A Death on Mother’s Day

Posted May 9, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Bill is a retired lawyer, who graduated from Harvard and worked for decades for a distinguished law firm in New Haven. In his eighties, Bill retired about 15 years ago.

He lives in a small, one-bedroom apartment in a large, urban condominium on the edge of the city’s eastern border.

He drives to Lighthouse Point every day, throughout the entire year, and walks along the path that circles the Lighthouse waterfront. It’s his form of daily exercise. He says the entire path is one mile long. He normally walks that route three to four times a day.

His walk takes him past the place under the black cherry tree and just above the coastline where I sit each time I visit Lighthouse Point, which is about 70 times a year.

So we tend to meet as he passes by. I will get off my chair and stroll down the slope that leads to the path, and we will stand and talk for 20 or 30 minutes. We’ve been doing this for more than half a dozen years. But it was only a few months ago that we actually exchanged our first names.

We met this morning. I was sitting next to the brambles on the eastern side of my usual spot, to avoid the full blast of the 15-mile an hour wind out of the southwest. The parking lot was filling up with families come to celebrate Mother’s Day.

As usual, we talked about this and that. I told him about my back problems and my issues with the doctors, and he told me about the time he threw his back out by loading two bags of legal papers in the trunk of his car. We commiserated over our old-age problems.

And then he told me that one of his daughters had died last night. It came out of nowhere. I had to ask him twice what he had said.

“Your daughter did what?” I asked, as I leaned towards him. “She what?”

“Died,” he said once and then said it again. “Last night, in my apartment.”

“What? Last night?”

The suddenness and radical shift in tone threw me off-balance. Nothing in his demeanor had prepared me for such news.

It turns out that Bill had come home in the early evening last night and had gone into the living room to turn on the television to watch a ballgame. His 56-year-old daughter, Kathleen, was in the bedroom. When she didn’t come out right away, he called after her and went to check on her. What he found was her body draped across the bed. She was dead.

She used to be a secretary for a doctor but then lost her job two years ago at the start of the pandemic and had moved into Bill’s tiny apartment.

“She’d had a rough life,” Bill said, “physically and emotionally. And she didn’t make enough money to really support herself. So I had her move in with me.”

The arrangement was that he would sleep in the bed and Kathleen would sleep in the recliner chair. In the afternoon, she would often take a nap in the bed to make up for the fitful sleep in the chair. It went on like this for two years. Bill had saved her from homelessness because Kathleen could not save herself. But it was not an ideal situation for either of them.

And yet, he had never mentioned her to me in all the years we’d talked about everything under the sun, including our families. I was learning about her now only because she had just died . . . in his apartment . . . last night.

And here he was at Lighthouse Point a few hours later, keeping to his schedule of walking the one-mile circle around the Point.

“I called 911,” he said. “They came over and then called the police, who had to investigate the unattended death. And then the police called the medical examiner, who took Kathleen’s body for an autopsy in Wethersfield. They didn’t leave until three o’clock this morning.”

“I’m so sorry, Bill. This is a terrible blow.”

“She had her problems,” he said.

He called his two other daughters early this morning to tell them the news. One lives in Connecticut, the other in Florida.

“Once the ME releases her body,” Bill said, “ Kathleen will be cremated and buried in Madison. Next to her mother.”

It Was A Nice Dream

Posted May 3, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I suppose it was a goal or a target or a wish or a strange kind of arrogant leap from four-legged animal to two-legged human. Even though the term itself was far from flattering.

“Herd immunity,” it was called.

As if we were a bunch of cattle being driven along the Red River to Abilene or Wichita.

But it was something for us humans to achieve, something good to work for. If only we could achieve herd immunity, then we would be saved. Life could go back to the way it used to be. We could hug again and go to the movies again and to the philharmonic and to the local pizza restaurant and not have to worry that we’d get seriously sick.

We could dance cheek to cheek, without wearing a mask. We could kiss on the mouth and in public. We could share popcorn at a baseball game.

All we had to do was reach herd immunity. Then victory would be ours. The Covid virus would be neutralized. We would be immune, because eighty or eighty-five percent of us had been vaccinated, and that eighty-five percent would dwarf the virus’s power to sicken us. We would drive that virus into the ground, into pasture land where it would become feeble and impotent. We would triumph, the way humans always do.

