Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Speaking Out

Speak out, you got to speak out against the madness,

You got to speak your mind, if you dare . . .*

Since January 6, 2001, I have been bothered by the failure of Republicans in leadership positions to denounce Donald Trump for his attempt to overturn the 2020 Presidential election. For the first few days after the attack on our nation’s Capitol, some Republican leaders told the truth and placed blame squarely on Donald Trump’s shoulders. But within a few weeks of the event, Kevin McCarthy flew to Florida to pay homage to Trump and Mitch McConnell turned coward and refused to vote to convict the impeached former President.

The few truth tellers in the Republican party were marginalized. Liz Cheney was removed from her leadership position. Mitt Romney was booed while speaking at a state Republican convention. Instead of voicing support for those in the party who were brave enough to tell the truth, Republican leaders either swore fealty to the Big Lie or fell silent.

Many of these “leaders” have privately admitted they did not believe the Lie, but chose to support it because they feared losing the base of Trump’s support could cost them their seat in Congress. Losing power was more important than standing up for the truth and the rule of law.

While pondering the cowardice of these leaders, I had to ask myself, why had I not spoken up? Yes, my close friends and family knew where I stood, but I had been reticent about Trump and the current Republican party in my writing. Was I afraid of offending people on social media or concerned that some might not like me as well if they became aware of my politics?

On October 7, 2023 I turned 70. No one knows for sure how much time any of us has remaining on this planet, but at my age, one knows that time is limited. For thirty years I worked for corporations and law firms where I had to be concerned that expressing my views would offend management, clients or customers. That concern continued after I retired and started a blog. I didn’t want chase away any of the small number of readers that chose to visit my site.

The Bible contains a passage that says, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth.”  (Revelations 3:16).

So, I will write hot, or cold, because there is too much at stake in this country and the world to write lukewarm. And I hope people will listen.

Donald Trump plotted to overturn an election that he lost. He conspired to overthrow the democracy established almost 250 years ago by our Founding Fathers. He plotted to remain in power despite the will of the voters and the rule of law established by our Constitution. Consequently, Trump should be barred from ever seeking or holding any public office. That message needs to be shouted from the rooftops by all who believe that truth means something.

I’ll end by quoting from the song “Come from the Heart,” 

Dance like nobody's watching;

Love like you've never been hurt.

Sing like nobody's listening;

Live like it's heaven on earth.**”


To that I’ll add, “Write like there’s no tomorrow.”



* “Long Time Gone,” by David Crosby

** “Come from the Heart,” by Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Summertime Blues


Well, I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler,

About workin’ all summer just to try to earn a dollar,

Sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do,

‘Cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.* 

Remember those lazy summer days of our youth? No school and nothing to do but have fun for almost three months. Riding bikes all morning, retreating to the cool shade of the woods as the summer heat began to build, and playing hide and seek under the streetlights as darkness fell, until our parents called us in.

“You better get those chores done before you go off galivanting in the woods!” 

Oh, yeah. Summer chores. I remember them well from my boyhood in the 1950s and ‘60s.

My parents were children of the Great Depression. They bought a quarter acre in the suburbs south of Pittsburgh. My grandmother insisted that they put it to good use. That meant planting a big garden, putting in some fruit trees and buying some livestock to feed a growing family. The livestock, which consisted of chickens, rabbits and a duck, didn’t last. My father didn’t have the heart to do what had to be done to make dinners out of them.

On the other hand, our neighbor, who had 10 kids to feed, raised a menagerie of farm animals on their quarter acre lot. Those kids had to feed the ducks and chickens and gather their eggs. They had a nanny goat that had to be milked and a pack of “huntin’ dogs” – beagles, that had to be fed and watered every day.

My brothers and I didn’t have animals to feed, but there was always work to do in the garden. The tomato plants had to be watered virtually every day unless it rained. My father insisted they needed lots of water, delivered by watering can. A hose just wouldn’t do the job right in his opinion. My father knew that on those rare occasions when he allowed us to use the hose, my brothers and I would end up soaking each other rather than the tomato plants.

