Why I Write

Do I write for wealth? No, but I wouldn’t turn it down if it came my way.

Is it a game to me? I’m not sure what that means. Do I make a game of it? Again, no, although at times I find it as challenging as a game.

Compulsion or curiosity? The former, not so much; the latter, well, maybe. Every novel I’ve written (nearly 10) has left me with discovery: about the craft of writing, about people, relationships, about myself.

Was it a calling? I’m not sure. It started nearly 25 years ago as therapy in the aftermath of a bloodied and bruised heart. But as I learned to enjoy the creative process, I can honestly say writing leaves me feeling closer to my higher self and, yes (if it’s not arrogant to admit), closer to God.

I write fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, op-ed, sports… whatever I’m moved to write.

I used to have goals but found it interfered with my creativity—worrying about publication, finding an agent or a major publisher. At some point enjoyment of creativity abates when your creations fail to leave an impact, that your audience is hardly bigger than it was with your first publication. It doesn’t help when family members tell you they think reading is a waste of time, and that fiction is nothing but lies.

Today I write for many reasons: I believe words have power. I use them as a soapbox. I write for my own amusement. I write to push myself, to stretch. My work in progress is written from the perspective of woman, which I find extremely challenging. It’s about a fetus about to be aborted who sees her unlived life flash before her eyes. Hardly mainstream, and I eliminate half my audience—those who are pro-choice.

I also write to learn about the craft of writing and about myself. I write to connect with readers and, with no offspring, to leave behind a legacy. My novels are the only children I’ll ever have, so I want them to go out into the world and be accepted, enjoyed, loved. I want them to impact the world in some small (or large) way.

I’ve many times considered setting down my pen. I’m frustrated by the publishing industry. It more often than not rewards the mundane, the formula, that which can be sold to Hollywood for next summer’s blockbuster movie.

I write about everyday people dealing with everyday issues like love (finding it), loss of love (ouch!), regret (who doesn’t have a few of those?), infidelity (from love to hate to compromise), death (the Grim Reaper recently visited me in a dream to tell me he was coming for me; “Great,” my dream self said. “You bring the whiskey and I’ll provide the cigars”). I write about redemption (that transformation from the anti-hero the reader wants to like into the hero for whom they root), and more. I write about relationships between men and woman, and fathers and sons. Yet each character, although flawed and in some cases broken, is in their own way extraordinary. I write mainstream, non-traditional romance (Fabio will never grace the cover of one of my novels), and soft science fiction.

My work has been called, “Gritty, entertaining… real. Romance for the non-romantic,” but with nearly a half-million new novels published every year it’s nearly impossible for the cream to rise to the top, to find an audience.

the-power-of-words+copy

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Memories are Like Butterflies

Memories haunt us at the most inopportune moments. I got home a little while ago, got the mail (the cable bill and the rest junk), changed into jeans and a t-shirt, grabbed a cigar out one of my humidors, and came out to sit pond side and ponder my day, the sunset and tomorrow.

I snipped the head on my smoke and got it lit and, almost as if on cue, a beautiful monarch butterfly fluttered around me, close enough for me to reach out and offer a finger on which it might perch. It didn’t, but its presence brought flooding back a memory nearly a half-century old, and that’s funny because I can’t recall what I had for lunch a week ago today.

Dad had a marine buddy, Sgt. Major Hank Bean, with whom he kept in touch until Bean, a career marine, died back in the 1980s from HIV tainted blood given to him during heart surgery; but that’s another story.

Bean, who lived in San Diego, had a nephew, Don Walker, who lived in Michigan not too far from where I grew up. He owned a rock quarry, from which we’d built a rock garden in our yard. Our family visited Don, his wife, Connie, and young son (I can’t recall his name) several times. Once on their boat on the lake on their quarry. Bean let me drive the speedboat. Mind you, I was maybe nine or ten years old. Bean was so unlike my dad, who taught me to avoid risk.

A few years after the speedboat event, Bean came to Michigan for a Marine Corps reunion. He showed up at our house driving his nephew’s new Mark III. Tossing me the keys, he let me, a sixteen-year-old kid who’d just gotten his driver permit, drive that big boat of a car despite my parents’ protests, with my parents in the backseat, to a Chinese restaurant in Dearborn, where we had dinner.

It wouldn’t occur to me until many years later how much Bean always made me feel like a man. He trusted me. He’d shared a foxhole with my dad on Okinawa. He’d trusted my dad with his life, and so by extension, he trusted me.

I recall him telling my dad, it may have been on that same visit, what a good-looking kid I was, already nearly six-feet tall, but skinny as a rail. “We’ll make a marine out him, eh, Jim?” he said to my dad. Then he looked at me and asked, “Do you like to kill?”

All of that isn’t even foreshadowing for this post.

The monarch butterfly: Bean’s nephew and wife invited us over for dinner one Saturday night. It was, perhaps not so coincidentally, this time of year: late September or early October. After dinner, it wasn’t quite full dark out, we made ready to leave. Don and Connie walked us out to our car; and there on their dirt driveway lay… a monarch butterfly. It had died, likely due to the chill in the air.

Well, to make an already long story longer, Connie bent to pick it up and, perhaps seeing the heartbreak in my eyes over a dead insect, its coloring beautiful even in death, she handed it to me. At that moment, age 10 or 12, I fell in love with Connie.

During our drive I held that butterfly in my hands like the treasure it was to me. When we got home, I managed to procure a small white jewelry box, the cotton still inside, just large enough to fit that butterfly, which I kept for… I don’t know for how long.

I recall that event so vividly, brought to mind by a fluttering monarch butterfly decades later, but sadly can’t remember what became of that box.

monarch

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A Life Unlived

There came a time when I started to look back over my life, perhaps because there are more days behind me than ahead of me. Missed opportunities, poor choices, fear of risk even as I risked mightily where I ought not to have risked, dreams left unfulfilled. Regrets weigh more heavily on me as my race draws to its close.

A boyhood dream to play major league baseball missed because of parents who sought to protect me and taught me to avoid risk.

A toxic marriage that ended with no children. A mixed blessing: had I brought life into the world I might still be wed to a woman I married for the wrong reasons, whom I only thought I loved. Several failed relationships with women my desire for their flesh I mistook for love.

A sister who has no desire to share her life with me or to be a part of mine.

A childhood friend I selfishly treated poorly thirty years ago. We reconnected a decade or so ago; he was the best man at my second wedding. Today, I love him like a brother, admire him for the man he became, for the marriage he has. But I missed the chance to be a part of his fatherhood, the opportunity to be a part of his three sons’ lives, perhaps influence them in my own way.

Myriad people with whom I shared rooms briefly; they all left without leaving the door ajar.

I love my wife dearly; but her two adult sons, both living out of state, one married and newly a father, the other single but perhaps soon to be married, have no desire to know me, to share friendship with me. Maybe they don’t trust me—the man born to be their mother’s fourth husband.

A dream to be a published author, not simply self-published; maybe one day write that bestseller but content to connect with a large enough audience to supplement my retirement years. Eight novels later and I’m still unknown.

An ex-friend once told me I was the common denominator. The older I become the more right I suspect she was. The choices I made, the risks I failed to take to pursue my dreams, have all conspired to lead me here: A place by certain standards that’s not so bad a place. It’s just not nearly where I thought I’d be forty years ago. Life is what happens while we make other plans.

Or as Henry David Thoreau put it: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.”

Truer words were never written.

Journey_Of_Dreams_by_jerry8448

Art by Jeremiah Morelli

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A Final Parting

Word came to me through a grapevine late last week: a woman I met 30 years ago and dated for not quite three years passed away last November. I’m not quite sure how to feel, or what to feel.

I’ve shared rooms with a lot of people over the years, men and woman. The commonality? Once they walk out the door they never return, not to knock, not to crack the door to even sneak a peek.

This woman was no different. The relationship ended badly for me. She was eight years my senior, a user and a manipulator. But that’s what I was back then: a rescuer. Show her enough love and she would come to reciprocate.

