September 17, 2019

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.

told.

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.”

“Impossible!”

“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.

“Me!”

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!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?!

~ ~ ~ ~

 

That junkmail I just got. Oh boy oh boy!

By John Guy LaPlante

Incredible all the stuff Father Boes sent me. Right away I saw what he was up to.

I’ve received tons of junk mail over the years. Haven’t we all? But nothing like this, ever.

I get my mail in a shoebox-size mailbox in a bank of 50 of them.

With its locked door open, it’s 7 high and 5 inches wide. Totally adequate even for magazines.

This time I was startled to see a huge white envelope wedged in there kitty-corner. Humongous.

Charlie, my mail carrier (not his true name), must have had a devil of a time stuffing it in there. Charlie is a gentle guy but I’ll bet that knowing he was alone, he did some real cussing.

What’s that, I wondered when I saw it. Who can that be from?

I had to tug and tug to pry it out. In fact, I’m a gentle guy, too, and I cussed, too, a rare thing.  And know what, I badly ripped one side of the darn thing in wrenching it out.

Big surprise! It came from Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in Boys Town in Omaha, Nevada. Boys Town is famous. Goes way back a hundred years. But why are they sending this to me?!

A strong suspicion popped up in my mind. I’ll wager you have the same suspicion. They want money!

I opened the envelope the minute I got home. It was jammed full with an astonishing variety of stuff. Eighteen different items! No room for a 19th!

All beautiful. All top quality. All themed to Christmas! You’d be amazed to see it all.

–       Two 2019 calendars. But why two?

–       A 2019 daily planner. Nicest I’ve ever seen.

–       Six gorgeous Christmas cards, all different. One with a big, beautiful LaPlante printed on it. Wow!  All with stunning matching envelopes, of course.

–       A large sheet of To / From labels, some bigger, some smaller. Which is nice to have.

–       Then a sheet of 24 beautiful decorative greeting labels.

–       Next two sheets of “FROM” labels, 24 to a sheet. My name and address printed on each one! Too nice to toss out.

–       And most impressive, well, to me, was “A Certification of Appreciation to John LaPlante for his support in helping the boys and girls of Boys Town.” With my name in big, distinguished lettering. Like what you find on a diploma.

Signed by Father Steven E. Boes himself, the national executive director of Boys Town. Notice, “national” executive director. That’s because now there are 12 Boys Towns, all over the country, and all doing the same fine work.  Father Flanagan would be so pleased to hear this.

At a quick glance, the certificate did pass as a diploma. So impressive. It deserved to be framed. You know, for everybody to admire. Who doesn’t want to be admired?

Mind you, I haven’t done anything to deserve this huge envelope with all these goodies. Quite optimistic, that Father Boes.

Then a letter for me to read. Entitled “My Story.”  Nearly a thousand words, rich in details. Told by a boy named Robert. Nice picture of him up at the top. Clean-cut white boy. About 14 or 15. A good-looking kid.

Robert – not Bob, I noticed — tells his story in plain English, which you’d expect of a teen-ager.  I read every word. A talented writer, this young Robert.

A very, very sad story. And in many ways. Robert was in a bad fix. Nobody to turn to.

But Boys Town took him in, lucky kid. They straightened him out. Put him on the right and sure road to success. And graduating, he went out and proved himself as  a good and promising young citizen.

He didn’t believe in miracles, Robert writes. But now sees miracles are possible.

Which is exactly what Father Flanagan sought to do. Transform boys from bad to good. He looked at boys differently. He  once said, “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.”

Father Boes, I can see, was inspired by him and carries on in the same spirit.

Yes, Boys Town does great work,  he says. Yet Boys Town never, never would be able to continue that same great job without the financial support of concerned and caring people. Like me.

We kind folks make a powerful and essential difference, he says. Unfortunately, I haven’t given Boys Town a dime so far.

But it’s obvious Father Boes knows I’m a good guy. That I realize I might have grown up in a bad way like Robert. Sad to say, there are a lot of boys out there, and girls now, too, just like Robert. They desperately need and deserve help but have no idea where to get it.

This is  his Christmas Appeal, and Father Boes appeals directly to me. He starts, “Dear John….” Which is nice.   Tells how Boys Town continues Father Flanagan’s vital work. Which was to rescue children who’ve been abused, abandoned or neglected.  Which was wonderful.

Says Boys Town now has been carrying on in that same noble spirit for more than 100 years.  And last year provided direct care to 79,209 children!

“This Christmas,” he writes, “I hope you are able to help us with the children who God has entrusted into our care. May God bless you and your loved ones.” And signs off by invoking God’s blessings upon me.

Father Boes says all this much more nicely than I ever could.

For my convenience he has supplied a form. And I can make a gift of any size I want. A one-time gift. Or a monthly gift. Or a quarterly. I can send a check. Or I have a choice of four national credit cards.

And again to save me time and inconvenience, he has included two fine ballpoint pens. Beauties, with no advertising message printed on them, which surprised me. But why two?  In case I lose one, I suppose.  Well, very thoughtful.

As I looked at all Father Boes’ goodies, I marveled at how much I’d have to dish out if I went out and bought them all on my own.. And think of all the time I’d have to spend. And doubtful I would find as nice.

Of course, I’m confident thousands of good people like me are receiving this huge envelope right now. Maybe you have, too, or will.

Yet, I’m still puzzled. Why does Father Boes send me this delightful gift of two of this and three of that? Not just one. Could be he doesn’t want me to run short.

Sure, I could use some but maybe not all. I wouldn’t toss it out. That would be wasteful.  So I’d gift it.  I’d feel good doing that. And I’d also feel good spreading the word about Boys Town.

And the more that friends heard of its fine work, the more boys and girls like Robert would get transforming help.

Isn’t that so?

Yes, I’ve known about Boys Town for years.  I remember it from the wonderful movie, “Boys Town” in 1938. Starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.  Which I got to enjoy much later.

If you haven’t heard of Boys Town’s noble work, let me give you key details.

It was founded in 1917 by Father Flanagan there in Omaha. Born in Ireland, by the way. A man of great charm and-enormous talents.

One day he ran into a boy who was carrying a smaller boy on his shoulders. Quite a burden. But the boy doing the carrying said, “Oh, he isn’t heavy, Father. He’s my little brother.”

Father Flanagan was touched. He glowed. Re-told the story often and it has been passed along and passed along. And made lots of people glow.  It made me glow. Now there’s a little drawing of that boy carrying his little brother in everything Boys Town publishes, it seems.

A few years back Boys Town got another great idea. Like Robert, a lot of girls need help, And Boys Town accepted that challenge enthusiastically. So donations help boys and girls now.

I suppose it would have been awkward to start calling the school Boys and Girls Town. And Kids Town never would have worked. So it’s still Boys Town.

But the way so  many women are now demanding full equality, it seems inevitable some will protest that that name is unfair. Might sue. Wonder if Father Boes loses sleep over that?

