Death by the Numbers

This week 50 people–might have been 51– gathered at the gravesite of a man who had died 20 years ago. Much of the time was devoted to catching up on old friendships. Health, politics and the memory of this departed hero dominated the chat.

I  was there with my usual array of thoughts. B.T. Collins had been my friend. His exploits remain legendary with those who knew him. His irreverent,dynamic behavior as a public official had put him on the front pages of California newspapers for nearly two decades.

B.T.’s funeral was a big deal. Thousands came to say goodbye to him and a few lamented that his memory would probably fade quickly. It hasn’t.

I remember him for this: he’d call you on your birthday; tell you the truth, even if it hurt; and he kept his word. He was much more than that, but those are the qualities that came to me this week.

Most people, myself included, will not have a group of friends gathering to remember us twenty years after our passing. The 20th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley drew a huge crowd. But there are people today who believe Elvis is still alive. I could say the same about B.T. .

Saliva Bullets

I was walking along Bleecker Street, October 1969, dressed in my Army khakis, holding the rank of PFC. The air was crisp as was my gait when I came in eye contact with a woman about my age. She had long dark hair and a red bandana around her forehead. She spit at me–the saliva bullet slid slowly past my heart.

I didn’t say anything, or glare at her. I kept walking, hardly breaking stride. A few minutes later I was facing my girlfriend in her Greenwich Village apartment. We never talked about Vietnam, as in, when would I go, or what would happen when I did? And she would never know about the saliva bullet, my only war wound.

These days I help veterans. They tell me about their anguish and the long wait they endure while the VA decides whether or not to to award them benefits for service-connected injuries. Some have been checking their mail for over 700 days without a response and more than a few have likened the wait to a ” saliva bullet.”

Jack3d

Even if there were a government mandated warning that stated that taking Jack3d could kill you, people would still take it. A new wrongful death lawsuit has put this dietary supplement back in the news. I hope some emphasis will be placed on the inner drive that people have to go beyond simple hard work conditioning to run faster, be stronger and how this drive is fed by the marketing of supplements. 

We need an inner coach to remind us that our heart is our must important muscle and that to manipulate it is risky.  

I recall running one evening, reaching a point after about 30 minutes where I usually stopped, but this time I was breathing as if I had just started–I was gliding over the hardtop with no desire to quit. I kept going, eventually slowing to a walk with my arms raised like an Olympian. But if someone had offered me a pill that would guarantee that I could relive this running euphoria with one swallow, I would have said “no.” The reason for my denial would be rooted, in part, in personal education–I know the harm that supplements can do. But there is also the self-realization that I do not run to win other than to remind myself that I am fortunate to be able to put one foot in front of the other.

I am omitting an important fact–this euphoria came at age 60. In my twenties I was accustomed to pushing myself physically to the point of exhaustion. I never took supplements because I didn’t need them, or know about them. Had they been marketed to me I might have a different story to tell today.

Habemus Papam

Our perspectives are shaped by a multitude of life experiences that become wordly fingerprints telling others who we are and how we differ from our neighbors.

Take the new Pope. Like billions of others, I waited for the word. In my case I watched CNN live, making this the first time ever that I would witness the ritual of the announcement and the first time that I would hear  ” Habemus Papam.”  The final seconds had game show tension–and the winner is!  But this notion was quickly erased by “Habemus Papam,” the Latin phrase for “We have a Pope.”  I took Latin in hIgh school and it is still in me, especially habemus.

I was never an altar boy. I chose Latin for reasons that are rare and strange: a teenager who wanted to finish the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Each week I was stumped by three and four-word clues in Latin. And I liked the concept that in modern days it  was a language that was read, not spoken.

Latin became my favorite subject, a feather for me given that I had little motivation to excel–I was a “c” student, even in Latin.  Apparently I had the school’s highest score in the Regents exam–I know this because my teacher asked me if I had cheated during the test. It was a Spanish Inquisition moment. The one  timeI did well, I was doubted.  

All this memory was packed between Habemus Papam and the emergence of Pope Francis on the balcony–my fingerpint. What was yours?  

 

Password Paranoia

I know someone is trying to hack me as I type and I would be lucky if it were only one person and not a boiler room full of masked thieves.

Twenty years ago I met with a group of people from Berkeley who believed in “cash-only.” They didn’t trust banks and believed that writing a check was a paper trail for identify thieves. They were ahead of their time. Back then I had one password, no ATM card, no cell phone, no laptop and little knowledge of the internet. Today I change dozens of passwords on a routine basis which means I forget them.

I assume that technology constantly improves and that hackers will get craftier as will the defenses raised to stop them. Many of us will get caught up in this war of electronic codes. Obviously, we will need to take the next leap to be safe, adopting some CIA-type process to gain access to our simple email accounts.

It is difficult to forecast how the world of passwords will fare five years from now. Perhaps, the only people who don’t have to worry are the cash-only advocates who have rejected the world of credit and all the dangerous strings that come with it. Of course, it is nearly impossible to escape electronic connections if you receive federal entitlements like Social Security–but it can be done, at least in the short-term. 

Yes, there are people who know how to live under the radar and they do so for reasons that range from deep paranoia to a complete disavowal of how technology has taken control of our lives (insert photo of young person crossing busy street while texting).

 

And Now a Word from Caesar!

047

Italians need their sense of humor these days: no Pope, government in shambles, economy in toilet. But it remains a great country to visit. So, I’d like to share a photo with you that I took while walking along a country road in Vespignano (plenty of free parking which is not the case if you go 25 kms further to Firenze). Where else can you see Caesar greet the new day while his two neighbors are in angst?

Pope Watch

Thanks for visiting this site to get the latest misinformation about the election of the next Pope. He is in Rome now. Actually I had a dream about the puff of white smoke, so I know the winner.

This is the second blog I’ve written in the past week on the Pope, a subconscious act triggered by my desire long ago to be a priest. I was caddy at the time. A caddy carries golf clubs for a fee, usually at a private golf course that practices some form of discrimination–this was true back in the 1960s but given all the awareness afoot these days, discrimination has become a subtle act, so not all private golf clubs discriminate, unless you consider paying exhorbitant fees for the right to chase a white ball to be inappropriate. But I digress–you want to know about the next Pope, or maybe why I didn’t become a priest. Simple. I flunked the interview. But obviously the Pope-to-be didn’t.

Save My Post Office

The post office that played a key role in my upbringing is on the list of buildings that may be sold by the cash-starved U.S. Postal Service. The memories of the brick building on the Morristown, New Jersey square remain rich, even after 50 years. I’ve read there is a movement to protect this architectural treasure.

Here is where I stood on a marble floor and gazed at the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, where Christmas cards tumbled to the floor from the box that was nearly out of my reach, where I clutched my acceptance letter from Rutgers and where I got my draft notice.

But the most famous letter by far was from a girl from Rhode Island. She was attending a private college in New Jersey and I was to be a senior at Rutgers. We met at a wild apartment party a week before summer break . One date later we sensed we were something special–this is probably not accurate but with the passage of time, emotions get smoothed or roughed and I choose the more posiitive memory. I said I would visit her over the summer and she said she’d write me a letter. I somehow (really) lost her phone number, but waited for the letter that never came.After a month passed I cursed on the marble floor each time the box failed to produce the letter I had already written for her. Three months later, at summer’s end, the letter arrived. It was postmarked in May but it had been put in the wrong box, so said the clerk, where it aged beyond the point of a reasonable explanation of why I didn’t call her.

I don’t remember her name but I can still see the envelope neatly addressed to me and the enclosed promise of fun we would have when I visited her.

Some things can’t be sold.

 

 

 

 

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