The Heat is On and On and On

The heat is on.

No matter if you believe scientists that earth is warming up or not, the proof is in the temperatures.

My town of Burbank over the past 60 years has become hotter.

For years, Burbank would get a couple of heat waves that would last up to a week.  This year, in addition to the predictable short-term heat waves, there have been multiple  sustained streaks of 90 degree plus days, one after another, without hardly an 89-degree day in a 14-day forecast.

That means running air conditioning more hours and terrible sweaty nights for those who live without air conditioners.

My house rarely cools down.  Most 6:00 a.m. mornings the thermostat registers 78 degrees, the house barely cooling off.   Normally on hot days, my A/C kicks on around 1:30 p.m.  This year I have lost track of how often it has kicked on as early as 10:30 a.m.

It makes one want to drive anywhere along the coast just to remind one’s self what a nice day used to feel like.

I’m not making this up.

Just compare the number of 90 degrees or warmer days from 2021 to 2022 during the summer months:

June 2021:  4/30

June 2022:  16/30

July 2021: 16/31

July 2022:  17/31

August 2021: 19/31

August 2022:  24/31

September 2021:  11/30

September 2022: 17/30

In June, in just one year, the hot days quadrupled; in September, there was a 50% increase.

And just as October begins with more normal temps in the 80’s, boom, five straight days of near mid-90’s weather yet again.  Burbank’s average October temperature is supposed to be 81.  Meaning if there is a 91-degree day, there would have to be a 71-degree day to average out to 81.

The only way out of the situation besides moving away is to watch movies like “Ice Station Zebra,” “Jack Frost,” or “Frozen.”   Stay away from “The Big Heat,” “Body Heat,” and “Some Like it Hot.”

Maybe there exists a video loop like the roaring fire people watch during Christmas time, but instead of a fireplace, it’s a blizzard outside.  Then at least I can my hot chocolate.

Empty Nesters? Not True.

I’m lying in bed waiting to fall asleep.  But there’s one problem.

It’s too quiet. 

My light sleeper ears aren’t picking up laughter, water running or doors shutting.  Yet my hearing radar is still working overtime.  Remember that old Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence”?

Well, it’s playing now every night in the Crosby home.

In a two-month whirlwind span, our children moved out.  We went from a household of four to a household of two (not including the dog).  Son number one moved out of state for a job; son number two moved up the state to attend college.

What happened to our happy family?  Remember that lyric from Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”:

“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May.”  That’s how I feel though April lasted 23 years, 23 years of parenthood.

The last time my wife and I had the house all to ourselves we weren’t even living in this house.  We’d have to travel back to our first abode when, except for the final few months, we were just a couple of newlyweds.

For the first three years of our marriage, we were only two until we got a dog who was our surrogate son.  Thirteen months later, our first baby was born.

When we were budding parents, we read all the books about child rearing, heard all the advice from friends and family, “It’s going to go fast and then your kids will be gone.”

Now I know how true that is.  In the middle of the day-to-day parenting business, shuttling kids to school, taking them to baseball and music practice, going on summer vacations to national parks—you fool yourself that this is the rest of your life.  But no. 

At some point, the birdies need to leave the nest.  Our first son stayed with us for over 23 years; our second almost 19 years.

People tell us that after a while of living alone as a couple, we will enjoy spending time with just one another.  Oh, I know we will.  It’s just more exhilarating to share your life with your children.

What runs through my mind is the saying “the gift of life.”  I am now feeling how deep down true that idea is.  My wife and I are so blessed that we were able to bring into the world two people so that they can have a life of their own.  Passing that gift down is the greatest inheritance a parent can leave a child.  Empty nesters?  Naw, more like full family tree.

Right before going to bed on our second night of empty nest-hood, my wife shared a text from her mom who contacted our college son to see how dorm life was treating him.  It turns out that he (playing a sax) and his roommate (playing a keyboard) had an impromptu jazz session which attracted a crowd.

That message was my melatonin.  I don’t remember trying to fall asleep for I knew that my son was doing just fine.

