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A Tiding of Magpies…Three Essays

A TIDING OF MAGPIES (by India)

A tiding of sorrow, for I cannot see,

I turn around, but light blinds me.

The sadness of the people fills the air,

As I look around, I see friends and family there.

Crying and weeping, everyone dressed in black.

I hear my mother say it’s hard for her to sleep,

Then I try to talk back.

She cannot hear me, not a word I say.

I shout “What’s wrong?” but she moves away.

I walk to the front, and there I see me.

Lying in a casket so peacefully. »Read More

“Musings” excerpt

GettyImages LOST_108268634“MUSINGS OF A WHITE BOY”…excerpt for Man Alive writing session 9/16/15

I was a small boy the first time my parents took me to the movies. It was the early ‘50s and this particular Baltimore movie house was not that far removed from its earlier life as a venue for vaudeville stage and minstrel shows. It was said that even the great Al Jolson once sang for his “mammy” there—in blackface, of course. Now, black faces appeared in the audience…albeit within certain parameters!

The theatre’s downstairs was especially crowded that night, so my parents headed for the balcony in search of three seats together. I excitedly climbed the plush, carpeted staircase ahead of them. Reaching the top, instinct thrust me back like a stiff wind. I was terrified, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Smoke hung like a shroud over a sea of tawny eyes looking out from muted blackness. Breathless, I stared at the “Colored Section” and it stared back at me.

I imagine it now like entering Louisiana’s Cajun bayous late at night, the big gators languishing in the sluggish, slimy creeks awaiting the arrival of prey to make opening their lantern-like eyes worth the effort. You should not be here, their eyes say. You will pay dearly for the mistake.

Fast-forward one decade.

I am in high school…myself and about 1200 other boys. One of them is named Gerry. He is the first black student in the school’s 120-year history, at a time when racial tensions and violence are being whipped into a perfect storm by forced integration, assassination, hatred, and fear. Yet, I never heard of a single negative incident in my high school involving Gerry. He was simply one of us.

That was the key, I think. Gerry was one, at least virtually so. (I think there were maybe two other younger black students by the time we graduated.)

Had Gerry been one of a dozen blacks in our school, perhaps those twelve would have bonded, erecting a “wall of difference” between the twelve and the twelve hundred. But by himself, Gerry was…just Gerry.

I never thought much about it then, but I wonder now what was it like for him. I wonder how he felt when he looked out at the 1199 white faces swirling around him each school day.

I wonder if, as a small boy, he ever looked out from a movie theatre’s “Colored Section” at a wide-eyed white boy staring up from the stairwell.

Getting Old Sucks!

The JudgeGETTING OLD SUCKS! I’m not sure at what age that old saw really starts hitting home. I suppose, like most things in life, it varies by individual. What I know for sure is that, for my nearly 93-year old father-in-law, it’s hitting home right now.

Yesterday, Sande had to put her dad in an assisted living facility—his Alzheimers/Dementia/Parkinsons/And Just Plain Being “Tired & Weak” finally making it too much for his 92-year old wife to handle.

The facility is nice. The staff seems to really care. Sande made the room look great. Many of his favorite things are with him—his comfortable chair, the old movies that he watches over and over (westerns and WW II, mostly), his paintings of a favorite dog, his old Judge Thomas A. Lohm plaque, family photos and retirement caricatures. Everything’s there except him, of course. And I suppose that’s a blessing.

And yet, even though “the Judge” is unable to care for himself now, after a lifetime of caring for his wife and daughters, and the countless scalawags and scoundrels who he either defended or judged, there remains an occasional glimpse of the old boy I first met nearly 30 years ago. »Read More

Cross-Pollination

Occasionally, I cross-pollinate the writings of my drug-addicted adults with those of my equally challenged teens. Last week, I shared with the kids the story of one of my adult group—a woman whose ride on the drug addiction roller coaster has been particularly rough, spanning childhood sexual predation, years of brutal domestic violence, multiple inner demon personalities and, not surprisingly, suicidal tendencies. My objective was not to scare them (not easily done, given their intimate familiarity with such things) but rather to point out that the one thing holding this woman together was the love of her 14-year old dog, which had recently gone missing, thus threatening the woman with yet another disastrous downward spiral. Such is the tenuous nature of recovery.

This woman’s life struggles almost made her drug addiction seem benign. But leave it to one of the teens to remind me that there is nothing benign about drugs. A few excerpts from his essay: »Read More

On Good Fortune

Some days, my relative good fortune in life impacts me more than others. Actually, many days lately, given my involvement with my addiction-challenged adult Writing Group at Man Alive and my teen-aged students at The Community School who are furiously paddling upstream against a powerful tide of impending poverty and inner city peer pressure to drop out and light up, or worse. But it all pales by comparison to the situation of my young friend from Maryland’s eastern shore, who I first met ten years ago when he was a ward of the state, and with whom I visited briefly earlier today. »Read More

Thirty Super Bowls Ago

“It was January 22, 1984 and I was lying on the couch in my girlfriend’s apartment watching the Washington Redskins get creamed by the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. One of the announcers had just commented about the bad back that was affecting the performance of one of the Redskins premier offensive players, to which my girlfriend, lying alongside me, retorted, “Bullshit. There wasn’t anything wrong with his back the other night!” I was undoubtedly mulling that comment when an hypnotic humming sound came from the television and an athletic young woman, looking hot and sweaty in a white tank top and orange shorts, suddenly appeared full screen carrying a large brass hammer, running »Read More

“WHEN SANTA LIVED NEXT DOOR”

The signal usually came as a rap on the wall that separated our row house from the one next to us. I suppose Mr. Joe could have just yelled (row house common walls hardly being soundproof), but a couple simple knuckle raps got the job done just fine.

