45th Salisbury High Class Reunion (class of ’74)

I did not go to my 5th high school reunion.

I did go to the 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th — and last night, the 45th reunion for the Salisbury High School class of ’74.

It was amazing. These stats are not accurate, but I think I heard there were 140 grads in attendance — and I think that’s about half the class.

I also heard that, statistically, the 45th is the last chance to have a big gathering, and that they diminish significantly thereafter.

There was a short memorial — both at the reunion itself and in the digital communications leading up to it. Compared to previous reunions, a shocking number of classmates have passed away.

If you’re from a big city, this kind of event would be a weird thing.

If you’re from a small town where you went to school with the same people for 3, 6, or 12 years, you may be able to relate to the exquisite specialness of an event like this.

There are a few people in my class who had a parent who went to school with and attended similar class reunions with my mother. And there are those, who, like me, got stuck in Salisbury. Some of those have children who graduated in the same ceremonies from the same school with my children.

Yet, I’m guessing most people traveled a ways, from other counties and even from faraway states like Tennessee and California and Colorado.

It was a bit like a family reunion.

The music was loud and there was probably more dancing than talking. Many things were said to me that I simply could not hear. I’m a little hoarse today from trying to hold conversations over the music.

No problem. The talking wasn’t all that important. After all, we do have Facebook. The days of exchanging biography and resume are past.

This was about smiling, hugging, shaking hands, being alive, and being together.

The bulk of reunion conversation is always in the world of reminiscing (so much fun!).

But in addition to the reminiscences — here are a few observations about reunion conversation topics I remember:

• 10th reunion: Marriage? Education? Military? Got a good job? Children?
• 20th: How many children? Career? Money? House?
• 30th: Still married? Remarried? Parents okay? Kids okay? Bush or Kerry?
• 40th: Had a colonoscopy? Parents alive?
• 45th: Retired? So sorry about your loss.

My experience (mine only, I know) was distinct from any other things that happen in my life. It’s an eruption of emotion and cognitive overload that begins in a moment and ends just as abruptly, a few hours later.

Resumes be damned at the 45th. Cliques and accomplishments and failures be damned. I did not hear the word Trump a single time.

In the background, there’s a sense of loss. All of us have dealt with the heartbreak and loss of loved ones — some more painful than others. But, by now, no one has been spared an abundance of devestating loss — most of it unknown to the rest of us. We don’t know all the details, but we know things happened, and we sort of love each other. And we’re wondering (at least I am) if and when we’ll see each other again.

That heartbreak, held up against the excitement of being together, gives the occasion a special, delicate joy for the opportunity to be in the world with those we love and participate in life itself.

Remembering Hugo, Waiting for Florence

Now that the rain is here and the hunkering has begun, I thought I’d share a picture of a tree.

I took this picture today. It’s a maple tree.

In 1989, when Hurricane Hugo hit, this tree was of modest size — perhaps the height of our 2nd floor at that time.

Hugo snapped the trunk at garage gutter level (depicted here with a yellow arrow).

The hurricane also took down some large white pines, also in our yard, nearby.  I think we lost 4 big trees. Our neighbor, a couple of houses up the hill, lost 20.

This tree had a limb intact, just below where the trunk had snapped. That limb became the new trunk, and, 29 years later, is the tree you see here. If it weren’t for this tree, we could probably still grow tomatoes and cucumbers. Years ago, before the abundance of shade, we had a pretty nice garden.

Our only damage was a broken car windshield, dented car hood, and downed trees everywhere in the yard.

A few other memories of Hugo:

It was quick and fierce. It hit Salisbury in the middle of the night and did its damage. By noon the next day, the skies were clear and the day was beautiful.

One of my neighbors, an elderly woman, met me in the street in the morning.

“This is the eye,” she said. “There’s more on the way.”

She was frightened.

“No Minnie,” I said. “That’s it. It’s over now.”


My father had had heart surgery the day before at Carolina’s Medical in Charlotte. My brother and I took off to the hospital.

Salisbury was a mess. Giant, old oak trees were smashed into houses and burying cars. Roads were closed. The forests lining the interstate were filled with busted, fallen trees.

Hurricane Hugo had done something very unusual. It kept its full hurricane status all the way to Charlotte, Salisbury, and beyond.

Getting to the hospital was like driving through a maze. Trees everywhere. Roads closed. No power anywhere and nothing open.

The hospital, however, was another world.  There, lights burned brightly, people smiled and worked and did not panic. The bathrooms served running water, hot and cold. The cafeteria served an abundance of freshly cooked food.

In a hurricane, the hospital is a wonderful place to be. My dad did well in the surgery. My family was there. We spent time together and had access to running water and cooked food.

I spent several days at the hospital and was a little slow turning my focus to the yard. Finally, my neighbor complained.

“When are you gonna clean this up?” he said.

“Clean what up?” I asked.

He pointed at the four trees that had grown in my yard and fallen into his.

“This mess!” he said.

I went to Lowes and got a chainsaw, sledge, and maul.

In those days, we had a woodstove in our fireplace. We had a very warm house that winter.


We lost half our power for one week and half our power for two weeks. How does that happen?

It went like this. After a week without power, with a yard full of power lines underneath trees and limbs, Duke Power showed up. These amazing workers cut trees, cut limbs, replaced transformers, lifted the lines, and reconnected everybody in the neighborhood. Then they went on to the next place.

Everybody’s lights came on. Except in half of our house. I’ll call it the left side. The left side (the side that included the kitchen) still had no power.

When I called, they said they had restored the power already. I told them the problem. It took another week for them to return for that singular, weird issue. At the time, he explained how that could happen. I didn’t understand then and still don’t.

Hugo was a rare event — strong winds and tornados in a large inland area. There was a burst of rain. It was all very quick.


Florence seems to be equally rare. Not much wind. A ton of rain. And it’s so slow arriving. It’s like we’ve been bracing ourselves for a week, for a turtle. I know Wilmington got it. Will it be here, as predicted? We continue to worry and wait.

Meanwhile, the weather is really nice. I may take the dog for a walk.

Being a dumbass is good exercise

Most days I walk 10,000 steps, and this has been my habit for many years — since I stopped playing tennis in the early ’90’s.

I went through a few pedometers (the pre-smart phone Omron lasted forever), and I’m on my 3rd Fitbit (they last about 2 years).

When I was a tech facilitator in the schools, I got most of the steps walking to classrooms to work with teachers and computers.

When I delivered my own Coffee News, I could get well over 10k steps in a day.

And there are the sedentary days, when a website is broken, or when I’m on a project. Days when I go to the bathroom and the refrigerator and that’s it. Those days aren’t common, but they happen. The result is scary — 5k or less. I don’t remember ever having less than 3k.

Normal activity at home — going to the bathroom, the refrigerator, around the house, getting the mail, taking out the garbage, maybe a trip to the grocery store, and some sales activity for my business, gives me an easy 6k.

This leaves 4k to manage — easily accomplished by taking a walk, checking out something at Lowes or Walmart, or, in bad weather, spending some time on the treadmill.

Today, I got most of those steps looking for a key. Not plural, keys. Singular. Key.

Yesterday, I rented a car in Concord, drove to Asheville, and returned home to Salisbury. The car was due back in Concord at 4pm.

I got in the car at 2pm and the key wasn’t in my pocket. I spent the next hour walking — everywhere, in circles, mostly — looking for the key.

I called Avis and the manager gave me another number to call — but he advised me to keep looking. He said a lost key could be expensive.

About 3pm, I sat down at my computer and thoroughly searched the area. I had spent time there. Did I take the key out of my pocket?

A single key is not like a group of keys. It doesn’t make noise. It doesn’t feel like anything in the pocket. It doesn’t make an impression.

I got a phone call that resulted in a computer task, and I was doing something on the computer when my wife, Alicia, came into my office. She had been inspecting the yard. We had both been in the yard. Could I have dropped the key in the yard?

Could my dog, Luna, have found it and taken it into the yard? She’s the one I blame for most every problem, and I had noticed the sound of her chewing something.

Alas, Alicia stepped into my office and said, “There it is. Get up.”

I got up and it was on the floor, underneath my chair.

A single key can be a rascal — but it’s one way to get a lot of steps.

Last night, in Asheville, I told a story at The Moth Story Slam. The theme for the evening was ‘Caught.’ I told a story about something that happened when I was 10 years old, and how it has had me caught, ever since, in a conversation that I’m a dumbass. It was supposed to be funny.

Well, for about an hour this afternoon, it wasn’t that funny.

Spoiler alert: The moment it all shifts

There are many heroic acts in this movie — as there were in the real life events it’s based on.

The real shift, however,  is when Ben Bradlee realizes (thanks to a little coaching from his wife), that the water he’s swimming, despite all of his desperation, may not be as choppy as the water Katharine Graham is swimming in.

In other words, everything shifts when he considers what she has at stake — beyond the dollars or even the first amendment. This understanding of one human being for another is what propels the story forward to its liberating conclusion.

English practice in Inner Mongolia

Paul Grennan, an English teacher at Inner Mongolia University of Finance and Economics, used some of my ten minute plays as a way for his students to practice English.

He sent me a clip from “In the Ductwork.”

The play actually makes sense. This is not the whole thing. The noise they are referring to is a possum that’s stuck in the ductwork.

According to Paul, Mongolian students are wonderful to teach and very shy when speaking English. They speak Mongolian and study Chinese and English. They are very traditional. Their families are shepherds.

Paul says these students are in a rather special class.

It looks to me like Paul is rather special himself.

A meeting with the Congressman

Emily Perry, a good citizen of Salisbury, has been dealing with some health issues — and she knows many other people who are also.

When she saw the CBO report that the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives would cause 23 million Americans to lose coverage, and that it would primarily affect the most vulnerable among us, she became furious.

She wrote and called her congressman, demanding that he explain his vote in favor of what she considers a cruel piece of legislation. The congressman scheduled her for an appointment to speak with him.

Emily is an unaffiliated voter, but she happened to mention her appointment to Geoffrey Hoy, who is not unaffiliated. Geoffrey is the chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party.

Geoffrey asked if he could tag along, and Emily was agreeable.

At a party meeting, Geoffrey asked if anybody else wanted to tag along, and some of us did.

So we had a nice, small, friendly little sit down with Emily, her sister, Charlotte Giles, a few Rowan Democrats, and Congressman Ted Budd this morning. We had a lively discussion about his vote for the health insurance bill.

The Congressman was generous with his time, respectful, and a good listener. He demonstrated that he, himself, can relate to health care issues. He is his mother’s son, and his mother had cancer. It’s something he is dealing with.

He was reluctant to take responsibility for the bad stuff in the bill, because it’s in the Senate now, and therefore “not complete.”

That’s true. It’s not. And I appreciate that he’s listening to those who do not like it. (Technically, though — his vote in favor of this bill is complete).

Unfortunately, he’s a free market guy when it comes to health care. One would expect this, since, like most of Congress, he’s pretty much bought and paid for by the Koch brothers, the ultimate free market guys.

I like free markets too — but not in matters of disease and well-being and human being. I like free markets for things like real estate and eBay auctions and peanut butter.

In matters of air, water, food, shelter, healing, and health, I’m believe in peace of mind, not free market. At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, I think we should all work together to provide peace and harmony and love in the world.

His view of health care has less to do with human care and more to do with insurance companies competing for business.

He refers to diseases with expensive treatments, such as cancer, as “exceptions.”

Maybe that’s a political term, or a health care economics term. It strikes me as absurd. Most human beings will eventually become an “exception.”

At one point, he rightly deduced from my comments that I was suggesting a single payer system. I said I was. Why should anybody be left out?

He explained that this would take away the incentive for people to take good care of their own bodies. He used himself as an example, saying that he might feel it was okay to weigh 300 pounds if he knew his health insurance would not go up.

What did he say about the fact that this bill would would likely provide him and other members of Congress, and other Americans making over $200,000 per year, with a nice tax cut? He seemed to think that was only fair, since the ACA raised taxes on those making over $200,000 per year.

He was also extremely focused on the fact that 70 out of 100 counties in North Carolina only have one company providing health insurance policies, and that this offered no choice. He repeated that one several times.

I noticed that the overall obsession for Republicans is choice.

It’s not about choosing between a number of comprehensive health insurance plans. The ACA has different plans. They have silver, bronze, gold, and young adult. Choice.

It’s not about choosing your disease, or choosing your treatment, or choosing your genetics, or choosing your level of well-being.

It’s about choosing your insurance company. They want lots of companies, with lots of different plans — for those who can afford it.

It’s not about people being taken care of. He made the point that Medicare, VA, Medicaid, and employers already provide the vast majority of the health insurance. So we’re only talking about the gap. We’re only talking about the tens of millions of people who are not covered another way.

The Republican solution seems to focus on the virtues of having lots of insurance companies completing in a vibrant marketplace.

Geoffrey pointed out to the congressman that he was obviously a decent person who loved his family and wants to do good, and requested that he consider the suffering this bill will cause to elderly people in nursing homes who have sold their houses and spent all their money and rely on Medicaid for their very existence. Geoffrey suggested that the bill he voted for is not a match for the decent person he seems to be.

Alas, it was time for his next appointment and our meeting came to an end. Waiting in the wings was one of his own, Republican office holder Greg Edds, Chairman of the Rowan County Commission.  (Republicans hold all the offices around here and have for decades — so if you’ve got a problem with government, blame them).

After we got up and watched the congressman flash an impressive smile for the camera, we lingered for a moment, and it occurred to me that I should seize this unique opportunity to pontificate a little. 

“I wonder when we’ll start worrying more about the health of people instead of worrying about the health of insurance companies,” I said.

“We need to do both,” the Congressman said.

And that pretty much sums it up.

14 things I learned from Mom

1. People are extraordinary, and fascinating.

2. Family overrides anything and everything.

3. Making a C may be average — but average gets you a two hour lecture.

4. Making a D is below average and also gets you a two hour lecture, annually.

4. Cholesterol is bad. Chopped liver is good.

5. If you want something, and somebody says no, then ask somebody else.

6. Children are blessings.

7. When a dog dies, get a puppy right away.

8. Unless there’s a deadline, clocks and time are meaningless.

9. Saying “shut up,” or “stupid,” will get your mouth washed out with soap.

10. Soap does not taste good.

11. Love is not about giving up on people, and it’s not always about being nice.

12. Men are okay, but women are smarter, work harder, and get paid less.

13. Communication is the joy of life.

14. Forgive always. That’s different from forgetting.

a couple of flakes amid the avalanche

Trump’s first week has been an avalanche. It’s too much to process.

That’s not an accident.

This is just a smattering of thoughts I encountered while bopping around in my car today. These are a few things that should give everybody pause — democrats, republicans, others, and those in between.

– The Trump organization plans to double the number of hotels in the United States over the next four to eight years.

– On January 1, 2017, Mar a Lago raised the price of their memberships from $100,000 to $200,000.

Thought: The president will be using his office to make money for himself. This whole thing has been an advertisement, at our expense.

– In recent months or years (it was on the radio and not specified), more people have been crossing the border into Mexico than into the United States from Mexico.

– The majority of illegal immigrants in the United States are not Mexican and came to this country on a jet plane, landing in an airport.

– Some estimate that the wall will cost $20 billion. That would pay in-state college tuition for $20 million students.

Thought: Mexicans, and Muslims, are being criminalized and scapegoated. He’s a fascist would-be dictator.

How and why to see La La Land

Talk about a spoiler.

We pre-purchased tickets for a 10pm screening of La La Land. It played at the Regal Park Terrace, in Charlotte — the only theatre in the area showing this film, as of tonight (it opens at others tomorrow).

We already have our Christmas Day movie picked out. We’ll be seeing Fences. So tonight was the night for La La Land.

That’s a one hour drive. I thought we were running late and I sped. We got there at 9:55.

All three of us — my wife, daughter, and myself — used the facilities.

We entered the theatre at 10:03. The theatre was packed and we had to sit very close.

The movie had started. No previews. That’s odd — but I thought that might be something they do with movies at that hour. Who knows?

I hate to miss the beginning of a movie — and I love previews — but it seemed like we had only missed a minute or two, maybe even just a few seconds. That is, it seemed like the beginning of a movie.

Ten minutes later, the movie ended and the audience got up to leave.

My first thought was that I had read the times wrong. Then my daughter said, “We’re in the wrong theatre.”

We rushed into the next room and sat down in time to see the ending of a preview and the entire movie — including the ending, again.

Ordinarily, I would not recommend watching the ending first.

That said, it’s a beautiful movie, start to finish — so seeing a bit of it twice is really a bit of a bonus.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are classic big screen stars. Los Angeles glitters. The music is quite beautiful, and in one sequence, Gosling’s character explains why.

Although this movie was made well before anybody thought we would have such a catastrophic election result, I’d say there’s nothing better for a Trump infested country than movies like this. Good, big, bittersweet musicals with plenty of singing, dancing, and bigger than life beautiful stars who fall in love and overcome all their obstacles.

Keep ‘em coming, Hollywood. We’ll need more of these.

Have a Rodgers and Hammerstein Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving and I’m grateful for many things.

One thing I’m grateful for is that I have a big, loving family — and they are all liberal Democrats.

We have our moments, but there won’t be any heated arguments with Uncle Joe who voted for Trump.

Last Thanksgiving, we had some disagreement about Bernie and Hillary.

But this year, before the conversation even begins, I’m confident that we will all generally agree that the president-elect is a scary, albeit entertaining, celebrity who is surrounded by seedy racist characters and destined to do a lot of damage to our great country.

That said, let’s have a happy Thanksgiving.

If you have opposing political factions at your table, consider that there are more important things in life than politics.

And — perhaps take some comfort in these favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes: