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Tag Archives: death

Romeo & Juliet: My Very Own Personal Experience

The balcony scene

Romeo courts Juliet prior to their mutual display of stupidity.

I was going through some of my old files and came across this paper I wrote nearly sixteen and a half years ago. I was in a program at California Lutheran University called ADEP (Adult Degree Evening Program) where I was attempting to earn a Bachelor’s degree in . . . I don’t remember, but it was something like “Information Technology”. Unfortunately for me, the lower division classes were designed for eighteen to twenty year olds, and I was nearly 54 years old at the time. Much of it was boring and I was a bit miffed at having to slog my way through material, much of which I was quite familiar with.

At any rate, one of my classes was a performing arts class, which I really did enjoy, especially because it gave me the opportunity to spend some time on stage. Being somewhat of a ham, it was great fun. This review of Romeo & Juliet, which was the first (and, I believe, only) Shakespearean play I’ve attended, is the result of an assignment. Here, then, is that review in all its stupendously innocent glory.


 

Having never seen a performance of this play, and neither having previously read it, I was uncertain as to how I would pick a favorite character amongst the many. This was made even more difficult by my rusty Elizabethan English. Nevertheless, at curtain time (figuratively speaking, for there was no curtain) I sat attentively and pricked that portion of my brain devoted to my ears, straining to find meaning and direction in the activity taking place before me.

Romeo and Juliet were too easy. Besides, the actor doing Romeo played him with a type of boyishness which bordered on, shall we say, dweebiness . . . or perhaps a certain goofiness reminiscent of Jim Carrey as either dumb or dumber (I forget which role he played). Juliet was, of course, sweet and petite, but singularly uninteresting from my point of view.

Mercutio, however, was a character I liked immediately, even though most of the time I couldn’t be entirely certain I understood what he was saying. I do believe early on I caught a glimpse of at least one of his objectives. He spoke of “fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh, and [especially, I assumed] the demesnes that there adjacent lie”[1]. Certainly, this is what I was most interested in when I was a young, impetuous man. This, then, I felt was one of Mercutio’s primary objectives; to get laid.

This isn’t to say he had no other objectives. Certainly, he wished to demonstrate his loyalty to Romeo and the Montague household, but my overwhelming feeling during the play was that, above all else, Mercutio wished to tear off a piece, if you will. All other objectives were subordinated to this overarching quest.

I can think of at least two major obstacles which stood in his way. The first was Romeo; this was, after all, his show. His obsession with Juliet dominated the play (how strange), and greatly cut into Mercutio’s stage time. The other obstacle, as I saw it, was Tybalt who (rather pointedly) ended Mercutio’s quest to achieve any of his objectives.

Mercutio’s tactic then was one of challenge and bravado. Perhaps, if Romeo hadn’t been such an insufferable dolt, Tybalt would not have gotten in the cheap shot which ended Mercutio’s presence in the play, rendering his tactic moot. Who’s to say? This has been happening for many hundreds of years now, and the result is always the same is it not?

Except for the fact that the seating was not designed for the comfort of a man temporarily crippled with a palsied foot, I enjoyed the play immensely. As I said, I had never seen this nor, in fact, any Shakespeare and it was quite enjoyable.

My two favorite characters where Mercutio and the Nurse. I thought the Nurse was played brilliantly, and I watched her closely. Her facial expressions and body language were superb. I also thought Mercutio played well. I wish that I had been a little closer so I could have seen both their faces more clearly.

As I, er, intimated above, I thought the actor who played Romeo made him out to be rather foolish. Since I have never seen this play performed by others, I don’t know how he has been interpreted previously. The impetuousness with which both Romeo and Juliet pursue their relationship and, ultimately, end it is reminiscent of today’s teenagers and reminded me of teen love affairs and the high rate of teen suicide. Perhaps, then, Romeo was played as he should have been. A bumbling numbskull marginally responsible for the death of one of his best friends, not to mention himself and his putative love. Call me callous, but I found him singularly unsympathetic. I might have killed him myself, if Will hadn’t saved me the trouble.

Thanks for the tickets. I could go on. I find flowery language grows on me and, given time, could no doubt tell you of my experience in rhyme, perhaps even in heroic couplet. However, this is ADEP and I’m injured, a mere shadow of my former self. I end, anon.


