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Archive for Life

Apr. 3, 2017 — Closing a chapter

Today, I processed a form called a 1099-S.

It’s a form to file taxes that covers proceeds from real estate transactions.

With a quick scan of the criteria proffered by the software program I use to file, it was decided that the information on the form did not have to be entered because of the lack of a capital gain and the modest proceeds — far from being in the Trump clan’s income bracket.

And then, one click in a bubble was all it took to close this chapter of our family’s history.

The sale of the house had actually closed last September. Family had long since taken the goods they wanted — a soup tureen, stemware, chairs, books, pictures.

Our parents left behind, to put it mildly, a lot of possessions. I remember that, in our move from Mississippi to New Jersey in mid-1976, that we packed exactly 176 paper boxes aboard that Red Ball moving truck.

Some of the odd tchochkes are now in other hands, which is, frankly, for the best. People move around a lot more than they used to, change jobs with the ease of changing clothes, and, with longer commutes, spend a lot less time at home than previous generations.

I think we’re less sentimental of a people than we used to be. Fewer of us keep that one item from our childhood that encapsulates our sense of self. For my father, it was a hand-written bus ticket from 1937 that was the first time he left home to go to school across the island of Puerto Rico from his home town of Ponce. It was a trip across mountains that took the better part of the day, rather than what you can do today, which is take Interstate PR-2 just 71 miles to the capital.

Today, processing tax returns has also become remarkably speedy. Instead of mailing out separate forms to receive checks in the mail in about two weeks, the average person can e-File in just minutes and receive an electronic payment in a few days.

It is remarkable that, given what I thought was going to be my most complicated return, it took me less than 40 minutes to complete.

“Is that all?” I thought on a number of occasions. “This can’t be that easy.”


Yep. It’s a bit too easy to close a 39-year chapter of our family history.

Mar. 20, 2017 — Jimmy Breslin, 1928-2017

In the gradual shift from typewriters and lead linotype machines to white film optics to computer layouts, the curmudgeon has been part and parcel of the newspaper business. Usually a growling, gray-haired male with a cigar stub in his mouth or within easy reach of while typing, the aging newspaper columnists of a golden age would take a riff on popular culture, politics, and the news of the day, offering opinion and insight.

Today, this is most often done in debate-style shows on cable news networks.

But Jimmy Breslin is likely to be the last of his kind: a writer who linked daily events to the reader through a common touch. He wrote about the sorrow of the Kennedy assassination through the eyes of a gravedigger making $3 an hour in Virginia.

He was also the kind of tabloid writer who would inject himself into a story. Such was his role in the Son of Sam murders, when a raging lunatic named David Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven others in a deadly game of cat and mouse that alternately fascinated and terrorized the city.

Breslin published one of Berkowitz’s taunting messages, then wrote a column asking him to turn himself in. Kind of reminds you of the big-city journalists that would serve as a conduit to the police, offering a safe space to surrender, but the stakes were much, much higher in mid-70s New York.

This was a city which went all but bankrupt in 1975, saw many of its minority neighborhoods crumble and burn in rioting and unrest after a 1976 blackout, and saw its police department fall under a cloud of corruption, leading to a poor quality of life for the average citizen.

And it was a life, a vibe, on which Breslin thrived.

And given the gentrification of big-city America these days, his like is unlikely to be seen again.

Mar. 19, 2017 — Chuck Berry, 1926-2017

Several times a year, your Founder helps organize the volunteers to put on dance events at a national park near the nation’s capital.

At least once a year, the main attraction is a boogie-woogie pianist whose name is Daryl Davis. He also had a unique insight into the life of music legend Chuck Berry, who died yesterday. Davis was one of Berry’s sidemen during some of his most troubled times, when he was dealing with the effects of alcohol and drugs.

As such, Davis had gotten to learn several of Berry’s guitar licks — and learned them very well, to the point where if Berry couldn’t complete the show, Davis would pick up a Gibson guitar and go right on playing.

While you might get to know the rock-n-roll legend through his variety of songs, I got to know Berry through Davis and his storytelling, which is captured brilliantly in this story. Have at it.

And make sure sometime soon, you take a ride in your automobile, cruise and play something on the radio, with no particular place to go.

Feb. 10, 2017 — A significant 1-over

Today, I confronted the daily question in the Trivial Pursuit Page-A-Day calendar.

In September 2007, the U.S. Senate named a National Heritage Month after what liquor?

My response, after a few seconds, was “Bourbon.”

Our family knows a thing or two about potent potables, despite being a priest’s family living in a dry county in Mississippi. We had to import the communion wine for church — Gallo Port, if I recall correctly — from Selmer, Tenn.

And, about 20 miles west from where we would spent our summer vacation, there was the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, where they make their sour-mash whiskey the same way they did a century ago. What comes out technically fits the definition of bourbon, but the company insists on its blends being termed “whiskey.”

The thing about alcohol is that it is not just an enjoyable potable with meals or in the company of friends, but it is the subject of numerous cautionary tales. If you go out right now and you count people as you walk down the street, every 13th person on average in the U.S. has an alcohol problem.

