Saturday, April 14, 2007

A penny for your thoughts

One night a wife found her husband standing over their baby's crib. Silently she watched him. As he stood looking down at the sleeping infant, she saw on his face a mixture of emotions: disbelief, doubt, delight, amazement, enchantment, skepticism.

Touched by this unusual display and the deep emotions it aroused, with eyes glistening she slipped her arm around her husband.

"A penny for your thoughts," she said.

"It's amazing!" he replied. "I just can't see how anybody can make a crib like that for only $46.50."

Labels: ,

Funny Kitten (Photo a day)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ted Goes Hunting

By Adrian Telizyn

In the far northern woods of British Columbia in the early 1980s, the hunting regulations were seldom enforced. BC Rail section and train crews never went anywhere without a good rifle. One never knew when a trophy moose might pop up.

There was a fellow named Ted who worked on the Fort Nelson section gang under a foreman named Jesse Dhillon. Ted liked a good deer; he would often dismount from a speeder, let the section run ahead, and go hunting. Jim McKay was the roadmaster at the time, and he detested it when his section forces hunted on company time.

One day, the section came back into Fort Nelson with an animal draped across every speeder. Jim was furious! But the men were confused. All the assigned work was done, and the men had the resulting extra time to hunt. What was the problem?

Jim walked up to Ted.

"Don't you ever shoot a deer on company time again," he ordered.

The next day, the section departed town on their speeders. Jim was determined to catch them in the act. Around Elleh, a trophy moose stood on the tracks in front of the gang. Ted jumped out of his speeder and shot it. The moose ran away wounded. Ted had to catch up and finish it off.

He told the section foreman to run ahead without him to Ekwan, clear the approaching train, and then come back to get him. Ted caught up to the moose in the bush, finished it off, and cleaned it.

The northbound train went by. Then Ted heard Jim's dreaded voice on the radio.

"Hello foreman Jesse Dhillon.… I need to get by your gang at Ekwan"

Ted hid himself and his moose in the bushes and waited. McKay's speeder went by without noticing him. McKay made it to Ekwan, where he satisfied himself that the men were not hunting on company time.

Suddenly, he noticed that Ted was missing. "Where is Ted?" he demanded.

Jesse Dhillon wilted under the pressure and told Jim where he could find Ted. Jim sped off northward. He found Ted standing beside the tracks with is dead moose and began his tirade.

"Are you finished yet?" asked Ted.

"Why?" stormed Jim.

"Because you told me not to shoot another deer on company time. This here is a moose."


Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Requirement

By Wendell Berry

Well, you get older and you begin to lose people, kinfolks and friends. Or it seems to start when you're getting older. You wonder who was looking after such things when you were young. The people who died when I was young were about all old. Their deaths didn't interrupt me much, even when I missed them. Then it got to be people younger than me and people my own age that were leaving this world, and then it was different. I began to feel it changing me.

When people who mattered to me died I began to feel that something was required of me. Sometimes something would be required that I could do, and I did it. Sometimes when I didn't know what was required, I still felt the requirement. Whatever I did never felt like enough. Something I knew was large and great would have happened. I would be aware of the great world that is always nearby, ever at hand, even within you, as the good book says. It's something you would maybe just as soon not know about, but finally you learn about it because you have to.

That was the way it was when Big Ellis cook sick in the fall of 1970. He was getting old and dwindling as every body does, as I was myself. But then all of a sudden he wasn't dwindling anymore but going down. First thing you know, he was staying mostly in bed. And then he had to have help to get out of bed.

Heart, the doctor said, and I suppose it was. But it wasn't just that, in my opinion. I think pretty well all of Big's working parts were giving out. He was seventy-six years old.

I'd walk over there through the fields every day, early or late, depending on the weather and the work. I was feeling that requirement, you see.

I would say, "Big, is there anything you need? Is there anything you want me to do?" hoping there would be something.

And he would say, "Burley, there ain't one thing I need in this world, But thank you."

But he didn't mean yet that he was giving up on thus world. I would sit by the bed, and he would bring up things we would do when he got well, and we would talk about them and make plans. And in fact he really didn't need anything. Annie May, who loved him better than some people thought he deserved, was still healthy then. As far as I could tell, she was taking perfect care of him.

We called Big "Big" of course because he was big. He was stout too. His strength sometimes would surprise you, even as big as he was. He sort of made a rule of not putting out more effort than the least he could get away with. He wouldn't pull his britchies up until they were absolutely falling off. But if he thought he needed to, or ought to, he could pick up a two-bushel sack of wheat and toss it onto a load like it wasn't more than a basketball. Once I saw him pick up an anvil by its horn with one hand and carry it to where he needed it and set it down gently as you would set down an egg.

