Monday, March 30, 2020

The End of the World

The End of the World

My father used to say this all the time.  As a joke. He had seen the world end once before with his own eyes.  He had been in Buchenwald concentration camp for 4 years during World War II.  There he had seen his friends crucified, hanged, frozen to death. After the war, he had spent 6 years in a refugee camp in Germany, waiting for some country to welcome him and our family in.

And still he joked that the world was ending. Whenever anybody complained about anything, he’d start in joking about how it was the end of the world.

As a kid, if I lost my favorite cats-eye marble or my oldest baseball, I’d get teary-eyed.  And that’s when my dad would start. He would shake his head, put on a pretend frown, and say in Polish, “świat się kończy.”

The world is ending.

What could I do with the sorrow I felt? I shrugged like he did and said the same thing he said, “świat się kończy.”  

I’d say that and move on to the next bit of life I needed to live even if I couldn’t find my favorite marble or that special baseball.

Sometimes while watching the stuff about the coronavirus pandemic on the news, I feel like I’m hearing over and over that our world is ending.  In fact, journalists and commentators and even politicians are actually saying this. They’re saying that the world we now know and live in is coming to an end and it will never ever be the same, not in our lifetime or the lifetimes of our kids and our grandkids.

Is the world ending? 

I don’t know.  

What I do know is that I took a walk this morning with my granddaughter Lulu.  It sure didn’t feel like the world was ending. The spring sun was there, brighter and warmer than it’s been in months, and I heard sparrows and finches chattering about what they were eating.  Up the street, four kids were balancing themselves on a curb and seeing who could walk the longest without falling. A moment later, a mother and her toddler walked past us on the other side of the street.  The mom was holding her daughter’s hand, and her daughter was pointing at some yellow flowers that had just started blooming.  

świat się kończy?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020



That’s me.  I’m self-quarantined. 

I was pretty much there already given the health problems I’ve had during the last year: three  months of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the Norovirus, the Epstein Barr virus, “dangerous” blood clots swelling up my legs, and most recently a strep infection.  If you’ve been following my Facebook page, you’ve probably seen my periodic health updates and you’re probably thinking to yourself “when’s he going to stop with this whining?” Let me tell you, my whining isn’t going to stop anytime soon.  Even if I self-quarantine.

Before the strep showed up, I was only going outside a little because of my health concerns.  I’d take the trash out, walk to the cul de sac down the road and back, or take my grandaughter Lulu to the school-bus stop in the morning.  That kind of stuff.  If I was feeling really adventurous, I’d go with my wife Linda to the Kroger Supermarket and help her shop.  I liked getting out whether it was to the supermarket or to the curb where the trash cans were sitting.  I’d run into my neighbors or clerks I knew at the store, and we’d chew the fat for a minute or two.  I love complaining and all these health problems have given me a boat load of complaint topics.

All that has pretty much stopped.  The strep infection is part of it.  It’s scary.  I don’t want it, and I definitely don’t want to spread it around.  But what’s worse of course is the Coronavirus.  My fear of it keeps me in doors like nothing else.  If you look at any CDC list of who is most susceptible to this disease, you’ll find my name is prominently featured on that list.  I’m almost 72 years old, and I’ve got a history of heart failure and auto-immune problems that go way way back. I figure the Coronavirus is just waiting for me to peak out the window.

Every half hour or so, I go to a Coronavirus website and track where the disease is in Virginia where I now live.  Last week, it was only in Fairfax, 169 miles away, but every day it’s crept closer. To Richmond, Spotsylvania, and Harrisonburg.  And just today two cases were confirmed in Charlottesville, just about 60 miles up the road from where I live. 

I figure tomorrow morning when I get up, the Coronavirus will be here in Lynchburg. 


I don’t expect this story to have a happy ending — no matter how self-quarantined I am.

Monday, March 9, 2020

My Mother and Her Wheelchair

My mother couldn’t walk for the last five years of her life. She had terrible arthritis in her back, and she couldn’t stand up straight enough to walk or do much of anything.

