Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Chance Encounters

       After reading this, a friend commented on the vague comparison to the main theme and the description of the African Waterhole gathering in the piece. I had hoped that would be part of the message…although subtle.            
                                                       Chance Encounters

Diane had located a really nice small hotel, just half a block from the beach near Mission Bay in San Diego.  We wanted to get away for a few days for our Wedding Anniversary.  No specific ‘must see’ or ‘must do’ plans.  Just being together as non rushed tourists.

I certainly don’t consider myself a serious student of human behavior, but I do have a layman’s interest in observing how different people interact…especially with strangers.

One exception to the ‘non must do’ is visiting the San Diego Zoo.  While we find zoos generally depressing after spending a few weeks in the game preserves of Kenya a few years ago, San Diego does as good a job as humans can in trying to imitate nature.  But, seeing the magnificence of elephant’s, rhino’s, lion’s interacting in their natural surroundings makes one very conscious of even the best zoo’s limitations.  The interplay of predators and their prey on the African Plains simply cannot be duplicated. I know the other side of the controversy…if it wasn’t for the work of many zoological parks, many species would be extinct by now.  So we excuse humanity for trying to undo what other humans do.  Poaching, incursion on natural habitat, the misuse of human intellect to subjugate other species.  Maybe zoos are a necessary evil.  But if you have ever seen lions, Impala and zebras peacefully sharing a waterhole at dusk, it’s possible that you too, would wish for humans to step back and let all those species, predator and prey, behave as they were created to be.

Diane has lot’s more energy than I.  While I proudly kept up with her for a good part of the day, by late afternoon she had a few more things to see, while I found a shaded bench near the park entrance.

As I savored the warm sunshine on my face, I believe the only conscious thoughts I had were a sense of peace.

“Mind if I share the bench with you?”  It was a man, probably in his mid forties, carrying an outlandishly large tankard of beer. “Sure, provided you share your beer with me,” I replied jokingly.

“Hey buddy,” the stranger said with an expression of conviviality on his face, “I’m happy to buy you a beer.”  “I was just kidding,” I said.  “Of course you’re welcome to share this shady spot.”

We hit it off. His name was  Sergio.  “That’s Hispanic,” he explained.
Somehow, Sergio and I were immediately comfortable exchanging personal information to each other. He was a recently retired Marine Master Sergeant.  When he learned that I had been a Navy Medic attached to a Marine Battalion, we deepened the communication.  He explained to me how, in Afghanistan he had been wounded and a Navy Corpsman had saved his life.  He advised that he had been recently divorced, and that his new love was here with him, wandering about the zoo as was my wife, Diane.

“I’m not sure whether to get too serious,” he explained.  “She comes from a different, (Asian) culture, and I don’t understand some of her actions, which seem to be less rigid than mine….wait, there she is. I want you to meet her.”  

He introduce me as “my medic…my hero.”  Of course I was not “his” medic,  although he was likely not even born at the time I served in the military.  Not only that, I had never been in battle and never ‘saved’ anyone from more than a tootheache.

During our conversation, Sergio revealed his battle with PTSD, and some of the pain of wounds he had suffered.  Yet somehow he still managed to spend several hours a week volunteering a VA hospital, counseling other victims.

“Are you sure you don’t want a beer?”  “No, but thanks again.”  
Diane showed up, her extra wanderings satisfied.  I introduced her to Sergio.  “Let us take you out to dinner tonight,” he said…his new girlfriend seemed uncomfortable with the suggestion.  “Thanks,” I said and lied.  “We already have plans.”  The young woman smiled, and I think I heard a sigh of relief.

The encounter was over.  Sergio gave Diane, whom he now knew for about five minutes, a bear hug, and we all went our way.  Somehow this entire episode added to our experience at the San Diego Zoo.  There was the almost instantaneous comraderie between the two men, counterbalanced by the discomfort of the two women.

It was a memorable and satisfying day.  I hope things work out for Sergio.

The following day, (Sunday) our last full day in the area, we went to a quiet community and just strolled.  There were many interesting curio shops, boutiques, book stores and art galleries. Diane loves to browse.  I, on the other hand was always happy to find another bench while waiting.

We were headed back to the car, ambling through a non commercial residential area.  Beautiful day…at peace with the world.

As is her custom, Diane carried her purse slung over her shoulder, with a hand on the strap to avoid it slipping.  Coming from the opposite direction was a young black man, apparently enjoying the mild weather and the just plain idyllic day.  As we approached him, he looked up.  “Oh, yeah, lady,” he said, “Hold on tight to that purse ‘cause you see a black man, and he probably wants to steal it!”