Big was a year or so older than me, and for a while that made a difference and I had to give him the lend. But as we got older we got closer to the same age, and we ran together as equal partners. We didn't settle down when we were supposed to, we were having too good a time. For a long time we stayed unattached, unworried, and unweary. We shined up to the ladies together, and fished and hunted together, and were as wild nearly as varmints ourselves. We run many a Saturday night right on into Sunday morning. I expect we set records around here for some of our achievements, which I don't enjoy talking about now as much as I once did. But some of the stories about Big himself I will always love to tell.

One time we heard about a dance they were giving at the schoolhouse in a little place named Shagbark over on the far side of the river. We went to it in one of Big's old airs that never got anywhere except by luck, But we did get there, after a stop in Hargrave to get a lady to sell us some liquor it was good stuff, Canadian whiskey, the real article.

It was a good dance too, good musicianers. They had this fellow playing the piano. He had twelve ringers and he was making music with every one of them. I never saw such a thing before, l haven't since. And they had a more than adequate number of good-looking girls. We got to where we were just letting it happen, we didn't mind what. We didn't know a soul over there and nobody knew us. We didn't have a thing to worry about, and we were cutting up like a new pair of scissors. And then all at once it went kaflooey.

Big was wearing his suit. We'd had to buy our whiskey in half-pints, it was all the lady had, and he had stuck one of those into the inside pocket, of his jacket. He got to dancing with this girl, a good-looking girl, a big girl, a fair match for him. She had on a lot of bracelets and things. She was jingling like a two-year-old mule in a chain harness. He got to feeling fond of her, and he pulled her up close to him, to where she could feel that bottle. And that was what changed things. Maybe she wasn't too smart, maybe she was a little hit loony, as some girls are, but she thought that bottle was a handgun.

Well, John Dillinger was on the loose at that time, and nobody knew for sure where he was. That gave this event a sort of framework, you see. First thing you know, everybody was glancing toward us and whispering. We got the story later. That big girl hadn't much more than told what she thought Big had in his pocket before they figured out that he was John Dillinger and I was his driver.

Everybody began to leave. They weren't long about it. They made use of both doors and every window, all of them being wide open, for it was a hot night. It wasn't long until Big and I were the only ones left. We were puzzled until, as I say, we heard the story. And then we enjoyed it. Especially Big enjoyed it. For a good while after that if you wanted to make him giggle all you had to do was call him "John."

To know how funny it was you have to picture Big the way he looked that night, all rumpled up in his suit and sweating, hot too on the track of that big girl, smiling like sugar wouldn't melt in his mouth, his feet stepping and prancing all on their own, for he had forgotten about them, and it you'd asked him to tell you right quick where he was, he wouldn't have known.

He was a wonderfully humored man. Things that would make most people mad just slid oft of him. He would forgive anything at all that he could get the least bit of amusement out of. And any amusement he got he paid back with interest. He was full of things to say that didn't have anything to do with anything else. You'd be talking to him maybe about getting his hay up or fixing a fence, and he would say, "You know, I wish I'd a been born rich in place of pretty."

One time when we were hardly more than grown boys, I got sent word of a dance they were giving on Saturday night down at Goforth. Well, it was a girl who sent the word, and I sent word back I couldn't come. The reason was I didn't have any good shoes, though I didn't tell her. I didn't have shoes nor money either. It was a time when money was scarce.

But the day of the dance I happened to go by Big's house and there his good shoes were, shined, sitting out on the well top. Wasn't anybody around, so I just borrowed die shoes and went my way and wore them to the dance that night. They were too big of course, and sometimes I had to dance a while to get all the way into the toes. I must say I danced the shine off of them too and nicked them up here and there. I left them on the well top at Big's house just before daylight,

Since he hadn't had any shoes to wear to the dance, Big got a hill night's sleep. Next morning he left the house with the milk bucket on his way to the barn just after daylight, and there his shoes were, right where he'd left them the day before, but now they were all scuffed up.

"Well, shots!" Big said. "I don't know where you been, but looks like you had a good time."

You almost couldn't make him mad. But if you didn't watch yourself he could make you mad, just by being so much himself he couldn't imagine that anybody could be different. He didn't go in much for second opinions. He stayed single until his mother and daddy both were dead, and then he married Annie May pretty soon, which maybe was predictable. He liked Company. He didn't like to be by himself.

