When Reason Evaporates

I live in Broward County, where the school shootings occurred yesterday afternoon. We’re all in shock down here, but I think that the rest of the nation is grieving too over such a senseless and violent act. Our country is ailing from a core of rage and mental (spiritual?) instability that has been going on for some time. There are people who believe that weapons can solve every problem and grudge….and we provide the weapons to almost any crackpot, who wants them. I’ve been looking at statistics of other nations and their issues with gun violence. We’re not alone, but we are the slowest to come up with effective, sensible solutions. Excuses abound, while members of our own government are in the pockets of the NRA. We also perpetuate the popular myth that guns represent our most important and irrevocable freedom, even above that of life itself. All our weeping and grief have yet to become legislation that will curb a level of public and private aggression that has the rest of the world seeing us as savagely backward in our values.

Please pray for the victims and their families and for our country. This heartbreaking incident is another in a series of horrific tragedies that should be shaking the stone foundations of those elegant buildings in Washington from the cost of human lives we continue to pay with every tragic reoccurrence. My only other request is that people not provide stupid arguments that we need more guns. The platitude of “People, not guns, kill people” is sickeningly inept and moronic. No more. This isn’t a high school debate anymore. This state of crisis doesn’t need more arguments. It needs action…and right now. 

Also, it isn’t as though we’re asking for all weapons to be confiscated. The guns of the 18th Century, when the Second Amendment was composed, were still rather slow-loading weapons akin to old muskets. Also, the motive of maintaining a “well-regulated militia” in case of foreign or domestic aggression was quite different from a mentally deranged teenager toting a semi-automatic AR-15 to mow down seventeen innocents in one session. I know and respect many friends who own guns for protection, but those weapons aren’t meant to obliterate human lives with speed and efficiency as in a huge abattoir. See the difference?

It occurs to me that we already have laws on the books that are being sloppily enforced. Too many mass shootings have loopholes or openings through which criminal or unbalanced minds have managed to navigate. There should be accountability for those who allow the checks and balances to be compromised. The last two mass shootings show that, had others been doing their jobs with more care, the shooting might not have occurred. Consequences for such sloppy work on the part of those who were supposed to be more vigilant may need to be sharpened too. Even if we enforced with more vigor the laws we already have, things might improve, but we have a long way to go.   JB

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How Far We Have Come

My father’s family came to America during the 1800’s from Germany, and my mother’s family came from The United Kingdom during the same century. They were all refugees, who wanted to begin a new and better life together in “The Land of the Free.” They were poor but shared an ambitious energy to work hard and succeed. They did succeed in working, worshipping, raising families who contributed to the beauty and economy of the nation, my father and uncles also serving during WWII in the United States Navy and the United States Army until after the war. I can’t imagine how things would have been different for all of us had there been some sort of wall to block our becoming citizens of this great nation. I wouldn’t have been a school teacher here, and the gifts of my other relatives in serving this country would have been unrealized or been fulfilled instead in Germany, Ireland, and Scotland.

It frightens me that so many refugees now coming to America are often clumped together into unfair and incorrect stereotypes of  job-thieves, low-life criminals, rapists, terrorists, etc. The fear-mongering and insults about “foreigners” have been successful only in creating suspicion and terror that ignore the wider view of poor but capable, ambitious, honest people, who are not stealing our rights and privileges…but sharing them and contributing to the strength and compassion of Lady Liberty’s wide and generous embrace. The purpose of all this seems to be creating the false impression that we have a protector, who is looking after our rights as citizens of The United States of America. We need to look more carefully at that “reality” to see what motives lurk behind it. There are people like us, with the same hopes and dreams of a better life for themselves and their children, waiting to pass through the “Golden Door.” Not all are “worthy,” but I have the feeling that most are just like us in their quest for better, safer lives that include freedoms that we too often take for granted. I have only to read again the words of Emma Lazarus (from her poem on the Statue of Liberty) to remember that we’re somehow all in this together.  JB

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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No Middle Ground

I spend a few minutes each morning looking at Facebook posts from a wide variety of friends and acquaintances, along with their political diatribes, which some may even call “convictions.” I’m reaching a point at which I’m skipping over any posts that even hint at a righteous (and too often snide) sermon on how stupid or evil the “other side” is. The problem is that there seem to be only two sides nowadays when it comes to politics, two extreme viewpoints.

