The president’s a pimp and we are his whore

December 28, 2018


In 2018 any moral high-ground America may have held was swept away when, in the name of making America great again, the choice was made to support a likely murderer rather than jeopardize a Saudi arms deal. Or was it oil deal? Or a hotel? Anyway, it was OK because the dead guy was a journalist, “an enemy of the people.” Some people say Jamal Khashoggi was trying to get documents to get married, others say he got into a fight with a bone saw. Either way we’re gonna get some jobs, right? Art of the Deal! MAGA!

That lady with the lamp faces Europe declaring, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” and to the South we have ICE offering fresh razor wire and detentions centers that are “more like a summer camp.” Believe me, these are the best. So far only two kids have died and there are countless others separated from parents because it’s their fault for trying to escape murder in their own country so “they could bring large-scale crime and disease” to “infect our people in the United States.” And worser, they were going to take away American jobs from Americans. Go fix your own country with your dead self! MAGA!

It’s as simple as America first. The stable leader wants great climate for us. Global climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China and nearly every climate scientist with their “political agenda.” Luckily the government agencies that employ or fund many of these scientists are shut down so they don’t have to pay all those big science bucks. At least those agencies are now being run by just plain folks from the petroleum industry without any scientific credentials so they can be fair and balanced. It’s just theories science uses to predict the climate future, but right now the facts say profits are better by just not worrying about it. More profits mean the boss can buy another home, yacht, or plane that will need to be cleaned and polished – jobs trickling right down his leg. MAGA!

More jobs keeps our president pimp smocking happy. He is also smocking happy hanging with fellow pimps – Putin, Duarte, Kim Jong Un. In pictures they look so pleased with each other, probably trading stories about grooming their people with threats and slogans like “Lock her up” or “Build that Wall.”

He looks so unhappy when he is forced to be with those bad, terrible leaders of the world’s democracies that we have been allied with for so many years. Monogamy isn’t his thing. He likes the way their people look, especially the wife of France’s president, but hates America fighting for them without being reimbursed. “If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price.” Seriously, everyone knows there’s no free lunch. You know you liked it, so now you need to pay or you can’t use our big, beautiful military anymore. You tell ‘em, Donny baby.

“And sometimes that’s also a monetary price, so we’re not the suckers of the world. We’re no longer the suckers, folks.” Those are truly the best words, but picture them with Kayne doing Lady Gaga’s “Money Honey” at the same time and you just have to put on your red hat and shout “MAGA!”

“And people aren’t looking at us as suckers.” Yup, they are looking at us like whores.


On the occasion of a tree to be dedicated to Reginald Joseph Smith

September 16, 2018



We are here to dedicate this tree to the memory of Professor Reginald Joseph Smith, a man who taught Accounting and Business Law at the College of the Holy Cross for 32 years. His office and most of his classes were held in Alumni Hall so it is fitting we commemorate his dedication to the Crusader family here.

Can I still say “Crusader” family? I grew up with it that way. I am part of that family as are my two brothers. I’m sure my sister would been a part if she had been born with the correct genitalia or at a later date. I would like to especially recognize my brother Peter, class of ‘73.5, for arranging this occasion and being the only one of us to actually graduate from this fine institution.

Professor Smith was our dad. At home there was a picture he kept under the glass on his desk with all of us in Holy Cross jerseys. This is what he would see when he looked away from correcting the stacks of bluebooks. I’m sure in his heart of hearts he considered us all ‘Saders and, remembering all those blue books, dedicating this tree seems the least we could do.

Our father’s connection to Holy Cross was obviously more than academic, it was his life. In 1946, after serving in the Navy during WWII, he proudly took his wife and daughter to Worcester to start his career here. Family lore has it when his immigrant mother heard the news her son was taking a tenure track position at a prestigious college she exclaimed, “We left Ireland to get away from the Catholics and now you’re going to work for them?”

He was a “Mass-seven-days-a-week” Catholic and would attend at Mary Chapel before the start of his freshmen Principles of Economics classes at 8AM. He had a reputation for locking the door at the start of class. Those who were late would then absent – and he only tolerated a few absences. In his mind he wasn’t being mean, he was preparing his students for the real world of work where you were expected to show up on time. If you stuck with your Economics or Accounting major you earned a perk of sleeping in – the sequence of his classes were held progressively later in the day. By senior year you might even meet out at our home in Paxton with hotdogs on the grill, a Black Label in one hand and a badminton racquet in the other – He prepared his students for the working lunch.

