We Are the People

Recently I saw John Mellencamp in concert. Man, that was two and a half hours of great music and fun. It reminded me what great songs he’s made and continues to make. So many of his songs remind me of what’s best in America. Others call attention to the challenges we have as Americans.

This Fourth of July, think about what we have in common. No matter how far we’ve got to go to forming that more perfect union, we’ve come a long way. And this particular song reminds me that we are in it together. None of us get off scot free. If we don’t pull together, we’ll be broken. It’s like Ben Franklin said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Lately we’ve been hanging separately. And that’s a darn shame. Because We Are The People. And if things are falling apart, it’s our fault.

To celebrate that hanging together thing on this two-hundred-and forty-third Fourth of July Independence Day, here”s John Mellencamp’s “We Are The People”:

Let’s look around us and be thankful for our neighbors. The more different they are from us the better. After all, America has a big heart. Despite what others think of her.

Don’t believe it. Just tell those guys that hit Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944. Don’t believe it. Just tell those folks who Americans fed with the Marshall Plan after World War II. Don’t believe it. Just tell it to all those folks who have benefitted from Peace Corps volunteers, digging wells, teaching children. Don’t believe it. Just ask those Berliners who were cut off from the world in 1948 and 1949.

Look around you and see the beauty of this country and say thank you for all we have as Americans. And remember We Are The People. We’ve got better days ahead of us if we hang together. Otherwise….

 

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Near 500 words: TW and the three phases of his life

TW (aka The Writer) divided his life into three phases: Before Cat, With Cat, After Cat. After Cat began when the vet, Dr. Helen Hatch, sat down beside him in the waiting room of the vet hospital.

Helen reached over and took TW’s hand, then she softly said, “I’m sorry.”

A pain shot through his body. He knew her next words. “Cat is dead.”

TW couldn’t breath. He passed out.

He woke up to see Helen kneeling over him, smelling salts in her hand. Her eyes had concern in them.

“Lorenzo, he’s awake. Help me get him off the floor.”

A tall Hispanic man reached down and lifted TW up and into a chair.

“Are you okay?” Helen asked.

TW nodded his head.

Helen nodded to Lorenzo that she’d take care of things. Lorenzo went back to the receptionist’s desk.

Helen knelt before TW. “I know how much you loved Cat, and how much Cat loved you. I am so sorry.”

Then she took her seat beside him. She rubbed his arm with her hand, trying her best to comfort him. “When you brought her in, I thought we might be able to do something. She’d already lost way too much blood.”

TW nodded his head, letting her know he understood.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I got home. The door was unlocked. Cat had left the house. She wouldn’t do that. Even if the door was wide open, she’d have stayed inside.”

Helen let go of his arm and leaned back in her chair.

“I don’t know,” he said, “what would have made her leave the house.”

“Has anything happened recently to make Cat think the house was unsafe?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Was she in any kind of danger that you know of?”

“No. Not that I know of.”

The hospital was quiet, except for two dogs barking in the background. TW and the vet sat side by side, looking at the back space of a wall across from them.

After five minutes or so, Helen broke the silence. “I’m sorry I misled you. I thought you understood we were just friends.”

“It was me, not you. I fooled myself.”

“How have you been?”

“The usual. The library keeps me busy. And Cat, of course.”

Then it hit him again. There was no more Cat. He swallowed hard.

“Do you need some water?”

“Yes, please.”

Helen stood up and went over to the water cooler and filled a paper cup with water. She handed the cup to TW, then sat back down beside him. The water went down cold and cleared his throat.

Recovered, he remembered what he had heard about Helen. “I heard you lost your baby?”

“About a year ago.”

“Are you okay?”

“Frank didn’t take it well. It was a boy. We have two girls, and he was so hoping. He fell apart. Now we’re getting a divorce.”

TW saw the tears running down her cheeks. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to her.

The room was quiet again.

Helen wiped the tears from her face, then passed the handkerchief back to him. Her face went back to vet’s face.

“There’s more to Cat’s death. Where Cat was bleeding, there was a small wound. Cat was sliced by a razor blade.”

Maurice Micklewhite’s Road to Success

Hardcover: 288 pages Publisher: Hachette Books (October 23, 2018)

It’s only occasionally that I read autobiographies or memoirs but I was attracted to Michael Caine’s new book. It’s not just a memoir. It’s more of a philosophy on how to be a great actor. And it’s also a master class in life.

And I have to tell you this one was a delight to read. In addition to being a great actor, he is a pretty darned good writer too.

Some years ago I saw his lecture on “Acting in film.” It’s on DVD and I would highly recommend it. After seeing that film and reading this book, I have come to see just how hard acting on film is. It’s darned hard.

Despite all that seems glamorous about the profession, it isn’t all that glamorous. It’s only glamorous because we don’t see all the hard work that goes into the work.

Even though his lessons apply to acting, they can apply to any passion. “Find something you want to do and learn how to do it really well.”

For an English working class kid named Maurice Micklewhite, it didn’t look so good early on. But he had one thing going for him. He decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. An actor. And he stuck to that passion no matter what. There wasn’t an obstacle that was going to stop him. It’s as he writes, “No matter where you start in life, you can get up and out.” But “learn what you can from what you get.”

You want to be an actor and you can’t go to acting school? You want to be a writer and can’t afford writing lessons? Do what he did. As he points out, his main education came from two sources. “You couldn’t find two more richly educational surrogates than the cinema and the public library.”

And he lays it on the line that he didn’t expect it to be easy. Even when he was doing all right. In fact, doing all right didn’t mean an easy road ahead. Because he learned and he has kept learning the secrets they don’t tell you in acting school.

Secrets such as you’re always auditioning and nice guys do finish first. He once overheard a journalist ask his wife, “What first attracted you to Michael?” Her reply, “It was the way he treated his mother.”

And be easy to work with. As you can see, Michael Caine is a roll model for that lesson. He was so easy to work with directors and writers keep inviting him to the party.

Persevere and don’t take no for an answer. Use every thing along the way as an opportunity toward your passion. See your failures as opportunities and lessons to learn. “Discipline and a sense of purpose are more important than they have ever been.”

When you are invited to the party, be prepared. “Preparation, focus, hard work and resilence” are the elements which will get you through even the worst of situations. As he puts it, “luck favors the prepared.” At one point, he is asked, “What is your secret to success?” His answer, “Survival.”

Of course, there’s tales of his relationships with many of his colleagues in the industry, colleagues like Sean Connery and Roger Moore. His insights working with directors like Christopher Nolan.

But this is more than a recipe to career success. This is a recipe for a long lasting marriage. He’s been married to Shakira for forty-six years. And it’s a recipe for a good life.

I will leave you with two final pieces of advice from philosopher Michael Caine: “The only way to be sure you never fail is never to do anything at all. And the only way to really, truly fail is not to learn from your failures. Any time you learn from a failure, it’s a success.”

“In the end…find what you love, and do it as well as you can. Pursue your dream and, even if you never catch it, you’ll enjoy the chase. The rest comes down to luck, timing and God: even if you don’t believe in him, he believes in you. And when all of that runs out, use the difficulty.”

I give a two thumbs up to that.

 

Near 500 words: TW and Cat

TW (aka The Writer) had never wanted a cat. He’d always thought that a dog was in his future. But a cat, never.

Then one Saturday afternoon eight years before, a kitten crawled up into his engine. With meows reaching across the shopping center parking lot, the kitten notified the world she wanted out. He saw the crowd gathered around his car. He popped the hood open. A tall, scrawny teen reached in and pulled out a small gray cat and handed the creature over to TW.

A white-haired woman said, “I guess it’s yours.”

The furry creature, smaller than the palm of his hand, meowed. And it didn’t just meowed. It Meowed.

“But…”

“Just take it home and feed it and put out a poop box and it’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know.”

“Follow me,” the woman insisted.

She reached into her car and handed him a shoe box for the kitten.

Like a mouse after a piped piper, he followed her into the nearby pet store. Back in the parking lot, she said, “My name is Claire. Here’s my card. You can call me if you have any questions.” Then she drove away.

Despite his resistance, TW took a liking to the kitten over the next week. And the kitten took a liking to its new home.

She bonded with his couch. She bonded with his bed. She bonded with his chair. She bonded with her food and water bowls. She bonded with the poop box. And she bonded with his lap.

After several tries, he found a vet he liked. Dr. Hatch was very patient with TW. “You don’t have to be afraid of the cat.”

“Yeah, but…she’s so small.”

Dr. Hatch laughed. “Oh, she’ll grow.”

“But, Dr. Hatch…”

“Helen. You can call me Helen.” Then Helen went on to ease TW’s mind about the cat. “Have you given her a name?”

“No,” TW said, frowning. “I didn’t think it was a good idea since I wouldn’t be keeping her.”

“Oh, you’ll be keeping her.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“She’s already claimed you.”

“Guess I’ll call her Cat.”

“Very unusual name.” Helen laughed.

And that was how he’d gotten to know Helen, and they’d begun dating.

Though things hadn’t worked out with Helen, they’d definitely worked out with Cat. Cat became as close to TW as anyone he’d ever known. With others, and this included Sylvia, he’d held something back. Not with Cat.

No matter how bad a day TW had, Cat always cheered him up. No matter what he was trying to decide, Cat always had a say in the decision. If he brought home a piece of furniture and Cat didn’t like it, it went back.

Each morning he went on the back porch. Cat ran out into the yard. She chased the ball he threw for her. She jumped six feet in the air and caught it. She went after lizards and squirrels and birds but never caught them. She just liked chasing things.

On the weekends, TW took leisurely walks through the neighborhood in the late afternoon. Cat walked by his side.

There were times when TW thought he could read Cat’s mind. And there were times when he came to believe she could read his.

No matter how sick or sad or frustrated he became, she was always a comfort. Most nights Cat cozied up  to him and lay on his lap while he read or watched TV.

Now Cat stood at his front door, bleeding. She looked up into his eyes. Her green eyes said, “I’m hurting. I’m in pain. Please do something.”

He scooped her up into his arms, laid her on the table and managed to stop the bleeding with bandages. Then he picked her up and put her on the passenger seat of his car and rushed her to the vet hospital. As he drove, she closed her eyes and fell asleep

Apple Tree Blues

Just another lyric without a tune

Chorus:
I am an old man
The devil ain’t boss of me
I am an old man
Older than Methuselee

Back in my young years
Adam said to me,
“Don’t you ever eat
Fruit from the apple tree.

Oh, sure the apples
May be a tasty fruit.
I’m here to tell you
God don’t give a hoot.

Eat them apples.
You mess up the Plan.
One thing you’ll get.
The back side of His hand.”

In old Mesopotamie
Throughout that ancient land
All the folks were folks
In apple-eating clans.

They drank them ciders.
Ate all kinds of pies.
But they gave no look
To the clouds in the sky.

Noah was a non-
Apple-eating man.
Never did he taste
Dumplins, fritters or flan

Chorus:
I am an old man
The devil ain’t boss of me
I am an old man
Older than Methuselee

Noah never was
A propheting man
But Noah could tell
God had Himself a Plan.

“Better get ready.
An umbrella won’t do.
Rain’s sure a-coming
To flood me and you.”

It was a Sunday
When he told his wife.
He told her once.
Told her three times thrice.

Noah built himself
A big big boat.
Checked for the leaks,
Made sure boat did float.

Loaded that boat up
With lots of critters.
Two of each they came,
Slow ones, go getters.

It rained real hard,
Pounded forty days.
Noah and his family
Got cabin fever crazed.

Chorus:
I am an old man
The devil ain’t boss of me
I am an old man
Older than Methuselee

Said, “We’re up a creek
Without a paddle.
This boat’s not safe.
Listen to the rattle.”

The boat didn’t sink.
The water went down.
The boat hit a rock.
Noah stepped on to ground.

With seasickness gone
The fam settled in
Raising apple trees
In the way back when.

The Good Lord He looked
Down with godly aim.
“What am I gonna do?
Noah’s more of the same.

Snozzling down cider,
He’s gone apple loose.
Told him not to drink
Any apple juice.”

So God threw up His
Mighty mighty hands.
“I’m outta here; just maybe
Martians will follow the Plan.”

Chorus:
I am an old man
The devil ain’t boss of me
I am an old man
Older than Methuselee