Inching Closer to The Finish Line

Today I celebrate my 79th birthday and begin my 80th year–or ninth decade–on the Planet Earth. What that means for anyone my age or older, is that the finish line is coming into sight though still hazy and (hopefully) some years away.  I choose that image carefully. Life for us humans—and perhaps for all creatures—is a race. There is a start and a finish for every life. Before the start we do not know how long the race will last or what obstacles will stand in our way or what shape we will be in when we finish.

Will the course be long, or will it be short? Will it be flat and smooth or rocky and hilly? Will we fight monsters along the way? Will we dust ourselves off and keep going when we stumble? Will we break an ankle or a leg? Will we help fellow racers who fall?  When we cross the finish line, will we feel victorious or sad or just relieved that the race is over?

For many years I was a serious runner. I was never all that fast but loved long distance running and participated in a whole bunch of 10-milers, a couple of half marathons and one full marathon (the 1984 Marine Corps Marathon, which I did not finish but made my goal of 20 miles—for me a major achievement). I remember the feeling when I would cross the finish line, having given the effort all I had. Since I always was toward the back of the pack, I was not competing against anyone, just trying to do my best. But what a feeling of relief and pride when I crossed the finish line even though the leaders in the race had long before departed for home.

The questions as we stumble across the finish line of life’s race are these: So how well did you run the race? Did you give it your best effort? Did you help others along the way? Did you make a difference?

How you answer these questions in your heart of hearts will determine whether you finish with pride or regret or just relief that at last the race is over.

Faux News:The Party of the White Working Class

The gentleman stepped behind the podium and began to address the eager crowd.  

We Republicans are now the party of the White Working Class.

We believe in killing minimum wage laws, which destroy your jobs.

We believe in killing socialized medicine like Obamacare so you can get good, cheap health care any time you want.

We believe labor unions should be outlawed. They keep you White Working Class people down.

We oppose subsidies to support childcare.  We Republicans know what you White Working Class  people want, and we think your women deserve to stay home with your young children where they belong.

We oppose subsidies to reduce the cost of higher education and oppose free community colleges.  These subsidies will not help the White Working Class since we know you people have no interest in education.

We are against government spending on so called infrastructure projects, which waste money and do nothing for the White Working Class.

We are against letting immigrants into the US. They  steal your jobs and rape your women.

We are against any new taxes. Income taxes hurt the White Working Class. You need to keep the few dollars you earn.

We are against all the elite, well-educated snobs who think they are better than you are. They should be locked up.

What we are for are voting restrictions that keep the enemies of the White Working Class from voting, and  we are for balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility. We are also for tax breaks for the job creators—the one percenters and big corporations– so you working stiffs can keep your jobs.

And as for the  climate change hoax? We know you want us to fight the Democrat’s job killing restrictions on carbon emissions and will fight them all the way.

So unite behind us, White Working Class!  Our policies will make your lives better, the country stronger and guarantee a good life for all– just like we Republicans did under the leadership of our Great Leader who was robbed in the last election from continuing to rule, but who will return. We are the party of bold, new ideas. We are the party for you!


So, Whatever Happened to Little Frankie Freeloader?

I have had several inquiries about what happened to “Little Frankie” and what  he turned out to be as an adult. Since he left Nashville to attend prep school in Washington, DC,  I lost track of him and did not see him again after the seventh grade. I had heard rumors from time to time that he was as wild and crazy as ever, but no one knew where he lived or what he was up to.

Yesterday, however, a dear friend who grew up in Nashville and who was also a friend of Frankie, was able to track down information. He had found an obituary online in a Nashville newspaper dated June 3, 2012, which followed Frankie’s death from cancer.

I found the obituary telling and profound. It was beautifully written by his only child (not sure if male or female) and is compelling both for what it says and what is between the lines. Here it is verbatim except for all references to names of real people, which I routinely omit to protect the privacy of people I write about:

 In 1979, he married my wonderful mother, in Atlanta. I was born in 1980, his only child. Dad lived his last two decades in the foothills of the Carolinas, where he found love and a muse in a dear woman, whom we lost to cancer in 2006. My father affectionately recalled his student years at Episcopal High School (VA), Columbia and Ohio State Universities, and his years spent in The Big Apple, Europe and Australia provided fodder for many enthusiastically spun stories and ‘what not to do’ lessons. In the dark middle ages, he meddled in financial markets but regained his senses in time to publish two poetry books, a play and a memoir. A deeply philosophical and studious soul, Dad was at once poetic and pedantic, volatile and calculated. He ventured into the full and vivid spectrum of humanity, and, in his brightest moments, highlighted the divinity of us all. Of his energy, I will forward that which was of beauty and brilliance to his grandchildren; and that which was of shadow, the Angels and I will continue to crush until it is returned to a point of light once more. La Chaim, Pops! “God’s mercy/ On the Wild/ Ginger Man.” 

Rest in peace, Frankie.






