February 20, 2017
I never planned to be a writer. When I was a kid, I loved to read, but when it came to my hopes and dreams, they did not include sitting at a typewriter for hours on end while the sun was shining outside and there were adventures to be had.
I fantasized about being a fighter pilot, a soldier, a good-guy gangster, an explorer, a private eye, a race car driver, a secret agent, and sometimes a deadly assassin, dispensing justice from the barrel of my gun.
In my boyish daydreams, I wouldn’t write about other people. Other people would write about me.
But at some point all that changed. I think perhaps it was my love of reading that finally did me in. Because when you keep reading about stuff and thinking about stuff, pretty soon you start having your own ideas about stuff. And you want to share those ideas.
You see life going on around you and it’s sometimes ugly and sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny and sometimes sad, sometimes stupid and sometimes incredibly smart. So I ended up working as a journalist and I did it for more than 25 years at various newspapers.
Some of it was lots of fun, especially in the early years, and some of it was terribly frustrating. An editor told me one time that the reason journalists became frustrated was that they are creative people in a semi-creative job. They are constrained by the facts, and by an artificial standard imposed by their employers to be “fair.”
Forget objective. There’s no such thing. You write about a dispute between Smith and Jones. Do you tell Smith’s side first or does Jones get to go first? But when you work for a newspaper, you are supposed to at least be fair – even if Smith is a sweetheart and Jones is a jerk.
As a journalist, you meet a lot of people – rich and poor, powerful and powerless – and they share their stories with you and you write about them. Through it all, you develop a sense of what’s real and what’s bullshit.
I left daily journalism in 1995, and my wife Carmela and I spent the next 15 years publishing an electronic newsletter on West Coast ports. It was fun. Then I wrote a couple of novels and then the Port of Long Beach commissioned Carmela and me to write a history of the port. All those books are available for sale on Amazon.com
A year and eight months ago, I had a minor stroke. I’m fine now, but I have to admit that it shook me up. It was a cosmic tap on the shoulder, a reminder from the universe that life does not go on forever, that the wolves are gathering in the tree line, and if there’s anything you want to say or do, you better get to it.
I don’t work for a newspaper anymore, and I am free to write about the world the way I see it. It may not be the world as you see it, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s better than OK – it’s really good. Maybe I can learn a little bit from you and you can learn a little bit from me.
So I’ve revamped my website – added a bio and other information – and I’m reactivating my blog. My plan is to write about life, love, and everyday events as well as some more serious stuff that just may irritate some folks. In fact, I kind of hope it does, and I hope you email me and tell me about it. I will share your opinion along with your name on the website, unless you ask me not to do so.
If you would like to receive my postings once a week in your email, please let me know. And if you are getting the emails and don’t want to get them anymore, tell me that as well.
Your name and email address will not be sold or shared.
You can email me at email@example.com
Until Next Time,
– George Lee Cunningham
A place to share some words of beauty, inspiration, and fun. Click on the name of the piece to get a video or more information. You have some favorites? Please share…
Neon signs a-flashin’, taxi cabs and buses passin’ through the night
A distant moanin’ of a train seems to play a sad refrain to the night
A rainy night in Georgia, such a rainy night in Georgia
Lord, I believe it’s rainin’ all over the world
I feel like it’s rainin’ all over the world
Rainy Night in Georgia; Singer Brook Benton; Writer Tony Joe White
Mairzy doats And dozy doats
And liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?
Mairzy Doats; Written by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston
Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed
We vowed our true love, though a word wasn’t said
The world was in bloom, there were stars in the skies
Except for the few that were there in your eyes
Anniversary Song; Composer Ion Ivanovici in 1880
My buddy Larry LaRue sent me a heartbreaking story the other day about Judith Permar, a 56-year-old Pennsylvania woman, who died tragically donating old clothes to charity.
According to the story, Mrs. Permar, 56, was dropping off some old clothes at a donation bin in Mount Carmel Township, when the stool she was standing on – Mrs. Permar was apparently short – collapsed and left her dangling from the bin for six hours. They found her the next morning with a broken arm and hand, still hanging from the bin, her feet off the ground and her black Hummer still idling nearby.
Cause of death was blunt-force trauma and possibly hyperthermia – the night was quite chilly.
My first thought, frankly, was that no good deed goes unpunished, but that seemed both cynical and harsh. The real lesson, I decided, was that as horrible as her death may have been, she died doing something nice for others. There are many ways to die. Plane crashes, car accidents, homicides, heart attacks, pneumonia, and cancer – none of them pleasant. Even dying in your sleep is not that great. You wait decades for that famous final scene, and then when it comes, you’re snoozing.
At least when Mrs. Permar died, she was doing something kind for others – an act of charity that had to take some of the sting out of her passing.
I worked for newspapers for many years, but apparently I learned nothing. I am ashamed to admit that somewhere along the line I lost that cynical edge that helps reporters see through the bull and get to the truth.
According to the follow-up story, the very next day, Mrs. Permar didn’t die donating old clothes to the needy. She died stealing old clothes from the bin for who knows what reason. That’s why she had the stool, so she could reach all the way into the bin to grab the bags of clothes that others had donated.
Wow, that does put a different spin on the story, but I will resist the temptation to judge Mrs. Permar too harshly. We know from the first story that she was an animal lover. Perhaps she was getting old raggedy clothes to help some of our four-legged friends survive the cold. Maybe she was going to return the other, good clothes back to the bin after she took out the rags. Or maybe not.
Either way, it’s not exactly the crime of the century. I certainly don’t think it’s going to keep her out of heaven – and if God is not going to judge her too harshly, why should we. Maybe she was just a whacky, funny mother and wife who once in a while, did some crazy stuff.
I know women like that. In fact, I’m married to a woman like that. I don’t think she ever stole stuff from a donation bin, but she has done some funny and probably slightly illegal stuff just to make me laugh. And I did. I laughed like crazy.
I don’t think any of that stuff is going to keep her out of heaven. Me, on the other hand, I’m going to probably have some explaining to do and maybe a few promises to clean up my act before I get past those pearly gates.
I hope if and when I do, I get to say hello to Mrs. Permar. I’m sure she’s probably a fun gal.
By the way, if any of you folks don’t know who Emily Litella is, it probably means you are less than 50 years old. Emily Litella was a cultural icon 40 years ago and here is a sample. CLICK HERE
— George Lee Cunningham
November 9, 2016
Fifty-one years ago today, my life changed forever. There have been many changes since that time, some extremely good and some not so much, but I was one person before November 8, 1965 and another person afterwards.
I don’t like to talk about it. I have tossed and turned through many sleepless nights, trying not to think about it, but now, more than half-a-century after that day, maybe it’s time to write about some of my unresolved issues. For perspective, you can go on the internet and google “November 8, 1965, Vietnam.”
It wasn’t the bloodshed or the horror of war. By November 1965, I had seen quite enough of that. But the date marked the biggest Vietnam battle involving U.S. troops up to that time, although bigger and bloodier battles would come as the conflict dragged on. And I was medevacked early in the fight, so I was gone well before the worst of it.
The thing is, I knew it was going to happen days before it did. But, I got it wrong. I was certain – positive – that I was going to die on the next mission. I even thought about writing a good-bye letter home, but what would I say?
I’m going to die in the next few days, please take care of my little brothers.
And so I didn’t write the letter, which was a good thing because I didn’t die.
The platoon sergeant who was standing near me was killed, my radio operator who was standing next to me was killed, and the medic who was standing between me and the mortar round that exploded in our midst was killed. His body shielded me from much of the flying shrapnel. In fact, I was the last life he ever saved.
I’ll skip the gory details, except to note that when Gen. Willian Tecumseh Sherman said “War is Hell” in 1870, he was not exaggerating.
I also will not reveal the names of my comrades who died that day, except to say that the platoon sergeant, who bled out on the floor of the helicopter during my ride back to a tent hospital, was a 34-year-old black man with a big smile and a kindness that belied his choice in careers.
The medic was a sweet-natured 19-year-old white kid, who dreamed of turning his Army job saving lives into a civilian pursuit after he was discharged.
My radio operator and I were from the weapons platoon. I was a forward observer, whose job was to call in mortar fire when the need arose. In the jungle, you usually couldn’t see far enough through the underbrush to call in fire. During those times, I basically became just another guy with a gun. On November 8, 1965, I was three weeks shy of my 25th birthday.