Had any foreign power actually plotted to pit Democrats and Republicans against each other (which seems more and more to be a reality), the result could never have been more successfully vile than it is right now. That foreign power would be sitting back, gleefully watching us go for the throats of what we have been trained (at least subliminally) to see as the enemy. Commentaries that one sees on the extreme political edges of Fox News and MSNBC masterfully stoke the flames of righteous indignation, that yield what may well be akin to the rush of a highly addictive drug. Blame has become almost our national sport, filled with artful malice. No accusation can be too hideous or vile, as long as it’s cloaked in an American flag, biblical verse, or photo of some poor vagrant struggling to find his next meal. Guilt is of prime importance. Fact checking is too dangerous in risking ratings that fire up our anger or sympathy and, thus, our complete attention, loyalty, and patronage. Maintaining our righteous rage as an emotional high is the goal, not what’s necessarily right for the country.

There is no middle ground anymore, where one might find reason. This has brought me to the point at which I trust almost no one in Washington any further than I can throw a Volkswagon. Personal agendas, fear of losing wealthy donor support and power can purchase brilliant propaganda that seems to be providing an entertaining and riveting “duke it out” display daily for the rest of the world. Also there is our human weakness of believing pretty much anything that we want or need to believe. Hateful sarcasm seems to have become our political face on the world stage.

I love America too much to renounce my citizenship, but the vulgarity, lies, and vanity from both political parties have become too black and white. The nuance that comes from stepping back to view all the shading of a wider view has been sacrificed for the self-congratulatory smugness that I don’t remember ever seeing before, even during the Nixon era. We have come to love that adrenalin rush of righteous indignation, valid or not. That means we’ve sacrificed something else…the responsibility of honesty (even when it hurts our own causes), fairness in an attitude of give-and-take, and giving up the megalomaniacal rush of eviscerating the opposition as entertainment for political points.

I wonder, with much trepidation, what the world and history itself will see when they look back at our current political landscape. The arrogance and cutthroat maneuvers on both sides make me wonder daily who we really are as a nation and what we’re about. The words to our national patriotic songs seem a bit off key right now to the point that our ideals are either blurred to the point of absurdity or given an almost religious reverence not borne out by our actual behaviors.  JB


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Freshmen Fake Book Reports and Other Foibles

When I was a student in high school, girls had carried around tattered old copies of books like GONE WITH THE WIND, and PEYTON PLACE. During my first year of teaching, more than half of the girls in the school carried, among their other books, copies of Erich Segal’s wildly, if mysteriously, popular LOVE STORY, a sentimental Romeo and Juliet kind of tragedy of surprising brevity, that became a best seller and stayed on the charts for way too long.  I read it myself just so that I could discuss it intelligently, if not enthusiastically, with the girls in my classes.  Reading tastes for boys had not changed much since my days in high school. MAD MAGAZINE was still at the top of their list of “cool” reading material with CRACKED coming in a close second.  These were tough competition for the selections I was assigning my freshmen, books like, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, 1984, ROBINSON CRUSOE, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, JUNGLE BOOK, THE PEARL, ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL, TREASURE ISLAND, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, LITTLE WOMEN, and NIGHT (Wiesel).  Students also had to read at least two other books of their own choice, submitting written reports on them by the end of the term. To get my freshmen thinking about those extra book possibilities, I compiled a list of titles, most of which had not been made into films, with brief summaries of the stories.  Two of those titles and summaries I fabricated completely, curious to see if anyone might try to do a report on a book that didn’t even exist.  Freshmen are experts at creating more baloney than Alaska creates snow, so it was a matter of interest to see what might happen.

FIRST BASE, SECOND BASE I said was about a boy named Carl from the slums of New York’s lower East Side, who became a great player for the Yankees, despite grinding poverty and childhood illness.  The other phony book was ROSES AND THORNS, the story of an Irish girl named Fiona, who rose from foster care to become, with her husband’s help, a great nurse and advocate of child care.  I added the comment that I had not read those two particular books. Two boys turned in reports on FIRST BASE, SECOND BASE, padded with the most creative but ridiculous rubbish.  Three girls submitted their reports on ROSES AND THORNS, providing even more extraneous nonsense than the boys had been able to invent, including some silly stuff about the author.  All this showed me that students could become great opportunists when given the chance, especially if it meant not having to do a lot of extra work.  It was also a mirror image of what I had been as a high school freshman.  It made me begin to think that maybe sneaky people could make decent teachers for high school kids.

