It always amazes me how events when I was younger affect me as an adult. As a mid-teen, sorry I cannot remember exactly how old I was then, probably 12 or 13, I began to spend a good deal of time hanging out at the Ohio River. We lived in a town in Northern Kentucky that was on a hill overlooking the river. We would walk bout 2.5 miles from my home to the river, descending about 900 feet or so. Part of the trail consisted in a broken concrete road requiring that we clamor over chunks of pavement, moving around roadway that was hoisted onto other pavement, and sometimes ducking under lengths of concrete road lifted over other portions of roadway. It was always an adventure.

The roadway was the remnants of a buggy/automobile road that went from our city to the Ohio River road leading to a ferry dock that took day trippers to the Coney Island Amusement Park and the horse race track on the Ohio side of the river until the great flood of 1937 rendered the road unusable. The flood demolished the road so badly that the Commonwealth of Kentucky and some private company determined that it was irreparable.

For us, usually about 2-4 youngsters, it was the yellow brick road to adventures…or misadventures. In the summer we would set out about 7am, 4 or 5 days a week, meet up at Harvey’s Pony Keg, the 50s equivalent of a 7-11 store, buy some nourishment in the form of candy or other foods and a Coke or two, then begin our journey to the river.

But first I must comment on Harvey’s Pony Keg store, or more appropriately on Harvey. The store itself was situated at the bend of the main road next to the Hush Puppy Shoe Store, no other retail establishments were within a mile or a mile and a half. The only other non-residential building was the St. Thomas Catholic Church with the requisite grade and high school. Harvey relied on the students and parents from the church and school for his sales. Harvey was a short, thin man of indeterminate age, with nicotine fingers and a well stained blue short sleeved shirt who was usually pontificating about one thing or another, usually about how the Catholic Church was polluting every citizen’s mind. He had opinions about all manners of events, philosophies, human interactions. But none of his opinions would match and he could contradict himself in the space of a drag on his cigarette without stopping to recognize the contradiction. Our parents warned us about Harvey but most had Harvey stories told during bridge party shuffling when we weren’t to be listening. The most egregious conspiracy idea I can remember that emanated from Harvey was his theory that the reason that the Cincinnati Reds traded Frank Robinson in 1965 was that Robinson had made suggestive comments about Smoky Burgess’ wife. Smokey he said, was a Southern gent through and through from South Carolina and threatened to rid the world of Robinson. Robinson was from Texas and Oakland and known for his temper. Therefore Robinson needed to be moved. Harvey cackled and spit as he told his tale.

From Harvey’s the transit time was about 45 minutes to an hour to the river depending on how much goofing around we did or how much of our snacks we ate. As a general rule, the food was fully consumed by the time we were three fourths of the way down. There were times that we found ourselves engaged in other behavior. One of the guys would usually bring his BB gun and we would take turns shooting it, turning the time into a marksmanship contest. On one occasion when I was about to shoot a rabbit ran in front of me and stopped. I fired and hit the rabbit in the side. Damn rabbit turned towards me and started to attack. It ran full steam at me nostrils flaring, teeth barred, red eyes focused on me. Several yards away it turned into the brush. My companions laughed till they cried. That’s the way I remember it any way. The threat of the violated rabbit. Who knows he/she might have been rabid.

This summer was one of the hottest and muggiest on record. From the time we left Harvey’s till we reached the road that led to the river our clothes were drenched with sweat. As we came upon the river it was apparent that the river had flooded since we were there last, probably a week to ten days. There were more flotsam and debris on the bank. We picked among the articles – several left shoes, a broken baseball bat, a toilet seat, multiple bottles, a whole lot of this and that. And then we saw it, wonders of wonders, a 12 foot skiff that looked whole.

We gently removed the garbage that covered the boat and examined it carefully as if we had found a new Cadillac. The bottom was intact, no holes, the sides were in good shape. We began to plan our river adventure but as the planning became extreme someone noticed that some of the planks on the bottom had gaps, small gaps but enough to allow water to seep it. It was not seaworthy. DAMN!!

We sat on some tree rounds and drank the rest of our cokes and ate the remainder of the candy. As we pondered our rotten luck we began to plot how we could repair the skiff. The solution developed slowly in fits and leaps. We needed some way of reducing the gaps between the boards. Nails wouldn’t work. Paint was silly. What would fill the gaps. To this day I can’t remember how thought of the plan. “We can go up to the road and scrape up the tar they put down last month and get enough to coat the bottom.” “Brilliant” we all chanted. We found a small bucket and a small shovel, went up to the road and ducking the cars that drove by we filled that bucket with tar scrapings. We returned to the river, built a fire and managed to melt the tar. Turing the skiff over, using thin wood boards, we painted the entire bottom of the skiff twice. Our agreement was to wait for 4 days so the tar would set and then return. We agreed to meet at Harvey’s on Saturday. After concealing the boat, we retraced our steps up the hill. Usually the return trip was slow and tiring. That day we virtually floated up the hill, ecstatic, discussing imagined adventures, pirates and booty on remote islands.

There is a psychological principle that posits that as positive events approach conclusion, time expands and slows creating anxiety. As we waited for the appointed day to arrive we conferenced trying to change the date of the reveal of the new boat. But the discussion concluded with no change of plans. Finally the day arrived. I awoke about 3am. Was dressed by 3:15. Ate breakfast at 3:30 and then sat until 6:45. We had agreed to meet at 7am. At 6:46 I was out the door and ran to Harvey’s. Harvey was just opening his shop. A number of parents were queuing for their morning supply of coffee and smokes. Fathers in business suits, mothers on their way for morning mass, teens just returning from a night of debauchery. The other three of the group arrived within minutes. Folks assembled at Harvey’s directed questions at us, “Whatcha doing here so early?” ” Do your parents know y’all are here?” ” What do you want at Harvey’s?” among other inquiries to which we merely shrugged in the pre-adolescent method of ignoring. We were smug in the knowledge that we were on the cusp of exploring the world outside the parents control, along with our new independence, feeling fierce fearlessness and some trepidation.