He took pride in the entire Holy Cross community. He loved writing recommendations for his seniors, he named two fellow faculty members godparents to his growing family, he invited the Jesuits to party at our house for Christmas and he was the only professor on the maintenance staff’s bowling team. Our dad insisted we all attend the 1964 graduation because the President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was coming to Worcester to give the commencement address at his school.

He insisted we do business within the Crusader family. Our appliances came from O’Coin’s, a Worcester business founded by Robert O’Coin, class of ‘41. My oldest brother Jeffrey would go to the Comic Strip, a nightclub downtown, to do all those things an adolescent would do in the 60s, but it was OK because it was owned by Ed Madaus and Paul Tinsley, both class of ‘68. And in keeping with that tradition of doing business within the Crusader family, I was married here by Fr. Joe Labran in 1980.

Many of Holy Cross’ most famous alumni passed through our dad’s classroom, though some just just barely. Names such as Clarence Thomas, Jack “the shot” Foley, and Bob Cousy to name a few. When asked how the Cous’ was as a student, our dad would say he was a great basketball player.

Holy Cross sports played a big part of our growing up. Our dad took us to Worcester Memorial Auditorium to see Crusader basketball long before the Hart Center was a twinkle atop Mt St James. He travelled to Madison Square Garden in ‘47 and ‘54 to see his boys win national titles. I remember his excitement when Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, visited the campus.

He took us to football games, both home and away. I remember my first game. I was about five and really liked the team in the all orange uniforms. My dad explained that Syracuse was the enemy and I should root for the purple and white. I wasn’t that enthusiastic until the gleaming knight in his purple cape rode out on his white steed, then I was all in. My brothers would ask for chin-straps after the games and we prized the old helmet my dad got when the team upgraded. As we grew older and the stands were still packed, our dad arranged with Mr. Quirk in Kimball for us to work the concessions selling hotdogs and stocking the press box with coffee. We earned $15 and could watch the fourth quarter after we cleaned up.

Back then Holy Cross football was so big the new Route 290 was diverted around Fitton Field. In his 32 years Professor Smith saw lots of important changes… It was fifty years ago that I was spending the day making a paper-clip chain so long that it circled his office when the girders for the bridge over Southbridge St collapsed killing three. It was also 50 years ago that the Black Student Union was founded on this campus.

Next year it will be the 50th anniversary of the peace sign being painted on the roof of a storage building, a reaction to the single vote that kept ROTC on campus; and of the hepatitis outbreak that cancelled the 1969 football season and had the College rethinking its relationship with sports. This was also when Holy Cross began rethinking its relationship with gender and became coed 45 years ago. Proudly, our dad was on the committee that recommended that change.

There are too many anniversaries to note at a college founded in 1843. One very personal one for our family is this: 2018 is the 40th anniversary of our dad’s retirement from this institution. 2018 is also the 40th anniversary of his passing. The College of the Holy Cross really was his life. There were so many changes during our dad’s life here and those changes continue. New buildings, new traditions, new students, new alumni – but all rooted in that special something that is the Crusader family.

The tree we are dedicating is a Zelkova Serrata, the Japanese Elm. It is resistant to the disease that has decimated the American Elm. And this is the point where I had hoped to quote some inspiring lines from my favorite poet, Billy Collins, class of ‘63, but it seems he has written little regarding trees, fathers or professors …So I will gone on…

Like this tree, we are both from immigrant stock. This college is full of species and varieties not native to New England, but it’s that mix making this one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. This tree has established itself here and will continue to grow.

As we make this dedication to the memory of Professor Smith I’m imagining what our dad would think. Would he see this as a shady spot to cool off after tossing the ball around? Or maybe a place for some last minute cramming before a business law exam? Our dad had the head of an accountant, but the heart of a romantic, so maybe he would envision couples cramming.

I think he would like the idea that people just lie in his shadow on a warm Autumn day like this and dream.

But mostly he would be happy someone else will be raking up the leaves.

Thank you.

Thank you, Betty Smith Beaumont

July 16, 2018



Can you hear the laugh?

(approximately as read at Betty’s Celebration of Life Party) My name is Michael Smith – no relation – I went to high school with Betty. I sat behind her in homeroom for four years and we were in a couple of the same classes. We were in Drama Workshop together and I worked on some of the plays Betty starred in back in the day. I wouldn’t say we were besties; we shared homeroom, theater and a last name.

