Monday, February 27, 2012

24 Hours

Life changes in a blink. Now, I have not truly experienced a blink in the past 24 hours, but I've lost another friend, two friends, truly. And our reservations for a house on Anna Maria Island, that I secured in December, went up in a puff of foreclosure smoke.

The last will take care of itself. Some solution will come of this mess. It's just a bother when I don't want to be bothered.

But losing two more friends is hard. I loved them both. Both fill me with great memories of my youth and fill me with want for old friendships.

This mostly about my childhood memories with Rick. But first I have to honor Richard Willis. Dick was a great man. A real man. He loved life and was a generous and friendly person. He was a great friend of my fathers and of mine. I spent a lot of time with the Willis family and it was a great experience for me. Dick loved fast boats and skiing. He'd take us all over the lake in his wooden Chris Craft boats. They were show pieces and always the fastest boats on the lake. He taught me about taking care of your stuff. He prided himself on things "lasting." I can hear him now telling me, "Yeah, its held up." But always it held up because he took good care of it.

I would hang out at their cottage a lot. I learned early on that getting a great meal from Gay or a ski behind his boat would cost me some labor. I always liked working with Dick and hearing his stories so I was glad to help him out. It never ended. On one of my last visits with Dick, he had me plant a bush by the side door in late fall. He could no longer do it himself.

Dick was a consumate story teller. He knew everyone and seemed to remember everything. Duke takes after him a lot. He always had a story about someone and they were all very entertaining. He was generous to a fault if you were fair with him. But he expected you to treat him right. If you didn't look out.

In the end, Dick was the most positive dying man one could imagine. As the news got worse, while I'm sure he had private moments of fear and despair, he never showed a moment of that to the outside world. He was positive and friendly to the very end. He was always glad to see me and asking about my family.

When he first told me his prostate cancer had returned, I felt like he was describing a cold and there was nothing to fret about. He made me feel like it was just another day in his life. When the news turned grimmer and he had to face some dire facts, he was still positive. He was positively beaming when he told me what a great life he had had. He had no regrets. He and Gay had lived a full and wonderful life together and he had four great kids. Their life had been filled with adventures and fun and lots of turmoil as well. But clearly he felt fulfilled and satisfied with a life well lived. God bless his soul and bless his family who he loved so fully. We've lost a good man, a real man.

Rick Bienz was my childhood friend. As kids in grade school, we did everything together. Played in the creeks, hiked the woods, climbed the fence to sneak into the reservoir, fished, made wine, tried to smoke balsa wood, made gunpowder, hydrogen balloons, UFOs, broke shit, fixed nothing, and as we grew up we did all the things older friends did. Drank to excess, chased girls, drove fast and engaged in too many activities I really can't admit to. Most with less creativity and more thrill seeking than in our youth.

When my mom died, his mom was a huge influence over me. She made the best vegetable soup and chili. I ate there all the time it seemed. We were inseparable as kids. He lived a bike ride away. As I posted earlier, if you read McCammon's "Boys Life" you'll understand my life as a kid growing up in Washington C.H. with Rick Bienz. It was full of adventure and imagination, complete with a "Cat Lady" whose old house was filled with Cats and was once filled with politicians. She was reputed to be the lover of a President and was involved in the Tea Pot Dome scandal. (You'll have to look it up.) So we had great imaginary fears of that house and of her. I remember we finally got up the nerve to go to her house on Halloween one year, mostly becuase it was the scariest thing we could think to do. She turned out not to be scary at all. Of course.

We soaped lots of windows, threw eggs at cars passing by on Route 35, hung dummies from trees over the street and laid them by the road as if they were dead bodies. We made skate boards out of boards and skates, and go carts out of mower engines. We played Capture the Flag and other outdoor games with scores of people from around the county who somehow found my backyard as their summer playpen. More than a few young romances sprung up and a few fights over my sister.

I spent a lot of Christmas Days at the Bienz house. At our house, once we opened presents, Dad would often leave to check on patients. So I would go to Bienz's. They always had an open house. So Rick and I would go and break his new toys (and mine), watch TV, eat food, play pool and watch the adults talk and enjoy the wonder of the day and the company of each other. As an adult, we adopted that tradition in Cincinnati and had open houses at our house on Christmas Day.

We went to dirt track races with Bobby Moore, skiied and swam at Rocky Fork Lake, and always prided ourselves on being the first to ice skate in the winter. We always fell through the ice, but dammit, we were the first to get out on the ponds and skate on ice that litterally would roll under our weight. We played ice hockey on the ponds and skated down the creeks, dodging logs and sticks and falling through where there were weak spots. We played in the snowdrifts created in the ditch behind our house, burrowing through snow 10' deep, creating tunnels and rooms.

In Summer we played army and shot BB Guns in the ditch. It was "Combat." We'd shoot hornets when we found a hornets nest in the ground and usually would end up pouring gasoline on the nest and setting it on fire. We'd set up our army men in the sand box and pick them off one at a time. We'd play on the wood pile with the smoking trash can at the head of the pile and pretend it was a train engine, taking us who knows where. We'd climb all over the pile, jumping on and off and scrambling around like great adventurers. We'd build forts in the woods. Snow forts in the snow. We'd climb up into our tree house and have adventure after imaginary adventure. Robinson Crusoe all over again.

We'd fight all the time. In fifth grade we competed to see who got to be Bobby Grushon's boyfriend. Rick won. I don't know. She'd been my girlfriend since second grade. She obviously liked him better. We'd fight from time to time. Wrestle and smash each other's face into the ground. Then get up and be friends. I don't remember what the hell we fought for. I think it was like two dogs who fight for superiority. It was an even battle. We got in trouble on the playground. I think once we picked on Jay Simison. Maybe twice. I've always felt bad about that. We got into big trouble the one time. We called the Merit Boys the MooIts. Someone else started it, but Rick and I loved to get them mad at us. Once, I ran into a pole as I was chased by one of the Merits who was going to kick my scrawny little ass. It cost me five stitches.

We became good friends with Mr. Gwiazdowski. He lived across the street from me. He was our sixth grade teacher. He loved teaching and loved the guys. He knew his role at school. He taught us soccer, let us build a high jump pit, helped us build a hockey rink out of the parking area next to the school and convinced the other teachers to park further away in the worst of the winter weather. Rick and I would help him shave his head on his front porch. He loved hockey and took a bunch of us to a hockey game in Dayton. We had a friend that came from a big hockey family, the Shaltry's. Mike and Steve. Mike was our age, Steve was older. So they taught us all how to play, how to handle a stick. We ignored most of the rules. We all had figure skates. They had hockey skates.

Later we began boxing over at Haugens. As well as always playing pool. Rick had a bad shoulder. I had the longer arms. So I would keep hitting him in his shoulder until I could see he was flinching, then fake a punch to his shoulder and hit him square in the jaw. He hated me for that.

We had a party one night at Haugens. Barb and Vern were out of town. It was a good crowd. Rick was in the back room with some chick. Can't recall who. We thought we cleaned up well. Some friends who stopped by offered to take the trash and dump it for us. They did. Right in someone's yard. They looked in the bag, found some receipts and called the cops. The County Sheriff, who had no real jurisdiction over the location of the party, called Haugen in the next day. Haugen tried to deny he had a party. . . The Sheriff knew who Bienz was with in the bedroom. Haugen confessed. But all he demanded was that Marc apologize to the family that ended up with our trash.

Oh my! The memories do roll along.

As friends sometimes do, we grew apart. It's a shame. We were quite different in many ways as we got older. Those differences weren't so important. But we never lived close together again. And as happens in life, you settle in with new friends, new activities, kids come along and your life changes direction. But I will always love Rick and I think he always loved me. We had too much history to let us lose what we had. He was like a twin brother. But not identical by any means.

I imagine Rick is up in heaven right now telling some wild tales. Most probably aren't true, but the truth is, he has enough fantastic true stories that he doesn't need to exaggerate. He leaves behind a loving woman and a grieving family. I hope he and Gene are playing ping pong as I speak.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where'd he go?

Good question. June 2010? My last post.... Time do fly. But I had lost it. Lost my positivity. Didn't feel like writing about positive things. When your household income drops by 2/3, and you have debts and bills, it's hard to be positive. The tunnel seems unending and dark and "the light at the end" must be around the next curve, 'cause there ain't no light visible.

But then, a glimmer appears. It's faint, you're not sure it's really there. Like a star in the sky that you can see in your peripheral vision, but then disappears when you look at it directly. But you believe it's there. You want to believe. You want to be positive.

In a new business, the glimmer dims and brightens; with it, sometimes, my enthusiasm for entrepeneurship. I've called it an emotional roller coaster, but that is inaccurate. I've yet to see any dizzying heights and the downward flight is rather muted, tame. It's more like a kiddie coaster. I want to get in line for the Beast. Bring on the Beast.

This summer I kept hearing about a drought in Texas and I kept thinking, "I know how they feel." It was a S L O W summer for business. I should have taken a vacation, but with neither income nor credit, that was impossible. Even the drives to the family cottage cost over $50 roundtrip, plus boat gas, oil, and miscelaneous costs. When you have insufficient income, $100 is a lot of money to spend in one weekend.

I've come to appreciate the value of a dollar. Three years ago, I thought little of spending $50 on something I wanted. Clothing, computer accessories, tools, toys, whatever. That has changed dramatically. Rarely is there an extra $50 to spend. When there is, I start to wonder which bill I have forgotten to pay. And then the autodialer starts ringing your phone and you stop wondering. The autodialers are mean, cold hearted, dialing bastards. They wear you down. Finally, you answer the call. Unless you make the representative happy, the calls will continue - even when you've explained the situation. Unless they get cash, the dialer cannot be abated. Only when it gets fed does it stop dialing. It doesn't care. It just wants to eat.

I am beginning to see the glimmer more often and it appears to be brighter. But I fear the next slowdown will come and, once again, I will question what I am doing. Whether I can provide for my family and resume the path to retirement. But strategies are emerging to protect us from the dips.

Life is truly an adventure. I have a wonderful family and a devoted wife. My dad is about to turn 92 and remains in good health and is active and bright. We've been blessed in many ways for many years. The drought will end, storms will come and the storms will pass; the clouds will part and something good will grow. We must be patient and remain positive. Good things happen when you keep good thoughts. Negativity leads you down a path of fear, remorse and missed opportunity. So smile today. Make someone else smile. Then consider all of your blessings and give not a thought to the hurdles you face, except to plan where to plant your foot.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Summer, or, "Drill Baby Drill"

Wow. I posted once about "marking time." I should have paid more attention to that when I wrote "Spring." Where did the time go? While it's not quite summer officially, it is clearly summer in the minds of anyone who goes to school, has kids in school or who pays attention to school. It's summer.

Spring blossomed early this year. A warm dry April gave way to a warm wet May which concluded with one of the hottest, sunniest Memorial Day weekends I can remember in a long time. It was in the 80's all weekend. And to think they moved the Nicklaus Memorial Golf Tournament to the following weekend, just because it was often too cold to play in comfort over Memorial Weekend. And Spring unfolded as I described. It always does. Most of the time we just don't pay attention and spend all our time in our urban jungles rather than out in the country where the woods transform from a translucent winter veil to a dense, thick opaque curtain which hides the many scars we humans inflict upon nature.

Here's a question. What good will come of the oil spill? I sit back and wonder why the youth of America isn't more outraged. Why we all aren't more outraged by this accident. And perhaps that's why. . . . I used the word "accident." We have been conditioned to use that word but it really wasn't an accident. If something is preventable and we let it happen, is that an "accident?" Perhaps at this point we all just want to see the flow shut off. Then we want to see how bad it will impact us individually. And then, if the personal impact is sufficiently severe, we will react. We will get mad. I hope I am wrong. I think I am. I pray we look at this disaster and quickly grasp the severe environmental consequences and the impact on us all. I pray we will take action, in some form, hopefully many forms, to make sure such a disaster doesn't happen again. Will this disaster temper our new found love of Nuclear Energy? Will it slow the "drill baby drill" mentality. Will it help us embrace and develop less risky energy alternatives such as geothermal and wind?

We don't need more fossil fuel. We need to act now. We need to take serious action. Politicians tend to take the easy road. The popular road. "Drill baby drill." Some thought this a simple solution to our dependence on foreign oil. How many times did we hear that chant. I cringed each time. How about "conserve baby conserve?" How about "wind turbines baby wind turbins" or we amend the "drill baby drill" into a reference to geothermal energy. Wouldn't it be safer to drill a mile deep hole to tap into geothermal resources?

Some scientists are now hoping for a hurricane. They think the storm surge might push the oil slick over the top of the fragile ecosystem in the lowlands of Louisiana and onto higher ground. Sounds ridiculous to me. I like better the farmers who want to use the huge abundance of straw and hay to soak up the oil. They make more sense than prognosticators who suggest that the inevitable hurricane will improve the situation.

Let's take a realistic look at our huge appetite for energy. At the very least, kids, can you turn off the lights?

Sunday, March 28, 2010


As I step out of the house, the freshness of the air bombards my sense of smell. Something I haven't smelled in many months. My skin notices too. It feels the warmth of the morning's breath. As I stand on the porch and take a deep breath, I am relaxed, suddenly realizing what is most remarkable is my lack of physical reaction to the warm air. I am not bracing against the cold, that odd reaction we have, instinctively recoiling to hold in the warm air under our coats. Then, I notice. I am squinting. The Sun! Blessed sunshine. Vitamin D. Where have you been?

As I watched the summer turn to Fall, I recognized the finer stages of Fall. Sure, the leaves change colors and fall, but think about Winter. Everything in the Midwest is brown. Even the grass. But it doesn't happen all at once. For a while, after the leaves have fallen and the underbrush has died back, the grass is still green. It provides a last view of summer. A long goodbye.

So it's fitting that as Winter loses its grip, the grass is the first to respond. Brightening up our lives with color we haven't seen since November. Buds begin to form along branches. Crocus and narcissus and daffodils begin to poke through the faded mulch. The woodland underbrush begins to take on a slight shade of green. At first it's like a cloud in the woods. Just slightly visible over the brown. Almost overnight the buds fatten and pop open. Flowers begin to emerge amidst the branches. And spring explodes into a rhythm of color and a cacophany of birds newly returned from their southern sojourn. We all begin to feel better, more alive. And the promise of summer fun, bike rides, boating, swimming pools, golf, baseball, hiking, picnics and more, shines like a rainbow at the end of a summer storm.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

White Stuff

As I slogged through the gritty grey snow that carpeted the roadway, snow falling madly about, piling up on anything and everything, including my head as I hurried into the office, I reflected on the change of heart I have had with winter. It's reflective of a transformation we must all fight throughout our "growing up." The lost innocence, the lost simplicity of enjoying the snowfall and all the fun it could bring if you just embraced it.

From my childhood, I have many enduring moments. Why some stand out so clearly, I will never know. I am not one who can recall all the moments from my past. I have friends from college and high school who I love to share reunions with because they never seem to forget any event we shared. They revel in stories I recall only as the tale unfolds, still forgetting details likely exaggerated by time and the gift of story telling.

Yet I have moments that stand out as clear as any in my memory. Some of these memories are obviously important events in my life, others are simply random moments that shine through the haze of age like lighthouses in a lifting fog. In one of those moments, I was on my bicycle. I was riding down Briar Avenue, which runs at a 90 degree angle from our house, like an arrow pointing to opportunities that lay somewhere "out there." As I rode down Briar, I must have been reflecting on some complication in an adult's life, some moment of madness or trauma, fear or loathing, anger or frustration. I just don't recall. But what I recall most vividly is my reflection on how simple life is. How easy it is to be happy. Life was beautiful. I don't know how old I was, I don't recall if it was before or after my mother's untimely and premature death. But I simply recall thinking, "Life is simple. Be happy." And in the wisdom of my youth, I knew that adult had lost their way somehow.

As I grew older and reflected on that moment, I observed how many adults, in the effort to be happy, simply make bad choices. They follow complicated paths pursuing happiness that could be theirs if they simply took the time to appreciate the blessings of their life. If they simply slowed down enough to see the beauty of their friends, their loved ones and the world around them.

The other night we went to see "How, How, Why, Why..." It's basically a monologue about the author/performer's life events and his personal reflection on the blessings of his life. He has included in his story path a lovely and entertaining, almost sassy, lady who sings and plays the accordian and guitar. She sings in a way that lets you hear the words of a song as if you are hearing them for the first time. I'm not sure how she does it. She was enthralling to me. But the bottom line for me was that here was a guy who had one very deformed arm and one perfectly good arm that he ruined in a motorcycle crash. Ironically, his useless, deformed arm became his very useful "good arm." He adapted. And as he poignantly reflected, his prayers had changed from asking God for things to thanking God for his blessings. And, as a result of that shift, he found many blessings in his world that he never would have found, but for the "blessing" of a motorcycle wreck that nearly killed him and ruined the one good arm he once enjoyed.

I've met a similar story once before. As I reflected to others on this experience, more than one person has suggested that the change in attitude, not God, brought the blessings into these lives. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the answer is not so important as the fact.

Be thankful. Life can be simple and beautiful. Let it be.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Marking Time

Have you ever "marked time?" You do every day or week, but may not realize that's what you are doing. It came to me when I thought back to a moment of anticipation which moment concerned an event now past. And I recalled thinking how far off the event seemed at that moment of anticipation and yet, it was already over. Where had the time gone?

So the next time I sat contemplating a future event I just "couldn't wait to arrive," I "Marked Time." I consciously reflected on the time that would pass before the event anticipated. I reflected on the "present." Focused on it intently. How I felt, emotionally, physically. Observed the passage of an hour and how long that seemed to take. And then I let Nature and Father Time take their course, intending to Mark Time again as soon as I was conscious of the passage of time, as soon as I had a moment of reflection, maybe a day later, often a week or two later, now closer to the event. And at that moment, I again Mark Time, looking both backward to the last moment of Marked Time and forward to the anticipated event.

What always impresses me first is how quickly time seems to pass. I tend to focus a lot on the fact that the "present" which seemed so far in the future is here now. And the anticipated event is now so much closer. But mostly I tend to reflect on the passage of time. How I intended to reflect sooner on that passage, but events and life kept me from that moment of contemplation, allowing days to pass, sometimes weeks. In so doing I realize that impresses me most is not how quickly time passes, but how much time passes without our realizing it.

We informally and unconsciously mark time every week, sometimes every day. It's Thursday and we say, "I can't believe its Thursday already." Or it's 4:00 PM and we say, "I can't believe how late it is already." We mark the week on Monday morning and we mark the beginning of a work day when we leave for our jobs.

I sometimes simply mark time until tomorrow. As you contemplate tomorrow and what you will be doing, anything at all, Mark Time until that event. And as you sit at Dinner or you lie in bed the next evening, think back to the moment you marked time. How the present, which was the future is here upon you and your moment of Marked Time is in the past; only a memory of how you felt, what you were looking forward to, all of which has now rushed past you. And think how you were wholly unconscious of the passage of time for most of the time that passed...even though you were trying to pay attention. It's just odd to me to sit in the future, which has become the present and think about that moment in the past where you concentrated so hard on the present.

Of course, as you age, time travels faster. I suppose Einstein had a theory to explain this. Perhaps it is explained by relativity. That the closer you get to the end, the time remaining relative to your entire life span, grows shorter, making time seem to travel faster. Or more likely, it's just the opposite. When you are ten years old and time seems to crawl, a year is a 1/10th of your existence. When you are fifty, a year is but 1/50th of your existence. So from a relative standpoint, time seems to travel much faster.

If you ever contemplate this exercise, use it as a moment to focus on the reality that for many, tomorrow will not come. And for many of those many, that will come as a surprise. Life is full of surprises. So go out and live accordingly. Live as if this is your last day or week or month on earth. Live as if you have a short time left. Maximize your opportunities to love one another. Tell those around you how much you love and appreciate them. Give them the chance to tell you how much you are loved. And all will be the better for all.

What Do We Live For?

We live for what? Today? Tomorrow? Yesterday? Memories? Anticipation? Or for the incredible joys of life, the unexpected pleasures, the tiniest moments, such as discovering previously unknown water chimes: the sound of broken chunks of ice tinkling along the shore of a partially frozen lake on a beautiful sunny day in early January? Or the feel of a snow flake as it hits your nose and melts in the very second your eyes begin to focus on it as a flake and at the moment of focus is instead a droplet.

Do we live for ourselves or our parents, our children, the poor who need our support, the grieving who need our love, the loves of our lives who bring us joy, often in unexpected ways?

Do we live for the incredible beauty of the mountains, sunsets by the sea, the awesome power of waves crashing against the rocks, the incredible grandeur of our valleys and canyons, the beauty of a smile?

Do we live for the everyday beauty that surrounds us? The moments of unexpected kindness, the smallest joys that make us smile, the simple pleasures that warm our hearts?

Do we live for the rewards we reap when we give of ourselves? The hint of hope our gifts provide? The lift in spirit of those lacking fire? The glimmer of hope when darkness reigns supreme?

Do we live for the challenges, the fears overcome, the panic stopped, the triumph of hope over despair? The feeling of accomplishment, of pride, when we fall and fail and get up to try again? When we throw off our burdens, reject their hold and attain our goals?

There are so many blessings in life. These are but a tiniest fraction. Share some of yours with those you love.

Live for today. Plan for tomorrow. But don't plan on tomorrow for it may never come.