Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Little Help From a New Friend

My life has been full of ups and downs.  Until five years ago, many more ups than downs.  I was raised by strong loving parents who I appreciated more every year until they passed.  Their senior years were a glowing example of a true love that lasted decades after the aches and pains and wrinkles began to accumulate.  I married the first girl I really truly fell in love with and have three very handsome boys who are each beacons of kindness.  For the first time in my life though, a problem crept in that I couldn't seem to fix.  My dear wife began to slowly drift away from me until I finally realized that, like a person thrown overboard, no matter how hard I struggled and fretted, I could never regain her love and affection.  I've seen therapists and ministers and talked to other divorcees and discovered that no one could offer assistance in repairing my broken heart and crushed ego.  It's much like a horrific auto accident, with the pain and anguish fading a little each year, like a slowly turning rheostat.  But there are scars that always remain and emotional flareups to occasionally navigate through.  Interestingly, I've found that friends from other cultures took a more abstract view of marital splits.  Expressions like.. These things just happen...She's just gone a different direction... Some day the right person will come along.  Funny... I recall on a pivotal day of no return when that's exactly what my "then wife" said to me. "Oh you'll find somebody new".  I had no idea her casual comment rolled out so easily because she already had "somebody new".
Now five years later I've improved immensely but there are still things that stir negative emotions.  I have friends divorced for over twenty years that still have flareups that trigger deep emotions and the ensuing mental playback of  snapshots of negative moments. I try to stay busy any way I can, patiently waiting for the healing process to continue it's slow progress.
 But early this year I had something of an epiphany.  I'm in the gym 4-6 days a week now and on one such visit I saw a young man I'd seen before.  He was struggling to stand up from his wheel chair.  I had noticed him two days earlier sitting in his wheel chair but had never seen him doing any activities.  But on this day I had a clear view of him struggling with all his might to stand.  His legs were reinforced with multiple opaque hard plastic reinforcements that wrapped his legs from his ankle to  thigh.  It appeared to be an exhaustive process just to move one leg slightly ahead.  At that moment I did something I'm just programmed to do.  I silently asked God to bless this young man..help him.. even heal him.
I completed the exercises I needed to in the room I'd been observing this guy and moved on to another area.  I typically try to keep moving quickly from station to station to elevate my heart rate and was walking briskly back to the weight room I'd started in.  As I raised my head I saw this young guy settling back down into his wheel chair.  He looked exhausted and the sweat was rolling down his face.  I felt guided to say something as I approached him.  "Wow..that looked like a tough workout" was all I could manage.  He quickly smiled as if he was glad I'd stopped. He began to describe his routine.  He went through weight machines primarily to stretch his legs outwardly from the point at which his hip joints attach to his pelvis.  He tried every day to walk once around the 1/10 of a mile loop.  Since his legs didn't really work from the thigh down, his "walking" was accomplished by using his hips and upper body to literally drag each leg along the track.  He used his wheeled walker, he explained, to maintain his balance as he made this plodding journey around the track.  He kept a free weight sitting on top of his walker to stabilize it as he dragged one leg and then the other along.  I introduced myself and as we shook hands he said.."Just call me T Man."  "No one can pronounce my real name" he said with a warm smile.
Well I quickly realized that I'd met my match in this bright articulate young man.  He appeared to be mid thirties and explained he had immigrated from Vietnam.  He had an "accident" some fifteen years ago which he'd survived, but the damage that caused his leg paralysis was irreversible.  He had closely cropped hair which exposed some large scars across his scalp.  He wore glasses that appeared to need some adjustment or maybe all the sweat was causing them to slide down his nose a little.  He had a strong voice and began to talk with his head tilted upward about his approach to life.  How he loved to read.  How his Mother and Grandmother had raised him well, always teaching him that kindness and caring for others was always the quickest path to one's own happiness.  He did mention his Buddhist faith but mainly focused on how he had heeded his Grandmother's guidance.  His strong foundation was helping him cope with this enormous life challenge he was now working through.
As I listened, he paused and looked up at me.  Pushing his glasses back up his nose, he said "John I can tell you are kind man.  Most people that pass me look away and very few greet me".  Then this young man started quizzing me about my life and who I really was.  As usual I started describing my three sons and those that know me understand that I'm rarely unable to come up with more details than required about any subject.  In the midst of my narrative he stopped me.  "What about your wife?"  I make a point to avoid discussing the divorce, especially with strangers.  I was as brief as I could be.  His first response was "Wow..She left you after all those years?"  "I know you must be deeply hurt".  After his comment I struggled to say anything.  H'ed hit a nerve with that comment.  He was silent for quite some time and then looked back up.  He told me he had a girlfriend before the "accident" who he loved dearly and that she stayed right with him through all the challenges during his recovery.  He tilted his head up at me again... "She stayed with me for five years!" and then his voiced pitched higher..." she took care of me and loved me so much!  But finally she had to leave".  He was smiling but I could see tears pooling in the corners of his eyes.  As T man stared silently at me I thought ..OK Show this kid how an older real man acts and do not start crying like a baby!  Then he spoke..  "So John, you lost the love of your life.. but you can still walk"
Wisdom from the mouth of a severely disabled young man who had a very mature view of life.
I ended up talking with him for quite some time.  Told him he should start a blog about his trials and just as importantly his positive outlook on life.  His adherence to a strict nutritional regimen.  He takes no medications.  He works out several days a week.  He reads constantly.
I run into T-man on occasion and at our next meeting I helped him climb on to some weight machines he uses.  When he started his track "walk" I asked him how long it took to force himself around the 1/10 mile lap he does. "40 minutes" said T man.  I set a starting point and told him I'd set my phone to time his "walk".  He looked up at me and smiled a little.  I even set up an official start/finish line and explained I'd be waiting for him as long as it took.  He was off and I went back to my weight training.  About 18 minutes later I hear this loud grunting from the track.  I started walking against runner traffic and I reached T man dragging each leg along.  With each leg movement, he let out this loud scream/grunt.  He was moving at an incredible pace and I cautioned him not to push too hard.  I began advising him of distance to go as he got louder with sweat trickling down his face.  Once again I warned him not to do anything that hurt.  He said nothing as he grimaced with each sweep of his legs.  He crossed the "finish" line in just over 28 minutes, a good full 12 minutes faster than his usual time.  He was beaming but breathless from his efforts.  I helped him to get back into his wheelchair and into the elevator and walked outside as we waited for his van.  Our schedules don't always match up, but now when he sees me he breaks out into the biggest smile.  He doesn't realize that he's helped me immensely and perhaps more than I have helped him.  This young guy really bumped me forward in my life and increased my awareness of the needs of others.  So many people carry terrible burdens but look normal and happy on the surface.  Sometimes a smile or a kind word is all that it takes to peel back that exterior a little.  Everyone has a story they want and need to share.  You just have to ask.  We all just need to be nice when we can, karma or no karma.
  