We fairly ran down the pathway. Slipping and sliding down the hill and across the road to the river. Would our boat still be there? Would the tar be set enough to float without leaking? For all the thrills the thought of a mariner adventure there was trepidation that we might find the boat useless. As we uncovered the boat, anticipation caused our voices to hit notes higher than we ever considered. We certainly couldn’t hit these notes in choir practice. Our breathing was slow and halting until the boat was uncovered. It was still there. The tar was intact and hard. each off us grabbed a corner and we lovingly escorted it to a small inlet with calm water and set it afloat. The taring held. The boat floated. A long and joyful sigh was floated across the water. Eureka!!

The sun was mid-morning. The heat was Ohio summer, hot and muggy. But the open water seemed to promise cooling. Quickly four pre-adolescent boys shed all clothes except underwear and tennis shoes and were prepared to join the other boaters on the river as commodores and owners of a magnificent yacht. Grabbing boards to use for paddles, the young adventurers set off from shore into the meandering river with the goal of reaching the other shore a half mile away. Power boats, speedboats, houseboats and other forms of water craft joined as a flotilla to greet the youths as they paddled their boat. With an air of bravado the youths stood in the skiff and waved to the young girls in the passing boats to the shouts and whistles and laughter.

Suddenly, the skiff began leak. Took on water when the tar began to liquify and the boards separate. We found ourselves a hundred yards or so from the shore, sinking, drifting with the current, and in panic. We paddled with all our might toward the shore, the current taking us away from our clothes and lunch. About ten yards from the shore the boat visited Davy Jones locker. We swam a brief period before our feet touched ground, drug ourselves onto a small beach and laughed hysterically. Half-an-hour later we found our clothing, dressed, and began the hike home.

I can imagine you thinking “That’s a nice story but how does it relate to today?” A month or so ago Girlfriend had been prompting me to take a spin in her canoe on her lake with her. I finally agreed.

As we walked out to the dock, I noticed that she had a roll of duct tape with her. “What is the duct tape for?” I had visions of being taped into the canoe to prevent me from falling out.

“I need to cover the holes on the bottom of the canoe.”

“Why does the canoe have holes in the bottom?”

“My late husband drilled holes in the bottom.”

“Why would he do that?”

“He wanted to hang it.”

“That’s dumb.”

“Yup.” and she proceeded to cover the three holes with duct tape.

I inquired, “Will the duct tape stick in the water?”

“It always has.” With that we put the canoe in the water. I need to acknowledge that I had a tough time getting into the canoe. I didn’t bend in the way I needed to get in but eventually I sort of fell in to it without managing to not tip it over. Was not a graceful entrance. I was instructed to sit near the front (or bow) of the canoe. I did as instructed. Took the paddle and began to paddle. I enjoyed the ride except my feet began to get wet. Suddenly I realized that the water was leaking into the canoe. My memory of the skiff in the Ohio river returned and I began to panic. In my panic I capsized the canoe. Into the water I went Clothes and all. Automatic reflex directed me to try to swim so I began to dog paddle. Then I saw Girlfriend and she was in the water laughing so hard she was sputtering. Over the sound of her reaction I heard her yell “Stand up! The water is only 4 feet deep there.” I sunk to the bottom, embarrassed.

I never promised you a cactus garden

As I age I am finding that my body has a magnetic attraction to the ground. By this I mean that it seems to want to rapidly change from an upright position to a supine one. Most frequently the change in position occurs with rapidity, without intent or volition. I have fallen on my back several times while playing pickleball, retreating to hit a ball over my head, I was never sure if I lost awareness of falling or my feet becoming tangled. On one occasion my head hit the ground before my butt. I endured a sharp rap on the back of my head, leaving a pool of blood that alarmed the other players. Paramedics were summoned, examined me and suggested an ambulance trip to a local emergency room. I declined, not wanting to seem a weakling. Silly me. I had a concussion. Since I am fairly intelligent and perceptive, subsequent backward falls were executed by landing on my butt first, reducing the impact on my head but not eliminating them. Additionally, I have landed on either side of my body at various times while playing pickleball, each time hitting some area in my head and other body parts. I have skinned both knees, elbows, hands, and other protruding parts of my body. Each event found me laying on my back.

Lest you think that I discriminate against positioning, or fall to gain sympathy, several weeks ago I was gardening alone and turned to retrieve my shovel only to find my self watching the ground rapidly approach my face. Thump – face plant. Luckily the ground was earth and not concrete this time. Still my face looked as if a soccer team had used it for practice, nose scarred, cuts on the forehead and chin, even an earlobe was marked. The sunglasses became useless, a lens was cracked. I began spitting dirt and blood. All told I would rather land on my head than my face. It’s much less scary.

Last night I discovered that I can also fall from a prone position. I am a man of many talents. I am not sure how to describe the event except that I was sleeping soundly when I saw the floor rising rapidly towards me. I rarely ever dream and have never dreamt of falling. I suspected that if I would dream of falling it would be falling from a great height not 2.5 feet. For a period it felt that I was in suspended animation. There was enough ambient light that I could see clearly. Then the floor rose up rapidly and WHACK right in the snoot. In the next three instances I brilliantly surmised that “Oh don’t say it!! I fell out of bed.” Checking if all my faculties were intact I gently activated my rising mechanism, both hands on the floor, right knee, right foot, butt, left knee, steady right arm on the bed, lift, return to bed. As I arose I yelled “I fell out of bed.” as quietly as possible, not wanting to wake my partner. She didn’t stir.

