It’s Not Where You Start…

It’s Not Where You Start It’s Where You Finish is not only the title of a great song it perfectly describes my life now.

It has been a crazy week.  Getting ready to move has many of its problems, but throw in a holiday and a Covid scare and you get quite the mess.

Last weekend I got a call from someone I had been hanging out with the previous Saturday that they had tested positive for Covid.  It would be a far stretch that I would have caught it from this person but the possibility was there so I went and bought a home Covid test.

Have you done a home test for Covid?  My understanding is that the home test for negatives ranges in the accuracy of the high 90s.  It seems they are less accurate for positive results.  The procedure for self-testing is a little hard.  There is a card that has to remain flat on the table the whole time.  Then you put 6 drops of reagent in a hole in the card.  Then with a long cotton swab, you swab out both your nostrils for 15 seconds each.  Then you slip the swab into a lower hole pushing it into the hole that has the reagent.  You then close the card and seal it and wait 15 minutes.  If a line appears in the lower half of the window of the card you are positive.  If it remains clear you are negative.  That’s it.  The kit comes with two tests.  I did them both and both came back negative. YEA!

Because Thanksgiving came less than ten days from my exposure it was prudent to stay home for the holiday.  There is no point in risking other people’s health until you are sure you’re not carrying.  At ten days out I took the second test and confirmed being clean.  Yea for modern science.

I don’t recommend spending Thanksgiving alone.  I wasn’t all alone, my housemate and I had breakfast together and I tried to make it festive.  We had fried eggs, Taylor Pork Roll, Buttered Toast, and Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls.  It was nice.  I wouldn’t see my housemate for dinner as she was working.  It was the last holiday we will spend together as housemates as my move has arrived.  I ordered Thanksgiving Dinner from a local diner and enjoyed it.  It’s not the same eating by yourself but the tastes were there and I had memories of Thanksgiving’s past and there will be more to come.

Friday it was time to organize as much as I could.  I have two rooms in the house that I live in now, an office and a bedroom.  I can cram a lot in a small space and it all had to be packed.  Statues and pictures and toys and ceramics and all other kinds of stuff went into box after box. 

Cleaning out the two closets were particularly interesting as I found stuff I thought I had lost buried under piles of other things.  Looking back it became a bit of a treasure hunt as both closets contained some wonderful items long-buried but now coming back into play.  I was Indiana Jones in my own house.

Right now the living room is filled with packed boxes waiting for Saturday when the movers come.  But that’s not all.

On Friday the movers will come and finish my packing.  Because of my disability what I could do the last time I moved I cannot do now.  My legs are in pain a lot and so are my feet.  I have an extensive library and the last time I moved I brought all the books and all the shelves over to the house myself.  I can’t do that now.  It’s just not possible, so the movers will come on Friday and pack the books up and my clothes, another item I moved in the past, and my large electronic devices.  They will be in charge of safely packing my stuff and then moving it the next day.

One of the things that this move has forced me to realize is my limitations.  I’m heading for 61 years old and my body doesn’t work like it used to.  Some things need to be changed, things that are in my power, and I intend to make those changes.  Still, there are other things that I have no control over like severe arthritis in my knees and feet and the neuropathy in my legs.  These are things whose influence will lesson as I take off weight but they will still be a part of me.  The pain will lessen but will not go away completely.  If I can get enough weight off my knees will be replaced and that will make some difference in my life.

I think the thing to keep in mind here is not that I have all these issues but that all the obstacles the issues have presented can be overcome.  With the help of family and friends, a very difficult move is made so much easier.  My niece and her husband were a tremendous help.  Yesterday my housemate, Lorraine, helped me clear out the bedroom closet. My legs being what they are I could not have done it without her help. My cousin John has come over every Tuesday and carted stuff over to the apartment for the last three weeks and is happy to help more if I need it.  My friends Rob and Gary have supplied boxes and support and Rob will be my wingman on Friday watching the guys as they pack and making sure the boxes are labeled correctly.  My sisters have also been a big help.  Even from Tennessee my sister Susan and her husband Kirk have given me encouragement and solid advice.  My sister Trish has helped with all the financial details and the stuff I didn’t know anything about as I never signed a lease before. My friend Manny has always been there for me for more than forty years. Though we are separated by miles he has been my greatest encouragement. A true Barnabus. A name meaning “Son of encouragement”   Lastly, my friend Bill has given me his whole Saturday to help me unpack and settle in. I’m very grateful to those I’ve mentioned as well as those I haven’t.

Moving is a great adventure and as the song says, it’s not where you start it’s where you finish and I’m going to finish on top.

The Holiday Season

The holiday season is now upon us.  If you are like everybody else you face the next 6 weeks or so with a mixture of Joy and Dread.  I hope that the joy will outweigh the dread but for many, this is not the case.

Why do we allow the most joyous time of year to become a burden?  Why do the stores dress for Christmas before we’ve gotten rid of the last bite of Halloween candy?  I blame President Roosevelt.

Before WW2 no one thought about Christmas until about a week before. The Holiday Season began on December the twenty-fifth, Christmas Day, and ended on January sixth, The Feast of The Epiphany, the celebration of when the Wisemen came to Bethlehem.  So all the fun stuff we do now, before the 25th, like Christmas Parties and multiple family visits were all done after the 25th.  There was even a party held on the eve of The Epiphany called a 12th Night Party and people would gather to play games and sing songs and enjoy themselves.  This 12th-night party is mentioned in Stave 3 of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present.  Twelfth Night should remind you of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas because those were the 12 days that are mentioned in the song.  The time between December 25th and January 6th.

President Roosevelt changed that with a very small snowball that rolled downhill and turned into a snow monster.  He asked that everyone do their Christmas shopping extra early so that packages being mailed to soldiers either here or overseas would arrive before Christmas,  This was a great idea for the soldiers but it turned into what we have now.  Roosevelt even tried to move Thanksgiving from the fourth Thursday in November to the third to allow people more time to shop,  Thankfully he did not succeed in this endeavor.

If you watch the I Love Lucy Christmas show you’ll notice that they don’t get a tree until Christmas Eve or decorate at all.  Black Friday, the big sale day after Thanksgiving, did not begin its yearly craziness until the 1950s and then grew stronger thru the 60s and seventies.  Now Black Friday can either make or break many businesses.

The history of Black Friday has nothing to do with retail.  How retail adapted the name seems shrouded in mystery.  Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving was given its name by Philadelphia Policemen.  In the early days of football, the Army-Navy game was played on the day after Thanksgiving.  This would bring many visitors and tourists to Philadelphia.  This caused the police departments to have their officers work overtime and pull extra shifts at a time when the rest of the country was taking a break.  So the Philadelphia cops named the day Black Friday.

And with a Bang Christmas is upon us.  If you live in the most typical of North American homes you don’t even get a chance to enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers before the shopping frenzy starts.  As the years have gone by this frenzy has gotten worse.  This year the stores are claiming you’d better get all your shopping done immediately or the gifts you want to buy won’t be available with our current worker shortage.  In times past the big stores and malls were opening at Midnight on Black Friday or any early hour of the morning.  I remember back in the early days of early store openings going with my brother-in-law to Best Buy and waiting in quite a line for a 6 a.m. opening.  The doors opened and insanity struck.  People pushing and pulling and even slamming folks into other aisles to get to the sale item they wanted.  I never went to an early opening again.

The message seemed to be “Thanksgiving is over now let’s kill each other.”  This is not the message of Thanksgiving or the message of Christmas.

Maybe it’s time to start slowing down.  Yes, there is a lot of preparation for Christmas but do we have to begin that preparation on Black Friday?  I want our retail stores to have great Christmas sales, but they can get our money a few days or even weeks later.  We will buy gifts and shop just not that day.  I think we should have Blue Friday.  In fact, Sky Blue Friday.

On Sky Blue Friday we take up where we left off on Thanksgiving.  On Thanksgiving, we gave thanks to God and maybe to the people who made our lives a little better or helped us through hard times our focus was outward.  Not thinking about ourselves but of God and other people.  On Sky Blue Friday I believe we should look inward.  It has been said that an “unexamined life is not worth living,” yet many of us rarely take the time to examine where we are or who we are.  We don’t ask if who we are is who we want to be?

Self-examination can be hard but it is also a gift we can give ourselves.  In Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is forced to examine his own life by looking at his past, seeing his present, and getting a glimpse of what his future would be if he persisted in his present course.  On Sky Blue Friday we should do the same examine our past and present and see where our current, attitudes, beliefs, jobs, work ethic, relationships, and hobbies may be leading us.  If all is well then there is nothing to do if all is NOT well then we need to determine what changes need to be made and make them.

Black Friday being replaced by Sky Blue Friday can lead us right into the next part of the holiday season, Advent.  Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day.  It is celebrated in Churches as the four Sundays before Christmas.  More often than not the first Sunday of Advent will fall on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The traditional Advent Calendars that you buy in the store with the little windows that open up begin on December first but that is not the Advent season.

Advent is a special time.  At Easter, we go through Lent and in some way try to participate in the sufferings of our savior.  In Advent, we are looking forward to the coming of our Savior, and this is with great excitement and joy because we know what he brings will be good.  For the Christian, we look to the past for the birth of Jesus into this world and to the future for his promised return.

Advent is a time of preparation.  Many churches have Advent Wreaths as part of the season but this is also something you can do with your family or even by yourself.  Advent candles and wreaths are available on Amazon or you could easily make one yourself with fresh evergreen branches some wire and candle holders.  You can check out the Gospel for each day on the liturgical calendar.  Both Catholics and Protestants use this calendar.  On the first Sunday of Advent, you light the first candle read that day’s Gospel, and say a short prayer.  Maybe even sing some carols or turn on the Christmas Music.  Then each of the following days you do the same reading the Gospel for the day.  If you want to make it simpler there are many advent devotionals you can use if the liturgical calendar isn’t for you.

This is a great way to spend Advent it will slow you down and it will help you focus on what we are really celebrating.  If you’re reading this and you are not a Christian do this anyway.  There are a lot of bad things being said about Christians these days and most of them are false.  If you prepare for Christmas this way you’ll get a taste of who Jesus was and is and it may make your celebration even more joyful.  You may find yourself wanting to know more about Jesus.