I protested that while he was accusing us of stereotyping, he was doing exactly that to us. “Hold on, man.  You don’t know us and…..”
“Shut the fuck up, honkie.”

It was just a moment, and the confrontation ended without further words or action.  But Diane and I felt somewhat uncomfortable with having just been painted with the broad definition of white racists.  How could this guy accuse two strangers he’d never seen before of this?

It dawned on me a few minutes later; “How COULD he jump to such a conclusion?”  I had to wonder; how many times he had been in similar situations where someone had acted defensively without cause, and how many times with cause? 

It was an educational few days.  In the space of thirty six hours, I had at one time been elevated to personal life saving war hero and at another, consigned to hateful bigot.  And I will admit savoring one and rejecting the other, both were inaccurate. Both of those men are probably certain of whom they met, and with their individual experience as their guide, how can anyone challenge either? And while I realize that both are mistaken, I am neither hero or devil, it makes me think about first impressions. I am left with my own thoughts about them.  And I’m probably as inaccurate as they, the fact is that impressions are stubborn things.

Battlefield savior saint?  Bigoted devil?  The accusations are equally false.  In the cause of honesty,  they cancel each other out.

Monday, March 26, 2018


     Another ‘blast from my past.’  My first thought was to update it.  After all, this was a thirty five  year old exercise in self pity wallowing.  I decided it reflected the feelings when I wrote it.  Sometimes it’s best to not mess with the juxtaposition of time and emotion.  It makes me remember.                                                              
                                                              MY SADNESS IS MINE

My sadness is mine.  Whatever brought it into play, what or whoever contributed to it’s being, nevertheless it belongs to me alone.

It deserves to have its place IN ME, and I ruefully acknowledge that it doesn’t have to, (and won’t) tell me how long it’ll be with me this time.  It has it’s own identity and it’s own needs.  It even has it’s rights.  One of those rights is that it’ll take it’s “place in the sun,” and be uppermost within me for now.

It IS powerful.  I have a healthy respect for it.  It has the power to flex it’s muscles and show itself and when least welcome.  I’m in awe of it’s power to beat the hell out of pleasanter emotions.  It has the insidious ability to disguise itself as anger, hate, and even as love.


It IS mine.  It would be easy to succumb and let ME belong to IT.  And that’s precisely what will happen if I’m not careful.  There can be no doubt that it is powerful and it is greedy.  It wants everything.  It wants to choke and kill all the healthy things in it’s path.  It can’t be trusted to stay in it’s place…not at all.  It wants to take over completely.  Sometimes, (the night hours are it’s favorite) it refuses to stay where I put it, and it runs things.


IT is MINE, and I must be it’s master.  I must recognize and defeat it’s tactics. I have some advantage there.  After all, I’ve seen it’s work before, and it’s tactics are familiar.  Its methods haven’t changed…not even a little. Why should they?  They’ve been more than successful in the past.


I own IT!  I won’t abandon myself into letting IT own ME. 

So, sadness, my old companion, I put you on notice now: Do your thing, but do it within the confines I’ve set for you.  Don’t ever let your apparent power OVER me confuse you into thinking you ARE me.

You are, in fact a formidable opponent, and you’ve my respect.  YOU are MY creation, and YOU belong to ME!


Lately I’ve been writing a lot of melancholy self pitying stuff.  I decided the antidote was some pure unadulterated silliness.  If this is too “over the top” for you, I can only suggest you learn to jump higher.  Or not.


As a person who admires creativity, especially with regard to the written word, I have long been in awe of the endless inspiration of the advertising industry.  These writers are indisputably the pioneers of future fiction writers.

As I go through the various challenges of the aging process, I become more and more concerned about the growingly frequent little lapses of memory.  My doctor says they are just normal; not really indicative of any propensity to dementia. But I’m not convinced. 

So, a couple of years ago, a new product appeared on my TV screen:  A “Brain Supplement, with an ingredient first discovered in JELLYFISH!” 

Would this scientific breakthrough be the answer to my (and probably millions of other ’seniors’ concerned about Alzheimers, or other debilitating degenerative mental conditions?)  My long term physician, and other professionals I trust asked me the question: “Do you really believe that an over the counter product, absent scientific studies, has the key to solving one of the most challenging medical issues of the twenty first century?  Let’s explore two possibly important facts:  #1)  The primary composition of jellyfish is water.  #2)  Did anyone ever equate jellyfish with brain health?  Ponder those two items, reader.

