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Monday, May 25, 2015

Collateral Damage

This is what Philip LaChapelle wrote in March 1969, a week after his best friend Eddie was killed in Vietnam:

In the church, his coffin will be covered by the flag he never believed in, never fought for.  It will be said that he had “‘given his life for” that flag.  But he gave his life for nothing. It was stolen.

Philip and I were married then and living in New York.  He himself was a war vet, though unlike Eddie, hadn’t seen combat, at least not of the physical kind.  What Philip brought back from his tour of duty in Cam Ranh Bay—in addition to a strong liking for drugs—were reservoirs of anger and a searing sense of betrayal by the government he’d willingly gone off to serve—one he’d discovered once “in country” had lied to him, and to the rest of us, about who we were bombing and where.

Much is made of the excesses of the ‘60s generation—the sex, the drugs, the violent dark side of the anti-war movement—but rarely mentioned is the disillusionment we felt, the broken faith and broken hearts.

My heart broke, froze really, with news of Eddie’s death.  He’d been my first love, and not long after we met, had introduced me to Philip.  This was on a dark, noisy night at the Interlude, a neighborhood bar next to Loyola University in Chicago.  It was magic and exhilarating, the three of us together—me and the two handsomest boys in the place, each funnier, smarter, sexier than the other, the love between them apparent.  We were so young then, so eager to get on with it, to jump on board whatever trains were leaving the station.

How and why the three of us changed partners along the way is complicated, a bit sad, the details, in truth, lost in memory’s fog.

But I cannot think about either Philip or Eddie without thinking about the Vietnam War, and of war in general, of young lives irrevocably lost, and of how I react each year to Memorial Day.

Which, in a word, is badly.

When I see or read about the holiday parades, the 5 year olds in their little red wagons waving flags, the public speeches and heartfelt songs, the images of past and present vets, aged and young, some missing limbs or in wheelchairs, the blank-faced families of the fallen standing like so many stricken soldiers themselves, I can only think:  For what?

For what did you lose your leg, your eyes, your mind?

For what did you lose your son, your daughter, husband or wife, father and mother?

For what did you lose your life?

I think it is a useful question to ask.


In 1986, a decade and a half after Eddie died and Philip and I had divorced, I stood in front of a traveling facsimile of the Wall—that somber, affecting monument to the 58,000+ killed or missing in action in Vietnam during much of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.  This was on a beautiful summer day in Chicago’s Grant Park, where almost 20 years earlier thousands of us had stood in protest against that war.

There was a table set up near the Wall, where you told the nice lady seated there the name of the person you were looking for.  She would nod and flip quietly through her massive book of the dead, then tell you on which panel of the Wall your loved one’s name could be found.

It was all quite organized, numerical, and simple.  “Here it is,” she said, “Edward R. Meierotto, killed March 10, 1969.  You’ll find his name on West Panel 29.”

Really, so simple.  Stunning in its simplicity, stunning too how just seeing a person’s name on a huge black wall could so quickly undo you, could cause the snot and the tears to run down your face in one, long slobbering mess.

And all the while your brain is calculating Eddie Meierotto’s age—24—and recalling those nights you gave yourself to him, staring love-struck into those blue-green eyes, each shaded by those sinfully long lashes.

You remember, too, the last week you and Eddie spent together, the long nights and early mornings wrapped naked and taut around each other, your skin soaked in sweat and ardor, that last week before he shipped off to basic training at some hellhole in Louisiana.

And all the while, standing there so many terrible years later, lost in front of a dark wall, you need to know:

For what, Eddie?

For what did you lose our life?

I think it is a useful question to ask.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Old Love

Here’s the latest column and poem from American Life in Poetry to show up in my inbox:

American Life in Poetry: Column 530


Poets often do their best work when they’re telling us about something they’ve seen without stepping into the poem and talking about themselves. Here’s a lovely poem of observation by Terri Kirby Erickson, who lives in North Carolina.

Hospital Parking Lot

Headscarf fluttering in the wind,
stockings hanging loose on her vein-roped
legs, an old woman clings to her husband

as if he were the last tree standing in a storm,
though he is not the strong one.

His skin is translucent—more like a window
than a shade. Without a shirt and coat,

we could see his lungs swell and shrink,
his heart skip. But he has offered her his arm,
and for sixty years, she has taken it.

To subscribe to the free weekly column and receive your own weekly poems, go to

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On Writing Well with William Zinsser: A Tribute

My father felt the need to say everything at least three times.  No matter the subject, the memory, the admonition.  I think it came from his being a salesman; he may have unconsciously employed in his personal life the advertising rule he used to pitch a product:  tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.

