Long running

August 22nd, 2018 by John Morris

For parts of my life, I ran long distances for exercise and sanity.  It started in high school when I joined our cross county team.  I was classically built for the event: a tad over 5’5″ and under 120 pounds.  I had all I needed except speed.  It matter little to our coaches since they already had their “horses” and just need filler for the meets.  My assignment was to not impede the other runners.

My usual finishing position went in the books as “also ran”.  My efforts did nothing to change the competitions’ outcomes.  “Also ran” is an even mix of non-recognition recognition and why did I bother.  Decades later, I found dignity in being an “also ran”.

To me “also ran” means someone who entered a competition with little chance to win awards but runs anyway.  The battles are with ourselves and our past efforts.   Getting an “also ran” tag meant we were there.  It says we tried.

In 1980, I ran a Philly half-marathon.  I finished one minute short of my goal of under two hours.  I was lifted enough by my accomplishment to not really care.

I read a follow up interview with the race’s winner, Rod Dixon.  He had finished almost one hour ahead of me.  To his credit, he hung around the finishing line after the awards ceremony and cheered for the many finishing their personal odysseys.  It was exciting to see a member of running royalty cheering home runners like me.  He was feeling the connection runners have.  So was I.

Months later and in a different setting, Dixon gave an interview and spoke about talking with an “also ran” about the four hours plus needed to complete his marathon.  He was truly impressed by the man and said, “You actually ran for over four hours!”

Did my “also ran” runner’s heart good to hear such praise.



Friends are everywhere we go.

August 12th, 2018 by John Morris

This year my nuclear family gathered together in Canada for a summer holiday.  This marked the first time I spent more than one day in the land of our northern neighbor.  Quebec City and Montreal were bookends of the complete adventure, but we spent time in a small and charming city called La Malbaie located on the Saint Charles River, population 8,271.

Our lodging was at a first class hostelry selected by daughter-in-law, Yuri Kim.  It had great rooms, pools, hot tubs and a three star restaurant.  Yuri should book vacations for a living.

What is there to do in this vacation haven?  I did something I like to do.  Travel to the heart of the business area and walk around.  I avoid other mainstay locations such as industrial, residential and shopping centers.  Give me rows of small locally owned businesses, and I can extract a good day.

Fearing the hilly terrain, I took a taxi to the epicenter of the town.  It was a nicely appointed church with a tall enough steeple visible from distances.

The library is my usual first stop on these mini-adventures.  This one had multiple displays about the region and more like a museum.  La Malbaie was a fishing village and a water harbor.  Too bad La Malbaie is French for the bad bay.  Ships routinely came in but often didn’t get back out.  Something about sand bars causing them to dry dock.

I hit the street armed with small goals (find a restaurant for tonight’s dinner and wander around).  I first walked around for about 45 minutes to get a feel for the area.  Then I hit the shops.  I’d spend five minutes just talking with the clerks and owners.  Then I’d make token purchases and move along.

After I toured the stores of interest in the greater La Malbaie area, I realized I had more than two hours before my planned return to the hotel.  I hatched a plot to stay in the village and have my family pick me up for dinner.  But what to do for this extra stay?

This is when I took a tangent from the main drag toward a side street.

I saw a welcomed sight.  A Grand Opening sign for “Bistro-Thé L’Échange.  A nifty looking tea oasis just when I want it to be there.  I first walked around inside this small shop mostly devoted to tea.  I decided to have that first really good tea of the day (genmacha).

Not content to just serve tea, this bistro-the has coffee, pastries, candies, beer and sandwiches.  I joked I didn’t need to leave this place.  Note: the pastries are made in-house.

I later ordered a sandwich and beer for my snack.  I settled in to talk with the young barista.  She was a pleasant and charming lady who took me early for an American.  Her English was better than good.  She told me many younger people are bilingual.  Older folks? Not so much.

We chatted about our lives and what we were both doing of interest.  I learned about her without ever learning her name.  She lived with her parents and a son named Bastian.  He played soccer and was doing well in school.  As I listened to her story, I realized how happy her life made her.  It radiated from her and lifted our spirits.

