Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Freedom of Choice

Super Tuesday is behind us now and the presidential campaign race is really heating up. I’m enjoying the media coverage of Election 2016, but something is missing. Something like a good candidate to cast a vote for.
I love how I always begin political columns by saying I’m not a political person. I just realized that’s not entirely true. I make sure I vote in every election (the important ones anyway). I believe a person’s right to vote is one of the most powerful rights we have in this country. But with the choices put before us this year, it appears many ballots are cast against a candidate instead of for one. For a lot of voters, November’s election is going to be an exercise in choosing between the lesser of two evils.
Front runner Donald Trump can do no wrong. His blustery rhetoric forces people to listen. But is he saying anything of substance? He’s entertaining to watch, that’s for sure. Is he all surface glitter with no framework underneath? He’s an outsider and some people are attracted to that alone.
Trump seems to be saying all the right things and even when he says the wrong things, it seems to work to his advantage.
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz seem to be cut from the same cloth. Watching them struggle to get their voices heard over Trump's bombastic style makes for interesting television. I’m not a debate watcher, but I've tuned in a few times this year to see the fireworks. I wasn’t disappointed. There was a fine line between the Republican debates and the WWE’s professional wrestling broadcasts. The over-the-top antics of the candidates would be comical if there wasn’t so much at stake (like the future of our country).
Kasich is trailing so far behind I’m surprised he's still in the mix. I did see a speech he made on television that made me want him to be a pastor at St. Patrick’s church. I’d never miss a Sunday homily if he were at the podium. His heartfelt vision for America touched my soul. Too bad he doesn’t stand a chance of winning. Dr. Ben Carson was smart enough to take himself out of the running. (Of course he's smart, he's a doctor.)
Which brings us to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Oy vey. Bernie’s sincerety is the polar opposite of Hillary Clinton’s smarmy entitlement. Bernie’s populist message strikes a chord with the infamous 99% (last seen nowhere). However, “When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose” is not the greatest campaign slogan. For years there has been talk of the inevitability of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Who didn’t love the Clinton years the last time around? Hillary is determined to have her voice heard, but her shrieking, shrill tone is a turn off for many. Imagine the debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The decibels will be off the scale. Keep your remote in hand to adjust your television volume before your speakers blow out.
America needs a candidate to emerge to unify our country instead of dividing it. We need someone to offer hope and change – for real this time. I don’t like the choices I’m presented with this year. I don’t want to waste my vote by voting against someone. I’m not about to write-in “Mickey Mouse” to protest the election. I can only weigh all sides of the issues and pick the candidate I feel will do the best job representing my views. I just wish the pickings weren’t so slim. Where is Ross Perot when we need him?



Friday, February 26, 2016

Make A Wish

Happy Birthday To Max, Ellie & Matt
February 2016 is a month of significant birthdays in my world. No offense to Washington and Lincoln, their days are important too, but the birthdays in my family take precedence over presidents.On February 20th, my youngest son Max turned twenty-one years old. He’s come a long way from his tumultuous arrival into this world 21 years ago on a snowy February morning in the emergency room of the New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham. He was born on a Monday President’s Day holiday making the day even more special. He was also born one month earlier than expected. He’s always been ahead of his time. As a baby, he barely crawled. One day he just stood up and started walking. A short time later he was riding a two-wheeler. There were no training wheels on Max’s bike; he never needed them. His difficult middle-school experiences turned to triumph by the time he reached high-school. He excelled in the Stoneham Jazz Ensemble under the guidance of Mr. Grammer. Max will be a senior at Berklee College of Music in September, where his love for improvisational jazz has become his focus. His dream of becoming a music instructor has already been realized. In March he will begin teaching jazz courses for Brookline’s Adult Education Program. Max claims he doesn’t like to celebrate his birthday but that’s fine . His mother and I will always celebrate for him. We are thankful for every moment we share with this incredibly talented young man.
This weekend also marked the 30th birthday of my godchild Matthew Scott. Thirty years ago my wife and I were blessed to become godparents of this amazing child. Matthew is from a close-knit Portuguese family. It was quite an honor to be welcomed into their world. Welcomed is an understatement. I was sincerely touched when I learned my godchild's middle name was Scott. It took me a long time to believe he was actually named after me. Matthew entertained my wife and I every visited his hometown of New Bedford. Our godchild has always been special to us. We were stunned when we heard news of a horrific car accident almost took his life when he was just sixteen. He fought hard to come back and thanks to his positive attitude, he made it. Today he works as a counselor for troubled youths helping them overcome problems of their own. I'm very proud of Matthew Scott and the man he has become. If we could only keep him away from motorcycles we’d all rest a little easier.
On Tuesday, my granddaughter Eliana Rose celebrated her first birthday. She was born one year ago on Academy Award Sunday, at the stroke of midnight just as the Oscar was presented to Birdman for Best Picture. I was at the hospital for her birth. When I held her in my arms, I looked down at her and forgot all about award shows. I realized a star was born right before my eyes. I’ve been watching her ever since, amazed at her first steps, her first words, her singing, her dancing. This tiny little soul has filled my heart with so much love it is immeasurable, even though she’s only been a member of my family for a short time. Her beauty leaves me at a loss for words, and that’s something that never happens to me. Ever.
These three people are all the proof I need that miracles dohappen. To a small extent, I feel I have helped shape their lives. They have no idea of the profound influence they’ve had on mine. May all their birthday wishes come true.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Go into the light: Stoneham does Christmas.

