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

Grammarly.com 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.

Give the man a chance has two edges

November 29th, 2016 by John Morris

In Italy, eight years ago, my cousin Vittorio Pompilli spoke to me about then President-elect Barack Obama.  His voice had a serious cast to it as he asked me to “give the man a chance.”  I answered that I would, of course, do so.

When I returned to America, I’d rehear his words every time some conflicted Conservative ranted about the horrors to come with a Black man as our leader.  My response was, “Give the man a chance.”  The kinder folks would just question my judgment while others shunned me.  Their loss.

Now it is eight years later, and we have another polarizing President-elect coming in.  The sage advice I got from Vittorio is as spot-on today as it was then.

Problem is that it is always about “whose ox is being gored.”  In 2008, Liberals hoisted their champion on their shoulder to carry him to his destiny.  They strutted and swaggered which was their right since their candidate won.  Those who snip at their heels were branded sore losers, racists or unAmerican.  I still remember Nancy Pelosi claiming the superior position because, “we won.”  She was right.

Now we have the specter of Donald Trump posed to defile the Oval Office, if you listen to the Liberal cable news shows.

I get it if it’s time for some payback.  Or maybe it’s time for a reset.

Author Viktor Frankl* survived the Holocaust and did ground breaking social work on his and others experiences.  He locked-in his results with this sound bite, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”   This means no matter what has happens, free people control their future.

I offer this example.

In 2000, then President-elect GW Bush’s transition team met with all kinds of damaging pranks from Clintons’ squad making the transfer of power clumsy.  Fast forward sixteen years and the retiring President Barack Obama reports about how warm and helpful Bush and his team were for him.  The Bushs went as far as to give the Obamas advice on raising children in the White House.

So take that all you Dubya haters.  The man took Clinton’s abuse but played the class card when it was his turn.

Yes, we should give Trump a chance.  When he does something you don’t like – and he will – then come out swinging.

If you really gave him a chance, I’ll listen to you.


When we all want our Mommies.

November 26th, 2016 by John Morris

Last year, Lyn and I watched our grandsons, JJ & Will while their Moms were on vacation.  Will was aged two and very much a Mommy’s boy.  If daughter, Beth chatted with a friend, Will would push his way to her and rub up against her legs.  This was his signal he wanted his Mommy to pay attention only to him.  His need for her attention was deep.

During Will’s stay with us he would ask for his Mommy.  We’d offered the agreed respond, “Mommy and Momma are on vacation.  They are coming back; they always come back.”  Usually a hug would reinforce the point, and he’d move on.  But late at night, Will would prove harder to console.  The little guy would wake and start repeatedly crying, “Mommy” louder and with more heart tugging angst each time.

It came to me, that at some level, he actually believed crying would bring his Mother 2,000 miles in the middle of the night.  All he believed he needed to do was cry louder and longer until it worked.  Sadly, we had to let him cry himself out usually two hours later.

I thought more about the blind faith he showed by believing his Mommy would come storming out of some cosmic void to his aid.

Then I found a corollary in adults.  Grown men would lay wounded on a battlefield, and when all hope vanishes, they’d cry out for their Mommies.  Who can blame them?

They and Will shared the same unassailable belief their Moms would swoop in during their time of need.

Such is the power our Mother have on us.  It is also a tribute to the remarkable jobs they’ve done.

This blog is dedicated to one of life’s best Moms: Laura P. Mascherino Reutter


Welcome to my family’s street

October 17th, 2016 by John Morris

Bordering the Vatican is a street named Via del Mascherino.  This is noteworthy because my mother’s family’s name is Mascherino.  It is named for an architect named Ottaviano Nonni, not my family. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottaviano_Nonni

However not to miss out on a good time, my family, led by cousin, Anthony Mascherino, have always stopped at a local bar to drink the wine and the ambiance while sitting under a street sign.

Michael Petrillo and I made the long walk from our hotel to this destination.  Michael grabbed some poor waiter for me to talk to.  I told him about my family’s name, and I wondered if he remembers Anthony Mascherino.  The man raised his hands to his lips and made the universal sign for a handle bar mustache.  Oh yeah, he remembers him.  See photo below:

Next Michael muscled the bar’s owner over to our table.  I asked the same question, and he gave the same response.  This man, also named Antonio, was gracious and sat with me for a few photos.

Next time you’re near the Vatican, stop at Via del Mascherino no. 36 for a while.  Then post a photo on Facebook.



Italia, Michael and me.

October 17th, 2016 by John Morris

Choosing a traveling companion is serious stuff.  If married, traveling with your spouse is understood.  You do it because it’s what husbands do.  What to do if you plan a swing through Italy for you and one friend?  I suggest you choose wisely here.

Old time friend, Michael Petrillo said he’s like to take the trip with me in order to get a different traveling experience.   He accepted the restrictions of not making hotel reservations; not following a rigid itinerary and traveling using the cheapest methods.   He seemed to embrace my favorite form of traveling: just bumming around.

I did worry about two opposite personalities clashing.  Two week together with anyone will test friendships and family ties.

Preparations for the trip meant splitting duties.  Michael bought the plane tickets; I made the arrangements to stay in one of the trulli in Alberobello.   Together we made sketchy plans for what would be a fast paced journey for two septuagenarians.


Our first test came at Rome Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino.  After the long flight, we would train to Roma Termini where we would search the area for our first night’s lodgings.  We had it in our heads to stay at a convent or monastery.  We even had an outdated book to help us.  No way this plan would fail.

It was during this trek where I learned how sharp Michael’s sense of direction is.

Poor guy would walk ahead of me.  I do walk slower than he does, but I was also dragging a carry-on over Rome’s cobble stone streets.

Michael visited the first convent where he alone encountered an angry Nun.  No room for us here, but he did get another lead.

Overall we stopped at maybe three mainstream hotels and were rebuffed due to the “holiday”.  Ut oh!   There’s a holiday!  We decided to walk back toward the Termini and to a greater selection.  We found lodgings at the Le Duca d’Alba.  It was fancier than my usual, but it beat pushing on.

After we dropped our bags and showered, we went to the closest restaurant called Antoinella.  We often referred to this meal as the best one we had.

The following morning’s journey had us going to Roma Timburtina to catch the only daily bus to Teramo.   Michael figured out how we could take the subway to Timburtina for 1.5 euro.   I approved of this lower priced form of motion.   The rookie was showing me something.

At the station, we took great pains to make sure we were we needed to be and would catch the right subway.  Thanks to Michael and a friendly native, we were.

With this behind us, we entered into the maze that is the Roma Timburtina’s bus terminal.  We looked at all the signs but caught no mention of our bus or even its company.  Michael asked a series of clueless attendees with only confusion resulting.  There was this one information lady who did actually help us out.  Michael wanted to buy her a gelato.

When we were, at last, near our destination, we needed to get better directions.  Michael took control of the problem and asked bus drivers but to no avail.  I saw a booth with the small letter “i” signaling “information”.  I used my sparse Italian with her, and she used her English cheat sheet.  She gave me the departure time and station: “Stallo 17”.  You’d think this would end the problem.  Nah!  Finding “Stallo 17” would not be so easy.  The ever persistent Michael just kept asking and asking.  Finally we found it.

We were on the bus and on the way to Teramo.  After a two hour ride, we were at Teramo’s bus station.  Now all we needed was a cab to go to Maria Pia’s.  Oops again.  Today is Sunday, and there were no cabs.  The backup plan was to call cousin Vittorio, but I didn’t want to trouble him. One guy at the station said another guy said he’d drive us there for 30 euro.  We jumped at this chance.  The guy did get us to Maria Pia’s home thanks to my flaw-filled directions.

Somewhere through this journey from Roma Termini to Roma Timburtina to Teramo’s bus station to Maria Pia’s, I realized Michael will be a splendid travel companion.

Together we’d combine our individual strengths and make the trip memorable.

Next question: would one of us assault the other?


Overnight in a coffee shop

May 16th, 2016 by John Morris

At the age of 30, coffee was struck from my diet due to a troubling reaction to it.  Up to then, I really liked the stuff.  But it had to go.

I switched to decaffeinated coffee for a while, but it’s just bad.  A new dedication to tea brought a suitable choice.  Today I drink a great amount of hot teas.  Green tea accounts for about 90%.  I especially like using loose tea leaves in tea containers.  There is a vast world of fragrant teas for all palates.  I don’t miss the coffee anymore.

There remains one, old coffee story for me to share.

My radio detachment finished our mission in the Mekong Delta and were convoying to our home base of Cu Chi.  Bad timing caused us to be stuck in Saigon at sundown.  Our Lieutenant made arrangements for overnight lodgings.  The place he found was a large single room with ten bunks located above a coffee shop.  The setting was spartan, but we had just finished three months living in sandbagged hutches.  It wasn’t so bad.  Our first thoughts were to go on the town for cultural reasons.  Lt. Tallant nixed our ideas and said leaving the store would carry punishment.

In the morning, our senses were shocked awake by the strongest coffee aroma  imaginable.  We looked at each other; threw on clothes and dashed downstairs for the only thing our tastes craved: coffee, coffee, coffee.  The first round of cups could not arrive fast enough.  It took me two pulls on dark, bitter goodness to hit the sweet spot.  It was like nothing I had experienced.

Today my little borough has several coffee spots with more coming. Citizens can sip hot, tasty beverages and allow a lazy day to drift by. Someday we may even have a good tea house.

Coffee drinkers shouldn’t have all the fun.



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.