Tuesday, July 5



They say I died fighting for freedom.
They say I died for liberty.
They say I died trying to free 'em.
They say I died for a legacy.
They say I died flying the flag.
They say I died for a true cause,
that due diligence never lags
and that the righteous never pause.
They say I died for my country
and that it'll never forget
my sacrifice in my Humvee
and I'll always have its deep respect.

All I know is, that when I dropped
down to the ground
and died,
my mama cried
and she's never stopped.


A lifetime ago I went to first grade at Alfarata, a neighborhood grade school, two blocks from my Huntingdon home. My 95-year-old mother, Millie Roddey, remembers watching me walking off to school holding hands with Chuck Garner, my best friend.

Alfarata is long closed and the arched doorway that we ran thru for recess to the playground is bricked over. But it was a cornucopia of wonders. It brought me Linda, my first girlfriend, who was the fastest and toughest kid on the block. She could beat up anybody who bothered me and beat them in a race at the same time. That was invaluable for me as a scrawny fearful five-year-old.

But Linda outgrew me when I watched her walking into the woods holding hands with an older boy. I yelled to see if she wanted to play some b-ball, but she never turned around, having another sport in mind at the time.

Alfarata had some of today’s hot button issues for schools, that were only cold button non-issues then. It had rumored suggestive shenanigans between a male teacher and his girl student at night in the school building.

Often, when I was on the playground alone shooting hoops at twilight, I’d stare at the lit windows in the school and try to see if there was anything going on there. A shadow passing in the night would have excited me beyond belief, but I never saw anything.

Alfarata had bad teachers and worse students. One poor teacher, Mrs. B, kept breaking rulers beating on her desk trying to get her jabbering students’ attention. Once, a boy stood up, walked to a garbage can in the corner, and threw it out an open classroom window. She broke two rulers that time. And there were mental health issues back then, because it was like watching a nervous breakdown every class Mrs. B. tried to teach.

I remember rumors of a father regularly beating his daughters with a belt. He was a skinny little man and the rumors came from his daughters. Alleged child abuse reared it ugly head here, but nothing was reported.

Alfarata had bullying galore. Mad Max was the recess bully who stood me against the school’s brick wall, ordered me not to move, then threw a volley ball at me as hard as he could. It was dodge ball, without the dodging, and I got hit most of the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Max ended up attending one of our finer schools of lower learning, making license plates for a living. He seemed headed that way.

Good times also happened at recess. I used to play a vicious game of tether ball, slapping the ball hard with the heel of my hand till it went numb and the ball on a rope whipped around the pole in victory, vanquishing my opponent, a little girl.

Life then was spread before me like a banquet of new delights daily. I just grabbed each day and shook it silly like a big bell of clanging wonders. I remember running everywhere till I fell, skinning my knees, which was the only way I’d stop running.

Today I know where the majority of my life went as the decades flash danced past me. But back then at Alfarata, everything was new and life was filled with joy, excitement, total fear, little boy lusts and endless energy. It was like racing with lightning in a thunder storm of emotions.

Published in Common Ground Magazine


In our one life we lead many lives as babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults, spouses, parents, in-laws and, if we’re lucky, senior citizens. And in those lives we’re ruled by different people at different stages of our ages.

When my father’s garage was the epicenter of his amusement business in Huntingdon, he was the bully boss of the family, with many mood swings. Living with him was like jumping off and on a playground merry go round as he built his business. You never knew when you were going fall and skin something bloody.

His garage was filled with three or four helpers every weekday morning, preparing to go out on the route like the spokes of a wheel, and empty the various pinball machines and jukeboxes of change along the way. Every day a different town. That garage was a hustle bustle of activity and was his livelihood for 30 years or more, till he retired.

My dad gouged out a living by sheer will power as he went to every restaurant, bar and service station on the route to get his machines placed there; then he split the nickels, dimes and quarters 60/40 with the owners.

And it all started from that humble garage at the end of our backyard. That garage was where I first heard Elvis Presley played on one of his juke boxes. I predicted that Elvis would never make it, thus ending my music prophecy career before it even began.

