A Party? No Thanks!

Another birthday, the eightieth since my actual day of birth, is looming.

If I have my way, there will be no party celebrations to mark the occasion—no gathering of friends, no gifts, and most mercifully, no public rendition of that ubiquitous birthday song by a bored, yet dutiful, cadre of restaurant servers.  Rather, the occasion will be marked by a fond embrace from the one who has been alongside for all but the first twenty of those eighty anniversaries.

For me, the party tradition has gone on too long.  It’s not only over now, it’s overrated.

The last big celebration I remember was on my twenty-first birthday, when my parents planned a party to honour the passage of their firstborn from boyhood to manhood—as if it had happened all at once on that given day. 

In 1802, Wordsworth memorably observed, The child is father of the man…, and so it has always seemed to me.  But truth be told, in all the years spent being a man since then, I don’t believe I ever left the boy behind.  He lurks behind the adult mask, only rarely emerging, as though fearing he’s no longer welcome.  But I still search him out sometimes, if only to reassure him.

I don’t really remember that twenty-first birthday party, of course, it having occurred almost sixty years ago.  But I do have photographs to remind me of the momentous occasion—washed-out Kodachromes of people who meant the most to me back then—some gone now to their spiritual reward, others, like me, to lingering adulthood.

My mother and dad grace several of the photos, beaming with parental pride (I’ve always chosen to assume), both of them decades younger than I am now.  How can that be, I wonder, and where did those years go? 

My siblings—a brother and three sisters—all stand with me in other pictures, our arms around each other, full of that relentless, youthful optimism that has not yet encountered the eroding onslaught of time.  It did assail us eventually, of course, but so far, all but my brother have survived.

A couple of close friends were present at that party, too, both mere weeks older than I, and eminently wiser (or so I imagined, given their earlier entry into manhood).  Both remain  fast and true friends to this day—and they, too, like me now, have reached the end of their eighth decade.  Imagine!

Most dear of all in those faded photos is my high school sweetheart, smiling happily, if a tad uncertainly, still getting to know the large, somewhat strange family whose son she was keeping company with. 

On that day, we were still two years removed from the moment when she would accept my offer of marriage, and she, I’m sure, had no idea right then that such a fate awaited her. Even I, it must be said, had only begun to suspect she might be the one. That longed-for wisdom prevailed, I suppose.

Anyway, that’s the last big celebration I recall.  There have been many so-called milestone birthdays along the way—the thirtieth (Never trust anyone over thirty!), the fortieth (Forty is the new thirty!), the fiftieth and sixtieth (the golden years, so dubbed by those who couldn’t avoid them), and even the seventieth (entry point to the last of the three stages of life: youth, adulthood, and You’re Lookin’ Good!). 

But the milestone birthdays never impacted momentously on me.  Each was just one more marker in a so-far-endless progression of years, gratefully attained, yet no more important than any of the others.

Among the most special greetings I receive on every birthday are those from my two daughters, both of whom endearingly insist that I’m not old, I look terrific, and I’m every bit as good as I once was.

“Hmm,” I tell them, “maybe I’m as good once as I ever was!”

For the past twenty-one years, I’ve been further blessed to hear from a younger set, my grandchildren, five in number now, who cannot for the life of them understand why there won’t be a big party on my special day, with balloons, and cake, and lots of presents.  Not to mention the goodie-bags they used to get at their friends’ birthday parties when they were younger.

“Don’t you like parties, Gramps?” one of my granddaughters once asked.

“Don’t you have any friends, Grandpa?” my grandson chimed in.

But I always told them I’ve had more birthdays than I have friends and family combined, and that on my birthday, I’m more than content just to have my grandchildren loving me.

“Oh, we love you, Gramps,” they affirm.  “But grown-up goodie-bags might still be a good idea, y’know.”

I do know.  My goodie-bag has been overflowing for eighty years.

