Friday, July 22, 2016

'Pokemon GO' – Away

I have long suspected that smartphones are going to be the thing that undoes our society. Forget terrorism, despotic states, and nuclear weapons – we are going to be destroyed from within by subtle yet nefarious forces that we never see coming – addictive things that keep us focused on that little device in our hands instead of what is happening all around us in our lives.

One day I overheard a guy in a department store asking the cashier to help him – he had lost his phone. He begged, “Please, my whole world is in that phone!” While I felt sorry for him, I also realized the salient truth of what he had said – without that phone, he had nothing. His case is a microcosm in a time when none of us remembers a phone number or knows directions to get anywhere because we rely on our phones to take care of those things.

We have all seen the hilarious clips of people walking and texting and the results of their collisions, falls, and dives. While these things may be humorous, they are also a sad indictment of a culture that is fixated on a virtual world that revolves inside a rectangular object that fits in pocketbooks or pockets; however, I see many people walking with devices in hand, almost afraid to let them go for even a few seconds. What have we become when a phone is like a virtual crutch or cane?

13654255_10154555771006531_477277230323100421_nSo into this tech-absorbed milieu we get Pokemon GO – the smartphone game taking the world by storm with little images of the Pokemon (pocket monsters) needing to be located and captured in real places. This augmented reality drops the little darlings in parks, churches, stores, and, well, you get the idea. The virtual creatures are being chased by (the game was meant for kids but I have seen more adults playing it than little ones) real people who are falling, tripping, and even driving cars into trees in order to get the job done.

My problem with something like Pokemon GO, beyond the obvious dangers, is that even though it was meant to get kids off the sofa and outside for exercise, it is also sinking the users deeper into a virtual fog. As a parent of two kids who are on their phones and the iPad too much already, this is like adding insult to possible injuries.

I think reality – no matter how unsettling it may be at times – has to be promoted rather than encouraging more escape from it. In the past people watched TV to escape from reality, then along came a slap in the face like the Kardashians to shake us up. What they call “reality TV” is no more real than a sitcom, but it pulled even more people into its web. The advent of the Internet  brought a different kind of reality – virtual reality – to get us even more distanced from the real world, and then smartphones took the journey into this cyber netherworld into more personal and mobile directions.

The Internet has maximized what used to be on television and that which is virtual – and this deadly combination with smartphones has made us sitting ducks – with our thumbs tapping away at a little screen we can conveniently take with us wherever we go. The obsession with the virtual is going to be our Achilles’ heel – the thing that undoes society worse than any enemy could. Along comes the insidious Pokemon GO, and suddenly everyone is falling over one another and causing havoc in the streets.

I have seen people wanting to “get inside to get the Pokemon” in places that are locked up – here in New York City churches are not always open, nor are stores, libraries, and restaurants. When people start crossing the line by crawling over fences or gates to capture the little virtual monsters on private property, then we have potential disasters in the making. There are also the accidents that have already occurred that portend what will be just as deadly as texting while driving – all this courtesy of a little game meant for kids.

As a parent I like when my kids use their devices for educational purposes – and they do this regularly – so it is not a simple case of taking them away in order to prevent them from playing Pokemon GO. It would be easier if the game would just be gone, but its success means that it is not going anywhere for now.

Even if Pokemon GO disappeared tomorrow, I fear the damage is already done, for the obsession is something that can be generated again and again. This game proves how susceptible we humans are to becoming tech-addicted lemmings, only too ready to follow the latest virtual fad right off an actual cliff.

Another craze will no doubt present itself soon and, just as my kids no longer even touch their once beloved Wii and all the assorted games and accessories we got for it, Pokemon GO will one day be gone – that cannot day come soon enough for me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Politics and Pressure In Social Media – Please Make It All Go Away

At this point I am all conventioned out – and I haven’t watched even a minute of the Republicans in Cleveland, and I also don’t plan to watch the Democrats in Philadelphia next week. I am so overwhelmingly disgusted with the way the media – social and otherwise – has negatively influenced this campaign for the White House, that I am both done and undone. Truthfully, I have had enough; I just want it all to stop!

stop3But just like Al Pacino’s character Michael Corleone in The Godfather films – he wanted out but they just kept pulling him back in – I feel the same way now, especially when it comes to Facebook, texts, and emails that come from friends, friends of friends, and people who are my cousin’s friend’s uncle’s roommate’s childhood sweetheart.

