Tuesday, December 20, 2016

ME and HIM

Returning to drawing on cave walls may well be the best way for us to communicate with each other. Since we have made such gigantic strides in brutalizing the English language in just about every other forum, it certainly can't hurt.

There was a time in the Good Ole USA that “reading, writing and arithmetic” were cornerstones of our basic education.  But that was long ago and far away. Nowadays some people with college degrees are just as likely to butcher a sentence as little boys and girls in the first grade of elementary school.  Allow me a bit of leeway here, dear reader. In my own family struggles abound. Some of us are successful in meeting these challenges, some not so.

Just short years ago, my middle daughter mastered consistent use of “y'know”. She used it before, after, and sometimes in the middle of sentences. At some point she abruptly abandoned the field leaving it to Chris Evert (aka” Chrissie”) to continue as undisputed champion in the use of this non-word. One of my sons-in-law cringes at the use of “at” at the end of a sentence, as in “where's it at?”. This leads to all hands using it at every opportunity to test the level of his blood pressure.                

When I was a teenager many of us living in the leafy suburbs of Philadelphia attended Lower Merion High School which was, and still is, a highly regarded institution of secondary education.  Within those hallowed halls diminutive Mrs. Margaret Hay ruled English language territory with a firm hand.  Mrs. Hay has since ascended to the Great Schoolhouse in the Sky but her influence rolls along through the loyalty of her disciples.  My pal David is one such.  He was the fiercely competitive captain of the football team. Nowadays he guards the flame of proper English in the same passionate way.  Whenever or wherever friend or foe misspeaks, David quickly pounces, invoking the battle cry “Remember Mrs. Hay”! It is intimidating and we always promise to reform.

None of us is grammar-proper all the time.  When I struggle with these periodic communiques to you, I can turn to my eldest daughter who is an editor.  Most times she is an effective life preserver.

Another bump on the English Highway is the misuse of  the Plural versus the Possessive.  With the holidays coming on, you might as well gird your loins, or whatever, to face versions of “Happy Holidays from your friends the Smith's” in place of “Happy Holidays from your friends the Smiths.”

Still, it may be the thought that counts.......

How I Became a Jewish Mother

If you think of Mel Brooks and his routines about “Jewish Mothers”, you'll get the picture in a heartbeat. Mistresses of the guilt trip, JMs are capable of putting sons (especially) and daughters into mental dungeons for supposedly failing to appreciate a Mother's Love. Several Jewish mothers are among my intimate friends. But they are far afield from the portrait that Brooks paints of their concern about every single thing that touches the lives of their offspring. Along with large dollops of “don't worry about me, your mother, it's YOU that I cry over.”

Skipping from Ireland to Israel is not an easy trip but I did it recently while worrying about our brand new great-granddaughter, Huntley, who caught a cold. She is a Manhattanite, albeit a very young version of that species, and as yet unaware of Bloomingdale's, Grand Central and Central Park. Huntley caught a cold somewhere, we suspect from her wonderful working mother who insisted on balancing business and imminent delivery right up to the moment when  contractions kicked in. (The courage of young women who manage such feats is surely the topic for another column, but for the moment Baby Huntley is the focus.)

Many a parent or grandparent takes comfort in the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy – as in what you don't see or know allows you to stay in a sea of serenity. Not so for me in Florida.  I worry about every one of these 1358 miles between our house and Huntley's crib. My Wasp wife, no Shamrock she, as well as the Jewish (and all other) mothers in our gang, take a pragmatic view of situations generally. And specifically in the case of my attempts to micro-manage health concerns when her mother and grandmother are right there in the NYC scene watching Huntley like the two Mother Hens they are. Ah, well. Such is life.

I also wondered if Mel Brooks has a routine centered on the plight of males who are parents, grandparents, great-grandparents whose sole role in the miracle of birth seems to be limited to one-liners during Happy Hour.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Guys, it's time for the compulsory year-end review.  Buckle up.
The big story of course is Donald Trump.  Which is pretty much the way he would like it.

