Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Caring Counts

My dad's favorite movie was "The Hustler", starring Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson, Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats and Piper Laurie as Sarah, Eddie's girlfriend.  About a year ago, I recorded this movie as it played on AMC and every now and then I watch it, hoping to gain some undiscovered insight into my father.

The last time I watched it, the scene in which Eddie (Newman) is leaving Sarah (Laurie) struck home. Sarah asks Eddie "is that your idea of love?'  Eddie answers, "I got no idea of love."  And a conversation I had with my dad years ago floated back to me.

Dad once told me that if he had had someone in his life when he was growing up who had “given a damn” for him, maybe he would have been a different person. His mother died when he was ten and he felt that his father was too busy or preoccupied to care about him.  He "raised himself", as he would say, eating "bananas and candy" for meals.

Caring matters.  I am sure all of us can point to a time in our lives when someone made a difference with a kind word, a phone call, or a visit.  Did you know that when one of your co-workers or friends is out sick or in an extended leave that they begin to feel isolated and alone.  Behavioral studies have found that a simple card, sent by a co-worker or a friend will cause that person to return to work, or church, or to a group sooner than the person who is not sent a card?

In my office, I have the Ten Commandments of Human Relations hanging on my bulletin board.  I do not know who wrote them to give that person credit, but I would like to list them here.  They are interesting to read, and more interesting to think that we have to be reminded to do them:

1.       Speak to people.  There is nothing as nice as a cheerful word of greeting.

2.      Smile at people.

3.      Call people by name.  The sweetest music to anyone’s ear is the sound of their name.

4.         Be friendly and helpful.

5.      Be cordial.  Speak and act as if everything you did were a genuine pleasure.

6.      Show interest in people.  You can learn to like most people if you try.

7.      Be generous with praise and cautious with criticism.

8.      Be considerate with the feelings of others.  It will be appreciated.

9.      Be thoughtful of the opinions of others.  There are three sides to a controversy; yours, the other person’s and the right one.

10.  Be alert to give service.  What counts most in life is what we do for others.

These may seem simplistic.  But every day I talk to people who feel alone, deserted and under stress.  Many of their burdens would be lessened if they knew someone “gave a damn” about them.


Will you be that someone?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Angels Come Down

One sunny day in May, 1977, I was walking back to my office from a downtown restaurant.  I was crossing the street at the intersection of Trade and Alexander streets when a man approached me.

I was relatively new to Charlotte, having arrived in December 1976, fresh out of college, ready to set the world on fire.  I was 24 years old.  I had a master’s degree.  My head was full of new ideas and dreams for the future. 

The man who approached me that day did not have any hopes or dreams.  He did not care about the future.  His thoughts were on the moment.

“Hey, sir!” he yelled to me.  I looked at him, but kept on walking.

“Sir.  Hey, sir!”

I stopped.  He stood beside me looking at me from head to toe. 

“Can you give me 50 cents for bus fare?” he asked.

“No.” I lied.

I started to walk faster, toward my office.

“Hey, you’re a lawyer, ain’t you?  Look at you, all dressed up in a coat and tie.  You’re a lawyer.”  He looked at me looking at him.

“That’s right.  I’m a bum.” He said.  “I ain’t got no job.  I ain’t got no house.  I ain’t go no fancy clothes.  I ain’t got no shiny car.  I ain’t even got 50 cents.  You’re a lawyer and you tell me you ain’t got 50 cents?  I might be a bum but I ain’t no lyin’ lawyer.”

He was yelling.  Passersby were looking.  I walked faster. 

“I’m not a lawyer.” I told him.

“Well, you’re still a liar!” he proclaimed.

“Listen,”I said, my teeth and fists clenched.  “Stop following me.  I’m not giving you any money.

I walked on.  I crossed the street to the overhead walkway that spanned 4th Street. The stranger followed me.  I began to climb the stairs to the walkway two at a time. 

“Wait,” he called, huffing and puffing.  “Wait.”

I reached the top of the walkway and looked behind me.  He was there, gasping for breath.

“Don’t…walk…so…fast,” he puffed.  “Us bums…we don’t…jog…like…you lawyers do.  His hands were on his knees and he was bent over, trying to catch his breath.

I walked away. 

“Wait!”he cried. 

I ran across the walkway to the stairs leading to the County Office Building.  I hurried down the stairs.  I looked up.  He was midway down.

I had had it.  He was going to follow me all the way to my office unless I put a stop to it.  I turned to face him as he reached the bottom of the stairs.  I dug into my pocket and pulled out two quarters. 

“Don’t you have any self-respect?” I asked.