To Make An End

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.  
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
                                                                    - T. S. Eliot

As another year draws to an end, and with it the approaching close of my eighth decade on this journey, I know I am among the most fortunate of my fellow-travellers.  For sixty years of my passage, I’ve been accompanied by the wonderful young woman I first met when she was but sixteen.  She is young no more, of course, but as W. B. Yeats wrote in When You Are Old (almost as if he had her in mind)---

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

I still do.

Also with me for fifty-plus years of my journey have been the two magnificent daughters who have graced their mother and me with their love, their friendship---and increasingly now, their protection against the failings of age.  When they were little, we made a pact to hug them close for as long as we could, then let them go when time dictated.  As you might expect, the hugging was easy; the letting-go was hard.

But it has been written that when we love someone, we should set them free, and if they come back, then their love is ours forever.  That has certainly been the case for us, for which I’m eternally grateful.  Our girls are women now, but as I’ve often told them, although they are no longer children, their mother and I will never stop being parents.

In due time, those women brought two wonderful men into our lives, and with them produced five wonderful babies of their own---four granddaughters and a grandson for us.  It was as if the cycle started up again, but with my wife and I one step removed this time---loving them, wishing the best for them, but somewhat distant from the immediacy of their lives.  We strive to remain relevant, of course, and they, in return, take pains to make it so.

Kahlil Gibran wrote of that in his meditation, On Children---

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

And in that last line lies the very essence of the joy and sadness, both, that are implicit in our lifelong journey.  Things begin.  Things end.  Things begin anew.  Or so it has always been for me, and will be for some time to come, I fervently hope.  But there will eventually come a moment, I know, when no next beginning will follow the final end.  Despite my reluctance to face that day, I do not fear it.  My approach to its inevitability is summed up in this final stanza from one of my own poems, I Haven’t the Time--- 

I haven’t the time for anger or rancor, or grumbling, self-pity, or frown.
Life’s about living, getting and giving full measure before it winds down.
When that day is nigh, as ‘twill be by and by, I hope it will be widely said,
That as man and boy, I strove for the joy of living until I was dead.

My closest companions along the way have certainly brought that hope closer to reality than it might otherwise have been.  To paraphrase the late Queen Elizabeth II, my dear family have been my strength and stay the entire way.  As we enter into 2023, I hope for all of you who read these posts that you will feel as blessed as I, and that the ending of this old year, no matter its triumphs or tragedies, will be a new and happy beginning for you.

To make an end is to make a beginning.

Happy New Year! 

The Reasons For the Season

It’s hard to believe, but this soon-to-be-upon-us Christmas will be the eightieth time I’ve celebrated the festive season with family.  I have no memory of the first five or six such occasions, and most of those that came after are a hodge-podge of recollections jumbled together across the years.

Although my extended family was a blend of Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian church-goers, Christ was never the centre of our celebrations back then; family was always at the centre.  As a youngster, I was taught all about the virgin birth—the trek to Bethlehem, the sojourn in the stable, the babe in the manger, the shepherds and wise men who visited the creche—but the visitor I most looked forward to every year was Santa Claus.

It may amuse you to know that I still believe in the spirit of Santa, that jolly, old elf who freely gives us presents while taking nothing in return (save, perhaps, for cookies and milk).  I still hang up my stocking every Christmas Eve.

It may surprise you to learn that I still believe in the teachings of the Christ-child, too, despite the fact my knowledge of them springs from English translations of the writings of men (no women, alas), who told their tales in Hebrew and Greek long after the storied crucifixion.

It seems to me those teachings can be crystallized in two succinct statements attributed to Jesus: Love one another.  Treat everyone else as you would like to be treated.  There are world-religions other than Christianity that preach similar sentiments, of course, but I fear I know less about them than I’d like.  Nevertheless, I dream sometimes of what our world might be like today if all of us, regardless of creed, could adhere to those two maxims, person-to-person, nation-to-nation.