[1] I looked this up on the Internet. Hey! Like I said, my Elizabethan English is rather rusty, so I thought I’d check and see if the lines jibed with what his actions said to me. Indeed.

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Please Forgive My Selfish Indulgence

I was just going through some of my PowerPoint files, looking for one very specific file in which I’ve gathered many of the great, useful graphics (like this) Dion Hinchcliffe has created over the years. As I was searching I came across a program I put together for my mother’s funeral, which will have been eleven years ago this coming March 5.

Annette Ladd

My mother at about 18 years old. This is one of the pics I used for her funeral program

Maybe I’m just an emotional pushover, but the realization she’s been gone over a decade, that my father has been gone for over thirty years, and lots of people my age are dropping had me feeling pretty melancholy right now. I wept, but I’m not sure why. I don’t generally feel sorry for myself, but I think I was lamenting something we all go through; the loss of our childhood, our innocence, our loved ones.

Actually, the feeling is both bothersome and cathartic. I’ve always felt being in touch with one’s emotions — and giving vent to them on occasion — is both healthy and empowering, but I must confess to feeling a bit guilty expressing them in public like this. Nevertheless, it’s one of the reasons I have this blog. I’ll get over it.


Goodbye Old Friend. It Was Great.

Today was an inordinately sad day for me. It wasn’t for all day, not even most of the day, but the feeling was different than many other sadnesses I’ve felt. I learned today that a man who I’ve been friends with since before I have actual memories passed away. A friend with whom I grew up and spent most of my childhood. My best friend for the better part of my first twenty years on this planet. The guy I enlisted in the U.S. Navy with in 1966 on the buddy system. He apparently had a heart attack and he also, apparently, was living alone as his body was not found for (I’ve been told) “some time.”

We were no longer really friends in the sense that we did things together or even talked; I hadn’t seen him in probably twenty years, but I had remained close to his younger brother, Bob, whose wedding I had performed and whose son was named after me and is my Godson. I heard about it first from his youngest brother, Chuck, in a Facebook message. Chuck lives in Kansas and I haven’t actually seen him in more than twenty years, but we’ve been FB friends for a while and I do believe I’m thought of as extended family. Jim wasn’t a Facebook kind of a guy. Unfortunately, a lot of people my age have never become comfortable with computers, let alone social media of any kind.

Still, Jim was so much a part of my life growing up, there’s no way I could forget his role in it. I used to go with him every Sunday to Saint Genevieve’s in Panorama City. Most of the time he would just grab a pamphlet in the vestibule to prove to his parents he had actually been in the building, then we would go off and play somewhere. There were also times when I had no choice but to attend Mass and I learned all the proper moves to make; holy water, genuflection, grace at meals when I had dinner at his house. I could even recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers if called upon to do so. I almost still can, just like I can almost still read Hebrew after four years of Hebrew school that culminated in my Bar Mitzvah. In all the years we lived with our parents, he always tried to find his way to our house for Friday dinner. He didn’t much care for fish and my father was a butcher at the Grand Central Market.

Back in the mid to late fifties, there was a yearly Carnival that took place in Panorama City, near the intersection where Parthenia peels off to the west from Van Nuys Boulevard. They always had a shooting gallery where real .22 caliber rounds were used and Jim and I would root through the sawdust on the ground in front of the counter where the rifles lay to find unspent bullets people had dropped. We always managed to find a couple or more. After all, we were kids and that was our job.

We would take those bullets to the tennis courts at what was then called Hazeltine Park and “aim” them at the houses on the other side of Costello Avenue, to the northwest. Then we would smack them with a hammer. Great fun was had by all until another friend and I were doing the same thing in his backyard and a piece of shrapnel barely missed taking out his eye, leaving a nice gash in his eyebrow. That was kind of the end of that.

We did lots of crazy-ass things, which I can only assume lots of kids do. We once put our hands on top of the entrance to a red ant colony just to see what would happen. That was a shocker, as I recall. We used to put lady finger firecrackers in oranges — remember, this was in the middle of the San Fernando Valley in the fifties; there were orange trees everywhere — and throw them like grenades. My first lesson, though I hardly realized it at the time, in physics came from the realization that wrapping the firecrackers in duct tape increased the explosive power of those little things. We were just trying to keep them from being so diluted by the orange juice they wouldn’t explode.

