Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Old New England Witticism ...

Pioneer Days

“Use it up,
wear it out,
make it do,
or do without.”

I have no idea who wrote those words, but I feel safe in saying it must have been a long, long time ago. 

I’m sure it was someone very wise, and I would love to have a sit-down chat with them. I have a few questions about what we are supposed to use up, wear out, make do with, or do without.  We live in such a throw-away world these days.

Line one: Use It Up. I suppose when it was originally written, it had to do with homemade soap, food, the deer dad shot and brought home, maybe even maple syrup. Everything else I can think of at the moment is date-protected and perishable.

That line certainly doesn’t seem to have anything to do with relationships. On second thought, maybe Use It Up could apply to a bad one.  You would feel used up emotionally, especially when we look at it like oil and water. If you keep the oil and water mixed, like in salad dressing, it will stay mixed as long as you‘re continually shaking it up, but who wants to function in that kind of instability?

Line two: Wear it Out. This seems pretty clear.  I'm sure it applied to clothes, shoes, pack mules, maybe even the Sears Roebuck catalog that only came once a year.  But I don’t I even want to touch this one with relationships. It’s way too obvious. In a bad one, you would feel totally, completely worn out.

Line three: Make it do. This line makes perfect sense, if we’re talking about old curtains, children's clothing, or an old rag rug that was handed down from great grandma, and maybe even the old mare we’re riding and sometimes hitch to the wagon: “Hell, Mary, she's still a good mare and she gets us around. 'Course she's grown awful swayback, but hells afire, we can make her do.”

Now, if you apply that same line and logic to a relationship, it pisses me off. I don’t see a place in any relationship for “make it do“.  Ever.

To my way of thinking, a relationship is like a bank account. Maybe that’s an arcane analogy, but bear with me for a minute. In order for a bank account to work, you have to put more into it than you take out of it. That way, the interest mounts up and with compound interest, you always have a positive cash flow.

When you only withdraw money, over time, the account dwindles and eventually bottoms out until there’s nothing left. For a relationship to work, both parties have to be putting more into it than they take out.

I realize that there are times when only one party is able to contribute. I’ve allowed for that. In a loving relationship, the other party is still contributing their share and often even more, so in the long haul, the relationship works, because over time, there is always more going into it than is being taken out   ... but you never, ever make it do.

Of course, if you have an always-giver paired with an always-taker and the giver doesn’t mind, they could possibly feed each other’s needs perfectly. In a sad way, I suppose those relationships can and do work.

Sometime ago, I had a relationship like that.  As the giver, it didn’t work for me. The “make it do” “wore me out” and to stay sane and stop feeling “used up“, like the obvious fourth line of the witticism, I chose to “Do Without” ... it was the best decision I ever made.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

Seminar Group Activity
Not long ago, I was told about a group of 500 business professionals who learned a valuable lesson, while attending a three day sales and marketing convention.

During the second day of the seminar, the main speaker suddenly stopped talking in what appeared to be the middle of his speech.  

He slowly scanned the faces in the crowd, noting the bored expressions and mounting impatience.

With a smile, he informed them they were going to do a group activity together. 

He began by giving each person a large orange balloon. Then he asked them to blow it up, tie it off, and to write their name across it using one of the black permanent markers in a basket on each table. 

All of the balloons were then collected and put into an adjacent room, which was totally enclosed in glass.  The sheer magnitude of balloons was an awesome sight.

Then the doors were opened and everyone was ushered into the balloon-filled room and told they had to find their balloon, the one balloon they had written their name on.  However, there was a caveat.  They would have only five minutes to find their balloon. 

In the vast sea of brilliant orange, people were frantically grabbing balloons, pushing, shoving, colliding with others, and there was utter chaos.

At the end of five minutes, not one person had found their own balloon.

Then the speaker asked each person to randomly collect one balloon and give it to the person whose name was written on it. 

Within a few minutes, everyone was holding their own balloon.

As the group returned to their seats, the speaker went back to the front of the room.  Then he said:
"This very same thing is happening in our lives today. 
Everyone everywhere is frantically searching for happiness. They can see it in others around them, but they don't know how to have it, or even how to find it. 
Our happiness lies in the happiness of other people. If you give them their happiness, you will find your own.   
This is the purpose of human life ... the pursuit of happiness."