Despite my belief in his teachings, I confess I cannot be sure Christ was the divine son of the god to whom we attribute our creation—that beneficent father-figure who reigns over us from on high, portrayed so majestically in magnificent works of art over the centuries.  I simply don’t know if Christ really turned water into wine, raised Lazarus back to life, rose again from the dead, or will return someday in rapture and glory.  I was taught these things, never with any proof offered, though—because true faith requires no absolute proof.  Faith and proof are each other’s antithesis. But no matter; whether one believes Christ was divine or not, the truth of his teachings shines through for me. 

It pains me when I hear so-called Christians take those teachings, impart their own twist to them, and then insist that everyone else adhere to their interpretation.  I’ve read the entire Bible, some sections repeatedly, and I’ve yet to find the condemnation purported to come from Christ’s lips that is used by judgmental Christian proselytizers to justify the stances they spew forth on such issues as marriage equality, abortion, feminism, and science education, to name a few.  The Christ I know loves everyone.

Nevertheless, despite my difference of opinion with such folk, I respect their right to believe as they do—so long as they do not seek to interfere with my right to do the same.  Christ, it seems to me, invited people to accept his teachings; he did not force them.  It is wise, I think, to be wary of those who use Christ’s teachings to further their own ends, to rend us asunder.

Lest I appear to be doing that here, let me clarify that I am not; I am simply riffing on my understanding of the meanings of Christmas.  Both my continuing belief in a Santa Claus, and my endorsement of Christ’s two great maxims, are important aspects of the celebration for me.  But I readily acknowledge that others may feel differently.  I begrudge no one their right to hold and profess their own beliefs, even to disregard mine, and I do not seek to impose mine on anyone.  

In addition to the influences of Santa and Jesus on my understanding of Christmas, there are others whose interpretations reflect my own.  For example, in his famous story, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens described the occasion thusly—a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant, open hearts—these words echo the intent of Christ’s teachings, do they not?  It’s a pity such sentiments surface so infrequently in our interactions these days, except for a brief time at Christmas.

Another artist, Elvis Presley, released a song in 1966, written by his friend Red West, whose lyrics included this plaintive call—

Oh, why can’t every day be like Christmas?
Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?
For if everyday could be just like Christmas,
What a wonderful world this would be.

Anyway, buoyed in the spirit of Christmas, I’m looking forward to my eightieth celebration with renewed hope that the true reasons for the season will once again manifest themselves—and, I fervently wish, pervade the new year to come. Surely then, we would find the way, know the truth, and approach the life to which we aspire.

A wonderful world it would be, indeed!

A Canadian’s American Thanksgiving

“You’re Canadian, right?  From Canada.”

“Right,” I replied.  “And right again.”

My neighbour from across the street continued, “So you celebrate two Thanksgivings, right?  One at home and one here in Florida.”

“Right again,” I smiled.  “On both counts.”

“Well then, I sure hope you got enough to be thankful for,” he said as he sauntered away.

I found myself thinking about that as I lay barely awake in bed this morning, long before dawn, wishing I were still asleep.  In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of every October, and this year we had gathered, as usual, with our two daughters’ extended families—numbering twenty-two with our granddaughters’ boyfriends added to the mix.

I first dated my wife when she was a lissome lass of sixteen, and neither of us ever went with anyone else after that.  For sixty years, we have celebrated Thanksgivings together, and once upon a long time ago, hosted the family events.  But we are honoured elders now, along with the other grandparents, and at our age, find the celebrations a tad tiring, if still wonderfully joyous.  When someone asked what we are thankful for this year, we agreed on the big five—our family, our friends, our two homes, our financial security, and our continued good health.  And then we raised a glass to the hope they will continue for some time to come.

American Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of every November, some six weeks after ours, and so, being in Florida by then, we celebrate it, too.  More quietly, though, as if somewhat apologetic (as Canadians are wont to be) for our privilege and good fortune.

As I lay abed this morning, pondering these thoughts—half-awake, wanting to be asleep—I could sense more than see my wife beside me.  Both of us were lying on our backs, she snoring ever so gently—as I had likely been doing, too, before stirring.  And it slowly dawned on me that we were holding hands, our fingers loosely interlaced by our sides.