                                                       


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Getting to Paris on a Friday Night


Just five years into my budding career buying menswear, I was headed out on a second foreign trip that turned out to be my longest trip both in travel days and distance.  My company had booked me on a "round the world" fare, allowing me to switch from airline to airline or change dates and times of departure, and all with no added fees.  The one catch was I always needed be headed west...no back tracking.  For the one and only time in my life, I was flying around the world.  The trip entailed 17 days of business with four days tacked on at the end for my then wife and I to make quick stops in Brussels and Amsterdam.  The trip started out with five days in Hong Kong, a weekend in Rome, followed by a week in Florence, and lastly a three day stay in Paris to attend the Sehme Fashion Show.  At times it was grueling, but I was in my twenties and having the time of my life.  The Hong Kong meetings were delayed due to a massive blizzard in New York, allowing those of us in the Western contingent three days to be tourists.  We became familiar with a few Hong Kong night spots which gave us time to develop some new friendships.  The seventy and eighties optimized the old expression "work hard... play hard".  Every day marathon meetings started at eight and ran through at least five.  I'd get to my room..take a short nap... then shower and meet up with the contingent for another night of drinks, dinner, and then more drinks.  To this day, I'd not change a thing.  I met people during that Hong Kong week who became life long friends.
For this current entry, I have focused on one extremely long day further along in our trip.  We had just spent a week in Florence.  My then wife had met me in Rome upon my arrival from Hong Kong the weekend before and had been with my boss and I in Florence.  Our schedule was busy but  we managed to squeeze in some wonderful meals and sightseeing.  On Friday February third, we traveled via rail from Florence to Rome where we were to catch a non stop flight to Paris at 6 PM.  Rail travel back then was a wonderful experience and afforded us time to wind down on the way.  The trip was about one an a half hours and I quickly drifted off as the beautiful Italian hills rolled by.  After arriving in the Rome train station, we managed to get through the fray of travelers and found our bags.  My boss was a seasoned traveler and quickly had a luggage man in a white coat throwing our luggage, including the shiny brass pot he'd acquired in Turkey, on to a cart that appeared to be vintage 40's.  We jumped in a cab and made it to the Leonardo Fiumicino Airport quite smoothly.  Things always seemed more complicated when dealing with a different language, but we worked through luggage check in and proceeded to the gate.  Just as on our last trip through Rome, I noticed the airport security guards armed with long guns,  which we had yet to experience in the the States.  Europe had been amping up their security ever since the Munich massacres at the Olympics.   It was now 4 PM and our Air France flight departure wasn't until 6 PM.  We decided to grab some food and found a restaurant.  The food finally arrived and we ate and chatted leisurely, reliving highlights from our week in Florence.  At some point I looked at my watch.  It was 5:30 and I suggested we move hastily to the gate.  My boss, the world traveler, said "We'll be fine" but I was concerned in this airport run by Italians.  My experience the last week was fun, but I'd discovered these Italian folks seemed to get off track very easily.
As we turned the corner and our boarding gate came into view, there appeared to be near chaos in two different crowds.  One of them seemed to be in queue.  The other not quite!  The three of us, with brass pot in tow, made our way towards the boarding door.  There were no seat assignments so a man was checking folks through quickly.  Uh that is until we hit the door.  The man motioned with his hands and said :See the man over there..At the ticket counter"  My boss was a man who would argue in the extreme...never giving in... never backing down.  I was usually a little more tactful, but we did have boarding passes and as I looked at my watch we arrived right as the boarding process had begun.  It became quickly clear that they'd given our seats up to standby passengers!  I was upset and laid in to the guy behind the ticket counter.  I could here my boss yelling loudly with hands waving and just caught a glimpse of him toe to toe with some guy in a coat.  I assumed he was management of some sort.  I argued vehemently for another 10 minutes or so but realized it was a lost cause. The bad news was that there was only 1 additional flight Friday night leaving at 9 PM and it was oversold.  I was now holding 3 standby tickets for the 9 PM. It was looking like we might be staying over in Rome.  What a mess.  After expending all that energy, I was totally drained.  We'd left the Lungarno Hotel in Florence at 8:30 this morning.  I looked over at my wife and with a shoulder shrug and gave her the latest details.  She looked up and asked "What happened to Dan (my boss)?"  It was now about 6:40 and we started walking around the airport searching for our travel mate. But we had no luck.  We finally sat down near our departure gate and waited and occasionally I'd head out on another reconnaissance mission.  I was getting worried.  The airport wasn't that big and I'd looked everywhere.  It was 8:00 and our last flight option for the evening would begin boarding in a half an hour,  My wife got up and walked with me, making sure he wasn't down some hallway.  Then in the distance I spotted him walking between two security guards (security back then was handled by the Italian National Police).  The sight of Dan framed by two uniformed guards carrying automatic weapons gave me pause.  About that time they broke off from him and we met him halfway.  "What happened? Are you OK?"  "Yea" Dan barked.  "I was just arguing with that guy and these guards whisked me away"  They had me in some room with an interpreter asking me questions."  I must have been in there for over an hour!"
I explained to Dan about the standby status and we were off to the gate.  I suggested we sit very near the ticket counter.  I didn't want to ruin the chance of missing the last flight to Paris.
We waited for general boarding to start but at some point we realized this flight was boarding down on the tarmac.  The Air France staff appeared to be holding confirmed passengers until they assigned standbys.  Finally they began calling standbys.  The wait was especially worrisome knowing that if we weren't cleared we'd be spending the night in Rome.  Added to the Friday night clatter were a non stop string of loud announcements being made in different languages.  We waited as patiently as we could and then alas!  I recognized "SULLIVAN!" pronounced with an Italian accent.  Ahh..progress and a sense of relief!  Our trip was moving on.
We realized there were no assigned seats.  The Rome-Paris flights were handled like the DC Shuttle out of LaGuardia.  We were all herded downstairs to a small landing area that faced a wide doorway.  Sitting in sight was our aircraft!  The momentum of our long day appeared to be taking a turn!
Dan came up with a plan to grab seats.  My then wife was quite a looker. "Let Liz go first.  All these European men will allow the pretty girl through".  "Liz   you just push ahead and save us a row!". It all sounded good but when the attendant pulled the rope back, Liz was nearly knocked down by this mostly male group that started walking quickly and then transitioned into a full run.  Dan and I were bringing up the rear.  As we stepped down the aisle, we were surprised to see Liz sitting in a row all be herself.  Don took the center seat, squeezing his brass pot under his feet.  We settled in and I began to get that calm feeling you get after a long week knowing that rest is on the way.  It's as if your body knows you've made it and your brain begins to unplug.  I was having trouble keeping my eyes open.  Paris in two hours and then a good night's rest.
I couldn't really fall asleep as so many boarding passengers were struggling with their bags and in some cases their large derriere's brushing me as they waddled down the aisles of this small commuter jet.  Then, just as everyone was settled, an announcement was made in French... and all the French passengers groaned.  I looked at Dan.."Flight must be delayed?".  Then the announcement was made again in Italian.  All the Italians began waving their hands and sounded nearly frantic.  Dan looked back at me. "Mechanical problems?".  Finally we got the English version.  I couldn't believe what the attractive attendant just said.  There was one passenger who'd checked luggage, but had never boarded the plane.  The Europeans were very concerned about hijackings and bombings.  The "Italian" solution was to remove all luggage from the belly of the plane and line it up up in rows on the tarmac.  Passengers would be escorted off the plane one row at a time.  We then had to walk around on the dimly lit concrete until we found our bags.  It felt like a strange version of a cake walk.  There were armed personnel surrounding us and when you found your bag this little man would run up and mark your bag with a giant white "X".  Gee I wonder if that'll ever come out.  This whole process dragged on and on.  When we were finally cleared for takeoff it was after 9:30.  Once again my body began to shut down, and I slept through the takeoff.... something I could now do without trying.

We arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport after 12:30 AM.  One more battle to grab our luggage, get through customs, and file out to the cab line.  The cool evening air was refreshing, but the occasional gusts of wind were now chilling me to the bone.  As we jumped in to our Peugeot taxi, Dan blurted out "1 Place Vendome!" and we were on our last leg.  We zipped along. Traffic was light and a light fog softened the glowing headlamps of the occasional truck.  Dan actually fell asleep and my wife leaned her head over on my shoulder.  We were three very tired travelers a long way from Arizona.

Finally we pulled up to our hotel.  The Hotel de Vendome..  Seeing no staff at this late hour we grabbed our luggage and walked in to a mostly dark lobby. At first we saw no one..  But a rather chubby man stepped out of the back rubbing his eyes.  As he put on his tiny wire glasses he greeted us.  His white shirt was quite rumpled and was so stressed at the waistline that his hairy belly button was peeking through.  Dan announced our arrival and handed the man some papers.  This guy spoke little and when he did I struggled to understand his heavy accent.  As he looked at our passports he looked concerned.  Finally he peered over his glasses.  "I am sorry..but I have no record of reservations for you".  At that point in this very long day, I could no longer muster a challenge.  I was spent.  But Dan, ever the fighter, just erupted.  I thought he would pull this big Frenchman right over the counter.  He kept waving our printed reservations as he yelled and the Frenchman was yelling back.  My wife went and sat down on a nearby couch.  She like me, was exhausted.  There was a short respite in the shouting.  I stepped in front of Dan and in my kindest Texas voice asked.  "Do you have have at least three rooms for tonight?"  He glanced at this book and looked up.  My recollection is he slowly responded.  "Yes..we have rooms.. but you have no reservations!"  At that point I pulled out my credit card, smiled, and said "Then may we please have the rooms?".  And so we finally walked in our room after 2 am.  Looking at the beautiful brocaded gold comforter I thought my boss and I had continued to build the image of the rude American.  But at that moment we just needed rest.
All was better the next morning as we sat together in the lobby eating croissants and sipping cafe au lait.  We were reliving the crazy night we'd been through when our waiter walked out with a Coke for my wife.  "And for madame? Beaujolais American?"  We all laughed.