To a point that is. Almost all of us, I suspect, are much more interested in what goes on in our immediate worlds. Joan and I have a brand new great-granddaughter, Huntley Alden. She is immeasurably more important to us than Mr. Trump. You can throw in Hillary and Bill too. I like Melania Trump. Not just because she is a gorgeous lady, although she is that, but because she is forthright and deserves a break from all of us. Where is it written that Melania should not be “acceptable” because she posed near-naked, or naked, during her modeling days? As I pass the mirror after showering even a casual peek assures me that I should call 911.

There is a larger lesson here.  Much of what goes on is beyond our control. Absolutely.  The network news and the newspapers guarantee heartburn. Why torture ourselves? Take it all in once and then move on to those positive things in life – like children, grandchildren, and if you are really lucky, great-grandchildren. By the way, these young ones don't have to be your own – just enjoy the miracles of young boys and girls.  And pray that they will live long happy lives.  That's all you can do now that 2016 is in the history books.

And not so by the way, thank you for reading my columns and blogs during this year now past.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Spoiled Sons and Daughters

In our land of milk and honey many still have a tough time just getting by. We also have a large number of spoiled sons and daughters.  I do not exclude myself.  Here's a recent example:

The parents of a young sergeant killed in action in Afghanistan were escorting his body home for burial. As the plane carrying the soldier's body pulled up to the ramp, the pilot came on the intercom asking passengers to remain in their seats for a moment while his casket was given over to an honor guard. Passengers in the first class section started booing at the delay.
What does this say about this group of Americans who could not take a few minutes to honor this youngster, one of our very own?

Serving in the armed forces is an honor. Perhaps one that is best seen in the rear mirror now that we do not have to get up at dawn to perform onerous tasks, let alone where some risk their very lives. Male military veterans make up 25% of our population, females 2%, including my prized daughter-in-law, Angelee, a Desert Storm Army veteran. Military service teaches many skills including leadership and team-building that directly translate to success in civilian life. Perhaps the greatest benefit of all is removing self-centered focus and replacing it with service to others.

This concept of service beyond self can be a huge factor at any time, but in this era where so many of us are divided it can be a godsend. I know individuals who devote a lot of time and effort to assisting those in need.  I'm sure you do too.  Peter Cognetti is one such.  A successful medical doctor, Peter continues to travel to Haiti to minister to those whom nature has delivered one body blow after another. Grim business indeed to those of us used to the good life. Yet in his case, and repeatedly in the experience of others helping others, he finds an overwhelming sense of fulfillment by doing God's work. The physical exhaustion and financial sacrifice just don't register on his radar.

This great country of ours was built on the blood, sweat and countless tears shed by good men and women who went before us, those who strive today and those who will follow long after we are gone. The common bond is a commitment to not let the other guy down. This is the real reason why we are and always will be the Great United States of America.

Monday, November 14, 2016


“IT AIN'T OVER Until it's over” - an evergreen bit of advice from the late and baseball great Yogi Berra. The turmoil that marked the 2016 election isn't over by any means. 

Some people will disagree on anything, or everything. Still it's smart money to have a reality check on our emotions, particularly when the issues are big ones. The people have voted so we are in for a change. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus spoke the immortal line “the only thing that is constant is change” a long time ago, way before Yogi. Unlike Berra, he never played baseball but he too had this knack for delivering memorable quotes. Time for all hands to face reality. Donald Trump won the election.  In short time he will be in the Oval Office as our president. There is no wiggle room. He is my president and yours.

This brings to mind the story of when Bill Clinton moved into that Oval office in 1993. He found a handwritten note waiting for him from its prior occupant, George H. W. Bush. It was simple, and profound: “Dear Bill: You will be our president when you read this note.  I wish you well. I wish your family well.  Your success is our country's success. I am rooting for you.  /George.”