I never got closure after the breakup. For me, from what I wrongly believed was love to hate to compromise, the getting over took a long time. The anger is gone. I forgave her long ago, and myself, too, for the role I played in staying far too long in a toxic relationship. I certainly have no fond feelings for her, having dated several other women since she and I split, and marrying the best of them. I now know it was never love between us. The lesson she taught me was not about what I wanted, but about what I didn’t want.

So why do I feel so unsettled?

Maybe there are a whole heap of whys.

I confess: there were times over the years I thought of her, wondered if she ever met that 747 captain she always dreamed of marrying (she was a gate agent for a major airline). She was looking for someone to take care of her, enable her to quit her stressful job. Maybe I wanted to know if she’d met him, although she was then, after we broke up, over forty. Too old, I thought then in my anger. Anyone with a six-figure job flying 747s can have their pick of flight attendants—younger and more beautiful. Why settle for an over forty Italian even if she is well-preserved, eats well, exercises often, keeps her figure? But I never told her that. In time, after I let go the anger, I wished her well, hoped she found what she sought. That’s the kind of man I am: I don’t wish ill on anyone.

Maybe I still wanted that closure I never got. While she was still, in my mind, alive and kicking, like the alcoholic going through the steps of recovery, she might yet get in touch to apologize for the pain she caused me. Not like I fell off the planet. Now she never will.

She had ample time to make her peace, if she’d wanted to. She didn’t want to. And I’m fairly certain she never gave me a thought in the twenty-seven years after she broke up with me.

Today I’m ashamed to admit I considered, after my first book was published twenty years ago, sending her a copy of it, wondering if she might recognize herself in the antagonist. Nah, she was too self-absorbed. Or maybe she’d matured, grown wiser. I’ll never know.

Maybe it’s just a microcosm of life, that she was mortal, that I’m mortal. Losing my parents drove that point home twenty years ago. Hell, I already know I’m mortal. Six years ago I wondered if that Mazda I bought might be my last car. Now I’m wondering if the car I might purchase in the next year or two or three might be the last one.

Learning a couple years ago about the passing of my first boss—he was not yet even sixty—hit me hard, in part because another part of my life, a part from my long ago youth, was gone forever.

But she’d been gone, after the not quite three years we dated, for nearly twenty-eight years. Might as well have been the forever of nearly half my life.

More maybes? Maybe. Maybe the right maybe just hasn’t yet occurred to me.

death-pictures

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Protesting a Protest

I’m not against peaceful protest, when it serves a purpose, and it doesn’t cause division in a country rife with division.

I can’t recall a time in my lifetime when Left and Right have moved so decisively away from center. So much hatred is being directed at the president. We live in a republic, and we’re supposed to support those we elect to the office of the president, even those for whom we didn’t vote. Don’t like them? Can’t get behind their platform? Don’t like what they say or how they say it? Vote them out of office in four years; but until then wish them well, hope they succeed, because when they succeed, America succeeds. You succeed. I succeed.

NFL players apparently have a beef with America, our flag, our National Anthem. Some people applaud them for kneeling during the Anthem. Some have taken a knee in solidarity.

I won’t. I never will take a knee during the anthem. I don’t believe a sporting event should be politicized. I go to a ballgame to get away from the realities of my life and politics, the cruelty in the world. I go to watch young men play a kid’s game. I can’t use my job to promote my political views, so why should athletes on the field, or celebrities for that matter, at awards shows?

But I also believe in the flag, what it represents, even if our government and our citizens often fall short of the ideals the flag, the Constitution, the National Anthem represent.

I stand proudly at ballgames, hockey games, the Indy 500, hat off, hand over my heart, and tears in my eyes. I recall my dad, a proud marine who served in the South Pacific during World War II. I was ten when he drove my family to Washington, D.C. to attend a Marine Corps reunion. We stood at the base of the World War II memorial, based on Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, and my dad wept openly, unashamedly. I was too young to fully grasp the reasons behind his tears. But I understand now.

Dad taught me to honor my country, our flag, our anthem, those who defend us and protect us. I stand to honor him, his fellow marines who fought, many dying, to help shape the second half of the twentieth century. I stand to honor those who raised that flag on Iwo; three never came home. I stand to honor those who fought in Korea, in Vietnam, including a cousin, and another cousin who served in the Navy. I stand to honor those who fought in both Gulf wars and in Afghanistan, and who serve around the globe, in defense of our allies and our values and our country. I stand to honor a cousin’s son, now one of the few, the proud. A marine.

I will ALWAYS stand to honor them, even as I voice my discontent with our government, to speak out against liberals and the Left, against political correctness, against the destruction of all my father risked his life to protect.

So kneel if you feel you must, but you will never gain my respect, not the players, not the fans who support them, not for the way you protest your cause. Because you succeed only in creating more dissension, driving the wedge further between the Left and the Right, destroying what once was a great country.

God bless you, Dad. I remember you. I respect you. I honor you. Even though millions in this country you once said would fall without a shot being fired don’t.

You’re right. It won’t be long.

Semper fi.

Dad

Dad, a young, proud marine

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Can You Miss What You Never Had?

It’s been said you can’t miss what you never had: a father who passed away before you were old enough to really know him; a sister who chose to never be a part of your life; children you never had because you found the right woman too late.

I disagree. I miss the dad my father became after my mother passed away—he was gone too soon and I miss him still, nearly twenty years later. I miss the sister who treats me as a stranger, because I see other brother-sister relationships, caring and tight knit. And I miss the children I never had, seeing others grow through parenting, being called “Dad”, leaving behind a legacy, a part of themselves to live on after they’re gone.

I sought, learned, and grew,
desired, dreamt, and hoped.

Although caring, I feared risk,
risking mightily, carelessly, where I ought not to have.

Fragmented,
aching and grieving and weeping,
I longed, oh, so longed,
to connect…

… with those with whom I shared a room for brief moments:
a father more marine than Dad;
with women my desire for their flesh I mistook for love;
with people who entered and left, oblivious of my presence.

And in dying,
in taking my final breath,
I realized no one would ever again say my name…

I would be –

—From A Retrospect In Death

let go

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A Sh*t-Hole By Any Other Name Is Still a Sh*t-Hole

I don’t know any Haitians so I can’t comment on their morals or their work ethic.

What I do know is that Haiti is a sh*t-hole (not to be confused with Libya, which a former president once called a “sh*t show”—that former president is revered and Trump is, once again, labeled a racist; have you heard what Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, Alveda King, American evangelist, activist, author, former state representative for the 28th District in the Georgia House of Representatives, said about Donald Trump?).

What I do know is that no one wants to emigrate to Haiti. I also know of at least one Congressperson who, when asked if she’d rather emigrate to Norway or Haiti, said she couldn’t answer that question. Yes, she could answer it but chose not to. Because answering it truthfully would cost her votes and would’ve labeled her, like Trump, a racist.

I also know that truth isn’t racist. Truth can be only what it is, in this case that Haiti is not a very desirable place in which to live. I just wrote pretty much what Donald Trump is accused of saying. The subtext of my words is that Haiti is a sh*t hole. Does that make me racist? Does it make me racist to call out Maxine Waters and Al Sharpton as being racist?

Who among us hasn’t gone to a bar or restaurant where the food wasn’t good or the micro brew selection not to our liking and later, when a friend asked us about the place, we told them, “The place was a sh*t-hole”? It wasn’t a reflection of the wait staff.

As a nation we need borders. No nation without borders can call itself a nation. As a nation we have the right to determine who we allow into our country.

The Left would have us believe that all illegals are good people admirably contributing to the U.S., serving in our military. What they don’t want you to know is that illegals accounted for 37 percent of all federal crimes in the 12 months between September 2014 and September 2015.

The Left would have us believe this country was built on immigration. They don’t want us to consider that, unlike my ancestors who came here to embrace American ideals and wanted to contribute to America, and become an American, many of today’s immigrants couldn’t care less about becoming American. Some come here for the free handout, while others think that coming to America means they should be allowed to practice Sharia Law.