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Green Thing: Back in Our Day ...

An Older Woman ... from Our Day
Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags weren't good for the environment. 

The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this new green thing back in our day."

The young clerk responded, "That's the problem our generation faces today. Your generation didn't care enough to save the environment for future generations."

She was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store then sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so they could use the same bottles over and over.  Actually, they were truly recycled. But we didn't have the green thing back in our day ...

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. The most memorable, besides household garbage bags and Halloween masks, we used the brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks.

This ensured that the books provided to us by the school, public property, was not defaced by our scribblings, as we creatively personalized our books on the brown paper bags. But it is too bad we didn't do the green thing back then ...

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and we didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn't have the green thing back in our day ...

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers, because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes. But we didn't have the green thing back in our day ...

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady was right. We didn't have the green thing back in our day ...

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not one in every room. And the TV had a screen the size of a handkerchief, (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand, because we didn't have electric machines to do it for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam, or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working, so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she was right. We didn't have the green thing back in our day ...

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty, instead of using a Styrofoam cup or a plastic bottle every time we wanted a sip of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink, instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor, instead of throwing away the whole razor, because the blade got dull. But it's true -- we didn't have the green thing back then ...

Back then, people took a streetcar, or bus, and kids rode their bikes to school, or walked, instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

Then again, maybe I really am just another selfish old person who needs a valuable lesson in conservation from a smart-ass young person ...

[Author Unknown]

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What a Woman Should Have ...

Victorian Woman


enough money within her control to move out and rent a place of her own, even if she never wants to, or needs to...


something perfect to wear if her employer, or the date of her dreams, wants to see her in an hour ...


a youth she's content to leave behind ...


a past juicy enough that she's looking forward to retelling it in her old age ...


a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra...


one friend who always makes her laugh ... and one who lets her cry...


a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family...


eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal that will make her guests feel honored ...


a feeling of control over her destiny...


how to fall in love without losing herself ...


how to quit a job, break up with a lover, and how to confront a friend without ruining the friendship ...


when to try harder ... and WHEN TO WALK AWAY...


that she can't change the length of her calves, the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents, or siblings ...


that her childhood may not have been perfect ... but its over ...


what she would and wouldn't do for love, or more ...


how to live alone ... even if she doesn't like it ...


whom she can trust, whom she can't, and why she shouldn't take it personally...


where to go ... be it to her best friend's kitchen table ... or a charming inn in the woods ... when her soul needs soothing ...


what she can and can't accomplish in a day ... a month ... and a year ...

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Friday, September 5, 2014

Poem: Taps for my Soldier

Douglas "Doc" Kempf

In Loving Memory

Douglas Scott “Doc” Kempf
KIA Vietnam
September 5, 1969

Sp4 US Army
Combat Medic
199th LIB D4/12

7/12/1947 - 9/5/1969

Taps for my Soldier

by CJ (Kempf) Heck

A gentle breeze chatters the leaves
as birds sing their greetings.

The sun shines 
on a day like any other,
and yet like none before.

Two mirrored rows of uniforms
line up like blue dominoes,
white gloves holding rifles at the ready.

A lone bugle cries. 
Twenty-four notes.
Each note, slow as a tear,
blankets ears and heavy hearts.

In the silence between,
even nature holds its breath.

Gone is the breeze.
Gone are the bird songs.
Gone is her hold on composure,
all lost in the bugle's lament.

Solemnly a soldier approaches.
White gloves present a tri-fold flag,

and in one final mournful note,
legions of silent voices unite
to call a comrade home
and a young wife weeps.

[From the book, "Anatomy of a Poet", by CJ Heck]
"Taps for My Soldier" was included by an invitation from Master Sgt. and bugler, Jari Villanueva, for The Taps Exhibit, “The Taps Project”, Arlington National Cemetery, May 29, 1999.

"Taps for My Soldier" was included in the book, "The Other Side of Sorrow", by Cicely Buckley, Edited by Patricia Frisella (Poetry Society of New Hampshire, 2006).

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I Remember Autumn ..

The Autumn Leaves
Autumn is (almost) here. What a wonderful time of the year!

Temperatures drop at night, making sleep more comfortable and the days turn cooler and less humid.

Leaves cover the ground in varying shades and those that can, will be nearly nude again, even here in Florida.

