Showing posts with label Memorial Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memorial Day. Show all posts

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memorial Day and Gun Violence

I conflate the two now.
In the past, I’ve written about Memorial Day and our soldiers who have died defending our country, although lamenting about how we’ve turned it into a sales “holiday” for mattresses and cars. 

That should be the worst of it.  Now we should also remember our teachers and students who have “fallen in battle” thanks to the NRA and our so called leadership acting as a facilitator.

The most recent shooting at a Santa Fe, TX school was not with an automatic weapon but an equally deadly hand gun and shotgun. 

These guns were taken from the shooter’s father.

It brings up the obvious question of responsibility.  Should the father be held liable?  Or society?  Both of course.

Just so I get statistics right, I turn to Fact Check: In general, the overall number of people (31) and the number of students (26) killed in school shootings through 18 May 2018 was greater than the number of military personnel killed in combat zones (13). If all military deaths (including accidental training deaths) are counted, then that number (42) exceeds the total number of school shooting deaths (31).

But the precise numbers are irrelevant.  Gun violence, now prevalent in our schools, is intolerable in a civilized society.  Any society. All these weapons were "born to kill."

I’ve now written dozens of times about gun control and in particular the need to outlaw military type weapons, institute stringent background checks, age limits, etc., all the usual ideas and have seen the usual push backs to the same. 

I’ve also (not uniquely) suggested that firearms be regulated in the same way automobiles are, requiring registration and tracking when one is sold.

I go back to this argument as it is more of a total solution than any others. 

There are of course persuasive arguments against the bureaucracy of establishing a Federal or State system of a “Bureau of Firearms Control.”  Expensive.  Loss of freedom, Big brother watching, etc. etc.  But we tolerate those for automobiles, which also includes testing, insurance, inspection, etc.  We do so for the greater good of society.  We establish laws governing their use and prosecute when those laws are broken, even by generally “law abiding citizens.”  Gun ownership advocates make virtual talking robot arguments that gun laws only hurt the “good” people while “evil” ones ignore them and thus, we should have fewer gun laws.  Talk about circular logic.

We take off our shoes at airports because someone tried to blow up a plane with a shoe. My constitutional rights allow me to wear shoes!

Annual gun deaths are now approaching those caused by motor vehicle incidents (the latter declining and the former steadily increasing).

Getting to the difficult part, implementation.

First, indeed institute stringent background checks, age limit laws, and ban the use of military style weapons.

Secondly, as Congress now sees fit to increase our national debt, go further and institute a Federal program for buying back weapons voluntarily surrendered, with higher premiums for military style weapons.  Pay fair price.  Return them no questions asked for a specified grace period.

Those choosing to keep their weapons, and those buying new ones, must register them with renewals required.  If the registered weapon is given or sold to another, forms have to be completed, the item identified, with the new owner’s name and address.  Then the new owner has 30 days to register them.  Registration fees will support the process.

Gradually a data base will be developed and ones who have a collection of weapons, an arsenal, would be identified and flagged as dealers, subject to another level of scrutiny and regulatory control.

This is complicated stuff and the devil is in the details.

Indeed, some (especially the “bad guys”) will ignore all of this, but they will be subject to prosecution if found with unregistered weapons, or if someone is found with an unregistered weapon purchased or given by them.  It will take time, maybe decades, to work through this group.  It has to start sometime.

And while more regulatory control and knowledge of our lives is abhorrent to me, something has to be started NOW and a more comprehensive solution needs to be sought by our lawmakers.  No more Sandy Hooks, Parklands, Santa Fes.  Now.  Please.

We don’t even hear much anymore about thoughts and prayers regarding the latest incident.  It’s as if we’ve all become inured to them.  That strategy never did work.  We have heard enhanced rhetoric about turning our schools into heavily armed prisons.  Is that really preferable to a “Bureau of Firearms Control?”

