July 7, 2020

About Rita and Fred and their dog Rex

A few days ago I got a sad email from Rita, a long-time friend. And it got me a-thinking.

Dear John,

Our dog Rex had surgery on his paw a few weeks ago to remove a growth the size of a quarter, and we had to return to the veterinarian for another post-surgery check-up.

What we thought was just “a big wart” ended up being much more complicated as it rapidly grew.

The initial diagnosis was that it was a cancerous growth and required amputation of toe and removal of lymph nodes!!!

Immediately we sought a second opinion from a more specialized veterinary group and they took biopsies and found it was not malignant! And so were able to remove it with a less aggressive procedure.

However, Rex has had to remain very quiet for the past three weeks to allow the incision to heal. It’s in a difficult place. Not easy for a Lab used to walking miles each day.

We’re saying a prayer. I’ll keep you posted.

Our warm regards to you, John.

Well, I’m hoping to get good news from Rita. She and her husband Fred live in Massachusetts where I lived. So I’ve never gotten to see Rex. Not sure how old or how big he is.

What I want you to know is I’ve changed all names here to protect privacy.

Getting back to Rita’s message, I believe Rex is one of the most fortunate dogs I’ve ever heard of. Especially when Medicare doesn’t cover pets yet.

Hey, don’t laugh. Pets might have gotten covered if Bernie Sanders had not lost to Joe Biden and Bernie had managed to kick Trump to Kingdom Come this coming November. Let’s hope!

Now you see the kind of Democratic candidates I’d love to be able to vote for.

Oh, plus pets’ health care can’t be written off on our income taxes, as you know.

But Bernie would have found a way to fix that, too, I’m sure.

I’m having fun joking here a bit.

But as I told you, Rita’s letter got me thinking. I even did some research.

It turns out pet health care insurance does exist. Uncle Sam doesn’t provide it but many companies do. Companies that offer only pet care insurance. Lots of competition out there.

If you have a precious pet, check Google. You’ll find a variety of policies. You might even find some offering a death benefit.

Yes, I’ll bet you would.

Rita and Fred’s vets’ bill must have been huge. She didn’t mention that. I wondered about it but I didn’t feel I should bring it up. Didn’t want to be nosey.

Way back when I was five or six, I had a little dog, Spotty. I loved Spotty. One day he disappeared. I asked but the answer they gave me was vague. Maybe he got hit by a car or something. A big loss for me.

After Pauline and I married, soon she got a pet. A cat, Snow White. Thirteen years she had Snow White.

Also a cockatiel. A puppy named Bijou. Some unusual pets. One night I found her up very late treating a little injured squirrel she had come across. Other pets. Never without a pet. One after another.

Our kids loved them, too.

They sensed rightly these pets were their Mom’s. Not hers and mine.

One day I spotted a dog that was just meant to be mine. And it wasn’t a little dog like hers.

His name was Barry and he was a full-grown St. Bernard. I’m sure you know St. Bernard’s are BIG dogs. I fell for him not because he was so big but because he looked and seemed so loveable.

But when I brought Barry home, it became obvious he didn’t like having become mine.

Or coming to live in an environment very different.

I was a journalist at a big newspaper a 20-minute drive in from the big city nearby. But we lived on a country road with few neighbors.

We weren’t just two adults. We had two little kids. Arthur, then Monique, then in due time, Mark.

Taking care of him was my responsibility. Not Pauline’s, too.

I’d take him on a walk every day. I’d have him on a leash.

One nice warm summer day, I was walking by the Posts. Don and Sylvia were our closest neighbors, about a thousand feet down the road to the left of us.

Our brand-new house, built for us, stood right next to their big dairy farm. They had 50 beautiful Guernsey cows.

I had bought our lot from her dad. He had immediately set up barbed wire on three sides of our lot. Their blue-ribbon Guernseys grazed on three sides of us.

Most times I didn’t stop by. Don was usually at work.

But his car was in the driveway. He’d be home for sure. It would be nice to say hello.

They had a beautiful collie. Nice, friendly dog. I spotted her in the kitchen behind their screen door. She was watching us approach. Wagging her tail.

I was walking up until Barry had his nose practically touching the screen. He just wanted to say Hi to the collie. This would be their first encounter.

Well, Barry reached up with his right paw. He wasn’t being mean or aggressive. Just friendly.

But that big paw of his tore right through that screen. Wow!

Don Post, who’s a very nice guy, appeared at the door in half a minute.

Saw the damage. He was pushing their collie off to one side. Out of reach of Barry.

I didn’t give him time to say anything. I just said, “Sorry, Don. So sorry! Barry was just trying to be friendly. He’s not a mean dog. Really isn’t.

“Hey, please have the door fixed and just send me the bill, will you.”

“No, no, John. It’s not a big deal. No problem.”

“Please, Bob. It won’t amount to much. Please do that”

But he never gave me the bill.

I was so happy Barry’s behavior didn’t spoil our friendship. It could have.

Well, on another nice summer day I was in our front yard with Barry. No leash. About 50 feet from the road.

Our neighbors on the right, some 250 yards away, were the Normans. Nice family.

Mrs. Norman, about 50, came sauntering past our house with her aunt, a Catholic nun dressed the way nuns did back then. She was visiting. I didn’t know her.

My oh my! Barry sprang up and went dashing toward them. They thought he was attacking them. Whew!

I thought they’d have a heart attack!

At the last minute, Barry put on the brakes. Stopped. Dropped to all fours and started wagging and wagging his tail.

Mrs. Norman gave me a really nasty look. Didn’t say a word. Didn’t have to. Her look said it all.

I rushed over and grabbed Barry by the collar. I had a hard time restraining him.

All I could do was give her a feeble smile and try to explain.

Mrs. Norman just nodded solemnly. Her aunt the nun gathered her long gown around her and gave me a weak smile. They continued their walk past our house. Keeping an eye on Barry and a big distance from him. I was still holding him tight by the collar.

Later I told Pauline all about it. She just shook her head sadly. She really didn’t approve of Barry.

She had no such worries with her little poodle

It was clear Barry had to go. I sold him cheap to a farmer who had a big spread. Had a few beef cattle. Was looking for a replacement dog.

I never saw Barry again.

Anyway, our kids grew up with pets in the house.

One birthday, Arthur, our first born, asked for a pet. Not a puppy or a kitty. He was just six years old.

We lived not far from a farmer who raised sheep. We’d stop by and admire them. Arthur decided he wanted one of the little lambs. He chose one and I paid the farmer. Who thought I’d have it slaughtered, I believed.

Hah! We called it Lambchop.

We had that big yard with a big lawn now.

Lambchop was Arthur’s pet and he had to learn to take care of it.

I tied a 15-foot rope to Lambchop’s collar with a gallon jug of water tied at the other end. In the morning, using the rope and jug, Arthur would set Lambchop up on a patch of nice green grass.

And after school he’d move Lambchop to a fresh patch of nice green grass. Perfect.

Well, at one end of our house we had a grape arbor. Nice grass there. One morning Arthur shifted Lambchop there. After school he checked and found Lambchop dead.

What?! Imagine the shock of that.

Lambchop had been munching and had eaten its way around one of the arbor posts. Had circled the post a couple of times and kept pulling and pulling to free itself. But had strangled itself. Sob!

End of that story.

Anyway, this neighbor friend the farmer also had a few horses. One day in visiting him with my teen daughter Monique, she found one she fell in love with. A big pony.

A spontaneous decision on her part.

I had no idea she was interested in owning a pony.

What to do? I had no barn. No easy water supply. No hay. But I bought it for her. She named it Dolly.

We arranged it so she could keep it at the Posts’. Yes, where Barry had smashed the screen door.

Don and Sylvia had a teen-age daughter, Cindy. Monique and Cindy were good friends. Cindy had a pony. And everything needed for it.

Cindy fed and watered her pony. She knew what she was doing. She tutored Monique. She learned quickly.

Dolly turned out to be wild and frisky. So much so that Monique wore a football helmet when she rode her.

Oh, Dolly also turned out to be blind in one eye. Poor Dolly.

I think that the work of caring for Dolly beat the fun Monique got out of her. She didn’t keep Dolly very long. I don’t remember what happened to her eventually.

Our youngest, Mark, loved animals of all kinds. I repeat, all kinds.

He loved snakes. Water snakes. After school he and his school friend Brian would go and try to catch them, then toss them back in.

He had one that he kept as a pet. He took it to bed with him. True story.

Mark, who is now a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, once thought of becoming a vet. Yes, he really did.

His son Lincoln,11, now has a snake in his bedroom. He wanted it. He’s totally responsible for it. Has to treat it kindly. Has to clean its glass box. Has to feed it regularly. One live mouse a week. Mark buys the mice at a pet supply store.

Well, I hate snakes. Even harmless garter snakes.

Mark takes after his Mom. Pauline taught him. Not that she was fond of snakes.

Our home in the country had a big deck in the back. We had big sliding glass doors to the deck. Next to it was a huge oak tree in plain sight.

One day Mark spotted a baby raccoon up there in the tree. No mother raccoon taking care of it.

He put on heavy gloves and clambered up. Then he saw a second baby raccoon. Managed to bring one down, then the other. Showed them to his mom. She was excited. Then to me. They were cute. I thought they’d be released.

She loved them. Adopted them. She scooped them up. Watered them. Fed them.

We’d sit on a couch looking out those big doors. The two little raccoons would sit up there behind us. On top of the back of the couch. Their favorite place.

Pauline would pick one up and hold it for awhile Then the other. She gave them lots of attention.

We’d keep the doors’ screens closed to keep the two little coons from escaping. After all, they were precious pets now.

They were growing fast.

I had done some research. Raccoons can be dangerous. Very. I mentioned this to Pauline.

No problem. Not these cute little two.

I was worried. These weren’t pets. They were wild animals.

We were planning a weekend away.

Pauline arranged for a neighboring teen-ager to come every day. Gave her a key. She’d come and check a few things. And water and feed our coons.

Off we went. When we returned, our coons were gone!

The teen-ager had opened the deck doors for a few minutes. Our coons had bolted. She was distressed.

So was Pauline. I was relieved. I believed what the book said about raccoons becoming dangerous. Good riddance!

I have stories aplenty to tell about pets.

Our Arthur, who loved Lambchop, and his wife, Marita, bought a nice young dog after they settled into their marriage.They named him Dakota.

He is now a lawyer with a national law practice out of Florida.

Dakota became very big. Had him for more than a dozen years.Their three kids grew up with Dakota. He was part of the family. Became very old. Decrepit, sad to say.

Arthur and Marita recently had to make the painful decision to have Dakota euthanized. That was a bad day.

Their three kids had grown up and become independent, two of them living hundreds of miles away.

A pet animal, whatever it is, can become important to our emotional well-being. Especially when kids have grown up and gone. Pets fill a great big void.

And this is what has made pet veterinary medicine such a lucrative specialty. Specialize in pet health care and become rich!

Monique, who loved her frisky pony for a while, has never had a pet of any kind. Excuse me. Now she has David, her hubby of 30 years. It’s remarkable what a wonderful marriage they have. They don’t need a dog or cat or lamb or pony or snake or anything else. They have one another.

Which is also true now for Arthur and Mark and their spouses also.

Mark, who loves animals so much that he seriously thought of becoming a vet, no longer considers having a pet dog, say. He and his wife Stacie are both professors. Very busy. Travel a lot. Have to face reality.

I have thought of having a dog for myself. A cute, little dog. I live alone. It can get lonely.

But I have a hard time taking care of myself. How could I walk the dog? Really, really take care of it? Not a smart idea.

So I’m hoping that my friend Rita’s prayer for Rex has been answered. And she and Fred will have Rex for another long while.

But now, how do you, dear readers, feel about this?

Do you have a pet? Have you had one, or more! What kind? Good experience? Bad one? Details, please.

If enough of you respond, I’ll write it up. Might be very interesting.

Mark Lander, 78, bicyclist extraordinaire

By John Guy LaPlante

My dear friend Mark Lander back in Connecticut loves to pedal and pedal.

Sure, it’s not unusual for teenage boys to bicycle right into their 20’s and their 30’s and maybe even their 40’s. And then they run out of gas, so to speak.

Not Mark. He started biking in March, 1991. He remembers it that precisely — with the threat of snow nearly over.

Biking became his big thing. And he’s never stopped except in winter in the early years.

I lived in Connecticut a long time. I remember the winters.

Every time I post a blog, it’s 95 percent guaranteed I will get a comment back from him. I love to see his name in my Inbox. And it will be an interesting, enjoyable comment. He’s a very literate guy. Sometimes Mark will email to tell me the latest news about the town’s Historical Society. He’s a long-time member. He loves to research local history and write about this or that. Always fascinating. But remember. I’m writing this not because of that but for his bicycling. It’s been a Wow! accomplishment. Amazing.

He just sent me big news that I have long awaited. It’s so big that I am going to bold-face it.

Mark has just reached his 100,000th mile on two wheels!

The big moment occurred just as he pulled into his driveway. He celebrated with a cup of coffee.

How about that?

Mark is a retired high school French teacher. He majored in French at the University of Connecticut.

There’s nothing French about him except love of the language and the culture.

Now some details about his thousands of miles of pedaling. He emailed them to me. Really fascinating.

He started biking not as a kid, which you would expect. He started in March, 1991. He took it up as a replacement for running (knees) and power walking (boring).

He was still working at that time.

His early goal was to ride as often, as much and for as long as he could. His schedule limited him to warm weather weekends and school vacations (April – November). By the time he retired in1999, he had reached almost 15,000 miles.

Then he started riding year-round, subject only to weather. 

His new goal:  To ride farther each month than he had in the same month a year earlier. It worked more often than not.

His annual mileage gradually crept up:  2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 (five times), 6,000 (once).

I’d love to know how many hours on his bike seat that 6,000 miles adds up to.

He reached 50,000 in August, 2007. That was worth celebrating. But he didn’t tell me how.

He then determined that 100,000 was possible.

In that time he rode in about 250 towns and14 states plus the District of Columbia.

He pedaled in four countries:  USA, Canada, Holland, and France. Has been to France often.

He has used four primary bikes, each one replaced by an upgrade. His current bike is a hybrid.

I didn’t know what a hybrid is. I looked it up. Seems to be a very strong but very basic and light-weight bike — no fenders or anything like that — with the seat quite a few inches higher than the handlebar. You visualize that?

It made me think of a racing bike more than an over-the-road bike.

I wish I had a photo of him and his bike. I’m sure you’d like to see what he looks like. I’d love to see what he looks like.

He told me he wasn’t up to taking a picture and emailing it to me. I understand that.

He said he survived two crashes but was back on the bike within days, despite injuries.

Best day:  85 miles
Best week:  350 miles
Best month:  802 miles
Best year:  6,100
Longest overall ride:  About 350 miles — from Newport, Vermont, to Connecticut in five days.
Most interesting ride:  The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, 184 miles, paralleling the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. I believe he started in Cumberland.
Worst ride:  20 miles in a blinding rainstorm
His lifetime average:  Approximately 3,400 miles per year. Which is just about what he is biking now.

In his statistics I wish he had given his monthly totals.

His pet peeve:  Drivers and other cyclists who don’t understand the rules of the road as they pertain to cyclists. Plus cyclists who don’t wear helmets.

His future resolve is the same — to keep riding as often as he can, as much as he can, and as long as he can.

He says maybe he’ll switch to a trike. Or a tricycle recumbent.

He is well aware that I, a two-wheel biker into my 70’s, pedal my wonderful trike through the neighborhood every fair afternoon. Especially now in these days of Covid-19. The fresh air and the exercise are wonderful.

Then he surprised me:  Maybe he’ll get an e-bike somewhere “down the road.”

That’s a bike with an electric assist. You can turn it on to ease the pedaling.

I say to him, “Go for it, Mark!”

That’s the smart thing to do for an old guy starting his second 100,000 miles on two wheels in not so flat Connecticut.

I consider his accomplishment inspirational. Might spur other older men to take up cycling to stay fit. Yes, sir.

My Friend Wu and Me

By John Guy LaPlante

I have lots of friends, lucky me. But my friendship with Wu is one of a kind. Yes, unique. In fact, extraordinary.

He is Chinese, from Shanghai. His name is Wu Bin.

If I were Chinese, my name would be LaPlante John. I did not know that. He feels Wu is an easier name for foreigners like us to handle.

About our friendship, consider the following. I am old. He is young. He could be my grandson.

I’m American. Don’t speak Chinese. Good thing he speaks English. Otherwise, our friendship would have been doomed.

We met in Nairobi, Kenya, of all places. It is a black nation. That’s on the eastern side of the African content. Nairobi was a major stop on my solo trip around the world. It became a chapter in my book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, dammit!”

And as always, whenever possible, in Nairobi I was staying at a hostel. Wu had checked in the day before. He had the bed across from mine.

He was 30, on vacation. A graduate of the University of Shanghai. He was completing a month in Kenya and adjoining Tanzania. Came because of his interest in anthropology.

I met him with special interest. When I was in college, I had a Chinese pal by the same name, Wu. He was the first Chinese I ever met. I mentioned that to this new friend of mine. He chuckled. He said Wu was a very common name in China. As common as Smith or Cohen for us.

Wu Bin, no relation to my boyhood friend, was a microchip engineer working in marketing for a big company supplying chips to companies around the world. Including some of our best known computer companies.

I asked him, “Isn’t it rare for young Chinese to get out of China and travel for pleasure?”

“Yes, I am very lucky to be able to travel like this.”

He said he earned a high salary by Chinese standards. That impressed me.

He said he had just treated himself to a balloon ascent over a famous historical site.

“It cost $300. Very expensive. But I have very nice pictures to take home.”

Told me he had traveled to Europe, India, and many other parts of the world. Part of it was for his company, but not all.

Also rare was that he was not yet married at age 30, he said.

“Everybody tells me, Marry! Marry! I say no, not yet. I want to wait. When you marry, everything changes.”

He did say he had to find a way to raise extra money for this trip. He brought along five digital cameras. Very hi-tech cameras – complete, with chargers, AC adapters, the whole works. Had sold four of them so far.

“No problem. Many rich people everywhere.”

There were quite a few Americans in Nairobi. I thought he might be the only Chinese in this huge city. I left the city sure we would never see one another again.

But what happened is that like others who were interested, he continued to receive email updates from me about my big trip.

But, so unusual, he would always respond.

By this time, I was back in the U.S. I was in Los Angeles, living with milady Annabelle. We were a committed couple.

When I wrote that I was planning to write a book about my trip, and would include many photos he became

Very interested. In fact, excited.

One day he wrote, “John, I will publish the book in China!”

What a wacky idea! So I thought.

But he mentioned it again. “Yes, publish it in Mandarin. That is our most important language.”

I was interested, of course. But I thought nothing would come of it. But he kept it up.

One day, he made me an offer in dollars. Wow! To put an end to this, I wrote, “Wu, we have a lot to discuss. Come on over!”

I was sure he would make an excuse. Probably too busy at work!

End of discussion.

After all, making a round-trip to the US is expensive. And complicated. He’d have to take time off from work. Get a visa. On and on.

Well, he flew over. We picked him up. He stayed four days with us. No mention of the book. We showed him around. Fed him.

He was a lot of fun. Then he left for three days to visit Yosemite National Park, then came back for a few more days with us. Still no mention of the book. Just a scam, I decided.

Two days before his flight back to Shanghai, he said to me, “Now, John, let’s write our contract.”

Wow! Could this be for real? It was. We sat down and I drafted the contract. I included the sum of dollars he had offered. Plus a provision for royalties. Oh, I also had a DVD of photos I had taken on my big trip. He also bought that. I showed him what I had written.

“Excellent,” he said. “But this contract must be written Chinese style.”

“No, no, Wu. If you put it in Mandarin. I will not be able to read that, and I would not be able to sign a contract like that, of course.”

“No, John. Not a problem. This is very good, but for us Chinese every contract must start with the words, “After friendly discussion….”

No problem, I told him. It was indeed a friendly discussion.

Then I shook hands with him. He did not understand that.

I explained that shaking hands at the end of a business deal is an American custom. He chuckled. “I love some of your American customs!”

And I said to myself, “I really like this guy!”

Annabelle and I drove him to the airport. We shook hands. Annabelle gave him a hug. He was all smiles. And he flew home.

We have been the best of friends ever since. For many years. It’s been an active friendship. I could give you many details but I have to speed up my story about him. No way can I go into the many details.

He went ahead and published my book in Mandarin. Translating it was a big job. I like to think that the translation was a good one.

He decided to give his book a big PR kickoff.

Big surprise! He invited Annabelle and me to attend. Unfortunately, she could not come along. A bad knee! She suggested I bring my sister Lucie along. A great idea. I am a few years older than Lucie.

She’s a very good sport and lots of fun. And very charming. She and Wu clicked the minute they met.

For the kickoff he had rented a large assembly room in a major hotel. And invited many guests, including journalists and TV personalities.

He wanted me to give a talk, and he would translate in Mandarin.

We practiced a couple of times.

I was very nervous. Who wouldn’t be? Then answered questions from the floor. And all went well.

From China, Lucie and I went on a tour of a dozen Asian countries. That was a decision I made after Wu’s invitation.

She told me she would love to come along but said right then and there she’d have to fly home early because of a major happening back home. We had a fine time together. I was very sorry to see her fly home.

I wrote up that big and wonderful trip in my book, “Around Asia in 80 days. Oops, 83!”

A very popular book at that time was “Around the World in 80 Days!” That’s how I got the idea for the title of my book.

Well, I have been to China four times, all because of Wu. That’s been very wonderful.

The second time was for Wu’s wedding. He invited milady Annabelle and me. She was better now and jumped at the chance.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine at that time. I got permission to go.

From Kyiv, the capital, I flew easterly to Shanghai. Annabelle flew west from Los Angeles. We arrived at the huge Pudong Airport only 90 minutes apart, and Wu was there to greet us.

Such an interesting and beautiful wedding. And the dozen days that followed. All thanks to Wu.

Then Wu took us back to Pudong Airport. Annabelle flew east home to Los Angeles and I flew west back to Ukraine.

Wu made another trip to the United States and visited us. It’s wonderful.

Wu, and my sister Lucie, of course have been in close touch all these years.

We were very pleased to hear of the birth of his son. And his steady climb up the ladder in his field.

Annabelle got to see a lot of that. She died a year ago, sad to say. In just a few words, what Wu has become is a super salesman with an intensive engineering background.

His specialty has been LED lights. He told me once, “John, go to your local Home Depot and you will find my LED lights there.”

As such, he has traveled to many countries in his business, in Asia and countries in Africa.

No need any more to bring along hi-tech Chinese cameras in order to make extra money.

Over the years, thanks to what I could see from Wu and could figure out by myself I became so impressed by China’s growth that I invested in a Chinese mutual fund, and that did very well.

History tells us that it has been in the last hundred years that our USA became the wealthiest and mightiest country in the world.

Well, I believe it’s now in these upcoming hundred years that China will become the wealthiest and mightiest country in the world.

You may be thinking that yourself.

In these years of our friendship Wu and I have remained in close touch through the Internet.

It’s always been a great pleasure to see an email from him in my inbox.

Recently I got to thinking that our friendship is such a different and extraordinary one that you might be interested in hearing about it. So here it is.

With his worldly experience, he has strong opinions and doesn’t mind sharing them.

He’s always doing extraordinary things. Recently he learned to fly a helicopter. How about that!

Now a French company is building a huge chemical plant in China and Wu is the official translator and interpreter. That’s a big job indeed.

I mentioned to him that I would like to write about us.

And I realized that there were many things about his everyday life that I was not aware of. And I asked him a series of questions. Some quite personal. And he has answered them. That impressed me.

Here they are. I believe that you will enjoy them. And learn a bit about China.

Hello,Dear John,

The follows please find my answers.

How many hours is the normal workweek? 8H* 5Day= 40 hours

How many days off do workers have per week? 2 Days

How many days of vacation every year? About 5-20 days, depends on working experience By the government? Same in the whole country

By private companies? It’s hard to say, in the South or in the North, are totally different.

Is there a standard retirement age? For man, 65. For woman, 60.

Do people receive a pension when they retire? Yes.

From the government? From the government.

Or private corporations? NO.

Or both? Only from the government

Are most schools free? For the public school system, it’s free. Are most universities free? No, need to pay the tuition.

We have 50 states in the USA.

How many states does China have? We have 32 provinces in China.

Don’t 99 percent of the people live in large apartment buildings?

In the city, that’s true. In the suburban area, people mainly live their own house or rent an apartment.

Do they own their apartment? Case by case, about 60% people own their house.

Do you own or pay? I have my own apartment. Actually Lucie and you even stayed in it. Are you employed by a corporation or are you self-employed? Employed by the company. At what age do you plan to retire? 65

What kind of work would you like your son to do when he is a man?

Doctor, teacher, architect, any job he likes indeed, and he could do something useful for the society. Meanwhile, be kind to the friends, neighbors.

Wasn’t your father a public school teacher? Yes, he was a teacher before 

At what age did he retire? 65

I know how generous and loving you have been to your father and mother. How comfortable would their retirement be without your financial support?

I am their only one kid, it’s nature to support them as I could.

Is there a standard vacation for workers every year?

For me, about 12 days.

Do sick people have to pay to go to a hospital? Yes, some people without social security need to pay it.

Is there a government insurance plan? No, mainly we have a personal insurance plan by ourselves, not the government.

At what age do people begin to vote? At 18

Can women vote? Yes, for sure.

Are some kinds of people not allowed to vote? All Chinese citizen can vote who is over 18.

What do you think of Xi Jinping? He is capable to handle the current issues. He is not perfect, but acceptable. Isn’t he your president for life? No, I don’t think so.

Do you like him? For me, he is OK for the country.

How many major political parties are there? About 9 parties totally.

Are you a liberal (for us, a Democrat?)

I am a liberal.

Or a conservative (for us, a Republican?)

Do most people believe in God? People have different definition on God. In China, it could be the Buddha, Guanyin God, or Local City God. We have local gods in our mind. If you live in China longer, you can see that.

Here are 2 pictures for your reference.

That’s a temple in Southern China, which also popular in Southeast Asian countries.

“Are you really a writer, John?”

“Did you write to earn your bread and butter, Mr. LaPlante?”I’ve fielded these questions more than once. My answer to both is “Yes”.

And I have proof for you right now. All thanks to my loving daughter, Monique.

Take a look at the photo. It shows a 3-ring binder. I’ll explain in just a minute.

I had a big birthday recently. My 91st!

I got Happy Birthday! emails, cards, a bouquet of flowers, gifts. Monique’s was a humdinger. She gave it to me at a birthday dinner at their home. Her hubby David handed a big box to me. It weighed a ton. Beautifully gift-wrapped.

“What is thís?” I asked. “An encyclopedia or something?”

No answer. Just a smile.

I ripped off the fancy paper. Well, what I was looking at were two huge identical binders. They both had the same picture of me on it. Taken in Guangzhou, China six years ago. It’s the same photo that appears on my website.

The words on both were the same: “To blog or not too blog? You bet I’m going to blog!”

One book said “Volume 1” and the other “Volume 2.”

And inside were print-outs of every blog I’ve posted since I started my website back then. All in perfect chronological sequence. The first was on April 8, 2013 and the latest on April 26.

She was watching me carefully. “Like it, Dad?”

“Like it? I LOVE it, Monique! It’s fantastic! But gosh, when did you start assembling all these articles? What a huge job!”

“No, no, Dad. I began not long after you started blogging. I could see blogging was important to you.”

She smiled. “One thing I was sure of! You wouldn’t up and quit! “Well, you would publish one or two and I’d print them out. So I’ve been at it practically since you started. And of course I realized it would be a nice family thing to have all your articles together like this.”

The minute she said that I thought of something else.

Years ago back in Connecticut where I was then living I wrote stories for a weekly newspaper, “The Main Street News.”  It was a good weekly. A lot of people read it. I began writing for it. I wrote a lot for it. News stories. Feature stories. Many. And during that time I took two long trips driving through our 48 states. Alone. I covered 60,000 miles on highways and backroads. In a small, compact RV — a wonderful VW Microbus.

I was a vagabond. A happy vagabond.

I’d write about interesting things that I got to see and interesting folks I encountered.

They would get published as lead articles in the Travel section of the Worcester Sunday Telegram in Massachusetts, where I had been an editor. And some in The Main Street News.

Back home finally, I boiled all that down for an article that got published In the Travel section of the Boston Sunday Globe. The Globe is the largest paper in New England.

That Sunday edition was a full inch thick. Huge.

On Monday a friend called me. “John, I read your article yesterday. The whole thing. And I checked something. It was the biggest story in the whole paper!”

I was tickled.

Oh, during those years I also took a big trip to a dozen countries in Asia. My sister Lucie was with me through several of them. She had told me in advance she’d have to come home early.

On the road over there I’d write reports and email them back to Connecticut for publication.

They became the guts for my book, “Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83!”

Lucie was one of those I dedicated it to.

Well, back then one day Monique had given me a boxful of those reports. Again, each one printed out and arranged in its right order. A precious gift.

Now and then I open the box and leaf through it. It’s a fantastic walk down Memory Lane for me.

And now her two 3-ring binders will be my second fantastic walk down Memory Lane.

As I told you, the first of the two binders is full.

The second one has lots of room still. It will be easy for her to slip in additional blog printouts. For instance, this one I’m writing right now.

I’ll bet Monique has already thought of that.

Right now they total 200 blog posts. That’s my estimate.

On average they run 2,000 words, I’d say. So, 400,000 words! My oh my!!! I do think that’s worth three exclamation marks.

But that’s over just the last few years, mind you.

But I’ve been writing professionally since I graduated from Boston University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1954.

And the next week went to work on The Thomaston (Conn.) Express, a fine weekly. As its editor, mind you. I was 25 years old. Less than two years later I was hired by the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, which published morning, evening, and Sunday papers. After Boston, Worcester is the second largest city in New England. I went from correspondent and reporter to bureau chief to feature writer to editor of its big Sunday magazine. Even wrote a weekly column for it for 10 years without missing a single week. Even wrote it from my hospital bed one week.

And I’ve been writing and writing ever since.

These scribblings have included new feature stories, travel and adventure write-ups, essays, reminiscences, three nonfiction books published, three not. Hey, even a few poems.

Think of the millions of words all this must add up to.

Of course, some of you may be quite new to my work. Well, to give you a decent idea, I’ve gathered a few of these blog posts for you. Not the whole, long pieces. No, no. Just the title of each that I gave them plus a few paragraphs to clue you in. Hope you enjoy them.

And here they are.

“I learned to play chess 77 years ago.” Yes, I did. Sorry, that’s not true. I began playing chess back then. I’m still learning.”

“I thought my circus days were over.” Not so. I was interested but I said “No!” to Monique and David when I found out there were no animal acts. How could you have a circus without elephants and lions and prancing ponies? I was wrong. I loved it!

One day in one post I found out I had erred. So I wrote the following.

“Did I confuse you? Could be.” In my last post I wrote, “Do your duty. Vote!” But maybe better, “Don’t vote!”

But I should have written, “It’s your duty and my duty to not vote when not clear about an issue or a candidate.”

Here are more.

“I just finished my toughest test yet.” And I’ve taken hundreds of tests. The toughest was the California written driving test. I flunked it the first time. So humiliating!

“Why don’t they just ask me my name?”

I was at the drugstore for my prescriptions. I started to say “I’m John …”

“No, no. What’s your address?”

Another day I was at a big-box store. “I’m John …”

“Sorry. What’s your phone number?”

At a government office, “I’m John … “

“No need. Your Social please.”

Hey, why did my Pa and Ma ever bother?!

“Seven years ago I was still living six months a year in Connecticut and six here in California.” I’d drive 6,000 miles across and meander to see this and that. It was great!

Well, I just met Bill Fairbanks, a retired Ph.D. professor. In his 70’s. He walked across the U.S.A. It took him six years. He did it in stages. His wife tagged along in their car.

“Do out him it’s okay to ban books?” Our public library just had an exhibit on banned books. A long list. Some famous, some less so. There were 20 possible reasons. Too much sex. Or too Communist. Or too this or that. And sure, they all got banned. But all can still be bought here or there. But anyway! Here in our free USA who has the right to ban books from me or you? In my opinion, nobody.

“My friend Bill Alpert, impassioned fiddler.” There are two kinds of passions, as we know. Good ones and evil ones.

His is a good one. Making music. As a concert violinist and now a sidewalk fiddler.

Bill fell in love with the violin when he was 11 in sixth grade. He’s collecting Social Security now and still playing. The same violin for 31 years, by the way–a Caressa made in France in 1901.

He practices every day. One day he got a great idea. Why not practice before a live audience?

So on nice days now and then he practices in front of Albertsons Supermarket. His practice sessions are better because some customers stop and really listen. And some like his music so much they even toss money into his violin case. Pretty good, methinks.

“Have you had narrow escapes? Close calls?” I’ve had a few. The most terrifying was when I was traveling alone through India on a long, jam-full train and

I got caught in a riot. And a couple of thugs came looking for me, and all because I was a lone American.

“I go to our county jail to visit Prisoner 846975.” Jack is an old man now. I’ve changed his name and number. He’s a friend, sort of. I like him.

He was picked up by the cops for failing to report in monthly to his probation officer as he is supposed to 12 months a year. He is a convicted sexual abuser. He is awaiting trial. Couldn’t make bail.

He’s told me the story. He was 19. She was a bit under age. He felt she wanted it and he gave it to her.

He admits to other law problems but small stuff. That initial crime has ruined his life. People know and he knows they know.

He has to check in every month, or else. Getting decent work hasn’t been easy. He’s been a house painter mostly. He can’t even be within so many feet of a school. On and on. AndI repeat, he’s awaiting trial.

The big question is, does that conviction of his really fit his crime? She was a bit under age and he felt she wanted it and he was just a dumb kid of 19 ….

And now he’s a convicted sex offender for life?! Can’t there be a smarter, more sensible way? For people like him and society?

“A dream Airstream in Albertsons Supermarket parking lot.” Yes, I spotted a gorgeous, gleaming silver Airstream trailer. It’s famous. The first really fine travel trailer. Luxurious. Pricy. Still an unusual sight. Designed, built, and popularized by the great Wally Byam.

He would lead price-is-no-problem Airstream owners on scenic caravans across the USA and even across Africa.

But for a young family man like me there was no way I could ever hope to own a top-of-the-line Airstream.

Yet the day came when with my wife Pauline and our two little kids in a home-made tent trailer I could take six weeks off. Drive across the USA from Massachusetts to California and back. And mind you, in days long before Interstate highways. And see great cities and famous national parks. And humble burgs and splendid museums. And talk with a fabulous mix of Americans. And write about all that and get it published. Wow!

Now you have seen a small sampling of my works. Well, to get back to the big, original question I get asked, am I a writer? Do I qualify? What do you think?

Truth is, writing is a must for me. I believe I was born to write, among other things. It’s the only way I can explain it. Hope I can keep it up….

Now I must repeat one essential thing.

As you know now, this huge project of printing out and assembling these blog posts was totally my daughter Monique’s doing.

I had no clue. Bless her!

She has a husband. A big and demanding job. Lots of responsibilities.

This was not just a project for a week or two. She got started shortly after I began blogging.

It was one more way for her to say, “I love you, Dad.” Notice, I said one more way.

How fortunate I am.

T0day, April 26, I turn 91. Wow!

By John Guy LaPlante

So of course today will be the first day of my 92nd year on this planet. Amazing.

Know what? I never, never thought I would live this long.

Like lots of people over 65 or 70, now and then I’ve wondered how long I’ll be around.

So recently I researched it. I checked at the Social Security website — 3.7 more years for me. and 4.5 for ladies. But those are averages. Some will live longer, some shorter. 

Then I wondered, what are my odds of reaching 100? No idea.  I haven’t come up with that number yet. Actuaries know that. I don’t know any actuary.

I do believe I have a better chance to hit 100 by living here in peaceful and quiet and crime-low Morro Bay than in so many other places.

Anyway, here are a few reasons why I do think I might live to become a centenarian.

I’ve never smoked, well, since the age of 17.

I’ve never drank — oh, at Sunday dinner maybe, or on a special occasion, but just a small glass of Manischewitz.

And very important, I’ve always, or nearly always had work of the kind that I enjoy. Writing. Which is what I am doing right now. Although I no longer get paid for writing. Shucks.

As we know, so many people work at something so humdrum that they just can’t  wait to call it quits and start collecting Social Security. 

So do I hope to hit 100? Not if I have to end my days suffering through some awful, monstrous, hopeless whatever.

Or in pain. Or being kept breathing through a machine. Or being a burden. Or with no loved one by my bed to hold my hand.

No problem there. I have three kids, and they are great, as are their spouses.

Of course, there is more doubt about all this now than there would have been a few months ago. The fearful Covid-19  pandemic!

I’m a perfect candidate for that, by the way. I’m very old as you know. And I was recently hospitalized for double pneumonia. From what I’ve read, that’s a very ominous possibility.

At times now and then, like you I’m sure, I’ve wondered what life is all about.

Is it an adventure? A highway we are plunked down on for better or worse and can’t get off of until we run out of gas, so to speak?

Is it a religious prelude to heaven or hell? 

Or a good opportunity to use whatever talents we have been handed to make a better life for ourselves?

Or just a mystery, a very tough one, to try to fathom?

Or a bit of this and that? Please, what do you think?

And the big, big question now, is life over when it’s over? Or is there another life for us?  People with their smarts working have been pondering that question for eons. I believe it’s over. But I may be wrong.

Anyway, one thing I’m sure of is I’ve been most fortunate.  And in many ways.

I was born male. I never questioned that. I was fine being male. In recent years I’ve been astonished to find out many males are unhappy about that. So unhappy they will go to great lengths do change that.

I was born to a wonderful father and mother. They nurtured me in many ways. Loved me and showed that to me time and again.

I was born white, which many consider a big plus in our mixed society. 

And was born American, which I’m sure you won’t disagree is more desirable than being born Nigerian or North Korean or Haitian or Costa Rican or citizen of so many other countries. 

And I was born with an IQ a wee bit higher than 100, so I’ve been told . That’s a pretty good plus. 

And have been blessed with better than average health over these many years.  

And so lucky to have been privileged to get a good education. And of course that opened the door to numerous opportunities. And certainly saved me from ever having to stoop to cheating or trying something criminal to make a living.

Also, so fortunate to have become a vegetarian. Increasingly that’s considered a more healthful way of life. Yes, definitely, though I did that also because I liked the idea of not having to kill animals to fill my stomach.

And I’ve always had a lot of friends. I feel good about that.

Now another big question. A great big one. Have I thought of how I’d like to die?

Have you? Well, it may be you’re not old enough yet to have a question like that come to mind.

I have indeed given that some thought.

For sure before my health fails to the point that things really start to become hard and difficult. My sixth sense tells me that may not be that far off. 

But definitely not the way my good friend Cam died ten days ago. No, no.

We met as freshmen at age 13 and were friends all through prep school and college. Early on, we found out we were born on the very same day, April 26, 1929! That became a special bond that kept us close these many, many years.

I became a journalist plus other things. He a Catholic priest. He loved being a priest and for the very best of reasons and he became a fine one.

Cam–never did I ever call him Father Cam–retired only some 15 years ago, long after he could have. And did so quite reluctantly.

We always kept in touch. It was important to us. Rarely did we miss on April 26.

Well, eighteen months ago Cam began slipping. A kind and gentle man, he began turning people off, fellow priests and longtime friends and even his own loving sister. Alzheimer’s! And it got worse. Hard to believe, but he had to be institutionalized. And then quickly he died. 

May I be spared an awful ending like that.

His death was a huge emotional jolt to me. I’ve thought about it time and again.

On a couple of mornings I thought of him the minute I opened my eyes .

As for me, I’ve written my will and done everything else that goes along with that.

So, getting back to that big question, how would I like to die?

Well, while still reasonably healthy. Before the pain and the misery kick in. I’d like to go to bed here in my home one night and close my eyes … and simply die. 

That would be nice and easy for me, and for my family and friends also.

But not, not quite yet. 

So, friends, how does that sound to you?

And right now, what?

Well, it’s a beautiful day. 

As usual this afternoon I’m going to hop on my tricycle and pedal it and pedal it.  For the exercise and fresh air and the fun of it. I do that on every fair day.

Often I’ll stop at Albertsons Supermarket for groceries. I have a big basket on the back of my trike, which is great for that.

Of course I put on my face mask for that and am careful about social distancing. Which I do whenever necessary.

Then I’ll pedal to McDonald’s for my daily cup of coffee. McDonald’s is take-out only now, of course. I used to like to read the paper in there. No more.

And today, my birthday, I’m sure I’ll be able to squeeze that in. But I’ll skip Albertsons. I will pedal longer to celebrate the fact I can still do that.

If things were normal, there would be a party, and there would be a birthday cake with a lot of candles on it, maybe even 91. Some jokester might do that. And I’d be expected, even cheered on, to blow them all out. No way!

Oops, not to worry. There’s not going to be a birthday cake. There’s not going to be a cake. No candles. And no party, either.

Social distancing!

 But I’ve been getting birthday cards and phone calls and emails. And that’s been wonderful.

And in 365 days, the gods willing, let’s hope Covid-19 will be over. And then on my birthday, I’d love  a little party and a cake with candles on it. Yes, sir.

Maybe 8 or 10. But please, please, not 92!

My seven hard months of being out of sight and mind

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — I’m so, so happy, my friends, to tell you I’m back home finally. Living on my own again, by myself, in my mobile home.

This after some five months of being in a hospital, two nursing homes, and an assisted living facility.

Strangely it seems I was away in those institutions much longer than five months. Methinks because a lot of it impressed upon me the reality of being very old.

You know, I never thought I would live in a mobile home.  Six years now.

Over my many decades I’ve lived in houses and apartments and condos, most of which I’ve owned.

This mobile home is perfect for me in my very old age. I said “very” old age because very soon, on April 26, I will be 91 and starting my 92nd year!

Notice the exclamation mark. That’s because turning 91 is a surprise, a very nice one. Truth is, I never expected to live this long.

What’ pleases me a lot is that most people who know me seem to agree I still have my wits about me. A lot of people my age do not. Very sad.

Anyway, this is supposed to be about the huge medical crisis that kept me out of circulation those many weeks. Until I moved back home nearly two months ago.

But this is not supposed to be about my mobile home. I’m telling you about it because it will make you understand why I wanted to come back to it. Plus I feel it will be interesting to you.

It happened as a result of my my moving to California from Connecticut to be with my daughter Monique and her husband David. That was some eight years ago. They are wonderful.

Morro Bay is a lovely small city about half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. No ice or snow here. The harbor and the broad Pacific are just down the hill a mile and a half or so. Very low crime rate. Very peaceful. Only 15 miles from much larger San Luis Obispo with its hospitals, airport, university, big stores, on and on.

I moved here permanently, intending to live here until I die.

I knew zilch about mobile homes. I suspect few of you do. I’m telling you about it so you’ll understand why it’s so important to me. Besides, it will interest you, I believe.

Then I will get back to my humongous medical crisis.

I bought my mobile home six years ago. It’s number 19 in a mobile home park of 55 units. The park is called Morro Palms, so named because of its towering palms trees.

