Thursday, December 22, 2016

Childhood Memories of Buying a Christmas Tree

This is a revised version of a story that appeared in the Virginia Beach Sun on December 1, 1988.     

      Men measures their progression through time in many ways. As young boys, we cut our neighbors grass and as adolescents, we deliver their newspapers. As adults, we bring them their mail and sell them their cars and as old men we exaggerate how well we accomplished all of these tasks.

      For me, the one sure measure of time and my own journey through it has been the Christmas tree—or more precisely, how I have gone about getting one each year.

      I remember as a child, in Rochester, how my father and I would walk up the street to the City Service gas station where the man would have all his trees leaning on one side of the building. They would be stacked up in a giant heap making it impossible to compare them but nevertheless my father would hold up one after another, and ask my opinion.

     “What do you think of this one?”

  “How do you like this one?”

  “How about this one?”

  “Do you like this one?”

  Until finally he found one that he liked.

  “This one looks pretty good. I think we’ll get it.” My father would then pay the man what I suppose was a couple of bucks and then we would carry it back home. Not even the freezing cold could dampen my excitement.

When is Enough, Enough?

*nec dominam usque canit adipe
**Etiam non obscuram, sed eam attingit

It is estimated that the universe is around 13.8 billion years old and still expanding. It could very well be nearing middle age and at some point, another billion years or so, it and we, could begin our long anticipated death spiral, eventually bringing an end to…I don’t know, a 30-billion-year, bigger-than-a-bread-box experiment in going nowhere .

The point is the universe is not going to be around forever, although never has forever seemed so long. The consensus of every single person living on Earth, backed by every religion trusted by those gentle souls, is that whether a God created the universe with a wave of His hand or did nothing more than jumpstart something that eventually was going to happen anyway, the appearance of man has always been the intended end game.

If everything simply fell into place on its own, man still has every right to be proud but he can’t really accept any credit. Being around when shit happens is no big deal even if we are the best shit in the universe—and we don’t know for sure that we are.

However, if a God is behind this, and I don’t mean in a sinister way; but if He is behind it, a logical question would be, why did it take so long to get to the main act? What was He expecting? Is He happy with what He got?

If we are the straw that stirs the drink, why are we only now entering at last call?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Ice Hill

     I had just gotten off the phone with my buddy Joe who lives up in the Detroit area. We’ve known each other for almost 60 years but probably don’t talk as often as we should. With the Winter Olympics entering their fifth day of round-the-clock coverage, the two of us were probably bored to the gills and took the opportunity to call.

Talking so infrequently has gotten both of us out of practice in the art of meaningful small talk. We talk about what we’re doing but, the truth is, we don’t do much—at least nothing worth talking about.

The grandkids come up, as does our ailments and the high cost of treating those ailments. Politics surface occasionally but neither of us has a real personal stake. We’ll both survive whatever Congress can throw at us.

Our lives resemble more of a holding pattern and fortunately, we won’t have to hold on forever. Detroit’s terrible professional sports teams continue to haunt Joe just as Virginia Beach’s lack of sports teams irks me but, again, neither of us really care.

There was a time when not having anything to talk about didn’t make any difference. Like those long summer afternoons when it was too hot to play baseball—too hot even to play catch. Neither of us had a problem with lying on the grass and watching the clouds pass overhead.

Now, it’s like the clouds really have passed us by.

“We’re going camping, this weekend,” Joe said, matter-of-factly. “We’re pretty excited about it,” he added, predictably.

Sounds exciting,” I said, as my elbow slipped and my head dropped. Our conversation was fizzling out faster than a 3 a. m. campfire and then Joe provided the spark.

“Remember Camp Cutler?”