Speaking of Joy, did you know that the song Joy to the World is not actually a Christmas song.  It’s not about Jesus first coming over 2000 years ago, although we sing it with that in mind.  The lyricist’s intention was this song to herald the second coming of Jesus.  This is the song we will be singing when Christ comes back as he promised he would.  Now we sing it in anticipation of that event.

There are so many ways to slow down in this upcoming season.  Take in a concert, See a production of A Christmas Carol.  There will be a whole lot about A Christmas Carol in an upcoming Blog.  Better yet read A Christmas Carol.  The book has so much more than any filmed version.  I haven’t forgotten Thanksgiving.  Here’s a last word.  God gives us the sunshine and the rain.  He makes the crops grow and so supplies us with food.  He gave us life and each of our lives is precious to Him.  When you sit down with whomever you share Thanksgiving with or if you are by yourself take one second, a moment and remember all He has done.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Weight Loss

The weight loss journey will officially begin on December 6th, 2021.  That is the Monday after I move into my new apartment.  I chose that day because between now and then eating will be catch as catch can while I move to my new home starting on the 16th of this month.  Things are happening fast.

The first step in my weight loss journey has been accomplished.  I saw my primary care physician this past week to see what his recommendations would be and to see if he would be part of holding me to whatever I do.

He was great about the whole thing.  First, he asked if I would be interested in weight loss surgery?  He got a resounding no on that thought.  I went to a surgeon once, for a consultation on weight loss surgery and it scared me.  Weight loss surgery is a big deal.  It involves sewing up part of your stomach to make it smaller so you won’t eat as much.  That’s all well and good, but because of the surgery, there are certain food that you can no longer eat and those foods could kill you.  That seemed extreme to me.  The other part that has to be taken into consideration is the reasons I overeat.  My food issues are not hunger but sadness and depression or high levels of anxiety or other emotional factors.  Sewing up my stomach will not alter those and so it’s not an answer for me.

My doctor then discussed the new fasting diet.  This diet consists of eating dinner and then fasting for 18 hours after that so basically no food from 6 pm to 12 pm.  Then eating during those 6 hours after the noon hour. This might work but we did not discuss what to eat during those 6 hours.  I could do a lot of damage in that short period.  I need to do an internet search to see exactly how this diet is supposed to work.

The next thing we discussed is how I had lost weight in the past.  This was easy.  I always used Slim Fast.  Two shakes a day and a salad with meat on it, usually chicken.  I have lost a lot of weight doing this at different periods in my life.  The problem is I always gained it back.  I also would do half an hour of aerobic exercise every day.  This was done with a stationary bike, My legs and feet being how they are this is no longer possible.  There are, however, YouTube videos for seated exercises that I could do now that my television will be in my living room.

After a lengthy discussion, we decided that the Slimfast route was probably the best way to go with my doctor actively monitoring me.  He had me set up three appointments before I left the office each in the early day of January, February, and March so he can track my progress.  Ultimately, he will have my back, but it will be tough getting thru the Christmas season this year.  The words no thank you are going to have to be a big part of my vocabulary and my own favorite Christmas treats are going to need to be forgotten this year.

Food for me is a security blanket and it is as much a part of me as Linus’ attachment to that blue blanket.  It’s not all food, of course, it’s the food that is the absolute worst food for you.  I am addicted to McDonald’s.  If I’m having a bad day or am in a general bad temper a McDonald’s triple cheeseburger, medium fries, a Hi-C Orange drink and an apple pie is essential to my survival.  If it’s a really bad day I will buy two triple cheeseburgers.  I don’t eat to live, I live to eat and it is slowly and methodically killing me.

One truth is clear, there are no fat old people.  My grandmother, my aunt, and my dad all lived well into their 90s.  My father is still alive and though he has some old age issues, he is in generally good health.  My mother God Rest Her Soul died at 80 but she had complications from surgery and what age she may have lived to is pretty much undetermined.  I’d like to live a good long life, but it won’t happen if I stay at this weight.

I have to go through a radical lifestyle change and stick to it regardless of the mental consequences that lifestyle may have.  I have to find a way to live without McDonald’s and find other ways to comfort myself other than food.

I’m not blaming my behavior with food on anyone else but me.  Still looking at my early childhood I was sort of conditioned to enjoy high-fat content food.  I think many of us born as part of the baby boom generation were.  I am the youngest of four kids.  There is a five-year gap between my closest sister and myself.  That means that right after I was born my brother and sisters were all in school.  Leaving me home alone with mom for five whole years.  Back then mom liked to eat.  She was an amazing cook and baker, so if a pie went into the oven there would be scraps of pie crust dough rolled out and buttered and then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and then rolled up and baked just for me.  There would be homemade frosting bowls to lick and sometimes an open-faced sandwich made with mayonnaise and relish as an after-lunch snack.  My mother made amazing dinners every night and there was rarely a night that dessert was not part of the meal.  These were my formative years and I loved them.

Mom changed.  I don’t remember when, but it may have been about the time my sisters got married.  She had put on more than a few pounds and she wanted to get them off and she did.  She joined Weight Watchers and a ladies-only gym and she achieved her goals.  She went back and forth with gaining and losing for a few years but eventually dropped ten pounds below her goal weight and never gained again.  She kept a good healthy diet for the rest of her life.  That’s not to say that she didn’t enjoy occasional or even regular treats.  She and my father would split a pizza every Saturday night after Mass and enjoyed a bottle of wine with it while watching Lawrence Welk on PBS.  Desserts were regulated to Sundays and holidays and she rarely snacked on anything more than fruit.   I can’t imagine the amount of emotional strength it took to accomplish what she did, but I’m about to find out.

I did try Weight Watcher some time ago and adhering to their program I did not lose a pound.  I also tried Noom and though it initially worked well eventually, no matter what I did I couldn’t lose another pound.  After that, I gave up.  It seemed hopeless and I drowned my sorrows in eating everything I could get my hands on and then I turned sixty.

Sixty is a magical number.  It speaks.  It even yells.  Do you what it says?  “No matter what you don’t have much time left on earth.  Even if I live to be one hundred I am past the halfway point.  I’m not young anymore.  I’m not ancient either, but I’m not young.  If I want to see a change in my life now is time and this is the moment.

So, here’s the plan.  Slimfast and some fruit in the morning.  Slimfast for Lunch.   A salad with roasted chicken pieces for dinner and that will be it.  I will allow myself one dessert on Sundays and Holidays but that’s it.  I have a set of free-standing pedals I can put on a tabletop and use my arms and hands to do some aerobic exercise.  I can also use YouTube sitting-down workouts as I will have plenty of space in my new living room. As I mentioned earlier.  All of this will begin on December 6th.  A lot has to happen between now and then.  But I believe that this is possible.  Join me in believing.

Change Two

I’m taking another break from my usual cultural pieces to write again about change. As I previously stated change is not something that is usually welcomed but a lot of the time it produces the best in us and the best for us.  I think this is one of those times in my life.

Since I last wrote about change the great apartment hunt has begun and concluded. Eventually, I found a very nice two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of an older elevator building. It has a nice-sized living room, and the bedrooms are just enough. One of those bedrooms will be my office. Surprisingly there are also two bathrooms.  One is a full bath with a tub and shower. The other is a vanity a toilet and a shower stall.  There are also plenty of closets so I doubt I will need the storage locker I get in the basement.

The apartment hunt was an emotional roller coaster. I don’t know if any of you are in the market for an apartment but the market for apartments is just as tough as the market for real estate. Since Covid struck the real estate market has been insane. People are buying up houses almost as soon as they hit the market. I have been told that people who were confirmed city dwellers now want to get out of the cities, and folks that were already out of the city are moving further out because of all the city dwellers moving into the suburbs closest to the city. Now I don’t know if that is true, but it does seem that way.

Covid has also affected apartment living. First, if people can’t find homes in the suburbs, they are taking the apartments and I was also told that some folks that have bought homes found that they can’t handle the mortgage and end up in apartments.  So there is both a rush on single homes and apartments.

But wait! It gets a bit more complicated, and this is where it affected me. When Covid began to hit hard the Trump administration allowed renters that could not pay their rent to stay in their apartments. It seemed a good idea at the time. Businesses were closed and folks were out of work. Most people can’t save a lot these days, and those who do it usually aren’t saving much. On top of that, the 600 dollars a week benefit was given to workers who lost their jobs during Covid. At 600 a week some were making more than when they worked plus they were getting the standard unemployment benefit on top of that.  These things made people reluctant to go back to work and now businesses around the county are looking for workers.

All of this has made apartment owners and management businesses very wary of all folks that come looking for an apartment. For me, there was the added issue of the fact that I needed a handicapped-accessible building due to the neuropathy in my legs. Most buildings were designed 20 to 30 years ago with no thought to the handicapped. These were buildings I needed to look at as the newer buildings that made everything handicapped accessible are charging rent well over 2000 dollars a month. That is way out of my league. All of that to say my choices were few. In fact, in all of Delaware county where I reside, I found only three after looking at several 100 possibilities.

The first was a lovely 3rd-floor one-bedroom apartment with a balcony. The rent seemed reasonable but as we talked more and more to the agent, we found that there were a ton of fees that raised the reasonable amount to unreasonable.  The second one I found was attached to the side of a house. I didn’t overly much like the area, but the street seemed quiet, and the apartment was great.  This too was a one-bedroom apartment.  The living room and bedroom were both very nice sized and it had its own laundry room. It even had its own driveway. The woman that owned the house and the apartment was quite particular about who she wanted in there and a disabled person living on disability was not her idea of a good tenant. She never even let me see the inside. That was all kind of a blow, and I began to get very discouraged about the search.

For a few days, I gave up. I looked at no apartments at all. To me, it seemed that there was just no place that I could find that would work for me and would accept me. Depression set in and I began to wonder if I was going to live my life in a box. After a couple of days of this, I finally decided to look in Swarthmore. Swarthmore is just a few miles from me and is the home of Swarthmore College a very prestigious school so in some ways it’s a college town but not a rowdy college town.  My godparents live there and so I have spent a lot of time in Swarthmore but never thought about living there.

It took a little while to find one that seemed as if it might work.  It had a great, almost Tolkien name, so I made the call. This one worked out but not without a whole lot of hoops that had to be jumped through. I had to show bank statements to show I could pay the rent. Some apartments want proof of three to twelve months’ rent in the bank before they will even allow you to look at the place. Then a credit score of at least 750 and of course a criminal background check. Hoop after hoop after hoop. It was driving me a little crazy. Eventually, all the Ts were crossed and the Is dotted. I Had a new home.

