do in the new house. I also got lazy, I just found more sedentary things to do. The couch became very comfortable.

Well, I've turned a new leaf this year. I bought a lighter bike, more suited to riding the roads. And, there are plenty of roads to ride on throughout Cape Ann. Sunday mornings during this summer have been a pleasure, riding through the hamlets of Wenham, Hamilton and Essex. Sunday drivers seem to be quite respectful of us cyclists. We share the road in harmony.

Taking the bike out during the middle of the week is another story completely. I understand people have stressful lives. Work weeks don't always go well. Hey, that's why I'm on the freakin' bike in the first place. But, driving close to the curb, accelerating to make it to a corner before I get there. I'm sorry, but this shit doesn't make it. The time will come when I have to fight back.

When I was much younger, I remember riding my bike with combat boots from my Army days. I was known to occasionally strike out at a car or two if they got too close. Now, that I'm older and much more mature I can't envision myself doing anything like that. However, if these assholes get any closer, I don't know what may happen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

If We Could All Just Wear Green Glasses

So, I cut the lawn again on Saturday. Cutting the grass is just something you have to do. Back in May it wasn't such a big deal. Getting the old lawn mower started up again after the winter is kind of a rite of passage. The smell of the cut grass is nice and the lawn looks great after that first cut of the year.

You get into August and that special feeling has come and gone. By this time you've been cutting the grass just about every week. Yeah, its a chore now. The lawn doesn't look so great this late into the summer. There might be a lot of green things but there's not a whole lot of them that could be considered grass.

Who the hell established this whole thing about having a lawn in the first place. Here in New England, I gotta think that having a spread of nice green grass in front of your log cabin was not something the pilgrims concerned themselves with. When did this foolishness start? Did John Adams, after moving from downtown Boston out to the burbs in Quincy, figure it might be a great use of the land by planting grass. It's not a crop, you can't eat it, you can't do anything with it except cut it every week.

When you look around the neighborhood, why is it that everyone elses yard looks better than yours. You cut your grass and as your cutting you see clover, crab grass and some sort of purple looking thing. You look down the street and the neighbor's yard looks like the Augusta National. And, your lawn has an overall yellow tinge.

I guess it is a community thing. This is when we get to see our neighbors. Every week there we all are out there cutting this greenish yellowish stuff and taking solace in the fact that we are not alone. Everyone of us are out there cutting this damned shit.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Cat and Mouse Tale

We have a cat living with us. The cat's name is Pumpkin. This is not a name I would have chose for a pet even if it is a female. We happen to have inherited this cat. The cat had belonged to my mother. However, a few years back, this cat, Pumpkin, had become ill while living at Mom's. Mom decides to call my wife, she knew Karen would try to find out what was ailing Pumpkin.

Well, Karen went to my mother's found that Pumpkin was indeed not looking very chipper. She took poor Pumpkin to the vet's and after a few costly tests, come to find out the feline is starving. Karen brings Pumpkin home to our house and after a few squares Pumpkin is her old self, again.

Actually, Pumpkin was much better than her old self. You see, Mom was never really that great with pets. I can't recall how many cats we went through when I was growing up, but believe me, there were a few. So, Pumpkin is liking her new digs. Karen is getting attached. My mother didn't mind just visiting Pumpkin. And, me? What did I have to say about it.

Anyway, it wasn't too long after this that my mother had a fall. After a stay in rehab, Mom ended up in a nursing home which became her last place of residence. This is how we end up with a cat living with us.

Well, now we seem to also have mice living with us. I would have thought that having a cat would not make the place terribly attractive to mice. Apparently, I was wrong. So, anyway, I've been counting on Pumpkin to do her job. I mean, I've been giving her free room and board for a few years now. I've not asked much of her until now. I've discovered Pumpkin is not cut out for this line of work. She would rather make strange sounds and watch mice. Instead of doing the damned job she is meant to do as a member of the cat species, she makes wailing noises like a banshee in the middle of the night and I jump out of a sound sleep to find her staring at a mouse in a corner of the room. So, now, it has somehow become my job to subdue the rodent.

Oh, yeah, did I mention, Karen is not too keen on killing a mouse. Oh, just catch it and put it outside. Of course, we all know it has come from outside. So, tell me, am I just catching the same mouse over and over again?