This time of year I get pleasantly caught up in all of the things I love most about fall.

As a child, I loved the leaves. I remember building houses and forts, then playing hide-and-seek in the noisy piles that had been the walls.  But what I remember most was the pungent scent as they burned after daddy raked and then ceremoniously lit the piles with a match -- something the powers-that-be sadly don't allow these days.

There was apple picking at the orchard and choosing the perfect pumpkins for carving, and drinking apple cider from little paper cups while you waited for mom, or dad, to pay for your special finds.

My Hometown County Fair
And who can forget the county fair? In my hometown, small as it was, they even closed school for an entire week because of the fair.

I loved going on the rides, playing the games on both sides of the midway, and (ugh) the animal barns with the hold-your-nose smell of manure that followed you everywhere, all day long.

I'll never forget the sweet smell of cotton candy and I loved watching the guy behind the glass as he turned the white paper cone around and around along the edge of the silver vat and, miraculously, the cotton candy slowly grew on the paper cone into a huge pastel cloud -- and you just had to have some.

My favorite fair treat was the thick, long french fries you squirted vinegar on and ate with your fingers. Those fries to this day are my yardstick for measuring a really tasty french fry.

The coup de gras of autumn was always the haunted house, which was set up in one of the barns after the fair was over.  Ghosts! Werewolves! Dracula hiding in a closed coffin that suddenly popped open, just as you walked by!

Monsters in the Haunted House
Every autumn, I counted the days until the haunted house would open.

I remember walking through the doorway, my adrenalin pumping, heart racing, and my mind silently screaming ...

"Go ahead, scare me! Scare the living daylight right out of me!"

... and it always did.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Monday, September 1, 2014

Alfie: by Michael Domino

Pompapoo (Like Lacey)
The tall man looked pale and tired, and his little dog looked dazed and confused as they meandered about the perimeter of the grassy, sloping dog run in Madison Square Park.

My dog approached them and I followed her, but they moved further away, both seeming to be in their own separate worlds.

He had earplugs on, listening to music, taking him even further away from where he actually was. The dog led the way, sniffing and snorting at the weeds with no particular direction. What a pair.

The fenced-in corral is where people take their pets to exercise. It’s not large, so our paths would invariably cross as we meandered.

My dog, Lacey, got nowhere with the pint-sized wanderer. The dog’s eyes were glazed. The two small canines passed like ships in the night without the customary sniffing greeting – the handshake of the doggie world.

I raised my sunglasses above my head to make eye contact with the man with tired eyes. After all, dog parks are not just for dogs. People meet people there, too. This particular morning the cool mist, and damp ground were keeping the regulars away, so it was just the four of us.

As we approached from opposite directions the man removed his earplugs and looked up: “He’s Alfie,” his tired voice whispered.

“Excuse me? Good Morning.”

“Alfie, his name is Alfie.”

“Great dog name. I like that. My dog is Lacey.”

Lacey is a fluffy white Pomapoo (Poodle mixed with a Pomeranian). That’s what the sales guy told us when we paid 100 bucks for her. She weighs about 20 pounds.

Alfie the Bichon
“His full name is Alfalfa but we call him Alfie. He’s a Bichon.”

Alfie was even smaller than Lacey and sort of runty.

“Oh, like Alfalfa, The Little Rascal?”

“Yes, you see he has a bump on his head and that makes his hair stick up like Alfalfa’s cowlick.”

“Ha, yes I see that – his mark of distinction.”

“He ran away once and we put up posters and got a call. They said ‘we think we found your dog.’ I asked them if he has a bump on his head and they said yes. So I said ‘That’s Alfie, I’ll come get him’.”

Alfie’s owner’s speech was very dry.

“Well, he looks like a nice pet. He walks around and doesn’t bother anybody or other dogs,” I said.

No response.

“He can’t be left alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“He goes crazy if we leave him in the house. He tears the place up. If we put him in a crate, he chews that up and all the stuffing too.”

“Why not put him in a wire mesh one or plastic, that he can’t destroy?”

“We tried but then he hurts himself. He will chew out his toenails and bite his own legs. He has extreme separation anxiety. I think the bump on his head goes into his brain. My wife and I can’t leave him. If we go out for a few hours we never know what we’ll find when we return.”

