Quitting Smoking

Last night I had occasion to recall some lines from a now old Moody Blues song. Words that, as they always do, brought back a long ago memory:

The first time I quit smoking was in 1969. It didn’t take. With no small amount of determination I had given up the habit for over two weeks, until one evening, standing beside the pool table at Aurora’s Irish Club (I actually do remember this moment) when the girl I had been dating informed me that this would no longer be the case. Among the many thoughts going through my head at that moment, the one of greatest significance was “Okay, I’ll show you. I’ll have a cigarette”.

There’s a guy on the radio in Milwaukee who maintains that rationalization is the second strongest human motivation. I believe that he is correct.

It turned out that I bought my very last pack of cigarettes in June of 1971. I got it from a vending machine near the bar at the Fox Valley Country Club. To complete the purchase I inserted two quarters; 50 cents, which I thought to be an outrageous amount when compared to the price of a pack of Pall Malls at any grocery store or gas station. Despite the high cost, I never finished that pack.

Willpower? The truth is that I was scared, and fear can be a powerful motivator. A few days prior I had watched a medical drama on TV (Dr. Kildare? Marcus Welby perhaps?) wherein a patient suffered, and eventually succumbed, to lung cancer. This all too graphic depiction had scared me pretty badly.

I had at that time, a smoker’s cough. I wasn’t aware of this but I was told so afterwards by virtually everyone. I also had just then the beginnings of a mild summer cold. So on June 15th, I’d been coughing pretty aggressively, and that evening, alone in the bathroom, I managed to cough up a bit of phlegm and lurking within was the teeniest, tiny streak of bright red.

My mind immediately fastened on the previous TV episode and I was convinced that I was about to suffer the same fate. I did have a cigarette before going to bed that night, vowing that it would be the last ever. And it was. As I said, fear is powerful. For most of the next week I carried that half full pack of Pall Malls in my shirt pocket, and each time I automatically reached for it, I was reminded of how frightened I was and stopped short. Too frightened, in fact, to go and see a doctor.

The irony of this of course was that had I seen a doctor, I could’ve relaxed and enjoyed the summer and fall of 1971 a bit more than I did. There was no danger of reverting – after about 6 or 7 days the urge disappeared, never to return.

Eventually I began to realize that a considerable amount of time had gone by and nothing seemed to be wrong, and so I moved past it. But to this day I cannot hear the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” without recalling the cloud that shadowed nearly everything I did during the remainder of the summer and into the fall of that year.

Facebook Memories

I am, it seems, the antithesis of the stereotype of people my age. That is to say, the “senior citizen”. Dinner at the “early bird special, in bed by 9:00 and up at the crack of dawn. Rather, my routine has become dinner at 8:00 while watching (in lieu of the current programming crap) an hour or two of reruns of favored shows; Justified, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, etc., then to my little workshop where I tinker until about 1:00 am while watching, with one eye, reruns of Big Bang Theory, or Young Sheldon, or Outdoor Man. Then reading a few pages and sleeping in until about 8:30. Sounds exciting, eh? Well, I think so – But then again, I’m old.

This morning was the – sort of – rare exception when I find myself awake at 4:30 or 5:00 am with no hope of going back to sleep. So “up” I was. Before making a large pot of coffee, I decided to clear a few inches of new cold, powdery snow from my walks and garage turn-in (thus making the impending coffee sooo much better), during which I thought about this or that.

During the silent, one-sided conversation I recalled the following which I wrote, and posted on Facebook,  just about 2 ½ years ago. So the date reference is wrong, but everything else still holds true. So I’m posting it again.

———–

Facebook is a lot of things to a lot of different people. Endless variations on a common theme. A surprising number of people use it to transmit and share the minutia of their lives. What we had for dinner, where we had dinner, was it good, or not so good. If it was good, I’ll probably see a picture of it. I don’t mean to criticize. If those at either end of these conversations find it entertaining or enjoyable, who am I to say it’s not a good thing. It’s just not MY thing.

I use Facebook for diverse reasons. I belong to several groups. A couple of them discuss and share pictures of the world wars. Others share techniques for building plastic models of the various mechanisms of those wars, land, sea, and air. Some discuss techniques, with examples and tutorials the various methods of technical illustration. Others do the same for photography. These among others which are MY things.

A large portion of Facebook is used for history; our memories, and the nostalgia created in part by those memories. I enjoy that part of it as well. And as I get older I also take increasing pleasure in seeing pictures of the various children that occasionally touch my life. To use a popular phrase – of which I’m not particularly fond, it’s all good.

Another of the ways that I use Facebook is little rambles like this one, which again falls into the memory and nostalgia category. The nostalgia we hold for certain times in our lives is a funny thing. At the remembered time, often there was nothing special at all, it’s just the way it was, and we thought nothing of it. Looking back, and doing the remembering, we are different people than we were then. We have more experience, we’ve seen more of life than we knew at the time we are remembering. We are, hopefully wiser, and certainly older.