Another garden chore involved “dusting the beans.” My father punched holes in the lid of a mason jar and filled it with lime, which had to be shaken onto each plant to discourage rabbits from snacking on the leaves. Besides green beans and tomatoes, my father grew radishes, parsley, carrots, cucumbers, green peppers, and corn. One time, my mother sent me to the garden to gather some parsley. She was a little miffed when I returned with a bunch of carrot tops.

The chores didn’t stop when it came time to harvest. My parents canned more tomatoes than we ate fresh, so we’d spend hours sitting on the back porch struggling to peel the skin off the ripe, red fruit. My parents also canned green beans, so we’d be back on that porch cutting off the stems and tips and slicing the beans into bite-sized pieces.

We had two sour cherry trees; their fruit was best suited for cherry pies. After picking the ripe cherries, we would be back on that porch, cutting out the seeds while trying not to slice a finger. Destoning the cherries got a little easier and safer when my father heard that if you pulled the eraser out of a pencil and pushed it through the cherry, the pit would pop out.

There were a few chores for which my parents were willing to pay. For example, I earned a nickel for every half hour that I pushed my baby brother in the stroller. I was young and naïve enough to think I could get rich at that rate. As we got older, my father would pay us a dollar to wash his car. But he never thought to pay us to cut the grass on the large, hilly portion of our yard. On a hot, summer’s day, that was hard work!

As summer came to a close and school began, we looked forward to Saturdays.

“Those apples are getting ripe. You boys need to start picking,” my father would say.

So, my older brother and I would climb our massive tree, pick the apples and toss them down to our younger brothers to catch and put in buckets. We had to be careful because the yellow jackets liked those ripe apples as much as we did. My parents made applesauce out of most of them, canning the sauce in mason jars.

By the end of the summer, we were looking forward to returning to school. But while those chores often seemed to get in the way of our summertime fun, they also produced some great memories. And maybe, just maybe, they were the cure for our summertime blues.


*Eddie Cochran, Jerry Neal Capehart, 1958.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

I'm Your Handy Man


Hey girls, gather round,

Listen to what I’m puttin’ down,

Hey baby, I’m your handy man*


I worked as a lawyer for thirty years and have been writing for the past ten. So, why do I feel I also have to be handy around the house?

I might blame my father – a child of the Great Depression, a World War II veteran, and a steelworker. But after giving it some thought, I couldn’t remember him tackling many do-it-yourself projects. Usually, he would call a neighbor who had some skills. For bigger projects, he would bring in a contractor. I do remember him trying to fix a leaky water pipe, more for the swear words I learned than for his plumbing expertise. The one project he seemed to enjoy was his backyard vegetable garden. But the pleasure he got out of it may have been that it helped reduce the cost of feeding five growing boys. I recall that he abandoned the garden not long after his boys grew up and moved out.

Besides what I picked up from my father, I learned a few more handy man skills from my junior high shop classes. Since becoming a homeowner, I have put those skills to use with varying degrees of success. In my first house, I designed and built a utility table that I am still using forty years later. I installed a fluorescent light fixture in our next home and successfully replaced a leaky water line valve without near the number of expletives my father reserved for plumbing jobs. I even replaced a hot water tank at a friend’s house once upon a time.

On the other hand, I nearly wrecked our car while performing a do-it-yourself oil change when I failed to block the tires and the parking brake let loose. Sheer luck and a skillful tow truck operator prevented that project from being a complete disaster. Then there was the time I adjusted some valves on our hot water heating system. I didn’t correct the problem I was trying to fix, so I ended up calling a plumber anyway. He told me my adjustments could have caused our boiler to blast off like a rocket. His advice to me?

“You’re a lawyer, I’m a plumber. I won’t try to do your job, and please don’t try to do mine.”

My late father-in-law put it even better. “The shoemaker’s children have to eat, too.”

That’s true for any type of project that requires some professional expertise. I recently called a contractor when the towel rack in our bathroom fell after a previous attempt on my part to do-it-myself. Now the towel rack is solidly on the wall without fear that a wet towel will cause its downfall. And the damaged drywall has been perfectly restored.