To be honest, I was not particularly pleased with my radio operator. He was 18-years-old, fresh out of some inner-city slum, with a bad attitude and a chip on his shoulder. He had been shot in the butt 34 days earlier, and the forward observer to whom he had been attached was killed. It was just a flesh wound, and it healed quickly, but it shook him to his core.
The sad truth was that he was a kid, and he was scared. He had the same premonition that I did – a premonition that he was going to die on the next mission. He had literally begged the weapons platoon sergeant not to make him go, but you don’t get off the hook because you’re scared. Everybody was scared. I was not particularly happy when he was assigned to me, but he got way worse than he deserved.
I mention race, only to note that it didn’t seem to matter a whole lot on the battlefield. We were infantry. Our battalion was just about equally divided between black guys and white guys with a few Hispanics and other minorities mixed in. We didn’t choose our friends by race. It wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy love fest, but you knew who you could count on and trust and who you could not, and it had little to do with the color of anybody’s skin.
When they finally got a helicopter to land in the middle of bullets flying through the trees, they loaded it so full, I had only a few inches of seat with my knees hanging out through the open doorway. Despite the noise of the engine and rotor, I remember the flight back as a quiet time. A couple of thousand feet above the jungle canopy with the doors open, the slip stream rushing past, it seemed cool and unreal as I went into shock. I am not religious – not then and not now – but I remember singing to myself all the hymns I learned going to the Baptist Church with my grandmother when I was barely 5.
The Old Rugged Cross, Bringing in the Sheaves, Peace in the Valley. And all the time I was wondering, why am I still here? Why am I alive when the others standing next to me are dead?
It would be nice to say that I saw the experience as a second chance, that I took control of the rest of my life and did something grand and good with it. Maybe I should have, but I did not. My experience was no more terrible or unique than thousands of other young men who fought in that mindless war and the terrible wars that followed.
Fifty-one years later, I’m doing pretty well. I have a woman who loves me, a couple of bucks in the bank, and a place to get out of the cold. I’m actually happy – maybe happier than I have ever been.
But the ghosts still come around on those sleepless nights, to stand sad and silent by my bed. Why you, they want to know. How come we died so young and you lived to be so old.
I have no answer, but I do think about them still. Especially on this day, 51 years later.
— George Cunningham
June 30, 2016
My wife Carmela would make a great nurse, even though she would hate it.
She hates hospitals, she hates all the messy blood and ooze, and most of all she hates sick people. Even with her own husband, after a couple of days, her patience wears thin. It’s like are you going to get better now, or are you just going to keep laying around, moaning about how bad you feel?
I will tell you this. The answer to that question is not sarcasm: Oh I think I will lay around for a few more days, coughing and throwing up and moaning about how bad I feel. The correct answer is to stop feeling sorry for yourself, start moving your butt, and start feeling better.
The truth is that the tough-love school of nursing works. Pretty soon, you are feeling better, if for no other reason than you want to get strong enough to slap her dirty rotten face before you die. Of course, I exaggerate, but only a little.
When push comes to shove, Carmela rises to the occasion. She does what is required, whatever that is, however disgusting, nasty, and scary it may be. It’s one of many reasons that I love her.
The latest such incident came right before we left for vacation. I went to my dermatologist for – among other things – a pre-cancer growth on the back of my left hand. She sprayed the growth with liquid nitrogen, which is supposed to freeze it and cause it to fall off. Two days later, when we left for vacation, I had the mother-of-all boils on the back of my hand where she had sprayed it.
It was ugly and gross, but I figured that just meant it was getting ready to fall off and leave behind a patch of pristine skin. So off we went, cutting across the desert in weather hot enough to make a scorpion eat his own tail.
But the mother-of-all blisters didn’t go away. By Flagstaff, Arizona, that night, it was bigger than ever, and by Gallup, New Mexico, it was beginning to leak. It was time for some hotel-room surgery. Carmela got some alcohol wipes from the First Aid kit, sterilized a safety pin and a pair of scissors, and laid out a towel and began to operate. It was absolutely disgusting, but Carmela is very brave.
What Carmela has taught me in life is that you have to approach your problems straight on. You don’t whine about it or complain, you just clench your jaw and do it.
Did it hurt? A little bit, but how could I feel sorry for myself, when Carmela was being so brave? The back of my hand is still scarred and ugly, but the big boil is gone and so is the pain.
What it boils down to is this: In life, you do what you have to do, no matter how much you hate it.
Thank you for that insight, my dear.