Some of these people I don’t know from a hole in the wall – or is it a gap in cyberspace? Whatever the case, I am inundated with calls to do things. I get “Share if you are a real American” and “Stand With Hillary” – or alternately, “Stand With Trump” – and so on. I would say I am mad as hell and can’t take it anymore, but it goes way beyond that.
stop1Friends, relatives, and complete strangers are pushing their political agendas in my face on a daily basis. I get countless emails explaining why either Hillary or Trump is better than the alternative; I get texts as well, some of which are of dubious orientation. I am blocking more of these offenders than an NFL linebacker, but the smart phone is a gift that keeps on giving – junk mail, robo-calls, and more tedious texts just keep on coming.

Going on Facebook these days is for the most part an unpleasant experience. I used to enjoy going on FB just to catch up with people I don’t see as much as I would like or my relatives (distant or otherwise), but now a mixed bag of users has turned the site into an ideological war zone. I have seen friendships dissolve in the comments section of posts because the situation is so intense and divisive – imagine people who have known each other for 30 or 40 years allowing their relationships to be torn asunder by this combustive campaign rhetoric?

I am at the point where I scroll by almost everything because it is either political in nature or pressuring me to “like” or “share” something with which I have no interest in doing either. People are really pounding the virtual podium to the point of tediousness now. In the old days you could walk past the loons at Speaker’s Corner in London or in Times Square in New York and get away from them, but now in the virtual world they are omnipresent and oppressive.

I have been getting those posts where the person pressures me or tests me by asking me to “like this” or “share this” or “cut and paste this” in order that he or she will know if I am a “true” friend or not. I am so over trying to please or wanting to please people in regard to these things that I am also ignoring them, as well as people asking me to play online games. I have told people that I don’t play online games, but they keep inviting me. Grrr!!!!

des1I have explained to almost everyone that I am in contact with again and again that I do not support either candidate, and I would rather vote for someone who is no longer in the running – who also disappointed me greatly by compromising himself to support one “presumptive” candidate.

For the first time since I was 18 years old I will be not voting for President of the United States, and that hurts me deeply, but I have no choice because the candidates of the two major parties are such appallingly awful choices. I could write in a name – but I may as well choose Barney the Dinosaur because he would do an infinitely better job than our current crop of potential presidential timber (dry rot would be more accurate).

Yes, I could just stop using FB, delete my texts and emails, and try to move on, but that seems like I am being punished for not wanting to be involved in this process of mutual obsessive compulsiveness by devotees of either candidate (or unwilling to share things about illnesses, causes, or true friends, etc.). I’m getting really Greta Garbo about this social media quagmire now – I just want to be left alone!

Stop (2)So I am making my final stand with this post – I am asking for it all to stop, though I know it will never stop because social media is a monster that keeps feeding upon itself. I need to just go about my day and do what I need to do. I’m going to ignore these posts, try to scroll down, and maintain radio silence. I will comment on innocuous things like birthdays, anniversaries, and life accomplishments; otherwise, I am Silent Sam – the Invisible Facebook user – the Quiet Cyber Man.

I don’t like it this way, but that is how it has to be. This will be my last post that has anything remotely to do with politics until the die is cast in November. Once either one of these dubious candidates gets elected (unless Barney gets lucky), then all bets are off, and I may throw my hat back into the ring. Until then, I am going dark when it comes to this subject.

Until next time, Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

My Grandfather Was Hijacker D.B. Cooper – A Short Story by Victor Lana

First appeared on Blogcritics.

I’m watching a story on CNN about the infamous D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a plane back in 1971 and never got caught. The report indicates that the FBI is closing the case after 45 years, and then they show sketches of the guy. Something seems familiar about his face, but I can’t connect the dots because the images are only on screen briefly.

