Trailing vowel.

September 9th, 2019 by John Morris

“Trailing vowel”: the vowel at the end of your Italian family’s name.

I spent my first seven years living in a neighborhood where Italian people settled. It was the most exciting section in Downingtown; it is called Johnsontown.

My friends were from the Italian families. Their names included Viscichini, Talucci, Carlone and Mento. We could see our homes without leaving ours. I ran with them even though my family’s name ends with a “s”, but it’s not DeAnglis. I was accepted because my Mom was Italian. None the less, I always felt a tiny bit incomplete.

Our little crew were steps away from getting small treats or well meaning scolding for the cadre of Italian women who were always on watch. Many times we just hung around waiting for the others to clear their home assignments. Then we’d play in empty lots, back alleys and river banks. We’d often find castoffs and then fashion a game using our imaginations. We played with the boys living on other streets, but our parents didn’t like it much. We needed to tell our Moms the names of the guys we played with. If I mentioned the wrong family’s name, I got the “stay away from him; his family’s bad” speech. No more explanations were ever offered. Our Moms would insist on our blood oath promises to avoid them. I reasoned my parents (my Mom) didn’t get along with their parents. I guess this was an early lesson on “good people V. bad people”.

Time would pass and our circle grew and shrank when folks moved in and on. The time came for my family to move less than a mile away to the other side of the tracks. It may have been to the next town. To play with my former running mates, I’d now navigate street crossings and a nasty railroad tunnel/urinal. I did this for a while but stopped after I found new friends at my new location.

We will always have our times together. We will always be from Johnsontown.

Note: 2019 is the centennial celebration for Saint Anthony’s Lodge in Johnsontown. They seek any writings you have about the time its denizens spent there from 1919 to 1970. I’m sure they’d be pleased to hear from you.

Musical moment

September 2nd, 2019 by John Morris

Can a song be both “revered and under-appreciated”?* Perhaps, if it’s Good Vibrations, the rock masterpiece by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. When discussing rock’s most celebrated efforts, it is mentioned with the likes of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Day in the Life“. The excellence of the work is still discussed by rock historians in fawning tones. They struggle not to go too far.

I remember the first time I heard Good Vibrations. It was in an outpost in the Mekong Delta named Ben Luc. Night was growing, and the squad’s only radio was set to the Saigon station. During the introduction, the DeeJay laid out some bits about the upcoming song. He talked about how many studio hours it took to record. He told us how the people in the States couldn’t get enough of it. He called it the finest music he’s ever heard. My mind was in some form of suspension. He let the music roll out without saying who would sing it or even its name.

The Beach Boys’ distinctive sound made it clear who was singing. The words lifted from the radio, and the song’s simple title was reveled, “I’m picking up good vibrations.” Wow, what a great line! The song kept up its flowing lines. The matching music combined hard driving rock with orchestral tendernesses.

All too soon it was over. I wanted to hear it again, but I’m sure a foot hygiene spot played instead.

The music played by Armed Forces Viet Nam was usually months behind what played in the “Land of the All Night Generator”. In the following weeks, Good Vibrations seemed to play about once an hour on the radio. I guess the censors in Saigon enjoyed this tune as much as I did. Soon enough some guys received their copies from home. The magical way to listen was with headphones.

It has been fifty-three years since the launch of Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. He is often called a musical genius. I’ll add my name to the list of those who honor him.

*

Best rock group ever?

July 10th, 2019 by John Morris

On one memorable day in Fort Wolters, Texas, I was the third leg in a three way argument including my squad Sergeant and his close friend. The argument centered around the best rock group ever. Each man had a different choice. The close friend selected the Beatles and made it clear any other choice would show only overwhelming stupidity. My Sergeant’s choices were more grounded in the pre-British invasion. I listed several quality candidates for the position of best ever but refused to settle on any one because I felt were vulnerable.

Our head butting happened for about an hour in summer 1968. Groups like Queen, CSNY and Creedence Clearwater Revival were only then just joining the top levels of performers. You can imagine this argument never got resolved or completed. The only thing to end it was our hunger for red hots with cold beer.

It’s now fifty years later, and I finally offer my selection. It is a session band known as the Wreaking Crew. They played on almost every American based hit from the late 50s to the early 70s. They were The Monkees, The Beach Boys, Nancy Sinatra with father, Frank and hundreds of other easily recognized songs. They were not a garage band either; they consisted of dozens of the best musicians around, i.e., guitarist Glen Campbell. They were a large number of musicians who recorded in major studios twelve hours a day. The entry for this group was remarkable musical talent coupled with the ability to get it right fast.

Record labels and music producers wanted them because they were a tight knit band who could take raw songs and fine tune them in amazingly quick time. Top performers would alter their work schedules to match the Wrecking Crews’ availabilities. They were the unseen element that kept the hits coming. They’re the sound track of the boomers’ lives.

I had not acquired this information until I watched a video on the Wreaking Crew. This one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZgBexrZvM0

The downside to educating yourselves about the Wreaking Crews is it will erode your admiration for many of your favorite groups.

Welcome to the supply room.

June 20th, 2019 by John Morris

The human brain is a remarkable structure. There are times when it’ll send forth information quicker than its owner realizes. There are other times you’re left wondering if it’s working at all. The former can make me feel invincible, and the latter causes me to question my powers.

I’m not talking about remembering names or why you walked into a room. This is normal “getting old stuff”. Dementia is not knowing where your car keys are it’s not knowing what car keys do.

I thought about an earlier time in my life when my usually serviceable brain refused to function.

I was stationed in the Army at Fort Riley, Kansas. My usefulness as an at-will enlisted man had come to an end, and my small band of malcontents were being pieced off in the hopes we would find meaning in our remaining months of enlistment.

The Sergeants decided I could do less harm if I got buried in the Supply Department where things were cut and dry. It was all about counting what you have and checking your count against the number on the manifest.

On my second day on this assignment, I was left behind while all others went to lunch. My instructions were simple: answer the phone and don’t blow the place up.

It was when the second call came in that my brain went AWOL. I answered the phone in a crisp, military manner. The caller went straight ahead. “Do have PFC Chevrons?” I took only a minor pause and said, “No, Sir, we have no one named Chevrons, PFC or otherwise”

His response derailed my composure. “I didn’t ask for PFC Chevrons. I want PFC Chevrons”! At this point, I figured this was some brand of Army-speak that a knuckled headed SP4 could not manage. I tried to defuse the situation by saying the supply guys are at lunch and call back later. This must have been the worst possible answer because the non-com-poop on the phone became loud and theatrical.

I hung the phone up and vowed not to answer another call. I concentrated on not blowing the place up.

It was when the Supply Sergeant returned, and I was telling him about the call that it came to me: “PFC Chevrons” were the physical stripes worn by PFCs. I stopped my report and told him what a bone-headed move I had made. He laughed his hillbilly, self-righteous laugh and said it would work out.

The Sergeant took the follow-up call, and looked at me while he listened to his counterpart’s version of the story. Seems the other guys felt treated to a story they’ll tell for a long time. I was assigned the butt-of-the-joke position and all was peace and light. This is when I learned Army life is so mind numbingly drab they’ll look for ways to break up the daily monotony.

I declined the offer to deliver our available PFC chevrons to their newest destination. I didn’t want to hear their mocking laughter.

A life lesson learned

June 4th, 2019 by John Morris

I am often guided by a lesson I learned in 2002. I was touring China then with my son, Adam. He taught English at a school in Tianjin, and we had planned a father/son trip of a lifetime together.

We were traveling by ship on the Yangtze River where the Great Dam was being built. After the dam was completed, rushing water would flood the many communities lining the storied river. It would be our chance to see Chinese history before it disappears.

The ship anchored at the end of the second day. It was here where we booked a day trip up one of the tributaries into a remote section of the river. We would see troops of monkeys; ancient fishing villages and religious symbols on the sides of mountains. It would make for a good adventure. The alternative was to sit all day on the crowded, dirty ship in a smelly harbor.

We were moved from our large boat and into smaller ones holding two dozen passengers. We then roared up the narrow inlet.

The day did present all we expected: monkeys, fishing villages and shrines were seen. At one point about a dozen local men pulled our vessel up the river and over rocks using ropes and muscles.

At the turn-around point, we were served a simple Chinese meal of rice and mystery meat. Tea was free, but if we wanted other beverages, the local market was standing by. They also were brimming with touristy purchases.

My son and I had a bad turn with the other adventurers on our mini-boat, and wanted nothing more to do with them. We found a section away from the food market. It was a rocky beach where fishermen staged their boats each work day. A nearby group of small children were playing without any toys or gear. They viewed us with mild curiosity but played on.

A boy aged around two years came over to me and extended his hand holding a small rock. He gave it to me and looked down. He did not ask for anything in return. I was struck stupid by this gesture. I bowed and thanked the boy but did not accept the rock from him.

Later my son told me these people have very little, and to the boy, this was all he could offer me as a gift of friendship. When I learned this, I was leveled by how badly I acted. Many times, I wished I could recreate this moment but that can not happen. All I can do is take the lesson I learned from this moment when a little boy made a lovely gesture of friendship to me, a stranger, and I was unaccepting.

I often remember this watershed moment. I learned to always look for the kindnesses of others. I now will accept small symbols of affection as the big gifts they are.

What happened to the little boy? He and all of his region were relocated to large cities to start new lives. He may not remember me, but I carry him in my heart every day.

Keeping things just for the sake of keeping things.

February 1st, 2019 by John Morris

Hoarding stuff is not my way although my wife, Lyn may disagree. One thing keeping me from this extreme way of life is my history with hoarders.

When my Dad’s mother moved from one home to another, he assigned me to help her. My Dad decided I would help her after school and on weekends. I wondered why I was the chosen one since I had two Aunts and four cousins living near her. They knew to get scarce I guess.

GrandMa had worked at a local thrift store for years. When I walked through her home, the message I got was the store didn’t throw anything away, my Grandmother just boxed it up and took it home. Once there, she simply stockpiled it never to be used again.

We’d load volumes of low worth items into her station wagon and unload them into the new destination’s basement. I was at her home for about two weeks and rejoice when I got the word I no longer would be going there.

I wonder whatever happened to that mobile junkyard she kept. I am better off not asking.

My business partner, Harry Crosson managed to fill his home with so much “stuff” visitors would need to move boxes around to get across a room. When he moved, he asked me to help him with the move. He had family, but he would suffer the high price of their disapproval.

Moving Harry from his single home to a one bedroom apartment required the rental of a storage locker equal in size to a tractor/trailer. His belongings in the new apartment caused a redecoration in the fashion of his old home. Stuff was jammed into all conceivable areas. The move took a week of six hour days, and the move was only two blocks away.

A story to illustrate the way of the hoarder.

As we started the move, I suggested to Harry that he first go through his stash and throw things away. “NO!”, he said. I then reached into a box and removed a nearly empty box of chocolate covered cherries. It looked to be years old. I said, “Why are you keeping this?” He shot back, “Well, someone may want it.” I said, ” May I have it?” After he said, “Yes”, I threw it into a trash can to make a point. Harry used moves and reflexes of a younger man as he scurried across the room to reclaim the box. I tried to explain there is zero chance anyone will ever eat the candy so it a burden to keep it and all the other things like it. The chocolate in the box went to the storage locker. It was still there when he died. Then it was someone else’s problem.

In 2016, I reorganized my humble bedroom using the KonMarie method*. I cleared a lot of stuff I was not going to ever use. Even today, I stored clothes and other items a la KonMari.

Maybe with my past history with hoarders and my newly found “sparking joy” way of life, I will not descend into the self-loathing ways of hoarder.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6BkvPWaCnI

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.

 

about


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.

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