Of course, that’s just the first part.  Now the fun begins. I have friends that are bringing me boxes but this is getting hard.  5 years ago when I first moved I was able to get all the boxes I needed myself.  I then boxed up my belongings and took car full after car full to the place I was moving.  I only used movers for the big stuff.  Now with the neuropathy in my legs and arthritis in my knees, most of that is not possible.  I’m walking with a cane now so gathering empty boxes and getting them to the car is difficult.  I can pack boxes but, unless they are light I can’t move the box very far.  My boxes will be heavy as I have a lot of books.

I hate not being able to do things for myself.  This is a huge change for me and it takes a lot of getting used to.  It is making me a more humble person and maybe that’s a lesson I need to learn.  I am at a stage in life where I truly need help and it’s not wrong to need help.  Every time someone helps me I am confident that God in Heaven is happy with them as I am grateful to them.  After all, Jesus said, “What you did for the least of these you have done for me.”

This coming Wednesday another change will begin to take place.  I go to my doctor’s office to discuss some sort of plan to get this weight off my body.  I have my mental health care provider working with me too.  I have a feeling I will need to get a bit obsessive-compulsive to achieve what I need to do, but that’s alright.  It’s good when a mental issue can be used in your favor.

I make light of the seriousness of my weight situation. I shouldn’t do that.  I can’t seem to keep gaining and I don’t want to.  Some of it may have to deal with the meds I’m taking but some of it is because I eat when I’m sad and lately I’ve been sad a lot.  Covid has taken away many things that I loved deeply.  Going to the movies, to theaters and concerts has all become just a little frightening.  Covid seems to be everywhere and nowhere.  You think you’re safe and then find a friend you had lunch with last week has come down with it.  You get tested and hope for the best.  So far I have been kept safe from the illness, but none of us are safe from its social effects.

I’m also sad because my life is changing again.  I know I’m going to love the new apartment, but I’m going to miss the neighbors that are here.  I haven’t gotten to know many of them well, I wasn’t here long enough, but the few that I have gotten to know even a very little I liked and wanted to know more.  That time is over now and I regret it.

I’m sad too because I will be leaving behind the area I grew up in.  I still love this area.  Knowing the stores and the people that run them.  Having three supermarkets just blocks from each other and knowing almost for sure that I will be able to find almost anything I need in my own backyard.  I won’t have that backyard anymore and it’s sad.

I don’t like saying goodbye.  I never have.  Saying goodbye always seems so permanent.  You make plans to see friends that you’ve left and you promise to keep in touch but that rarely happens and when you do finally see each other again the time has passed and people changed and the bond that was there can be very hard to find again.

Now, I have some friends that this will never happen.  Manny J, Jim R, Kevin S, Eric K, Tim G, Mary R, Brad F, and Saundra F, Tammy D, Jeff B, Carrie O, Nick R.and others when we pick up the phone it’s like we just saw each other yesterday.  Most of these people don’t live nearby so it is our hearts that bind us together and keep the relationship alive.  I love these folks a lot and am very grateful they are in my life.

GRATEFUL!  It just struck me.  The best way to manage change is to be grateful for the change.  Grateful for a new apartment and the chance to meet new neighbors and have new experiences.  Grateful for the people we have known and are no longer part of our lives but their influence still lingers.  Grateful for the folks we have lost either thru death or other ways that people grow apart.  Those people added depth and color to our lives and so whether they are here or not they are part of us.

This is the month for gratefulness.  That gratefulness can be shown first to God and then to all the people in our lives that brought something special.  And, you know, there isn’t one person in our lives that didn’t bring something special.  There is not one event in our lives good or bad that didn’t have a purpose or a meaning.  Everything in our lives we designed by God to show us he is here and he loves us and so for that alone change has to mean being grateful.

Life is change.   Sometimes it’s painful and sometimes it’s beautiful, but most of the time it’s both.

  • Lana Lang Smallville

Magic

Magic!  What an amazing word and there is so much meaning in those five simple letters.  There is the “magic” in a child’s eyes when they spy the gifts under the tree at Christmas.  There is the “magic” that a stage magician conjures up by diverting us and seemingly makes impossible things happen.  There is the scary “magic” that real witches perform or at least claim to perform by casting spells and make potions and charms.  Then there is the fictional “magic”, the magic of The Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, this is the magic I’m going to focus on today.  This is my own history of magic.

I guess my first exposure to fictional magic would have been the television show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as well as the amazing Agnes Morehead.  The premise of the series was that a mortal Darin Stevens marries a witch a fact that he is unaware of until after the marriage takes place.  When he finds out he forbids her to use her powers in the house and of course this is impossible especially with his wife’s family of witches and warlocks always at hand.  This show was cute and funny and stayed on the air for several years even after having the original Darin replaced by another actor.

The next bit of magic would have been when I was introduced to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard of Oz is based on the children’s book written by L Frank Baum and published on March 17, 1900.  It quick became a childhood classic and Baum would go on to write fourteen more Oz books.  These could have made a great movie series but for some reason MGM, the studio that produced the original film, made the adventures of Dorothy trying to find her way home. A dream, so no future films could be done.

There seems to be certain films everyone is afraid to touch because they are perfect the way they are.  The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz are four of those.  People have tried to do sequels to Oz, but they all pale in comparison the original movie which was almost flowless in its making.

The Wizard of Oz in the 60s became a yearly treat that families would gather around their television sets to watch around the Easter holiday.  My family was no exception and I remember being little and hiding behind my father whenever The Wicked Witch of The West would make her appearance.  There wasn’t a lot of magic actually done in The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy gest to Oz by tornado.  She walks to The Emerald City and meets non-human creatures and talking animals but the only magic that is actually performed is Glinda magically having the Ruby Slippers appear on Dorothy’s feet, The Wicked Witch conjuring the poppy field and Glinda creating the snow that destroys the poppies effects.  Of course, Glinda makes her appearances in a magic bubble and The Wicked Witch rides a broom stick but that’s about it.  To compare the two there was more magic in a half hour of Bewitched than there was in the full-length movie of The Wizard of Oz.

But Oz was magical in an of itself.  A talking Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion as well as talking apple trees and colors that were brighter and more beautiful than in our own gray world made this movie a delight for our senses.  And at the end of the 1930s when America was just coming out of the depression but was on the brink of another world war, that kind of beauty and unreality was much needed by children and adults.

My next stop in my magical tour must be Neverland.  I was introduced to Peter Pan fairly young.  My mother was a big fan of musicals and when Peter Pan starring Mary Martin was aired on television in the early 60s it was a family event.

Peter Pan began as a nonmusical stage play by JM Barrie.  Mr. Barrie based his play on his relationship with three young boys and the games they would play.  Peter Pan opened in 1904 and did very well.  Mr. Barrie was already a celebrated playwright, but Peter Pan elevated him to an immortal status and is the only thing still remembered today.  Peter became so famous that Barrie, told everyone to watch Kensington Gardens for a surprise on a certain date and when London woke up that morning there was the magnificent statue of Peter in the gardens.

It was in 1911 that Barrie published the novel that told the story of his play for all the world.  He titled the novel Peter Pan and Wendy, and it is still enjoyed by people today.

Peter Pan is a difficult role, and it was decided early on that a child could not handle the work in a full length play so a woman has been traditionally cast as Peter.  In recent times in cartoons and films as well as some stage production this has changed but more often than not Peter is still played by a woman.

Peter Pan has very little magic.  In fact, the only magic we see is Peter teaching the children to fly.  We know there are fairies as Tinker Bell is a main character in the play and we know that is by thinking good thoughts and the use of fairy dust that we can learn to fly.  Bu that is the extent of the observable magic in the play.

Let’s talk about flying.  When Barrie first opened his play in 1904 Peter had only one requirement to fly.  You had to think good thoughts.  Many children left the theater with that idea in their heads and soon found themselves jumping off roofs and out of windows thinking they would fly.  This of course caused some injuries but as far as I know no life was lost.  On learning this Barrie modified his play to add fairy dust to the flying equation and the attempts ceased.  I believed a similar situation occurred in 1964 when Disney released Mary Poppins and Mary seemed to fly by umbrella to the front door of the Bank’s home.  I know my friends and I spent some time jumping from steps with an umbrella in hand, but we never got air born.

Neverland is a magic place.  It is inhabited by fairies, and mermaids.  We know from the play that it is Spring, summer, Winter and Fall all at the same time on different parts of the island.  Peter describes it as crammed with hardly any room between one adventure and another.  And of course, if you go there as a child, you never grow up.  There is magic in the very soil of Neverland.

I was transported as a child to Neverland in my dreams.  Not long after seeing the Mary Martin TV special I brought to see the Disney version of the classic story.  The problem with Disney and Miss Martin’s work is that they watered the story down quite a lot.  They took out the scary stuff and so missed some of the best parts.  In time I grew to love the book that Barrie wrote mush more than the film versions.  To this day no one has written Peter the way Barrie did.  I would love to see new stage production that left it all intact.

The fantasy that taught me how to think would begin and end with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about a bored little boy whose name is Milo.  Milo has no interest in anything until one day a mysterious box appears in his room.  The box contains a life size toy toll booth which Milo proceeds to put together.  When it’s completed Milo gets into his toy electric car and drives thru into The Land Beyond.  

Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond are filled with strange creatures that are magical in some ways but they only way to deal with them is to think.  There is the land of the doldrums where you get very sleepy, and can get yourself killed if you don’t wake up and begin to think your way out by reciting poetry and equations as well as using your imagination.  Milo is saved from The Doldrums by Tok a watchdog.  This is a large dog that has a clock built into his side and he guards time he especially is after those who waste time.

Milo is told the story of the Lands Beyond and knows that there are problems there that could be solved if the Princesses Rhyme and Reason could be rescued from the castle in the clouds which must be gotten to through by way of The Mountains of Ignorance. This stuff is great.  He must first get permission to save them from the warring kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis the kingdoms or Words and Numbers.  The kings hate each other even though they are brothers because they each believe that their own kingdom is better than the other.  In other words, words are better than numbers and numbers are better than words.

Milo has many adventures in The Lands Beyond and meets many strange creatures including a Spelling Bee and a Humbug but he eventually reaches the princesses and rescues them through the power of thinking.  When he returns home, he has a new lease on life and is no longer bored as there is always something new to learn.  This is a lesson many adults could use right now.

