Yes, you can trust the US Post Office

Two weeks ago my older brother passed away. In the end his cigarette smoking led to emphysema which led to fatal pneumonia.  As an ex-smoker I know how difficult it is to quit so I’m not holding anything against him for not stopping.

But that’s not the reason I’m writing this story.

In his will he indicated that he wanted to be cremated.  Honoring his wishes I contacted the National Cremation Society (yes, there is such an organization) and luckily, or I guess expectedly, they had an office in the town where he lived in Florida.  I suspect they have offices in every town in Florida.

The people at the NCS (my abbreviation) were empathetic, polite and helpful in every way possible. Being that I live 1,000 miles away from my brother I needed all the help I could get to carry out his wishes.

After making the appropriate arrangements they told me that they would contact me when his ashes were ready to be shipped. My sister agreed to take delivery of the ashes until his children finalize how they wish to deal with them.

A few days ago I received a voicemail from the NCS.  They said and I quote, “Hello Mr. Brownlee this is the National Cremation Society. We just wanted to let you know that the cremation has been performed and your brother is in the mail.”

I have to be honest.  Hearing that phrase, “your brother is in the mail”, I dropped my phone and broke into the loudest laugh I’ve had in some time.

All I could think of was my brother is now in the hands of the US Postal Service. And I don’t care what anybody says about the efficiency of the Post Office, he was delivered to my sister on time and without an ash being spilled.

True story.

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Too Stubborn To Leave


The other night I was in a men’s shelter in New York City. Not living there — thank God — but doing volunteer work.

While talking to a group of men who had to be there we started to all gripe about how tough it is to live in New York City.  The big complaint from every man was the economic  price of being a New Yorker.

Cigarettes cost $15 a pack.  Rents for a one-bedroom apartment average $3000 a month… if you’re lucky enough to find one.  A cup of coffee for $1.50 and that’s just the basic java.

These men are living on the knife edge of survival and the shelter is the only  roof over their heads that they can afford.

While listening to the men I heard the voices of people all around the country complaining about prices, lack of decent paying jobs, housing the average person an afford, etc.

The most ironic part of the evening was when 9 out of the 10 men said that they were going to leave New York because it’s become just way too expensive.  Think about that for a second. These were homeless men and even the homeless can’t afford to live in New York City. What’s next?  The vermin going to start bailing out too?

But there was one holdout.  A fellow who looked like he hadn’t shaved since the days of the straight razor proclaimed proudly that he was staying in New York.  “I was born here. Raised here. Call me stubborn but no one is going to chase me out of here.”

He went on to say that life is only as tough as you think it is. He then looked me in the eye and passed along something to me that he had seen on a bumper sticker.  Wiser advice I have never heard.

“Don’t believe everything  you think.”

True story.

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Ever felt useless?

This morning I woke up with a thought ringing in my head…and it wouldn’t stop clanging.

All I heard as I was showering and shaving and dressing was the sound of a voice saying, “You’ve lost y our usefulness.  You’re too old. Why don’t you get out of the business while you can.”

Crazy! Really crazy because I love what I do and the idea of just giving it up and whiling away my time is to me truly nuts.

But the voice wouldn’t shut up and the thought wouldn’t stop revolving around like a monotonous and annoying carousel.

As I was getting ready to leave for the day I stopped at my car to see how its trunk was doing since I had painted it just the night before. As I was checking to see if it was dry, I kept hearing the voice in my head muttering away…”So what are you going to do since you’re no longer useful.”  I couldn’t stand it anymore. I finally closed my eyes and thought to myself and whoever else might be out there in the cosmos listening…”OK, enough. Stop!”

Just a few seconds later I heard a man’s voice calling out…”Excuse me!  Excuse me!”  I turned and shuffling towards me was an elderly fellow who lives in the same condo complex I do.  I had noticed him around the grounds before but didn’t know him or exactly where he resided. I had heard from my neighbors that he was a curmudgeon and griper but since I had never spoken to him I wasn’t going to jump to judgment. The one thing I did notice was that he was walking/shuffling very, very slowly and I thought to myself it’s going to take him a long time to get to wherever he’s intending to go. (In all honesty if I had to shuffle/walk at that pace I’d be pretty cranky myself.)

He stopped about 10 yards from me and asked, “Could you give me a lift to the store up on the corner? I’d like to get the newspapers.”

My first reaction was to say to myself “just what I need.” But I looked at him standing there and said, “Sure, hop in.”  And he did…well not exactly “hop” but he did manage to get into the car. As we drove the short way to the corner store I introduced myself and he did the same.  I recognized his name, and I won’t go into details here so I can protect his anonymity, but that began a conversation about a topic I was familiar with and on which he is expert.

After he bought his daily newspapers I drove him back to his home (now I know exactly where he lives) and dropped him off.  He thanked me, hoisted his way out of my car, and as I drove away he shuffled/walked back to his condo unit carrying his daily newspapers.

The whole incident took only a few minutes and as I parked my car back in front of my condo I thought to myself, “Well, I guess you’re not so useless after all.”

True story.










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Fashion makes the weather

Yesterday I got caught in the rain.  Stupid of me. I should have paid attention to the morning weather reports that said “possible showers.”   Of course it said showers not downpour like the one that I found myself caught in when I left my office.

I’m not complaining about the rain.  We need it. What happened in the subway station is what sticks with me.

Rain? Subways? Was it raining in the subways?

I was planning on walking uptown 20 blocks or so to a meeting with friends. When I walked out of the office building it was cloudy but not threatening. As I got about a block or so away from my office — and the umbrella in it — the sprinkles started. Of course I figured I could cover the walk uptown and maybe I’d get a little damp. After all they were only sprinkles.