Not sure how it happened. My best guess is that somehow I developed the ability to levitate and when I was above the bed realized my position thus breaking the spell. As a result I fell. Can’t think of any other rational explanation.

Several weeks ago my Girlfriend finally convinced me to try bicycle riding. Now one would think that with my recent history of difficulty staying on my feet, especially when moving, this would be an idea that had danger written large. But I reluctantly agreed. I agreed even though I had not been on a bicycle for over 45 years, and then only on a coaster bike.

Girlfriend has several bikes, all multi-geared vehicles, with caliper brakes. All foreign to me. She declared that she would ride with me to give me confidence. Funny, all the pickleball players around when my disasters struck were around but didn’t give me the confidence. Yet I took her up offer. Actually I thought how hard could it be? We rolled the bikes out of the garage and into the street. The moment of decision struck.

I took the bike and begun to mount it. Couldn’t get my leg over the bar. Girlfriend instructed me to lay the bike at an angle. Hmmm. If I did that the bike so I would get over the bar the bike would almost be flat on the pavement. My surgically repaired knees don’t bend well. My sciatica prevents my hip from rotating well. There are no curbs to provide height to stretch over the bar. Frustrating. The seat was elevated at least nine inches and the rear fender had a devise for holding stuff on it. Eventually, I found that if I could arrange my body so that I lay nearly parallel to the street across the bike’s bar with the big toe of my left foot on the ground I could swing my right leg over the bar. Success. Then came the task of putting my right foot on the pedal. Finally moved the pedal so I could put my foot in the starting position.

Girlfriend instructs me to push off with the big toe of my left foot spontaneously with pushing the right pedal down and moving to sit on the seat. Say what?? Try following directions. Doesn’t work. More encouragement. Try again. Moved 10 feet. Wobbled and needed to start over. Took a breath. Gathered all my resources. Finally up on the thing moving. Unsteady but moving forward.

I am moving but unsteady. I am steering all over the place but remaining upright. Why are these tires so damn skinny? Yikes here’s a speed bump. Whew made it over. Finding that if I go fast I can control the bike better. Hate the seat, damn thing keeps interdicting my privates. Hurts. The around the block is one mile. As I get closer to the house I feel better about getting off. I am still intact. Here’s the house, slow down. Put rakes on. No Brakes!! Forgot. Squeeze the calipers. Slowing to near stop. Put my left foot down but can’t reach the ground. Here comes the ground again. #^$%@* Face down on my left side beginning to slide on the sidewalk, across some stones, into the CACTUS GARDEN . As I come to a full stop I see pointy vegetation inches from my nose. Girlfriend and neighbor are laughing.

Laugh if you will but I think I did well considering it was 45 years of not riding a bike. I consider that since I had no head injury the event was a raging success. Besides I bought a bike that fits me. I’ll be riding better.


My new Girlfriend has been offering me the ability to expand my physical activity from couch potato to worldwide explorer. Hmm! Given that she has visited every continent, hiking most of them, climbed mountains, slept out doors at Burning Man, and camped on a calving ice flow in the Antarctic, I ask you, how will I keep up with a woman with this experience? I play pickleball three times a week, I can walk several miles – with frequent breaks. Haven’t ridden a bicycle in 45 years. Running is an activity that I employ only to escape vicious snails and mobile trees.

A month ago Girlfriend says let’s go camping! Uh, in a cabin? No, in a tent. Oh. A big tent? No, a four man tent. Immediately, visions of bears tearing the campsite apart, drooling on my face with massive fangs about to send me to the void, or snarling diamond back rattlesnakes drawing into the sleeping bag intent on striking my private parts and injecting a quart of venom, flashed in my less than supple brain. I anticipated hoisting a backpack weighing hundreds of pounds, with the tin cooking and eating utensils clanging on my hip advertising my presence and offering my body up for their gustatorial pleasure. I was convinced we would enter an environment that would rival that of the forest of Hogwarts.

Despite my fear and trepidations, I quietly agreed to camping, privately hoping that the event would be immediately accessible to a paved road and bathroom, and maybe a shower. One could hope.

AS time approached the C(amping) date it became apparent that this wouldn’t be the same as the campouts in the backyard in Ft. Thomas when we would put up dad’s old Army tent as best we could, stretched out on the old Army blankets, talking, reading by flashlight, sneaking into the house and confiscating snacks and Cokes. We would watch the horizon for heat lightening strikes worried that they might portend rain much to the ruin of our night out. Eventually we would, in turn, need to go to the bathroom and with Mom’s admonition ringing in our ears “Remember if you come in the house you must stay in the house.” She was frequently a wet blanket. But by the time all the snacks and soft drinks were finished and the strange night noises started, each of us, in his turn, would slink into the house for the security of our beds. So much for camping out!

I understood eventually that we would be sleeping on the ground albeit in sleeping bags. Girlfriend picked the place of our new adventure – Mount Diablo, a 3,800 ft mountain visible from the Bay Area, Delta, Central Valley, and even, on a good day Yosemite. She made a reservation for a camping spot that faced the Pacific Ocean to enjoy the sunset and sunrise that would be visible. I packed enough clothes to see me through a blizzard for a month, I had no desire to be cold.

As we drove up the mountain we encountered numerous bicyclists going both ways, fools like they were. All the way up the mountain, signs admonished me not to pass on blind curves. Interesting that there were nothing but blind curves. That is curves that were made blind by the numerous bicyclists at the curves. We stopped at several areas to enjoy the view. I have to admit it was pretty. Several of the areas required me to climb up a steep embankments where I came close to face planting or slipping down to where we started. Such fun!!