DB1Working at my desk later that morning, I look up at some family photographs, seeing one of Dad as a boy with Papa, and I realize that Papa looks just like Cooper except for a bushy mustache and blonde hair. After printing out the sketches and confirming the resemblance, I decide to go into Manhattan and visit the old man.

*
Papa’s aide Annie, a friendly older woman from Jamaica, opens the door. “Why are you such a stranger?”

“I’m never invited,” I say.

Annie directs me into the spacious living room where Papa sits hunched in a wheelchair looking out the picture window at the city.

He doesn’t turn to acknowledge me. “What’s the occasion?”

“Just thought I’d stop by,” I say.

“When’s the last time I saw you?”

“Dad’s funeral.”

Papa spins the wheelchair around – the bushy mustache now snow white; however, his face remains remarkably unwrinkled and his blue eyes are clear behind gold-rimmed eyeglasses. I thought he looked like Cooper when I saw his old photo; now I’m not so sure.

“I know your father told you how I was a bad guy.”

“No, he said he loved you; he said it often.”

“Why are you here, William?”

I take the print-out of the Cooper sketches from my pocket and hand it to him. “I made the connection this morning.”

“It took you all long enough.”

“Are you saying that you are…”

“I’m not saying it – you are!”

“So, is it you?”

He stares at the image. “Coming back from Vietnam very angry, I stayed out West and settled in Portland, working in the airport for Northwest Orient Airlines, but I kept messing up and they fired me.”

“So they owed you.”

DB2“Shaved off my mustache, cut my hair, dyed it black, and put in brown contact lenses, so no one recognized me when I bought a ticket. On the plane I showed them my bomb – just some red safety flares in the briefcase with wires and battery taped to them, but that worked. I got my ransom and parachutes.

“Passengers got off in Seattle but I kept some crew on board. Told them to fly to Mexico, but I took the money and jumped. Being a paratrooper in Nam, it was no biggie.”
I stare at him in awe. “How did you avoid being caught?”

“I never used the money – at least not for a long time. Eventually, I made small deposits in different banks. When I finally started to withdraw it, those original bills had been long passed into the general population, serial numbers undetected.”

“Did Dad know?” I ask.

“No one has ever known until now.”

I think of what my father once told me. “Dad believed that you would have been a different person if grandma didn’t die so young.”

I see in his expression that he is fighting tears. He nods and then puts his head down. “Millie’s loss…destroyed me, and I know my kids hated me for marrying Gail, but I only did it so they would have a family. That was probably my biggest mistake.”

I think of myself, how I lost my last girlfriend Ella because of stupid reasons and pride. I put my hand on his shoulder. “We all make mistakes, Papa. At least you tried.”

I feel his body convulsing now as he cries, and I do something I haven’t done in my whole life – I get down on my knees and hug him. Papa brings up his good hand and arm and hugs me back, and I feel sorry for the old man now. He has lost a son, two wives, and can’t walk anymore.

We stare into each other’s faces, his eyes clear and watery now. “I know now that the sins of the father hurt the son; if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t hijack that plane.”

I get up and sit on the chair next to him. “What’s done is done now, Papa.”

He nods somberly. “I suppose you will expose me; tell the world who I am and what I did. I guess I deserve that.”

I had thought about that on my way here, but now I am thinking that there is no reason to divulge anything because it changes nothing – Dad and Papa’s wives are gone. My brother, sister, and their children don’t need a scandal to ruin their lives, and looking at the old man I know that he has suffered enough.

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” I say, “not now, not ever.”

Papa looks up at me. “Sometimes I still can’t believe I did it.”

So yes, my Papa was the hijacker D.B or Dan Cooper, one of the most infamous fugitives and wanted men in America for all those years, but now the case is closed, and for me it’s not about the money, avoiding scandal, or protecting my family.

Yes, those things factor in, but the most important thing for me is that my grandfather served his country in war and came back and was treated poorly. Papa didn’t hurt anyone in the hijacking – he didn’t even have a real bomb, and in the end maybe Northwest deserved to compensate him in some way after firing him instead of helping him get better.

We are quiet for a while, and then I say, “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to visit you more often.”

“But why now?”

“To make up for lost time.”

