In the time of the chimpanzee, I was a monkey

I was at Wal-Mart the other day, picking up our usual stuff, cleaning supplies, vitamins and some light bulbs when I wandered down the Halloween aisle. I’m drawn to that stuff, always have been, though I haven’t really gotten in on the adult Halloween Party bandwagon, it’s more of a trip down memory lane for me now. In the middle of the Freddy Krugers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Angry Birds and Sexy Kittens was an adorable little Monkey Suit.

I’m four or five, ready to go. My first real costume is on, and has been for hours. It’s a monkey suit, complete with a nice long tail. We got it from Sears, and I can still smell the monkeenewness of it, the faint plastic, the elastic that got caught in my hair as I put the mask over my face, the “soft” at the end of the tail. It was a great costume, and a great holiday at my house.

Mom and dad were lots of fun then, we bought a record called “Spooky Creepy Sounds from the Haunted House,” or something like that, and my dad would run an extension cord out of a window and hide the record player in the bushes and let it go on repeat during the trick or treat hours.

A light post sat quietly at the end of our driveway three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, but on October 31st a scarecrow would lay at the foot of the post. Unsuspecting kids would start for our door, enticed by the creepy sounds coming from the bushes, go to the door, get a spider dropped on them from one of the upstairs windows (cleverly set up with a retractable line) and if they survived and made it to the door, they would be greeted by a ghastly apparition, my mother, sometimes with a stocking over her face and a hooded, leopard velour cape over her head.

Some kids actually managed to get some candy, and it was never the cheezy little bars, we went all out, giving some really good treats, full sized Reeses Peanut Butter Cups or Butterfingers, sometimes we would put a few together and wrap them in a baggie, but it was always worth the trip. Of course, once the trick or treaters bounded down our front steps with their bounty, the “scarecrow” at the lantern would come to life and scare the bejeses out of them. My father could always lie still for hours, and he put that skill to good use come Halloween.

As we got older it was more fun to stay home and enjoy the night rather than run around the neighborhood acting like a bunch of fools, egging cars, waxing windows and terrorizing the little kids. We did plenty of terrorizing right at home, thank you very much. Dad let us be the scarecrow now and then, and we would fight for the honor. As time went on, people were on to us, but they would still make the trip, parents making sure the new ones got a taste of some real Halloween fun.

It was silly, goofy in a great way, a bit inappropriate at times and completely insane and out of character, but it helped connect us as a family, and now, all these years later when I see a little monkey suit at Wal Mart I’m right back in the jungle with the people who matter most, and who live forever because they were not afraid to let loose now and then, and show their kids how to have a little fun. Remember, times were different then, parents were authority figures, not to be questioned, and not at all concerned about their kid’s feelings or self esteem. They raised us they way they saw fit, and goddammit nobody would tell them otherwise.

Yesterday, I wrote about my mother’s unfortunate experiences toward the end of her life. She had a rough time of it, that much is certain, but after her stay at Butler Hospital, and once properly diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder and put on proper medication was making remarkable progress, putting her life back together, enjoying her family and gaining some independence. The last time I saw her standing she was boarding a plane at Green State Airport heading to North Carolina to spend a week with my sister Susan and her family. It was quite an adventure for her, and I’ll never forget the way she looked as she walked down the boarding ramp, the airliner waiting and a new life ahead of her.

She had a massive stroke a few days after she arrived, and never walked, or talked again, and died in a nursing home eight years later.

Every year I break out the Leopard Print cape, and feel the softness of it, and pull it over my head and scare the kids who dare come to my door on Halloween. It’s in the cedar closet in my basement, where it waits all year long.

Memories cannot wait, they must be created every day, because we just never know what the future has in store. Life goes on, we go away, but the impressions we make last forever.


Rest in peace Senator McCain

“Hello Senator Reed,” I said without considering that maybe he preferred to be left alone. It was too late to take it back so I pressed on.

“Don’t you have people to do this stuff?” He chuckled at that, and replied with a little grin, “I sure do. Me!”

We made small talk for a few minutes; comfortable things gray haired guys talk about at a hardware store. I wasn’t purposely avoiding political talk, it just didn’t come up. I did offer my condolences for the passing of his colleague, Senator John McCain, figuring the two of them must have been friends.

“Sometimes we would get heated, and when it looked like we were getting nowhere, John or I would mention the reason for the impasse was because he was an Annapolis man, and I was West Point or vice versa, and the tension would evaporate, and we could get back to work.”