Being married to Big, after the long head start he'd had, was not dependably an uplifting experience. Though Annie May was a good deal younger than he was, she was made pretty much on his pattern, ample and cheerful. But she could be fittified. I've seen her mad enough at Big, it looked like, to kill him, and maybe he'd be off on another subject entirely and nor even notice, which didn't help her patience. One time when she got mad and threw an apple at him — it would have hurt; she had a good arm — he just caught it and ate it. I didn't see that. It was told.

But she never stayed mad long. One time when I went over there she was just furious at him, mainly because he wouldn't brother to argue with her over whatever she was upset about in the first place. She was crying and hollering, "I'm a-leaving you, Big! You've played hell this time! I'm a-leaving here just as soon as I get this kitchen cleaned up!" That was like her. You wouldn't have minded eating dinner oft of her kitchen floor. And of course by the time she got the kitchen cleaned up she had forgiven him. I think she loved him because he was the way he was. They never had any children, and he was her boy.

Maybe because they didn't have children Big and Annie May let their little farm sag around them as they got older, the way a lot of such couples do. Big's daddy had the place in fair shape when he died, but he died during the Depression, and so Big couldn't have made a fast start even if he had wanted to. He and Annie May lived well enough, but that was mainly Annie May's doing. She made a wonderful big garden every year, and kept a flock of chickens and some turkeys. They always had three or four milk cows, milked mainly by Annie May, and they sold the extra cream and fed the extra milk to their meat hogs. So they always had plenty to eat. Annie May was as line a cook as ever I ate after. When they had company or a hunch of us were there working, she would put on a mighty feed. Both of them loved to eat, and they loved to see other people eat.

Bur Big never tried for much or did much for his place. He wasn't, to tell the truth, much of a farmer. When he went to help his neighbors he'd work as hard as anybody, but put him by himself on his own place and getting by was good enough. He was a great one then for "A lick and a promise" or "good enough for who it's for."

I don't know that he ever owned a new piece of equipment, except for a little red tractor that he bought just to be shed of the bother of a team of horses. When he got the tractor he stubbed off the tongues of his old horse-drawn equipment and went puttering about even more slipshod than before. My brother Jarrat and I swapped work with him all our lives, you might as well say, but when we went to his place we always took our own equipment. Jarrat's main idea was to get work done, and he didn't have enough patience to enjoy Big the way I did. "If he gets in my way with one of them cobbled-up rigs of his, damned if I won't run over him." That was Jarrat's limit on Big, and Big did keep out of his way.

H is final sickness was pretty much like the rest of his life. He didn't seem to be in a hurry to get well, or to die either. He didn't make much of it. The doctor had said a while hack that he had a bad heart and gave him some pills. Big more or less believed the doctor, but he also let himself believe he would sooner or later get over it. I don't think he felt like doing much about it.

Annie May said, "Big, for goodness sake, let's take you to a heart doctor or something. You can't just lie there. We can't just do nothing."

"I ain't going anywhere," he said. "I'm just feeling a little dauncy is all."

She knew better than to push him. Easygoing as he was, when he took a stand you couldn't shake him. He could just lie there. They could just do nothing.

If he had been suffering, if something had hurt him or he had been uncomfortable, maybe he would have done something. Maybe he would be living yet. But the only thing the matter was he was getting weaker. His strength was just slowly leaking out of him. He didn't have much appetite, and he was losing flesh. But he was comfortable enough. He wasn't complaining.

So nothing was what they did. That was the way Big had solved most of his problems. He would work hard to help his neighbors, because he liked them and liked to be with them and wanted them to get their problems solved. He would wear people out talking to them and fishing for their opinions on anything whatsoever. He would go to no limit of trouble to have a good time, and he'd had a lot of good times. But when it came to doing some actual work for himself, he often simplified it by not doing anything.

That was why, when Big took sick, the old Ellis place, as some of us still call it, was pretty well run down. There wasn't a chicken or a hog or a cow. Another neighbor, a young fellow, was growing the crop and making a little hay on the shares, but that was all. Social Security, I reckon, was taking up the slack.

I got used to making some time every day to go to see how Big was doing and to sit with him a while. What was harder to get used to was the place. The fences all gone down. The barns and other outbuildings all paintless, and the roofs leaking. The lots grown up in weeds and bushes so you couldn't open the doors that were shut, or shut the doors that had been left open. And every building was fairly stuffed with old farm tools, most of them going hack to Big's daddy's rime or before. Big always figured they might come in handy.