We look at a photograph of a 1950s living room, and get a nice warm glowwy feeling remembering being a child in such a setting. In truth, the living room we remember is also part of the house in which you perhaps once broke your arm, or had the flu, or had to study when you wanted to watch Sky King.

But our minds work in a wonderfully selective way. An old Doonesbury cartoon suggested that Ronald Reagan had an optical condition which permitted him only to see the world in reverse, and through a rose-colored filter. Ha ha. But I think we all have a bit of that in us, and it is a blessing.

I’ve been in a nostalgic mood these past few days, remembering a time which wasn’t so good at all, but which I now nonetheless remember fondly. Weird, huh? 40 years ago this month, I had been in Milwaukee for a two and half years, and for two years I had been in a relationship, one that was falling apart. A popular song at the time, from Barbra Streisand’s “Streisand Superman” album titled “My Heart Belongs To Me” was, in retrospect, the soundtrack of my month of October in the year 1977.

Before the month was over, the relationship was as dead as was ever going to be, which is to say, completely. Among the ways I reacted to this reality was to get out my albums, and make a cassette tape to play in my car. (yes I said “albums” and “cassette tape”. Remember this was 40 years ago). Using the Barbra Streisand song as a theme, it was a cassette of similar such songs. Without realizing it, I had musically mapped out the coming winter; through the depths of despair and up again, closing with a couple of positive, upbeat songs at the finish. The final verse from a song which I added to the list a couple of years later tell the story quite succinctly.

“When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows,
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose.”
(Bette Midler, “The Rose” – from the movie of the same name)

There’s something to be said for the notion behind Neil Diamond’s, “Song Sung Blue”, which “makes you feel bad and yet good at the same time”. That tape got me through the winter of my discontent, and onto the spring of 1978, which turned out to be a pretty good time, fulfilling the promise of the last couple of songs on my tape, taken from Melissa Manchester’s album “Better Days, and Happy Endings”.

May all of your soundtracks end with a happy song.

“War is an Ugly Thing”

I first read this many years ago. During my brief time with the US Army Reserve, a Special Forces Master Sgt had an abbreviated version of this quote on a plaque on his desk. I have never forgotten it.

**************
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse.

When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people.

A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, — is often the means of their regeneration.

A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”

John Stewart Mills
**************

Yes, there have been wars solely to satisfy rich men’s greed, and it can be argued that some past conflicts have been largely unnecessary and tragic. The 30 year long series of battles between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists comes to mind, and in our own history the Spanish-American war certainly stands out.

But looking back to just the times of which we have an institutional memory, suppose the northern states hadn’t reacted to the South’s firing on Fort Sumter, and rather decided that tending to their own business, and letting others tend to theirs was the wiser, more prudent course. Imagine then and now a continent dominated by two nations, one of slaveholders and one which, I guess, just sort of disapproves.

And there is “The dirty job” which the world’s greatest generation thankfully determined “had to be done”. In 1936 Nazi Germany was given (actually just took) The Rhineland, and in 1938 took Austria. Later that year half of Czechoslovakia was handed over with promises of “peace in out time”. Six months later Prague and the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Each time with a promise of no more”.

Six months later, Poland and finally WAR! A just war, but one that would have been lost had we not joined in, at last, in 1941.

At the same time Japan was demolishing China and wanted all of southeast Asia, but US territories were in the way. We could have done the prudent thing and yielded. Pearl Harbor would not have been attacked, and we would have remained a “good” nation, disdaining war and choosing not to fight.
And survived for how long in a world dominated by two of histories most totalitarian, ultra-militarized, and aggressive empires.

Yes, “war is an ugly thing” (I know, I’ve seen it) “but not the ugliest of things”

Memorial Day

I took this photograph in the summer of 1979, while visiting Washington DC, and Arlington, VA with a friend. The National Cemetery is, among other things, rightly famous for the rows upon rows of pristine white stones. And I took some photos there, as well. But this quiet hill, somewhat off to the side, caught my attention.

In particular, the repetition of the phrase “In Memory Of . . .”, and the implication that the phrase has been repeated countless times, whenever and wherever Americans have been called upon to give what used to be, and perhaps still is, called The Ultimate Sacrifice.

We might today be subjects of the British Crown were it not for the sacrifices of long ago Americans who, it seems, are but slightly mentioned in today’s history texts. Nazi tyranny and Japanese militarism could possibly have held sway in the world had it not been for the sacrifices of so many. And so it has been many times throughout our history, and on to this very day.

