The First Amendment: A Double-Edged Sword

american-flag-1It’s been awhile since last we spoke.  Personally, I have been having a hard time finding subjects on which I feel strongly enough to write.  My writer’s block has however been finally been broken by a flood of Facebook posts deriding the recent trend of National Football League (NFL) players refusing to stand; kneeling through; or raising black fists in protest of varying social conditions during The National Anthem.

The Facebook pleas encourage me to stop watching the NFL; to boycott league-sponsored merchandise and broadcast sponsors; and demand corrective action, even laws to punish the offenders.

Now most people, who know me, will expect me to come down hard and fast on the side of showing our National Emblem the deference and respect we believe it deserves without fail … ever.  And certainly I believe that …

What nags at me however is the thought that Respect for national symbolism – be it The Anthem or The Flag – trumps the Rights of the First Amendment, particularly that of Free Speech.  While I do not appreciate disrespectful displays or treatments of The Flag, what I choose to cherish most are the Freedoms that allow such behaviors as an expression of perceived failures or injustices.

Unfortunately for our various sensibilities, Respect for the First Amendment requires a higher level of tolerance for the ways in which our Freedoms are expressed.  Accommodating the freedom to express oneself requires an Advanced Degree in American Citizenship, particularly when its display encroaches on the symbols, institutions, and rituals for which we wear our Hearts on our sleeves.

This is not easy.  But then again, it was never intended to be easy.

Certainly we can express our scorn and anger at what we interpret to be unconscionable violations of national heritage and symbolism.  That freedom to express one’s disdain is covered in the same protections that allow the type of demonstrations that annoy the bejesus out of us.

We can publicly judge those who burn The Flag or choose not to stand for The National Anthem is the best – or only way – they can express their own anger and frustration.  But punishment and retribution?!?

No, those reactions are the purview of authoritarians, dictators, and oppressors who look to preserve their own peculiar claim to rule by denying Voice to the People!  This is not what Americans do.  It is not how we roll!

No matter how maddening the behavior …

Allow me please to reiterate, since I am sure some will take this message as endorsement of the practices.  I do NOT agree with flagrant displays of disrespect for my Country, its cherished symbols, or the Principles for which it stands.  What I do recognize is that there are degrees of disrespect I can live with, in the knowledge that our Founding Fathers no doubt intended for The Bill of Rights to be a challenge to both the Government and its citizens!

And I have had my moments in celebrating the actions inherent in those who Advanced Degrees in Citizenship spurred them to action!

I applauded – wildly, I might add – the Chicago Cubs’ Rick Monday, when on April 25, 1976 he ran from his outfield position to arrest the flag-burning attempts of two supposed war protesters.


Those of us who would appreciate Mondays’ quick actions should also recognize that demonstrations of national disrespect sometimes accomplish nothing more than to illustrate a protestor’s failure of perspective, particularly when they simply draw negative attention to the person or position they claim to support by physically mistreating or burning The Flag.  In my opinion, your cause, your candidate – even the people who support them – will suffer in our view.  When they fail to recognize or value the Sacrifices made by others, whose sacrifice allows them to express themselves so freely, they cheapen whatever message they are pushing.

There’s the rub really that protesters of this sort fail to appreciate.  You might attract limited, short-lived attention for your cause or position ; but that transient recognition will fade faster than the headshakes and mental “F— you!”s tossed your way by those drawn serendipitously into your protest.  For those whom your message is intended, you run the greater risk of alienating them rather than changing minds or opening a discussion.

The story is quite different when it comes to the quiet, almost reverential protests we have witnessed recently at football games … at least in my opinion.  These passive demonstrations, inspired by a back-up quarterback no less, where sitting or taking a knee as the National Anthem is played or the slightly more active stance of raised black fists is – if nothing else – much easier to manage emotionally.

We may not like such displays.  But we should also wonder why they are considered necessary by those protesting.

