A Touch Of Grey

In this youth-worshipping society, you might be surprised that old people are occupying powerful positions into their 80s and 90s.

We’ve had two recent examples, Joe Paterno and Andy Rooney.

Joe Paterno, 85

Paterno, who died January 22, was 85. There’s no question about his life accomplishments. They ‘re legendary. And it’s sad that his final days had to be tainted by the Sandusky scandal. Without the scandal, he probably would have passed from this life still on the job as the football coach at Penn State.

Andy Rooney, 92

Andy Rooney, who died in November last year was 92. He too had been a legend in broadcasting for decades. Rooney did retire, but just weeks before he died. In the 60 Minutes piece honoring his retirement, his grave illness was never mentioned.

Because many are delaying retirement, the people in power are getting older.

Daniel Inouye, 87

At an average age of 58.2, we have the oldest Congress in history. Three U.S. Senators are 87 (Akaka-HI, Inoye-HI and Lautenberg-NJ).

Vice-president Joe Biden turns 70 this year. Four of our nine Supreme Court justices are in their seventies.

Betty White, 90







In show business, advanced years are no barrier to working. Betty White is 90 and Clint Eastwood is 80. Regis Philbin retired not long ago at age 80.

Pope Benedict XVI, 84

Evangelist Billy Graham is 93. Other aging religious leaders include Pope Benedict XVI, 84,, the Dalai Lama , 76 and Joseph S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 82.

According to a CNN survey, one fourth of all members of the middle class plan to delay retirement until they are 80 because they are not financially prepared to retire comfortably. Only 20 percent of the workers surveyed thought you should retire at a set age regardless.

In the past, many people were forced into retirement by a mandatory retirement age, often at 65 or 70. But in 1986, the mandatory retirement age was abolished by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. A study at Columbia University found that the number of workers age 65 or over in the workplace has since risen by 10 to 20 percent.

In American society, older people are a fairly new group. In 1850, the life expectancy was 38. There weren’t very many old people. But with better health care, people began to live longer. It was during the Industrial Revolution that old age became an issue.

There was no such thing as retirement for the masses before Social Security was enacted in 1935. One of the reasons Social Security was passed was to get older men out of the workplace. Older workers made mistakes, missed too many days, and could be replaced with younger, stronger workers. Social Security got them out of factories at age 65.

Between 1950 and 1999, the average retirement age for men dropped five years, from  68.7 to 63.7 years, and the retirement age for women dropped 4.4 years, from 68 to 63.6 years, according to Social Security stats.

But with more and more older Americans choosing not to retire, it seems we have now come full circle, and that many people prefer to continue to work. The truth is, Americans now have the freedom to retire or continue working, and that’s the way it should be.

This is a trend that is here to stay. The fastest growing age group in the U.S. is those 80 and older.

Jerry Garcia summed it up in his own musical way: “Oh well, a touch of grey, it kinda suits you anyway.”

The Packet – Flash Fiction for 1/27/12

The spy had stepped down from the  train and stood there waiting to meet his contact and pass off the packet. But the conductor and a pesky boy were hanging around. His contact would be spooked.

He waited until the conductor called “All aboard” before giving up and walking for the train. Suddenly he heard footsteps behind him running toward him. He turned as the boy crashed into him and fell to the ground. “Sorry, sir,” the boy said and jumped up and ran.

It was not until he was back on board that he realized the packet was missing.

10 Overlooked Movie Gems

The Academy Award nominations were announced today and as usual I’m disappointed. I think the nominees do not reflect the best movies. What I see driving the awards race are big directors, big actors, big-money production and politically correct messages or something that appeals to the broad masses.

I’m not saying the nominated movies are bad. I don’t really know. I haven’t seen them all, though I have read reviews. But when you’ve given movies like Crash and Titanic the best picture award, I have to question the integrity of your process.