Near the top of the mountain someone built an observatory. A rather inconvenient location. The road up to the building was blocked by a chain suspended between 2 posts with a sign telling us that the road was blocked. Not to be sardonic, but what else were we to think? It was an invite to a limbo contest? So we discovered a path leading up the hill to the observatory. Not a road but a dirt path. And here I was without climbing shoes. Shoes had a slick sole without any semblance of cleats. I would have give money for baseball or golf shoes, anything that would provide traction. Yet, it’s time to travel upward toward the summit. Girlfriend is leading the way, I am falling behind with each slipping step giving solid evidence to the term “trail”. She picks up the pace, I begin utilizing my knees to maintain my advance until I find my nose digging furrows in the dirt trying to avoid rocks, stones, and insects.

Finally, we reach the edifice parking lot. Climb 35 stairs to reach the main doors. CLOSED.

It’s interesting that two competing and compelling emotions can exist at the same time, yet that was what I felt at the time: Fall on your knees thanking god it’s over relief; Absolute enmity towards whomever developed this park in the first place.

Back in the car. It’s time to search out our camping spot. We approach the kiosk with the terribly bored-looking civil servant sits. We produce the internet receipt showing that our spot is paid for, in return we receive a paper to hang on our window and a sort of ticket one would receive for the drawing of a prize at a birthday party. Off we go looking for Juniper Campgrounds space #8. While we are looking for our spot, we discover that we both need to pee, so we begin searching. We quickly find two buildings with the stick figures for male and female on the doors. Alas, both building indicate that the bathrooms are closed. Instructions are given to locate an open potty. Back in the car. Eventually we find the open bathroom, however, to our dismay it is comprised of two portable potties. Since both of us have our teeth singing “Anchors Away”, we reluctantly use the facility. Done with our activity we try to wash our hands like the animated health videos suggest. Surprise!! No water. After checking 15 water spigots, the realization dawns on us. There is no water in the park!! Back to the ranger kiosk to inform him that there is no water and ask where we can find some. In response to our water inquiry he intones in the same unhurried bucolic voice as before, “Water’s shut off. Need to go to town.” Off we go.

It’s 30 minutes on the way, 60 total from park to town. We buy three gallons of water and head back to set up tent and cook dinner.

Arrived at the tent space about 5pm, 2 hours after we intended to be there. The view from across the road is spectacular. One can see the pacific ocean, San Francisco, Marin County, among other areas. We begin to set up the tent, not a difficult task. Tent is up, we walk down to an overlook. Then we notice that the wind is beginning to increase, back to the space to cook dinner. Girlfriend’s task is to prep the food, mine is to cook. Wind is increasing making it difficult to start the fire. Matches go out as quickly as they are lit, running out of paper to start fire, wind increasing, some panic, don’t want to eat cold sausages. Finally, fire started, wind worse, looked on iPhone for weather, 60 mile per hour wind predicted, higher on mountain. No poop!! It took 10 minutes to cook 30 minute sausages the fire became so hot. We took dinner to a sitting area to watch the sunset. Nice sunset. We were finishing our Betty Crocker Instant Potatoes (actually not bad) when the wind really made itself felt. Back to the space, cleaned up the space, sat in the car for 30 minutes to escape the wind.

Need to pee.

Back in the car. Drove to the Porta Potties too far to walk in the wind. Entered the Porta Potty, difficult to pee, wind is moving the porta around so it’s difficult to stand up. Girlfriend is sliding on the seat. Peeing is another matter for both.

When done back in the car for drive to space #8.

Wind is becoming vicious. Crawl into the tent. Clamber into the sleeping bag (two person bag), zip up, and hold on tight to each other. OPPS! Tent peg pops loose, front of the tent sags. Clamber back out of the sleeping bag but not without doing a face plant into the dirt and pine needles. Peg reinserted, clamber back into the tent, back into the sleeping bag. The noise from the wind makes it difficult to sleep and difficult to hear each other but we do ok. We snuggle close to protect each other from the howling wild. Soon we begin to hear cracking and falling limbs in the woods behind the tent, but we feel safe snug in the sleeping bag.

In an attempt to extract some well deserved sleep from the increasingly hostile environment, we tried some relaxation techniques, which barely worked. Sleep came in drips and drabs with the wind increasing in intensity over time. The more intense the wind, the more the tent moved. I was sleeping with my head in the back corner of the tent and my feet near the opening. Again I had to pee. I disengaged from the sleeping bag and crawled my way to the opening only to trip on the tent entry and fall face down in the dirt and pine needles…again.

The wind was not abating. I had two choices: 1) get in the car and go see if the Porta Potty is still upright or 2) find a place near the tent to release my water. Simple decision. Since the urge to go was nearing painful, finding a local watering place necessary. I spent little time searching for an appropriate location. I found a nice space about 20 feet from the tent near a little grove of scrub. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. But who the hell, at 2:32 am on a Wednesday night, in the middle of a 65 mile per hour wind would be looking around to catch a glimpse of a 74 year old man urinating? Anyway, the issue was how to pee with the wind not into it. Yet with the wind swirling, it was difficult to aim since the wind changed rapidly. I managed to avoid taking a bath.

Again, back into the tent and sleeping bag, tripping over the lip of the tent opening with another face plant, this time into the sleeping bag, thank Zeus.

I am back in the tent and in the sleeping bag, cuddling with Girlfriend. I am on my back.

Suddenly, I feel something hit me in the face. WHAM!! I had just begun to fall asleep. Did a tree fall on the tent? Is there a bear attempting to attack us? Finally, it dawns on me. The tent assaulted my head. I screamed “The tent attacked me.” Girlfriend starts to laugh. “It’s not funny, damn tent hit me.” More laughter. WHACK, tent assaults me again. More cursing, more laughter. Wind has loosened the tent flap. WHAP!! WHAP!! WHAP!! Laughter becomes hysterical. More protestations of “Not funny!!” Much more laughter. WHAP!! WHAP!! WHAP!! WHAP!! WHAP!! Tent is increasing its assault. Wind has pulled several anchors rendering my side of the tent loose. I raise my arms to ward off the assault, Girlfriend exits the tent and pounds the anchors to decrease the tent’s assault. She has not stopped laughing and still laughs heartily today.

Morals of the story: Don’t sleep on a mountain top with 65 mile an hour winds blowing. If you don’t want to be assaulted by the tent sleep in the open.

Thoughts on a Doppelganger

According to the dictionary, a doppelgänger is is a biologically unrelated look-alike, or a double, of a living person. I am sure that most of us have had someone tells us that we resemble some other person of their acquaintance. Or someone we have just met will comment that they are certain that they have seen us before, that we look very familiar. My “go to response” to this statement is something like “You must spend a lot of time looking at the wanted posters in the post office.” 

Have you really met your doppelgänger? If you have, it’s very weird isn’t it? If you haven’t had the experience, trust me it’s weird, very weird. It becomes more bizarre when more than one other person confuses you for another. It becomes really whacko when your own father can’t tell you apart from your twin stranger. 

Have I met mine? You bet. At the end of my sophomore year in high school my father moved us from a small city in Northern Kentucky to a suburb of Cincinnati. He bought a hardware store and I became the help. I went from a school with the total of 145 high school students to a factory high school of over 1200. It was not my choice, but I’ll leave that alone. 

Shortly after we moved into our new house, which we bought from one Robert E. Lee (not the general), my brother Tom and I went around the corner to hit some baseballs at the elementary school ballfields. As Tom was hitting the balls and I was catching and throwing, a group of four males about my age gathered behind the backstop watching our activity. I became somewhat concerned, having no idea of what they were doing and how they would act. So I suggested to Tom that we needed to head home which was around the corner and 5-6 houses down. As we picked up our kit, the guys approached us and one said “Paul, we didn’t know you could play ball.”

Their affect was one of confusion. Mine was one of bewilderment. They insisted that I was this Paul, that we had been classmates since first grade. I insisted that we had just moved to town. They wanted to know why I was lying. They asked on what street I lived, I replied Naomi Court. Their response was that that just confirmed their suspicion because Paul lived on Naomi Court. 

I was becoming concerned since the contact seemed to be generating some anger. Eventually I produced my drivers license which seemed to settle the issue. The conversation then moved on to discovering details of each of us. Evidently these four had been together since elementary school. Each played on the varsity basketball and baseball teams. We had much in common. 

When I told them that I had to go to Moeller High School, they were sympathetic. Moeller was the local catholic high school and had the reputation for being populated by snobs. I told them that my father wouldn’t abide my attending a public school. They began riffing on what pranks I could pull on teachers and others if I could attend the public school. In our conversations the guys told me about Paul. That he was a geek, nerd, and similar. He lived in an apartment on Naomi Court with his single mother, he isolated in school, was ungainly, but all in all was ok.  

Mom and Dad dismissed my story as misidentification. But as subsequent events would demonstrate, it was true. Some short time after my encounter with the guys, on a Saturday lunch break, I was walking towards the local pizza emporium to get my garlic bread fix when 2 elderly women stopped me. 

“Oh Paul,” one intoned, her countenance beaming, “We were so proud when we heard that you won the state youth chess championship.”  

I replied, “Mam, I am not Paul, my name is Jack. I don’t play chess.”

“Oh Paul. I know who you are. I babysat you for years and I would know you anywhere. Why are you doing this?” She became crestfallen. I showed her my drivers license. I thought I ought to have it tattooed on my forearm to save having to drag it out everytime. She and her companion moved away still confused. These events were fairly common, at least one per month, sometimes more frequently.  

However the final nail in the doppelgänger saga occurred one Saturday when I returned from a delivery of 20 bags of concrete mix. My uncle George was there. George usually helped out on most Saturdays since Saturday was generally our busiest day in the hardware store. As I walked into the store George told me that Dad was angry with me. Why? “He’ll tell you.”

“Where the hell have you been?” Spoken unkindly, accusingly. 

“I took the concrete mix to the Hudson farm. I had to unload it all my myself and old lady Hudson wanted me to drag all the bags to a rock garden she’s making, about 50 yards from the parking area. I stopped for a coke. Why?”

“I saw you at Al’s drug store next door an hour ago in clean clothes.”

“Wasn’t me. Call Mrs Hudson if you don’t believe me. Probably was Paul.”

“Don’t give me that Paul nonsense again!” 

At that very moment Paul enters the store as if on cue. George exclaims “Holy shit Ray look here.” pointing to Paul. Dad froze. George froze. I laughed. Paul looked frightened. 

Point, set and match!!

Did I ever meet Paul face to face? Yes twice. The two encounters lasted about 3-4 minutes each. But two were enough. I saw the same face I saw in the mirror every morning. Same face, same color, same dimples, same chin, same eye color, same hair color, same hair cut. Absolutely bizarre. He wasn’t interested in chatting. I didn’t pursue it.

I don’t know what prompted me to think of Paul. He came to mind several weeks ago and has entered my consciousness off and on since. I wonder what has happened to him. Is he still alive? Did he go to college? What work has he done? Does he have children? Do they resemble him? Or me? 

Such thoughts are of no consequence. They are, however, an interesting diversion on a cold but sunny Wednesday afternoon locked down in my apartment. 

Chicken Little vs Alfred E Neumann

Chicken Little vs Alfred E Neumann 

Sometimes my little brain reverts to periods in my past, oddly enough conjuring up memories that seem to make sense in today’s environment. What is more bizarre is that I combine these memories, meld them together and come to some semblance of an explanation for current events. Usually these memories are without apparent juxtaposition, seemingly unconnected by either time or message. They come from different periods of my life. They seem to spring from wayward neurons that latch on to a disjointed concept which becomes whole. 