                                       






Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Tales of Chateau Forest - Houston, The Early Years

I grew in up in Houston and met my wife during college at The University of Houston and we married as soon as she graduated.  I had one year left and completed Senior courses while holding down a fifty hour a week job managing the men's departments at the old Joske's store at the Galleria.  We were two young kids in love living in a tiny apartment in Spring Branch.  In those early years we made a decent living between the two of us, but we lived like paupers.  We didn't have credit cards and rarely ate out.  At any given time we had a nice balance in our checking account that in today's dollars would be amazing.  Both sets of parents had been quite successful but we didn't expect the immediate gratification that today's generation demands.  I had worked for cash since I was twelve, mowing yards and doing other odd jobs.  Early on I went to my Dad and made a "deal" with him.  If he'd let me use his mowing equipment for my business, I'd mow his yard for free.  What a silly request, but he agreed.  I'm just guessing he was proud of me for wanting to get out and work.
My wife had a good paying job at a downtown hospital.  Once I finished school, the store promoted me to an assistant buyer.  A year later I was a full fledged buyer traveling to national trade shows.  The money wasn't great but together we were making progress. We'd now moved "up" to a two bedroom apartment, but after a year, we were both yearning for a real home.  No plans for kids at that point, but we did buy a fluffy white dog named Frosty.  He was an American Eskimo and we quickly realized he had a nasty temperament.  I came home early from work one day to find our alcoholic neighbor taunting the dog by repeatedly tapping the window.  I hated this apartment life.
I worked occasionally on Saturdays, but many Sunday afternoons we'd ride around looking at new homes for sale, dreaming for a day we could afford our own home.  On one such Sunday we found some new homes off of West Little York.  We walked through this new home and my wife was just ooo...ing and ah..ing over the cabinetry and the fireplace.  But this home was $25,000 and we just couldn't imagine getting something this nice, nor did we think we really deserved it yet.  Just then the front door opened and a man walked in.  Turns out he was the builder (maybe a Mr. Browning) and couldn't have been nicer.  We complimented him on the home and then explained it was not quite in our price range.  He smiled and said he understood.  Then he tipped his head and said "Hey, I've taken a little home as a trade in on a purchase.  It's really in good shape".  In a simpler and more trusting time he said" It's in Chateau Forest.  It's close by.  Take these keys and you kids go look at it.  I'll wait here for you"  So on return we told him we liked the little house and right there we bought our first home on a hand shake.  I paid the guy $1000 and assumed the $13,000 mortgage with a $315 monthly payment.  We were home owners!!
Once were were in, we did our best to spruce the place up.  My parents were remodeling their home in Ella Lee Forest and donated some lightly used carpeting for our built-in garage area.  Oh did I mention the carpet was red?  Think of the MGM Grand back in this era.  We rarely used that room the whole time we lived there.  I had a brother-in-law who was great at any kind of handyman projects.  At one point he asked me what I thought about cutting a hole through the wall that divided the kitchen from the "red carpet" room.  Said he could make a serving bar coming out the cutout to serve food from the kitchen(into the room we never used).  It was Thanksgiving weekend and I had to work on Black Friday.  I walked in that afternoon to find lots of noise and sawdust.  I walked around to the kitchen to see the whole cut out but with two pipes running vertically in the middle of the opening.  At that point my brother-in-law said.."I didn't realize the gas pipes ran right through the middle of the cutout area.  I found conduit to work the gas lines around the hole and I'll have it done in an hour or so."  Whoa!  But it all worked out.
Home ownership was nice.  No stream of people coming and going.  No all-weekend beer bashes at the apartment pool.  I'd drive down our street and pull in to our little place and walk in.  Back then the wife actually could and would cook a few dishes.  Ah home sweet home in lovely Chateau Forest.
Frosty was our first dog and I wasn't quite the "over-the-top" dog lover I am now.  Frosty had nipped me more than once.  If I wanted to leash him for a walk, he'd show his teeth and growl.  Once on a camping trip he slipped out of our tent at dawn and ran over to the the next campsite.  Those people had been up late drinking and were sleeping it off outside there tents.  I was walking that way when Frosty got right over a sleeping camper and was nose to nose with this guy.  The man woke up startled and Frosty instead of running just showed his teeth and growled.  Oh boy!  What a scene!  The dog circling this guy on his back as he tried to wiggle out of his sleeping bag.  I finally caught the dog and caught hell from the camper.  Frosty would not back down.
So in Chateau Forest I'd sometime put him on a run in the backyard under a shade tree.  On rare occasion he'd get loose and just go wandering through the neighborhood.  Usually I'd find him quickly and bring him home.  One Saturday, I'd gone to the grocery store and was headed back down our street.  Making my way towards the house I noticed some commotion to my left. A man was vacuuming his car in the driveway and had all four doors open.  Looking closer I see our Frosty in the front seat hanging over and growling at the man who was in the back seat wildly swinging the vacuum cleaner hose at the dog.  I panicked.  Nothing to see here.  I just kept driving thinking I'll get down to my home and quickly unload the groceries.  Maybe this situation will just resolve itself.  I walked out in the backyard and didn't see the dog but then heard a few whistling noises.  Geez I hope those weren't bullets.  About that time Frosty came running around the corner. Crisis over.
The only other time Frosty got out I walked out my front door and heard him barking but didn't immediately see him.  We had a mysterious neighbor three doors down who always seemed to be clad in camo.  I had nicknamed him Rambo.  He had two high profile trucks and appeared to be somewhere on the spectrum between your average redneck hunter and a militia member that met out in the woods wearing warfare face paint.  He was a man of few words.  Best I could surmise, Rambo had just pulled in the driveway and my dog started barking at the guy.  So Rambo jumps out of his truck and yells "Go on! Git!"  Frosty in his usual aggressive manner just growled and stepped a little closer.  As I was making my way over to grab my dog, Rambo goes into some martial arts pose and starts growling back.  The dog is circling him and Rambo keeps pivoting so as to always face his canine opponent.  Oh boy!  I moved in apologizing profusely and collared the 32 lb "fight" dog.  Rambo recoiled from his defensive stance and walked into his house, mumbling something as he shut the door.  I looked at Frosty and said "You're lucky to be alive!"