Oh, its work has been greatly expanded. It used to serve only kids of middle school and high school age. Now it takes them in much younger as well.

Now it serves all kinds of “at risk” children. The risks can be of many kinds. It provides much more than just schooling now. It also tackles social and psychological problems. Has a much enlarged mission. Now it proudly states, “Serving Children … Healing Families.”

Father Flanagan was marvelously innovative.  He made Boys Town a true town, even with a boy mayor and councilors.

A town with a police department, post office, public services. With its own schools, athletic facilities, library, gym. All the usual sports and clubs. A total package of academic and athletic and social programs.

He didn’t house the boys in dormitories. No, no. He put them up in nice houses, real homes, eight or ten in each. And each has man and wife “parents” who have a full parental role in every way.

They oversee the kids in all their activities. Praise them when they do well and coach them when they need support. This also give the kids an important sense of “family.”

He developed and implemented novel ideas. He spoke in many cities and states and numerous countries, including his native Ireland. Where he found its ideas about educating children deplorable, by the way. He  changed people’s thinking.

He is buried on the grounds of Boys Town. Was so highly regarded as a hard-working and highly motivated priest that the Vatican is moving him along on the long path to sainthood. Truly, Boys Town has become widely recognized for doing a classy job.

I’ve spent a lot of time boning up on all this. The one scandal I’m aware of over its many years is of a former supervisor a few years ago getting convicted of molesting a Boys Town child.

Now back to Father Boes’ Christmas Appeal. The sum of the charitable gifts it takes in every year is enormous. For instance, its 2016 annual report said that Father Flanagan’s Fund for Needy Children provided $44,782,000 of  support. !!! And 86.36 percent of every dollar received was spent on the care of children.

A key tool (there are others) in achieving that is the huge envelope I just received. Every item top quality. Every item useful. All of it personalized. My name on it time and again. Very expensive to produce. Just the Post Office’s bill must be staggering.

Well, I had no intention of making a contribution. It’s a good cause. I’ll make one, and I’m sure Father Boes will be disappointed. But it’s better than zilch.

Thousands of others will also, and I’ll bet Father Boes will be tickled by the final tally.

And know what? All of us will get a personal thank you from Father Boes, even the smallfries like me. And he’ll be so pleased that he’ll send me—and the thousands of other donors–another big envelope next year and the next year. Until he finds out that mine has become undeliverable, if you know what I mean.

Obviously Father Boes and his team are masterful fund-raisers. Everything is carefully calculated.  For one thing, notice his timing.  It’s the first Christmas solicitation I receive this year. Guaranteed I will receive others. Father Boes made sure to get a jump on the competition.

Gosh, how did I make Father Boes’ list? That occurred to me, of course. As I said, I have no connection to Boys Town. So how come?

Well, I know. Father Boes’  knows all about buying lists of names from name-listing services. Such as MailChimp. There are a number of them.

You just tell them what kinds of people you want to mail to. Give them basic criteria of the people  you’re looking for: occupation, education, age, key interests. For example, important data may be their religion, what publications they subscribe to, what stores and companies they deal with, their credit rating, what other charities they may support, maybe even their political leanings.

These list services have an amazing range of customers. Amazing the different outfits that mail to me.

And these list sellers will sell you all the names you want, at so many dollars per thousand. I’m confident Father Boes buys names this way. I made the list he wanted.

Yes, I’ve been calling it junk mail. We all call it junk mail, don’t we? But what is junk mail? It’s mail that we’ve not requested.  Unsolicited mail that wants to sell us something. Or do something, such as vote for so and so.

Some of it indeed is junk. Often I toss it before even opening it. I recognize the sender and have zero interest.But often I do open a new offering just out of curiosity. And know what? I’ve gotten junk mail I’ve found interesting and useful and have signed up for what they’re peddling. As I have for Father Boes’ and Boys Town..

Sometimes I open something from a known vender just because I’ll enjoy reading it and believe I’ll buy nothing.

In my case examples are mailings from Harbor Freight and Haband Clothes and AARP and sundry travel companies.  I enjoy looking them over. And sometimes I say yes. As I will to Father Boes now.

How about you? How do you feel about junk mail?

Unfortunately, I’ll keep little of Father Boes’ goodies in that envelope. Certainly his gold Thank You Certificate to me. The one that looks like a diploma.

But just as a souvenir of this blog post I’ve had fun writing. And I’ll pass along the other stuff. Too nice to just trash.

An interesting thing. At our Senior Center I had quite an experience. There’s a box of freebies there. People put in stuff they don’t need. Others look in for nice freebies.

I looked. And found Boys Town stuff in there from others like me who got Father Boes’ envelope. And  I decided that’s where I’m going to leave my Boys Town stuff.

But that made me think of Charlie, my mail carrier. He must have cussed more than once delivering those envelopes to others on his route. Poor guy!

Anyway, I hope you have a bigger mailbox than I do. Just in case.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

.0

.

Tragedy struck, and that led Alma to God

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos.

Morro Bay, Calif. – At first I thought she was a kook or nut or something.

I have a big habit. In late afternoon I pedal my trike to our McDonald’s for a coffee. I bring a magazine or two. Coffee in hand, I plunk myself at one of its small tables, open my Time or Family Handyman or Smithsonian—borrowed from our public library— sip my coffee and read. It’s a highlight of my day. For variety, I do the same across the street at our Burger King now and then.

Well, one day I spotted her, also alone at a small table. A lady in her mid-40s, matronly and dark-skinned but lightly. No food. No beverage. Totally engrossed. She had a huge book open – volume is a better word — with a big notebook open next to it. She had pen in hand. She was scrutinizing the book and taking notes.

The pages of the big book were plastered with stickers. Blue, red, yellow, pink stickers. Notes scribbled on them. Line after line of the volume were

Alma and daughter Zeann at work at McDonald’s.

underlined in black or blue. Whole paragraphs high-lighted with a yellow marker. Oh, well. None of my business.I went back to my Family Handyman.

Two or three days later, same thing. There she was. Again engrossed.  I had a hunch. Now I was sure. That big book was a Bible.  Was she studying for a divinity degree or something?  Oh, well.

The next time, same thing. But now a pretty teenager was sitting at the next table, but had moved closer to her mom, well, so I assumed. Also with a big book open, but smaller. A Bible, I thought. It, too, had stickers in various colors. She also was reading and taking notes.

It was busy today. But the table this side of the woman was vacant. Good. I  was so curious. I squeezed behind it so I’d be right next to her. She paid no attention. What the heck was she up to?

I leaned toward her and caught her attention.  “My, oh my!’ I said with a smile. “You are working hard! That’s the Bible, isn’t it?”

She looked at me.  Still held her hand.

“Are you a minister?”

“No, no. Yes, the Bible. I study it every day. I love God!” She tapped it with her hand. “And I’m struggling to get to know Him better!” Now she tapped her chest several times.  “Knowing God is so, so important to me.”

“Please tell me more. I’ve seen you working like this several times now. I’ve noticed how terribly important it is to you. I‘m fascinated.”

And she told me her story. Needed little nudging. Was bubbling with enthusiasm.

Well, her name is Alma.  She is a teacher here. Spanish. Lives here with her husband and their three children. Excuse me. Two now, so sad to say.

Her story turned out to be a long one.  Grew up in Mexico in a small town, like ours here, but poorer. Was raised on a ranch. Her dad was a cowboy.

Alma and her hubby Bayrn promised three things.

He moved the family north, to New Mexico, for more money. A better life. It’s a story familiar to us.

She was 11.  She liked school and dreamed of becoming a teacher. Got into the University of New Mexico. She met a guy she liked. Studying chemistry. He was from Morro Bay.  As a senior at our high school here had heard nice things about that university. Love! Marriage!

Eventually Bayrn – yes, unusual name — moved her and their kids back here. He no longer does chemistry. She teaches half time in our Del Mar Elementary School.  She and Bayrn have started what they call their Spanish In Action program, They run the program in three schools after the regular school hours. The parents pay. It’s a small business. Alma and Bayrn are ambitious about it.

A remarkable story. I enjoyed it. Now I put a hand on her Bible. “Please tell me more what this is all about.”

‘”Sure.” She shifted to see me straight on. “Understanding God is my passion now.  Yes, passion! It’s the most important thing in my life. Well, you know, after my family.  I study here at McDonald’s because no husband, no kids, no TV, no dog. Usually I come alone.”

She smiled. “McDonald’s is just perfect! But, I do the same thing across the street sometimes.”  She pointed that way. She meant Burger King.

I told her that I blog. Enjoy writing about interesting people and topics. And this looked interesting to me. “Would you mind?”

“You think this would really interest people?”

“Yes, very much. ”  She smiled. And nodded. And I got right to it. “Have you always had this great big passion?”

“No.  Oh, I believed in God.  But that wasn’t knowing God! There’s a big difference.  It happened when my little boy died.  His name was Kaeden.  Our only boy.  A wonderful, wonderful little boy. Kaeden had asthma, which is not that rare, of course. We took him to a doctor and he gave us medicine and we treated him. Well, people live years and years with asthma. But Kaeden became very, very sick. And died. It was very fast. So fast. He was only five!”

I thought I had misheard his name. Asked her to repeat it. “Kaeden. Yes, an unusual name.”

She looked me straight in the eyes. Her voice rose. “I was crushed! I felt a big knife had been driven into my heart. Nothing this bad had ever happened before. It made me sick. I couldn’t work. I cried.

“Of course I thought about God. Felt I should know Him better. And that intensified my interest in the New Testament.”

I put my hand on hers. “Thank you so much for telling me about Kaeden.  Yes, so tragic.  I can see how badly you hurt. I feel so, so sorry for you.”

She was quiet a minute. ”I had an aunt who used to say a few words from this book often.” She tapped it. You know, when things weren’t so good. She’d say, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,’ which is very tiny, ‘you can battle anything. Anything!’ I have never forgotten that.  But I wondered, was it really, really true?”

She paused, “I’ll show you the exact words. Just one little minute!”

She ruffled though some pages. “Here it is.” She lifted off a blue sticker that covered those lines.

“It’s a bit longer. It’s from Matthew 17:20.” And read the passage to me. “He (Jesus) replied: Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this the mountain, ‘move here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.”

Alma looked at me again. We were on a first-name basis now. “I felt I had no relationship with God. God my Creator! I wanted a relationship with Him.  I needed it. He told me it was possible! I bought a Bible and here I am.”

That was a few years ago. Well, she wore out that Bible.  She bought this beautiful leather-bound one.   She says she has read it 18 times. By the way, the Old Testament part in the first half has 34 books and runs from page 1 to page 1039. It’s the part that is the basis of the Jewish faith. The New Testament, about Jesus’ ministry and teachings, has 27 books and runs from pages 1043 to 1353. She’s done a lot of reading!

Meanwhile, watching us and listening had been her daughter, Zeann, Alma reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. “Zeann is our precious, wonderful daughter,” she told me. “She is a sophomore at the high school and on the honor roll. Look at this book she’s studying! European History! And it’s a college-level book!”

Zeann smiled. Blushed. Very sweet.

Their oldest, she told me, is Syler, 19.  He was the valedictorian at his high school graduation two years ago.  Received a grant and is a sophomore at the University of California Santa Cruz and is doing fine.

By now Alma knew I was serious about writing this up. She saw all the notes I was jotting down.

“Alma, such unusual names. Your husband is Bayrn. Your first son Syler. Your poor little boy Kaeden.  And she is Zeann. Are these names from the Bible?

“No. No. We made them up. Bayrn and I. We did it together, one at a time. We feel every person is distinctive. We wanted them to have distinctive names.”

Reminiscing more, she told me that a very good year was 2011   ”I became an American citizen! And was baptized at the Nazarene Church in Los Osos.”  Which is a town next door.

To do a good job, I felt I should chat with her husband.  She smiled and nodded. “No problem. Bayrn is such a wonderful husband!  You’ll like him.”

She then confided something in me. “It didn’t take long for us — him and me — to feel we were right for one another. But we had discussions.  We agreed on three essentials.” She smiled.  I would cook. But he would do the dishes and the laundry. And no screaming, ever! And now, that we love God together!”

We met two days later again at McDonald’s. The three of us.  Bayrn is a giant of a man. Has a quick and warm smile. Likes to let her do the talking. I could see his affection for her. How she was truly very dear to him.

I said to Alma again, and to him now, that it’s easy in my line of work to make mistakes, and I work hard not to, and I wanted to double-check many of the details. And we did that. It went well. She was happy. And so was I.

Pedaling home, I thought about all this.  Tried to summarize it. And these words came to me. “Alma suffered this great, incredible, life-changing tragedy. And that’s how she found God.”

That doesn’t happen to many of us.

~ ~ ~ ~

Remember, I welcome your comments. Read them all. They add greatly to my pleasure in scribbling this way.

No Airstream for me all these years but!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos.

Morro Bay, CA – Well, yesterday at Albertsons supermarket I spotted a super-duper RV. And what marvelous memories it sparked. RVs are common in this scenic tourist mecca. I see them every day. But gosh, this baby was fabulous!

Why so? Most RV’s look like, well, ordinary RVs. As usual I was getting my exercise on my tricycle and I spotted this

Look how sleek and beautiful!

beauty. It was parked. Whoever’s RV this was was shopping in Albertsons. I made an abrupt halt.

It had an aerodynamic look. Just missing the wings, that’s all.  A beautiful sculptured body, sheathed in gleaming aluminum. Not a scratch anywhere. Sculptured is the right word. Look at my photos. The long window on each side made it look longer and sleeker. I walked all around it. It looked brand new right out of the dealer’s showroom.

By the time  I got to the rear of it, I had a hunch. Could this be?  I spotted its make. Yep, this was an Airstream. My hunch was right.  And it had a California plate, which looked brand new, too.

Back at the front, glancing up at the windshield hoping to peek at the  inside, I saw a handicap placard hanging. Well, I have a handicap card, too.  Lucky me. He too must be an old guy. But his wallet was certainly a lot fatter than mine.

Strange though. Every Airstream I’ve ever seen has been a trailer, and I’ve seen many. They are special to me, as you’ll see.  This was not a trailer. It was an RV. A Mercedes RV!

That make, Airstream, invoked Wally Byam. He was the creator of the Airstream. That was way back before World War II.

Mercedes Airstream Interstate!

Wally Byam designed and built and sold them. Many makers were building trailers back then. More and better highways. Gas was cheap. More people could afford one. But he made the Airstream the best. It was THE trailer to aspire to.

Wally Byam  was also a marketing whiz. He got the brilliant idea of organizing owners into his Airstream Club. And he would lead them on caravans. His big  car and Airstream were at the very front. Long caravans, lasting weeks, with two or three dozen rigs, even more. Across the United States. Through Europe. Once even thousands of miles through undeveloped Africa. Those Wally Byam caravans were played up in magazines and newsreels. What a buzz they created.

My memories raced back to the 1960’s. And right then and there I decided to take pictures of this beauty and did that. And blog about it. Because way back in the 1960’s I dreamed of owning an Airstream.  I felt you’d be interested.

I waited. The owner didn’t come out. I hoped to chat with him and his missus. He wouldn’t be traveling alone.   So I continued pedaling up and around.   Somehow I missed them. When I circled back, I saw the Airstream driving off. Darn!

Yes, way back then I was hot for an Airstream.

I was 33. I was a journalist at the Worcester Telegram-Gazette in Massachusetts. A staff writer on that metro paper’s Sunday magazine.

One day after work I stopped at Charlie Glowick’s gas station to tank up. He was pumping, of course. That’s how it was back then.  I spotted something I had never seen at the far side of his lot. It was a tent set up on what looked like a utility trailer. The trailer had an extension flaring out about 20 inches on each side.

“Charlie, what the heck is that?”

“It’s a tent trailer,  John. It can sleep four. Folds down nice and neat. They’re new, you know. You can go off to a state park and camp. Or private campgrounds around. There are more and more of them. You can go for a weekend or a month. It’s great fun. And it doesn’t cost that much. Great as a family thing.”

“How much is it?”

“No, no, John. Right now I’m renting them, that’s all.  Got three of them. Just $60 a week.”  I was earning $97 a week, so quite a sum. Still…

He didn’t say all that in one breath. I’m summarizing. I paid him and hurried home. Pauline had supper nearly ready.  “Hurry, hurry, dear,” I said. “I just saw something terrific. I want you to see it!’

But we had little Arthur and Monique. “You get them ready. I want you to see this before Charlie Glowick closes! I’ll clear the table.” She had no idea what I was talking about.

He was still open.  He showed  us everything. How the drawer on each side was really a double bed. How the drawers slid and locked into place.  How there was storage space under the beds. How the whole thing folded down.

“Of course, you need a trailer hitch,” he said. “But considering, that ain’t a big deal. I can put one on for you if you like.”

We had a four-door sedan. He said that would work out fine.

I was eager to say yes. I looked at Pauline. I saw her thinking.  And thinking.  We knew peanuts about camping. Had no equipment.  And little Arthur and little Monique—she was barely out of diapers!  I waited. Pauline still didn’t speak. Finally! “Okay, John. We’re just renting. Not buying. Right?” I nodded.

I had a week of vacation coming up in two weeks. “I’ll put you down for that,” Charlie said. “You’ll have a great time. Make sure and take pictures!” I gave him a deposit.

Forthose  two weeks we talked over where to go. Made lists of what to take. We were on a budget. Didn’t want to go out and buy stuff. We did have a camp stove and ice cooler. We’d just borrow stuff from home. I did go to Sears and bought an 8 mm. movie camera for $24.95, I think it was. Expensive. All new to me.

And we set off for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, 400 miles away or so. In the Blue Ridge Mountains. About a third of the way there, we pitched camp in Squantz Pond State Park in Connecticut $3 for the night, I believe. It was getting dark out.

It had trailer spots, each with a plank picnic table and stone fireplace. A busy place with people camping at just about every spot. A water spigot nearby. A washroom with toilets 500 feet away. Quite clean.

Set up the trailer, Simple supper. Took a while to ready Arthur and Monique for bed. We were tired.  Well, I slept with Arthur at my side and Pauline  with Monique. Yes, it took some adjusting.

Up early, I went out  to get breakfast going. I had my office leather shoes on. The grass was wet. I had never experienced dew. My poor shoes. We had a lot to learn….

Ready to go, we took a ride around to look at the park. Beautiful. Well maintained. The pond itself was beautiful. Ponds are small. This was big! For a minute I thought we should stay right here. (Do Google Squantz Pond State Park. Or Bing it.)  We could have a great week right here.  Didn’t bring it up. On we went.

We made Shenandoah National Park by the next night. Our very first national park to visit. So beautiful. So interesting. What a good choice.

Fine weather. Much to see, including picturesque little towns.  The kids were sweet. No problems. Lots of  fun. Lots of togetherness. Pauline got into it as much as I did. My little movie turned out to be a good idea. It did capture lots of nice memories. A fine week. By the time we got home, we knew we’d like to do more camping, and with a tent trailer. Charlie  Glowick had steered me right.

But we’d have to wait. A tent trailer of our own was out of reach.

Well, it so happened we did acquire one.  We had a Sears Roebuck Catalog. Remember its famous catalogs? They came out every year. Plus smaller seasonal ones? We were Sears catalog customers.

Well, they had a tent trailer for sale. Obviously a Nimrod but with their own name on it. It was meticulous described. All the dimensions, quality of the tent, how it folded, on and on. Very tempting. But too expensive.

With all those precise dimensions from the catalog right at hand, I decided to build one. I was a journalist. My tool skills were laughable. But I was so eager.

I remembered Fred Walsh nearby. A retired school shop teacher. (Do we still have shop teachers?) Mr. Walsh was very handy and had lots of tools. I showed him the picture from the catalog and explained what I wanted to do. Finally he agreed to help me.

I went to an auto junkyard and told the owner what I was looking for. He showed the rear end axle of a  junk car. He said he could take that and weld a simple frame on it out of angle iron. To the exact Sears dimensions I showed him. His price sounded good. I said yes and he did it. Included a tow bar, of course.

We did the rest in Mr. Walsh’s backyard. He did all the smart stuff and I all the dumb stuff. He did the major stuff alone during the day. It was summer and I’d rush and go work on it after supper. It all went quite well. The plywood drawers slid in and out fine. We sheathed the body with shiny aluminum. Beautiful!

He was pleased with it. I was proud of it. All possible because of him.

But now I needed the tent and poles for it. So I contacted Sears and ordered a tent like the one on the trailer in their catalog. I told them a long one. I said I needed a replacement tent, along with the tent poles. Okay, they said, but send us the serial number on your trailer.

“What?!” I panicked. But I went back to Charlie’s gas station. Lifted the serial number from one of his, changed a few digits and sent it in. Sears sent me the tent and the poles. (Hope I don’t spend too much time in Purgatory for that!)

But, if you think about it, Sears got to sell  a tent and poles it would not have sold otherwise. And I learned a thing or two.

Well, my hand-made rig, with all the stuff I had to buy and the check I wrote out for Mr. Walsh, turned out nearly as expensive as the Sears model! Oh, well. But we were so excited about adventures coming up! Along with little Arthur and Monique. Never possible until this.

We did a lot of weekend camping. We’d leave right after work on Friday and head for a great weekend.

At a state park on Cape Cod. $2 a night. Or another in Rhode Island—Burlingame, very fine—for seashore splashing in the salt water, then swimming the salt off in Burlingame’s pretty lake. We loved it. So did our little two.

We’d cook supper on our camp stove and dine on a park picnic table at our site. Toast a few marshmallows. Fun. Togetherness. Affordable.

We did so much of it and in so many places and my enthusiasm continued so high that n time, I started writing a column for the Telegram. It was called “Camps & Camping.” It ran every week in the Sunday edition. It was an add-on to my regular job for a bit of extra money.  I did it just as much for the fun of it.

No exaggeration now. I wrote it for 10 years without missing a Sunday. Once I wrote it from my hospital bed when I got laid up. I developed lots of regular readers. Amazing how family camping was catching on!

Now fast forward. I’d been promoted to staff writer on the Sunday Telegram’s own magazine, Feature Parade. To me, it was the best writing job at the Telegram. I got two weeks’ vacation a year. I asked Fred Rushton, our editor, for four weeks off—six in all. The extra four would be without pay.

“Why, John? Some problem at home?”

“No, no.” I told him I wanted to take Pauline and the kids on a six-week round-trip to California. She was teaching school. That would work.  My dream trip! And I’d write stories about it for Feature Parade. And he could pay me for them at the mag’s standard free-lance rate. He hemmed and hawed, then said okay.

We did it—11,000 miles all the way to California and back.  Wonderful! A few things went bad, but we made it home safe, sound, and pleased.

And of course we used our home-made tent trailer. But I got a new Falcon station wagon. I set up the back seat as a play yard for our two kids. And off we went.

Along the way, I mailed Fred half a dozen major Sunday features with  photos, every feature with a central Massachusetts peg. I had a small Olivetti portable. I loved it.  I’d set it up at our campsite and type away.

When we got back, I also wrote 22 columns with photos about national parks we had explored. Those ran in our Sunday Travel Section. I produced them at home all while carrying on my regular Feature Parade work. I was a busy boy.

In time, on the side, I wrote a book on all this. It was a memoir about our family camping experiences.  Some Telegram pals I showed it to thought it was great. But I never got to sell it.

My mistake was that I sent it to major book publishers. The biggest in the business. The rejection slips hurt. Thinking back now, I should have sent it to a niche publisher. Live and learn.

Many road trip adventures followed.  With Arthur and Monique, and then  little Mark, our third. But In time, sad to say, Pauline and I split.

Over the years, many trips.  I retired. I switched from the tent trailer to RV’s. So this was camping quite different. It was RVing. Camping on four wheels.

My first RV was the fabled, fabulous little VW Westfalia. A used one. The first and best of its genre. The one that turned legions of folks into RVing. I had long given up on ever owning an Airstream. The Westfalia was tiny, but I’d be traveling solo.

Mine was an ’87. I paid $1,100, I believe. Just a few weeks ago I spotted one. Same vintage. Looked absolutely brand-new. It was parked. Just had to speak with its owner. He told me it was totally restored. Bought it 18 months ago. Had paid $33,000 for it! He said, “I use it to go fishing in the Cascades.” Wow!”

Well, in it I explored much of our USA. Wrote many free-lance pieces as an ongoing series for the Worcester Sunday Telegram.

The Boston Globe in its Sunday travel section published a long summary of one of these coast to coast trips. On Monday morning, a friend named Brian called me and said, “John, I read it. The paper was two inches thick. And yours was the longest in the whole paper. I checked!”

I laughed. “Thank you, Brian. You say the longest! But for sure the best, too, right?” He laughed, too.  He didn’t dare disagree.

I wore that Westfalia out, then bought another.  Criss-crossed not only through our 48 states. In two-long summer trips, I traveled 15,000 miles all through Mexico. From its border right down to the bottom. From Mazatlan on the Pacific Coast to Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico. I ran into so many interesting people. A few things went sour, of course, but what great travels.

Articles about all those  got to be published here or there.

My latest big trip was four years ago. By this time I was driving a Ford E-Van.  I had converted into a one-person camper.  I was then living here in California — six months here, six back back home  in Connecticut.  It was time to head back.

It would be a 3,000-mile ride on the Interstates. If I drove 300 miles a day, I’d get home in 10 days.  Fairly easy. But I wanted to go slow and see a lot. I totaled 5,273 miles and it took me 101 days. A fantastic finale to my roving days.

I’ve locked in a ton of memories with all the articles and columns and blogs I’ve pounded out about all that and other topics over the years.

Which brings me right back to Wally Byam and his beautiful Airstreams. And the fabulous Airstream RV I spotted in the Albertsons parking lot. If only Wally could see it! How pleased he would be to see Airstreams till leading the pack. How he would applaud this model’s comfort and luxury.

I did go online and check out that model, the Interstate. Its price was $176,000. And now add on the sales tax and the insurance. How about that?!

I hope that well-off old retiree and his lady get to use it for more than just a weekend or two at places like Squantz Pond State Park. They should do our whole 48, plus Alaska!

Well,  my dream of owning an Airstream remained just that, a dream.

But what wonderful family camping and RVing I’ve gotten to enjoy! Over so many years … so many decades!

These days I’m so happy just pedaling around on my little trike. It’s nice and warm and sunny out now. So  I’m going to break and enjoy lunch and then take a spin on it. My first stop, the public library. And who knows, maybe I’ll spot something interesting at Albertsons.

~ ~ ~ ~

As you know, I welcome your comments, good and not so good. I read them all. It’s my big pleasure these days in doing this. Send one now.  Johnguylaplante@yahoo.com or @gmail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once a bibliophile, always…

By John Guy LaPlante

Here are the eight I happily took home.. Quite varied as you see. Not a novel among them. And not a big haul after spending an hour and a half at the sale. But what fun I had!

… Yes, always a bibliophile. That’s me. I love books!

Hey, if you enjoy reading blogs like this, that may well be you, too.

So no wonder I went to last week’s book sale at our Morro Bay Public Library. It’s a great sale, staged by the Friends of the Library. In fact, I scribbled in its date on my calendar six weeks ago the minute I heard it was coming up.

This sale pops up three times a year. Yes, every four months, which is unusual.  Public library book sales are common across the country. Wherever I was living I was a regular. But they’re annual sales … semi-annual in a few.

But three a year! Gosh, the sales require such enormous work by the Friends. They’re all volunteers … don’t get a penny … are rewarded only by the flush of feeling good for doing it for the community. And the applaud of the library staffers, of course.

Enormous work to gather the books and CDs and DVDs and audio books. Get the word out.  Stage it….you know, set up

Of course I’m smiling. So happy to pedal home with my finds. Just $8. Yes, 13 pounds of fine reading for $8! We all love a bargain, don’t we?!

dozens of tables, arrange the books according to novels and health and gardening and fine arts and home maintenance and poetry and other genres.

Manage the lines of customers pressing to get in. Collect the money for their purchases. Replenish the tables as the day goes on, then pack up and store the left-overs.  And soon afterward, start to prepare the next one.

Now a strange thing. Think about it. I go to the library every day of the five it is open, which is Tuesday through Saturday. It has thousands of books.  And rarely do I borrow a book to read at home. How come? I go to read its fine selection of daily newspapers plus a dozen magazines I favor.

I said a strange thing. Yes, because I never call it a day without a book in my hands. I pick one up from a shelf by my bed, settle my head on my pillow, and begin reading. Maybe for just 10 minutes. Maybe an hour. Then turn off the light.

But all are books that I’ve bought! Why don’t I just borrow books from the library? So go ahead — psych me.  I welcome your diagnosis.

Well, the sale starts at 9 on the dot. I was in line 10 minutes early. I was the sixth in line. In a minute the seventh arrived. Within five minutes the line went out the door.

Here’s how the sale works. From 9 or 10 it’s for members only. You become a member by paying $10 dues per year. What a bargain. And you get the best choice. From 10 to 11 it’s for the public…meaning those willing to pay the books’ posted prices, which for most is $1 apiece. Then from 1 to closing, it’s the $3 bag sale. Each customer is handed a standard supermarket paper bag. Jam it with as many books as you can—even disks and audio books– and you can take them home for $3!

Isn’t this the modus operandi you’re familiar with at your library?

Speaking of money, I looked up the Friends’ report for their previous sale. It had netted $3,000! That suggests the take for three sales per year would be $9,000 or so. Wow! Now play with the arithmetic. If every book brought $1 that would mean 9,000 got sold. But the real number is much more than that because of the $3 bags chuck full.

For the sale, the Friends need every square foot of floor space they can scrape up. The sale spreads through the library, right into the community room, even into the children’s wing, even into the walled garden out in front off the street.

That’s possible here where decades go by without snow or ice and where we’re blessed with lots of sunshine. But rain now and then of course, which we’re grateful for to keep things nice and green. So the Friends pray for sunshine on sale days. Which we got this time.

I’ve had a lot of practice in getting the max at these sales.  So there are certain categories of books that I totally skip. One is novels. In my old age, I find that non-fiction is more interesting than fiction. That’s strange, too, because when very young I skipped non-fiction in favor of fiction.

Hey, the very first books I read were novels.  When I was a freshman in high school back in Massachusetts, I ran across novels by Joseph C. Lincoln. You never heard of him, I’ll bet. Must have read six or eight.

They were all about Cape Cod and Cape Codders and their life as such. Cape Cod is in Massachusetts in case you don’t know.  Joseph Lincoln wrote delightful, wholesome, funny novels. I delighted in every one I could find. Google him. You’ll enjoy reading about him.

Another author I loved was Horatio Alger.  Remember him? All novels about boys — newspaper boys, farm boys — who seemed destined for a mediocre future. But who by dint of hard work and pluck, and often a kind benefactor, made great successes of themselves.  Inspiring stories for a young teen-ager.

Oh, know what? When a few years later I was a junior in college, I got the notion I’d like to be a writer someday and began writing fictional short stories. Always sending them off to the great, big, wonderful Saturday Evening Post, which my mother loved and I got to love.

Every time I put one in the mail, three or four weeks later –it was a long wait and I watched for the mail every day — I got a letter back from the Post. How exciting! But always a reception slip. Of course. Sob! If somebody more experienced had only told me to start off by mailing to a small, modest magazine, my getting published would have stood a better chance.

I got discouraged and quit—so you see I didn’t turn out to be a Horatio Alger boy.

So at this book sale, as I said, I was very selective.  I didn’t buy a thing from tables which at different times would have been an avid interest ….woodworking and home construction…sailing…photography…buying and selling real estate for profit….running a business….advice on getting ahead….still others.

Those are no longer a prime interest.  I do admit I scanned books in some of those categories out of curiosity…saw some I had actually read.

Just roaming the sale was a great pleasure.  I found a set of books that was marvelous  — some 10 volumes by Mark Twain — for a mere $10. His whole life’s output.  What a talent! What a prodigious worker!

I ran across another set of volumes…“The Story of Civilization,” By Will Durant and his wife and co-worker Ariel. Huge volumes… the 11 of them … their life’s work.  What an incredible and magnificent and prodigious achievement! I would have been hard put to pick up the set.  On sale again for peanuts.

I did wonder who, yes, who, would take home this treasure?  For sure a very interesting person in his / her own right. With lots of reading time!

Also I spotted 15 books or so in the Time-Life Book of the Year series.  One published each year, a fascinating retelling of the good, bad, interesting things that took place. Some years were missing.  But I spotted 1929. I was born in 1929. I glanced through it. Fascinating. But my birth was not mentioned. Shucks!

This is a good moment to tell you that I went many years without ever running into a real, live author.  What a great pleasure that would have been. Because I felt awed that somebody could do this, actually write a book.

In fact, I have a vivid memory of the first I got to meet.  It was Elliot Paul, who had become famous for his “The Last Time I Saw Paris.” I had read the book. He was very old, broke as I remember it, tired and ill and lonely in a nursing home in Providence, R.I. I had grown up in the Providence area and had been a grad student at Brown University there. I was now a feature writer for the magazine of the Worcester (Mass.) Sunday Telegram. Somehow I heard of Elliot Paul going through that.

I drove to Providence and managed to meet Mr. Paul and sit with him and chat. He understood I was going to profile him in an article. He welcomed it. At one point I asked him, “Who is the most important author of your time, sir?” Without blinking, he said, “I am!” How about that?!

Being in our Morro Bay Library with its many books, and at this sale with many more on display, was a dramatic reminder of the legions of men and women who toil at writing books for a living.  There are thousands and thousands.  And I am a modest one. I have three books on the shelves here.