I smiled quietly into the darkness of the pre-dawn bedroom, acknowledging, not for the first time, that this is what I am most thankful for.  No matter where I am.

Happy Thanksgiving!

So Wrong!

Pandemics are awful, I’ve had a craw-full,
So many still shut in alone.
Lonely and cut off, they’ve worked their butts off,
Miserable, clear to the bone.

Tough though it may be, they strive to be free,
Rid of the pandemic wave.
Emerging all bright-eyed into good health-side,
Evading the forbidding grave---
Saluting good health with a wave.
People are crying, all of them trying
Against all odds to be well.
Like a great hero, reducing to zero
This virus’s terrible spell.

Tell me it’s over, we’ll soon be in clover,
Really, it’s been way too long!
Everyone’s ready, trying to hold steady,
Each of us praying to be strong---
Sadly, this is so wrong!

You’re So Vain

This week’s prompt from my Florida writers’ group is to write a story, fewer than five hundred words, for STROLL, a local publication.

A friend I met sixty-five years ago in high school will soon celebrate his eightieth birthday, as I will shortly afterwards.  We stood up for each other at our weddings, and I did that again at his second wedding, a few years after his first wife passed.  He named his first son after me.  I have two daughters, neither of whom is named for him, but they love him dearly.

A long-since retired art teacher, he is a painter of some renown, with water-colours hanging in the homes of several distinguished collectors, including the recently-crowned King Charles III.  Likewise retired, I am the author of eighteen books of fiction, with worldwide sales numbering…I don’t know, in the hundreds?  Maybe?  Anyway, both of us garner numerous hits on various search-engines.

My friend was always a personable and handsome man, and he knew it.  In our younger years, it used to be said of him that he never met a looking-glass he didn’t like.  Mutual friends would joke that he’d never be alone as long as he could find a mirror.  When we’d stroll downtown together, I’d laughingly reproach him for constantly checking his reflection in storefront windows.

“It’s never going to get any better,” I’d chide.  “Gravity wins!”

He’d flash his trademark crooked smile.  “Yeah, but we don’t have to let it pull us down, right?”  And he’d steal another quick glance at the window.

I met my friend for coffee at The Forum the other day, and as I was parking, I saw him waiting on the sidewalk for me, studying his image in the restaurant’s plate-glass window.  Indeed, I saw myself growing larger in that same reflection as I walked over to join him.

Clapping an arm around his stooped shoulders, I crooned an off-key variation on a Carly Simon hit from days gone by—You’re so vain, you prob’ly think you look amazing…

Leaning into me, he chuckled ruefully.  “Yeah, once upon a time, I guess.  But d’you know what I was thinking just now, watching you come up behind me?”

“Let me guess,” I ventured.  “You were probably hoping this weird-looking old guy approaching you would spring for coffee today.”

“Not a bad idea,” he laughed.  “But no, I was actually thinking how happy I am to see you.  The day is coming when one of us will be staring at a reflection like this, and the other one won’t be there.”

“There’s a happy thought,” I said.  But, alas, I knew it to be true.

For several moments, both of us examined our images in the glass—slightly bent, frailer than we’d like, each leaning a little on the other.  When we turned to hug one another, it was a long hug.  A moist-eyed hug.

And then we went for coffee.  My treat.

The Magic Soap

The weekly prompt from my Florida writers’ group was to imagine we have some sort of magic soap, and write a story about what it might wash away. This is my response to that prompt—

“Mike Eruzione?  No way!  Grandpa wasn’t that good a hockey-player.  No way he played with Eruzione!”

“He says he assisted on Eruzione’s game-winning goal against the Russians.”

“That game was played in 1980!  Grandpa was born in 1935, so he’d have been…let’s see…he’d have been forty-five by then.  If he had played in that game, that would have been the miracle on ice!”