In the front was a long counter where Dad put things he needed for the day’s travel in the truck. In the back were various pinball machines and juke boxes, both new and needing repair. He also had some sort of gambling machine called a flasher, that at times was legal then illegal, depending on the changing laws. I remember once he frantically pulled all them out and moved them to Virginia for a while. Then he moved them back, when they became legal again.

After a morning’s meeting at the garage’s front counter, everybody scattered for the day to return later around 5 or 6 p.m. His second in command, who my dad was convinced was robbing him blind but could never catch, had a crazy sense of humor and was always fun to bounce around all day in the truck with in the summer, when I worked for my dad, getting the same $10 a week allowance I got for free during my fall, winter and spring school days.

You’d never guess today, looking at the debris and decay in that decrepit garage, that that enlarged shed made and sustained my father’s career, made his modest fortune and made it possible for him to retire to Florida in his 50’s. Without it, he wouldn’t have had a staging area for the daily war of making a living as a self-employed businessman. Come to think of it, that’s quite a garage there!

Published in Common Ground Magazine

Friday, March 11


There’s a book out called “Not What I was Planning’ which has numerous people summing up their lives in six word statements. Joan Rivers quipped “Liars, hysterectomy didn’t improve sex life.” Humorist Ray Blount Jr. wrote “Maybe you had to be there.”

Novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote “Revenge is living well, without you.” I can smell a bitter divorce here. Kelsey Ochs said “Follwed yellow brick road, disappointment ensued.”

“I wrote it down somewhere.” someone wrote. “Never finished anything, except cake.” “I colored outside the lines” and columnist Craig Wilson wrote “Dad was Santa. Down hill form there.

Maybe you could come up with your own summation, if you think you’re old enough. I got to thinking and here’s one reason, out of many, as to how I’ve finally summed up my life.

When I was stationed in the Air Force in England in 1969 I took some leave to see Europe. In Paris I bought a leather pouch where I put some foreign coins in, like French franks and Italian lira, as souvenirs.

I had them in my barracks for two years till I packed them in my duffle bag to send home upon my discharge. Back in the USA I moved several times taking that pouch with me each time.

I brought the souvenir pouch into my office and put it on my desk for 33 years, looking at the coins once in a while to remind me of my travels. Then one night someone broke into our office thru a window the size of a small suitcase. A SMALL SUITCASE! And robbed us. My own office was ransacked and my Paris pouch was stolen.

Several months later the cops caught the thief, but he didn’t have the pouch full of my foreign coins with him. They were gone forever. Then last week I was watching the news and they mentioned the Euro, the standard currency that replaced all of Europe’s different bills and coins.

So even if I made it back to Europe one more time, I couldn’t replace my old souvenir francs and lira, if I wanted to. Which leads to the 6 word summation of my life which is “Hell, I never saw that coming!”



There are kitchens and then there are KITCHENS. There’s my mother’s kitchen with the pink Westinghouse stove, the dinner plates from the A&P collection circa 1955 and the kitchen table that my mother still considers new because it’s only 50 years old.

Then there’s the huge Hotel Morton kitchen in the late 60’s Atlantic City where I worked two summer breaks from college. Today it’s probably a penny slot machine parlor at the Trump Taj Mahal, since it was torn down to become a casino.

I was Billy Pancake back then because I worked the breakfast rush in the pantry making row after row of pancakes. Flip them over when the batter bubbles burst for 15 at a time.

For the dinner rush I dipped ice cream and cut pies, cakes and juicy Jersey cantaloupes, while my associate, filthy finger nailed Dorothy, tossed the salads in the sink. Once she scooped up the drain plug plus chain for a customer’s fork to bounce off of when diving into his delicious house salad.

Before entering the kitchen you changed into your white uniform in the locker room, with my boss Bob often modeling his latest underwear for you.

There was old Pop, who looked about 70, moved like he was 90, but had a 30-year-old’s chiseled chest with bulging forearms. He was stooped over, bald with wisps of white, bespectacled and ripped like Arnold in his Mr. Universe days. He was the strangest contradiction I’ve ever seen.

