Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Latest Rant

Facebook has become a vast wasteland of unfunny memes, intended-to-be-inspirational sayings, supposedly thoughtful spiritual posters, graphics with cutting statements meant to shame, links to "news" stories that slam one political side or the other, links to not-so-scientific gotchas that preach about how bad foods or vaccines are for you, defiant pablum posts intended to boost people's self-esteem (mostly directed to women it seems), various videos of kittens and puppies doing cute things, ongoing updates about the depths of depravity the world has sunk into, fraudulent give-away hoaxes, many many many "mind-blowing" something-or-others.

It has become a mindless stream of content and true "aha" moments have all but vanished.

At least people don't post pictures of their meals as much as they used to.

Uh oh, there's one.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Brandon Robinson wants to impregnate his wife.

To that end, he's asking for people to provide the finances to use a fertility clinic.

I understand that he went through debilitating circumstances as a teen.

I understand that many couples would like to have children but are unable.

But why is any of this my concern?

A gofundme page has been set up for Brandon and Ashley. Click here to see it: gofundme.com
They have a wedding date of May 13, so assumably won't be looking for the fertility services until after then.

I understand that a gofundme donation is totally voluntary.

But back in the day when there was no gofundme, childless couples either
  1. Remained childless
  2. Had insurance that would cover such services
  3. Was loaned money by family or friends 
  4. Adopted
Now they ask the general public for money to support their dreams of having their own child.

This is what we have come to.

Maybe I should start a gofundme campaign so I can buy a Ferrari.

What do you think of that idea?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Photo Finish

I never used to be this way.

But when I reached my fifties, I started thinking about the end.

It may have something to do with the increasing frequency of people I know who are shedding their mortal coil. It may have something to do with changes in my body and practices.

Either way, death has become a bit more real to me.

I don't obsess over it, yet I have made some preparations. A will. Considering where I would like to be buried. Insurances. But there are still some questions. For instance...

What will happen to my pictures?

We have thousands of pictures, both prints and digital. My wife has taken a fair amount of time to categorize and file away all the prints we have into a plastic tub and store it away under the bed. I assume that they will never be looked at again, for that seems to be the inefficiency of such a system.

I think that the value of picture taking is not in the action itself, but being able to refer back to the picture from time to time. It may be to relive a memory, to remember something. Or it might simply be that the picture is particularly liked for its subject matter and/or artistic value.

Photo albums can be created, of course, from favorites culled out from the pile. I'm not a fan, though, of the standard album where pictures yellow and become stuck behind a deteriorating piece of plastic sheeting. And they aren't practical for digital photos anyway.

Facebook and other photo-sharing websites have become an important repository for the collection and display of pictures. This makes them available for friends to look as well.

Another strategy I have utilized is the creation of photo books through services such as shutterfly.com or blurb.com. These are not cheap books, but they can be created very nicely and present a quality feel. They make great gifts and offer a way to ensure that pictures will be seen at least once again.

However, it occurs to me that many of these pictures will be relevant to perhaps two or three generations: mine, my kids and possibly grandkids. Beyond that, I think they lose most of their inherent value.

I suspect that long after my wife and I are gone and all our possessions have been divvied up, sold or donated, the pictures will become an afterthought.

That is until my sons and their families get to the age where looking back becomes as important as looking forward. How many of those pictures will still be around then?

I guess only time will tell.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?

When I was in high school, I dated Julie for about a year and a half. She attended a different high school, but we met in church. We were what one would call an item. I guess she saw a future for us and I may have as well.

Finally approaching graduation, I had no idea what I was going to do after high school. I visualized getting a full-time job for the rest of my life. The vision didn't look at all appealing. So, I considered college and ended up sending an application to Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, and they accepted me. I also applied for a scholarship which I received. This was all last minute and prior to it, college had never been a consideration.

My freshman year at ENC found me losing all interest in Julie. I wrote her just one letter the whole time and that was it. There were just too many options on campus, and Julie was back in Maine.