As I grew up so did my magic stories.  First there was my comic book heroes.  Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics and Doctor Fate from DC.  Doctor Fate came first and made his first appearance in the early 1940s in the pages of More Fun Comics.  He is Kent Nelson who, as a boy, finds The Helmet of Nabu an ancient Egyptian wizard, when he puts the helmet on, he becomes Doctor fate with all kinds of magic abilities.  Doctor Fate would fade away with the rest of the comic book heroes in the early 1950s as discussed in earlier blogs.  He would return the 1960s in the pages on The Justice League of America when DC Comics rebirths The Justice Society in the pages of that magazine.  He would eventually get his own title for a short while but for the most part remain a supporting character in the comic book universe.  With the popularity of the television series Stargirl and the reemergence of The Justice Society Doctor Fate may soon make a return.

Doctor Strange made his first appearance in Strange Tales and remains a favorite character of mine to this day.  Steven Strange is a surgeon, skilled and vain about those skills.  He cares only for money and little for the actual people he treats. An accident renders his hands useless and in seeking a cure he becomes a penniless derelict.  His search continues, however, and he makes it to Tibet where he hears of a man known as The Ancient One who may be able to help him.  He seeks The Ancient One out and finds him only discover that it is sorcery that the Ancient One believes can cure Strange.  Strange, being a man of science, rejects this and decides to leave only to discover that the Ancient One’s disciple Murdo is going to kill The Ancient One.  Strange attempts to warn the old man only to be stopped by a spell put on him by Murdo.  The Ancient One saves both Himself and Strange and Strange becomes the new disciple.  After years of training Doctor Strange become The Master of the Mystic Arts and a main player in the Marvel Comics and Cinematic Universe.

My journey in fictional magic continued.  The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Kingdom of Landover, The Belgariad and The Harry Potter books all added to my magical fun and adventure.

Why does magic entice all of us so much?  Why does the idea of conjuring strike our imaginations so hard?  I think the answer lies in what CS Lewis once said.  Lewis, the author of the Narnia books said “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  And we were made for another world.  When God created us in The Garden of Eden, he created us in a perfect world and was grooming us to be like him.  He wasn’t looking for slaves or he wouldn’t have given us the ability to choose.  But the ability to choose comes with consequences.  Adam and Eve were told they could do whatever they wanted except to eat from the fruit of one tree.  They couldn’t accept that one rule and so were banished from a perfect world into this one.  And here we remain as Lewis calls us, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

But God left in us a desire for our true home.  He gave us glimpses of that home in our imaginations and in the many books of fantasy that have been written.  Whether you are a fan of The Shire or Shangri La, or Neverland or Oz all of those places are glimpses of Eden our true home and the place we all long for.

The thing is we have another act of God where in we can begin to get Eden back.  God sent his son Jesus to pay for the sins of Adam and all the rest of us.  Jesus’ death on the cross and his ultimate resurrection pave the way to the real place of magic known as Eden or Heaven.  To return to that place God asks only one thing from us and that is to believe that Jesus died and was resurrected for us.  That’s it.  This is what Tolkien called “the one true myth.” No great acts of heroism or penance are required just belief that in the work God has done.  Will our lives change after that?  Yes, they will but the change will come not as an act of payment but as an act of gratitude that comes from believing in this amazing gift.  It would be the same way you would act toward the person who showed up at your door with the keys to a brand-new house or a car.  Just handed those keys to you and said enjoy it.  We would go out of our way to show our gratitude.  This is why our lives change when we understand what God has done for us.

I will continue to enjoy the fantasy worlds that are so much a part of my life.  These worlds have added color and excitement and mystery to this existence, but they have also been a pointer.  Little by little they pointed me back to Eden and to God.

Change

I have, mostly been writing about things and people that are dear to my heart.  This time around I’m going to make a turn and write about something most people are uncomfortable with and that is change.

Before we begin, I want to be perfectly clear that every change has the opportunity to be good.  If it’s an unwanted change we can learn from it if it’s a positive change we can delight in it but we all will react to change in one form or another.  Now to be frank I don’t like change.  Almost every change in my life had come with some sort of negative aspect that I wasn’t anticipating and so I get thrown or depressed.  This has been a life long struggle but it is one I eventually conquer.

Change has been happening to my body over the last twelve or thirteen years.  It began with my legs.  I realized I had no feeling from my knees to my toes and was diagnosed with neuropathy a condition mostly found in diabetics of which I was not one.  Then both of my feet became full of arthritis and my knees followed with the same thing.  To date walking is very difficult and standing for long periods of time impossible.  It became clear that I could not work and had to drop out of the work force.

I miss working.  Working gave me purpose and a sense of meaning to my life.  Since I worked in the health field, I also felt a sense of accomplishment as I helped others become well or deal with their illnesses.  For a brief period of time, I worked in a nursing home as an assistant activities director and that job gave me great joy as I could see the good, I was doing and could use the skills I had as an actor and director. 

We are all given a number of gifts when we come into this world.  I can picture God in heaven designing each and every one of us and pouring into us from his vast store house of gifts the things we will love and the things we will be passionate about.  For me he decided on English and music, writing, and acting, directing and creating.  He gave me the heart of an artist and the temperament of one too.

I remember my experience of directing different shows but most especially the ones I did for the church.  I could literally feel God’s pleasure in me as I did my best with what he gave me for him.  Those weren’t only good times they were amazing times.

Of course, it didn’t last, a monkey wrench got thrown into the works and everything came apart.  That was the best time of my life and it seems to be over now, but I also feel like there is more in store hopefully sooner than later.

Change

Our whole lives from the moment we are born until the day we die is about change.  You can resist it all you want but it’s going to happen.  In fact, it’s safe to say that if you are not actively changing you may well be actively dying.  Because change is life.  It challenges us, it makes us learn, it forces us to find courage, it builds bridges between people and sometimes it takes down bridges and pulls people apart.  This can be good or bad.  Some people need to leave our lives.  It’s best for them and for us.  Sometimes it’s hard to let go when a dear friend needs to leave to follow his or her passion or dream but it’s exciting too, knowing that the friend is going somewhere to be the best they can be.

Sometimes people leave us and it is not in our will or good.  A dear friend and you have words and the link that has been between you is suddenly gone and you mourn that person as though they were dead, but they’re not.  They have left your life and sometimes you don’t understand at all what has happened.

Then there is the hardest leaving of all death.  I have been present at the death of many people.  Most of them because of my job.  Some of my family.  Those were hard times.  My mother’s death was the worst.  You only have one mother and when she dies it feels like all the love in the world has gone with her.  No one loves you like your mom.  No one can love you like your mom.  Eve may have been taken out of Adam but everyone else since has been taken out of Eve or out of woman.  Every birth is a miracle and every woman who has given birth knows this.

I lived with my folks for a long time.  When I got really sick I became crotchety and obnoxious. I made it a point to stay out of the way of everyone so as not do or say the wrong thing.  My mother would boldly walk in where no one else would come.  She’d feel my head and make sure I had what I needed.  My mood would not interrupt her mission.  Not long after she died, I got very sick and our dog, Lucky, came into my room jumped up on my bed and put his nose to my forehead.  He then went down and snuggled at my feet.  I felt mom was there telling me she hadn’t really left me and when I was in trouble, she would still be with me. 

Change

About two and a half months ago I knew I had to do something to make my life have some sort of purpose.  I had toyed on and off with blogs, but it never seemed to be able to stick.  This time I was bound to make it work. 

I like to write.  I started keeping a journal at a very young age because of the TV show The Waltons.  I idolized John-Boy and saw in him the person I wanted to be so I began to write.  First a journal, occasionally short stories and eventually one full length play that was performed.  Writing can be the most difficult thing to start but once you get going who knows where you’ll end up.  JRR Tolkien started by giving us a children’s book in The Hobbit but ended leaving us with a fantasy masterpiece in The Lord of the Rings.  The Lord of the Rings was crowned the most important book of the 20th century by two different polls. 

This blog has become my work.  A goal set weekly to keep me from doing nothing.  It exercises my mind and my imagination, and it is my hope that it entertains and maybe educates my readers.  It may not be deep but is real and it is honest.

Change

As the last few years have gone by I have gotten weaker in my legs.  Walking has become harder, and I am now using a cane and may have to go to a walker.  Things that used to be a joy to do are now chores because they all involve pain.

For instance, I used to love to go grocery shopping.  I loved finding the sales and looking for the best of the meat.  Finding the fresh produce was fun and when the seasonal stuff came out just the smell of a grocery store would excite me.  In April several of the metatarsal bones at the top of my foot fractured.  It took twelve weeks for them to heal but because of the arthritis the pain and the swelling won’t go away.  I am in pain with almost every step and walking around a supermarket can be agony.  Yes I can get groceries delivered but that’s not as much fun and you don’t know what you’re getting.  You must hope that the person choosing for you thinks like you do.  It doesn’t always work out that way.

Change

My weight is now out of control and I understand mentally that I must change my ways.  Back in my twenties and thirties my weight was easy to control.  I didn’t drive and public transportation, though close to where I lived, wasn’t exactly near, so I walked about a mile or so a day.  More so if SEPTA went on strike, and they did like clockwork.  After I began to drive, in my thirties, weight started to add up on me.  I would lose it and then gain more.  This has become an unhealthy pattern, and something must be done and only I can do it.  No one can lose weight for you.

I have investigated bariatric surgery where they sew up your stomach.  I know people that have done this, and it has worked well for them.  But there are a lot of things that can go wrong after surgery.  I went through the initial interviews where everything was explained out and I got terrified.  I’m going to have to lose weight the old-fashioned way taking it off pound by pound until it’s gone.  My mother, God rest her soul, did it that way and there is no reason thst I can’t.  And I really want to do it, after all, you don’t see any fat old people and I’d like to live at least a few more years.

Change

This weekend DC comics announced that my favorite character, Superman, would have a new motto.  After 80 years of “Truth, Justice, and The American Way,” It would now be “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.”  I didn’t want to hear that.  I liked the old motto; it was a comfort to me.  It held dear the things that I held dear.  Why change it?  As a Christian I would have preferred a change that said, “Truth Justice and Mercy,” because that seems to me to be the message that the God of the Old and New Testaments is all about.  It would have reflected the core of my own beliefs.  I thought the new motto sounded very Disney.  After all you can’t go into a Disney Park and not be made very aware of what the world should be like and as much as Walt was an entertainer, he was also a futurist hoping to design and be part of all the latest in technology.  The song It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow rings throughout Magic Kingdom.  But where does Superman fit into tomorrow.  I think Superman is a bringer of light to a dark world.  He brings hope.  He makes every kid who feels like he’s Clark Kent know that there is something special about him.  That underneath he can be Superman.  I think Superman brings hope in hope can come a better tomorrow.