To me it’s also a reminder of how much work goes into writing a significant book.  In my case, I’ve told people. “I’ve built a house. Writing a book is just as much work as building a house!” I’ve never said it but my Peace Corps book was the work of building two houses!

Oh, this was interesting — I came across a professional book buyer at work. Well, that’s what I call these people. I’ve spotted them before. They have a smart phone with an amazing app (?) on it.  They pick up a promising book, snap a picture (?) of it, and methinks get data telling them whether it’s a good buy for eventual resale. If so, they add it to their box. Nothing wrong with that, I’m sure. It’s just another example of American free enterprise. Have you seen buyers like this at work?

Well, I walked out with a mere 8 books.  All looked new. One had an inscription, ”Merry Christmas, Charlie!”  I weighed them. They totaled a wee bit more than 13 pounds. For a mere $8. I estimated their original price had been about $115.  I’ve taken a picture of the eight. I have no problem with your seeing what I chose.

My priorities these days are: interesting topics, of course. On practical subjects.  But all with chapters that stand by themselves, if that makes sense to you. Rarely a book that merits reading from beginning to end. I’m not up to reading a 350-page book anymore.  If I do, I’ll read the juicy parts.

I do admit that I buy books for the mere pleasure of owning them. I want to own them! I want…I must…own them because they mean so much to me.

An example is “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe, published in 1719!  Imagine the millions who have read it! Yes, a novel. I’ll bet you’re familiar with it. I read it in my late teens. It had a life-changing impact. A sailor marooned on a small island in the tropics…the sole survivor of a shipwreck…all alone for years on this island…who by resourcefulness and hard work makes a satisfying life for himself

Eventually met another man on the island, a black man, Friday, called that because Robinson met him on a Friday. Made Friday his devoted servant, and though he didn’t know a word of English, even managed to teach him to read. Happy ending, too. Rescue!

Easy to explain why that ancient masterpiece affected me so greatly. Robinson could have curled up and starved and died. By sheer determination and talent, he thrived and found fulfillment.

So, as you see, I had great fun at the sale. The next one will be Saturday, May 19. I’ll be there.

I finished the hard part three days ago.  My bookshelves were full. Had to make room for my new ones. Of course each of the old ones excited me when I bought it. So which to discard required lots of thought.

Now another thought. All those people who went home with $3 bags full of books — how will they ever get to read them all?

There’s only one conclusion. They’re bibliophiles, too. As I am. And as you are if you’ve read all 2,063 words I’ve put down here!

~ ~ ~ ~

As always, I welcome your comments. I read them all and appreciate them.  I delight in their variety. Writers write to be read, of course. In my case now, there’s not a penny in this. Your c0mments are my only payback.

 

Thanksgiving Day? Or really Turkey Day?

By John Guy LaPlante

It is both. Thanksgiving Day is what President Lincoln intended when he made it a national holiday to be observed on the fourth Thursday in November.

And Turkey Day it also is, though no president ever got that passed. The facts say so. We’ll sit down to some 42 million turkeys this Thursday.That’s close to one third of all turkeys we’ll buy this year. [Read more…]

I am not a poet but ….

By John Guy LaPlante

What I am is a wordsmith. Wordsmith is the right word. I cobble and hammer and shape words into sentences and paragraphs and pages to create something worth reading by others. I have indeed been called a wordsmith.

Plainly put, I’m a writer – at one time or another writing as a reporter, columnist, feature writer, essayist, author, or PR practitioner. And for some years now, as a blogger. So I’ve been wordsmithing for 65 years or so.

But of late I’ve been poetizing. Writing poetry, yes, strange as that may sound. I began dabbling at this just two or three years ago. It started as a lark, for fun and as a brain exercise. As a senior senior (yes, I’m getting darn old), I need all the help I can get, body-wise and brain-wise. I’m so glad I took it up

But I really am not a poet. I don’t do it for profit or publication. I’m not gifted enough. Few get to see my scribbles. But I write real poetry, yes, real poetry. But, you’re asking, isn’t all poetry real poetry?

Some say yes, of course it is. But I say no.  I think a lot of today’s poetry is crap. Here’s why. For too many “poets” nowadays, there is zero respect for the very basics of poetry. They just don’t bother. Why? Because that would be too hard for them, too challenging..

These basics are meter, rhythm, and rhyme. They are essential.

What they write is “free verse.” Free, meaning undisciplined verse – quick and easy.  They put down nice-sounding thoughts, set them up in staggered lines … and call it a poem.  It may have a nice rhythm, but no meter, no rhymes. To me it’s a joke.

Robert Frost put it beautifully. Writing that kind of free verse, he said, “is like playing tennis with the net down.”

Amen, say I.

What I find especially offensive is that read a “poem” like that and right off you wonder, what the heck does this mean? You read it again and too often come up with a blank. Because what it means is anybody’s guess. You may think, this poem is too brainy, too intellectual for me. Baloney, I say!

Carl Sandburg, I think it was Sandburg, said, “Modern poetry is a spot about half-way between where you read and where you wonder what it was your read.” I had to read that a couple of times but then I got it.

I have a simpler way of putting it. Real poetry says something. Free verse leaves you scratching your head.

The great Goethe 250 years ago opined, “Modern poets add a lot of water to their ink.” And how!

Again, I’m an amateur poet. But, to show you what I play at, I’ll give you a few examples. Truth is I’ve written dozens. I’ve enjoyed it so much.

I write two genres.  Quatrains and limericks. A quatrain is a four-line poem. All four lines to me must have the same number of syllables.

Two lines must rhyme, and so must the other two, though all four can have the same rhyme.

What about the rhythm? That’s more subjective. It’s up to the reader to decide if it’s good or not so good. You!

It must say something clearly. If I succeed, you won’t have to scratch your head to get it.

Again, I’ve set these rules to give my brain a strong workout.

Here’s a short quatrain of mine.

Today is blue and sunny.

And I am up and about.

Much to do so I’m busy.

So happy I want to shout.

             Have you checked each line’s syllable count?  Yep, seven. Make sense?

Another a bit longer.

Passwords—oh how they make me cry.

I cuss and cuss but hard do try.

They mess me up so very much.

I can’t find such and such!

 Line count?  Eight. Make sense?

And here’s a quatrain I wrote just for this blog.

A poet who plain ignores rhyme and meter     

Is, though he may not know it, just a cheater.

What makes poetry stand out as an art form

Is when to its rigid norms we do conform.

Syllables? It’s 11 in all four lines. And I felt my brain had to do 11 push-ups for each line.

Did it make sense to you? If it did not, I was a failure.

I was pleased with its rhythm. If you disagree, I won’t argue.

Here’s another, more ambitious.

It’s March 13th and time to spring one hour forward. 

How I do like that – in the eve the longer light.

But this morning, I feel very pooped.  My, oh my! 2

Much to do.  I hope I’ll feel better by and by.