Betty was a star. She had an amazing voice and could actually act, I’m sure we have all been to enough high school musicals to know how rare that combo truly is.

Even rarer was Betty’s ability to not act – to just be her red-headed self with whomever she was surrounded by. She didn’t put on airs. I was in awe of this ability – it was high school, when so many of us were nothing but hot air – trying to figure out who we were – and Betty was, well, just Betty.

A quick story: One day in homeroom I was busy not doing homework again. I drew the half a face that I always drew (why half? – because it looked deep? – no – I just could never draw the other side to match) and penned these words next to the drawing: “Cold hearted orb that rules the night, remove the colors from our sight, red is grey and yellow white. And we decide which is right and which is an illusion.”

Betty turned around, looked at the picture, read the words, and asked if I wrote them. Hmmm… I had to think about this for a minute… she seems impressed… and technically it was me who “wrote” those words on the paper… and nobody had ever heard of the Moody Blues anyway… I said yes.

Two days later Betty called me out. She also had an older brother who introduced her to the latest British bands. I was busted. The guilt I felt was overwhelming. I knew at that moment I blew with her. All the plans I had made for our lives together destroyed. Did I mention this was high school? The value of honesty was a lesson Betty helped teach me. I’m sure this is also the moment that probably freed her heart to find her true love – John.

High school went on, “Knights in White Satin” became a number one hit, and in the uncaring cruelty of the alphabet I still sat behind her – embarrassed. At least I didn’t have to look her in the eyes. She starred in more shows and, to my amazement, she still talked to me. In 1973 we graduated.

It wasn’t until the creation of Facebook that we met up again. Betty put up the “WRHS Freakin’ AWESOME Class of ‘73” page for a class reunion – Betty was the Freakin’ AWESOME glue that held that page together. There I realized she was friends with all kinds of people from our class – obviously, the kids who did theater and the kids from Princeton… But also the kids who did sports… and the Future Homemakers of America kids, and the preppy kids and the science kids and the angst ridden poet kids – Everybody! Betty was very democratic (small “d”).

So when I was messaged to join this group online my guilt about trying to woo her with pawned off Moody Blues lyrics came back. There isn’t much I remember about high school, but I remembered this. I couldn’t join unless I came clean so I messaged her with the apology I should have uttered decades ago.  She replied she had no idea what I was talking about.

That’s when I realized Betty had another lesson for me – be in the moment. Don’t dwell on the past – don’t obsess with the future.

My contact with Betty mostly consisted of reading her Facebook posts to our class or the many pictures and posts of her children, their families and Beaumont Technologies (Yes, I did read those papers about plastics). She was a relentless fundraiser for Team Millie. All this and the occasional cheesecake shot of some hunk in a kilt without his shirt on – or even less.

I would send her shots of anything “Beaumont” when my wife and I travelled – streets, hotels, bars – anything. She would talk about going to her book club, going to the lake house, going to see “A Prairie Home Companion.” It was that last bit that gave me one last chance to sit behind her.

She knew my wife and I also enjoyed the weekly radio show and emailed me to see if I was planning on seeing the Tanglewood show live – and did I know it was to be the last show before Garrison Keillor retired? Well, I did now, so of course we were going, and yes, I knew somebody who could get tickets, and sure I’d be happy to get a bunch so we could make a party of it…

The somebody I knew no longer belonged to the BSO so she didn’t have that early ticket access – so I joined. Betty was one of those people you just don’t want to disappoint. With tickets in hand we picnicked with family and friends on the lawn and prepared to enjoy a great show.

Funny thing is I had know idea she had any health issues. At Tanglewood I had mentioned that my wife and I had begun to travel because of a diagnosis that suggested we should do it sooner rather than later. Betty asked a few questions and said something about another disease to look up. We are all getting older and conversations can quickly descend into simply listing the current aches and pains. In the moment, Betty passed me some goat cheese with blueberries and a beer.

In retrospect I’m guessing she had been trying to understand her own disease process and to make sense of it all. Trying to make sense of it all is something I struggle with. You never know how each of us plays a part in the lives of others, but we were there to enjoy tales from Lake Wobegon, and that we did.

After many encores we all headed our separate ways. We vowed to get together again. I butt dialed her a couple days later – we both laughed.