We would knock the Covid virus on its ass. As a herd, we were unstoppable. No microscopic blip would bring us to our knees.

Except, it’s not going to happen. We will not reach herd immunity. Not this year or next year or the year after that. We will probably never reach herd immunity. Herd immunity has gone from a goal to be reached to a pipe dream to be dismissed. For one thing, we’re too sloppy as a species. And for another, the Covid virus is too smart and agile to be so easily defeated.

Not enough humans are being vaccinated. For many Americans, they think the pandemic is a fraud. They think the virus is just liberal propaganda. They think their freedom to get sick is more important than their obligation to help their fellow citizens stay healthy. They think their right to say ‘No’ is smarter than the ability of science to say ‘Danger.’

And then there’s the fact that the virus is clever and knows how to avoid being stopped. So it creates variations of itself. And each variation is just skillful enough to avoid being obliterated by the latest vaccine.

In its major front-page story this morning, the New York Times reports that “It is already clear . . . that the virus is changing too quickly, new variants are spreading too easily and vaccination is proceeding too slowly for herd immunity to be within reach anytime soon.”

And for herd immunity to really work, the whole world has to achieve it, not just the United States and Canada and France and Great Britain. What about India? What about Russia and Brazil?

The Covid virus has shown how easily it and its variants can moved from country to country and from continent to continent.

Even if the U.S. could achieve herd immunity — which it is now clear it cannot — international travel makes infections from other countries not just likely, but certain. And the U.S. immunity would be constantly threatened and undermined by infections from the global community.

So it’s time to deposit the term, ‘herd immunity,’ into the ashcan of history.

(Do Americans today — under the age of 75 — even know what an ash can is and what it was used for? I can remember as a child shoveling ashes from burnt out chunks of coal that kept the furnace fires going day after day, night after night. The filled ash cans would be collected the way today’s trash is collected. Folks in the country often used ashes as a kind of fertilizer or landfill.)

‘Herd immunity’ was an interesting term. It mixed something of the down-and-dirty cowboy ethic with an abstract notion of scientific invincibility. They made a strange bedfellow.

But we can forget the ‘herd’ part from now on. Cattle today on the way to slaughter now travel long distances by train.

Among hobos who live life on the rails, they describe a person who has died as having “caught the westbound.”

You might say the same about the term, ’herd immunity.’

Herd immunity has caught the westbound, as far as viability goes, and shouldn’t be back anytime soon.

The Escape From Death

Posted April 23, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

He didn’t trust them. He had no reason to. They didn’t treat him right. They pushed him, prodded him, confined him to small spaces. They squeezed him into trucks and trains and sometimes beat him with sticks that had invisible fire at the tips.

And even without all the pushing and crowding and sticks with fire, he didn’t feel right. And he didn’t look right. Part of him looked like a cow and part of him looked like a buffalo. He looked female and male at the same time. He was a freak and not because of anything he did wrong.

It was because of what they did to him. In the laboratory. They made him something they called a ‘beefalo,’ part-one kind of animal and part-another kind of animal. He looked like both . . . and neither.

Who was he? he kept asking himself. Who am I and what am I? And why did they do this to me? I have cousins who look normal. But when they look at me, I can tell they don’t know what to think.

Even I don’t know what to think. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I like this?

The truck pulled into the stockyard and men came out with sticks and began pushing and shoving all the animals into the yard and toward the slaughterhouse. He could smell the blood and hear the screams and feel the fear running through the herd.

This was bad. This was very bad. He had never known feelings like this. His heart was going wild. The sweat on his back poured off him like shower water. His companions began to kick and yell and scream, as the two-legged men beat them with sticks and pushed them off the wagon and onto the ground. The screaming from the building grew louder, as one after another of the herd was funneled through the blood-splattered door.

No, no, no, he said to himself and then shouted out loud to those around him. No, no, no. I will not go in there. I will not go in there. And he pushed his way past his companions and ran across the killing ground, toward the fence separating the yard from the road. He had never jumped very high, but he jumped this time. He didn’t clear the fence but the force of his body pushed some of the railing aside and he was able to slide through, though the rough wood cut into his body and blood splattered against the broken slats.