“Joe’s ready,” my mom, clearing the supper dishes in the kitchen, would say to my dad, who was already putting his coat on and checking to make sure there was film in the camera.

“Yep, here we go again.” Dad said, heading for the door.

“Don’t forget to stop at Willie’s,” my mom called out, as the front door closed.

*  *  *

It was a Christmas Eve ritual. Mr. Joe, in full Santa Claus regalia, with my dad, his trusty wingman, ho-ho-ho-ing their way around the neighborhood to the delight, surprise, and occasional terror of its children.

Eyes wide, mouths open, the really little tykes would wonder at the sight of Santa coming through their door before hustling off to bed in hopes of remaining on his “nice list.” Meanwhile, the older kids got a kick out of playing along for the benefit of their younger siblings, and maybe because a part of them wanted to revisit, if only for a few moments, the magical fantasy that is the jolly fat man in the red suit. As for the parents, while they might put out cookies and milk later, they would offer Santa a considerably more adult beverage now to lighten the burden of his busiest night of the year, not to mention assuring that he would leave even merrier than he had arrived. »Read More

“LITTLE MAN ON THE COUCH”…On Super Bowls, Mom & Marketing

Little Man opines…from Meathead to Monopoly.

TP: So, Little, being a Baltimore cat, I assume you got caught up in Super Bowl fever?

LM: Not me, doc. In fact, I sent mom and dad out of the house to watch it. Too much yelling and screaming. The name’s cool, though.

TP: Yes, it’s obvious you’re a fan of super sizing.

LM: Don’t get all caught up in the weight thing, doc. I’ve been tipping the scales at a very consistent “just shy of 30” all winter. Pretty good, I think, considering the loss of my little chipmunk playmates.

TP: What do you do for exercise all winter, Little Man?

LM: Not much, as you can imagine. But I like to humor dad with the occasional game of String Chase.

TP: How’s that go?

LM: Dad runs around the room dangling one of his shoelaces and I swat at it when he dangles it near me.

TP: Doesn’t sound like much of a workout.

LM: No, actually, dad works up a nice little sweat.

TP: Uh-huh. Back to the Super Bowl. Bet your dad was pretty jazzed about it.

LM: Yeah, I’ll say…paid the price the day after, though.  Too much jello, apparently.

TP: Jello? »Read More

“LITTLE MAN ON THE COUCH”…On Sound Machines & Drill Sergeants

Little’s therapist returns from break.

TP: Happy New Year, Little. How’d the holidays treat you?

LM: Not bad, doc, considering.

TP: Considering?

LM: You know the drill. The family blitzkrieg, too many kids, wrapping paper flying all over the place, “sound machines”…like these kids need help making noise.

TP: What are sound machines?

LM: You must’ve seen ‘em…little things look like cell phones with a bunch of buttons that sound out everything from applause to belching and farting. Guess which buttons the little sweetheart grandkids pushed about a thousand times?

TP: Annoying?

LM: Ya think? Plus this year we got a double dose of holiday fun. When Christmas night finally (mercifully) ended, I figured the worst was over. Wrong! Next day, the New Jersey contingent showed up, everybody else returned, and they did it all over again. Who coordinates scheduling for these people?

TP: How about you? Any good stuff?

LM: A few catnip-loaded tchotchkes and, you’ll love this, a tie.

TP: A tie? »Read More

“THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST”

To Sande…On Our 25 Christmases Together.

Twenty-five years ago, in the week between Christmas and New Year, I had dinner alone at Gampy’s neighborhood bar in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon district. It was a bitterly cold Sunday night. To my left, the restaurant had a few patrons, but not many. To my right, outside the big picture window, heavily bundled pedestrians moved briskly against a wintry wind bearing down on Charles Street’s snow-piled sidewalks.

It looked to be a lonely night, and I accepted it as such, even as I found myself flashing back to my bar seat (different bar) at our ad agency’s Christmas Party the week before. I couldn’t stop thinking about her…the Creative Director who had once dubbed me the Idi Amin of advertising and who had spent the bulk of the Office Christmas Party making regular pit stops at the bar to replenish her champagne glass and deliver zingers aimed squarely at the account man she hated—me. Somewhere along the way that evening, we actually started speaking to each other and ended up going home together. Hey, these things happen.

A week later, I’m sitting at Gampy’s, debating whether or not to call. No, I thought. Bad idea. Get a grip on yourself. One more drink. Then, home.

Fate intervened during that drink, and I suddenly found myself asking the bartender for a bottle of champagne to go. I drove up Charles Street, parked outside your house, dialed your number on my car phone, and almost hung up when you answered. I managed to blurt out something to the effect that I was wondering if I could stop by.  “OK,” you said, without hesitation, “but I’ll need an hour.”

For the next hour, I sat cradling the champagne, watching the clock, and wondering what I had done. Four months later, we got married.

I don’t know about destiny, but somehow we both knew that we had found our soul mate. Everyone should be so lucky. »Read More