Sure, there are a few jobs around the house for which I would be embarrassed to call a contractor, such as hanging a picture. But the number of those jobs continues to decrease as I get older and, perhaps, wiser. Maybe, I’ve finally come to the realization that I’m not your handy man. 


*Written by Jimmy Jones and Otis Blackwell, 1959

Saturday, March 25, 2023

A Good Walk, Unspoiled

My first job was caddying at the local golf course the summer after I turned 12. I received lessons on how to carry a bag, where to stand and how and when to pull the flag out of the hole. I earned three dollars for the four hours it took to carry a golfer’s bag over 18-holes. But the best thing about being a caddy was being allowed to golf on Monday mornings.

I cobbled together a mismatched set of clubs and enough balls to last me 18 holes. Typically, I would lose a half-dozen or so due to my horrible slice. Late at night as I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep, I would replay the round in my mind, trying to ferret out the mistakes that caused me to shoot in the neighborhood of 140.

My father was an avid golfer and let me accompany him when he played the nearby public courses with my uncle or my cousin.  Uncle Steve was cool as a cucumber as he consistently shot in the high seventies or low eighties. My cousin mostly scored in the eighties when he wasn’t throwing clubs after a bad shot.  My father was a nineties golfer with a temperament somewhere in between my uncle and cousin.

We would leave for the course early – when it was still dark. Dew was so thick on the grass that they took to wearing golf rubbers over their regular shoes rather than letting their golf shoes get soaked. My father never rode a golf cart. He would pull a cart and practically run between shots, typically finishing a round in less than three hours.

When I became an adult, I finally got around to buying a matched set of clubs. They didn’t do much to improve my game. Over the years, I took a few lessons which helped me correct my slice. But I never improved enough to break that elusive 100. During the 1990s, technological improvements in golf clubs brought graphite shafts and oversized club heads to help hackers, like me, improve their scores. I bought a set of these new, improved clubs. They helped a little; I didn’t hit as many errant shots. But I realized I was never going to get a lot better unless I practiced and played a lot more.

So, I asked myself if I really wanted to spend my time and money chasing around a little white ball for hours on end? I made two lists: 1) What I liked about golf and, 2) What I disliked about it. On the positive side, golf provided an excuse to get some exercise outdoors. But many golf courses now require golfers to ride a cart to speed up play. So how much exercise was I getting?  And when I thought about the frustration of chasing a bad shot, well, the positive aspects of golf weren’t exactly piling up.

On the negative side, a round of golf costs upwards of $100 these days. Sure, I could afford it, but wouldn’t I rather spend that $100 taking my wife out to a nice restaurant? Then, there is the equipment cost. A brand-new driver packed with the latest technology can cost $600. Also, playing 18 holes of golf can often take four hours in addition to the time it takes to get there and back home. Given that I’m fast approaching 70 years of age, do I want to devote that much time to golf when I could be spending it on something I actually enjoy?

I can understand why golf has often been referred to as “a good walk spoiled.” But is there a sport where a good walk is enjoyable? Less expensive? Less time consuming?

A few years ago my son introduced me to disc golf. It involves tossing a disc in the woods or across grassy meadows into a basket several hundred feet away. Like golf, disc golf has discs designed as long drivers and fairway drivers, as well as for closer approach shots and putting. A starter set of discs can be purchased for around $50. And so far, playing a round of disc golf will cost you nothing and can usually be played in less than two hours.

Like any sport, disc golf requires some practice to be able to get your disc to fly like it is designed to fly. Personally, I will never be able to throw a disc over 300 feet like many of the pros can do. And it can be frustrating, such as when my disc hits a tree 20 feet from the tee or when I miss a 6-foot putt.

But I do enjoy a walk in the woods and watching my disc sail through the air, somehow avoiding the cluster of trees in its path. And I appreciate the satisfying feeling I get when my disc makes the chains clink and drops into the basket.

My golf clubs sit in a corner of my basement, mostly untouched for the past several years. I’m not ready to get rid of them yet. But I’m glad to have discovered this new way to have a good walk, unspoiled.

Friday, March 17, 2023

They're Coming for my Guns!