But my mom got around — somehow — in an old rubber-tired wheelchair that she got from some charitable organization in Sun City, Arizona, where she retired to. She would shuttle around her small apartment in that wheelchair, move from the bedroom to the kitchen, and spin from there to the living. If she had to run an errand to the bank or the supermarket, she’d had a local volunteer service pick her and her wheelchair up in their van and take her where she needed to go. Once there, she would push her wheelchair where she wanted.

Every time I would visit her in Sun City, Arizona, I would always watch a lot of TV with her, and we would see these commercials for electric wheelchairs. Scooters they called them, I think.

I would say, “Mom, you should get one of those things, one of those scooters. It would make your life a whole lot easier. You could go out on the sidewalk and ride up and down the street. You could talk to your neighbors, get some sun. You could even go to church on Sunday mornings. It might take you a while to drive your electric wheelchair there, but you could do it. Imagine church. You haven’t been there in 2 or 3 years because you’re embarrassed by your old, rickety wheelchair, but one of these electric babies would have you smiling and gliding through life.”

She would listen to me going on and on like that about these electric wheelchairs, and she would just shrug.

She was Polish, born in what she called the old world, and she figured that electric-powered wheelchairs were just another modern con job, like that super spiffy can opener the people bought because it was shiny and advertised on TV and had moving parts.

She spent four, long years pushing those cracked and broken rubber wheels of her old-style wheelchair with her hands, and when her hands in that last year of her life got too tired to move her along, she just sat there at her front window, looking down at the street and dreaming about walking.


This is my latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish Daily in America.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Stuff Gets Lost

Stuff Gets Lost

In his book about kayaking around the South Pacific, travel writer Paul Theroux offers at one point a list of what’s been lost by the Polynesians over the centuries.  He looks at what they used to be able to do and what they are able to do now. The list of knowledge lost to these islanders is formidable and includes not only the ability to navigate a boat but also the ability to fish, to cure meat, to build ocean-going boats, to predict the weather, and to communicate with the volcano gods.

When I first read this list, I started laughing.  I thought, how can these island people possibly survive without this kind of essential knowledge?  But once I stopped laughing I realized that every generation loses some of the essential wisdom from previous generations.

My mother and father – both born on farms in Poland in the 1920s — were able to do stuff I can’t even imagine doing.  They both knew, for example, how to slaughter, salt, and prepare pigs to be eaten. If I were asked to do this, I would not eat the result. Those who did eat what I prepared would probably come down with E. coli or the coronavirus or some kind of plague that no one can image.

But this ability to slaughter a pig was just the beginning of what my Polish parents knew and I don’t.  I once watched my father chop down a tree. He was a little guy (5’2″) who couldn’t figure out how to fix a car or start a washing machine or use a typewriter but with an axe he was some kind of Polish Harrison Ford. And my mom also had her special talents.  She could kill a chicken by twirling it, and she could take the feathers off it quickly and singe its skin perfectly (don’t ask me why she would do the last). I remember watching her do all of this. When I was a kid, we would buy live chickens on Division Street at a chicken store (hundreds of cages and frantic chickens) run by a Hassidic Jew.  If my daughter or granddaughter were asked to go into such a store and pick out a chicken, she would either panic or wage a protest.

My parents knew so much that I will never know about doing stuff.

But then I get to wondering what I know that my daughter and granddaughter don’t know.

The list is endless.

I can dial a number on a rotary phone, hitchhike across the US and back, send a fax, stay up 3 days straight on a bet, climb on a roof and look for loose tiles, sing at least 100 old folk songs that no one else remembers except me, drag a dead deer out of a forest, talk about the best American novels ever written, and walk from one end of Chicago to the other end of Chicago while whistling the “St. Louis Blues.”


This is my latest column for the Polish Daily News. Please consider leaving a comment at the online site where it appears.

Friday, January 24, 2020

My Mother and the Wolves

Friday poem: My mother grew up in a forest in Eastern Poland.  She could hear wolves howling in the winter, and she listened to her mother's stories and warnings and passed them on to me.  This is a poem from my Echoes book about the stories my grandmother told my mom.