Debbie Brown, who had already plagiarized Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous poem, asked me one afternoon if she could do a report on a book called CANDY, and thinking she had said CANDIDE, I gave her the OK.  At the time, I thought that Voltaire’s satire might be a bit much for Debbie to digest, but it was a relatively short book, so I thought that if she had any problems with it, she could come to me for help. I thought no more about it until a week later, when she turned in her written report on CANDY, a piece of embarrassingly vile pornography about a prostitute, the namesake of the novel.  In her paper Debbie revealed details that would make a sailor blush and that made me begin to worry that if her parents found out that I had approved such a piece of trash as reading material for a freshman (or anyone else), I could soon expect a message over the P.A. saying, “Will Mr. Bolinger report to the main office.  Please clean out your desk first.” As it turned out, I graded the report, adding a note that I had misunderstood the title she had originally given to me.  Nothing further was ever said about it, but I continued to imagine a book with a partially clad prostitute on the cover at the Brown house, placed tastefully on a coffee table next to copies of BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS.

I encouraged all my students to read, wanting them to enjoy reading as much as I did.  Also, I tried to promote the school’s amazing theatrical productions by giving extra credit to those who tried out for productions and were chosen, or who helped out by being on stage crew.  In high school I had been in only one play, a very weak production of OUR TOWN that would have made Thornton Wilder commit suicide right there in the theater.  I played the drunk church organist in Grover’s Corners.  The only other play I remember my high school producing was HILLBILLY WEDDIN’.  By amazing contrast, Morton High School, where I was a teacher, did massive and high quality productions of musicals like CARNIVAL, CAROUSEL, OLIVER, and OKLAHOMA.  Other plays were done equally well like, ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, and even ROMEO AND JULIET.  Those shows always made me feel proud to be a teacher in that school.

The choral department had standards just as high and did concerts at Christmas and in the spring yearly that would have impressed the most discerning tastes.  I never missed a concert or play all the years I taught at MHS and always had goose bumps while sitting in the audience watching especially those kids I thought would surely end up on AMERICA’S MOST WANTED list.  Being at those performances gave me a deeper perspective on what our students could do and how important something could be to them.  This of course included their performances on basketball courts, wrestling mats, soccer, baseball, football fields, and at swim meets.  It meant so much to them that their parents and teachers were there to cheer them on, even if they didn’t always say so.

At the time, my freshmen were reading ROMEO & JULIET, a play filled with some of the most glowing and sumptuous poetry in our language. In class we did readings, sometimes making audio tape recordings of scenes that included battle sound effects with cafeteria butter knives as swords.  Those were the scenes the boys seemed to enjoy most, but girls appreciated the figurative language, and the innocence of the two lovers, something already familiar to some of those girls.  Maureen Eason, for example, sat in the back of the room weeping over some of the lines from the first balcony scene, when Juliet was testing Romeo’s sincerity at his swearing his love for her by the moon, “That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops” and Juliet’s response, “Oh swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb, lest that thy love prove likewise variable.” Then when Romeo asks what he should swear by, Juliet answers, “Do not swear at all, or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self, which is the god of my idolatry.”  There was little Maureen in the back row, shedding tears over those lines.  Many more tears came from other girls at the play’s sad conclusion, tears I would never have expected from freshmen. In front of me right now is an old copy of the text we used that spring of 1970.  Signatures, in the inside cover, of students who used the book over the years are still in the “rented to” column next to signatures of teachers, several of whom have since died, who used the same book in their freshman English classes. The names Norman, Dana, Brenda, Jeff, Pam, Bobby, Lisa, Gretchen, and Robert are still there, a roster of some of those who held the book in their hands, some loving it, some hating it, some reading it just to get by.  I don’t know why, but I feel as moved seeing that little history in those signatures on that page as I ever was by the play itself. I suppose it’s a little like looking at an old family album and remembering good things again.

Half way through our study of that play in the spring of that year, I received an official-looking letter from Pastor Jeffry Bowman of the First Baptist Church. The communication was an admonition against my teaching the play, ROMEO & JULIET. The pastor had heard from some of his parishioners that the play was being taught. His contention was that his church did not believe in or condone “sexual intercourse before marriage.” My first thought was that there must be another play called ROMEO & JULIET about which I knew nothing.  All my attempts to contact Pastor Bowman by telephone having been thwarted by his secretary, I finally wrote a letter to say that the play about which he had written in his letter was definitely not the play we were reading in class and that ours was the one by William Shakespeare, in which there was no “sex before marriage,” except an innocently affectionate kiss in the balcony scene.  I never heard back from him on the subject. Weeks later, however, I received another letter from Pastor Bowman, again criticizing my choice of literature, this time for my sophomore English class, which was then reading 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY by Arthur C. Clarke, a book in which the pastor claimed man’s evolution from apes was being taught.  My letters of reassurance that evolution was not being taught at all never received a response.  It was later learned that the pastor had also, without reason, been grandstanding from his pulpit about his righteous diatribe against “the sinful teachings in our public schools.” 

A few of my students from the year before stopped by my classroom occasionally to let me know how they were doing in English.  They included Deirdre, and Debbie, who was still writing poems that could clog a kitchen sink, but who wanted me to read them, “very carefully” and then critique them on paper.  I am proud to say that my level of diplomacy (also known as horse hockey) in those critiques reached heights of skill that could easily have made me ambassador to any other country in the world.  Debbie would bring me page after page of poetic swill that required written commentary on my part, which was usually the suggestion that she attempt more original and striking imagery.  One example of her poetry had more than twenty stanzas, of which I will share only one, for those readers, who might be diabetic:

Love for Bobby Bobby is far away, so I feel sad today.

I miss his blue eyes and wavy brown hair

and want him to know how much I really care.  DB

After reading all twenty verses of that poem and others Debbie wrote, I felt as though I had just drunk an entire bottle of Karo Syrup.  My pleas for Debbie not to be quite so literal fell upon deaf ears, so that my only consolation was that her days of plagiarism had ended, even though I must confess feeling nostalgic for the truly great stuff she had been stealing only a year before.

I also found out that another English teacher had received a letter from the same pastor, criticizing her teaching of Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS, another to a teacher using Mark Twain’s PUDDINHEAD WILSON, and to a biology teacher for even using the word “evolve” in his classroom lectures. Had Pastor Bowman not been an absolute buffoon, we teachers might have felt intellectually bullied or educationally terrorized, but in order for his threats to have carried any weight, the “bully” in question would have needed to possess intellect or education, both of which were utterly absent from his list of alleged virtues. Despite these minor verbal scuffles, teaching went on its way with the support of almost all parents and cooperative efforts of most students.  Another triumph of second semester was that though Debbie Brown’s poems continued to be the most awful tripe I had ever read, there was no more plagiarism.  That poetry was absolutely hers.  JB


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Singing’s the Thing

There are moments now when I become painfully aware that I’m turning into an old fogy. Those examples of catharsis include forgetting why I’ve entered a room (which I believe happens to many people of different ages). The particular clue I’d like to explore here about my gradual transformation is my reaction (sometimes aversion) to much of today’s popular vocal music.

In the late 1950’s my parents thought it shocking that I played records of Elvis Presley until the phonograph needle almost went through to the other side of the vinyl songs like “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” I think they were worried that I might become a juvenile delinquent, listening to such “Wild stuff.” Mom and Dad were still listening to Glenn Miller, The Dorsey Brothers and singers like Patti Page, so I imagine that Elvis must have sounded like something from an alien planet.

Well, I’m becoming more like my parents every year than I care to admit. I still love the old Broadway shows like, Show Boat, The King and I, Oklahoma, Carousel, State Fair, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Hello Dolly, Mame, Les Miserables, Cats, and A Chorus Line. Even the first time I saw each, I left the theater humming some of the tunes, ones that had a way of staying in my head, because they were all lyrically interesting to me and different from each other. Those songs survived the shows to become part of pop culture and are still sung by vocal artists everywhere. Of course, people under the age of thirty may consider that music as outdated as the minuet, powdered wigs, and buckled shoes, but now so many of the pop songs manufactured each year sound like each other. Not much stands out, because there is so much technology and electronic vocal enhancement to cover up the utter mediocrity and forgettable musicality of the songs and performers.