I want to thank Mary Bee for keeping us, people of the Freakin’ Awesome class of ‘73, informed. I know it must have been hard for you to announce your mother’s passing to a bunch of strangers on Facebook. You had a great Mom who played a part in all of our lives.

In the theater there are many sayings – one is “There are no small parts, only small players.” Betty was never a small player. Though Betty only played a small part in my life, she had a profound effect on a quirky high school kid by just being civil and gracious. How profound an effect? I have a cat named Betty and my daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth.

I stand with students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High

February 22, 2018

17 dead.png

I have cried watching the news only a few times. Once when a firefighter pulled a limp little blond boy in Oshkosh overalls from under the ice who looked just like my three year old. The fragility of life – of family – overwhelmed me. I cried. Thankfully the firefighters revived the boy.

My kids have grown, I changed careers and was a new teacher when Sandy Hook happened. I got home from school that day and turned on the news. I tried to imagine the awesome responsibility Victoria Leigh Soto, a teacher, assumed by throwing herself between a gunman and her first graders. Could I do that? Would I try to save my eighth graders? I thought about my classroom, students crammed in a corner, and pictured the terror on their faces. I began to cry not knowing what I would do facing evil when some of my students came to my door caroling “Joy to the World.” I wanted to hug them for pushing back the terror coming from my television with their self-conscience performance to my front steps, but I didn’t. I gave them each handfuls of candy, because that’s what you do.

Six years later we practice active shooter scenarios at school, we hold anti-bullying seminars for students and teachers, and we barely notice when another school attack happens. We have become inoculated from the shock. I watched the news and remarked to my wife how well spoken and poised the students from Parkland, Florida were in the immediate aftermath. These were not the Tide-Pod eating slackers that TV loves to show us. They stayed focused, kept speaking out brilliantly and got the president’s ear enough to be invited to a White House listening session.

There eighteen year old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Samuel Zeif described the day in Parkland when 17 people were murdered, texting what he thought were his last words to his family. He pleaded to the president “let’s never let this happen again. Please. Please.” And I cried with him.

It should never have come to this. “How did we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?” I cried with him. How come we didn’t stop this? We – the adults, the moms and dads, the teachers, the police – didn’t stop this because we are not unified in our will. We are too jaded, shrugging in resignation that nothing will change, and sending out “thoughts and prayers” on Facebook.  We did nothing because we could not agree on anything – Ban assault weapons – what’s an “assault weapon”? Mental health check-ups – who decides you’re crazy? Arm everybody – have you met everybody?

“We call BS!” Emma Gonzales spoke with the clarity of unjaded youth whose innocence was murdered along her classmates and a few more teachers who placed themselves between bullets and students. She and the thousands of young voices are speaking together demanding we all see the obvious – their lives are more valuable than a dogmatic reading of the 2nd amendment. There is no nuance in this argument. She spoke clearly. Cameron Kasky, another Parkland high school student, demanded in the name of seventeen dead classmates that his senator, Marco Rubio, not accept money from the NRA and he pressed until he got an answer – not the one he wanted, but not the evasive sound bite either. Seventeen year old witness to this murder, David Hogg, said, “We are children. You guys are the adults. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done” and even after being accused of being a Soros paid actor hasn’t “lost hope in America.”

These students bring me hope. They will take action because they have to – we adults have been paralyzed in our partisan bickering for too long. Is it too soon to cite Isaiah 11:6? “Wolves will live with lambs. Leopards will lie down with goats. Calves, young lions, and year-old lambs will be together, and little children will lead them.”

I stand with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

It was Forty Years Ago Today

February 7, 2018

sgt married

It was forty years ago today
When Pam came down the hill to play
We’d been going out a little while
It was guaranteed she’d make me smile
So let me introduce to you
a love I’ve known for all these years
Pamela Dolan the nurse I met through the band…

We’re married now and still like to hold hands
‘cuz in ‘78 we enjoyed the snow
We’re married now and still like to hold hands
So sit back watch our romance grow
We’re a married couple, we’re a married couple
We’re a married couple who still hold hands

It’s wonderful to be here
Our life is still a thrill
She’s more than just an acquaintance
we love she made a home with us
She made us all a home

I don’t really want to stop the snow
Because I thought she might like to go
and the blizzard kept piling on
And our love kept keep growing strong
So let me introduce to you
My one and only Pamela dear
The girl I met at a club with the band

Reflecting On My President – MLK Day 2017

January 16, 2017

A new arrival at the National Portrait Gallery in 2008

As I watch 60 Minutes and their interviews with President Obama I realize how I admire his thoughtful tone and quick wit. I’m going to miss him. He is the president of my children’s adulthood and I have found him to be both pragmatic and diplomatic. I admit I am at a loss for the vitriol thrown at him. I wish he had done more, but I still am proud of what he did accomplish against the constant tide of false accusations and roadblocks. What accomplishments I hear my naysayer friends demand. I can explain.