Change

Recently I found out that I would have to move.  The reasons don’t matter but moving is a monumental task and even more so now.

Five years ago, when I last moved, I could do so much more for myself than I can now.  I could gather boxes and load up and drive car loads full of them to where I was going.  I may be remembering wrong, but I think I moved all of my books and the shelves that come apart all by myself leaving not a lot for the movers to do.   Now I can’t even get the boxes.  Having to use a cane makes carrying stuff difficult, even empty boxes and I don’t do well on my feet because of the issues with my legs.  I’m going to need a lot of help with just the move.

Looking for an apartment has been no joy either.  Because I am disabled finding a building I can get into has been almost impossible.  Every place seems to have steps.  I did see one place where it looked really easy to get into, but the building was run down and dirty, it didn’t look like a very nice place to live so I passed on that.  There are a lot of second floor apartments with beautiful space but nothing with an elevator, so it won’t work.  They say moving in one of the top stressors of life and I believe it is, but it’s compounded by so little choice of where I can live.

Change

Change, we all go through it and ultimately it is good for us.  Change stretches our minds and our bodies.  We find we can learn, and we can adapt if we allow change to have its way.  We bend but we don’t break.  Change can even be fun.  Moving is tough and there is a lot I am not looking forward to, but I enjoy sorting through my belongings and thinning things out.  I like to organize and pack.  When the mover do come they will find me more than ready and the day will go smoothly.  Even losing weight can be fun as I find new foods to enjoy as I give up the stuff that does me no good.

I stated earlier in this missive that change is a part of life and if we aren’t actively changing we are actively dying.  And what is death if not change.  It is the change we have no control over and it is the change most people fear more than any other.  To end this I quote from from the Broadway musical Mame “LIVE LIVE LIVE, Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Or is it  CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE, Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.  To live is to change.

Superheroes

Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Ironman. Marvel Girl, all of these bring up thoughts of adventure and selfless heroism.  I was born in a time when superheroes were on the outskirts of accepted entertainment for young minds.  Under McCarthyism and with the influence of the book Seduction of the Innocent they had gained a bad reputation after only really being around for 33 years.  However not long before I was born the comic book superhero would enjoy the beginning of a renaissance that still contuse today.

I wish I had a time machine and could travel back to New York City in the year 1938.  The world was still in the throes of the Great Depression but with Roosevelt in The White House people were beginning to hope better days were ahead.  These were the days when newspapers and magazines were sold on newsstands on the streets.  Big boxes made of plywood which opened up with racks of colorful  magazine covers or the black and white print of newspapers.  One day in April a new magazine would appear on these racks.  It had a man dressed in red and blue wearing a cape and he lifted a car above his head seeming to shake the occupants out of it.  This was Action Comics number one dated June of 1938, but to give the magazine a long shelf life the magazine was released three months earlier than its cover date a practice still used by comic books today, the man in the colorful clothes was Superman.

Superman was the granddaddy of all the superheroes that would follow.  He is the standard that all superheroes are still measured by. Superman is timeless and remain popular throughout some of this world’s toughest times.  He survived The Great Depression, The McCarthy era, social reform, and every other fad that society could throw.  Superman adapted and grew.

Today’s Superman looks much like the original figure from 1938 but he has changed.  Originally Superman could jump an 8th of a mile or has a high as a building but he could not fly.  He had great speed, was invulnerable, but things like X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, super breath and remaining in outer space in just his uniform were years in the distance.

Superman was a hero for the people.  Stopping corrupt politicians, catching murderers and stopping executions of the wrong man were more of his everyday work.  His alter ego Clark Kent has also changed over the years.  In the 30s and well into the 80s Clark Kent was a klutz, sometimes afraid of his own shadow and always involved in a three-way relationship between himself, Lois Lane and Superman.  After the yearlong event Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Clark changed.  The glasses were still there but he was no longer the weakling that everyone could walk upon.  He would reveal his identity to Lois Lane and the two would marry. 

Superman is as relevant today as he was in 1938.  He has changed with the times and in those times a lot has happened.  Women’s Liberation, Racial Equality, Equality for all people regardless of skin color, gender, or sexual preference.  Superman has met each of these challenges in one form or the other not though super heroics, but by treating every individual he meets as an equal.  Worthy of respect just for being human.  We could all learn a lot from Superman.

Batman, however, is not Superman.  Batman created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger is totally human.  He has no super powers.  He has trained his body to perfection and honed his mind in the same way.  He is an expert at hand-to-hand combat and with simple weapons.  Like Superman Batman has a no kill creed.  He brings criminals to justice.

Batman is a story of tragedy.  Superman a story of hope.  Superman is sent from his dying planet to earth to be raised by Kansas farmers.  Superman grew up with good moral teaching and with two loving parents.  Batman saw his parents gunned down and was raised by the family butler.  His mind is always set on his mission that no one will go through what he went through.  In his original origin story young Bruce Wayne vows by candlelight to avenge his parents death by warring on all criminals.

Batman is a study in psychology.  What do you do when tragedy strikes?  How do you react to it?  Batman goes to the extremes.  His parents left him wealthy, he can afford to do as he wishes so he studies and grows strong to begin his war on evil.  But it leaves him a half person.  Batman in many ways cannot really love because he has left no room for it in his obsession.  He likes other people but in today’s comic stories he seems more interested in how an individual can help his cause than about the individual themselves.  This is why there have been four Robins each leaving Batman in one way or another to find their own way and not be caught up in the obsession.

Superman and Batman were created in the late 1930s.  Now we jump up 20 odd years to the early 60s.  Comics lost favor with the public in the 1950s and almost all the heroes hung up their capes and masks.  But in the late 1950s DC Comics made the decision to resurrect their comic book heroes.  But they would do it in a whole new way.  Gone were the original Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman and born were the new versions, streamlined with new origins that had a healthy dose of science fiction too add to the colorful heroes.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were the only three heroes to survive the 50s but soon they banded together with the new heroes and formed The Justice League of America.  The JLA became a very popular title and came to the attention of the editors of Timely Comics soon to become Marvel and one editor told a young Stan lee to come up with a team of heroes that would rival the JLA.  Lee was about ready to leave the comics business, but he took on this assignment and created The Fantastic Four and new era in comics began.

With the publication of The Fantastic Four comic book heroes began to grow up.  The Fantastic Four argued with each other, had obvious character flaws, and sometimes split up.  Sarcasm and anger were a part of every issue and the heroes seemed more human.  This new way or writing superheroes would spawn The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Spiderman.

Spiderman made his appearance in August of 1962 in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy.  He was the collaboration of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and became an immediate success.  Young angst laden Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider which give him the powers and strength of the arachnid.  It doesn’t however remove the social problems of a teen age boy and Peter finds it hard to be Peter made fun of by his classmates and Spiderman who is praised by the same people.  He is hurting and lonely and yet he always stays in the fight.  Tempted to give up by never giving in.

Superheroes are our modern mythology.  They are the Hercules, Ulysses, and Perseus of the 20th and 21st century.  We need fictional heroes.  They are important and they serve the function of passing on moral values.  They do this is a way that entertains and enlightens us without whacking us over the head.

Superman is embodiment of all things good.  He provides hope in a world that has gone very dark.  His primary-colored costume of red. Blue and yellow are a joyful expression of heroics and of light over coming darkness.

Batman is different.  Batman does not inspire hope of goodness as much as he shows the potential of every individual.  He takes it to the extreme, but he is the lesson of us becoming anything we want to be if we work hard enough to pursue it. 

Spiderman, in his origin tale allows the man who would ultimately kill his beloved Uncle Ben to get away.  When he learns that because of his in-action tragedy struck he comes to the understanding that with great power comes great responsibility.  Spiderman goes on to become a hero and that’s great but the lesson he leaves behind is that we need to hold those in power over us to that same thought.  From the President of the United States to your boss the power they hold is a responsibility and the responsibility is to do good with what you are given.  To not serve yourself but to serve others.

To not serve yourself but to serve others is the message of all good superhero stories.  We are put on this earth for only a brief period of time, and it is what we do for others that makes us human and what makes life worth living.  The more you reach out a hand to those in need, the more you will become aware of a sense of self satisfaction.

We are about to enter the holiday season.  Now more than ever the words of Charles Dickens ring down through the years that “Want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”  Do you have an abundance? Share something with those in need.  Go into your closet and give away the clothes you haven’t worn in a year.  Go through your house and whatever you don’t need give away.  There are a lot of people hurting in the world if you and I can gather the resources that we have at our disposal and choose to help those who are in need we will be superheroes.

Mystery

I remember being in Beverly Hills Junior High School and going to Seller’s Memorial Library for the first time.  Seller’s is the main branch of the Upper Darby Township Library System and is one third an old Victorian type house and the rest a modern building attached to the house.  It’s a pretty cool piece of architecture.

Beverly Hills Junior High School was only a short walk to and from the library.  My house was nowhere near the main branch, and I wanted to go because I was on a quest.  So, after school one day I walked to the library in search of mystery.

The year was 1974 and Murder on the Orient Express had made a huge impact as a film starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and a host of other A-list stars including Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman.  I saw the film and fell in love with it.  I was already an enthusiastic reader and wanted anything and everything by Agatha Christie.

I started with my school library at first, but I don’t remember finding very much there.  Junior High School English had already introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, but I wasn’t ready to commit fully to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective yet, I would in the years to come.  I wanted Mrs. Christie.

So, one late afternoon in 1974 I found myself fully engaged in the mystery section of my hometown’s biggest library.  I was combing my way through the stacks looking at title after title when an older gentleman approached me and asked what I was doing in that section.  I was a little bewildered.  It’s not like I was in some sort of X-rated area of the library so I stammered out some kind of answer and he replied that this section was for older people, and I should look for books somewhere else.  To quote Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame, “What an idiot.”

Needless to say, I didn’t listen to him and went on with my search much to his annoyance.  I don’t know what I went home with that day, but my guess is it was And Then There Were None, probably the most famous of all Mrs. Christie’s works.  When I opened up that book, I opened up a whole new world of mystery one that I still live in.

Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None were my first two trips into adult mystery, but my love of mystery goes back to my grade school days when I was reading Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Encyclopedia Brown was a series of short stories where all the clues were laid out in a pretty obvious way.  The reader was challenged to solve the mystery themselves before looking at how the hero, Encyclopedia Brown, solved it.  The books were fun but, in many ways, they were a one-time only read because after the mystery was solved there was no point in going back. 

The Hardy Boys were a different story, they were probably another level up.  The adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy solving mysteries in their hometown or in exotic locations were the stuff of fifth and sixth grade fantasies and doing it with your brother made it even better.  I’ve mentioned my cousin Steve before.  It was his library, that he left at home, that also introduced me to The Hardy Boys.  The first book I read was called While the Clock Ticked.  My aunt made me give this one back too, but I started my own collection after that and read several of the books in the next few years.

I stayed with Miss Christie for a long time, as if she were the only mystery writer worth paying attention to.  There was reason for this.  She wrote so many novels that you just don’t know when to stop and enjoy other authors.  Mrs. Christie had a whole stable of detectives that she created, and they were all worth reading.  Besides Hercule Poirot there is Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford to name her most famous.  There were also her standalone books such as The Pale Horse and Endless Night all totaled Mrs. Christie wrote 82 detective Novels.  I have no idea how many short stories and several plays.  She was and is the queen of mystery.

Other author’s and movies would come along as I got older.  Soon I began to notice other detectives in novels and movies.  In 1934 Dashiell Hammett published his novel The Thin Man with the crime solving detectives Nick and Nora Charles.  This was not the first husband and wife detective team.  Agatha Christie was first with Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.  Tommy and Tuppence were middle class when pitted up against Nick and Nora.

The Thin Man was soon scooped up by MGM and immediately and made into a popular film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora.  Though filmed in black and white the film showed the opulence of upper-class New York because Nick and Nora Charles were very wealthy.  This was the exact opposite of what most Americans were living like at the time. And because of the opulence and the devil may care attitude of the leading players The Thin Man became very popular and a series of films, totaling six, was produced from 1934 to 1947.

Mysteries were popular on both sides of the Atlantic and though we started with Agatha Christie we must now go back in time the great Victorian era.  London was gaslights and fog.  The English countryside was speckled with large estates nestles against mysterious moors.  And one man walked through those mysteries into international fame, the great Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1887 in a story titled A Study in Scarlett.  He was creation of Arthur Conan Doyle.  The story goes that Doyle, who was a doctor, did not have a very busy practice so to pass the time he created Sherlock, Doctor Watson.  It is said that there are three characters every child knows, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Sherlock Holmes.

In the Sherlock Holmes canon, there are 4 novels and 56 short stories that Doyle originally wrote.  After Doyle came many who tried to emulate Doyle’s style, and some came close.  There is The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Mayer and most recently a whole series of Holmes books which are surprisingly good, written by Kareem Abdul Jabaar.  But there are probably 100s of other authors who have taken up the pen to write further stories of the great detective.

After the popularity of the Holmes stories Doyle himself got a little tired of writing about his detective and had him killed in a story called The Final Problem.  The public outcry was so great and the national mourning so sincere for a fictional character, that Doyle brought him back first in The Hound of the Baskervilles which took place before his death and then he resurrected Holmes in a story titled The Empty House.  Holmes had never actually been dead but had faked his death to make himself scarce to those who still wanted to kill him.  Sherlock Holmes is now part of our great arts culture.  He will continue to be loved and to be enjoyed for generations to come.

One of my favorite detectives that I have discovered in the last couple of decades is the wonderful Nero Wolfe.  Wolfe aided by his handsome, man about town assistant Archie Goodwin was created in 1934 by Rex Stout.  He would go on and publish about a book a year until 1975.  There are 33 novels and 41 novellas and short stories in the Nero Wolfe canon.  I have read about thirty percent of the novels and have enjoyed each of them.

Nero Wolfe lives in an NYC brownstone house in the heart of metropolis.  He weighs a quarter of a ton and rarely leaves his home unless under extreme compunction to do so.  He solves his mysteries in a great desk chair built especially for him and has all the leg work dome for him by Archie Goodwin.  The Wolfe stories are told in first person from Archie’s point of view.  Wolfe, in today’s language would be called a foodie and takes great delight in being involved in the preparation and the consumption of his meals. He has chef/butler that lives with him as well as a gardener who manages his large collection of Orchids that are kept at the top of the house in the plant rooms.  Some of his greatest stories are centered around the office, the plant rooms, or his meals.  For those who desire to eat like Nero Wolfe there was even A Nero Wolfe Cookbook that was published many years ago and is still available today.

Nero Wolfe was not left off of film. There is one movie I know of and two TV series.  The best television series was done in the early 2000s and starred Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin.  These shows kept very close to the source material and are fun to watch.  The producers decided to hire a company of actors that worked across all the shows playing different parts.  In some of the shows the performances are so good you don’t realize you had seen the performer in a different role the week before.  These shows can be found on YouTube to watch for free.

To delve into humorous mystery, we are going to make one stop.  The Polly Pepper Mysteries.  There are four books in The Polly Pepper series.  Remains to be Scene, Final Curtain, A Talent for Murder and Set Sail for Murder all written by Richard Tyler Jordan.  Mr. Jordan worked in Hollywood for a long time and his books are riddled with caricatures of famous celebrities.  Half the fun of reading his books is trying to guess who the real people are behind the characters.  The Polly Pepper book have been described as a cross between Carol Burnett and Murder She Wrote.  Polly Pepper herself is an out of work actress who once had her own wildly popular variety show.  She knows and schmooses with the best of Hollywood but when a murder gets committed leave it to Polly to solve the crime with the help of her openly and well-loved gay son and an outspoken maid.  The books are a hoot and should be on the shelf of every mystery loving fan.  Here’s to hoping Mr. Jordan decides to take up the pen and give us more Polly adventures.

Most of the detectives I’ve written about went from page to screen but there is one that took the opposite route and went from screen to page.  That would be Jessica Fletcher and the television show Murder She Wrote.  Murder She Wrote starred Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher a retired schoolteacher and widow living in the fictional town of Cabot Cove Maine.  We are introduced to Jessica as her nephew has secretly submitted her murder mystery book to a publisher.  The book is excepted and becomes a best seller.  Jessica is pinned in the spotlight and whisked off to New York City to meet her publisher and to solve her first murder.  Murder She Wrote gave the audience the chance to solve the mystery and entertained television viewers for twelve seasons.  It had many celebrity guest stars including Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones, Van Johnson, and June Allison. 

Not long after the show started a series of books began to be published supposedly written by Jessica herself.  These are told in the first person as if Jessica is speaking to us.  The books are very good and keep the flavor and the pace of the TV show.  Murder She Wrote had stopped new TV episodes several years ago.  New books come out regularly.

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt are the creation of Ann Perry and began their adventures in 1979 in the book The Cater Street Hangman.  The stories take place in Victorian London where Thomas is a police detective.  Charlotte, his wife always finds a way or stumbles into his investigations. 

These books aren’t just telling mysteries.  Miss Perry has all her characters grow.  There is a regular cast of recurring supporting characters that you begin to care about as much as Charlotte and Thomas.  In the first book Thomas meets Charlotte in the second they are married as the series continues; they have children.  These books don’t just tell of the solving of a good case but also are the story of a family.

In recent years there have been several new detectives that come at solving crime through cooking up delicious food.  These books are three quarters story and maybe one quarter or less cookbook.  The best of these are The Hannah Swensen series by Joanna Fluke.

Hannah is a caterer in Aspen Colorado when meet her in The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.  She is divorced but is doing quite well on her own serving up meals to the Aspen elite.  In this series the characters also grow as Hannah meets new people falls in love and starts a new family. All of this takes place over several delectable tales.  The latest is the series is The Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder.  The recipes in these books are usually easy to follow and fun to try.

Mystery!  Why do we love these stories of who dun it?  It is kind of odd that we take delight in murder.  Or is it possible that we don’t delight in the murder as much as we delight in the solving of the puzzle?  All murder mysteries are puzzles and the pieces are all laid out before you to find if they seem obscure.  These mysteries may be a metaphor for life.  After all we start asking questions and trying to solve the mystery of our existence almost as soon as we can talk.  What parent doesn’t cringe a little when their three-year-old asks, “Where did I come from?”  No parent is going to give a technical answer regarding sex so other answers are given that a child can appreciate, but the question remains.  Where did I come from?  It soon turns into why am I here?  Is there a God what does that mean for me?

We all ask these questions.  And we spend our lives trying to find out the answer.  I think mysteries are there to tell us that the answers are there if me choose to seek for them.  There is a meaning and a purpose for every person born on this planet.  The hard part is that no one can tell you the answers to your questions at least not the most basic ones.  You must seek those answers out on your own.  I think mysteries tell us that there are answers to all questions.  I think mysteries give us hope.

Lucy and Me

Anyone who knows me knew that this was coming in one form or another.  In my 60 years on this planet no other actor or actress has influenced and entertained me more than Miss Lucille Ball.

My romance with this amazing red head began when I was just old enough to understand language and what was happening on the television screen.  As I have told elsewhere mom would do her chores and to keep me occupied set me down in front of our black and white TV set to watch I Love Lucy and The Jack Benny Program.  I had to have the highest paid babysitters in the neighborhood.

I liked Jack Benny or at least his cast.  I enjoyed the show most when Mary Livingston or Rochester were featured. Rochester had a unique, gravel like voice that was unforgettable.  Jack’s brand of comedy was more adult.  Not dirty, but sophisticated and sometimes was beyond me.  As I watch his show now, I can appreciate the comedy much more than when I was pre-school.

Lucille Ball was different.  Her comedy, thanks to her brilliant writers and her willingness to go on with any gag, could appeal to anybody in the family.  She fought with her husband, adult comedy, she got covered in chocolate, kid comedy, she was overdrawn at the bank, adult comedy, tries to sell vacuum cleaners door to door that makes more of a mess than it cleans up, kid comedy. 

I think the show was more family friendly than anything else on Television and Lucy reigned supreme for more than twenty years at her 9 pm timeslot on the CBS television network.  In the 60s I had to be in bed by 9 so I missed all of those shows on their first run.  It wasn’t until the 70s that I was able to stay up and watch my favorite actress every week.  But I had the reruns, and they were golden to me.

