April 26th, 2021

It hurts.

I am referring to my back in this case. Well, actually I mean my back and my right hip. My sciatic nerve is irritated somehow, and it is letting me know this almost constantly. I can stand or sit for maybe five or ten minutes, and then I have to lie down for a while. Going into a deep squatting position relives the pain for a short period of time, so I do that sometimes.

I went to the ER on Sunday morning. I was getting sharp, stabbing pains. I hate going to the ER. I think everybody does. It’s like going into a courtroom; nobody goes there unless they absolutely have to do so. I’ve been in the ER frequently in the past, but that was almost always to take another person there. The last time I went into the emergency room for my own problem was back in 2009, when I got run over by a forklift at work. My right leg was crushed, and going to the ER was not optional.

The nurse in the ER on Sunday was a friendly, middle-aged lady. She was solidly built and had a long black hair that was streaked with grey. She took my vitals, and asked,

“Do you have high blood pressure?”


“Do take any medication for it?”


“What do you take?”

“Lisinopril. Started with this week.”

“Did you take it already today?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“You BP was kind of high when you came in.”

“How high?”

“You can look on the screen.”

I did. Fuck.


I told the nurse, “Well, that sucks.”

She smiled ruefully and replied, “Well, you’re in pain and stressed out. It’s not that bad. You don’t see me running to find the doctor, do you?”

The nurse and I got to talking. She asked me what I expected to get out of this visit. I explained to her that my wife and I are caring for a five month old little boy, and that it is a fulltime job for two people. If I am down, then Karin has to do everything, and that is simply too much for any person. I told the nurse that I want to be functional again. I need to be functional.

The nurse completely understood. She helps to care for a grandchild with special needs. She gets it.

She said to me, “I know that you said that you don’t like taking meds. If we give you some to get you better, will you take them?”

I reluctantly replied, “Yes.”

She smiled and said, “The PA will be in here soon.”

The PA was a petite woman who got right down to business. I told my story. She nodded and said,

“Back pain sucks.”


She prescribed me a revved up version of Ibuprofen, a muscle relaxer, and an anti-inflammatory.

I’ve been taking the meds. So far, not much improvement.

Karin does not want me carrying the baby until my back is well. She doesn’t want me to drop the kid if I have a muscle spasm. That seems to be a reasonable concern. There are many things that I cannot currently do to help my wife care for the little guy.

I feel kind of useless.

That’s what really hurts.


April 18th, 2021

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes so by chance.” ― William Shakespeare

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” – West Point Honor Code

1951,1976,2021…the cycle of West Point cheating scandals. Somehow these things keep happening. Why?

I graduated from West Point in 1980. I arrived at the United States Military Academy (USMA) in July of 1976, a year marred by a massive scandal. The cheating itself had occurred before I ever showed up, but the aftermath was rocking the institution when I started my four-year sojourn at the school.

Why would a third year cadet cheat on an electrical engineering exam? A large number of students (153 of them) did that in 1976, and then resigned or were expelled from the academy. It may help to look at the way that academics worked at West Point during the years I was there. I will be mostly relying on my forty year old memories, and they may be a bit unreliable, but bear with me.

The vast majority of the courses offered at West Point were mandatory. There were very few electives. There was no way for a cadet to have a major, like any other college student would have. Everybody graduated with a general bachelor of science degree. Few, if any, of the classes had a direct application in the cadet’s life as an Army officer post-graduation.

A cadet had to pass all of the classes that they took. You could not drop a course, or take an incomplete, or substitute another class for one that was troublesome. No, the cadet had to pass each and every class, or they were expelled. This fact caused a frequently stressful environment.

My class (year group) started in 1976 with over 1400 cadets. We graduated with under 900. There was a great culling of the herd during those four years.

Some classes were notoriously difficult. Electrical engineering (also known as “Juice”) was a killer. I managed to finish the course with a “B”, but I still had very little understanding of the subject matter. It was all black magic. The final exam consisted required the student to design a radio.