“Well, he says that’s what happened.”

[The five grandchildren, three young women and their brothers, are sitting by the fireplace in the parlor of their grandfather’s home while the old man is napping upstairs.]

“Grandpa says a lot of things these days, most of which never happened.  He told me a week or so ago that he helped Paul McCartney write Hey Jude while he was on vacation in England in 1968.”

“Grandpa’s never even been to England!  Do any of you believe that story?”

[A chorus of disbelief flows from the other four.]

“Nah.”

“Nah.”

“Nah.”

“Nah.  No way!  I know it’s his favourite song, but no way he helped write it!”

“It’s getting to be a problem, this story-telling.  I think he really believes what he’s saying.  You think it’s…y’know, dementia?  Or Alzheimer’s?”

“Maybe it’s just bragging.  Trying to make himself sound more important to us than he really was.”

“Yeah, maybe.  Like Baron Munchausen.”

[The other four glance quizzically at each other.]

“Who?”

“Baron Munchausen.  A German storyteller from the 18th century.”

“Nah, Grandpa’s never been to Germany, either.”

“That’s not the point.  He could be telling tall tales like…ah, never mind.”

“He told me a while back that he was on the bus in Birmingham when Rosa Parks refused to get off.  Said he got up and gave her his seat.”

“See, that’s another crazy story!  That happened sometime in the mid-fifties.  Grandpa would’ve still been in his teens.  And she wasn’t told to get off the bus, she was told to sit in the back.  And it was Montgomery, not Birmingham.  Grandpa’s never been to either of those places.”

“He gets things all mixed up now, which is how you know he’s…well, either lying or just mis-remembering.”

“Yeah, he sounds like Forrest Gump, right?  Thinks he met with famous people all through his life.”

“Yeah, but at least Forrest Gump was real!”

[Four of the grandchildren stare in bewilderment at their brother before one of them carries on.]

“He tells me these sorts of stories, too, but I never know what to say.  I don’t wanta hurt his feelings, but I don’t wanta act as if I believe him, y’know?  What do you guys do?”

“I laugh if he’s laughing, I’m serious if he’s serious.  I just go with the flow.  What harm does it do?”

[The five of them sit silently for several moments.]

“It’s too bad there isn’t some sort of cleanser for the brain, something that would wash away all his faulty memories and leave the good ones.”

“Not just good ones, but correct ones.  All memories don’t have to be good ones.”

“Right, yeah, that’s what I meant.  We need some sort of soap for his brain so we could just wash away all the mixed-up memories.

“You wanta brainwash Grandpa?”

[Everyone looks at the speaker, aghast.]

“No, not brainwash him!  That’s not what I mean.  I just meant some sort of magic soap—maybe he eats it, or we mix it with his cocoa at bedtime, and all the cobwebby stuff in there gets cleared up.”

“Just don’t suggest Ivermectin!”

“Speaking of cobwebs, he asked me this morning where his Spiderman suit is.  Said his spidey-sense is tingling.”

“Omigod, now he thinks he’s a super-hero?”

“So, what sort of magic soap do super-heroes use?”

“There isn’t one, not for Grandpa’s problem!  His problem can’t be fixed.”

[The five grandchildren stare into the fire, at a loss.]

“He is sort of funny with all his stories, though.  Right?”

“Yeah, he does make me laugh.”

“Me, too, so why are we talking about cleaning out his brain with some sort of magic soap?”

“Right, I agree.  As long as he’s no danger to himself or anyone else, who cares?”

[A loud, clattering sound is heard outside, and one of the grandchildren goes to the window to investigate.]

“Omigod!  It’s Grandpa!”

“What?”

“It’s Grandpa, dressed in his Spiderman suit!  He’s on the porch-roof, trying to climb down the trellis outside!”

[The five grandchildren scramble for the door.]

Hot Off the Press

The latest full-length novel in my Maggie Keiller/Derek Sloan crime-fiction series is hot off the press and available for Christmas-giving!