You're not reading the original words I wrote for this week’s column. Like the Elf on the Shelf, I hid that article in an obscure corner hoping nobody will find it. That column, entitled “Of Gifts and Guns”, was too intense to publish this time of year. I wrote about the Colorado Planned Parenthood mass shootings because one of the victims had ties to our area. Nancy Kerrigan’s tearful memories of Garrett Swasey on the news were enough to dampen on my rapidly dwindling holiday spirit. I ended that column with the words “...by the time you read this, another horrific event will no doubt happen to knock the Colorado shootings out of the headlines...”. And then the terrorist attack at the social service center in San Bernardino happened. I decided it was too depressing to write about such horror during this season of joy even though it is in the forefront of our nation's collective thoughts.
You can say I’m burying my head in the sand, no pun intended. Instead, for this next couple of weeks, I'm focusing on the positive aspects of the holiday season. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. At least that’s what Johnny Mathis keeps telling me over and over as he sings his merry songs on my FM radio.
Instead of writing about mass shootings, I prefer to write about the happy faces of children and parents alike at the tree lighting ceremony on the town common. Add Santa Claus, pony rides, hot chocolate and trolleys and you have a holiday recipe for a great night of good old-fashioned family fun. I don’t even mind the traffic in my area as people flock to the Zoo Lights exhibit at the Stone Zoo. I haven’t visited the display yet this year, but it’s on my list of uplifting holiday activities. The season is so short, I’m trying to do something every day to enjoy the time as the holidays fast approach.
I thought Christmas shopping would brighten my mood. I took advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures and made my annual trek to Redstone Plaza. Shop local, I always say. Although it wasn’t terribly crowded, there were still many shoppers out and about. I found some great gifts for my family, and one for myself: a sock-monkey dressed in an elf suit. My spirits were definitely on the upswing.
I turned off my 24-hour news radio station and turned on the 24-hour Christmas music channel. Just hearing songs about Winter Wonderlands and White Christmases is enough for me. I don’t need any real snow. I have enough memories of last winter’s accumulation to last a lifetime. Even Karen Carpenter’s tragic life can't spoil my enjoyment of her heartfelt renditions of holiday classics (although it is sad she won’t be home for Christmas no matter what she says in her song). It’s hard to feel blue when your singing along to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.
When the world’s dire situation began creeping into the edge of my consciousness, threatening to destroy my tenuous (artificial?) joyful mood, I decided to telephone my sons just to say hello and tell them I love them. And the best part of those phone calls? They didn’t even think it was strange.Last night while driving through Stoneham I noticed the cheery light displays illuminating homes around town and in my neighborhood. Some people went overboard with their decorations, some exerted minimal effort (me), but it’s the thought that counts. We all can’t be Chevy Chase.
Shocking and savage current events lurk around every corner along with threatening shadows of a bleak future, but I have a secret weapon. I simply look at my granddaughters smiling face. Within her bright, beautiful blue eyes I see the true meaning of Christmas. In her innocence I see a future full of hope and love.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Table Talk

Room for dessert.
My dining room sits in silence like a museum display of a scene from the past. For a long time it’s been unused and gathering dust. As the holidays near, the room slowly begins to show signs of life. Today the room reflects the change of seasons. It’s filled with brown, gold and orange hues. The shining wooden table is decorated with a leaf-themed runner. Next to the fall flower centerpiece there are turkey candlesticks and pilgrim figurine salt and pepper shakers that pour spices out of the top of their heads. The dining room is ready for Thanksgiving even if I’m not.
Why do you have such a big table in that room?” one of the children asked.
To eat our meals on.”
You eat at a table? Wow!”
Wow indeed. Meals have migrated from dining rooms, to kitchens, to living rooms and beyond. On a recent visit to my sister-in-law’s new home, she proudly gave me a tour. I was surprised when she said, “We don’t have a kitchen table. We wouldn’t really use one.” Unheard of, I thought. (I’m writing this column at my kitchen table right now.)
It may be a thing of the past, but dining rooms hold so many memories for so many families. My grandmother’s second floor apartment housed a huge wooden dining room set that would be right at home in a giant's castle (although I was a lot smaller back then). Every Sunday dinner felt like a holiday. Nana’s hot oven ran all day as she created magical treasures – roasted chicken, homemade bread, chocolate chip cookies and, of course, her famous lemon meringue pie (so good I used to eat it warm before it had a chance to cool).
Times have changed. Week night dinners are rarely served at the kitchen table. My wife and I eat dinner in the living room in front of the television while we watch Days of Our Lives on DVR. My dinner table is now a folding oak “TV table” (I’m not even sure that’s what they’re called these days). After all these years we are far removed from romantic candlelight dinners (we save those for power failures). We still have meal time chats, recapping the events of each other's day (just the highlights, no boring job details about things the other person has no interest in). We hit Pause on the DVR if we have important news to share.
In an effort to keep traditions alive, my wife recently resurrected Sunday family dinners. There’s another place to set at the table with the addition of our granddaughter's high-chair. We enjoy keeping in touch with our two sons on a weekly basis. It's nice to enjoy a leisurely meal while catching up on current events in their lives. We get to share thoughts on the future, as well as reinforce happy memories of the past.
Now that the dining room is coming out of hibernation, lots of memories are resurfacing just in time for the holidays. I remember my mother-in-law’s monumental Thanksgiving dinner in the 1980’s when I included a place-setting for my video-camera at the head of the table to record our epic meal – and that was before reality television really took off. One year the basket of rolls caught fire while being passed over lit candles on the table. On another holiday our dining room table was extended with a second table to accommodate the large number of guests. The two tables formed an “L” shape through the doorway and around the corner all the way from the dining room into the kitchen. Thanksgiving dinner in two rooms!
My dining room is so much more than a showpiece for flower vases, fancy curtains and unused furniture. Every meal celebrated there is a true dining experience. It’s important to preserve it even if we don’t use it to its full capacity anymore. It’s a room full of memories I’m not willing to give up yet. It’s a room without television, internet radio or cell phones. It’s a room full of peaceful silence and faint echoes of a past not yet forgotten.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The New Guy

And my manager is 23 years old.
It's not easy looking for a new job at age fifty-seven. Actually, looking is the easy part, it's the “finding” that's difficult. At the end of September I left my job after twenty-eight years without the safety net of another job to fall into. The company I worked for appeared to be going downhill, and I didn't see business rebounding any time in the future. I decided to cut my losses and pursue greener pastures, and all the rest of those cliches people say when they are starting over. I took a daring leap for someone my age. I had faith I'd land on my feet in a better place – at least I kept telling myself that.
Most people thought I was crazy for not having a job lined up before I left. My supportive family and a few close friends stood by me and helped me rationalize my decision. I put on a brave front, smiling when I said I believed something better would come along. However, as my final day at work approached, I wondered if I made the right decision. My resume solicitations did not return the multiple employment opportunities I was expecting. In my mind I already turned down several positions waiting for the right one to come along. Unfortunately, there were no offers coming in for me to reject. I didn't have a Plan B.
As luck would have it, I got a call from a new company on my last day at my old job. I bid a hasty farewell to my coworkers. I left my goodbye party and headed straight to a job interview. My fears of unemployment had been unfounded. My interview went well and I was asked to start a new job a week from that Monday. The timing was perfect. I had a week to decompress from my old job. I was relieved and extremely happy at this sudden turn of events. All of my positive thinking paid off.
I haven't been “the new guy” in the workplace for twenty-eight years. In fact, one of the new employees at my old company was called “the new guy” for two-and-a-half years after he started working there. Now I was that guy, and believe me, it's not a title anyone enjoys carrying.
Most of the staff in my new office is younger than I am. I always felt young for my age, but that was before I was working in a department full of twenty-somethings. The first week felt like the first day of school. Am I wearing the right clothes? Do I really look as old as this mirror is telling me? Is my hair okay? On day two, I brought in my “grandpa” sweater to hang on the coat rack because the new office feels like it's kept at 32 degrees year round. Maybe it's just my thinning blood.
My new manager is awesome, as most people newspaper workers are. She helped me with my transition from new employee to regular staff member. I'm finding it difficult to match the names and faces of my unfamiliar co-workers. The staff is large and there are multiple shifts, resulting in meeting quite a few people in a short time. There's Ashley and Alexis, Brittany and Britney, as well as two Dianes. it's impossible to keep everyone straight in my mind despite using all the memory tricks in my arsenal, but I'm trying.
Now that I've been at my new place of employment for a couple of weeks, I am starting to settle in. I may not be “the new guy” for very long. The company is expanding and with every new hire I am no longer “new” myself. A year from now I'll know everyone on a first name basis, and I'll know something about each of them. At most jobs you spend more time with people in your office than you do with your own family.
In a month or two, I'll know where all the stairways lead to so I won't look lost while walking down the hallway. Eventually I'll be able to drive to work with my eyes closed. Soon I'll recognize all the faces of the people I work with and I'll know what their job function is. Until then, I'll enjoy my time as “the new guy”. That sounds so much better than being known as “the old guy”. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tales from Kushala Sip

     

Clouds in my coffee...

On a crisp fall Saturday morning, I decided to pack up my laptop and explore Stoneham Square in search of an idea for my column. I couldn't think of a better destination than the Kushala Sip Coffee House located on Main Street across from the Town Common.
     Inside the coffee shop, friendly faces greeted every customer as they arrived and departed. The atmosphere was comfortable and relaxing. I think I've found a new place to write since the total vibe of this undiscovered gem seemed to inspire creativity.
     My imagination was running wild. I glanced around at the other patrons giving each one a backstory. A solo young woman on a laptop was intensely researching something on the web. Was she a medical student doing homework perhaps? A young gentleman sat in one of the upholstered chairs in the corner. Was he emailing his Tinder date from last night, or filling out online job applications for future employment? A well-dressed twenty-something ordered a latte. She sat alone at a window table. She texted on her cell phone, anxiously awaiting a response from her fiance or maybe a secret lover. To pass the time between texting she intently read a novel called The Flick. A heavyset man in a jogging suit settled in at the next table with a hardcover novel, a lemonade and a large hot chocolate – a slightly odd combination but who am I to judge. Two women sat in the front window seats watching the activity in the square. They had a lot to see since the Food Truck Festival was setting up on the common.
     I sat admiring the interior design of the place. The d├ęcor is light and airy. I'd call it modern industrial chic. The exposed lighting and aluminum heating ducts juxtaposed against the butcher block tables enhanced the place a open concept feel.
     The subtle instrumental background music was the perfect accompaniment to my writing. The style seemed somewhere between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern to me. I'll have to ask my jazz player son for his opinion when he visits the coffee shop with me. I relaxed in the comfortable chair wondering how long I'd be able to sit here without ordering another Kushala Mocha.
     I'm not sure if it was the caffeine or the atmosphere, but as I typed the words came fast and easily. I made excellent progress on my writing without any distraction, except my own inquisitive glances around the place. It was getting considerably busy at the counter. Curious patrons came in off the street asking for menus and wondering what delights might be in store for them. The two women sitting beside me split a pastry with their Pumpkin Spice Lattes while discussing their day.
     As time went on, a steady stream of customers flowed into the coffee shop just as fast as the coffee drinks were flowing out of it. The staff behind the counter had no problem keeping up with the flood of orders as the line grew. Everyone was greeted with a polite “Sir” or “Miss” followed by a “Thank you” and “Be sure to come again”. I realized this was no ordinary coffee shop.
     I took one last look around, not wanting to overstay my welcome. The place was filling up and I felt I occupied my table long enough, although I got the feeling I'd be welcome to sit here all day. Through the window facing the square, I had a view of the orange and gold leaves on the trees in front of the First Congregational Church. An American Flag on a telephone pole slowly waved in the morning breeze as a funeral procession drove by in silence.
     It was time to gather my belongings and begin my Saturday errands. For a few moments I was able to forget about life's hectic pace waiting for me just outside the door. This was one cup of coffee I wished would never end.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Rise of Fall

