Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a half hour children’s program that ran from 1968 to 2001. It was hosted by Fred Rogers (1928-2003) – a Presbyterian minister who created the show which focused on children’s emotional and social needs – and health. Mister Rogers began each show – singing a song that ended “Won’t you be my neighbor.” All children were invited to watch. And learn. Every child was a neighbor.

The notion of helping one’s neighbor is common to all faith traditions. The New Testament dictates that to find favor with God, one must “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This admonition appears in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19). Taking care of neighbors is mandated in the Quran. The Book of Mormon. Science and Health. In the Hindu faith. In Buddhism. And in other religions. To love our neighbor as ourselves. To help our neighbor. To take care of our neighbor.

Question: Just “who” is our neighbor?

Answer: All of mankind.

There is a lot of pain going on in the world today. A lot of need – by our neighbors.

What can we do? I suspect that each person who reads this post has the ability and capacity to make a difference. The small things we do for others may not mean much to us. But it could mean everything to that other person. Mother Teresa hit the nail on the head when she said “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.”

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Hats Off!

[A summer repeat from July 24, 2014] In my last post, I talked about being up in the North Woods of Wisconsin. Minocqua. Woodruff. Lac du Flambeau. Boulder Junction. Great time. Beautiful country.

One really neat – old – place is Voss’s Birchwood Lodge in Manitowish Waters. This place hearkens back to 1910. John Dillinger and his pals drank beer in the bar and were probably responsible for some of the cigarette burns in the woodwork.  The original owner was the one who blew the whistle on Dillinger’s gang.  And FBI agents gathered there before the assault on Little Bohemia which is down the road.  Wonderful history. Today’s crowd is more peaceful. And civil.  But not necessarily civilized.

When I was growing up, I remember my father always telling me to “take off” my hat — when going in any public place. And I did.  My buddies did too.  It was a lesson we all learned.  Once, when I was not quick enough, a Scout leader slapped the brim of my hat sending it flying.  But today, it seems like a lot of young men – and even a few older guys – are not getting the message. 

Posted at the entry to the dining room at Voss’s Lodge is a sign directing men to take off their hats. We walked in for breakfast one morning and sure enough there are two men sitting there with their Green Bay Packer hats perched squarely on their heads. Men.  I looked at them and there was not much of a spark looking back.  If you get my drift. . . .  Next time I see some character with his hat on in a restaurant, there may be a temptation to walk over.  And send it flying.

Final Exam Questions . . . .

[A repeat from May 23, 2019] On January 19, 2012, I posted on my three favorite radio stations.  WBBM is “News Radio 78.”  WFMT provides classical music.  And WMBI is the station of the Moody Bible Institute.  I listen to each (and occasionally others) depending on how I feel.   

I was listening to WMBI a few weeks ago when Dr. Erwin Lutzer, former senior pastor of the Moody Bible Church, was asked if he ever discusses religion with atheists.  His answer was “sure.”  He welcomes such discussions.   However he said that he avoids debate and complicated arguments about the Bible or God.  Instead, he invites a simple challenge. . . . 

Dr. Lutzer suggests to his counterpart that he or she invest 10 minutes a day.  For 21 days.  And each day read one chapter in the New Testament Gospel of John.  There is one question the reader should seek to answer:  who was Jesus?   

While such a challenge may prompt religious enlightenment, I also like the vignette offered in my post of November 13, 2018.  Albert Einstein, born Jewish and somewhat pantheistic in later life, was once asked by a student if God existed. Einstein responded “What percent of the total knowledge of the universe do you suppose we as humans now possess?” The student thought – and speculated around two percent. To which Einstein replied “Now tell me – what are the possibilities that God exists in the other 98%?” 

Powerful questions.  They may be on the final exam. . . .   

Trips versus Vacations

[A repeat from March 2, 2014] I like vacations. I just returned home from 10 days in the Caribbean (St. Barth’s to be precise). Every morning, I slept until 8:00. Or later. Got up. Sat on a recliner overlooking the ocean. Sipping coffee and lingering over my cereal and fruit.  Some work on my laptop.  Then, more coffee. A book. More coffee. A little exercise. Yawn. Stretch. And think about lunch. Lunch was around 1:30 to 2:00 pm. Usually a salad or something light.  Bread and olive oil.  Oh – and a large bowl of pommes frites.  Looking out on the emerald waters and golden sands.  Then back to the home we rented.  To rest. Read. Some bridge. A little wine. And then we’d start thinking about dinner. Yawn.

That vacation was pretty special. It was not a “trip.” I’ve been on trips.  And let me tell you.  They are different.  Where you have to get up at 6:00 a.m. Wolf down some breakfast and be at the bus at 7:30 a.m. Sharp. And then you drive on a bus with no bathroom for two hours to a place where you hike what seems like 20 miles to see a historical site. Then hike 20 miles back to the bus. Drive another hour where it’s time for lunch. “We have to finish lunch in half hour.  We’re running late!”   Lunch is lettuce, olives, grey meat and bread.  We’re like Navy Seals in the “Crucible” in Coronado — devouring food on the fly and racing back to the boats.  “Go go go go!!”  More bus.  Late dinner.  Collapse.  Alarm goes off at six a.m.  Groundhog Day. . . . .   

I like “trips.”  There is a time and a place.  And I’ve enjoyed most of the “trips” I’ve been on.  But let me tell you something.  “Vacations” are special.  I’m always ready for another.  Maybe next time with my Calloway X-20’s. . . . . 

Breakfast Tips

(A summer repeat from May 2, 2013)

I’m not talking Cheerios, strawberry pop tarts or cold pizza (a breakfast staple of mine long ago).  I’m talking “tips” (as in gratuities) in restaurants — for those who serve you breakfast.   Lemme ask this — you go into a restaurant and order a cup of coffee for $1.50.  What would you leave as a tip for your server?  15% is 22-1/2 cents (rounded up to a quarter). Yes? Maybe 30 cents if you leave 20%?  Your server would probably give you the “big spender” look, shake her head and walk away.  Me?  I’d probably leave a buck.  Or two.  Especially if I’m nursing a few refills of java while reading the newspaper. 

I remember reading an article a few years ago – that has guided me – on tipping.  Especially for breakfast.  “Breakfast servers” the article said, “are always deservant of a higher percentage tip than those who serve you dinner.” Why? Because bacon and eggs with toast, hash browns, coffee and orange juice may cost you nine bucks. And you walk out of the restaurant stuffed to the gills and smiling for the day.  Dinner may cost you three sawbucks and a fin.   Who gets more tip for the same work?  Yep. . . . .

I’m not a big spender – but on those occasions when I’ve gone out to a local eatery for breakfast and the bill for Donna and me is $20, I may leave a $5.00 tip.  Maybe $6.00.  Why?  Because the server works just as hard (probably more so) filling the coffee cups, water glasses and balancing multiple plates.   Of course if service is bad, I’m quick to adjust downward too.  

In restaurants where I am known (“uh oh – it’s Petersen“), I will also be generous.  After all, why not?   I am not being frivolous.  I believe I’m being smart.  A generous tip makes for a happy server.  And it seems to make me welcome when I come back.   

Gun Violence

Why does America endure the agony of gun violence? Yes – we need gun control. Red flag laws. Assault weapons need to be banned (as was done until 2004). Yes – young men have mental health issues which need to be addressed. Yes – smart phones and social media have exacerbated the problem. But where should the crosshairs also rest (sorry for the pun) for much responsibility for gun violence? In my opinion Hollywood bears some responsibility. And what is done? Nothing.

On January 3, 2013, I posted on America’s “Culture of Violence.” For me, this post was so meaningful that I reposted on 10/8/17 and 4/20/22. Please check it out. Violent movies. Cruel and murderous video games. What do all the mass shooters have in common besides their guns, social media rants and mental instability? THEY ARE ADDICTED to the violence of our culture. They are addicted to the oceans of blood and guts and murder and hate and revenge that we POUR into their minds with violent games and movies.

On June 10, 2022, Bill Maher hit the nail on the head on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Folks – this is 8 minutes and 29 seconds. I ask you – to watch this. Please. Because it is a clear and understandable explanation of cause, effect and potential cure — of the tragedy of gun violence. Watch this. . . . .

November 27, 1990

[A repeat from December 6, 2018] I used to travel to Monterrey Mexico for business.  One such occasion was November 27, 1990.  My American Airlines flight landed at Monterrey International Airport a little after noon.  The day was sunny and beautiful.  As we taxied in to the terminal, I looked out the window and thought — oh my goodnesswhat is that sitting on the tarmac?  It was AIR FORCE ONE

As we began to debark, I was greeted by my dear friend Antonio who excitedly announced that the Presidents of the United States and Mexico — George H.W. Bush and Carlos Salinas – would soon be arriving for the departure of President Bush on Air Force One.  We walked out to the parking lot and – off in the distance – we saw the pulsing of Mars lights.  And a long parade of serious-looking cars.  It looked like we were in the right place – at the right time.  We hiked out to the narrow entry to the airport where we knew the cars would pass.  And we stood – alone.  Not a soul was around us.  Just Antonio.  And me.  

The first vehicles to pass – police cars and lorries – slowed to a crawl as they rounded our corner.  Just a few feet away.  And then we saw the magnificent – huge – black limo which chauffeured the Presidents of Mexico.  And the United States of America.  Antonio and I stood at attention.  And waved.   From behind the large window in the back seat, a hand pressed against the window.  And waved – enthusiastically – back to us.  Antonio was sure it was Carlos Salinas waving to him.  But I’m pretty sure it was George H.W. Bush.  Waving to me. . . . . 🙂 

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

[A summer repeat from May 15, 2014]

In 1845, the Chicago Rock Island Railroad began with a charter penned in the City of Rock Island, Illinois. For 130 years, the Rock Island Line hummed and drummed across the landscape of America. Until 1975 when a federal judge in Chicago ordered the famed railroad into bankruptcy. On December 10, 1977, a one day auction was held in the old LaSalle Street Station in Chicago. Tables, chairs, paintings, rolling stock and office supplies were sold off from the old railroad. There were also several hundred “tote” boxes full of archives of the railroad. All were filthy dirty and all were sealed. Any bid was on the contents. Sight unseen. The local news touted that perhaps the boxes contained a letter of Abraham Lincoln or Stephen Douglas – both of whom worked for the railroad. I was drawn – like a moth to flame – and I bought 45 boxes of “stuff” at $3.50 a box. I crammed the boxes into the trunk and interior of our Plymouth Valiant. And drove home. Donna thought I was nuts. Until I opened the boxes. . . .

