G. Michael Girolamo

Author of Memorable Moments

Category: Uncategorized

Peaches

Peaches

She was showing her husband the Christmas presents for the family.
“And this one is for Lisa and Richie, do you think they’ll like it?”

Looking out the back window he answered without turning
“They’ll love it.”

There was still so much left to attend to and it was only two days before Christmas. She was in her element, serious shopping with a purpose. She showed him the stocking stuffers for their children. The stockings were everyone’s favorites. She even found a stocking for Peaches. The pet store had created a cat’s dream come true, filling the stocking with catnip, and assorted toys. The favorite had been a small mouse made of yarn wrapped around a small piece of Styrofoam, with a long tail of yellow yarn. Peaches played with it for hours, walking proudly around the house with it hanging out of his mouth.

Peaches was a behemoth at 14 pounds. When I held him with his front paws and huge head resting on my shoulder, I would hold his hind legs below my waist and feel his weight. This cat would survive out in the woods. He was a beautiful orange tabby with green eyes. Literally, the pick of the liter, he was strong and handsome. Peaches was an inside cat, sleeping and eating in the comfort of our home. However, he spent much of the day outside, exploring the woods. Peaches was the king of the yard.

“Did you see Peaches today? I haven’t seen him and he always comes home for dinner, I’m worried.”

The children were worried, but filled with Christmas cheer and looked hopefully at the stocking for Peaches; hanging from the hearth along with the rest of the family’s and just knew he would be back soon. I was concerned, he had never failed to come home at night and this was day two. He was in trouble and I needed to find him. I pictured him out in the woods, having survived a run in with a raccoon or a coyote, but beat up pretty bad. I imagined he had crawled under a log or a found and crevice in a large rock to hide in, and waited until he was strong enough to leave. I had to find him.

Christmas morning came and the girls had opened all of their presents with the usual joy and excitement. Saving the stockings for last, as was our tradition, we felt the absence of Peaches and worried that he was lost in the woods forever. We were finished and left Peach’s stocking hanging with the unopened presents and the new yellow yarn mouse, in hopes of his return. The girls went up to get ready, we had two hours to get ready and go to Uncles Richie’s for Christmas Day Dinner. Just two hours and I typically cleaned up the mess and drank coffee waiting for the girls to put on their new outfits. This year I had a mission, I had to find Peaches. It had snowed on Christmas Eve, which looked beautiful but in my mind I knew it meant that if he had any chance of survival I had to find him now.

I quickly dressed to search the woods, determined to find what log he had found refuge under. I had sweatpants on and I put my Gore-Tex ski pants on over them. I had three layers of sweatshirts and jackets, the top layer being a hooded jacket. I wore the hood up and tied securely to prevent tics from falling on my neck as I searched through the woods for Peaches.

The woods behind my house were typical New England woods. Hilly, rocky, dead fall, rotted tree trunks, and prickly vines making an almost impenetrable barrier. I pushed through the underbrush, up craggy hills and down small gullies. I went all the way to “Castle Rock”. This is a natural formation of small boulders that the girls thought looked like a castle; it offered a view of the hills off to the west. The Last time we were here it was with Uncle Roy. I looked into the small cave like nooks formed by the tumbled rock formation, placed haphazardly where a glacier had left them a million years ago.

Skunks, opossums, coyotes and fox lived in these woods. The red foxes sometimes walked boldly right through our yard. The coyotes were harder to spot, but they were there. At 14 pounds Peaches had a fair chance against any of these critters, however, if wounded he would try to find a hole to hide in. I literally crawled on hands and knees up and down snow covered hills and the craggy woods, looking for any sign. Under the brush and leaning tree limbs,
“Peaches, Peaches”.
No answer.

My wife called from the upstairs window off our bedroom,
“Mike, you better hurry, Richie’s expects us at noon”.

I followed a deer trail, looking for all signs of orange fur, blood, anything, I found deer scat a patted down place in the brush were the deer had slept, but nothing of Peaches. Heavily perspired I sat forlornly on a rock having scoured the entire three or four acres carefully, knowing I had looked under every bush, inside every hole I didn’t know what next, so I started again, increasing my search area to across the street. I crawled up the hill behind my neighbor’s home. I could hear the sounds of their Christmas morning, excited children, ripping paper, tired parents, and their big dog. Perhaps the dog had gotten him. I checked the freshly fallen snow for paw prints or any sign of a confrontation, nothing.
“Mike, lets go, what are you doing”?
His wife angrily called out the window again.

