In Memory of a Dog named Zoe

IMG_1007After losing our pet Bichon Frise last week, I intended to share my own recollections on a family member with whom all three of our sons grew up.  But instead I’d like to share the feelings expressed by the family poet laureate, Alex Shortall.

Since this has already been a tough week, particularly for Carol, I will reserve my thought and memories for a future post.

Alex’s heartfelt expressions are framed by literary excerpts he thought were appropriate to our loss.

Many years ago, when the first cement sidewalks were being laid in our neighborhood, we children took the paw of our dog Mickey and impressed it into a kind of immortality even as he modestly floundered and objected. Some time ago after the lapse of many decades, I stood and looked at the walk, now crumbling at the edges from the feet of many passers.

No one knows where Mickey the friendly lies; no one knows how many times the dust that clothed that beautiful and loving spirit has moved with the thistledown across the yards where Mickey used to play. Here is his only legacy to the future – that dabbled paw mark whose secret is remembered briefly in the heart of an aging professor.

The mark of Mickey’s paw is dearer to me than many more impressive monuments – perhaps because, in a sense, we both wanted to be something other than what we were. Mickey, I know, wanted very much to be a genuine human being. If permitted, he would sit up to the table and put his paws together before his plate, like the rest of the children. If anyone mocked him at such a time by pretending to have paws and resting his chin on the table as Mickey had to do, Mickey would growl and lift his lip. He knew very well he was being mocked for not being human.

The reminder that he was only a poor dog with paws annoyed Mickey. He knew basically a lot more than he ever had the opportunity to express. Though people refused to take Mickey’s ambition seriously, the frustration never affected his temperament. Being of a philosophic cast of mind, he knew that children were less severe in their classifications. And if Mickey found the social restrictions too onerous to enable him quite to achieve recognition inside the house, outside he came very close to being a small boy. In fact, he was taken into a secret order we had founded whose club house was an old piano box in the backyard. We children never let the fact that Mickey walked on four legs blind us to his other virtues.”

– Loren Eisley, “The Night Country”, Chapter 6: Paw Marks and Buried Towns

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Today at 3 p.m. I felt one of my oldest childhood friends shudder and die in my arms.  At the veterinarian’s office, they have a special room where families go to spend their last few moments with a beloved pet, and when you’re ready, you flick a switch which summons the doctor who brings The Injections, first one white to relax the muscles, and then one pink to stop the heart. I couldn’t stop thinking, how many families have cried here together over an animal which is probably too distressed and sick to be aware of their presence? I’m not sure if Zoe knew whose company she was in at that moment, being blind and deaf and panicked, and had she seen me, would she have recognized me?

At the end of it, her head rested softly on my lap, staring straight ahead but seeing past everything, and I wanted nothing more than to close her eyes for her and let her sleep, but dogs don’t have eyelids the way we humans do, and the stubborn things stayed open. My dog’s ears were floppier than mine, her nose wetter, her body crippled and twisted by what was likely a stroke, and the hair on her face was a bit cleaner and sparser than mine. In the next day or so she’ll be ashes, returned to us, and then returned to the earth. I have a few photos of her on my phone and in my room, and her toys still lay around the house, my own childhood toys mangled and gnawed from her days as a vicious pup, but no dust or pavement will ever hold her mark. Her paw print is more an internal impression, which is me remembering how it felt to have her next to me.

Her mark is unique. It is the feeling of her chin on my thigh, her fur between my fingers, the shift as she rolled aside to let me scratch her belly, and watching her eyes slowly close in a peaceful slumber, knowing that in a few hours she’d be awake again, ready to walk or eat or watch my mom prepare dinner in the kitchen. I know now that she will never wake again, and that’s okay. She put in her fifteen years as a loyal and steadfast friend, the first animal I ever loved as all animals should be loved. She taught me a lot about what it means to be human, but also that being human isn’t so much special or better than being anything else. I wouldn’t trade my life for that of a dog, but neither would I choose it.