Let me set the stage leading up to this man’s presidency – not the two wars and the crashing economy – I want to get more personal. My family had been denied health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions when I changed jobs and our family planning decisions were altered because of the religious affiliation of my wife’s workplace – their conditions for insurance. My previous employer was being taken over by a corporation from Singapore and was being shut down. We had grown at a time of housing loans granted at 120% of a property’s value so customers were installing very profitable for us home entertainment systems based on the idea their home value would always go up, but that bubble had burst. I was losing my job and my 401k was in the toilet.

For me then it is easy to find this administration’s success – My 401k is back better than ever, I am employed in a new career after going to school using the extended benefits for retraining and gaining experience under the Obama stimulus package. My children were able to be insured under our family plan until age 26 under the ACA, and now, if we need to change jobs, we still get coverage. No longer are career choices being held hostage to a workplace whose insurance covered us before those “pre-existing” conditions show up. My children are able to follow their own paths – my son works for a biotech company and my daughter is in nursing school – free of that burdan. I couldn’t be prouder.

But my admiration for the Obamas goes deeper than that. My nephew, Kelley, worked on his campaign and, later, worked in the White House Office of Correspondence. Through him I heard the stories of the First Family, sitting Sasha and Malia, helping with the White House Easter egg roll. One of the most amazing things he showed me was where he worked – not in the White House proper, but in rented office space a few blocks away.

Into this space poured millions (literally) of pieces of mail that had to be read, sorted, and catalogued. Some letters had serious concerns about healthcare or the economy, others, less serious, like second graders learning how to address an envelope and a letter to the president in one lesson. All received the same treatment coming in, but a few were selected each week to move on to the desk of the president. Those letters were chosen to give an overall sense of what was motivating people to write, be it good or bad, and a few picked because they had problems the President could solve. Mr. Obama would hand write replies to these regular Americans who took time to write to their president.

Through my nephew I was able to visit the White House a couple of times (and even got smooched by Bo!) and toured the West Wing. On display in the halls was student artwork and photographs of various events across the country. They were changed often to remind those occupying the offices in that wing who they really worked for.


Kelley was able to get my wife and I on the lawn for a Marine One take-off. He told me I needed a suit coat and tie as a guest of a White House staffer. We raced around DC that morning trying to find a place open to buy the requisite outfit and when we arrived we were ushered onto the lawn and lined up. Then, from around the side, came forty or fifty folks in tee shirts and shorts randomly selected from the tourists taking pictures of the White House. They were lined up in front of us. Kelley told me that we had to stand behind the tourists because the staff were all instructed to be sure they never used their positions to advantage themselves above the people they were there to serve.

This all happened during a time when I visited D.C. often. The school I worked for sponsored an 8th grade trip to Washington and my son was living there, working for companies that contracted to the State and Defense departments. When I was chaperoning the school trips Kelley would come to meet our middle school group on the blocked street behind the White House. He would bring an auto-pen signed picture of the First Couple for the school and answer questions for the kids. He did this on his own time. I would introduce him to my students with great pride explaining that here was a kid only a few years older than they were (from my perspective), from a family not much different than theirs, who was now working in the most powerful office in the world. The kids were more intrigued with his two cell phones (one a White House issue Blackberry and the other a personal iPhone) and stack of ID badges.

When Kelley left to take a job with the EPA he was granted an exit interview with his boss. Kelley arranged for his mom and dad to be there while the President of the United States shook his hand and thanked him for his service there in the Oval Office. Mr. Obama took time to chat with everyone and made sure pictures were taken (you can’t bring your own camera). My brother said he almost cried. You can almost see that in the picture.


And that’s the thing with this president – it really isn’t ever about him – it’s about the office. Mr Obama came to up to be at the graduation of Worcester Voc and to bring attention to a school program he felt was exemplary. He didn’t just make his speech and have his photograph taken, he stayed, passed out diplomas and shook the hand or hugged every graduate of that very large class with as much enthusiasm for the last as the first. He made it their graduation.

And that is his accomplishment. He kept the Office of the President accessible to all the people. As other world leaders were vying for his attention many everyday concerns were brought to him  and he found a way to answer both. He was often harshly criticized and sometimes deservedly so, but he always listened. Reading the hurtful, ignorant, racist remarks directed at him, his wife and his family in comment sections of newspapers and social media and his not using the nuclear option makes him a far better person than me. Today, I know Mr Obama’s presidency was not about the color of his skin, but about the content of his character. He stayed above the ugliness beneath him for the dignity of the office and, for that, he will always be my president.



What a piece of Work…

January 1, 2017


“What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!”

– William Shakespeare – Hamlet – Act II Scene 2

Emotional whiplash might be the catchphrase for this holiday season. Let me share a few examples. About a week ago I started work dressed for ugly sweater day, to get a laugh and looking to enjoy the outlandish attire of my coworkers.

Not even fifteen minutes later, I changed into an 11th century lord’s dress because my 21st century ugly outfit was a millennium off for recreating a medieval tournament in our pod. After pouring my energy into the lesson and watching my kids cheer each other jousting on blow-up horses I ended the school day exhausted, but satisfied.

Those were both easy. I had to change one more time that day for an event that evening in Boston. Not for a laugh or exhausted satisfaction, but to mourn at the dedication of a ghost bike for my nephew, Bannon on the spot where he suffered a tragic accident a few weeks earlier. This time the outfit was nothing formal – jeans, a warm sweater, and a hat my wife knit. I wanted to blend into the crowd of people gathered to listen to the minister and the other speakers. I cried. We all cried, some for the passing of a fellow cyclist and others for loss of family.

That was a lot of changing in one day. How about an example of emotional whiplash that took all of a minute? A few weeks ago my day began very early with the phone ringing. From peaceful sleep, to anger that my wife must be being called in to work (what else could it be?), to shocked disbelief when Pam handed me the phone with my sister sobbing “Bannon’s been in an accident,” to being hyper-focused on what to do next.

Consider the changes my sister went through getting that call even earlier that morning, with Christmas presents waiting under the tree for Bannon; all that anticipation and excitement ripped away by the unimaginable. She would later generously re-gift them to his friends.  Devastated, but pulling it together enough to take care of her shop’s payroll. Wanting to be alone with her grief, yet bravely taking me out to lunch knowing she will run into people who want to hug her and awkwardly share her sorrow. I am in awe of her.

I think of the people I know whose children have died and I realize I am in awe of them as well. They have learned to continue, to allow themselves to have a good laugh or a good cry and to go on doing the mundane tasks of life. Slowly, they seem to have found that these things do not diminish the memory of their loved one; they survive the soft tissue damage from their own emotional whiplash by living life and cherishing the times they did have.

Maybe this isn’t what Shakespeare had in mind, but what a piece of work. We change and change again, sometimes on the outside and, more often, on the inside. Emotional extremes reveal the marvelous complexity and adaptability of being human and what lengths we will go to to support each other. Here’s 2017 and hoping that no one has to learn this lesson first hand.

Bannon’s Smile

December 18, 2016

bannonBannon and Susie – my nephew and my sister.

Hello – My name is Michael Bannon Smith and I’m one of Bannon’s uncles.

I remember when he was born proudly thinking he was named for me. It didn’t occur to me – as a self absorbed twenty something – that we really just shared a family name. We are not that tight family – that one spends every holiday with each other and vacations together; we’re Irish, not Italian. But what a family.

Bannon is my sister Susie’s son and I know him mostly through her – from her stories and many of these pictures – so I know him as a little kid with amazing outfits and curly blond hair, as a high school jazz hipster yearbook model and as a ready, steady dad behind, under or near Ella and Ronan.

In every picture, at every age, one thing always stood out – Bannon’s eyes. There is a depth to them. His are proof that those cliched deep pools from romance novels really exist. I’m sure Bannon would hate that idea. I can see him quietly taking in the action at some family function and then the corners of his eyes turn up as he catches something that he finds funny. That smile not only takes over his face, but the faces of those around him.