Three decades ago, a predatory high school Principal in the Northern Highlands District School Board sexually assaulted a number of his female students, one of whom subsequently took her own life.  Despite the courage of one fifteen-year-old girl who reported the assaults to the Director of Education at the time, nothing was done to stop the Principal’s depredations.

Now, thirty years after the assaults were first reported, that former Principal is murdered in his home by an unknown assailant.  Within a week of his killing, two more men are murdered—the Director of Education who had done nothing about the original report, and the board’s lawyer at the time, who was complicit in the cover-up.  Police begin investigating the killings, and as usual, Maggie Keiller and Derek Sloan are drawn into the unfolding events.

This riveting story is set against the backdrop of a truckers’ blockade organized and funded by a coalition of western-separatist, white-supremacist groups, who seek to disrupt the flow of trade and commerce in Ontario and force the government to resign. 

In a heart-stopping finish to the story, Maggie and Derek are confronted by the vengeful killers at their home on Georgian Bay, and are themselves threatened with death as they try to protect the woman at the centre of everything.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

This paperback book is intended for mature audiences, and is available for preview and purchase at this safe site— https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/precept 

Or, you can visit the publisher’s bookstore at https://www.lulu.com/search?page=1&q=J+Bradley+Burt&pageSize=10&adult_audience_rating=&sortBy=PUBLICATION_DATE_DESC  

All my published novels and anthologies of tales are displayed on these safe sites. Once you’ve added any of the books to your cart, tap the cart icon in the upper right of your screen and you will be taken to a safe payment page.

If you have read any of the previous books in this exciting series, or if you are a regular reader of my blog, I know you will enjoy this book.

Lilt and Flow

There are few things I find more pleasurable than hearing the lilt and flow of poetry read aloud, especially if read by a skilled orator or by a loving family member.

My father was both, and it was he who read one of my abiding favourites, The Night Before Christmas, a classic tale by Clement Moore, on every one of the sixty Christmas times we shared before his death. Here are the beginning stanzas—

My siblings and I would lie in our beds, literally quivering with anticipation as we listened to that familiar tale, and I miss hearing my Dad read it to this day.

Another favourite poetic tale is The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, which I first heard read aloud by a high school English teacher who loved her calling.  Here is the first stanza—

The final stanza before the coda sent shivers up and down my spine as I sat listening in the classroom, and so it still does—

That same teacher also introduced me to one of my favourite poets, Robert Service, whose rhythmic cadences entrance me even now, especially The Cremation of Sam McGee.  Here are the first two stanzas

So enamored am I of that rhythm and rhyme scheme that I have even written similar poems of my own, pale comparisons, but still a joy to read aloud.  Here is a stanza from one example, I Haven’t the Time

As a young father, I would often read this excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s poem, On Children, to my own daughters as I tucked them into bed.  Although too young to grasp its full meaning, they seemed to enjoy the sound of my voice as I pondered the deeper implications of the verse—

I think my all-time favourite poem is When You Are Old, penned by my all-time favourite poet, William Butler Yeats. It speaks of the eternal nature of love and loss, and evokes in me both sadness and an abiding happiness each time I hear it—

I think I shall die before I am finished discovering more and more poetry whose lilt and flow lifts my soul, and I wonder if doing so will still be possible in the afterlife.  What joy I would find meandering the roads of eternity while listening to symphonic music from the maestri, and hearing great poetry from the masters read aloud.

And who knows, perhaps that is the way it will be, as this stanza from J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem, Roads Go Ever On, might imply—

Whether it will be so or not, I have always loved the lilt and flow of the spoken word. I hope you do, too.

The Issue

A sage once opined that when we persist in arguing over and over again with a stupid person, we reveal ourselves as the stupid one.  Nevertheless, I have long engaged in fruitless discussions with an old-time friend, to the point where I’m beginning to suspect the adage is true.  I’m the stupid guy.