Years later, when we were around 14 or 15, my family had moved a few miles away and Jim used to come and visit for a day or two at a time. Two doors to the west they were still constructing the new location of the temple where I had become Bar Mitzvah and one of the walls was unfinished, with horizontal rebar sticking out of the ends. We bent the rebar and made it into a ladder so we could climb up on the roof of the building and run around on it. We played a game for a while where one guy would get a BB pistol and the other guy would get a head start. The idea was to aim for clothing but I’m certain Jim caught one in the ear once. Another damper to our childhood fun.

I could go on. The more I write, the more I remember things we did, and the more stories I could retell, but I’ll save that for another day. I’d rather take one last moment and relate why I feel so melancholy and how important this loss is to me. It’s true we hadn’t talked in something like twenty years. As we grew our lives went in very different directions. The last time I saw him was in his home in Glendale, AZ. He was married, working as a contractor, I believe, and they had at least a dozen cats in their house. I was able to spend a few hours with him during an evening I was in Phoenix on business. We talked a bit about old times. We were in our late forties and not yet disposed to reminisce too much. I would hear about him occasionally from Bob or his wife, Bonnie, but it wasn’t much and life kept moving along.

His death, though, leaves a special hole in my past, the kind of hole most of us end up having more of than we’d like. My grief is only marginally for him, more so for his family, but in large part for myself. It’s the same kind of hole others who played a larger-than-life role in my past have left as well, even if they were nowhere near as close to me as Jim had been. One that comes to mind is Richard M. Nixon. I despised that man and spent many years fighting to end the war in Vietnam when he was President. He played, although indirectly, a huge role in the years I came of age that I nearly wept when I learned of his death. Not because of him — I wouldn’t dream of weeping over his death — but I grieved for the passing, the irrevocable disappearance of my young adulthood and all that was attached to it. Before he died, I had something to hang on to; an artifact of that part of my life. With his passing, it was gone.

The hole I feel with Jim’s death is far more devastating and just a little difficult to deal with. Much like Nixon, as long as he was alive, we had our past and our years of friendship. There was always the possibility we’d see each other again and have some laughs, maybe a beer or two. Now that possibility is forever gone. I have often written about death. It fascinates me. In the meantime, however, life goes on and I will too. I’m surely not the only person to experience these feelings. I just wanted to get them out and say a few words about, and in honor of, someone who was very special to me.

So, via con dios, Jimmy. You will forever live in my heart. We had too many good times and meant far too much to each other for me to just let your passing pass. I will someday join you, as will we all. For now, I’ll content myself with remembering our friendship and take the most from it until it’s my time.


Why Am I Bothering To Learn Anything?

“No one here gets out alive.”
Jim Morrison

We are all the result of a long chain of possibilities that stretch back billions of years. We each are the progeny of a single sperm cell which, out of billions making the effort, fertilized a single egg out of thousands and brought us here; carriers of DNA that has been evolving for eons and eons. Such is life on this planet.

At the other end of the spectrum is death. Do you think about it much? I have thought about it my entire life. Not obsessively, and not morbidly, but I think it would be honest to say I do think about it often. Perhaps it was because a First Cousin of mine committed suicide when I was very young and I saw how devastated my father was at hearing the news. Perhaps it’s because we really are surrounded by it and we learn fairly early that it’s our final destination. Maybe everybody thinks about it frequently. I really don’t know because we don’t talk about it that much, except in literature, song, and the occasional self-help or personal awareness book.

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of an afterlife and my belief there’s no such thing. I’ve tried to imagine what such nothingness might be like and, for the life of me, I can’t. At least not in a way that leaves me satisfied I really understand what the total absence of experience might be like. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Mark Twain’s quote about death hints at what it might be like. He said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

After my father’s death in September of 1984, one the many thoughts his absence triggered was the realization virtually all the education, understanding, and wisdom we accumulate over the years almost completely disappears after death. To be sure, there are exceptions; memories, works of art, books and papers, social and philanthropic efforts, etc., but none of these will likely last more than a few millenia. Now, with the benefit of another thirty years of contemplation, I realize there’s a loss that’s at least as profound, and far more personal.

This is the thing that befuddles me the most. As I noted in the previous post I mentioned, above, if I am correct and there’s nothing after death, I have such a hard time contemplating what that means. I agree with Mark Twain’s quote and have used that very same reasoning. Nevertheless, that was before I experienced consciousness and, now that I have, I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine no longer having it. It’s not that I don’t accept it, even gain comfort from the knowledge it really won’t matter to me, as there will be no me to care. It’s just that I find myself trying to imagine that kind of nothingness (or everythingness?) and I fail in the attempt.