Do you  remember the childhood story of Henny Penny? The little chicken who believed that the sky was falling because an acorn fell on her head. Since she had no awareness that it was an acorn, she surmised that it was part of the sky. In the story she enlisted several other of her barnyard friends in a mission to inform the king that the sky was falling, only to encounter a fox who was more than pleased to mislead the gang with the intention of securing a few good meals. The fox’s plan was thwarted by Turkey-Perky and Goosey-Brucie. The goose slammed the oak tree causing more acorns to fall on Henny Penny, who then realized that  it had been acorns all along that caused her confabulation. All the friends returned home glad that the fox had not eaten them and that the sky was not falling. 

Alfred E Neumann was a counter-hero in my college days. We waited anxiously for the newest edition of “Mad” magazine to hit the newsstands. Why would we be so focused on the round headed, vacant expression, slightly enigmatic smiling semi-blob? Precisely because of the country’s environment. The Vietnam war was raging and we males were on there hook to become cannon fodder. Race relations were in the forefront of domestic issues. The entire country was unsettled at best. In some circles Barry Goldwater was perceived as wanting to unleash the nukes on everyone. In others Lyndon Johnson seemed to be incapable of telling the Truth, at least about Vietnam. It was angst throughout the land. Alfred’s approach was the famous statement “What me worry?”. 

As I considered these two seemingly disparate stories, it a occurred to me, as I watched the initial presidential debate, that each story defined, in part, the state of our country. Part of the citizenry are in a constant state of trepidation. The president will destroy the country, the pandemic will decimate the population, the economy will never recover, we have never experienced such turmoil, ad infinatum. As the election approaches, worry and fear of impending doom actually is the only event that is common between every faction. There are groups that extrapolate an acorn falling on their heads into confabulations of conspiracy to the point of attempting to act upon these conspiracies. We find most factions gathering adherents and marching to warn the king of impending doom, except the king wouldn’t care, he has his own adherents pointing to their own acorns falling. Henny Penny and gang had their concerns allayed by the arrival of many acorns that knocked out the fox. Might be that this will happen. One issue that concerns me is what will happen to the acorns that have already fallen. What oak trees will they  produce? 

Alfred E Neumann on the other hand is the epitome of the unconcerned. Apathetic and blaze are Alfred’s watchwords. There is a section of the populace who seem impervious to the environment. The chaos that surrounds us all is met with a shrug of the shoulders and a Neumann emotionless expression. His “What me worry?” Is an unspoken meme that influences a number of our fellow citizens to avoid declaring for one faction or another. Its another declaration that nothing matters, not avoiding COVIT 19, not voting, immersing oneself into crowded situations, failing to support fellow citizens. 

Will the confusion and chaos end once the election is over and a winner is declared? How do we tamp down the panic of Henny Penny, or elevate the nonchalance of Alfred E Neumann? Will the conspiracy theories dissipate or the uncaring leave us, can we unite the nation? May be we need to fell the oak tree to remove the potential falling acorns.

What’s in a Birthday?

What’s in a birthday? Upon waking up this am, it dawned on me that my 74th birthday was just a few days away. So what is in a birthday? I have had 73 others so one would expect that I could expound on the meaning and ramifications of these annual events. I suppose that I can define a birthday by the presents – I have had more ties than I can remember, or the parties – all 3 of them after birthday 16. On birthday 16 my parents took some friends and me to an ice skating party where John McDermott skated over his index finger and nearly cut it off. Ruined the party. John never liked me anyway. For my 22nd birthday I received my draft notice, at least Uncle Sam noticed. I can’t remember many birthdays in which I didn’t work. 

My supposition then is that the meaning of birthday is more esoteric than presents, or parties, or even events. They are a reflective measure of life passages. While our passages ebb and flow fitfully, sometimes in linear progression, sometimes in a circular motion folding back upon themselves, other times in regression, we rarely remain static. Only the dead are truly static. We on the other hand usually live our lives in episodes connected by periods of quiet or inactivity. 

I have seen a truism quoted in several classes that between the time one begins work and when one retires, if indeed we do, 74% of average persons are employed in a career field other than the original. Its been quite a long time since workers retired from their original employer. The majority of people move more than 6 times during their lifetime. The list of changes is nearly infinite.

One can reflect on each life change as a discrete event disconnected from previous events and not reflected in subsequent activities. However, I believe that each passage provides a connection to another passage. Some may be profound, others opaque. Some passages may continually influence subsequent passages, others merely add a passing context. 

As an example, I grew up in a segregated city in Kentucky. I was shunned because I was verbal about the immorality of the system. As a result I learned to be by myself. I was never invited to parties, was attacked on the playground, schoolmates were told not play wth me. I learned to keep my own company. In the current milieu of distancing I am ok with being on my own. I do try to socialize as much as I could. I pick activities that are neutral but social, such as pickleball. However I will never expound on my deep thoughts. I keep them to myself because I have been a target by speaking out in the past. 

I have made a passage into writing which suits me well during the COVIT 19 pandemic. I have made a passage into volunteer work, which provides some internal satisfaction. I have been providing counsel to friends during negative times, as well as encouraging others to stretch themselves by applying themselves in new adventures. I even provide assistance to expedite the process.  

As I approach age 74 I reviewed all the changes I have made over time, some good, some bad, some downright dangerous, yet I am comfortable with where I am. I have more changes in mind, more passages to move through. I reject stasis. I embrace ebb and flow.   

Building a Family

Epiphanies don’t come on command, most arrive without an announcement. Actually, they usually occur silently, under cover, obscured by some other issues. Its only when one has a moment of quiet, when focused on some other issue, that they manifest themselves. Indeed, epiphanies will frequently appear as if they are emerging from a fog instead of exploding into consciousness. My latest one snuck up on me and bit me, though I will not say where.

I had moved to Stockton 2 1/2 years ago from rural Washington State. I knew no one here and had not lived alone since, well never. I am here because its the closest to my daughter and her family in Alameda that I could afford. As time progressed it became apparent that Stockton is an insular city. There are 3 degrees of separation. Most connections between most persons are easy to discover, even if the connection was someone’s neighbor in the 80s. These connections are more evident in my senior age group. Families create many of the connections and relationships, as well as the Central Valley culture, small number of high schools, and even Stockton’s history and negative reputation. Sometimes the prevalent attitudes seems to be us against the reputation.

In this atmosphere my ability to connect with others has been sometimes difficult, sometimes effective. Part of my difficulty was the need to be part of a social group, be included in conversations, in experiences. Since I had no need to develop these skills growing up, I was frequently at a loss as to how to proceed. I found myself vacillating between being intrusive and being hidden. I decided to join some social activities. When I walked into the Senior Center, staff were talking about pickleball, an activity I had experienced a bit 5 or 6 years earlier. I bought an inexpensive paddle and begun play on Fridays. This allowed me to become part of a group with a purpose. I developed more relationships at the center by volunteering for activities that other members chose not to join. All in all I joined 3 other social/educational groups and volunteered for activities, expecting that I could leverage my volunteer activities into more solid connections. My expectations did not come to fruition.

One of the few positive constants for me was pickleball. In addition to playing at the Senior Center, I joined the local athletic club that offered pickleball. In September, I began experiencing severe arthritis, especially in my right shoulder which limited my playing to the Senior Center which was a much less intensive experience allowing me to increase my playing to 3 times a week. I was making friends, developing relationships.

And then the coronavirus attacked. As the requirement for distancing was introduced a friend and I tried to maintain our pickleball play, going so far as to find open tennis courts even if there was no net and hit the ball back and forth. One Sunday, another pickleball devotee and I converged on an abandoned parking lot, set out a court using duck tape, bought a temporary net and began playing. As things stand now, we have two courts. The number of players increased to 18 in the space of 6 months. During this time the athletic club reopened and some of the players moved their play to there. Some went because of the parking lot surface, most because the play was not as intense as they liked. As these players exited their place was taken by folks who had played at the senior center. The population increased to nearly 20 players who were intent on playing. Even though these folks were not at the level of those who left, they were improving as play continued.

Scheduling play was confusing since both the parking lot courts and the group playing at the athletic club used the same list serve. I constructed a new list serve only for those persons playing at the parking lot courts and took parking control of scheduling. I had purchased a net and a former player gifted me hers. We played 4, sometimes 5 days a week averaging 14 players a day. The camaraderie was healthy and pleasant. Play was improving. Even the marginal players had their moments. I felt my position was to provide a venue for these folks to have a place to play at least until the restrictions were lifted or perhaps beyond, and to continue encouragement and instruction.

A week ago, I was standing by one court watching play talking with another player when I blurted out “This is my family!”. The epiphany was I would get what I needed only when I provided for others.


The NFL football season began this past weekend. As I sat watching injury upon injury it struck me that the most frequent comment from the talking heads was the suggestion that the player might not get to return to the field. The next most frequent comment was the speculation of what the inability of the player to return meant to the team. We watch the players perform hobbled, unable to run with speed, or lack the mobility with which they generally perform, have difficulty holding onto the ball. Or a myriad other issues that diminish their abilities. Injuries occur in all sports, in all physical activities that impede the person’s activities. I have been there from sprained ankles at 7yo, to arthritic shoulders at 73 yo. Coaches have encouraged me to “play through the pain”. In other words, ignore the pain but tell me if it gets too bad. “Too bad?” Who gets to judge that level. “Can you pitch to one more batter?” “We need your shot from the corner, can you do that?” ” How about one more pickleball game?” The unsaid comment is to be named a “quitter.” Especially for injuries that are not apparent such as concussions, or torn muscles. Bones protruding through skin are different.

The of us who have experienced these requests recognize that there is really no question involved. The stated question implies a demand. “Ignore the pain and do your job!” The medical staff, if there is one, is tasked with getting the player back to the field, court, pool, etc. caring for the individual is secondary to the team. Sorry but that is the truth. For example the NFL concussion protocol requires the player be taken to a medical tent on the field and given a perfunctory exam. The player is then allowed back to the game if he passes simple tests. Concussions can take time to manifest symptoms, but by the time the player is mid-week, the concussion can become full blown.

However, this blog is not an attack on the NFL or any other sport or physical activity. As I was thinking about the “playing through the pain” theme, I made a connection with other areas of life. Pain is not only physical but can be emotional, behavioral, environmental, internal, external among other issues. The current situation with the coronavirus and the requirements for combating the pandemic can present us with pain. The pain of altering our lives, of losing work, distancing from friends and family. All of which presents each of us with confusion, cognitive dissonance, denial, overreaction, and a host of negative responses. We can hibernate or refuse to abide by the scientific requests. Each response can lead us to other consequences. If we hibernate, wear masks at all times, keep distances we probably will not contract COVID 19, but the consequences can be dire in loss of contact with others, fear of contact, hyper-vigilance, and loss of physical health. If we deny, the consequences are increased exposure to the virus with possibility of contracting the disease. Loss of acceptance in authority, especially in authority based on scientific principles and acceptance of unsound messages concerning the virus, which is a much stronger risk taking stance. The consequence to this is the thought that “I haven’t obeyed the medical authorities and I don’t have the virus, therefore they are wrong.” However, that statement is accurate only for the moment it is thought or uttered, it may not be accurate 10 minutes from now.