The median price of houses in Morro Bay is a bit more than $500,000. This may sound very expensive to you but that’s what it is.

Right now the average price of a mobile home in Morro Palms is about 20 percent of that. So $100,000 or so. But I paid much less than that five years ago. Prices have been going up and up.

As is the custom in all mobile home parks, or so I’m told, you own the mobile home but pay for the lot it’s on. They call it ground rent. This ground rent was a big novelty to me. You pay that ground rent monthly, along with the utilities. Those utilities are gas, electricity, and water.

Living alone as I do, those utilities are quite modest.

I feel I have a wonderful deal here, indeed I do.

Now a little secret. I believe that deep down I had a prejudice against people living in mobile homes. I didn’t know better.

Well, my neighbors are fine, upstanding folks. I have one who is a retired university professor. Another who is a half-retired contractor. Another who was a chemist. His wife was a psychologist. Another who is the assistant manager of a very large chain hardware store. Another who had a big state job certifying new state buildings just completed. Quite a few are like that.

They all like the idea of saving a lot by buying a nice mobile home.

The location of our Morro Palms park couldn’t be better.. Besides being very safe and very quiet, it is so, so convenient. Just a 10 to 15-minute walk to supermarket, drugstore, bank, post office, public library, senior center, restaurants, and all the shops and services typical of a nice small city of 10,000 people.

My neighbor Francis walks down to our harbor’s Embarcadero every fair day.

Our park has strict rules. You have to be 55, and you can’t have children of any age living here. And you cannot rent it out to anyone.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

For me the big, bg plus is that Monique and David live only a seven or eight-minute car ride away. So I see them and enjoy them often.

Yes, sir, how fortunate I am to have discovered Morro Palms Mobile Home Park.

Finally, finally back to my huge health crisis.

That crisis sprang up in early October and that’s why you haven’t been receiving my blog. It put me out of business. Not the right expression because my blogging has never been a business, as you know.

I was scared. Terribly worried. Did not have the energy or the zest for anything else. Was totally preoccupied with getting better.

Truth is, I had a close call. Far closer than I realized when David and Monique drove me the 18 miles to French Hospital in San Luis Obispo.

David is a very fast driver. Believe me, he got me there faster than any ambulance would have. Lucky no policeman spotted us. Right to French’s big emergency care department.

By the way, there’s nothing French about the hospital. It’s called French only because the gentleman for which it is named was a Mr. French.

I thought I’d be there for two or three days and that would be it. I’d be sent home. I had no idea it would be five months before I got back home. And that’s why only a few of you got to hear from me directly in all that time.

When Monique realized that I was worried about you not hearing from me, she took it upon herself to do something about that. She contacted you through my blog and told you about my bad news.

My key diagnosis turned out to be double pneumonia. It was compounded by a couple of other problems. Well, I spent 13 days at French Hospital. They did a good job. That’s for sure. Of course I expected a big bill. But I was shocked, nearly fell over when I got it.

They hadn’t done any major surgery or gotten me started on heavy chemotherapy for a life-threatening cancer, or any other huge problem like that.

So yes, I was nearly knocked off my feet when I spotted how much those 13 days had cost. Wow!

It was $135,000!  Now divide that by 13 for the 13 days that I spent there. More than $10,000 a day!

But because I had Medicare plus Medex, which is a good supplemental policy I have, all French asked of me was a $50 copay. How fortunate I was.

Now here’s something interesting. When I have asked friends to estimate what the huge tab had been, they put it at a mere $20,000 to $30,000 for my whole stay. Crazy, don’t you think?

They seem to have no idea how hospital care has become shockingly expensive.

Well, I insisted on an itemized statement from French and finally I got it. It ran many pages long. But it was written in such impossible technical gobbledygook that no way could I understand it.

 Anyway, from there I was transferred by ambulance to San Luis Transitional Care. It’s a rehab facility. It’s operated by a local chain called Compass.

It made me think back some 30 years when I spent a couple of weeks at a rehab center in Connecticut. That had been a very good experience.

San Luis Transitional Care also turned out to be a very good experience.

I was one of two men in hospital beds in a double room. Which was standard. My companion had been there a few days. I’ll call him Charlie. A good guy. I got to like him a lot.

0ur beds were barely five feet apart. We ate our meals propped up in our beds. We pushed a button by our side and quickly someone would appear to tend to our needs.

Sometimes a nurse and sometimes a nurse’s aide. Nearly always the nurse was a woman. Half the time the nurse’s aide would be a man. 

Often I preferred the man. Why? Some of the care I needed was embarrassing, and I liked it if the aide turned out to be a he. True for Charlie also.

I’d have to use a urinal or a bedpan and that was no fun. When finally I got to use the toilet and passed stool, I wouldn’t be allowed to flush it until an aide came to see how much it had amounted to. That was the rule.

But if a woman responded and got the drift, she’d take it in stride, and just laugh and say,”Not a problem, John. Not a problem.”

After a couple of days, I felt these various caregivers were new friends, sort of.

We got care day and night, through all three shifts, including our blood pressure readings and our prescribed medicines.

But how irritating it was to have somebody tapping my shoulder at 4 a.m. to wake me up and give me an injection or a couple of pills or do whatever else they had to do.

I was being given a variety of pills and the nurse would make sure I swallowed each and every one.

Very soon I realized I was getting very good care right around the clock. A nice feeling.

Charlie agreed.

But the TV set we shared turned out to be a problem. I had little interest in what was being shown except the news reports. He could have kept the TV on 24 hours a day. Regardless of what was on. Finally he’d turn it off at 10 p.m.

But he had to do that because it was the rule. Thank God.

Quickly I was encouraged, like every other new patient, to get up out of bed and start using the wheelchair by my side. It seemed every patient had a wheelchair.

Not only to get around but for meals. Our meals would be served to us on a tray that they placed on our bedside table. I’d edge up to it in my wheelchair.

And no more urinal and bedpan, by the way. I’d wheel myself to the toilet.

I was given a shower twice a week, and I really enjoyed that.

After three days or so I was encouraged to navigate my wheelchair out of the room and down a couple of corridors to a dining room. And sit and dine with other patients at tables for four.  It was very nice to mix in like that.

And the food was quite good, I am pleased to say. I am a vegetarian, and I was sure that would present a problem, but it did not.

And in a few days I began spending an hour or an hour and a half in the physical therapy room. It became the most important part of my day.

A couple of dozen patients would work out in there in a typical day.

The exercises were individualized to us, depending on our specific needs.

There were seven or eight of us in there, both men and women. We would be started on sets of exercises using machines, the exercises becoming more and more demanding. I did it seriously. It was paying off.

I was surprised by how many men and women were in there working out after a knee or hip replacement. Or falling and breaking a bone.

My needs were much simpler. The usual workout was one hour. I’d try to squeeze in extra time and quite often I’d get away with it.

What was wonderful was that right from the start I began receiving visits from Monique and David. Sometimes Monique, sometimes David, sometimes both. They are busy people. How fortunate I was.

Sometimes l’d tell them, “No need, no need,” but they never missed. How good that made me feel!

And I’d get calls from my son Arthur in Florida and my son Mark in Wisconsin.  Wonderful!

Just about every one of my nurses and aides got to know Monique and David. And vice versa. It was all very friendly.

I must tell you that there was not one of these nurses or aides that I did not get to like.

Well, I expected to spend two weeks at San Luis Transitional Care and then be discharged to go home. That was not to be.

The problem was that my medical insurance would pay for just two weeks. The two weeks ended but I was lucky to get an extension. But those extra days ran up my bill considerably. 

Yet even with the extra days Monique and David felt I was still not ready to go home. And I agreed with them. Absolutely.

Then we got good news.

If I shifted to another rehab center, my insurance would cover that. Strange but true.

And so I was accepted at another Compass rehab center. It was called Bayside. I went in in better shape and I adjusted easily.

I expected to stay two weeks but I ended up spending a month.

And in its services and the good attitude of its staff, it was very comparable to San Luis rehab. Very commendable

One nice thing was that Bayside was much closer to home.  Now it would take Monique and David less than 10 minutes to get here. As opposed to 30 or 40 minutes. They were still coming every day.

Now I was really getting better.  I looked forward to wrapping all this up and finally getting back to my mobile in Morro Palms.

No, not yet, I was told. I was upset when I heard that.

Monique and David agreed that I had improved a lot. But not enough. I disagreed.

The problem they saw was that at home I would be living on my own 24 hours a day. They felt I was not up to that. It would be very risky.

A couple of times I have fallen at home.

Even have had to be taken to a hospital. I’m extra cautious now.

Finally I agreed to stay. But reluctantly.

Well, Compass has an assisted living home nearby. In fact, it was in the same building I was in now. Yes, Bayside. It was just a couple of corridors down from Bayside.

I repeat, this was not another rehab center. This was an assisted living community. Big difference.

Familiar with that? I wasn’t. It turned out to be interesting.

It was called Casa de Flores, which is Spanish, I think, for House of Flowers.

I had no intention of living there. But I was curious. One day I wheeled myself right into Casa, as everybody called it. Nobody bothered me. I took a good look at this and that. I did that another time. I learned a lot.

Casa’s specialty was serving elderly people who weren’t able or no longer wanted to live at home. Most were widows and widowers, with more women than men. But there were a few couples also.

Casa, as insiders called it, was a comprehensive package of services.

Residents got room and board and laundry service, received their daily medicines–nearly everybody was on medicines–and were treated to a wide variety of interesting things to do. Concerts, movies in its own little movie theatre, nice excursions here and there.

And most important of all, an ongoing program seven mornings a week of mental and physical exercises in its Activities Room. With trained leaders who did their best to make it pass as fun.

 I would not be staying here. I did explore it quite thoroughly..

I wheel-chaired my way right into what Casa called the Fireside Room. Named for the beautiful fireplace in one corner. 

It had chunks of sawed firewood in its hearth, but they were just impressive imitations of the real thing. And they were always burning, or so it seemed. But the fire wasn’t started by striking a match. No, no. It was gas-fired.

And the fire was always going even when the room’s temperature was automatically set at 75 degrees.

Residents of Casa would enjoy sitting by it and enjoying it, as make-believe as it was.

The Fireside Room was beautiful. It looked like the main sitting room in an expensive hotel. The beautiful carpeting. The fine couches and armchairs. The mahogany side tables. The paintings. The grand piano.

I even got to see the two dining rooms. They were planned and furnished to look like high-class restaurants, with menus and uniformed waiters and waitresses.

I picked up one of Casa’s brochures.

Every week, at least twice there would be concerts and solo performances by artists.

Monique and David suggested, in fact very strongly recommended that I spend a few weeks at Casa.

True, a very nice place for anybody that needed such a place. Not me. I’d be going home.

I do feel they protested for my own good. They loved me. It was that simple. They were totally sincere in their concerns.

I thought differently. I felt that I did not need Casa and insisted I did not want it. It was expensive. More than $3,000 per month, and all that Medicare and Medex would cover would be the medications that I would be given. Which would be minor.

Nevertheless I could afford Casa I just didn’t need it. Didn’t want it.

Reluctantly I said okay, I would move in but for just a few weeks. I was firm about that. I wanted to go home. I signed a contract with Casa that was many pages long.

Oh, I must tell you this. While at Casa, one of the therapists that I got to see was the occupational therapist. 

His name was Arnold. He was 45, so a lot of experience to his credit.

I mentioned to him that I wanted to go home. He said he understood, sure, but was I up to going home? Could I handle that safely, comfortably?

I said yes.

So one day he picked me up and drove me to my mobile home. He said he had a long checklist of activities to put me through.

To make sure I could walk up the four front steps. Unlock the door. Use all the switches and lamps. Walk around safely.

He checked me out in every room.

In the kitchen, the stove, fridge, microwave, pantry. He asked if I cook my meals. I said hes. Could I wash the dishes afterward plus all the clean-up?

My bedroom. I already had a hospital bed as my bed. Not because I need a hospital bed. But because I enjoy reading in bed, and its up and down electric switch make reading in bed so much more pleasurable. He smiled when I told him that.

Could I hand up my clothes in the closet? Yes, Wash them in my washing machine and dryer? Yes.

The bathroom, all-important, with its toilet, counter with wash basin, and particularly its integrated tub and shower.

My toilet by the way was a raised model. I had it installed two years ago. It makes it easier for me to get up. Excellent, he said.

He suggested a couple of modifications for the tub / shower. One was trivial — an easier on / off shower nozzle.

The other was a novel bench for the bathtub. Well. novel to me.

He said the bench would make it easier for me to get in and take a shower and to get out, all by myself. I assured him I would get one.

He looked at my office with computer, file cabinets, bookcases, on and on. .

I was impressed by his thoroughness.

Finally, I said, “Well, Arnold, what do you think??”

He didn’t hesitate. “You’ll do fine, John.”  And he gave me a thumbs up.


Later David bought and installed a new shower nozzle for me.

And went to our senior center. It has a room full of donated wheelchairs, crutches, bedside bars, roller carts and other good things for needy senior citizens.  And returned with the type of bathtub bench Arnold had recommended.

But at Casa de Robles suddenly a problem. They said they couldn’t take me in for a few days. Red tape of some kind.

So Monique and David took me to their home for a week And finally Casa was ready for me. And so I became a resident.

I got a very nice studio apartment. It was really a simple room with a big picture window offering a nice view of the outdoors.

It had a large clothes closet, a kitchen cabinet with a sink. And a small refrigerator.

In a corner was a small bathroom with toilet, lavatory, and bathtub and shower.

I, like all residents, would have to supply everything else, just about all of them items from home. 

David and his friend Gregg who had a pickup truck moved it all in for me. then organized it neatly. My own hospital bed. My malls kitchen table plus two chairs. TV set, radio, lounge chair. Plus other small items.

Casa would supply the bed sheets but I’d have to supply the blankets.

A chambermaid would come in in the morning and make up my bed and tidy everything.

A male aide would come in to help me take a shower two evenings a week and would do my laundry once a week. He would return my items my items nicely folded, with bigger items such as trousers and sweaters and jackets neatly lined up in the closet.

I could eat my meals in my room occasionally when I was so disposed but there would be a special charge for this — $5, I believe it was. I enjoyed eating with my new friends in the dining room.

Oh, other nice things were offered to all residents as an included service. Outings to interesting places nearby in Casa’s small bus.

In fact, you could ask to be taken somewhere. To a doctor’s appointment, say. 

In my normal life I frequented the Morro Bay Public Library.

One day I asked to be taken there. That happened. The driver asked when to pick me up. I said in two hours. He returned to pick me up. I did that twice. Once I combined it with a lunch at our Senior Center. Quite nice, don’t you think?

And once a week, sometimes twice, concerts in the Fireside Room. Every week a movie in its own small movie theater. Twice, as a matinee and an evening show.

It had a library with a nice selection of books.

Oh, this is interesting. Word had gotten around that I had been a journalist and was still an active writer scribbling about a variety of things. And that I had written some non-fiction books, including my “Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit!”

I was invited to give a talk. And I said yes, but hesitantly. I’ve given many talks over the years.

But hesitantly I’m an old man now. Sometimes when I’m talking I run up against a mental brick wall. I want to say a certain word but I can’t think of it.

I was antsy about that. I had just read about a new medicine for people who suffer memory loss due to aging.

I had no intention of buying a bottle. But I made a joke about it. It sounded too good to be true.

I got a nice turn-out of residents in the Fireside Room. A number of them were friends of mine now.

And I started by saying to them, “Hello, my friends, first there’s something important I must tell you.

“As for a lot of old folks, my memory is not 100% anymore. For instance, sometimes I want to use a certain word but I don’t remember it. Does that happen to you sometimes?”

Some people nodded. A couple chuckled.

“Well, friends, I found out about these fantastic new pills. They’re magic for old folks with this problem.

“Know what? If I had known I’d be speaking to you this evening, I’d have bought a bottle and started taking these pills three times a day!”

Lots of laughs. I went on to answer lots of questions. It was clear my friends had enjoyed my talk. I went to bed quite happy.

After seven weeks at Casa, I went home finally. Monique and David were still apprehensive. I had to respect them for being forthright about that.

Of course they had been sharing their concerns with the rest of our family including my sons, Arthur and Mark, who totally agreed with them and quickly and emphatically made their concerns known to me.

“What’s the rush, Dad?  Casa de Flores is a fine place! Perfect! You are doing so well there. Stay there till you’re stronger!!”

They were speaking out of love. I was sure of that. God bless them!

I told them how I had been a bit apprehensive myself. And told them how Arnold the occupational therapist had checked me out at home/ But they had their heads made up. Darn! But they were complaining because they loved me.

Well, I’m in my third month at home now. I’m doing quite well. In fact, I am proud of myself. And I’m happy.

I’m a realist. Yes, I am. As I’ve said, very soon I will start my 92nd year on this earth. Of course I will continue slipping. That’s natural. Expected. In a year or two or three, if I see the necessity, I will return to Casa de Flores. For keeps.

Oh, one more thing to tell you. While at Casa, now and then I would call my sister Lucie in Connecticut to chat and keep her informed. She did not know much about assisted living places like Casa and kept asking questions. She was interested.

She’s in her eighties, very sharp, was a high school French teacher for nearly 40 years, is a strong and enthusiastic bridge player, and, this sounds crazy, loves to tango and even flew to Argentina with girl friends to take lessons. Yes, with some of the best tango dancers in the world. You should see her tango!

One other thing about her. Some years ago, I decided to fly to Asia and visit a dozen countries. It led to my book, “Around Asia in 80 days. Oops, 83!”

I invited Lucie to come with me and she agreed, but only halfway because she was committed to a special happening back home.

We had a great time together. Excuse me, adventure!

As you can see, we’re very close.

One day a few weeks ago she called and said, “Jean-Guy,” using my French name, “I’m flying to Morro Bay to see you!”

Gosh! How wonderful!

I told her that among other interesting things we’d do, we’d visit Casa de Robles so finally she could check it out.

She came. Stayed with Monique and David. We did nice things together. Had a wonderful time.  But I could not take her to Casa because of the enormous fear Covid-19 had become. 

Frightened as we all were by Covid-19, Lucie lost little time flying home to Connecticut.

The pandemic has certainly made life very, very difficult for all of us, and in so many ways.

I’m practicing social distancing. Washing my hands. Not touching my face. And wearing a mask when I go into crowded places.

Lucie is doing the same. She seldom leaves the house, and only to go to the supermarket or keep an important appointment. No more competitive bridge!

I used to see Monique and David every day.

But no more Get-togethers are rare. We do speak on the phone every morning and every evening.

But I am still pedaling my tricycle. I feel the exercise and the fresh air are very good for me. I buy groceries once a week. I stop by McDonald’s every afternoon for a coffee, but take-out only. Dining room closed!

I have read that Covid-19 has hit some nursing homes and assisted living communities very hard, with some residents succumbing to it.

Of course I have been concerned about Casa. Worried, really. I’m told security has been greatly intensified and Casa is still Covid-19 free. Great!

But this pandemic will pass though not before many lives are lost. But it will certainly pass.

I remember when polio terrorized us. I have read about the Spanish influenza. There have been pandemics that go back to the medieval ages. They all passed.

There is not much consolation in knowing this. Unfortunately.

Corvid-19 has already killed so many in so many countries in the world. And it rages on.

Medical science all over the world is searching for a preventive and a cure. They’ll find one. But it will take a while. Many more will die.

Meanwhile, what to do?

Some people practice the tips we’re being given about social distancing, masks,  and so on.

Some people also pray. Some just keep their fingers crossed. Some say, we have to deal with the cards we’re dealt. Some say, that’s life!

Me? I’m using all the tips that make sense. And hoping for the best. And right now, just going out for my daily tricycle ride and some fresh air.

Well, how about you?

Never have I seen such a magazine

By John Guy Laplante

I know magazines. I gobble them up — a great variety of them.

I just saw my first issue of this one. Yet it’s been around for more than 40 years!

I just spent two wonderful hours enjoying it. And I’ll get another good two hours out of it.

It’s very different. So different that I’ll call it unique. “No other like it.” That’s a word that should not be used lightly. But unique I believe it is.

There’s one thing that amazed me right off. It’s that it has had the same editor / publisher since its first issue. Sy Safransky.

These days, editors, particularly, seem to last 12 to 18 months, then they’re gone. Then the new editor toys around with the editorial content. So the magazine retains its name but it’s hard to believe it’s the same magazine. Are you with me on this?

How did I hear about it? Good question. As I said, I read many magazines.

I am 99 percent sure Sy Safransky, eager to build circulation, went to a mailing list company—there are many—and shopped for a list of verified magazine subscribers, with their addresses, of course. At $$ per thousand names. I was on the list he got.

I got a letter from him, enjoyed his spiel and he sent me a sample copy, the September one.

As I’ve said, I’ve seen only that one.

Now I’ll describe it in detail for you, but for the moment I won’t tell you its name.

As I continue, maybe one or two of you will figure it out and say “It’s the such-and-such magazine!”

That would please me. And I’d ask you, “How did you ever get to know it?”

After all, its subscribers number only some 70,000. And for a national, I repeat national, magazine that’s been around that long, that isn’t much.

Its cover price is $5.95. It makes a point of saying its Canadian edition is also $5.95.

Its format is 8.5 by 11 inches, which is the same as the New Yorker, Time, the Smithsonian, the Atlantic, Harpers, and so on.

It carries zero advertising. Yes, zero. I know of no other commercial magazine like that. Ads are essential to them. No ads, they die. But this one has thrived.

Everything in it, except for its name on the cover, is black ink on white paper. “Process color,” which is the technical name for printing publications in color, is hugely expensive. My guess is this is why this magazine forgoes it.