And he ran and he ran as fast as he could. He didn’t know where he was or where he should go or where it would be safe. He just knew he would not go into that building of death and that if the men were going to get him, they would have to run fast and be strong and would have to want him more than he wanted to live.

And he was gone . . . for 8 months and no one could find him in the Connecticut woods. People would sometimes see him off in the distance, and would try to capture him. But he always out-thought them and out-maneuvered them. And he became a kind of local legend. They called him ‘Buddy,’ and grew to admire his courage and his savvy ways and his ability to keep going on his own.

And then one day last week, near Sleepy Hollow Farm in Plymouth, Connecticut, a 10-year-old boy named Cody told his grandparents that he had just seen a strange looking cow, while he was out feeding the other animals.

The grandfather went to look and saw Buddy across the field.

“We ain’t got nothing with horns,” he said.

He tried to rope Buddy, but it didn’t work.

“I almost got killed,” he said. “He slammed right into the gate to the trailer that I was holding,” he told the New Haven Register. “It happened so quick , I didn’t even have a chance to move and get out of the way.”

Buddy broke free and was on the run again. He knew better than to trust animals who had just two legs.

But eventually, Buddy was captured and brought back into the world of the two-legs.

Only this time, he would not be sent back to the death house. This time, the two-legged animals would honor him with his freedom and they would send him by train to Florida, where he would reside for the rest of his well-earned life on the Critter Creek Farm Sanctuary.

But it will be awhile before Buddy lets the past drift into the bitterness of memory. The terror on the truck, the panic on the slaughterhouse grounds, the ferocious fear that propelled him through the confining fence, the madness that drove him deep into the woods, and the fear and loneliness of living off the land with the threadbare offerings of a winter woodland.

Buddy’s freedom did not come easily, nor will his memories fill his now safely dark nights with rest for some time to come.

But he must first stop remembering the cries of anguish that came from the throats of his companions. And the look of dread that filled the eyes of his terrified brothers.

So This Is ‘Old’

Posted April 15, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Up until a month ago, I didn’t think of myself as an ‘old person.’ I am an old person. I am 83 and will turn 84 in two months. That is definitely an ‘old’ age for a human person. Not for an elephant, perhaps, or a Sequoia. But for humans, 83 going on 84 is considered by people and by Nature herself, to be old. Most people in the world never reach 83.

Still, I didn’t feel what I imagined most 83-year-old persons feel or are alleged to feel, either physically or emotionally. I felt youngish, healthy, pain-free, with a certain hop in my step and energy in my brain. I couldn’t remember names the way I used to, but I could remember nameless facts, and could think logically and use language creatively and walk two miles a day and ride my bicycle in good weather and sleep soundly and painlessly at night and wake up with a good attitude.

But after the very hard and painful past 30 days, almost none of that is true, anymore. I am in pain most of the time. Today is especially bad since I am suffering from a nasty stomach ache, probably from the extra spoonful of Citrucel I’ve been taking everyday to help my guts have consistent bowel movements. Too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing.

My poor ‘old’ stomach has been asked to handle all sorts of stool-producing-and eliminating pills and capsules, almost all of which have terrorized my guts and caused me more pain on top of the existing pain. My young doctor and I have tried nearly a half-dozen different modern-day solutions to overcoming constipation and making sure it doesn’t happen again.

But making sure that medical problems don’t happen again is, at best, a Rubik’s Cube solution to an enigma wrapped in a mystery.

And then, of course, there’s my ‘new’ back problem, with pain encircling my midsection like a medieval torture device. So I take Tylenol extra-strength, which can aggravate the constipation problem. Right now, I’m down to two tablets at night.

I crawl into bed at night and out of bed in the morning like a wounded guerilla fighter sneaking up on an oligarch.

None of this was true thirty days ago. But then suddenly, all of Nature’s stresses and strains broke loose and I am in a hell zone of pain and frustration.

I am not walking in the morning. I am not feeding the birds. I am not sitting under the black cherry tree at Lighthouse Point. I am not writing. And the only reading I’m doing is of The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The New Haven Register. Books demand a commitment I can’t give at the moment.