To my dismay, I picked up his habit, one which, in retrospect, served me well as an English major in grad school.  Academic writing is often repetitive, and most often unnecessarily wordy.  I was highly rewarded for so easily adopting the academic style: nothing but A’s on the slew of papers I wrote on Dickens’ Hard Times; Milton’s Paradise Lost ; and Mary Rowlandson’s Indian captivity narrative.

After receiving my master’s degree, I began teaching freshman composition at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  I employed the workshop method in the classroom: students had their drafts critiqued by me and their fellow students before submitting them.  It’s really an effective way to become a better writer, though it can be nerve-wracking for the person whose work is being discussed.

At some point, I thought it’d be a good idea for me to be that person, to experience what my students did. I enrolled in a graduate-level nonfiction writing course at the university, and it was there that I had the word “prolix” used to describe my own writing.

Maybe it was all of it—the teaching of writing, the attempt to lose my academic writing voice—that made me order the book On Writing Well, by William Zinsser for my next round of comp classes. I’ve no idea how I even knew about it; it wasn’t on the recommended list of “texts” for freshman writing.

But that’s likely why I chose it—and why I’ve believed for nearly 30 years of writing and teaching writing that anyone who writes should own it.  And should regularly open and underline and highlight the bits that apply to their own writing.

I did exactly that with the whole of Chapter 3, “Clutter,” which ends with the words, “Simply, simplify.” Next in the book, Chapter 4, is “Style,” which is perfect really, because you can’t have a writing style if your sentences are choked with unnecessary words and jargon.

William Zinsser died this past week, but my debt to him lives on in my own writing and teaching.

Here’s an appreciation from John S. Rosenberg, one of his students and now the editor of Harvard Magazine:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

“Later-in-Life Triumphs”

It didn’t occur to me until well after the fact that I published my first book just months shy of my 65th birthday.  But then I’ve always been a late bloomer, so the combination of my age and the achievement didn’t really register as anything unusual.

I’m happy to report that this late blooming phenom—especially creatively—is becoming more and more usual among my peers in the Boomer & Beyond world.

Here’s a case in point—and then some—that should inspire all of us who live and create in that world:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Geezers on the Move: The Move Diary

Following is the online diary I kept as my recent apartment move went into high gear.  It helped to write it all down so that I wouldn't break out into intermittent screaming instead.  

I highly recommend the diary form for any of my readers who may be facing an impending move of their own.


Saturday, 11 April 15, less than 3 weeks before I’m in my new apt—wherever the hell that may be.

The phrase “The Bob McCarthy School of Decision-Making” has passed through my head several times during this quest, meaning I waste a lot of unnecessary time before I commit to what I’ve wanted all along. [NOTE:  Bob McCarthy was my father.]

And what I want is a smaller apt in Edgewater/Rogers Park/Lincoln Square/A’ville at a max rent I pretty much know I can afford.

Instead, what I’ve done is pursue apts in Oak Park, North Park, Jeff Park, and wasted tons of time on Craigslist, Trulia, and Zillow and with realty/mgmt. companies that do squat.

So it’s back to the only way I know how to find a place:  biking/walking the streets in the ‘hoods I’m interested in and telling everyone I know what I’m looking for and hoping a combination of those will lead me to a good place.  Because, truly, until I retire to Ecuador in my early 90’s, I do not want to go through this again in CHI.

Sunday, 12 April 2015, Saw two more over-priced, crappy apts today, then rode my bike around looking for “for rent” signs in my preferred 'hoods, then got a call from B that a friend of hers owns a building in West Rogers Park and is looking for a tenant for May 1.  I contact said friend by email, she replies, we set up a time to see the place the next day.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015, 2 wks and one day before I’m in my new apt in WRP?   It depends on my 2nd visit there tonight.

The Positive
Back yard
Great floors, nice size 3-rooms (kitchen is appropriately small)
Accessible by short bus rides to both Red & Brown lines
Near Target, Walgreen’s and the Bux
Landlord lives in the building
Apt is empty but needs to be totally cleaned out of former owner’s stuff
There is a maintenance guy

The Negative
Bathroom needs major work
Could be lots of street noise
Hate taking buses to trains
Enclosed back entrance, meaning door doesn’t lead directly to fresh air

Then there’s this:
Time is running out

Thursday, 16 April 2015.  L/lord has my social and is doing the credit check. Once that’s done, then comes the lease signing, the security deposit paying, the nailing down of the move date, and all the other hoo-hah that is the moving process.