Time went by, and my ride arrived.  Bastian’s Mom told me were to go for dinner thus finishing my to-do list.  I left the tea shop with another fun day stored in my memory banks for future recaps.

This short story shows why I enjoy what my son, Adam and I call “following our noses.”  No plan on what to do or expect.  Just go out and let the karma flow.  Does it always work?  No, but it does often deliver life memories like my time with Bastian’s Mom at Bistro-Thé L’Échange in La Malbaie, Canada.



Clueless men in ads.

August 10th, 2018 by John Morris

Years ago, a wave of new commercials hit the TV world.  In them, the women were portrayed as more intelligent and capable than the helpless men.  I enjoyed these early commercials due mainly to the fact they were twists of the normal.

Fast forward to today, and we see a constant storm of these commercials.  So much so that I don’t remember the last ad I saw when the woman played the stooge.  The advertising world’s drones must believe the male of the species must play an incompetent fool to maximize their sales.

Hey advertising geniuses, it’s time to find new approaches for hawking goods.  Setting men up as incapable children insults men and women they think still need catering.


First your legs go

May 30th, 2018 by John Morris

Boomers learning to play baseball in the mid 1950s were taught throwing the ball starts with the legs.  The muscles in the legs act as springs sending energy through our trunks into our arms flinging the ball away.

This distant memory came to me today while I was throwing yard debris into the borough’s dumpster.  The container was filled to the top as it always is.  I dragged the load from the car and grabbed a small section only to have the entire mess become inter-twined making it more than I could handle.

I found a way to make smaller sections.  Now all that was left was to fling these bundles over the five foot high sides of the dumpster.  My first attempt was so bad the debris bounced off and landed on my head.  I gathered my dignity and summoned once mighty leg muscles to send the bundle onto the pile’s apex.  My better efforts landed just above the container.  I was able to push the bundles past the point of hanging on the edges.

I can thank a symptom called disequilibrium.  This unwelcomed visitor is the result of neuropathy in my legs caused by diabetes.  My description of this aliment is trying to walk with legs not quite strong enough.  The feet drag, and there is much stumbling. Most of the time, the legs just don’t respond as you’d expected.

I have started walking with a cane.  It does help.  I would have fallen at least twice today but not for this support.

Am I happy to need a cane to ambulate?  Not at all!  Canes are for old folks or so I thought.

But my cane is not just any ordinary cane.  No, no, it was made by our local handyman/good guy, Dominic Guerreri.  When Dom’s retirement came, he made canes for his male buddies.  Dozens of these handcrafted canes made their way to friends.  They could now continue their long walks with Dom.

My Dad was one of the men for whom Dom made a cane.  When Dad died twenty years ago, the cane found its way to my basement.  It looks like a wooden vine with a strong bow in the long section and a oddly angled handle jutting from it. Do I feel jaunty when I use it?   No, I feel more like I’m on display.  I wonder who is watching me and what their new opinion of me is.  Of course, I can’t allow these thoughts to control me.

I know it’s just a cane, but it’s symbolic of a decline I fear and despise.  I guess I’ll always believed I would be one of those rare old-timers with still some spring in the legs.

Yeah, like I can stop time.


My favorite music group?

May 22nd, 2018 by John Morris

For bits and pieces of my life, I’ll favor one music group over all the others.  This position was held by Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, The Mommas & the Papas, Meatloaf, Beach Boys and most recently, The Band.  Coming on strong now are The Kinks.

During the course of my obsessions, I’d listen to the group’s music and all and everything on-line about them: live performances, Wiki-stuff, biographies, etc.

For sometime now, I’ve been focused on the Canadian-American group called simply, The Band.  If their work is unfamiliar to you, I am jealous.  I would love to switch places and hear them for the first time.

Some back story: a rockabilly group named Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks toured Canada and found some seriously talented musicians: Robbie Robertson, Richard Manual, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson.  Traveling with him was American drummer, Levon Helm.  After putting down some serious road time, Robertson, Manual, Danko, Hudson and Helm decided to break free from Hawkins and let him tour in Canada alone where he was a big enough deal.