Here’s a somewhat silly thought experiment. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there is such a thing as life after death. Let’s also say it’s possible to come up with a reasonably useful timeframe for the ultimate heat death (thermodynamic equilibrium) of the universe. Some suggest it will be in 10^100 years. That’s an awfully long time. Now, the following may seem a bit trivial, but please bear with me. In my mind, it points out the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife; at least anything that resembles the life we’re living here, on this planet Earth. Assume that, during this time period, I exist corporeally and continue shaving because I don’t care for beards, and once every trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 or 10^12) years — because, although I’m bound to improve with time and practice, we all still lose focus now and again — I cut myself and, as a result, develop a tiny bit of scar tissue with each cut. By the demise of the universe I would have cut myself 10^88 times. I would think the resulting scar tissue would eventually make me unrecognizable.

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride.


Thirty Years Gone – My Old Man

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Thirty years ago today my father suffered his fourth, and final, heart attack. It happened while he was undergoing the insertion of a Swan-Ganz catheter to monitor the functioning of his heart subsequent to his third heart attack. He did not survive the procedure. While I don’t have a truly eidetic memory, I am cursed with a reasonably healthy ability to picture things in my head. My memory of that night haunts me to this day.

The last time I saw him, he was being wheeled out of his hospital room toward the catheterization laboratory at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City, CA. The man who had brought me into the world, who had carried me in his arms into my bed when I’d fallen asleep in the car,  who protected me, and who had — despite his disappointment and distress over many a choice I made in my crazy-ass life — stood beside me and sacrificed much for me, was scared. I didn’t like seeing it then and I don’t like remembering him that way now.

My old man was old school. Born in 1924, he would have been ninety on November 7th of this year.  He was the fourth child in his family; the first born in the United States after his mother and three older siblings were finally able to flee from the Ukraine and join my zeyda (grandfather in Yiddish), who had emigrated eight years earlier and finally saved enough money to bring them to Chicago. His name at birth was Isadore Edward Wladovsky and he was raised on the South side of Chicago, where he attended Washington High School.

He did not graduate, choosing instead to join the U.S. Navy when he was in his senior year. He had turned seventeen on November 7, 1941, one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He completed boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I don’t know a lot about his service, other than he was on at least one Murmansk run; a very dangerous voyage through the North Atlantic bringing supplies to the Russians via the port of Murmansk. He also wrote and drew cartoons for the ship’s news bulletin. I used to have faded, crumbling copies of some of them, but they have either disappeared or are in a box somewhere in my garage. The highest rank he achieved was Radioman 3rd Class. I remember a short vacation in San Diego when I was in my early teens and we went down to the docks to view one of the ships where they were providing tours. We were standing alongside the ship and he was able to use his knowledge of Morse Code to read what one of the Naval vessels was signaling to another.

Arctic Circle Crossing Certificate

This certificate was given to each man aboard the William H. Webb upon crossing the Arctic Circle

Every father has a chance to be a superhero for a while and mine was no exception. When he carried me in his arms as a toddler, I was invincible, and when he tucked me into bed I was safe and secure. He was the strongest man alive as far as I was concerned and he could do just about anything. Once he even convinced me, after demonstrating the fine art of blowing smoke rings (he was a Pall Mall man at the time), that he could create a smoke piano. To this day I swear I saw all 88 keys on that grand piano!

Unfortunately, time burnishes off the luster of perfection and, more likely than not, children realize their parents are — much to their horror and consternation — merely human beings; flawed, imperfect, and capable of making mistakes.

Such was my experience. I’m not sure when it happened, and I’m reasonably certain it had as much to do with my rebelliousness as anything else, but the day inevitably came when I suddenly realized how “stupid” he had grown. After that, we didn’t get along all that well for a long time. Part of the problem, no doubt, was my father’s very conservative upbringing and his propensity to criticize and seldom praise. I was expected to excel and when I didn’t, there was hell to pay.

He had a quick temper and, in today’s world, I’m reasonably certain he would be, at best, a candidate for anger management. He was quick to strike and, when he did, it was frequently with the back of his hand. If I fell to the ground to avoid the blows he wouldn’t actually kick me, but he’d push me around on the floor in frustration. To be fair, it didn’t happen often and I never suffered more than bright red hand marks on my back or – sometimes – my face. My mother often came to my rescue, screaming at him to leave me alone. He once took a swing at by brother, who ducked, and ended up hitting the youngest son of a neighbor of ours. That didn’t go over too well and I think he was so mortified he decided it was time to stop with the corporal punishment.

I also think he was haunted by the many fitful nights he spent aboard ship in the North Atlantic, knowing they were being shadowed by a German Wolf Pack and could be torpedoed and sunk at any time, a fact made evident by the ships around his that suffered such a fate. Survival in those waters was very unlikely and I can’t imagine it was easy to get any real deep sleep. On those occasions my mother would ask me to wake him, I learned very quickly not to be within striking distance, as he came out of his sleep as though General Quarters was sounding.

Despite our troubled, angry, and frustrating relationship we loved each other and, thankfully, in the two or three years prior to his death we were enjoying a growing closeness — even a budding friendship. We had worked together in the business he started, which transformed from Ladd Meats to Edward Ladd & Sons, my brother having joined it years earlier.

He took up golf late in life and became a scratch golfer. He wanted me to golf as well, but the grief he gave me over being left-handed (I tried to learn right-handed, but just couldn’t get comfortable with it) and the proximity of the ocean, where I had learned to surf, doomed that venture to failure. I didn’t come back to golf until I was 46, nearly a decade after his death. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is never having played a round of golf with the old man. I drove him around in a golf cart many times, but never played back then. Shortly after I started playing, I went to Porter Valley Country Club, where he had been President of the Men’s Club one year, and had played there a couple times a week for many years. They still had his picture on the wall and gave me a cart to drive around the course, which I did, trying to imagine him playing each hole.

We buried him in his favorite golf clothes, clutching his favorite putter, which we believe he would have liked. I’ve been told the groundskeeper at Porter Valley lowered the flag at the Club to half staff when he learned my father  had died. I think it choked me up more than any reaction I heard about.

Eddie Ladd

The Old Man at About 50

After he died, I can’t recall how many times something good would happen to me and I wanted to let him know, sure he would be proud or excited for me. Anyone who has smoked and quit knows the feeling of absentmindedly reaching in one’s pocket for a pack of cigarettes, only to discover there’s nothing there; then remembering you’d stopped smoking. That’s how it felt – only worse – when I wanted to share something with my dad, and the realization he was gone would hit me. The hole in my heart dropped down to my stomach and it took a few minutes to shake off the hollow feeling it brought.

About two or three years after his death, I dreamed I ran into him on a cliff overlooking a beach. I don’t know where the beach was, but in the dream we spent the entire day together, exploring caves, sharing a meal, and talking. We talked about my life and he assured me he was fine and happy to see I was doing well. I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t believe I was really talking to my father. However, I do believe I was putting a few “ghosts” to rest by dealing with some of the unfinished business from my perspective; some of the things we never got to do together. It was the best dream I’ve ever had and I remember it to this day. Not in great detail, but definitely in terms of how it made me feel.

He left little of material value, save a moderate life insurance payment that went to sustain the family business, which provided for our mother and our sister who was, I believe, just entering her last year of High School or who had just graduated and was still living at home. I got a piece of jewelry and some clothing, some of which I kept for many years afterward. I still have the pendant, which was custom made for him by an old friend of mine. One of the non-material things he left me was an ability to recognize absurdity and the willingness to comment on or satirize it. He also had lots of silly sayings the family still refers to as “Eddieisms”.

He was a hard worker who was able to move from behind the counter of a small deli in the Grand Central Market, to owning a small truck with which he would purchase and transport distressed merchandise to some of the poorer markets and butcher shops in and around L.A. He was a peddler, once the “broken hot dog king” of the City. He had a wonderful singing voice and many times, during the shows our temple, Valley Beth Israel, would put on for the congregation, people swore he was lip-syncing to Sinatra. He wasn’t. Most everybody he knew loved him and, true to the stormy nature of our relationship, I many times referred to hm as a “lovable asshole”.

To say I miss him would be both an exaggeration and an understatement. I don’t think about him every day. It serves no good purpose and I have a life, a wife, and two young children who still depend on me being with them every day in many ways. Nevertheless, he will always be a part of my life and there are numerous times when I think of him. I would give anything to be able to tell him how much I love him and how much he remains a big part of my life and who I’ve become.


Reflecting on a Deep Personal Loss

The middle of next month will be the 30th anniversary (is that a good word for it?) of my father’s death. While 30 years is a long time and I’m quite used to his absence, I find certain little things are affecting me in ways they normally don’t. Some stories and videos on Facebook, as well as some of the dramas I like to no-brain out on with television, are having a disturbing effect on me.

I’ve been thinking about the blog post I want to write to commemorate his passing and to share a little bit of the joy and pathos that was our relationship. It was a loving and stormy one, I’ll tell you that. I suppose thinking about it has been making me a bit melancholy. I used to be able to talk to my mother about him, but she’s been gone almost nine and half years and my brother and sister and I just don’t talk about him that much. Thirty years! Hard to believe.


A Subtle Dig From Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut quote

Damn Right!

Thanks to a post I made on Facebook yesterday, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a story by Kurt Vonnegut, “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian”. I’m thinking it might fit nicely somewhere in my book. Many thanks to my Facebook friend Sam Garrett for pointing me to it.

“This morning, thanks to a controlled near-death experience, I was lucky enough to meet, at the far end of the blue tunnel, a man named Salvatore Biagini. Last July 8th, Mr. Biagini, a retired construction worker, age seventy, suffered a fatal heart attack while rescuing his beloved schnauzer, Teddy, from an assault by an unrestrained pit bull named Chele, in Queens.

“The pit bull, with no previous record of violence against man or beast, jumped a four-foot fence in order to have at Teddy. Mr. Biagini, an unarmed man with a history of heart trouble, grabbed him, allowing the schnauzer to run away. So the pit bull bit Mr. Biagini in several places and then Mr. Biagini’s heart quit beating, never to beat again.

“I asked this heroic pet lover how it felt to have died for a schnauzer named Teddy. Salvador Biagini was philosophical. He said it sure as heck beat dying for absolutely nothing in the Viet Nam War.”

You can substitute Iraq for Vietnam and it works just as well, eh?


How To Shop

Clothing for entering a blast freezer

This is what I should have been wearing!

Many years ago, when I was in the wholesale food business with my father and brother, we got a new customer who sold to many high-end restaurants. Many would recognize the names of these famous Hollywood eateries, all of which were very successful and (bonus) somewhat recession-proof. This was a very good thing for us, as it provided a substantial boost to our gross income. I became the schlepper; the one who had to drive around every morning and pick up the items our new customer needed to service his clientele. I did not mind. I was young and full of energy and truly enjoyed arising very early in the morning to greet the day.

My job meant driving around every morning, picking up the items that had been ordered and getting them to our customer’s location, where they would be either stored temporarily prior to delivery, or further prepared for later  delivery to their customers. Generally, three days of the week required me to enter as blast freezer that was forty degrees below zero; so cold that it had no solid doors, merely thick plastic curtains as a safety measure, ensuring no one could be accidentally locked in. The freezer was huge and the doors big enough to accommodate a large forklift laden with several palettes of product.

I never had to pick up more than I could carry out by hand, so I wasn’t in there for very long. As a result, I made the decision not to spend the money to purchase the kind of clothing that I would have needed had I been required to spend more than a few minutes in that freezer. I would put on a sweatshirt above my regular shirt, a jacket, and a white butcher’s coat on top of that. Still, I can’t recall a time I was in there more than a minute before I found myself wondering what it would be like to freeze to death. It was painful almost from the instant I pushed aside those curtains and stepped inside!

This meant I would generally stand outside of the freezer for a few minutes and mentally chart the shortest course to pick up what I needed, which would facilitate a quick retrieval and egress. With the exception of stationery stores, which I view as museums of contemporary business practices (and which have those sacred items, paper and writing materials, enshrined within), this is how I have since shopped for everything. I suspect most men do the same, despite never having had to enter a forty below blast freezer. It’s how we roll.


A Generation Gone

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Tomorrow would have been my father’s 89th birthday. It’s also a couple of months into the 30th year since he’s been gone. Over a generation has passed since he died a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday. I don’t think of him that much anymore, but when I do I miss him; sometimes terribly. Like so many men of my generation, I had a very stormy relationship with my father. He was a veteran of the U.S. Navy and had served during World War II, and survived the deadly Murmansk runs through the North Atlantic. I know his time aboard ship affected him deeply. I made the mistake – though not very often – of waking him when I was standing too close to his hands and arms. He did not wake well, especially when I was young. I learned to stand back and gently touch his foot or call out to him.