Saturday, 18 April 2015.  Dragged out cartons, will begin packing books today.  No word from L/lord on when the lease signing will happen.

1:43 pm.  Couldn’t take the silence any longer, so e’d the L/lord to ask for an update on the credit check.  All flows from that, including signing the lease and hiring the movers.  Let’s move this thing along, please.

Sunday, 19 April 2015.  Nothing back yet from L/lord.  If nothing by this evening, will re-send with note saying I may have to start looking elsewhere. Oy.

Changed my mind.  Will e/call on Monday ayem.

Finally heard from L/lord at 3:03 pm, a little more than 3 days after I gave her my social, expecting that that part of the app process would be settled by now.  Turns out, she can’t process it w/out my signature.

Monday, 20 April 2015.  Flurry of emails with L/lord this ayem.  Bottom line: she’ll pick up my signature sometime early eve.  She was apologetic in the form of an empathetic response re: moving stress.

Called mover, confirmed date of Wednesday, April 29, noon-ish.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015.  Email from L/lord that the credit check took only 1 day and that I should plan to sign lease/get keys on Sunday, 4/26.

Packing, packing, packing.

Thursday, 23 April 2015.  10:50 ayem.  Just e’d L/lord to ask what time I should show up on Sunday.  Once I hear back, I call AT&T.

Packing, packing, packing.

Saturday, 25 April 2015.  L/lord called to say the present tenant isn’t out yet, sooooo the lease-signing/key-passing has been moved to Tuesday at 4 pm, One Day Before My Move, and after the place has been cleaned.

Packing, packing, packing.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015.  Ducks in row: laundry in a few minutes (LAST time I will have to schlep it up the street to the corner laundromat).  M is coming at 4 pm, I load her car, I call L/lord to tell her we’re on our way, lease signing, money exchanging, key passing, stuff in car in apt, I get a better look around for move tomorrow.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015.  Moving day. 

All went well yesterday with the lease signing, key passing, except the apt. was not cleaned as promised.  L/lord also surprised and upset about that, so immediately called her cleaning service to tell them to show up at 8 am the next morning, 4 hours before the movers arrive at my current place.

Keeping fingers crossed. 

And frequently muttering to self the following prayer, which is attributed to the Dalai Lama:  “Choose to be optimistic.  It feels better.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Discussion: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Last fall, I wrote a blog post about an essay written in the New York Times by Atul Gawande, author most recently of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Here’s a link to that post:

I’m re-posting it because there is a discussion of the book next Monday evening, May 11, at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well Being at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

This year the Center’s mid-winter conference was “Dying to Know…Life Affirming Conversations about Living and Dying Well”; the book discussion is a follow-up offering to that well-attended conference.

For more information about how to join the discussion, click here:

And please note:  Geezers on the Move, Pt. II will post tomorrow.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Geezers on the Move: Life Lessons

It seems the only way I can survive stressful experiences is to create a “life lesson” list, a testament to what I may have figured out along the way.

The list usually begins when the experience does; grows longer and more chaotic during it; then gets summarized and edited near the end.  In that form, it not only helps me, but may even help someone else in a similar situation.

So I moved last Wednesday, and moving is a stressful experience—something most people seem to agree on.  In fact, I received a good amount of “Good luck with the move!!” emails from more than one colleague and friend about a week before the actual move, often with an added “I hate moving.”

But, I have moved a lot, and so kind of know the drill, one that I’d like to share with my fellow apartment-based Geezers who are themselves entertaining thoughts of moving.  These lessons might be especially useful for those who’ve not moved in 10 or more years.  You—and you know who you are—are definitely out of practice.

So, first, the basics for the beginning of the move:

1.  Create an email folder labeled APT, then put all emails related to the move in that file, including from and to both current and potential landlords.  This is the 21st century version of the paper trail.  For example, I emailed my then-current landlord at the beginning of April and told him to please apply my security deposit to my last month’s rent.  When he agreed to do so, I made sure that email went in the APT file.

2.  Create a word file labeled MOVE TO-DO (yes, in CAPS).  This will mostly consist of address changes.  For instance, if you list your utility providers under that heading—Peoples Gas & ComEd, in my case—you know that once you have your new address, you need to call them, change your address, and so change your service.  As night follows day...

3.  But maybe even more important than utilities, and, so first on the address change list, should come your various paper subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, most of which you can do online.  As soon as I signed my new lease, I went online to the New York Times and changed my address, including the date it applied.  Miraculously, my Sunday paper showed up today at my new place.  Big smile on my face as I went out to the lobby and picked it up.

4.  A Move Diary, of course.  That, I will say more about in the next post.