I love you Zoe. Rest in peace. I’ll meet you in the ether when the light flickers out.

Please send my mom good vibes in any way you can. She loved that dog more than anything, and fought hard to keep the candle burning. She will miss their walks dearly.

Best wishes,
A bad boy who lost a good pup
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”

– Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass”, Section 6

The Hole in our Home

The hole in our home
Is not huge by any measure.
’Tis simply one of
Life’s little treasures.

The hole in our home
So recent in the making,
Was a loss we expected,
Quite common is its aching.

The hole in our home
Was Love with no conditions.
Affection given freely
No matter our dispositions.

This hole in our home
Our sweet memories will jog.
For the hole in our home
Is in the shape of a dog.

You will always be with us, Zoe!
Rest in Peace

You could never trust her to properly decorate the Christmas tree. But she was a good and loyal dog!

You could never trust her to properly decorate the Christmas tree. But she was a good and loyal dog!

Why and “How officials handle top-secret data matters”!

240_F_68272941_RxnsIm3EgCbifoDHEe0ZUrTW1d95iDO0Here’s an interesting read on the Hillary Clinton‘s e-mail controversy, why it’s an important issue, and how it could end up with criminal charges. Only the “Whom will be charged” is the question.

John R. Schindler is a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer.

As the author notes, Clinton partisans are betting on the Public’s ignorance in these matter and argue that the Government routinely “over-classifies” intelligence. This might be true of the difference between “classified and unclassified”, but the issue of Top-Secret information is an entirely different matter.

Most interesting points:

  • After reviewing just 40 e-mails from Clinton’s trove of hidden e-mails, two should have been designated “top-secret/special intelligence” containing information from intercepted FOREIGN communications, including SOURCES and METHODS used to obtain the info.
    • Revealing sources and methods puts assets at risk and provides adversaries with feedback on the weaknesses in their intelligence networks.
    • The sampling suggests hundreds or thousands of such occurrences.
    • U.S. intelligence agencies are angry about such security breaches
  • Worse … Since top-secret info travels on entirely separate systems throughout the Federal Government, it is impossible that Clinton herself or a staffer “blithely or unknowingly” cut-and-pasted such top-secret information into an unclassified e-mail.
    • It is likely that Clinton or her staff were systematically taking information from classified systems; stripping them of the proper classification markings; and sending the information out on unclassified systems!
    • The above not only violates numerous federal regulations, it’s a FELONY criminal act!
    • The only question then is WHO directed the cultivation of such intel in this matter. Could it have been Clinton herself?!?
  • Whether Clinton was the sender or the receiver matters not. She should have recognized the violation and reported it immediately.
  • Everybody with a top-secret/special-intelligence classification – including the Secretary of State obviously – receives training on recognizing and handling valuable information.
  • For MONTHS, Clinton’s personal server was wholly unencrypted! Given the value of any information flowing from any SecState, almost certainly the Russians and Chinese – at the very least – were reading her correspondence during that time.
    • Current SecState John Kerry acknowledged recently that simply assumes foreign intelligence services are reading all his unclassified e-mails.
  • It’s difficult to dismiss that Clinton – after the scandals from the Bill administration – purposefully acted to eliminate an e-mail trail, so she decided to skirt federal records laws

So if you don’t already question Hillary Clinton’s suitability for the most powerful position in the country, you should consider how less safer we might be with her there!

Rocky Balboa, the common cold, and “Family Feud”

latestThose three things are an unusual combination.  And although there’s nothing Rocky Balboa, the common cold, and “Family Feud” have in common with each other, they converged to create a social phenomena in Pennsylvania in the Spring and Summer of 1977.

The Pennsylvania Lottery was only five years old at the time; offering only a Daily Number (3-digit) until recently adding scratch-off instant lottery tickets.