I was shocked. Completely shocked. I had pulled the mail out of my mailbox and riffled through the stack of letters, magazines, and catalogues. Suddenly, I froze. The words on the envelope hit me like a cold slap on the face.

“NOTICE OF GUN CONFISCATION,” it screamed at me in all capital letters. I couldn’t believe they would go this far. But then Joe Biden is President, so how surprised should I be that it has come to this? My hands were trembling so hard that I dropped the envelope. As I picked it up off the floor, I took a few deep breaths to calm down.

“Now wait just a minute,” I said to myself. “What guns are they coming to take from me?”

My late uncle had given me a German pistol that he brought home as a souvenir from the Second World War. I had kept it wrapped up and hidden in a dark corner of my basement. But then I remembered that I had given that gun to my cousin who lives in Texas – surely a safe haven from government seizure.

Did I have any other guns? And if so, how did the government know about them? I thought for a minute, and it came to me. I had posted an article on my blog, titled, “A Gun Like Mine.” In it I mentioned having a 50-shot, pump action BB gun. That article also was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. So that’s how they knew! They are trying to pry my BB gun from my cold, dead hands, and I’m not even dead!

So why are they coming for my BB gun? I tore open the envelope and started reading.

“Dear Friend of Freedom.” Yes, I am a friend of freedom. I read further.

“Unless you fight back starting right now, you’ll soon face the real threat of having your guns confiscated along with your right of self-defense. No, I’m not talking about gun control. I’m talking about an actual ban on the firearms you currently own, government confiscation of those firearms, and you facing actual jail time if you fail to comply.”

I glanced up at the letterhead. This wasn’t from the government. It was from the National Rifle Association of America, Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President. In other words, the NRA. They were simply trying to frighten me into joining their organization.

The NRA is using fear as a recruitment tool? Sorry, Mr. LaPierre, that’s not going to work for me. Yes, I am a friend of freedom – the freedom to not be the victim of another mass shooting or gun-related crime. My freedom is jeopardized by the 72 million handguns and 20 million AR-15s that exist in the United States. They can be acquired quite easily by almost anyone who wants one. Handguns and assault rifles have only one function – to kill human beings. And the latest models are designed to kill lots of people very quickly.

If you want to use fear, Mr. LaPierre, fear the fact that over 45,000 people died from gun-related injuries in 2020 according to the Pew Research Center. More recently, 19 elementary school students and two teachers were shot last year in Uvalde, Texas. A mass shooting at the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York resulted in ten deaths. 

Congress actually passed a law in the wake of those mass shootings. That law provided for enhanced background checks for 18 – 21-year-olds, though only for purchases from federally licensed gun dealers. A provision to ban 18–21-year-olds from purchasing assault rifles like the AR-15 used by the 18-year-old shooter at Uvalde was stricken from the final bill in order to gain the support of a handful of Republican Senators. The entire bill was opposed by the NRA.

So far in 2023, there have been mass shootings in California – Monterey Park (11dead, 9 wounded); Half Moon Bay (7 dead); and, Los Angeles (3 dead, 4 wounded).

Mr. LaPierre, I don’t think Joe Biden is interested in my Daisy or the rifles used by hunters to put meat on their kitchen tables. If you want me to become a dues paying member sir, the NRA should cease its fear mongering and become an advocate for keeping people safe from guns.

I might just be interested in joining an organization that promotes gun safety.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Disorder in the Court


Jury Duty! Seriously? In downtown Philadelphia? This was my third Summons for Jury Service at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia in the past three years.  I was excused from the first one in early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the federal courts.

A year and a half later, I received my second Summons to report for either two days or one trial. I dutifully called the court before each of those two days and was told I was not needed. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

There’s a saying that the third time is the charm, and that turned out to be the case with my third Summons. I called in before the first day of my possible service and was relieved to hear I did not have to report. But the second day? Well, I guess my luck had run out.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a 30-year career as a lawyer. Though I was not a trial lawyer, I believe in the American jury system and recognize there is a duty to serve. But getting to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia by 8:30AM was, frankly, a bit frightening to me.