Those sentiments from one American to another American pretty well sum up my own position.

Your success is our country's success, Donald Trump.

Now, I too am rooting for you.                          

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Honoring The Star Spangled Banner

The Protest of the Week actions by certain sports players and celebrities who kneel or otherwise rebel against paying traditional respect to our national anthem is beyond “stupid”, as Justice Ginsburg initially labeled it.  It is a disgrace to our flag, our nation and to We The People.

Certainly we are imperfect here in the United States. We are still a work in progress with a long way to go. But trading one injustice for another does not move things in a positive direction, particularly the shining cause of equality and justice for all. If there ever was an Original Sin for this country, it was slavery.  Anyone who knows history knows that slavery didn't start with America. But with our unparalleled promise and prosperity as a people we certainly ended up as the poster child for continued oppression. And prejudice, especially racial and religious bias, is the jewel in the Devil's crown.

There are millions and millions of Americans who are hungry and hurting today. There are millions more who are angry both with and without cause. If you were not here on our planet for the 2016 presidential campaign, take my word for it.  If you were here and awake, you know exactly what I am talking about. Divisive actions, words and gestures only deepen the divide. If there is an example for all of us it is our military, the men and women in uniform who have time and again placed their own bodies in harm's way to protect us. That defense line is made up of all sizes, shapes and, colors – white, black, brown, red, yellow skins and those who are combinations of the former.

Here's a math lesson for all who never knew or who have forgotten:   442.

The 442nd Infantry Regiment of The United States Army served in World War Two. Read about it. 700 killed in action, 9500 Purple Hearts. The 442 was made up of Japanese American who were uprooted from their homes, rounded up, and forced into internment camps. Imagine US citizens being subjected to such outrage! Then the offer came to their young men for US Army service in the European theater.  Beyond outstanding, they became the most highly decorated unit in US military history. (Part of their outfit released the Jews at the notorious Dachau concentration camp.) When these warriors came back home they faced subtle and sometimes outright bias. Still they soldiered on. And so should we.

Disrespecting the National Anthem and our flag plays right into the hands of hatred. It's far worse than stupid.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Donald Trump

Politics and politicians are not normally on my “Must see, Must listen to, Must read” agendas. This year's election campaigning may not be a fair example of why I feel this way for there are many other reasons including near-terminal boredom. Still 2016 is such a staggering mess it has discouraged men and women all across the spectrum, including the most ardent disciples of our political process.

I come from a family of Republicans. As a kid, I can clearly remember my parents' dismay at Wendell Willkie's 1940 loss to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  When I was old enough to register for voting I immediately did so. As I came back home that day, my mother and father, feigning casual interest, asked me how I signed up. I replied “Communist.” If you listen carefully, you may be able to hear the echo of Dear Dad's roar to this day. It was also an early indicator that my career path did not lead to stand-up comedy.           

No hero, I.  But at the same time my military service involved three years of my life dedicated to protecting our national cornerstone -, personal freedom and the privilege of voting. Now we are all witnessing the nadir of political activity in the Clinton-Trump campaigning. For starters, neither candidate attracts me.  As “T”, a close and respected friend, said to me about Hillary; “I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her'. I feel that way too. As for Trump, I believe he is certifiable, ready for a padded cell. His recently released comments on women I took as a direct assault on my mother, my wife, my daughters and the other female friends we hold dear. Unforgivable.

Some argue that principles underlying the philosophies of the Democrat and Republican platforms are bigger than any one man or woman standing as a candidate. Perhaps this is so. My very small collection of admired politicians includes the late (and surely great) Thomas Phillip “Tip” O'Neill who memorably said “all politics is local.”   I'll take that remark and apply it to the importance of candidates on the “under card” here in Florida. We have critical offices to be filled this election cycle.  

