I Love Lucy More Than Ever Before

This month I have been obsessed with Channel 104 on SiriusXM that has been playing a wonderful, insightful CBS radio show that Lucille Ball did back in the 1960’s called “Let’s Talk to Lucy.”  Premiering on Sept. 7, 1964 and airing five times a week for about a year, this is the first time these shows have been heard in 56 years.

These radio shows are revelations primarily because in short 10-minute segments Ms. Ball was able to bring out personal insights from her guests that went beyond the superficial conversations they normally occur on TV talk shows.

Unlike many interviewers, Ms. Ball listens to her guests which is why so many of the questions are spontaneous based on what they have to say. What’s remarkable is how cultured these people were back then.  So many of today’s celebrities seem illiterate or crass.  

One of the unique features of the show is the minimum production values. It truly sounds like Ms. Ball walked into a star’s dressing room with a tape recorder in hand and recorded everything herself without much assistance. The programs seem to be only sparingly edited so that the natural conversation comes through without manipulation. 

The fact that the medium is radio brings an intimacy to these conversations that could not exist with visuals.  It’s like we are eavesdropping on a private conversation between Lucy and her guest. 

Ms. Ball’s enthusiasm and interest in her guests shine through.  Whenever she is particularly tickled, she has this warm “ha-HA” laugh that naturally flows out of her.  Adding to the immediacy of the moment, one can often hear Ms. Ball strike a match to light a cigarette.

Sometimes a guest is on for up to five programs.  It is fun how Lucy and her guests pretend to return the next day to continue the conversation when it is clear they only met once, the taping edited into multiple segments.

These shows are so refreshingly real and offer listeners a peek into a time capsule of thoughts and opinions of those who were adults and parents back during a tumultuous time in America when the Vietnam War was raging out of control as were young people in terms of their music, dress and morals.

You gain a sense of how lost some parents must have felt in grasping for any help on how to protect their teenaged children from this so-called revolution.  When guest Ruth Berle, comedian Milton Berle’s wife, espouses the virtues of a man who claimed to have the answer to the parents’ angst, Chuck Dederich, founder of Synanon in Santa Monica, it sounds too good to be true—and it is. 

Dederich was viewed as a guru who could magically rescue children from alcohol and drug addictions.  Within years, however, Synanon’s true purpose was revealed:  a religious cult which mandated members shave their heads, and for married couples to divorce and form new unions.  Anyone outside the group who tried to expose the organization faced harsh retaliation.  By the end of the 1970’s, the government shut down Synanon.

Many conversations revolve around pressing issues of the day, most of which remain prevalent today. 

Andy Williams talks about population growth.  There were 3 billion in 1964 and he said that “in 35 years it is projected the world will have 6 billion”—which turned out exactly correct:  6.1 billion in 2000.

Betty Furness talks about the importance of pre-school children getting enrolled in the new Head Start programs to provide them with a strong education footing.

Ms. Ball cares about the elderly.  During her conservation with Vivian Vance, she recalls a time when she was part of an apple festival parade and noticed old people upstairs in houses who were unable to come down to see the parade and how sad that made her feel.

Her strong beliefs in education, discipline and God come through.  It is uplifting to hear how opera singer Mary Costa (now 90 years old) deals with her loneliness on the road by invoking the 91st Psalm.   I can’t imagine hearing any famous person today talking about their faith without people viewing them as weird.

Often you can pinpoint the date of the recording when a guest talks about a child born 5 months ago or a 10th wedding anniversary.  For example, Lucy attended the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  She was mentioning specific events she saw during her 15-hour visit including a funny anecdote about how the jewels of China placed on her head kept slipping down her face.  I went to YouTube and found a 12-minute video documenting Lucy Day, Aug. 31, 1964.  And part of it shows her with the crown.

Arlene Dahl (still alive at 96, her birthday of August 11 coincidentally the day I am typing this) talks about a book she wrote in 1965 called “Always Ask a Man.”  This was a reaction to what was happening at that time when women were starting to dress and act more like men such as wearing pants and having short haircuts.

I can imagine a younger person hearing this with today’s sensibilities and wanting to “cancel” Ball and Dahl as dinosaurs in their view of females back then­­­, but that would be disrespecting the time period that these two glamourous actresses lived in.  It much have been a shock to see these changes unfold during their lifetime.