It was May 1976.  Tom and Philomena Drake had been married for two years and living in McMurray, PA when Tom happened to plop into a seat in a Pittsburgh movie theatre to see the critically acclaimed movie, “Rocky“, about a down-trodden Philadelphia club fighter thrown by happenstance into a title fight against Apollo Creed, the Muhammad Ali-like Heavyweight Champion of the World.

It was the planting of a seed that would soon sprout for Tom Drake a tree of dubious inspiration.

One year later, Philomena came down with a cold.  Their doctor told them that stress was contributing significantly to her health issues.  The Drakes were pulling in roughly $20,000 a-year in wages, and they were never seeing each other. She working during the day as a secretary at U.S. Steel; he as a neophyte real estate salesman working many nights and weekends.

Tom was looking for a way to relieve their financial pressure and maybe – just maybe – allow Phil to give up her job.  Or as Tom put it, “What can I do so she can quit her job and we can get closer together?”

richard-dawson-440_featured_photo_galleryThat Monday Tom was watching “Family Feud” (the original version with the since deceased Richard Dawson) and that – amazingly enough – was the clincher!  Somehow Tom put together his wife’s physical malady, a movie about a brawler’s a never-ever Big Stage opportunity, and a game show highlighting overly energetic family members being alternately wooed and ridiculed by a smarmy Brit in a nice suit to come up with a – not surprisingly – wacky idea.

Tom called his wife at work; told her to come home right away; to not even wait for the bus.  Take a cab ($20 fare)!  When Philomena arrived at home, she found that her husband had cleaned out their savings account ($1100.) and then announced the fruit that had flowered from that Tree of Dubious Inspiration.

His idea:  Liquidate all their assets and buy $20,000 worth of $1 Pennsylvania “Instant Bingo” scratch-off lottery tickets!

The goal:  Win the grand prize of $1,000-a-week for Life!

State lotteries were new back then.  So when someone saw what looked like a get-rich-quick scheme, they perhaps did not take as close a look at the odds of winning.  The odds, under the method Pennsylvania was using for “Instant Bingo” and awarding the grand prize, came out to 35,000,000-to-1.  But since the Drakes were intending to buy 20,000 tickets, a local university professor calculated the odds at 1700-to-1.

Not exactly a sure thing …

Once State lottery officials heard of the scheme, they tried – unsuccessfully – to talk the Drakes off their 20,000 ticket ledge.  To no avail, largely because of “Rocky” and “Family Feud”.

“The people want me to win.  They really believe I’m going to win.  I’m going to win.”, Tom said, climbing higher into that Tree of Dubious Inspiration.  He was certain “Rocky” had sent him a message.  No one gives up.  Family Feud proved ” … all over the country people were rooting for these people to win.”

In Tom Drake’s head they would root for Tom and Philomena Drake too.

Maybe they did.  Maybe they didn’t.  But certainly I can remember the story, and thinking to myself, “This guy is nuts.”  But what did I know.  Over the course of that Summer I lost track of the story.  The Drakes were scratching off tickets into November of that year.  I wondered from time to time how that all turned out.

1972_Chevrolet_Vega_HatcbackAmong the assets the Drakes sold were their furniture, two trotting horses, and three acres of farm land.  Despite the farm, they were living in a one-bedroom apartment.  They also sold their 1974 Chevrolet Vega.  (Remember those butt-ugly cars?)

There were two ways you could claim the top prize of $1000-a-week for Life.  One was to collect enough games pieces to spell out (There were letters on each “Instant Bingo” card.) “Pennsylvania”, “Lottery”, or “Bingo”.  The second method was to win a random drawing, where entry was controlled through qualifying numbers on the “Instant Bingo” cards, resulting in 42,000 potential entrants.  Ten (10) qualifiers would be picked from those 42,000, then one Grand Prize winner would be selected from those 10.

The Drakes’ dream amounted to allowing Philomena to quit her job; buying a nice house; raising a family; and allowing Tom to “… get into harness racing the right way.”  Hmmmm …. to that last one, but dreams are dreams.

