Fish Story

DSC_0020I landed a 70-year-old fish today. Actually, it may be older. It was already dead the first time I looked up at it, mounted on wood with one eye that followed me around the room, or at least that it is how I remember the fish hanging over the fireplace in a relative’s cabin. I was 9 or so and it was to be the summer of fishing for me, according to my parents. The memories are vague, save for this eternal fish that watched over me for a month.

At summer’s end I forgot about the fish until many years later when my father put it up on the wall in the living room, again over a fireplace. I was now eye-level with that eye that appeared more panicked than watchful. Time to move on.

Decades passed without a thought of this fish until a delivery man left it leaning on the front door. My sister had mailed it to me in a long thin box that looked like it might contain a pool cue stick.

As I removed the layers of newspaper I prepared myself to see a relic that was much less than I what remember. Going back has usually been a disappointment for me. Places are smaller, dirtier than expected. But the fish was a surprise—it hadn’t changed, in fact, it had an amber glow that spoke of wisdom and serenity.

For the time first time I wanted to know more about this mystery fish. For one, it was small, about 14 inches, not a match for those sweeping marlins that adorn the homes of people who have everything. I first saw it in that cabin at the edge of Budd Lake, the largest natural body of water in New Jersey. Perch and bass are caught there. Was it my distant relative’s first catch?  Why mount it? Why did my father inherit it? Why am I anxious to hang it? And who will get it next?

Some fish are meant to outlive us just as some questions don’t require answers, better to let vagueness embellish the past so it can enrich the present.

An April Fool

I was going to write about the origin of April Fool’s Day, but frankly, after 700 years it is a day that is worn out. The joke is on those who enjoy saying April Fool’s Day after an attempt to embarrass a friend, or a social misfit. Yes, this day can be cruel to some. So, the question is how can we overhaul April 1 to return it to a time of harmless fun?

In the social media age, jokes travel fast and the hurt, even if unintended, can last years, not seconds. How many prank posts today will inflict real pain on a gentle soul? “One” would be too many.

We don’t need April Fool’s Day anymore, but try getting rid of it. You’d be a fool to try. I’ll wait for April 2nd.

Thankful Advice

Therapy hint of the month: within 20 minutes of waking up in the morning, laugh or enjoy a bit of good news. Sure, I’d like that. But everyday? And this is the point: how you react to the possibility of starting every day with a laugh or good news will say much about who you are, or aren’t. In fact, concentrate on who you aren’t to find out more about who you are.

The answers to our lives are right there in front of us. To find the clues, reorder your thought processes. We’ve grown up shaped by our environment from parents, friends, schools and experiences, both good and bad. To adapt we’ve developed instinctive thought, that is, we tend to be positive, negative or neutral to the moments that we assume await us. But, turn this around and try the reverse. If you wake up dreading going to work, then do the opposite by thinking of the possible joys that might befall you at your job; for example, recall a compliment from someone you helped in the course of your work duties. Maybe there are no compliments—in this case open the door for someone; i.e., start somewhere.

If you are perky in the AM, then go dark and enjoy the way your psyche rejects the negativity and consider yourself lucky.

So back to laughing and good news–I’d go for that every other day. Stop. I actually am thankful for everyday that I get up and this trumps any advice I just gave you.

The Perfect Swing

I’ve been hitting baseballs perfectly for over half a century…in my mind.

One of the great adventures in sports is to strike a fastball with the fat of the bat while your torso turns in sync with fully extended arms at top speed. The arm speed is important—there is no hesitation, no adjustment, just the art of meeting the ball and, in my case, sending it over the left fielder’s head. The ball is weightless on the bat and it flies over the third baseman’s head before the swing is finished. Gone.

I haven’t done the above much. The first time was in Little League at age 12 against a real flame thrower. I broke up his no-hitter in the fifth inning. This first experience with the weightlessness of a perfect swing was so shocking I forgot to run.  A few years later I had two “shots” in one season. Then there was no time for baseball until some 50 years passed and I joined an over the hill hardball league, in search of another moment of perfection. I got one near the end of the season. Again, the ball rocketed off the bat into the proverbial power alley in left-center. I barely made it to second: old legs, young mind.

Ok, like the best seller The Art of Fielding, my point goes beyond baseball. I write and dream about the unobtainable. Life has so many variables above and beyond confronting the spin of a curve ball or the heaviness of a slider. Success depends so much on fortitude, focus and timing. Failure is frequent—2/3 of the time for a good hitter—but not fatal if there is a next pitch, another chance, a possibility to be perfect.  

Get in the game. Keep your eye on the ball. And the baseball metaphors keep rolling with the opening of the 2013 MLB season upon us. Go Giants!  




Food for a Year

In 1969 I ate a  greenish can of C-rations that a friendly drill sergeant claimed was left over from World War II, indeed, the can was dated 1945.  I don’t remember if the goop had flavor, but I didn’t spit it out, nor did I get sick.

Today I discovered I could buy a year’s worth of food from Costco for $1,199, delivery charge included. The 120 10-pound cans of nourishment have a purported shelf-life of 25 years. Shelf Reliance, the manufacturer, says its products is just right for times of civil unrest, natural disasters, etc. .

 The point here is that you can stock up, be prepared to survive for cheap. Just think of the money to be saved by not eating out, or driving to and shopping at the supermarket each week.

I did my part in 1969.  

Wooly Bully Uncovered

I personally don’t know anyone who can recite the entire lyrics to “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. I’ve listened to the recording easily a thousand times over the past 47 years. This week on a long car drive, I played it repeatedly in a final effort to get it right. I still couldn’t make out a few words, so I went online for the truth today and was stunned by this: “Let’s not be L-seven, come and learn to dance.”

Okay, thousands, if not millions out there know the meaning of “L-seven.” I don’t. I guess that means I’m square.

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.”

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