You’ve Got to Have Hart-man

Lately I have obsessively been watching CBS journalist Steve Hartman’s “On the Road” videos.  Originally airing on the Friday edition of the “CBS Evening News,” Hartman’s segments emphasize the notion that good is inherent in nearly every person, that inside each one of us is the capacity to show grace towards one another.

After a daily diet of negative news ranging from Covid variants to nightmarish scenarios about the earth’s demise, “On the Road” is the antidote to despair.  Seeing how kind and decent people can be to one another provides oxygen to the soul.

He and his producer find the most touching stories across America, of people who have lost loved ones or the will to live, only to discover hope often through the kindness of strangers. 

Rarely can one watch his videos without tearing up and feeling good about fellow Americans.

Every weekday when my wife and I have lunch together, I can’t wait to share with her a new favorite Steve Hartman “On the Road” video. 

There are stories of student athletes who come up with ways to include kids who never have a chance to shine in a game such as a special needs boy given the ball to end a basketball game from the opposing team.

The restaurant owner who hires recovering addicts because everyone deserves a second chance.

There is a man whose right hand was damaged by an abusive father so he learned to play the piano with his left, leading to his first ever concert in his 70’s.

There are the police officers who help pay for an elderly man’s rose bouquet for his wife, one of the few moments the man’s memory breaks through his Alzheimer’s haze.

A stranger who comes across a soldier’s army uniform in a dumpster propelling her on a two-year hunt to return it to the surviving family, providing a tender memento for the son left behind.

There is the story of a 15-year-old wrestler who strives to win a state championship before his father loses his life to cancer.

A terminally ill mother who asks her nurse to adopt her son, leaving behind gifts for the birthdays she will miss.

For me, it makes me feel more human, reminding me of the type of person that I am at the same time guiding me towards the person I could become.

“On the Road” serves as a weekly sermon encouraging all of us to find the moments where we can reveal our deepest humanity to the most unlikely stranger.

What threads through all of these stories is the tenderness of its reporter.  Steve Hartman is a gentle listener, genuinely moved with each and every story.  He could not have been given a more apt last name.

Hugs not Hate

The hug seen ‘round the world.  Why are so many people reacting to the scene at a little league game the other day of a boy who was accidently plunked in his helmet calmly walking from first base to the pitching mound to hug the pitcher who was crying over his errant throw?

Because so many of us are starved for a glimpse of humanity no matter where it comes from; in this case, a child.

We all want to believe we are capable of doing what 12-year-old Isaiah “Zay” Jarvis of Poteau, Oklahoma did.   His act of forgiveness came from the heart, a gesture exhibiting empathy though both boys are on opposing teams.

A hug is a simple yet powerful gesture.  It conveys warmth, care and respect for another person.

Earlier this year CBS Sunday Morning aired a video about a man in Arkansas whose left side remained paralyzed after a stroke.  While he learned to get around life using just his right arm, the one thing that he craved but could not do was give two-arm hugs around his grandsons.  Then some industrious occupational therapy students at his daughter’s college developed a device called a hugger.  With it wrapped around his left wrist, he could use his right arm to move it around so that he could hug them.  The emotional moment was captured on this link.

Another heartwarming hug happened in a market between an 82-year-old widower depressed over the loss of his wife and a 4-year-old girl who demanded a hug from who she called an “old person.”  Thus began weekly visits between the two.  The man calls the girl an angel since she rescued him out of his gloomy state of mind.

Finally, watch this innocent story about two little girls—one black, one white—who viewed themselves as twins.  And when an older child pointed out to one of the girls why they couldn’t possibly be twins due to their different race, the child burst into tears then came up with an inspirational reply.

It would be simple-minded to believe that if people of different races, religions, ages, or politics would hug each other instead of yell at each other, the world’s troubles would go away.

It is simple, however, that a preschool child can find healing words that grown-ups can’t seem to conjure:   “We are twins because we share the same soul.”  May that be the credo we all listen to in our hearts.

Vinny is Gone

Whenever an unbelievable major news event occurs, I absorb all readings and viewings of the event so that the reality finally registers.  And so it is with the passing of Hall of Fame Dodger announcer Vin Scully.

Even though I never met him (a wish that never came true), Vin Scully’s death at age 94 hits me hard.

Vin Scully outlived my father and my mother during my lifetime.

I was 14 when my father died.

I was 47 when my mother died.

I am 64 when Vin Scully died.

The year 1958 is very precious to me.  It was the year I was born.  And it was the year the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Perhaps that explains why I am a lifetime Dodger fan.  However, the person responsible for that love for baseball and the Dodgers is Vinny.

He was always Vinny to me because he was talking to me on my transistor radio, describing what he was seeing on the field.

I held on to each precious word he broadcast from the time he greeted us with “Hi everybody and a very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be” to signing off with a “Good night, everybody.” His dulcet tones were soothing, comforting.  He was our security blanket from April to September.

If I was driving home and putting away my car in the garage, I wouldn’t turn off the radio until Vinny finished the half-inning.

It is why whenever Vinny would do a playoff game on the radio, I would turn off the TV volume so I could hear his unique depictions of the game, always adding personal stories of baseball players he knew that spanned much of the 20th century.

I always looked forward to his history lessons on Memorial Day and Independence Day.  He was a true patriot, a lover of this country as when he remarked “Can you imagine that?”

when two spectators at Dodger Stadium ran onto the field to burn an American flag (then Chicago Cub outfielder Rick Monday famously rescued it).

His calming but firm words at the start of the first Dodger game after the Sept. 11th attacks in 2001 were the appropriate way to soothe all of us shaken from that dastardly terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

All of us were truly fortunate that he had such a long life and broadcast for 67 years working for the same employer. 

There will never be another Vin Scully.  Besides the gentlemanly traits that he imbued—decency, kindness, class—he broadcasted in an era where only one announcer was in the booth meaning that he had a personal connection to the listener or viewer.  Even when it became fashionable to have one or two analysts sit with the play-by-play announcer, Vinny held his ground that he didn’t want to lose that attachment with the fans and so the Dodgers never forced him to change his ways.

That is why the Dodger games haven’t been the same since he retired in 2016.  Hearing two people talk to one another instead of talking to the fans feels remote as if we are eavesdropping on buddies joking with each other in the broadcast booth, instead of a person who we feel is a friend or a member of the family.

Here is just a small sample of the type of calls I will forever remember Vinny making:

On using poetry:  “Deuces wild.  Second inning, two on, two out, two and two count, tied at two.”

On a home run:  “Away back, she is gone!”

On a bases clearing double:  “In comes Buckner, in comes Russell, here comes Cey on a double by Garvey!”

Eerily, the very day before his passing, I emailed Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke about his health.  I noticed that the last post on his Twitter account was from May 6.

“I find this odd considering normally he would comment on the Sandy Koufax statue ceremony last month,” I wrote.  “Is he doing okay?”

“Good catch Brian,” Plaschke wrote back. “I haven’t spoken to him in a while…no idea how he’s doing…but as always, it’s worth monitoring.”

Twenty-four hours later he was gone.

This is a difficult column to write, not just because of Vinny’s passing, but it means that this will be the final time I will write about him.

There are few people we encounter in life that we wish would live forever.  For me, Vin Scully would be on that short list.

Saying Goodbye to Old Bertha

When a person goes through life stages, from single to married to parenthood, one’s car choices mirror that stage.  For example, a teenager or twentysomething is more likely to choose a two-door sporty car, while a parent will gravitate toward a minivan that maximizes passenger and storage capacity.

In the summer of 1999, my wife and I along with our three-month old moved into a larger house.  We were planning to have another child, so besides going from a 2-bedroom to a 3-bedroom home, we knew our twin Toyota Corollas were not enough.

So, with the proceeds of the sale of our first house, we were able to do something that we had never done before nor have we done since—pay cash for a car.  It was one of those fantasies that people like us rarely realize.

That is why we immediately became attached to the 2000 Volvo V70 GLT in blue.  It wasn’t just a station wagon.  It was a companion that would be with us throughout our parenthood as we raised our kids.

My wife and I are the type of people who like to buy new cars, then keep them for more than 10 years.  As I approach 50 years of driving, I have only had five cars.

As the years went on, and our first son got his driver’s license, we gave him the keys to the Volvo affectionately nicknamed Old Bertha.  Though 16 years old, it still looked good, but more importantly its steel cage protected our son just in case of an accident. 

Once he drove to college, Old Bertha was showing her age.  Interior plastic parts were beginning to fall apart, and the rear gate was wonky.  On top of that, her clear coat was disintegrating on the roof and the hood which made the car look unsightly.

When my wife purchased a new car, it meant that our son could now drive her used car that was a 2010 model year instead of 2000.  It was an upgrade. 

However, we still held on to Old Bertha because in a few years our other son would need a car.

We were fortunate that neither of our sons were attracted to status symbols.  They didn’t care if this old luxury wagon didn’t look cool.  They were pleased just to have a running, safe car.

In holding on to Old Bertha for 23 years, my wife and I were able to “afford” to give her to each of our sons as their first car.  We had no payments ever on that car so why should we go into debt in getting them a new Smart car that could never match up with the safety of a Volvo?

Some parents buy their teenagers brand new cars.  I don’t think that’s a bright idea.  Young people especially males are the worst drivers causing the most accidents of any age group ergo the high insurance premiums.  Why give them an expensive new car?  And since the most affordable new cars tend to be sub-compact size, they are the least safe to be on the road against the massive three-passenger row SUVs that clog the highways.

Also, it is important for young people to learn the value of material items.  To hand over the keys to a six-figure luxury car is to ensure the child will never learn that lesson.

In the last couple of years, Old Bertha really began showing her age.  More dilapidated moldings coming off, the radio and CD player inoperable and, most alarming, the car doors could never be locked despite fixes in a repair shop.  Still, she did her job of transporting our youngest.

Now that our oldest son has moved out and bought his very first car, we were left with four cars for three people.  Clearly, Old Bertha was the odd girl out due to her age.

We decided to donate her to a charity where her parts such as tires and battery would hold more value than the 181,000-mile whole car would.  It’s like people who have donor cards; upon their death, their organs can be harvested to give life to others. Not a bad way to go.

Still, as my wife and I stood outside our home watching the tow truck driver hitch up Old Bertha, clearly the oldest of the four cars he had collected that day, we couldn’t help but feel sad to see her slowly fade away down the street. 

She was a good girl for 23 years, with us on all our road trips to national parks, from Yosemite to Zion to Yellowstone.  She was there for all the boys as they grew up, from baby seat to toddler seat, from soccer to baseball games, as well as providing rides for our dogs Buster and Noble.  She was part of our family. 

If we are lucky to live long enough, we will eventually have to say goodbye to loved ones: parents, siblings and pets.  It is never easy letting go.  But, oh, how our lives were enriched with a 2000 Volvo V70 GLT named Old Bertha.  Our family history would never be complete without her.

The Cost of Being Middle Class

My son who recently graduated high school was not a star athlete.  But he was in the music program for four years, participating in Marching Band, Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble.

My son was never ASB president.  But he was in the top 6% of his class earning enough credits based on his Advanced Placement scores that he enters college as a sophomore.

My son is a quiet kid who always had teacher comments on his report cards such as “hard worker” and “pleasure to have in class.”

And for all of his achievements and dedication to education, he was not awarded one dollar in scholarship money.  Why not?

Because my wife and I make too much money for him to qualify for most scholarships.

A sad reality of college scholarships is that the vast majority are needs-based not merit-based.

Outstanding high school athletes have several scholarship opportunities; those at the top of their game in college even get paid for playing.

The few academic scholarships are highly competitive.  His college didn’t even award him work-study which is an on-campus job to help pay for his expenses.

In other words, he is invisible. 

There are plenty of other children like my son.  But you don’t hear about them.  No banquets or banners for them, no room in social media or news websites for them to be spotlighted.

