Night of January 16th

Recently I attended a local theatrical production of Ayn Rand’s Night of January 16th.  The performers did a great job of presenting a very young Rand’s emerging philosophy on individualism versus collectivism.  It’s done as a courtroom drama with the murder victim’s secretary/mistress on trial for his murder.    The jury, chosen from the audience, must decide if she threw him from the penthouse apartment to his death or if he committed suicide and she was merely struggling with him to prevent him from jumping. 

                Through courtroom testimony, we must make a decision as to what type of man Bjorn Faulkner was, since it becomes apparent that He is the one on trial.  Was he a man who was ready to change his ways and strive to help make the world a better place for mankind or, a man who set his own rules and was willing to live or die by them. The witnesses called to the stand bring their own biases. The question as to how he died becomes irrelevant; more important is the way he chose to live. Rand’s play forces the jury to decide between conformity and individualism based on their own philosophical leanings. 

                Ayn Rand was only twenty-eight in 1933 when she penned her play and had a long road ahead of her before she honed completely her philosophy of Individualism.  Probably she is most well known for her huge novel, Atlas Shrugged, but a tiny parable of hers written years earlier, Anthem, gets her point across even more clearly.   The society in her story encourages collectivism.  One must think only of what is good for the general public.  Individual thoughts or actions are banned.  Having pride in your accomplishments is a sin.  The word “I” is unspeakable and if uttered is cause for death.

                If we were to live in such a collective society, another word that must be banned is “choice.”  What is best for you may not be best for the masses, therefore limiting your access to achieve that choice is the correct thing to do.  If you wish information on a particular subject that the higher authority does not approve of, the information becomes lost or illegal to acquire.  Soon, this information becomes less real and more of a distant memory.  A typical modern term for this is “dumbing down.”        

    We can see this is today’s society where certain books, regardless of literary value, are banned from classrooms and libraries because they might be offensive to certain people.  Rather than making it known that a book or some other type of media could be offensive to those people, the easier course of action is to make it unavailable to everyone.  It would not take long for the masses living in such a culture to eventually think as one and act as one.  If an individual with an open mind entered the mix chaos would surely follow.

                We all have and will continue to be influenced by others. It’s just human nature.  Listen. Digest. Process.  Live your life free to decide your own path.  Remember what your mother asked you when you were a child?  If Billy jumps off a cliff are you going to jump too?  Think about it.

                Just read a pretty interesting book by NBC Chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel talking about his twenty plus years living in the Middle East and reporting on the people and politics of the region.   Not a casual observer, Engel spent time getting to know the history behind the different factions, learned the language and spent time with the local inhabitants, living in places like Egypt, Israel, and Iraq.  He was quick to travel wherever the action was taking place, at times at great risk of his life. It’s a fast-paced account of what went bad and why in a greatly complicated region.  Check out And Then All Hell Broke Loose.





I can’t remember playing with any special toys.  First of all, we didn’t have a lot of money so I knew better than asking for stuff my parents couldn’t afford, which was most things.  I didn’t care about dolls except for this one I got for Christmas one year that you fed water to from its own little bottle and then squeezed its stomach and the water squirted out of a hole in the doll’s behind.  It became my own special squirt gun. I know now that I was way too annoying, running around the house, filling the doll up with water and then having it pee on everything.  Parents do occasionally make mistakes with toy selections. 

I did like paint by number sets and would occasionally stoop to begging.  I was with my mother and my sister at a Woolworths and my mother was going to let me pick out a paint by number set.  She had this religious picture in mind and I had my heart set on a picture of Superman.  Unfortunately, Superman cost more than Jesus and I was told it was Jesus or a German shepherd.  I didn’t want the dog and I didn’t want Jesus.  I wanted Superman! I stood there holding Superman in my arms and started to wail.  Embarrassed, my sister paid the extra fifty or sixty cents and the four of us left the building. Up. Up and away!

Since there was a limit on the number of these sets available, I eventually gave in and painted the German shepherd and went on to the Last Supper.  Mom decided that I should give the completed Last Supper to our minister.  Even a little kid like me suspected that he had a closet full of the same picture, but he took it from me with a straight face and my mom was happy.  The German shepherd and a Cocker Spaniel hung on the wall in the dining room, next to two pictures portraying kimono-clad ladies on scenic bridges, horses, pink flamingos, parrots, sailing ships, a lighthouse, a Poodle on black velvet, etc.

Another young passion of mine was putting together plastic models.  I started assembling old-timey cars and planes, never really interested in those of the present which by now would be in that old-timey bracket.  The original Aurora plastic models of Frankenstein and his horror buddies adorned my dresser top and a large dinosaur skeleton which I later gave to my nephew.  That was a total mistake as he stepped on it and broke it beyond repair.  Bet you thought I had forgotten that, George!  I worked my way up to large models of sailing ships with intricate rigging and cannons.  Putting it mildly, our home always smelled of paint thinner and glue.

