May 2022

John Denver sang a lovely song in praise of “today.”

Today lasts 24 hours before it becomes one of many yesterdays that persist for a lifetime.

YESTERDAY

(Melody— “Today” sung by John Denver and others)  

Once, we smelled blossoms that clung to the vine,

I dined at your table and drank your best wine.

The flowers of summer have faded away,

But I’ll always remember the love that we shared–

Yesterday.

——————————-

You were a young rover,

Who sailed the seas over,

But I knew who you were by the song that you sang.

Enthralled by your singing

As by the Sirens of Homer,

I dreamt what our future might bring.

——————————-

Once—glittering stars filled 

Deep, dark summer nights.
There were big city Christmases sparkling bright.

We had children—they grew,

Then went off in the world.

And we found we had suddenly grown old.

——————————-

Yes, there were flowers that grew on a vine,

I remember the taste of strawberries and wine.

But all our tomorrows became yesterdays.

And my dear rover is home from her journey–

To stay.

And my dear rover is home from her journey to stay.

April, 2022

May is graduation month at many schools and alums often return to renew old ties and memories.

What Ever Happened To….?

“Did you ever wonder what happened to someone you used to know and lost track of?” asked Wendall.  Wendall had recently attended his twenty-fifth college class reunion and had renewed acquaintances with many classmates whom he hadn’t seen since graduation.  The reunion newsletter also had listed a surprising number of names asking for information about their whereabouts.  “I mean I actually didn’t know any of them well, but I still wondered about where their lives had taken them.”

“Sounds like your school needs to do a better job of tracking their alums to be able to hit them up for donations,” answered Mike.  “But to answer your question, yes I have.”

“You graduated fifteen years before me so I would guess that in the years since graduation and  with job changes and moves and all, you would have had more people lost to followup,” said Wendall.

“Actually my school does a surprisingly good job of keeping tabs.  They send me reminders every year to donate.”

“But did you ever personally know a lost classmate who you wondered about?”

“Yes, I read the obits in every alumni bulletin, so I found out that someone I knew fairly well died, but I’ve always wondered what led up to his death.”

“Okay, so what was the mystery?”

“I don’t want to bore you, so stop me if I do.  In school, Raymond and I were in the same dorm, and I knew him well enough to sit and talk with him in the cafeteria.  He was pre-law, a gov major, and I was a chem major, so we didn’t share any classes or extracurricular interests or go to the same parties, but he was a friendly guy and interesting to talk to.  Especially since I didn’t know much about politics and he had some definite ideas.  Kind of liberal.  After graduation, he went on to law school and I went to grad school, and we didn’t see each other again until our twenty-fifth reunion.”

“Just like me and my classmates,” said Wendall.  “But no mystery so far.”  

“Wait.  So at the reunion, I was about to sit down with some guys I had known well, and up walked Raymond with a big smile.  ‘Hey Mike,’ he said.  I didn’t recognize him at first because he’d had this big shock of blond hair in college and now he was totally bald.  But I recognized his voice since he had a thick Boston accent.  He sat with us and I introduced him to Joanie, and we got caught up.  

He’d gone on to practice law in Florida, and did a lot of public defender and pro-bono work.  Like I said, he was kind of liberal and socially conscious.  Anyway, we exchanged our contact information and said we’d stay in touch after the reunion.  Did that with others too, but he was one of the few who actually wrote at Christmas.  So we began to exchange Christmas messages regularly.”

“Still no mystery,”  Wendall said.  

“No, the mystery began about twelve years later.  During that time, I left the company I was with and joined ours.  And in that time, Raymond had semi-retired from practicing law since he had to move back to Massachusetts from Florida to take care of his mother, and he began to try his hand at writing to keep from being bored.  He said that he hated the New England winters and really missed Florida and his friends there and that he hoped to go back when he could.”

“Weren’t there any other sibs that could help take care of his mother?”

“Had a younger sister but she lived in Vermont and had a young family.  And since he had no family of his own, it fell to him.”

“So what did he write about?  Was he any good?”

“Funniest thing, he wrote, as he put it, ‘exotic erotica,’ and he even managed to get a couple novels published.

“You mean porn!” Wendall laughed. “ You ever read them?”

“Yeah, I picked one up and it was pretty kinky.  I let Joanie read it and she was shocked.  ‘But he seemed so nice at the reunion,’ she said.  Anyway he wrote one Christmas that his mother had died, and that he was able to at last move back to Florida.  She left him a small inheritance and he had contacted some friends in Florida, and said that by the next time he wrote, he would be in the Keys.  And this is where the mystery begins.”

“At last.”

“Told you to stop me if you got bored.  Anyway, the phone rang about seven on a Saturday morning and Joanie picked it up, then handed it to me.  “He said he was Raymond,” she said.

It was.  He sounded very agitated, “Mike, I’m in real, deep trouble.  Please, could you possibly send me a hundred and fifty dollars by Western Union right now.*  Here’s their number.  Please, I’m scared.”  

“Wait, wait.  What’s this all  about,” I asked.

“I just trusted the wrong people and now I’ve got to get away from here.  I just hope you can help me out because I don’t know what will happen to me if you don’t.”

“I’ve got to think.”  I had him on speaker phone and Joanie could hear the whole thing.  I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned.  “Let me talk it over with Joanie first.  What’s your number”

“Call me right back if you can do it.  Please hurry.  I’m at a pay phone.  This is the number.”

I hung up and turned to Joanie.

“He sounded like he is really scared,” she said.  “I think we should do it.”