I’ve driven countless times into downtown Pittsburgh, and I’ve crawled along in New York City traffic dozens of times. But I’ve only driven into downtown Philadelphia a very few times. The instructions that came with the Summons said I had the option of staying in a downtown hotel, because I live more than 30 miles from the court. But did I want to pack a suitcase, drive downtown, find parking and dinner on short notice? And how many days should I pack for? The train was a third option, but I hadn’t been on SEPTA train since the beginning of the pandemic.

Fortunately, my wife is braver than I am. She volunteered to drive me to the courthouse. I agreed to take the train home since I didn’t have a deadline to get back. We left our house around 6:50AM. Our GPS told us it would take about an hour to get to the courthouse. We were somewhat skeptical as the GPS directed us to follow a number of back roads. But ultimately, it got us to the courthouse by 8:05AM.

I showed my Summons and photo ID to the security guard, emptied my pockets, removed my belt, and successfully got through the metal detector. I followed directions to the Jury Assembly room and was checked in by a clerk. Close to 100 people were already in the room when I walked in. I poured myself a cup of the complimentary coffee, picked up a pastry and found a seat that was sufficiently socially distanced from other prospective jurors, given that COVID is still around. I wasn’t the last to arrive. Others continued to filter in during the next hour, letting me know that my fear of some awful penalty for missing the 8:30 deadline was unfounded.

Around 9:30, the person in charge welcomed us and played a video describing the jury selection process. Shortly after the video ended, a clerk began to call names to assemble a jury pool for one of the trials that would take place that day. He called 55 names. Mine was not among them. The clerk led the fifty-five potential jurors out of the room to the elevators that would take them to the courtroom.

The group remaining had become significantly smaller.  Another clerk arrived and began to call names for the next trial. Only 22 prospective jurors were being called for this one. I held my breath as name after name was called. Then I heard my name. I was juror number 18. The clerk asked a few of the assembled jurors questions. I heard my name again. What was my occupation?

“Retired attorney,” I replied. He made a note. Then he led us to the courtroom on the fifth floor and seated us in the gallery. The judge introduced himself and briefly described what we could expect. Eight jurors would be picked from our pool of 22. This was a civil trial involving a personal injury and an insurance company. The good news, we were told, was that the trial would be over by the end of the next day.

The judge informed us that the process was more “deselection” than selection. The attorneys would eliminate prospective jurors based on their answers to questions posed by the judge. The eight not eliminated would be the jury for this case. The judge proceeded to ask questions. If a potential juror’s answer was “yes,” he or she should hold up a sheet of paper with their juror number, and that number would be noted by the judge.

Some of the questions were obvious. “Do you know the plaintiff?” “Do you know any of the lawyers?”  Mostly, my answers were “no.” Then, the judge asked whether any of us had studied tort law or the law of negligence. Well, it may have been forty years since my first year of law school, but I raised my juror number high to be sure the judge would see it.

When the judge had finished with his questions, the lawyers for both sides joined the judge at sidebar to deselect those jurors that they didn’t want on their jury. I had mixed feelings. If I were picked for this jury, my service would be over by the end of one more day. If I were not picked, I could still be picked for another trial, and who knew how long that would last?

They started to call juror numbers and instructed those called to assemble in the jury box. “Juror #3, Juror #6.” I counted as each number was called. They only needed eight. “Juror #11.” That’s seven – only one more, I thought. “Juror #14.”  I waited. Would they pick alternates? No. The judge dismissed us. I hoped they would tell us we were free to go home. Instead, they told us to return to the Jury Assembly room.

The Jury Assembly room still contained a fair number of people besides those returning with me. It was a few minutes past noon. We were told we could go to lunch, but that we should be back by 1:30. I took a walk to find the train station for my return trip home, called my wife, and ate lunch at a Panda Express. I returned to the Jury Assembly room shortly before 1:30 and waited to see what came next. About a half hour after we returned, we were told we could go home.