I was still into model making when Jerry and I became friends in high school and one time I bought him a simple car with just a few pieces to put together and paint.  A few days later, he brought it over to show me.  Most of the body was covered in fingerprints embedded in dried, excess glue and one of the axels had been replaced with a toothpick.  The car was painted all over in one color and he had drawn two heads on the windshield, smiling.  He told me that glue and paint were too dangerous and he would rather stick to scotch tape.  I agreed. 

When buying gifts, remember to stay within the skill-level of the recipient.




I’ve been wondering lately what the state of the world will be like in twenty years or fifty years if some things don’t change, such as our rhetoric and mannerisms. 

                Turning on the evening news, we have to remember that the programming is PG-13.  The major headlines so often are ones about bombings, shootings or other acts of violence with maybe two minutes at the end of the program slotted for some sort of “feel good” moment.  Years ago I felt that we had all become desensitized from viewing the atrocities and carnage taking place in far away Viet Nam.  We have gone light years beyond that today.  Now it’s become more personal. 

                 I shudder to think of the human race dragging knuckles through the rubble of civilization, unable to communicate in no way other than by showing force.

                 “You look different than me.”  Bam!  Pow! 

                “You have different religious beliefs.”  Crack!  Slam!

                “You’re in my face.”  Kapow!  Thump!  “I just want to hurt someone and hear them cry as I have                  cried.” 

                We want our children to have a good life.  We send them to school to learn how to read and write and become good citizens of the world.  We send them to houses of worship to learn that if they are good there will be a better place for them someday.  When they turn out less than perfect, we blame what they’ve learned from television or video games or gang influence. 

                But what have we taught them?  Have we taught them that anger rules?  A simple game of baseball or soccer among youngsters can turn ugly when parents lash out at the coaches or referees and a brawl ensues.  A vehicle getting in your way on a highway is reason for road rage, worth endangering the lives of many. Sports and entertainment figures feel that they are above the law and moral decency.  Politicians teach our children that saying untrue or nasty things about their opponents is acceptable if it sways votes.  Too often fear can turn to anger and hate, and for whatever reason, is rationale enough for killing.

                We need to tone down the rhetoric and try to engage brain before action is taken.  Otherwise, I’m afraid civilization will break down into warring tribes that will sooner or later annihilate each other. By then, it will be too late to tell our children; no one will be there to listen.


                I recently read a memoir of a woman who survived the Holocaust in Budapest.  Her mother, who deserves to be on the lists of super moms, was able to keep the author, a teenage girl, and her younger sister and brother alive through the horrors of Nazi occupation.  They survived twelve-hour marches across Hungary in the cold and snow, sleeping on the hard ground or in the mud, with little or nothing to eat or drink.  Those who couldn’t keep up were rewarded with a bullet. They suffered in the death camps but survived there as well until liberated by American forces.  What seemed to be the worst atrocity in the author’s recollection was the sight of their non-Jewish neighbors standing on both sides of the road jeering, calling them names or just doing nothing as she and her fellow Jews were marched away from their homes.  TO SEE YOU AGAIN by Betty Schimmel is a story of courage and love set against the horrors of war. 




             Sunday mornings at my place usually consist of staying out of the office for a while and picking up stuff and straightening up of the house.   The couch cushions are checked for hidden treasures such as tennis balls.  Shelby’s bones and toys go into her basket and the rug gets vacuumed.  As I leave the room I can hear her emptying the basket and throwing everything back where it belongs.  Wash get done and put away and the sink emptied. 

                I’ve mentioned before that Sunday mornings always include music.  There’s no real rhyme or reason as to what goes into the mix.  Sometimes the list may go from Andrea Bocelli to Rod Stewart to Rod McKuen to Sarah Brightman.  Queen makes the list frequently as does Charles Aznavour and the Bee Gees.  Another favorite is Neil Diamond who takes up a lot of shelf space in my record collection. Seeing as how this is being written on September 30, Neil’s “September Morn” album is on the turntable.

                I have been a Neil Diamond fan since the late 1960s and Jerry always made sure to keep me supplied with any new album that came out.  He appreciated the fact that I had a few favorite singers, such as Neil, that he thought that could actually carry a tune.  It also helped that his slow songs were perfect for dancing to in our living room. 

                We moved from the Chicago area to Northeast Georgia late in the 70s and soon afterward were able to bring down my parents, thus forming our own mob-like enclosure.  Small town life suited us just fine and we busied ourselves with family and writing.  Then came August of 1984!  Neil Diamond was coming to Atlanta!!!

                Jerry not only got tickets for us but for our two kids and for my mother.  The kids had listened to his songs since they were babies. I’m sure my mother didn’t have a clue as to who he was or where we were going but it sounded like an adventure, for sure.  Boy, was she right.

                Having avoided actually going into the downtown Atlanta area up to this point, we suffered the consequences.  We had planned on leaving in plenty of time to get to the Omni, find our seats and settle in before the concert but… The interstate was a mess and there was nothing we could do except inch forward along with the rest of the traffic.  We were finally able to get off at what we thought was the correct downtown exit only to find out that we were wrong.

                 By this time Jerry was losing that thin veneer of adult confidence and cool we try to maintain in front of our children, right before we blow up and become the primal savages we really are.  Mapquest directions are not easy to follow when the vehicle is going really fast on unfamiliar streets while looking for a large building you’ve never seen before.  The kids were loving the roller coaster ride and my mother sat quietly with her eyes tightly shut, probably thinking that this was a big mistake.  I was already in the “It’s ok if we get there a little late mode,” and Jerry wasn’t buying it.  He knew this concert was important to me and he wasn’t going to let me down. 

                We eventually found the Omni, memorized the location and then spent more time circling the area to find a parking lot that still had space.  After paying almost the cost of a concert ticket for a little piece of real estate, we trekked back to the venue, dragging the kids and grandma.  We presented our tickets and walked into this humongous auditorium. Our seats were in the nosebleed section and the lights were already dimmed.  We never saw Neil walk on stage or actually see him sing his opening selection because we spent that time trying to get to our seats without falling.  Jerry had to contend with a night blind wife who lost all sense of balance in the dark, two young children who were too busy looking around to keep up and a seventy-eight-year-old mother-in-law.

                Grandma was a trooper and didn’t have a heart attack that night, thank goodness.  She did live until just shy of one-hundred years old.  The concert was great and we all had a wonderful time.  The kids didn’t lean forward and fall out of their seats onto the heads of those tiny people way down below and, we almost forgot that we still had to get everyone back down to the main level when it was over.

I was gifted with a concert tee shirt, which I still have, and the memory that Jerry always tried to keep his promises, even if meant endangering our lives to do so.  We found our car parked where we left it and drove at a much more comfortable speed on the long drive home.

Although Neil Diamond continues to write songs and to record, he has had to retire from touring because of Parkinson’s Disease.  His music has spoken to us for over fifty years and I hope for many more to come.  Thank you for all you have done to sing the words we all have in our hearts and for all the fond memories you have given us.

I remain,

Forever in Blue Jeans




There’s a lot of talk today about survival, and how with the right combination of tools and gadgets, any obstacle can be overcome.  Some of us put up vast quantities of food and water and medical supplies in order to endure the coming catastrophe, whatever it may be.  Companies have grown by leaps and bounds, supplying us with all these necessities that will keep us safe and secure, no matter what the situation.             

 Most of us who try to plan ahead in case of power outages, floods, and other such disasters may feel confident that we can prevail over the bad and come out on top.  Living without electrical power for a day or two might bring the family closer together.  A night spent huddling in the basement telling stories or singing songs while waiting for the tornado to pass over sounds like fun.  Even the notions of breaking open your cache of survival supplies and actually using some of the items sound exciting!  Did someone remember to buy oil for the oil lamps?  Where did you stash the batteries? 

Eventually, reality will enter the picture and the fun of living “in the rough” will turn to, at the very least, an inconvenience and possibility something worse.  By now you’re having second thoughts about bringing your mother-in-law and her ancient, incontinent Chihuahua over to ride out the storm.   Next time remember to have a covered trash can in the basement to hold the dirty diapers your grandchild gifted you with.

Soon, the damage left behind from the storm has to be taken care of.  A lot of hard work needs to be done before normalcy returns but stories will be told for many generations about your survival readiness and skills. Other stories about you will be told when you’re out of earshot.

Some disasters just don’t share the same kind of charisma that’s associated with the “big” ones.  How does someone cope when their company suddenly goes belly up and they are out of a job?  A child needs medical treatment or medication and insurance doesn’t cover it?  The young man who is trying hard to keep his job can’t read very well?  Their only mode of transportation sighs its last breath and there’s nothing left in the till to replace it; how do they get to work?   A child has no one to look up to or talk to about their fears.  The old soldier looks out the window and sees nothing but his past, no future. She is feeling old and useless and nobody cares.  Does it get to that point when a person loses hope? How do they survive?

Stories like these are not on the evening news because these disasters affect only a few.  No organization is outside their home passing out doughnuts.  No pop stars are putting on a benefit concert.  Their neighbors probably don’t even know them or their problems.

We all get wrapped up in our own troubles.  Every day brings on more things to worry about, more drama to deal with.  Yes, be prepared for the “big” ones but take time to look for the smaller, more personal disasters that we might be able to help eliminate.  Sometimes it takes no more than a hug or a smile or perhaps sitting down and listening.  A promise of a ride, even to the bus stop could mean the difference to a person’s survival or a meeting at the local library, deciphering words necessary to excel at their job.

 While we wait for the next cataclysmic incident, hopefully, we can take the time to use our hearts and hands to share our resources with others who may need a boost. Remember that regardless of how many items we carry in our bug out bag, only a certain few will matter when we take that final walk up into the Retreat.



BTW  We're working on volume #4 or SURVIVE LIVE WELL AND LIVE WISELY and it should be available shortly as an Amazon Kindle.  While you are waiting, check out volumes 1,2 and 3.  Only $2.99 and loaded with articles aimed at making your life better.