“But we don’t know what kind of a mess he’s in.  It could be something really illegal.”

“He’s your old classmate and friend.  I think you’ve got to help him.”

I called back and Raymond picked it right up.  “Okay Raymond, I’ll send it by Western Union as soon as the one here opens.  But later you’ve got to tell me what’s going on.”

“Thank you.  You’re really being a life saver, literally.”

Our nearest Western Union office—actually it was in the local supermarket—didn’t open till nine.

In the meantime, Raymond called back again to ask whether I was going to send the money and I told him I would as soon as the office opened which would be at two PM his time.  He thanked me again.

And that was the last time I ever heard from him until I read his obit which didn’t say much.

“He never called or wrote to thank you or to tell you what trouble he was in?” asked Wendall.

“No,” Mike said.  “But he made it out of Florida all right because his obit in the alum bulletin  five years later said that he’d died in Vermont and not much else.  I’d guess that he was living near or with his sister.”

“So you never found out.”

“No.  Joanie and I speculated. But whatever trouble he was in, I think he was just too ashamed to contact me again.”

“Do you think it was all a scam?”

“No.  Back then there weren’t the scams that are going on now.  I think it was for real.  I later talked to a mutual acquaintance and asked him if Raymond had phoned him around that time, and he said no.  So it’ll stay a mystery.” 

“I guess he trusted you to help him out,” Wendall said.

“I guess.”

* Note:  Western Union closed up for good in 2006, but before then it was common to send money by telegraph.

March, 2022.

The Retirement

After you retire it doesn’t matter who you were or what you did.

He talked with his wife when he first considered it.  She said that if they could manage financially and that was what he wanted, then she was fine with the idea.  But he also knew that she was at least a little concerned.  “Don’t worry, you won’t be a bag lady, if I die,” he joked. 

She gave him a serious look.  “After you retire, I plan to keep on working,” she said.

“That’s good,” he replied.  “You should continue to have something of your own.  And you can tell people you are the sole breadwinner of the household.  Also, we’ll need to give each other a little space until we get used to the change.” 

During his last six months of work, he faithfully went to all of the pre-retirement counseling sessions.  He discussed with the business office the disposition of his 401K and, since he was one of the few remaining old timers who still qualified for one, the pension that he would receive.  During the months before his retirement date, he felt himself gradually estranged from the discussions and speculations about the company’s operation and future.  He had declined to be an ex officio member of the search committee for his successor so that there would be no hint of undue influence.  But he was happy when the committee decided to select internally and picked the person from his—correction—the department that he had considered best suited.  Still, he felt as if he were gradually turning into a ghost, just an increasingly wispy presence, floating through the corridors he thought or, less morbidly and harking back to when he had run track in high school, like running the third leg of a relay.  Now the baton was in another runner’s hand and, while he watched with continued great interest, there was nothing more he could do or contribute to the result of the race.  So while he was proud that he was a part of the company and wished it well in the future, for he had been there for half of his working life, enjoying it the most of any of his jobs and doing it well, it was now someone else’s responsibility.  The refrain of an old country song came to mind, “And there’s nothing I can do about it now.”  

After all, he thought, it was my choice.  I could have kept working; I didn’t have to retire.  But it’s better to pass on the torch than to have it snatched out of my hand.  Like his boss, five years older than him, the CEO who had appointed him department head, and recently “retired.”   The one who had turned around the company fortunes by his calm and conciliatory temperament at a time of internal turmoil and fierce external competition but had been increasingly seen more recently by the Board as too cautious.  Following a mild heart attack it was “suggested” that now was time to “smell the roses—or pikakes.” 

So when at last the November night of his retirement party came around, he listened, with his wife and two children, to the compliments, laughed like a good sport during the roast, and shared reminiscences with those few who had been around as long as he.  Almost everyone in his department attended.  What used to be his department, he corrected himself.  If he heard it once that night, he heard it twenty times, “You’re way too young to retire.”  But he had also heard the whispers, and knew that there were those in the organization who considered him a dinosaur and thought that his retirement was overdue.  Yeah, it was time, he thought.  What was that song? “You’ve got to know when to fold them.”

“What are you going to do with all the time you’ll have?  You’re so lucky you won’t have to face the morning commute any more,” and “Lucky you, no more meetings,” were the other frequent comments.  After shaking the last hand, sharing the last hug, and hearing the last, “We’ll miss you; come back and visit once in a while,” he and his wife waited, the leis heavy around his neck, for their car outside the hotel, with their daughter, who had flown in from New York the day before just for the party, and their son and his wife.  

“Are you okay to drive home after all the drinks and toasts tonight?” his wife asked as they held hands.

“I can drive,” offered his daughter.

“I’m fine.  I paced myself.”  He kissed his wife on the forehead.

  “And just what are you going to do with all your free time?”  She said it with a humorous touch; after all they had talked about it when he first brought up the idea of retirement, but he knew she was still worried about the new arrangement.  

He replied, “You know.  We talked about it.  First, I’m going to take off a few months to get my bearings and do some things around the house and yard that have needed doing.  And then I’ll decide; I’ve got some ideas.” 

“Well, I don’t want you turning the house upside down on me.  Promise?”

“You know I wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Dad,” laughed his daughter,  “Old habits are hard to break.  You’re used to doing things your way at work.”

“And Mom is used to doing things her way at home.  I’m no Sinatra.”

“At least they sent you off in style,” said their daughter-in-law.  “And well deserved.”

