Fading moments in the sun

January 31st, 2009 by John Morris

Arizona Cardinal quarterback, Kurt Warner has the 40+ gang rooting for him in the Super Bowl. We old guys like it when one of our own shows the young guys they still have game.

He’s in good company.

George Blanda may not have been the first athlete to stir dormant juices in old guys, but he did have his time. Blanda electrified the sports world by coming off the Oakland Raiders’ bench to quarterback the team to victory for a period of two months. He was in his early 40s.

He started playing pro ball in 1949 for George Halas’ Chicago Bears. He got a signing bonus that Halas wanted back after he made the team. Halas was so tight with money he refused to buy Blanda a kicking shoe. That was the nature of the league then. Blanda played until the early 70s when owners’ spending excesses were sky high.

Whenever an old dude pops up on the sports scene, we other old dudes live through their exploits. It’s a cheap thrill that goes away as fast as it surfaces. It’s a tease. It makes us think we can still hang.

Well, maybe for a little while.


Hey, Veterans: who’s carrying you?

January 30th, 2009 by John Morris

A Veteran and his wife were going over their funeral arrangements. On the question of pallbearers, the Veteran answered, “I want representatives from all the Veterans’ groups”. Surprised by his choice, his wife  asked, “Why would you pick them for pallbearers? You’ve always said those guys were losers, and you’d have nothing to do with them?”

The Vet said, “Easy, I figured they’ve been carrying me all this time. I thought I’d let them finish the job.”

There’s a sad reason for telling this little parable.

World War II Veterans are dying at an average of 1,500 every day. The Korean war group are only slightly younger, and the Vietnam generation are becoming grandparents. Many families want their departed Veterans to have military honors: uniformed guards, folded flag and bugler.

For many years, the military branches and the VSOs Veteran Service Organizations, i.e., the Vietnam Veterans of America handled these requests. The active military have throttled back to providing honors for military and political big shots. 

The heavy lifting has fallen to the VSOs who are staffed by the same demagraphics doing the dying.  Their activities are restricted by their ages. They tend to do what they can for their own, but even then, it’s not an absolute right.

For some lucky families, it could happen by chasing all possible leads with a blizzard of calls. I sometimes find myself in the cross hairs of a determined family member wanting funeral honors. To help them out, I always ask if the departed was a member of any of the VSOs. Too often, they respond, “None.”

Perhaps the problem will be solved if more Veterans join VSOs.

The family that twitters together…

January 28th, 2009 by John Morris

Twitter is based on the simple premise that everyone is always doing something, and they’ll take time to tell about it in a few words. It’s like a shout out to whomever may wish to read it.

Some folks follow thousands of other Twitter-ers; others are followed by thousands. While they’re mostly Joe Averages, some are famous like Lance Armstrong, the cyclist. Overall, it’s fun for many of us looking for a harmless way to express our thoughts. 

Like a bloodhound, I found my children’s Twitter accounts and locked them in a Google Alert. I reasoned that this way I could be in touch with them more often and vice versa. Pretty fly for an old guy.

Little did I think my daughter would consider this to be “cyber stalking”. My son was kinder; he just called it weird. I think they’re both a little unnerved by it.

It’s not that I’m not ready to give up watching out for them. No problem. They’re capable adults, and I trust them.

Our little cyber-family shrinks the distance between us with Twitter e-messages.

I’m okay with it; but then, I’m the Dad. Where’s my downside?

There’s hope in music

January 27th, 2009 by John Morris

If I’m awake at 11:00 P.M., I watch a PBS news show called Worldfocus.  I like its old school approach: just one newscaster sitting in an 80s style sound stage. Like most news shows, a human interest story is used at the end to send the viewers off in good moods.

Last night’s show had such a feature. It told the story of reporter, Gregory Warner and his trip to Afghanistan. Like all good reporters, Warner wanted a hook for his story. Either on a whim or by sheer brilliance, he chose to take his accordion on the trip.

As he traveled the country, he learned the music he made with his accordion was a good ice breaker with the natives, and it made him seem less different to them.

Some Afghans asked Warner how he – an American – was able to play their native music so well. Seems the distinctive sound made by the accordion was just like the music of their nation’s most popular singer: Admad Zahir. Go figure.