He took the quarters from my hand, his eyes looking at the ground.  “No,” he said quietly.  And he turned and walked away.

I went back to my third floor office and sat down at my desk.  I looked out my window.  From there I could see the new Courthouse, the jail and the police station.  Walking on the sidewalk was the man that followed me, following another man with his hand raised.  I could almost hear him saying “Wait!”  I began to laugh.

They faded from my view as a memory from the deepest part of me surfaced.  I could hear my mother’s voice admonishing me for making fun of an old man walking down the road.  “You should never do that.  Sometimes angels come down and walk the earth testing people’s goodness.”she had told me.


I sat there for another moment, thinking about what she had said and that man who had asked for 50 cents.  Then I took my papers and got back to work.  I never saw him again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Run and Don't Look Back

Not long ago, I visited a podiatrist.  My primary care doctor had referred me for a problem I was having with my foot and ankle.  At the end of the visit, the doctor recommended that I stop running.

Prior to the visit, I had not been running very much due to the pain, but his insistence that I stop doing something that I had been doing since I was nine years old; something that was ingrained in my existence; something that I equated with breathing and being, struck me the wrong way.  He seemed oblivious to what he was asking me to do.  When I told him as much, he did not blink an eye, saying only that he was surprised that I had been able to run as long as I had.  "We get old," he said, "things fall apart."

On top of this, he told me about a surgery that would probably take care of the problem but would result in me never being able to run again.

"Just give me the word and I will set it up", he said.  I never gave him the word..

I left his office thinking about Satchel Paige.

Satchel Paige was a major league pitcher who was elected to the Baseball Hall of fame in 1971 and was the first player to be inducted based primarily upon his play in the Negro leagues. 

 He was the oldest rookie to play in the Major Leagues at the age of 42. He pitched his last game in 1966 for the Carolina Leagues's Peninsula Grays at the age of 60, although some say he was older.

Maybe more famous than his pitching were his rules for staying young, which were:  

1.  Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
2.  If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3.  Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4.  Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society- the social ramble ain't restful.
5.  Avoid running at all times.
6.  And don't look back- something might be gaining on you.

I believe that Paige was right on the money with all of his rules with the exception of number 5.  If I was given the opportunity to rewrite it, my rule number 5 would read as follows: 

Run whenever you get the chance.  Run when the sun is shining.  Run when the sky is filled with clouds.  Run when the rain is pouring down.  Run whenever it snows. 

Run when you are happy, but especially when you are sad.  

Run and be filled with the wonder of things.  

Run and listen to your thoughts.  Run and feel the movement of your body.  Run until you get that feeling of power and energy and you begin to believe that everything is possible.  

Run to learn about the world around you and the people in it.  Run to learn about yourself.  Run to meditate and to turn inward.  

Run to feel the wind in your face. Run in the hot stillness of a summer afternoon.  Run to the buzzing rhythm of cicadas.  

Run to leave it all behind.

Run to feel the quiet, still peace that comes after the run.

Run; against all rules and despite all rules; run.  No matter how old or worn out you are; run; for as long as you can, for as far as you can, for as fast as you can; run.

And don't look back.

My next race will be the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day.  I will send my podiatrist a picture of me at the finish line.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Thanksgiving Guinea Hen

It was a wet fall Saturday afternoon in 1992 and the kids were inside.  They were complaining about being bored and not having anything to do.

“You are bored because you think you’re bored,” I told them.

“Nuh-uh,” said Erin.  We really are bored.

“Sometimes,” I told them, “you have to make yourself have fun.  And other times all you have to do is walk out into the yard and fun will come right up to you.”

Jeremy laughed.  “Fun can’t do that.”

“Yes it can,” I said.

“When did fun do that to you?”

“It happened when I was about eleven or twelve, somewhere around 1963.  It was Thanksgiving morning.  Mom was baking a turkey in the oven.  The house was filled with the smell of food and the clatter of dishes.  The parades were on T.V.  .  My brother, Keith, and I went outside looking for something to do.  The weather was wet like it is now and it felt like it was going to snow.

No one else was outside.  We walked out to the street.  Two houses down we saw Tommy come darting out from under his carport and start running around and around a tree in his front yard.  We walked closer.  In front of Tommy ran a strange looking bird about two feet tall, with two legs, and covered with feathers.

“What’s that?”  I asked as Tommy took another lap around the tree.

“Dad says it’s a Guinea Hen,” yelled Tommy as he chased the bird.

“Where’d you get it?”

“I didn’t.  I don’t know where it came from.  It was in the yard when I came out.  Help me catch it.”