Not that it suffers as a result. Not one bit. My opinion.

And this September issue is 48 pages. That’s big for a magazine without ads.

Are some of you beginning to pick up on these clues?

This just happens to be issue 525. I just noticed that. That’s an enormous number to have been produced under the direction of one man.

Its content is divided into “departments.”

The first department, a big one, is called “The XXX Magazine Interview.” It seems to be a feature in every issue. It’s nine pages long. Very meaty.

The interview has three photos, including one of the author, Alex S. Vitale. There’s an intro about him that runs better than a thousand words.

He is a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Social Justice Project under the umbrella of CUNY, the City University of New York.

The headline of his interview is “To Protect and to Serve / The Overpolicing of America.” I repeat, overpolicing.

He says things, and cites things, that are very, very troubling. Worth reading.

The second major department is “Essays, Memoirs, and True Stories.” F0ur articles, three of them very substantive. By four writers.

The first is “Cop Diary,” by Edward Conlon, a former detective with the New York City Police Department. I read it. It’s an eye-opener. A shocker.

He has written for the New Yorker, Harpers, and such. Impressive.

The second is “Now I look for you.” By Natalie Kusz. A one-pager, a mere 200 words or so. She’s looking for someone, in one bad place after another. Her final line: “If I find a vestige, I think, I will rest.” Poor lady.

Editor’s note: “Natalie Kusz is the author of the memoir ‘Road Song’ and the recipient of a Whiting Award , a Bush Foundation Fellowship, and other honors. Her Plan B career would have been hairdressing, and on certain writing days she wonders why she went with Plan A. She lives in Spokane, Washington.”

I think Sy Safransky’s Problem A was he needed a one-page filler, and his Solution A was he found Ms. Kusz’s “Road Song.”

I wish he had known of me. I think I could have supplied him with a decent one-pager. Just joking.

The third is “Stolen Time,” by Saint James Harris Wood. A writer, musician, and father of three sons. He will soon be released from prison after serving 18 years for bank robbery.

Unusual for an ex-con to get published like this, don’t you think?

I read the whole thing. Very worthwhile.

The fourth is “Unexpected Things” by Marion Winik. She is the author of eight works of nonfiction, teaches writing at the University of Baltimore.

I haven’t read it yet.

The third major department is “Photo Essay,” another regular monthly feature.

It is entitled “Old School Boxing,” with photos by Thom Goertel. There are nine. An editorial note says he became a photographer when his dad gave him a camera as a kid. And he’s been taking pictures ever since.

The text is by Jim Kuhnhenn, a White House correspondent for many years and a fellow of the National Press Club Journalism Institute.

His text is a couple of thousand words long.

It’s about Buddy Harrison, about sixty, owner and trainer at Old School Boxing.

He teaches boxing to any male interested. Black,white, or Latino. Hoping to make pro. Or for self-defense. Or to keep fit. Or the brutal pleasure of it.

Big muscular men. Teenage boys, too. School dropouts. Policemen. Professional men.

Buddy Harrison is an ex-con also. Found religion. Really straightened up the day he became a dad.

He doesn’t do it for the money, we’re told. At times he’s had a hard time coming up with the rent. He’s a natural and impressive do-gooder.

The article is a great read. Glad I read it.

The next major department is Fiction. It features a short story by Jennifer Swift. We’re told she recently completed a master’s in fiction writing at John Hopkins University.

Her story is entitled “Stories We Tell Now.” But it’s not that short. Several thousand words.

I only glanced at it. Looks good.

Well, do you have any idea yet what magazine this is?

The next department is Poetry.

“Ode to my kind,” by Jim Moore, Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is from his ninth collection of poetry.

His poem is a long introverted reflection. It’s some 40 lines long. No two lines the same length. No two lines that rhyme.

I only glanced at it.

Mr. Moore should have composed it as a paragraphed essay. My opinion.

To me, true poetry must have a definite structure and a definite rhyming pattern, and it must make sense. If it doesn’t have these, it ain’t poetry.

I don’t think I’ll get around to this one.

There’s another poem, entitled “Feeling Fucked Up,” by Etheridge Knight.

A very dark, painful poem, so called. He is bitter. Angry. Furious.

He died of cancer in 1991. So his poem is decades-old.

He was a black man. Dropped out of high school. Wounded in Korea. Became addicted to pain meds. Turned to crime to support his addiction. Served eight years in prison.

Yet eventually he was honored for his poetry by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Society of America. Very impressive.

His poem is a long rant — “Fuck this, and fuck that, and fuck that, and fuck that, on and on and on.” A kind of terrible super-diarrhea.

Very powerful. I can understand why the magazine published it, and why he had been so honored.

I feel very badly for the poor man. A tragic figure.

But again, not my idea of poetry. Sorry. Maybe making it look like poetry makes readers think it is poetry. Not so.

So you can see by now why this magazine cannot call itself a family magazine, à la Readers Digest or the Saturday Evening Post.

The next department is “Readers Write,” which is another regular monthly feature.

In this issue the theme here is “Endurance.” Readers can submit anything in which “endurance” plays a role. Some 15 readers sent in personal life experiences in which “endurance” had been a key factor. Some are hundreds of words long.

A note says they may be edited for clarity or whatever. “Writing style is not as important as thoughtfulness and sincerity.”

Some are signed. Some say “Name Withheld” to protect the writer. They are wildly different.

Apparently the number published is a small percentage of the number received. Writers who get published receive a one-year free subscription. No $$$.

I’ve read half a dozen. Very interesting. Very powerful. I found this the best thing in the magazine. Definitely I will be back for more.

The theme of “Readers Write” for the October issue will be “Accidents,” and that for November, “The Weekend.”

It’s a very clever concept. Never saw such before

I did mention that the cover price of the magazine is $5.95. That would be $72 a year.

However, the subscription price for 12 issues is $32. A bargain. And that includes free digital access to everything published since 1974.

I found it interesting that it has published four anthologies covering the best of what it has produced in its four decades.

The anthologies have individual prices, but all four go for $50, which is 30% off.

That seems a cheap price given the high quality of its content (except of its “poetry”) and how very interesting and enlightening much of it is.Well, finally now, do know what magazine this is?

It’s “The Sun.” Just that. “The Sun.”

I’ve looked and looked but have found no explanation why it got named that.

Now here’s some background about it.

Its offices are in a two-story house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. That’s famous for the state’s university. But no connection.

It was founded in 1974 by Sy Safransky and a friend, Mike Mallets.

After graduate school Safransky had spent three years traveling cheapo through Europe and parts of the United States.

He had worked as a general assignment reporter for two years at a newspaper in New York City.

Somehow he made his way to Chapel Hill. He became friends with Mallets, an illustrator. Kicking ideas around, they got the idea for a little magazine.

The story goes Sy begged, cajoled family, friends, anybody to write stuff for it, then typed it all up. Mallets came up with the illustrations.

Another new friend printed it for free providing the two fellows furnished the paper.

Desperately they sought ads for it.

The price was 25 cents a copy. Sy hawked it around town.

After a year or so, Sy and his buddy Mike split up. No idea why.

Oops, I just caught myself calling him Sy again. Not just Safransky or Mr. Safransky. Just Sy.

Well, I’ve never met him. Never heard of him. He’s totally new to me. So how come? I think it’s because I like him. Admire him.

Well, to continue, at times on the side, to keep it going, Sy had to find a real job, sometimes hard physical labor. More than once he thought he’d go broke. He persevered. He slowly hired some talent. Kept going.

After 10 years he had built up the circulation to approximately 10,000. Sy dropped the ads.

I’m sure many thought he was nuts.

He has said that as a 100% reader-supported magazine, The Sun automatically got more respect and credibility.

I don’t know of course, but he must be very close to retirement age, or into it.

I like The Sun. I’ve subscribed. I hope he maintains the course.

I’m going to donate my well-read copies to our local public cornucopium. That may generate a few more subscribers.

If this interests you, you can learn a lot more at www.thesunmagazine.org.

That’s another interesting thing. It’s .org. Not .com. It turns out that The Sun has become a non-profit and counts on donations to help keep it going.

Truth is, Sy Safranski and his magazine and his philosophy about all this, along with his passion and even lifestyle, have fascinated me.

I’ve spent more time digging and poking around than I want to admit. There’s a lot out there. I had a good time.

If you also feel curious about all this, go to it. It’s all very fascinating. You’ll find a log more at Google. Also Bing. Also Wikipedia. You’ll have a good time, too.

Yes, “The Sun” is unique. Hey, maybe that’s why it got named that. We have only one sun, right? If you know of another magazine that parallels this one, please let me know. I’d love to take a look.




















I learned to play chess 77 years ago.Yes, sir.

By John Guy LaPlante

+Sorry, that’s not true. I began playing 77 years ago. I’m still learning.

Here I am, struggling to figure a winning move. Is this really fun?

Way back then I learned a painful feature about the game.

Most board games played by two people involve luck.   Sometimes it’s good luck. Sometimes bad luck.

When you lose, you have a nice excuse. You can say, “Dammit! I had bad luck today.”

Not so in chess. There ain’t any luck. You beat your opponent because you played smarter. You lost because he or she played smarter. That’s the brutal reality. That’s assuming you are evenly matched.

Oh, some say there can be two teeny weeny bits of good luck.The first? If you lock minds with a weaker player. But that’s true in any kind game, isn’t it?

The second? Well, at the start of the game, if you get to make the first move. But that really doesn’t amount to much of an advantage.

Maybe you are not familiar with chess. If not, I’ll explain the game a bit.

Chess involves two warring “armies.” Each with 16 troops, so to speak, including officers and soldiers.

In chess they’re all called “pieces.” One army has white pieces. The other black pieces. Not racially. No, no. Just to tell them apart.

At the start of the game, on one side of the cheeseboard all the pieces are white and on the other side they’re all black.

As you’d expect, the most important piece is the king. You win the game by “getting” your opponent’s king. He wins by getting yours. It’s called “checking” the king, and you do that until he has no way of escaping. That’s called “checkmating” the king.

You start the first game with a ritual. It could be by you, or your opponent. Doesn’t matter. Let’s say it’s by your opponent.

He or she will hold a white piece in one clasped hand and a black piece in the other. They’re clasped so you won’t see which hand has the black and which has the white.

You must tap one. If you tap and get white, that means you will make the first move. If you tap and get black, your opponent will start the game

Let’s say you got the white. So you make the first move and he makes the next one. That goes on until one of you checkmates the other’s king. Game over.

Anyway, I’ve played the game off and on since I was a teenager. “Off” at times for many, many months for one reason or another.

How good am I? I’m sorry you asked. It’s embarrassing. I have been a mediocre player.

I wish I could say a prayer to strengthen my game, or take a pill, or smoke something, but none of that would work.

That doesn’t mean that playing hasn’t been worthwhile, or that I haven’t enjoyed it. Just the contrary.

I play chess these days in a different set-up. I don’t play against another person. I play against players long dead. Sounds crazy, I know. Stick with me. I’ll explain in due time.

And I must tell you that works out nicely. It could work out for you also even if you’re a raw beginner. Sound good?

So in my games now, there’s zero possibility of an opponent rubbing in my defeat or humbling me.  I love that.

Win or lose, I reap a fine double pay-off. I enjoy it. And I’m exercising my brain.The same would be true for you.

But first, let me tell you about my experiences playing over the years.

Way back in prep school, my classmate Roland Blais taught me the game. We were freshmen. He had a chess set. We played now and then right until we graduated.

In the beginning he beat me all the time of course. I got better and better. But at the end, overall he had the edge.

As I look back on the long years since then, I believe I lost more games than I won. Losing hurts even when you’re  playing for fun.

By the way, in those four years Roland and I were pals. I might never have taken up the game if he had not offered to teach me.

Oh, later I found out that he did not come back to start college because his mom didn’t have the money. That was a black day for me.

All that was back in Worcester, Massachusetts. But home for me was Pawtucket, Rhode Island. That was some 40 miles away.

My uncle Emile, my mom’s brother, lived a mile from us.  He was an immigrant from Quebec also.  He was a short-order cook in a diner. A big man and big-hearted too. He smiled a lot but didn’t say much. Easy-going. I liked him a lot.

One day at the beginning of my summer vacation, he brought up the subject of chess. He told me he hosted a chess club at his house every Thursday evening. That was news to me.

He lived a few blocks away in a nice, neat little white cottage with his wife Yvonne.

“Come play with us, Jean-Guy,” he told me. Just the way Roland had invited me. He brought it up more than once.

But I didn’t want to. I’d be way out of my league. But he was my uncle. No way could I say no. So  I showed up one Thursday evening. I was the first to get there. He took me upstairs. Up there was one big empty room.

He had a lot of folding card tables set up, each with two chairs.

His friends began to arrive. French fellows like us, but also Irish and Polish and Italian and whatever. A plumber and an accountant and a salesman and so on. What brought them together was they loved to play chess.

I found out that on those evenings Aunt Yvonne would go visit one of her friends.

Uncle Emile introduced me around. I was the only kid.  I just sat by this table and that table and watched games going on. I enjoyed watching.

They were all good players. Later I began playing a bit.  I was out of my league but that was okay.

Everybody was nice. They all knew how come I was there.

After a month or so, one Thursday I got to see something brand new. A chess master showed up to play all of us. Yes, all of us. Even me. Simultaneously.

Each of us set up a chessboard, but with no player opposite us. All of us would play white against him.  We’d make the first move, starting with whatever piece we deemed best.

Mr. Chess Master would take a few steps to one of us players. Let’s say it happened to be me. He’d look at my move, then make his move.

Then he’d go to the next player and do the same thing.  He’d keep going around and around. Eventually he’d beat one player. Then another. By the end of the evening he’d have beaten all of us except maybe one. If so, we’d all clap nice and loud for our successful colleague.

Then, following my uncle’s lead, we’d all applaud the chess master.   He deserved that. He’d smile and say, “My pleasure!” or something nice like that.

Oh, at the start everybody had dropped money into a cigar box. Whatever we felt like. My uncle gave it all to the chess master.

No way could he make a living at this. He just happened to be a player who had become extraordinarily good, doing this mostly for the pleasure and challenge of it. I never found out what he did for a living.

My uncle Emile dreamed of becoming a chess master, I think. He was a strong player. I had heard he had beaten the chess master once or twice. I was proud of him. But he never made it to master.

I wish he had. That would have given me big bragging rights.

One day he amazed me by saying he played correspondence chess. I didn’t know what that was. When I found out, wow!

A number of men all over the country played correspondence chess. It was called that because they played by mail.

At that time he played with three men in different locations far away. I never found out how he got the meet them.

He would start a game with each one. He’d make the first move, jot it down on a penny postcard along with a few friendly words, and mail it off. And keep a record of that.

In time he would get a postcard back with his friend’s move. And note that down. Then send off another penny postcard. He said it could take forever to complete a game.

How astonished he’d be to see how people nowadays play correspondence chess by computer now.

They may be hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, but they can complete a game as quickly as if they were sitting facing one another.

They can also play against the computer, choosing an easy, moderate, or hard game.

Well, speaking of myself, as the years went by and as I lived here or there, I’d play now and then as occasions came up. Sometimes I’d win. Sometimes I’d  lose. It was just a very nice game.

When I married and our three kids came along. I taught them the game. Just as I taught all three how to type, how to sail a small boat, how to drive, how to do this and that.

I mentioned that to my daughter Monique as I was writing  this. And she corrected me. She said no, no. She had learned the game, yes, but not from me. Well, things must have been very busy or something.

In my years of wide traveling, in the United States and in many other countries, I would play now and then.

I would often stay at hostels. Hostels are wonderful. A hostel is a natural place to meet other travelers. Often from other parts of the world. Lots of hostels have a chess set as standard equipment.

I’d invite somebody to play. Or one would invite me. Some hostelers would have limited English.  No matter. Not a word of English was needed. People all over the world know the game.

Win or lose, by the end of the game I often felt I had made a new friend.

Well, in my years living in Deep River, Connecticut, there was a senior center nearby and it had a chess club. Again, all men, all red-hot enthusiasts.

A man named Roger told me about it. Invited me. He’d play five days a week.I would go one day a week and would play a game or two with him. And would most often lose.  We became good friends.

One day I said to him, “Not today, Roger, I just don’t feel up to it.”

“Okay. But you’re getting better, pal. Come back tomorra and we’ll have a helluva good time.”

Know what? Roger had never even graduated from high school. He couldn’t even spell tomorrow.

It just showed that schoolbook learning had nothing to do with it. It was all about having a certain type of IQ.

For me chess really became regular week in and week out fun when I met milady Annabelle.

She would live with me for six months in Deep River, Connecticut and then I would live with her in Newport Beach, California for six months.

The senior center there also had a chess club. Again all red-hot enthusiasts. As in Connecticut, I would win a few, but lose most. Not much fun.

Well, it turned out Annabelle loved the game. Played well. And we were quite evenly matched. Very nice.

Oh, she also played Scrabble. Was good at it. Taught me the game. Scrabble is a great game. Often we’d play chess one evening and Scrabble the next.

That became part of our way of life. We also played a lot of ping pong. I loved to ride a bike. She did, too.

By the way, chess seems largely a men’s game. Why is that?! It shouldn’t be. Would one or two of you women out there please explain that to me.

Milady Annabelle and I were together for some 25 years. Yes, that’s what I always called her, Milady Annabelle. As some of you know, she died earlier this year

Now in my very old age I play a game now and then.  But as I told you I no longer play against a live opponent. I play with men long dead. That’s because now I do chess puzzles.

What the heck is that? Well, a chess puzzle consists of the last, or the two last, or the three last moves made in some famous game,  perhaps played 50 or 100 years or even 150 years ago.

I have two such puzzle books. My favorite is “Chess: 5,334 Problems, Combinations, and Games.” By Laszlo Polgar. Yes, 5,334!  The book has 1,104 pages! Can you imagine that?

Enough puzzles here to keep you busy for a lifetime. Interested?

Basically all of  them are puzzles, regardless of the words Grand Master Polgar uses in its title. They consist of the windup of the game, so usually there are only a few pieces left on the board.

The puzzles start easy. The first are under the heading, “Checkmate in one move / white to start.”

Well, it sounds easy, but it isn’t. Takes concentration. The book has 306 “Checkmate in 1 move” puzzles. Then it has 3,717 “Checkmate in 2 moves.” And then 173 “Checkmate in 3 moves.”

Each of the puzzles is numbered, starting with number 1 and going up and up to number 5,334.

Let’s say I’m struggling to solve Puzzle 334. I’ve been struggling for 20 minutes and I still haven’t figured out the solution. I give up. But I want to know what the two correct moves were.

I look up Puzzle 334 at the back of the book. That game was won by E. Szentgyorgyi in 1928. The year before I was born. He won by using his knight to take the pawn on e6. There are 64 squares on the board. Each is coded. That pawn was on square e6.

But know what? His opponent is not even mentioned.  For sure he was a very strong competitor. Poor guy! That is true of every loser. That doesn’t sound right to me.

Now here is an astounding thing. If  every day you did just one of the puzzles in this book, yes, just one seven days a week, week in and week out, it would take you 14 years and 164 days to work your way through the whole book.

Maybe there’s somebody out there trying to do that.

Oh, the last big question now is, why do I do these chess puzzles? Yes, why?

The simple answer is that it’s fun. It’s challenging. It doesn’t cost a penny. And best of all, it’s a terrific brain exercise.

I believe that the brain is a muscle. And like our other muscles, it needs a regular workout. Mine definitely does.

There are other ways of doing that, of course, but chess is super.

What’s also nice is that if I fail to solve one or two or three of the puzzles, which happens at times, I’m the only one who will ever know that humbling fact. Never have to blush.

If you’ve never sat down to a chess puzzle, do give it a try. There are numerous chess apps out there. You can download one to your computer or smartphone. You won’t even have to buy a chess set. You can program it to Easy, or Moderate, or Challenging.  Work your way up.

In case you’re interested,  I do two other types of brain exercises. Variety!

The New Yorker, as we know, is acclaimed as a good and very serious magazine for its content. It’s also famous for the wacky, crazy, silly cartoons with captions that it sprinkles through every issue.

I enjoy them. Often what I like to do is look at a cartoon, ponder it, and write a new caption for it. Just for my pleasure. Sometimes I chuckle at my own caption. Now and then I’ll show a few to a friend or two. If they chuckle spontaneously, and not because they feel I’m hoping they will, that makes my day.

I have dozens of such re-captioned cartoons.

Another brain exercise I do is writing poems. Especially limericks, which by definition must be humorous. I’ve done lots of them.

As for serious poems,  I insist that they make sense. If one isn’t easy to understand, it just ain’t a true poem. My opinion. A lot of garbage out there.

I find all this very challenging. A lot of fun. And a good way to keep out of trouble.

Writing something like this is also a pretty good brain exercise. Well, I think so.

Of course, daily physical exercise is also essential.  These days old age is taking its toll on me. Normal. Expected.

Very difficult to get physical exercise. I’m hard put to walk a hundred feet. And that’s haltingly, and with a walking stick. Which I always do with a Great Call Medical Alert hanging on my chest, plus a whistle, in case I take a spill and hurt myself and can’t get up.

Thank goodness I’ve got my tricycle.  Every day I pedal it for the exercise, but also for fun and my errands. Love it. It’s a bad day when rain keeps me inside. Sometimes I won’t use my car for a week or so. Never thought that would ever happen.

I had no intention of telling you this personal stuff. But then I thought, gosh, it may help one or two of you out there. That would be nice.

Oh, an amazing PS about Laszlo Polgar!

He’s the author of my favorite chess puzzle book, as you know. What an incredible, impressive, fine man.

Not only a chess genius! A psychologist who believed that any child, yes, any child of normal intelligence, can become a genius.