I made the cut. Other people did not.

Now, let’s say a cadet who perhaps was recruited for exceptional athletic prowess, rather than academic skills, was in his third year of school and knew that he was failing Juice class. If he failed out, then the time and effort he had already expended at USMA would be wasted. Credits from West Point were not easily transferrable to other colleges. Such an individual would be sorely tempted to cheat in order to survive academically. At least 153 cadets did just that.

If I remember correctly, a number of cadets got in deep trouble, not because they cheated, but because they tolerated somebody else cheating. This is a sticky part of the Honor Code. It’s one thing to get busted for lying, cheating, or stealing. It’s quite another to get expelled because you didn’t rat out your roommate for an honor violation.

West Point, and the military as whole, puts great emphasis on unit cohesion. Within any particular group, it is expected that individuals will work together and have each other’s backs. The bonds between classmates at West Point are incredibly strong. I still correspond with former roommates, even after forty years have gone by. Some of these people I haven’t even seen since graduation.

This situation can cause a moral dilemma. Does a cadet stick with a friend, even though the friend is doing something wrong? Or does the cadet, who is duty-bound to do so, turn in his best buddy to the authorities?

What I find ironic is that the Honor Code seems almost irrelevant once a cadet becomes an officer and joins the “real” Army. West Point likes everything to be black and white, clearly delineated. In the regular Army things get a bit more fuzzy and grey.

As an example, let me tell you a story that may possibly be true.

Once there was a young company operations officer who, on a Monday morning, suddenly realized that he had not turned in some important paperwork to the brigade HQ. The paperwork had been due by the close of business on the previous Friday. The captain’s clerk is in the office when the operations officer realizes his problem.

Ops Officer: “Fuck! This is supposed to be at brigade! They’re going to have a fit about this shit!”

Sergeant Teddy Bear (he actually looked like a teddy bear): “Sir, hang on. Let me handle this.”

Ops Officer: “What?”

Sergeant Teddy: “Sir, can I use you phone?”

Ops Officer: “Yeah, sure.”

The sergeant dials brigade HQ.

Sgt. Teddy talking on the phone: “Brigade? Hi, this is Sgt. Teddy Bear. Oh, I’m doing okay. And you? Good. Good. Hey, I got a little problem here. We took those forms to your office on Friday, and now I find the damn things back in my in box this morning. What the hell? No, of course I’m not blaming you, but somebody sent that paperwork back here. Sure, I can run the stuff up to you. I’ll do that right away. Thanks. See you soon.”

Sgt. Teddy grinned at his captain, “I’ll be right back. I have to run an errand for you.”

Do You Remember Me?

April 13th, 2021

The young woman peered into the face of her baby. He was still lying in the car seat. He looked back at her with his bright blue eyes.

She smiled at the boy and said,

“Do you remember me? This is Mama. I’m the one who sings ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ to you.”

He kept looking intently at his mother. He might have smiled at her. It’s hard to tell with him.

She picked him up from the car seat and held him. She sat down with him in her lap. He fussed a bit, so she started to feed him a bottle. When he was done eating, she placed him on her shoulder, and gently tapped his back to get him to burp. Eventually, he did. Then he slept.

We were in a large meeting room at the rehab facility. Apparently, kids are often in there. There are toys of various kinds scattered around. On the window sills lay children’s books: Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, cheesy Disney stories. There is a refrigerator and a kitchen sink. In a corner sits a comfortable rocking chair.

The walls of the room are covered with slogans. I saw phrases like: “Notice what you can control”, “Honesty”, “Prioritize healing”, “Fight the trigger”, and “Alone is better than a bad relationship”. These were the kinds of words that might help a woman in recovery, maybe. They can’t hurt. There is also a patchwork quilt hanging on the wall. Various women in treatment must have contributed pieces of it. One of the squares in the quilt said, “I trust in the woman I am becoming”.