On the national scene however, the people of this great country deserve better than the two presidential candidates we have been offered this time round.  That's the biggest history lesson of all from 2016.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Arnold Palmer

The world is divided into two groups – Golfers and the rest of us.  Within the latter group are those who have of necessity mastered the art of zip-lip.  “Do not talk about this particular sport, especially along the lines of negativism, as in “it's like watching grass grow.”

Arnold Palmer brought a group of non-golfers to appreciation of the sport by mastering a combination of technical skill and likability that no one else could achieve. How could you not like Palmer, whether you were part of his “Army” or just a general sports fan?

There is also the Pennsylvania tie for us. Arnie was proud of his Pennsylvania roots, so we were kinsman from that standpoint. Surrounded by wisecracking New York Giants fans in our retirement world, this more than offsets criticism that our state has little to be proud of beside the Liberty Bell. Aficionados genuflect in the direction of Arnie's hometown of Latrobe (which is, as you probably know, is about 10 miles northwest of Ligonier) home of Rolling Rock beer. A panelist on a beer judging contest once noted that RR had the “distinct aroma of goat urine.” No matter, 19 year old collegians playing shuffleboard at Dave's bar considered RR the nectar of the gods. It was ever so.

Tributes to Arnold Palmer, king of the links, showcase a recurring theme - his personal graciousness to everyone. He was a model for the Golden Rule of “do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” Golf lessons and endless talk about birdies and bogeys, hooks, shanks and whatever else fascinates golfers will have their moment, but one thing is for sure, the ever-lasting tribute to Arnold Palmer will be our memory of his warm smile, good manners on and off the course and respect for everybody else.

He taught a life lesson not just for golfers, but for all of us.                            

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Done In by Dining Out

For many Americans dining out is a pretty big deal.  On paper at least, it holds the promise of something different, a break from the routine. There are the attractions of not having to clean up, wash the dishes, or at least get them into a dishwasher, put away those items that call for putting away.  For sure there are couples among us who welcome a “date” highlighting dinner.  Families find that the kids can frequently put aside their bickering long enough to have the attention given to them by ever-patient servers.  Plus, ordering whatever they want!

Yes, there were positive, bright sides to dining out in the old days. Today, not so much. Time marches on for sure when servers greet diners as if we are all part of one big frat house. The first time one asked “Do you guys want anything to drink?” I felt it insulting to my attractive wife and replied “Does this lady look like a guy to you?” Only that cool Guinness calmed me down.  No sense fighting the inevitable in our constantly dumbed down world.  Roll on.  There are enough hurdles challenging your digestion already. “Tipping” being one.  My wife and I don't go out for dinner all that much, but when we do I don't feel a need for a course in mathematics. Suggesting percentages for gratuities is an invitation to increased blood pressure. Still I don't want to go totally negative by being done in by dining out. There are certainly more reasons to go out once in a while than there are staying home 100% of the time.

Some dining out experiences are burned in my memory.  One such involves the officers club at the old Philadelphia Naval Base where I dined frequently with my good pal, the late Rear Admiral Jack Sweeney. Our friendship was forged in teenage years when he was caddying at the golf club in Somers Point, New Jersey, and I was setting up chairs and umbrellas on the beaches of nearby Ocean City. I respected Jack's rank but our long ago years were by far the strongest tie that bound us.

Most of the servers at the officers club were Irish women. And Sweeney, Irish to the core, loved the club's mashed potatoes that seemed to be part of every menu.  The Irish waitresses hovered around Sweeney like so many mother hens constantly asking him, “Admiral, would you like some more potatoes?” Sweeney never refused.

When my wife and I dine out and mashed potatoes are on the menu, I order them in memory of Admiral Sweeney.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The U.S. Tennis Open

Now that the 2016 Open is in the history books it's a good time to reflect on memories and some of the changes that have taken place over the past half century in the tennis world. 

Philadelphia has always been a great tennis town. In earlier days private clubs dominated the scene ranging from World War One with the immortal R. Norris “Dick” Williams (a survivor of the Lusitania disaster) to the 1950s and Davis Cup stalwart Vic Seixas. Both were Merion Cricket Club members. The tennis legend Bill Tilden played out of the Germantown Cricket Club where he had a private court for play and practice. Nowadays the club's swimming pool marks that site.