But I am watching and listening on radio and TV to the Red Sox play winning baseball. They’ve won nine games in a row going into today’s afternoon game in Minnesota. That’s a pleasant surprise in a month of unpleasant surprises. I find comfort where I can. But sitting in a chair to watch the games can be hard on my back.

I keep marveling at the fact that a mere month ago, none of this pain and constipation was happening. And then suddenly, the heavens fell.

And I turned old.

So now I can complain, the way millions of other old people complain, about the aches and pains we feel going from room to room, from sitting in the car, from sitting in a chair, from calculating bowel movements, from finding the right food to digest.

Higher thoughts tend to get pushed aside by lower pains.

I used to think I could make it to 90, with brain and feelings more or less intact. Nowadays, I’m not sure I can or even want to.

In fact, if it meant six more years of living like this, I think I’ll pass . . . on.

The First Resurrection

Posted April 4, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

We all know the story. He was born in a cow shed, because his parents couldn’t find a decent place in town. They were from someplace else, but they had come to this particular town to be counted in a census.

Rumor has it that one of the stars in the sky hovered over his birthplace and that kings and wise men showed up with gold and sweet smelling herbs to pay tribute. But like most rumors, this one is too far-fetched to be believed. Besides, the little family could have used some of that make-believe gold to buy decent lodgings for the night.

After listing their names in the census, the family turned around and went home and pretty much kept to themselves for the next 25 or 30 years. The father was a carpenter who made enough money to feed the family and put a roof over their head. But there were no extras. They ate a lot of vegetarian meals and occasionally lamb. For dessert, they settled for honey and sometimes sweet breads.

The father taught the son the carpentry trade and they worked together making furniture and utensils and sometimes coffins. It was a small business. They didn’t get rich, but they made it work.

The son was more of a dreamer than a craftsman. The father did the tricky stuff. The son preferred to wander around and talk to people. Mostly poor people, like himself. He talked about religious things and ethical things and what was worth living for and what was worth shying away from.

And he talked a lot about God, who he called “Father.” He had a father at home who was working with wood, and he had an unseen Father who lived in another, invisible world.

He had a nice voice and an energetic way of speaking and people liked to listen to him. He said that the way people were living wasn’t particularly good for them. He said that many of their religious leaders were shallow and politically devious. And he said that the ruling government was mainly interested in power and had no interest in making life better for the poor working people.

He said that the things of this world weren’t worth as much as what they could find by focusing on their Father in this other, more hopeful but invisible world. A world that existed beyond the miserably unsatisfying world of the everyday. And the more he talked, the more people liked what he said and they started to follow him around.

They began to see him as, not just a freelance preacher, but a charismatic leader, a spiritual presence beyond the usual rabbis. Stories floated around about him healing the sick and raising the dead and turning water into wine and feeding dozens of people with just a handful of fish. One fellow even swore he saw this preacher walk on water and raise his hand to calm a storm.

He generated all kinds of stories like that. And the more the stories circulated, the bigger the crowds grew that attended his talks.

All this attention finally got him in trouble with the Establishment. The rabbis felt threatened by his criticism of their religious attitudes. And the powerful, ruling government didn’t like the dissension this upstart was causing among the poor people.

So they did what powerful Establishments always do. They killed him. But before they killed him, they held a phony trial, in which they mocked him and told lies about him and called him an enemy of the state. Then they killed him.

They even made him carry his own execution device — a wooden crossbar designed to be nailed to a tall wood pole in the ground. They tied his hands and feet to the crossbar and then hoisted him high in the air to hang there until he died. One of the soldiers even jammed a spear into his side just for the hell of it. The government put a sign over his head mocking him as being The King of the People.

And so he died . . . a painful, miserable, humiliating death. And all the people who had followed him disappeared, went into hiding, and generally went mute.

And so his story ended.

Or almost . . .

Except it didn’t. A few of his friends took him off the cross, once he was dead, and brought him to a little cave owned by one of his influential friends. They placed his body in the cave, rolled a stone in front the entrance to hide and protect his corpse, and then went on their way.