     

Ellie in the pumpkin patch. 

September disappeared quickly and took summer with it. The weather was so warm and so nice for so long, it seemed the Fall season might be postponed  indefinitely. Last week, October’s calendar page dropped down like a guillotine blade, cutting off any remnants of summer that were left behind.
     The change of seasons happened suddenly. There was no progression of cooler nights, where little by little our bodies gradually got used to cooler temperatures and crisper air. The hot sticky temperatures of August stayed with us all the way until the end of September.
     Even the leaves on the trees kept us guessing if autumn would ever arrive. My wife and I took a late September vacation to northern New Hampshire. Any other year the foliage would be at its peak color viewing – red, yellow, orange and gold leaves as far as the eye could see. This year, everything was still deep green. Nothing to see here, folks. I was mildly disappointed but I’ll take warmth over cold any day. I was excited to see my first bear as it scampered across the Franconia Notch exit on Route 93. Even though my wife was driving, I couldn’t grab my cell phone in time to take a photo. I could only watch the bear running wildly with raised paws as he clambered up a hill of green grass and disappeared into a thicket of trees.
     Back at home, my air conditioners have all vanished from my windows as if they were never there. I think we’re safely past any more nights too humid for sleeping. My hooded sweatshirts have made a comeback while my t-shirts and shorts have gone into storage in the attic until next May or June (depending on the weather).
     It seems like yesterday I was swimming outdoors. Actually, yesterday I took my granddaughter to a pumpkin patch to pick a prize-winner for our front porch. And on our front porch our Fall flag flies signaling the early beginnings of the holiday season. My wife decorated our fireplace with festive scarecrows, strands of autumn leaves and burnt orange mums.
     The sun is still warm and the leaves on the trees are still green. I hope they stay that way for a long time, but I know their fall is inevitable. I wish there was a way to stay ahead of them as they fall from the trees, but that's not going to happen. I refuse to rake my yard until the last leaf falls to the ground. Last year I refused to rake at all, but I paid the price after the winter snow melted and I had to call in the professionals to manage the mess left on the ground. I’ll try to avoid that this year but I make no promises.
     As the days get shorter, the mornings are darker and the evenings arrive earlier. There is less free time on my schedule as activities multiply. I don’t mind. Being busy keeps my mind off the whisper of winter looming on the horizon. I don’t want to rush things, we still have a long way to go before then.
     Right now I’m going to enjoy goblins and gourds. I can still walk in the sunshine without a jacket on. I welcome the wafting smell of a fireplace from somewhere in the night. I cherish the sound of crunching leaves beneath my Reeboks. The season is ripe with traditions, from baking apple pies to making caramel apple martinis. And my favorite Fall pastime : ordering a hot Pumpkin Spice Latte with a pumpkin muffin at Dunkin' Donuts. Cheers to Fall 2015! I hope it lasts as long as this past summer did – and beyond.