What they did, it turned out, was come to be antiques. When the farm was sold to a Louisville businessman after Big died, and the tools and a lot of the household plunder was auctioned off, about everything was bought at a good price by collectors. After she was too old to use it, or even warn it, Annie May had more money than she ever imagined.

Walking across the fields, the way I usually went when I went to see Big, I would have to appraise every time what had become of the place, a good little farm dwindled down almost to nothing. Nobody going out to milk anymore. Nobody going out to feed the chickens or the hogs. You really couldn't see that anybody still lived there until you got to the yard. The yard was still Annie May's territory — her last stand, you might say — and it was kept neat. The house itself, the cellar and smokehouse out back, they still showed care, And well off to the side, out of the way, the rusty dinner bell that hadn't been rung in years was still perched on its leaning pole. A man on a tractor couldn't hear it. The bell was going to turn out to be an antique too. At the sale two ladies bid for it until you'd have thought it was made out of gold.

The day that was going to be the day Big died I went over there first thing in the morning, as soon as we finished up at the barn and ate breakfast. It was a fine morning, cold and bright, the sky blue and endless right down to the horizon, and everything below shining with frost. We had finished with the hog-killing the day before, and I was bringing some fresh spareribs and tenderloin, thinking they might tempt Big to eat. Until then Big and Annie May both were talking like he was going to get well.

But that morning things had changed. I could feel it as soon as I stepped in through the kitchen door. Annie May was busy setting the kitchen to rights. She didn't try to keep me from seeing that she was crying. Two of her friends, neighbor women, had come to be with her and help her, as the women do when there's trouble. What had happened was they had figured out — Big first, I think, and then Annie May — that Big wasn't going to get well. The whole feeling of the house had changed. My old granny would have said the Angel of Death had passed over and marked the house. Call it superstition if you want to, but that was what it felt like.

"I brought some meat," I said, "Lyda thought maybe Big would like something fresh."

"Well, God love her heart!" Annie May said, taking the packages from me, as it she was mourning over them.

And then she said, "Go on in, Burley. He's awake."

1 went in. Big was lying in the clean bed in the clean room, looking no different really, but that feeling of being in a marked house was there too. The counterpane was white as snow, and white as it was his hands lying on it looked pale. They looked useless. When I came in and shut the door, he raised a hand to me and gave me a grin as usual. But now he seemed to be grinning to apologize for the feeling that was in the room. He would always get uneasy when things got serious, let alone solemn. He disliked by nature the feeling that was there, but he didn't refuse it either.

He said, "Well, Burley, it come over me that I ain't going to come out of this."

I went over to the bed and gave his hand a shake. I took my jacket off and sat down by him. His hand and his voice were weak, but they weren't noticeably weaker than the day before.

He said, "I'm about to be long gone from here."

"Oh, sho'ly not," I said.

"It's so," he said.

I said, "If it's so, old bud, it'll make a mighty difference around here. We'll look for you and we'll miss you."

He had been stronger than me all his life, and now he was weak. And I was sitting there by his bed, still strong. What could you do? What could you do that would be anyways near enough.' I could feel the greatness of life and death, and the great world endless as the sky swelling out beyond this little one. And I began again to hear from that requirement that seems to come from the larger world. The requirement was telling me, "Do something for him. Do more than you've ever clone. Do more than you can do."

As if he had read my mind, he said, "I appreciate you coming, Burley. You've stuck by me. I imagine I'll remember it as long as I live." And then he giggled, for in tact it was a tine joke.

"Well, I wish I could do more. Ain't there anything at all you want?"

"Not a thing. Not a thing in this world."

We talked then, or mostly I did, for a while, about things that were going on round about. And finally I had to leave. They were busy at home, and they'd be looking for me. Big had said he wasn't long for this world, but he looked about the same as yesterday. For all I knew, he might live a long time yet. When somebody tells you he's going to die, you can't say, "Well, go ahead. I'll just sit here till you do." I was going to he surprised when I got word that afternoon that old Big had sure enough left us.

"Well," I said, "I got to be getting on home." And I stood up.

He raised his hand to stop me. "Wait, Burley. There is something I want you to do."

"Sure," I said. "Name it."

"Go yonder to the press" — he used the old word — "and open the door."

I went to the closet and opened the door. It was where they kept their good clothes, Annie May's Sunday dresses, not many, and Big's suit, all put away there together.

"Ain't my pistol there, just inside?"