Three days later, they went back to the small cave to check on things. And astonishingly, they later claimed was that the preacher wasn’t dead after all. He had revived and was alive and breathing. That was their story, and word spread like wildfire among his followers that the preacher was ’resurrected.’ He was not dead. They said as the son of the god who controls everything, he overcame the death that awaits us all.

His death suddenly became the key to his life. His followers said that the preacher died physically and then returned to life to show that death is not the end of the story. They said that there is a spiritual life that transcends death and carries the soul of a person into a better, ever-lasting eternal world of communion with the ultimate god.

This was very good news for his followers and they heaved a sigh of relief. Their leader truly was the son of the ultimate god, because he triumphed over death. And now they too could view death differently — not as the end of everything, but as a transition to something more eternally gratifying.

That was all fine. But it was never clear what exactly happened to the preacher, once he had regained life.

Did he remain in hiding? Did he move to another town? Did he convalesce in the home of a rich follower? Or did he simply disappear and return to the world of his spiritual Father, where religion and myth take turns explaining the un-explainable?

Time To Go

Posted March 30, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the advantages of being old is that I’ll be dead soon. I’m 83 now and will turn 84 in two and a half months. That’s older than most people in the world get to be. I’ve had enough. It’s time to bow out.

And Nature knows it’s time. It has suddenly made my life miserable. My back has suddenly gone bad and hurts all the time. And my guts have frozen and now refuse to let my food and drink exit through the bottom door.

I had thought last Friday that the exit problem was solved. I drank a special concoction designed to flush out what’s no longer needed in the colon. I drank glass after glass — 14 glasses in two hours — and stuff did come out, but not enough of the right stuff. I didn’t know it wasn’t enough and jumped on The Happy Wagon and declared that the war with the colon was over and that peace would reign again in my time.

But I was wrong. And my colon misery continued and my back remained angry, and hour after hour tormented me with its twisted muscles. So much so that I left my apartment at midnight this past Sunday and drove back to Yale-New Haven’s emergency room and hobbled in to seek help.

I waited an hour in the waiting room before a free bed was found. The doctor and nurses were kind and smart and sensitive and did their best to understand my sad story. They even arranged a new CAT scan — which had me shout out in pain when I moved from the bed to the machine’s platform and back again.

The CAT scan revealed what I didn’t want to know: that I was still constipated with stool clogging the colon — even after Friday’s exhaustive fire-hose of a cleaning. So I am still plugged up in the front and still tormented in the back.

When I left the hospital in the early, gray hours on Monday, the wind was gusting more than 30 miles an hour and the sky was swept clean of clouds and stars, and the new full moon hung in the dark sky like Nature’s cold and remote indictment.

On the one hand, Nature is indifferent to our wishes and our plans. On the other hand, Nature looks out for itself and shuffles creatures in and out of life, depending on their usefulness and resilience.

My usefulness, as Nature sees it, is minimal. I never begat offspring and I don’t now have a dog. Nature can snuff me out right now and hardly anyone will notice, nor will the planet be injured.

That I have been a vegetarian for 40 years and give thousands of dollars to animal rescue groups makes me marginally useful. At least, I’m not implicated in animal suffering and I don’t throw plastic bottles into Long Island Sound.

But other than that, my usefulness in the health of the planet is minimal. I’ve had my fling. I’ve not taken up as much space as many other people. I did learn to shoot a bazooka in the Army, but I never fired at anyone. And I have sat by ocean water for many years and always treated it with respect and even reverence.

That doesn’t amount to much when you’re trying to prove your worth in Nature‘s unblinking eye. But the natural world is interested in two basic things: reproduction and a healthy climate. Everything else is a footnote, an abstraction, a useless narcissism.

Nature is telling me, in its blunt, unceremonial way, that my usefulness — feeble though it may have been — is drawing to a close. It’s time to turn my aged body into something more useful, like cremated ash, and to scatter it over the landscape where worms and grubs and ants and wildflowers can put it to better use.

And so my colon is stuck in reverse and keeping what it should be expelling. And my back is undermining my buoyancy and my impulse to embrace life.

Nature, in short, has begun to change my script. My dialogue with life is darker, more uncertain, now. My impulses are defensive, my muscles unyielding. My nights are sleepless and my days painful.