Calling themselves Levon & the Hawks and The Canadian Squires, they slowed buildt up respect and fame within the rock world.  They also caught lightening in a bottle when they became Bob Dylan’s backup band.  Dylan was planning to drop folk music and start a rock career.  He needed a talented backup group.  This career change came with stiff resistance from the “folk” world.  Bob Dylan and the Band were booed mercilessly at concerts in America and even worse overseas.  The trauma of performing under hostile conditions caused Dylan to stay off the stage for years even after recovering from a motorcycle accident.  Levon Helm quit and went to work on an oil rig.  He would later return to the fold.

The Band moved to Saggerites, New York bordering Dylan’s home in Woodstock, NY.  It was at this home/studio where The Band and Dylan created new and inventive music.  They’d jam for monster hours producing several classic hits guided by Bob Dylan’s genius.

The rest is rock history.  Watershed moments for The Band include playing at Woodstock ’69 and creating the quintessential rockumentary, The Last Waltz.

The Band broke up after Robbie Robertson announced he would no longer tour.

I would like to report that all went well for the five minstrels after their split, but I can’t.  They became factionalized with a lot of the usual back-biting about money and credits.

After awhile, The Band started touring again without Robertson.  They now played at smaller, yet still magical venues.  Robertson became a music directors for films.

Following a long history of drug abuse, Richard Manual committed suicide.  He had suffered enough for one lifetime.  The Band’s signature song, The Weight echoes bits of Manual’s struggles in its lyrics.

Although shaken by the loss of their talented mate, Danko, Hudson and Helm kept the music going until Rick Danko passed in his sleep.  Helm was running the show at the time and decreed there can be no “The Band” without Manual and Danko.

Levon Helm continued to have a full bodied career and elevated the Southern rock genre.  The music community and legions of fans lionized him.

Cancer struck Helm and took his singing voice. He performed until it returned.  This man with an indomitable spirit also died leaving Garth Brooks and Robbie Robertson behind.  If we are to learn more about The Band, it will come from these two.

In a display of brotherly love, Levon Helm and Rick Danko are buried side-by-side in Woodstock, NY.

The gifts given by The Band exceeds their music.  They led lives most men would choose, if they had more nerve.

Okay and a whole lot more musical talent.


Pleasant dreams

February 25th, 2018 by John Morris

In September 2017, the Coatesville VA Hospital Doctor suggested I’d be tested for sleep apnea.  To me, my symptoms didn’t match his suggestion but I reasoned, he’s the Doctor, and it would be just another test in an nonending stream of tests.

The sleep test will be done at the Michael Crescenz Veterans Affairs Hospital in Philadelphia.  Turns out they have the VA’s regional Sleep Study.

At my first appointment, I was given an apparatus to circle my chest with stylish matching devices for the hand and face.  I took these machines home and hook them up.  The results of my sleep test would be transmitted directly to the Sleep Study folks.  Note: I love technology.

Despite the technician’s simple directions, I got the hook-up chore wrong, and it never recorded my sleep.  I discovered my misstep in the morning and called the Sleep Center.  I guess this must have happened enough for them to react with saint-like patience.  “Try again tonight, Mister Morris.  You seem to understand how it works.”  And so I did.

The result came back quickly.  “You are waking up at night at an average of 19 times an hour”.  Note the accepted average for older adults is 5 to 10.  These little shocks of wakefulness were robbing me of quality sleep and making fatigue a way of life.  A new appointment was next for a CPAP machine fitting.  Oh what joy is this?

Things can happen slowly with the VA, but this was not one of those times.  In two days, I travelled back to get my new gear.  But first there was a classroom lesson to endure.

I sat at a computer and watched an instructional video about the workings of CPAP machines and a cartoon-like rendition of how to put on the mask.

Amy, the sleep technician took me to her work station to explore how to set up the my new machine.  This took me back to my days at Fort Gordon, Georgia when I was learning now to operate radio teletype machines.  Except Amy was a better instructor than those “I love the Army” type I had then.

Amy tried on a small number of CPAP masks, and we decided the best for me was the full face mask due mostly to my tendency to be a “mouth breather”.