The pistol was in its shoulder holster, hanging on a nail in the doorjamb. It was a .22 revolver, heavy-built and uncommonly accurate for a pistol. It was the only really good thing Big had ever owned, and he had taken care of it like a king's crown. He bought it new when times were good back there in the Forties, and the bluing was still perfect except for a spot or two where the holster had worn it. I had always thought highly of it, and he knew I had.

"It's right here," I said.

"1 want you to take it. I'd like to know where it'll be after I'm gone."

It flew into me then just how far toward the edge of things we'd come, two old men who'd been neighbors and friends since they were boys, and if I'd thought of anything to say I couldn't have said it. For a while I couldn't even turn around.

"Put it on," Big said. "Button your jacket over it. I don't want Annie May to see it. when you leave."

I did as he told me. I said, "Thanks, Big."

"Sure," he said.

"Well," I said, "I'll be seeing you." He said, "Yeah, See you later."

So I had come to do something for Big, if I could, and instead Big had done something for me, and I was more in debt to the requirement than ever.

I went out through the kitchen, speaking a few pleasantries with the women, and let myself out. I sat down on the porch step to put my overshoes hack on, and started home. And all the time the requirement was staying with me. "Can't you, for God's sake, think of something to do?" When I got to about the middle of the barn lot, I just stopped. I stood there and looked all around.

Oh, it was a splendid morning, still frozen, not much changed at all. The ground was still shining white under the blue sky. I thought of a rhyme that Elton Penn was always saying in such weather: "Clear as a bell, cold as hell, and smells like old cheese." Maybe that was what put me in mind to do what I did.

When I looked hack toward the house, the only tiling between me and the sky was that old dinner bell leaning on its post like it was about to tall.

Big's pistol, when I pulled it out, felt heavy and familiar, comfortable. It was still warm from the house. There were five cartridges in the cylinder, leaving an empty chamber to rest the hammer on. I cocked it and used my left hand to steady my right. What I wanted was a grazing hit that would send the bullet flying out free into the air.

Even as the bullet glanced and whined away, the old bell summed up all the dongs it had ever rung. It filled the day and the whole sky and brought the worlds together, the little and the great. I knew that, lying in his bed in the house, Big heard it and was pleased. Standing in the lot, I heard it and I was pleased. It wasn't enough, but it was something. It was a grand sound. It was a good shot.


Labels: ,

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Funny Pig

Labels: ,

Friday, January 19, 2007

Don't Despair

Sitting by the window of her convent, Sister Barbara opened a letter from home! one evening. Inside the letter was a $100 bill her parents had sent.

Sister Barbara smiled at the gesture. As she read the letter by the window, she noticed a shabbily dressed stranger leaning against the lamp post below.

Quickly, she wrote, "Don't despair. Sister Barbara," on a piece of paper, wrapped the $100 bill in it, got the man's attention and tossed it out the window to him. The stranger picked it up, and with a puzzled expression and a tip of his hat, went off down the street.

The next day, Sister Barbara was told that a man was at her door, insisting on seeing her. She went down, and found the stranger waiting. Without a word, he handed her a huge wad of $100 bills.

"What's this?" she asked.

"That's the $8,000 you have coming Sister," he replied.
"Don't Despair paid 80-to-1."



Saturday, December 16, 2006

Confronting my Absent Father

By Tom Sykes

Men who leave still shape their sons. When one son met with his dad after 16 years, he understood what an indelible presence absence can be.

ONE DAY ALMOST A YEAR AFTER I HAD MY LAST DRINK, I FOUND MYSELF SITTING AT my desk in my apartment in New York City writing a list of my "resentments"--all the people I hated and why I hated them. This, I had been assured by sober friends, would help me stay clean.

"Dad," I wrote at the top. "He abandoned me when I was 14. Never calls to see how I am. I always have to call him. Never explained why he left." This was the great trauma of my life.

I made an effort to see my father once or twice a year. When people asked why I bothered, I would tell them that it was so I would be able to go to his funeral with a clear conscience. But really, I liked hanging out with my dad. I could bask for hours in his intelligence, his wit, and his charm. It was fun, as long as I didn't expect any answers, as long as I didn't ask, "Why, Dad? Why did you walk out on us?"

Well, now that was going to change. I dialed his number in England.

"Hi, Dad. It's Tom."

"Tom! Hello there."

After a few minutes, I screwed up my eyes, took a deep breath, and said, "So, Dad, I'm calling because I've got some questions I need to ask you."

"Right …," he said.

"It's been 16 years since you and Morn separated; and, you know, it's ridiculous we can't talk about it."

