I went to college from 1968 to 1973. While I was at Southwest Texas State University (LBJ’s alma mater), I met a very interesting fellow. His name is Bill. Bill was a Vietnam veteran, using the GI Bill to finalize his education. He was getting his degree in journalism, just as I was. As a Viet vet, he was very conservative and, at the time, I was a little progressive. Yeah, I know. Things change. We had lively discussions. Bill was tall, lanky, lacking in hair (which at the time I did not expect that curse to befall me, too), energetic and outspoken. On many days, Bill would wear to class some portion of the uniform he had in Vietnam.

Every spring break, Bill and I would take a trip. On one trip we drove from San Marcos, Texas to Cheyenne, Wyoming and back. Great fun.

But not near as much fun as one spring break, when Bill and I decided to hitchhike. We had 10 days for the break and we would hitchhike for five days and then return. We decided to head west out of San Marcos to see how far we could get in five days, and what fun we could have along the way.

We got some very interesting lifts. One guy had a truck with wooden paneling in the truck bed. That’s where we rode. He didn’t want anyone in the cab. He dropped us off in Fort Stockton, Texas. Nothing against the people or the location of Fort Stockton, but after getting some sleep behind a store, Bill and I grabbed our sleeping bags and knapsacks to leave. Fort Stockton was a bleak-looking place. A few red lights, wide highways and loads of West Texas sand and tumbleweeds blowing across the landscape. Back then, no Walmarts, just local shops and businesses.

It took an entire day for us to get out of Fort Stockton. We tried every road out of town, INCLUDING the one we had used to enter town. We were getting desperate Bill wore part of his Viet uniform, thinking we would get some sympathy from a West Texas driver. I wore his cap that had some U.S. Army markings on it. ANYTHING to get out of town.

Having fun ... really

Having fun … really

Finally, we caught a ride. When we got into the car, we mentioned that it had been hard finding a ride in Fort Stockton. The guy told us that the movie The Hitchhiker was at the local drive-in and that may have worked against us. “Duh, ya think.” As I recall, that movie had loads of bad incidents where people are killed or maimed as part of the plot. And we were trying to get out of town … by hitchhiking!

On the way out, we took baths in a stream underneath a bridge on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation near Cloudcroft, New Mexico. We pitched our sleeping bags in the hay loft of a lumberyard in Ruidoso, New Mexico; and, we had drinks with a prison parolee in a cinderblock bar skirting the road just outside of a very small New Mexico town. He had been released that morning and his first stop, before going home to family, was the bar. He drank a lot and had loads of stories about his life in prison.  We also climbed up and rolled down the sand dunes of White Sands National Monument.

We made it all the way to Tucson. We attended a frat party in Tucson the night before we began our return.

On the way back to San Marcos, we were hitching along a desolate road that cradled the Texas-New Mexico border. It was turning nightfall, we had had only a scarcity of rides (so a lot of walking that day), and we were approaching a very small town that looked like it was just a smidgen of Archer City, Texas as that town was shown by Peter Bogdanovich in The Last Picture Show. It was not too windy, only a few tumbleweeds scooted across the road, but our skin was getting a bit pelted by blowing sand.

We decided that we had better get some rest undisturbed just outside town BEFORE heading in the next morning.

So, we stepped off the road, crossed over a fence and began walking into a field of someone’s farm or ranch. Because we were away from what lights there were in town, the stars were amazing. They looked so bright that it appeared they were only about 25 feet into the sky. Just plain beautiful.

When we felt we had taken enough steps onto the farm or ranch from the road to be safe, we plopped down our sleeping bags and fell asleep very quickly.

In the middle of the night, the earth began to shake — violently, and there was a mysterious roaring. In our sleeping bags, the shaking bounced us up and down roughly. It became very difficult to shed the bags to find out what was going on. An earthquake? A meteor land nearby? What the hell could this possibly be? And, that noise?