The Stories Return: Live TV

Note to readers: for any who are wondering about my drivers license incident, the matter is still unresolved. Someone pointed out that it was possible to scan the medical information and send it in online, which I have now done though I have heard nothing so far. Let sleeping dogs lie, I say.

Since the “Former Guy” has departed leaving me with a greatly reduced trove of material, I have decided to resurrect some of my older stories published under the now defunct Civil Rights Journey website. This one is one of my favorites.


“What was live TV?” one of my grandchildren asked  some years ago. It caused me to pause and think about what a tragedy it is that our grandchildren will never experience the joys of live TV.

When I was eleven years old, I was invited to become a member of the Black Balls Club. This was quite an opportunity for me because it was just after I returned to school following my year of recovery from polio and just before my back operation that put me out for  another year. I desperately wanted to be part of a gang. I also was thrilled to be asked to join this exclusive club because the four or five other boys in the club were all cool, and I really wanted to be cool. It was unclear to me as to what exactly the name of the club referred to—it supposedly had something to do with initiation rites—but since I was never formally initiated, I never found out.

The ring leader was Frankie, a boy with a mop of brown curly hair and a devilish gleam in his eye. All the meetings were held in his dusty garage and were top secret. Frankie had an older brother, some ten  years his senior, who somehow had been able to acquire a stack of French girlie magazines, which we spent hours pouring over with feverish intensity. By today’s standards they probably would not get the attention of a Playboy editor, but in those days when Nashville was a dry city and Puritan morays ruled, the magazines were an  eleven-year-old boy’s dream.

The other thing we did was watch TV. Of course, it was all black and white, the images were often fuzzy, and shows would occasionally temporarily go off the air. But TV was new and seemed like a miracle. And because all the shows were live, you never knew what would happen. The occasional screw-ups were usually worth the wait. Our favorite show was Captain Beau Jim– Nashville’s most popular kiddie show and a local version of shows like Captain Kangaroo or Mister Rogers. Captain Beau Jim always dressed in a sailor’s outfit and was particularly noteworthy to us because he seemed bored and detached. You could tell he hated his job. I do not recall all the things he did to fill his half hour time slot, but much of the time it was obvious to us that he was winging it. The highlight was when he opened the mail. Children would send in letters or drawings. Captain Beau Jim would open the letter in front of the camera, and then read aloud the letter or show the picture. His response was almost always the same, said in a sing-song, patronizing, almost sarcastic tone.

“Here is a letter from little Jimmy Jones, and he says he loves the show. Isn’t that nice, thank you, Jimmy.” He would then read the letter verbatim and open the next letter.

He would take the same approach for art work. He would open the envelop, carefully take out  the paper on camera and in his sing-song voice say something like, “Isn’t this cute, a tree from little Annie Johnson. Thank you, Annie.” Then he would move to the next envelope. What made the show interesting was that viewers got to see the art work at the same time that Captain Beau Jim did.

He seemed to take an inordinate amount of time in opening the various envelopes, and we figured it was mainly to kill time. After a while we began to lose interest in the show. But not Frankie. In fact as the days went on, Frankie became even more enraptured and insisted that we all watch every show for one full week. There were a few mishaps but not enough to warrant our having to watch the show every day for a whole week. We were ready to rebel.

But then came Friday, the last day of the week. When the time came to open the mail, Frankie perked up like a dog hearing some shrill whistle human ears can’t hear. He had spotted something on the set and suddenly a sly grin appeared on his face as he perched on the edge of his chair.

“What’s going on?” someone asked.

“Just watch,” he beamed.

The first letter was something about a dog from little Ronnie Wise. “You have a nice dog, Ronnie, thanks.” The second letter was about a favorite teacher from little Lucy Brown. “Nice teacher, Lucy, thanks.” Then there was a drawing of a bird by little Billy Barnes. “Nice bird…”

Each time Captain Beau Jim finished opening an envelope Frankie seemed to get more excited.

“Well,” he said in his sarcastic voice, “there is time for a couple of more. And here is a really big envelope.”

At this time Frankie could not contain himself and let out a big squeal. We all gave him a puzzled look.

As Captain Beau Jim began to open the large envelope, he noted that it was from little Frankie Freeloader. Freeloader was not Frankie’s last name, but that did not diminish his ecstasy. He jumped out of his chair and moved to within inches of the TV.

As was his custom, Captain Beau Jim carefully opened the envelope and in full view of the camera slowly   opened the paper which contained the art work. The camera zoomed in as Captain Beau Jim displayed the art work from little Frankie Freeloader.

It was a large, anatomically correct, erect penis, obviously painstakingly drawn.

There was a pause, which seemed to us like an eternity. The camera continued to focus on the drawing. Captain Beau Jim was speechless. We were laughing so hard that we had trouble hearing what came next.

After getting his wits about him, Captain Beau Jim said in a somewhat different tone from his usual sing-song voice. “Well, this drawing is from little Frankie Freeloader and he says it’s a rocket ship.”

By this time we were all rolling on the floor. When we looked up again, the show was off the air. Maybe the time had expired. Also it was not unusual in those days for shows to go off the air temporarily for “technical difficulties.” This could have fallen into that category.