Even the more mundane discussions on what to wear and how to apply make-up are fascinating to hear.

Of all the topics, however, the welfare of children comes through as Ms. Ball’s primary concern. 

She is very interested in how her guests relate to their children, and how they balance work and parenting.

In a program focused on school dropouts and juvenile delinquency, Lucy talks with Los Angeles Unified School District administrator George Smith who says that “attendance is a very serious problem” that remains true today.

Lucy bemoans the lax parenting that was already evident in the mid-1960’s and blames adult-themed movies and music in bringing standards down.

“We have drifted into something unhealthy almost to an extreme and I wish we could get out of it.”  That sentiment could not be any truer for today’s times.

Listen to how she compares her role as a parent to that of a ship’s captain.  She is very aware of how limited her time is to positively affect her children.

“I do know that I don’t have much longer to be captain of this ship.  Pretty soon my crew will take off on their own so I am trying to make good use of the time that I have.”

Ms. Ball was a strong believer that children craved discipline, something that I could attest to in my 31 years as an educator.

“Parents should realize their responsibilities immediately and take over with a very firm hand.  And I think that you’ll find millions of teenagers who would be grateful for that.”

What comes through after listening to hours of Lucy talk is that she was a true humanitarian.  She really cared about the world around her. 

Beyond being a brilliant entertainer and business woman, she was that rare celebrity:  smart, savvy and all around decent.  Boy, we could sure use more people like her nowadays.

Government-sanctioned Identity Theft

When I taught students how to write, one of the areas most troublesome for them was how to add more details to their writing.

Details are important to a reader by coloring in the outline of an image.

That is why it is unsettling to see how society is de-emphasizing details when it comes to gender, literally wiping away what makes our identities who we are.

It is like government-sanctioned Identity Theft.

The latest nonsense comes from Argentina which has approved a new national ID card that permits the applicant to choose “x” as a gender alongside “male” and “female.”

Here is how President Alberto Fernández explained it.

“I hope one day we get to the point where IDs don’t say if someone is a man, woman or anything else.”

In other words, the endgame is for one day each one of us to be anonymous. It’s as if people have misinterpreted the word “equality” to mean that everybody become blank carbon copies, unformed bodies lacking any discernable traits.  Like a science fiction movie turned documentary, identifying people without gender is a troubling concept to accept.

If someone assaulted you and you were filling out a report to the police, wouldn’t you want to be as precise as possible in describing who the person was?

Many schools now use the word “guardian” to describe all parents because the words “mother” and “father” demeans those who bring up children who are not the birth parents.

In addition to male/female, here are other word pairings that will soon no longer exist because people are not supposed to know if someone is a man or a woman:

  • actor/actress
  • comedian/comedienne
  • host/hostess
  • waiter/waitress
  • congressman/congresswoman

            Hey, aren’t there more pressing issues elected officials should spend their time fixing such as what to do about the homeless who seem to have the freedom to plant a tent anywhere in our neighborhoods?  At least “homeless” is already gender-proof.

Happy Fifth of July

Well, we survived another Fourth of July.

“Survived” meaning our 11-year-old dog got through the barrage of illegal fireworks that begins on June 1, concluding with the legal commercial fireworks display that Burbank puts on, reappearing after being dark during last year’s quarantine.

This year’s fusillade from neighbors far and wide seemed incessant, more intense than ever.  Clearly, people viewed this year’s July 4th as the exclamation mark of the pandemic’s end.

That’s why I always look forward to the morning of July 5th more for Noble.  When we moved into our house 22 years ago, one of the first things our next-door neighbor told us was of the wonderful view we would have from our front yard each Independence Day of the city’s free fireworks show over the hillside not far from where we lived.  At the time, we had our first dog and were worried about how he would handle it.  While a bit unnerved, he wasn’t that agitated.  However, that would change years later when we had our second dog, Noble, whose is more neurotic.

In his first year with us, he nearly scratched away all the paint on the inside of our front door as if doing that would make “the rocket’s red glare, the bomb[s] bursting in air” vanish.

That’s when I made the decision the following year and years after that to take Noble to my brother’s house who lived in another city so he wouldn’t have a heart attack.  My wife didn’t like me not being home to enjoy the fireworks, but I would rather him someplace quiet and calm than me seeing the show.

With the cancellation of last year’s fireworks show, I didn’t have to make that trip.  And this year I thought Noble would be able to tolerate it since his hearing has diminished in recent years.

That thought was wrong for when the first bang rocked our house at 9:00 p.m., all hell broke loose again.  His sight is still fine so as soon as the flashing lights pierced through our blinds catching his eyes, he was in full panic mode as if his family was under foreign attack. He barked loud and long with a crazed look in his eyes, pacing back and forth all around the living room, his impression of a fire alarm.

The Benadryl pill I delayed in giving him foolishly thinking that maybe this time he wouldn’t need it, I hurriedly administered on a piece of bread with peanut butter (cursing the hermetically sealed plastic that makes retrieving the pill impossible), even though by the time it took effect, the city’s show was over.  Or so I thought.

In order to counteract the booms, I turned on a bluegrass music channel on TV to act as white noise.  My eldest son and I kept petting his head and body, speaking soothing tones, using our voice and movements to sooth his old soul.

Within a half hour, the legal fireworks were over.  Noble finally settled on the white plush comforter atop his dog pillow, doing his usual three revolutions to the left, then two to the right, as if he was a locker combination.

Then, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.  It was nearly 10:30 and I jumped to the window thinking, “Wow, those illegal firecrackers are close to our house.”  When I peeked through the curtains, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Evidently, whoever set off the city’s fireworks forget to finish with the grand finale.  Suddenly, the sky was alit again with color and white light to the horror of my canine.  The finale lasted just a few minutes but it caught us all by surprise.

Another panic came and went.  Noble went back to sleep.  My wife and I continued hearing the illegal fireworks until we fell asleep from exhaustion.

And that’s why when waking up this morning to quiet and looking outside to see fog was quite comforting.  Happy 5th of July!

The Kindness and Ugliness of Strangers

One day this week I had to take my dog to the vet to get his ear infection checked.  As I waited in my car for the vet’s assistant to take him to the vet, I noticed a mother and a daughter jaywalking across busy Burbank Boulevard at 9 in the morning, two lanes of traffic in either direction.  They had a golden retriever with them and stopped right near the bench next to my car; evidently, they had a vet appointment as well.

As I waited, I watched them in my right-side view mirror.  The woman in her 40’s was on a phone while the girl in her teens took selfies.

When the assistant came out, so did I and gave her my dog.  As I turned around the rear of my car about to go back in it, I heard a yell and saw that the woman’s dog somehow got out of its leash and was going fast into the lane of traffic where cars regularly speed by at 40 mph.

Instinctively, I went into the lane, holding up my right hand to slow cars down, using my left hand to guide the dog safely back to the sidewalk.

What do you think happened next?

Nothing.

Did she thank me for saving her dog from injury or death?

No.

She didn’t say anything nor looked my way.  It was as if I didn’t exist.

No “thank you” to acknowledge not only what I did in saving her dog’s life, but that I even existed in the same plane as her.  It was as if I was invisible.

I went back into my car and seethed about this for a moment.  I considered getting out and saying something to her lack of, what, being human.

But I resisted.  Someone like her is not going to learn to be kind, polite or humane by me snapping at her.  Evidently, ignoring the kindness of strangers is part of her DNA.  And with her self-absorbed teen-aged daughter by her side, she has already damaged the world by raising another person like her to mix among considerate people.

What rescued my hope in humanity a little were the kind words from the vet’s assistant who returned my dog to my car.

“There is something about his face, but he is such a nice, loveable dog!”  You see, just when you are ready to give up on people, you bump into someone nice. 

There may be only a minority of decent people out there, but each time you come across one, that person is worth 10 of the likes of that ugly woman.

Today’s Times—Where the Common Good for all is only an option

As I was driving around town this morning, a message displayed on an electronic sign caught my eye:

            Obey all speed laws.  Stop at all stop signs.

You mean, there are so many scofflaws among us that the most obvious things must be spelled out on signs around the city?

What’s the next sign: Breathe in, breathe out.  Blink on occasion?

Better yet:

            Get a driver’s license.  Be considerate of others.

Folks, we are living in an era where the majority of people choose to ignore rules that make our society civilized.  In other words, the uncivilized are gaining in numbers.

Those of us who do obey speed laws and stop signs pray that we don’t encounter those who don’t for it could land us either in the hospital or in a cemetery.