It was just the four of us in the room: Karin, the young woman, her son, and myself. Karin and I take the boy to see his mom twice a week. The young woman is in residential treatment. We stay with her for a couple hours. Sometimes the lad is awake and alert. Then the woman lays him on a blanket on the floor, and they do “tummy time”. The boy is getting stronger. He can lift his head and he can push himself up, briefly, with his chubby arms. Sometimes, he lies on his back and kicks. He likes doing that. His mom laughs and tells him, “Good job!”

This visit was different. The boy slept for almost the entire two hours. The young woman was a little disappointed, but she was glad to be with the boy. She sat in a chair and held him in her arms. She gazed at him, and stroked his head.

The two of them were at peace.

Writing Letters

April 7th, 2021

“Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days.” – Ecclesiastes 11:1

“Just a castaway
An island lost at sea
Another lonely day
With no one here but me
More loneliness
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair

I’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle
(Message in a bottle)”

from the song Message in a Bottle by the Police

I wrote a letter to Father Steve Kelly two days ago. It was an old school snail mail letter. Father Kelly is currently languishing in a federal prison in Seattle, Washington. He got involved in some serious civil disobedience at a Navy nuclear submarine base in Georgia three years ago. He’s been in the slammer ever since then. Father Kelly is due to go before a judge on Tuesday, April 13th, 2021. He may get released after his court appearance. He may never get my letter.

So, why bother to write it?

Good question.

I don’t know the man. I have never met him. I probably never will. We exchanged a few postcards while he was in a Georgia jail, but that has been our only connection.

I wrote the letter because I know how it is to be alone. A man in prison is terribly alone.

I have often written to people in jail or prison. This includes a family member. I have also written to people in rehab clinics, military boot camps, nursing homes, and hospices. Some of these folks were people close to me. Some were strangers. All of them were desperately lonely, and possibly forgotten by the rest of the world.

It is a bitch to be forgotten.

We live in an age of instant communication. Most of us can contact nearly anybody anywhere with a click. Some people can’t do that. They are isolated. They can’t call or use the Internet. They feel abandoned, because they are.

Writing a letter, a paper letter, requires a bit of effort. However, a handwritten letter or card means more than an email or a text. It is easy to delete an email or a post. A letter is harder to ignore. It begs to be read, maybe more than once. A letter is a tangible thing. It has soul.

Years ago, after my mother died, I wrote a letter every week to my father. He never wrote back, not once. I thought that it was such a waste. Then, when we had a phone conversation, my dad told me how much he looked forward to my letters. Each letter gave him a reason to get up and look into his mail box. They gave him hope.

Writing a letter is an act of faith. I never know who will read my letters, if anyone at all. They may mean nothing to the recipient, or they might mean everything.

So, I write.

Just Read What It Says

April 4th, 2021

Happy Easter.

Karin and I went to the Easter Vigil just a few hours ago. We took little Asher with us. For Catholics this is the night of nights. It is the Catholic version of Passover. We went to the liturgy partly because I was assigned to read from the Scriptures to the congregation during the service. I didn’t originally intend to go to the Mass. I went there because the person organizing the liturgy had run out of lectors, and she needed me to help out. She did not have enough people to proclaim the Word of God, so I offered to do my part. I told the woman from our church that I would be tired, and that I might need to leave after I fulfilled my duties. That is exactly what we did. I felt worn out, and Asher was fussy. Karin would have been happy to stay for the entire liturgy (it was the 20th anniversary of her conversion to Catholicism), but it wasn’t going to happen that way.

There are numerous readings from the Bible during the Easter Vigil. For some reason, I often get selected to proclaim the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. That is always a struggle for me.

For those who do not know the story from Genesis, here it is:

1  God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am, ” he replied.

2  Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

3  Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him his son Isaac and two of his servants as well, and with the wood that he had cut for the holocaust, set out for the place of which God had told him.