The respect and admiration for his former friend, adversary and fellow Senator was genuine. I was fortunate to witness his true depth of emotion, and the cynicism I had allowed to fester for years was granted a welcome reprieve. We were silent for a time, both lost in thought. For Senator Reed it was no more than a passing moment on a Sunday afternoon and a comfortable chat with a constituent. For me it held far more significance.

I got to see the man behind the press releases, and the carefully worded responses to pointed questions concerning national security, budget matters, the president and whatever tragedy warranted a senatorial response.

The people turning the engines of our country; people like me, people working part time at Lowes on a Sunday afternoon are not often privy to the people who represent us in Washington. We are spectators to the grand schemes portrayed on the twenty-four hour news and our social media feeds. We get the two dimensional view, the cardboard cutouts and the edited versions of the events of the day. We hear speeches that are far too often written by teams of writers, and vetted by focus groups and checked and rechecked for anything that might expose the person speaking as one of us.
Every now and then one of us has an opportunity to connect with another of us who happens to be a United States Senator.

We talked about Highland Falls, a little town that lies on the Hudson, next to West Point. I told him about a little RV park that my wife and I stayed in last year, and how the proprietor sat on his porch that once was a railroad station telling us stories about his past.

The old man talked about the history of his little place, which as it turns out both of the senator and I had been profoundly impacted by. I spent a leisurely summer day on the banks of the Hudson, gabbing with my wife and a nice old guy about history, and President Lincoln who had disembarked on the very spot I sat on. Senator Reed told me the story of how he and his classmates boarded a similar train from the same spot that Lincoln had stepped off of, and rode the tracks all the way to Philadelphia.

“It was the last year they used the train,” he said. “We filled it. It was quite a ride.”

As we spoke my mind was filled with images of the Senator and his classmates in 1971, the specter of Viet Nam and growing discontent at home hanging over them as they rode the same tracks that had transported troops to battlefields in Gettysburg, presidents to Washington and regular people to the city to find work. It was kind of overwhelming.

But gray haired men can’t whittle away the whole day gabbing, there is work to be done. I took my right hand off of the handle of the broom I had been holding during our conversation, shook the Senator’s hand and finished sweeping.

I actually enjoy that job; it gives me time to think.

Political climate is what we make it

“The current political climate” is a phrase that describes how dysfunctional life in the United States has become. The words are used by the media and politicians, as well as by people at coffee shops, bars and dinner tables, to strengthen their position on hot topics: Donald Trump, racism, Supreme Court nominations, global warming and gun control. To name a few.

The words are written or spoken, and all who read or hear them are expected to understand without question that there is an ideological war raging between right and left, and we are all embroiled in it.

I think we all might be a little crazy, and that the current political climate is in our heads. The people we have elected to represent us are often elected because they have promised to fight for us. In most elections, the fighter gets the votes and the diplomat goes home.

This philosophy holds true in the strange world of politics, but not so much in the lives of the people affected by it. We the people fight as a last resort, not as a matter of course. We understand that there is more to life than grandstanding, attacking another’s position and winning. We have no choice, we are in this together. Our world is not black and white, 50-50, or left vs. right.

For our society to function, it is imperative that all involved understand that every one of us has something of value to offer. The complexity of life demands it. Our world would fall into irreparable chaos if each of us, every moment, fought to be right. Travel would be catastrophic, peaceful gatherings reduced to riots, education impossible and high-quality health care an unobtainable dream.

Human beings have learned the value of understanding another person’s views, and right of way. We understand the laws of nature, and follow them without question. It is truly miraculous and validating that 300 million people are able to exist in peace, be productive, help those in need and truly care about everybody else.

The distractions we are bombarded with daily do not define us. We are far more important than President Donald Trump’s tweets, or a Supreme Court nomination and the circus that surrounds it. It is difficult to ignore the drama, and oddly comforting to choose a side and live in an echo chamber of like-minded people. But that ultimately leads to resentment, disappointment and despair.

“The current political climate” is exactly what we allow it to be. I refuse to succumb to the mantra that my beliefs are in stark contrast with half of my fellow citizens. I have far more in common with people I disagree with on political matters than I have differences.

I know that I like meatloaf, punk rock, kombucha, the NFL and Nike sneakers. People close to me despise all of those things. But we all love each other, and most of us love meatballs, rock music, sweet tea, sports and cool T-shirts.

The devil is in the details, and we have become obsessed with focusing on the details that divide us. What is good and oft forgotten is the graceful dance the vast majority of us perform daily.

Providence Journal Op/Ed by Michael Morse, 1 Oct 18