It became clear quickly. Once we were awake, we could see the boxcars of a train. Apparently, it was a long train and as it chugged across the farm, we unknowingly were so close to the tracks that we were affected much like being at the epicenter of an earthquake. Because it had been dark when we pulled out our sleeping bags, and because we were so tired, we didn’t check out the surroundings. The tracks were nearby and we didn’t even see them. For the rest of the trip, we hummed Carole King’s  I Felt The Earth Move Under My Feet.

We made it back to San Marcos uneventfully, but, to this day, many years later, I don’t think I have ever been as afraid as I was that night the earth began to move. But, I will cherish the memories of trips such as these forever.



A short time after the holidays I needed to buy some replacement blades for my Gillette Fusion razor. I don’t give you the brand name to promote the product but to give you an idea what kind of razor I had. And, if you know what kind of razor I had, then you have an idea how much replacement blades cost for this razor … a small fortune.

The safety razor

The safety razor

I decided to take the road seldom taken and get back to the basics. I started looking for a safety razor, the double-edge kind that our fathers used to use. The decision to do so came after going to Walgreen’s, Wal-Mart, Costco and just about any other retail place you might think you could find razors, only to discover you just can’t find a safety razor in a store. I could get a Schick 5-blade, or a number of other 5-blade brands, but could not find an old-fashioned safety razor. My dad would be shocked.

What happened next could be called a mission. Patti is probably more accurate when she says it became an obsession. I started researching online looking for the safety razor. I found loads of them on all kinds of sites. I found out about the differences in brands, costs, comments from other users, what company offered a razor at a fraction of the cost of the same razor at another site. Hey, I was a consumer. I saw just plain common safety razors for as much as $140 and some for $9. There was everything in between.

That’s when I succumbed to the cult.

As I went from site to site, I kept noticing comments from other buyers much more committed to safety razors than me, who were using terms like “wet shaving,” who used the acronym DE for “double edge” or the term “open comb” versus “closed comb” for the way the razor slid across your face and even how shave time each day was “individual” time to not be in any hurry, to celebrate slowness and accuracy and enjoy the personal time with your razor. Ok, so obsession may be more descriptive, after all. Once I checked out the websites and their offerings, I settled on a nondescript safety razor and some extra blades from Amazon.

I placed my order on January 27, 2014.  Just before I placed my order (for a whopping $11), the delivery information showed on the screen. “Delivery between February 27 and March 11.” Huh? Really? From Amazon? Again, really? I thought there must be a mistake, but it was just a razor and some blades. No big deal.

I started letting my beard grow, so I wouldn’t have to buy a Fusion blade ever again. I’ll just wait for the razor and blades to show up. Couldn’t really take too long. It’s just a razor.

On or around February 22, a small shipment from Thailand came in the mail. I got the blades, but no razor. Again, really?

And, March 11 came and went, still no razor.

I wrote a message to Amazon, warning other customers to be sure and check the shipping and delivery information before ordering a razor from Amazon, well, from a “provider” to Amazon, MMA Sales.

In my message, I told Amazon that I had to make some assumptions about the delivery of my razor. I said that MMA Sales must have had to build a gravel road to the most desolate area of Outer Mongolia to send a guy on a donkey, so he could use a shovel and dig some metal out of the ground with his hands. After traveling back with the metal, the donkey rider had to find a one-armed blacksmith to mold the metal into a razor and precision razor blades. Once the blacksmith completed his work, MMA Sales must have found a three-legged burro to take the razor/blades from Outer Mongolia to the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean, somewhere in China. Once at the ocean, someone had to build a replica of Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 Kon-Tiki raft, to carry the razor and blades, against the prevailing currents, to the West Coast of America.

Once at the West Coast, somewhere near San Francisco, someone put the razor and blades on the backs of several ants to make the journey from the West Coast, across the Rockies, the desert of New Mexico and west Texas to my home in Austin.

To this day, March 26, I still do not have the razor I ordered from Amazon.