A while back I became hooked on the television series, The Voice, because the performers make songs their own in the most brilliant, heartfelt ways. Sometimes I know the performances are extraordinary when the hair goes up on my arms. There are no generic tricks of the trade, no echo chambers, or voiceovers.  It’s the real thing, and my whole being responds to hearing such talent.

I love “classical” music too and have a fairly large collection of recordings, but when it comes to pop singing, I still go back to The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Edith Piaf, Lady Gaga, Adele, and Harry Connick, Jr. Their songs have lyrics that are still engaging to me, voices that didn’t need eight tons of electronics to make them sound great, and tunes that have stood the test of time (at least for me). I admire some of the verbal skill of rappers from time to time, but in general, I’d rather have a root canal than go to a concert of that genre. Melodic it ain’t. It just sounds “pissed off” most of the time. Maybe that’s its main purpose. I really don’t know.

So yes, I’ve become a musical codger when it comes to pop singers and their material, but as I don’t force anyone to listen to what I enjoy most, I don’t expect anyone to be suing me for my musical taste. To each his own.  JB

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Monuments of the Confederacy

I don’t think we should try to erase history but rather try to see it as it actually was. There will be different reactions to monuments and art depicting history. Some will see a glorious and romantic past while others will see subjugation and savagery. Perhaps some of the more offensive monuments (to some) can be placed more appropriately in museums, but they should not be destroyed. If nothing else, they can remind us of how far we’ve come from our having bought and sold human beings as property and that those who condoned it are still sore losers through their progeny a century and a half later and truly need to get over that loss and accept a modernity that includes everyone who obeys the laws we put into place for our collective safety.

History has witnessed shock, dismay, and horror at pieces of sculpture before that were too violent (The Rape of Persephone by Bernini), war monuments from both World wars, what were considered obscene statues and paintings in earlier times because of nudity. Who decides what should be demolished and what should not? The sensitive paintings of Shiller from the early 20th Century were condemned (along with other art by painters like Picasso) by the Nazis and burned along with books which the ruling powers decreed ugly and unfit for human sight.

The Margaret Mitchell past and stark reality are not, and can never be, the same, but we need to see them both and judge individually. Trying to eradicate history is, I believe, a mistake. We need reminders of the good and the bad to create an emotional and social sense of balance and truth. Time will show them to be exactly what they are from era to era as we become more enlightened in our quest to have more awareness and humanity. This is still America. Does anyone really believe that tearing down monuments (even ones depicting a flawed history) will improve race relations? Isn’t there already enough angst and resentment? I hope we can rethink our current rage and obsession with tearing things down and begin thinking about building things up instead….like tolerance and understanding. JB

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Sliding Backwards into the Abyss of History…

We cannot delete history or hide it. I’m not sure that whitewashing it helps either, but over the past few days we Americans, along with the rest of the world, have witnessed a powerful undertow of ignorance and hatred unleashed almost as though the only part of our political correctness that matters has been surrendered to the adrenalin rush of mob rage.

Charlottesville, Virginia is certainly not the only place where contempt and laser-like hostility have found a home. They have also found nesting places in Chicago, Baltimore, and other cities where people want or need to find stereotypes and scapegoats for their own social and economic misery.

The fairly recent obsession of eradicating statues of the past I can begin to understand in terms of the oppression that some of those sculptures symbolize for people whose ancestors suffered the ravaging indignities of slavery. However, I have seen statues all over the world that have impressed me by their beauty and perfection, often through their nude forms or romantic historical significance, forms that appalled Victorians and many American fundamentalists of the 19th and 20th Centuries. The difference of that art may be that they were mostly in museums and didn’t represent social norms for everyone. Assuming what a statue symbolizes (beyond its mere physical presence) can become a guessing game with ugly consequences.