This was our last episode of Captain Beau Jim. I had seen enough of the program myself anyway.  One of our members reported back that the following Monday the show had been taken off the air.

It is too bad our grandchildren will never get to experience live TV.



The Blog Returns: My Lucky Day

During these covid-times and political divisions it is important to take stock of the little things in life that make a difference.

A couple of years ago, I got my DC driver’s license renewed, which at my advanced age required getting a physical checkup and an eye exam. It was an ordeal, but I passed and got the new license, which will take me all the way to 2027 when I will be 85 years old and will probably have no business driving anyway. I breathed a sigh of relief in 2019. No more DCDMV hassles.

That is why I was a bit puzzled when I received a notice in late January from the DMV that unless I got my cataracts checked my license would be revoked on February 8–only 10 days away. Since I had never had cataracts, this struck me as a bit unusual; but that did not keep me from immediately calling the optician for an appointment the next day.

“Hey, weren’t you in here last year?” he asked, “and what is all this about cataracts? You didn’t have them last time you were here, and you don’t have them now. What is the DMV up to nowadays?”

I rushed home, copied the eye test results, and charged over to the post office to beat the 5:00 PM mail pickup. The instructions from the DMV were explicitly to mail in the test results. I figured they would get the results a day or two before the February 8 deadline, so I would be ok.

On Tuesday of this week, March 1, I received a second letter from the DMV, which was similar to the first stating that if the results were not received by February 8, my driver’s license would be invalid, and I would be subject to all the laws associated with driving illegally. I wondered what it would be like spending the rest of my life locked up behind bars. Since the deadline had already passed three weeks ago, I realized that I was already in deep trouble.  The letter also added that I should deliver the eye exam report to one of the DMV service centers.

Fortunately, I had made a copy of the eye report, stuffed it in my pocket, jumped in the car and headed to the closest DMV service center, which happened to be in Georgetown. Even in covid-times, finding a place to park in Georgetown is a nightmare, but after fruitlessly cruising around the jammed streets for 15 minutes, I miraculously found a space in an empty lot near the DMV, jumped out of the car and raced to the service center office.

The office was located at the foot of an escalator leading to a vast renovated basement area. The DMV office appeared brand new and was huge. There was an entrance area that looked like the place where people line up in airports to go through security. I guessed that it could hold up to 100 people, maybe more. The only thing was there was not one person in line, a stark contrast from the hour-long wait that I had when I got my license renewed two years before in one of the other service centers. Well, this should be easy, I thought, as I entered the cordoned off pathway.

“Not so fast,” shouted a voice. I turned and saw a masked woman in uniform, who was stationed just beside the door. “Do you have an appointment?”

I replied that I did not and that I was just dropping off my exam as directed by the letter I had just received from the DMV.

“Well, nobody gets in without an appointment.”

I looked into the area in the next room where counters were set up with personnel behind them. I only got a quick glance but did not see one single customer in the room.

“Ok, I see no one is waiting, so I would like to make an appointment right now. Plus, I have already mailed in the report as directed by the instructions. It said to mail it in, and I did.”

“You can’t mail in anything anymore. You have to do it online.”

“Okay, I have my iPhone right here. I will type in the DMV and make an appointment right now. There is no one waiting.”

“No you won’t. Appointments are made only once a week at 3:00 PM on Tuesdays.”

“But there is nobody waiting in that room. All I want to do is drop off my eye test. Why can’t I just hand it to one of those people. What are they doing anyway?”

The woman glared at me, shook her head and said something like, watch your tone, mister, what they are doing is none of your business.

I stood speechless for a couple of minutes, then started to trudge toward the escalator.

“You didn’t drive here, did you?” she asked.

“Well, yes.”

“You are in violation of the law and subject to arrest. You should not drive your car again until this issue is resolved.”

“Fascist police state,” I muttered under my breath.

The walk back to the car took no more than five minutes. I immediately noticed that someone had placed an orange cone behind my car. As I was removing the cone, an elderly gentleman wearing a mask approached me and said, “Well, this is your lucky day. I have called a tow truck, which will be here in a couple of minutes. If you could even locate your car after it had been towed, you probably could never drive it again because I see it has all wheel drive. Towing destroys that. You are damn lucky.”

When incredulously I asked what I had done to deserve being towed, he pointed to a small sign at the bottom of the lot which said, “parking lot.”

“OK, sorry, I did not see that. How much do I owe you?”

Ten dollars normally but in your case make it twenty-five.

As I returned home holding my breath every time I saw a police officer or police car, I realized that there are some mysteries in life that are hard to explain. Maybe this was my lucky day after all.

When telling my story to a friend, she responded that nowadays in DC  it is almost impossible to get a reservation on the Tuesday 3:00 PM online time slot and that she had been trying for months, and every time when she was finally able to get through, she got the message that all appointments were taken.

“Hardly anyone has a valid driver’s license at our age in DC anymore. It’s impossible. Get used to it and roll with it.”

To be continued.