Look at the division when it comes to wearing masks.  Some people still get it, that wearing a mask during a pandemic is a health issue, not a political one.  But many others view it as an impingement on their civil rights.

There’s a guy at the YMCA where I work out who does not follow the rules of keeping your mask on at all times or to wipe down the equipment before and after use.

When he checks in at the front desk, he wears a mask.  But as soon as he on the treadmill or the stair climber apparatus, the mask goes below his chin. 

Even as he perspires heavily all over these machines, he does not use paper towels and disinfectant solution to make the machine sanitary for the next user.  It makes you wonder if he even washes his hands or wipes his butt after using the bathroom.

I informed the Y director of this, but with only 3 employees manning a 3-story building, it is impossible for them to monitor mask usage.  And when they do tell a guest to cover their face, within minutes of leaving the room, the guest drops the mask down under the chin again.

This behavior is blatant disregard for being a good citizen.  Even with others in the same room dutifully wearing masks, he decides the rules don’t pertain to him.  He has no shame, figuring who is going to tell him to wear a mask despite signs displayed on walls and machines encouraging to do it “for all of us.”  That is a foreign concept to many.

These people make living life unpleasant for the good folks who follow rules, who were brought up properly.

Well, those lawbreakers need to learn how societies operate.  Rules are in place to ensure the safety of ALL people.  Reminiscent of the Pledge of Allegiance, you know—“with liberty and justice for all.”

One of the nice things about being a teacher was that I could control society in my classroom.

No matter how many kids misbehaved at home or with other teachers, my students respected my expectations of their behaviors.  I discovered after 31 years in the classroom that children craved routine and discipline.  Why?  Because school was often the only place where they had it.

So, those of you who are decent, law-abiding people, beware out there because most others don’t care about you or your loved ones.

Don’t Bother with Brother

If you are shopping for a printer, DON’T BUY BROTHER.

This advice comes from a former Brother customer.   When my first multi-function Brother printer stopped working five years ago, I bought another one because I liked the features and speed.  Also, Brother printers are often rated highly by independent sources.

That’s why it was distressful when a few weeks ago my second Brother printer stopped communicating to our computers, not lasting as long as the first. At our house, multiple people print off the same printer so wireless functionality is a must.

So, I went to the Brother website to get the customer service number.

Whenever you need help with a Brother product, the first thing that catches your attention on their website is the lack of any kind of phone number. 

Click “support” then click “contact us” and here is what you get:

Looking to Contact Brother?

Go to the Support Page for your model.

Enter your model number in search box below.

There you’ll find help articles, resources, and how to contact Brother for your model.

How’s that for customer support?  It is a DIY operation.

No matter how hard you search, you cannot find a phone number to get help. 

If you type “Brother USA customer support phone number” in your browser, the first four results are all official Brother links that contain no phone numbers.

However, the fifth link does give the phone number and that’s because the source is “pissed consumer.”  Thank you, PC.

Why is Brother so stubbornly insistent on not giving out their phone number?  Their blatant DO NOT CALL policy reveals that they perceive customers as irrelevant and bothersome.

After finally calling Brother and waiting nearly 15 minutes, a representative came on the phone.  Once I explained my problem, he put me through a series of steps, it seemed like two dozen, to troubleshoot the problem.

Then he said that Brother does not have drivers compatible with the Apple operating system we were using.  Not only that, he didn’t know if they would ever have compatible drivers.   

End of call.  End of an hour of my life.

“How odd,” I thought to myself.  You mean this large company made the intentional though irrational business decision to write off all Apple users in not ensuring their printers work with Macs? 

I reached out to an independent Apple dealer who found literature on the Brother website that proved the Brother employee wrong.  The problem was with my older printer; newer ones did have the compatible driver.

I decided not to buy Brother and researched for the best non-Brother printer to buy, and guess what?  Brother was highly rated yet again.  I really wanted to go with a different company due to the poor customer service.

Despite my better judgment, I bought another Brother.  How could I go against all the positive reviews? 

For the first few days, the new printer worked fine.  Then out of nowhere it didn’t. The only way it would print was by turning the machine off and on again. Well, that was unacceptable.

Before calling the company yet again, I examined their online “help” documents, carefully following each “press this” and “type this.”  Nothing worked.

I was forced to contact Brother back.  I’ll skip the suspense.  After 90 minutes of the representative instructing me to do the same exact steps I had done on my own, nothing changed.

This time I searched for help online published by Brother users which provided me the most helpful information including a possible solution:  I needed to change the sleep mode.

I followed the instructions, changed the default setting of one minute to 50 minutes, and checked to see that the change was accepted. 

Yet the printer still didn’t print.  When I turned it off and on again, I looked at the sleep time and it had reverted back to one minute.

I braced myself for my one more phone call from hell.  Only this time I had a simple question:  how do you turn off the sleep mode on the printer? 

Instead of answering my question, the representative kept putting me on hold evidently unsure on how to go off script.   When she came back, she explained to me how we have to go through all the steps that I now had memorized before answering my questions. 

That’s when I shook myself out of sleep mode.   I knew this was a waste of time so I said “goodbye” and hung up.

Do you know how maddening it is to have a customer service representative not provide service to me, a customer?

Since I ordered the printer from out of town (no, not Amazon), I had to re-package it in its original box and packing material (which I had saved) and drove it to the local FedEx office.

The printer was slightly heavy, but heavier was the aggravation.  Once I dropped it off, a huge boulder was lifted off my back and life seemed good again.

I couldn’t wait to delete all Brother-related files from my computer.  Tomorrow, my HP printer will arrive.   And I already tested their customer service center.  Within a few minutes I had a live person on the phone.  Oh, and HP’s phone number is prominently on their home page at the very top, center location, in red.  Now that’s service!

A Rose Has Only So Many Petals

With another Mother’s Day upon us, it is natural to think about all the mothers you know in your life. 

Obviously, the one and only mother who brought you into this world.  Then there is your wife who is the mother of your children.  Your sister who is the mother of your nephews and nieces.  Your grandmother who is the mother of your mother.  And your mother-in-law who is like a mother.

I want to focus on my mother-in-law who is going through a challenging stretch in her 75th year of life.

Up until a few months ago, she began slowing down.  It began with her no longer driving her car, voluntarily losing some independence.

Then she began needing to use a cane to balance herself.

More recently, she broke her wrist and had trouble with a nerve disorder in her legs causing her unable to move her own weight which led to falls and ambulance trips to emergency rooms.

With each decline in mobility comes the slap in the face reality that this person, the matriarch of my wife’s family, the dynamic personality that’s the life of the party, is facing mortality.

As of this writing, she is slowly regaining her strength in a rehabilitative center.  But she still can’t walk under her own power even with a walker.

For weeks our family has researched and visited Mom’s future living conditions.  I have taken a crash course on the variety of senior care living options available:  assisted-living, board and care, skilled nursing, nursing home, continuing care retirement communities, and nursing care at home.

A family’s biggest hurdle is accepting the harsh reality that whatever the option chosen, paying for it will vacuum up a lifetime of financial equity in a matter of a few years.

After settling on assisted-living as the best fit for her, my wife and I visited Mom armed with the glossy brochures of smiling, active seniors (the type who really don’t live in these places), and pep talks that the next place where she lives won’t be the last place where she will live. 

Once our sales pitch was over (feeling like surrogate representatives of these facilities),

Mom decided that she didn’t want to go to such places.  She wants to try to live with her sister who may or may not be capable of taking care of her needs.

Despite our reservations, we can’t force her into an assisted-living facility.  She has to want to do it under her own power for while her body is failing her, her mind remains solid.

Ultimately, the decision rests with her even if it may not be the best decision.  Part of honoring a mother on Mother’ Day beyond the material items such as flowers, balloons and Hallmark greetings is honoring her wishes. 

And who knows how many more Mother’s Days there will be with her?  A rose has only so many petals.

Down Magnolia Park Memory Lane

When watching a movie or TV show, it’s always fun to spot a location that you recognize especially if it’s from your hometown.

The other night I saw “Pushover” from 1954 starring Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak in her debut.  It is a film noir about a cop who falls in love with a gangster’s girlfriend and ends up turning crooked. 

Ten years earlier MacMurray starred with Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder’s classic noir “Double Indemnity.”   “Pushover” is a not in the same league though it is worth seeing especially for those who knew Burbank decades ago.

Not only did the crew film along the heart of Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank, a corridor known as Magnolia Park, but the whole climatic scene of the picture takes place there.