To a white man from the deep south, a statue of Robert E. Lee may represent a romantic, Margaret Mitchell view of a period long gone, of beautiful plantations, White columned Palladio homes,  the scent of sweet magnolias, moss-draped cypress trees under which genteel folk drank mint julips on warm afternoons in the shade. Some want to see heroism, even though they lost the Civil War, but a black man may see in the same statue only subjugation and injustice from a time when human beings were bought and sold as property. This dichotomy is an issue partly because such statues are in prominent places in major cities that are no longer controlled merely by white citizens. The bitterness for those white folks has not yet disappeared, but the memory of repression for blacks lingers like the taste, not of a mint julip, but of blood. Two people looking at the same sculpture will likely have different and possibly opposing feelings about it. One city in the south actually had a Robert E. Lee insignia and image as the police department logo on the police cars. I wonder how a black man pulled over and arrested might feel about that rather thoughtless choice. There has to be some kind of balance or middle ground.

Such statues (of heroes whose side lost the Civil War in 1865) are still symbols of what many whites see as a lost world that they have romanticized beyond recognition. They can’t let go of that mythical world. The statues would have appropriate homes in museums, because we should not forget history but rather see it through more enlightened eyes. That is, we need to see history for what it was, not try to sweep it under the rug. The idea of studying history is in great part an attempt to learn from our mistakes, isn’t it? If statues of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering were erected in any European or American cities, I would expect an immediate and violent backlash against the indignity of such brazen stupidity. However, our scenario is not quite the same.

A statue of Robert E. Lee (in most respects an educated, civilized gentleman) is a figure of history whom the public can judge in various ways, according to point of view (I think that’s what we still do in America). He was not a monster but rather a man whose view in his own time was skewed by a past to which many greedy and unenlightened people still clung tightly in a fading, outwardly lovely environment based upon incredible hypocrisy and domination (encouraged even by many churches of that time) which, though thousands of years old, was on the verge of its inevitable collapse. People are good or bad, not because of their skin color, a lesson with which many are still struggling through threats and violence, which they naively believe will actually solve the problems.

Statues can show us some of the supposed gentility we have lost and what coercion and violence we should have left behind. In that way, such sculptures can remind us of how far we’ve come, or at least how far we SHOULD have come in advancing civilization for everyone.  JB

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Just a Whisper Away…

Now in my seventies (65 plus shipping and handling), I have begun to notice that my short-term memory is beginning, here and there, to fail me. When I was still teaching high school classes (years ago), I was able to learn and remember thirty names during my first meeting with any class of new students and to learn at first introduction, the names of all the guests at a dinner or cocktail party. Now I’ve begun to have trouble remembering more than six names at a time. It’s almost as though the little neurons in my brain are encountering more and more signposts that say, “Detour” or “Road Closed.”

This morning I phoned the veterinarian’s office to order more of Dudley’s special dog food and heartworm preventative. The receptionist was new, introducing herself as “Robin,” but in about six seconds my Etch-A-Sketch brain had already erased her name, even though I have a dear friend named “Robbin.” I apologized for having to ask that she repeat her name and was grateful not to be dealing with my request in person, where she would see me blushing from embarrassment.

It’s funny to me that I can recall, verbatim, long passages of poetry from fifty years ago and phone numbers from my childhood more than sixty years ago, but my short-term memory seems lately to be deserting me at those inopportune moments when I’m dealing with folks in person or over the phone, where a memory glitch can be as obvious as an old jalopy parked next to a Maserati. I don’t really mind my hair having turned silver, but I do hate my first meetings with people to create the impression that my “upper floor” is not completely furnished for having a power of recollection shorter than a school teacher’s summer vacation.

I do several crossword puzzles daily, read voluminously, and have rich and varied conversations with friends on topics from literature to current events. I do laps in the swimming pool daily and have a healthy diet, but despite my efforts, there are still instances regarding short-term memory (forgetting why I went from one room to another) that make me feel as though I’m at least two sandwiches shy of a picnic. Those are the painful moments that leave me, at least temporarily (soon to be forgotten) with a hopeless kind of hope, like leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa. Now who was he again?   JB

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A Time with Reasons for a Benevolent Revolution…

One of the ironies (to me anyway) of our time is the illusion that because we have cellphones and computers, we are more engaged with the world around us. In fact, I find that we can be more disengaged because of those devices.

Whenever I’m driving my car, I encounter at intersections someone in front of me who is so entranced by talking or texting on a cellphone that I need to sound my horn to arouse his or her attention in order to continue driving before the next light or to clarify the need at four-way stops that there are other drivers waiting for a clue too.