Music in Afghanistan has been reborn. The Taliban forbad it and even killed musicians to keep them from performing. After the Taliban was thrown out, music returned to a nation hunger for it. Good music, bad music, it didn’t matter.

Warner and his traveling accordion performed at the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in their New Year’s festival of Norouz to a small but enthusiastic crowd. He chose the Johnny Cash classic, Ring of Fire.

Jaded Americans may rate his performance as better than average karaoke, but his audience hooted and hollered like Cash himself was there.

Check it out: http://www.videosift.com/video/Afghanistan-an-accordion-journey

Music helps the barriers drop between cultures. Once this is done, we find far more good people in the world than bad.

Keith Olbermann is good at his job.

January 20th, 2009 by John Morris

He combines an acidic wit; sharp writing and an assurance not matched. He delivers his caustic brand of news from the MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann anchor chair. He’s so good they found a female counterpart, Rachel Maddow to allow the MSNBC’s 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. weekday schedule go unchanged.

Sure, I cringe when he lops off my political choices’ clay feet. But he does it so well; I owe him my viewer loyalty.

For as long as he’s been on Countdown, he’s leveled George W. Bush with his most vitriolic essays. He made time for John McCain during the past election and must have been giddy when Sarah Palin took the stage. If these three did something right, it didn’t make his show, and he always found fodder for sharply worded copy about them. His running slams against personal chew-toy, FoxNews’ Bill O’Reilly neither phases nor interests me.

What will Olbermann do with Bush 43 in retirement? Should he be sad to see Dubya go away? Yes, he found so much material for such a long time that it was practically an annuity. It didn’t happen. He didn’t spend any time on his pre-inaugural show on warm and fuzzy memories about the outgoing guy.

Instead, he actually told incoming President Obama to indict Bush and any other officials involved in the torture of detainees. His reason why was that past offenses brought on second, more damaging events. Example: by not holding the Kaiser responsible for World War I, Adolf Hilter was able to rise to power two decades later. The good reporter in him listed other references.

He crafted his words so tightly that this listener believed he believed his argument. He delivered these words in such an assured way, I felt he also thought anyone who didn’t agree was a moron.

This is why I say he’s so good. He’s going to make a living off GWB for months using this newly thrumped up diatribe. What a guy!

Countdown with Keith Olbermann is anything but ordinary fare; which is why I enjoy watching it. I don’t want Olbermann to change, but I welcome a conservative commentator matching his skills.

“The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.”

January 17th, 2009 by John Morris

A former employer applied this wittism to activities where costs will not be covered by the expected results. Sure, you can squeeze the final drops from an orange, but the effort’s not worth it. His direction has stayed with me and become a lifeline when I’m in a hyper-focused state trying to do a project beyond its norm.

During my home restoration projects, I’ve learned I set lofty standards that burn lots of time and energy for very little reward. I’ll step back and argue with myself that no one else will ever see the extra details I’d apply. When I convince myself I’m right, I declare the project done.

My inner struggle to complete projects comes from 19 years making signs for other people willing to pay good, hard earned money to me. I took their assignments seriously and wanted to do signs using my best efforts. I charged for the service and many refused to pay for it, but I never lacked for work.

When I became an employer, I needed to accept when good enough was good enough. I had motivated hirelings, but they didn’t share my passion. Expecting them to do so was frustrating and doomed to fail.

My arsenal includes another bromide that’s a twin to the juice one:  “A job not worth doing is not worth doing well.”

This one requires no explanation.

Dressing like an American.

January 17th, 2009 by John Morris

Watching the Travel Channel is a harmless, and usually educational, way to spend time. The hosts travel the world meeting with other ethnic groups and making new friends. Throw in native foods and drinks, and it’s a sweat gig!

In many countries, the natives dress almost like Americans. Go to Vietnam and every kid under 16 is wearing American logo hats and clothes. English is spoken in poly-cotton if not in the shop stalls.

These shows usually have a segment where the producers persuade the local officals to stage a function to show off their traditional clothing. It’s usually a colorful display. Some Koreans may own only one han-guk pokshik, but it’s a beauty. There’s usually more meaning to the clothes’ cut, design and color than mere tradition. If nothing else, they help define their ethnicity and their home land.

At the school in Saigon where my son, Adam teaches, they have “theme days.” One such day is “traditional garb day” where the students and teachers can show the amazing variety of the outfits that define their heritages.

But what’s an American like Adam to do? His first traditional garb day outfit consisted of basketball sweats, sunglasses and a “Zup yo” ball cap. There are few opinions opened to him. One student actually asked him to wear his cowboy outfit.

Okay, the native American ceremonial dress definitely qualify, but most Americans are not privileged to wear them. I am also two generations separated from my Italian and Irish roots. Real Italians or Irish would giggle at my lame attempt to be like them. And they should.

What Americans wear changes with the winds of fashion. Usually I am clueless about such shifts and pick one or two styles to wear which I repeat over and again. Just ask my children.

Closing story: I was in Saigon waiting for the tour bus. A young Japanese student asked me if I was an American. “Yes, I said. Did my accent give it away?”. He said, “No, it’s your dress. It is very American.” I was wearing a  print-free t-shirt, cargo shorts and running shoes. But then so were the Italians, German and French.

Maybe it was just the Yankee Doodle way I wore them.

Ave Maria

January 16th, 2009 by John Morris

At funeral masses, the “Ave Maria” prayer/song is standard stuff. It is most powerful when sung during the quiet time after communion. This song must be a benchmark for seriously talented singers. If they can do this song well, their abilities have reached their promised potential.

To me, the singing of the Ave Maria marks the zenith of a day of mourning, and it gets to me every time. The ringing of a single bell opens and closes the song. It is rung slowly and just stops. The singer’s voice lifts up and drifts down effectively bringing this listener along an emotional journey. During this time, my eyes well up. I cry not just for the departed but for a world where death takes away our loved ones, and for far too many, it comes too soon. I don’t fight back the tears or wipe them away. They dry on my face.

The fragility of life was recently reinforced twice to me. During Christmas, a 40 year old former co-worker named Jerome Chappel died in a car crash. This past week, my cousin’s son, Matthew Ciarlone died of an illness at 20.

Both Jerome and Matthew left us before their songs could be fully sung. 

During the Ave Maria at Matthew’s mass, I realized he started his song, and in future moments as we remember Matthew, we continue the playing of his song.

Alzheimer’s affects us all

January 14th, 2009 by John Morris

When my Mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, my family started a learning process about the aliment. Too much about AD are mysteries with only a few guideposts to mark its progression. More myths exist than facts.

One unresolved issue is how close are we to having a cure of any kind. Thirty years ago, AD was just starting to get some press. Old age forgetfulness had a huge balloon payment, if you drew a short stick. Today, it seems we’re in an Alzheimer’s Disease epidemic. The experts now say dementia is probable to most who live past ninety. With no cure, our society will buckle trying to treat all the forms of this disease.

AD puts a great strain on families. Over a decade, my family watched our mother disappear while still in plain sight. Her condition finally required placement in two dementia wards. This is where she spends her days mostly sleeping or confused.

I have come to terms with her condition. I realize it’s a good day when she’s slightly aware and calls my name. I really don’t care if she thinks I’m her son or my uncle or my father – we’re all named John. I just like hearing her say my name.

It’s really just a number.

January 14th, 2009 by John Morris

If you’ve ever wondered about IQ tests, try making sense of these two ads I found on Sports Illustrated magazine’s website. They were listed exactly in this order.

An IQ score of 97 for any average group of Americans is believable but 142?

Let’s take a look at this IQ score card from http://iq-test.learninginfo.org/iq04.htm.

Descriptive Classifications of Intelligence Quotients
IQ Description % of Population
130+ Very superior 2.2%
120-129 Superior 6.7%
110-119 High average 16.1%
90-109 Average 50%

Quoting learninginfo.org: “In their book, Know Your Child’s IQ, Glen Wilson and Diana Grylls outline occupations typical of various IQ levels:”

140 Top Civil Servants; Professors and Research Scientists.
130 Physicians and Surgeons; Lawyers; Engineers (Civil and Mechanical)
120 School Teachers; Pharmacists; Accountants; Nurses; Stenographers; Managers.
110 Foremen; Clerks; Telephone Operators; Salesmen; Policemen; Electricians.
100+ Machine Operators; Shopkeepers; Butchers; Welders; Sheet Metal Workers.

Not only do I doubt IQ test scores, but the websites producing such varing results.

I’ll take whatever my number is and be pleased with it.


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.