4  On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar.

5  Then he said to his servants: “Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you.”

6  Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together,

7  Isaac spoke to his father Abraham: “Father!” Isaac said. “Yes, son, ” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?”

8  “Son,” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” Then the two continued going forward.

9  When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he tied up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar.

10  Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.

11  But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered.

12  “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

13  As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.

14  Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh; hence people now say, “On the mountain the LORD will see.”

15  Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven

16  and said: “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son,

17  I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;

18  your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessings all this because you obeyed my command.”

Right now, as I write, our grandson, Asher, sleeps near me. He’s only four months old, and he is totally helpless and dependent on me. I would do anything for him.

So, what if God called to me today and told me to murder this little boy?

Fuck that.

The story of Isaac and Abraham is problematic for both Jews and Christians. It is also an issue for Muslims, although they substitute Ishmael for Isaac in the tale. Rabbis, priests, and imams have spent centuries explaining away the ugly facts in the narrative. They have tried to say that it is all symbolic, or that Abraham and Isaac both knew that it would all turn out okay. Some say that is just a foreshadowing of the Christ’s death. The party line is that is the story is all about obedience and faith.


Just read what it says.

The fact is, if you stay true to the text, if you are honest, this is a story of God demanding human sacrifice. God makes no promises to Abraham at the beginning. He just says, “Do it.”

This particular narrative shows a God who is profoundly cruel. It may be possible, or prudent, to obey such a deity, but it is extremely difficult to love Him.

God may be willing to sacrifice his Son. God may be willing to sacrifice somebody else’s child. That’s his decision. It’s not mine.

God promises Abraham all good things after Abraham attempts to kill his own child. In Genesis, there is no mention of Isaac returning home with Abraham. Abraham goes alone. Even if Abraham did not kill his boy, he lost him. Forever.

Asher whispers in his sleep. He is at peace.

May he remain so.

Aye, Me Bucko

April 1st, 2021

My friend, Ken, a fellow writer and denizen of Lake Park Synagogue, sent me a link to an a cappella Pesach song from the Jewish group, Six 13. The ditty is called “Red Sea Shanty: A Pirate Passover”. I found the music and the lyrics to be hilarious. Others might not find them so funny. It depends partly on a person’s familiarity with the the celebration of the Passover.

It also depends on how fundamentalist a person is about their spiritual path.

I have a litmus test for any and all religious traditions. I look for a sense of humor. If I find none, I flee.

I have no use for zealots of any stripe. If I see those grim faces and wild eyes, I head for the exit. There is a population that lives for the idea of “us and them”. They know that they have the truth. They know that they have the answer. They act accordingly.

I want to be with people who can laugh. I want to be with people who can laugh at themselves. Francis of Assisi had an excellent sense of humor. He understood the absurdity in his own life.

God does not always take us seriously. Why should we?

Here is the link to the Red Sea Passover…


The Face of God

March 24th, 2021

“The Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you” – Numbers 6:25

It is a curious thing that many images of God (at least in the West) are those of a grumpy old man. It seems like Christians prefer that God the Creator has white hair, a long flowing beard, and a bad attitude. God the Father is seldom portrayed as welcoming, like the father in the parable of The Prodigal Son. He usually looks more like the kind of dad who wants to kick your ass after you wrecked the family car. He is not terribly approachable.

Even images of Jesus are sometimes a bit harsh. The Lord is frequently shown as King and Judge, not often a brother or as a friend. Years ago, I attended a religious retreat, and another guy at the meeting described his version of Jesus as being like a “a stern magistrate”. Why pray to somebody who is out to get you?

The Hindus have innumerable visions of the Divine. Some seem benign, some not so much. The Buddhists have a huge variety of depictions of the Buddha, but then he doesn’t really qualify as a god per se. Maybe the Jews and the Muslims have it right: they have no images of God at all.