Yes, we must always remember those who died to defend our nation on Memorial Day, but think of our teachers and students who now face a war zone in schools.  We need to defend them from NRA’s agenda, cloaked in the sacred shroud of the 2nd amendment.  None of this takes away one’s right to bear arms, only military style weapons and makes other weapons subject to registration in the same way we regulate motor vehicles. 

And here is a letter from the 4th grade Grandson of a friend of ours which he wrote to President Trump crying out for humane leadership.  Is there any better message this Memorial Day?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day Melancholy

Memorial Day brings a certain kind of sadness beyond its meaning.  The day itself should be dedicated to the men and women who died for this country but aside from some dutiful parades has become a day of commercialization.  The Memorial Day sale ads for cars, mattresses, whatever, are overflowing your mail box (snail and Internet), in the newspapers, TV, wherever you turn.

The “holiday” also is a reminder of the most precious commodity, one we take for granted when young; time.  Memorial Days of the past, memories of different neighborhoods in which we lived, and thoughts of aging now flood my senses.  I wrote a piece about those feeling which I later turned into a short story, with Memorial Day at its conclusion.  Some of the details are real and others are imagined.  It was intended as a memory induced impressionistic piece and it can be read here.
I’m reminded of this once again, not only by the marking of still another Memorial Day, but my continuing walks through our Florida neighborhood and golf course.  I walk early in the morning, out on the golf course before the golfers, frequently as the sun is rising.  Although man-made there is a quiet beauty and solitariness about being there, observing the plentiful wildlife, birds ranging from Mallard and Muscovy ducks, Florida grackles, and White Egrets.  The Muscovy ducks are dangerous when they fly low to the ground.  Better watch out as their aerodynamics do not allow for much avoidance when in flight.  I’ve almost been hit in the head at times so when I hear their unmistakable flapping, I duck (no pun intended!).

After walking the golf course, I usually take a turn in the neighborhood.  Early in the morning I see some of the same people and so we sometimes talk.  I’ve been doing this now for nearly 18 years. Although day to day changes are imperceptible, over so many years they are huge.  Houses have been torn down and rebuilt; people have come and have gone.  One of the common themes, though, is the process of aging.  Although I would like to think that I’m an outsider looking in at the process, I’m in lock step with everyone else.

I used to see a man walking the streets, very briskly, at a pace which was mine 15 years ago, but he was older than me.  We always smiled as we passed one another, but we were out there for exercise and it seemed that there was no time to talk.  One day his house was for sale and he was no longer walking the road.  Another neighbor said he was moving into an assisted living facility, that he had had some issues.  After the sale of the house it was gutted and a young family moved in.  And that was not the only one during these many years, and for the same reason. 

A few days ago I saw this sad sign in front of a neighbor’s house at the very end of our road: Goodbye; Friends & Neighbors.  We have Enjoyed Being Here These Past 43 Years -- The De Santis Family.  I really didn’t know them, other than to say hello when the husband collected his newspaper in the morning, but they were one of the “original” people on the road, building their home 43 years ago.  I’ve always admired their house as it reminded me of my northeastern roots and looking at it you would not know you are in Florida. Word has it that they are now going into a “graduated” independent, to assisted, to critical care facility.

Aging comes with several price tags, the increasing healthcare requirements, sudden emergency care, and, the worst consequence, to me, the loss of independence.

On this Memorial Day, there are these memories and thoughts, but there is also the increased awareness that our own turn comes now with gathering alacrity, every day lived to be appreciated, to be productive, but another day closer until we hang our own sign,” goodbye friends and neighbors.” 

And Memorial Day should be a more fully realized day to honor those who heeded the call of Democracy and paid the ultimate price.  I will not buy a car or a mattress this weekend.  It is a time to think of them.

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Short Story

I’ve written a number of short stories, an art that so many of my most admired writers have perfected, Raymond Carver, John Updike, John Cheever, and William Trevor.  I’ve read most of their stories and I wish osmosis was a better teacher.  This has been a more difficult challenge than I had imagined, the revision process being a particular struggle.  So while I still work on several, it is bringing them to completion that confounds.

There is a thin membrane between memoir and fiction.  Some writers literally adopt personal experience, while for others it is more an imagined personal experience – yet inevitably based on the author’s world in some way.  The stories I’ve written are more of the latter nature, but getting the story “right” has been a battle.  Thus, I chisel away at them occasionally, never seem to be fully satisfied.  I’ve said somewhere in this blog that I’d publish them -- when “finished.”

There is one story that is an exception to the above as it is much more memoir, the only story I’ve written in the first person, and in fact it is based on one of my blog entries from a couple of years ago.  Once I started to work on it, infusing it with several imagined scenes, cutting out other details, I’ve never gone back to compare the two and I don’t want to.  I know it has changed a great deal, although parts are inevitably intact.

I post it on Memorial Day though as the story inexorably leads there at the conclusion.  It is about things we take for granted and their disruption, about aging and loss and remembrance.  As a short story, I hope tone and feeling transcend literal details.  So, I’ll call this story “finished.”


There is a morning routine I developed in retirement.  In the past, there were many morning routines: helping my wife get the kids off to school; the monitoring of the morning’s commute; financial news to assimilate and preparing for meetings yet to come.  Routines were established of their own accord, some by a matter of necessity, others by the natural progression of men, like me, now retired from the Profession of Routine, some seventy odd years and counting.

One of my remaining routines is during the early mornings.  I am summoned by the Florida sun, and get dressed for a brisk walk.   After fastening my iPhone to my belt, and donning my Yankees cap, I’m ready to go.  Most days I decide en route.  Perhaps “the loop” circuit past the new houses or remodels in the neighborhood, guessing real estate values, or a walk near the river, peppered with dog-walkers, joggers and other morning enthusiasts, reviewing the emerging demographic.

Some people will reciprocate my ”Good Morning!” greeting while others pretend not to have heard, averting their eyes.  Over the years I have noted a direct correlation between age and “good morning” reciprocity, with younger walkers more likely to just pass by as if I am invisible or, worse, dead.  Their loss I imagine.  What else can I think in my self-defense?

But on Sunday mornings, my walk is to my local 7-Eleven where they carry the Sunday New York Times.  This walk is longer, taking me through our local country club golf course, which always seems alive like the inside of a terrarium.  The course had been recently redesigned, with the greens, small lakes, and undulations making it seem ethereal.

I speak as if I am a golfer.  I am not but most of my acquaintances are now.  This makes friendships somewhat tenuous as when we get together as couples, well, the ladies have much in common, but the men talk golf and exchange golf jokes, some of the same ones they’ve told for years, the manner of the telling trumping repetition.

I once said to them that I played golf while in high school and college – in fact was an ambidextrous golfer as one of my father’s friends gave me some old left-handed woods he no longer needed (and I am left handed) and another of his friends gave me some right handed irons  -- and that is how I learned.  My friends listened politely, but knowing I no longer play golf their discussion resumed about their day on the course, with the good natured jousting of men who are poor golfers but have this one thing in common besides their age and infirmaries.  They have their own routines and those normally do not intersect with mine. 

Today while walking through the country club grounds I saw that the often discussed dismantling of the multilevel diving board adjacent to an Olympic size pool had suddenly occurred.  It was there last week (and for decades before).  Insurance costs forced my municipality to tear down the iconic high diving platform.  There is now a space in my memory of where it once stood. 

I walked past the golf carts, humming in their electric charging stalls, early morning golfers gathering over coffee, and the water sprinklers timed to come on, one-by-one, the sole task of a less complicated machine.  I headed over to Route 1, and then north to the 7-Eleven.  The sun was hardly breaking above the palm trees.

A routine like this has trained my eyes, and I tend to notice things out of place.  As I cross the parking lot in front of the driving range, an older white Ford Explorer is usually parked there, someone out practicing early.  It wasn’t today.  I didn’t think much of it, other than maybe the driver has left town for the approaching summer.  I had never seen him, only having noticed the car, as if it was simply part of the golfing landscape.