Their son and daughter-in-law’s car came first, which was good since they had to get home to relieve their baby sitter.  They all hugged one last time.  “Congratulations again, Dad.  They’ll have trouble replacing you at work.”

They all ready have, he thought.  “Yeah maybe.  I’ll call you about dinner tomorrow.  Before Sis has to head back to New York.  Good night.  Thanks for coming.”

February 2022

Didn’t post anything in Dec. or Jan.  So here are two for February.

I first heard the word“tinkle” used in Boston for passing water with both children and by nurses with patients and always thought it was a cute term referencing the way it sounds.

The song came while sitting  on the pot feeling, as is said, ‘bound up,’ when the Otis Redding song came to mind.  Played with the words and it came to pass.  And yes, I do live overlooking a different Bay, just not in California.

Hearing Aid

“You have to do something about your hearing, Dad. We’re all tired of repeating ourselves and I think you’re missing out on a lot that goes on around you.”

The same conversation or variants of it had been going on for the past six or more months.  The man had been stubbornly resistant to the advice, but at last had to admit that he was indeed having trouble with his hearing when he found himself asking strangers like waitresses and sales clerks to repeat themselves and still had trouble understanding them.

“I guess you’re right, Charlie,” he sighed.

Charlie restrained himself from saying, ‘It’s about time.’ Instead he asked, “Do you want me to help make an appointment for you with an audiologist?”

“Thanks, no.  I can do that.  And besides I’d like to do a little research first on what’s available in the way of hearing aids.”

“Okay Dad, but please don’t procrastinate.”

“No, I promise I won’t.”  

He went on-line and found a confusing array of hearing devices.  Ever since the law requiring hearing aids to be professionally prescribed by licensed audiologists and doctors, had been changed to one that allowed the public to buy directly from manufacturers or retailers, the number of devices offered on-line had exploded and prices had plummeted, but there was little guidance to the public about types, appropriateness to their needs, and quality.  As a baseline, he had taken a hearing test with his health care provider and, armed with the information that his degree of deafness was “moderate,” he began his search.  He found the descriptions somewhat helpful since he could exclude all those that stated they were for persons with “mild to moderate hearing loss” as he felt that his hearing would only worsen over time.  This shrank the pool of devices to consider.  

The one that really intrigued him stated that although it was a newcomer to the field it had extensive experience in AI.  It offered a vast array of possible adjustments: programs for everyday situations to quiet nature walks to noisy restaurants and bars to music—with selections for pop, rock and classical.  And each choice could be further fine-tuned to individual taste.

Best of all, it purported to be suitable for persons with mild to severe hearing loss with a price in the middle of the range.  And it was made in Canada, which is close to being made in America, he thought.  This sounds too good to be true, but with a six month return policy, what do I have to lose?

His family was delighted that he was finally acting, but worried that he was buying from an unknown startup company.

“It’s just got way more ways than any other hearing aid to adjust them to fit me, and anyway I can return them anytime within six months,” he said.

“Yeah, if the company is still there in six months,” worried Charlie.

He placed his order and now that he had acted, waited impatiently.  A week later he saw a Fedex truck pull up (he barely heard it) and when he opened the door, was handed a white delivery envelop with a small box within.  The only instructions that came with the hearing aids was to go to the company web site for complete operational details, which he immediately did, avidly absorbing the video demo.

Now to try them out, he thought.  First I’ll go to the trails at the Reservoir and use the nature setting.  And then I’ll see if Charlie’s family wants to have dinner tomorrow at a really noisy restaurant—the “Choy Sum” should fill the bill.

He found that the devices performed in both situations admirably, in fact better than he had hoped.  On the trail, hearing bird calls clearly was a revelation that he had not realized he had been missing.   And the next night at the restaurant, he could actually hear what his family was saying despite the clatter and chatter all around them.

“Dad,” Charlie said, “It’s like a new world for you.  Aren’t you glad you finally got help?”

“Gotta admit you’re right,” he replied.

Over the next week he had fun trying out most of the special settings.  Finally deciding that for most situations, leaving it on automatic worked just fine.  He became more conscious of the world of sound around him.  The sound that a falling pencil makes, the squeak of his desk chair, the rustle of the leaves of the tree just outside his bedroom window, the tinkling sound of the sink faucet running.

And when I use the toilet, the falling ‘water’ sounds almost musical, he thought, it almost sounds like words sometimes.  And he did use the toilet frequently since he had the usual bladder problems of senior men.  He unconsciously began to pay more attention to those sounds since he noted that the flowing faucet or the shower did not have the same quality.  

Why that almost sounded like ‘military industrial,’ he thought one day.  Strange.  He followed up an hour later.  Nothing.  He had almost forgotten about it until the following week when, because of a deteriorating Near Eastern political situation, the price of major military aerospace stocks shot up.  Odd coincidence, he thought.     

‘Apple,’ the toilet seemed to gurgle one day.  The next week Apple announce a new introduction at a reduced price, and Apple’s price price leaped up, before settling back the following month.  But before that happened, he thought he heard ‘flush Apple.’

Am I going nuts, he worried.  Still, he listened carefully each time he peed, feeling a bit batty that he would actually do that.  Finally he heard, amidst the water sounds, ‘St Claire.’  St. Claire?  What’s that?  Feeling foolish, he researched it and found that it was a small biotech company with one product.  And it was cheap on the Nasdaq, almost a penny stock.  He had a modest sum of cash, outside of his retirement accounts, that he had sometimes played the market with.  At that price, what’s a hundred shares if I lose it, he thought.  And he placed an order.  The following week, a large pharma company announced that they were buying St. Claire at a considerable premium, for its one product and its research pipeline.  Wow!  Too bad I only got a hundred shares.