My own love of the game started when my tennis-playing Aunt Catherine gifted me with a wooden Bancroft racquet purchased from Mitchell & Ness, the mecca for sporting goods. It was strung in gut, the best possible in the late 1940s.  Aunt Catherine was a take-no-prisoners player due in part to the fact she had to work even as she raised her son. A rarity in those times. That weapon served me well during my collegiate career on the courts.

I started officiating matches in the 1950s along with two other guys from suburban Philadelphia, Brooks Keffer and Don Belcher. Our umpiring duties took us to the West Side Tennis Club in the Tudor styled neighborhood of Forest Hills, New York. The U.S. National Championships were held there prior to the opening of the new Billy Jean King tennis complex. You can't compare the two venues. Apples and oranges. The national center is a concrete giant of ever-expanding wonder; The West Side Tennis Club an intimate setting. Keffer and I used to take the train from 30th Street Station to Forest Hills and the tennis aficionado's paradise. We'd return tired and suntanned at day's end. All the big names played in the championship of course so we had ample opportunity to see the Greats in action. The environment of the West Side Tennis Club setting also gave us easy access to the players in addition to sumptuous luncheons and what amounted to an open bar.  These perks more than offset the meager $8 we were paid for a full day's work calling lines.

Brooks has since departed for the Great Tennis Court in the Sky, but my memories of Mr. Keffer and the championships at Forest Hills are evergreen. Never more so than at this time of year when the U.S. Open is in full swing.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Throwing in the Towel

The 2016 Tennis season is now in the history books.  It was a hot one. Now tennis fans have to wait for The Australian Open in January for things to warm up again. Looking back, how did 2016 go?

For starters, the season was far too long for mortal bodies to survive without injury. Federer and Nadal, both sidelined by hurt, are prominent examples of the wounded in action.

The United States of America, long dominant in the Men's game, is strictly an “also ran” these days. Power lies elsewhere with Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the lead and a pack of contenders led by Andy Murray of Scotland nipping at his heels. 

The women's game is flowering with dozens of hard-hitting newly minted stars from here and abroad, including our own Madison Keys.  I disagree with those who say that women can't attract galleries and provide exciting play. Serena Williams is still the queen of the court. Long may she reign.

Loss of temper dominates the game of the new breed with very talented but immature stars like Nick Kyrgios yelling obscenities on court directed at one and all. Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, John “The Brat” McEnroe and other legends of yesterday seem like choir boys in comparison. Why don't they understand that you can be admired for your talent AND be well-liked at the same time?

As part of the general demise of good sportsmanship, racket-smashing has opened up new frontiers for equipment manufacturers.  John Isner, formerly a poster boy for mothers wishing for an idealized son, recorded one best-be-forgotten rant. 

The habits of players whispering into a couple of tennis balls prior to hitting their serves had me imaging they were munching on yellow colored marshmallows like the treats we have at Easter time.

But the biggest of all nonsense is the almost universal habit of going for a towel wipe down after every shot. Guys, it's time to throw in that towel and just play the game. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


This week will not be forgotten – certainly not in our lifetime. The horror story of the police being killed in Dallas adds a bloody mark not just on the city or the state of Texas but on the soul of every American. Our great country is dramatically less so because of the murders that happen with such frequency all across our nation. And yet this one cop-killing rampage all by itself shows just how dramatically far we have fallen.

When I was a little boy we were taught that the policeman was our friend – a safe harbor against all that was bad in our world. That feeling has served me well. I passed that philosophy along to my own kids. Then the world turned upside down and that feeling, along with acknowledging the Almighty, allegiance to the Stars and Stripes and respect for just about everyone and everything went out the window. Right up there with the very top sadness is broad brush thinking that all men and women in blue are hell bent on killing young black males. The flip side of the argument is that black youngsters are all paragons of virtue being persecuted by a white society represented by law enforcement.  Have we forgotten that the human race is fraught with imperfection, including both some of those in uniform and those in housing projects?  Still the bad apples in both categories are few in number.