Sitting back with the Sunday New York Times is a routine I developed since college; I couldn’t imagine a Sunday morning without it.  And my walk to the 7-Eleven made it seem that the Grey Lady herself waited especially for me.  It is not easy to dismiss these thoughts.

When my wife and I moved to Florida, I had arranged for the Times to be delivered; but service was unreliable.  There were issues too with placing temporary holds while on vacation.  I remember the feeling of dismay upon discovering several papers, still soggy in their plastic bags, abandoned on my driveway after one such absence.  I cancelled delivery that morning.  Though one can read the New York Times online, I prefer holding those familiar pages in my hands.  So naturally I was relieved to find the most generic convenience store stocked it, in walking distance away, a commonplace 7-Eleven across the golf course.

Upon walking into the store this particular morning, I immediately saw some things askance.  Sales bins had replaced the stacks of local and national newspapers.  It looked like a yard sale before home owners move on.  I recognized the woman behind the counter.  She always greeted her regular customers, and we both normally found ourselves in small talk, such as “how are you this beautiful morning?”  “Can’t complain, wouldn’t do me any good,” she would laughingly say.  Sometimes I would tease her about having bought a quick pick lottery ticket the week before – when the prize was almost a half billion dollars – the level at which I could be induced to spend a couple of bucks on an impossible gamble.  “Hey, you promised this was the winning ticket.  I didn’t even get a booby prize!”  And she’d say, “You didn’t pray enough!”

No such banter this morning.  There were two other employees with her, seemingly serious in their efforts of recording outgoing merchandise and taking inventory, clipboards in hand. The newspaper rack – now in the back -- was depleted but thankfully there was one copy of the Sunday Times left.

My 7- Eleven lady behind the counter detected my consternation and said “you got the last newspaper we will ever have delivered here – the store is closing in a couple of days.”  I was stunned.  “I’ve been coming here for years, every Sunday, are you relocating?”  No, but fortunately she was being transferred to another 7-Eleven some ten miles away.  “I haven’t lost my job at least” she smiled.  I smiled for her. 

I wished her the best, knowing I would never see her again.  We both lingered there for a moment.  I felt my head make an affirmative farewell.  Then, I walked out – the ring above the door announcing my departure --- with the copy of the store’s last New York Times under my arm.  In all those years I never thought to ask her name. 

Crossing the parking lot in front of the golf driving range, I saw that white Explorer just arriving in its familiar parking place.  An elderly gent emerged.  “Good morning,” I said to the man whose car I had noticed for so many years.  He returned the good morning.  I said “you’re late today.  By the time I see your car, you are already on the driving range.” 

“Got a late start today,” he almost whispered.

Up close, he was slightly taller than I, thin, and seemed in fairly good shape, figured him for maybe ten years older.  He was opening the SUV’s cargo door for his clubs when he asked “Where are you from originally?”  (He sized me up as not being a native Floridian; perhaps the Times under my arm was a clue).

“New York City, you?” 

“Yeah, I lived there for several years after WW II.” 

He said he was in shipping logistics after serving as an infantryman during the War.  He didn’t look old enough to be in WW II, so I asked.  “I’m 92,” I was shocked, and he seemed to be used to such surprises.  I told him my father was a Signal Corps photographer in Europe during the War and he replied “I was first in the European theater and then shipped to the Pacific.”

“My father was afraid that’d happen to him after Germany surrendered,” I confessed.

He then hesitated and finally said “I’m eligible to be buried in Arlington Cemetery.” 

“Such an honor,” I replied “but I think you have many good years before having to think of that.  You’re in great shape, still teeing off every Sunday!”

He chuckled.  “The real honor is still being here,” waving his arm across the golf course.  And, indeed, in that moment, the sun had now fully risen above the palm trees.  A warm breeze started to blow across the greenery on which our shadows lay as well.