A lesson on how to clean the machine was drilled into me in a way that showed Amy did this routine a lot.

With this behind me, I was good to go; so I did.

That night, I set up my new sleep buddy and fully expected to have a major improvement in my condition in the morning.  This did not happen.  As the weeks passed, I reached out to others using CPAPs.  I was told it takes a while.  Weeks, maybe months before I would feel the positive effects.  Everyone said to stick with it.  The results are worth it.

My journey started in October 2017.  I have steadfastly stay with the CPAP program.  On February 22nd, I experienced my first night of restful sleep and my first high energy day.

Four month of sleeping with a plastic cup strapped to my face with its attached air hose forcing wind into my face has finally paid off.

The difference is easily measured.  After a poor night’s sleep, I can push myself to do chores, but I need to take rest breaks.  Following a good night’s sleep, I am active and do chores more effectively.

If sleeping with a CPAP machine can give me a better day, I’m all in.

Being Dad & Papa John

June 18th, 2017 by John Morris

I am Dad to my daughter, Beth, son, Adam and daughter-in-law, Yuri.  There are loads of other people who call me “Papa John”.  They are led by my grandsons, JJ, Will and Julie Sterling, their Momma.

I’m using the nickname Papa John to honor my Dad, John the first.  My wife, Lyn tagged him with this name, and it stuck.  You felt the love when someone said it.

Now when I visit the grandkids, I am in contact with their pint-sized friends and their parents. I ask all to call me “Papa John”.  It’s a nice tribute, and I’ve gained something extra in the exchange.

Interacting with these younger people makes me feel younger.  It’s something I feel better than I can explain since my body doesn’t speak English.  Barriers that exist between the generations do not block our meaningful thought, talk and action.  I am grateful for my younger peers for this tonic.

There is also another group of young people who uplift me in the same way.  They come from unrelated sources, but with them, I can feel the decades of differences between us to not matter.

  • Jen, Jake & Emily Kuhns; Mark Petrillo, Cassie & Amanda Bryan who together with the Morrises became one large, multiple family tribe.
  • Former customer, Tammie Neuin who has been a bright and cheery friend.
  • My comedy improv leader, Leah Lawler who has me working beyond my comfort zones and loving the results.

The big problem with lists is somehow you’ll omit obvious people.  I willing to deal with the fallout.

For now, I’ll offer a Father’s Day thank you to these, and other, young people in my life who have made the weight of my years seem so much lighter.

Life’s two and opposite firsts

May 13th, 2017 by John Morris

My late friend, Bob Bryan thought profound thoughts during combat with cancer.  One day, we were discussing the loss of another acquaintance.  The obit said he did not die alone but was surrounded by his loved ones.  Bob explained our friend was the only one who died in this story.  He added, “Everyone dies alone.”

I think of his words at times.  I agree with him more than I don’t.  The act of dying is focused and quite personal.  Even those who die in a common event go about the act of dying separately.

This story led me to think of the opposite life event.  None of us are born alone.  At the least, our Mothers were always there.  Having no idea what was happening to us, we see scary lights; hear loud noises and may, for the first time, become frightened.  We react.  We cry and reach out for comfort.  It’s here were we first find the love Mothers provide.

Sunday, May 14th is the celebration of Mothers in the United States.  Please remember my words when you reflectively tell your Mom you love her.

You may feel these words a bit deeper.

Odd Couple: Hollywood version

April 16th, 2017 by John Morris

Neil Simon wrote a play about two men badly matched but still great friends.  He called it the Odd Couple.  So popular was the play, movie and TV shows bearing this name, the title became a descriptive for any oddly matched twosome.

I read about a real life Odd Couple who were opposite types:  Actors Marlon Brando and Wally Cox.  Something about their strange friendship worked.   Brando was rugged, sex appeal mixed with raw anger, and Cox was Hollywood’s career Mr. Milquetoast.  Brando was a gifted method actor while Cox was doomed to play weak, but usually intelligent, male doormats.

