Did you ever pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?

A classic scene in the 1971 movie “The French Connection” is where Gene Hackman as Detective “Popeye” Doyle chases down a suspect.  He throws him up against a wall and asks “did you ever pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?” The perp looks at him like “wtf”?  And Doyle repeats it.  And the guy answers.  The question wasn’t meant to be funny.  The purpose was to disorient the subject and change the situational dynamic. Next time you have a disagreement with someone, ask a random – unrelated – question (at the right moment of course). And see what happens.  

When you read of the failures of our prison system and the collateral damage of incarceration, you wonder if changing the situational dynamics of rehabilitation might provide better result.   Breaking the patterns of troubled youth might be just the ticket.  For first and even second offenders, this could include mandatory programs for:

Socialization — Learning to sing, act, dance, debate, do stand-up comedy, counseling others;

Scholastic — The reading, writing and arithmetic but also languages, computer programming and skills like cooking;

Discipline — Toeing the line.  You’re in the program and you cooperate;

Sports — Learning the atypical:  golf, tennis, skiing, squash, handball (no basketball or football);

Responsibility — Caring for plants and animals; working with therapy dogs; visiting senior centers; getting jobs;

Nutrition — Not just eating healthy but learning why you eat healthy.

You read of boot camps where young offenders are pushed by drill instructors.  They do push ups, lift weights and toe the line — just like they would in prison.  But just think about getting young men to learn ballet, play golf, prepare spaghetti carbonara or perform in a Shakespearean drama.

Modifying situational dynamics can enhance levels of success for a lot of things (marriage, politics, parenting, academics, business).  Creative thinking – inside and outside the box – can pay dividends.

Don’t You Like Our Looks?

Some years ago, Donna and I were in Galway with some friends. We decided to go exploring with another couple.  We reconnoitered the town and saw a pub called the “Quays” (pronounced “Keys”).  It was night.  Raining.  The place was off the beaten path.  Donna and I and our friend Ivo and his wife walked in. The pub was dark and filled with smoke.  Big men.  Heavy.  Bellied up to the bar.  Beards.  Black leather jackets.  Noise.   Many of the occupants turned to give us the eye.  Have you ever been somewhere and gotten that feeling you just don’t belong?  Once inside, we looked around and got that feeling.   

As we moved toward the door, a loud voice from a corner booth holding about 8 people caught our attention “what’s the matter?  Don’t ya like our looks?”  Ivo and I looked at each other and I – respectfully – pointed out that the place was “very crowded” and there was no room for us to sit.  The chap who’d called us out started to move – “sit here.  We’ll make room for ya.”   And people began shuffling.  Shifting.  All watching us.  I looked at my friend.  He raised his eyebrows like “let’s see where this goes.”  And we moved into the group – squishing ourselves into corner seats. 

They were curious about where we were from (Chicago/Edgartown, MA), why we were there (a meeting) and where all we were going (we detailed).  They bought us drinks.  More drinks.  And refused our offer of reciprocity.  After an hour or so, Morris – the chap who’d called out to us – invited us to join him and some of the others at another pub.  The Tribesman.  Where he was playing a horsehide drum in an Irish band.   At that point, how could we say no?   We walked a few blocks.  The Tribesman was packed.  Morris shooed people away as he pushed his way to the small alcove stage with us in tow.  He set two small stools right in front of the band.  Donna and I sat.  Listened.  Enchanted.  Then we traded seats with our friends who’d been standing in the back.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever had.  It could’ve all turned out verrry differently if we’d said “gosh thanks anyway.”   And scurried out the door. 

Burning Leaves

(An Autumn repeat – from September 11, 2016)

For millennia, folks have been burning garbage and “stuff” with relative impunity.  The smoke was often choking.  And sometimes toxic.  Now – there are limitations on such activity.  

But. . . . as a kid, I remember my father – and other men in the neighborhood – raking leaves in the fall.  And ushering them out to the street – at the curb – and lighting them up.  Saturdays and Sundays in October were the optimal days for raking, gathering and burning leaves.  And the distinct smell of burning leaves was overpowering.  And – from my recollection – not so unpleasant.  Everyone burned their leaves.  I mean what were families supposed to do with them?  My dad would stand – smoking his pipe – and talking with the other men.  As the leaves burned. . . . .   

I tend to think it would be nice if for one day in the fall, everyone could spoon some dead leaves out to the street.  And burn them.  Like the “good old days” (did I really say that?).    I don’t need a “bad for the environment” speech.  Or “think of what it does to your lungs.”  Or “aren’t there regulations?”  Just think about sharing an indelible olfactory moment of an autumn afternoon long ago . . . . .   

14 Years

In 1972, Donna and I took an extended honeymoon to Spain and Portugal. In Spain, we traveled around – sightseeing and attending the corridas of famed matador Diego Puerta in Madrid, Cordoba and Sevilla.  And we took pictures galore. In Ayamonte Spain, I traded three ice cream cones for a photo of three little boys (“It’s okay – he’s a tourist” said the woman working the open air shop). Then there was the fishing boat where the six men were quick to pose following my request. And in Lisbon, we walked the gardens of Jeronimos Monastery.  A gardener – wearing a black turtleneck and jeans – was suspended on a board over a large circular clock garden.  Clipping flowers.  He smiled, tipped his beret and posed.  Snap.  Snap.  Snap.  

Fast forward nearly 15 years.  Donna and I returned to Spain and Portugal with our 10 year old daughter, and friends, Diane and David and their son Dave.  Before leaving, I had the photograph assemblage mentioned above blown up to eight by tens.     

In Ayamonte, we went back to the same ice cream shop and I showed the same (now older) woman the photo of the three little boys.  She gasped.  And identified each one.  She asked us to be at her store in the morning.  And we were – greeted by a crowd.  And the three little – now grown – boys.  We gave each one an 8″ x 10″.   One mother cried on seeing the photo as she had no pictures of her son as a little boy.  

The fishing boats were gone – replaced by a small office of the Guardia Civil — the national police who sport the tri-cornered hat.  An officer identified one fisherman as the father of Ayamonte’s head of Guardia Civil – who marched over.  And began weeping when I gave him some 8″ x 10’s”.  His father had died a few years before.  He handed me his card – “if you ever need help in Spain, you call me.”  I still have his card. . . . .

And in Jeronimos, we found the gardener — now in a drab gray uniform.  Raking leaves.  And three weeks from his retirement.  He saw his photograph.  And his eyes filled with tears.  At his request, we buzzed through two rolls of Polaroid film taking pictures for our gardener friend – and each member of his entire gardening crew.  

Beer for My Horses

When I was a State’s Attorney at 26th & California, I prosecuted very bad people.  It was 40 years ago but I still go back every couple years to testify in parole hearings (objecting to release) for the really bad ones (3/20/14).  Murder trials – jury and bench – were very emotional.  Think of your worst nightmare and know that there are people out there who are worse.   In one capital case, a chap had one-by-one murdered perhaps 15 people (or was it 18) as a hired killer.  He would slit your throat as easily as he would hold the door open for an old lady.   Jury verdict:  guilty. 

Our culture of violence is a breeding ground for abomination (1/2/13).  We glorify the new “Game of War.”  We see horrific violence in video games for children.  Hollywood offers disturbing and hateful brutality and immorality.  And some cheer the blood and guts in ultimate fighting (who can watch this stuff?).   Yet remember people — we are now reminded that it is Bibles, the Cross and the Pledge of Allegiance that present shocking dangers to our Society!  But I digress. . . . .

In 2003, Toby Keith and Willie Nelson released a music video that most can relate to.  “Beer for my Horses” won the Country Music Awards “Best Music Video” award later in the year.  It’s a first since in this video – no one sings!   It’s the kind of music that will make you narrow your eyes and smile.  You’ll want to raise up a glass – and share a a bottle of Dos Equis with a large four-legged pal.  Watch –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1JOFhfoAD4     Maybe this is a way to deal with the boys and girls from ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the bad people on our own shore.  Beer for my horses . . . .

Louis L’Amour

In 1981, there was a center column article in the Wall Street Journal about an author who wrote about the Old West — Louis L’Amour.  Having spent some formative time out West when I was young, I read the article with considerable interest.  A few weeks later, while walking near my house with my 5 year old daughter,  we happened on a garage sale and went in.  In rummaging through the books, I found a battered paperback copy of Shalako by Louis L’Amour.  Hmmmm . . . . . Louis L’Amour.   For one thin dime, I bought the book.  And read it.   And was hooked. 

In the ensuing years, I read all 105 or so of his novels.  I think I still have them all – in a box – in the attic.  Some I’ve read twice.   What drew me to Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) was more than the tales of the Old West.  It was his inimitable style.  The good guys were good.  Good men.  Tough yet compassionate.  The women were always good.  Nurturing.  And sweet.  But mess with them and they’d carve you up one side and down the other. . . .  And the bad guys were very very bad.  And I relished when the bad guys got their just reward.  Which they usually did.   Whiskey for my men and beer for my horses. . . .

Some of L’Amour’s books have become movies.  Ironically, Shalako – my first read – had been a 1968 movie starring Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot and Honor Blackman.  I’ve never seen the movie.  It’s still on my list.  If you’re looking for a light – meaningful – read, give Louis a try.  You won’t be disappointed.   

Hakuna Matata

It’s in the Bible – “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.  He will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22).  And Proverbs 12:25 “An anxious heart weighs a man down but a kind word cheers him up.”  And then there’s John 14:27 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  This is good counsel for all.  The message?  Don’t worry.   

Numerous sages have offered comment on the subject of worry – “Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight” (Benjamin Franklin).  “Drag your thoughts away from your troubles.  By the ears.  By the heels.  Or any other way you can manage it” (Mark Twain).  “Sorrow looks back.  Worry looks around.  Faith looks up” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).   “You’re only here for a short visit.  Don’t hurry.  Don’t worry.  And be sure to smell the flowers along the way” (Walter Hagen).       

 While there is wisdom in these quotations, there may be a better way to convey the message.  I can think of no better way than “Hakuna Matata” (Swahili for “there’s no problem“).  “Hakuna Matata” is a song title in Disney’s “The Lion King.”  My granddaughters associate me with Pumbaa (which means “silly” in Swahili) – the odoriferous warthog who “sings” the song.  But listen to his message.  Watch for 3 minutes and 49 seconds.  You’ll smile.  I promise.   Oh watch it.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbY_aP-alkw