There is a bountiful of moments worth freeze-framing to gloss over the details, like opening up an old photo album of a place you haven’t seen in years.

In the very first scene of the film, the Magnolia movie theatre (4403 Magnolia) is prominently featured at night with its ornate marquee and box office cubicle.   It has been seen in other movies such as 1975’s “Night Moves.”  But seeing the flashing neon in glorious black and white brought back many memories to me. 

While not as large as the old California theatre a mile east down the road which had a balcony, I saw many movies at the Magnolia, one of the last being “The Poseidon Adventure.”  For the longest time, there was a hanging banner from the marquee about its air conditioning.  It was one of the few buildings I went in as a child which felt cool during the hot summer time.

Later, MacMurray and Novak are seen in separate cars driving down Magnolia Blvd.  Prominently shown are the stores on the south end of Magnolia between Hollywood Way to the west and Cordova to the east:  McCoy’s Shoes, Tots to Ten, Newberry’s Five and Dime.

The Magnolia location is featured again in the film’s climax between police and now mass murderer MacMurray where characters are seen creeping through an arcade of offices that remains unchanged to this day.  I recall as a child how strangely exotic that open corridor was cutting straight through from the sidewalk on Magnolia to the alley in the back, landscaped with thickly leafed plants.  Rocky’s Barber Shop where I had my hair cut during the 1960’s was on Magnolia near the opening to the arcade.

Then the big shootout happens on Cordova.  The shops seen earlier are in clear display again in the background.  These are the stores where my family shopped at in my childhood, where we bought shoes, clothes, papers and Halloween costumes.

What makes it especially thrilling is that the scene is shot at night with the neon signs on, and unlike the normal practice of covering up or changing the names on storefronts, here the filmmakers left the original names in place.

I felt compelled to drive down to that area to photograph that area and see if any remnants of the past still exist.

Well, that arcade area has not changed much.  The vegetation isn’t as lush, and some reconfiguration of the pathway may have taken place.  But you can still cut through from the street to alley.

It was exciting to see, however, that the Tots to Ten store has remained very much the same with its old-fashioned large windows and its outside frame, still showing 3606 as its address.

I researched a 1952 Burbank telephone directory on Ancestry.com to discover its previous business name was Western Toy & Baby Shop.

To the east was McCoy’s Shoes at 3604 and on the corner was Evan’s Stationary at 3600.  I’m not sure why but that was the only store whose name was covered up through one can make out the faint name through the material used to mask it.

To the west of Tots to Ten is Newberry’s (3612) and next to that a business I don’t recollect called Rick’s Hardware (3614).

All the way at the southeast corner of Hollywood Way and Magnolia was the crown jewel:  Albin’s Drug Store (3620) where Porto’s Bakery is today.

Albin’s was a magical place.  They even had Albin’s toys which was one block north on Hollywood Way (now the Train Shack).

When you walking into Albin’s, the cosmetics and perfume counter was in the front on the right.  The film department was on the left where we had many photos and 8mm home movies developed.  But in the back of the store was a genuine soda fountain.  In my research I discovered that it had a separate name (at least in 1952):  Harold Webb restaurant.

The most curious business shown, however, is an ice cream store at the northeast corner of the intersection called Currie’s (3521).  This is a place I don’t remember. 

I researched Currie’s to discover that it was a local chain in Southern California that “dished up mile high cones, cherry phosphates, and other cool confections from the 1930s through the late 1960s” a quote along with several photos that I found from Flashbak:

Based on the photos, Currie’s used the food architecture of the period by having oversized cones and shakes displayed outside its storefronts.

If it wasn’t for the location scouts who were just doing their job finding backgrounds to rear project during interior car scenes or for quick exterior shots, those of us who actually lived in that area at the time would have no filmed record of where we grew up.

To find this film with these scenes of where I grew up transported me.  I obsessed re-watching the scenes, freezing them bit by bit, comparing addresses and storefronts to those listed in the 1952 telephone directory.  It was if I was in a time machine.  In another way, it was validating my existence.

Wouldn’t it be magical if a genie could grant my wish to have one 24-hour day to step back into time to walk down Magnolia, enter Albin’s Drugstore and sit at the soda fountain in the back and drink a chocolate milkshake out of a silver goblet with my parents and siblings?

Living to See Another Birthday

April Fool’s Day.

