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.

A man who stood tall.

February 6th, 2017 by John Morris

My brother, “Tony” Morris was a man of simple strengths.  The most meaningful one was his ability to stand up after life would knock him down.

He became a husband straight out of high school and then a father in short order. He faced his situation and found a way to make his way in the world.

After the birth of a second child, his two children were wrenched from him by his wife while he was at work and she placed them in hiding for several years.   He took this tragedy hard but regain his stature.

After he recovered his children, he worked to make a new life for them.  He was able to find true love with his second wife, Linda.  She was the type of wife he deserved.  A great lady for a noble man.

Then this industrial accident happened.  Tony was walking the ground area looking for a lost tool when the laborers started throwing mortar pans like frisbees from the higher levels.  An errant one struck Tony in the head causing him to be out for minutes.  He regained consciousness, and after a time, he started working.  He completed the day’s work despite great suffering.  It was this assault that caused the Parkinson’s Disease that eventually took his life.

Time passed, Tony & Linda made a full life with children and grandchildren. But the Parkinson’s was always there making it more difficult for him with each year.

During his final years, it took great courage to get on with life as gravely affected as he was.   He did so every day.

Through all of his afflictions, I kept seeing a man who knew how to stand up no matter what life dealt him.  He could be knocked down, but he’d chose to stand up and face down his problems.

In my mind, Brother Tony will always be seen as a man standing tall with shoulders set and the look of determination in his eyes.

He and his great strengths will be missed.


You must have a lot of time on your hands.

January 16th, 2017 by John Morris
This is said to me from time to time.  It’s a light hearted comment with a piggybacking insult.  I do spend a lot of time surfing the internet for long forgotten gems.  Recently I stumbled upon a real winner.
In baseball, a grand slam is a home run hit with three teammates on base.  Just as the ball clears the field of play, the home crowd will either give a loud, appreciative cheer or go mute.  Four runs scored with the swing of a bat.  It’s an impactive game changer.
A player hitting two grand slams in the same game has been done only thirteen times in baseball’s 146 years.  It’s quite the feat.  Hall of Fame stuff.
Even more scarce is a player hitting two in one inning.
This amazing feat happened on April, 23, 1999.  The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the LA Dodgers.  On this day, Cardinal Fernando Tatis captured immortality.  Adding to the oddity of his feat is he victimized the same Dodger pitcher, Chan Ho Park both times. 
Reading about this made me think about how one guy’s best day comes at the expense of another worst day.  Tatis is revered as the only major leaguer with two grand slams in one inning and the holder of the most RBIs for an inning (8). His feats rest in honor at baseball’s Hall of Fame.  His time in baseball lasted another eleven years.
At the same time, Chan Ho Park left this game needing to restore the confidence every pitcher must have.  He had a lot on him.  Park was the first Korean MLB player and once held the win record for Asian pitchers with 184.  His career in America lasted another ten years.  
These two men locked horns on a spring day.  One performed in such a way the body struggles to contain the jubilation bouncing inside.  It was the best of days.
The other was left to search the skies for understanding about what went wrong.  It was the worst of days.  




Fernando Tatis 3B  St. Louis  04-23-1999  3rd  Chan Ho Park  3rd  Chan Ho Park

Use it or lose it

January 7th, 2017 by John Morris

The brain is a remarkable, resilient organ.  The more we work it; the stronger it gets.  It has so much potential we don’t get close to using it all.

But then there’s dementia, a disease causing breakdowns in the way a brain works.  Since Alzheimer’s Disease was identified, most Americans have learned to fear it above all others .  Having seen what my Mother went through, I’ll say they should.

I’m fighting off Alzheimer’s by exercising my brain in all the ways I can.  One favorite technique is to study a new language.  What’s happening here is the brain uses fresh methods and makes the brain more nimble.  Anything that makes us think is a plus in the battle versus Alzheimer’s.

When there was a lot of dementia research in play, I decided to do my part.

One of my Doctors hooked me up with the University of Pennsylvania and their full blown Alzheimer’s research programs.  Whenever asked to join a study, I’d say, “Count me in”.  I have annual studies and some much shorter.  My hope is, by the time I may get a visit from dementia, the research being done now will be there to benefit me.

When UPENN asked me to join a Cognitive Comedy Workshop, I thought it may also be fun.

A young visionary named Leah Lawler believed getting senior citizens to perform improvisation comedy would help them use their brains better.  I’m in my second “season” with the comedy workshop, and I can say without pause that Leah has something with her idea.

All in our groups are over sixty with some nearing ninety.  We come from varying segments of the Alzheimer’s world.  My entry was my work as case study subject.  Others are dementia patients or care givers.  Some of our group have multiple qualifiers.

I’ll address the elephant in this post.  Filling a room with old timers doing comedy where some have Alzheimer’s may invite cruelty and ridicule.  Not so.  While we make a lot of mistakes, Leah taught us to cheer rather than to react in hurtful ways.  This helps keep the mood light and cordial.  Because of our work together, I’ve seen team members with Alzheimer’s improve after a few sessions.

Even though we are diverse, our group has grown close.  Much like those in combat do.  We have group names to help with the bonding.  Last year, we were “Leah’s Legends.  This season we are “Cornucopia”.  We even have cutesy nicknames.  I’m know as Papa John.

I’d grade this group study as a massive success that should be mimicked throughout the nation.

And they should name it “The Leah Lawler method”.


Associated reading:

Bill Lyon’s series on his battle with “Al”.

UPENN’s Cognitive Comedy Workshop


To Swallow Some Camels*

December 20th, 2016 by John Morris

* writes “Acknowledging you were wrong is a hard thing to do. In Norway, they liken the process to swallowing camels. Why camels? Perhaps it’s because they are large, hairy, and have humps. The expression “to swallow some camels” means to concede or to admit that your viewpoint was incorrect.”    

NB: I learned the phrase “to swallow a camel” comes from the Bible  Matthew 23:24.      

Time for me to swallow a camel.  Got to do it.  Don’t like it, but it needs done.

Years ago, I took a primer course on Robert’s Rules of Order.  My mentor believed his every word should always be chiseled into granite.  He pontificated while I absorbed.   So I rejoined the business world with a solid understanding of how meetings should be conducted.  So I thought.

However, I learned recently one of my paradigms was wrong but only after taking an intractable position on the matter.

Let’s stop here and review what I’ve written so far.  Rules pertaining to conducting meetings are as dry a subject as can be found.  How did I get to such a point?  To be fair, my opponents were nowhere near as locked into their position as I was.  I truly believed I was right and wanted correctness to prevail.  Or I should just say it was hubris.

Camels ready; here goes.

To settled the matter in my favor, I enlisted Robert’s Rules of Order’s chat room.  The consensus came back in small, stinging words.  With the fourth response, I knew I was toast.  If anything, these guys sent gracious comments to me.

I was wrong to insist a presenter could not make or second a motion on the subject they champion.  Not so; any member in good standing (read paid dues) attending a meeting can make a motion or second it.  My original position even made sense to me.  If a presenter can not get two people in the assembly to agree with their proposition, it’s DOA.  Not so, at least not at this stage.  Got to let it go.

Now I must swallow some camel and say to the membership of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 436 that I was wrong.  I shall take any form of punishment you measure out.

Unless this believe this self-effacing blog will do.


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.