At the end of my freshman year, I met Scherel and was immediately attracted to her. However, I went home to Maine for the summer and she went back to Virginia.  We started dating at the beginning of the 79-80 year. I met her parents. She met mine. We started talking marriage, children, future educational plans and sort of outlined how it would all work out.

Then in the summer after that school year, Scherel broke up with me. I was devastated. The summer of 1980 was a seminal point for me. Working through the pain of the break up changed me in ways I never could have imagined.

In my junior year, I met Sherrie. She was a professor's daughter and still in high school. I really liked Sherrie a lot, but due to the age difference, our relationship was rather clandestine. Her mother didn't approve of her 16-year old daughter seeing a 20-year old college guy. Maybe she thought I would lead Sherrie down the path of perdition - I don't know. But it became something of an issue which Sherrie used to end our relationship. A mutual friend, Steve, confided to me after the break up that she had actually started seeing someone else, and I suspect that had as much to do with her terminating us as a couple. As the new guy was closer to Sherrie's age, I'm sure he had her mother's approval.

That was a painful time as well. However, it didn't rise to the same levels as the summer the year before.

I dated other girls during college, but none approached the seriousness of relationship that I'd had with Scherel and Sherrie.

During the second semester of my senior year, I took a computer programming course that was first thing in the morning and dull as dirt. I started skipping that class. It was a dumb thing to do, of course, but senioritis had set in. I failed that class, the only one in my entire time at college.

That wasn't that big a deal to me except for this: I needed the credits from that class to graduate.

Consequently, I ended up attending an extra semester after my senior year. In some ways this was a good thing. I hadn't looked forward to beginning life after graduation (much like high school) and that extra semester finally turned me around. Being a senior-and-a-half gave me an itch, an urgency to leave ENC. After all, my class had already graduated and moved on.

But what to do after graduation? I had taken the Graduate Record Exam which gave me a good enough score to get into grad school. However, midway through my college career I turned my studies from psychology to communications. So even though I would have a BA in psychology, my interests were elsewhere.

Then there was college debt to consider. I had over $10,000 in loans that would have to be paid back. While that seems like a pittance today, back in 1983 it looked insurmountable.

Should I stay in Massachusetts and look for an apartment and job, or go back to Maine and live with my parents until I was able to establish myself?

Another option presented itself during the semester from a college buddy. Glen had signed up for the Army. He told me that they would pay off his college loans if he did a four-year stint. That offer struck me quite positively at the start. However, as I thought about it, the idea of serving in the military became attractive as much for the desire to do something different from my peers. As everyone else was getting married, finding careers or going on to further education, the Army stood out as something nonconforming.

So I hied on down to the recruiter's office and began the process. My first choice of MOS was special forces. However, my eyesight was bad enough to disqualify me from that. Then I found out that the loan payoff program was only associated with military intelligence positions, perhaps only one particular specialty. So, that is what I signed up for.

Basic training at Fort Dix. Advanced individual training at Fort Devens. As I stood in formation and heard other soldiers receiving assignments to places like Japan, Hawaii, Germany, I figured I'd at least get Hawaii. My training included a far east component which meant a field station in Okinawa, Japan or Hawaii.

Then the first sergeant called out my name and said told me I was going to Fort Stewart, Georgia.


I had not been further south than Virginia and that was only twice for about a week each time. Now at the age of 23, I was going to spend a significant amount of time in Georgia.

Having no choice in the matter, I went, rather reluctantly.

I had been at Fort Stewart for about a year when I received orders to go to the field station in Japan. Unfortunately, prior to that, a medical condition had arisen and I was unable to go. That was in 1984.

About four months later, MJ arrived at Fort Stewart. She was an analyst who had spent the last two years at Defense Language Institute in California learning Arabic. Then another six months in Texas learning communications analysis.

Prior to joining the Army, MJ taught elementary school in North Carolina for five years. This after receiving her education degree at Stetson University in Florida.

She had a rather serious relationship with another guy who had been stationed at DLI when she was there. He ended up going to Panama, but she kept his pictures on her wall in the barracks and stayed in touch with him as much as possible.

MJ and I started dating a couple months after she arrived. I had my eye on her from the start, but knew her situation and was unsure. Then someone I was sort of seeing left Georgia and I found myself asking MJ for a consolation hug. That's when it all started.

MJ and I dated from March 85 to October 85. There was a short break up in there, but we got back together. Her boyfriend from Panama came to see her; another ex-boyfriend came for a while on temporary duty assignment.

I got out of the Army in March 1986 and decided to stay in the area so we could continue our relationship. In October 86 I asked her to marry me. She said yes.

MJ has since told me that when I informed her I was going to stay in the area, she was disappointed. She didn't want to tell me that she really wanted me to leave so as to be able to date other guys. She didn't want to hurt my feelings.

We have now been married almost 30 years.

I have written all this down because of the seeming improbability of it all. Had I not gone to college in the first place, I probably would have stayed in Maine for the rest of my life.

Had Scherel and I married, well...

In fact, if any of my other relationships (and I only mentioned the "big three") had resulted in marriage, then MJ and I would never be.

I suppose most would look at all this as serendipitous or random chance, but to me it looks like forces beyond our control brought us together. Some may call it fate. I prefer to think that it was God's plan from the start. There were just too many ways I could've strayed from the path that brought me to her. The same holds true on her side of the story as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

People Prefer Posting a Plentitude of Platitudes

When I log into Facebook for the first time every day, I find my newsfeed filled with all sorts of memes, quotes and sayings. Some have to do with life, some with spirituality and others politics. It has become like wading through a wasteland of Bartlett's, Nouwen and Sanders. Or Gingrich. No matter.

People post other people's words regularly and constantly instead of their own.

There is beauty in a well-turned phrase. Sometimes, there's also truth and wisdom. If it wasn't so, then what someone said centuries ago would have long been forgotten.



However, like Jim Rome often says, "Have a take."

Real thinkers use the words of others to frame and support their own arguments. Nonthinkers use those same words to be their arguments and, in doing so, I suppose, hope to make themselves appear as thoughtful and wise as well.

An occasional witty saying has the potential to delight. A steadily flowing stream of them mutes and numbs.

Show some original thought, even if it isn't eloquent. Discuss if you like; it's far better than pontificating with words that aren't your own.

For goodness sake, just have a take.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Greater Portland Ghosts

It's not my intention to be a historian in this post. In fact, the research and compiling of historical data in order to present it in a readable, even interesting format is its own skillset. It's a passion I don't have.

However, over the course of decades, certain well-known locations (landmarks?) have vanished as economies changed and neighborhoods evolved. And it has become something of a desire of mine to try to at least record something if only to say, hey, these existed in my youth and I haven't forgotten them.

Is this living in the past? Probably to some extent. Yet, isn't that the reason we take pictures? So the past doesn't totally escape us and disappear forever?

Anyway, here are some businesses I used to know. All of them have been replaced by something else. Perhaps something with a more bland personality. And so the decades turn.

Across the street from DiPietro's Variety Store, there is a small strip of businesses.  Back in my day, there was a barbershop, a five and dime store, a ceramics studio where you could take lessons and make your own pieces, and some others over the years. This Cottage Road Pharmacy was there, but what years I don't know. This location is right near the corner where Pillsbury Street intersects Cottage Road in South Portland. In the small park nearby used to be Willard School where I attended my very first year of what was called subprimary.

This was Willard School. To see the park today where it once stood, it's hard to imagine a building of any size being located there. But it was, and it had a playground on either side of it. There is a Willard Beach, Willard Street and this school, of course, and if I was a real historian, I could tell you all about the Mr. Willard after whom all of it was named. But I'm not, and I can't.

Go further down Pillsbury Street and you will eventually come to Willard Square. This was my old neighborhood where I grew up, went trick or treating, rode bikes and generally had a good childhood. In Willard Square was a popular fixture called Bathras Market.