I received training in alcoholism counseling a couple of decades ago, and the leader of the series made the correlation between higher rates of alcoholism and areas that ban alcohol. When you make drinking taboo, the person who finally gets hold of the beverage will tend to binge-drink rather than finding ways to enjoy it responsibly.

And Jack is, as my older brother would say, “a good slow sippin’ whiskey.”

So, what’s the point of today’s entry?

The calendar got the answer wrong.

In about a decade of doing this, this is the first time that’s happened.

Wonder if I should celebrate with a shot of something?

Jan. 22, 2017 — Two years later, and what have we done?

Two years ago, we wrote this.

In the past week, a second scandal within the same subculture has reared itself. The accused in this situation is a person I first met in 2001. Since then, however, he is reputed to have leveraged his status in order to obtain the attention of young women, sometimes belittling them to an uncomfortable degree, according to an essay written by the former partner of the accused.

The two years since the original scandal has seen the beginning of what is called the “safe spaces” movement. It’s kind of an extralegal policing of people within the social dance community where administrators pledge to watch out for potential and actual predatory behavior, and where participants watch out for each other.

Which is great.

But, like youth sports coaches who get found out when it comes to sexual assault of players, they can simply disappear, go to the next town, and the whole mess starts again.

One example? There is a man who has exhibited predatory behavior towards young Caucasian women for parts of three decades. He has been banned from two different types of dance promotions at a Federally-owned property in the mid-Atlantic region.

Because those bans do not apply to every single social dance event, he was allowed to dance last night at this same property

And so it goes.

Jan. 16, 2017 — The Boston period

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is synonymous with many Southern cities, such as Selma, Birmingham, and Memphis.

But King’s formative period occurred between 1951 and 1955, when he attended his Ph.D. in systematic theology at Boston University.

My former rector at college, The Rev. W. Murray Kenney, often told stories of Dr. King, especially when he visited the church in early 1967.

Here, in his own words, are his recollections of that day, as told to parishioner Paul Hirshson:

He came to Cambridge to make an anti-Vietnam [War] speech. I was told the day before that he could not get a place where he could have an international press conference with Dr. Benjamin Spock.

I wasn’t sure what would happen, so I had an enormous amount of anxiety when I got that phone call. They assured me this would be all bona fide press. Well, I had seen King in St. Louis, and I saw the kind of security [he had]. I figured two people most in danger of assassination would be King and Bobby [Robert F.] Kennedy.

My wardens were both out of town. I could make the decision to have him [here] but, because he was coming basically for a political reason, I could not let him speak in the church. But there was the Parish House, sitting there. It was clear [if] Harvard didn’t give him space, nobody else, for whatever reasons, would give him space.

So, with grave reservations, the basis for my decision was: Here’s a national leader; here’s a Baptist minister; here’s a leading Christian in the world. If we don’t give him space and a platform, we would set back race relationships in this place maybe fifty years, and we’d had a fairly good record as a parish. So I got personal security, and lawyers, and then King had his security. Of course, the feds had their security and the Cambridge Police.

It was a huge thing–seven or eight television cameras here–and he and Dr. Benjamin Spock on the stage gave their pitch. I never met them. I was way in the back worrying about everything.

It was a risky time in America, where there was racial tension and animosity in the days of desegregation.

And it was only a year later when King was assassinated in that Memphis motel.

While King is remembered today as a figure in the abstract, focusing mostly on the aspiration of racial harmony, it is instructive to remember that he was also a political figure. The week he was assassinated, he was in Memphis to organize the sanitation workers into a labor union.

It was part of a movement called the Poor Peoples Campaign, which sought economic equality, not just legal and social equality.

Despite the passage of nearly 50 years, as well as the election of many minorities as national leaders, the aims of the Poor People Campaign remain elusive.

So, it’s instructive to note that the establishment of a federal holiday to memorialize Dr. King is not an end unto itself. There is a lot more work to do to realize his dream.

Jan. 7, 2017 — The furball

A member of my friend’s family passed away the other day, so I agreed to keep an eye on her 12-year-old cat over the weekend.

I let myself in, but he was nowhere to be found. Until I went up the stairs to the spare bedroom. There, nearly motionless, was my duty for the weekend.

The cat has a form of lung cancer, and his usual goofiness and playfulness has been replaced by a bit of listlessness and some labored breathing. His sides puff in and out like the bellows of a vintage pipe organ.

“OK, medicine,” I said to no one in particular, going over to the spare bathroom where the medication was laid out along with the instructions.

With the medication administered, he purred and played with my hand for a while, even pawing at me to get more attention between the ears.

Animals are a reflection of who we are as people. So is how we treat them. They can inspire a smile, make children laugh, and offer unconditional affection. I’ve seen how animals can change lives through animal rescues and even through happenstance.

Our family has had any number of pets over the years: a dog, two cats, several fish, and a pair of parakeets. My nephew likes his mini-dragon, my nieces dote on their beagle/collie mix, and my brother has always liked chihuahas.

Me? I love cats, but I’m off-the-chart allergic to pet dander, and I can’t be around them too long without wheezing and having itchy eyes.

So, why pet-sit a cat with lung cancer?

Sometimes you have to.