Keith went to the left side of the tree and I went to the right side.  As the Guinea Hen came around the tree towards me I grabbed for it.  Like a highly skilled NFL running back the hen faked first to the left then dashed to the right.  My feet went out from under me and I hit the ground back first.

The Guinea Hen tore across Tommy’s yard, through the neighbor’s yard and into our front bushes with Keith, Tommy, and me close behind.  As we dove into the bushes, the hen darted out and ran across the street into old man Saunders’ yard.  Old man Saunders was sweeping his carport and he came out swinging his broom. 

The bird dodged the broom and ran into Ricky’s yard next door.  Ricky was playing on his porch and saw the bird.  “Grab it.  Grab it.”  I yelled.  Ricky did his best imitation o Zorro and leaped over his porch rail to the ground, barely missing the hen and old man Saunders’ broom handle.

Keith, Tommy, and I ran to the left of Ricky’s house around to the backyard.  The bird, followed closely by Ricky and old man Saunders, saw us directly in its path and froze; then with lightening speed it whirled to the right.  The last things I saw and felt were a tangle of arms, legs and a broom handle as all of us collided. 

The hen ran through Jimmy’s yard.  Jimmy heard us thrashing about and fell into the chase behind us.  We circled Jimmy’s house, then ran through his carport, and then the bird did what we all feared worst of all.  It ran into the yard across the street; Groucho’s yard.

Groucho was a fat man who smoked cigars and kept his yard green and in perfect shape.  Not one pine needle was out of place.  When some unfortunate, innocent child who didn’t know any better happened to trample his flower bed on the way to Jeffrey’s basketball goal, Groucho would yell like a demon through cigar smoke, “Get out of my yard!  Don’t come through here again.”

The hen stood in the middle of Groucho’s yard, sensing that it was on safe and hollowed ground.  It was wrong.  Jimmy looked at Keith, Keith looked a Ricky, Ricky looked at old man Saunders, old man Saunders looked at me, and we charged, yelling at the tops of our lungs.  Needless to say, the Guinea hen ran through every flowerbed and every mulched area of Groucho’s once well groomed yard.  Still, the bird eluded us.

“Get out of my yard!” screamed Groucho.  What do you think you’re doing?”

“We’re chasing a bird,” yelled Ricky.

The bird ran up the street to Danny’s house with us behind it, plus Grouch, plus Jeffrey who lived next to Groucho.  Danny and several friends were playing basketball in his backyard when we ran by with the bird in front of us, and they all joined in the chase.  There were now almost twenty of us running after this Guinea hen, when it stopped to rest in Bobo’s yard.  This was a big mistake, because Bobo was crazy.

“We’ve got him now!” yelled Jimmy.  He’s in Bobo’s yard.

“Somebody get Bobo.”  I said.

Ricky gently rang Bobo’s doorbell.  When Bobo came to the door, we explained the situation to him, who seemed to understand it all very well.

“Open the gate to the backyard and run it in,” said Bobo.  “Then close the gate.  “I’ll get my shoulder pads on.”

“Bobo’s getting’ his shoulder pads on, y’all,” whispered Jimmy.

We smiled.  Even Groucho smiled, with his cigar in the side of his mouth.  We all knew that anything was bound to happen when Bobo got his shoulder pads on.

We ran the hen through the gate and slammed it shut.  We all piled over the fence into the backyard.  Bobo was standing on the back porch with his shoulder pads, hip and knee pads on.  He was wearing a jersey that said, “Central Restaurant All Stars” at the top and at the bottom it said, “Try our grilled cheese.”

The hen was at the back corner of the yard, standing against the fence, looking at us.  Bobo walked off the porch and we followed.

“Spread out” shouted Groucho, a Korean War veteran.  We spread out across the yard.

“Let me take the first crack at him,” whispered Bobo.

Bobo lunged.  The hen flew straight at Bobo’s head and landed on top of it, flapping its wings wildly.  Bobo grabbed it by the feet.

“I’ve got it!” he shouted.

Then the hen sank its claws into Bobo’s skull.  Bobo fell, shrieking with pain.  The hen flew over the fence, into the neighbor’s yard.  Bobo dove after it and the rest of us followed.

We chased that bird through every yard in our neighborhood, but we never caught it.  We finally lost sight of it near Hammond Street, near the Presbyterian Church.  The twelve o’clock chimes began to play and we all realized that it was time to go home and eat our Thanksgiving lunch.  We were all laughing and talking about that hen on the way back home, and Grouch even invited us to walk through his yard on the way home.”

“Daddy,”asked Erin, “Did that really happen?”


“Well,” I said, “I like to remember it that way.”


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