Can things change for the better? Maybe in small ways. It would be nice to have a bowel movement. It would be gratifying to walk without back pain. But Nature will not be much help. I will have to achieve such wondrous gifts on my own, with the support of people who know about colons and backs.

As far as Nature is concerned, the die is cast, and it came up snake eyes.

Is There Something After Old?

Posted March 22, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I have not had a bowel movement for the past seven days.

As opening lines go, that hardly matches Charles Dickens’, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

But Dickens’ lines introduced a novel. My line is pure, realistic and painful fact.

Plus, my lower back has ached so much, it has forced me to go sleepless. And when I do go to bed, the pain lurks like a panther. It takes me 20 minutes to ease myself out of bed in the morning, inch-by-booby-trapped-inch.

I have been living on ‘regular’ Tylenol every seven or eight hours for the past week. I groan when I leave my lounger chair. I winch when I sit on a maple chair to eat breakfast and read the New York Times. I curse when I fold my booby-trapped body into the driver’s seat of my 2007 Honda.

I saw one doctor on Friday, who sympathetically tried to help, sent me for x-rays and phoned in a prescription for relieving constipation. I yelled in pain as the technologists laid me on the x-ray table and then helped me back on my feet. It was like being beaten in one of Duvalier’s notorious jails. It was like Guantanamo.

It got so bad that yesterday, I drove to the emergency room at Yale-New Haven Hospital and signed myself in. I ended up staying for 17 hours. They ran test after test after test and concluded that my bowels were loaded with stool but not blocked; that my hernia was not part of the problem, that my basic readings were normal, and . . . that I had a lumbar spine fracture.

A fracture of the lower spine !!! Due to osteoporosis. And some of the discs were a little ragged. “It happens to people when they get old,” the doctor said nonchalantly.

I’ll be 84 in June. Is that old? I’ve lost track of what time means. Is there something after old?

They performed a CAT scan that, once more, caused me to yell out in pain as they slid me from my bed to the machine’s platform, and then back again. In the emergency room cubicle, I moaned every time I tried to go from the bed to a sitting position.

But the doctors and nurses were smart, friendly and sympathetic and did the best they could to help me. I stayed overnight, so they could fit me with a body brace to take pressure off my back.

This morning, when I got up, I was stunned not to feel the old agony of pain. I don’t know why there was no pain. I was not wearing the brace.

And when a technician did come in with the fancy brace they had scoured the countryside for, I immediate rejected it. It was too big and clumsy and looked like something from the days of knights and armor. Instead , I agreed to wear a simpler and less clumsy version

I left the hospital at 7:15 and drove home, wearing the brace, through the early-morning streets of New Haven. Yes, I was still constipated, But, at least, I could now qualify as a quill pusher, if not a full-fledged knight, in the Court of King Arthur.

Changing My Clocks

Posted March 15, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I have changed all my clocks. I am now saving daylight far more than I did two days ago. I have opened up a new tote bag to collect much of the new light that‘s left over. I am wearing my new aviator glasses to bed so I can sleep longer in the morning, as the early, extra daylight slips into my bedroom between the Venetian blinds.

My life, in short, is brighter than before, and that brightness lasts longer. I am free, as I am each year at this time, from the standard light that used to limp into my life way after I had gotten out of bed and begun to prepare my breakfast in the gloom.

No more gloom. My life is now radiant with extra daylight. I can now read the morning New York Times in natural light, not in the artificial light from a bulb. I can sip my Ceylon black tea, while a ray of saved daylight slants across my small breakfast table.

But it was not easy coaxing my clocks into the new, sunnier reality of daylight. I have 11 clocks in my five-room apartment. All of them require adjustment. I have three of those clocks in my study, alone.

Plus, I have eight radios, four of them with shortwave, as well as AM and FM, seven of which have clocks that need adjusting.

I also have a landline telephone with answering and fax and copy machines incorporated . . . and a clock that must be adjusted, so I know when calls come in or when callers leave messages.

And then, of course, there are my wrist watches. I have two that need adjusting.

Finally, there is the clock in my car that I need to reset, so I’ll know, when I’m on the road, when it’s time for the BBC News Hour to come on at 9 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon over WNYC, New York Public Radio.