You burst out of the locker room into the bustling greasy floored kitchen to face the big smoking stoves and the cooks on your right, the steaming dishwashers on your left, the sweaty waiters and waitresses zipping in and out of the swinging dining room doors and the rectangular pantry straight ahead.

My favorite job of all time was riding the overflowing smelly garbage can on wheels from the pantry to the trash shoot in the front, where I dropped the garbage down the hole, individually lobbing the bottles to crash in a splattering splash on the concrete floor below.

The kitchen was flush with urgency and hot meals, full of characters I’ll never forget. There’s something about being young, single and aimless that makes the strangest people seem almost normal in the course of your work day.

There was a dishwasher named Jim, who ran me down all the time until I challenged him to meet me in the alley sometime. That was easily the dumbest thing I’d ever done, because with his bodybuilder strength he could have mopped the floor with me and kept my remains as a souvenir in a bucket. But he never showed.

There was Bonnie and Sue, who were runaways that I helped get a room. Sue’s mother had the police chasing Bonnie for taking underage Sue with her. Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

After they left the hotel to work elsewhere, Bonnie wrote her mother saying she was marrying me, because I was the only guy she’d mentioned in her letters home. So on her wedding day the police came to town looking for me. I cut the cantaloupe rather raggedly that day waiting for the police to show, but they never did.

Then there was the lovely laughing waitress Eddie, my summer love that blazed and blistered under the steamy August sun, only to flicker out and freeze over in the ice snowball that was our January reunion. I got my Dear John letter leap year day with a request to mail her class ring back to her.

Since the last page of a love letter is usually the most passionate before a lover bids adieu, I buried Eddie’s ring beneath a pile of her letters’ last pages in a box, so she’d see what she was missing as she dug frantically for her ring to put back on her finger and put her back on the market. However, she hasn’t missed me in over 40 years, so I’m beginning to give up hope.

I had a big old ball in that crappy crowded kitchen. I found friends, love and treachery, while single handedly integrating it, by being the only white person on the actual kitchen staff, at a time when life lay before me like a sumptuous buffet of choices, with free refills on the pop.



“Leaving On a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary was the theme song of my early 20s. Back then I was always leaving on a jet plane, leaving behind crying loved ones to land later embraced sometimes by other loved ones. I had a lot more loved ones when I was young, single and almost cute.

Compliments of Uncle Sam I got to see the downtowns of some of the world’s greatest cities. “Downtown” by Petula Clark became my mind’s soundtrack. All of the cities’ downtowns, midtowns and uptowns were like my personal playgrounds to chase girls, see the sights and soak in some culture. Here are a few snapshots of my memories.

I was first stationed outside of Washington D.C. which provided many dating opportunities. There was this beautiful girl, with no discernible sense of humor. We shared a sullen Thanksgiving meal together then she fell asleep afterwards, while I was kissing her. I left quietly that night for good. The only thing we had in common was eating.

There was a bundle of British girls who invited us to a party during the April 1968 riots in D.C. after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. As I drove thru the riot area to get to the party, there was an explosion behind us and a ball of fire blasted out from a store front that filled up my rear view mirror. I gunned it and a cop car shot out of nowhere, siren blaring and light whirling, speeding to the fiery scene.

D.C. burned that night. We could see it from the party apartment’s balcony, but a party was a party, so we partied; callow shallow youths that we were.

Next I was posted to England 60 miles north of London, only an hour’s train trip away. I took that train often. While walking back alone to my London boarding house at 3 a.m. once, I stumbled upon a rather rowdy ruckus.

Some squatters in an abandoned downtown building were throwing rocks and rubble at a cordon of coppers surrounding them. The Bobbies ebbed and flowed, while ducking the debris. A post pub closing crowd was cheering on the squatters and heckling the police. A grand time was had by all, except the cops.

London has Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, where anyone can literally stand on a box and spout their political philosophy or whatever. One starry eyed Chinese communist boy was praising the communist ideal of equality and compassion for the masses, till he broke under a vicious barrage by British hecklers and shouted “When we take over the world I will personally stick bayonets into your stinking bodies!”