My Mother and the Wolves

In their log house in the forests
west of Lvov, my grandmother
told my mother tales in the winter
to pry her thoughts from the sound
of trees splitting with the cold,
exploding with a crack like that
of her father's double-barreled shotgun

A cat, she would say, can't be trusted.
It comes in the short spring night
and sleeps on the priest's chest
watching his adam's apple
as if it were some mouse hidden
under a blanket of stubbled skin
and then striking its sudden claws
through his skin into cartilage

And what of the wolves, she'd ask,
the nine wolves that in the winter's
grey stone dawn would smash
their bones against the door,
hammering like hungry seals
until the door splinters and the baby
is got at – even from the cradle
even from its precious sleep?

And listen, my mother's mother
would whisper then, there are men
as bad as wolves that no door
– no matter how solid the oak –
will keep out.

So trust in Jesus,
in the world of clouds far beyond
the frozen forests of this frozen world

Do this always, and fear the greedy hens.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

No WiFi!

No WiFi!

It was one of those things.  My WiFi was working perfectly.  I was watching a YouTube on my TV of a yoga instructor named Adrienne showing me how I could do yoga without ever leaving my chair.  I was totally involved, following Adrienne’s every move. My bottom sat comfortably on the seat, my feet were excellently planted on the floor, and my upper torso was twisted like a rag doll as I breathed slowly and evenly.  It was the perfect yoga moment.

And then it wasn’t.

The image of Adrienne on the screen suddenly froze.  You know what I mean. She was no longer leading me to yoga heaven.

I somehow managed to untangle myself from my yoga pose and get to my WiFi router and my TV set.  I did all the stuff I was expected to do. I unplugged the router and replugged it after 20 seconds, and when that didn’t work I did it again, and when that didn’t work, I called my WiFi and cable provider and set up an appointment for them to send a service provider.

I felt pretty good about the whole thing except for one thing.  I didn’t have WiFi.

I’m a retired guy and a writer, so I spend a lot of time online, writing or checking facts for my stories or writing to other writers to complain about this or that or just checking in with my Facebook friends, and suddenly I didn’t have any WiFi.

What do you do without WiFI?

It reminded me of those old days, those days before TV and even before we got our first phone.  And it reminded me also of those days when the technology we had simply stopped working.

I remembered that bad winter when we were living in a small town in rural Illinois, and there was an ice storm that brought down all the electric lines in town, and we didn’t have any electricity for a week.   We had no lights, no stove, no TV, no heat. We lived like people in a cave. We’d go to sleep as soon as it got dark and woke as soon as it got light, and during the day, we sat around playing cards and reading books and drinking vodka on the rocks until the vodka gave out.

It was like that — sort of — without WiFi last night.  We couldn’t do our email or Facebook or play our online games or checkout our favorite online sites.

So what did we do?  First, we played a board game with our daughter and granddaughter that we had been putting off for a couple years.  Second, we made a crazily elaborate dinner that was way too scrumptious. And third, we read the books that we had been putting off for months.  I finally opened and finished The Ministry of Adrian, a terrific horror thriller by Duane Ratswander that I’ve been meaning to finish for a month.  It was all a wonderful change of pace to be living for one day without WiFi.

And then we went to bed at 8 pm.


This is my latest column for Chicago’s Polish Daily News.  Please consider leaving a comment at the newspaper’s online site.  It will encourage the paper to keep me around yakking about this and that.


Saturday, January 4, 2020

Stop the Presses

Stop the Presses!

True Confessions for some reason is selling for less than half price on Amazon.  That’s $5.33 a copy with free shipping!

True Confessions is my book of prose and poems about my life from the time I was a hippie in the 1960s to an old retired guy with a cane spending too much time on Facebook.

I write about my friends and my life in Charleston, Illinois, Peoria, bowling green, KY, Valdosta, GA, and Lynchburg, VA.


You can’t go wrong!

If I wasn’t sitting on 2O copies of the book, I’d be buying it too.