Personally, I might have been satisfied with the horses and the farm land, though maybe not the Chevy Vega.

So how did it all turn out?

Through their first 1500 scratch off tickets, they won $500 (down $1000.).  After 3000 scratches, they had accumulated $700 (down $2300.).  $14,100. in scratch-offs later (roughly 200 scratches a day), they finished up by a thousand, having hit one $10,000. prize and several smaller hits.

Was it worth it? Going through all that work, the scorn, the shaking heads and perplexed looks, not to mention the obvious anxiety of “chuck(ing) it all” – as Tom characterized it – at a lottery long-shot dream?

Most of us would say, “No.”

But Philomena would disagree, echoing a statement by Tom quoted earlier in this post.  As they sat a card table in front of a drug store perfume counter, speaking to a reporter and frantically scratching instant tickets, Phil said, “We get to spend so much time together now.  We’re so much closer.”

Sometimes the Dream that gets answered is The One you really needed, not the Dream you thought you wanted.

Ponder the true purpose of Memorial Day

On Friday, May 22 I will strap my golf bag to a noble electric steed (i.e. golf cart) and spend four non-productive hours chasing a small, dimpled ball over hill and dale in a contest against Nature, technology, and my inner golf demons.

memorial-dayOn the same date in 1863, 79 Union soldiers would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor in what would be called the “forlorn hope” of a volunteer storming party attempting to breach the Confederate defensive works surrounding Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The plan, ordered by Union General Ulysses S. Grant, required the building of a bridge over a moat and the placement of ladders against the heights surrounding the town in preparation for the main attack which was to follow. Knowing the odds of survival were minimal to non-existent, only single men were asked to volunteer.  Despite this knowledge twice the needed number of volunteers stepped forward.  Many were turned away.

After being pinned down by Confederate fire in the ditch they were to cross, the party unsuccessful in their forlorn hope was unable to withdraw until nightfall.  Of the 150 men who made up the storming party, nearly half were killed.

On Saturday, May 23 I will cut the lawn; plant my usual late May impatiens; and perhaps finish off my piecemeal effort to mulch all the flower beds.

USS Squalus

USS Squalus

On the same date in 1939, the submarine U.S.S. Squalus suffered a catastrophic incident while conducting a “crash test” off the Isles of Shoals.  The crash test, designed to simulate the sudden dive of a submarine to avoid enemy detection, went horribly wrong.  A valve used to supply fresh air to the boat’s diesel engine was mistakenly left open.  The aft torpedo room, both engine rooms, and the crew quarters were immediately flooded. Thirty-three (33) survivors rushed to the forward compartments and awaited a rescue they had little hope of seeing.  A sister sub coming out of Portsmouth found the boat’s telephone buoy, and 40 hours later they were rescued.  Twenty-six (26) sailors drowned in the initial flooding.

On Sunday, May 24 we will take the three-hour trip near Williamsport, PA to visit our son, his wife and our first granddaughter, Harper.

On that date in 1968, 75 U.S. servicemen lost their lives in Vietnam.  To be honest, I could not find sufficient information to do justice to those who died that day in a land far, far from home. So I will simply list their names.