And by all accounts, he and his wife did that, proved that, with their three daughters, who remained very nice gals despite their eventual great fame.

If they had had sons, he and his wife believed they could have achieved that same thing. He married her only when he was convinced she’d be the perfect teammate.

They thought of adopting a black child very young. Wanted to prove that race is not a factor. It’s all about upbringing.

Do look him and her up on Wikipedia.

Hey, they might have made me a stronger player.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~













I thought my circus days were over. Not so!

By John Guy LaPlante

I loved the circus. The whole great and marvelous extravaganza of it. Went every time the three-ring big top came to

town.  I’d even go to see them set it up. That was nearly as exciting as the circus itself.

Loved every stunt, every act. The flying trapeze and high-wire daredevils, guys and gals.  The clowns. The lion tamer. The human cannonball. The magnificent elephants. Whatever came up next. The sideshow. Wow oh wow!

Well, the wonderful Cole Brothers Circus died. Then the even more wonderful Barnum & Bailey Circus died.

So, so sad.  That’s it, I thought. My circus days are over.

Years ago I never thought one day the circus would fold. Nobody did. Then things changed.

The day came when TV provided us with terrific amusement every day of the year. Right in the ease and comfort of our living room. So why spend money at the  circus? And maybe wind up with a bad seat!

There was another big reason — Cruelty! Yes, the growing clamor about the circuses abusing their animals.

Lots of animal lovers kept complaining louder and louder that circuses were abusing their animals. Abusing them horribly. Abusing all the animals. The elephants. The lions and tigers. The camels and horses and ponies. Even the  trained dogs. Even the bunny that the clown pulled out of his hat.

Some animals more than others. The poor elephants got the worst of it.

The protests became so loud and so many that they put the big and best circuses out of business.

Apparently the circus owners didn’t have the vision, the imagination to see that a circus without animals could do well.

Sure, there may have been isolated abuses. Nothing is perfect. I myself thought there was gross exaggeration.

I thought the owners and trainers and everybody else involved took good care of the animals. Loved them. Hey, they would have been stupid to mistreat their animals.

After all, the animals cost them big bucks to maintain and train. Their animals were their bread and butter. These were savvy businessmen. They weren’t idiots.

Bottom line, those animals and all the fun and pleasure they gave us were a main reason why we bought tickets.

Hey, I love animals. That’s one reason I’m a vegetarian. I don’t believe in killing animals to eat them. I hate even squishing ants when they infest my kitchen a month or so every year.

I wouldn’t support anyone or any outfit that grossly mistreats animals.

And I’ve had pets over the years for myself or our kids. A poodle once. A great big St. Bernard. Cats. A pony once. Did I have to be cruel to make them behave or do some little thing?  No, sir. How about you?

Sure, the circus people have to train their animals. The same way a farmer has to train his horse to pull the plow. Or his cows not to kick up during milking.  That isn’t abuse and cruelty.

Anyway, I loved the circus from the first time my family took me as a little kid. Took all of us kids. We all loved it. Couldn’t wait for the circus to come back to town.

Hey, I took my wife Pauline when we were dating. We went after we got married. We took our children when they came along.

And as the years went by, I continued to go to the circus, even when I was alone because there was nobody left around to take with me.

Even when I went off to Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer I went to the circus when I got the chance.

As you may know, I was 77 when I did that. And  I found that Ukrainians loved circuses.

A bit of background. Peace Corps posted me to an important city in Ukraine, Chernihiv, 300,000 people. Impressive city. I could have rented an apartment and lived by myself. That’s what most Volunteers did. Instead I chose to live with a family for a while, then another family, then another. Three in all.

Why? I felt each family became a window for me to learn  about the people and their culture and how they lived. And that’s the way it worked out.

Every spring a circus came to town and pitched its big top. And in the fall another came. They weren’t great big three-ring circuses like ours. They were one-ring circuses. But marvelous circuses.

I would attend. And I’d bring somebody from my Ukrainian family at that time. We had a great time. I have great memories of them.

One time I had to go to our Peace Corps headquarters in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Kiev is an interesting city. Magnificent. It would remind me of Paris. Ten times less expensive, by the way.

And I learned of a very big circus  Not in a big tent. It was permanent, year round in its own big building. So impressive you it could have passed as a famous opera house. A terrific circus it was.

And I learned something important. Had never thought of. Ukrainians, like people in the other countries once in the Soviet sphere, considered circus stars not just performers. They considered them artists. The clowns, the acrobats, the animal trainers. All artists. True artists. I bought that.

And on a trip to China, in fact in Shanghai, I had that same experience. Again it was in a great big, impressive, year round building of its own. With wonderful circus performers of all kinds. All thought of and respected as artists.

Well, for me, now living in Morro Bay, with those wonderful circus experiences all past tense, I have been content to live with the happy memories.

Then my daughter Monique surprised me when she called and said, “Dad, David and I are taking you to the Circus Vargas. We’ve made reservations. It’s one of your Father’s Day presents.”

“Gosh! Sounds great, Monique. Thank you, thank you. But circus what?”

“Circus Vargas. Wonderful circus! It’s been around quite a long time. Started by a man named Vargas. It plays just the western states. Terrific acts, we’ve heard.”

“Any lions? Elephants?”

“No. It did have animal acts till about 10 years ago. No more. But a great show. We were lucky to get tickets.”

Of course I was disappointed. That  wasn’t a real circus. But I didn’t want to come off as an ingrate. Monique is such a sweetheart.

“Wonderful, Monique. Please thank David. Can’t wait!”

Curious me, 10 minutes after her call, I Googled  Circus Vargas.

Well, it talked about itself in such an interesting and colorful way that I got excited that Monique and David were going to take me.

In fact, here’s what I read. I felt you’d be impressed, too. I put it in italic to make it stand out for you.

The Big One is Back with “The Greatest of Ease” bringing acrobats, daredevils and flying trapeze!

 Join us in celebrating Circus Vargas’ 50th anniversary extravaganza, an homage to the golden era of circus in America!!

All aboard our spectacular circus steam engine as we ride the railways back in time, to relive the nostalgia of yesteryear!

Marvel at the sights and sounds emanating from the big top, just as audiences did decades ago!

The hypnotic call of the Calliope, the sawdust, the sequins,the spangles! Hurry, Hurry, Hurry! Witness the unusual, the astonishing, the unimaginable! Wonder at the daring and the beauty! Experience the phenomenal, the extraordinary!

 Run away with the circus, for two unforgettable hours of nonstop action and adventure, as we transport you back through the ages of circus history and tradition!  A magnificent, mega-hit production guaranteed to thrill and enchant children of all ages …only at Circus Vargas, where memories are made and cherished for a lifetime.

 Well, we went. Very lucky. A perfect evening after a nice sunny day. Circus Vargas’ tent was huge. . The most beautiful big top I’ve ever seen. It stood out with colorful circus trucks around it. This was a big circus. It dominated a great big field. Much bigger than the circuses that came to my city in Ukraine.

We arrived early. There were already cars beyond number parked. Thank goodness there was one handicap parking spot left. Essential for me.

People were streaming in. We were lucky. We got seats with perfect views. At one point I looked around. There were at least a thousand men, women, and children here. A full house! And the roaming and rushing popcorn and fluffy candy hawkers were doing a land-office business.

But zero animal acts! Not even one with a puppy. Or a canary.  Waiting for the show to start, I wasn’t optimistic.

But know what? As one act followed another, I was having a ball. And so were Monique and David. I loved Circus Vargas, They loved it. Despite zero animals. Never thought the day would come.

The clowns were terrific. The trapeze acrobats were amazing with their split-second timing. A juggler came on who could juggle 5 balls, then 10, then 15, then 20. No way, no way could he hold them all. And he didn’t drop one!

Daredevils tiptoed along the high wire, a really high wire, even standing and balancing on one foot. Not only men. Gals, too!

One great act, then another. Then intermission.

Then the second half opened with a great big circus train engine coming right toward us, its big headlamp blinding us, a cloud of steam billowing up. It blew its huge horn and stopped. Wow!

It was towing a big freight car.  A dozen feet high, it seemed. And four daredevils appeared on top. All guys. And they began tumbling off the roof,  two from one side, two from the other, simultaneously, mind you. Then somehow, I couldn’t believe it, somehow sprang way back up to the roof of the car. Did that six times! Did they have springs in their shoes?

Next, a half-sloshed clown clumsily wiggled down into a big cannon and Boom! The cannon exploded and he got blown out of it. And down he plunked, somehow managing to land on his feet. Well, not quite. It was so, so funny. You should have heard the laughter.

Gal daredevils were doing stunts of their own. Such split-second tricks. I couldn’t help thinking that a big accident could happen. This was risky stuff.

Then a huge sphere of steel mesh was set up. Must have been 15 feet in diameter. It was easy  for us to see into it. An attendant opened a door. A guy on a jazzed up motorcycle drove in. Then another. The attendant closed the door.

The two gunned their engines and began whizzing around in the sphere.  Up, down, and around, time and again. One  guy this way, the other the opposite way. Then they stopped. Dangerous.

The door was opened again. Two more cyclists entered. Now there were four. One by one they started up their motorcycles. Suddenly all four were zooming around. In different directions! Unbelievable! Wow! I’d hate to be the dad of one of those guys. Sure, I’d be proud. But scared to death, too.

There were other stunts and acts, too. I gave you a sampling. It was a fantastic show. Delightful.

Afterward, as we all streamed out, we ran into the whole cast, assembled for a meet and greet. Every performer in the circus was there. How nice. People were taking pictures of themselves with the acrobats and clowns and trapeze artists and motorcycle daredevils. Chatting it up.

I found myself face to face with a gorgeous daredevil gal. ln a spangled silver skin-tight suit, mind you  One of the high-wire walkers. About 20 or so. And she was smiling. So friendly.

“You were terrific!” I said.  “But tell me. How did you get into this?”

“Oh, I was just a little girl.” Then added proudly, “I am eight generation in a circus family. I grew up doing this.”

I wanted to chat more, but shucks, she turned to face a fellow who was pressing to take a picture with her.

Eight generations! That had to be a hundred years traveling and performing in circuses. At least. There had to be some bad moments. An awful accident or two.  And all those years on the road.  Three days here. A week there. It seemed incredible that eight generations of people would stick to it.

Then I thought, these people are artists. Think of their drive to excel. Their dedication. Passion. Really are artists. Deserve to be regarded as artists.

Then another thought. It’s likely some of her forebears must have performed with animals. Maybe her dad and mom. Did they feel they had to be cruel to make their animals wow us?

I was sorry I didn’t get the chance to bring that up. That would have been interesting. Oh, well.

On the way home, what amazed me is that I had such a great time. Yes,  in a circus that Barnum & Bailey and even the Cole Brothers would have considered a joke. A sham.  And so many other circuses as well. With not even one elephant or bear or monkey or puppy.

I never thought this would ever happen. Yet I was very glad to have soon so many wonderful animal acts.

Anyway, I hope Circus Vargas comes back. I’d love to treat Monique and David. If it opens close to you, do treat yourself.

Now a P.S. that I must include for you.

A bad thing happened as Monique and David and I were walking out in that huge throng of people.

During the circus I had taken my phone out to snap pictures of acts. That hadn’t worked out.

Now I checked my pockets to make sure I had my phone. I did not! I double checked. What happened? I was frantic.

I told Monique and David. Immediately they pivoted around. And with me in hand, fought their way through the heavy outgoing stream of people back into the tent. Right back to where we had been sitting.

David looked under our seats. No phone. Maybe somehow it had fallen between the floorboards down onto the ground.

Well, he circled back and around. Got down on his hands and knees. And crawled his way to where we had been sitting. Very little headroom. Very dark down there. Kept feeling with his hands. No phone.

Oh, boy! I was antsy, believe me.

Without saying a word Monique pulled out her cell phone and dialed my number. David heard the call come in on my phone.  And was able to put his hand on it!

I hugged Monique. I thought that was so darn clever.  Hugged David. He tried so hard.

On the way home I thought of what a fiasco that wonderful evening at Circus Vargas would have become if I had lost my phone.I use it a hundred times of day for this and that.

As they say, all’s well that ends well.

Circus Vargas turned out to be a great and memorable Father’s Day present. To my surprise.

~ ~ ~ ~


Every day I see McD and BK duking it out!

My oh my! I am now in my 91st year. Wow!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

Yes, I just celebrated my 90th birthday. Very nice but not sure “celebrated” is the right word. Maybe “bemoaned” would be closer to the reality.

I believe that it is my last decennial birthday. You know, divisible by 10.

Anyway, there’s been so much follow-up that I’m days behind in posting this to you.  Sorry! 

And fair warning: this is a bit longer than usual.

 First, you may be wondering.  Why this mini autobiography of mine?

 Well, at 90 my time is running out. When my parents died, I regretted I did not know more about them. So many voids in

                                                            Here I am, still writing after millions of words and articles and essays and posts beyond number. I’ve surprised myself.

their lives before they married!

So I got the idea of writing a mini story of my life for my family. And then realized close friends might also enjoy it. And my list kept getting longer.

So then I thought, why not publish it as one of my blogs? And here it is.

Quite a few of you out there know bits and pieces about me, and maybe more. If you and others who may know very little about me begin reading even just out of curiosity, well, you may find it interesting, and may even learn a thing or two that could be useful.

If you have no interest, no problem. Trash it. I’ll never know.

I say “My oh my!” up top in the headline because I never expected to live this long.

I was not born in a hospital. Nobody was back then. I was born in my Ma and Pa’s double bed. That was in our second-floor tenement in the three-decker at 18 Coyle Avenue in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I’m surprised I remember the address.

I was their first-born.

Pa and Ma were immigrants from Quebec. Spoke French. They were in their mid-twenties. They had come down for the classic reason. A better life.

Separately, by the way. They met at a church social and fell in love.

The Toones, a kindly old English couple, lived on the first floor, and a Syrian family on the third floor. Strange name. I don’t remember it.

There was an Irish family across the street, and a Polish one two houses over. We all got along. No problem. This was America, Land of the Free, Land of Immigrants. So different from Quebec. And better, as Pa and Ma would tell me when I got older.

I started to pick up English when I went out on the street and played with other kids.

Pa and Ma’s English got better the same way. His got much better than hers. He got out and about much more, so she lagged.

But she got to read English easily. The reason was simple. She loved to read.

Now why I never expected to live this long. I was sickly. When I was about seven I got very sick. Ma was worried. Pa was worried. Pa told her to send for the old doctor. They had put it off because they were very careful about money.

How to do that? No phones back then. She went downstairs and somehow got old Mister Toone to do the errand.

Well, the doctor came. He was French, too. He asked questions, examined me. Finally opened his doctor bag, gave her pills for me and told her what to do. I did not get better.

Ma was praying to the Blessed Virgin for me. When Pa got home at night, first thing he’d do was come to me, put his hand on my brow and check me. Ma would be by his side. Anxious. I wasn’t getting better.

Finally Pa told her to get the doctor again. The next morning she went downstairs, knocked on the door, asked old Mister Toone if he’d go do that again.

The doctor came, talked with Ma, spent a long time looking me over, gave her more medicine for me.

He was frowning. He was resting his hand on my shoulder. Shook his head.

“Madame, I am sorry to say this. But I believe your little boy will not live to be thirty.”

Ma was shocked. I heard him clearly. But know what? Thirty seemed so far off that it really didn’t bother me. True story.

Gosh, have I fooled him.

But as the years rolled on, that notion of not living old sort of got locked into my thinking. Would I ever reach the ninety-plus that I am now?  That seemed as likely as my winning a zillion dollars in a lottery.

Of course I am delighted to have reached this very old age. And delighted about my life. I have had quite a few successes. But some reverses, of course, and some disappointments. Nothing is perfect, as we know. A quite happy life by far.

I was lucky right from the start.

I grew up in a loving family, as you can tell. Ma and Pa had more children. In fact, Ma had eight pregnancies, I’ve been

                                                                  Me on my wonderful and all-important trike. Fun, exercise, so practical. That’s my nice, comfy home, sweet home.


Four of us — two sisters and a brother — made it to adulthood. Our younger sister, Louise, died at 32. And Michael at age 58.

My sister Lucie and I are the only ones left. I am older by eight years. We are very close.  I’m pleased to tell you that she is a wonderful person. Doing fine in every way. She is so gifted. I’m going to write about her one of these days.

Oh, one thing that was propitious was that Ma had her sister Bernadette, who was a few years younger, living right next door.

She and her husband Jack never had children. He was Irish. Their becoming a husband and wife was extraordinary in itself. Such French – Irish marriages were rare. Anyway, they became our second father and mother in effect. How wonderful that turned out to be.

But what is remarkable is that I, the first-born, have lived the longest. How is that explained? I cannot. Life is so mysterious.

One thing for sure. One huge piece of good luck has been that in time I fell into a line of work that I have enjoyed greatly these many years. Interesting work. Fulfilling work. I will tell you more about that in a few minutes.

Pa became a successful businessman.  Yes, he and Ma loved us. They showed it in so many ways. They saw to it that I got a fine education. Far better than they got. True for Lucie also.

Pa and Ma had a different schooling in mind.

But mine was a strange education. My siblings were spared.  At age 10, for the fifth grade all through the 8th, I was sent to a Catholic boarding school for French kids like me. In English, its name would be Sacred Heart Academy.  Run by Catholic “brothers,” so called.

Pa and Ma would come visit for an hour on Sunday afternoon.  If they skipped a Sunday, Aunt Bernadette and Uncle Jack would come. Some kids would rarely get a visitor.  I’d come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and eight weeks in the summer.

Very hard the first two or three months. I cried a lot. But I adjusted. I still have an old yellow snapshot I found in Ma’s things when she passed. It shows me at graduation. I was the top student.  But there were only 41 of us in the class.

Why did they send me away like that? In our circle, that’s what parents did if they were doing well. Besides, they had been spoiling me. You know, the first-born.  In boarding school I would get the discipline I needed. It did do the trick.

Pa and Ma had lots of friends. Favorites were Mr. and Mrs. Dubois. Their son, Yvon, was two years older than I. They had sent him off at 13 to a school called Assumption. Again, that was a prestigious thing. They sent me to Assumption, too. It was 40 miles away, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

It was a Catholic school, of course. Established by priests come from France to educate the sons of immigrants from Quebec. You went to it for eight years. Four years in its prep school. Then four years in its college. Both on the same campus. In fact, all in the same massive four-story brick building. Some 350 boys in all.

And during those eight years, one half of your education would be in English, and half in French. You learned to speak, read, and write them equally well. I appreciate that to this day. The teachers were priests and laymen. You graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

Please remember this about Assumption because I became greatly involved in Assumption as an adult, as you’ll see.

I win a big scholarship.

There’s another interesting side to this story. Many immigrant families like ours belonged to a large fraternal society with a French name. In English it would be the St. John the Baptist Society.

It was a non-profit. It sold life insurance policies. If you bought a policy, you automatically became a member.

And with its profits, the St. John the Baptist Society would carry on good works.

One of its major ones was providing scholarships to the sons of members to go to Assumption. The scholarships paid for half of everything at Assumption for eight years. Half of tuition, room and board, even books. Imagine that!

Every year on a Saturday in June, the society invited sons of its members to take a competitive test at Assumption.

Notice, I said the sons, not the daughters. That’s how it was back then. So many things have changed for the better.

The society had members in all six of the New England states, so the boys came from all those states. Getting them to Worcester and back was a big challenge for many parents.

It turned out the boys were the best students from their parochial schools. Typically 300 boys would report for the exam.  It consisted of a three and a half hour test in the morning, and another just as long in the afternoon.

Every year the society would award the scholarships in proportion to how many members it had in each of those six states. Perhaps 4 for Maine, 3 for New Hampshire and 3 for Massachusetts, 2 for Vermont and 2 for Connecticut, and 1 for  Rhode Island, our state. So 15 in all.

Well, that year another boy from Rhode Island and I got the very same score. What to do? I suppose the society could have given the two of us a test and used that to decide the winner. But the society that year gave each of us a scholarship!

(Over the years the society gave scholarships to more than 700 boys. It also gave grants —  hand-outs – to just as many. Very wonderful.)

Life at Assumption was challenging indeed. What happened was that after just three months my co-winner from Rhode Island was so unhappy, so homesick that his parents took him home.

Much happened in those eight years. I adjusted easily because of my boarding school experience.

In the high school I did well. Made the honor roll regularly. Was one of the four class officers, though never president. In the senior year I made the National Honor Society. Not sure that exists today but it was a big deal back then. I won the contest to be the speaker at our big farewell student party.

In the college I opted for the pre-med package, which included physics, biology, and chemistry. Mostly because Ma hoped and prayed I’d be a doctor.

In the senior year I was elected editor of our small college paper, “The Greyhound.” That was the college mascot. Why, I never found out.

Well, I enjoyed every phase of that — planning, assigning, editing, and laying out the paper. To be honest, the editing was very light, just checking grammar and spelling.

We had just a tiny budget. No ad revenue because no ads. The school gave us just a few dollars. So we could put out just two issues, each with just four pages tabloid. It was hardly journalism but it made me think of what was involved in putting out a real newspaper.

My Long Island summer had a big impact.

Yes, I was thinking of becoming a doctor. But at the end of my sophomore year, something happened to change that. My roommate Gil was thinking the same thing. He had an aunt who was a head nurse at Long Island Hospital in Boston Harbor. It was part of famous Boston City Hospital.

Yes, it was on one of the islands in the harbor. So named because it was the longest island. From our dock we could see the Custom House Tower in Boston two miles away, the very tallest back then. Hah! Now the Custom House Tower is dwarfed.

The hospital was big, with many buildings. Had 3,000 patients. Tunnels connected the buildings because the winter winds were so harsh and snowfalls so heavy.

The hospital had its own little ferry. It made two round trips a day to Boston. Everything came and went by that ferry.

The hospital took care of people with long, late-stage illnesses. Most were old and most were poor. They got mostly custodial care.

Gil’s Aunt Marge, a head nurse there, got us jobs for the summer. She had worked there for 15 years. She went about her work with a kind of missionary zeal. A wonderful lady.

Gil and I shared a room again. We got room and board and a small salary. I don’t remember how much. Maybe $15 a week. But that wasn’t bad for 19-year-olds back then.

We wore white pants and white shoes and a blue tunic. Very natty. We were orderlies. I worked in a men’s ward of 18 beds and Gil worked in another of 18.

A ward would have nine beds along one wall, and nine on the opposite wall. Each   bed had a small side table and a folding chair for patients who could sit.

We would ladle out food to the patients who could feed themselves, and feed patients who needed to be fed. Everybody got exactly the same meal. But maybe red Jello one day, green the next. Between the beds was a long curtain. The curtains could be extended for privacy as needed.

We would give patients their medicines. Bathe them. Change their sheets.  If in bed 24 / 7, turn them over to forestall bedsores, so very painful. Put them on the bedpan. Empty their urinal. Give them a haircut. Do whatever.

Most of the patients were going to die there. They knew that. The hospital had its own cemetery. Patients could see it from the ward. No headstones. Just numbered bricks marked the graves.

In the evening we had one nurse for four wards. She was always very busy.  All nurses were women back then. One evening around 10 one of my old patients died. I was shocked. I had never seen anybody die.

What to do? I ran and found her and told her. She told me she would send a professional orderly. And told me to draw the curtains on each side of the man’s bed. I had already done that.

By the way, all the other patients in the ward knew what was going on.

The orderly, a big man of 50 or so, arrived with a gurney. He said, “You take him by the feet.”

I thought he would lift the old man by the shoulders. No. He grabbed him by the head. I was shocked again. We dragged him onto the gurney.

He covered the patient with a sheet and said, “Come with me.”

We wheeled the man to the morgue. And put him in a refrigerator. I had a hard time sleeping that night.

In our fourth week I was promoted. My new job was exciting. Every morning I’d round up four patients from different wards. Go with them on the ferry to Boston. Hire a taxi. Take them here and there for specialized services not available on the island. At the end of the day, I’d take them back to the hospital.

On my fourth day all went well and I got my four back to our ferry dock early. One of my patients was a big guy. He walked with a cane. Was wearing a jacket. The big ferry from East Boston pulled it at the dock right next to ours.

The big guy said to me, “Hey, John, my brother is chief mate on that ferry. I’d love to go see him. He’d be tickled.”

I looked at my watch. “Can you be back in 20 minutes? Not a minute later?”

“Sure. Thanks!” And off he went, tap, tap, tapping with his cane.

I kept glancing at my watch. He got back at the last minute. Now he had his jacket draped over his free arm. Something didn’t look quite right.

On the ferry I got them settled below. We started. I went topside to enjoy the fresh air and the sights. Approaching the island I went below to get them. The SOB hadn’t gone to see his brother. He was swigging a bottle of wine. Had gone to a package store. When I tried to get the bottle, he started swinging at me with his cane. I barely managed not to get hit.

On the island, the story spread. I was demoted. The next day I was back on the ward. Damn!

Long Island Hospital was a good place. Its intentions were good. Patients, it seemed to me, were getting decent care. Medical care was minimal.

Many things happened that summer. As you see, good and not so good. One of the good parts was that I learned a lot about life. And about myself.

Back at Assumption I set a different course.

When Gil and I went back to Assumption for the upcoming semester, I dropped out of the pre-med program in favor of liberal arts. Gil became a dentist. I was thinking of journalism.

My senior year was a big year in big ways. One was that I graduated magna cum laude. Another was that through a blind date, I met Pauline. She was a junior at Annhurst College, also Catholic school, run by nuns, for girls who were daughters in French families like mine.

She was a beautiful girl. Smart girl. Fine girl. It was my very first date with a girl. It was her first date with a boy.

We attended the junior prom at Annhurst. And she was chosen prom queen! I was smitten. And she seemed to like me. In a flash we were in love. And in due time married. And we made it for 25 years.

But what happened was that over the years gradually but steadily I changed. She did not. She remained that very same fine person. But, yes, I changed a lot. In good ways mostly, not bad ways. But quite dramatically. And that changed the relationship. Strange but true. I’ll get around to explaining major ways I changed. Please be patient.

We have had three children. Never lost a child. Arthur, Monique, and Mark.  All very fine people. All have doctorates. All well married with fine spouses. We have five fine grandchildren. Can it be any better than that?

Time heals. Pauline and I are good friends. Speak often. This is the wiser way. I’m so grateful that this is the way it has worked out.

Now in old age I live here in California close to our loving daughter Monique. Now Pauline lives in Florida close to our loving son Arthur.

And if need be, we both know our loving son Mark would have us in a minute close to him in Wisconsin.

Pauline and I are both having birthdays this month. I will join in feting her, and she will join in feting me. How wonderful that is. And so is our son Mark. We’ll be feting him.

Another big change.

But there’s another long chapter in my life, and many of you are familiar with it. Twenty-five years ago I met Annabelle Williams from Newport Beach, California. She had signed up for one week.

Long story. It became serious. We never married. In my writings I always referred to her as Milady Annabelle.

Part of the year she lived with me in my corner of the country, and part of the year I lived with her in California.

She played a key role in all my major undertakings for many years, participating when possible, cheering from the sideline when not.

What made it good? I have a one-word answer: Compatibility.

She became gravely ill nearly three years ago, spent many months in hospice, and died in early March. She was 87.

Thanks to Monique and David, I was able to attend her memorial service and memorial reception. They were at my side.

I wrote about this in detail after her passing. If you are receiving this, I’m sure you received that.

ECCC — a happy chapter in my life.

When I retired, I heard of an interesting place in Connecticut, The Episcopal Camp and Conference Center. Operated by the Episcopal Church. ECCC offered nine different programs. They would attract 14,000 people a year.

A big one was offering interesting one-week programs for adults. You would take academic courses. Not for credit. Just for the pleasure of it. It was called Elderhostel. A national program offered in many parts of the country which has morphed into big Road Scholar. ECCC has given up Elderhostel.

You’d also have fun swimming and canoeing on its private lake. Hiking through its forest. Square dancing. Meeting interesting people. Going on escorted excursions in that beautiful and interesting corner of Connecticut.

I signed up for one week. Loved it. I returned as a volunteer, doing this and that, no pay, just room and board.  I got to teach a course. Then became director of its Elderhostel program. It changed my life. I worked there for some eight years, seven months a year, April through October.  Small salary. In the off months, I traveled a lot. More about this in a few minutes.

There was very little religion in its Elderhostel weeks. Just grace at meals. And an elective evening chapel program. Zero pressure to attend but just about everybody would show up, even Jewish people who had signed up for the week.

I conducted the service three evenings a week. No way could I give a conventional homily. I talked about things that would be uplifting and meritorious, free of deep religious context.

My ping pong talk was typical. It went like this: True story, I enjoyed playing ping pong with Elderhostelers. In one game, I hit a ball so hard that I dented it. And picked up another.

“John,” my opponent said. “It’s easy to fix. No need to toss it.”


“All I need is hot water.”

I was curious. Took him into the kitchen. He drew a pan of very hot water. Tossed in the dented ball. In a minute or two, the dent disappeared.  It was as good as new.

In my talk, I’d conclude thus:  “In that game, both of us saw that dented ball. I saw failure. He saw hope. And proved me wrong.” And I’d whip that perfect ball out of my pocket and flash it. “The lesson is, Never give up hope!” People would applaud.

What was amusing is that I more than once I got a letter addressed by Elderhostelers to say thank you when they returned home. Letters addressed to Rev. John LaPlante or Father John LaPlante.

The director of ECCC was a remarkable man named Andrew Katsanis. He took the job as a young man right out of divinity school. It was just another so-so summer camp. Transformed it brilliantly. Ran it for 34 years – his life’s work. I am still in touch with him.

That was an adventure. One of fun, fellowship, and friendship. Marvelous.

And that’s where I met Annabelle Williams – Milady Annabelle. In fact, she would play the piano at our chapel services.

Anyway, I left Elderhostel when I turned 70. I loved the place and the job but it was time.

That set the stage for my years in Connecticut.

All that was in a beautiful and comfortable corner of the state. That’s how I became a resident of Connecticut, buying a condo nearby in the delightful town of Deep River.

Deep River was wonderful for me in a number of ways. For one thing, I became active in the local Rotary Club. In fact, was made a Paul Harris Fellow, named for the founder. Not a small honor. But that’s a long story in itself.

What’s been driving me all these years.

Now finally about the line of work that has really been up my alley these many years. That I have enjoyed since Day I, and that I still enjoy to this day.

I have told you that at Assumption I was thinking of becoming a doctor, changed my mind, and began thinking of journalism. Ma took all that very badly. Pa, too.

In my final semester at Assumption, I took the Graduate Record Exam, and on the basis of that I was accepted by both Clark University in Worcester, a very fine university, and by Brown University in Providence.

I chose Brown because it was an Ivy League university and I could live at home and commute to classes. I’d take courses mostly in economics but also in history and political science and get a master’s.  An Assumption prof told me that would be a smart thing to do for a budding journalist. Told me that in just 10 minutes or so.

Brown had a weekly student newspaper, The Herald. Although I was a graduate student, I wrangled a job and became the layout editor. No pay, of course but I learned.

As a graduate student I was not allowed a grade lower than B. I took a mandatory course in statistics. Totally based on calculus. Statistics is the branch of math that is a basic tool for economists

Well, at Assumption I had taken calculus. It followed arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, which we all took. But I was sick when the calculus course started, missed classes for a week, never caught up.

The Brown professor gave me a C for the statistics course. That was it. Goodbye, Brown! So humiliating. But please remember I had no intention of becoming an economist.

By the way, if I had been a Brown undergrad, my performance of half A’s and the rest B’s except for that one damn C would have been deemed very respectable indeed.

I fit right in at BU.

Anyway I went on as planned to Boston University for a graduate degree in journalism. Which was my career ambition, as you know. Brown did not offer journalism.

I was in my true element there.  Was scoring high. In one course a Pulitzer Prize editorial writer at the Boston Globe was teaching us how to write editorials. One week he assigned a topic and we each submitted another editorial.

“Where is Mr. LaPlante?” he said at the next class. I put up my hand.

“Congratulations, Mr. LaPlante! Yours is the best.”

Wow! But I’m sure one reason mine was the best resulted from what I had learned at Brown in economics and political science.

Oh, in a course on feature writing, the professor told us to write one. I loved photography. One summer I worked taking pictures of little kids and selling the pictures to their Moms. And I wrote that up and sold it to a magazine called “Profitable Hobbies.” My first free-lance sale — $34, I believe it was.

And I still had a specific ambition. It was to own, edit, and publish my very own weekly newspaper.

Oh, back at BU I had read of a small newspaper which was publishing “offset,” a technological breakthrough. And instead of using a huge, expensive Linotype Machine, operated by men after a long apprenticeship, it used a small, relatively inexpensive Varityper. It was just a bit larger than a typewriter. And anyone who could type could learn to use it quick. I was good at typing.

And lo! A nearby business equipment store was selling Varitypers and offered free lessons. I’d go after class for an hour every day. I got good on a Varityper. As you’ll see, this paid off in due time.

And Pa and Ma paid for much of that education and preparation. To say it once more, how fortunate I have been.

The truth is that this line of work, writing, although enjoyable and truly fulfilling, has never made me wealthy. But I found ways to supplement it. Today I have zero financial concerns.

Over the years, one thing I have noticed is that many people get into a line of work that they indeed enjoy. It pays well. May give them prestige. Maybe as a doctor, businessman, lawyer, scientist, or in some other fine field. Then retire. They are glad they chose that line of work. But they never do it again. I’ve never stopped writing. These days, I don’t make a penny from my writing.

Now let me give you a better idea of the ways writing has shaped my life.

First, right after I got my Master’s in journalism at Boston University I landed a job on a small weekly newspaper, The Thomaston Express in the town of that name in Connecticut. In fact, I was the editor of it.

That happened because of a professor who got to know me and had faith in me. His name was Evan Hill. Enormously talented as a teacher, a journalist, and a writer.

For one thing, he wrote freelance articles for some of our leading national magazines. He went on to become the founding dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Connecticut.

We had a spring vacation coming up. Professor Hill told me he had a former student who owned a weekly newspaper in Amherst, Mass. Home of the U. of Massachusetts, by the way. He told me that this young friend and his wife would give me room and board and give me writing assignments. And I did that. That was long before work – study programs.

And that’s how I decided I’d like to have a small weekly someday. I was young and idealistic.  I felt that a good, strong weekly can make good things happen in a small town. Which is wonderful, I still think to this day

Well, Professor Hill also knew the publisher of the Thomaston Gazette. His name was Del. And he knew Del was looking for a new young editor. Del liked young editors because they were cheap.

They would break in at his Gazette, then jump to a bigger paper.

Well, on Professor Hill’s recommendation, sight unseen, Del hired me.

Del was paying me $50 a week. Pauline and I were getting serious.  I was living in a boarding house. Eating cheese sandwiches for lunch. Trying to save a few dollars. He promised me a significant raise in 12 months if I did a good job.

I worked hard. Was covering the bigger stories. Was producing a feature story every week—a first on the Gazette. Even a weekly column. Gave the paper a bright new look.

One week a hurricane hit. Streets were flooded. Big factory closed.  I worked day and night covering that. Pauline happened to be visiting. She saw the passion I was putting into the job.

Came the end of the year. Del was pleased. I saw that. Every week he’d treat me to a pricey lunch at the White Fence Inn, the nicest restaurant in the area.

I expected my $50 would be doubled to $100. He gave me a $5 raise. I was shocked. What a cheapskate!

I learned more than I expected to at the Gazette.  For instance, those fancy lunches. The White Fence Inn would run a nice ad in the Gazette every week. But would pay not in cash, but in free meals, which Del could use any way he wanted to, such as to dine and wine a potential big advertiser. Or impress an editor still wet behind the ears.

But I had an ace up my sleeve. There was a weekly newspaper in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, That was just a few miles from Pawtucket, where I grew up.

I see a big opportunity.

That weekly was The Star in Woonsocket, R.I., close to my hometown of Pawtucket. But Woonsocket had a successful daily newspaper, The Call. The Star was failing. It was up for sale. Easy to understand why.

Well, here I saw my dream of owning a weekly coming through. My big chance!

Pa had become a successful businessman. Was doing great. I told him about The Star. He had grave doubts. Understandably so. But I convinced him. And Pa made it happen. He put me in business.

I knew The Star could not survive as an ordinary weekly. I changed it into a picture / feature weekly. Nowadays a type common all over the United States, but which did not exist back then. I renamed it The Sunday Star

I was 26 years old. I had no real advertising experience. Well, I managed to hire an expert. Don, age 54. Twice my age. He had been selling ads for 30 years.

He saw tremendous potential in my fresh concept of The Sunday Star. But what was terrific was that he would sell on a straight commission basis. Terrific!

I put together a small staff. Just five of us. A gal setting type on my brand-new Varitype machine (! ! !). A paste-up artist putting the pages together. A Gal Friday who was secretary, bookkeeper, whatever. A young fellow who did this and that. And Don was out hustling. Started bringing in ads, big ads and little ads. It was wonderful.

I worked hours and hours. Gave the paper a whole new look.

I met a young guy who flew a plane and towed advertising banners. I made a deal with him. I would write a feature about his fascinating business and publish it with half a dozen photos. He would fly a banner over the city until he nearly ran out of gas.

My new jazzed-up edition would come out on Easter Sunday. His banner would say “Sunday Star Reborn Today.” So appropriate. It was the maximum number of letters he could tow. And he did that. A beautiful blue-sky day. Anybody looking up got to see it. I was very proud of that. Still am.

I would have The Sunday Star printed every Friday by a big local offset printer. “Offset” was new technology back then. For one thing, you could print better pictures, cheaper, too

Hired a guy with a truck to deliver copies to stops all through Woonsocket for the weekend. Weeks were going by. I would bill for the ads but no checks were coming on.

I was living at home with Pa and Ma and commuting the 17 miles to Woonsocket. Pa was giving me a personal weekly allowance.

And of course Pa was covering the rent, the electric bill, the phone bill, the payroll, the printer, everything. He was upbeat. But started asking lots of questions. His smiles were drying up. He was chafing. Who wouldn’t be? I wasn’t sleeping well.

Then the truth dawned. Don had been conning me. He’d go to an advertiser, offer free ads as a starter, and guarantee they would be a good investment. And he’d keep me in the dark about that.

The business the ads brought the advertiser was not enough. There has to be continuity for advertising to work.

After five months, the game was up. That was the death of The Sunday Star. I felt I got hit by a brick.

Failure hits me again.

It was a huge humiliation for me. One more. Pauline and I had become very serious, so doubly humiliating in that way. But she stuck by me. An enormous disappointment for Pa. In fact, it plunged him into a deep depression. Poor Pa! I felt a ton of guilt. Rightfully so

He had done all that because he loved me. Had confidence in me. But, sad to say, it had been a gross mistake on his part. He was a sharp businessman. He should have seen I was not qualified. Had zero business experience. He should have said No!

Some six or seven months went by. I was still living at home. Being supported by Pa and Ma again. No income. Thinking of myself as a balloon that had lost most of its air.

Applying to newspapers. A lot of tension. A lot of pressure. I worried Pauline would ditch me. She stood by me.

One day my Aunt Bernadette said she was going to Worcester to see a friend. Invited me for the ride. Might do me good. In Worcester, we went by the offices of the big Worcester Telegram & Gazette. I got excited. Explained. She dropped me off. I went into the T & G. Applied for a job. A week later was hired as a correspondent. That was the first rung on the ladder there

Dear Aunt Bernadette!

And Pauline was so happy, too.

I was back in the very city Assumption College was in. I had been reading the T & G at the college. I knew the city well, which was good.

The T & G was a morning, afternoon, and Sunday combo. Typical of many big newspapers across the country. In fact, the T & G was on the list of our 100 biggest papers, close to the bottom, but on that prestigious list. There were 1,600 dailies back then.

It took more than 800 people to put out those three papers.

The T & G became a long chapter for me.

Yes, I started as a correspondent in Athol, a small town 50 miles from Worcester at the very western edge of the county.

Steve Preston, my bureau chief, said nice words about my work. Said those words to editors in Worcester also. A good guy. He was old enough to be my dad, by the way.

I started free-lancing on the side for the T & G’s magazine, Feature Parade. Some big Sunday papers bought a nationally syndicated magazine and just printed their own name at the top of the front page. Quite a few still do.

But the Sunday Telegram published its own magazine. Very good. It was estimated 200,000 would at least glance at it on a Sunday.

It had its own editor, assistant editor, two full-time writers, a make-up artist, and a photographer.  But it bought additional articles, mostly from T & G staffers who would produce them on their own time.

I enjoyed writing features more than reporting news stories.  They had more heft. Were more challenging, in my opinion. So I began scouting possible feature stories, writing them up, and submitting them to Feature Parade.

The editor, Mr. Frederick C. Rushton (I still remember!), snapped them up. That was a great vitamin for my ego. And I liked the extra money.

The features had to be illustrated with photos. I was a good photographer but did not have a professional camera. Steve had a big Speed Graphic, which was standard in the industry. A museum camera now.

He would let me use it for my news stories, but my features also. Mr. Rushton would use three or four to go with one of my stories. He’d pay $3 per. I’d give Steve $1.50 for each for letting me use his camera.

By the way, I was boarding at the Athol YMCA, just a block from our office. Not fancy but affordable. I had weekends off.

I had a car now, again thanks to Pa. On Saturday morning I would drive 80 miles to visit Pauline at home in Putnam, Conn. Stay at a hotel there on Saturday night, $3. No way would her mom and dad let me stay and sleep on the couch. Improper! I’d go to Mass with her on Sunday morning, have dinner with her and her parents, go out for a ride with her after that, then in the evening drive the 80 miles back to Athol.

After six months or so I got promoted. A big promotion. I was thrilled. I was made the bureau chief in another section of the county. Just like Steve Preston.

In charge of two full-time correspondents and four or five stringers. I was now making $80 a week. But I was still writing on the side for Feature Parade.

Then I got transferred to another section of the county. One day I wrote a news story that made the front page of the Telegram. All editions. My first. A big deal.

I make Page 1 all editions for the first time.

I covered Town Hall in the town of Whitinsville. One evening I covered a meeting of the Town Finance Committee. Present were just the committee members plus half a dozen citizens and me. E. Kent Swift – I still remember his name!—was chairman.

He was president and chairman of the Whitinsville Machine Works, big, big factory, a great many employees, national reputation. A big man. The committee had been considering the town budget for the new fiscal year.

He handed out copies to everybody, including ordinary citizens, but not me. I stood up and asked him for a copy. He refused me. He knew I was covering the meeting for the T&G. Well, his refusing to go public was my lead paragraph in the report I immediately wrote and wired to the Telegram.

It was a two-column headline on Page 1 the next morning. My first time on Page 1, all editions. Of course, I got copies and cut out my report to send to Pa and Ma and Pauline and Aunt Bernadette. Even Del back at the Thomaston Express. And saved copies for myself.

The T & G had a monthly in-house paper it mailed to all 800 employees, “The Gossiper.” I made the front page on the next issue. I clipped that out, too.

I would call Pauline one evening every week. From a telephone booth, depositing coins. One day she told me the pastor of St. Mary’s Church had told her he would marry us on August. 18! Wonderful news. I went to work with increased energy.