The count? Fourteen. Rhymes okay? Make sense?

Here’s one about chess puzzles, which I also enjoy doing.

I ponder the chess board. Where, what’s the solution?  

I look. Ponder this move then that one. Oh, what woe!

Will I fail … have to give up in great frustration?

Then I find the key move and gosh, how I do glow!

  Syllables? Fourteen.  The rhyming okay?  Make sense?

 As you see in all the above, the rhyming can be line 1 with line 2, then 3 with 4 … or line 1 with line 3 and line 2 with 4.   I think the pattern of 1 with 2, then 3 with 4 is more dramatic, more powerful..

I’ve been known to write two quatrains, one after the other as a single poem. Why? It gives me twice as many syllables to say what I want to say.

Here’s a sextet that I wrote because I needed two extra lines. It’s addressed to my daughter Monique.

October 15th! How, how could I overlook a date so blessed?

I little foresaw what a gift you, Monique, would turn out to be!

So yes, I am blushing. No, no excuse can cover my distress.

You deserve great thanks and praise for all you do – this we all do see.

I most of all. I am grateful, my daughter dear, and here express

A wish for your health, success, joy, long life … may all this truly be!

Here is what happened. Her birthday is on the 15th. I forgot it—the first time ever. I realized my awful mistake the next morning and composed and sent her this. She loved it.

Reading it now I wish I had done better. Very long lines, too long, I now see – 16 syllables! It took a lot of heavy lifting on my part. I did enjoy putting it together, challenging though it was. Was so pleased that Monique was tickled.

Here’s one in a very different vein. To repeat, it’s an exercise. So I must think of a topic. Some are very mundane. Some more weighty.

Every morning I wake up to hear more bad news about Trump.

Shocked I was when he won, now every day I feel more in the dump.

I detest the sad, bad things he stands for and deplore how he acts.

So many, many things. Worse of all is how he distorts the facts.

 The count? Sixteen. If you disagree with my opinion of Trump, please do not give me an argument. Write a quatrain of your own.

As you see, not every quatrain or expansion thereof has to have a predetermined count.  It can be whatever will work best.

One  time I wrote a poem made up of four quatrains. All because I had a lot to say. I wrote it to fete my dear sister Lucie’s 80th birthday. I’ll show you just the first part. It gets  too personal later on.

Ma chere petite soeur, at 80 you still amaze me

You still have your famous zip and zest as we all see

And on so many fronts – at home, with friends, everywhere:

J-C, Michael, winning gold (!), and of course Quimper,

       Antiquing, volunteering, modeling…the Tango!

Ebay, stock market, dollhouse, all keep you much on the go!

And your friends!  You keep them so precious, old ones and new.

         In our family, so spread out, you’re loved as true blue.

   Of course faced many a challenge –but don’t we all?

     Yet you’ve survived them, pushed on, truly made life a ball!

The line count is thirteen. Like the rhymes? How about the rhythm?

When I got to see her, she kissed me on both cheeks! Told me I made her day.

We grew up with French as our first language. I’m sure some parts you didn’t get so I’ll explain.

Chere petete soeur means dear little sister. Winning gold because she’s a top competitive bridge player. Quimper: she collects this fine French pottery. The tango because she is still a tango dancer. Dollhouse because for years she’s built up the nicest little dollhouse, totally furnished, you’d ever get to see.

Well, I told you I write two kinds of poems. I started with quatrains. Then added limericks.  Who doesn’t like a good limerick? I consider limericks easier because they have a much looser structure.

Limericks have five lines. And the rhyming is very specific—line 1 rhymes with 2, line 3 with 4, and line 5 with 1 and 2. But the meter varies.  All 5 lines will have different counts. Line 1 is the longest. The second a bit shorter. 3 and 4 even shorter, and 5 about as long as line 1.

So the limerick winds up more natural, easier to read.  Still, there are many push-ups involved.

And a limerick’s topic can be much lighter.  It’s all about getting you to smile.  Even laugh…and laugh. As I’ll bet you know, limericks are often naughty, which can be fun. But often out-and-out obscene.

Here’s one. I also wrote a quatrain on the same subject. That shows you much it bothers me .It’s  clean, by the way.

Trying to recall a password, how often I do sigh

I want to yell and rant and curse

I feel I’m ready for the hearse.

I try this password and that but they defy

Once I felt I might even break down and cry.

 Here’s another limerick for you. Better put, a serious poem in limerick form.

Methinks there are too few poets out there

Who work to compose with classic care   

A thought or two in fancy words suffice   

And the result, sad to say, just ain’t nice   

Try harder and we’ll call you a poet fair and square.

I’m sure this didn’t make you chuckle and in that sense I’ve failed, I suppose. But it let me do my mental calisthenics for the day.

Familiar with the great old Saturday Evening Post? And Norman Rockwell? I grew up with the Post. It came out every week. The most famous magazine of its time. Just about every issue also  gave us a few limericks.  Clean limericks. Delightful limericks. I consider its limericks a wonderful model.

Did you know that the Post has been resurrected? But as a bimonthly. Six issues a year instead of 52. But it has a digital edition that comes out every week. Still worth reading. Take a look at it. Has limericks, of course. Go to www.saturdayeveningpost/limericks. You’ll have a good time.

(By the way, it recently profiled me.  The piece about me appeared in its digital  edition. If you’re curious, go to its website. On its home page look up to the top right corner. You’ll see its search window. It’s a tiny rectangle. Type in “LaPlante.”  The article will pop up. Hope you enjoy it.)

Why don’t you try your hand at one? And send it to me.  I’d love to think I might have inspired you to have fun while giving your noggin a workout.

Got to tell you I have a special tool for this versifying of mine. It’s a rhyming dictionary. I use it all the time. It’s “The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary – over 15,000 words” by Sue Young.  I’d be helpless without it.  There are others.   Shakespeare certainly didn’t have a rhyming dictionary.  Neither did Sandburg or Frost, as far as I know. That’s what made them the great artists they were. I’m not in that league.  Far, far from it.But I’m having fun.  Hope it’s helping me upstairs between my ears.

So free verse? Forget it. Free verse just doesn’t cut it.

Oh, one more delicious quote for you. It’s from true poet William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939:)

An anonymous reader of his says, How are you?

And Yeats replies, Not very well. I can only write prose today.

Yes, I chuckled. But to be honest, I resented it, too. I’d like to say to Mr. Yeats, “Sir, prose is damn tougher than you make it out to be! It has rigorous demands all  its own.”

Now a P.S. for you, my friends. It’s a couplet I just cobbled for you.

On all I write I welcome your praise or even flack

Do know I work hard not to come off as just a hack.

The count? Thirteen. Make sense?  Rhythm okay? I hope so. Now it’s your turn. Try your hand at a quatrain or a limerick. Email it to me—johnguylaplante@gmail.com. I’d be delighted. But no free verse, please.

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

To subscribe or unsubscribe Click Here