I may not understand the need to turn one’s back to The Anthem or to embellish one’s seemingly reluctant participation with a raised fist.  But many people do understand the need to take such action.  If they did not, we would not be having these conversations today.

And that’s really what that pesky, sometimes irritating Freedom of Speech is intended to do … Give voice to those who feel isolated or left behind, whether or not we can appreciate their position!

So no … Do not ask me to boycott the NFL or Pepsi or Hyundai or Papa John’s pizza simply because your sensibilities were offended by a kneel or a clenched fist at an inappropriate time.  Because I have news for you …

The emotions you feel, the reactions you have to such displays are exactly what the Founding Fathers were likely hoping might occur when one group or another feels the need to draw attention to their perceived plight in any way that stirs our emotions.  The Stars and Stripes is a collection of fabric to which we attach a great deal of pride and symbolism; but it’s the Fabric of our Nation, expressed in the Freedoms passed down to us, that makes all things possible.

I leave you with this






No, I don’t … Honest!

49370Dear Sam’s Club Shopper:

I want to be completely open and honest, now that you’re not standing in front of me with that inquisitive look, no doubt thinking to yourself, “Does he use these things?!?”

I don’t … honestly.

I know you saw me perusing the selections and placing the Bulk Economy package (Then again, what else does Sam’s Club sell?) into my cart.  I know that you were only looking for a recommendation … from a guy … who MIGHT use them, even if you can’t come right out and ask that question without running the risk of insult or embarrassment (mine, not yours).

I know I shouldn’t feel awkward or uneasy discussing what has become a more frequent, open, and necessary product.  Of course I knew that whenever Carol asked me to pick up “feminine needs”.

I know there’s nothing odd, weird, or emasculating about running such a loving errand. Still it made me a bit skittish and self-conscious.  Just like our conversation today.

I swear … I really was buying them for another family member. I swear …

Just stop looking at me like that!

Or was that just my skittish, self-conscious imagination?  Maybe it was the fact that I had mumbled to myself … right before you walked up to me,  “I wonder if anyone who sees me thinks I need these things?”

Sometimes I am my own worst enemy.


By the way, your father seemed like a very nice man when he rejoined you and we exchanged knowing glances.  He’s lucky to have someone, who is looking out for him and doing everything they can to maintain his dignity in a difficult, but thoughtful way.

My wife, Carol, could teach a few things on the subject of taking care of our parents.

I hope I helped what little I could.

It’s never easy to confront the ravages of age.  Most of us will get there in due time.  Let’s hope we have those to take care of us when the time comes.

A most unlikely Senator

The 2016 election cycle will bring enough fireworks at the National level for many people to forego down-ticket races that do not directly involve their vote. In a political season where being The Outsider threatening to turn over the Party Table and chase the money-changers from the Temple, it’s the long shot, disruptive dark horse that is drawing attention and excitement … with varying degrees of success.


John Fetterman … an unmistakable physical presence

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders draw the bulk of attention at the Presidential level. For those not living in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it might also be interesting to watch the race for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania … especially if John Fetterman wins the Pennsylvania Democrat primary for the Senate nomination!


How does a U.S. Senator live something like this down?

Fetterman is nothing, if not the most atypical candidate for Senate since Al Franken attempted – unsuccessfully IMHO – to shed his Saturday Night Live persona when he went on to win a Senate seat in Minnesota. The difference between the two is that John Fetterman has been a serious man … always serious. And he has a successful background as a man who has gotten things done politically and socially.

Fetterman was born to teenage parents who struggled financially until John’s father started his own insurance business.  He attended his father’s alma mater – Albright College – and successfully completed his Masters in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  In between, he did volunteer stints with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America and AmeriCorps.

His AmeriCorps gig landed him in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a bedroom community to the long-gone steel mills of Andrew Carnegie in and around Pittsburgh.  The town lost most of its jobs with the disappearance of the American steel industry.

