Songs to aging children*

January 19th, 2015 by John Morris

Today the friends and the family of a good man gathered to remember his life.

People met Randall “Randy” Shaeffer and were usually taken in by him.  He was personable, witty and quick of tongue.  However, he lived nearly alone on his island called the Brandywine Hall’s Alzheimer’s ward, first floor.  Randy did not have AD, but he shared the need for 24/7 care.  He was in his 50s and younger by decades than the others.  He was one of a small number able to communicate. Each day brought challenges to keep his wits about him.  I’m sure he looked forward to talking with all visitors.  His island was a little less deserted then. 

Randy knew nearly everyone at “the Hall”.  His self-imposed avocation was to be the fly on the wall.  He kept an eye out, and then he spoke up for the many who could not.  He would tell me about his latest “talking to” from the suits.  I think he enjoyed this slightly naughty pleasure. 

The print media would find Randy whenever they’d visit the hall.  It was a matter of natural attraction (reporters seeking the right story).  His story was one of courage few of us will attain.  The better writers made his humor and humanity soak the pages.  

Randy always had the latest skinny.  Unfortunately it was usually about who had passed.  Sad as it was, it gave us all closure about people who brushed up against our lives.  The usual response was a sense of relief that these folks are now at peace.  

Randall Shaeffer let me know a little bit about his former live.  He worked at F. H. Swisher’s Plumbing for nearly three decades.  He was the same merrymaker there he was at Brandywine Hall.  His former co-workers come into Maxwell’s Hardware and tell me stories with Randy at the core. 

This is the snapshot I’ll leave with you about my late friend, Randy Shaeffer. 

Life dealt a really bad hand to Randy.  In a wheelchair at young age, there were times when he struggled to talk.  His body was always breaking down.  Despite these crushing problems, he’d keep his spirit up and spread good will and cheer to all who ventured to his island and spoke with the “Mayor of Brandywine Hall.”

* song title by Joni Mitchell


Marijuana can be a buzz kill.

January 17th, 2015 by John Morris

If your bliss is to be either a comic or a writer, steer clear of marijuana. I know there are many who will disagree with me on this, and their views on the matter can be added to this blog in the form of “comments”.

Here are my top three arguments to support this bold statement.

Argument #1: Buddy Hackett said smoking weed stalled his work ethic.. He said he smoked it every day for one year straight. After the year was over, he realized he had not written as much as one new joke, and his career had been in neutral all the time.

Argument #2:  When you’re stoned, you’ll think anything you do write is either funny or profound. If you present this new material and you’re still buzzed, nothing changes except the audience who may not follow you on your trips.

Argument #3:  Once you’ve forsaken the bong and Zig Zag papers, you buckled down; worked diligently and are ready to spread the good times. Be sure to stay away from audiences who will laugh or applaud anything because they’re buzzed. Even your bad stuff will get giggles and snorts. How can you be sure your latest efforts have any real value?



A Christmas to remember

December 26th, 2013 by John Morris

It’s good to have holidays every year so we can regroup as families and share good times. At Christmas my wife, Lyn and I host our children living in far outposts like Brooklyn or China. This year we were greatly blessed by having both of our children home for the holidays along with our two grandsons.

That’s six adults, one toddler, one newborn and an aging yellow labrador. Despite Lyn and my best efforts, things go wrong. It’s normal. When we most want things to run well, they don’t.

On Christmas eve, the furnace’s new pressure relief valve blew.

My family hunkered down to wait it out. This meant spending Christmas day in 64 degree semi-warmth. We pressed a space heater into service to make bearable the occupied rooms.

As I write this, I am waiting for the plumber, and I am late for my shift at Maxwell’s Hardware. Son, Adam and D-In-Law, Yuri are planning a road trip. Lyn will not venture anywhere. Our family named Sterling are in the tribal headquarters in Rochester, NY.

2013 has been a memorable Christmas at the Morrises. With the repair of the furnace, we will return to more comfortable circumstances.

We are pleased our toddler grandson, Jackson is visiting his Rochester grandparents with his new drum, guitar, kazoo and xylophone.

The kindness of strangers

November 29th, 2013 by John Morris




Grandmom Lyn and William Richard Sterling born this week

The Morris’ recent  trip to Brooklyn was all about the birth of our second grand-son. Lyn and I took the train to NYC on the day before the planned delivery date. One day later, we welcomed into our lives, and hearts, William Richard Sterling, all boy at 8.5 pounds, 22 inches. Now our eldest grandson, Jackson John has a bud for life.

There was a full day separating the planned introduction of Jack with William. Lyn & I would care for Jack during this time. As with all really small children, Jack was going through a rough part of his growing stages: his Mommies wanted him to take shorter morning naps. On this day, Jack  cooperated well by not sleeping at all. He remained cranky and cried endlessly. We pulled out one of the usual methods to calm him down: a stroller ride through the neighborhood. I planned an hour long trip using strolling time and watching him sleep in a cafe.

I found a lively spot on 5th Avenue, Park Slope. As I rolled to the order counter, a lady offered a space at her table to me. I thought she might be leaving, but no, she was being polite.

My table mate was about 45 with one of those unidentifiable foreign accents. We drifted easily into a lively conversation. An example is she just met film producer, Ken Burns on the subway. Where else but New York?  Mr. Burns is knee deep in his latest project, but his next one is about the Vietnam War. He told my new friend it will be controversial. We both agreed anything written about Vietnam causes controversy.

At one point, I noticed an unusual ring and asked her about it. She said it was made from the small amount of jewelry her grandmother smuggled out of Europe when her family fled from the Nazis to Brazil.

At some point, the small jewelry was made into this lady’s ring. She never takes it off because it reminds her of her Nanna. Her voice softened as she told this story.

All good things must end, but this encounter ended with the best of news. William and his Mommies were on their way home, and I had about ten minutes to get Jackson back to the apartment. We exchanged warm farewells, and she helped get the stroller, and the still sleeping Jackson, past the door. I offered to pass along greetings to Ken Burns the next time if see him.

This blog is about special moments: hers and mine. On this day, she shared her memories, and I was able to wedge one in on an already crowded calendar.



Penny #2 of 2: Affordable Care Act

November 23rd, 2013 by John Morris

Please read the previous post first. It is the first part of my two part postings.

Our politicians tell us there are 45 million Americans with no health insurance. Rather than dispute this number, I’ll make it mine for this post.

45 million Americans equals 15% of all of us. This lulls us into thinking we’re doing a pretty good job with 85% coverage. The real pain can be found within the lower percentage.

Using the 15% number, I’ll ask how many just can’t afford health insurance? I’ll just guess the number is 66% or 10% of all Americans. Can lowering insurance rates bring in even half of these folks? I’ll guess again and say no. There are far too many of these American families who scrape with no cash cushion for an extra monthly increase even at reduced rates.

Who is included in the remaining 5%?

  1. People who can afford existing healthcare but pass any way: (the wealthy, the hermits, the Amish, the anarchists, the others). Okay, they’ve made their choices. Let’s leave them alone.
  2. Young, healthy adults who don’t think they need it. They’ll get healthcare if they get sick. They’re already upset over the burdensome social security debt they’ll pay but may never enjoy. Can we now ask them to pony up more of their future earnings for something they don’t think they need?

My final point is our government’s goal is to revamp the healthcare industry by making the extra large portion of citizens sign up for healthcare on a website they own. All this turmoil created just to offer insurance to people who aren’t buying it now and probably not bite at the new offers.

I’ll make one more parting prediction: the best way to get healthcare into the hands of the 15% currently without it is to provide it free of all costs.

Now that’s some good socialism.



Penny #1 of 2: Affordable Care Act

November 17th, 2013 by John Morris

After over three years, Americans still haven’t embraced the Affordable Care Act, and now we are dealing with a botched internet launch. Imagine that. Our first internet savvy President and his band of FBriends dropped their golden egg. If they can’t get that right, how much faith should I have in the total package?

Having said this, I’m moving on.

President Obama did the first right thing by waiving the penalties until the website can gallop and not crawl. He’s asked for those who lost their policies to be made whole by the insurance companies. On this, I have my doubts. Insurance companies like only things that lines their already full pockets.

Looking at it from a distance, I offer these thoughts. The ACA was voted into law by Congress. It passed the smell test applied by the Supreme Court. It’s time to allow this freshly foaled colt to stretch it legs so we can see what it can do.

One bad alternative is the ACA collapses under a badly structured design and is set aside. What will happen next is a Congressional stampede to pass the law they wanted all along: single payer health care often called socialized medicine: think Canada and Europe. The government covers the needs of  poor folks; provide haphazard care & frustrating delays for the massive middle and drive rich people to use private Doctors. Yes, I believe this is the ultimate goal. Oh how I hope I’m wrong.

The slightly better alternative is the ACA actually does what its framers want it to do: provide better healthcare at more affordable prices. As an elder who is mostly “skin covered medicine*”, I would welcome these new changes in the quality of my life.

Stop sabotaging the ACA as so many Tea Partiers favor. This approach gave us the recent government shutdown for which we got more pain and nothing in return. This doesn’t work; it delays meaningful law making, and it fractures the nation into trenches of our own digging.


* adapted from Bill Hick ’s line: “I’m just skin covered coffee.”

We band of brothers

November 12th, 2013 by John Morris

Each Veteran Day, I try to do something different to mark the occasion. In 2013, I vowed to eat my three meals at restaurants offering free chow to Veterans. I succeeded even though it meant eating dinner at 9:00 p.m. Thank you Bob Evans, Applebee’s and Texas Roadhouse for what you do.

The gal at Applebee’s entrance asked me if I mind sitting at their “community table” for Veterans.  I was led to a large C shaped table. I  recognized an old friend, Jess Davies who was just leaving.  It took no time for the two remaining Veterans and me to slip comfortably into conversations. Within minutes, we were joined by three new guys. The easy conversation just kicked up a notch.

It is noteworthy to watch how effortlessly Veterans converse. We may not have common experiences or may not even like each other. The easy conversations seem to come with the acceptance of each other without reservations. Wives of Veterans will tell you their husbands can talk with other Veterans in a way they won’t with them or others. When we consider how populated the American Veteran community is, it is remarkable such a number of folks can get along so well.

Do we argue? Oh yeah we do. Branch on branch teasing is rampant. The Army, Air Force and Navy poke fun at each other. The Navy and Coast Guard talk loud about the other, and the four of us gang up on the Marines. Their Achilles heal is they are so serious.

In the end, Veterans get along in the way all Americans should.


Hurricane Jackson John

July 31st, 2013 by John Morris

Having raised two children – okay the wife did the heavy lifting, I thought I was prepared to care for my grandson, Jackson John Sterling. I was not close.

I learned on my first babysitting day I need all my energies to keep up with him. If I glance away for the smallest moment – say to take a sip of tea – he bolts across the room and toward baby danger zones.

Yesterday Lyn and I took him to a public swimming pool. Was he satisfied to frolic in the baby area? No, he relentlessly kept heading toward the deeper regions. At the water jet area, he enjoyed smacking down the tiny spray created just prior to the water cannon burst designed to knock tykes backwards. My grip on his shirt and shorts left him horizontal in an effort to avoid water-styled shock and awe.

Jack will act up when anyone leaves a room. I think he takes it personally. He must be asking himself why that person doesn’t want to dote on me? On Monday, it took me nearly 30 minutes to make a sandwich. He’d storm into the kitchen to the shout of “baby alert” and come right to where I was. He’d open and then empty the cabinets. Any time spent on the sandwich meant more destruction at my feet.

He also has a “don’t tell me what I can’t play with” attitude. I can dump 100 toys on my living room floor and hold back just one. He’ll low crawl through through the resting toys and swipe at the one I’m withholding.

And what does he do when he can’t get what he wants? He wails, and his baby-sized lower lip quivers at a high rate.

Yes, it does reduce a Papa John to a mushy puddle.


Accepting a kindness can also be kind.

July 30th, 2013 by John Morris

I can trace any of my altruism back to a minor encounter about 12 years ago. I was lunching with a customer at a restaurant he chose. My customer was new to the dealer network, and our relationship had no real history. The fare was pricier than my company allowed. My usual way to handle this was to expense the meal at a lower cost.

When the check arrived, he surprised me by taking it first. I protested my company should cover the meal. He then said something like,”There are times when accepting a kindness is the right thing to do.”  His following words explained how doing a kindness is its own reward, and why would I want to take that away from him.

I have often remembered this moment since it did change how I think. Since then, I am more comfortable accepting someone else’s kind gesture without feeling the need to protest or balance the scale back in my favor.

How much better would our world be if people went around spreading good will? We may never know, but it’s probably an idea with some real merit.

Thanks to Rocky & Jen Kuhns for nudging me back to blogging. They did it at a crab fest so my defenses were compromised. 




Washed up?

April 7th, 2013 by John Morris

“Washed up old man” was a phrase from story about a time someone called wresting legend, Bruno Sammartino such a thing. Sammartino was about 51 when he suffered this indignity from a former CFL football player and not likely washed up.

Sammartino was trying to clear intruders from the backstage area at a wrestling event. One large man power-squeezed his hand and let fly the insult. Wrestling’s Living Legend replied he was not too washed up to deal with him. Sammartino blocked the man’s opening punch and then knocked him to the ground. The four other men joined the fight.

Famous bad guy wrestler, The Iron Sheik cut short his post-match showering to team with Sammartino. In Bruno’s telling, these two men wiped the floor with the five intruders. Washed up?  Not even close.

I searched the internet for an answer to the question about why we take offense when called washed up,

In America, washed up is a good thing to be if you’re ready to dine. In England, it usually means the dishes are done. But when we Americans hear it connected to any of our cherished talents, you can be sure someone has formed a lower opinions of our worth.

My take on dealing with the charge of being washed up is, unless it’s coming from someone able to discharge you from your job, these words should fall on deaf ears. It’s just an opinion and probably a wrong one.

Is there a connective tissue making the phrase an insult? I like this possibility. When items are found washed up on a beach, they tend to be past their expiration date. Maybe this is the meaning’s genesis.

Yeah, I go with this.

After having written all this, I have no plans to provide anyone with reasons to view me as washed up old man. During my post-retirement years, I’ll set my resolve on extra-firm and repeat the mantra provided to us by Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gently into that good night.”






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.