“I don’t deserve it,” he says with a big smile, “but thank you.”

I never saw Papa happy before. Case closed and then some.

Friday, July 15, 2016

What the World Needs Now – A Real The Day the Earth Stood Still

After the latest terrorist attack in France, the nations of the world need to stand together and say, “Enough is enough!” Unfortunately, that scenario seems unattainable due to the fractured nature of leadership across the globe, of people who don’t want things to change, and some who support the insanity that terror brings to the innocent people of this planet.

nice cnnUsing a truck as a weapon of mass destruction, the terrorist drove through a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day, slaughtering and maiming them as he went along. He also fired a weapon into the crowd. This attack seems to be a game changer – we can all debate about making guns harder to get, but are we now going to say the same thing about trucks? The truth is that it’s not just about what weapon is used but rather the state of mind that would foster such hatred, such disregard for human life no matter how death is delivered.

People can all say the world needs love; we want to give peace a chance, and all the other stuff about coming together to stop the carnage that seems to keep occurring. Of course, it is an equal opportunity carnage – consider Orlando, Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia as all suffering recent terrorist attacks. What the world needs now is not peace, love, and prayer vigils – it needs a good kick in the ass.

It is time for an intervention – one of an extra-terrestrial kind similar to what happens in the classic film The Day the Earth Stood Still. We all need to know – and that includes presidents, prime ministers, kings, and terrorist leaders – that our clock is in danger of getting cleaned. The only power that can accomplish this is one that is greater than all the combined nations on earth.

gort amazon
In the film a spaceship lands in Washington D.C. and human looking alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) comes to earth to present a token of peace to the President of the United States, promptly getting shot by a nervous soldier. This could have been a disaster straightaway because Klaatu’s sidekick, an eight-foot robot named Gort, annihilates all weapons in the vicinity and could have easily taken out the people too; however, Klaatu is a forgiving soul and wants to bring an important message to the people of earth.

To prove his power, the alien makes the earth stand still – all power is shut off all across the planet. The implications in 1951 when the film was made were dramatic, but can you imagine what would occur if this happened on 2016 earth, a world so reliant on devices and technology?

Klaatu’s experiment was a demonstration of power to make all the saber-rattling leaders of the world realize that they had to put down their swords. At the time of the film’s premiere, the Cold War was in full swing and the possibility of mutual destruction seemed very real. At the dramatic climax of the film, Klaatu is wounded again by soldiers and the robot Gort prepares to destroy the planet. An earth woman (Patricia Neal) had been told by Klaatu how to stop the robot with a specific phrase, and she is able to save the world from destruction by uttering “Klaatu Barada Nikto.”

Eventually revived by Gort, Klaatu’s final message to the leaders of the world is most ominous – the world needed to get its act together and live in peace with other planets. Failure to do so, and any attempt to extend the earth’s destructive capabilities into space, would result in the earth being “reduced to a burned out cinder.”

All these years later Klaatu’s words in this film reverberate as something necessary and compelling right now. An overwhelmingly more powerful alien race (any visitors from a distant planet would have to have exceedingly more technology and weaponry than what we have currently) would not care about our petty territorial disputes or our antiquated allegiances to boundaries forged long ago. They would assess our danger to one another as unacceptable, and an ultimatum similar to the one in the film would shake the foundations of all we thought about our invulnerability – making us realize we are like insects susceptible to being crushed underfoot by a much greater power.

It is a shame that it would have to come to this, but there seems to be nothing else to stop our downward spiral. On our planet now there are too many divisions, too many so-called good guys who see everyone else as bad. There are all kinds of weapons of mass destruction that can kill everyone on this planet ten times over, but perhaps the most pernicious WMD is the human mind, the one that can descend to a place dark enough to think it is okay to fly a plane into a building, drop bombs on cities, or drive a truck through a crowd.

Sgort virgin mediao, calling all aliens, please stop hiding during your visits to earth. There have been enough UFO sightings – we know you are out there. Please help us; please help save us from ourselves. Make yourselves known now! Land your vehicles in Moscow, Washington, London, and Beijing. Take over our airwaves, rob us of the Internet, and shake us down to every fiber of our beings – in short, scare the crap out of us and warn us to get our acts together fast or else we will suffer the consequences.