Not many people realize all the firsts I Love lucy gave to the world of television.  And there are a lot.  But let’s look at why I Love Lucy came into being.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, a Cuban immigrant, met while they were both working for MGM studios in a film titled Too Many Girls.  Lucille fell in love with the suave Cuban immigrant almost immediately and they eloped in 1940.  Lucille was 29 when she married Desi.  She wasn’t the biggest star in Hollywood, but she had a good career with some solid roles working with the likes of Bob Hope, Henry Fonda, and Katherine Hepburn.  Desi was a band leader and though he made a few films his life was on the road going from concert to concert with his signature song Babaloo. 

After being married the marriage was tested.  Desi was on the road and Lucy was in California.  They both wanted children but being separated made this difficult.  It was in the early 1950s that they realized the best way to save their marriage and to have kids was to work together.  They decided the best medium to do this in was television.

Television was still in its infancy in the early 1950s.  Hollywood stars looked down on the TV box and thought the actors working in television not quite as good as themselves.  It was a big leap for Lucille to make this jump, but she did.  Her timing was right too.  The star system that had dominated Hollywood for many years was beginning to break down.  Contract players were becoming less and less the usual thing.  Radio was still the biggest way people got their at home entertainment, but TV was slowly catching up.  Lucille was doing a radio show called My Favorite Husband it was this show that she hoped to bring over to television.  Her husband on radio was played by Richard Denning.  He would be replaced by Desi Arnaz.

The first obstacle in getting the show up and running was to find a studio to help them make it.  They approached the major networks and were turned down.  The reasons the networks gave was that no one would believe an all-American girl like Lucille would be married to a foreigner.  That, of course was nonsense.  Men and women from different national backgrounds were married all the time in The United States.  We are all immigrants or descended from immigrants and have different backgrounds.  My mother was Dutch and my father Italian. Second or third generations removed from the original immigrants but still with widely different ethnic backgrounds.  The whole country is that way in one form or another.

Lucille and Desi made some sort of deal with CBS.  They would go on the road with a show and see if America would except them if they did well than CBS would help produce the show.  Needless to say, the couple was a hit wherever they went.  They even developed the relationship they would eventually have in the TV show while on the road.  The first dividend from the doing the live show on the road was that Lucy got pregnant.

The success of the show gave them permission from CBS.  Now they had to figure out how to make their show.  Most TV shows in the early 50s were being filmed in New York City.  Lucy and Desi were Californians and wanted to remain in California.   It was at this time that the two went into professional partnership together.  The bought The RKO studio.  The movie lot where Lucille got her start and christened it Desilu Studios.  They knew they would have to film their show and send it to the east coast for broadcast.  The early TV shows weren’t filmed or recorded they were made on kinescope and aired live.  Desi proved he was a genius and a good businessman.  He brought on Karl Freund who developed the three-camera technique for filming I Love Lucy.  The show would be filmed as a play but with each camera doing different work.  The show was also performed before a live audience.  The laughter from the I Love Lucy soundtracks was actually sold to other shows that weren’t performed live to tell the TV audience when to laugh.

Desi also made a great casting director.  Lucille originally wanted Bea Bernadette and Gale Gordon to play Fred and Ethel Mertz.  Neither was available as they were both contracted in other shows.  Lucille would eventually work with Gale Gordon on I Love Lucy as a guest star playing Ricky’s Boss.  She would work with him for years in the 60s and 70s in Lucille’s other shows.  Desi knew William Frawley and was well aware of his talents.  Frawley had been a character actor for years and worked with Bing Crosby in Going My Way and Bob Hope in The Lemon Drop Kid.  He felt he would be perfect for the part of Fred.  A friend sent Desi to see Vivian Vance in a play in nearby California town and in her he knew he had found his Ethel.  Frawley was struggling with alcohol, but he pulled himself together and the cast of I Love Lucy was born.

No one needs to have the plot of I Love Lucy explained.  An American housewife finds herself in all kinds of jams and comes up with zany ways to solve her problems.  Lucille was pregnant with Lucie Arnaz when the films pilot was filmed and gave birth to her on July 17, 1951.  I love Lucy was first aired on October 15, 1951, one year and two births.

I Love Lucy was of course an immediate hit.  It changed the way the world worked on Monday nights.  Department stores closed early because no one came in after eight thirty they all wanted to be home for Lucy.  Water usage went down.  The political world was affected the bottom line was no one not even a presidential speech had the right to interrupt Lucille Ball and her antics.  The fashion world was hit too and the dresses that Lucille wore on the show became very popular.  The whole country loved Lucy in the 1950s.

The show had its scares.  Lucille was investigated briefly but publicly for possible ties to the communist party.  This could have ruined the show and there was some truth to it.  Lucille’s grandfather believed in the party in its early days and made all of the family become associated with them.  Lucille was simple humoring the man who helped raise her. She was a staunch American and believed in this country and what it had given her and Desi.  She was called to testify in front of The House Committee and was exonerated.  She had to film an episode of I Love Lucy that night and she was scared to death. How would her audience treat her?  These were frightening times for anyone even remotely connected to communism.  Movie career and TV careers were being ruined, not to be salvaged, if ever, for years to come.  Desi came out and gave an amazing speech before the audience.  One memorable line was,” Here is my wife and the only thing red about her is her hair and that comes from a bottle”.  The audience gave Lucille Ball a standing ovation.

Desi Arnaz Junior was born during the run on I Love Lucy.  Lucy was the first actress ever to appear pregnant on television and it took a lot of work to pull it off.  The sponsors and the network had to agree and a priest a minister and a rabbi were called on to oversee each show.  The word pregnant couldn’t be used so expecting was substituted.  The shows were taped in advance of the delivery but since Lucille had delivered Lucie via C-section Desi Jr would need to be delivered the same way.  So on January 19, 1953 Desi Arnaz Jr was born to Lucille and Desi Arnaz and Little Ricky was born to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.  Desi’s baby picture was the cover of the first TV guide and television was forever changed.

Of course, I wasn’t born yet.  Desi Jr. and I are several years apart and when I came along in the 60s I Love Lucy had gone off prime-time TV.  Despite all their effort Lucille and Desi could not make their marriage work and divorced in 1961.  The I Love Lucy show which in the end was called The Lucy Desi Comedy Hour went off the air of April 1, 1960.

The studio was still producing wonderful TV shows.  Desilu was responsible for The Untouchables, Our Miss Brooks, The Danny Thomas Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show and so many others.  If they weren’t made directly by Desilu the shows were shot on their lot.

It would be two years before Lucy would return to television, but she would not go off the air.  Because of the genius of Desi Arnaz all the I Love Lucy shows were taped and so could be reshown at any time consequently Desi invented syndication and the rerun.  Since I love Lucy first aired in 1951 it has never been off the air.  The show will be 70 years old this October and still makes each new generation laugh.

Lucille, after her divorce, took a shot at Broadway and starred in a show called Wildcat.  It was successful, if only because of her.  It did have a popular song come out of it called Hey Look Me Over. After the run of the show, she would return to television in her second show The Lucy Show.  The first episode of this show was aired October 1, 1962 and would reunite Lucille Ball with Vivian Vance.

In The Lucy Show Lucille Ball played Lucy Carmichael a widow with a son, Jerry and teen-age daughter. Chris.  Vivian would be her best friend and lodger a divorcee named Vivian Bagley with a son named Sherman.  They lived in a small town named Dansfield in New York.  This was my Lucy show.  Of course, I was too young to remember its first run but to me Lucy explored more of her comedic talent and other abilities than on I Love Lucy.

The first season was shot in black and white.  Then Desilu took another bold step and began shooting in color with the second season.  Color televisions were very rare in the 60s but always looking ahead Lucy and Desi still partners could see what was coming and got on board early.  They were right.

I have watched I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy over and over again.  Her outing on Life with Lucy not so much as it only became available to purchase recently and has never been shown in syndication.  Basically, Life with Lucy failed.  I like it.  But to me Lucy could do no wrong.  But this show was made in the 80s and people just couldn’t accept a mad cap grandma that got into physical trouble.  I think old people seem to be frail to young people and the image of an old lady lying on the floor pushing her panic button and saying, “Help I.ve fallen and I can’t get up!”, is more in tune to a young person’s mind than Lucy being hurled back and forth by a runaway electric armchair and walking away no harm done.  Still The Lucy Show remains dearest to my heart.

The Lucy Show had some of Lucille Ball’s zaniest and most inspired moments.  Lucy and Vivian arguing over every detail as they spend their first Christmas together is hilarious especially when Lucy appears with an ax to start taking chunks out of Viv’s “white” Christmas tree. Then there was the episode where a contact lens is supposedly lost in a well decorated cake.  Needless to say the crumbs flew.

She had some amazing guest starts too.  In fact, I think all old Hollywood made a guest appearance on The Lucy Show or Here’s Lucy.  She had to start Ethel Merman, Jack Benny, Shelley Winters, John Wayne, and Carol Burnett to name a few.  Then there were the marvelous character actors such as Mary Wickes, Hans Conried, Mary Jane Croft and Ann Sothern.

Then there was Gale Gordon.  There have been many amazing pairings down the ages, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Batman and Robin, Hamburgers and Cheese, Holmes and Watson and right up there is Lucille Ball and Gale Gordon.

Gale Gordon allowed more to be done to him than any man on Television.  Vivian was Lucy’s friend and partner in crime Gale Gordon as Mr. Mooney, the banker who was the trustee for Lucy’s money left to her by her deceased husband, was Lucy’s nemesis.  Gale Gordon knew comedy well.  He was the long-suffering principal to Eve Ardan’s Miss Brookes in Our Miss Brooks.  He was the second Mr. Wilson in the live action television series Dennis the Menace.  In those shows he honed and perfected his craft with Lucy it all came together.

Lucille, Gale and all of her cast members gave it their all to make entertaining funny television.  Lucy decides to save money by cutting her son’s hair, she ends up giving Mr. Mooney’s son a mohawk.  Lucy locks herself and Mr. Mooney in the bank vault by accident, Lucy tries to make money by catering children’s birthday parties and end up flying away on a string with a hundred helium balloons, Lucy has a special vault made in the bank for Jack Benny’s money that includes quicksand.  All of these and hundreds of other situations came up over the years and they all make me smile now.