“Nothing, I’ll be right in”.
Not wanting to remind anyone that Peaches was still missing.
Sitting on the ground he had all but given up. Reflecting quietly on the sad beauty of this morning. The stillness was interrupted by birds. At first one large crow, then many appeared. He hated the crows, eaters of garbage and carrion piercing the day with their harsh cawing. They created a raucous cacophony that could not be ignored. He looked up into the trees. The Tress had long lost there leaves, except for the Oaks. There dead brown leaves stubbornly hung on, refusing to fall and rot. Through the brown of the tree trunks, the brown and orange of the dead leaves he spotted the birds at the top of one of the oaks. Staring in disbelief, he saw what looked like the hind quarters of an orange cat, sticking out to the tree, 20 feet up. Moving closer, trying to scare the crows away he was able to see that an ancient oak, apparently hit by lightening had split sharply leaving a clean sharp vee about twenty feet in the air. In this vee, he saw Peaches. Apparently Peaches had scaled the tree, perhaps to avoid a coyote, and became wedged into the vee. He imagined as Peaches struggled to get free, he wedged himself tighter into the vee until he was constricted, unable to breathe he must have suffocated.

“Get lost you bastards, leave him alone”.

“Mike, what are you doing? We’ve got to go”.

“Be right there”.

He couldn’t let his family know the horrible fate that had befallen Peaches, not on Christmas Day. And I was thinking, “How am I going to get him out of that vee? I can’t go to Richie’s and leave him there.” How could I concentrate and enjoy a Christmas feast, knowing that the evil crows would fight over his carcass. Peaches deserved better. I scrambled up the hill and into my garage. I took my extension ladder apart, not thinking I could carry both sections through the thick woods down the hill to the base of the deadly tree. I hurriedly rammed my way back using the ladder to clear a path. It took some time to find a stable purchase for the ladder feet, it was a bit wobble, but up I went. At first I was disgusted at the thought of touching the dead animal. He was cold and lifeless a horrible likeness of the onetime king of the yard. Reaching over my head, the body was just in my reach. He was wedged in so tightly I could not pull him out. No wonder he had suffocated. The tree had split cleanly in half, as if a huge ax had sliced it. Not knowing what to do I tied a rope around his hind quarters and tied a rock around the other end of the rope. I swung the rock and launched over a large branch, higher than Peaches. I tried to gently pull up, lifting him out of the vee. No use, disgusted I eventually pulled harder and harder until I pulled with all my weight, still He could not be budged.
“Mike, this is it, I’m leaving without you”.
“One minute, I’ll be right there”.

I ran back to the garage for more tools.
“I won’t leave you Peaches, not for those crows”.

He deserved at least a certain amount of dignity in death, not to be pecked at by crows at the top of a tree, he was my boy. I took the other half of the ladder and a three prong claw rake shovel and a sack. I made my way back to the tree, reassembled the extension ladder and raised it until it was higher than Peaches. I climbed up the precariously balanced ladder, moving recklessly fast. Looking down upon the ruined Peaches I tried to find some solace in that he must have suffocated in minutes. At least he hadn’t lain there for days, waiting in vain for me to come rescue him. But still I could not get my hand in the vee to grab him. In his struggles he had wedged himself so deeply in the vee that my hand could not fit in and close around his body to pull him out. I had to take the three prong claw rack and pull him out by his head and his tail, lifting evenly up so as to wedge one half of his body. No wonder he suffocated, how sad, looking for safety finding a trap. I finally pulled his ruined, beautiful body out of the tree and lowered him to the forest floor wit the rope still tightly cinched around his legs. I put him in the sack and trudged on pack to my yard. At the every end of my yard, at the edge of the forest I had built a fire pit for our camp fires. It was built in front of a boulder which formed a natural wind break. Behind this boulder where we met to have fun and share a family fire I would bury this favorite pet. I was able to dig a small depression behind the rock and laid the sack in it. I said a prayer and placed many large rocks over the shallow grave in order to keep the coyotes from digging him up.

I put my tools in the garage, perspired exhausted and deeply saddened I went into the house to shower. My wife looked at me at first angrily ready to rebuke my tardiness. Upon seeing my expression she asked what was wrong,

“Did you find Peaches? “

I told her the story but decided not to tell the children about it right yet. Let them enjoy Christmas, still with hope that Peaches would come home and open his stocking and find the yellow tailed yarn mouse.

หอศิลปวัฒนธรรมแห่งกรุงเทพมหานคร – Google Maps

BACC Bangkok arts and cultural center – Google Maps.

White Out

We are all capable of accomplishing amazing, miraculous things but first we must conquer our inner fears.
One time I faced death and I tried to run away in a blind panic but it was not until I controlled my fear and harnessed that panic that was I able to walk away from death.
In the June of 1984 I was a Project manager for a company that made laser inspection equipment. One project lead me to Fort Saskatchewan Alberta, Canada, I was working in an oil field for Dow Chemical.
I finished my assignment and took some I time (4 Days) to explore the region.  I had never been that far North before, less than 1,000 mile from the Arctic Circle and a reasonable drive to Banff National Park.
I drove due west on the Yellow head Branch of the Trans Canadian Highway for about 5 hours. As I approached the Rockies and finally saw them I got goose bumps on my arms, it was awesome sight. I stopped at the Park Gate entrance and watched Mountain goats and long horn sheep climb the sheer rock wall that flanked either side of the park entrance.
It was late by the time that I got to my hotel in Jasper. But it was June and the sun didn’t set until 11:00 PM. I remember sitting in a hot tub on the patio of my room watching the sun finally going down behind the mountains.
The next morning I headed south on the scenic Ice fields highway to explore the glaciers.
I turned off onto a side road which leads to the trail head of a beautiful 3 wall canyon, I believe it was called Weeping Wall canyon.
On the east face of the canyon was a mountain about 8,000 feet with a sheer rock face. A thin waterfall formed at the top of the mountain, formed from all the snow and ice melt and the water fell hundreds of feet to an azure, ice blue tarn below.
The north wall of the canyon was a 9,000 foot mountain and the west wall was this magnificent bald knob of a mountain.
As the sun started to warm things up I started to hear what sounded like the sharp crack of a gunshot, and then moments later the echo of the report. Then second’s later shards of rock would splash into the tarn. At first I thought that someone was on the bald mountain on the west side of the canyon firing at the rock wall on the east side. I looked and looked but could not find the source of the noise.
The sun rose higher and warmed the east wall more and the frequency of the cracks increased. I realized that the Sun was creating enough of a temperature difference that the rock wall was expanding and actually exploding, sending shards of rock wall to the tarn.
This was a wonderful sight, something I had never seen before. I was determined to climb up to the top of the Bald Mountain and witness this. I wasn’t using very good judgment. To hike alone into the wilderness without anyone knowing I was going was very risky business. The June weather in the Rockies is notoriously changeable and it was grizzly bear country. I knew it was unwise but I was only passing this way once. Filled with the audacious confidence of youth I set out into the wilderness, I was going to the top of Bald Mountain.
I followed a well marked trail along the side of bald mountain, above the tree line and eventually to the top of the mountain. The top was one huge barren rock top. I sat alone on the very top of the world, basking in the sun, and marveled at the glorious sight.
Suddenly ominous, malevolent clouds roiled over the north wall of the canyon. I took me a minute to realize how fast the clouds appeared seemingly out of nowhere, but you didn’t need to be Daniel Boone to realize that those clouds meant trouble.
Before I had a chance to react I was completely engulfed in the clouds. I found myself in the middle of a complete whiteout blizzard. I had zero visibility. The ferocity of the wind, whipping the snow around me like a maelstrom completely shocked me, this was beyond my experience.
I realized that I couldn’t see where I was going and the smooth barren top of the mountain provided no reference points and that I could literally walk off the side of the cliff. I was alone and no one even knew I was there; I would die alone in the wilderness. As this thought set in my horror quickly turned to sheer panic.
I began to run blindly, wildly into the storm. As luck would have it, I fell face first into a slight depression in the rock surface. The cold hard slap of the rock snapped me back to sanity and the declivity provided enough of a shelter for me to huddle on my hands and knees hiding my head into my chest.
I remembered I had stuffed and orange in my pocket and forced myself to calmly peel it and slowly eat it all as the stormed intensified around me.
I resolved that I was not going to run off the cliff like a mad man. If I were to die this day, I was going to die trying.
I decided to literally crawl off the mountain. If I came to the cliff wall, at least I would feel it with my hands even if I couldn’t see it. I crawled for what seemed like hours, I actually have no idea how long my ordeal lasted. Eventually it became easier to determine which direction was down and I found the beginning of the trail down. As the wall of the trail grew taller, I was spared from the onslaught from at least one side.
Hugging the side of the wall, I inched down the trail. Eventually I went below the tree line and then, as if by magic I literally walked below the cloud ceiling. And then it was quiet. I knew I had made it, I had conquered my inner fear, I accomplished an amazing, miraculous thing, I was going to live.

First Day Failure

Many of us remember our first day of school; it is one of life’s big moments. However, I never heard of anyone who failed his or her first day of kindergarten, except me.

I was so excited about going to school that I would ask my parents when I would get to go to school like my older brothers and sister. Our school was only a block away from our house and I could clearly see the schoolyard play ground from the front window. The older kids looked so happy playing and running and chasing, school must be great, fun and games all day long. In the fifties there weren’t any nursery schools that I was aware of. Every mother stayed home to take care of their children, and I imagine every mother was happy to send their kids to kindergarten at age four or five, especially if they were begging to go.

I was so proud on my first day. It was a warm day in early September. My father was a schoolteacher in a different town but he took the morning off to walk me to school that day. I felt I was the only boy lucky enough to have his dad take him. I don’t remember what I was wearing. I’m sure it was one of my brother’s hand-me-down school outfits, but I’ll never forget what my father wore. He was wearing his blue and white seersucker suit and he looked so handsome. He held my hand securely and told me reassuringly how proud he was and not to be scared. Right Dad, I thought, just let me at that playground.