But even the clever prose of the advertising copywriter needs an impressive voice to be successful on television.  So we viewers get (I hope my use of capitalization and exclamation points can drive the impact home.)  “With a substance originally found in….(pregnant pause)…..JELLYFISH!!, Prevagen can”…turn you into a blooming genius for life.
Wow, for a few bucks I can improve my reasoning capabilities to become as smart as a jellyfish!

Yes, I exaggerate.  I don’t know if Prevagen is an effective product or not.  But connecting this transparent seagoing  creature to human cognition is the result of superb creative writing in any case.

I’ve always found humor in some of the pitches of New York’s Madison Avenue Ad Agencies.  One of my favorites follows.  It is from the 1970’s and while I don’t remember the product’s name, it was one of those liquid ‘meal replacement’ supplements that were used as weight loss panaceas.  Here it is, and it may take a few seconds to realize the inanity within:  “Our magical product contains FIFTY PERCENT of the nutrition of a full healthy breakfast, …but only HALF of the calories!” 

So, while there seems to be a case for cutting breakfast in half or doubling up on the magic powder, what is the benefit?  The beauty of this commercial to me is that it is probably factually accurate, it really says nothing.  (With the possible exception of the premise that the reason you will lose weight is that you will eat less.)  Hardly an earthshaking major scientific revelation!

And, oh yes, one of my more recent reviews of the work of the men and women of the Gray Flannel Suit persuasion.  MILK!

During the recent Winter Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, the following TV ad appeared over and over.  I only discovered it because I wasn’t quick enough to fast forward through it while watching the prior day’s competitions. I am in awe over the obvious genius it took to come up with this:

 “Over eighty percent of American Olympic Champions drank milk while growing up!” 
 This one, I believe, has the very essence of believability in it.  I am confident that it is true in every respect.

But would it be equally true that “Over eighty present of serial killers, and inhabitants of death row in America drank milk while growing up?”  Did drinking milk make for superb athletic ability and/or was it a major contributor to mayhem in our country?  Just a rhetorical question.

I recently spoke with my physician regarding the huge expenditure of money that is being spent advertising prescription drugs on TV.  What he sees almost daily is patients demanding what they’ve seen be given to them.  It is, he says, frustrating to have to explain WHY a certain medication is NOT for them.  But I still am in awe of the clever wording;  “Don’t take if you are allergic to this medication or any of it’s ingredients….(how would I know that?)  This drug can possibly treat your dry skin.  Possible side effects are instant death, severe depression and suicidal thoughts, INCREASE in wet skin, heart palpatations and severe bleeding.  If you have any of those symptoms, (or any other symptoms) stop taking this medication.
Stopping this medication suddenly will prove fatal in most cases.

OK!  Maybe this is an exaggeration.  And I only half believe the following bit of folklore:  Just before TV and radio stopped accepting cigarette commercials, it had become painfully obvious that smoking was causing horrible health problems…even some in the tobacco industry had given up the self denial of the scientific facts.  Again, this PROBABLY isn’t true, but it is said that one advertising account executive came up with the following slogan:  “Emphysema, Lung Cancer and heart disease are actually healthy and BENEFICIAL!”

As I said, I don’t totally believe that. 

So, not posessing the proper skills to create TV commercials, I too can profit from the ingenious products of those superior advertising minds.  I am thinking of opening a boutique restaurant which serves a limited menu of half portion breakfasts, composed of ONLY ingredients found it jellyfish.  The only liquids served will be water and milk. (To satisfy the hopes of future Olympians.) (Non fat for the diet conscious, of course.)  I will feature jellyfish soups and salads.  Fried jelly burgers in cream sauce, and, the piece resistance…my original concept “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish Sandwiches!”  Think of it, the benefits of peanut butter’s richness in natural fiber combined with the intelligence improving powerful brain supplement!  (The above statements have not been approved of the FDA (or any other organization, but nevertheless they are all true.) Takeout menu only available by prescription.

I invite eager investors to contact me before the rush!  

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


       I ran across this and a few other short pieces I wrote while going through a divorce, living in a place where I had not yet formed friendships…3000 miles from old friends, relatives, and familiar faces.  This was around 1980.                                               


Holding butterflies is a bad idea.  Firstly, they are delicate creatures and are easily crushed or killed.  Even if they escape death, chances are they’ll be hurt and wounded by any direct contact with humans.  No one knows how a butterfly treats it’s wounds, but we do know that, once injured, the first thing a butterfly does is attempt, at the first opportunity, to get away from the source of it’s pain….in this case the human hand that has caused it’s injury.  If the butterfly recovers, it will fly to many places, but never will it return to the fist that hurt it.

If a butterfly should land on you, even directly onto the palm of your hand, you must keep the palm open.  The creature may linger for a while, but usually it flies off in just a few seconds.  The temptation might be to impulsively prevent it by closing the fist.  That is not good.  Let it fly away unmolested.  Wherever it flies, but if it senses that the hand that set it free still awaits, it’s gentle touch, it may decide to return.  But, of course, it may not.

New Years Eve 2017

            I had been asked to participate in a New Years Eve program by giving a four or five minute talk.  The feedback was positive enough that I added it to my blog.  It exposes my political leanings, and while they are not shared by everyone, the fact is they are mine, and no one is forced to read them!                          
                                                               New Years Eve 2017
I think it is a truism that as one ages, the passage of time between years seems to become shorter and shorter.  I always found that to be valid…until this year.  I wondered what may have caused that.  Then it dawned on me!  From my vantage point, this year had fourteen months!
 “That’s crazy,” but for me, this year of 2017 began on November 8th, 2016.  Time flies, they say, when you’re having fun.  “Fun” would not be the first word I would think of as my reaction to 2017.

A bit of sardonic nonsense is this little saw: “Cheer up, things could be worse….so I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.”  Whether I cheered up after election day is doubtful, but I can tell you with unshakable certainly that things sure enough got worse. I have been, along with so many others, distressed and depressed with much of what has transpired this year.  I always thought that my Country, the United States of America, was on an eternal uninterrupted path upwards.  Somehow, while we have suffered so many challenges throughout our history,  we have managed to become a nation of aspiration.  We have faced and overcome the abomination of slavery.  And while we have not removed all of it’s legacy, I believe we have made much progress in that area…still…miles to go on that score.  We have, or HAD become a leader of nations in the fields of science, medicine, the arts, just about every field of endeavor known to humankind.

In one year, I have watched as we seem to have embarked on a path of retrogression.  In the name of “Making America Great Again” we have turned our backs on so much progress.  Climate Change; Civil Rights; Respect for views that differ from our own; somehow scrapping all that is to lead us to greatness.  Some of our most steadfast allies all around the planet have turned away from us.  We have become less of an inspiration and more of a degradation to most of the world. 

I don’t believe that all of our political office holders are stupid people.  They are not.  But I do believe that many of them have become so invested in their personal political futures that they have been willing to forsake the values that would right the ship, and return us to a viable course for the future.  Instead, they treat those in power with the care and deference one might treat a troubled teenager….declining to use certain words lest they lead to a tantrum….afraid to exercise the slightest willingness to say “NO! That’s not right.”  In essence, to ignore that the emperor has no clothes, let alone the Oath of Office they took, (the same as the one I took as an 18year old enlistee in the Navy.  “…and to preserve, protect and defend the nation against all enemies FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC…” Is it now normal for the greatest, most powerful nation on Earth to have to treat it’s leader as one would an eleven year old with a myriad of emotional problems?

If I wanted to rate 2017 on the basis of five stars, with the fifth star the brightest, I’d probably conclude this year as a “black hole.”

 But be of good cheer! Let us recognize that through all the gloom and doom of 2017 there are significant signs of hope. I am willing to risk optimism! The marches led by American Women the day following the Inauguration;  the turnout of minority voters in Alabama to say, “NO!  This is not something we will accept.”  Percentage wise, the black vote in that election was higher than even when Barack Obama was on the ballot; the voter revolutions in Virginia and New Jersey, where people who had never entertained the idea of running for office will be sworn into positions of leadership this very week.  Finally, and I think as or more important as anything already stated,  finally women are coming forward demanding justice for themselves and saying “NO MORE!”  No more silence…no more ‘boys will be boys.’ No more intimidation.  I am awed by the marches…but the marches that matter will be to the polls on election day.  Otherwise it’s just a “feel good” experience.

After all these years, I guess I should’ve learned the dangers of optimism.  But I’m not giving in.  We are, even after this fourteen month disaster, inching our way to a more just and honest world.  And every single one of us,  has a role to play.  I’m gonna try.  I hope others will try.  If enough of us make our voices heard we can.  We, the people in this room, and in rooms in every city, town or hamlet around the world, are THE ONES WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR.  Only we can make the necessary changes in direction.  Risk optimism!