After the Lucy Show Lucille would go onto to star in Here’s Lucy. Vivian Vance had gone into semi-retirement only appearing the show occasionally. Lucy would have a whole new beginning in Here’s Lucy. She was still a widow with two children only now her kids were played by her own teen age children Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. Gale Gordon stayed with her but the character of Mr. Mooney was gone. He was now now Harrison Carter, the owner of Carter’s Unique Employment Agency. He was also Lucy’s brother in-law and boss as Lucy worked for him as his secretary. Having her own kids on the show gave it an added dimension. I was old enough to stay up and watch this and I liked Lucie Arnaz but I thought Desi Arnaz Jr. was just cool and was very disappointed when he left the show to follow his own career path.

Here’s Lucy was still zany comedy. Hollywood guest starts would make regular appearances. It was on Here’s Lucy where she got got Elizabeth Taylor’s famous diamond ring stuck on her finger. And it was on Here’s Lucy where she got to dance with Ginger Rodgers her old chum from her days at RKO and whom she worked with in the movie Stage Door. Wally Cox, Tony Randall, George Burns, Liberace Jackie Gleason and a host of other made appearances on her show.

On April 26, 1989, Lucille Ball passed away and a legend left this earth.  She was a beautiful woman, hardworking, and a perfectionist.  Toward the end of her life, she proved to the world that she could do drama as she played a bag lady in Stone Pillow.  I remember the day she died.  It was like losing a much-loved relative.  I shed more than a few tears.  I wish I had met her, and I wish I could have told her all that she meant to me and all the joy she has given and continues to give me.  When I watch her shows now, I still laugh but there is a little sadness in the laughter for what can never come again.

Gale Gordon summarized what Lucy gave to him and to the world in his forward to the book Loving Lucy. “Mainly dear heart, my thanks for letting me participate, in a very small way, in concocting the world’s most need tonic, laughter -the miracle drug!  It’s good for what ails you, it has no injurious aftereffects, and it is well-nigh impossible to take an overdose!”

Gale continues, “The world loves you dear physician.  You have soothed our aches and pains, you have lightened our burdens and made our lives a little brighter, and you have given television an added dimension by using it as a vehicle for making house calls!

I couldn’t write anything better.  Let me finish this by saying I too will always love Lucy.

Peanuts

Peanuts

On the 19th of September Linus Van Pelt turned 69 years old.  I know this because the Charles Schulz Museum put a special post on Facebook reminding me of my favorite Peanut’s character’s birthday.  They also ran the first strip.  In that historic strip Linus is still in diapers and hasn’t even learned to walk yet.  But that uniquely shaped head and the scraggly hair definitely told you that this was Linus.

That’s true of all The Peanut’s characters.  If you go back and look at the original strips, they look remarkably different than what they would be in ten years’ time.  Ten years after that they would change a little more but not by much. Even the characters would change.  In the first strip which was dated October 5, 1950, we see three characters two of which are all but forgotten today.  Shermy, who is always the shepherd in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Patty (not Peppermint) a blond-haired girl who be most often seen with Lucy, and Charlie Brown.  These three were the center for awhile but slowly the cast would grow as Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty Marcy, and Franklin would all join the cast as well as a host of other characters.

Charles M Schulz was a genius born in 1922 and died in 2000.  For fifty of those years from 1950 until 2000 Schulz wrote and illustrated every Peanuts strip.  If he took a vacation, he wrote strips 2 or three weeks in advance.  Not one line of a pen or one word came from anybody else.  Every strip was pure Schulz.

That’s not to say he didn’t take ideas from those around him.  Watching his own children grow gave Schulz much fodder for his strip.  Watching them at play or what they were learning in school or how they got things mixed up was him plenty of ideas.  He took outside advice to and when an African American lady wrote him asking him to put an African American child in his strip, he took the advice and Franklin was born.

One other gift that Schulz had was seeing the human experience the sad and the happy and making us laugh at it.  His strip had the capacity to make kids laugh at the antics of a beagle and adults laugh and yet ponder the words of Linus who, more often than not, was the moralist of the characters.  He saw inside of us and liked what he saw but he also knew we could be better.  It’s all there in The Peanuts strip.

Mr. Schulz was a Baptist at the beginning of his career and through out the 1950s and 1960s you will find Bible verses peppered through out those years.  Of course, the most famous moment is Linus reciting from Luke Chapter Two in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  But he could be subtle too.  There is one strip where Linus is building a sandcastle.  It was a Sunday strip, and it was panel after panel of turrets and towers, high walls, and battlements.  In the last few panels, it starts to rain and the whole thing disappears.  Linus, looking at the work he has done melting away say, “I know there’s a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is.”  If you know your New Testament you know exactly what it is.  It’s a pictorial reference to Matthew Chapter 7 verses 26 and 27 where Jesus says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain came down, streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.  This is the end of The Sermon on the Mount.

Peanuts somehow enters all of us.  I know at different times of my life I can be as crabby as Lucy, as insecure as Charlie Brown, passionate as Schroeder, Adventurous as Snoopy, as loyal as Woodstock or as wise as Linus.

For a good part of my life, in recent years, I saw myself as Charlie Brown.  The loser, the guy that had little to offer the world.  The guy that failed at life.  Like Charlie Brown too many curve balls knocked me on my back on the pitcher’s mound, but I got up and tried again.  Like Charlie Brown I sought help.  A few times I ended up with advisers that might just as well been Lucy and her psychiatric booth, but more than once I ended with councilors who could and did advise me well and I found myself back in the game again.

Physical issues knocked me down too and again I needed help to get back in the game.  And again, there were people there, professionals who knew how to advise me and get me moving.  Like Linus helped Charlie Brown see what the true meaning of Christmas is.  People helped me to see what the true meaning of life is and how to live it.

These days I think I see life as a cross between Linus and Snoopy.  I want to see the meaning behind the events of my life.  I want to have deep discussions on philosophy and faith and how each of these fits into my life.  I also want to live an adventure.  Snoopy became whatever his imagination decided he would be, A World War One fighter Pilate, A lawyer, a doctor, A skater.  You see Snoopy swimming and surfing and sometimes driving a car he is almost always at the head of an adventure and willing to take the risk of the next one.  This is how I want to live.

What is an adventure.  Thornton Wilder said that you can tell if you’re in an adventure if you look around and say, “How did I get into this?”  But he countered with that you know “There is something wrong with you when you sit quietly at home hoping for an adventure.”

Right now, life is full of adventure for me.  My journey has taken a new turn and there is much to decide in the coming months.  I have been asking myself, “how did I get into this?”  And the answer has been through no fault of my own, at least for most of it.  Regardless of how, the question now is what?  What’s the next move?  How do I solve the puzzle?  I could look on the issues I am facing and be all, “woe, is me”, or I could see each situation as an adventure.  A chance to learn and grow as a person and ultimately to be a better man than I am.  To me that’s the perfect balance between Snoopy and Linus.  Seizing the adventure and seeing the meaning and the potential behind it.

I’d like to talk a little more about Charles Schulz.  Schulz was an amazing man with an incredible mind.  His work will live on through out the ages.  Other comic strips will come and go because they are grounded firmly in the time they were written.  The political landscape of Doonesbury is not the same as we have today and so the strip will fade as its creator passes on.  The same could be said for other comic strips.  Schulz work is timeless.  He makes us laugh and hits are hearts and minds at the same time.  An example of one such strip goes like this.

Linus (Pretending he has a gun) Bang Bang!

Charlie Brown:  What are you playing Linus, cops, and robbers?

Linus No!  Bang Bang!

Charlie Brown: Cowboys and Indians?

Linus: No.

Charlie Brown: Then what are you playing?

Linus: Liberals versus conservatives!  Bang Bang!

 Now Charles Schulz passed away 21 years ago.  This strip was written in the late 50s or early 60s and it is still as relevant today as the day it was written.

Schulz was a man who struggled.  He may have been at one time the most famous cartoonist in the world, but he struggled with insecurity and depression.  And yet they never beat him.  For 50 years this man would turn out strip after strip.  All those raw emotions and self-doubt became fodder for his imagination and instead of wallowing in self-pity he made us laugh and gave us the great gift of all of his characters.

I used to think that Schulz modeled Charlie Brown after himself.  I read an early biography of him where he talked about feeling out of place while in school and felt genuinely insecure.  But when Schulz was asked what character, he saw himself as he simple answered, “All of them”.  That answer, at first, surprised me.  But after thinking about it awhile, it seemed to be exactly true not only for him but for all of us.

As people we switch hats and masks every day.  Maybe to put it better we play different parts every day.  In a days’ time I can be a son, a brother, a writer, a chef, a researcher, a movie or book critic, a house cleaner, a good friend, or a councilor.  You in a day could be a mother or a father, a hockey player or businessperson, a student, or a teacher all in a single day.  We change our roles as we go from one of our interests or jobs to another and we don’t even think about it, the change is instant, sometimes simultaneous.

Charles Schulz is basically saying the same thing as he claims he is all of his characters.  He can lose and yet still be determined as Charlie Brown of be angry and crabby like Lucy.  I guess I’m pushing this to some extent, but the universalness of Charles Schulz Characters cannot go understated.

Charles Schulz is distinctly the only Newspaper cartoonist to have covered all the ways we can be entertained.  His characters have been successful in the newspapers and on-line, in movies and television and on the Broadway stage.  His entire 50 years of work has been bound in 25 hard cover books and are available for purchase.  Peanuts is read the world over and I doubt there are many countries where Snoopy plush dolls are not available for purchase.

One night in December 1969 Charles Schulz had printed his daily strip.  A Boy Named Charlie Brown was playing in the movie theaters, A Charlie Brown Christmas was on our television sets and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown was being performed off Broadway.  Every form of media was corned by Peanuts that night.  No one has done that since.

Peanuts, Featuring Good Ol’ Charlie Brown has entertained informed and inspired us for 71 years. It has hit our hearts and our minds and our faith.  It remains popular being published every day still in print newspapers or daily delivered to your in-box.  (Since Schulz death they have been reprinting the strip from 1975 to 2000, this will end in 2025)  The Characters remain popular on television and though each of the holiday specials are available on DVD or digitally we still clamor for them to be shown on network television.  Last years rage over Apple buying the rights to show exclusively on Apple TV proves that.  The messages and the joy in those holiday specials should be free to the world as I think Schulz would want it.  Charlie Brown once said, “Life is like an ice cream cone, you have to learn to lick.”  I’ll leave you there.