Fortuitously at that very time, I got a call from Mr. Francis Murphy (Frank), managing editor of the Worcester Telegram. None of us ever called him Frank. It was always Mister Murphy.

He told me there was an opening for a writer on Feature Parade. Did I want it?  I said yes!  Mr. Rushton, the magazine’s editor, had recommended me.

Now consider the following. The Telegram was the morning paper. Its reporters would work from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Some would work Saturdays and Sundays. Some on Christmas and the Fourth of July. Some with a working spouse…teacher or secretary or such … would rarely get to see her. Their school children either.

On Feature Parade I worked Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. I proposed and wrote one feature story a week. Also did a few chores, such as editing the weekly food column. How wonderful!

I did stories all over Massachusetts and even central New England.  I would suggest them to Mr. Rushton.  All dailies within a hundred miles or so would swap papers. They’d pile up on a table on Mr. Murphy’s office. I’d check them every week. Prospecting for good stories.

I interviewed Scientists. Actors, Politicians. Beauty queens.  Business men. Authors (one was Evan Hill, my prof back at B.U., who by then was selling pieces to the Saturday Evening Post and such.) Fascinating work.

I’d phone them, arrange an interview, drive to wherever, come back, write my draft. Submit it to Mr. Rushton. He’d edit it. Make a suggestion or two.

Then I’d go back with our photographer. He’d take many photos, including some in color (new technology back then) as a possible cover photo. Sometimes he’d use multiple flash. I’d assist him with that.

At the same time I’d check with my interviewee to verify important facts, double-check everything, maybe pick up additional good info.

An interesting detail. I would use my car for the initial interview. The Telegram would pay my mileage and such. On the second trip, with the photographer, in his car. He wanted the mileage.

I wrote many cover stories. I reveled in the work. I’d save copies of everything of mine that Feature Parade published. I now have a bound volume with all my articles. It’s seven inches thick. Weighs pounds.  I have another, nearly as hefty, of my work as FP editor.

Being a staff writer on the magazine was the most varied and interesting reporting and writing on those three newspapers, in my opinion.

Pauline and I got married and rented an apartment in small Webster (4,000 people), where I had been bureau chief for that whole area of the county.

She got a job teaching at the town elementary school. Our son Arthur was born there. Also our daughter Monique. Things were going well.

I find new opportunities.

While on Feature Parade, again I found ways to beef up my take-home.  Pauline and I had taken up camping. It was inexpensive, wholesome, lots of fun. Equipment was getting better. State parks had campgrounds, but more private camp grounds were opening. Family camping was really catching on. We loved it. A big organization was thriving, NEFCA, the New England Family Camping Association.

One day I went to see Mr. Murphy again, our managing editor. Told him all this. Suggested a weekly column. He liked the idea.

He said, “But who will write it?”

“I will.” He said okay. My work week ended at 5 on Friday. I would stay at my desk and write my column. It was called “Camps and Camping.”  I had researched and interviewed for the column during that week.

I wrote it for 10 years without missing a Sunday. I wrote some 500 columns. One week I was in the hospital for something. I wrote it from my hospital bed.

One year I was the guest speaker at NEFCA’s annual convention. They gave me an award for promoting family camping as a fine and wonderful and commendable family activity. I still have that impressive plaque.

Oh, in covering those small towns, I saw a lot going on. For instance, big changes. In those small towns, in their early years, there was more interest in the town itself. More people would attend the annual town meeting, when big decisions got made.

Of late, some towns were having a hard time achieving a quorum. What to do? They’d have the fire chief blow the very loud firehouse whistle. Everybody could hear that. It meant, “Come vote!”

Well, I wrote that up and mailed it on spec to The Nation Magazine. A national magazine! The editor bought it. As you may know, The Nation publishes to this very day.

The Sunday Telegram also had a section called “House and Home.” Big papers still publish such a section. Every week, Nick Zook, the editor, would run a feature about a nice home on the front page, with a jump to an inside page. I produced many for him.

I’d find an interesting home, call the owners (some did not want the publicity), go look at it on my time off and turn my story in to Nick. He’d send a photographer to shoot a lay-out. That paid me $30 per.

Pauline and I had been thinking of owning our own home. We had been apartment tenants.  In fact, having one built. Yes, things were getting better. We had bought a one-acre lot in Auburn, very nice nearby town. Out in the country. Fresh air. A nice view. Pauline had started teaching in Auburn.

One day I toured an attractive home. The owner surprised me. Said, “This is a HILCO Home.”

“HILCO Home! What’s that?”

“Hog Island Lumber Company in Philadelphia. They build components of the house in a factory, then deliver them to your lot on a big truck. They have a catalog of plans. And a free architectural service. You can choose the plan and style you like best, then make changes. No extra charge.”

I told Pauline about that the minute I got home. Called the company. Asked for the name of local buyers. We visited three, asked a lot of questions, liked the answers. Bought a HILCO home and erected it in Auburn. More difficult than expected. That’s a long story, too. But with a happy ending.

“Have a nice photo taken of yourself.” 

Anyway I was very busy. Finding writing jobs that would fatten our savings account, and enjoying the work.

Fred Rushton, our editor, became ill. I sat in for him for nine months. No extra money. One morning with no pre-announcement he returned to work. I was astonished.  A month later, ill again. Out four months that time. I edited the magazine again. Felt I was making significant improvements. No raise in pay.

One day Mr. Forrest Seymour, a Pulitzer Prize winner who was our editor-in-chief, called and asked me to come up to his office on the fourth floor. The top floor of our building. Most of the executives were up there.

He said to me, “John, go down to the photo department and have them take a nice picture. We’re going to run it Sunday to announce you’re the new editor of Feature Parade.”

This was big news I was hoping for. I’d get a raise! But I didn’t want to seem crass. I did not ask how much. I said, “Mr. Seymour, does this mean and I can take Pauline out for a fine dinner?”

“By all means, John, you do that with her. Yes, do that.”

I was being paid weekly, at the end of the week. But now I’d be paid monthly, at the beginning of the month. Also I might get a bonus at Christmas.

I wondered about the new pay set-up. Getting paid in advance. Finally I asked another editor. He said, “John, haven’t you figured it out?  This way you can’t just up and resign. You have to announce you’re quitting, but still have to work a full month afterward. This way they have time to plan and adjust.”

Finally I got my first new paycheck. I didn’t want to open the envelope in public. I went to the men’s room. My raise was a mere $20 a week!  Appalling. Immediately I thought of Del back at the Thomaston Express.

And I was feeling I was as high as I was going to go at the T & G for a while. This although finally I was on the executive payroll at the T & G.

And I had a bad feeling. Then as now, my profession of journalism, as important as it was and is, paid terribly.  What to do?

I make a huge career change.

One Monday morning I got a call from Assumption College, my alma mater. I had been teaching an evening course there two evenings a week. But the call was not about that.

Father Babineau, the director of planning, said to me, “John, we’re growing.”  Which I knew.  “We need a director of public relations. PR people are going in to see you all the time to peddle stories. Could you recommend a couple?”

“Sure, Father. Be glad to. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”

I followed through.

“Father, I have the ideal candidate for you.  He knows PR, he knows the Worcester area, and he knows a lot about Assumption.”

“Who’s that?” I could hear his excitement.


And it happened.  I had been at the T & G for more than a dozen years. I gave my one-month notice and started in the next phase of my career.

I was there four years. I wrote and placed news releases. Started and produced the college magazine. Planned, designed, wrote and produced brochures and booklets. Was promoted to director of institutional development, which oversaw fund-raising and  I developed other ideas.

For instance, for Assumption’s 50th anniversary, I wrote, illustrated, and designed a special tabloid section for publication in the Sunday Telegram.  That got real attention.

My income jumped sharply. I had a one-month vacation instead of just two weeks. Free tuition for my children. Qualified for a fifty-fifty TIAA CREF retirement account (from which for many years to this day I have received a monthly check), enjoyed the work, and felt I was doing significant work. But it didn’t have the fun and excitement of my newspaper work.

One summer, enthusiastic about traveling and camping, I arranged for Pauline and me and Pa and Ma to tour a good chunk of western Europe in a small RV I rented in England. Wonderful adventure.

Back at work at Assumption, I wrote a five-Sunday series that got published in the T & G and also the Providence Sunday Journal.

Excellent though Assumption was, deep down I was bothered. I had failed in business — The Sunday Star. But I had a vision of another business– a public relations and publications consultancy.

I bounced it off Pauline. Very hesitantly. She could have said don’t be foolish. You have a good job. A prestigious job. Solid retirement plan. Free college tuition for the kids. All of which was true. So, steady as you go. But she gave me her blessing.

At age 42 I start business No. 2.

I started the business, at home, to economize. Alone.  It grew. I hired a secretary. Eventually I had a staff of five full-time in a very nice new office. John Guy LaPlante Associates, 5 State Street, Worcester, Massachusetts

Developed an excellent clientele. Ten or eleven hospitals, including a psychiatric hospital. A junior college. A Catholic prep school. Two public school systems. A very large nursing home. A couple of banks. Other businesses. Ran the business 16 years. I had two which remained my clients all those years.

One of my clients was a general medical / surgical hospital. It planned to morph into something new, a specialized hospital for alcohol and drug therapy and recovery. The president liked my ideas.  Invited me to become director of marketing. Urged me to come on board.

My three kids weren’t interested in my business – all became professionals. I was getting older. I said okay. Sold my business. Well, that hospital marketing job, so promising, fizzled. There were poisonous cliques. I was happy to leave after some 18 months.

I was in my sixties. That started my retirement. But I never retired in the conventional meaning of the word. I went on to new ventures.

As I look back, I see my life as a succession of adventures. I never intended it to be that. But that’s what my life turned out to be. But what is an adventure?

Well, here’s my definition. An adventure is an undertaking that stands a very good chance of success. That’s why we undertake it. But also a risk of failure. Serious failure.

Many attempts of mine have been successful adventures. The hospital marketing job was an adventure that turned sour.

The Sunday Star.  The T & G. Assumption College. John Guy LaPlante Associates. These were all successful adventures.

But this mini autobiography is getting far longer than expected. I have much more to tell you more. I’ll make things shorter, if you don’t mind.

What is wonderful is how books have changed my life. When I was in prep school, I read “Robinson Crusoe.” You’re probably familiar. Wonderful fiction.

Robinson, a sailor from England, gets marooned on a small tropical island. He’s totally alone there. He salvages stuff off his beached ship, slowly makes a life for himself, learns how to do this and that, years go by, discovers there’s another man there, a black man named Friday, more years go by, gets rescued and returns to England.

What an engrossing tale. What wowed me was how he persevered, how he used his wits, how he learned to do new things, how he never got discouraged, how he coped.

When I finished the book, I was a new boy. A better boy. I was inspired.

Numerous books have had a great impact on me.

On the side I start business No. 3.

At this time I came upon a new book, “How to Make a Million Dollars in Your Spare Time.” Buying and managing income properties. Sad that I don’t recall the author. I liked the idea of making a million. As busy as I was, I could squeeze out some spare time.

Following his instructions. I bought a six-unit apartment house and learned the business.  One time, at auction, I bought a hundred-year-old brick building, four floors, boarded up, It was just across the street from the side of the huge and majestic Worcester County Courthouse. I saw potential.

With the aid of a talented architect I converted it into nine condos.  A new concept back then. The one on the street floor became a new office for me. The one above became a lawyer’s office. Still is.

The neighborhood had been slipping. The building turned out to be very handsome. My project re-energized the neighborhood. At one time beautiful maples lined State Street. All gone. I got new ones planted.

Curious? You can take a look.  Google 5 State St., Worcester, MA.

Another time I bought a two-story building, added a third floor, and converted it into six condos. In time I had 27 units. That was an adventure.

Yes, I’ve had some successes. But my greatest success was one I never mention. Only a few people who knew me long ago, such as my children, are aware of it.

My success was inspired by another book.

When I was a young man, I was obese, very obese, to the point that I was declared 4F (un-usable) during the massive drafting of recruits for the Korean War.

The day came when I finally was able to lose that massive weight. And keep it off. The book was a 25-cent paperback, “Eat and Reduce by Dr. Victor Lindlahr.  Not “Starve and Reduce!” Without a doubt, the most important book that I have ever read, and I have read many, many.

Dr. Lindlahr told me how to do it. Made me feel I could do it. Assured me I could do it. And I did it. I lost nearly a hundred pounds. Yes, that has been my greatest achievement.

But somehow, mysteriously, deep down I am embarrassed, ashamed, about that painful time in my life. I’ve kept it mum.

I should gloat about my success, give talks about it, convince others by publicizing my experience that if I could do it, they can, too.

I should have written a book about it. I’m an expert on the subject.

I’ve never been to a psychiatrist. I should have long ago, to try to understand my shame, my hesitation. Not a pill psychiatrist. A talk psychiatrist.

I still have Dr. Lindlahr’s book on my bookshelf. To repeat, my most important read ever. He was not an M.D., by the way. He was an osteopath.

Yes, I have had big adventures.

Traveling around the world with a buddy for my 75th birthday was one. It took us a full year just to get the necessary visas. We started by flying to Japan. He quit after three weeks. How could I go on alone? Seemed impossible. But I did it. I completed that whole great, big, trip. That was an adventure.

Then taking a trip to a dozen Asian countries. My sister Lucie, wonderful gal that she is, accompanied me more than half way, to Bangkok. That was decided before we started. She had an event back home she couldn’t miss. That was an adventure.

Joining the Peace Corps at age 77 and flying off to Ukraine for 27 months, and having to study Russian (I was such a lousy student that I thought Peace Corps would send me home). And then at age 80 becoming the oldest Volunteer of some 7,000 in 75 countries around the world when 20 percent of Volunteers were quitting and coming home early, well, that definitely was an adventure.

You know, planning and writing and publishing a book by yourself is a daunting job. Most authors have an editor and assistants and often a consultant.

As mentioned, I have built a house. Well, I believe that writing and publishing a substantial book is more work than building a house.

Yes, writing a book is an adventure. I have had three such adventures: My “Around the World at 75, Alone. Dammit!” My “Around Asia in 80 Days, Oops, 83!” And my “27 Months in the Peace Corps, My Story Unvarnished.”

Why did I say “Oops, 83!” in the title of my Asia book?  Someone, I don’t remember who, went around the world in 80 days. I thought we could do Asia in 80 days. Oops, I miscalculated.

For the record, I have written another book, my very first, about our family camping experiences. Not published. Could not find a publisher.

Also another “Doctor, Help!” I began it 15 years ago. A detailed account of my experiences with doctors and hospitals and such over the years. Put aside half-finished because of other pressing priorities. Never resumed. So, a failure, you might say.

Certainly my travels over the years have been remarkable. Consider. I have been to all 50 states, some numerous times, some many times. I have been to 8 of the 10 provinces of Canada. And to Quebec and Ontario numerous times.

I have been to all the countries of Europe with the exception of the three Scandinavian countries up top. Some several times.  To France 10 times.

Mexico four or five times (during two summers I drove alone 15,000 miles through the country, up and down and from the Pacific to the Caribbean).

I have been to China four times. India twice. Brazil twice. To five countries in Africa, from Egypt and Morocco at the top right down to South Africa. Also the island of Cyprus. Also the Bahamas.

Of course I have had some scary moments. Have been robbed a few times. Was knocked flat on my face on a busy street by a drunk one frigid night in Ukraine. On a train in India – the only non-Indian aboard. I believe — I feared for my life. But here I am hale and hearty

Yes, these extensive travels, most of them alone, were an adventure. There were genuine risks.

One of the big lessons they have taught me is that most people in the world, of whatever race, religion, citizenship, or type of society, meaning capitalist, socialist, or communist, are good people.

Oh, I did tell you I have changed. Remember?

Not in bad ways. In good ways. Well, so I believe. Not because I was dazzled by a vision or hit by lightning. It has been a process.

How have I changed? Well, I grew up Catholic. I went to Mass every morning for years. Slowly I began questioning some dogmas. Today I think of myself as an agnostic.

I have two dear friends I went to school with years ago. They are priests. Good priests. This will be a shock to them. I’m sorry about that.

Again a book inspired me. It was John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley.”  Charley was his poodle. He bought himself a pickup camper, quite new back in 1960. And set off on a road trip all around the United States. His wife declined, so he took Charley.

On Saturdays he would pull into a campground, make friends with his neighbors and chat.

On Sunday morning he’d go to a nearby church. Just about any church, but of a different denomination every Sunday. Just to observe and learn.

I decided to do the same thing in my travels. I hit many churches. Did the same thing with Milady Annabelle later. She grew up Presbyterian. Her father and one of her grandfathers were Presbyterian ministers.

She enjoyed the variety of churches we checked out as much as I did.

In my travels in other countries I did the same thing now and then.

I’ve attended services in churches of just about every Christian denomination, even the Salvation Army – my latest has been our local Seventh Day Adventist church. Nice people. Vegetarians, by the way.

I’ve also attended services in a synagogue, mosque, temple, some more than once.

Going to church is a nice thing to do. People feel uplifted, whatever the creed. Feel a heartening togetherness.  Go home feeling good.

As for me, if I decided to become a regular, I believe I would choose the U-U’s – The Unitarian Universalists (Wikipedia!).

Here’s another 180-degree change in my thinking.

I have come to believe something that I never thought I would believe some years back.

I believed that we are born and we live our life and die when the time comes.

Now my thinking goes as follows.

Every day we make countless decisions. What to wear. What’s the first project at work. Where to go for lunch. What TV show to watch in the evening. And so on.

And as time goes on, big decisions. Where to go to college. What to major in. What first job to accept. Whom to marry. How many kids to have. On and on and on. All through life.

True of you, me, people all over the world.

So why can’t we make the most important decision of all? Which is when to die? That never comes up because it is so far-fetched, so outlandish. Many religions do not permit it. It’s a sin. We have no tradition of it. It goes against our culture. It is stigmatized.

I believe I have the right to decide. I believe you have the right.

I believe it can be a wise decision. Dying can be such a long and nasty process. Dying can be so expensive. Dying can be so hard on loved ones who have to take care of you until your last breath.

I know of two people who have checked out. In an easy and undramatic way.

One was Scott Nearing, an author I admired (Wikipedia!) He turned 100. Decided it was time. Went to bed. Stopped eating, but took water. He died in a month, his wife Helen holding his hand.

Another was an old Jain nun in India when I toured the country with my two Jain friends. (More about this in a minute.}  We visited her in a convent. She was in bed, very frail, but aware. A nun was sitting at her side, reading to her. The old nun was doing exactly what Scott Nearing did. People thought that was admirable.

I have no intention of taking my life. But who knows?

On this subject I have a little story I tell. Total fiction. It never happened. It goes like this.

I run into an old friend, Harry. And he says to me, “John, did you hear the awful thing that happened to Sam?”

“Sam?! What happened to Sam?”

“My God. A massive attack! The poor guy didn’t even make it to the hospital! And he was only 84 years old!”

Know what I think? Too bad. But that’s not a bad way to go.  May be perfect. Sam’s future might have been difficult indeed.

Another great change in my thinking.

Like most of you, I grew up eating beef and chicken and pork, but not fish. Pa and Ma did not eat much fish.

When I was 15 or so, I had a traumatic experience. Long story. I will keep it short.

Pa drove up to Quebec to visit his family and took me with him. They were farmers. They depended on that farm for all necessities to get them through the year.

Well, among their livestock was one great big hog. I loved that hog.

One morning I walked down to the barn and was totally shocked to see what was going on.

Pa was there with my grandpa and uncle Armand. Working hard.

They had taken my hog out of its pen and had tied a rope to its rear hooves. Had pulled it up high on a pole. Its head was down by my grandfather’s chest. It was squealing. Screeching for its life. Terrified. Grandma must have heard it up at the house.

Grandpa took a big knife and slit its throat. Blood started pouring into a bucket on the ground. Uncle Armand took the bucket up to my grandma. She had her big cast iron stove ready. She was going to make blood sausage.

Grandpa took his big knife and slit my hog’s stomach. All its entrails spilled out.

It was just awful.

What I didn’t realize was that they depended on that hog to get through the coming winter. One hog every year. I learned that long later.

That was the start of my becoming vegetarian.

Many years later I went to India for seven weeks with Sulekh and his wife Ravi, who were dear friends. They were Indians (Jains / Jainism is an ancient religion akin to Buddhism) going back for a visit. Total vegetarians based on their religious belief in “ahimsa,” absolute non-violence. Do not hurt any living thing! So I also had to be vegetarian for those seven weeks. It was either that or go hungry.

That clinched it for me. I got to like the food they were eating. And I liked the idea of not hurting any animals.

I am the only vegetarian in my family. They do not hold it against me although I am sure they find it strange.

Being a vegetarian is an excellent idea. A huge and proven benefit is that it’s a very healthful diet. It’s one reason I am doing so well at ninety.

Going vegetarian has been a great adventure.

I’ve changed in other ways also. And for the better.

Well, while I’m at it I’ll tell you about other beliefs that have surfaced in me and changed my lifestyle. You might call them core beliefs.

One is that a lot of people want the best of anything and everything. The best this and the best that. Even if they have to scrimp and save to get it. Even if they have to borrow.

I sometimes want the best, too. Years ago I was hot into photography. I was frantic to own a Leica M3 camera, the famous German camera that was the best 35 mm. camera in the world. Pricey, of course. I scraped up and bought one. But second-hand. Didn’t have the money for a new one.

But my splurging like that is quite rare.

Much wiser as a way of life, I think, is to settle for what’s good enough. Because purchasing “what’s good enough” is good enough. It makes for greater happiness.

Here’s another. Pay cash. Yes, as a rule of life. I learned that early.