The English can be very disrespectful of authority and political platitudes. That’s why you gotta love those crazy bastards so much, those sucky superior limeys.

I took some leave to explore Europe a bit. Paris is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen with its wide white avenues, magnificent monuments and the sensuous River Seine, where on a boat trip I once saw some buck naked Parisians sunbathing on the river bank in broad daylight. That’s enough to make your Super 8 movie camera jiggle uncontrollably when you zoom in.

The American Bar on Paris’ Left Bank had a unisex bathroom, where you could give a pretty girl the eye, then follow her into the toilet, where she’d enter a stall and let loose after too many American beers. That’ll blow the bloom off the rose fast.

Once in Venice, Italy my roommate and I took a long grim gondola ride where the gondolier regaled us with stories of Americans bombing them during WWII. Strolling past Rome’s ancient ruins I held hands with a Canadian girl, I’d met only an hour before, as she serenaded me and some lecherous Romans with her lilting singing voice from her choir days.

Later in a letter she recounted how she’d been clipped by a car while riding her rented moped down the mountainside of Monte Carlo and ended up in a French hospital. That meant we’d never meet again as we had planned to in Rome.

The song says that “The lights are much brighter there. You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, so go Downtown.” Downtowns were full of promise when I was young and in love with love and life was full of young girls’ laughter and kisses.



One of my best friends at Juniata College in the1960’s was Mick Kalacia ’67 from New Jersey. He and I were history majors and had a lot of classes together. Mick was stoic, studious and strictly loyal to his girlfriend back home. I tried to change all that.

I felt Mick should loosen up a lot. He was as serious as paralysis. In fact, one of our classmates woke up one morning in the men’s dorm, raised his arms to stretch and somehow paralyzed himself. He left school immediately and never returned. To this day I never stretch awake.

Horror stories like that made me feel that life was way too serious to take seriously, so I doggedly tried to get Mick to study less and have more fun.

The thing I concentrated on the most was to try to make Mick doggie paddle in the deep pool of cute coeds on campus. I just couldn’t believe his devotion to one girl at a time in his life when he had a duty and an opportunity to date as many girls as possible.

He was young, good looking and I felt he should take a bite out of the girlish apples of their fathers’ eyes to see who was the sweetest on campus. Why stick stubbornly to a Granny Smith, when you could sample Fujis, Galas, Mcintoshes, Winesaps, yellow/red Delicious and Cortlands? OK, I love apples.

So many girls, so little time. If you’re not with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Those were the twin tenants I followed in those delirious days. I’d even broken up with my high school sweetheart my freshman year after being overwhelmed by the fullness of the coed student body prancing around campus giggling.

I tried to get Mick to go to the weekend dances and to, at least, talk to the girls who asked me about him. But he was like a boulder and wouldn’t budge. He was on the choke chain of love stretched tight to Jersey.
Our senior year some of us took the Air Force officer’s test because the Vietnam war was raging and our future after graduation was one of four things- the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Marines.

The Air Force wanted pilots, so the officer’s test was four long hours of mystery, fantasy, wild guessing and complete confusion for me because I’d never flown before, let alone as a fighter pilot. The only one I knew who passed was Mick. He was that smart.

Mick and I went our separate ways after graduation. I went into the Air Force and after two years stateside, I got orders for RAF Woodbridge in England. Almost everyone else in my barracks got sent to Vietnam.

In 1969 on my second weekend in England, I took the base bus north to RAF Lakenheath for an intramural football game. I really just wanted to cheaply see the countryside.

Once there, I stopped at the snack bar for a bite and amazingly spotted Mick sitting alone at a nearby table in the empty room. I couldn’t believe it! We caught up with our lives. Mick had married his sweetheart Sue after all and was one of only a handful of Navy personnel on this big Air Force base. We parted promising to keep in touch, but never did. I’m afraid after the history classes ended, we were history.

So if I hadn’t been stationed at a British air base at the height of the Vietnam War, boarded a bus for a football game I had no interest in and stepped into the base snack bar at precisely the same time Mick was eating there, I’d have never had this one person class reunion. ‘Tis a small world indeed, Sparky.