On one level, it’s really all about paying attention to one’s surroundings. There seems to be an increasingly blasé attitude by many cellphone users for whom the rest of humanity and the world at large simply disappear. I don’t know if this phenomenon is based upon the feeling of being more popular, important, or the delusion that any outside contact while driving must be even more urgent than avoiding a collision. Whatever the reason, many people seem to be more and more withdrawn from the actual, physical world around them as though hypnotized by the electronic device.

Just because one can find out instantly on his phone where in the world Bantu is spoken doesn’t mean that person is in any way aware of what’s going on around him. I get cold chills when I see another car speeding past mine, its driver on a cellphone, talking or texting, oblivious of anyone or anything in the immediate, physical environment. I weary too of seeing the increasingly accepted rudeness of cellphone users in restaurants and waiting rooms as they prattle on as though the folks around them are completely inconsequential. The scariest issue to me is that this impudence and grinding disrespect seem to be accepted more and more by too many as the price we must pay for that nebulous but sacred quest for “progress.”

I love the anecdote about the man on public transportation seated beside a young woman who was talking and cooing obnoxiously to her boyfriend for almost an hour as she grew louder and louder, cackling in the most ear-piercing way between comments. The gentleman seated next to her, having noticed the general annoyance of other passengers in the vicinity, simply grabbed the girl’s phone, saying into it, “Aw, come on, honey. Take off your robe and come back to bed!”

We, as a society, seem to have reached a point where we are confusing freedom of speech and movement with downright disrespect. Maybe when our sense of indignation and irritation reach the final border of tolerance about cellphone offenses in public, there will be a kind of mass revolt to bring back some level of mutual respect and a more sensitive awareness of public places and transportation.   JB

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What’s in a Name? (apologies to Shakespeare)

I’m guessing that most of us at some time acquire nicknames. Those tags or labels may or may not stay with us throughout our lives, but they generally have significance that can be traced back to special moments, characteristics, or circumstances in childhood and beyond.

My parents named me Elwood John Bolinger after my father, who was born in Altoona Pennsylvania almost a century ago. Dad’s nickname was always “Al,” but when I was born, he noticed my rosy cheeks and remarked that they resembled the petals on the buds of roses, so I was given the nickname of “Buddy” by which I’m still known among my closest relatives. The name worked well when I was a kid but became somewhat awkward as I aged.

In high school I was known as Elwood or “Woody,” which didn’t bother me, mainly because of one of my favorite films from 1950, starring Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, the main character from the Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey by Mary Ellen Chase. The name “Elwood” did manage to reach a new level of coolness during the 1980’s in the movie, The Blues Brothers. Suddenly my real first name became a household word among fans of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

My brother David was “Davey” as a child, but he managed to shake off that diminutive before he was in high school. My sister Connie Lynn was called “Beets” by the immediate family due to her very red cheeks. She hated the nickname, but it stuck until she too was in high school. When I was in elementary school, one of my uncles derived some level of amusement from calling me “Slugger,” a nickname I knew was ridiculous only because I was a very shy and hopelessly unathletic kid whose idea of sports was playing chess. The same uncle, in a well-intended effort to butch me up a bit, bought me a pair of boxing gloves which increased my athleticism  only by my becoming expert at hurling them as missiles at my siblings when they bugged me too much. My aim became almost professional. To all and sundry however, except my uncle, I remained “Buddy” for my years at Harding Elementary School in Hessville.

During my college years, I was known as “Bud” by my friends, though for my birthdays during that period, I continued to receive greeting cards addressed to “Dearest Buddy” from both my grandmothers, each card always containing a dollar bill.

Through all the thirty-five years I taught high school, my friends and fellow faculty members knew me as “John” or “JB.”

Now in my 70’s (or what I prefer to think of as 60-something plus shipping and handling), I have relatives who still call me Buddy, one being my mother’s favorite cousin, now in her nineties, whose lovely, young-sounding voice always begins her phone calls with “Hello, Buddy,” as she has done since I was a toddler, which I occasionally imagine must have been some time during the Mesozoic Period. 

Perhaps the nickname I loved the most was “Mr. B” during all those years I taught thousands of high school students.   JB

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