Pauline and I were engaged. Her birthday was coming up. What to buy her? I bought her a complete set of Farberware pots and pans. Quite new back then. Practical, un-romantic me.

But I didn’t have the cash. I bought the set $5 down, $5 per month at an extreme rate of interest. I scrimped and saved and paid the balance in 30 days. That lesson endures to this day. (I believe Pauline still has some of those Farberware pieces. She knows how to make good things last!}

Of course I have borrowed money at times. Mortgages for real estate, for instance.

Well, I’ve had a Visa MasterCard for 27 years. I use it for big purchases and small ones. Use it every day, even just to buy a cup of coffee. It’s easier than using money. To the best of my memory, I have not spent a dime on interest in all these 27 years. That’s another of the things that make me sleep better.

Another belief is to take calculated risks. Notice, I said calculated. Because if you’ve really pondered it, there’s a good chance that you will succeed. If not, you will learn an important thing or two. And that will serve you well.

Another is, don’t be afraid of strangers. Everybody is a stranger until you say Hi.

Here’s one more. I have found that the great majority of people all over the world, regardless of color, race, religion, or nationality, are good people. The chance of somebody harming you is small.

Travel!  As much as you can. It’s very important. Travel is educational in countless ways. It will broaden your mind. Give you a broader view.  Will teach you so much. About other peoples and where they live, how they live, what they believe in, how they rule themselves.  Besides that, it’s fun.

To get the most of it, you have to live at their level. Stay in low-budget places. My first choices have always been hostels. You meet more people. Learn so much more. Make new friends

Eat in restaurants they eat in. Do not isolate yourself in a room on the 14h floor of a deluxe hotel and eat in its 4-star dining room, with the chambermaid and the doorman the only locals you’ll get to have a word with.

So at age 90, what is my life like now?

Well, I live alone in this nice, small city of Morro Bay (11,000 people) on California’s Central Coast where there is no ice or snow and no 90 degree summer days.

I live in a mobile home in a mobile home park restricted to people 55 and older. It’s called Morro Palms Mobile Park (we have palm trees). No children here.

There are eight or nine mobile home parks hereabouts. This is the very nicest, by any standard.  Including location, location, location. It’s convenient to everything important to me

I never imagined I’d live in a mobile home. In fact, I think I looked down on people who live in mobile homes.

But this is perfect for me. I have a living room, kitchen, dining area, bedroom, bathroom, and office. Have range, fridge, microwave oven, washing machine and dryer, all the bells and whistles.

I have made numerous improvements.

Matter of fact, all mobile homes in our little community here, are very nice. People are proud of them. You can tell by their plants and little yards. I consider mine one of the nicest.

I call my daughter Monique and her hubby David every morning at 8 or so to chat. If I fail to make that call, they’ll come here in a jiffy. They live just 10 minutes away. I see them often. Now and then they take me with them into San Luis Obispo. They invite me for dinner, always insisting on my taking home delicious left-overs.

One of my wonderful Christmas gifts from them every year is a monthly cleaning and straightening out. Very thorough.

They pull in and give me a gentle push out. And go to work with vacuum cleaner and mop and dust cloth through the whole place and then put everything back in tip-top shape for another month. How wonderful.

Oh, I must mention I am now totally deaf in my right ear and use a hearing aid in my left ear. Know what? Probably you do not. If you lose hearing in one ear, you lose directionality. With your eyes closed, you can’t tell whether a sound is from in front of you or back of you or left of you or right of you or from above you.

Your body balance is also affected. Our ears are also a sort of gyroscope that controls the balance of our body. I’ve learned that the hard way.

I have a hard time walking and walk with a cane. But at a supermarket, pushing a grocery cart, I’m steady enough to get all my shopping done.

I have had dizzy spells. Three weeks ago I had a bad one when I got out of bed and went crashing down on the floor, tummy down.  A small cut on my hand, but no broken bones.  I had an awful time getting back up. But my right hip is sore and I limp. I’m having that spot X-Rayed to determine whether I have a fracture.

For two years I have been wearing a Great Call fall alert device on my chest. If I fall, I press the button on it, reach a Great Call responder day or night who will swing into action. She has my profile, which tells her first to call Monique or David, plus other options.

And it has GPS sensitivity, can tell quite accurately where I am, at home, or in a store or anywhere else, even a hundred miles away.

Oh, I do exercises every day.  Physical exercises. Every morning for years I did a whole program of stretching exercises every day. Now I do them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and skip Sundays and Thursdays. I love Sundays and Thursdays.

And I do mental exercises, although writing ain’t a bad one. I do chess puzzles. I rewrite captions for the crazy cartoons the New Yorker Magazine is famous for.

And I write poems. Real poems. Limericks, for instance. Which to me means they must have a definite rhyming pattern, a definite structure, and most of all, must make sense. A lot of poetry is crap. I’ve sent my limericks and other poesies to family and friends.

In fact, just yesterday I got a limerick from an old friend, John Aschieris. Composed by him:

My occasional friend named LaPlante

Would never say that I can’t

The world he has traveled

He never gets frazzled

You might say he’s a true gallivant

Isn’t that nice of him? And wonderfully impressive?! Well, John is impressive. He’s a dentist, long retired in southern California. But does many good works. By the way, he’ll be surprised to see his limerick here.

For instance, he volunteers to help students at the local dental school who need a hand. For years he’s held a weekly clinic to advise parents about possible dental problems their Johnny or Sarah may have. And he writes classic limericks!

Well, I do one type of mental exercise for a while, then another, then another.

And every year I make New Year’s Resolutions. Some consider that crazy. I don’t.

For years and years I pedaled a bike. Now I pedal a trike.

In my seventies I took a spill. Sold my beloved bike. Now I have a beloved trike.

Yes, a tricycle. It’s safer. And it has a big cargo basket in back. It’s not perfect. It’s slower. Hills that were easy on a bike are impossible now. But it keeps me mobile.

I pedal to the library, the supermarket, the senior center, the bank, the post office, the drug store, McDonald’s or Burger King for my afternoon coffee, and other shops.

Oh, I can make it down to the Embarcadero, our waterfront. It’s all downhill. I can get down there in 10 minutes. But I can’t get back up.

I’m known as the old man with the bike. Always the bike, not the trike. I never correct them. Oh, well.

Our library is open five days a week and I’m there five days a week, mostly to read three of the newspapers. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Tribune out of San Luis Obispo.

Our Senior Center offers lunch five days a week. It’s a good lunch. I go every Tuesday and Friday. Usually 35 people or so. Four are homeless. I know them well, have a thorough understanding of what homelessness means. Truth is, I enjoy the fellowship as much as the lunch.

Have given several talks at the center. I taught a course there: “How to Write Tour Life Story.”  Sound familiar? Had no idea I’d soon be writing my own.

Have been signed up to address the RAMs (Retired Active Men) at their monthly breakfast meeting in June:  “Serving in Peace Corps in Your Old Age.”  These are active men. One or two may be inspired to check out Peace Corps.

Just recently I went on a bus excursion organized by the center to two interesting museums 25 miles away.  And wrote a report about that for the center’s monthly newsletter.

I do not watch television, which seems totally un-American. I do have a TV but use it only to watch an occasional DVD from the library.

I read in bed every night before turning off the light. Usually a book.

Recently a neighbor had a hospital bed for sale. I bought it just to make my book reading easier. It has a digital remote control handset. I use the handset to make the head of the bed go up or down, or the foot of the bed go up or down. Usually I use a combo. I love it.

More and more I dictate rather than type. For instance, much of this was dictated on my so-called smart phone. It became my first draft. There’s always a second, and a third. All in an effort to make my writing as interesting and effective as possible. “To write well, rewrite!”

Of course I am still writing and blogging. The blogging is getting more difficult because of the technology involved. Coping with this digital headache is as daunting as my studying Russian in Peace Corps was.

Our library is open five days a week and I’m there five days a week, mostly to read three of the newspapers. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Tribune out of San Luis Obispo, the  beautiful major city 15 miles south of her which is our county seat.

I do not watch television, which seems totally un-American. I do have a TV but use it only to watch an occasional DVD from the library.

I read in bed every night before turning off the light. Usually a book.

Recently a neighbor had an electric hospital bed for sale. I did not need a hospital bed. I bought it just to make my book reading easier.

It has a digital remote control handset. I use the handset to make the head of the bed go up or down, or the foot of the bed go up or down. Usually I use a combo. I love it.

More and more, by the way, I dictate rather than type. For instance, all this was dictated on my so-called smart phone. Dictation is not as simple as it sounds but it works.

As you’re well aware, I am still writing and blogging. The blogging is getting more difficult because of the technology involved. For me this technology is a headache just as learning Russian was in Peace Corps.

Old, one more thing. This may surprise you. I am an inventor. I invented something that is protected by an official U.S. Trademark: “MedGown.” Yes, it’s a garment.

I am sure you are wondering, how is it possible to invent a garment? Well, let me tell you.

L0ng, long ago, back at Long Island Hospital, patients wore johnnies. That’s what a medical gown was called back then and still is. Here in California it’s called a medical gown.

When I was 30 I was ill and had to check into a hospital. or so, I had to go to a and I had to go to the hospital. They have me put on a johnny.

Five years ago in Connecticut I was hospitalized. Same old johnny. I decided to design one. It’s gone through several iterations. Everyone who’s seen it likes it, or so they say. I’m proud of it. Rightfully.

A month ago I was hospitalized again. The same old johnny!

If you’ve been hospitalized, I am sure you have the great pleasure of wearing one.

The old johnny was very practical.  One size for everybody. For man or woman. It has no collar. No pockets. No buttons. A couple of cords to hold it together. Very short sleeves, ending above your elbows. And just one size for most people. A small one for children. A bigger one for very fat people. Cheap to make and easy to launder.

Opening in back was a fantastic idea. Easy to put it on a patient in bed or to take it off. Easy for a patient to use a bedpan or a urinal. Or the toilet down the hall.

My MedGown is a vast improvement because of its six distinctive features.

It still opens in back, but you can walk without having to use your hands to keep it closed and keep your butt from showing. Still fits man or woman. Still one size for nearly all.

It has a collar. Lots of people feel cold. The collar can be turned up. And it provides a touch of style, which women like.

The sleeves are longer, six inches short of your wrist. Lots of people are embarrassed by purple spots on their arms. No longer a problem.

It has two pockets. You can carry your cell phone or cough drops or a pad and pen or a pack of tissues.

Behind each pocket is a slit. Easy for doctor or nurse to slip the wires through to connect you to this medical gadget or that one.

A big feature is that it’s easy to check a patient in any part of his or her body. The wide sleeves can be pushed up. From the back, each shoulder can be pulled down for easy viewing.

Easy for the same reasons when a patient has to go for an X-ray or a CAT scan or anything else.

One nice feature at the front bottom of the gown it a button. At the back side is a matching button hole. You can button the gown together. This makes it into a simple pajama. At night in bed when you toss and turn, this will keep the gown from riding way up to your belly button. As can happen with a johnny.

My MedGown is a real winner.

Me, a talk show host!

Oh, I nearly forgot. Here in Morro Bay I was surprised to find myself on the air every Saturday on a local community radio station, 97.3 fm. No paid commercials! Supported by contributions.  The station calls itself The Rock because of the huge rock – ancient volcano – that rises out of the sea at the entrance to our harbor.

At a dinner party I met Bob Swain, a retired chiropractor, who I found out hosted a weekly show on preserving good health on 97.3. He noticed I was a vegetarian. He interviewed me about that on his show. It went well.

I said to him on the air, “You know, Bob, being a vegetarian ain’t easy. In fact, there are three bad things about being a vegetarian.”

“There are? John, tell us about them, please.”

“Well, the first is that if you’re invited to dinner at someone’s home, you can say, ‘Please do not make anything special. I’ll be fine.’ But they always do make something special.

“The second is, if you go into a restaurant, you’re choices on the menu will be extremely limited. Maybe zero!”

“And what’s the third, John?”

“Everybody thinks you’re crazy!”

He laughed. But there’s a lot of truth in what I said.

A month later, a guest canceled and Bob asked me to fill in. This was about the fine health care Peace Corps Volunteers get. It went well.

Hal Abrams, the founder and director of The Rock, offered me a weekly show of my own. And I said yes. I’d interview people who had expertise on something or other, who were articulate, and listeners would enjoy our chatting and get something out of it.

Like an iceberg, 90 percent of my show was “under water.” It was a challenge every week to find a good guest discussing a subject that would be interesting and truly informative. It took being up on local news. It also took phone calls, even cajoling. It involved a warm-up section. Most had never been on radio.

Sometime to do a good job I felt I had to ask a difficult question. And to be fair, I felt I should not sock my guest with the question. I made sure to say I was going to ask it. Their reply was up to them. I had a couple who declined.

Back then I was living six months here, and six months back in Connecticut. In my absence a deejay played music.

When I returned for my third year, I noticed a veterinarian had taken over my slot. Lots of people have dogs, cats, horses. And he didn’t depart at the end of six months. Oh, well. That was an adventure, too, as modest as it was.

Well, I know this has been a long report. I’ve had a lot to tell you. Writing it hasn’t been easy. Should I say this? Or not? Am I creating a bad impression in some way? Or not? Will my readers think I’m bragging? Or not?  Have I overlooked something important? Or not? Will they think I’m nuts for divulging all this? Or not? Will I be sorry?

Chances are some of you will be bothered by this or that. And some won’t.

All I can say is, I’ve done my best. If you’re still with me on all this, God bless you. If not, I understand.

And now I’m finishing my third week of my 91st year. Wow!

Time marches on. And how!

My long, long adventure continues. It will end before long, of course. Hope I have a nice, quick, decisive heart attack. Whatever, it will be interesting to see how it ends,

I’ll send you a blog. Providing, of course, I can access a blogging app over there on the other side. Meanwhile, all the best to you!

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Auto-Camping across the USA and back 58 years ago. Me!

This was the report I wrote of our grand adventure.  I followed it with more articles along with a series on the national parks and monuments we got to visit.By John Guy LaPlante

Yes, yours truly. With my wife Paulie and our two little kids.

All the way from Massachusetts across to California and back — 11,200 miles in a fast 42 days. Most of it was great. A few things went wrong. I wrote a zillion words to finance it. It seemed a zillion!

It was 1960. I was 31, a writer on Feature Parade, the magazine of the Worcester (Massachusetts)  Sunday Telegram. Circulation 100,000 every Sunday. An  estimated 150,000 taking at least a look every Sunday.

I yearned to see the USA. Had never been farther west than a few hundred miles from home.  I was a young dad with two little kids.

Well, with an elderly friend handy with tools, I built a folding tent trailer —  a newfangled thing back then but so wonderful for a young fellow eager to Go West!  But had to do it on a tight budget. Couldn’t afford a factory-made one.

And I wanted Paulie to share the adventure. We’d face a special challenge. We had our little Arthur and Monique behind. Unthinkable to leave them behind. Somehow we’d manage.

And I’d write stories about all that. Well, because I was a writer and that’s what writers do. Also because it would be the way to pay for our adventure. That’s the way I looked at it — a great. marvelous adventure.

Truth is, my folks and Paulie’s and some of my newspaper colleagues opined it was a wacky idea. Paulie thought the same thing when I brought it up. How fortunate I was she sided with me. I’m sure she had her fingers crossed.

But I got only two weeks of vacation. What to do?

I talked Fred Rushton, my editor, into letting me tack four weeks onto my two weeks coming up, those extra weeks without pay. And — this was key — agreeing to publish my travel reports at the magazine’s going free-lance rates. He took a week to think it over. Imagine my suspense! Then said, well okay….

Paulie taught second grade in public school, so she had the summer off. Perfect.

So with her at my side… and Arthur, just two and a half, and Monique, just one and a half, in a play pen I built for the back seat of our station wagon… and every spare inch jammed with supplies, we set out for California. Or bust. That was a few years before our little son Mark joined our family.

What kind of writing did I have in mind? First, I’d do personality profiles, but with people along the way who had a strong connection to Worcester.

For instance, an actor in Hollywood who grew up in a Worcester suburb. The manager of the L A. International Airport; he had jumped to that big job from being manager of our Worcester Airport. A young couple, neighbors of ours in Dudley, who had migrated to California, for good. And so on.

It’s that local angle which had convinced Fred Rushton to go along.

Second, I’d write about our experiences along the way, good and not so good. And also impressions of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park and other famous tourist meccas. And some far less known but worth knowing.

By the way, that long ride of ours was long, long before our fantastic Interstate Highway System. It was slow roads all the way to the Pacific and back. Through mountains and prairies and deserts and agricultural lands. And into huge cities and little towns.

Enormous hard work. For one thing, I had all these appointments that had to be respected. On this date in Detroit for this one, and on that date in Malibu for that one.

And of course we had have to find a campground each night, set up our tent trailer, cook our chow, put the kids to bed. Then get up early, rush and get ready, break camp, and hit the road again. And rush on to the next appointment.

Hard on Paulie for sure. Whenever I went in to interview someone, and take some pictures, which could take a while, she had to sit in our station wagon and mind the kids. A good sport.

We slept under canvas every single night. Some things went wrong, of course. Wouldn’t be an adventure without the possibility of that.

And lots of tension for both of us, it developed. Paulie had her way of doing things and I had mine. We both did our best to be patient and forbearing.We managed to return home on our scheduled 42nd day still happily wed.

One thing went very wrong. I hurt my back hard one night lifting a corner of our trailer with my two hands. Every night I would jack it up to make it level for a decent night’s sleep. This time I was tired and in a rush. I skipped the jack. In Polson, Montana, right on the shore of magnificent Flathead Lake..

Went to bed in great pain. At 2 a.m., excruciating.  Needed to get to a hospital. Paulie ran to a couple in a tent a hundred feet away. Total strangers. Woke them up. Explained. The startled young guy said, “I’ll drive him!”  What a Good Samaritan!

That was one of the joys of the trip — meeting so many fine people and of all backgrounds.

Well, no hospital in Polson. But were told by a parked cop there was a chiropractor nearby. Had never been to a chiropractor. I was leery. Rang his doorbell. He was sound asleep upstairs but came down to check who was ringing at such an unholy hour. Well, he did a fine job.  Had to return for two more treatments. It set our schedule back three days.

Arthur and Monique were angels all those many miles. Except Arthur one morning. We started driving. Paulie looked back to check the kids. Arthur didn’t have his shoes on. Where were they? We couldn’t find them. We had driven 20 miles or so.I made a U-turn and we went back to our campsite. Found the shoes. He had thrown them out the window!

Yes, our journey did turn out to be the wonderful, fantastic adventure I hoped for. We covered those 11,000  miles. Good weather and bad weather. Saw wonders of all kinds. Not a single encounter with a bad hombre. Came back on the 42nd day, just as planned. Triumphant and delighted. Both of us.

Recently I gave my daughter Monique a fading copy of the first big article I wrote about it when we got home.  It was the “play” article –the major article–in Feature Parade that Sunday. It ran four full pages, along with photos,  all by me. It’s the one you saw up top.

Monique surprised me by scanning it and emailing it to members of our family. Very nice of her to do that. Some had little memory of our adventure, and in the case of our in-laws and grandkids, had never heard of it.

Monique also sent me a copy of it. Reading it, I had an idea. Maybe some of you would find it interesting.

By the way, that article was just the first of at least half a dozen full-length Feature Parade articles I wrote about our trip. Also a series of some 20 articles ab0ut national parks and monuments we visited. These were published one Sunday after another in the Travel Section of the Sunday Telegram.

Reader response was enthusiastic. Fred Rushton and Nick Zook, the editor of the Travel Section, were both tickled.

Got to tell you again all those thousands of words were pounded out by me, yes, on a free-lance basis, on the side, separate from my regular writing assignments for the magazine. A darn god thing I could type with all ten fingers!

Well, in time I became editor of Feature Parade Magazine.  As boss, I had a constant stream of six issues in the works. For example, at 8:45 on this coming Friday night, the magazine would be printed for inclusion in the nearly two-inch-thick Sunday newspaper.

We published a morning paper, the Telegram. And an evening paper, the Gazette. And the huge Sunday Telegram. An enormous job. It took a payroll of 850 people to get all that done.

Different sections of the Sunday paper–the Travel Section, the House & Home Section, the Week in Review Section, the Book Review Section, and other sections, would be printed  during the course of the week. It was the only way.

And the sixth magazine in that rigid schedule of six issues at any one time might be for the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, say. So what would be a good play article to tie in with Labor Day?  Should be something new, fresh.

It might take special expertise in business or economics to write it.  So who should I get to write it?  And what should be the big front-cover photograph to kick it off?  What pages should I run the story on? And so on.

You know, I found the work so interesting that sometimes I had a hard time falling asleep at night.

But why am I telling you all this? Good question. I thought you might like this brief insight into that kind of journalism.

Of course, it’s virtually impossible for you to read my actual story as seen in that photo of it up top. If you’d like to read the article, please contact me and I’ll try to make that possible.

I said we took the trip because I yearned to see the U.S.A.  It did that. But know what Tha just fanned my yearning to travel.  I went on traveling and traveling, as some of you know, and most of it solo.

Around the world. Across the Equator and back up. Around Asia. To every country in Europe except the topmost three.

To India twice. To China four times. To France 10 times. To Mexico several times. To Brazil twice, and to several other South American countries, including Panama. To all 50 states, some several times.

And I’ve written about all of those travels. Again, that was a main incentive. In articles and books.

Well, I’ve asked doctors if they think I might have caught travelitis when I was young.  And never got over it. Travelitis? They tell me they’ve never seen a case of travelitis. Well, okay.

The good news, I tell them in case they ever diagnose it in someone else, is that travelitis totally vanishes in old, old age. Just fades away.  How about that?!

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