The way they met was classic.  Cox was being pummeled by local school yard bullies.  Brando interrupted the beat down; threw an arm around the much smaller boy – Cox – and said, “I’m your new best friend”.  They were so close that Wally Cox became the only person who could correct Brando in a way the great actor would tolerate.

Brando once said, “I wished Wally Cox were a woman so I could marry him.”  When together they were comfortable and secure.  They stayed close friends until Wally died in 1973.  Marlon secured Cox’s ashes so the two men could have their ashes scattered together.  This was accomplished 31 years later.  During the time between, Brando would dine with Cox’s urn of ashes and use his gift for mimicry to voice his role and his friend’s.

I am slightly attracted to this story because of the wide differences in the two men, but more so because it tells a story about how a single act of kindness can be the start of a lifelong friendship.

Mr. Peepers and Stanley Kowalski?  Who would have figured that?

A day on the three gorges of China

February 26th, 2017 by John Morris

When I stay still long enough, memories drift back to days when remarkable things happened.  Just today, I remembered one such day.

In 2002, son, Adam and I cruised China’s famed Three Gorges on the Yangtze River.  We opted for an extra adventure and went exploring an offshoot river.  The boat master tried to keep our attention on such things as monkey colonies, cliff paintings and ancient caves.  We’d rather look at the other activities popping up.  We watched a squad of barely dressed, slender men pull our modest vessel through waters too shallow to allow passage.  Later, rowdy youngsters stormed our boat with baskets on long sticks for handouts.

It was at the planned stop where I learned a lesson on humanity.

Following a modest lunch at a small island restaurant, we had time to explore the island.  It was ringed by stoney shores.  We watched smaller boats work their way along the river.  They were mini-businesses, and their crews danced and pranced as they did their chores.  Before long, Adam and I were playing with the small boys waiting by the stones for boat rides homes.  At one point, a smaller boy about two years old gathered his courage and approached me.  He extended his hand and placed a small stone in mine.  I didn’t know what to do.  I assumed he wanted a handout.  I thanked the lad and handed it back.  He lowered his shoulders and walked away.  I went to Adam for answers.  He said the small stone was all he had to give me, and he did so want me to have it.  My bad!

On this day, I met people in our world with basically nothing.  They didn’t know if tomorrow there will be food or shelter.  They feared a coming day will find their families moving again hoping to find a better life.

I have days when these events crowd out other thoughts.  I wonder what became of the river waifs, and the lowly boatmen who feed their families by tugging on coarse ropes and digging their feet into the river beds.

Since then the Three Gorges of China were flooded, and the people who lived along them relocated.

I hope better lives were waiting for them.


The old boy writing this blog wears many hats: Vietnam Veteran, husband & father, salesman and techno-dude. After my service with the Army Security Agency, I operated a sign company for nineteen years, The sign industry changed after CAD/CAM machines made the task easy enough for the non-talented. I sold my company and never looked back.

Life has granted me a life partner better than I deserve. My wife, Lyn is a transplanted Kansas gal. Her bliss is teaching kindergarten and first grade.

I am the most proud of my children. My son, Adam lives an international life teaching English and living in Sozhou, China. He is married to one of life's truly lovely women, Yuri Kim. My daughter, Beth grew up in a small town and found her way in life means working and living in major cities like Chicago and New York. She and her life partner, Julie Sterling married in LaJolla, California in 2010.

I like getting the newest gadgets, but also I like to use things until they are useless, i.e., my last personal car was an 88 Honda Prelude Si.

I wrote a Vietnam Veteran newsletter for nine years. During this journey, I learned I like to write. It is a harmless exercise that rewards honest effort while tolerating failure gracefully. I been away from it for too long. My son gave me the blog, and it was a lifeline back to writing.

My best advice is to show the world what you can do but to accept only your opinion of who and what you are.

Update: In August 2008, my job became one of the half-million jobs that went away that month. I took the following year getting the home ready for my official retirement.

In October 2009, I took a part-time job as a saleman at the vaulted Maxwell's Hardware.

On November 29, 2011, I reached my 66th birthday, and I officially started Social Security. I intend to stay with Maxwell's as long as I can contribute.