Mr. and Mrs. Bathras were the proprietors. They were a Greek couple who had two children, Lisa and Tim. Mr. Bathras died quite some time ago. Last I knew, Mrs. B. still lives above the store, and Tim's house isn't far away. Not sure about Lisa.  The store is no longer open. But as a kid, I thought they made the best Italian sandwiches.

Leave Willard Square and go to the business district of South Portland (which has long since become the Maine Mall area), and you would find Angelone's Pizza. It was on the corner of Broadway and Ocean Street. It sat kitty-corner to Mahoney Junior High School. I don't know if their pizza was considered good (certainly not compared to the brick-oven gourmet pizzas so readily available today), but I thought it was pretty tasty. This area is known as Mill Creek.

Go west on Broadway and right quickly you would come across Deering Ice Cream.

Deering Ice Cream used to have a dish called the Kitchen Sink. It was eight scoops of ice cream covered with syrups and toppings and if you could finish the entire thing, they gave you a pin that said, "I Ate the Kitchen Sink." I did and was in considerable discomfort for quite a while after.

Head north on Ocean and take a left on Market Street, and you would find a popular Saturday afternoon spot to hang out.

The Bowl-a-Rama. Candlepin bowling at its finest. Join a league or just bowl with some friends. Until my teen years, I had never heard of ten pin. The small balls were what defined bowling to me.

Woolworth's used to have a store at the Maine Mall. This isn't the exact picture of it - this is a mall somewhere else. But I remember it had the standard Woolworth's lunch counter, and the store used to sell guns as well as tropical fish, clothing and toys, etc.

Head on down Route 1 into Scarborough. South of Oak Hill there was a shopping plaza with a Mammoth Mart, one of the many discount department stores of the day. Now that plaza is some sort of business park with no retail in it as far as I know. Other department stores of which I can't find pictures include Arlan's, Giant, Kings, Wellwoods, and more recently, Ames.

Out in the Pine Tree Shopping Center in Portland there was a Zayre's Department Store. Here is a picture of it. This second picture is from a Zayre's in Illinois, but it looks quite similar to the one that used to be in Portland.

Further up Brighton Avenue, across the Westbrook line, there was a Bradlee's and Shop 'n Save.
Prior to the Shop 'n Save, the store was a Martin's grocery store. Martin's and Bradlee's used to share the same entrance. As you walked in there was a row of cash registers on the left and right, each servicing their respective stores. Keep walking and you would come to a set of stairs that led up to a small cafe where you could drink a soda, eat an English muffin and look out over the shoppers wandering the aisles. Now, there is a Kohl's where the Bradlee's used to be and a Shaw's Supermarket in the Shop 'n Save spot.

The face of downtown Portland has changed quite a bit over the years. These pictures were taken in the 1960s, I believe. Most of the businesses that lined the streets then are no longer there.

One of those stores was W.T. Grant. My mother used to take the bus into Portland because she didn't drive and my dad was either at work, or asleep during the day after he started working nights. She would haul us kids along, sometimes for a doctor's appointment or just to do some shopping. I've been in this Grant's before, but don't remember it well. Here are a couple inside shots.

The lunch counter seems familiar to me, though. Maybe the archetype is just part of my collective unconscious. There was also a Woolworth's in Portland as well.

Though this picture shows vehicles from the 1940s, the store lasted through the 60s, maybe even into the 70s.

Tommy's Hardware was a well-known fixture further down Congress Street towards Munjoy Hill. They used to sell scuba and snorkeling gear as well as hardware. That's all I remember about it. Jeff and Theda Shafran owned and ran the store in the 80s and 90s. Theda started a small upscale kids' clothing store in the Old Port called Tommy's Kids Gear. She passed away, unfortunately, in her store from a heart attack. I attended her funeral. She was a customer of the print shop where I worked from 90-92 and we did much of her store's printing. I attended her funeral at the Temple Beth El. There were many there to mourn Theda and support Jeff in his grieving. 

There used to be a Dunkin Donuts at the intersection of High Street and Congress Street. I had heard that it was a frequent haunt for Portland's prostitutes, though that may have just been a rumor. It's entirely possible, though, because I think at some point it stayed open all night. Now there's just a park.  

I have scoured Google images for pictures to save, but it isn't an easy process. Some of the photos here are from the South Portland Historical Society's website. Others came from sites talking about the history of Portland. As I find more, I may add them to this blog.

As I type this, I can think of many more places I'd like to be able to collect eventually. But good images - any images - are hard to come by online.  And it can become very time consuming to keep searching for them.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ten Years After

There have been many times where I thought I should blog some idea only to back off when it occurred to me that what I wanted to say was too personal and fit more for a journal than this forum.

I've used this blog as a journal of sorts in the past, but it was more as a commentary effort than mere self-expression, though I suppose you could argue that all writing is some form of self-expression.

It was never my intent to become a well-known, largely followed blogger. The reason this blog exists in the first place was to create a venue with a link back to my website for SEO purposes. Because it is a blog, it needed content so it became a repository for mental meanderings.

Since my website has become irrelevant, most likely due to the rise of Facebook, I have decided to not renew my subscription with GoDaddy next year. All the things that can be found on www.thejeffhowe.com (and there's a bunch as I've been using it for storage of files) are being migrated elsewhere.

So when the website goes dsrk, that means this blog will have no remaining real value outside of what it is - a blog.

I have lived something of a Mayberry life. That is over now starting with its gradual demise in 2005. Oddly enough, that was about the time I started writing. It began with a couple poems and, as situations started to unfold, escalated from there until I found myself recording as many memories of the past and impressions of the present that I could.

Stories were written, poems by the dozen came pouring out, this blog became quite active, a novel was started.

It just seemed like there was a backlog, a reservoir of words waiting to burst down the spillways. The accumulation of years came to a nexus as I entered into the phase known as middle-aged.

Some say there's no such thing as a mid-life crisis. I disagree with that. It may not be significant to most, but I think everyone deals with first actual realization of mortality and time slip in their own way. Some buy sports cars. Others have affairs. I chose to write.

Confluent with my struggle with middle age acceptance was a spate of deaths which included my wife's parents as well as significant medical problems for me and her. So, it has been a tumultuous ten-year period to say the least. Through it all the idea flames burned brightly. The result was fifteen books on Amazon that are still available for purchase today.

However, with the last passing of a friend and fellow writer (four over the course of five months starting December 2014), I find that the motivations, the inspiration to scrabble words onto a page - or into a text document - have pretty much vanished.

These ebbs are not unfamiliar to me. Usually, I could expect a return to writing desire within a few months of the initial slow down. I'm not sure I can say the same thing this time.

Kurt Vonnegut's strongest work is found in his first six novels as his experiences in World War II established the energies, pathos and imagination that commonly threaded those stories. After his magnum opus, Slaughterhouse Five, the edge of his storytelling became dulled. Even so, he still wrote eight more novels, but he had publishing agreements to fulfill. And perhaps, he still felt as if he had some juice left.

The same can be said of other authors.

I'm not trying to compare myself to Vonnegut, but I believe the creation process works quite similarly for most, if not all. Look at the earlier works of those who write, those who make music and other artforms and see how they evolve to the point where they lose the original freshness which made them stand out from the rest.

That is how I view my present circumstance. It seems to me that most of what I write about these days can be distilled down to one to three topics. With such a fixation, the creative endeavor has become how to differently address these topics so as to make the written pieces seem fresher than they really are.

All things eventually come to an end. And while I'm not willing to officially stamp "Finished" on this whole project, I am realistic enough to admit that the motivations which started the gears turning in the first place have come to their logical conclusion over the passage of time.

Now that an era of my wife's and my life are done, then the mystery of the future opens itself up to us as we wonder where we will go next.

Perhaps when we find out it will spark a whole new spate of writing exercise. However, until that happens, I can look back over the course of fifteen books and say it has been good.

It has been worthwhile.