Still, that’s just four times, he thought.  But every week or so, another name come through to him.  He continued to place small orders at first, but when the “advice” continued to prove true, he began to increase the size of his orders.  And so his pot of ‘play money’ became more than modest.  He decided that as a father he should share his information with Charlie, but not, of course, reveal his source.  When both he and Charlie shared in this string of success, Charlie began to press him about where he was getting this seemingly infallible advice from.  Of course I can’t tell Charlie, he thought, he’ll think I’m nuts—and maybe I am.  So he said that no, it wasn’t insider information for that would be illegal, but that he had been sworn to secrecy.

“Okay,” said Charlie.  “But this person has some crystal ball.”

More like a porcelain throne, he thought to himself. 

Six months after this began, he received an e-notice from the hearing aid company that his devices would be shortly receiving a software upgrade because of some complaints that the aids at times seemed to interject odd sounds.  This would all be done automatically and he did not have to do anything, send it back, or pay anything.  The company compared what it was doing to what car companies had done with their software updates.

  Oh no, he thought, what will that do to the ‘advice’ I’ve been getting.  He frantically contacted the company help number and of course received a recording to leave a phone number and a message and that a representative would contact him shortly.  He wanted to tell them that he was very happy, in fact delighted, at the performance of his hearing aids, and that he did not require or wish to have the upgrade.   Two days later, he was contacted by someone who spoke impeccable English but with a foreign accent.   He repeated his request to be left alone.

“Oh no sir, why would you not want an upgrade?  It will make your devices work so much better.  Please check our web site to see the additional features that have been added.”

“But I don’t want any of them.  I’m very happy with what I have.  Please leave my aids the way they are.”

“I’m afraid that is impossible, sir.  The upgrade was sent out automatically yesterday.  Please visit our web site to see all the improvements that have been made.”

“But I didn’t want any of them,” he said almost plaintively.  

“I think that you will be happy with the changes.  Now is there anything more I can do for you?  If not, good day, sir.  Thank you for using our product.”

Though he continued to listen carefully afterwards, he could never again make out any words.

“Dad, what happen to your advisor?” asked Charlie, after several months.

“I’m afraid he had a bad accident and can no longer speak.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that.  I hope he wasn’t a close friend and I hope he’ll recover.”

Alte Kaker Time

(thanks and apologies to Otis Redding)

I’m sittin’ on a pot by the Bay,

Waitin’ for some move-a-ment today.

Sittin’ on a pot by the Bay,

While the day just rolls away.

Just countin’ time.

Used to have eggs for breakfast,

Now it’s likely just a mess of prunes.

Hopin’ for some action, 

This mornin’ not this afternoon.

Oh it used to be so easy,

Now it’s fiber and more mineral oil.

What used to come so natural, 

Is becomin’ just a lot of toil.

I’m waitin’ here beside the Bay,

As the time just slips away.

What I used to take for granted,

Is a lot more like adobe clay.

So I’m sittin’ on a pot by the Bay,

Hopin’ to pass something more than time.

This is all I have to say,

Unless I get help with another rhyme.

Sittin’ on a pot by the Bay,

Passin’ time,

Jus’ countin’ time.

November 2021

We enter the rainy season in November.  November has always struck me as a grey and quiet month, a winding down month, more a time to look back over the past year than to look forward.  And yes, certainly a time for thanksgiving too, for blessings present and past.

Rain Song 

(Melody and mood—Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song”)

I hear the patter of the rain,

With memories of you it falls–

Leaves drops upon my window panes,

Those happy days with you recalled.

My thoughts keep circling back again,

Through all our times, now gone away.

They’re of you as I go asleep, 

And bless you when I start each day.

The murmur of the wind and rain,

Faint echo of our love’s refrain.

Where once two voices intertwined,

Now just a solo one remains.

I watch the rain fall from the sky,

Flow down the gutters by the curb.

I could have fallen like the rain,  

There—but for your love—go I 

I would have fallen like the rain, 

There—but for your love—go I.

October, 2021

The Siren

It was nearing closing, the lounge was emptying out.  

“Look,” said the bartender, “I can’t pour you another one.  You don’t look like you’re in any shape to drive.  You want me to call you Uber?’

He reached into his right hip pocket, extracted his wallet and fumbling a little, pulled a fifty from it and slapped it onto the dark wood of the counter, drawing a quick sideways glance from the only other man seated at the bar.  “That’s for one for the road,” he said, glaring at the bartender, and challenging him to pick it up.

The bartender looked at the bill laying in front of him, shrugged his shoulders, pocketed the bill, and poured out another shot of scotch.  “But that’s it,” he said.

“Thanks,” he grunted.  Who elected you to be my keeper?   As bad as the bitch.   Well the hell with her.  To hell with all of them.  “Walking out on me,” he mumbled. “Shit!” more loudly.

“What’d you say?”  asked the bartender.

No reply.  He drained his shot, got up from the stool, tossed another fifty on the counter and turned to go.

“Let me call Uber for you,” the bartender said.  “And some advice.  For you own good, don’t keep flashing those big ones.  You never know who’s watching.”

He kept walking.  The bartender watched his back briefly, thinking okay—hope you make it home,  before turning his attention back to wiping down the bar.

He waited a bit unsteadily as the valet got his car, a black Porsche.  “Nice set of wheels, the valet said, holding the door open for him.  He handed the kid another fifty and headed down the short inclined driveway, into Kalakaua.  Steady as a rock behind the wheel, he thought.