However, just a week ago, I ordered an inexpensive  safety razor and blades from an online Canadian company called Fendrihan. They arrived today.

One man’s toiletries is another man’s obsession.


Mississippi River Bridge at Baton Rouge, La.

Mississippi River Bridge at Baton Rouge, La.

For 29 years I worked as a communications consultant with several human resource consulting firms. If you are not familiar with those firms, the bulk of the work is completed for companies by actuaries, health & welfare consultants, consultants specializing in other benefits and compensation, IT systems consultants and communicators.

Throughout my consulting career, there was ALWAYS this unwritten rule: Actuaries are revered like gods, don’t bother them with trivial requests.

At some time or other, my peers and I would come up with terrific questions that we would want to run by the actuaries, but didn’t because of the unwritten rule. But these were the folks that worked on questions similar to these. My favorite “odds” question has always been: “If I were to launch a rocket in my front yard that would escape the earth’s gravity, what would be the odds the rocket would hit Mars?”

And, I’ve heard other “odds” questions that my friends always wanted answered, but never approached the respected actuaries.

And what follows is related. Trust me.

So, Monday, my wife, Patti, and I were traveling from Austin, Texas to a little town north of Tampa, Florida to spend some time with family. We were traveling down the east/west/east racetrack called I10. Our car has XM/Sirius radio and we were listening to the channel called Prime Country.  Lots of Reba McIntyre, Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Trisha Yearwood and other country artists that don’t currently rank in the top 10.

Charley Pride

Charley Pride

We were traveling east and just at the moment we began crossing the huge bridge over the Mississippi River near downtown Baton Rouge, country artist Charley Pride began singing “Roll On Mississippi.” I kept staring straight ahead, but looked at Patti out of the corner of my eye. Unbeknownst to me, Patti was giving me the very same look.  So, what are the odds that just as we are traveling through the bridge over the river, Charley Pride would , at that moment, sing “Roll On Mississippi?” I haven’t a clue, nor would I know how to even try to calculate those odds.

We both knew right then that something unique was happening, but in the whole scheme of things, didn’t quite know how special that moment truly was. It’s not like that radio channel plays lots of Charley Pride music. Occasionally, but certainly not randomly. No doubt, Charley Pride has had his share of hits over the years. He’s the singer of “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” “Just Between You and Me,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone?,” “Burgers and Fries,” and “Kaw-Liga.” But rarely do you hear these songs on the radio any more.

So, in conclusion, I am glad to be retired from consulting, because if I was returning to work after this trip, the temptation to “ask an actuary” about the odds of that moment would be outrageously phenomenal, and I am absolutely certain that I would break the unwritten rule.

This past Saturday, my daughter, Casey, and her fiancé, Rick, were united in marriage. My brother-in-law, Jim, presided over the ceremony, which took place at sundown in a rustic setting on a ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters joined long-time friends in celebrating the union through dinner and drink, the cutting of the cake and dancing. There were more smiles in the room than the number of paparazzi stalking ALL the Kardashians.

Casey and Rick

Casey and Rick

Ok, those are pretty much the basics, but, in no way, does that capture the emotional side: the love, the passion and feeling that encompassed the entire event, from the months-long advance preparation, the setting up of the venue, the getting ready, the vows, the picture-taking and the celebration of friends and family united in encouraging and supporting the effort of both the bride and groom to include as many as possible in the event itself.

For example, simple statistics showed the likelihood that I would be able to attend the wedding was not high. I was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer over three years ago. Every day is a blessing. So, Casey fashioned the color purple (pancreatic cancer awareness) into just about every aspect of the event. Bridesmaids wore purple dresses. Casey wore purple shoes and carried a purple bouquet. Patti wore a lovely purple dress that accented her beauty and her smile.

Rick’s father, Bob, is a rice farmer, so, in preparation, the bride and her attendants made purple rice and included some in every lantern on every table and up and down the aisle where they exchanged vows.

