On A Teen’s Activism

We applaud our youth when they find a cause and embrace it with all their passion and enthusiasm. Only the most cynical among us would try to dampen the spirit, the tenacity, the drive of a young person who finds a mission, a purpose.

Marsha Albert was one such youth, and she found her passion one evening as she watched news on her family’s TV. This was the 1960s, and youthful activism was one of the most enduring and endearing positives of that tumultuous decade. Marsha, age 15, saw a segment introduced by CBS’s “Uncle Walter,” Walter Cronkite. Cronkite had narrated a segment that December evening in 1963 that looked at a developing situation in the UK and throughout Europe, and Marsha sat and watched the entire program, riveted to everything Cronkite reported. When the news ended, she promptly marched up to her bedroom, grabbed paper and a pen, and she did what many young people of the 1960s did: She took action.

What Marsha did was she wrote a letter to her local radio station. She demanded to know why the station and other US media outlets didn’t address the issue Cronkite had raised that evening. “Why can’t we do that in the United States?” Marsha asked in her letter. “Why can’t we have that here?” she wondered. The station, impressed by her passion, agreed. If Marsha felt this strongly, they reasoned, perhaps other kids her age felt just as passionately about the issue. They resolved to do something about it.

The station was Marsha’s local station, WWDC-AM in Silver Spring, Maryland, a Washington, D.C. suburb. Marsha, being so close to the US capital, couldn’t help but be aware of the issues of the day. After all, it was practically her neighborhood. And the station, being in the DC area, also was aware of its responsibility to its listening public regarding important issues of the day. So, the station took action and called in some favors. The BOAC (now operating as British Air) cabin crew that flew into the capital brought recorded information about the topic into Washington and had it delivered to the station so that WWDC could address the situation directly.

And Marsha was invited to the station to talk about the issue on the air, to introduce the topic to the public and to stimulate the discussion because of her letter and her passion. And Marsha did just that. She introduced it, the station played the recorded information and–the station’s phone lines exploded with ecstatic calls from other young people who couldn’t believe what they had heard. They, like Marsha, had become energized to the point of frenzy about this topic. And, like Marsha, they wondered why this could not be brought to the United States.

You see, Cronkite and CBS had actually recorded the report that stirred Marsha so much the week of the Kennedy assassination, but they had shelved it for a few weeks because the network thought the topic was too trite, too trivial given the gravitas of the days surrounding Kennedy’s death. By mid-December, they felt enough time had passed, and, besides, the nation needed something to divert its grief.

Cronkite’s report was on a fever that was sweeping through the youth of the UK and Europe, and, in a way, Marsha and then the other young people of the DC area were among the first in the United States to also catch this contagion. Marsha was the one who caused it to first be broadcast in America.

You know this fever as Beatlemania.

On A Retiree

Sometimes, the golden years aren’t all that golden.

As we age, along with the loss of memory (and often decay in the body) comes the loss of autonomy. For many retirees, depression can set in especially if they feel that choices are being made for them rather than in consultation with them. Such was the case of one retiree who had no choice where he found himself upon retirement.

Many older people would be happy with retirement on a sunny, warm beachfront property, but not this man. And it especially galled him that he still felt like he had contributions to make to society, that he still could be a productive man even in retirement. But, again, the choice was not his to make, as is often the case with retirees. For him, the retirement felt more like a prison.

The wife was long gone, and man was estranged from his children. So, the state made the choice for him, the choice without consideration of his wishes, to place him in this home.

The home offered programs for him to enjoy, but he found no pleasure in them. There were many social events offered, and, when he did rarely participate, he would be sulky and sullen and withdrawn from the rest. Others could not understand his attitude. His caregivers were attentive, and the facility even offered meals that were cooked to order. None of this could change his mentality.

Understandably, depression dogged him. His doctor noted his moodiness, and he said that they were times when the retiree would be practically non-communicative. Yet, the mind was still active, and the man sought his own distractions. He expressed the desire, as many retirees do, to possibly begin writing books. He had been a veteran and thought about telling the stories of his time in the army. He toyed with learning another language in an effort to keep his mind active. His caregivers reported that he spent a lot of his time playing variations of solitaire.

This last distraction seems to be the most fitting for the retiree. He not only felt alone and abandoned, but he also felt, well, exiled.

That’s because he was.

The island of Saint Helena, 1200 miles off the west coast of Africa, would be where Napoleon Bonaparte would spend his last days.

Happy Father’s Day

In honor of the recent holiday of Father’s Day, here is a story of a good father.

Anna and Richard were so in love. According to her in later years, they were always playing jokes on each other, always laughing, always happy. Such long-term relationships are rare, and almost unbelievable, except that people who knew them well echoed this reality. So, maybe it was true.
Anna also told the story about how, after having her engagement ring stolen, that Richard bought another one and slipped it on her finger in the night while she slept. He was always so romantic like that, Anna recalled.

They eventually had a son, and they gave him his dad’s name as his middle name. That’s Richard holding his infant son in the photo above. You can see Richard’s love and pride in the photo. He was a good dad.

Living in New York’s Bronx during the Great Depression, Richard still managed to provide for his family through his work as a top-notch carpenter. This was even though they were also immigrants from Europe.

Everything was as it should be until one day in 1934 when Anna came home with her son to find a neighbor waiting for her in the entry of their apartment building. “They’re up there,” she said, “and they’re waiting for you.” Anna gave her baby to the neighbor and ran up the stairs to find her husband sitting on the bed and a couple of dozen policemen going through their apartment. “You’re gonna burn for this, pal,” one of the police officers said to Richard. He sat on the bed, stunned.

Richard was soon placed under arrest. Anna couldn’t understand. What had he done? They were telling her, but it couldn’t be true, what they were saying. She wanted to visit Richard in prison, but he refused. “I don’t want my boy to see me in here,” he told her. “I don’t want him to have any memory of me behind bars.” Such a good dad, even in this situation.

In 1936, Richard was executed in the electric chair in New Jersey.

The crime he was accused of?

Killing the infant son of another man.

You know that other boy as Charles Lindbergh, Jr.

And you know Richard as Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

Happy Father’s Day.

On a Visit to Lincoln

Like most Americans, the older man saw on TV the violence, the killings by the national guard, that occurred that in April 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio. Four students had been shot. The man couldn’t sleep that evening. What was happening to his beloved United States? He was a veteran of World War II, and he was deeply disturbed by the images that had flashed across his screen that day.

After a night of pacing and thinking, the man, who lived in the Washington, D.C. area, decided to take a walk in the pre-dawn hours. Like many of his generation, he looked to Abraham Lincoln as the embodiment of American values and strength in times of trouble. So, he made the trek to the Lincoln Memorial to try to get some peace and some understanding of what the nation was going through.

Along the way to the memorial, the man encountered swaths of young protesters who had come to express their anger at their government. These young people had come to protest not only the killings at Kent State but also to speak about against the Nixon Administration’s policies about the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and what they felt were Nixon’s movements against free speech and personal freedoms. The man felt odd, out of place, among the long-haired young men and the girls who wore peace signs around their necks and on their clothes. The young people noticed him, too, but in the early morning, they said nothing to him.

When he reached the Lincoln Memorial, the man realized that he was definitely the oldest person on the scene. The protesters had been sleeping in and around the monument, seeking, perhaps, as the older man was, some comfort in the spiritual presence of the great president memorialized there. Some of the young people sleepily woke up as the man made his way up the memorial steps. “What are you doing here?” one of the youngsters asked.

“I came for the same reason you did,” he answered. “I also want to see the war ended. I want the killing to stop.”

Other kids woke up as they heard the conversation, and they gathered around the older man. “Where do you go to school?” he asked one of the young men. “Syracuse,” the student answered. “Good football team,” the man answered, looking for some connection, some link between him and these young people who seemed so different, so strange to his version of America. Another kid told him he went to Stanford. “Ah, California,” the man responded. “Do you surf?” “Yeah,” the boy answered.

“I understand that you hate the war,” he said, changing the subject. “I do, too. But don’t let your hatred of the president and the war make you hate the country,” he advised. “The country is good. I know you probably think I’m a son-of-a-bitch, but I do understand how you feel,” he admitted.

The young people looked at the man skeptically. They later said that he seemed to be trying to connect with them, but that was impossible.

So, as the sun began to rise over Washington on that early May morning, Richard Nixon left the Lincoln Memorial and headed back to the White House.

On Dueling


The Code Duello, covering the practice of dueling and points of honor, was “adopted at the Clonmel Summer Assizes, 1777, for the government of duellists, by the gentlemen of Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon, and prescribed for general adoption throughout Ireland” . The Code became popular in England and on the Continent with some slight variations (usually where Heidelburg rules took precedence). In America, the principal rules were followed though often with glaring deviations.The Code Duello

I. The first offence requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology, because he gave the first offence, and (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by subsequent apology. 

II. But if the parties would rather fight on, then, after two shots each (but in no case before), B may explain first and A apologize afterwards. 
N.B. The above rules apply to all cases of offences in retort not of a stronger class than the example. 

III. If a doubt exists who gave the first offence, the decision rests with the seconds. If they will not decide or cannot agree, the matter must proceed to two shots, or to a hit if the challenger requires it.

IV. When the lie direct is the first offence, the agressor must either beg pardon in express terms, exchange two shots previous to apology, or three shots followied by explanation, or fire on till a severe hit be received by one party or the other. 

V. As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore, are: The offender handing a cane to the injured party to be used on his back, at the same time begging pardon, firing until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots and then begging pardon without the proffer of the cane. 

N.B. If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed, or until, after receiving a wound and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.

VI. If A gives B the lie and B retorts by a blow (being the two greatest offences), no reconciliation can take place till after two discharges each or a severe hit, after which B may beg A’s pardon for the blow, and then A may explain simply for the lie, because a blow is never allowable, and the offence of the lie, therefore, merges in it. (See preceding rule.)

N.B. Challenges for undivulged causes may be conciliated on the ground after one shot. An explanation or the slightest hit should be sufficient in such cases, because no personal offence transpired.

VII. But no apology can be received in any case after the parties have actually taken their ground without exchange of shots. 

VIII. In the above case no challenger is obliged to divulge his cause of challenge (if private) unless required by the challenged so to do before their meeting. 

IX. All imputations of cheating at play, races, etc., to be considered equivalent to a blow, but may be reconciled after one shot, on admitting their falsehood and begging pardon publicly. 

X. Any insult to a lady under a gentleman’s care or protection to be considered as by one degree a greater offence than if given to the gentleman personally, and to be regarded accordingly. 

XI. Offences originating or accruing from the support of ladies’ reputations to be considered as less unjustifiable than any others of the same class, and as admitting of slighter apologies by the aggressor. This is to be determined by the circumstances of the case, but always favourably to the lady. 

XII. No dumb firing or firing in the air is admissable in any case. The challenger ought not to have challenged without receiving offence, and the challenged ought, if he gave offence, to have made an apology before he came on the ground; therefore children’s play must be dishonourable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited. 

XIII. Seconds to be of equal rank in society with the principals they attend, inasmuch as a second may either choose or chance to become a principal and equality is indispensable. 

XIV. Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intends leaving the place of offence before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot-headed proceedings. 

XV. The challenged has the right to choose his own weapons unless the challenger gives his honour he is no swordsman, after which, however, he cannot decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged. 

XVI. The challenged chooses his ground, the challnger chooses his distance, the seconds fix the time and terms of firing. 

XVII. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honours that they have charged smooth and single, which shall be held sufficient. 

XVIII. Firing may be regulated, first, by signal; secondly by word of command; or, thirdly at pleasure, as may be agreeable to the parties. In the latter case, the parties may fire at their reasonable leisure, but second presents and rests are strictly prohibited.

XIX. In all cases a misfire is equivalent to a shot, and a snap or a non-cock is to be considered a misfire. 

XX. Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place or after sufficieint firing or hits as specified. 

XXI. Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake must end the business for that day. 

XXII. If the cause of meeting be of such a nature that no apology or explanation can or will be received, the challenged takes his ground and calls on the challenger to proceed as he chooses. In such cases firing at pleasure is the usual practice, but may be varied by agreement. 

XXIII. In slight cases the second hands his principal but one pistol, but in gross cases two, holding another case ready charged in reserve.

XXIV. When the second disagree and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals. If with swords, side by side, with five paces’ interval. 

XXV. No party can be allowed to bend his knee or cover his side with his left hand, but may present at any level from the hip to the eye. 

XXVI. None can either advance or retreat if the ground is measured. If no ground be measured, either party may advance at his pleasure, even to the touch of muzzles, but neither can advance on his adversary after the fire, unless the adversary steps forward on him. 

N.B. The seconds on both sides stand responsible for this last rule being strictly observed, bad cases having occurred from neglecting it. 

N.B. All matters and doubts not herein mentioned will be explained and cleared up by application to the Committee, who meet alternately at Clonmel and Galway at the quarter sessions for that purpose. 

CROW RYAN, President. 

–from The Duel: A History of Duelling, Robert Baldick, Chapman and Hall Ltd., London, 1965; Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., London, 1970. ISBN 0 600 32837 6

On an English Widow

In the English village of Lyndhurst, the 82 year widow of Reginald Hargreaves died in 1934. As per her wishes, her body was cremated, and her ashes buried in the graveyard of the church of St. Michael and All Angels in the village. Her burial plaque reads, “Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves.”

Mrs. Hargreaves lived a fairly typical life for an upper-middle class English woman of her time. During her lifespan, she saw the British Empire reach its zenith and then begin its decline after World War 1. Her husband, Reginald, was a cricket player by profession. The pair married in 1880 when she was 28. Because her future husband had a goodly inheritance, the couple married in Westminster Abby. Reginald eventually became a local magistrate in Lyndhurst. The couple had three sons, two of which died in action during the Great War. The only surviving son produced a granddaughter for the Hargreaves.

As befitting her place in English society, Mrs. Hargreaves became a hostess of various social events in the village. She became the first president of a local women’s organization and even began referring to herself as “Lady Hargreaves” even though there was no reason for her to do so. But no one seemed to mind. She was active in local society up until her death. Reginald had passed away in 1926, and his wife said until the end that he was the true love of her life.

In her dotage, people asked her about her childhood, asked her what it was like to have grown up in the height of the Victorian Age. Mrs. Hargreaves would talk at length of her upbringing in Oxford, how her father, the ecclesiastical dean of Christ Church, had raised his brood of ten children with love and laughter. Family legend says that the youngest son of Queen Victoria, Prince Leopold, was so taken with her when he went to college in Oxford that he made serious attempts to court her, although there is little to substantiate this story. Like most young well to do women of her day, she traveled to Europe and received a good education.

However, what most people who came to her door to speak to her wanted to know from Mrs. Hargreaves were the tales of a young scholar and teacher from Oxford, a Mr. Charles Dodgson. Mr. Dodgson had befriended her father and the family because of his association with Christ Church. The people who queried Mrs. Hargreaves wanted to know what he was like, what he talked about, what stories he shared with her and her siblings. Mrs. Hargreaves would always tell them all they wanted to know. She told them of the tales Mr. Dodgson spun, the fantastic worlds his imagination created for her and her siblings. And she knew all the stories by heart, even into her 80s.

After all, she should know them. After all, she was the main character of most of Mr. Dodgson’s stories. When he finally wrote them in book form, Mr. Dodgson wrote them under the penname Lewis Carroll.

And now you know that Alice Liddell Hargreaves was the heroine of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

On a Busboy

Juan Romero. He is one of those people in history you know, but you don’t really know you know.

You know?

As he rode the bus to school on a warm early-June day in 1968, Juan yawned and looked at his hands. There was something under his fingernails, something dark. He thought about what it might be, and he thought that maybe it was something he had come in contact with at his job the night before.

You see, Juan worked part time as a busboy in an Los Angeles hotel, one of the big ones. He was only 17, and he worked at the hotel when he wasn’t in high school or studying for tests. Juan did not see the work as a career, of course; it was merely a job you have in high school to earn some spending money. Besides, his ultra-strict stepfather insisted that he work in an effort to keep the young man off the mean streets of East Los Angeles. So, Juan worked clearing tables in the banquet halls and taking room service food to guests on the upper floors of the hotel. It being Los Angeles, Juan was able to meet a few celebrities during his time at the job. He liked that part. Until later.

After high school and a marriage to his sweetheart, Juan decided to leave LA and head inland. He settled for a time in Wyoming. Out there, he worked at several manual labor jobs and made decent money in the construction business. In later years, his marriage failed, and he moved back to California. This time, he lived in San Jose. He met a nice lady on Facebook, and Juan was excited about their future. Then, he suffered a heart attack with little warning and died a few days later in 2018.

Isn’t it interesting that, no matter how long someone lives, a particular moment in time forever seems to define you—at least in the imagination of the public? Juan Romero had such a moment when he had been a busboy…on that night…back in 1968. You see, Juan had been forced to stay late at the hotel the night before because of a function and then because of…because of something else that happened after the function.

So, despite being dead tired the next morning, Juan got on the bus and went to school. He thought it would take his mind off what had happened the night before. That’s when he looked at his fingernails and noticed the dark stuff under his nails.

“You’re him, aren’t you?” a woman on the bus said to him, pointing to Juan’s photo on the front page of the newspaper she held. Juan nodded. He looked back at his hands. Then it hit him what the dark stuff was under his nails.

Bobby Kennedy’s blood.

On the Father of His Country

We all are familiar with the story. Every school child should be able to recite it. The patriots, led by one daring and experienced man, win a great victory over the colonial power and create an independent nation from a loose confederation of former colonies.

We even have a title for the type of man who leads such a successful military rebellion against the colonial master: The Father of His Country. Such a man as this should be lauded, shouldn’t he? Shouldn’t he have mandated federal holidays, celebrated for generations for his amazing contribution to the founding of the nation?

Fighting against the much better trained and much better equipped colonial power, this man used his cunning and small-group tactical experience to fight a guerilla war against the slower, larger colonial forces. It was the smaller victories, he always said, that would slowly chip away at the edifice of the entrenched European power until final victory was achieved. The result? Independence. Freedom. Peace. Prosperity. All the things new nations wish for themselves.

And, after the great victory over the European power was achieved, all that was left was for the will of the people to have this man elected as the first President of the new nation. He was the logical choice, obviously, because not only of his military victories but also because of his charisma, his way of commanding a room when he entered it. No one else in the new nation, it was said, could bring the disparate parts of the country together like he could, either. No one else had his stature, his beloved reputation. Yet, despite the acclaim, he characteristically insisted that he not ever become an emperor or a president for life. That was not his style. The people, he insisted, the nation–those were his priorities.

Yet, the new nation had its enemies. The old power base from the European colonial country still lingered in some pockets of the new nation. Internally, over 1/3 of the population did not like the idea of a new country led by this former military leader. Talks of civil war and rebellion filled the land. Yet, he held his loyal countrymen together by and large. They loved him, especially those who had served with him in the great Revolutionary War.

On top of this, he was a learned man. He had received the finest education possible as a young man, and he spoke several languages. He was also a poet, and he wrote extensively about basic human rights. “There is nothing more precious,” he once said, “than independence and liberty.” At his large but simple home, he enjoyed gardening and taking care of such animals as the fish in his pond, which he fed regularly. When, after a long career of public service, he passed away of heart failure at age 79, he was mourned by hundreds of thousands of his countrymen as, again, the Father of His Country.

Busts, statues, plaques, and monuments have been erected to him in the many years since his death. Streets and universities, schools, and even religious sites bear his name today. Even a city in the new nation was christened in his name:

Ho Chi Minh City.

On a Dying Wish

10 dimes.

One of the last wishes of the 82 year old man in the cardiac ward of the hospital was that he be buried with ten dimes in one of his front pockets. That wasn’t the only odd request the old man made. He also wanted to have a roll of cherry Lifesavers and some Tootsie Rolls, two of his favorite candies, buried with him. He had always enjoyed smoking cigarettes and was known to his friends to drink and have a taste for decent whiskey, so he asked also to be buried with a pack of smokes and a fifth as well. 

It was the request about the dimes that puzzled some people at the time. In the old man’s mind, the dimes were a sort of a talisman, a good luck-type sense of security, a touchstone of sorts. 

You see, when the man died in 1998, pay phones were becoming obsolete rapidly. Besides, even a local call cost at least $.25. Yet, to this old geezer, he always told people that he kept the dollar’s worth of dimes to make sure that he would have enough to use a payphone for an extended period if he needed to.

And that’s what was odd. 35 years before he died, this man’s son had been kidnapped. The kidnappers insisted on communicating only through payphones. The man (who had a great deal of money) made the arrangements over payphones to pay the ransom, and he did so. His son was released after only a couple of days being held. 

Oh, of course, the kidnappers were caught and prosecuted. But the man never forgot the fear, the dread, of what might have happen if he had  needed to use a payphone and did not have enough change. So that’s why he kept one dollar’s worth of dimes with him at all times, and it’s why he insisted that he be buried with them in one of his front pockets.

And so when you visit the grave of Frank Sinatra, you can be certain that those 10 dimes are still with him.

On a Teen Pitching Phenom

Here’s a bit of baseball trivia that you may not have known. The reason Babe Ruth was given number three for the New York Yankees, and the reason Lou Gehrig was given number four for that team was because that was their order in the lineup. That gives you an idea of what a great hitter Gehrig was that he would bat clean up! 

Back in the late 20s and early 30s, major league baseball teams would often play exhibition games against minor-league teams as sort of a de facto spring training. It also was a way to give fans in cities that did not have major league ball teams a chance to see their favorite major league stars in action.

Three years after their World Series championship of 1928, the New York Yankees faced the minor-league Chattanooga Lookouts in an exhibition game on April 2, 1931. The Lookouts’ starting pitcher, a man named Clyde Barfoot, who had once been a major league player, took the mound to face the mighty Yankees lineup.

Barfoot gave up a double and a single to the first two batters. Lookouts manager, Bert Niehoff, yelled for time to the home plate umpire as he came out of the dugout. When he reached the pitchers mound, he took the ball from Barfoot and said, “Hey, it ain’t gonna get any easier, Clyde. Why don’t you sit this one out.“ Barfoot headed to the dugout, and Niehoff barked, “Mitchell! Warm up!”

Jackie Mitchell was a thin 17-year-old pitcher who was actually born in Chattanooga. The Lookouts had only recently signed the youngster to their roster. It would fall to this kid to face Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig with two men on base and no outs. Such a daunting task would make the most seasoned professional pitcher weak at the knees, but Jackie showed no fear in taking the mound.

Ruth first. The Bambino watched the teenager’s first pitch come in to the catchers mitt for ball one. You could tell that he was judging the delivery and the speed with his well-seasoned eye. Mitchell’s second pitch surprised The Babe with its speed, and he swung at it and missed for strike one. Quickly, the teen came back with a breaking ball, which had Ruth off balance, and he clumsily swung at it for strike two. Ruth was now furious. Mitchell took the sign from the catcher and floated another offspeed pitch in towards home plate. Ruth held back, thinking the ball was out of the strike zone. “Strike three!“ yelled the ump. 

Even though the game was an exhibition, Babe Ruth began verbally haranguing the umpire and had to be pulled away by teammates. Meanwhile, the hometown crowd cheered lustily for the native pitcher. 

Gehrig next. The Iron Horse had, for his career, one of the highest batting averages in the history of major league baseball. There was no way that the kid would be able to do to him what had been done to Ruth. Yet, Lou Gehrig struck out on three consecutive pitches. He shook his head in wonderment as he slowly made his way back to the bench.

When he sat down, the normally taciturn Gehrig turned to the other Yankees in the dugout and said, “That’s a great pitcher. I don’t care if she’s a girl.“