"Of course," said my dad. "Anytime."

"Well, how about now?" I asked.

"Now?" he said incredulously. "No, I don't think so. Not over the phone. But maybe we could get together next time you're over?"

"Okay," I said. "It shouldn't be too long."

I hung up the phone, logged onto the Internet, and booked a flight to London for the weekend.

I e-mailed Dad right away. "How about next Tuesday?"

He shot back, "Fine. Let's talk details nearer the time."


THE FOLLOWING TUESDAY WAS DRAB AND gray in England. I followed my dad's directions through winding village lanes to a pub in rural Oxfordshire a few miles from where he lived. As I drove through the countryside, I wondered what the hell I was doing. What was I hoping to achieve?

I turned my car into the driveway of the old stone pub and parked. I was 10 minutes early, and Dad wasn't there yet. I was annoyed that he wanted to meet in a pub.

I went inside, ordered a Coke. Bang on time, Dad pulled up outside. My hands were damp with sweat. I watched him get out of the car and walk toward the pub. As he came through the door, I hugged him hello. He ordered a pint of lager; I stuck with my Coke. We engaged in 10 minutes of desultory chat.

"I really like gloomy pubs like this," he said. "The gloomier, the better."

Dad finished his drink and said, "Right, come on. Let's go."


"I have arranged a delicious luncheon at my house."

I followed him to a quaint stone village, where he was living in a converted stable.

"My business associates keep telling me I should move somewhere grander, but I like it here." There was a coal fire going in the fireplace, two bedrooms off to the side, and a virtually unused kitchen with a table littered with prescription drugs. In the sitting room by the fire, the table was covered with cold meats--chorizo and smoked salmon.

As he opened the fridge door, I noticed it was stuffed with about a dozen bottles of champagne. Dad always drank champagne.

"Enough champagne?" I asked.

"One always likes to keep a little on hand in case of emergencies."

We sat down to lunch. I kept sneaking glances at my father across the table. He looked pretty good, but puffy around the cheeks and ears. He told me that he had been prescribed steroids. The previous Christmas, he had been so badly immobilized that he couldn't even get out of bed. His wife, Sandy, "the fourth Mrs. Sykes," had had to come down from London to help him. The steroids had fixed all the immobility, but they still caused "terrible mood swings."

We chewed chorizo in silence for a little bit until eventually I said, "So, I want to ask you some questions."

"If you look in the fire there, you will see that there are two potatoes wrapped up in tinfoil, baking away," he said.

"When did you put them in?"

"Before I went out. About 35 minutes ago."

"I don't think they'll be done yet." Then, before he could divert me again, I asked him how much he drank.

"Well, I don't normally drink in the day. Today is different, but of course so are many days." He laughed. "In the evening, I have the equivalent of a couple of beers and half a bottle of wine. I don't think that's a lot."

I asked him if he considered himself an alcoholic, and he replied, "Certainly not. Of course, I have frequently drunk far, far too much on a regular basis. But if you don't need a drink before 10 in the morning, you're perfectly fine."

I remembered when I had thought that an alcoholic was someone who had to have a drink in the morning. Over the past year, I'd heard a better definition: An alcoholic is a person who, once he has one drink, develops an overpowering craving for another.

Dad's tone was light and flippant, and he was starting to relax. Then I moved up an emotional gear.

"I came over just to see you," I said, my heart beating faster.

"I also canceled something," he said. "I was going to go to Baghdad this week to take part in a debate about Iraq."

I raised my eyebrows. "Iraq?"

"I think they might think that I am Sir Mark Sykes, the destroyer of the Middle East," he said, referring to my great-great-grandfather, a good-hearted politician whose noble attempts to mediate a peaceful solution in the Middle East at the end of World War I are seen by many today as having laid the foundation for a century of furious bloodletting in that region. "I do want to go there, though. It's such a great opportunity to see such chaos. Chaos is good, isn't it?"

I didn't have a chance to answer.

"I saw some horrendous things in Algeria in the late '50s. The things the French Foreign Legion did. Atrocities, atrocities, atrocities," he sighed. "It was 1957, and I was 20. I had dropped out of Oxford, and I started a club in London called the Whisky-A-Go-Go. Now it's an Irish pub called O'Neill's. We opened this club for £4,000. It was an unbelievable success, and we got the money back in 2 weeks. Then I went to Tangier to cover the Algerian war for Time-Life."

As he relayed his potted life story, he paused frequently to sip from his glass of wine. "In 1962, I was living in Paris with my first wife, Helen. I went to Australia with her in '63 and '64, and I made a lot of money in the illegal gambling business. We were doing it in a classy way, with nice girls, nice food, all that sort of stuff."

"When did you marry Mom?"

"Shortly after all this."

"And you were happy for quite a long time, right?" I asked.

"I should think we were basically happy until the money ran out," he said. He paused for a few moments. "Money--make no mistake about it--is unbelievably important. It doesn't matter when you have it. It certainly does when you don't have it."

And then he went quiet, and I squeezed my courage into a ball in my chest.

"Look, Dad," I said, "16 years down the line, I don't care why you and Mom separated. That's between you and her.…"

"If you want a baked potato, you will see a pair of tongs there.…"

"Er, okay." If I don't ask this, I thought, nothing will ever change. "What I was really wondering is why I never heard from you for so long. One moment you were this amazing dad, and the next…"

Dad was ready. "I was asked to stay out of it. I was told it would be a very bad thing if I stuck my nose in and communicated with you. Quite wrongly I accepted this."

At that moment my cellphone went off. I cursed as I dug it out and switched it off.

"Potato?" my dad asked.

"I don't think they're ready yet," I said.

"Okay, well, I'm going to leave that up to you," he said.

I pressed on. "What about Fred and Josh? Don't you ever want to know what's going on with them?"

"I don't think it's my place to initiate things. Because I said I wouldn't. If something is initiated, then wow, fantastic," he said. Then he added, "There's something else that I want you to tuck away at the back of your mind. My affairs are reasonably complicated. My will is going to be lodged at the central registry of wills, and I am going to be making you the executor."

I wondered how much my dad might be worth, then cursed myself for the thought.

Eventually I said, "So you were told, 'Stay away,' and you did? That's it?"


This must have been the first and last time Dad ever did what he was told. I said, "Weren't you curious, though?"

"Yes, of course. But what's the point in being curious about something if you aren't going to have an answer? And you know, I had so many things passing. Like getting cancer twice. Like building one amazing business, selling it, and suddenly being a couple of million ahead. I thought, 'If I whack out a million quid among those children, that might make a difference.' And then--boom!--like that, it was all gone. In that f--king crash. However, I've done it again. At my advanced age." My dad sat back in his chair and smiled.

"The thing that upsets me is that you were never in contact with us," I said. "And you say that's because you had…other exciting stuff going on in your life?"

"Well, not necessarily exciting, but occupying all of one's attention."

"But the shit that I went through from the time you went off to the time I left home!" I said. "Mom was so ill. And one day you were around, and you were this amazing, funny, wonderful dad, and the next you just weren't even there."

"Well, there we are," he said. "I regret that. I regret that. I regret that."

Another, space opened up.

There. He said it. It's over. Walk away. After an interminable pause, he added, "Sadly, we can't roll back the carpet."

Then, an even longer pause. "Don't forget your f--king potato."


I GOT BACK TO NEW YORK AND SPENT THE next 2 winter weeks in a daze. Nothing had changed. Nothing had been resolved. My dad was right. What was the point in being curious about something if you weren't going to get an answer?

While I was trying to work it all out, I went to see my sister Plum in her Greenwich Village apartment.

"I think it was a good thing that Dad left." Plum sat cross-legged in her armchair, focused, holding her cup of tea.

"What?" I asked, baffled.

"You know how everyone said it was so unfortunate and so sad at the time? Well, privately, between themselves, a lot of people said, 'Thank God that man has left Valerie and the children at last.'"

The world shifted under my feet. It felt like an earthquake cracking and resculpting the crust of the earth.

"Do you really think it would have been a good thing for you to continue to be influenced by Dad? With his dishonesty, his affairs, his drinking? Would you be who you are? Would you be sober?"

I felt sick as I got into the elevator. I walked down to the subway station. The world was spinning like it used to when I was drunk. As I rattled up to 55th Street, that familiar, well-rehearsed story suddenly looked so different.

I think it was a good thing Dad left.

Maybe Plum was right. Maybe something I had always labeled "Bad Thing" was really a good thing. Or maybe it was just something that happened, and that's just the way it was. And now it was finally time to get on with my life.

Rebuild your burned bridges
4 ways to reconnect successfully

Research shows that men with tow social support are more susceptible to coronary deaths. Which means that reestablishing ties with the estranged men in our lives can help us not only feet better but also live longer. Here's how to do it right.