In 2005 Fetterman challenged the incumbent mayor and won election by a single vote!  The job paid $110/month, barely adding much financially to his $30,ooo/year job directing the Out-of-School-Youth Program.  He won re-election in 2009 by an almost 3-1 margin.

He purchased the First Presbyterian Church, slated for demolition, a nearby abandoned warehouse, and numerous house, which he redeveloped and offered with cheap or free rent.  Fetterman used the promise of cheap rent and initiated a rebirth of Braddock as an artsy Renaissance town complete with a two-acre organic garden managed by the Braddock Youth Project.

091023-Fetterman-hmed-10a.grid-6x2Those accomplishments certainly qualify John Fetterman as a most interesting and active public servant.  But it’s his non-conforming physical and vocal presence that really sets him apart from the usual dry, buttoned-down Senate types.

Fetterman is physically imposing at 6’8″ tall, weighing 320 pounds.  He has numerous tattoos, an imposing bald head, huge unruly chin beard, and a manner of plain dress that will definitely shake up the sleepy U.S. Senate chamber, if he were to get that far.

So deep is his dedication to Braddock, he has its Zip Code tattooed inside one arm!

Unfortunately, Fetterman trails a lightweight front-runner in Katie McGinty, whose limited claims to fame were serving in various National and State environmental roles and as Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s campaign manager …

… And then there’s wacky Liberal re-tread Joe Sestak.

As a Republican sure to vote for incumbent Senator Pat Toomey, I tend to tune out the most liberal Democrats, as I was John Fetterman.  That was until I saw the following Fetterman ad.  Then I read his resumé …

If one concedes John Fetterman has a hopelessly uphill battle to bring his unorthodox – but productive – style of politics to the Senate, one cannot but hope he finds a way to continue his work in Pennsylvania. His sense of empathy and get-it-done attitude is something from which we all might benefit!



The Inconspicuous News

American Board of Thoracic SurgeryDr. Achintya MoulickDylan PurcellTom Avril Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Children’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaDiscussion and comment on selected articles from The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, March 20, 2016.

(Jeff Gamage) printed an article, Those Kids Never Got to Go Home about a small, sad cemetery located within the confines of the U.S. Army base in Carlisle, PA. … about 125 miles west of Philadelphia.

The U.S. Army base in Carlisle, PA is the object of an unusual request from the Rosebud Sioux Indian tribe of South Dakota.  Long before the army base existed, the site was home to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the flagship of federally-funded, off-reservation boarding schools where the motto was “Kill the Indian, save the Man.”


A photo of the student body of the Carlilsle Indian School from March, 1892, is photographed on the school grounds where it was taken. The Rosebud Sioux in South Dakota have begun efforts to repatriate the remains of the 10 Rosebud students buried on the Carlisle school grounds. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Within the Army’s current home 186 graves of Indian children from numerous Native American tribes.  The children victim of disease, abuse, and inadequate care at the industrial school intended to assimilate Indian populations with white culture and society.  The children were largely the offspring of Indian chiefs, who were convinced by the program’s agents that the children would be properly educated and better prepared to lead their scattered tribes to relationships on more equal footing with their white counterparts.

The intent of the program might be looked upon today as simply one of those backward thinking, even “progressive” attempts to help a defeated and exiled people to adapt and even prosper within the dominant society.  Maybe even a noble cause to promote better relations with the Europeans, who were spreading westward like ants.

However the abuses, including forced labor, beatings for refusal to speak English, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate care, exposed the program as an attempt to expunge Indian cultures.  These 186 children never made it Home.

The Rosebud children were sent 1400 miles away from home. Some were pried away from parents forced with the choice of giving up their children or their food rations.  Many of the children died from diseases and malnutrition, some due to abuse.