How do we play through this pain? At some point acceptance of the possibility of infection is necessary. Part of the issue is the difference between possibility and probability. Probability is the is the likelihood of something happening. Science likes to discuss the probability in percentile form. One has x probability out of xxxx for an event to take place. However, the percentile moves in relation to variables. For example: the probability of drowning while boating is x. The probability for drowning without a life preserver is xy, in choppy waters is xyz, in a hurricane the remainder of the alphabet. Nothing is guaranteed. Possibility is the likelihood of something happening, such as being killed by the proverbial diaper truck or a safe falling from a 3 story building. Ask the question “Could I have seen this coming?” If not you are dealing with possibility.

The question for all of us is “What is reasonable?” not “What do I want?” Trying to be prepared for the worst is a good approach. I try to work through my day by assuming that my fellow citizens will do their best to not infect me. But I also take precautions to avoid infection. I am not rabid about the event but planning ahead always is a logical and adult approach. It helps me to minimize my exposure. It allows me to play through the pain of missing friends and family, my daughter, son-in-law, grandson. I also refuse to focus on the minutiae of COVID statistics. Listening to hour by hour breakdowns of statistics frustrates me. Its information I don’t need. I will look at the longitudinal statistics, which gives me a better picture of trends. It also removes the panic of the situation.

We will get through this eventually but only if we are calm and reasonable.

Some Flowers Shouldn’t Be Picked

Some Flowers Shouldn’t Be Picked

A while ago a new flowering plant appeared in a neighboring garden. The leaves were a tangle of frond-looking leaves. The flower showed a Mediterranean color. It appeared to be affable and sensuous at the same time. As it waved in the breeze, one could almost hear it say, 

“Look at me I am pretty.”

Strangely, as quickly as it arrived, it went away. The gardener who brought it, took it away. The other flowers in the garden missed the newcomer, frequently asking the “why” question, since the new flower had made fast friends among the other plants. 

Suddenly the gardener returned the flower and placed it back in the garden. The plant grew healthy but eventually something happened. The gardener was ignoring the plant. The flower began to droop. It looked poorly. For some reason the gardener moved the plant to a different location that lacked what the flower needed to prosper. Early on the gardener had promised to feed, water and shelter the flower and had promised that the flower could be among relatives, but each of the promises were ignored. Instead the gardener demanded the flower get healthier, continue to grow. The more the gardener demanded, the sadder the flower became, and the more the flower drooped. The flower even lost appetite for enjoying the breeze, allowing the breeze to push it over instead of standing tall like it had. 

Up to this point I had thoughts of repotting the flower into my garden. I thought the flower would add nice color. Yet, as the flower became more and more sad and began to wilt, it seemed that the current garden was toxic to the flower. The dirt was poor, food was minimal, water was almost non-existent, and the shade was oppressive. 

Then I looked at my garden. It dawned on me that my garden wasn’t much better. I really couldn’t provide what the flower needed. 

The flower had been healthy and vibrant when first it arrived to the garden, so it was evident that it had thrived in the previous environment. The solution was to help the flower to return home. The gardener would raise hell but the gardener ought not to have transplanted the flower to a toxic environment. 

Under the cover of darkness the flower and I returned it to its previous garden. It soon returned to health. It was home and in contact with its family, its babies were sprouted and producing their own flowers, as well as new babies. It now stands tall in the breeze allowing it to touch its hair-like fronds, swaying seductively. 

I may visit from time to time, I’ll be sad because my garden will still be plain but I will be pleased at the same time because it is home and happy. 

My lesson? Just because the flower is attractive and pleasing to see and smell, and be observed, that doesn’t mean it should be picked. It may need to be somewhere else to be happy and that’s not my call.


Wth social distancing, we have been ensconced in our little worlds, to which we react with anger at the movement and social limitations the coronavirus response of government seems to provoke. We absorb every little nuance of the media explosion, unable to ferret out the reality from the misdirection. We sit in front of the tv and watch the talking heads expound on information which they would have difficulty explaining in private conversation. We catch sound bites of what seem like milliseconds that compete with well researched and finely constructed lengthy conversations. We would rather spend 30 minutes listening to 15 periods of two seconds of drivel than reading for 30 minutes a reasoned didactic presentation.

We say that our families matter to us. We say that we want to be happy, that we are looking forward to things slowing down, that we love peace and quiet. Yet we choose to spend the time we have in endless carping and complaining, chasing opinions that reinforce our prejudices. We choose to ignore the time opportunity given to us by the coronavirus. Odd to say that but its the reality. We have been given the opportunity to develop ourselves academically, intellectually, artistically, and in other areas that might lead to better jobs, more rewarding lives. We have the opportunity to deepen our relationships with family members if we only took the chance given by time. Instead most of us look for diversions outside of us that require squandering our time. 

Time is an interesting component of life. We have a time limitation of an indeterminate amount. When the store is empty, its empty. We can’t fertilize and water it to grow more. Purchasing more is beyond the pale. We protect our money, we protect our reputations, we protect our property, but our time? We act like we have more than we need. There is no bargain that we can make to secure more. None of us are so important that we can justify extending our time. 

Maybe the lessen to be learned from the coronavirus time issues revolve around setting limits on obligations. We are asked to give our time in any number of relationships, organizations, tasks, and other supplicants. Each are convinced that their requests should be acceded to and are more important than any others. Each request is connected, either directly or indirectly to some form of moral imperative. The phrases “you should”, “you must”, “you need to” and the like are attempts to impose an obligation that does not emanate from us but from the requesting party. Its at that point of a request that its necessary we address our addiction to obligations. We lack the fortitude to reply “I don’t want to…” This simple phrase repeated can invalidate any following request or demand for an explanation as to why the request is denied. One need not provide any other explanation other than “I don’t want to.” There is no argument that will overcome this response.

We can limit our activities, focusing on what is personally important without sacrificing the time. There is a story that a short time before his death, an ESPN interviewer requested some time from Kobe Bryant. The interview would have been a positive for his business but he declined to take the interview to be with his girls. Goes without saying!