Friday, February 27, 2009


Of late, while I am still relatively lucid, I have begun to write a memoir. It's a about my childhood--- growing up as a black, Catholic, baby boomer moving from Philadelphia to the Deep South in the 1950's and being loved by crazy adult relatives and even crazier, but well meaning friends. I have been engrossed in the writing effort for a couple of months now. I can't wait to see how eveything turns out, myself.

As is said in the introduction of the book, "It's a wonder that I made it out of childhood alive! (By the way, the working title is "The Mostly True Adventures of JustPLainWill (Batteries Not Included)" and it will, no doubt, be available at a better bookstore near you sometime soon for $19.95)

Deciding to write about your life is not a trivial undertaking. It’s not that I have had achieved anything that has been truly exceptional (the fact of which my family and close friends never fail to remind me). I have never had any encounters with space aliens (unless you count the possibility of Sister Ursula, the nun who was my eighth grade homeroom teacher). I’ve never rescued anyone from a burning building or done anything which would prompt a TV newscaster to tease an onlooking audience with the words: “film at 11”. (If I'd done something such as been the first man to walk on the Moon, you'd have heard of me already.) As family and friends have also reminded me, the most noteworthy thing that I have accomplished thus far is to have somehow managed to stay out of jail.

Maybe it is kind of presumptuous----maybe its even a bit arrogant------ to “offer” your memoir…especially when nobody has really requested that you do so or paid you a handsome advance. Personally, I kinda think that normally, anybody who writes “their own story” should have accomplished a lot (e.g. Colin Powell, Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein, Neil Armstrong) or surely must feel that their life and the way that they have lived it can contribute a lot to the political or social discourse. (Reader, I am sure that Paris Hilton, Snoop Dogg and Flava Flav must have had similar feelings when they began to write their life stories.) This writer, on the other hand, is chronicling his own story because I am getting older and I figure that some of the stuff that has happened can now be revealed since any Statute of Limitations have, in all likelihood, expired by now. In the spirit of full disclosure though, my memoir is a blatant effort to make myself look good to future generations of my family as well as to any of the authorities. In other words, it’s my way of saying to posterity “…that was my story and I’m sticking to it.”

Anyway, in my efforts to write the book, I have recently done some "poking around" ("research" you might call it) into my early years and have been able to dig up a bunch of incidents that I had long since forgotten. In the process though, I have also found out that this business of "personal archaeology" can be a little dicey. I’ve had access to a few pictures, some old clothing, a diary that, unknown to me until recently, my mother kept for three years when I was between 7 and 10 years of age, and regrettably, more than a little high school memorabilia. As a result of this …er, circumstantial evidence, I have found that when you do the ‘memoir research’ that there’s all kind of things that you recall (even without the help of sodium pentathol) that maybe you’d rather not remember ------or even know about. As an example:

At 6 years of age, I thought that Pontius Pilate was really Pontius Pilot and flew for Delta Airlines in his spare time.

In 1956, I actually owned ----and wore----- a synthetic Official Davey Crockett coonskin hat.

At 7, I once inquired of my African-American mother, if we had any Amish relatives. (This was revealed by reading an entry in my deceased mother’s diary.)

Until I was 15, I was dumb enough to believe that when a girl said that she couldn’t go out on Saturday night because she had to wash her hair, that she was actually washing her hair. (For that whole year, I just figured that Cassie Morgan, undoubtedly the prettiest girl in my high school as well as the four surrounding states also had the cleanest damn hair around…at least as so far as she led me to believe.) This whole episode was replayed as I looked through one of my old high school yearbooks.

I actually once owned an eight track cassette tape player, as well as the car that went with it.

Once gave an elderly relative a Chia Pet for Christmas

As an adult, I actually sat through both “Howard the Duck” and "Catwoman" although, in my own
Save as Draft
defense, the latter was the in-flight movie and I cold not walk out of the ‘theater’ at 43,000 feet… though I did, for a moment consider it.

When in some state of delirium that obviously lasted for about half a decade, I actually owned and wore both a leisure suit AND a Nehru jacket …although not at the same time.

My grandmother once told me that if you go snooping around, you might not like what you find. Gawd, was Nana ever right!

Monday, February 16, 2009


When I first spotted her, the grocery clerk was a good thirty yards away, a distance at which my 'powers' are normally pretty good. I had not seen her before and I guessed her name to be “Doris” or perhaps “Betty”. "Name Guessing" is a skill that was taught to me as a teenager by an old carnival barker named Otto. Right after my second and final lesson, Otto pronounced me 'a virtual prodigy' and I have played the game ever since ------most of the time, flawlessly. I can normally spot " a Doris" or "a Betty" or "a Peggy" at fifty paces.

So you can imagine my surprise when I went through the check out line and discovered that the clerk was, in fact, wearing a name badge that said “Patti”. Given my historical and statistical success at the Name Game", I could only surmise that the woman must've picked up Patti’s name badge in the employee locker area by mistake, as she was most assuredly "a Doris" if I ever saw one. But I did not press the issue. In the overall scheme of the cosmos, it wasn’t that important. These days, I usually played the game silently anyway and besides, if she wanted to go through life calling herself Patti, then that was her business. And admittedly, there was a small chance that I could be wrong about this ‘Doris’ woman posing as Patti. After all it was still early in the morning and maybe my normally highly reliable face/name association skills were still asleep---dormant as it were. But I digress….

Anyway, the this whole incident was precipitated by my need, early this morning, to make a quick run to the grocers to pick up several items for breakfast----- bread, eggs, grits, butter and Canadian bacon. To be honest, I am not terribly fond of eggs, but I put them in the cart for what might best be called “the purposes of effect” --------or perhaps more aptly put, for the purposes of diversion. The idea is that if you go to the grocers for breakfast food and don’t pick up at least a half dozen of eggs, the checkout clerks will openly and loudly call you out, question if you know what you are doing and wonder if you haven’t taken absolute leave of your senses. Maybe this behavior is misplaced exuberance for increased sales revenue, but they seem to think that certain items must be sold in combination with certain others. The assumption is that if you buy bacon, you must buy eggs because bacon cannot possibly be eaten without eggs. I figure that it must be an obscure law of physics or chemistry, and given the behavior of more than a few grocery clerks that I have encountered over the years, it must be as important as Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

(Sidebar: I have surmised that this little known law of physics must be something called “The Combo Ordering-Nuclear Fission Principle” and it must certainly be an outgrowth of some top secret scientific discoveries made in fast food restaurants----a sister to the grocery industry. Reader, you have, no doubt, seen this scientific principle in action for yourself when trying to order something other than the ubiquitous fast food combo meal at say, Burger Billy’s. Your order taker or server will either (1) tell you that ordering something other than the combo pictured on his or her cash register is strictly verboten and against corporate policy, (2) feign incompetence, (3) call the manager for “back-up”, or (4) as happened to me on one occasion, wrestle you to the ground and hold youon the ground until the police arrive. ("Surely, anyone ordering something other than a combo meal is a threat to national security", the woman said after the police had arrived in my case.) I am convinced that The Combo Ordering - Nuclear Fission Principle must be firmly rooted in sub-atomic theory as pioneered by Einstein. I suspect that it MUST have been Einstein who found that the fulfillment of an ala carte (i.e. a burger, separate from a drink separate from French fries) order by at a fast food restaurant will trigger a devastating atomic chain reaction roughly akin to three times the atomic force unleashed in the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima---and perhaps even risk tearing a hole in the very fabric of the space-time continuum.) It's the only thing that explains the reluctance of fast food restaurants to take anything other than combo orders. But again, I digress...

Truly, on a couple of occasions when I have purchased bacon sans eggs, I’ve had grocery clerks----big burly ones----- conspire to block my exit from the store and demand to see the grocery list that they assume that had been prepared and given to me by some female person at my place of residence. They demanded to see “the list” so that they could be certain that I had not forgotten to buy “…the eggs that surely went along with that pound of bacon that you just bought.” After a couple of such confrontations, I’ve decided that its just easier to buy the damn eggs than to get into a hassle with the checkout clerks like “Patti”, as she insisted upon calling herself.

The fact of the matter is that I hate eggs…loathe them all their attendant forms------ scrambled, fried, poached, boiled, “omelitized”, barbequed, grilled, bleached, strained, sprayed –on, or strangled----with or without cheese. My abhorrence for eggs is one of long standing that can be directly blamed on my mother. The woman excelled at every other criterion of motherhood and if you consider just her sheer humanity, she was assuredly one of the best human beings to have ever walked the earth. However, I recognized very early in my journey towards manhood, that despite a plethora of other extraordinary qualities, my mother was not a very good cook. She was particularly lousy when it came to the cooking and preparation of eggs. No matter which of the aforementioned methods of egg preparation that she employed, the eggs always came out looking, at best, like some extraterrestrial life-form and at worst, some form of rubberized, toxic waste…and this was back in the Fifties before anybody but Iron Eyes Cody[1] had nary a clue as to what toxic waste was.

Lord knows the woman tried and made great efforts to overcome her culinary deficiencies. But even when she had the help of the Betty Crocker and Julia Child cookbooks (or my Aunt Vera, a woman who was particularly adept in the kitchen), the eggs came out woefully deficient. After one particularly dreadful outcome, when I was about seven years of age, I suggested that maybe the Department of Defense could use the result as a way of coercing captured enemy prisoners to reveal Russian war secrets. She, of course, was not appreciative of what I thought was a particularly creative solution to our dilemma.

One of the problems that her incompetence with eggs presented was that like most mothers of that era, she was very determined that I was going to eat whatever was put on my plate.
“Do you know, young man, that there are starving children in Europe who’d love to have these eggs?”, she’d ask---but not really asking?
I would assure her that even the children in some far -off and famine stricken country would be better off slowly starving to death than eating her eggs which would likley kill them much faster. Not concealing her resentment of my heartfelt but possibly ill-timed remarks, she would then decree that "...I would stay at the breakfast table until I had eaten the eggs that were on my plate---and you'd better not be late for the school bus either buddy boy." Her principles of children eating what was on the plate and my determination not to die of what I assumed was most assuredly toxic waste poisoning made for many colorful ---and loud-----early morning confrontations in our household.

Anyway, back to the happenings of this morning and this woman posing as Patti: I put the eggs in the basket only for effect and told myself that I would think of imaginative ways------other than ingestion -------to dispose of a dozen eggs such as the late night egging of the home of my down the street neighbor, Donna. Donna[2] is a neighborhood busybody of whom I not particular fond, but again, I digress….

After my items had been properly totaled and bagged, this Patti woman asked “Are you a senior?”
Reader, I was so startled by her question that I asked her to repeat it, certain that my ears could not possibly have heard her correctly.
“Huh?” I said, in a truly startled fashion.
“Are you a senior? If you are a senior you have a $1.36 discount coming.”
Reader, no one has ever asked me before if I was a senior. Ever. Ever. To be sure, of late, I have noticed an increase in the number of younger Americans who, despite my protestations, insist upon calling me “Sir”. I have noticed a marked increase in the number of people who also insist upon holding the door for me as I enter business establishments. I have told myself that these events were attributable to an (alarming) turn toward civility in this country and that it is a possible side effect of the election of our new President Obama.

To be sure, I’ll be 60 in a few months. I am not ashamed of it. In fact, I am proud ---and shocked-------that I have lived this long[3] despite a life lived in the fast lane, an insistence upon not exercising on a regular basis, an unhealthy appetite for fatty foods, liquor, fast cars and fast women until I was of age to damn well know better. I just didn’t want to be reminded by ‘Doris posing as Patti’ reminding that I am inch by inch and day by day inexorably moving toward my dotage.

(Another Sidebar: Over the past couple of years, I have noticed that the editors of so called lifestyle and health magazines, no doubt wishing to increase circulation in this age of recession, running cover articles whose title is “SIXTY IS THE NEW FORTY” or “FIFTY IS THE NEW THIRTY” or some other such drivel printed so that we baby boomers can further delude ourselves about our rightful place in the world. The stark reality is that SIXTY is SIXTY, dammit! In fact, if you have taken care of yourself the way that many of us boomers have, SIXTY IS THE NEW FREAKIN' NINETY and most of us are only a few years from a time when Willard Scott will be calling our name and showing the entire U.S. television audience our picture on the side of a Smuckers Jar.)

The fact that I have lived this long is not because I have worked at it. I have not done ANY of those things that a lot of those nerdy people (with obviously too much time on their hands) do such as exercise, watch my diet, my cholesterol, my triglycerides, my electrolytes, and refrain from the fast life and having fun, etc. The one thing that has allowed me to live this long is the good genes. (Until now apparently), I’ve never looked my age. I was carded at establishments serving liquor until I was about 35 and everyone has ALWAYS said how remarkably young I look when I tell them how old I really am. Everyone, except this so called "Patti" woman.

So I told ‘Doris posing as Patti’
“No, I’m not.”
As broke as I am, I still didn’t want her damn discount. I got the eggs and the other stuff, left the store and sprinted in a dead run to my car in the parking area making sure that Ms. Patti could see how fast I was running. Since this blog is billed, in part, as the confessions of an aging baby boomer, I must report that after reaching the car, I was truly winded. I sat there for about ten minutes, looking at my face in the rearview mirror checking for crowsfeet and at the same time still fuming at at Patti’s question…and thought about what would be a good time to egg Donna's house tonight.

Inexorably aging in Atlanta,


[1] Reader, you’ll no doubt remember Iron Eyes Cody as the Crying Indian of the 1970’s who insisted that “People started pollution, people can stop it”. Well, it turns out that Old Iron Eyes wasn’t even an Indian but, in fact, an Italian actor from Sicily. Jeez, how did he expect us to believe him about pollution when he isn’t even a real Indian? They should have gotten Jay Siverheels, you know, Tonto to do those commercials.

[2] Donna knows everybody’s business in the neighborhood...and insists on spreading it to anyone who'll listen whether they live on this continent or not. I am sure that she knows my social security number and I don't think that she's even computer literate, just nosey. Several years ago, I secretly funded the purchase of a case of toilet paper so that a couple of neighborhood pre-teens could paper her house and yard. Of course, when she asked me if I knew anything about who would do such a thing, I had no idea. I still don't.