Under a fold in Casey’s wedding dress, she fashioned two hearts — one blue from a business shirt of mine and one white lace from her mother’s wedding dress. The hearts were sewn into the dress and Casey included my father’s wedding band that I wore, and a wedding band from her grandmother. So, she had the something borrowed and something blue, but these were not visible for anyone to see.

When I was working, I liked wearing bow ties. Still do. For me, there is just something therapeutic in taking the time to tie them. Bow ties are just not easy to tie, but I enjoy it. Consequently, Rick and I wore purple bow ties. Groomsmen wore purple ties. And there were other purple accents as well.

Casey and Cancer Boy

Casey and Cancer Boy

We should have invited the author Dan Brown because there was so much symbolism taking place that Robert Langdon would have understood it.

On the wedding day, after all the last-minute details were complete, family and friends were seated and the groomsmen had walked to their place in front, I was standing in the barn before double doors. I had not seen Casey all day. The photographer and an attendant told me to turn around. I was not prepared at all for what I was to see.

Seeing my daughter in her wedding dress, everything immediately became slow motion. She was radiant, glowing, every Shakespearean sonnet’s definition of beauty. I kissed her on the cheek through my tears and I could hear her say what seemed to be slow motion, “Dad, are you ready?” But, as I stood there and looked at her, all I could hear were melodious sounds of small voices: “I will not wear diapers again! Dad, I’m learning to play softball, and it’s really fun. I didn’t think I would like learning to drive on snow, but I do. I did it — I gradumicated! Dad, there’s a guy I would like you to meet!” All these swirled around her like winged white doves perching on the cascading music notes of a scale. She was just beautiful and her smile was exhilarating and illuminating.

After I had a moment to compose myself, and brush away the tears, the doors opened and we walked down the aisle to the song Over the Rainbow. Beside my own wedding to Patti, this was the most beautiful day of my life, and I am so grateful to God for allowing me to be there.

After the vows, we all moved into the barn for dinner and dancing. Rick and his mother, Debbie, had a dance, which was glorious. Then, Casey and I had a dance to Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. I kissed her on the cheek several times, told her how proud I was of her and how beautiful she was on her special day.

Then, a very special part of the evening occurred. Patti and I danced to Diamond Rio’s One More Day. Most of the people in the room knew about the cancer, so there was not a dry eye in the house. Sorry, folks! But I so enjoyed dancing with my wife, it just made me think of our wedding date 29 years ago and how much our love has grown over the years. Patti is truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I can only hope to give her half as much joy as she has given me.

After the initial dances, dinner was served, followed by people visiting with each other and more dancing. Rick and Casey cut their wedding cake, and after everyone had their dessert, there was more dancing. Well, I think it was dancing. Shortly before the wedding, Casey asked me to siphon through my iTunes account and come up with some songs that would be good for dancing and the event. So, I did. Came up with three pages, single-spaced list of songs for her to consider and discuss with the DJ. Van Morrison’s Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Frank Sinatra’s I Get a Kick Outta You, several Alan Jackson songs, just a myriad of romantic songs. When the night was over, I think that I had heard only about three that I had recommended. I believe what played was more a decision by the DJ than anyone.

When I think back to the wedding and reception, there is one paramount feature that surrounds and triumphs all others: the room was just filled with smiles of lovely people all around, everyone positive, enjoying themselves, smiling, touching and encouraging each other to embrace the love in the room. I found that to be so overwhelming, it was incredible.

And, I danced. I had my cowboy hat on and truly felt like dancing as if no one was watching. I danced with my niece, Ciara, my former neighbors Kelli and Hallie, Patti and as many people as I could. I wish I could have danced with everyone. It was thrilling.