We can only hope that would be enough to get us to really change; however, if the aliens go away as Klaatu did at the end of the film, it may not be enough. We might revert back to our stupidity, back to the behavior that inspired the aliens to come and warn us, and then we could be in for the punishment we would deserve – annihilation, and then no promises will be accepted, no “Klaatu Barada Nikto” will be able to save us. All our arrogance, all our posturing of human superiority in a vast universe where our planet is just a speck of dust, will be reduced to ashes. What a sad but perhaps a fitting end for a people who were born into a beautiful world but took it for granted, abused it and each other, and then ultimately faded to oblivion.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Fourth of July – A Holiday For All Americans

flag3-cnn
Fourth of July is almost here – apple pie, hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and coleslaw! There will be parades marching down Main Streets all across America, and besides the barbecues people will flock to beaches and go away to the mountains or get out on their boats. At night many of us will be sitting around bonfires, roasting marshmallows, and looking up to see fireworks light the sky. Above most of these festivities, an American flag will be flying in the wind.

I am a registered Independent and I will be flying my flag outside my house. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, and people of all other parties are free to do so. The flag – patriotic symbol that it is – should be an equal opportunity for all Americans to show their love of country. As the song goes, “It’s the emblem of/the land I love/the home of the free and the brave.”

What worries me is the divisiveness that has hovered over this nation during the Presidential primaries; it is tearing us apart. All over the media, the Internet, and especially sites like Facebook, we get partisan posts that are rife with rancor. You get such ugly accusations, name calling, and assertions that you cannot be a “real American” if you are – fill in the blank with whatever party you hate most. It is depressing to see that we have come to this, and it seems it is getting worse day by day.

The problem is that this bitterness diffuses the nature of Fourth of July, when we celebrate Independence Day – the day when we made a stand for liberty and justice against oppression. It’s that notion of “independence” that should unite us, bind us, not tear us apart. When I hear someone say, "Oh he's a _____, he can't love this country" I know that person has no clue about not only love of country but what it is to be an American.

A long time ago my uncle was in local politics (in Queens, NY) and got to know some heavy hitters over the years – Alphonse D’Amato, Tip O’Neill, and others. He was friendly with people from both sides of the aisle. One time over drinks with O’Neill, he asked the then Speaker of the House how he got along with President Reagan. Tip claimed that they got along extremely well and that there was never partisan bickering in their dealings. They worked together to get things done.

All these years later I see none of that happening in Washington, on Facebook, or in the media. To get a good idea of how broken things are, all you have to do is to watch MSNBC for a few minutes, switch to CNN, and then to FOX News. The jabbering heads on all these channels will make your mind explode. The panelists bicker among themselves, the anchors make snide remarks if they don’t agree with you, and there is an overall breakdown of civility and lack of credibility that would make Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow turn over in their graves.

Personally, I have had enough. I am more tired of hearing about the 2016 Presidential Campaign than I am of the Kardashians. At this point I just want to tune it all out. It’s a sad indictment of the media and the way they have handled the mess that is going on, but the truth is I just don’t care anymore and wish it were over already.

FlagI have my flag flying outside my house right now, and when I see the flag flying in front of someone else’s house I appreciate it. I don’t think, “That must be the home of another Independent!” It’s the right and privilege of ALL Americans to fly it, as well as people who have immigrated here and now love the country too and want to become citizens. As I mentioned before, the flag is equal opportunity for all to show their love of country, not just for some or those in your political party.

This brings to mind the lyrics of the great song written by Woodie Guthrie: This land is your land/ This land is my land/ From California to the New York island/From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters/This land was made for you and me.” It is the intent of this song to not only celebrate America but also the people living here – ALL the people living here from sea to shining sea.

So do yourselves a favor this Fourth of July – throw the dirty politics into the trash along with your soiled paper plates from the barbecue. Go shake the hands of people not because they are in your political party but because they are your fellow Americans. Stand shoulder to shoulder – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and all other parties – and lean your heads back and watch the fireworks; when all the blasts of color and loud booms are over, our flag will still be there.

Photo Credits: CNN, NBC

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Niagara Falls – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

There are magical places that once visited capture the essence of the moment – time, place, and experience – and this transforming opportunity stays with us long afterwards. Such is the case for Niagara Falls, where the power and majesty of nature are only eclipsed by the astonishment and awe experienced there.

falls1
A rainbow over the American and Horseshoe Falls
I had first gone to Niagara Falls 35 years ago on a day trip after spending a few days at Cooperstown, New York, to visit and explore the Baseball Hall of Fame. Two friends and I drove there with intentions of then visiting a buddy in Bradford, PA, who was throwing a big party, so it was not meant to be more than a short stop.

I recall upon first seeing the falls that I felt so small, so powerless, feeling the spray and water as I climbed the narrow staircase adjacent to the Bridal Veil Falls. Holding onto the railing and experiencing the rush of water was both thrilling and frightening, as if at any second I could be washed away in a powerful torrent.

Sadly, we stayed all too briefly and walked quickly back to our car through Niagara Falls State Park, stopping to dry off a little bit and grabbing bottles of ice cold Orange Crush from a vending machine before heading on our way. Typical of youth, we were more worried about making the party on time than savoring the natural wonder we had just witnessed.

All these years later I returned with my wife and kids, intending to take my time and appreciate the beauty of the place. Staying on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (one of two twin cities of the same name separated by the falls and river) affords breathtaking views of all three falls – Bridal Veil, American, and Horseshoe – and also offers many other attractions, entertainment, and dining.

Walking up to the railing this time I breathed deeply as the spray tickled my nostrils. I grabbed the railing with both hands and stared out at the glorious scene – a bright rainbow stretching from the Niagara River over the top of the American Falls and into the heart of the flowing Horseshoe Falls. We took pictures of it, but they do not do justice to the clarity and beauty of the rainbow we saw. I looked up and saw birds flying above it, thinking that they too were enjoying Mother Nature’s most colorful tapestry.

While there we had plenty of time to explore Queen Victoria Park, visit Skylon Tower (with tremendous views of the falls), walk over Rainbow Bridge (with magnificent views of the falls), and enjoy the many other attractions for kids (like the Niagara SkyWheel) and adults (the Fallsview Casino).

falls2
Maid of the Mist gets close to the American Falls.
Reminding me of my past visit, we went over to the American side (passport control at Rainbow Bridge is efficient but can take some time depending on traffic volume) and walked through Niagara Falls State Park. There are concessions there, but the goal was to get to the terminal for the iconic tour boat Maid of the Mist.

This boat ride was the highlight of our stay in Niagara Falls. Maid of the Mist takes daring tourists to the very edge of the raging water. Having only seen the boat from up above on my last visit, being in the water gave me an entirely different perspective; looking up at the falls reminded me of my insignificance; I was just a small speck only a few feet away from being obliterated by nature’s power.

falls4
In our blue slickers on the boat deck
Donning blue slickers imprinted with Maid of the Mist across the front, my family and I joined 300 or so of our fellow tourists on an adventure out on the river and skirted the white water long enough for everyone to get their pictures (and extremely wet). Cameras and iPhones have to be used cautiously here because jets of water suddenly shoot across the deck at any moment.

falls5
View of the falls from the American side. 
Looking up at the powerful, raging white water, I felt like I was looking at a moving work of natural art, carving its way across air and rock as if by a sculptor’s deliberate hand, allowing for it to continue as an always unfinished monument to its creator.

Niagara Falls is a must see place to visit for New Yorkers, all Americans, and people visiting from abroad. It is probably most easily reached for foreign travelers by flying into Toronto because visitors to New York City are looking at seven plus hours of driving. It is well worth the trip no matter how you do make your way there.

On the last day of our visit, after packing the car and driving out along River Road toward the bridge, yet another rainbow manifested itself in a perfect arc over the American and Horseshoe Falls, as if it were a fond farewell to us.

Niagara Falls, one of the great natural wonders on earth, is vividly pictured in my dreams, and the place is forever with me now. Birds may fly over that rainbow but – thanks to the images imbued in my memory – so can I.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Last Day of School – Still Wishing for That Endless Summer




long beach
The last day of school smells, feels, and tastes like summer with the heat heavy in the air, the sweat rolling down your back, and the thought of that ice cream cone you know you’re going to get after the bell rings. The last day of school is a rite of passage just as is the first day of school or graduation, but there is the unique quality the last day of school holds in a child’s imagination. It is still something that provides so much joy, making you giddy about all the free time ahead. The last day of school – nothing else feels quite like it.

Yesterday was my son’s last day of school – his last day of first grade. As we parents were waiting outside for dismissal, the building was literally rocking with screaming, howling, and laughing children. With all the windows thrown open due to the heat, we could see students running back and forth inside the classrooms, as if they were caged and waiting to be set free.

In one of the upper floor rooms, one student stuck his head out the window and proclaimed, “I hate school!” All the assembled parents laughed, no doubt thinking of their own childhoods. In another room Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” blared on a stereo as the kids were singing and dancing (one cool teacher in there). At a lower floor window a little one looked out the window and cried uncontrollably. From jubilation to tears – such are the emotions of the last day of school.

The bell rang – bringing back memories good and bad of my own school days – and, when the doors finally opened, the older kids burst out of them in a maddening rush. Arms and legs flailing everywhere, backpacks sailing into parents’ waiting arms, beach balls being tossed up toward the blue sky, and yelling and laughter could be heard everywhere – a free for all never felt so good, and I wasn’t even a student.

As my son’s class came outside he and his classmates seemed a bit more sedate. One of his little friends was crying, running over to his mother and saying he would miss first grade. I asked my son if he was okay, and he smirked and said, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

51YDZT12Y9L._AC_US160_I recalled my last days of school and the joy I felt, remembering Alice Cooper’s song playing, if not on the car radio, in my head each year as I exited the building in sweaty delight. There was the vague but still perceived hope that his lyrics “school’s out forever” were not just wishful thinking. Somehow, someway, it would come true that year. Along with the Beach Boys’ album Endless Summer, there came a reverie of long, listless days of swimming and wandering the beach, sitting on the porch until it got dark, lighting the citronella candles, watching fireworks exploding over the ocean, and sleeping as late as I wanted with no sound of an alarm clock ever to be heard again.

Now it was my son’s turn. He ran around joyfully with his friends for about five minutes, chasing not only one another but the dream of the long sunny days ahead, and afterwards he bid them all goodbye with smiles and waves of hands. I took his hand in mine and as we walked out of the schoolyard, I felt his joy and the rush of what feels like Christmas in June – with the biggest present in the world waiting to be unwrapped – freedom!

Now he already knows from last summer that he is not going to be completely free. When we go away on vacation, we bring books to read and workbooks for math and reading. He understands that is part of it, but it also is on a flexible schedule, and there is joy in that there will be a good deal of time for playing and laughing and just his being able to be a kid. We will have the ocean and sky and long days and staying up late. Those languid, hot sticky days leading into long warm nights filled with fireflies are the things of which sweet dreams are still made.

If nothing else, summer is a good excuse for us all to be kids again. To stir up pitchers of iced tea or lemonade, to remember “time” that usually matters doesn’t now, to linger at the beach to watch the sunset or even to eat dinner there, and to sit looking up at the stars afterwards without a worry about tomorrow or any other thing.

We left school far behind and as I drove I said, “When school was over we used to say ‘No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.’ What do you think about that?”
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“That’s kind of funny, Dad.”

After that we went to have that ice cream, and we savored that cold delicious treat more now because there were no worries – no homework, no studying for a test, no getting up early tomorrow. As I looked at him and saw the joy in his eyes, I felt the way I used to feel when the calendar was still turned to June in my mother’s kitchen and I knew I had two more months of freedom ahead of me.

At that moment as we enjoyed our ice cream, it felt as if school was not just out for summer but forever and completely just as Alice Cooper sang so long ago. When we left the shop we went back to go for a swim in the pool and, as we floated and lazily stared up at the clouds in the sky, I almost believed that September would never get here.

Photo credits: CNN, Amazon