As we got closer to the schoolyard my father kept talking but I stopped hearing. All cared about were the other kids already playing. My teacher greeted us as we walked through the gate. She was as tall as my father was and had a bright red beehive hairdo. She wore a mid-calf solid green dress.

“I’m Mrs. Lader and your classroom is over there.”

She points to the orange brick building behind her.

“You can play on the swings with the other children until its time to start.”

And that was it, I was off and running, I didn’t look back. I heard Mrs. Lader say,

“Well, he won’t have a problem.”

I wonder if my father did.

We played on the swings until all the children arrived. Mrs. Lader brought us in to the class room and showed us the play area, the story area, the upright Spinet piano, our desks and most importantly, the cookie closet.

The day progressed with out incident and I played and played. It was just like I imagined it, all day playing. Mrs. Lader kept on talking but I wasn’t really paying attention to her, there were too many other exciting things to do. At the end of the day Mrs. Lader came to me with a piece of paper and using a safety pin, pinned the paper to my shirt.

She leaned down, held my shoulders with both of her hands and said in an overly loud voice

“Make sure your mother reads this.”

My mother read the note when I got home. By the look on her face I could tell that apparently it wasn’t good news. I asked her what was wrong.

“Nothing honey, we’ll show the note to your dad when he gets home”.

I was sitting on the edge of my parent’s bed, waiting when my father came in. He asked me how my first day was as he took off his tie and coat; my mother showed him the note. He read it aloud.

“Have your son’s hearing checked, he doesn’t answer to his name”!

I was stunned.

“Can’t I hear?” I cried, starting to panic.

My father rubbed his face like he always did when he was worried and told me the story of how I got my name.

My father was born on a farm in Italy and he was the eldest son in his family. When he was 7 years old his father, my Grandpa George, brought his family to America. It is a tradition in some Italian families that when the oldest son eventually gets married, their first male child is named after the grandfather, in this case George.

My mother was born in Georgia and of English descent. She did not like this naming tradition and she did not like the name George. I am the fourth born of 5 siblings, second youngest. Neither of my older brothers were named George, my mother insisted on different names. But when I was born my father argued that I may be the last chance they had to name a son after Grandpa George, she acquiesced. However, she always called me by a nick name, Mike. Mike was my middle name. All my siblings called me Mike and that was the only name I had ever heard.

When my parents registered me for school, they showed my birth certificate which of course said George Michael Girolamo. Naturally my teacher called me by my legal name. As she was giving instructions and telling us the rules of the class room, I was playing. She called my name to get my attention and I seemingly ignored her.

“George, George, are you listening”?

I kept playing, hence the note pinned to my shirt.
My father told me this story and to the ears of a 4 year old all I heard was my name really wasn’t Mike, it was George. They lied to me, I was stunned, what else did they lie about. Was I really their child?

The next day my parents wrote a note to the teacher and pinned it to my shirt. They explained that they named me George out of respect for my Grandpa, but I went by my middle name out of respect for my mother.

The only thing I had to know on my first day of school was my name and in essence, you could say I failed the first day of kindergarten. Things went smoothly from that point on, and in spite of that inauspicious start, I did learn the rules of the classroom and eventually graduated from kindergarten.

Grass Roots effort to restore Naugatuck’s World War I Monument

World War I Memorial Flagpole Naugatuck, Connecticut 


There is an exciting grass roots effort taking place in Naugatuck to restore our World War I monument.  This important landmark is located on the Salem School property across the street from the First Congregational Church. The monument is the focal point of ceremonies on Veterans Day and it reflects the pride with which we honor our forefathers.

The Whittemore family of Naugatuck recognized the importance of honoring and preserving the memory of the borough residents who fought and died in WW I. In 1921 they commissioned a well known sculptor to create the monument.   As a tribute, the names of our fallen heroes are inscribed on the back of the monument to be preserved for posterity.

The monument itself is of great historic value. It was created by the famous sculptor, Evelyn Beatrice Longman (1874-1954).    Longman was the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919. Her allegorical figure works were commissioned as monuments and memorials, adornment for public buildings, and attractions at art expositions in early 20th-century America.

Some of her work includes sculptural decorations for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the chapel doors at the United States Naval Academy; the front entrance of Clapp Library at Wellesley College; wreaths, eagles and inscriptions on the inner walls of the Lincoln Memorial; and the Spanish American War Memorial in Bushnell Park.

However, time has taken its toll on our monument. There are cracks on top, a chunk has broken off, it has become discolored, and the decorative rocks that are around the monument have become dislodged and some are missing.

This summer, The American Legion, The Veterans Council, and The Beacon Valley Grange have partnered up to have the monument restored. A committee, being lead by Ron Fischer of Naugatuck, has been formed and an official fund has been established.