So when my sister called to say Bannon was in an accident, it was those pictures that came to mind as I’m texting my kids to tell we are heading to the hospital. On my way from Worcester to Boston so many things are going through my head:

– that day Bannon walked through the door of Tate’s to join Susie for her birthday. It had been a while – too long – but talk about a smile taking over a room – On both their faces! I’m so happy Susie got that day.

– that my son, Zach, got to hang out with his cousin. That they got to run together… Bannon could easily beat Zach and somehow that makes me smile. I suggested to Zach that maybe they should run with their saxophones and stop to play from time to time – thinking it would appeal to their mutual appreciation of the absurd.

We found our way to the hospital. Zach had gotten there before us and texted directions out to various family members – a small thing on the face of it, but so important to have one less thing to think about when there is a lot to think about. Susie. Steve. Amy. Carroll. Family.

Just in case you are unaware, some families have some pretty deep rifts and grudges. I mentioned we’re Irish, right? – We weren’t just walking into Beth Israel, we were taking an elevator up five flights to a floor soon to be filled with unresolved past transgressions.

Stepping off the elevator though it’s all a blur. I solemnly shake Jeffrey’s hand – hug Hilary – get the lowdown from Zach – find out no one actually got ahold of my brother, Peter… and Bannon is just on the other side of the doors to the trauma unit with his nurses quietly going about their job.

And that’s what we began to do, too, as a family; our job consoling each other, sharing updates, getting donuts, giving hugs, swapping stories – we all show off our licenses, confirming our status as organ donors – everyone begins to do what needs to be done.

Life has a way of sometimes keeping us apart while death sometimes pulls us all together. I put an arm around Steve, a coat over Susie, made sure I checked in with Amy. I saw Carroll and Kate quietly confer with a doctor and, when the reality of it all overwhelmed us, I saw the staff feel it, too, and they shared small boxes of Kleenex and large boxes of coffee.

I commented to a nurse that one of the staff looked remarkably like Bannon. To prove it, I pulled up some pictures on my phone and, in the process, I ran across some pictures from Ireland, the Aran Islands specifically, and she told me her daughter was named for a priest from there. She was from near Galway – Oh, my niece Hilary just spent a semester there… And my Dad’s family is from Tuam – I think she said she had family there… Small world stuff. We made a connection. We shared stories, I found some pictures – Zoe and Mikee’s wedding – and she saw the resemblance. She told me they liked to know what their patients looked like before… She said it could be worse – I can’t imagine, but I think I knew what she meant…

I watched my daughter, Addy, a nursing student check monitors and gently wipe Bannon’s mouth. Later, I saw my wife head back to Boston to spend the night with him. She brought her knitting and read him the texts from all of us trying to make plans. I called my sister. I messaged Hilary and Amy.

Back at school – I’m a middle school teacher – I told each of my classes why they need to wear their helmets. I told them about Bannon. I told them I wore mine because my wife makes me, but now I have a better reason – no one should ever feel like this. Middle schoolers are better people than they get credit for – the next day some left cards on my desk and a few even handed them directly to me – I wish I could say the same for their homework…  and some must have told their parents because I received a few emails from them.

One in particular stood out; from a family who had lost their son, Josh,  to a soccer ball in the chest, stopping his heart. Since that horrific accident, I’ve had two of Josh’s siblings in class so the parents and I have shared emails before, but this was different – not only was it from a different address, but it was from a different place – a much more private place. Theirs was not a polite condolence; theirs was a heart-felt “we really know how much this hurts and truly we’re sorry that you have to feel it.” They understood that we now share a very personal connection.

I can’t make sense of this. I have tried to console myself with the measure of all of our sorrow being countered by the joy of all the families reprieved from their own sorrow by Bannon’s organs. That isn’t much consolation to me yet, but I know it will come. I see all these amazing pictures of Bannon and hear the stories and his music – I see what a rich life he led –  and I go back to his eyes looking around a room and smiling… Maybe it was life as jazz and the smile was his solo.

I think of all the connections and reconnections he made with so many people here – the efforts he made to hang out with his Boston based cousins, that he was making plans with Steve and Susie, that the shock of his accident made family disagreements move to the back burner so that we could pull together for each other. These things console me.

And maybe that is what the nurse meant when she said it could have been worse. She knew Bannon had family and friends that loved him, that we were there for him and for each other. In that way we are all very lucky. We all have a new, deeper connection that we all could have done without, but now that we have it we need to honor and cherish it.

I thought about how I could show that connection with Bannon today. I seriously considered wearing a cape or a pirate outfit – some people here know my penchant for costumes. But just being here with all of you makes it clear we have that connection – that because of Bannon we are all part of a special family.

So how do we all get to meet each other? My Irish Catholic upbringing reminds me about the part of Mass I disliked the most – that forced hand shake called “the sign of peace” – always made me squirm. So I’m not going to go there…

So what can we do?

Here is an idea and there is no touching required! So first think of something Bannon loved doing or something you did together. Now hold that thought – put on your best poker face. Look around the room, lock eyes with somebody – anybody – and realize they too have an awesome Bannon moment! – OK, now look at somebody else… You’re not looking! Look! Are you trying to guess the story? You know you are – and they’re trying to guess your’s too, right? Whatever they’re thinking you know it was a good time. And you start to smile… It starts with the eyes – you can’t help it when see all the stories waiting to be told, stories that we are all the better for, that connect us to Bannon. Now later today, find the people you stared down and tell that tale; then maybe shake their hand or share a hug.

And welcome to the family…

PC is Dead. Long Live PC

November 14, 2016

Mr Trump, can I say naughty things now?

Of course you can, Billy.

“I don’t have time for political correctness. And frankly, neither does our country” *

Last week a classic, clear, crisp New England Fall day called for some trail exploration on my new bike. There is a large water tank at the top of a hill in my neighborhood accessible by a dirt road winding through the brilliant yellow, red and orange woods. Perfect.

I headed off, enjoying the climb and scenery as I rounded one last turn. My destination came into view and I can see lots of graffiti scraped into the mossy stains around the tank. Clearly I wasn’t the only one to use this road besides the town’s water department. Pedalling closer to read the messages I spy the usual – hearts with initials, hearts with initials scratched out (love is so fickle), and my fav – “heart Elvis Parsly” (fresh breath – thank you very much).

As I continue my circle I see “Malia Obama likes it sideways.” Hmmm – name spelled correctly and, considering the whiteness of my little town, an odd choice. Then I see it was just the build up to the N word – again and again and again. Sometimes alone, sometimes in combination. 

I’m not bothered by much – C word, F bomb – they were all there. I know hidden places like this are where drunken high school kids say whatever they want without any filter or spell check. But this got to me.

So today was another of those perfect autumn days and I hopped on my bike knowing what I needed to do. I rounded the water tank and parked my bike off to the side. Unzipping my backpack I pulled out two spray bottles of Mr Clean and an extension brush and went to work cleaning up my town. 

My part of the country still has room for political correctness.

Some before and after pics:



*Donald Trump. Presidential Debate Sep 26, 2016 – Cleveland, Ohio.

Let’s compare and contrast…

November 6, 2016

nintchdbpict000280104910-e1478358256253   Donald Trump

The other day at a rally for Hillary Clinton a man stood up and vocally advocated for Donald Trump. The crowd booed and shouted at him. President Obama, at the podium, reminded the Hillary supporters that this is America, the man has a right to express his opinion, pointed out the man was wearing a uniform, guessed he was a vet and reminded all that he deserves their thanks for his service. The crowd calmed and the rally moved on.

The other day at a rally for Donald Trump a man stood up holding a sign that said “Republicans against Trump.” The crowded booed and shouted at him. Donald Trump, at the podium, shaded his eyes and taunted the protester with questions of whether he was a paid Hillary plant where upon the crowd beat and kicked the man. Someone shouted “GUN!”, the Secret Service rushed the candidate off stage until the man could be taken from the venue.

Even more disturbing than this difference in reacting to an adversary is Trump’s retelling  of the incident with Obama at a later rally. He has Obama taunting and shouting at the man during the Clinton event, easily disproved with so many videos of the encounter, but this doesn’t inform Trump’s rhetoric.

This is not a case of liar, liar – that devolves quickly into the useless “how can you tell when a politician’s lying? when their lips are moving” meme. This is disturbing because this is the lens Donald sees the world through. A view that distorts reality so much that he believes that is how the event went; he believes the birther crap (retraction notwithstanding); he believes he is a supporter of women (especially the real lookers), and that Mexico will pay for a wall (even though, early on, he admitted it was just line to use when a rally got quiet).

Say what you will about Hillary, at least her eyes are seeing the real world (and not the one on MTV).