  • JOE E. ALLEN; Bay St. Louis, MS
  • CLARENCE J. BALDWIN; Cherry Valley, NY
  • JAMES P. BIRKS; Pattotomie, OK
  • JAMES D. BOWERS; Johnson City, TN
  • DONALD B. BUTTON; Charleston, SC
  • RICHARD A. CARLSON; San Franscisco, CA
  • DWIGHT W. CARROLL; Springfield, TN
  • WILLIAM E. CASSIDY; Baltimore, MD
  • CHARLES M. CHESSHER; Crestview, FL
  • JERRY M. CHITWOOD; Washington, OK
  • GEORGE W CLARK; Lakeville, CT
  • JOHN C. COLLINS; Moorehead City, NC
  • RONALD J. COOK; Phoenix, AZ
  • JOSE DAVILA; Chapman Ranch, TX
  • MICHAEL L. DEANE; Westfield, MA
  • MELVIN DIVENS; Chicago, IL
  • FRANK G. EAVES; Atlanta, GA
  • RICHARD C. FINA; Hudson, WI
  • WALLACE A. FORD; Huntington, WV
  • GARY D. FOX; Sheridan, WY
  • RONALD L. FRAZER; Cambridge City, IN
  • ROBERT A. HAYDEN; Bridgeport, WA
  • LYNN G. HIEBERT; Thief River Falls, MN
  • JERRY L. HILBERT; Louisville, KY
  • JERRY J. HILL; Minneapolis, MN
  • DAVID A. JACKSON; Tulare, CA
  • JOSEPH M. KAMINSKI, JR.; Wilmington, DE
  • DALE D. KENYON; Sioux Falls, SD
  • WILLIAM E. KNOX; Canton, OH
  • JOHN G. KOMERS; El Monte, CA
  • AL R. LEWIS; Memphis, TN
  • PAUL LEWIS; Saugerties, NY
  • JOSEPH D. MACK; Prairie Point, MS
  • GEORGE E. MASSIE; Clear Spring, MD
  • LARRY R. McFADDIN; Paintsville, KY
  • LARRY D. NOVAK; Platt Center, NE
  • GERALD T. PARMETER; Cazadero, CA
  • GARY L. PATTERSON; Seattle, WA
  • ROBERT M. PAULK; Vallejo, CA
  • GARY W. PURCELL; Torrance, CA
  • LAWRENCE G. RENO; Cincinnati, OH
  • HU B. RHODES; Shelbyville, TN
  • GLOUSTER RHYNES; Fort Pierce, FL
  • LARRY L. RILEY; Midwest City, OK
  • EMMETT RUCKER, JR.; Wichita Falls, TX
  • HERBERT E. SCHMIDT; Kansas City, MO
  • JAMES L. SHANKS; Freeport, NY
  • RONALD J. SHEWMAN; Los Angeles, CA
  • MICHAEL A. SMOGER; Two Harbors, MN
  • FREDERICK G. STEFFEN; New Baltimore, MI
  • BRENT L. SWABBY; El Monte, CA
  • PAUL R. THERIAULT; Cambridge, MA
  • TOUSSAINT L. TITUS; Fairfield, TX
  • PHILIP G. TURNER; Jackson, GA
  • DAVID H. WHITEHILL; Newburgh, NY
  • ROGER D. WILLIAMS; Roanoke, VA
  • FLOYD L. WILLIAMS, JR.; Northglenn, CO

On Monday, May 25 I will spend much of the day chilling and perhaps do some light yard work.

On that same date in 1862, 2400 Americans died in the First Battle of Winchester, VA. The battle proved to be an important strategic victory for Stonewall Jackson in his Shenandoah Valley campaign.

An undersized Union Army formation was forced to flee the town of Winchester, VA, which had been outflanked by Jackson’s defeat of the Union garrison at Front Royal, VA. The battle was one of many smaller conflicts during The Civil War that do not receive the attention of the larger, more notorious battles in the War Between the States.

Regardless of how one feels about the goals and motivations of the Confederacy, one must keep in mind that all who died had been Americans, and their sacrifice helped define what the United States of America would become in the decades to follow.

On Tuesday, May 26 the long Memorial Day holiday will be a wistful memory as many of us head back to work.  I will cheat a bit here to include one more memory in salute to those World War II veterans that are leaving us in sad, alarming numbers every week.

On May 26, 1942, Admiral Nagumo’s 1st Carrier Fleet sailed from Japanese waters for Midway Island.  His task force contains the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu with two battleships, cruisers and destroyers as escort.  The Battle for Midway Island was fought a few days later, from June 4-7.  The sea conflict occurred just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, at a time when the Japanese were largely unstoppable throughout the Pacific.  Three hundred and seven Americans died over those three days (Japanese losses: 3000 men, four aircraft carriers) as the American Pacific Fleet dealt a blow that would in effect end the hegemonic wave surging from Japan.  From that day forward, the tide of war in the Pacific would flow The Allies way.