675abb611e806736640cba306701eeb7Leaders of the Rosebud Sioux tribe had forgotten about the spirits of their dead children buried (some without parents even knowing they were dead) so far from home.  The issue was raised after a group of young Rosebud students visited the cemetery after a trip to Washington, D.C. last Summer for the Tribal Youth Gathering.

Now I never understood the motivations and mindset of our earlier American ancestors as they set upon a vanquished Nation, taking advantage of Position and Power to denude Indian cultures and then to exploit them in their imposed poverty.  This example seems to be one of the more egregious ones, although the effort does reflect much of the social and cultural thinking of the time.

I hope we have evolved beyond that kind of social engineering think.

As for the Spirits the Rosebud Sioux insist are restless to return home, demonstrated – they say – by the swarm of fireflies that visited the cemetery after a traditional Sioux ceremony, the Army should simply allow the Rosebud Sioux to take their children home.


Next up is a rather disturbing article about the length of post-operative stays at Philadelphia’s St. Christopher’s Hospital for complicated newborn cardiac surgery vs. stays for similar procedures at regional counterpart, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).  The article, Recovery Times for Newborns Lengthy, written by Tom Avril and Dylan Purcell, suggests the extended stays at St. Chris’ have much to do with the quality of post-operative care.

6e1c643a636c67f002280f826731ae3e.jpgThe Inquirer’s study, based on a review of insurance claim forms, follows another study that found St. Christopher newborn cardiac patients were also much more likely to die than similar patients at CHOP.  St. Christopher’s recently stopped all non-emergency heart procedures as it conducts an internal review of its heart surgery program.

As bad as all that is, one also learns that Dr. Achintya Moulick, head of the heart surgery at St. Chris’ is not certified by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery!  This in contrast to the other five heads of pediatric heart-surgery program in Pennsylvania and Delaware.  Dr. Moulick does possess certification in thoracic surgery from the University of Bombay (Mumbai) in India … from 1995!

Now, I’m no medical professional, but I would presume that in the 21 years since Dr. Moulick attended the University of Bombay, there have been a few changes in the ways thoracic surgery is performed, particularly for infants.  When you consider that the Head of Thoracic Surgery also sets the tone for those performing under him, you get the idea that maybe it’s time for Dr. Moulick to break out his “How to …” books and seek an American-style recertification from this particular century!


Finally a story, Bringing Down Blumberg, by Aubrey Whelan on the history and destructive end on the Norman Blumberg Apartments at 22nd and Sharswood Streets in North Philadelphia.  Blumberg was built in the late 1960s as a high-rise apartment complex dedicated to low-income residents.

l_phabuildings-3“But within a few short years, the towers came to typify all that had gone wrong with the public-housing policies of the 1960s – a symbol of misguided urban planning, concentrated poverty, and official neglect writ large.”

Two intricately related resident reactions – just seven years apart underscores the kind of hopelessness that permeated mass low-income urban housing in many parts of the country.  In 1967, the day Blumberg opened to its brand new residents, one gushes how “Each resident helps out the other.”.  Just seven years later after a gang-rape at Blumberg, a resident told The Inquirer, “The amazing thing is that no one helps anybody out.”


Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

For years now, I have had difficulties understanding the attraction of a song we never hear at any time other than the Christmas season. That’s kind of weird really, because whenever you listen to the song you never hear a reference to Christmas or the holidays in general.

Yes … Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

But to be honest, I hadn’t really wondered aloud about why it’s considered a “holiday tune” until I downloaded the song – in one of it’s many, many versions sung by many, many artists – to my iPod. Then, after a few years of hearing it only during the playing of my Christmas playlist, thinking to myself, “What the hell does this have to do with Christmas?”

And in these Days of Enlightenment, the lyrics are simply creepy! At least in Neptune’s Daughter, the movie where the song made it’s premiere wide distribution, the women get a bit of a turn-around in the second part of the song, which featured the comical interpretation by Red Skelton. But it’s the first part of this popular song duet, as sung in the movie by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams, that most listeners connect with.