Back to Christian iconography…

Images of the Child Jesus are probably the easiest for me to accept. However, even those portrayals make the boy look too much like an adult. It’s obvious that the kid is in charge. Except for maybe in a Nativity scene, the Christ Child never looks like how he really was: tiny, helpless, and totally trusting in others. It seems that Christians just can’t handle the idea that Jesus, who is God, was utterly powerless at the start of his life.

We like power.

Asher, our four-month-old buddy, lies next to me asleep. His little face runs through the entire gamut of human emotion as he slumbers. He looks sad at times, and then he smiles and giggles in a baby dream. He looks scared for a moment, or frustrated, or maybe a bit upset. No matter. Regardless of his expression, his face is always lovable.

When Asher awakens and looks at me, my heart melts. I would do anything for that boy.

Asher’s face is the face of God.

Try Again

March 20th, 2021

“You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too, yeah
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time
I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you” – Beatles

I am sixty-three today.

So what?

I don’t know. Except for the fact that today is the vernal equinox, this date means very little. All I know is that at this moment the eastern sky is glowing red, and my little grandson, Asher, is sleeping nosily next to me. I look forward to the dawn, and Asher looks forward to his next feeding (he is three months old).

I’m sixty-three today. That is not a winning number. Sixty-two is a good number. That is when I qualified for Social Security. More to the point, when I qualified for it, my wife, Karin, also qualified for her Social Security check and for Medicare. Karin never worked long enough to get Social Security on her own. The Byzantine regulations of the SSA required me to get my dues before Karin could get anything. In any case, age sixty-two made a financial difference. Sixty-three does not.

God, our lives have changed in the course of a year. A year ago, Karin and I were thinking about traveling, at least to Texas to visit our family there.


We are not going anywhere.

Asher, for a variety of reasons, is now our responsibility. This kid is ours. If and when the girl we love gets though rehab, then maybe, maybe, she can care for the boy. Until then, Asher is our baby. And we love him. So much.

Years ago, I was part of a German men’s group, Schlaraffia. It was a standard men’s organization. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the primary purpose of the group was to get away from the wives for one night a month. Need I say more?

Karin spends part of her Thursdays in Zoom meetings with her knitting friends. I keep away from that. A few of the older women in her group are widows. I sometimes think that their husbands aren’t really dead; they are just in hiding. These guys maybe changed their names and moved to Belize to avoid the nagging.

Karin and I are both retired. “Retired” can mean a lot of things. It can mean that a person has moved on to another part of life, or it can mean that a person has simply given up on life. I have seen both things happen. Karin and I have not given up on life, perhaps because we can’t. We have too many people who need us. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

So, what to do on my birthday? Well, change and feed Asher. Maybe make Karin breakfast. Take a well-served nap (I’ve been up since 3:00 AM). Whatever.

Try again.


March 16th, 2021

Asher really looks like Jizo.

Jizo is a Japanese bodhisattva. In the Buddhist tradition Jizo is the protector of small children. He is often portrayed a happy monk, with chubby cheeks and an innocent smile on his lips.

When Asher sleeps peacefully, which is actually not that often, his round little face settles into an image of utter serenity. His breathing becomes soft and gentle. When he finally relaxes, the boy smiles in his sleep.

Asher smiled like that when his mother held him in her arms yesterday.

Image result for images of jizo

Asher’s mom hasn’t held her son very often during the last six weeks. After her relapse, she was in jail for a while, and now she is rehab. The young woman will be in treatment until the end of June. Karin and I are bringing Asher to the rehab facility twice a week so that the young woman can connect with her three-month-old son. They get four and a half hours together each week. That isn’t much time, but it’s all that we can do for now.

The young woman sat in a rocking chair, holding her baby boy. She said nothing. She just held Asher close, as close as she could. She looked at him in silence. I don’t know what she was thinking or what she was feeling. I didn’t ask. I let them be.