On an impulse he decided to head home to Lanikai driving the long way around past Koko Head and Sandy Beach.  The moon was full and there was little traffic at this hour and it was a beautiful night.  Less chance to run into a police roadblock too, he thought.  He opened the roof to let the cool night breeze clear his head a little.  Around Diamond Head and then through Kahala, roaring around and passing the hotel shuttle that flashed its high beams after him in his rear view mirror.  Screw you buddy.  Screw her too.  Walking out on me.  Me!  Bitch!  

He left the Kahala neighborhood of ultra-pricey mansions and joined the six lane divided highway that linked all the small suburban communities making up East Oahu. The highway speed limit was thirty-five, but almost no one complied, and he drove along comfortably with the few other cars at forty-five plus.  

As he neared the Aina Haina fire station, he saw, far back in his rearview mirror, the flashing red light of an ambulance, still too far away to hear the siren.  No problem to keep ahead of it till it turned off at wherever it was headed.  He picked up speed, and the Porsche responded effortlessly.  Still, the flashing red drew closer and now he could hear the faint wail of the siren.  Okay, goose it a little more, up it to fifty plus.  Stay in front of it.  

By now Hawaii Kai was coming up ahead.  The light at Hawaii Kai Drive was just turning red when he flashed through at sixty. The ambulance followed.  Damn, where’s it going?  He quickly came up to the last set of traffic lights in Hawaii Kai.  Damn ambulance has got to turn off here.  The lights were just turning from yellow to red as he sped through.  The ambulance followed, lights flashing, siren wailing.  Can’t be a beach accident at this hour.  Must be a traffic accident.  Probably all backed up and I’ll be stuck.  Should have gone home by the Pali. 

Up the long uphill at sixty-five and still the ambulance paced him.  Then down, through two sharp turns, first left then right, tires squealing.  And still the red light and siren wail followed, closer.  Got a Porsche—but damn, that ambulance driver’s good.  A section of winding road above sea cliffs, and the ambulance followed, just three car lengths behind now, pushing him, the siren filling his ears.  Past Halona Blow Hole with a long straight stretch of road ahead.

Slow white pickup truck ahead and an oncoming car.  He gunned it and squeezed through at seventy, hearing the horns blare, fading behind him.  Hah!  That’ll slow up that bastard.  He checked his rear view mirror just in time to see the ambulance pass right through the pickup truck.  What!?  The cold sweat of fear began to trickle down from his arm pits.  And now the ambulance was right on his rear end.  Got to get away!  

He downshifted and floored it, blasting uphill towards Makapuu.  The siren shriek drowned out the roar of the motor, filled his ears, reverberated inside his skull, jamming his mind.  Red light flooded the cabin—flash-flash-flash-flash—blinding his eyes.  Going flat out to the top of the hill—and straight out into the void over the cliff at Makapuu.  Damn bitch he screamed in triumph as the Porsche began its arcing fall.

The siren wails for thee.

September, 2021

September Unsung

Sing no nostalgic songs of September,

When knees and calendar declare it’s December.

The leaves of autumn—long blown away,

Trees in the evening—barren and grey.

Long, dark nights are here to stay.

And what became of October, November?

The tide of time swept them swiftly away.

Yes, the Bird of Time is on the wing,

Bird, open your beak while you can and sing

For the hunter lurks, his aim is steady,

His oven waits, the roasting pan ready.

The bucket of lists, rusted through and through, 

Spilling places to visit and things to do. 

More important now than that itinerary,

Are the people and places so dear in memory,

For these days remaining are precious and few.

Buds in springtime, the flowers of summer,

Tanned hands and faces, so well remembered.

Fields of barley and dark starlit nights,

The memories of these, so vivid and bright.

And the young love, the true love, who came from the sea?

Though time took its toll, you are still here for me.

August 2021

tic toc

My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf 

So it stood ninety years on the floor.

I’m not ninety, he thought, but from what doc said, it sounds like my heart might as well be.

  What had been ordered as a routine treadmill could not be completed when the tech had to stop it because he had nearly passed out.  He was immediately admitted and scheduled for an angiogram to look at his coronary arteries.  

It must be bad, if doc thought I couldn’t even go home before the angiogram.  That he wanted me where they could watch me.  He didn’t say it, but he must have been worried that I’d have a heart attack and die at home.  This is so unfair.  I exercise regularly, I jog, I watch what I eat, I quit smoking long ago.    What good was all of that?  Laurie and I just started to travel after retiring five years ago.  Now maybe she’ll be going alone if I can’t travel anymore–or if I’m gone.  Doc said not to worry since he won’t know till after the tests.  That’s what he told Laurie and me.  I told Laurie not to worry too, that she should go home and get some sleep and we’ll see tomorrow.  How many tomorrows do I have left?  ‘Don’t worry.  Try to get some sleep.’  Easy for him to say.  I asked him what he thought I’d need done.  Told me again, ‘don’t worry, we’ll cross that river when we come to it.’  What if I can’t swim I replied.   He laughed and said ‘glad you have a sense of humor.  If you can’t swim I guess we’ll have to build you a bridge.’  Humor—yeah, gallows humor.  I’m monitored too—at least the nurses won’t keep coming in all night and waking me to check my vital signs.  Laurie went home after my dinner—clear liquids for me—for my morning angiogram.

It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born—

Weird—who buys a grandfather clock for a baby present?  Better skip the next lines, not that I’m superstitious or anything.  Better try to sleep, rest up for tomorrow.