And some of those radio clocks operate on a 24-hour schedule. So 1 o’clock in the afternoon becomes 1300 and 5 o’clock in the evening becomes 1700. And three of my radios tell me simultaneously what time it is in my life here in the States and what time it is in Europe. And I have to get it right. So it’s a six-hour difference between here and France and Germany but only a five-hour difference in England.

So when it’s 2200 here in New Haven, it’s 0400 the next day in Berlin. At those times, of course, neither one of us has any daylight to speak of.

It’s not easy to make all these changes to all my clocks twice a year. It takes the better part of an hour.

But it’s worth it, especially here in the spring. All I have to do is look into my tote bag to see how much daylight I’ve begun to save. It makes me smile with the pride of new found wealth.

At this rate, I should have enough daylight saved for my birthday in June, so that the day itself should radiate with extra brightness, and the nighttime flirt with the scandalous threat of extending well over the natural borderline between light and darkness.

It’s the stuff of magic. It’s Time within Time or Time outside of Time — when the moon, seeing the shift in daylight, feels the urge to sing a gentle serenade to the dawn.

And the dawn, feeling the ambiguity of Time passing, lets the moment slip through its fingers like the shade that defines Forever.

The Scissors

Posted March 9, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I bought a new pair of scissors last week. I bought them to replace my old — very old — kitchen scissors, which were dull and loose. And although the old scissors could still cut whatever needed cutting, they were on the downside of their usefulness. And so I went to my favorite hardware store and bought a fancy pair of scissors that had contour handles and were longer and more imposing than the old pair and were as sharp as an executioner’s axe.

I took the old scissors, wrapped a rubber band around the pointed parts, rolled them in a paper towel, placed it inside a plastic bag, and put it in my trash bucket.

I’ve had those old scissors for so long I can’t remember when I first got them. We’ve been together at least 35 or 40 years. When you’re as old as I am, things can go back a long way. If I had those scissors for 50 years — which is very possible — I would been a 33 year-old adult when they came into my life.

It could be that long. And I have a vague sense that I didn’t buy them brand new. That I didn’t buy them at all. That they somehow came into my life willy-nilly and have been with me ever since, the two of us traveling side by side down through the decades.

And the more I thought about those old scissors and me throwing them away in the trash, the worse I felt. I was replacing these old faithful companions that could still cut things that needed cutting, and was replacing them with a new, fresh-faced and high-toned model just because the old ones were old and a little loose and a little dull.

I felt I was betraying something important. I was abandoning an old companion just because he wasn’t as young and as sharp as he used to be. I was saying that all those years we’d been together didn’t count for anything. “Thanks, but get lost. Thanks, but hit the road. Thanks, but lie buried forever in a trash pile. Thanks, but you just don’t count anymore.”

That‘s how most people seem to think about things, not just about old scissors but about everything, people included. I’ve gone through my life being abandoned by one person or another. It goes back to my biological father, I suppose, who never had time for me. And then one after another, as I went here and went there, lived in one place and then another, met this person or that person, fell in love and formed a connection — sooner or later, that connection would unravel and I would be left standing with empty arms and a bleeding heart.

Like an orphan in a storm.

It’s how I learned at an early age that living alone is the best bet. People, sooner or later, let you down and walk away. But if you’re good at living alone — and I am — then their walking away is no worse than gravity, no harder than oxygen. No more painful than a crucifixion.

But here I was, doing to those scissors what has been done to me. I was guilty of the kind of betrayal that underlies many separations, a kind of casual dismissal that carries a lopsided emotional consequence, a turning of my back on a relationship that had been useful, reliable, constructive and dependable — for maybe 50 years.

Those scissors deserved better than that.

And so I reached down into my trash bucket and grabbed the plastic bag that held the scissors. I unwound the rubber band around the blades and then I put the scissors under the faucet and ran warm water all over them and scrubbed them with a Brillo pad and then dried them with a paper towel.

Then I drove the scissors to the same hardware store where I‘d bought the new scissors — which is an old-fashioned and very personable and down-to-earth store that’s been in business since 1948 — and I asked one of the owners to sharpen the blades on my old scissors.

It’s that kind of hardware store. They still sharpen scissors.