I was born 63 years ago this morning at 8:02.

No foolin’.

It’s hard to believe I am 63.

I’m getting to the point where when I take a survey that asks you to choose your age from different age groups such as 48-64 and 65 and up, I’m almost at the next to the last selection.  That’s depressing.

The older you get, you truer it is how fast life flies by.

I feel that if I could live another 63 years, it still wouldn’t be enough time.

The truth of the matter is, I’d be lucky to be still living in 20 years, and 20 years seems like a blink in an eye.

The two things people have no control over during their lifetime:  being born and dying.  If you are human, both will happen to you.  Being born is a blessing.  Having limited time is a curse.

As I approach one year of retirement, I realize how important work is for people for this reason:  it is a major distraction from the inevitable end to all of our stories.

Most of my life I have obsessed about death.  Unlike most people, the fantasy that I would live forever was blown up when at age 11 I saw my grandmother dead in a coffin.   Now 52 years later, I still can’t get that image out of my mind.  It forever changed my view of the universe.

While I am a strong believer in eating well and exercising often, the truth of the matter is, good lifestyle habits may ward off certain diseases, but nothing that you do will prevent death.

I wish I didn’t know this at such an early age, but that cruel awareness has motivated me that, as the saying goes, tomorrow is never promised.

There is a famous children’s prayer to be recited before going to sleep each night:

            Now I lay me down to sleep,

            I pray the Lord my Soul to keep;

            If I should die before I wake,

            I pray the Lord my Soul to take.

The phrase “if I should die before I wake” has always haunted me.  What happens if you go to bed one night, and you never wake up again?

I think it is one reason why I often wake up early in the morning when it is still dark as if to resist never waking up again.

Well, I woke up today which is why you are reading what I wrote.  For me, having an awareness that I will die one day is not depressing; it is more a powerless feeling, not sad really.  Just the way of all living things.

So, I will go out for breakfast for my birthday, I’ll eat some cake, I’ll talk to friends and family.  And, one day at a time, appreciate a gift too many of us take for granted.

March 13, 2020 – The Day America’s Classrooms Stood Still

Last year at this time, I was still teaching in a classroom with my students.  An ordinary event that only now a year later seems extraordinary.

I marvel at how that final week of me as a classroom teacher after 31 years transpired.

I find it fascinating how the last day of real school was a Friday the 13th.  If you wrote that for a movie, it would seem cliched.

Where I worked, it was the last day of the third quarter, a shortened day ending around 12:30 p.m., right before the start of a one-week spring break vacation.

For the past couple of days, rumors were flying that schools would stay closed an additional week or two, and that schools would not resume until early April.

Two unusual events happened to me during that last week.

On Tuesday, March 10, I had two guest speakers from Cal State Northridge give a one-hour presentation to my 10th grade English students about an upcoming concert that some of them were going to see.  “Violins of Hope” was a traveling exhibit from Israel which was coming to the West Coast for the first time.  Dozens of violins saved from the Holocaust and restored by a master violinmaker would be on display and, more amazingly, played in live concerts around the Los Angeles region.

One of the guest speakers was a violinist who played during the presentation on one of those rescued violins.  It was quite an emotional moment for my students and I.

What made the proceedings surreal was that a city official was invited to watch the mini-concert, and as he came close to me to shake my hand, I temporarily hesitated thinking about the news reports flooding the airwaves about the importance not to shake people’s hands since this new coronavirus spreads through contact.  Yet, shake his hand I did, more focused on not embarrassing him than my own health concerns.  As soon as I could, I sterilized that hand yet still worried throughout the day that I may have caught Covid.

Two days later, March 12, Glendale Unified held its last official school event, the Scholastic Bowl, where five-member teams from all four high schools compete in a game show-like setting on stage in a school auditorium answering questions from an array of academic categories.

I was the coach of Hoover’s team and, like another Hollywood moment, my students won the competition to cap off my 12-year run as coach—what a send-off.

However, a pall was over the two-hour proceedings because the district had announced that no one would be allowed to watch the Bowl in person due to virus concerns.  Only the parents of the students were in attendance to add their sparse applause to the cavernous auditorium.

Less than 16 hours, “have a nice spring break” would be the final words I would ever say to students in my classroom.

Now that is not a Hollywood ending to a 31-year career.  But who knew what was to transpire?