I could see now why the man looked so tired and withdrawn. This little dog was ruling his life. He told me this has been going on for nine years. I could not imagine such a life. Pets are supposed to bring you joy, not make you miserable.

“We used to have a German Shepherd but he died a few years back,” he told me. “When we left him home with our Shepherd, Alfie was okay. We could go out and he’d be fine when we got back. But Shep died, and now Alfie goes crazy again.”

I really felt bad for the guy. After nine years of being under Alfie’s tyranny, I assumed that every possible remedy must have been considered. They had consulted a number of veterinarians and dog trainers and even a dog shrink. His dilemma nagged at me, and challenged me to think of some new solutions. Then it came to me.

“Why don’t you get Alfie a cat? They are low maintenance and self-managing. You said Alfie was okay with Shep the Shepherd, so maybe any live body will do?”

For the first time, the man’s face changed from a sullen mask. His eye showed some life – and hope.

“You know, I never thought of that. That’s a great idea!”

With new energy, he reached for Alfie’s leash that he’d hung on the fence near the water guzzler.

“I think I’m going to go home now and talk to my wife. Alfie, Alfie come on, boy, let’s go – let’s go see Mommy!”

I said goodbye and good luck, feeling pleased that maybe I did something to help this one person, this one day, in this one life.

Days went by and there was no sign of Alfie and the tired man. A week passed and Lacey and I were there early the day they finally arrived. The man was not wearing earplugs, and his shirt was neatly tucked in. He looked like he’d gotten some good sleep and a little suntan maybe from a full round of golf.

He bounded right over to my sunny bench with Alfie in tow.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I said.

“Listen, I’m glad I ran into you.”

“Me too. How’ve you been?”

“We got a cat – like you suggested. Alfie is happy and we can leave him home now – we even played a full round of golf yesterday. Thanks a lot!”

“No need to thank me. It was my pleasure. I like to believe that there are no problems, only solutions. I’m just glad it worked out.”

Alfie chased Lacey and the man walked over and threw them a well worn tennis ball as both dogs chased and slobbered on with great excitement.

No big thing, perhaps, but seeing them like this sure made my day.

[from the book, "Park Avenue to Park Bench", by Vietnam veteran, Michael Domino]

Michael Domino
About the Author

Born in New York City but raised on Long Island, Michael Domino is a product of the great post-WWII American suburban experiment.

Once described by his Aunt as a curious loner who never appeared to be lonely, Michael was always drawn to rebels, outcasts, and the downtrodden.

Fortunately for the budding writer, his father, an amateur photographer and film buff, often took him to Manhattan where his imagination could run wild.

His mother, a voracious reader and graduate of Hunter College in Manhattan, encouraged her son and he wrote short stories and experimented with photography. After graduating with a degree in Industrial Arts from SUNY Oswego he went into the plastics recycling business.

For three decades he channeled his creative energy into giving new life to old scrap. He also married and raised a family. Meanwhile, on the sly, Domino’s writing simmered and he kept a journal of his impromptu bohemian adventures. 

He published Cadillac on the Bowery and Loud Whispers, before moving onto a Vietnam memoir co-written with his cousin Michael Primont.

His latest collection of eclectic Manhattan stories is titled Park Avenue to Park Bench. Michael Domino is also the writer and producer of dozens of music and spoken word videos and two short films.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Poem: Anatomy of a Poet

Poetry bares us to the soul ...

A poet is a lonely being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music ... and then people crowd about the poet and say to her: "Sing for us soon again;" that is as much as to say, "May new sufferings torment your soul." ~Soren Kierkegaard

Anatomy of a Poet

by CJ Heck

Go in through the eyes of a poet
deep into her alphabet mind.
Ideas like flotsam and jetsam
dodge poetry fragments and lines.

Beware the dark shadows of memory,
knife-sharp and bloodied by time,
or gentle, orgasmic and sensual,
swirling eddies, some without rhyme.

Softly notice the spirit in hiding.
Tiptoe past the bruised heart mending there,
knitting poems, pearls strung on a necklace,
unfinished jewels everywhere.

Take note on your tour of this poet
the outside no different you see,
but inside, my God, a passion's abyss,
the poet, the woman, the me.

[The poem which gave the title to the book, "Anatomy of a Poet", by C.J. Heck]

Read a Preview of "Anatomy of a Poet"

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck