Booker T and the M.G.’s perform one of their all-time classics. Wikipedia says a bit more… but the music, itself, says it all…
Booker T and the M.G.’s perform one of their all-time classics. Wikipedia says a bit more… but the music, itself, says it all…
For an unbearably long time, my homeland’s K-12 schools… and their worldwide equivalents… have been the breeding grounds / training camp sites for bullies. Considering how the inter-generational cycle of abuse tends to kick in (pun intended), what becomes of the once-upon-a-time abused when they become… oh… say… today’s public / private school staffers? Well… in that capacity / incapacity… they oft either practically wink their approval at each new crop of bully bastards… or turn a blind eye to them.
It’s almost as if some educators’ measure of “scholastic achievement” focuses upon how effectively bullies can irreparably scar their victims (both emotionally and physically). Hmmm… instead of the failing grade bullies deserve, do they award them with an A+? Is extra credit assessed if the victims need  hospitalization…  a shrink…  a visit from the undertaker?
Adding insult to the victim injuries… on the rare instances where a tormented student does strike back… almost invariably… school personnel punish ONLY the retaliator (to the further delight of each bully). Hell… were school staffers’ favoritism any more blatant, the playground and hall monitors would be charging admission to the bullies’ verbal and physical attacks.
Perhaps such assessments are too cynical? Too harsh?
Let’s be fair here. Let’s look at this from the teacher’s side of the desk. Many underpaid educators are so overworked and over-stressed, it’s inevitable that they’d become nose-blind to the bully stench… to the point where the victims start falling through the cracks.
And, when victims’ only remaining options boil down to fight or flight… especially if it’s the latter… that’s when further damage kicks in (again, pun intended). Once these kids start feigning illness to avoid going to school… this all but guarantees both academic and developmental stunting / stagnation.
Let’s consider what happens once abused, stunted students
eventually enter… no… strike that… DON’T enter grown-up society…
Social isolation… their learned response… to varying degrees… becomes their way of life. Such deep-down emotional stains don’t fade with time, either. And most assuredly, that’s no way to go through life! Hell… that’s not life at all!
I’m certain there are hundreds of thousands of bullying victims spanning our entire globe… each one waking up each new day wondering…
“Who might I have become… how much further ahead in life might I have gone… had insensitive school personnel heard my literal cries for help… had they come to my defense instead of enabling my tormentors’ indefensible, socially unacceptable behavior?”
How can I be so certain? Well… did you notice that above blockquote’s beginning / ending punctuation?
That’s me talking. That’s the very question I’ve been asking myself for the past 50+ years!
Sixteen years ago, March 24th fell on a Monday… the day my nearly 90-year-old mother fell and fractured her femur… the final, full 24 hour day she lived in her home of 42 years.
Within mere minutes of my summoning an ambulance, we both could hear the approaching siren’s Doppler shift… the increase in volume. Once parked out front, the flashing red lights began casting their surreal, subdivision-wide strobe effect.
The EMTs did what they do best… rapidly evaluated and prepped their patient. As the midnight hour neared, they wheeled Mom out on a gurney, I locked up, started up my backed into the garage car, idled the engine in the lower driveway and awaited to join them on our ride to the local, nearby hospital. Even at normal highway speeds, our ETA would be five minutes, tops. At the stroke of midnight, we were on our way.
Since I knew sirens could easily, overly stress out my mother, I had requested they not use them unless the situation became a life or death matter. I was so relieved that her condition permitted them to heed my heads up.
Long sigh… within a week of successful surgery to repair her fractured leg, pneumonia had set in. Her advanced years and one year earlier heart attack all conspired to make her chances for rallying slim to none.
Mom’s ambulance ride, eventually, turned out to be a one way trip. Her Earthly Home left behind, the sequence of her rapidly changing forwarding addresses had become… Nursing Home… Funeral Home… Eternal Home.
This past Sunday, the 24th, from my own perspective, I could not help but dwell upon Mom’s final 24 hours in her home… the home I wound up inheriting. By early evening, I had wound up falling asleep on the living room sofa. But… oddly enough… with this day’s final five minutes rapidly ticking down… I had awoken… instantly cognizant of that timing’s significance. I threw open the front door and made my exit into the still of the night…standing on the dimly street lit porch… my eyes panning the entire neighborhood… my mind time tripping to that not so distant past.
At the stroke of midnight… just as I was about to turn to go back inside… I could hardly believe my own eyes. An ambulance was driving on by… traveling along the very same highway… in the same southerly direction… at the posted speed limit… no flashing reds… no siren…
And while there would’ve been no reason to be following them in my car this time… I did follow them with my eyes. And once they were no longer in sight… my gaze averted upwards… to the heavens…
Initially, my father’s non-living wage, public school teacher gig had necessitated menus consisting of the cheapest, tasteless cuts of fatty / gristly meats and made patched up hand-me-downs my “fashion statement”. We rented from a slumlord, who probably was counting on his furnace’s carbon monoxide fumes to exterminate his hovel’s rats.
What little tech we did possess involved a snowy, black & white VHF-only TV, staticky AM-only radio and cheapo, monaural phonograph that damaged whatever vinyl it sank it’s stylus / fang into.
Fortunately, Presidents JFK and LBJ’s vision for a Great Society materialized… thereby helping to elevate folks like us out of poverty. By the early 1970s, I was actually pursuing my Broadcast Arts college degree… my parents even generously affording me the tools of my hoped for trade… e.g., an AM/FM stereo receiver, turntable, reel-to-reel tape deck, microphones and headphones.
A show of gratitude certainly was in order. My inspiration came from  watching Mom using a low-fidelity, monaural cassette recorder to tape her fave tunes off her tiny, tinny sounding radio AND from  listening to her rationale… namely… her concerns regarding Hard Rock station formats popping up all over… up and down the dial… a trend with the potential of banishing her fave Big Band music entirely from the FM band.
My game plan became to give Mom the gift of music… i.e., set up my tech to tape whatever songs she deemed keepers. On the night of our recording session, she became instantly WOWED by the clarity and expanded frequency range, which her audio devices lacked. Even after the passage of 4 decades, I still vividly remember her words… verbatim…
“It’s as if the musicians are right here in the room with us!”
And truth be told, her hard rocker son, too, experienced that same WOW! Never before had I heard Big Bands played in high fidelity.
While this was all good news, this tape did fall short in one crucial aspect. The DJ… perhaps sensing he’d soon be replaced by a rock jock… had been either rapidly rattling off his playlists or flat-out neglecting to do so. His omissions rendered the status of “ARTIST UNKNOWN” to the very song, which had incontrovertibly converted me into a Big Band enthusiast!
While my folks could both name that tune… Bugle Call Rag... neither could quite figure out “The Whodunit”… especially seeing how a bevy of band leaders all had included their versions within their repertoires.
There was one other prob, too… Mom shied away at the mere thought of trying to thread an open reel tape deck… a device sporting a lit up, metered control panel that could’ve fit in well within a jet’s cockpit. Ergo, I needed to be on hand for each playback… i.e., until my acquisition of a HIFI cassette deck. That device had been barely out of the box when I dubbed Mom her user friendly copy.
That handpicked by Mom, 25 song musical set was a representative sampling of the soundtrack to her life. As such, this cassette was destined to become her all time fave… one she wound up constantly playing back for the next (nearly) three decades. She’d have likely insisted on taking it with her, too… well… had there not been strict rules prohibiting worldly possessions beyond Earth’s Exit signs.
Beyond that… throughout the latter years of this tape’s lifetime… I could not help but concede that… just like my Mom… I’d wind up taking my final breath never having even the slightest inkling regarding Bugle Call Rag’s whodunit.
On a more positive note, I did conclude that YouTube… the repository of humankind’s creativity… could afford me my best shot at remedying that prob… especially upon considering the following fun facts…
“The total number of people who use YouTube – 1,300,000,000. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every single day. In an average month, 8 out of 10 18-49 year-olds watch YouTube.”
There just had to be at least one other Earthling YouTuber who was aware of my sought after version of Bugle Call Rag… RIGHT??? Yet… many a past search had left me “empty handed”.
It was mere weeks ago… as the waning hours of Tuesday, January the 15th were ticking down into the wee hours of Wednesday the 16th*… when… once more… I found myself scrolling through multiple dozens of YouTube Bugle Call Rag finds… skipping over any that had PB times significantly greater or less than my unknown’s known 2 minutes and 50 seconds timing.
This was where and when the ancient saying, “The Third Time’s the Charm” certainly had come into play. Following my audition of the first two potential matches…
Within hearing the first few notes of try number three… I simply could not believe my ears! Although this upload was not doing full justice to this track’s base frequencies… my 44-year-old whodunit search had come to a successful conclusion! All the sudden I felt this odd sensation on my face.
Rushing over to a mirror, I realized I was actually smiling… a rarity in my life these days considering the sorry state of our world and my homeland. And I kept on smiling, too, for I could now check “Discover Bugle Call Rag band leader’s name” off my bucket list!
WOW…. I almost forgot to mention that the mystery maestro and his merry music makers were/are Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra!
And since it had always been my contention that anyone who could’ve created such an energetic gem must also possess a massive repertoire of other must hear music, my next www destination became Barnes & Nobel where I discovered Mr. Gray’s CD… an hour’s worth of Big Band music with none other than Bugle Call Rag as the #1 Track. Within one week, USPS delivered my order.
I’ve now been listening to this entire CD with the same enthusiasm and frequency as Mom had played her birthday present… oh… so long ago. Interestingly enough… I’m using the exact same stereo receiver’s amp to power the very same speakers which blasted forth Gray’s rendition of Bugle Call Rag for my family’s listening pleasure!
*ADDENDUM: My above mention of Tuesday the 15th leading into Wednesday the 16th, has a much deeper significance. The April page of 2003’s calendar conformed to that identical day/date alignment… my Mom’s last two days on Earth… a time where we had been able to converse and reminisce for the first 5 hours of what would turn out to be my 22-hour vigil.
Have you ever had an experience where the power of positive thinking and/or the power of prayer significantly and unexpectedly bettered some aspect of your life?
In my case, this involved my 30 year career in retail management / sales… 20 of those with company “A” and 10 with company “B”. Throughout that entire epoch my ability to cope with difficult to please superiors had been repeatedly put to the test. But one case, in particular, proved to be a Herculean task.
Her very initials, L.A.W., accurately summed up her laying down the law stance. While intrinsically, there’s nothing wrong with that, it was her poisoned with suspicion, management “style” that bordered on paranoia… her bad ‘tude, which made for a toxic work environment. It was her belief that no employee could possibly resist the temptation to ripoff both cash and merchandise from our company.
Her treating me like a criminal didn’t sit well. I had never stolen anything… not even a pen or paper clip. In addition to my personal integrity, I could take great pride in my qualities of courtesy, dependability, punctuality, efficiency and accuracy. Hell, I would’ve turned in an honest day’s work even if no manager had shown up. Ironically, my being a model worker only made her suspect me more. From her POV, that had to be an act, right? WRONG!
Well, soon after her arrival she rolled out her extreme internal security measures. Rather than allowing her to rummage through my brown paper lunch bag prior to my going out into the mall, I found it best to eat my lunch in the stock room. As for visits to the restroom? She had that locked up tight. Whenever anyone needed “to go” we’d have to ask her to escort us right up to the door!
My coworkers were feeling just as demeaned as I. One day while we were commiserating, clear out of the blue (and out of her earshot), I referred to LAW as “the can opener” and that nickname stuck. I could go on but I’m sure, by now, you’ve “breathed in” enough of her atmosphere of distrust.
Needless to say she was negatively impacting store morale. Even our District Manager could easily sense the undesirable undercurrents. Eventually, LAW got reassigned to another store and, soon after, put in her two weeks notice. I felt so relieved just knowing that our paths would never cross again?
By 1999, some big shot executive decided that the approaching new millennium meant time was ripe for a corporate shakeup. That restructuring took the wrecking ball to my low level management position… limiting my options to two. Either be demoted or take a hike. I chose the latter.
My transitioning to a new workplace turned out to be a lot easier than I’d expected. Company “B’s” store was in the very same mall… catercorner to Company “A”! Even better, I’d already worked for their store manager who, btw, had always wanted to add me to her staff. Alas, less than three years later, my old/new boss had moved on to greener pastures.
An even bigger ALAS… three years after that… guess who had come back to haunt me? Yep, none other than LAW!
Gossip being a big part of retail world, my colleagues soon discovered I had worked for her, before, and so I became the go-to guy to answer all their worried, “what’s she like” queries. Opting to remain professional, I’d refrain from any badmouthing. After all, I hadn’t seen LAW in years… maybe she had changed? Ergo, my noncommittal reply went something like this, “I can get along with almost anyone. If you can, too, there’ll be no problem.” But, hell, even I wasn’t totally buying into my pep talk.
Since I had accrued over two weeks worth of vacation time, I decided to go on a safari… a job hunting safari. It was following one particularly, exhausting day of interviews, when I opted for an early bedtime. Just as I was drifting off to sleep I went to my own go-to guy to ask…
“God, considering the dozens of retailers LAW had to choose from, why mine?”
The next morning, I awoke to a rapidly fading dream. Upon concentrating deeply, all the sudden my memory clicked. I had dreamt about a long ago conversation with my mother. We were trying to figure out how best to stop schoolyard bullies from making my life miserable. Since my principal was of the gruff, insensitive, “Just man up and take it, sonny!” mindset, there could be no help from him. That’s when Mom suggested I turn to a higher authority… the highest authority. She mentioned Matthew 5:44.
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…”
I now realized my problems with bully LAW could be dealt with similarly. I could even tap into my own submission of applications and resumes routine. This had to be quite similar to what LAW had just experienced! I began beaming my prayers upward, throughout all my remaining vacation days… especially between job interviews.
“God, won’t you please help my new boss LAW. There must be at least one other personnel manager who could make her a job offer she can’t refuse. Lavish her with better pay… a primo benefits package… a better 401K… the works! Nothing is too good for LAW!”
Well, I soon found myself glumly heading back to work… expecting the worst… yet… upon punching the time clock on my first day back… my grinning, assistant manager told me that, in my absence, there’d been a sudden shake up of the status quo.
Within mere days of hiring on, LAW had put in her two week’s notice! Seems, somehow (?), some way (?) she had gotten a much better job offer. Go figure, huh? Even better… since our four assistant managers were fully capable of running the store without her… our District Manager had decided to cut her free much sooner.
Bottom line, I never had to even cross paths with her… not even once… not so much as even a fleeting glance at each other… or in her case… her stock-in-trade, suspicious, “if looks could kill” glower.
Even my “failure” at finding a new job had to have been God’s way of preventing me from leaving Company “B”… something I had never really wanted to do.
While some might chalk up my experience to mere co-incidence, I’d say there’s much to be said for the power of positive thinking… the power of prayer.
Hmmm… all the sudden I find myself in an especially positive mood. So… uh… please excuse me while I head off to find a place of solitude… uh… to begin praying that a certain fake prez will get a much better job offer… preferably within the private sector.
On this day it has been 15 years since my Mom passed on… became part of something bigger… be that “something bigger” eternal life or oblivion. At the very least she had achieved a short-lived genetic “immortality” by adding her genes to Earth’s gene pool… that being a fleeting nature because she never wound up becoming a grandma.
To humorously chronicle her life and times, I had composed the above biographical limerick… transforming it into the second to the last homemade birthday card I had ever presented to her.
Her reaction? She had gotten a few chuckles out of it.
Fifteen March Twenty-Seconds ago, upon punching my timecard’s final out slot, I found myself navigating through the mercifully short, 15 minute, p.m. commute. I was feeling all tuckered out…my exhaustion caused not so much by my paid labors but, instead, due to my having taken on responsibilities as a caregiver… my teaming up with paid, home care professionals… our mutual goal being to assist in my nearly nonagenarian Mom’s recovery from a recent heart attack… to nurse her through an ever-growing, myriad of other age related complications, as well.
As was customary during that (now) bygone era, upon greeting Mom, I was once again sitting at her sickbed, our telling one another all about our days… as well as reminiscing about the good old days. It was while chatting, attempting to cheer her up that I started experiencing… well… it was sort of a feeling of deja vu. I say, ‘sort of” because a role reversal of sorts was involved.
You see, it had been my caregiver Mom who, decades earlier, used to sit bedside… chatting to cheer me up as I weathered the countless childhood storms… i.e., the emotional turmoil of being relentlessly, verbally and physically assaulted by elementary, junior high and high school bullies… i.e., the physical illnesses, which ran the full gamut from colds/flu, measles, mumps, chickenpox to my more serious, post-op convalescence following my tonsillectomy.
Of course, no recollections of those times would ever be complete without mention of my Mom’s favorite, surefire home-remedy / cure all… i.e., her made from scratch pancakes saturated with maple syrup.
Fortunately, I had never succumbed to that “macho” notion that “real men” don’t cook… so I not only knew our “secret” family recipe but, thanks to Mom’s OJT, I also had plenty of work experience in preparing them.
So, the more we talked… the more I realized Mom had always selflessly and tirelessly stood in my corner throughout my life… the less fatigue I was feeling. And the more I wanted to repay her for all of her past moral support. Oh, you should’ve seen the smile on her face when, clear out of the blue, I said, “Mom, I’m heading for the kitchen to prepare a pancake supper for the two of us.” Within an hour, we were sitting down at our dining room table and savoring the delectable, finished product.
I am so glad that Mom and I had shared our special meal together, for a mere two days later, she wound up breaking her leg. Nine days after that, after being admitted to a nursing home, a post surgical complication… pneumonia… set in with a vengeance and after that?
Well, exactly one month after our pancake supper, I was delivering Mom’s eulogy.
Mere hours ago, on this very night, I headed to the exact same kitchen to prepare a new batch of pancakes. Later, as I sat down at the exact same dining room table I raised my coffee cup and sent my words to the heavens…
“Mom, this fifteenth anniversary memorial pancake supper is to honor you and keep your memory alive. I shall love you forever, with all my heart.”
I should also mention that, set before me (us?) was the exact same, saved syrup bottle that both Mom and I had poured from on this very night, 15 years ago. A bottle once filled with sweet maple syrup,
but now empty… no strike that. It is still filled with the bittersweet memories of the last pancake supper Mom and I had ever enjoyed together in this Earthly realm.
About all I could possibly add, here, is that since we can never really know if the last time we see one another will be the last time, we need to always act accordingly.