There were hundreds of letters of U.S. Congressmen, Senators, Vice Presidents of the U.S., members of the U.S. Supreme Court, Chicago mayors. There were Aldermen like “Bathhouse John” Coughlin and “Hinky Dink” Kenna. Original letters of Clarence Darrow. It was a trove of major value. And I ended up selling most of the material to the University of Iowa. For many times what I paid for it. It was then I went on a three year quest – to acquire the rest of the defunct railroad’s archives.

After scores (hundreds?) of phone calls over three years, the squeaky wheel got the oil. A gusher. I was told the rest of the Rock Island Railroad archives were housed in a 10 story, 100,000 square foot building at Polk & LaSalle. No one had been in the building for several  years. “I’ll buy it” I said. And did. I bought the entire contents of the building for $500. They handed me the keys and it was mine. The only hitch — I had to get it out in 4 weeks. Within a few hours, I had the contents sold – to the Universities of Iowa and Oklahoma (Norman). Iowa had first choice and Oklahoma got the remainder. I walked alone through the 10 floors. File cabinets. Boxes of files. Empty desks. Coffee cups ringed with dried coffee. A mausoleum. Over the next few weeks, I orchestrated eight 48 foot over-the-road tractor trailers. Loading up the goodies. I looked back, walked out and locked the door.

I still have a few things from the RI. A ceremonial spike. A slice of track. Oh – and yes – a few old letters. In 1998, I delivered a paper to the Chicago Literary Club. Telling the whole story. It’s online at http://chilit.org  The Rock Island Line. Was a mighty fine line. And it was sure good to me.

I Like Your House

Forty years ago, Donna and I moved onto a new street, into a new house.  The homes in the area were well-maintained.  The neighbors were nice.  Our place was commodious. And we settled in.

At the end of the street, there was a house. That I really liked.  Half moon, third acre lot with privacy and space. One day while out walking, I saw the owner — Mr. Weiss. I happened to mention that I really liked his house.  And that if he ever wanted to sell — to give me a call.  I pointed at my place across the street and down the block.  We chatted and parted.

I never really thought much about this for a year or so.  We’d see Mr. Weiss or his family.  Wave.  Smile.  And drive on.   Then. . . . . (cue the trumpets) it happened.  I got a call from Mr. Weiss who said that he and his wife were thinking of moving.  And he asked if I was “serious” about my interest in his house.  I probably said something like “duhhhh – let me talk to Donna.”  And I did.   And I called him back and said “yes.”

The following weekend, we met with Mr. & Mrs. Weiss in their back yard and talked. We moved inside and talked some more.  And after discussing the matter with Donna – we made an offer, they said “yes” and – here we are. Interestingly our address – 1938 – is the year the house was built. . . . .

Reach, Throw, Row, Go!

In my freshman year of college, I got a job at the Moline YMCA – as a lifeguard for the indoor pool. There was hardly ever anyone there – but they needed a lifeguard and so I took afternoon hours. After class. I was hired as a lifeguard because I had Lifesaving Merit Badge and I had also passed the American Red Cross Lifeguard certification. In these happy days of spring and advancing summer, it’s good to know a few things – about saving lives. . . . .

The one mantra that I learned early and often was “Reach, Throw, Row, Go!” Trying to save someone from drowning does not always require diving into the water. If the person is 3 feet away, reach for them – with your hand or a stick or rope. And pull them to safety. Or throw a ring buoy (throw it behind them so you can pull it forward – and snag the person). If the person is far from shore in a lake or river. Choppy water. And you have a rowboat, then hop in the boat – and get out there. Finally – if all other options are exhausted – GO! Jump in the water and swim out. So you don’t get pulled under by flailing arms, go under the water, turn the person around, bump them up to the surface with your hip – and toss an arm over their chest and start moving. Usually the flailing stops. If you Go, ya gotta be careful. A drowning person can grab on to you putting your life at risk. The Red Cross does not encourage the “Go” unless there is no other option.

People who are drowning will have their head down. Or mouth back. Body vertical. Legs not moving. Arms may be flailing but the head my be under water. Struggling to get back up. Watch their head.

Once on shore, if a person is unconscious, there is precious little time. Begin with some quick mouth to mouth resuscitation – to get air into lungs. This may prompt vomiting. If there is no pulse – or a weak one – begin CPR. To learn more – go to https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/lifeguarding/lifeguard-training/lifeguard-certification

In short – keep watch. And always be ready. . . . .