I got another block and the sprinkles became showers.  “Walk faster” I said to myself. So I walked faster. My shirt was quickly moving from damp to wet.

After another block it was like someone turned the knob on the spigot. The water was coming down with more force.  I ducked into a doorway and thought about waiting it out. But I didn’t want to be late for my appointment. I still had more than a dozen long blocks to cover. And it was rush hour in Manhattan. If you have never experienced a New York rush hour as a pedestrian, you can’t really imagine what it’s like to be buffeted, banged into and pushed if you’re just standing on the sidewalk. It’s either move or get walked over, not walked around. Welcome to New York.

So I moved. Just as I stepped out of the doorway the rain really came down. Not a shower this time but a sheet. People weren’t walking. They started running. Since the streets were so crowded people were just bumping into each other. That led to elbowing, cursing, jostling, and the rain kept coming down.

Rather than get socked and pummeled I opted for a true New York solution — duck into an underground subway station. Needless to say I was surrounded by other true New Yorkers so once I got down the stairs I found a crowd of people ranging from damp to sopped.

We all stood there moving a few inches here and a few inches there because everyone wanted to get going to wherever it was they were going just a few minutes before.  As the bodies shifted everyone’s eyes were focused on the stairwell waiting to see the rain cease or at least lessen.

As I stood there I became more and more anxious. I hate being late but I didn’t want to show up soaked to the skin.  You might ask yourself why I didn’t take the subway since I was in a subway station?  Good question but I made a bad choice of stations. The one I was in had trains that only went north and south in direction and I needed to go east from the west side of Manhattan. So I had no choice but to wait it out.

Then I saw a sign of the rain stopping rising from the stairs that connected to the subway platforms below.

It was a man in a spiffy suit.  He was wearing a really spiffy suit, complete with pocket square.  The suit looked to be a lightweight wool, grey, with thin subtle pinstripes. From cuffs to trouser hems, the suit fit the man perfectly. The wearer himself was tan, tall, physically fit, with precisely cut swept back grey hair.

When I saw him I knew I would make it to my meeting on time. I knew that the rain would stop as soon as he set foot on the stairs leading up to the street. As spiffy-suit-man approached me he paused for a second and looked up the stairway. Just as I knew it would, the rain stopped. Just stopped.

I knew it.  The rain wouldn’t dare fall on him and his spiffy, grey, perfectly cut, pinstripe bedecked garb.  For some reason and for some people it never does.

I followed him up the stairs to the street above and made it to my meeting on time.

True story.

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This morning the news came in from Orlando. Understanding? I’m trying.

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Robin Red-Beast

A month ago a robin began attacking our house’s rear window.  Seems it had taken to living in a fir tree that borders our back porch. Every morning, and a few times a day, it would attack the rear window.  The nutty bird would fly into the window, smashing its head/beak into the glass, fall to the porch, and then right itself and attack the window again and again!

It was like living with a kamikaze creature.  At first I figured that the bird had built a nest in the fir tree and was protecting its territory.  I also did some research and found out that the robin was probably seeing its reflection in the glass and thinking that it was an interloper intent on usurping its territory the bird was trying to drive off the intruder.

Logically I understood this as an example of nature at work.  However the bird was also spewing its droppings all over the porch as it went about its constant aerial forays. I guess it thought that if it couldn’t drive off this invader it would mark the territory with a blanket of crap!!!

I tried everything to dissuade this robin.  I put out a plastic owl. Didn’t work. I put decals on the window to obscure the reflection. Nope, the assaults continued. I even shook the tree a couple of times a day hoping the bird would pack up and move on.  Forget it.

Eventually my wife was so fed up with the glass-banging and fecal-dropping that she thought we could sedate the bird with crushed pills in bird seed.  Maybe that would calm down the creature. I was concerned about the bird eating the drugged bird seed and turning into a dope fiend.  Then we would have to start NA meetings for birds.

A week ago the attacks ceased.  The bird seemed to have disappeared…or that’s what I thought.  Then two days ago my wife called me to say that she saw the bird on our back porch with a squadron of little robins…or trainees I suppose.

I thought to myself that I would now have to deal with an entire family.  But then the transformation happened. This morning I got a call from my wife and she wanted to tell me about the birds. I held my breath and thought to myself, “Oh no, I hope she doesn’t want me to blast the tree with bird shot.”

My wife started to describe to me how she had just spent the last hour watching one of the new robins trying to fly. With a smile in her voice she described how the little bird walked out of the fir tree, stood on the edge of a branch, took off and dropped straight down to the porch!  But he or she wasn’t put off by the fall. The bird tried out another flight, fell, tried again, fell, and finally succeeded in flying three or four feet to a brick wall where it sat there looking very proud of itself.

What we thought was an avian invasion will soon become a flight-filled family gathering.

Now if only they would start singing.




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Bright Moment in a Sad Day

I was going to write about the truly embarrassing state of American thinking today. Not to dwell on the whole political mess and all the shouting and screaming and finger-pointing, but I’m not waving Old Glory right now.  Instead I’m cradling it in my arms and hoping that I don’t have to use our symbol of freedom and  to wipe away my tears.

Yesterday I met a woman from Manchester, England who is here in New York City, my hometown.  She is a tourist and this is her first time in New York. I saw her standing on a busy street corner with that look of “which way do I go?”  I stopped and asked her if I could help and she told me that she was looking for a store that is world-famous for its size and variety of items.

I smiled and pointed out to her that the store was just two blocks away and she could see it from where we were standing. I said, “There’s the store right there. In fact you can see it’s name right up on the top of it.”

The Englishwoman smiled at me and said, “Thank you very much.  You Americans are so friendly and helpful.”

She went off to the store and I stood there smiling and hoping that she found something special to bring home with her back to England.

I also, for that brief moment, was proud, and not embarrassed, to be an American.


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