Now that the event is over, I want to thank Rick and Casey. For as our children learn from us, we can also learn from them. On most occasions of big groups or meetings and such, I tend to watch and listen. I interact, but sparingly. Casey, like her mother, is more social, more engaging. But on Saturday, I felt like i stepped into their circle and realized there is plenty of room in that circle to be not only who we are, but who we want to be. I enjoyed being more social, I enjoyed engaging others and listening to their stories and catching up with them about their kids and latest doings. I like being more personable and want to experience this more on a larger scale as I move forward.

So, to reaffirm my toast to the new husband and wife, may you live long together in each other’s arms. As for me, I will never forget this day and look forward to experiencing more of an extroverted self.

God bless you all.

The other day, Patti had to run some errands. I went along, but as is pretty customary, she let me off at Half-Price Books while she took care of things.

Half-Price Books will sell you used books at discounted prices, and they will buy your used books, too.

I noticed when I entered the store there was wonderful music playing overhead. Thank goodness, no hip-op or rap music, but lots of 60s and 70s album music. So, not necessarily the top-selling song from the album way back when, but another popular song or two from the album. I loved it.

It was a very diverse set of customers that day: moms with children; older couples; teenagers; a couple of guys dressed like they just got off the construction crew; and, a guy in a suit. Still a pretty good, random set of folks all looking to read. Excellent.

I wandered the aisles for a while, picking up a book here and there that I wanted to look at, and listened to the music. After about 45 minutes, I had two-three books and I found a chair that could afford me a view of most of the store. The chair was against the outside window, between two large twirling racks of calendars. There was another chair on the other side of the calendar rack on my right.

As I sat there looking at the books and the customers, I heard the Beatles’ song I Will from the White Album playing overhead. Wow! Incredible song. Not the best one on the album, but, hell, all of them from the White Album were wonderful.

As the song played, a Hispanic father holding two little girls sat down in the chair on the other side of calendar rack. Who knows how long I’ve loved you. You know I love you still. He began humming to I Will and I could hear him. Straight ahead in the aisle of books directly in front of me (the fantasy section), a thin man with gray hair and T-shirt, began singing the song in a fairly low voice. His voice coincided directly with the man’s sitting next to me. He patted his hand in rhythm to the song on his jeans. For if I ever saw you, I didn’t catch your name.

At that moment, two older folks came in — about my age. He had gray hair, with shirt tucked in and leather shoes. She had closely cropped hair and was shorter than him. The two started looking at the first display table inside the door, and I could see them from my perch. The man started moving his right hand as if he were a conductor directing an orchestra to play the song while looking at the books. But it never really mattered, I will always feel the same. Then, he started humming the song, too.

So, as I am sitting there, there were three people who did not know each other, each with their own agenda, connecting through a song that was popular in the 60s. For a few moments, I watched all of them. They kept up their humming and low singing until the Beatles finished the song. And, I just smiled through all of it.

Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart.

That’s what makes for thrilling days.

I am so glad that the words “either” and “or” are in our vocabulary. Nothing can identify choice better than these two words.


I either watch too many movies, or I have a too-active imagination.


Earlier today, Patti and I went to Starbucks for coffee and a little breakfast. After we picked up our drinks and took a seat, we looked around at fellow Starbucks aficionados. Inside, there were seats for about 15 people.  Of those in their seats, about five had their computers open to God-knows-what. Unless you were so rude as to hover over their shoulder and look at what they are doing, you wouldn’t know.

Oh, wait, that point-of-view doesn’t take into account the latest news sweeping our country. These individuals could be working, surfing the Web, or they could be some NSA employee hacking the content of the other computer users sitting comfortably in their seats — all the while the users not knowing whether their files are being hacked or not. Too many movies and too much unbridled imagination to prove this wrong.

I’ll never take a computer to Starbucks any more — even though I have nothing for anyone to hack.

But, after a few minutes, a young man came into the store. He was wearing a black suit and was as broad as he was tall — not a marathoner by any means. He had a white earpiece that started in his left ear and disappeared down his collar — much like you might see on a Secret Serviceperson. He moved to every corner of the store and just looked at the store from those vantage points.

He finally ordered a coffee and, once he picked it up, he placed it on a table. He returned to his car parked outside the store. When he returned to the coffee shop a few moments later, he no longer had the earpiece.

Either I have watched too many movies or have too active an imagination. For a moment, the earpiece didn’t look like anyone’s hands-free phone remote. So, I’m thinking a President is about to come in and order and this guy’s the Secret Service front man. Or, a Kardashian was getting ready to come in and order. Heck, it could have been a front man for Sandra Bullock or Matthew McConaghy, who have been known to spend time in the Austin area. It was just a bit unusual to see that kind of earpiece; especially since he did not have the appearance of anyone who exercised to stay in shape.

Well, part of “either” and “or” that we face every day can be either very exciting OR the very boring and not-unusual-at-all. I guess we want something very unusual to happen when we see something unusual, but when the guy returned without his earpiece, he took his coffee, set up his computer and then blended in with the other customers. Nothing at all distinguishable about him.

So, Patti and I finished our coffee and left. But as we were leaving, I could not shake the following song from my mind. Enjoy! By the way, where can I get a gig that pays me to slap my leg?


Tomorrow, it’s off to chemo and to see what the latest CT scan shows. Thank you all for your prayers and messages of well-being. God bless you all.

Yesterday was chemo day.

When I first arrived at Texas Oncology, a wonderful infusion nurse, Jean, greeted me to take my blood. Before anyone gets any infusion, technicians take your blood to make sure your body is safe and in good order to accept the infusion. So, blood and other readings always come first. Makes sense.

While she is taking my blood, Jean mentions that her son, who lives in Denver, was beginning to understand that “experience is the cruel teacher.”

“I’m not following, Jean.”

“Well, yesterday it was cold in the morning, so he went outside to his car to start it and warm it up. While it was running, he went back inside, and when he came back out to leave in the warmed car, someone had stolen his car. Experience is the cruel teacher.”

As Jean told me of her son’s incident, for some reason, an occurrence that happened to me many years ago entered the brain. Apparently, I had an example that reminded me immediately about experience being a cruel teacher.

I was raised primarily in New Mexico and Texas, hence no real winters. But when I was 23, again, several years ago, I got a scholarship to enter graduate school at Michigan State University. The green Ford Pinto station wagon was loaded and off we went to Michigan. Had no idea what to expect “up north,” but had my first inkling when on the drive up, stopped for breakfast in St. Louis. When the waitress came to the table, she quickly asked, “What can I get for youse guys?” Right then, I knew we weren’t in Texas, or the South, any more and we weren’t even halfway to Michigan. Good night, what could come next?

Beaumont Tower at Michigan State University

Beaumont Tower at Michigan State University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortly after arriving in East Lansing and finding a very small apartment complex (two buildings with six units in each building, and one parking lot with about 20 spaces). Shortly after classes started, Fall began to show up with beautiful foliage, hikes through the local arboretum and frost on the windshields. Each morning I had early classes and other dwellers were leaving for class or work. So, at any given time, I could see people in the parking lot at their cars, warming them up and scraping the frost off the windshields. Good for them.

On the other hand, I would take a pan of cold water out to the car, start it up and then pour the cold water over the frost. It melted it immediately and I would give a smug, ain’t I smart?, kiss-my-ass smile as I drove past the other dwellers off to class while they were still scraping and grumbling. My shit-eating grin satisfied me all the way to the college parking lot just a few miles away.

I did this for a couple of weeks, no doubt endearing myself to the others I would see in the parking lot each morning.

Then it got colder, but the routine didn’t. One day, I went out to the parking lot, started up the cold car while others were already warming their cars and scraping. As the car warmed, I raised my pot with the cool water for everyone else to see and then began pouring it on the windshield. Well, instead of cutting the frost, the cool water froze immediately and created a bigger mess on the windshield than I had before I spread the water. It just didn’t melt, and because I was from Texas, I didn’t have a scraper.

As others now left the parking lot before me, two shot me the finger, and three others gave me the same smug, ain’t I smart?, kiss-my-ass smile that I had given them as they left the parking lot — all of them laughing.

So, yesterday, when Jean was telling me about experience being the cruel teacher, it immediately brought the incident of the East Lansing cold weather and windshields to mind.

By the way, on the way to school that day, I bought a scraper. The next morning when we were all in the lot, we were all scraping. As others would drive past me, I would wave and show them my scraper. This time they waved and only began to laugh when they were past me in the parking lot. That was nice of them to wait.

Experience, indeed, can be the cruel teacher. Thank you, Jean, for jarring my memory.

“I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize!” — Comedian Steven Wright

A couple of times in the past I have written here about rhythm and how there is evidence of rhythm in just about everything we do. Whether it is noticing the bulging, oppressive nature of numerous identical huge columns on a federal building in downtown Chicago and just watching repetitive waves of ocean slamming the beach, there is rhythm all around us. I take a great deal of comfort in spotting these rhythms occasionally.

Just recently, I noticed, however minutely, the profound amount of irony that surrounds us, too, and how sometimes, if we’re not paying attention, this irony just plain passes by us.

Today, I was glancing through the online NYTimes, reading an update on the government shutdown and how Congress is going all out to get us through it. For a little extra oomph, the article mentioned all the catastrophic events that will slam the U.S. if the House and Senate do not get something going. The online page looked just like a regular printed page, except the advertisements on the screen were in color, while the normal printed page, they would likely be B&W. So, I am reading about all the gloom and doom, but one ad on one side of the screen talked about the absolute divine fashion of a designer with at least six syllables in his/her first name and two-to-three in his/her last. Hey, I could not tell gender in the name alone. And, I’m sorry that I don’t remember the names of fashion designers.

Also on the page was an ad that was willing to show me the photos of Sandra Bullock‘s new home in New Orleans. Wasn’t that sweet? Years ago, when I worked in newspaper journalism, editors got 8×10 sheets for each page in the paper. The sheet would show the names of the ads, and the space left over for the news.  Editors did not have a clue what the ads said until just shortly before the first edition hit the street.

So, I found it a bit IRONIC that I would be reading a story about the end of the western world (perhaps a slight bit of exaggeration), but I could also leave that page and see the latest fashion designs and intimate pictures of Sandra Bullock’s new home. Maybe the shutdown is just a speed bump and not a cliff after all.

And, here’s another example. Yesterday, Patti and I had to make a grocery run. It had rained earlier in the day, so the store was packed. Carts trying to dodge each other, people staring at products on the shelves and blocking others. Typical grocery run. But what was also slightly noticeable was the music playing over the store’s speakers. Not loud, mind you, but just enough that the sound would capture your attention if you were so inclined and listen a little more intently to recognize the song.

As Patti and I were going through the organic foods and vegetables, a song from the 60s, The Association‘s Along Comes Mary, began to play. And, for a few moments I found it incredibly IRONIC that we were walking through the freshest part of the grocery store, and a song I recognized from my youth about marijuana was wafting through the rows. For a few moments, I stopped and smiled while I listened to the lyrics. The Association was the very first concert I ever attended as a teen living in Houston. I loved Along Comes Mary, Cherish, Never My Love and Windy then, and I love the songs now.

If you are a little younger than me, here is a clip from the Smothers Brothers show in 1967 that shows The Association at their prime:

If I have to explain who the Smothers Brothers are, then go ask your mom or dad.


I have a good friend, Mark, who is perhaps the most prolific reader I have ever known. I estimate he goes through 3-4 books a week. I’m not exaggerating, and I envy his speed. And, he will let me know quickly if he reads more than that.