I keep a list of the movies I watch. So I went back over the past year and found ten movies I thought were excellent, none of which has been nominated for much of anything. Because I watched some of the movies after they came out on DVD, the movies mostly date back over the past couple of years. Some of them are low budget, some you may never have heard of, but they have one thing in common: They tell a good story well.

In alphabetical order, here they are.

Animal Kingdom

– This is an Australian gangster movie about a tense battle between a crime family and the police. If you liked Goodfellas or Casino, you’ll probably like this one.

Cedar Rapids

– This comedy about an idealistic insurance agent who’s in way over his head stars Ed Helms (The Office), John C. Reilly, Ann Heche, Rob Corddry and Sigourney Weaver.


– This movie made some top ten lists. Starring John C. Reilly as Cyrus, whose marriage with wife Catherine Keener has broken up. When he starts a new relationship with Marisa Tomei, there’s one major problem, her teen-aged son, played by Jonah Hill.

Fish Tank

– This is one of the most powerful movies I’ve seen in recent years. It’s British and chronicles the life of a teen-aged girl who lives in a huge low-rent apartment block with her boozy party-girl mother. Gritty, real and great performances.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

– When a teen boy gets committed to the psych ward, he meets some crazy and heart-warming characters. Zack Galifanakis, who seems to be everywhere, gives a good turn as a mental patient.

A Little Help

– Jenna Fisher of The Office really shines  in this story of a suburban housewife whose husband dies leaving her to cope with a new reality alone.

Powwow Highway

– Rarely do you see a movie about Native Americans. They are our most invisible minority. In this fun and raucous film, a young man must travel from the reservation on a cross-country trip to try to get his sister out of jail. Made in 1989, but I just discovered it last year.


– Set in the 1980s, this teen-bop drama has the feel of American Graffiti 20 years later, with good writing and stellar performances from a no-big-names cast. It’s a real blast from the past.

The Winning Season

– When down on his luck coach Sam Rockwell takes the job of coaching the girls’ basketball team at his old high school, he struggles to relate to the girls he coaches. This is a warm, funny movie with some great moments.

The Yellow Handkerchief

– This independent drama starring William Hurt and Maria Bello is part road  trip, part love story and completely charming. With a supporting performance by Kristin Stewart.


What’s your choice for an overlooked screen gem? Post it in the comment section.

Allah Is Great- Flash Fiction for 1/20/12

Allah Is Great!


The air terminal in Wisconsin is big, modern and fancy. The Americans love putting up monuments to their wealth. Many of them stare at me and I hear someone call me a towel-head. It’s a racist country. They have everything, yet they are nothing. They look and smell like the pigs they eat.

I made it through security. They missed the plastic explosive in the bottom of my carry-on. I’m standing in the boarding line with the infidels who will die gloriously. An hour from now I will be in paradise with my virgins.

Death to America!

Allah is great!

Many unhappy returns

A while back I had to return a little 12-volt air compressor for airing up car tires. I’d bought it at Walgreen’s which is where I buy all the supplies for subsistence living. You know, stuff like hot plates and fix-a-flat and super glue.

I’d bought the little air compressor, hooked it up and used it one time, and then it stopped working. Yes, it was made in China. But the good news was that it croaked so quickly I still had my receipt, a monumental achievement for an under-organizer like myself.

So, receipt in hand, I marched into Walgreen’s and took it to the register and politely whined out my story to the checker. She told me I should go to the service desk. I should have known that anyway, but I think the trauma of previous trips to return items had blanked my memory.

So I went to the service desk, which was unserviced, and I waited, and waited. Did I mention I also hate waitng? There was a woman there who also was waiting. She engaged me in a conversation about the Walgreen’s coupons for cosmetic products. Apparently, it didn’t matter to her that an older man might not have much interest in coupons for cosmetics. Anyway, she was ahead of me, if and when an employee wandered back to the service desk.

Now, I hate to return items. I mean I really hate it. My extreme dislike probably grows out of the fact that, like many men, I don’t like shopping in general. Returning an item is sort of like shopping  in reverse, but it doesn’t matter that the process is turned backwards, to me it’s still a part of the shopping horror.

Actually, it’s worse. At least when you shop, you may come away with something you need. When you return something, it’s because somehow a shopping trip didn’t work out right. It’s a mistake you’re correcting, so at the end of the transaction, you’re right back to where you were earlier. That doesn’t sound like progress to me.

While I was waiting for the service desk to be manned, or womanned, as it would turn out. I decided to go check to make sure they had another compressor in stock. If they didn’t, I’d have to get a cash refund, and then, guess what, another shopping trip to find a compressor somewhere else.

It turned out they did have one new one on the shelf. Standing there, looking at it, the devil started talking to me, saying how unfair it was that I had to wait around to undo a problem that wasn’t my fault.

I should just pick up the new compressor and walk out of the store, the devil said, leaving the dud compressor behind. Problem solved. Being a devil’s advocate, I stuck my dud compressor in the nearest trashcan, picked up the new compressor and headed for the front door. It was kind of exciting, like smuggling must be.

Then I saw those sensors by the door that set off alarms if you try to shoplift something, and I realized that if I  tried to leave the store, it would go off. My bad. I headed back to get my old compressor out of the trash can and exchange it for the one in hand.

As I was walking past the service desk, somewhat agitated by my idiocy, a woman said, “Sir, did you have a return?” You guessed it, the prodigal service desk woman had returned and was now ready to help me.

Trouble was I didn’t have my old compressor in my hands. I had a brand new one. I felt like a deer in the headlights. I stood there pouring out the story of my loss and impressing the service desk woman with my receipt. It may have been the first time ever she’d seen a man with a receipt.

But, worst of all, she approved my return and was ready to take back the brand new compressor I was now holding. I had created a cluster fluster.

Just in the nick of time, inspiration came. “Just let me run back there and see if you have one in stock,” I said, refusing to surrender to her the box with the new item in it. You know that speed walking thing they do in the Olympics? I did that kind of walking as I went back, got my old item out of the trash and took both boxes back to the desk.

“Yeah, you had one,” I said, trying to act casual. “Here’s my old one. Thanks.” I think  she may have picked up on my devious behavior, because my voice was about two octaves higher than normal, but I had all the elements required for a return, old item, new item, receipt.

So I got out of there, happy not to have embarrassed myself, happy not to be under arrest, happy to have a new compressor, and hopeful they were not going to check the videotape.

Did I mention how much I hate returning things?

The Acorn’s Tail – Flash Fiction for 1/13/12

One day a squirrel found an acorn on the forest floor. It was strange because it appeared to have a tail.

The squirrel took it to his rabbit friend. “That’s not a tail, it’s a horn. You’ve found a deer egg.”

She didn’t completely believe the rabbit. She took it to her possum friend. “I’m almost sure that’s a snake hatching out. Kill it now.”

Next she took it to a raccoon, who washed it. “It’s a bomb. That’s clearly a fuse.”

Alarmed, the squirrel cried, “What should I do?”

“Take it somewhere and bury it before somebody gets hurt.”

26 Cats

My wife and I live with 26 cats. And yes, we are crazy cat people. Who else would put up with so many cats? But it’s not like we set out to be overrun with cats. Almost every cat we have was forced onto us, one way or another.

When we moved to Arkansas in 1997, we had one cat, Pete, a fluffy orange and white. We rented a house at the edge of Fayetteville. We had no idea what was about to happen to us.

I think it was in 1998 we took in our second cat. One day my wife Ann heard a kitten meowing, but couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. The next day, we realized the dogs next door had a calico kitten treed in their yard. At that point, the kitten had been up there for at least a day without food or water. Ann went over and talked to the neighbor and he got the kitten out of the tree and she came home with it.

One day another neighbor showed up on our porch with three tiny kittens. “This guy that has ‘em is gonna knock ‘em in the head if you don’t take ‘em,” he told us. We took ‘em. They were so weak they could barely raise their heads. Ann had to bottle feed them, and they survived. We were up to five cats.

Another knock came months later. People in the neighborhood had figured out we had a weakness for cats. A man I’d never seen told me this story: a cat (not his cat) had given birth to kittens under his trailer. The mother cat had then gotten run over and killed in the road in front of his trailer. Did we want the kittens? They were going to die without their mother.

I went over to his trailer, crawled underneath and gathered up kittens and put them in a box. I don’t even remember now how many I took home, maybe five or six. The next day, the man who lived in the trailer showed up at my door again and said, “You missed some,” and gave us two or three more. Our cat total: mid teens.

Two neighborhood girls found two kittens dumped under a bush at the side of the county road. Being at the edge of town, we were in prime animal dumping territory. The girls named them, but we became their new caretakers.

Our neighbor’s cat, Charley, decided he liked living at our place better than his. Some other neighborhood cats gravitated to us because we were always willing to feed a hungry cat.

Our kittens grew up. Our income was limited. We had more cats than we could afford to get spayed and neutered. Several of our girl cats got pregnant. I don’t remember how many kittens were born, maybe about 15. Cat population: Now in the low 30s.

Why didn’t we give some of the kittens away? Because my wife and I both have a serious flaw in our natures. If we spend time around an animal, we bond with it. It becomes part of our family. And you don’t give away your family members. I would call us extreme animal lovers. Others might call us hoarders. In our defense, it’s very difficult to find good homes for animals, and even if we had placed a few with responsible families, we’d still have had big numbers.

Five years into our Arkansas time, we were struggling to support our horde of cats. The numbers were threatening to spiral out of control. We put all the money we could into spaying and neutering, took advantage of some low-cost programs from our local agencies, and got all our cats fixed.

Our landlord didn’t like us having all the cats. In late 2001, he decided we couldn’t live in his house anymore. We had to be out by the first of the year. We frantically looked around, trying to figure our what to do. We were afraid nobody would rent to a couple with 30-plus cats.

We got lucky. We found an older mobile home on a few wooded acres a few miles outside of town and managed to scrape up enough money to buy it. The cats dearly loved having woods to run around in. We liked it too.

But when you have lots of cats in your yard, you can’t avoid becoming a cat magnet. People from our new neighborhood started bringing us orphaned cats. We’ve lived in the old trailer for about ten years now and most of the younger cats we now have are strays or dumpees that were brought to us.

We started out 2010 with 33 cats. At the start of 2011, we had an even 30. This year started with 26. There are some real negatives that go with maintaining a large number of cats. We’ve seen just about every kind of cat tragedy there is. We’ve had cats run over, killed by dogs, die from Bobcat fever (cytox), cancer, and kidney failure . We’ve had months when the vet bill was more than all our other bills combined. Some cats just disappeared. We lost three cats in two nights this summer and we suspect coyotes, but have no proof.

The real reason we have all these cats is because cats are a surplus commodity. There are too many cats because too many humans are irresponsible and won’t get their animals spayed or neutered. When these same people’s animals have babies, they just kill the young ones, or take them out and dump them.

We still spend thousands every year on cats. It’s difficult to travel. The inside of our trailer smells like a zoo. Cats have broken or destroyed or damaged more stuff than I can list.

The cats have changed our lives significantly in many ways. Would we do it again? Absolutely. Because the cats are loving creatures who know who cares about them and give back. They snuggle with you, they seek you out, they want to give and get attention and affection. It does take lots of cash, time and thought, but it’s worth it to see them happily living out their lives.

The Beatles said it better than I can: In the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take.


Will Rogers Forever

I’m amazed that all these years after his death, so many of Will Rogers witty quotes are still in use. His quips on politics are his most famous,  but he had plenty of wisdom about life in general too.

I graduated from Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, and grew up in Oklahoma just a 30-minute drive from where Will Rogers was born. I’m proud to try to keep his legend alive and I think his words still are as applicable today as when he wrote them.

So, without more fanfare, here are some of the best sayings of Will Rogers:

On politics:

We have the best Congress money can buy.

A fool and his money are soon elected.

I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.

Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money just to be defeated.

On business and the economy:

If you can build a business up big enough, it’s respectable.

An  economist’s guess is liable to be as good as anybody else’s.

Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.

On life in general:

I never met a man I didn’t like.

 Do the best you can and don’t take life too serious.

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

Everybody is ignorant, just on different subjects.

If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.
Never let yesterday use up too much of  today.
People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.
Worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come due.
You’ve got to go out on a limb sometime, because that’s where the fruit is.

Snow Kill – Flash Fiction for 1/6/12

It snowed last night and I killed my neighbor Wesley first thing this morning. Before sunrise, I crammed my feet into Trish’s Nikes, loaded her pink-handled .25 automatic and walked to his cabin. The dog went with me. Wesley lives nearby, so it only took a few minutes. I’ve been seething since summer, when I saw them cavorting naked. I shot him twice, chest and head. I tossed one of Trish’s cigarette butts on his porch, the gun in the yard, dialed 911 on Wesley’s cell, and tracked home and put her shoes by the bed where she still slept.

Literally. Really?

If you’re a language type, or if you literally have any brain activity at all, surely you must have noticed that the word LITERALLY has of late had its dictionary meaning literally assaulted, abused, disrespected, ignored, misunderestimated, burned and pillaged. To make matters worse, the new usage we all are literally stuck with is literally outpacing the correct usage and if English were a democracy, well, the votes are literally in, and literally is now literally no more than an intensifier.

Just a couple of years ago, Cool Cats said it like this: “Try thinking very outside the box.”

Now it’s: “Try thinking literally outside the box.”

Actually, that’s not right. The phrase “outside the box” is now antiquated and not cool.

Now it would be: “Try thinking literally spot on.” But I’m still at least a few months from writing about how that British import “spot on” has infected the American vocabulary.

I digress. This is literally all about literally. Literally. Really.

The great thing about this new alternate meaning for literally is that you can literally throw it in almost anywhere. It used to literally mean really, actually. Now it’s ruined, a waste word. It’s lost its purity as a functioning member of the language family. You just can’t trust it anymore.

As a member of the language police, I’m outraged. You took one of my precious words and turned it inside out. By you, I don’t literally mean you, the person who’s reading this. The you I mean is all the idiots who copied the first idiot who began misusing this formerly perfectly good word.

Sadly, to use another trendy phrase, this new usage is literally too big to fail. Language is literally like a river, carving new channels all the time, a process we language lawmen have no control over and can only react to. Generally by literally kicking, screaming, crying, cursing, bitching and moaning, until that fateful day when you walk in the front door and hear yourself say, “Honey, I’m literally home.” That’s the day you know the language criminals have won. And you literally heave a big sigh and move on to the next outrage.

So this is my eulogy to literally. A few sentences to commemorate an old friend who has gone to the dark side. If we language marshals can’t literally keep the language in line, at least we know how to have some fun with it. What follows is me literally trying to salvage some kind of grim gallows humor from this annoyance.

Here are some uses for the new literally:


I was already angry, but when I stepped on the land mine, I literally exploded.


I really don’t like stamps, said the envelope, but I’m literally stuck with it.


When my hobo buddy died, I was literally bummed out.


When the patient finally decided to have the surgery, he literally had a change of heart.


After the cop squeezed out some toothpaste, he literally had a brush with the law.


Then my lips found hers. They were literally right under her nose all the time.

What’s yours? Come on, share it literally with everybody in the comment section