Unfortunately, and for good reason, that connection – as Jessica Cantrera writes in The Washington Post– is “icky”.

The song obviously is the whimsical version of the classic late-night attempt at seduction. The wily male working his mystical – or mythical – charms to seduce the seemingly attracted, yet uncertain, female. Plying her with compliments, alcohol, and his “worries” she might suffer hypothermia due to the rampant Winter weather.

But in this day and age, when we consider ourselves so much more enlightened, critics point to the female’s repeated desires to leave, although she seems unwilling to “break the spell”, the phrase “Hey, what’s in this drink?!?” (and flashes perhaps of Bill Cosby), and the females pointed, “The answer is ‘No!'” as indications of something more sinister.

Maybe they are right …

Now I have a theory about the hows and whys the song became and remained so popular. It’s my own personal theory, which I do not recall ever hearing discussed, so I’ll lay it out there for you to consider. But first some history on the song itself

Frank Loesser

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was written Frank Loesser – an accomplished Broadway composer (Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) – in 1944, and performed by he and his wife, Lynn Garland at their house-warming party. They performed it together for years before Frank sold the song – to his wife’s consternation – in 1948. The song appeared in Neptune’s Daughter (1949) and won an Academy Award that year for Best Original Song.

Now my theory is wrapped in the biggest event circling the globe in the year Loesser wrote the song, 1944 and World War II.

It’s not hard to understand the attraction the song may have had for those in our parents (and grandparents, great-grandparents) generation. At a time when the song was published (1949), many men had come home just a few years prior after witnessing and participating in one of the largest, most tragic periods of American history. Many of these men may have witnessed the deaths of friends in the most grisly of manners. Many had killed men themselves in the most grisly of manners.

In my mind, it’s not very hard to understand a mindset that suggested living Life to its fullest; refusing to allow opportunities for Life, Love, or Fun to pass by. Perhaps the song touched that chord that suggests living for Today and being bold enough to pursue such pleasures.

The same chord might have just as easily been struck in the women of the day as well. Many of them fresh off the assembly lines of the war, building tanks, trucks, airplanes, bombs, etc. Some say the female subject of the song was exercising a form of liberation by not conforming to the expectations and standards of a society after shouldering the burden of liberating the World from fascist oppression.

She earned many a hefty paycheck and the Independence that goes with financial power. Perhaps she is flaunting social convention as held by her parents, siblings, maiden aunt, and even her neighbors … She simply doesn’t sound so sure that’s a good idea!

Maybe … After all the sexual revolution would be just 15-20 years away in 1949; and certainly some of that rebelliousness would have been felt by both sexes coming off four years of liberating responsibility!

Then again … The fact that the original song score referred to the male role as the “wolf” and the female role as the “mouse” coats the entire subject once again in potential ickiness.

Only you simply cannot get past the fact that the song has amassed incredible popularity for those generations that preceded us! You only need look – even now – at performers still singing the song every holiday season: Seth MacFarlane and Sara BareillesIdina Menzel and Michael BubléDarius Rucker and Sheryl Crow. And that is in just the last two years!

But certainly, it seems the song has outlived its playfulness.

Heck, I still can’t get passed the fact that it’s considered “holiday music”. And for the past few years, every time it came up on the iPod rotation I would mention this to whomever was sitting next to me who might – or might not – care. It has gotten to the point where Carol now will immediately say, “Yes, I know … Why is this a Christmas song?!?”

I can be a bit redundant. Surprise!

Now it’s becoming common to drag the song out into the light and bludgeon it with images of Bill Cosby (as Saturday Night Live did recently) or date rape as “Funny or Die” portrayed the song.

Personally, I think that’s a bit unfair as parodies seem to be sometimes. After all in all versions of the song, we are left to imagine what the outcome was. Can any of us say it was Good or Bad? Who are we to judge?

I do have a healthier respect for the song now that I have read of its origins, the man who created it, and its initial purpose. And frankly, until today I had never seen its basic premise turned around 180 degrees, as it was in the second part of its Neptune’s Daughter version.

One must concede that its imagery and language are dated and present complications for a society firmly ensconced in no-pressure sexuality, where slick talk or chemical gimmicks are rightfully seen as robbing individual choice. Yet I can not ignore that initially it was simply a quaintly mischievous song, written by a renown composer to be sung with his wife to family and friends as a way of saying “Good night, the Party’s over.”

Now, someone needs to explain to me how this duet became associated with the Christmas holidays!

Trump Is Wrong On Muslims … Kinda

Donald Trump made a rather bold and infuriating statement the other day. He also told the Truth … at least in part.  And what he said was what a lot of people wanted to hear.  Of course a lot of people didn’t want to hear it too.

Both groups were right.

Trump told us that Americans do not want and that America should block all Muslims from immigrating to the United States from Syria.

He was right and he was wrong.

As a country, we have grown past religious tests.  We are not perfect.  We have had them.  We have learned, sometimes the very, very hard way.  We have – collectively – moved on.

JFK was too Catholic for some people, who feared the Pope would be running the country.  Of course the earliest settlers came here to flee British religious oppression, only to set up their own style of religious repression here.  And there were flirtations with Nazi extremism in the late 1930’s, and then that very uncomfortable World War II prelude in the voyage of the St. Louis, loaded with Jews to be denied entry to the US though they could view the lights of Miami from on-deck.

But we’ve grown past all that. Or so we thought.

No, Donald … We do not exclude people from our country just for religious reasons. It’s the lowest form of exclusion, right next to race.

But you can’t really blame the approach to a problem that – in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino – has a lot of people avoiding crowded spaces, high-value locations, and mass public events.  The demographics drive you to the Conclusion … almost.

Personally, I don’t think you target all Muslims.  You can whittle down the high-risk pool by narrowing the focus to the true demographic … the demographic prized and targeted by the extremist political factions we worry about most … young, unattached to family, disenfranchised Muslims.

Trump is partially right, but importantly wrong.

Then there’s the other lessons from our History, that give you a look at how Presidents in the past have over-reacted when you have the luxury of 20-20 hindsight.

Jimmy Carter cancelled the visas of Iranian nationals who might visit the US during the Iranian hostage crisis.  But this was not a “national security measure” as much as it was a pressure point to force Iran to comply with demands to release the hostages.

And it wasn’t based on religion.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt – on the other hand – went a bridge-too-far in interning 120,000 Japanese nationals during World War II.  He indeed did this for National Security, but on purely racial terms, which is horrendous even if you can dismiss the fact that few Germans or Italians were similarly interned.

Were his actions contrary to American ideals?  Definitely.  Were they productive?  Hard to tell from the existence of a negative (the absence of wartime sabotage).

Were the actions reasonable, given the events of the time?  Certainly, they provided a sense of greater security at a dangerous time in what was seen as vulnerable areas.  Remember, Japanese forces invaded and created a tenuous foothold in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Looking back, were the measures excessive?  Certainly … But you do have the Luxury of Hindsight!

Let’s look at the official release from the Trump campaign.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on .”

Now I’m willing to bet dollars-to-doughnuts that not too many sources condemning the Trump issue provided those last 11 words.  And if you really think about it, it’s not far off the same reasoning FDR used.  Securing what was perceived as the riskiest elements of the country’s western population until they could figure out what was going on.

Frankly, given all we know the reaction makes perfect sense.  After all, there are no Uruguayan basketball players heading to America with the intent of shooting up the infidels.

But it goes too far.  It’s far to broad and is based purely on religious belief.  It reeks of prejudice and violates American ideals.

So let’s take the most reasonable, sensible, and fair approach.

Ban all young, unattached, disenfranchised Muslims until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

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.