The problem I have is that this friend always strays from the issue at hand, deflecting my well-reasoned arguments by taking us off topic.  For instance, if I were to suggest to him that it’s raining outside, a fact easily verified by looking out the window, he might well claim he sees no one with an umbrella.

“That’s not the issue!” I would protest.  “You’re changing the subject.  Whether or not you spy an umbrella has nothing to do with whether it’s raining or not.”

He would probably just smile and ignore my argument.

Or if I were to offer an opinion that wages for the working-class haven’t kept pace with rising costs, his comment might be to tell me he has more money at hand now than he’s ever had.

“That’s not the issue!” I would probably object.  “You might well be better off than ever, but that doesn’t change the fact that costs are rising.”

He’d likely smile again, placidly this time, and not concede my point.

Perhaps I wouldn’t find this habit of his so maddening if it didn’t seem to me that he blithely assumes he’s had the better of me when these discussions happen.  Without ever directly rebutting something I’ve said, he inevitably counters with a peripherally-related argument, thereby appearing to satisfy himself that the matter is settled.

And yet, stupid me, I keep arguing with him.

A while back, we were talking about whether or not the scarcity of cold and ‘flu medicines on drugstore shelves is a problem.  “I’m told it’s a supply-chain issue,” I stated.  “And that’s exacerbated by a heavier-than-usual demand for the stuff because of the prevalence of illness now that school is back.  So, it’s a real problem right now.”

“I don’t use over-the-counter remedies,” my friend said.

“Yeah, but that’s not the issue,” I replied.  “The issue is that there’s a shortage of those products at a time when people need them.  That’s a problem!”

Another casual shrug was all I got.  And that smug smile.

We’re both aged athletes with an abiding interest in sports, and while watching a televised ballgame together a few nights ago, I said, “Boy, the Blue Jays look really good tonight.  It’s only the fourth inning, and they’ve already got seven hits and four runs in.  They’re hot!”

My friend replied, “Yeah, but they’re not playing the Yankees!”

“That’s not the issue,” I exclaimed, maybe a bit heatedly.  “So what if they’re not playing the Yankees?  They could be playing Casey at the bat in Mudville, for all I care.  They’re playing really well tonight.”

My friend shrugged as if it didn’t matter.

More recently, we were talking about the government’s removal of masking requirements for air-travel.  “I think they must consider the pandemic over,” I complained.  “They figure no mitigations are needed now, but I think that puts all of us at risk.”

“I don’t fly,” my friend said.

“That’s not the issue,” I fired back.  “Lots of people don’t fly.  But for those who do, the issue is they’re being placed in harm’s way.”

My friend shrugged off my assertions.  “But not if they don’t fly,” he said.

“That’s not the issue…” I began, before giving up.  How stupid can I be?

Yesterday, over a couple of beers and Reuben sandwiches, I decided to tell my friend why, during many of our conversations, his continual diversions from the subject at hand are bothering me.  “It’s almost as if you’re ignoring my point,” I said, “as if what I’m saying doesn’t matter to you.”

“Why would you think that?” he asked, squarely on point.  It caught me by surprise because I’d expected him to offer one of his usual non sequiturs.

“Well…you never seem to respond directly,” I stammered.  “You usually mention something only superficially related to whatever I’ve said, and then assume you’ve won the argument.”

“Argument?” he repeated.

“Well, not argument,” I demurred.  “More like discussion.  And you ignore the points I’m making.”

“And you think I’m doing that in order to win…what, exactly?”

“The…the argument.”  I smiled weakly over my beer at the absurdity of it all.

My friend smiled back.   “Did it ever occur to you that I might be conceding your point in these discussions, agreeing with you, and simply offering up another thought to keep the conversation going?”

Drawing a deep breath, I said, “Oh!  I guess not, no.  I sort of assumed you were just trying to one-up me and win…you know, the argument.”

“Well maybe, that’s the issue then,” he said.

And at that point, we ordered another beer and moved on to a much less-stupid, more pleasant conversation, all issues set aside.