I know the Left is fond of quoting Emma Lazarus, a phrase from her sonnet, New Colossus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Nowhere in that phrase does Lazarus write “only”. We have the right to decide who we allow to live in our country, and that translates into not just the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free. How about a few Albert Einsteins? Some successful business people? Some who will contribute to the success of our nation and not just those who will be a drain on it, or translate to votes for Democrats?

We’ve forgotten the wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1907 said of immigration, “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American… There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

We not only have the right to determine who we allow into our country, we have an obligation to do so, and also to rid ourselves of the lottery system and chain migration. If we don’t the U.S. is destined to become a third world nation for our children’s children’s children. That’s not a racist rant. It’s the truth. The nation who takes in the majority of immigrants who are uneducated and illiterate will be dragged down, not pulled up.

Sorry for the rant. My mother taught me that if I didn’t have something nice to say I should refrain from saying anything at all. Sorry, Mom, but you were wrong. Remaining silent is part of what has gotten us to this place. The Right has for too long remained silent to the PC taunts of the Left, their labeling and name-calling. I will not apologize for being conservative, for believing in borders and immigration laws (I’m not xenophobic), for being pro-life (I’m not a backward Christian who wants to take away women’s rights), for believing marriage should be between a man and a woman (I’m not homophobic), or for wanting smaller government when the Left wants more government and higher taxes to pay for their socialist programs.

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Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, a city of nearly a million without a sewer system

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Liberalism: Bane or Boon?

I’m trying to remember if ever I was a liberal in my life. Nope, not in my youth. I voted for Ford, and then Reagan, twice. In my thirties I voted for Bush 41 (twice) and, when I turned forty, Bob Dole. With the new millennium I voted Bush 43, also twice.

I never considered myself a liberal when I voted for Obama—the first time I ever voted for a Democrat for president. But that I voted for Obama is really a misnomer because in essence I voted against McCain. The thought of Sarah Palin in the Oval Office if anything should happen to McCain kept me up at night. One term was enough to show me Obama wasn’t the answer.

But then if I’ve learned anything in my life it’s that, where government is concerned especially, there is no answer. If ambulance chasing lawyers are lowlifes, then politicians are the lowest form of life on the planet.

Once in office they’re beholden to the special interest groups who contributed to their campaigns. And, once in office, they spend more time raising campaign funds for reelection than governing.

One votes for one candidate or against their opponent and hope for the best, hope they make good on a few items on their agenda one supports.

But getting back to liberals: they’re for open borders because, after all, this country was built on immigrants. Never mind that my parents’ parents came here to embrace American ideals. To become an American was their dream, their goal. They asked, “What can I add to this great country to make it even greater?” They didn’t come to America to bend our culture, our laws, to their beliefs, their culture.

Today many immigrants are here illegally to take advantage of our Welfare system. Many don’t embrace our ideals. Case in point, a Muslim woman recently demanded pork-free menus in her child’s school or, “We will leave the U.S.” My first thought: Bah-bye.

Emigrating to America, or any nation, doesn’t grant you the right to make demands of your host.

The liberal left today supports a wide array of groups and promotes divisiveness and hate. They’re anti-gun and support gun-free zones, despite the fact many more shootings take place in gun-free zones than anywhere else.

Support pro-life and you’re accused of being backward and anti-women’s rights.

Support immigration laws—laws already on the books—and you’re xenophobic.

Believe in gender-specific public restrooms and you’re homophobic.

Believe in defending the flag and standing for the National Anthem and you’re racist, a white supremacist, despite the fact that many of our major cities have been governed by Democrats for decades, cities that suffer poor education, high employment, and high crime rates.

Support Donald Trump and you’re deplorable, accountable for hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and are wished painful, horrible deaths.

Disagree with the liberal left and you’re unflatteringly labeled.

Kathy Griffin, Stephen Colbert, and Shakespeare in the Park are all protected under the First Amendment. But conservative speech at our colleges and universities is labeled fascist and protested using fascist tactics.

Where on the liberal left is conservatism accepted? Where is civil debate invited? Only they can be right.

This isn’t America, certainly not the America my father fought in World War II to help create.

America is supposed to stand for unity, inclusiveness. Race, religion, culture are not anthropocentric: no single group is the central fact of the universe.

This once was a great country. No longer. Thanks to the liberal left.

cowardice

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Is the Novel Dead?

That nearly a half-million novels are published each seems to indicate the novel is not only alive, but thriving.

But the other side of the coin seems to indicate otherwise.

A couple years ago I read that in 2014 sixty percent of Americans admitted to not reading a novel. Additionally, forty percent of college graduates claimed to never crack another book after graduating. A former colleague of mine, a Millennial, backed that up by telling me he reads only non-fiction.

Oh, and that sixty percent, it was put forth, was only expected to grow.

Last holiday season I watched a roving reporter in Times Square polling shoppers what they were buying their kids for Christmas. When the reporter suggested to one mother, “How about a book?” she looked at him sideways and replied, “You’re kidding, right?”

So demand is dwindling while supply is increasing. So how can anyone not named James Patterson, Stephen King, or JK Rowling hope to compete with nearly a half-million new titles released every year, most poorly written, just as poorly edited (if at all), poorly packaged drivel?

Additionally, Internet shorthand, texting, and emojis seem to not only be destroying communication but the beauty of language as well. People no longer have to express their feelings with words; they simply click one of hundreds of emojis to relate what they’re feeling at any given moment.

It seems people no longer have the patience to read a novel. Many would rather wait for the book to be made into a movie, which is why the major publishers look only for manuscripts that can be sold to Hollywood to turn into next summer’s blockbuster movie.

Is the novel destined to become only a curiosity, something to be studied in school as an archaic art form?

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Fascism on the Left

The Left continues to call the Right fascists. But today the Left employs everything they define as fascism. They’re trying to silence the Right.

Who is protesting conservatives at our colleges and universities? The liberal Left.

Who thought about blowing up the White House? A liberal Leftist.

Who protested in the streets for weeks after the election, destroying property, and berating Trump supporters? The Liberal Left.

Frankly, fascism has more in common with socialism, an intrinsically left wing ideology, than conservatism.

Don’t call me fearful, xenophobic, racist and uneducated when you know nothing about me. That’s a typical Leftist tactic: someone disagrees with you, label them with one of a host of phobias, the more the merrier, because the Left has no platform. They tried to buy the election in Georgia as well as the White House last fall. Neither worked out well, did they?

The Democrats have no platform other than “no borders” and “support sanctuary cities”, and attack the Right: you’re backward if you’re pro-life (an attack against religion); you’re xenophobic if you believe in borders (employing the laws already on the books); you’re homophobic if you believe in men’s and women’s public restrooms. You’re evil if you don’t agree with the Left.

Because I believe in borders, because I believe in legal immigration, because I believe a nation without borders isn’t a nation doesn’t make me xenophobic; because I’m pro-life doesn’t make me backward; and because I believe in gender specific public restrooms doesn’t make me homophobic.

Go ahead and call the new militant Left Antifa (short for anti-fascism) if you want. They’re still employing the same tactics they accuse the White House of using but that I don’t see. What I see is the Left trying to silence the Right through violence.

Our colleges and universities won’t let anyone with even a hint of conservatism speak at their campuses. That is an affront to free thinking. What is that teaching our youth about opposing views, that out of debate often comes the best solutions?

Just because liberals cite the dictionary definition of fascism doesn’t mean the Left can’t employ the same tactics. They do, they are, and it’s all sleight of hand to blame the Right for being fascists even though they’ve done nothing to warrant that label.

We had eight years of failed Left wing policy and look what it got us: wage gains largely confined to the rich. A toppling of the Libyan regime that not only did not include Congress but failed. A line drawn in the Syrian sand that was crossed and ignored. Race tension the worst it’s been in forty years. A “stimulus” plan to help recover from a recession that resulted in the weakest economic growth of any post-recession period since World War II.

There’s a reason why some called Obama the Bubble President. He entered office thinking, They love me, so they’ll love everything I do! But he had no plan for what to do if Congress worked against him. Every president has to negotiate with Capitol Hill, but Obama thought wheeling and dealing, negotiating—politics—was beneath him. So he signed executive orders to further his agenda, certain his successor, Hillary Clinton, would continue his legacy but that today are being overturned.

The voters wanted a change and so they voted for one. All you boo-hooers need to grow up. Vote Trump out of office in four years if you still think he’s doing a poor job, but leave him to do the job he was voted into office to do. We all want a better, safer America. Let him sink or swim on his own. He doesn’t need your help to fail. If he fails he’ll do it on his own. But no president succeeds on their own.

There are a number of items on Trump’s agenda with which I don’t agree. But there have been a number of items on every president’s agenda with which I haven’t agreed. So what? All Americans vote based on the choices presented. Trump was not my first choice in the primaries, but when it came down to him or Clinton, he was, for me, the only choice.

Disagree with me if you must, tell me I’m wrong, but leave the personal attacks out of it. I’m not evil, I just want government to do what it’s supposed to do: represent We, the People, who elect them to office. There is enough bickering between the parties. They’re so caught up in their personal agendas they’ve forgotten us.

Consider that solidarity is a two-way street: We’re all tired of gridlock in Washington; that’s why Middle America voted into office someone to “drain the swamp.” Maybe, just maybe, if we all got together to support “45” government might work a little better.

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The Beauty of Words

Words are beautiful. They have meaning. Words have life. They can make one feel. They can make one laugh, or cry. They can incite people to anger, or bring two lonely hearts together. They make something happen inside one’s head by inspiring imagination. When ancient Man first uttered something that was understood, civilization was born. With language, Mankind set itself on the road to becoming the dominant species, became a force with which to be reckoned.

But words are dying, not a slow death, and that means imagination is not far behind.

Texting and Internet shorthand are conspiring to kill communication. My wife gets frustrated with me when I draw a conclusion from something she said she didn’t intend. She claims I take her too literally. “That’s not what I meant,” she tells me. To which I reply, “Then say what you mean.”

I work with a number of Millennials, and none of them read novels, or even crack a book. They’d rather wait for a novel to come to the silver screen because then they don’t have to use their imagination. They, too, despite all the connectivity that texting boasts, fail to understand communication, the beauty of words—the utter loveliness of connecting with another human being by conveying thoughts, ideas and feelings acoustically rather than over the Internet.

If words are dying, that means the novel, too, will soon die, destined to become a curiosity, something only studied in classrooms as an archaic art form.

Nearly 305,000 new books were published in the U.S. in 2013, most self-published. Just about all of them are poorly written, just as poorly edited (if at all), and poorly produced by wannabes who know nothing of craft and have no desire to learn craft let alone the best practices of writing, whether it be fiction or nonfiction.

Toss into the equation the growing number of Americans who admit to not reading novels and you end up with a growing supply of poor product and a decreasing demand.

I find all of this sad, and not only because I make my living from arranging words on a blank monitor.

We live in a society of divisiveness, of left and right, where communication is broken. No one listens; everyone seems to want to be heard.

A society in which no one listens is fated to fall.

Does anyone hear me?

words-have-power

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A Life In Retrospect

“Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so I can’t imagine why. We’ve all got time enough… to cry.” —Robert Lamm


Wise words written nearly fifty years ago by a man in his long ago youth.

Yet in preparing for death, and in preparing for the loss of a loved one, there is never enough time.

Funerals are strange affairs. People attend them for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most popular reason is to pay one’s respects. Unlike Rodney Dangerfield, who never got any respect, apparently some people feel the dearly departed is deserving of a whole heap of it. I’m not sure what that means, paying ones’ respects. Did they pay them respect while they were alive, when it truly mattered? That, to me, is one of life’s great mysteries: why we withhold telling those who mean the most to us what they mean to us until it’s too late. Maybe we assume they know. That’s a travesty.

Others attend funerals in support of the family left behind, and that’s a fine sentiment. When someone loses a family member it provides much comfort to know that others share your grief.

And speaking of grief, yes, funerals are in large part about grief, the sharing of it. A burden is more easily carried by a multitude than by an individual. But more important than grief, funerals are—or should be—about a celebration of a life shared.

A man’s life should never amount to a few hundred words spoken after he’s gone. If a man’s life is measured by what he left behind, then John’s life is a fortune of the greatest value. He left behind two fine children who in turn became fine parents, giving to their daddy a chance to be a fine granddaddy. What greater gift could they give in return?

He also left behind a wife who adores him. He was the true definition of a biblical husband. He cherished you, Joan, and took care of you. In fact, he took care of you so well you had to call your son a few weeks ago, after John was admitted to the hospital for the last time, because you had no idea how to turn on the air conditioner.

By the number of people here today, I know he touched the lives of many others as well, mine included.

John was a simple man who enjoyed the simple things in life. Polish beer, watching a Wings game, time spent with family. A good card game. Especially a good card game. He enjoyed laughing, and enjoyed even more making people laugh. He took at least as much pleasure in giving a gift as the recipient received in its receipt.

John got it: life’s meaning. That he was here to give and not to receive. John received in the giving. He understood it’s not what you gather throughout a lifetime, but what you scatter that make up a memorable biography.

It’s okay to grieve loss, to shed a tear or three; but that’s not what John would want. He would want us to remember him the way he was in life, the way he lived his life. He would want us to remember that boyish grin, that mischievous glint in his eyes, his laughter. So grieve, and weep if we must for a man taken too soon. But he’d be taken too soon had he lived another twenty years. But smile, too. That should be our everlasting gift to him in return for all he gave us.

Yes, we lost one of the good ones. One of a kind, sui generis. And so today we mourn our lost John. But lost isn’t the right word. Lost is what happens to pennies when you can’t find them, or a sock. And then you do, between the cushions of the sofa or in the dryer. Nothing is ever really lost. You just need to find it.

But take joy in that there surely must be much dancing on the other side of the Great Divide over John’s arrival. Indeed, in addition to his heart of gold, Heaven has received:

  • a mischief maker
  • a rascal
  • a rogue
  • a scalawag
  • and one of one the luckiest card players I’ve ever met.

Yes, John, our debate is over: you have to be lucky in order to be good. God, I suspect, has met His match at the euchre table.

Long life to you, John. The Red Solo Cup that contained your essence may have broken, but who you were in life, who you are, lives on. Just as you live on in the memories of your children and grandchildren, your Joan, and all who already miss you. We are all better for knowing you.

Thanks, John, for all the cherished memories. Keep a seat open at the euchre table for me, will you?

God keep you.

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Twenty Years a Fatherless Son

Dad: It’s been nearly twenty years since you went away, and this is my twentieth Father’s Day spent without you to share it. I sit this morning writing these words with a heavy heart, even as the chipmunks run, chasing each other around, going about their chipmunk lives. The cigar I wish I could share with you brings little comfort to me.

Today is a day to honor you, to share with you, and sadly this is the best I can do: a few words, not nearly enough—words I hope you care enough to read, looking over my shoulder to read them as I type them.

My memories of you are pleasant, yes, even the not so good ones. I’ve forgiven you for much, understanding you were handicapped in many ways, and that as a father, you did the best you could.

I, too, have done the best I can, handicapped in my own way, falling short often, always seeking, striving to find understanding, while failing to achieve my many dreams. At times I’ve considered giving them up, knowing my race is drawing to a close and losing my drive. If you’ve been following my life, I know I’ve disappointed you, perhaps more than many other sons.

Still, I’ve found a measure of happiness, marrying a wonderful woman, but pained that you never met her. I know you would love her. I continue to endeavor to make my final dream come true. I think you know what that dream is.

I’ve written nine novels, and aspects of you appear in nearly all of them. Not always did I depict you in a favorable light, but hey, it makes for good reading. Still, I always showed you with redeeming traits, a sympathetic character. In one of my books I wrote you as the father I always wished you could’ve been. I hope that doesn’t bring you pain.

Know on this day that you are missed, as you are every day. I feel no less an orphan than I did the day you left. My world has been much colder without you.

I hope these words bring you some measure of comfort, more than they bring me, because writing them reminds me how much I miss you. (By the way, I’ve kept your watch running since you left it to me. Wearing it brings me comfort.)

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, with love and understanding,

Your son, Joseph Conrad

babyjoey

Dad, with J. Conrad, circa 1957

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Imitation Not Sincerest Form of Flattery

Inspired by Kathy Griffin’s recent sick attempt at humor.

What Type of World

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Mother’s Day 2017

Mom: This is my 20th Mother’s Day without you. I still remember the first one as if it were last year. A family once five now three joined together, sadly for the last time, to celebrate the life of a cherished departed member.

Mother’s Day has gotten less painful over the years—did you ever imagine me this old?—even as I miss you more and more.

Many unanswered questions unanswered because they were unasked because I never thought to ask them at a time when you could answer them. Another of life’s mysteries. Wisdom, enlightenment, often (if not always) comes too late.

I can’t know where you are, Mom, whether you’re bound by time and space, but I choose to believe that you, some part of you, still exists. I’m happy today, as I was twenty years ago, that your suffering is at an end. I suspect you’ve found peace and, hopefully, reconciliation. That last, I know, was important to you.

I don’t know whether what goes on on this plane matters to you, or whether I even mean anything to you anymore. But know this: you still matter to me, and perhaps that’s more important than the obverse. The measure of any mother is what she means to her children after she’s gone.

I’ve fallen short so many times over the years, failed to achieve many of my dreams, and have often wanted to give up. But I haven’t, even as my race tires me as it draws to its end.

Dad told me shortly before he joined you that no man gets out of life without a few regrets. We don’t, to my knowledge, get to choose our parents. But if we did, I’d never regret choosing you.

I can only hope you don’t regret me.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, from your baby boy.

kitchen-sink-bath

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Yearning for Simpler Days

My first car was a 1965 Beetle that I purchased from my dad for $200 (he bought it new for $1,795). I was probably eighteen years old. Panama beige was the color. He’d purchased it, sans a radio (Dad tended to be miserly), and a summer or two later the family (Mom, Dad, my sister and I) drove from Michigan all the way down to D.C. for a Marine Corps reunion. Imagine the four of us—I was eleven or twelve and already five foot seven or taller, my sister thirteen or fourteen—baggage for all of us for three or four days, no radio, making that trip today.

A few years later, after I got my driver license, Dad taught me to drive the stick shift in the Bug. I was petrified, not by the clutch but by Dad, the retired marine who was more drill instructor to me in my youth than Dad. But it turned out well. I was a quick study and thereafter anytime I asked for the keys to the car Dad would make a point of asking me where I was heading and how far it was. Then he’d go out to the car to record the mileage on the odometer. A few years later, after I brought it up to him, he told me it was a father’s duty to distrust his children. Ouch.

So when I bought it from Dad the first thing I did was install a quad stereo radio/eight-track player in the dash. Then I added a Hurst short-throw shifter, replacing the knob with a Coors beer can. This was before Coors could be gotten east of the Mississippi. I knew a pilot who flew to Colorado on occasion and I often had him bring me back a case of the beverage. Strange today how I never purchase Coors and drink it only when family or friends have it at their homes.

A ten-inch three-spoke steering wheel and wooden dashboard ended my, in Han Solo’s words, “special modifications.”

By the time I took it off my dad’s hands the running boards had rusted off, as had the back bumper. On cold winter mornings when it wouldn’t start, Dad had to push me with this car, backward, down the street. I’d wave him off just before popping the clutch to jump start it.

Kissed a girl (not my first) in that car at a drive-in movie (can’t recall the title).

Some grand memories, although one or two might not have been so grand at the time.

I sold it three years later for maybe $75 to a kid with whom my dad worked and bought my first new car: a Datsun B210 for (if I recall) just over $3,000, and I thought nothing of that Beetle for many years.

But then I wrote about it for one of my novels—most of my novels contain biographical moments from my life. In A Retrospect In Death, my protagonist trades his Beetle in for a Toyota Celica, and as he drives his car off the lot he sees his old Bug in the lot and feels a certain remorse I didn’t when I’d been his age, as if he’d broken up with an old girlfriend for a prettier model, one with more baubles but little personality.

It’s been said we become old the moment we begin to look back, reflect more on the past than looking ahead to the future. Maybe that’s human nature. After all, I have far more years behind me than ahead of me, and I can only hope and pray my future won’t be laden with adverse health issues.

VDub

Just like my old friend, including the half-moon wheel covers

Anyway, I’m not sure this is worthy of taking up space on my blog, but there you have it.

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Doesn’t Seem Like Twenty Years

“It was twenty years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile
So may I introduce to you…”
—Lennon and McCartney


It was twenty years ago yesterday, Mom, that you departed this world for a safer, happier, healthier place, and my world became much colder. The last shred of my boyhood innocence was gone.

kitchen-sink-bath

A Happy Mother

So much has happened over those twenty years—some good, some not so good. But I still remember the night you went away as if it happened last Sunday and not a Sunday two decades removed.

You passed easily, deservedly so. No death’s rattle for you: you simply took one last breath, and never let it out.

I grieved your loss from me then, but was happy for you that your suffering was at last at an end. Nearly a score of years battling Parkinson’s disease, a relentless foe, a battle you could not win. But in my eyes you were valiant until the very end.

I’ve kept you alive in my fiction and non-fiction, perhaps seeking a reason for your affliction, an answer to your own question: “Why me?” Perhaps one day I’ll find it. Maybe, having become a writer, I already have.

It’s been said that our lives are made up of a series of rooms. If that’s so then I was blessed to share a room with you for a time far too short.

I miss you, Mom, and I will until my memory abandons me or I take my own final breath. I hope you’ll be waiting for me—your little boy.

Until then, to “she who bears the sweetest name, and adds a luster to the same; long life to her, for there’s no other who takes the place of my dear mother.”

destined-to-become-my-mother

Sweet Sixteen: Destined to Become My Mother

 

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A Day to Look Back

Well, Dad, nineteen years ago today you left this world for bluer skies. I’d ask where have the years gone but I know the answer: into the past. Gone but not forgotten.

babyjoey

Dad, with J. Conrad, circa 1957

Did you ever think I’d live to be sixty, ever imagine what I might look like? I didn’t. It’s not that I have a death wish, but I wonder if anyone ever views themselves as old. Inside me there is a twenty-five-year-old wondering, “What happened?”

I think about you every day. And as I sit here sipping a White Russian—one of your favorite cocktails—I hope you don’t mind that I’ve written about you often, in memoirs mostly; but aspects of who you were in life appear in my novels, too. My way of keeping you alive, I guess, and of tipping my hat to you because I feel you were a better man than me. Your firstborn doesn’t approve that I write about you and Mom, but what the hell, she never liked me anyway.

We had our differences, you and I: days and sometimes weeks when we didn’t speak. But in retrospect I can honestly say I never felt unloved or unwanted.

Still, you weren’t very nurturing to me in my youth (I forgave you for that long ago). Whether that’s good only you can know. Perhaps one day I’ll find out. It would be nice if I learned the answer before I step over to your side of the Great Divide. That’s been a problem for me as I age: expecting that every question has an answer. Some just don’t and never will, not while I live and breathe at least. Probably the greatest unfairness in life, that we must die in order to learn some of life’s great mysteries.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes and have my share of regrets. You once told me no one gets out of life without a few. Sometimes it feels as if I have more than most. Maybe that’s a sign I’m getting old. In my defense, being introspective and reflective, I find it difficult not to look back at the past, especially since there are far more years behind me than ahead of me. You once told me it’s okay to look at the past, because we learn from it. But I suspect I tend to stare too long. Do that too often and you miss what’s in front of you.

Yet I’ve found a measure of happiness, having gotten remarried nearly three years ago. You and Mom would love her. Her name is Colleen and she’s part Polish, which should please you, and I can honestly say she’s getting my best.

Say hello to Mom for me, will you? And tell her your baby boy misses you both.

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The Girl Who Loved Cigars

It’s said that those who experience a life-threatening event see their whole life flash before their eyes.

What if a fetus, at the moment they feel their limbs about to be torn asunder in abortion, see their whole unlived life flash before their eyes?

Marla is haunted by nightmares of being in the womb, terrified by the prospect of having her whole life—everything she’ll ever have and everything she ever will be—taken from her.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars is my new work in progress. It’s been nearly two years since I finished my last novel and I’ve been itching to start a new one. After kicking around two ideas for several months I finally settled on this one and set pen to paper.

I love new projects, but it’s a love-hate relationship. I love them because… well, they’re new, fresh. The ideas for characters, story, plot twists flow freely. The downside is they’re new, fresh. Ideas abound, which results in a lot of starts and stops, and false starts. It takes me a while to settle in, to become intimately involved with the characters, and settle on a theme.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars promises to be my most challenging write to date. I’ve written several short stories from a woman’s perspective, but never a novel. It’s intimidating, and I fear I won’t be able to pull it off, to write convincingly from a woman’s point of view. I don’t know whether I’m good enough to succeed. But I do know I’m ready to try.

Below is a short excerpt.


“It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away everything he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”
Bill Munny, Unforgiven

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Galadriel, from the movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings


Part One

“I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”
Ronald Reagan


Chapter One

“I’m Marla. I’m almost four years old.”

“Good. And where do you live?”

“In Michigan.” I giggled. “It’s shaped like mitten. Daddy showed me a picture of it in a big book of maps that has all the states. There are fifty. That’s a lot. But not as many as a hundred billion. Which is how many stars Daddy told me are in the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the candy bar.”

“Our address, honey. What’s our street address?”

I felt my smile turn into a frown.

“Come on, sweetie. You know this. It’s just four numbers.”

“I live at 6-5-4-3 Arcola in Garden City, Michigan.”

“That’s right. And what’s our phone number?”

I closed my eyes and tried to picture it. Mommy had written it down on a piece of paper. “Our phone number is Grafield—”

“Garfield.”

“Garfield, G-A-2-468—”

“Nine.”

I felt my eyes begin to tear. Mommy had been making me say my name, our address, and phone number for the last long time. I was bored. I wanted her to read to me. Tubby Turtle is my favorite. Tubby is sad because he’s slower than all his forest friends. But one day he saves Squirrel and Rabbit from drowning and becomes a hero.

“Say it again, honey, from the start.”

“Mommy, but why?”

“Because if you should get lost you need to be able to tell whoever finds you who you are and where you live.”

“Why?” I didn’t understand. Lost is what happens to pennies when you can’t find them, or a sock. And then you do, between the cushions of the sofa or in the dryer. Nothing is ever really lost. You just need to find it.

“I just told you.”

“Why would I get lost?”

Mommy breathed deep. She did that when she got mad.

“I’m sorry, Mommy, I’m sorry.”

“For what, Marla?”

“For making you mad.”

Mommy took my face between her hands, which always makes me feel happy and safe. “I’m not mad, honey. It’s just…”

“What, Mommy?”

“I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Why would anything happen to me?”

Mommy hugged me. After a moment she pulled back, holding me by my shoulders.

“Remember yesterday when we went to Hudson’s?”

“Oh, yes!” It was a grand adventure: a bus ride downtown, all the pretty clothes and shoes and perfume—and the toys! All the toys on the twelfth floor!

“Remember when we got separated?”

I nodded. “Is that what it means, getting lost?”

“Yes.”

“But you found me.”

“Yes, I did. But what if I hadn’t? What would you have done?”

I looked at Mommy, unsure. Then I shrugged.

“That’s why you need to know your address and phone number. So you can tell someone if I can’t find you. So they can tell me where to find you. Understand?”

I wasn’t sure I did. But if Mommy thought it was important, then it must be, and I wanted to make Mommy happy.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Good. Now tell me again, your name, where we live, and our phone number.”

And so it went for the next long time, until I got it right enough times to make Mommy happy, and she knew I wouldn’t ever forget.

After she read Tubby Turtle to me it was time for my nap.

Floating, warm and safe and comforted by the rhythm of life, in a black hole of perpetual darkness. Not blinded by obscurity, uncaring of lack of sense of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Nothing exists in this crèche to delight or disenchant, save the bean.

Muffled sounds from nearby—voices, words mean nothing, not having mastered language—other times cadences of varying tempos, some canorous, soothing; others cacophonous, unsettling…

Accosted by upset, fear, anger: emotions not understood but eschewed, embracing, always seeking to commune with the constant rhythm of life. The voices intensify in volume—short, clipped words. Meaningless, they communicate more upset and anger and hurt…

The passage of time has no meaning, not hours, days or months to mark the growth of the bean—constant change, evolution, becoming, unquenchable thirst.

Stirred by sorrow followed by great distress. Sobbing, the darkness wracked by great waves of anguish, then dizziness and a feeling of sickness followed by euphoria. But the euphoria, too, sickens, alters. Turns perfection into something… less perfect.

More time passes and something changes. The rhythm of life distorts. Still floating, still warm, the previous tranquility gone, replaced at first by indifference, then a growing loathing, directed at the bean that has done nothing save only desire to grow, to become more, to seek meaning, find acceptance. To love and be loved…

In time, immeasurable, more words, filled with vitriol, spoken by a single voice, hurled at the bean. After the words comes acceptance, the anger gone, replaced by a singular purpose that frightens…

The seat of creation preemptively invaded. The fluid that sustains drains; air rushes past unformed ears, lungs sear, pressure exerts on limbs.

In that split second, as the pain grows to excruciating proportions but just before being torn asunder, an unlived life flashes before unseeing eyes…

“Shhh, honey, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

I was awake before I knew I was, wrapped by familiar arms. My scream died in my mouth, replaced by a whimpered, “Mommy?”

“Yes, sweetie, it’s me.”

I wriggled out of her hug. I needed to see the proof. Mommy wiped a tear from my cheek with her thumb. “The bad dream?” she asked me.

I nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“The monster?”

I shook my head.

“No?”

“Nuh-uh.”

Mommy moved my hair away from my face. “Want to tell me about it?”

“I—”

“What is it, honey? You can tell me.”

I shook my head again. “I can’t.” Because not yet four years old I was unable to explain what I did not understand.

“Well, you can tell me about it whenever you feel like it. Sometimes talking about something unpleasant can make it go away. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now come on. You can help me fold the laundry and then help me get dinner ready.”

“Daddy!”

Daddy scooped me up into his arms. “Who’s this little girl?”

“Daddy’s little girl!”

“That’s right. Daddy’s little girl. But you’ve grown so big since I saw you this morning.”

I giggled as Daddy kissed my cheek. Then he rubbed his cheek against mine and I felt its roughness.

“You’re picky,” I said.

“Darn right I am. I picked you as my little girl, didn’t I?”

I giggled. “Silly, Daddy. Your face is picky.”

“Well, excuse me for not shaving before coming home.”

“You smoked a cigar, too, didn’t you? I can smell it.”

“No pulling one over on you, is there?”

“How come Mommy won’t let you smoke at home?”

“She does.”

“Outside doesn’t count. How come she doesn’t let you smoke in the house?”

“Not everyone cares for the smell of cigars, Marlie.”

“It’s not that,” Mommy called from the kitchen. “It leaves a film on everything—the cabinets, the furniture. Now come on. Dinner is on.”

After dinner Daddy put Glenn Miller on the record player and when “Kalamazoo” came on we danced. I stood on his feet as he twirled me around the living room. I sang the chorus: “K… A… L-A-M-A-Z-oh, oh, oh, I gotta gal in… Kala-ma-zoo…”

Then we went onto the patio. Daddy lit a cigar and I sat on a cushion between Mommy and Daddy and we watched two sparrows bathe in our bird bath next to the garage. After they flew off I asked, “Daddy, can we move to Kalamazoo?”

Daddy laughed. “Why would you want to move to Kalamazoo?”

“I want to be a girl in Kalamazoo.” I loved the melody of Glenn Miller’s song. It was playful. That’s what Daddy once said. But I also loved the word Kalamazoo, the way it made my mouth feel when I said it. The way it sounded in my ears. I saw it as a fun place. Otherworldly, like the land of Oz, which also had a “z” in it.

Mommy said, “Not satisfied to be a gal in Garden City?”

“There’s no song about Garden City.”

“Well then, why don’t you write one when you grow up?” Daddy said.

That surprised me. “You really think I could?”

“You can do anything you want, honey,” he said.

We went quiet then, as the sun set behind the house behind ours. Soon the crickets started chirping. I looked up at Daddy. The end of his cigar glowed cherry red as he drew on it. He saw me watching him.

“What am I doing?” he asked.

“Drawing,” I said. “Which isn’t the same thing as drawing a picture.”

“Good girl.” Then he added, “English is a funny language.”

I recalled our lesson from a few days ago. “‘There,’ ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ all sound the same.”

“But all are spelled differently and have different meanings.”

“There,” I said, pointing at an airplane passing over our house, “is an airplane. T-h-e-r-e.”

I heard our neighbor’s dog, Skippy, bark. “Skippy isn’t our dog. He’s their dog. T-h-e-i-r.”

“Right.”

“The Tigers lost fifteen of their first seventeen games this year, but they’re—‘they are’ with a, a…”

“An apostrophe.”

“A apostrophe.” I said the word slowly so I would remember it.

“‘An,”” Mommy said. “An apostrophe.”

I ignored her. Mommy was always correcting me. I didn’t like being corrected.“They’re playing better after firing their manager.”

“That they are,” Daddy said. “Although I don’t believe Norman’s replacement, Jimmy Dykes, is the answer.”

He was nearly finished smoking his cigar, which meant it would be time for me to go to bed. I shivered, although it wasn’t cold outside. I inhaled deeply. I loved the smell of cigars. It reminded me of Daddy. I couldn’t understand why Mommy didn’t like it. If she loved Daddy she should love cigar smoke.

But I had another reason for wanting to take the smell of Daddy’s cigar to bed with me: I hoped it would keep away the bad dreams.

The face, long and white and haggard, nearly hidden by long hair, greasy and unkempt, loomed above me. I reached for the face. Tiny arms with tiny fingers flexing fell woefully short. I wailed, wanting to be held.

The head shook once from side to side. A hand, large and heavily veined, pushed a smoking white stick between the lips on the face; its tip glowed red as the face breathed in deeply. A sigh accompanied by a thick cloud of smoke.

I wailed and reached.

Words mumbled, barely audible. They meant nothing to me, whose only means of communication was crying.

Hungry: cry.

Soiled: cry.

Hold me: cry.

The words registered no meaning; but the hostility with which they were spoken instilled great fear in me. But fear held as little meaning to me as did words. I only wanted, needed, to be held. To be coddled. To be loved.

The lips on the face parted to reveal yellowed teeth—nearly as yellowed as the hair that hung to either side of the face. The smile was not one of affection or meant to reassure. Cold, calculating eyes stared down at me, helpless and needy…

I wailed: Hold me.

The hand that held the smoking stick dropped. A moment later I felt a searing pain on the bottom of my foot. My wail turned to a scream…

I came awake, unsure whether the scream had passed my lips or was only in my dream. When neither Mommy or Daddy came into my room, I knew the scream had only been in my head.

I rolled over onto my tummy and turned my body to let my feet drop to the floor, then pushed myself away from my bed.

Barefoot, I walked past Mommy and Daddy’s room to the bathroom. The wood floor creaked and I hoped it wasn’t too loud. In the bathroom, after closing the door, I switched on the light. Then I hoisted myself onto the toilet seat to tinkle.

When I finished I got down and sat on the rug in front of the sink. Grabbing my right foot I leaned forward and turned my foot so I could see the bottom. There were several pink, puckered scars. But they didn’t hurt.

I got up and, standing on my toes, reached for the cold water tap. I let it run for a while to get good and cold, then half filled the cup that sat next to Daddy’s razor. I drank most of it, spilled the rest into the sink, turned off the light, and went back to my room.

As I passed Mommy and Daddy’s room Mommy said, “Are you okay, Marla?”

“Yes. I was thirsty.”

“Okay. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said.

A moment later I crawled back into my bed, confused.

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A World Without Music—Chapter Three

“Mozart is sunshine.”
 – Antonia Dvorak

April 5, 2012

“I can’t believe you’ve never been to a ballgame.”

Reagan and Prisco sat in row D, behind the Tigers dugout. It was opening day at Comerica Park, and Tigers fans had high hopes for the season. The organization had signed hard-hitting Prince Fielder in the off season, shortly after learning that Victor Martinez would miss the entire season due to knee surgery. Reagan had hoped the Tigers would acquire a bona fide leadoff hitter with some speed. With Fielder the new first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, who’d won the batting title in 2011, was moved to third base, and Reagan thought that combination would be a defensive liability – one which he couldn’t see the power hitting of Fielder and Cabrera combining to consistently overcome. Only time would tell.

“It seems a silly game, chasing a little ball around a field,” Prisco said.

“Prisco, Prisco. That’s the beauty of the game. It’s a simple game, a kid’s game – hit a round ball squarely with a round bat. It’s also a game of percentages and statistics – ideally suited for an analytical mind like yours. A manager knows if his utility infielder hits better under the lights than in the afternoon. It doesn’t mean he’ll hit in the clutch at night, but the manager, more often than not, plays the percentages.” Reagan took a sip of his Summer Shandy before adding, “Nearly every boy in America dreams of playing major league baseball when he grows up.”

“Did you?”

Reagan nodded. “I dreamed of being Al Kaline. Kaline is in the Hall of Fame. He played for the Tigers in the late fifties, sixties and early seventies. Played twenty-two seasons for Detroit. The greatest right fielder I’ve ever seen – a real natural even if he wasn’t the most gifted athlete. He hit for average and occasional power. Won the batting title at age twenty, the youngest player to win it. He wasn’t fast, but he was a smart base runner, and could steal a base from time to time.”

“Why didn’t you play?”

Reagan laughed. “This game is not as easy as it looks. Today, with thirty teams, the majors are composed of maybe seven-hundred-fifty ballplayers. Back in the mid-eighties, when I might’ve played, there were twenty-six teams. So there were fewer roster spots. And I didn’t have the talent to get noticed by a major league scout. I was a solid first baseman in college; but I never learned to hit a curveball.”

Prisco only nodded.

“Besides, at this level, it’s a thinking man’s game. When I was a kid, pitchers threw hard and I hacked at anything close to the plate. But the situation constantly changes, depending on the count, the score, whether men are on base, early or late in the game, the matchup between hitter and pitcher. Does the manager put on the hit and run, risk having the runner thrown out before his cleanup hitter can drive him home?”

“What’s a hit and run?”

“The manager puts the runner on first base in motion once the pitcher goes into his delivery, and the batter hits the ball to protect the runner.”

“Then isn’t it more accurate to call it a run and hit?”

“Yes, well, I suppose so. But baseball is filled with nuances like that. For instance, a walk isn’t considered an official at-bat, but a batter who walks with the bases full is scored with a RBI.”

“RBI?”

“Run batted in. He doesn’t actually bat him in, but baseball had to somehow allow for the scoring of the run.”

Prisco sighed. “It would seem this game isn’t as simple as you make it out.”

Reagan laughed. “The basics are very simple – pitch, hit, field and score more runs than your opponent. But the strategies are practically limitless. A manager’s decision to pinch hit in the ninth can make him look like a genius, while the same decision the next night can leave him looking like a goat.”

“A goat?”

“Don’t ask me to explain the origin of the phrase. It’s a derogatory euphemism.”

“You called it a kid’s game. I assume that is a reference to children and not the aforementioned Bovidae.”

“If by Bovidae you mean goat, you are correct.”

“But these are grown men.”

“Who as kids played baseball.”

“They are paid to play?”

“Very handsomely – too handsomely. Today’s players make millions. But there was a time, before the Players Association, when the owners took advantage of the players. If you consider how much revenue the owners take in the result of the gate, television contracts and advertising, it’s only right that they share more with the players, without whom they wouldn’t have a product to peddle.”

They went silent for a time, finishing their hotdogs and sipping their beers as the game entered the ninth inning, with Detroit holding a 2-1 edge over Boston. Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland, pulled Verlander, whose pitch count was 105, and inserted his closer, Jose Valverde.

“They call Valverde ‘Papa Grande,’” Reagan said.

“Why, because he’s overweight?”

“Sort of. A teammate gave him that nickname when he played for Arizona. It was meant as a term of endearment, and the teammate thought it meant Big Daddy. But the actual translation is Big Potato.”

“Why would someone wish to be affiliated with a potato?”

Reagan laughed. “One wouldn’t. But a nickname is hard to shake. Shit!”

Valverde had just allowed the tying run to cross the plate on a Ryan Sweeney triple that scored Darnell McDonald.

“I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Reagan said.

“You had a premonition?”

“Just a feeling, Prisco. Valverde was a perfect forty-nine for forty-nine in save situations last year, and I knew he was bound to blow a save eventually. That’s why they play the games. I’d just hoped it wouldn’t be today.”

A few moments later, Cody Ross lined out to Jhonny Peralta at short to end the top of the ninth.

After Ryan Raburn flew out to right field to open the Tigers ninth, Peralta singled and the sellout home crowd was on its feet, urging the Tigers to rally.

Alex Avila followed with a single, so Bobby Valentine, Boston’s manager, pulled Mark Melancon for Alfredo Aceves, and Leyland inserted Danny Worth to pitch run for Peralta.

Aceves hit Ramon Santiago to load the bases, bringing Austin Jackson to the dish. Jackson had had a disappointing season a year ago, striking out far too often for a leadoff hitter. But this was a new season, and Jackson had had a good day, getting two hits in four trips, and scoring once.

After three pitches, the count two balls and a strike, Prisco asked, “Do you have a feeling for what’s going to happen?”

“No, but I’m pulling for a hit.”

A moment later, Jackson singled home the winning run to send the fans home happy.

Later, Reagan and Prisco sat sipping Summer Shandys at Miller’s Bar while they awaited the arrival of their cheeseburgers.

“What did you think of your first ballgame?” Reagan asked.

“It would seem the key to getting a batter out is to keep him guessing as to what type of pitch is coming.”

“Precisely!”

“But this Valverde seemed only to throw fastballs.”

“Which is what got him into trouble. Still, it’s his best pitch.”

“And the batter knows this, which gives him the advantage.”

“It didn’t last season. He didn’t blow a single save all season long, throwing mostly fastballs. Come Saturday, in a similar situation, the percentages will favor Valverde to save the win, at least on paper.”

“But they don’t play the game on paper.”

“Exactly. That’s why they have to play them. Hundreds of things influence the outcome of a game, including luck.”

“I don’t believe in luck.”

“Really? If not good fortune, how do you explain a batter getting enough wood on a fastball out of the strike zone to get a base hit?”

“Perhaps he anticipated the pitch, and his exceptional eye-hand coordination, along with his skill, allowed him to connect his bat with the ball.”

“How about a grounder with top spin resulting in the ball skipping under the shortstop’s glove?”

“That’s just physics and the inability of the fielder to anticipate the bounce.”

“Point taken,” Reagan said. “What about the guy who wins a lotto worth two million dollars? He almost never buys a ticket, but on a whim on his birthday, he purchases the winning ticket.”

“The odds are certainly against him winning, but someone has to win. Why not him?”

“Why not the guy who spends fifty dollars on lotto tickets every week?”

“His chances are increased; but his inability to win is not the result of luck. Poor luck is merely a term devised to deflect accountability in a poor choice, while good luck is used to define an unexpected windfall.”

When Reagan was unable to debate Prisco’s logic, Prisco continued.

“Bad luck can be no more attributed to a man getting hit by a car the result of his failure to look both ways, than to a man who slips and falls in the shower because he chose not to use a non-slip shower mat.”

“So you don’t believe in being in the right place at the right time any more than you believe in being in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“Life is predicated on percentages. A man who never had an accident while driving, because he never sped and always obeyed the rules of the road, can still have an accident. In fact, his chances increase as he gets older because his eyesight becomes diminished and his reflexes slow. An accident in this case is not the result of bad luck.”

“I recall many years ago an entire college basketball team, save one, was killed in a plane crash. That one player remained home because of injury and wasn’t going to play. Two weeks later, he was killed in a car crash. Luck or destiny?”

“Neither.”

“Coincidence?”

Prisco shook his head. “Coincidence can also be defined as luck, a fluke, happenstance.”

“I get it.”

“I would ask what the road conditions were on the day of his death. Was he inebriated? Was he suffering survivor’s guilt?”

“Okay, Prisco, you win.”

“What did I win?”

“Our debate.”

“Oh,” Prisco said. “I did not intend to debate. I was merely expressing my opinion.”

“As was I, which is the basis for debate.”

“But I did not endeavor that you should lose. I merely wished to convince you of my perspective.”

“Which is to say my perspective is wrong.”

“If I convinced you of my perspective, do you not, in coming away with the correct perspective, win?”

Reagan laughed. “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.”

Their cheeseburgers were served and the conversation changed to Reagan’s love life.

“I’m enjoying getting to know Cam,” Reagan said. “I think she could be the one.”

“With a world population in excess of seven billion, you would find numerous potential mates. In fact, I would estimate that –”

“Please don’t,” Reagan said. “I’m only interested in this one.”

“She lives in Alabama.”

“So what? It’s not like I’ve had good luck with Michigan women.”

“How can you determine, from nearly seven-hundred-fifty miles away, whether you wish to commit to her?”

“Well, the geography forces us to go slowly, get to know each other, become friends first, before we become lovers.”

“And then?”

“And then, what? Her parents and my parents are deceased. I have no family ties to Michigan. She has an adult daughter who lives in California.”

“Will she move to Michigan?”

“I haven’t asked her.”

“Why not?”

“It’s presumptuous and premature.”

“But it will come up. You complain of the heat and humidity now. It will be more uncomfortable for you in Alabama, which is much nearer to the equator.”

“I know where Alabama is,” Reagan said. “Are you trying to talk me out of this?”

“No. I merely wish to express to you the chances of a successful outcome are low.”

“Maybe they are. Doesn’t mean we can’t beat the odds. I only know I’m enjoying her company, even if it is only over the phone. I like her. I like how she makes me feel. I’ll worry about the logistics later.”

“That’s illogical.”

“Okay, Spock.” Reagan was beginning to feel perturbed.

“Why wouldn’t you wish to increase the odds of a successful outcome?”

“How? By dating someone closer to home? I’ve tried that. Contrary to your non-belief in luck, I still believe in it. Who are you to say I can’t increase my chances of finding love in another state?”

“Why are you angry?”

Reagan ignored Prisco’s question: “Two people can ride the same subway to work each morning in New York and never meet. While two others, on opposite sides of the planet, no power on earth can keep them from meeting.”

“Yet the two on the subway stand a greater chance of meeting, if they should leave themselves open to meeting. Perhaps she is intent on reading O and he, New York Times.”

“The chances of meeting someone on a subway –”

“Are no less than meeting someone on Facebook. One just needs to leave oneself open to the possibility.”

“I can’t dispute that any more than I can disprove your theory, Prisco.”

“It is not a theory. It is fact predicated on numerics. If you take into account competition, input into the equation that many men and women are addicted to dating – to meeting lots of potential mates without making a commitment – the chances of finding love while riding a subway are no less than while on a night out speed dating.”

“Too bad we don’t have a subway system in Ann Arbor.”

“You would put my theory to the test?”

“Maybe, if you’d asked me a week ago, before I met Cam.”

“Why should that make a difference?”

“Because I’m committed to seeing this through.”

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