If making amends means saying you were wrong, don't hesitate to fess up. Admitting your past mistakes is a sign of strength, not weakness.
A handwritten letter saying something like, "It's been a long time, and I'd like to reestablish our connection; I'll give you a buzz," followed by that phone call, is a great way to reach out.
If your expectations are too high, you set yourself up for a fall. "Go in knowing it might not work," says Holly Sweet, Ph.D., codirector of the Cambridge Center for Gender Relations.
Follow the Two-Contact Rule, which can include a letter, phone call, or voice mail One is not enough; three is too many. If the other party doesn't respond after your second attempt, it's probably not going to work. Let it go.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Birds Fly Home

By Andrée Dion

Her mother begged her to stay;
but try convincing
a butterfly to stay grounded.

Her father tried to bribe her,
but try finding a replacement
for freedom.

They couldn't teach her experience.

An untamed creature,
she roamed the streets
without boundaries.

Finally free.

Windows are transparent,
but still there to crash into.

When they found her,
her hair was a tangle
of dirty blonde, and
her fingers were numb
from the cold.

Everyone thought she was crazy,
but the ecstasy in her eyes
wasn't there before.

And only she knows
why birds fly home.

Harlem Week's Golden Hoops tournament tips off

The myriad of cultural, educational and entertainment venues has made Harlem Week (really Harlem Month) the most celebrated program of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is planning a massive 110th birthday celebration tinder the savvy business acumen of Lloyd Williams, its CEO/President, in the fall. But it's still August, and summer in Harlem means the playgrounds of the world's most famous Black community are filled to the brim with Summer League hoops.

As part of the 32nd Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce Harlem Week, the annual Golden Hoops Basketball Tournament, directed by Bob McCullough, will tip off at Riverbank State Park today (Thursday) with a 3:00 p.m. girls game, followed by a pair of boys games at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. The semifinals are set for Friday and Saturday with the championship games being held on Sunday as a Biddy Future Stars game will begin the show at 1:00 p.m. followed by the girls championship game at 2:30 p.m. and the boys championship at 4:30. An added attraction will feature the Puerto Rican All-Stars facing off against the Dominican All-Stars. That fierce rivalry will tip off at 6:00 p.m.

All the games will be held at the beautiful Riverbank State Park situated on the banks of the Hudson River, New York side. Top high school girls teams who will see action include the 2005 champs, Douglas Panthers, SCAN, Harlem Lady Knights, Kips Bay, Kennedy Center and the Bronx Stars.

El Faro will head up the slate of boys high school teams that will include a team from New Haven, Connecticut, who lost to Brooklyn in last year's championship game, The Metro Hawks, Bronx Gauchos, Harlem Stars, Brooklyn All-Stars and the New Jersey Road Runners.

Source: New York Amsterdam News, 8/10/2006

What are the real secrets of success? Here's what some proven winners say

By Julie Scelfo

1. Be competitive: "To succeed in business you have to want to win," says Liz Lange, founder and president of Liz Lange Maternity. "Too often, women feel they have to be nice. Don't," says Lange.
2. It's not about friendship: "Women want everyone to like them but it doesn't really matter what people think of you," says Renee Edelman, senior VP of Edelman. "It's that you get the job done and deliver results."
3. Stand up for yourself: Restaurateur Donatella Arpaia is responsible for two restaurants and 140 people. "I protect my interests, their interests. If someone is going to mess with that, I cut them out like cancer."
4. Trust your instincts: Dozens of people tried to talk Lange out of growing her business, now a major force with nationwide distribution at Target. "There are a lot of naysayers out there," says Lange. "Shut out negative noise andgo for it."
5. Always project confidence: Oscar-winning film producer Cathy Schulman says presentation is key. "When someone asks 'How are you?' don't go into a litany of what's wrong with your life," says Schulman. Instead, present yourself as in control and happy.
6. Own your success: Say goodbye to fear and insecurity, says Arpaia. Have confidence in your decisions, and make them.
7. Reach out to other women: When Lange started her business, she called every woman (and man) she admired and asked to meet. "Don't be shy," she says. Schulman begins each day by noting colleagues' accomplishments with a quick call or e-mail. "We don't have golf so create other communities of support."
8. Insist on being well paid: Don't view wanting money as inelegant or "not classy," says Schulman. "Men make decisions on the bottom line. Why shouldn't we?"
9. It's OK to make mistakes: When Arpaia realized a business partnership was doomed, she cut ties and moved on. "Don't obsess over things," she says.
10. Be a problem-solver: If something on Schulman's desk seems difficult to deal with, she tackles it first. "Big problems are an opportunity to grow."