He was raised by a very stern Russian-Polish immigrant who I never got to meet. Assuming my father learned much of how to be who he was from his father, I figure Max Wladofsky was a stern and difficult man to please. My old man really wasn’t capable of showing too much affection, nor was he capable of much in the way of praise. For years after his death, I found myself thinking (after something special had happened to, or because of, me) “I can’t wait to tell Dad.” Of course, that was followed immediately by the recollection he was gone and would never know of it, or have the opportunity to be proud of me. I wanted desperately to please him. Fortunately, in the final years of his life he and I settled our differences somewhat, and finally began building what I’d like to think would have been a wonderful friendship . . . had he not died so very young.

He really was a loving man, but I believe circumstances conspired to make it difficult for him to show affection and acceptance. He was a member of what we now refer to as “The Greatest Generation”, a generation of hard, stoic men who “saved us from Fascism” and, after the war was won, brought home the bacon. When he left the service, he was able to purchase a modest, new home in Panorama City, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and have to say much of my life was pretty idyllic by most standards, thanks to his dedication to his family and his hard work.

He was, I believe, scarred forever by his experiences during the war as well. He never saw combat as a soldier, but he spent weeks aboard ship, in convoys being hunted by German U-Boats and sailing through waters in which hypothermia would have killed survivors of a torpedoed ship within minutes. I doubt many on those ships slept very soundly. I’m sure he didn’t.

I hardly ever saw him when I was a young boy, as he worked six days a week at the Grand Central Market, in downtown Los Angeles. He left the house before I arose and frequently didn’t get home until after I was in bed, asleep. Sundays were usually spent with other members of our extended family and, if memory serves, the adults kept mostly to themselves and the kids played together. I got to know my cousins pretty well, but I didn’t get to know my father until much later.

Because I had been told most of my life that I was exactly like my father, I spent quite a few years after his death thinking 59 would likely be the end of the road for me. Since I’m now 66, I’m thankful that didn’t turn out to be the case. Still, I think I would gladly give up a few years if I could have had a few more to enjoy with my father. I wish he were here so I could wish him one more happy birthday tomorrow. I guess I’ll have to content myself with spending a few minutes writing this post and thinking about him . . . and how much I really do miss him.


Golf and Cognitive Dissonance

The 18th at Simi Hills

The 18th Hole at Simi Hills Golf Course – Simi Valley, California

I took up golf at the tender age of 46. My department was having a tournament and they needed bodies to fill up open slots. After a significant amount of badgering, I agreed to participate. To be fair, I had been introduced to golf when I was fifteen. My father had taken it up and he wanted me to enjoy it as he did. Unfortunately, he also wanted me to be right-handed. I’m not. He insisted I would be better off golfing right-handed and I tried, but it wasn’t to be. I felt incredibly awkward and didn’t want to put up with what I perceived to be an inordinately difficult effort to make the switch.

Couple that with the belief (this was back in 1962) that golf was primarily for old farts, and a strong desire to spend time surfing, and I didn’t last long at all. I guess, then, it’s not entirely correct to say I took it up at 46, despite the intervening 31 years before I handled a golf club again. Regardless, I played in the company tournament and spent a little time on the driving range and practice green in preparation. I was hooked—big time!

My uncle offered to have a friend make me a set of custom clubs for a very reasonable price, which I did. I quickly discovered, however, golf can be a very expensive sport, especially when you spend all your spare time hitting balls or playing. I could not afford to keep up the pace I was going at. In order to continue, I wrote and published a newsletter for the course I spent all my time at, Simi Hills. None of the articles were based on anything but my own fertile imagination and conjecture, but the General Manager of the course loved it and asked me to do it on a monthly basis, with real information this time.

In exchange for my efforts, he began allowing me to hit as many balls as I wished on the range and I took full advantage of it, frequently hitting hundreds of balls as I perfected my game. Soon I was invited to play with the head pro and the GM and, of course, it was as good as getting hours and hours of free lessons. I got my handicap down to 12 within a fairly short while, no mean feat for a man who was then pushing 50.

As I increased both my physical capabilities and my understanding of the game, I was soon approaching a single-digit handicap. It was then my wife and I decided to adopt. I wasn’t actually too keen on the idea at first, as I had visions of retirement, travel, and lots of golf. However, the desire to be a parent overcame my (very strong) desire to continue playing golf and, once the process began rolling along, it became harder and harder to play or practice. By the time we returned home with our oldest, in 2002, I was 55 and it became very difficult to fulfill my duties as a husband and father and still have time to play golf.

So, why am I telling you all of this? I still watch golf quite a bit and, lately, I’ve been playing a very realistic virtual game (World Golf Tour) online. Also, I have given a lot of thought to the role golf plays and how it jibes with my world view. I am aware there are numerous arguments for golf being a wasteful, indulgent sport of the rich. I am aware golf courses take up a lot of property for the use of, perhaps, not very many people. My best, somewhat informed, guesstimate is that the average full-size course is used by around 350 golfers a day. That’s not very many compared to the numbers using a municipal park or a National or State park. It surely explains why golf is so expensive, as it is a heavily tended and manicured environment.

Many courses, some suggest as many as 40% in the 1990s, were built as a part of a real estate development, and I’m not even going to get into the place Country Clubs play in terms of the exclusivity and expensiveness of golf. A large percentage of golfers are very well off. I suppose, comparatively, I am one of them. Certainly, when I was still employed in an excellent, well-paying job, I had the money to play a couple of times a month and practice several days a week when I wished.

There are, however, significant attempts to bring golf to the less-than-affluent, Tiger Woods’s “The First Tee” likely being the most prominent. Frankly, I don’t believe golf need be an “exclusive” sport. Furthermore, I think it has values to teach, as The First Tee does, that are difficult to find in today’s hyper-competitive environment found in many other sports. Inasmuch as I started so late in life, golf hasn’t taught me so much as it has reinforced in me many values I find important and useful, e.g. integrity, self-assurance, patience, calm deliberation, respect for others, etc. I also found on the golf course a place where everything else in my life melted away for a few hours. I was able to put my job and my responsibilities out of my head for a while; no mean feat for one such as I.

Tiger thanks a Marine

Tiger Thanks a Marine For His Service

There’s one other thought I had – and this whole post (which is somewhat off the top of my head, though I’ve thought about it a lot) was begun with this thought in mind – that bothers/concerns me. The military has long had a close association with golf (see this USGA history) and I have no problem with this. It does, however, lend even more credence to the belief that golf is exclusive because, historically, it has been primarily the Officers who had the time and money to play. That may be changing, but my goal isn’t to analyze the development of golf inside the military. What I am interested in understanding is what it means that every golf tournament now seems to have members of the military ceremoniously tending at least one flag on the course – generally the 18th.

I find myself wondering if this doesn’t, in some small way, signify our becoming more and more a military culture and also, given our penchant for honoring our armed forces for serving, yet never questioning how and why we ask them to serve, if this isn’t a bit backwards. What does it say about us as a society that we don’t seem to question how our military is used, yet now (post-Vietnam) bend over backward to thank them for their service? How do we justify asking them to do what many believe is not in our best interests, yet feel a heartfelt “thank you for your service” is somehow enough to justify our cavalier attitude toward the forces behind their service and sacrifice?

This leads me to other questions, such as are we becoming a sort of Sparta by proxy? Are we a nation that uses its wealth to prosecute wars that are unnecessary and only serve the interests of the truly wealthy and powerful, simultaneously insulating the average citizen from the sacrifices and costs involved? Are we asking the members of our armed forces to kill, fight, and die for no other reason than to preserve our position as the world’s largest consumers of natural resources, then showering them with just enough pomp and circumstance to obfuscate the ugly and horrific reality?

This is where I find cognitive dissonance. As I watched the end of the Greenbrier Classic yesterday, there were two service members tending the pin on the 18th. I am pretty sure I’ve seen this at just about every tournament I’ve watched this year and it seems as though it’s been only recently this has happened regularly. I really love golf as a sport, though I do wonder where it fits in the overall cultural milieu I live in. I hate to see it used as a propaganda tool but, truth to tell, I’m not sure that is what’s happening. What do you think about this? Am I crazy; being too ideological; reading too much into a genuine expression of gratitude? The dissonance is killing me.


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