The man said the person who sharpens the blades wouldn’t be in for a couple of days. But he took the scissors, wrote down my name and phone number and said I could pick up the scissors . . . around 3 o’clock on Tuesday.

Which is today.

I feel good about what I’ve done. I’ve remained faithful to a pair of scissors that have been faithful to me for the better part of half a century. I’ve treated them with the respect they deserve. I’ve paid tribute to the integrity of their identity. I’ve acknowledged them as a useful extension of my daily life.

And in the end, I didn’t turn my back on them, after all.

In the end, I didn’t walk away.

The Night Watchman

Posted March 1, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Everything is so close together in a small city. I like that. Especially since I was born in this small city and have lived here most of my life. And living in the middle of the downtown of this small city for many years lets me keep time by passing places and things at different and often intimate stages of my life. Stages that didn’t seem like stages until years passed and I could look back and remember how it was then and how it is now and how it got to be that way.

For instance, I have lived on this street where I live now for the past 47 years. Before that, I lived a 15-minute walk away on another street for seven years. And before that, I lived in an apartment building around the corner and up two blocks for another three years.

And in addition to all that, I as born and lived my first six years of life in a three-story brick apartment building that’s a five-minute bicycle ride from where I live now.

Each of those four locations are filled with intense memories about events back then that, in one complex way or another, have shaped who I am today.

And when I pass these place in my car or while walking, a piece of who I was when I lived there stirs in my memory and more often than not, makes me wonder at who I am now and how I got to be this way with all people who lived with me back then.

All those people from back then are dead now, except for two, and neither of them is in my life anymore. So that leaves me as the sole and principal survivor who remembers what it was like to live in those places that I pass regularly, and how we were then and how we became whatever we became.

For instance, on the second floor of that old brick building, where I lived as a small child, I remember standing on the couch in our front room and my mother ironing on an ironing board, and my ‘father’ coming in drunk, taking a swing at my mother, hitting her in the face, causing her to fall to the floor, with the iron and ironing board pitching over, and her crawling over to the couch to wrap her arms around me.

My mother and I would leave that apartment — and that drunkard, who was a newspaper reporter, who I’ve always identified as “the sperm provider,” rather than a father — and we moved in with my grandparents and my uncles in their home in the country, where we lived for four years — four wonderful, magical years.

And so it goes, each address, each house, each apartment filled with hard and soft memories, helloes and goodbyes, hope and abandonment, second chances and lost causes. And everyone who was part of that is now dead, except for two, who are long gone into their own lives.

And so I remain as the Night Watchman, remembering, revisiting, keeping notes, reliving memories, stirred by the presence of all these echoes, contaminated by the ordinariness of all this emotional radioactivity, grateful to live within such interesting time-traveling narratives.

Walking home yesterday from receiving my second Pfizer vaccine jab, I passed along the wall bordering the Grove Street Cemetery.

I will be buried in that cemetery. My gravestone is already in place. My name and birth date are already inscribed in the granite. When the time comes, a hole will be dug in front of the stone and what’s left of my ashes will be shoveled into that hole and then the dirt and grass will be raked across the opening and that will be that.

It will be my final apartment in my final neighborhood. There will be no one left to remember the brick apartment building from 1937. No one left to remember the apartment building around the corner and two blocks up, which has already been virtually demolished.

The radioactivity will simply leak into the anonymous atmosphere, uninhibited by personal memory.

I thought of the irony of me passing the cemetery wall after receiving my life-protecting vaccine. Here I was with an armful of new genetic material to keep me alive, while I touched the wall that will, in the end, encircle my final destination.

At the bottom half of my gravestone is a quote chiseled into the stone that I stole from Kurt Vonnegut‘s novel, “Slaughterhouse-Five.” It sums up the helplessness of the characters in his novel in either understanding what is going on or why it is happening, or in the end, why any of us can grasp why anything is happening and what any of it is suppose to mean.

“And so it goes,” is the quote, which implies that in the end, we’re all just passing through, just passing along on the road to nowhere, and never really figuring
out what is happening in the long run and what it’s suppose to mean in the end.

We live here, we live there. With this person or that person or no person. We keep track. We take notes. We write words. We remember. We forget.

And all the time, deep down, we simply hope that our neighborhood stays intact long enough for us to find our way home.