The young woman has dreams, both for herself and for Asher. She wants to come back to our house to live. She wants to raise Asher in our home, at least for the first few years. She wants to build a treehouse for Asher. Actually, she wants her younger brother to build it, but her ultimate goal is for Asher to have a treehouse in the big locust in the backyard.

The young woman dreams of taking Asher on trip one day. It will have to happen after June of 2022, because that is when the young woman finishes her parole and gets “off paper”. She wants to take Asher to Destin Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida. We took her there many years ago, when she was just a girl. The beach was like a paradise for her. It is her Garden of Eden, and she wants to return to it. The young woman wants Asher to experience it with her.

First things first. The young woman has to complete her treatment before any of these dreams come true. All this will take time.

The important thing is that she still has dreams for the future. The woman wants to live. She’s strong and resilient. So is Asher.

May Jizo bless them both.

A Conflict of Values

March 12th, 2021

“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” -Dorothy Day, foundress of the Catholic Workers

I sat in Mulligan’s with Mike yesterday afternoon. Mike was swilling a Miller Lite, and I was sipping on a black lager. Mike had just finished working his shift at the trucking company. I used to work with him on the dock. Then, five years ago, I was miraculously able to escape from there into retirement. Mike’s tales of frustration and woe are very familiar to me, and they always reinforce my decision to get out of that hellhole.

The trucking company was a local operation when I started there back in 1988. It grew and prospered, and it was finally devoured by a global conglomerate. Now the company is simply another tentacle of a worldwide transportation monster. With financial success comes a concomitant loss of humanity. The larger the corporation, the more ruthless the bastards who run it.

I was a dock supervisor at the company for almost twenty-eight years. When people would ask what my job was, I would jokingly say,

“I try to get blood from a stone.”

That’s really what I did. My job was to move freight as efficiently as possible. It was all about profit, all the time. I had a boss whose first, and only, question to me every morning was,

“Did we make money yesterday?”

That’s all that mattered when I was there. Apparently, that is still all that matters.

I don’t like corporate America. That does not mean that I am a socialist. I am not. I don’t like socialism either. I am a veteran, and I am convinced that every veteran has lived under a socialist regime. Look at the U.S. military. I defy anyone to show me any practical difference between the operations of the U.S. Army and that of the People’s Republic of China.

My oldest son, Hans, sent me a text while I was commiserating with Mike at the bar. The text said (with a couple misspellings),

“Tonight is my last day. Just can’t deal anymore.”

Hans was talking about work. Hans pumps concrete for a company in Texas. He usually starts work dark and early. He faces the same issues that I did in my job. He’s finally leaving that firm and going to another, hopefully better, organization. Hans has worked for the same corporation for three years, and they have lied to him and abused him the entire time. He’s exhausted.

It strikes me that corporations and the military have very different values. I remember when I was an Army officer my commander telling me,

“Mission first. Men always.”

At the time, that seemed like an empty slogan, but it’s not. Soldiers are trained to get the job done, and it is expected that somebody will care for the welfare of these people. Hans is a combat vet. He gets the job done, no matter how long it takes or how fucked up it may be. His recent employer knew that and exploited that fact. Hans’ company had no qualms about working him for 18 to 24 hours at a pop. However, the management in this business made no attempt at all to take care of Hans. The corporation was all about getting the mission accomplished, but it apparently did not give a damn about its employees. The company cared only about the money.

Soldiers are loyal. Hans should have quit that job years ago. He didn’t. Why? Because soldiers don’t quit. They just don’t. Hans tried to work with the management in good faith, and they did not reciprocate. Loyalty is a two-way street. It requires trust. Hans stopped trusting.

The company treated Hans like a commodity, like a piece of equipment. That’s what corporations do. The Army, despite its flaws, does not treat soldiers like things. When Hans was in the Army, and when I served, there was always a sense that each soldier had some intrinsic value as a human being. There was always some level of mutual respect. That sort of regard is seldom found in the business world.

It does not surprise that vets find it difficult to adjust to civilian life. We return to a culture which does not often share our values.