Not only is Mark a consummate reader, but the diversity of books that he reads is enormous. Mark reads a lot of suspense/thriller books, but he also reads a lot of literary fiction — those books by authors that don’t fit  “popular” fiction tag — Don DeLillo, Anton Checkov, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro among others. For me, literary fiction, and nonfiction, too, requires “effort,” and the books are not easy to read. I don’t mean to imply that anyone who reads popular fiction is lazy, it’s just that I am lazy with them. My patience wears really thin. I tried reading a Thomas Pynchon novel once and had to give up before the third chapter. Whoa!

Stephen E. Ambrose

Stephen E. Ambrose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for nonfiction, a month ago, I tried to read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about explorers Lewis and Clark. Like I said, I’m usually a fiction guy, but I tried. As I started reading, all that kept running through my mind was the following: “We walked a little down the river and we saw this … Or, we crossed over this mountain and saw that… Or, we noticed some teepees were up ahead and we approached cautiously …” It was a struggle for me to pull Lewis and Clark together. No spies, no loose nuclear bombs, no car chases, no unbridled sex, no D.C. madness (oh, wait, that was supposed to imply fiction not reality).

Well, you get the picture. I’m a lazy reader, or maybe unchallenged would be a more satisfying term. I tend to gravitate toward the Grishams, Cobens, Connellys, DeMilles, North Pattersons, Burkes — popular fiction. And I know I am not alone. Today, I read an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Turning Point, and the interviewer asked him what kinds of books filled his shelves. “Lots of books with the word ‘spy’ in the titles,” he said.

The closest I can come to literary fiction is Pat Conroy and Dennis Lehane. Both of these authors are not only great writers, but when I read their writing , I feel like I am exercising all my senses in unison.

So, I was a bit taken aback yesterday when I saw an article in the NYTimes about a recent study. The main point of the study is that people who read literary fiction are better enabled through their reading to understand what others are feeling. I read the article and, once complete, had some strong feelings. Sure, I want to be more empathetic, have more social perception and be more emotionally intelligent. The other implication is that you are more “hip” if you read literary fiction over popular fiction. But, hell, the fact that I even read at all is somewhat of an anomaly these days.

Let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t want to be Jay Leno and head out on one of his Jaywalks in Santa Monica and ask anyone whom he meets for the title of the latest book the individual has read. He my not have a Jaywalk segment that evening.

Below is the link to the NYTimes story about the study. Check it out; it is very interesting.

As for me, I might try again with the literary fiction, but for now I’m in the middle of Dan Brown‘s Inferno and Brad Meltzer’s The Fifth Assassin. I’ll work on my empathy skills later …

The New York Times (@nytimes)
A study finds that reading literary fiction makes you better at decoding what other people are feeling

Over the past few months, when I have discussed my cancer treatment with friends and family, a few have pushed back to ask why I chose to go the chemo route, especially when I had been so against it at the very beginning.

I finally have a good way to answer that. What follows in this posting are two versions of a song called The Water is Wide. There is a James Taylor version and a Karla Bonoff version.

I suggest you listen to them both:

WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVORITE? (I would really like to know)

Hard to pick one, right? Well, some may say, “I really don’t like the song at all.” Or, “it’s easier to understand the lyrics the way James Taylor sings it, but Karla Bonoff’s version is more emotional for the listener.” Seems a little bit like all the answers are right.

It’s kind of like the chemo, too. Every patient is different. I don’t like the chemo, but it seems to be helping right now. Whenever I go to the infusion center, I never see the same person twice. Everyone is unique and getting their chemo that matches their exact, specific needs. Some are there for hours, some for just a few minutes. Some bury themselves under blankets; others wander around the center. Some will talk their heads off; others are quiet. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone with a sad face, and that is a very real reason I keep going back.

I would just as soon not have any chemo at all but the tumors are shrinking or stable. So, for now, whenever we’re coming into the house late at night after being out, someone needs to be able to glow in the dark and shine a light on the key that gets us in the house. And, I guess that’s me for the time being.

Now, if you want to just plain get up and dance, there just ain’t nothing like the song below to help you do that!!! Isn’t music just about the best thing there can be?

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