The neighborhood was made up mostly of blue collar workers and I felt comfortable around them, having been raised in Oak Forest.  All the neighborhoods that fed into Waltrip High School were of that ilk.  Mostly native born Texans that would do anything for you.  I was beginning to change as the fashion business exposed me to a whole new range of folks and lifestyles.  Trips to New York and California trade shows were forcing me to adapt some to fit in, but I liked my Houston folks.  I loved  going to Weingarten's and cruising the aisles shopping with people from all walks of life.
There was something a little different about our little Chateau Forest.  Maybe it was just the street we were on that elbowed into a new street right at our house.  We could look out the kitchen window and see down the next street.
 Our neighbors to the right were nice enough.  They had one boy about four years old.  Every Saturday his Dad would work out in the garage and let little Timmy run around playing.  His Dad always had  a country station blaring while he worked.  I could easily hear it if I was outside.  I have a clear memory one day of hearing "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" playing and little Timmy running around singing along.  He came around the corner belting out "Kiss an angel good morning and love her like a devil when you get back home!"  Wow and just four years old.
 Our neighbors to our left had no kids and, like Rambo, kept to themselves.  Mack worked at a lumber yard and was truly a hulk of a man.  He was at least 6'3" and was pushing 300 lbs.  He'd wave as he pulled his truck in, but we rarely heard from them.
One Saturday summer night I was awakened by knocking on the front door.  It was after one o'clock in the morning.  Looking out the peep hole I could see a bare chest and looking up I saw Mack's head.  What the hell?  Upon opening the door I saw that Mack had was holding some form of a six shooter.  He could have killed me as I stood there with my mouth hanging open.  I think I mustered a "What's going on Mack?"  "Oh I thought I'd let you know somebody was messing with your VW ( My Super Beetle that I parked in the street) Me: "Oh wow!" as I walked around the car.  "Yea it was two guys.  I fired a couple of shots and they ran off".  I was now fully awake.  I glanced down the street checking for bodies.  Seeing none, I thanked Mack for his heroics and I walked back into the house.  I relayed the story to my wife and then laid down hoping to fall asleep.  My mind wandered.  Suddenly I'm thinking what if these guys come back to do serious damage to my car.  So I get up and call the Harris County Sheriff's Department.  I'm relaying all the information to the dispatcher who seemed totally disinterested.  "Maybe we'll send a car by".  I wasn't a "gun" guy and I'd never called the police to report anything.  I thanked the dispatcher and then just in passing said..."Yea they probably won't be back.  My neighbor fired a couple of shots in the air"  Dispatcher: "Sir did you say shots were fired?"  Me: "Uh..yep"  What I didn't realize was that an APB must have gone out immediately with the phrase "shots fired" because in about two minutes popo had the cul-de-sac filled with squad cars.  Then Mack walks out.  Almost immediately an officer asks -  "Which one of you guys fired the shots?"  Mack quickly raised his hand like a a college basketball player who'd just committed a foul.  He got the lecture about how all bullets returned to the ground somewhere and then they all sped off in the night.  Probably going for Jack In the Box.  I confessed to Mack that I'd used the wrong language with the popo.  He lumbered towards his front door to go to bed...  I wonder where he sleeps... Perhaps, too big for a bed, he had his own spot on the floor.  Ah Chateau Forest!
 Things were back to normal a few months until one weeknight, when I heard the sound of a helicopter about ten.  It got louder and louder and seemed to be circling the neighborhood.  The noise was now deafening.  I walked out in our backyard and immediately was hit with a power beam of white light from the chopper.  I tried to act nonchalant by giving a quick wave and walked back in. It was obvious that the helicopter was hovering right over our home. So my mind is racing with thoughts of fugitives hiding in my shrubs about to break in and hold us hostage.  I called the sheriff's department and in just a few minutes I was told there was no reason for alarm and everything was under control.  Riiight...  The chopper pulled out in about 20 minutes and we went to bed,  It wasn't until the next afternoon we discovered the woman who lived there was murdered in that home (right over our back fence) by her mentally deranged son, who was later captured with the body somewhere out in the piney woods.  I look back and wonder why neither of us suggested a house hunting trip that weekend.  But we carried on in Chateau Forest.
 Later that year I came driving down our street after a busy Friday.  It was the first day that felt a little like Fall..At least for Houston.  Getting closer a scene captured my attention that I'll never forget.  Rambo had two wild hogs hung on a two by six he'd nailed across two pine trees.  I guess he was field dressing them, but in his front yard.  He had on gloves that were bloody from his work.  He looked over at me.  It was like the scene from Christmas Vacation where Eddie is pumping sewage from his RV into the street  while waving to the upscale neighbor saying (pardon the language) "Shitter's Full".  Only Rambo yells out "Good huntin' today".  Me forcing a smile: "I can see that! Have a good night!" Holy crap!
 The very next weekend there was a flock of blackbirds making all this racket in Rambo's pine trees early one Sunday morning.  Looking a little hungover he comes stumbling out in his version of sleeping attire holding a twelve gauge and pumps a few rounds into the pine trees.  Birds scattered everywhere as did a few neighbors.
Never a dull moment in Chateau Forest...
 I may not have all these events in chronological order, but I'm fairly certain that this next episode was the last major happening during our stay in our little neighborhood.
Another Friday night in Chateau Forest.  The wife had actually learned how to make a decent chicken fried steak and she had whipped up some mashed potatoes and cream gravy.  Ah to be young again  when you could eat like that and not gain weight.  As dear wife was cooking I noticed a man walk across our front yard.  Then a couple walked slowly by in the same direction.  As I moved closer to the window I could see eight or nine people milling around.  About that time Mack walked by holding a long gun of some sort.  Jesus! Here we go again!  Heading out the door I walked up to a man I didn't recognize and asked what was going on.  This guy had a heavy country accent and this odd looking leathery face resembling one of the bit actors in Gunsmoke.  "Mack shot his dawg" Me: "What? why?" "because he wouldn't come back when he called him" Me again: "What?" "He said he kept calling him and the dog wouldn't mind.  So he shot him.  Said the dog was worthless".  So these people were standing around in small groups talking about I don't know what, but no one seemed upset.  No one was calling Animal Services or anyone else.  The dog was still lying in the street.   I went back inside and didn't tell the wife the complete story until the next morning.

So a little under two years after we moved in to Chateau Forest, I was offered a job at a Phoenix department store.  Our little house sold without listing and we walked away with a tidy sum for a down payment on our new home in Phoenix.  Our new place was small but cute.  It had a diving pool and a mountain view out the back windows.  We thought we'd hit the big time and we went nowhere but up after that.  The experiences of lovely Chateau Forest always made us so much more appreciative of life as we worked our way up through the decades.  Now our current neighbors preach about living "in one" with the rabbits and bobcats that frequent the Plano suburbs.  Those critters wouldn't have lasted long in Chateau Forest.


                                                  Our Phoenix home bought in '76                    




Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trials of Divorce - Wounds Reopened

My friend Jim finalized his divorce with Elizabeth almost four years ago.  They are in their late sixties and divorced after forty one years of marriage. I've about decided the main culprit was the horrible recession we've been through and Jim's dramatic income drop.  An attorney friend shared with me how the recession has precipitated a large uptick in divorces later in life.  So Jim recently shared some heartbreaking new developments as he works his way through the long process of losing a person he's known and loved for nearly fifty years.

Here are Jim's comments:

Well I'm nearing the four year mark since the divorce.  Liz left the house in August 2012 and never came back.  She ceased all communication after that, except through her attorney.  You know that our marriage had been through a long gradual decline mostly of her doing for ten years, but when she finally told me she didn't love me anymore and repeatedly refused to seek counseling, I decided all hope was lost.  We got through the process fairly quickly, but during that period I discovered, quite accidentally, that she'd been having dinners and drinks in unusual places.  Initially I asked her about these multiple meetings at an out of the way fish joint in a low income area.  The discussion escalated when I joked about her meeting someone there.  Her response, in an elevated tone, was "what difference does it make know anyway?".  My first immediate thought .. guilty.   Further investigations revealed that she'd been seeing a guy who was a coworker.  At some point an investigative firm supplied me with photos of these two having dinner and details of meeting occurrences and locations.  There was never any proof of an actual love affair, but my "old school" mind knew it was wrong and I was crushed!  I never challenged Liz about these meetings on the advice of my lawyer, creating added stress as she'd come home late from her evening dinner rendezvous.  Of course I didn't want to believe it and tried my best to suppress my concerns.  But at the mediation hearing my lawyer told me in over twenty years of handling divorces, he'd only handled two cases where he was sure neither spouse was having an affair.
As time passed I began to feel better and the sting of the breakup with so many bad memories was waning.  This spring I was elated about the impending birth of my first grand baby.  There was a big shower being thrown by Liz's friends nearby and two of my sisters and an Aunt were traveling in for the Sunday event.  My daughter-in-law's parents were hosting a dinner the night before the shower and they invited my guests and I to attend.  Normally Liz and I were never invited to the same family function since Liz hadn't communicated with me at all since she left home.  This time I insisted they invite Liz to the "shower eve" dinner.  Liz and I both needed to break the ice before baby delivery day!  Liz came and talked her head off with my relatives.  They were all laughing and smiling.  She even joked a little with me.  I kept my distance but was encouraged by all this interaction.  After the shower Liz invited my sisters over to tour her home and later in the week spent the day with my Aunt.  On the day the baby arrived, Liz sat next to me and talked for hours about a variety of things.  It seemed almost normal.  There's nothing worse than having your lifetime best friend cut off all communications.  Sadly she knew that doing so hurt me.  One week after the birth we all went to dinner with two of my sons and daughter-in-law and the new baby.  Liz sat across the table from me and once again we chit chatted a little.  I was thinking how easier things might be if she would at least speak to me.  Every Christmas since the divorce, the whole family sans me goes to the Christmas Eve service that's been a family tradition for decades.  I cherished those times and it's always killed me to now sit home alone on that special night.  I thought maybe this Christmas would be different and perhaps we can have occasional family gatherings.
So last week my youngest sister Sharon flew in to get her first look at her 5 week old niece and my new granddaughter.  I had other things planned for Sis while she was hear.  Wednesday my son suggested maybe we have dinner Thursday night and he'd ask "Mom" to join us.  I'm thinking "great" let's keep this civility thing going.  The next day Liz backed out saying she was having her hair done that night.
 That Saturday night Sis and I decided to get some light dinner and headed out.  In the car she mentioned "Oh, Liz has posted something from a Birthday party she's at.  Looks like a big group".  We got to the restaurant and as we chatted waiting for our food I asked Sis to show me the FB photo.  I glanced down and found Liz.  To my dismay there standing next to her was THE guy. Her coworker who'd been in all the investigator photos.  I was shocked and felt like I'd had the air knocked out of me. So it was true! Over the years I'd about decided I had overreacted to their meetings.  She didn't appear to be seeing anyone now and had never mentioned anyone to my sons.  But now this one photo reopened deep wounds that had been healing for four years.  Turns out Liz hadn't posted the pic.  One of her friends tagged both Liz and "Slick" in the post, so it appeared her covey of girlfriends had met this guy before.  Suddenly all of the facts that had me suspicious of her cheating on me came pouring back.
We got home and I eventually went to bed.  I laid awake for hours.  I knew a day would come when Liz found someone and I'd occasionally have to be at gatherings with the two of them there.   I could deal with that.  Her love faded for me and this was her life now.  I did not want her back!  But this guy? Who always had his sunglasses stuck in his hair like some bad dream from the eighties? He was tall, something she had always wanted but God he was not handsome. I'd never seen a guy in a pirate suit with an eye patch until I found his Facebook page.  And many of his clan could have been extras in the movie Deliverance!  Friends who'd seen his photos agreed with me that he just had this creepy, sleazy look about him. So she had been involved with this guy.  Meeting her and and then sending her back home to me.  And the girl I loved had stooped so low to slink off into the night with some scruffy faced work associate for her emotional needs?  Honestly it seems she was looking for some warped version of Eat Pray Love, a movie she obsessed over.  I guess she just planned to juggle her two lives as long as she could.  I can't imagine ever looking her in the face again.

Sunday morning Sis and I discussed the previous night's revelations.  We found that Liz had already deleted the photo.
"Slick" was really big into guns.  Months before the divorce stuff started, Liz announced out of the blue one Friday night that she'd be gone all day Saturday to get a concealed gun permit.  I was shocked.  She'd never mentioned anything about it.  It was so unlike her.  And we owned no handguns!  And when I expressed my surprise, she just blew up and became very defensive.  That pattern repeated itself anytime I got too close to what I'd later learn was the truth. Now I'm certain "Slick" was behind the gun test and was probably with her that day.
I thought back to the confrontation about the many meetings at the crappy "hole in the wall" place in Richardson.  I was certain now that she was meeting "Slick" there.  Usually on nights when I worked late.
One of my sons finally confided in me that way back in 2009-2010 he suspected his Mom of having a boyfriend.  Anytime he asked to borrow her Mac, she'd hurriedly close any open widow.  He noticed that she seemed super secretive about her IPhone and guarded it with her life.  "Slick" had divorced his first wife in 2007 and began working at my wife's place in 2008.  So perhaps they'd already begun their affair way back then.
I noticed after she'd moved to her own bedroom, she'd steal away early evening with her Mac. A very good chance this was the beginning of her little secret communications with "Slick".  Guess it gave her a buzz..
  We went ahead with our plans Sunday and met my son and his wife with baby Rachel at their church.  I was so glad we did.  The solace of the chapel was comforting.  We had a wonderful lunch and headed north arriving around three.
None of these discoveries really surprised me. but all of a sudden I felt embarrassed and humiliated.  My instincts were right and their little meetings set strategically just far enough away from work had been going on since mid 2010.  I thought back to one night in this two year period when their company was having a seminar in a downtown hotel.  Liz decided that they'd finish so late  that it would be easier just to stay overnight in the hotel.  Flags went up, but I didn't want to hear about the "jealous" husband thing from Liz.  "Slick" would have been working this show and I'd bet big money they planned that little romantic evening.  
The confirmation of these two in a full blown relationship for what has now been at least five years generated a flashback to our nine hour marathon mediation day in 2012.  Investigators  had supplied me with photos of these two sitting in bars and restaurants along with details of their multiple meetings for a two week period.  My attorney advised that we not bring them up.  Doing so, he said, would only disrupt the day's negotiations and maybe force us to a costly court hearing.  I agreed, but he then asked me to bring the evidence just in case.  The next day he did something without my knowledge early that morning prior to the start of the day long meeting. He sat down with the mediator and Liz's attorney telling them that I had convincing evidence of a boyfriend but we'd decided to not disclose the evidence in the interest of settling that day.  Many divorce judges in Collin County frown on the spouse that's involved in the adulterous affair.  I was told later that the two women approached Liz about having a boyfriend and when confronted she denied it, but then broke down sobbing.  As the negotiations wore on, sometime before lunch the mediator walked in and said "Jim we're making no progress on your request to keep the house.  Liz is just adamant about keeping the home she raised her children in"  It was a tense day.  I was exhausted from months of daily pressures of the divorce but now I was furious.  I had a folder on the conference table with all the bar photos and other evidence.  I looked at the mediator and as I put my fist on top of that folder I stated very firmly "I'm the one who has paid for that home and have loved and raised my three sons under that roof!"  Tapping the envelope firmly with my finger I said "And this son-of-a -bitch will not be bedding down my wife in this home!"  And  thankfully I did get the house.  So there was at least one consolation. Liz wasn't cavorting with "Slick" in the little home that for years was the center of so much family love.  I wish she'd just told me the truth years ago.  By now I'd be over it and she wouldn't feel compelled to hide with 'Slick" in the shadows anymore.  Liz was raised in a strict Christian home and even today is always touting her faith and how blessed her life has been.  I guess her faith couldn't keep her from cheating on her husband and then lying about it.  But she still makes it to her church pew every Sunday morning.
It's interesting that even thought she's been carrying on with this guy at least six years, she's never mentioned him to my adult kids.  She also avoids showing photos of them together.  Is she that embarrassed of "Slick", the tall man she always wanted?
   So now, although I'm not totally back to square one, I know there is a new healing process coming.  I honestly feel no anger at my ex.  I only feel hurt and embarrassed.  Maybe a little too trusting and angry at the state of my own life at this late date.  I had been nothing more than a nuisance to her for years before the divorce.  At one point she told me that when I smiled real big for photos my eyes were almost shut!  Try not and smile so big she said!  So it took a full year post divorce before a female friend told me to smile more because I had a beautiful smile.  And I do and I love it!
More than a few friends have asked and commented.. "I guess by now you've forgiven her, being a Christian.."  My response is no I haven't forgiven her and doubt I ever will in this life.
  A close friend told me "Well Jim... the good news is you were right all along.  But it's also the bad news".  I am now sixty eight and I know that four years of hurt and anguish will have lasting effects on my health and longevity.  Lately friends have been telling me how happy I looked with my new granddaughter and I have been.  I was also hopeful that I could see more of my family all together.  But the rest of my life begins today and I begin a second healing process and keep looking forward.  I've learned after four years I do have some great qualities and I have developed a new group of friends that are sincere caring people.  Life goes on...

I know people all over the world have these kinds of experiences every day, but you can sense the broken despair in Jim's words.  After posting I ran into a friend who's a nationally known marriage/ divorce counselor who's written several books on his area of expertise.  He shared some interesting new statistics on affairs that occurred during marriage.  Only seven percent of folks that cheated on their spouse ended up marrying the person they were having the affair with.  Of this small group that married, an amazing 74% ended up divorcing their new spouse within five years.  I'll try and find the actual studies and reference them at a later date.
  My parents provided loving care for each other  until their deaths.  They were such a great example of unconditional love long after the good looks faded.  It takes great mutual commitment to achieve that level of devotion.  My dear Father facing the end stages of Alzheimer's disease in his last year asked for a checkbook on what would be his last Christmas Eve.  He'd figured out it was Christmas and he wanted to write a check out for his love as he did every Christmas for decades.





John Sullivan

Friday, May 20, 2016

I'm Here for You


Since having a major health crisis seven years ago, I have made my diet and fitness major priorities.  As part of that regimen, I'm in the gym at least five time a week and almost always work out in the morning or right after lunch.  On this day my schedule became cluttered with unexpected phone calls and more than the usual interruptions from Penny Lane, my adopted Golden/heeler mix.  It seems on days when my mind is swirling with ideas to put on paper, she picks up on that energy and lays in the doorway moaning and panting to get my attention.  I finally gave up on my goals for the day and began thinking about skipping my workout this sunny afternoon.  On such a nice day, wine with rice crackers sitting in the shade of my oak tree with Penny sounded like a better plan.  But then I began thinking about my diet the last few days.  I'd deviated some with a little ice cream here and too many carbs there.  So I was off to the gym hitting early rush hour traffic, but committed to burn off some calories for thirty minutes or so.

Making my way through check-in I decided I would just hit the bike machine for thirty minutes or so and then fight the traffic back to the house in time for a bite to eat before the Ranger game.  The bike machines where set in a row facing twenty foot high windows with  some video screens.  A row of treadmill machines were positioned between the bike machines and video screens.  My usual plan was to pop in the ear buds and listen to one of my many playlists while I spun away.  Most people watched the various options on the monitors, with their plethora of news stations, sporting events, and assorted options.  I focused on my music which soothed my soul and took me away from the world for these few minutes.  I must confess I occasionally took a peep at the folks ahead of me on the treadmills.  Some were young trim gazelles running so fast on the treadmill that it appeared their feet rarely touched the ground.  Ah to be young again.  But others struggling with their heavy waistlines walking at a modest pace, each pounding step testing the strength of the treadmill's foundation.  But then a little voice inside me said.. "Bless them for getting up off the couch and making an effort"  It really hadn't been that many years since I was 30 lbs heavier and rarely exercised.

I positioned myself in the middle of the row of bike machines.  I adjusted the bike settings and then chose Jeff  Lynne's ELO to accompany me on my ride.  I was off with the first lines of All My Life.  I had yet to do what some guy once did up on an elliptical who with ear buds in, music cranking, and eyes closed screamed out "CARRY ON MY WAYWARD SON!".  Poor guy then mumbled "sorry".  
At that moment a father and his daughter walked in from my right.  I'd seen them before.  Dad appeared to be in his fifties and his daughter was perhaps late teens to early twenties.  They were Asian and his daughter was a young lady with Down Syndrome.  This late in the day only two treadmills were open.  Dad pointed to his daughter to take the first machine and he walked three positions down to the last open machine and climbed on.  He started walking at a decent pace and glanced over at his daughter.  She had not started yet.  She was fidgeting around her machine....Looking at the settings..then doing leg stretches...then getting off the treadmill on one side and walking around to the other side.  She was now facing her Dad and her expression was one of mild anxiety.  I felt certain she didn't like Dad being that far away.  Dad glanced over at his little princess and smiled and waved.  She slowly climbed back up on the treadmill and began to walk.  Then she began to change the TV channels in front of her.  All the while she kept glancing over to Dad and he'd nod to her as if to say don't worry you'll be fine.  She'd force a smile back and keep going.
After ten minutes or so a machine adjacent to the girl opened up and Dad began walking towards the now open treadmill to the left of his daughter.  She could hardly control her emotions as he stepped up on the machine.  As they walked along, now side by side, she would glance over at him with the most radiant of smiles.  She just kept glancing over at him every minute or so.  At one point she directed his attention to her video screen to show him some food dish.  Dad nodded in approval.  Once again she looked back at him with that beaming smile.  At that point Dad reached downward and grasped her hand.  Almost as if to say, nary a spoken word, "It's alright, I'm here for you".  They held hands for maybe thirty seconds as I struggled to maintain a little macho facade riding my bike.  Just thinking God bless her.. but then I thought He has blessed her with this Dad.

Walking out of the gym it struck me how all the day's events came together so that I'd sit down on the bike machine just in time to watch this wonderful example of love and caring unfold right in front of me.  God knows there are millions of acts of kindness happening all over the globe but this one helped me forget for awhile about all the nonsensically contrived "events" of the day.  The negatives in my own life were washed away from my psyche for a moment to begin anew. 

Peace and Love,
John