Members of the committee are; Chairman Ron Fischer, Commander of The American Legion Post 17; Stan Borusiewicz, Chairman of the Veterans Council; and Joanne Cipriano, Master of the Beacon Valley Grange.

Those who wish to help can send donations to:

The WW I Monument Fund
c/o The Naugatuck Valley Savings and Loan
333 Church St.
Naugatuck, CT 06770

Some people have sent a note along with a check describing their family’s involvement in World War I and some of the stories have been handed down to them from relatives who actually went to war. If anyone has a story that they would like to share, please send a note to:

Mr. Ron Fischer
117 Walnut St.
Naugatuck, CT 06770

Your story will be included in a scrap book that will eventually be donated to the Historical Society for all to enjoy.

Bailout Bull

Now I’ve heard it all.  $700 billion dollars of taxpayer’s hard earned money used to bailout the institutions that created the worst financial debacle since the great Depression. That’s in addition to an $85 billion agreement to bailout AIG, and $29 billion in support that the government pledged in the shotgun marriage of Bear Stearns and JPMorgan Chase. My reaction to the proposed rescue plan is “Stop the Insanity”.

We need to proceed with caution and with deeper regulation during this time of crisis.  We do need to act quickly, but not rashly and certainly with oversight. Henry Paulson, who previously served as the CEO of Goldman Sachs, is asking for an unprecedented amount of money with little or no oversight.  Many are asking that we do away with golden parachutes and salary caps for the executives that helped create this problem. The following list gives you an idea of how these people have been compensated for their performance:

Lehman Brothers Chairman and CEO Richard Fuld Jr. made $34 million in 2007. Lehman filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection earlier this month.

Bears Sterns former chairman Jimmy Cayne, who was rescued by a $29 billion Fed shotgun wedding to JPM, received $60 million when he was replaced.

American International Group chief executive Martin Sullivan got a $14 million compensation package in 2007. He was ousted in June. AIG received an $85 billion federal bailout.

Countrywide Financial’s founder & CEO Angelo Mozilo,  which has been at the forefront of the subprime fiasco, cashed in $122 million in stock options in 2007; His total take is estimated at over $400 million dollars.

Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley Neal steered them into financial collapse before being taken over by Bank of America; he was given a $160 million package when he left his post last year.

Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd received $11.6 million in 2007. His counterpart at Freddie Mac Richard Syron, brought in $18 million. The Federal government is taking over the mortgage backers with Herbert Allison to serve as Fannie CEO and David Moffett the new CEO at Freddie.

The FBI should investigate all the wrong doers that contributed to the crisis. That includes individuals who falsified mortgage applications so that they could qualify for loans which they could not afford as well as real estate agents, and mortgage companies. The FBI needs to thoroughly investigate institutions such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers Holdings, and American International and hold top executives accountable for their part in this crisis.

I question the strategy that Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson have in mind to purchase questionable assets from troubled institutions.  I realize that Bernanke and Paulson are trying to move quickly to stabilize the market, but haste makes waste.  They have pleaded for maximum flexibility and minimum oversight for good reason, what they propose is inane. During a 5 hour Senate Banking Committee hearing they explained that they don’t plan on buying assets at market value, they propose to buy assets at a “hold-to-maturity” price.   This strategy benefits the banks, not the taxpayers.  What they propose will artificially inflate the market value of the riskiest securities, thereby prolonging the crisis and placing the risk directly on the taxpayer.

Why not learn from one of the nation’s most respected investors, Warren Buffet.  Buffet has said “The government has a great opportunity. If they buy things at market prices with the government’s cheap funding, they should make a lot of money.” Buffet is investing $5 billion dollars in Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.  When he was negotiating this deal do you think he offered to pay a “hold-to-maturity” price?  Are you kidding? He’s buying “perpetual” preferred stocks that pay a 10% dividend. The payout is equal to $1.3 million dollars a day. He also has the right to purchase Goldman common stock at roughly 8% below market value. This purchase gives a needed boost to Goldman as well as Washington’s commitment to come up with a plan.  But the plan Washington comes up with needs to protect the investors, which are the taxpayers, and allow them to pick up assets at a fair market value.

So, the average person, who chooses not to invest recklessly in exotic derivatives and is facing increasing fuel costs this year is being asked to bail out financial institutions that benefited from taking risks. I realize that the entire financial system is at risk and it can not be allowed to fail. A well thought out plan is needed, and soon. However, Congress had better remember that elections are coming up in November. Any rescue plan had better include oversight and conflict of interest policies and truly have the best interest of the taxpayer as its main goal.