Often you hear of stories about a child with one or no parents who graduates with straight A’s and receives a free ride to an Ivy League school.   It’s wonderful that those disadvantaged children have a financial advantage.  But there is something wrong when a child equally talented brought up with both parents in a middle-class neighborhood is overlooked.  There should be some scholarship money earmarked for them as well.

Because my wife and I don’t quality for government assistance, we are expected to fully fund the $120,000 for our son to attend four years of college.  We can only do that because during most of the nearly 28 years my wife and I have been married, we sacrificed each month so that over time we would have a nest egg.  However, that modest nest egg is for not just college, but retirement, vacations, and home improvement emergencies.

God forbid my wife or I need a skilled nursing facility.  At $10,000 a month, our whole savings would be wiped out within a year.

The monthly $2,500 for our son’s expenses surpasses our mortgage payment.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not struggling; however, we are not awash in funds either.

We were able to build savings by keeping our cars for at least 10 years (we have one that’s lasted 23), not being tempted to add on to our house despite limited space, rarely buying new clothes, and limiting expensive vacation trips.

In America, it is better to be poor or independently wealthy.  If you’re poor, the government will pay for your welfare, from full college scholarships to skilled nursing facilities. If you’re rich, well, you can take care of yourself.

The lesson?  For those whose income is too high for handouts yet not enough to pay for large expenses such as four years of college or a second home, working hard to achieve the American Dream comes with a financial penalty.

Turning Back the Clock on Women

For the first time in its 233-year history, the U.S. Supreme Court revoked a right that it sanctioned a half a century ago:  a woman’s right to an abortion.

Never before has the Court done such a thing.

Suddenly, mothers and grandmothers who lived through the legal abortion era now have daughters and granddaughters who do not have as much freedom as they did.  Isn’t that the reverse of how our culture is supposed to advance, granting more freedoms as the years go on, not taking them away?

At a time when our country is divided over so many issues, this is the last thing we need to happen.  It is time to recognize that we have been living in a cold civil war period for the past few decades and not protecting a woman’s right what she does with her body will further exacerbate the situation.

Now, each state will be fighting against each other because the states who will have the strictest anti-abortion laws plan to block women who seek out those states that allow abortion, thus generating tension among the states.

If a woman from Alabama where abortion is not legal travels into the neighboring state of Florida where it remains legal, who is going to enforce what that woman does?  Will a Florida doctor be arrested for giving pills to that woman?  Will the woman upon returning to Alabama be jailed?

This creates such a mess.  And aren’t they more pressing issues that we as a country need to face such as inflation, gun control and climate change?

You know what I have always found odd about those who oppose abortion is that they tend to be the same people who oppose affordable child care.  In other words, they won’t allow a woman who makes a mistake getting pregnant to terminate a pregnancy so that she is not burdened with financial difficulties, but in forcing the woman to have the baby, will not provide care for that baby.   That single woman and child end up using welfare and other social services which affects all of our paychecks.

And, by the way, what business is it of anyone if a citizen has an abortion?  How does that personal decision negatively impact anyone but that woman?    

Those who oppose abortion strongly are the same people who refuse to wear a mask declaring to mandate one is an infringement on their personal freedom; in other words, it is one’s personal choice to wear or not wear a mask.  Likewise, to tell women they do not have a choice is to take away their personal freedom. The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

Another hypocritical matter is that President Obama with 8 months left before the 2016 presidential election was blocked from filling a Supreme Court opening, yet President Trump was allowed to appoint a justice with 8 days left before the 2020 election.   

Amazing that one president, in office for just 4 years without winning the popular vote, could have such an impact on the Supreme Court by appointing three justices over another president in office for 8 years who won the popular vote both times who only appointed two.

Fifty years ago, conservative judges appointed by President Nixon helped pass Roe v. Wade by a 7 to 2 vote, granting women the freedom to choose, proving that no matter the political bent of individual judges, when it came to making a decision, both sides were considered. 

Today’s Supreme Court justices stuck to their political persuasions, not ruling on what is right or wrong, demonstrating how politicized the court has become.  The proof?  All three of Trump’s justices voted against Roe v. Wade.

Let’s hope the Court doesn’t consider revoking a woman’s right to vote. After all, just like abortion, women were not mentioned in the 1789 U.S. Constitution.

One More Father’s Day

This Father’s Day will be my 24th one.  I only had 15 Father’s Days with my dad so I’m aware not to take any one of them for granted.  But this Father’s Day will hold extra meaning for this may well be the last one my two sons will be home to celebrate with me in person.  Son Number One leaves in 3 weeks for Salt Lake City, while Son Number Two leaves in 3 months for San Luis Obispo.

As s child, I still recall being super excited to celebrate both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  After Christmas and my birthday, those were my two favorite special days of the year because it provided me an opportunity to thank my parents and show them how much I loved them. 

Following in the footsteps of my older brother and sister, we would make our own greeting cards, and decorate the walls with oversized signs before they woke up in the morning.  The highlight of the day, however, was watching them react to our cards, most often tearing up.

We weren’t the type of family who hugged a lot or said “I Love You” so the cards quietly, deeply exuded our feelings.

The greatest gift my parents gave to us three kids was in teaching us to be decent people.  None of us kids ever got involved in serious trouble or drug use or unexpected pregnancies.  To this day, the three of us remain close and much of it has to do with Mom and Dad.

Likewise, all my wife and I wanted in rearing our children was for them to be happy and successful people who contributed positively to society, knowing right from wrong. 

We wanted our kids to be aware of the world’s wonders which is why so many of our family vacations were at national parks. 

We also wanted our kids to have an interest in what was happening in the world so that they would be good citizens.

That’s why I would enthusiastically share with them a newspaper story or a “60 Minutes” segment of compassionate individuals such as the athlete who visited sick children in hospitals without publicity, or of the centenarian lawyer who helped defeat the Nazis and who still gets emotional thinking of the horrors that he saw.

As the days grow short before their departures, is there anything else I can do as a father or words of wisdom to pass on that I overlooked?  Any old movies or songs that I need to play for them before they forever go out of my influence?  One more Sinatra song?  One more Astaire dance?

As each of them embark on a new journey—one to start a career, the other to start college—all my wife and I can do now is be observers.  We had our two decades’ worth of bringing them up; now they are on their own.

Last Father’s Day, we traveled up to Montecito to eat breakfast at a favorite restaurant, an activity I normally abhor due to the crowds.  But we hadn’t done much traveling for the previous two years so we made the nearly two-hour drive north to Lucky’s. 

We asked the waitress to take a photo of us which has now become my desktop’s wallpaper, an image I see each morning I turn on the computer.  And we will make the same venture up north this Father’s Day, and sit at the same exact table as we did last year, and have a new photo to memorialize the day.  Just the four of us.  And always have a memory of how happy our little family was before the little birdies left the nest.

Moving Pieces

[Note to Readers: If you were wondering what happened to my bi-weekly posts, my life got incredibly busy the past several weeks as you will read.]

I will always remember this week in May for the rest of my life.  One day, my son has his college commencement, and by the end of the week, my other son will have his high school commencement.  And I am a nervous wreck.  Because not only are they both graduating, they both will be leaving home within a couple of months of each other, leaving my wife and I empty nesters.

The oldest just got his first job in his career after graduating college.  However, he will have to move to Salt Lake City. 

The youngest just accepted admission to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  However, he will have to move to the Central Coast.

All of this is positive, good stuff for sure.

So why the stomach aches and sleepless nights?

Because I am a parent.

Since I’m the world’s worst worry wart, I lay there in bed each night wondering:  Is there anything else that I should teach my sons about life before my parenting influence expires?

Lately at birthday dinners and Mother’s day, I have made it a point to inform my family that “this may be the last time we four are all together.”

It sounds melancholy, but I want every one of us to absorb and appreciate the final moments as the lifespan of the four-member Crosby household comes to a close.

Of course, hopefully our sons will add to the mix partners and grandchildren.

In the meantime, my wife and I will play our version of Back to the Future as we return to the early years of marriage, just the two of us.

I knew this day was going to come, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

I’ve spent so much time preparing my children for their independent life that I paid little attention to how we will live our life without them.