And now, on this day, we have a major automobile race, and barbeques, and picnics, and get-togethers. Roll out the motorcycle, or get that boat in the water, today’s a holiday, and tomorrow begins the summer. Perhaps even attend a parade.
There is a saying which is gaining popularity these days referring, I think, to the heroes of my generation, but applicable to every generation. “All gave some, some gave all”.

And amidst all of the fanfare and all of the fun, it should never be completely out of mind that this day belongs to them, and to all that went before, and after. This day and all that it is, and all that it implies, is their gift to you.

Pause for just a moment today, and say Thank You.

Veteran’s Day 2018

Veterans are increasingly out of favor these days. Or so it seems. I don’t think so, but perhaps this was always so, to some degree, after the shooting has stopped, and “the boys” come home.

After the Second World War there were so many veterans. And to us kids they were just our dads (who incidentally had been in the war). But I also think that we had a deeper sense of who they were. The following is an excerpt from something I wrote a couple of years ago on Father’s Day.

– – “But I am going to speak of my father and his generation. Known, rightly I think, as The Greatest Generation,… these survivors of the depression went on to serve, by the millions, in a war they wanted no part of, but went anyway because it was the right thing to do. “A dirty job that had to be done”, as the saying went at the time.

Growing up in the shadow of that war, I could never lose sight of the fact that these were the guys who had stormed the beaches, who experienced horrendous naval battles, or survived terrifying flak and enemy fighters of the air war, or fought in the dense, rotting jungles of the South Pacific, or had defended their ships from swarms of kamikazes, or huddled near frozen in a foxhole while German artillery blew apart the world around them. And STILL emerged victorious.” – –

In the photo that I included here is the implication of the terrible truth of those of my generation. Youngsters who fought valiantly. From north to south, from the Arizona Territory, to the Ca Mau Cape. From the hilltops of the Highlands, to the waist deep swamps of the Delta, on the rivers and canals, and in the air, they fought hard and well. And received little thanks.

But it isn’t just what we, or our parents experienced and remember. The history of such service goes back. Way back. To the Marines who marched back from the “frozen Chosin”, regrouped and fought again.

To Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders on San Juan Hill, and Adm. Dewey’s sailors in Manila Bay.

To the vast slaughter that preserved the nation, and the hardships, and struggle, and sacrifice that founded it.

Throughout our history millions of men and women have stepped forward to do what was necessary, to establish and preserve the nation we have today (including the right to disdain veterans if you choose to do so.

But on this day, if not every day, they – each and every one – deserve all of the honor, respect, and heartfelt thanks that it is possible for a nation to give.

Olive Trees

Being, as I am, 50% Italian, and growing up, as I did, with the Italian side of the familia, and having worked in Italy for a time (April thru August of a recent year), There is no surprise that I am interested in many things Italian.
Among these things is a British magazine, “Italia”, focusing on travel to, and living in, Italy. I read this magazine each month. Recently, among the little informational items near the front of each issue was a short piece about the discovery, near Syracuse, of some pottery items from about 3000 BC which prove that olive oil has been processed in Italy from at least that long ago.
Accompanying this article was this picture. It caught my eye, and I liked it. It was small and printed on the page so quality was not acceptable for reproduction. So I decided that the only way I could have a copy was to redraw it myself. It came out well, I think, so I thought I might share.
All I need to do now is to print it, put in in an inexpensive frame, and find a spot on a wall.

Toy Guns

We, the children of the Baby Boom, grew up in the era immediately after the Second World War. And toy guns were EVERYWHERE!

Aside from the obligatory (Cap) Six-Shooter, for use when playing Cowboys and Indians, I myself had the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun featured at the start of this film. I also possessed a miniature (about 1/3 size) M2 50 Cal Machine Gun.

Unfortunately, on our after dinner drives, my father wouldn’t let me hang it out the back seat window of our ’50 Plymouth (as I had seen the waist gunners of B-17 bombers do on TV. Alas).

Oddly, all of this faux firepower didn’t encourage us to find a real gun and go somewhere and shoot up the place. Antithetically, it seems that in the current crop of youngsters, who are protected from the very notion of weapons (from toy guns to the tiny swords that used to skewer hors d’oeurves)  there are many who do seem compelled to do just that.

The reason? I don’t know. Just sayin’.

Richard Stands

When I was a kid at CM Bardwell Elementary School in Aurora, Illinois (it wasn’t IL back then), like every other little kid in every school, in every part of the country, I would acknowledge who was surely the most famous man in America. We would stand and recite, by heart, the words,

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic of Richard Stands . . .”

I wasn’t sure who Mr. Stands was, and I still don’t know. But I do still pledge allegiance to the flag.

Lookout Mountain

Yes, it’s cold. So cold, it seems, it might as well be January. Oh, wait.

Cold weather is not uncommon this time of year, and VERY cold weather has occurred more than a few times in recent memory. Because the older I get, the further back “recent” memory becomes, I’m reaching back to the extremely cold winter of 1976-77 to remember a weeklong cruise with friends on a rickety sailboat, and the long, cold drive home.

Lookout Mountain

We left the dock at Bimini early on Saturday, the last day of our charter and motored back across the gulf stream through cold and windy rain squalls to Miami. We docked at Watkins Island and immediately began the process of cleaning up the boat. When post-cruise chores were complete, we said our farewells, and by late afternoon were in the Opel GT heading north.

As we drove through the night the air got dramatically colder. Pausing only for necessities, we were at the Tennessee border by dawn on Sunday. Needing a break, we decided to stop and take advantage of the opportunity to see the Civil War battleground on Lookout Mountain, overlooking Chattanooga. Reaching the summit we stopped in the small parking space at an overlook with a spectacular view of the city, and the broad Tennessee River Valley. We climbed out of the car into a bracing and windy 5° below zero.

It had been a bit cooler than normal in the Bahamas (the rain through which we had motored on Saturday fell as snow in Miami that night), but still, while we were in the islands it had been very comfortable to sail, to swim, play volleyball and sleep on the beach. So we thought the conditions here on this mountain top to be a bit extreme.

We hopped around a bit, taking in the battlefield, and the wonderful view which was laid out below us, but after a quick, shivery picture or two, enough was enough. We were soon back in the car, again rolling north with the less than adequate heater turned on full.

 

Remembering

Facebook is a lot of things to a lot of different people. Endless variations on a common theme. A surprising number of people use it to transmit and share the minutia of their lives. What we had for dinner, where we had dinner, was it good, or not so good. If it was good, I’ll probably see a picture of it.
I don’t mean to criticize. If those at either end of these conversations find it entertaining or enjoyable, who am I to say it’s not a good thing. It’s just not MY thing.

I use Facebook for diverse reasons. I belong to several groups. A couple of them discuss and share pictures of the world wars. Others share techniques for building plastic models of the various mechanisms of those wars, land, sea, and air. Some discuss techniques, with examples and tutorials the various methods of technical illustration. Others do the same for photography. Among others which are my things.

A large portion of Facebook is used for history, our memories, and the nostalgia created in part by those memories. I enjoy that part of it, and as I get older I also take increasing pleasure in seeing pictures of the various children that occasionally touch my life. To use a popular phrase, which I’m not particularly fond of, it’s all good.

Another of the ways that I use Facebook is little rambles like this one which again falls into the memory and nostalgia category. The nostalgia we hold for certain times in our lives is a funny thing. At the remembered time, often there was nothing special at all, it’s just the way it was, and we thought nothing of it. Looking back, and doing the remembering, we are different people than we were then. We have more experience, we’ve seen more of life than we knew at the time we are remembering, we are, hopefully wiser, and certainly older. We look at a photograph of a 1950s living room, and get a nice warm glowwy feeling remembering being a child in such a setting. In truth, the living room we remember is also part of the house in which you perhaps once broke your arm, or had the flu, or had to study when you wanted to watch Roy Rogers.

But our minds work in a wonderfully selective way. An old Doonesbury cartoon suggested that Ronald Reagan had an optical condition which permitted him only to see the world in reverse, and through a rose-colored filter. Ha ha. But I think we all have a bit of that in us, and it is a blessing.

I’ve been in a nostalgic mood these past few days, remembering a time which wasn’t so good at all, but which I now nonetheless remember fondly. Weird, huh? 40 years ago this month, I had been in Milwaukee for a two and half years, and for two years I had been in a relationship, one that was falling apart. A popular song at the time, from Barbra Streisand’s “Streisand Superman” album titled “My Heart Belongs To Me” was, in retrospect, the soundtrack of my month of October in the year 1977.

Before the month was over, the relationship was as dead as was ever going to be, which is to say, completely. Among the ways I reacted to this reality was to get out my albums, and make a cassette tape to play in my car. (yes I said cassette tape. Remember this was 40 years ago). Using the Barbra Streisand song as a theme, it was a cassette of similar such songs. Without realizing it, I had musically mapped out the winter; through the depths of despair and up again, closing with a couple of positive, upbeat songs at the finish. The final verse from a song added to the list a couple of years later tell the story quite succinctly.

“When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows,
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose.”
(Bette Midler, “The Rose” – from the movie of the same name)

There’s something to be said for the notion behind Neil Diamond’s, “Song Sung Blue”, which “makes you feel bad and yet good at the same time”. That tape got me through the winter of my discontent, and onto the spring of 1978, which turned out to be a pretty good time, fulfilling the promise of the last couple of songs on my tape, taken from Melissa Manchester’s album “Better Days, and Happy Endings”.

May all of your soundtracks end with a happy song.