Our Jury Service had been completed. We were told we wouldn’t be called again for at least two years. On my way out, I asked the clerk about how and when I might expect my jury fees. A check for my fee plus mileage would be mailed to me. I smiled as I headed for the exit and walked to the train station. About two weeks later, a check arrived for my attendance fee and calculated mileage – a total of $97.34. I immediately cashed it, satisfied that I had earned it by performing my civic duty.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Driving to New York

Driving in New York City is stressful. I am not surprised that many New Yorkers do not own a car – more than half of total households according to recent census estimates. New York’s great public transit system makes this possible.

My wife and I have a pied-à-terre in the Forest Hills section of NYC. In the past, we traveled there by train from our home in West Chester, PA. We got very adept at it and came to affectionately refer to travel on the rails as the “four-train cocktail:” One train took us Philadelphia, the next to Trenton, the third to New York’s Penn Station and the fourth, a subway to Forest Hills.  Once in our apartment, we could get to just about anywhere in New York City via the subway system.

We would drive occasionally when we needed to bring a load of things to the apartment, but then we had to find a parking spot – never an easy proposition in our neighborhood. And even when we found a great parking spot, we would have to move the car to another spot to accommodate street sweeping on Thursdays and Fridays.

Train travel took a little longer than driving, but it was more relaxing and spared us dealing with the stress of bumper-to-bumper traffic and finding a place to park once we arrived. Then, along came COVID. New York was hit particularly hard in the early days of the pandemic. So much so that our main reason for coming to New York – to visit our son and his family – disappeared as they moved into our home in West Chester. They stayed with us for five months during which time we traveled to New York only once or twice to check on things.

Once we were fully vaccinated in the spring of 2021, we felt bold enough to resume our visits to our Forest Hills apartment, but not bold enough to travel there by train and subway. Instead, we drove. By car, it’s about 135 miles from West Chester to Forest Hills. Our GPS tried to direct us through Manhattan but driving into the heart of New York City to get to Queens seemed crazy to us. So, we exited the New Jersey Turnpike at the Goethals Bridge, crossed Staten Island on I-278, crossed the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and continued on I-278 through Brooklyn, eventually getting on I-495 after the Kosciusko Bridge, and finally exiting onto Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.

We got quite comfortable with this route and enjoyed marking our progress by various landmarks such as the beehive dome of St. Michael’s, the stained-glass water tower designed by artist Tom Fruin, and the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. We also caught occasional glimpses of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. When traffic was lighter, the stretch from the Verrazano to Forest Hills took us about 45 minutes to traverse. However, when traffic was heavy, it could easily take twice that long, and, most times, traffic was heavy.

The alternative was to take the Belt Parkway from the Verrazano Bridge, which our GPS often advised us to do. But there is comfort in the familiar, and perhaps because I am older and not as open to trying new things, I persisted in driving on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (I-278) even though I knew we would be crawling along at 20 miles per hour or less.

Perhaps out of frustration that it could take up to two hours to cover about twenty miles, my wife and I decided to give the Belt Parkway a try. From the Verrazano the Belt Parkway route takes us about seventeen miles to Exit 19 near John F. Kennedy airport. Exit 19 puts us briefly on the Nassau Expressway before exiting onto the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678 North), and finally, Queens Boulevard.

In contrast to I-278 which runs through the heart of Brooklyn, the Belt Parkway winds around Brooklyn’s southern edge with parks and beaches on one side and businesses and apartment buildings on the other. You see glimpses of Coney Island, such as the flower-like parachute tower and the Cyclone roller coaster.  Shirley Chisholm State Park and Rockaway Beach are other destinations that can be viewed while driving along the Belt Parkway. There is far more greenery on this route and enclaves of single-family homes which are largely absent along I-278.

Most importantly, traveling the Belt Parkway significantly cuts the drive time to our Forest Hills apartment. Now in most cases we can make the trip in less than three hours. Traffic is lighter and moves faster than it does on I-278 resulting in a less stressful driving experience. We recently began to rent a parking space in our apartment’s building, so that has reduced the stress of finding a spot on the street.

Driving in New York will never be as stress free as it is in our small town of West Chester, PA (population 20,000). So, until we feel safe to resume our four-train cocktail, we will follow the advice of our GPS and take the Belt Parkway when driving to New York.