A Celebration of Life

I was strolling down Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh, North Carolina one night last week. I was in town on business and looking for a place to eat a good meal and relax with a cold beer.  I heard the unmistakable music of a lively Irish lilt. Intrigued, I followed the tune and found myself at the Hibernian pub. The doors opened wide, out onto the sidewalk cafe.  Sitting on a bench, half in the pub, half on the sidewalk was a man playing the guitar and signing loudly.   He was a redheaded giant of a man, all of 6’ 4” with an unruly full beard and was red in the face due to the exertion of signing over the raucous crowd or from too much ale, probably a bit of each.  I squeezed by the giant and in between a smaller, skinny man playing a concertina and a young girl dancing an Irish gig.   I didn’t realize it yet but by a serendipitous turn of events I had stumbled into an Irish wake.

It was relatively small inside and the only stool available was right next to the band.  The dancing girl made room for me so I sat down and ordered a pint of Smithwick’s Ale.  The crowd seemed to be a tight knit group of people who had apparently been drinking for some time. And the musicians seemed to be more a group of friends rather than a professional band on a gig.  A woman sat in front of the skinny concertina player and fed him a fork-full of what looked like a Belgium waffle.  He would lean forward in-between squeezing his music box and I wasn’t quite certain if he was going to fall forward or manage to gulp down another mouthful.  But he was smiling and playing and this calamitous cacophony of sound somehow came together. The singing giant, the dancing girl, the concertina and the yelling of the crowd, blended into a wonderful song of life.

As I sat sipping my beer and absorbing the scene, a tall bald headed man sat next to me and introduced himself.  “I’m Dan” he said. I shook his hand and told him “I’m Mike”. 

“And how do you know Peter”? He asked.  I told him I didn’t know who Peter was, but I heard the music and had come in to enjoy it.  Dan proceeded to tell me about his friend Peter Shilling and why all these people were here to celebrate his life.

Peter was a school teacher and had passed away at the tender age of 51 on July 13, 2008.  He died of cancer.  This struck me as quite a coincidence as my older brother was also a school teacher, and had passed away 7 years ago at the age of 51, on July 5th.  He also had died of cancer. 

Dan told me how special Peter was.  He was very much against the war in Iraq and wanted all people to live in peace.  As a matter fact, all the guests were wearing peace buttons like the ones that were popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Peter’s sons were there and Dan told me how special the prayer was that Peter’s oldest son had given. There was a poster of Peter on the bar.  It had a picture of his face and in large print over his head was the message “Stand Against War and Racism”.  Next to his face on the side were the words “No War on Iraq”.

Dan introduced me to another friend, Chris.  Chris was from England and a school teacher as well.  We sat and talked.  We sat and toasted Peter and my brother Roy, honoring them with stories of their lives and how they had affected those that they met. I told them about my brother who was also a teacher and an activist who protested against the war in Vietnam.  My brother was similarly honored by many friends and colleagues at his funeral.  I told them about how my father had immigrated to this country, had served in WWII and also had become a teacher.  We marveled at the similarities of Peter’s experience to that of my brother.  We became friends.

Once I got home from my trip I was determined to find out more. After an internet search I found his obituary.

Peter Schilling let go of the world he loved on Sunday, July 13, 2008. He was a wonderful dad, friend to countless people, a teacher, activist, card player, film lover and avid reader, handyman, and a magician of exquisite talent. He would perform sleight of hand with a simple yet complex grace, tricks that grew in wonder as they progressed, surprising even the most hardened cynic. But Peter was magical in every sense of the word: small gestures of kindness toward everyone, a devout commitment to justice and peace, and an ability to uncover beauty in even the most mundane. Thanks to his passion for life, he leaves this world a better place.

To a stranger walking by, it appeared that a real wild party was going on that night.  And in a sense there was.  It was a party celebrating the life of those departed.  There were some tears, but there was plenty of laughter as well as the guests shared all the funny stories, happy times, and triumphs of the dead and recorded it all in the memories of the living.

God bless Peter Shilling and God Bless my Brother Roy.

What’s a Man’s Age

My favorite quote from the English poet Robert Browning is about age. “What’s a man’s age? He must hurry more, that’s all; Cram in a day, what his youth took a year to hold.” I can tell you a bit about age as I do have some experience in this matter.  Time is relentless and it can be cruel but your age is what you make of it. Last Thursday I had one of those days that blurred my perception of time and age. 

The older I get the harder it is for me to guess what a person’s age is.  Probably because I still think I’m 20 years old.  It actually surprises me to learn a person’s age, I’m almost always wrong when I try to guess. This year I’ve been playing softball on my company’s team.  I’m past my prime softball years to say the least, but I’m there mostly to socialize and participate in a healthy activity.  I was a little frustrated at first because I felt I wasn’t playing up to my ability.  But I realized as I was driving home from one of the games that the last time I played softball was about 12 years ago.  On top of that, the average age of my teammates is probably 30, that makes me 20 years older than most of them.

After the game last Thursday I asked one of my new friends on the team if he wanted to have a beer with the rest of us. He said he couldn’t because he was driving.  “Good for you, that’s smart” I said. Then he came a little closer to me and said “I’m only 19”.  This was the first of several occurrences that blurred my perception of age.

On the way home from the game I listened to a message on my cell phone, it was from one of my college roommates.  It turned out that another one of our roommates was flying in for the weekend.  His son had accepted a commission at the Coast Guard Academy and was starting orientation that weekend. They would be staying at my friend’s house. I called him back and made plans to meet them. I couldn’t wait to meet up with my buddies and catch up on old times, but I couldn’t believe that one of my old roommates had a son old enough to be in the Coast Guard.

When I got home that same night I learned that my 17 year old had gone to Mohegan Sun with her best friend and her family.  I was waiting up for her to come home and started watching a George Carlin Tribute.  It was a compilation of his past routines and I remembered most of them from when they first aired.  I remembered when he hosted SNL for the first time for their premier show in 1975. I remember when he was so controversial that he was arrested for his famous “Seven words you can never say on TV” routine that lead to arrest, prosecution – and even a Supreme Court judgment.

As I was sitting there enjoying my memories of George Carlin my daughter called in.  She told me that some guy just gave her and her friend tickets to a sold out Billy Joel concert for free. Apparently this guy’s friends didn’t show and instead of wasting the tickets he was kind enough to share them.

She held up her phone and I heard the roar of the crowd as Billy Joel played the “Piano Man”. This instantly brought back memories of the first time I saw him in concert.  It was over 30 years ago during his 1976 ‘Turnstiles’ tour and I was in college at the time. Me and my roommates, the same guys I was going to visit, saw him in a small auditorium that held about 3,000 people.  It was an awesome concert and I remember exactly how I felt as he played.  He sat at his grand piano dressed in a black suit, white shirt and tie and played for more than 3 and ½ hours including 3 or 4 encores.

She said she thought the concert was over and hung up.  Then she called me back two minutes later and said “He’s playing another song”! She was surprised he kept playing; I told her I wasn’t surprised. I was glad that she remembered to call me and I was glad I had those memories to share. 

What’s a man’s age?  I can remember exactly what it was like to actually be good at playing softball. I can remember exactly what it was like at that Billy Joel concert 30 years ago. I had fun playing softball last Thursday and I had fun meeting my college roommate’s son last weekend. What’s my age? I’m old enough to know how great it is to be the age I am.

Our Fathers

What should I get my father for Fathers Day? This is the age-old question, and one that is not easily answered. Historically, my father has been the most difficult person in the world to buy a gift for. For years, my siblings and I have tried in vain to find him the perfect gift. He always seemed to be critical and unappreciative of whatever we bought him. We started to settle for just any gift that we thought was nice. Eventually we learned that all he really wanted was time.

I always put a lot of effort into trying to find him a gift he would enjoy. He always reads the newspapers and, after all, he was a schoolteacher is whole life, so I brought him books. In fact, it seemed like such a good idea that all my siblings started buying him books. He seemed to appreciate them at first but eventually, he started to look at them with an expression on his face that said Oh, another book!

One year I was struggling with what to get him for Fathers Day. He seemed always to be wearing the same clothes he had been wearing all his life so I figured a new shirt would be nice. I gave him an expensive silk shirt for the summer. When he opened the present, he looked at it for a while with little or no expression on his face. I said, Touch it Dad, its silk. He said, What am I going to do with a silk shirt?

I was hurt. I could not understand how he could be so difficult. At first, I thought he was being mean or rude. However, after all these years of knowing him I realized that what he really meant was that he felt it was too nice for him and that he didnt need such a nice shirt. I tried to understand how he came to be this way.

My father was born in the City of Molinara, Italy on February 14, 1922. Molinara is in the Southern zone of Italy. To be exact it is in the Campania Region in the Province of Benevento. His family were sharecroppers and from his description of his early childhood, they seemed to be centuries behind modern times. His home had no electricity or indoor plumbing. None of the homes in town had either of those luxuries until later on. To this day electricity is only available in town during certain times of the day.

My fathers dad, my Grand Pa George, did not actually own the land that he farmed. My fathers grandfather, Grand Pa Cappozzi oversaw the farm. The landowners permitted the families in town to work the farm. Once a year, they would load up their ox carts with produce, travel through the mountains, and give the landowners their share of the crop.

He immigrated with his mother and brother to the United States when he was seven years old. Grand Pa George had preceded them, coming over years earlier to get a job, find a home, and get his familys papers in order.

When they came over from the old country, they had two huge steamer chests, thats it. The entire family moved to a new country with two chests of clothing. There is a family story that my Grandmother was able to somehow disassemble my grandfathers favorite shotgun and hide the parts amongst the clothing. I know that sounds terrible in these modern times with the worries over terrorism. However, it was an expensive item and even though my grandfather told his wife to leave it behind, she would have none of that. They paid good money for it and it was coming with them.

My father remembers that when they finally made it through Ellis Island they went to Brooklyn to stay with some friends for the night. He kept looking at the ground and the pavement because his parents told him that the streets were paved with gold, and as a child, he believed it.

He lived through the depression and learned what it was like to have nothing. He lived through World War II and learned what it was like to sacrifice. He lived through those trying times, and overcame all of these adversities. He never really saw the need to own flashy or opulent items. He just needed enough to get by and raise is family.

As I learned these facts about his life, I began to realize how he felt about receiving fancy gifts. As an adult, I spent time with my father, asking him about his life. I can now understand how he came to be the way he is. At the same time, we both gave each other the most valuable gift of all. We gave each other our time.

Blaming the Victim

The housing crisis is rocking the entire world economy. How can we stabilize the economy and stop the bleeding? Congress is working on legislation that will impose stricter regulation on the mortgage industry. This is certainly an excellent idea. Basically, the industry has been self-regulated and you can see where that got us. It is important to remember who is culpable for this mess. Any solution that involves a taxpayer bailout is unacceptable. A taxpayer bailout would in effect be rewarding bond-rating services like Moody’s who gave triple-A ratings to mortgage backed securities and exotic derivatives. A taxpayer bailout would reward the mortgage industry and malfeasant institutes that made questionable loans to borrowers who could not afford them and would only further encourage risky lending practices. A taxpayer bailout would be tantamount to blaming the victim.

 

Bond rating services such as Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch are in the business of providing ratings for corporate bonds and securities. The ratings that these agencies provide are an estimate of risk, not a buy or sell recommendation. However, when Moody’s gives a good rating to securities, they become very marketable, even if the securities are comprised of a pool of mortgages given to risky sub-prime borrowers. The only reason that banks were willing to make these risky sub-prime loans is because they knew they could pass the risk off on to Wall Street. Banks no longer had to wait 20 or 30 years to get their money back from homeowners. They could sell these loans into securitized pools and realize their capital quickly. This enabled them to issue more loans at a much faster pace and thereby exacerbate the situation. Of course, this was extremely profitable for the banks as well as the rating agencies. From 2002 to 2006, Moody’s profits nearly tripled and in 2006 reported net income of $750 million. You don’t need an MBA to realize that the rating agencies suffer from a serious conflict of interest.

 

The Federal Reserve has taken action unprecedented since the Great Depression by lending money directly to a major investment bank, Bear Stearns in hopes that this will reassure investors and stabilize the market. The CEO of JP Morgan Chase, which purchased Bear Stearns, said, “There was a large failure of common sense”. I think he is being to kind. I think it was a successful attempt to make record earnings and a large failure to self-regulate. Why should taxpayer dollars back these risky loans? The stock and bonus plans offered to the CEOs of investment banks are worth more money than most of us will ever earn in a lifetime of honest work. The reason they decided to go ahead and make such risky loans is that they were rewarded handsomely for short-term profits and stock gains. Now that things are falling apart, we are the ones paying for it, not them. From 2004 to 2007 top executives at Bear Stearns, Citigroup, Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Lehman Brothers, Merrill, and Morgan Stanley received about $3.63 billion in salary, bonuses, and other benefits. Now these same seven companies are taking $96 billion in write-downs and yet their CEOs are allowed to keep there ludicrous earnings.

 

Congress is currently working on housing legislation that creates a regulator to oversee Fannie Mac and Freddie Mac, two companies that provide the majority of funding for home mortgages. This legislation also calls for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure as much as $300 billion in refinanced loans for struggling homeowners. The Congressional Budget Office estimated this insurance program would require $2.7 billion in government subsidy, and by government subsidy, I mean taxpayer’s dollars.

 

This legislation could potentially put the taxpayer on the hook if homeowner’s who receive government guaranteed loans, default on these loans. The proposed program would protect borrowers who owe more on their homes than they are worth. For these borrowers to qualify for the new government insured loan, their lenders would have to cut the size of the outstanding principal until the borrower actually has equity in the property. The program has the backing of the Federal Reserve Board and the FHA would guarantee the new loans. However, should we help the borrowers that got in over their head? We should hold the lending institutes culpable for making these sub-prime loans; after all, they were the ones who profited from them. In effect, this would be punishing the taxpayer for the bad judgment and questionable practices of others.

 

There are houses in my neighborhood that are in foreclosure. This affects the value of my home. I just received the financial statement from my IRA, and it has devalued significantly. I am already paying the price for the mistakes and poor judgment of others. It would be fair that those who profited should pay. When the CEOs of these companies are penniless and losing their homes, then I might be willing to use taxpayer dollars to bail out struggling homeowners, otherwise, using taxpayer money to bailout the economy is like blaming the victim.

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