Sleep?  Who gets to sleep on a busy hospital floor?  All the unfamiliar sounds, magnified and compounding anxiety.  The comings and goings; the beeps and chimes of monitors, iv pumps, and whatever else; the nurses and aides talking in the hall; the pages for the code team; gurneys wheeling patients in or moving them elsewhere; the patient who’s raving up the hall.  Bits and flashes of memory between snatches of sleep—of good times and the should have and could have times.  But the grey morning sky shows at last outside the window after a restless night.

Ninety years without slumbering, tic toc, tic toc.

His life seconds numbering, tic toc, tic toc,

———————-—-

And the gurney is here to take me to my test and some answers, maybe.  Ask not for whom the gurney comes, the gurney comes for thee.  Doc seems bright and cheerful this morning.  How did I sleep he asks?  Does it matter?  Hope he had a good night’s sleep—steady hands.  I’m starved.  Hope I can eat afterwards.

————————

Laurie’s already waiting in my room.  ‘You came early, honey.  No, I feel alright.  How was the drive in with the morning traffic?  Did you get some rest?  Yeah, me too.  Doc was able to do it quickly.  No I don’t know what it showed.  Doc said he’d talk to both of us a little later after he studies it some more.  Did you have breakfast?  You can go to the cafeteria.  They said they’d bring me something to eat soon.’

——————————-

So.  It’s got to be surgery.  Can’t use stents in my case.  And the sooner the better.  ‘But doc, I’ve been jogging, playing tennis, cutting down on fats.  How could this happen to me?’  ‘Remember Jim Fixx, the running guru?’ he said.  ‘Dropped dead at 52.  Fit and trim except for his heart.  The way your coronaries look, you’re lucky you’ve been okay up till now.’  Right, lucky—up till now.

His life seconds numbering, tic toc, tic toc,

But it stopped short, never to go again when the old man died.

Glad I didn’t cancel the insurance policy.  And the house is almost paid off.  Laurie is strong and level-headed.  She’ll do fine if……yeah, she’ll do fine.  Didn’t tell anyone else.  It’s all happening so fast.  

There’ll be time enough afterwards, however things go.  Doc said that the success rate is over 95%.  Focus on that, not the 5%.  Laurie’s palm is wet, mine too.  And the gurney has come for me.  ‘Laurie honey, I’ll see you after this is over, okay?  I love you.’   

Rolling along through the halls to the OR.  Going so fast — tic toc, tic toc, tic, toc, tic toc — We’re there.  Shift to the table.  Anesthesia now — tic toc,  tic   toc     tic       toc          tic

“Waking up, Mr. John?  Welcome back to Recovery.  All done.  You did really well and we’ll let Mrs. John in soon.”  She sounds so cheerful.  I made it!  I’m alive!  I made it. 

—toc, tic toc, tic toc, tic toc, tic toc—

To Life!  To Love!

July 2021

Windfall Fallout

It had been over a year since James C.T. Wong last saw his only niece Su Lin, turn her back on him, as she disappeared down the stairs of a New York subway station after he had testified in the inheritance suit she had brought against her two half brothers, Nathan and Paul.  Her case had been thrown out by Judge Black in part because of his statements.  He had tried to contact her afterwards by phone, email, and letters but there was no response.

“Give it up Jimmy,” Ruth his wife counseled.  “You’ll never be able to change Su Lin’s mind.  Our friends in New York say that she’s been complaining bitterly to anyone who’ll listen that you took the side of Nathan and Paul and sunk her case.”

“But I had to testify.  I was subpoenaed,” Jimmy protested.  “I only said what I knew to be true.  I couldn’t lie under oath even if I wanted to.”  

Poor Su Lin, he thought.  She has always felt like she was getting a raw deal.  She has a victim complex.  It probably started when she was young, and my brother left her and her mother behind in Shanghai when he went with the government to Chungking during the war.  There was no way to communicate and he didn’t know if they were alive or dead.  He fell in love with Er Mei there and he took her as his second wife.  All legal at the time, though Su Lin doesn’t see it that way.  And then after the Revolution, a further dislocation with the move to America.

“You know my brother C.L., when he was very sick, asked me to keep an eye on his children since we didn’t have any of our own,” said Jimmy.  “And even after we moved out west, Su Lin and I always spoke at least once a month.  Now she’s ignoring me.”

“Su Lin has a long memory for slights both real and imagined,” Ruth said.  “She’s in her sixties now and won’t change.  I think she became more sour and bitter when her husband discarded her for that younger trophy wife seven years ago.  So there are some real reasons that she’s the way she is.”

“I owe it to my brother and to Su Lin to keep trying,” Jimmy said.  “She’s only got her son, who she doesn’t see that often since he’s overseas, and Nathan and Paul as family.  When she gets older, it’ll be terrible to be all alone just nursing her resentment and anger.”  

And after the war, C.L. came back to Shanghai with Er Mei and baby Nathan, Jimmy thought, and found Su Lin and Zhu Li alive and they all moved back to the family home.  Er Mei always treated Zhu Li with the respect that she was due as C.L.’s first wife, and Zhu Li accepted Er Mei since that was the norm.  But Su Lin always felt that she and her mother were shunted aside, now that a son was born.  When they moved to America, with no servants, Zhu Li welcomed Er Mei’s help, and the wives seemed to get along.   And then Paul was born while she was in grad school.

“You’re an honorable man to keep trying, Jimmy,” Ruth said.  “I just hope you won’t be terribly disappointed if all your efforts are wasted.”

“We’re retired and she’s my only niece, what else is there to do?”

Finally after another nearly six months, Jimmy found a reply to one of his emails:  Uncle stop trying to contact me since you sabotaged me.

At last a reply.  It’s a start, thought Jimmy.  At least she called me uncle which means she still thinks of me as a relative.  He thought long and carefully about how to reply.  Email, phone, letter?  He decided on email as the least provocative:  Su Lin. You’re my only niece, the daughter of my elder brother.  If you decide you want to talk anytime, I’m here to listen.  He sent it off with his fingers crossed.

“Congratulations Jimmy,” Ruth said, “you got Su Lin to reply at last.  Do you think she’ll actually phone you?  You’re inviting her to blast you over the phone.”

“That is my hope,” said Jimmy.  “To give her a chance to pour out her anger.  Maybe afterwards she’ll be calm enough to just talk things over.”

“Well, if she does call I hope you’ll be able to take the heat.  If it gets to be too much you can always turn off your hearing aid.”

For what seemed to be a long time, there was no reply.  I wonder if it’s because she’s thinking of how to tell me off, he thought.

It was.

“Uncle, I asked you not to take sides, but you chose to help them and hurt me,” she said without a preamble.  

“Hello Su Lin,” Jimmy said in a neutral tone and waited.    

“Discovering that stock was a windfall.  Father bought long before the war, long before he met Er Mei and probably just after he met Mommy.  So they had no claim to it.  It should have all been mine.  But you had to meddle and testify.”

Jimmy held his tongue and did not reply.

“It was unfair from the start, the way father set up his will to divide his estate evenly three ways.  I was his first child born of his Number One wife and I should have had more.  At least half.  And the stock discovery would have been a small way to correct his mistake.  But you had to take Nathan and Paul’s side.”

Oh Su Lin, thought Jimmy.  If my brother had done it the old traditional way, everything would have gone to Nathan as his first-born son.  You don’t see how lucky you are that my brother was westernized enough to do what he did.  But he held his tongue.

“Right after the war when father came back with Er Mei and Nathan in tow, Mommy and I were pushed aside because he had a son.  It was so unfair to Mommy.”

Jimmy had to speak in defense of C.L.  “Your father always took your mother to all social functions as was her due as his Number One wife.  Never Er Mei.  He always was very careful to honor your mother.”

“Then why didn’t he do the same for me?”

Jimmy sighed but said nothing.

“You think I’m being greedy about the money.  It’s about more than the money.  Mommy and I had to go through the war in Japanese occupied Shanghai.  Thrown out of our home so that it could be used by Japanese officers, and put into dingy, cramped housing.  And then father comes back with a new wife and son and everything is supposed to be all right?  It wasn’t all right.”

Jimmy thought about what C.L. experienced in Chungking, the frequent bombings, the constant worry that the war was not going well, the meager rations, the stress of not knowing how his wife and daughter were doing.  And then he met Er Mei, so much his junior, but such a comfort, and he married her rather than taking her as a concubine.

“It was a different time and different circumstances,” Jimmy said.

“You’re making excuses for my father.”

“Su Lin,” Jimmy said carefully.  “If it’s about more than the money, please tell me what it is that you want.”

“It’s about being treated fairly,” Su Lin said.  “It’s about poor Mommy being confronted suddenly with a second wife.  It’s about father treating me as second best because I wasn’t a son.”

Second best?  thought Jimmy.  He paid for your education at Vassar and told everyone how proud he was that you did so well.  

He waited.

Su Lin continued, bringing up every small detail through the years where she felt she had been slighted by her father in favor of his second wife’s family.  She has a fantastic memory for injuries, thought Jimmy, that she’s been storing for all these years.  I never realized she felt so much this way and C.L. certainly didn’t.  And then when her husband divorced her it must have just recalled her feelings of when her father returned after the war with a second wife and child.  She needs to let it go somehow and get past this.  It’s not healthy to have so much bitterness and anger inside.

He waited till she paused and then said quietly, “Su Lin, I just never knew you felt so hurt.  I’m sorry that you’ve felt so much pain.”

“No one knew and no one cared.”

Jimmy refrained from saying ‘well I care.’  “What happened, happened,” he said.  “There’s no going back to change the past.  But you and I are living in the present.  Can’t we focus on that to make it the best that we can?”

“Easy for you to say, uncle.”

“I’m not saying to forget all that happened to you, because you can’t, you shouldn’t.  What I hope you will be able to do someday is to change your reaction to the past.  To be able to become more happy in the present.”

“Huh!”

He waited for her to say something and when she didn’t, he carefully continued.  “Think of Nelson Mandela.  If anyone ever had a reason for exacting justice or revenge, he did.  But instead he was able to bring about reconciliation and peace not by hiding the past but by acknowledging it and then moving past it with his former enemies.  He didn’t insist on his pound of flesh.”  He waited.

Su Lin continued to be silent.

“I’ve missed our past talks, Su Lin,” he said at last.  “I’ve been worried about how you are.  I’d like to hear your voice again.”  He  waited for her.  Finally he cautiously said, “Perhaps we can talk again  from time to time?”  And waited.

Finally Su Lin said, “I’ll call you when I’m ready, Uncle Jimmy.”

“Thank you, Su Lin.  I’ll be here.”  ‘Uncle Jimmy,’ he thought.  Well, maybe that’s a start.

June 2021

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s—a Weather balloon?

“So what do you make of the Department of Defense report to Congress, Al?  It doesn’t say that there are alien UFO’s but it doesn’t say that there aren’t either.  It just says, ‘we don’t know what we’re seeing.’”

“Well Lin, it’s a start.  After all the years of denial, at least there’s an official statement now that there are things in the skies that cannot be explained as natural phenomena or of human manufacture.  Help yourself to a cold one and the chips.”

“Thanks, I will.  You always thought that UFO’s existed and that they were aliens and that the government knew more than it was letting on.  Sounds like you might have been right.  But why is all of this coming out now?”

“Maybe there was such an accumulation of credible witnesses and images that it had to come out—that further denial would be laughable.”

“Or do you think that this is the government’s way of priming us, so that there’ll be less shock and panic when a more definitive report comes out in the future saying that the aliens are here?”

“Now you’re beginning to sound like me with the conspiracy theories, Lin.”

“No, really.  I mean I don’t believe all that Area 51 or alien abduction stuff, but it’s clear now that there’s been an effort to hide information.”

“Since you’re going down the government coverup path Lin, think about why the government, if it did have physical evidence of alien craft, would continue to keep it at Area 51 where all the attention of UFOlogists are focused?  Wouldn’t it make sense to use Area 51 as a decoy while the actual material and studies are going on at some other site?”

“Interesting thought, Al.  Makes sense.  Where do you think?”

“I think if there were such a site, it could be almost anywhere except in a big city.  But not so remote that comings and goings would stand out and be noticed.”

“It’s a big country.  Lots of possibilities.”

“Yes.  Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Okay, Al.  Another question.  If there are aliens who have been watching us for what—at least seventy years—maybe more—why are they doing it?”

“Because we’re so damn interesting.  We’re like their ant farm.” 

“No. Seriously Al.”

“Well, I don’t think that they’re here to take over Earth or to steal our resources like some people worry.  If they have the science to travel between stars and maybe galaxies, they don’t need our planet for its natural resources.  And if they were going to invade us, why are they waiting to do so?”

“You still haven’t answered me.”

“Okay, Lin.  Maybe not exactly like their ant farm, but I think they are watching to keep track of our scientific progress.”

“Then why don’t they do a better job of staying concealed?”

“Perhaps they want us to know that they are here, watching, and that our technology doesn’t come close to doing anything about it.  I wonder if that’s why they engage our newest aircraft, to show that our best fighter jets can’t compare.”

“But why?”

“There was that part of the report that said that when the navy installed a new radar system on their jets there was a flurry of UFO activity where this happened.  Pilots were reporting radar contacts but couldn’t see anything visually.  Perhaps the UFOs were checking out the new technology that made them more detectable.”

“You think that they show enough of themselves so that our leaders realize we’re not alone, but not so much that everyone on earth believes it?”

“Something like that, Lin.  Like not hovering saucers over cities and towns all over the world.  That if it were that obvious that far-advanced aliens were here, it might destroy any motivation we humans have to make progress.”  

“Okay, so if they aren’t here to harm us, do you think they’re here to help—to keep us from wiping ourselves out or destroying the planet?  That if things go really bad, they’ll step in?   Or are they strictly observers?”

“Who knows, Lin.  Have another cold one and hope that the former’s the case.”

Deep under the ocean at their base, undetectable by human technology, two observers are communicating with each other.

“You’ve been here longer than I.  Do you ever feel disheartened by the humans?” asked ##&%.

“Sometimes.  But they seem to be making progress, albeit slowly.  No recent continents-wide conflicts as by the group called the Mongols or the ones called the Romans.  It is true that they have had two bloody so-called world wars with bursts of technology, but none for the past seventy-five of their years,” answered #&#%@.

“Their aggressive nature seems innate.  Even humans subjugated by ruling groups find other humans that they can in turn, dominate,” said ##&%

“We are bound by our code to never intervene in the societies that we encounter.  To nether help nor harm.  They no longer do ritual sacrifices of fellow humans although they still have executions and murders.  They hold some strange beliefs.  They make slow progress, but progress,” #&#%@ repeated.

“The ones—their leaders and scientists—who know of our presence, must surely have surmised that in order for us to visit their world, we have the means to travel between stars and galaxies beyond their understanding of physics and space-time,” stated ##&% 

“As you know, that is why we are here, ##&%,” said #&#%@.  “They are one of the more inventive and adventuresome peoples we have encountered and they are rapidly developing artificial intelligence and more advanced computation devices.  There is concern that if a prodigious savant such as the one who defined gravity or the one who gave them a theory of relativity—incomplete though it is—were to arrive and ask the right questions with a future far-advanced computation device, then that person could find the secret of piecing the fabric of space-time as we do, to travel among the stars and galaxies.  And given their present level of aggressiveness, we would have to intervene.  To have them running loose in the galaxy with their current mindset would be very troubling.”

“It’s disturbing that when their entertainment depicts alien contacts it always, with a very few exceptions, results in violence,”  said ##&%.

“I also find it strange—a blind spot in their thinking—that even scientists who are talking of traveling to the stars to find other worlds to colonize don’t ever say that such a world would most likely have beings living on it already.  Attempted colonization would repeat the colonization history of this planet where more aggressive and technologically advanced groups took the land of the peoples already living there,” replied #&#%@.  “Therefor until humans demonstrate that they have evolved into a more peaceful and collaborative race, we will monitor them to prevent them from acquiring the means to travel beyond their solar system.  If they do evolve, then we would welcome them and share our knowledge.”

“We might be watching them for a long time,” said ##&%.