Not knowing how to exactly reply, I said “Memorial Day is tomorrow and my father will be very much on my mind, but I’d like to say I’m grateful for your service too.  Just wanted you to know that.”

“Thanks,” he said, “it’s a sad day for me, remembering those guys, they were good buddies, some who died right next to me, no further away from where you’re standing.  Others I simply outlived and everyone in between.” 

He was still gathering his clubs from the SUV but stopped and turned to me and said, almost as if he were quoting someone he knew standing nearby “War is not where you die, but where you fight to live.”  He paused before suddenly hoisting his bag on his shoulder and said “Anyway, right-o, I’ll see you around another Sunday ---?” 

“Bill,” I replied, “name is Bill”.

“John’s mine, pleasure talking with you.”  We shook hands.  Then he walked towards the driving range.  His own routine was about to begin.

No sense calling back to John to tell him this was probably my last Sunday walk through the golf course,   “Yes, see you around” I said loudly, almost as if saluting him, as he marched away.  I stood there for a moment, watching him go off, and then turned and left for home.

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© Robert Hagelstein

Monday, May 25, 2015

The House I Live In

I’ve written several pieces over the years about Memorial Day, a day of remembrance of the men and women who have given their very lives to preserve the democracy envisioned by our founding forefathers.  Too often we take this day for granted and I have a visceral abhorrence of making this day one of “Memorial Day sales.” 
Although my father did not die when he fought in WW II, he reluctantly talked about buddies who did.  I cannot help but think of him on this day and Veterans Day, just an average “Joe” who found himself in the maelstrom of the times, and did his best transitioning from a civilian to becoming a member of the armed forces, stationed in Europe until he returned home in 1945.

Those were different times from the shadow wars of terrorism we live with today..  The entire nation was drawn into the war.  Hollywood films of those years walked the fine line between propaganda and the literal truth.  I find myself drawn to them on Turner Classic Movies this weekend, just to get a sense of what my father and millions of men and women like him had to endure.  And what it was like on the home front.  I vaguely remember the days when my father was gone.  My great-grandmother would take me in my stroller to Jamaica Avenue to buy groceries.  There were no shopping malls, mega-stores.  Those were neighborhood stores and everyone knew your name.  My mother lived with her parents and her grandmother, waiting for the safe return of my father.  I don’t remember that day, but somehow I felt his absence.

I’ve taken many photographs of our flag over the years, having a 25 foot high flagpole in our own courtyard.  After 20 years the pulley wheel on top froze and I was no longer able to raise our flag.  The flagpole is too high for a ladder and I had to bring in a bucket truck to replace the pulley, this time with a revolving one so the flag can move more easily with the wind.  Coincidentally only days after repairing the flag pole there was a full moon.  I took this photograph, hoping to post it today.

One of the movies made during the war was a 10 minute short, “The House I Live In” staring Frank Sinatra in which he sings the song of the same title.  It encapsulates those times and it is not a song one hears very often.  I made a home piano recording of it trying out a new recording device, the TASCAM DR-05, a step up from the one I’ve used before, but complicated to use.  Therefore, it is a work in progress.  Nonetheless I post it here, and the words to the song follow.

Let us remember.

What is America to me?

A name, a map, or a flag I see?

A certain word, "democracy"?

What is America to me?

The house I live in, a plot of earth, a street

The grocer and the butcher, and the people that I meet

The children in the playground, the faces that I see

All races and religions, that's America to me

The place I work in, the worker by my side

The little town or city where my people lived and died

The "howdy" and the handshake, the air of feeling free

And the right to speak my mind out, that's America to me

The things I see about me, the big things and the small

The little corner newsstand and the house a mile tall

The wedding in the churchyard, the laughter and the tears

The dream that's been a-growin' for a hundred and fifty years

The town I live in, the street, the house, the room

The pavement of the city, or a garden all in bloom

The church, the school, the clubhouse, the millions lights I see

But especially the people

That's America to me