During this terrible week, as in life, there were good days. My wife and I watched the Wimbledon tennis championships, proudly rooting for the Americans.  And that is the real lesson in the midst of all this horrible prejudice, racism and pure hate.  The first step of all is to recognize and herald the fact that we are all Americans - starting with thee and me. Dropping all the labels like Italian/American, African/American, Irish/American. This doesn't mean I have to forgo knocking back a couple pints of Guinness while getting misty-eyed when they sing 'Danny Boy”, nor should you have to give up your own nostalgic background. What it does mean is that our very survival depends on embracing the fact that each of us are first and foremost, now and forever more, Americans.     

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Terror was everywhere on a Pacific island during World War II where United States Marines were scattered among small foxholes. To leave those holes in the sand for any reason meant certain death. Fanatic Japanese soldiers were of another mind. They were determined to kill Marines one way or the other. Survivors of one such night were destined to remember forever the plaintive scream of a young Marine who called out repeatedly “Mother...Mother... he's killing me....he's killing me.”

I thought of that Marine's shriek in the night when the massacre in the Orlando gay club took place. How many of the slaughtered in that ballroom were thinking of their own mothers and imminent death? Not the same?  Oh yes, it is. It has to be time in Hell for anybody about to be murdered.

Then I thought of the evolution in my own time concerning homosexuality. It was a narrow perspective, way long before my generation ever heard the words “bisexual”, “transsexual” and other descriptions now part of our common vocabulary. Back then there were “homos,” “fags”, “queers” and “fairies”. Minority, strange people.

The military took a firm posture. From induction to virtually every stage of advancement in that culture, there were questions about participation or feelings about same sex. As a brand new lieutenant taking command of an Army platoon I was informed that a sergeant, highly prized for his proficiency, was going to be discharged from the service. His offense?  During off-duty hours he frequented a homosexual nightclub and danced as part of the entertainment.  Homosexual? Case closed. 

Then followed a period in New York City where my career had me working with gay people in the creative community. There were lots of them.  Many, not all, were brilliant people. Now, some 60 years later, I reflect on all of it. What happened? There are a hundred reasons, I guess.  But does it really matter if it is one, ten or a hundred?  It is what it is.

Seems to me that we don't have to give up anything, except hate. For me, I believe in a man and a woman joined in marriage to bring new lives into this world.  You don't have to agree with me.  I don't have to agree with you if you hold same sex marriage a priority.  But we sure have to respect the view of each other. Otherwise, we are killing ourselves. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


If you are not a tennis player, or at least a fan of the game, it's best to work your iPhone rather than reading on. But if you too love tennis, you might enjoy tripping back over the years with me.

Everyone who ever picked up a racquet can recall highlights, or low lights, of his/her time on the courts. An everlasting image for me is the face of a University of Delaware doubles player when my wimpy first serve barely cleared the net. He asked “is that your serve?” to which I replied “15 - love.”

I was blessed in seeing many of the greats in action.  Hoad, Emerson, Laver, Kramer, Schroder, Trabert, Talbert, Gonzales, Segura, Margaret Court, Yvonne Goolagong, you name them.  Then the younger group – McEnroe, Connors, Agassi, Martina N, Martina H, Venus, and Serena came along.  I was lucky enough to watch many of them play too.

To be sure, there are many players I missed seeing in action – either because they were before my time or because of unlucky cards dealt to me by the tennis gods.  Ernest Renshaw and his twin brother, William, Wimbledon champions in the 1890s, are two examples of the former. As for the latter, I missed Bill Tilden when he played an exhibition match at the Cynwyd Club (Pennsylvania) in the late 1940s. Although that was long after his glory years in the Roaring Twenties, Tilden, 7 times World #1 and holder of 10 Grand Slam Singles titles, was then and remains to this day a tennis-world legend. 

Try this. Go to Wikipedia and search The 100 Greatest Tennis Players of all Time. You will be surprised by names temporarily forgotten which will now be happily remembered. Do you recall Roscoe Tanner electrifying the galleries with his rocket of a serve? (In the 1979 U.S. Open, one of his 140 mph left-handed serves misfired and brought down the net.) How about Dick Savitt? Fred Perry? Yannick Noah? Other names jump out of the past – the great Don Budge, modest Ken Rosewall, not-so-modest Bobby Riggs, not-so-nice Ilie Nastase.

Jack Kramer truly deserves special notice for it was he who revolutionized the game of tennis. He took it out of the shadows of sham “amateurism” and into a paying professional sport where it is now enjoyed by millions of fans all around the world.  Gardnar Mulloy has earned a spot on anyone's list.  When a tennis magazine referred to him as“39 year old Gardnar Mulloy”, he took it and ran. Gardnar seemed to stay 39 until the day he was elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame at 100.

A personal favorite?  John Bromwich of Australia. In my mind's eye I can still see him going up against the wall at Forest Hills to return the unreturnable with spectacular lobs. In tribute to Bromwich, I practiced and practiced lob returns.  I fancied myself the “lob king” at our little tennis club. No Bromwich I, but I did prove on more than one occasion that the lob belongs in everyone’s tennis quiver.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Southern Hospitality

During the early months of the Korean War, I was stationed at Camp Rucker, Alabama.  This post had been boarded up since the end of World War II. The only inhabitants in place were rattlesnakes, and there were plenty of them.

Rucker was just outside the little town of Ozark billed as “The Peanut Capital of the World”. There were few bright lights in Ozark.  Anything in the way of excitement called for getting over to the medium size city of Dothan. There was not much to do in Dothan either, although it did boast of being “The Home of the Early Bird”, a popular program on its radio station.

I have some pleasant memories of my time serving at   posts in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia.  Many of them were centered around culinary delights such as barbecued shrimp, grits, biscuits and sausage gravy.  I also have some very unpleasant recollections of those months, starting with my first trip using public transportation when the driver yelled to me: “Hey soldier, you get up front now or this bus isn't going to move!” I quickly understood that my hoped-for spot in the rear was where the “colored” sat. Then in rapid fire notice: “Colored entrance”, “Colored fountain”, on and on. Sooner or later we all got the bigger message: There was White. There was Colored.

Flashing forward a half century, things have changed in a big way. Last week my wife and I were in Georgia to celebrate a granddaughter's wedding. In the dining room of our hotel blacks and whites intermingled for breakfast.  There was no fuss. Same in the swimming pool area. I am sure there are many reasons for modern-day Southern Hospitality, including legal ones.  But I suggest that “good manners” as we used to know them are also a big factor.  All across the board men are called “sir” and women addressed as “ma'am”.  Some may do so with fixed smiles and clenched teeth, but in the main the average person in the 2016 South seems to understand that it is just good business to be friendly and well mannered.

It's nice to be nice.  It benefits all of us.

Monday, February 29, 2016


Calvin Coolidge was president when I was born. (Mr. Coolidge is back in the news again as the last American president to visit Cuba prior to President Obama's forthcoming tour.) In any event I have seen many a politician come and go – although Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a lot more time in going. Could lessons learned in the political past enrich campaigning in 2016?

The world has spun around many times since “Silent Cal” was in the White House, I wonder if his legendary reluctance to speak out loud and often wouldn't be a good approach. Campaigning has become akin to food fighting in a high school cafeteria.  Bad manners, vulgarity and character assassination are ruling the platform. If we were to count the wordage on issues compared to the thunder of promises and negative comments, the picture is beyond sad. Perhaps speaking softly and carrying a big stick - like focusing exclusively on victory at primary polls – would impress us more than this angry in-your-face howling.  Bring back Cal!

We are months away - some would say an eternity away – before the actual election of our next president. It's reasonable to ask if we the people can survive the storm of television ads, robocalls at dinner and the 1001 other political intrusions on our time, attention and sanity.

The reality is that politicians, along with lawyers and used car salesmen, consistently compete for last place on the list of professions we respect and admire. It's not like we are being entertained by beauty contests, best movies or something else that people enjoy.

The political season is surely hell on earth.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Media Madness

America's favorite whipping boy is the media. Little doubt about that. On top of this, depending on where you are reading, listening or viewing, there is plenty of bias. In the interests of full disclosure, I have been a part of the media for a half century. This means I must be guilty one way or the other for at least part of the media mess. Frankly I do not recall any digressions, save perhaps the time I wrote in less than flattering terms about Frank Sinatra.  Our editor got a phone call in full gangster voice asking “where's this guy Reilly live?  I'm gonna punch him in the mouth.”

Now that we have posted the disclaimer may I ask you a couple of questions? What do you think of the efficiency and the ethics of modern day media? For starters, we have to acknowledge that the ownership of newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, every other medium from cable to billboards and matchbook covers are in it to make a buck. Bad news usually suits that end. We, the receivers of the information communicated, may be happiest if all was well with the world, but that's not going to happen. There is always bad news somewhere. The media will go find it and tell us all about it. This helps to sell newspapers and air time.

I wonder if we wouldn't be better off if the media didn't report bad news over and over again. This applies particularly to cable news. They would be doing their job by reporting incidents once, but filling airtime with the same story repeatedly makes us feel we are in the midst of epidemics. The recent unfortunate killing of a black male by a policeman is sad news for sure. The facts must be thoroughly investigated. If the officer is guilty his badge and gun must immediately be turned in and a legal process initiated. But the media latch on to this incident and then dig up any cases across the country that appear on the face of it to be one and the same. Now we have a media-inspired impression that all police are targeting black males and routinely using deadly force 24/7 against this segment of our population. It's just not true.

Responsibility and accountability are two very valuable trusts that need to be reintroduced in our newsrooms. And to the general population as well.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Picking a Best Friend

Most of us know a lot of people. Within that gang of faces stands a smaller group. We call members of this smaller group “friends”. Then there is a handful – literally you can count them on one hand – that is much harder to classify.  I guess you could call them “best friends,” but that description may not fit easily. 

One of my own handful of these special people passed on earlier this morning.  He was a military man, a sailor to be precise, so we would clock his departure time at 0830hrs. My personal challenge is not to look at those who remain in the larger friends group and pick a replacement. That's just not the way it works. No one could ever replace Sweeney. So how does one go about picking a man or woman for the small handful? Simply put, I don't know. If you have an insight, please do share it with me.

After fighting through the shock of sudden loss, I thought about this challenge, and more importantly, what makes us consciously or unconsciously select a compatible man or a woman to walk by our side? I don't think it is the very same criteria we use in figuring out who would be our best bet as a spouse. No way.  We are surrounded by couples that would never in a million years move the odds in a betting parlor. Those of us who lucked out in the marriage sweepstakes know all too well that cupid and his damn bow and arrows were consistently outplayed by forces beyond our, and anyone else's comprehension.

Jack Sweeney was successful in the business world as well as in the United States Navy where he went rose in rank from seaman to Rear Admiral. He was the epitome of God, Love of Country and Family.  I should add that Family was his guiding star right after he married a pretty tennis-playing girl from Wawa, Pennsylvania, which was pretty much Indian country in my own day.

Best friends are best friends.  It's that simple.  Sweeney can never be duplicated.  Nor should he be.  Best Friends are unique, different one from the others. They are selected by the Best Friends Gods who factor in mutual interests and a huge helping of trust in each other.

You know very well who your own best friends are. You are lucky to have them.  And they are lucky to have you.