Now this post is not intended to sour anyone’s Memorial Day holiday, although I have to admit, copying those 75 names from May 24, 1968 was more than a little sobering for me.

No, my intent is to simply encourage you to take pause during the weekend to remember the true purpose of Memorial Day … To remember those who died to birth our Country, to build and shape its future, and to protect that future from forces hostile to the ideals it embraces.

Have a great holiday!

Should Cuba return to our sphere of influence?

from The Philadelphia Inquirer (Clem Murray)

from The Philadelphia Inquirer (Clem Murray)

An interesting article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer about U.S. students who have been studying abroad in Cuba from before recent Obama Administration inroads. The main subject of the article attends Arcadia University, which is about 20 minutes from here. Personally, I think it’s high time we try something different with Cuba, since it’s not like the previous course was changing anything. Changing something – I think – is important, given the island is barely 90 miles from U.S. shores and has already been the inviting target of one global antagonist. Do we really want that to continue shunning Cuba, especially in light of China’s expanding interests?  What might the reaction be if suddenly China made its own inroad to Cuba? Also, the capitalist in me sees a HUGE market for American goods and an opportunity to change the direction of the Cuban people, once they see what a Capitalist system can provide. Just the market for 50-plus year-old junked auto parts would be amazing! old-cars-of-cuba-dsc_4474-1024But the bigger question is, how do you change the political climate of an island so close to the U.S. if you continue to work to isolate it?

Could you walk a mile in her shoes?

logoOK … Let’s get this out there right away.

I did not try it.

  • I was ill prepared for the challenge.
  • I was there – volunteering – with an entirely different task set.
  • I’m not sure I could or would want to.
  • I have weak ankles.

There it is.  My expansive list of extremely relevant factors restricting my participation.

The guys who did it? They looked like they were having fun.  Well, some did …

The event was the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event sponsored by the Laurel House in Norristown, PA.  I was there as a favor to a dedicated instructor and had no idea what the event was about.  We were there to help out with traffic flow and parking for an event at Heebner Park in Worchester, PA.

AR-150429760Laurel House advocates for and empowers those impacted by domestic violence by providing crisis intervention, safe haven, supportive programs and resources.  They also work to advance social change through preventative education and through community training and collaboration to foster a coordinated response to domestic abuse.

Apparently, this women’s shelter was a huge favorite of one of my Citizens Police Academy instructors.  So when he mentioned he was looking for volunteers for a few hours on a Saturday morning, I enlisted.

But it wasn’t until I got there Saturday morning that I saw the red high heels.  At first it didn’t click … That was until I saw the one guy get out of his car in a badly fit red cocktail dress and shiny red, thigh high, 4-inch heel boots.


No way, I thought.  Gotta see this!

But first some relevant facts:

  • 1 in every 4 women in the United States will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime
  • An estimated 1.3 million women in the United States are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year
  • The majority of family violence victims are female (86%)
  • The cost of domestic violence in the United States exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical care and mental health

11150612_377547345771124_6507808536351055125_nAfter two and half hours of Acting Enforcer of Ingress and Parking Privilege, I headed over to the event to watch the antics.  A mile … in ill-fitting high heels … Some of these guys were running in them.  Some just trying to run until realizing there is no way to walk in them let alone run.  How women walk around in those things, I know not.

It was funny.  It was absurd … some guys simply shouldn’t even try.  But it was also very cool to see some men getting the seriousness of the problem and doing what they could to help out.  Each participant collected pledges to be donated if they completed the mile.

Now, I have been very lucky.  I was never a witness to or present at a domestic violence situation.  At least not that I know of …

With 25% of all women experiencing domestic violence at some point in their life, you have to wonder.

I’ve been lucky … I think.