Tuesday, November 27, 2012



The day will come when these old hands
Won't sip the morning coffee
Made just right

My prized old cup before me stands
And waits for other hands, but
That's all right.

They've had good times down here on earth,
For many, many years, but
What's it worth?

In times of grief or times of mirth,
They understand all pass to
Death from birth.

These old spotted hands have caressed
And held the hands of untold
Ladies fair.

And each and every one was blessed
To culminate a lovely
Sweet affair.

Soon these old weathered hands must rest
And things within me whisper
Is it time?

And most of all I feel twice blessed,
For knowing you has been and
Is sublime.

Saturday, November 24, 2012



I know that some of you knew I was once close friends with Richard Bach.  Nothing about that changed except for time, distance and circumstances.  We passed an occasional email message to each other.  There were times of fun and high adventure, but that was long ago.

You may also have heard that he crashed his plane while landing at one of the locations in Puget Sound he loved so well.  I flew with him there almost thirty years ago.  I thought it was so ironic.  At last count, Richard had flown about 150 different aircraft of all kinds and was an extraordinarily careful flyer.  I heard he hit some wires while landing. 

I had not been able to find out anything about his current condition.  Then, a day or so ago, his former wife, Leslie, called after a long absence, and I asked her.  What she told me was not good.  Richard is clearly brain-damaged, and at 76, in my opinion is not likely to recover very much.  Leslie was asked by his present wife if she would come see if she could help him.  Apparently, he often screams in pain.  Leslie was able to communicate with him which seemed to please him.  The accident happened almost three months ago.
The irony is that it was Richard Bach who urged me to write.  We mused a few times that, by God, I had bought and read all his books, and he was going to have to buy and read mine. 

Another example in my life of waiting too long.                                                                                     

Thursday, November 22, 2012



In 1942, Thanksgiving Day started out as a day of great promise and turned into a horror I will never forget.  I had just turned ten.  Mom had put the two kitchen tables together to hold her huge and comprehensive feast.  Roberta, my stepsister had invited her friend, Jodie, to join us, and we were all about to say grace and tackle the meal of the year.  The tables were full of hard-to-get stuff because of rationing, and we all sat there beaming at what Mom had put together.  She had the day off and had been up working on that feast since before dawn.

People were thankful for whatever they were able to scrape together for Thanksgiving in the war years.  Everything was rationed and impossible to get.  Somehow, for this special day, and through her own special devices, Mom had been able to put it all together, and I was starving to pounce on it.  After all these  years, I can still remember what was on the table: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, buttered lima beans, Mom's wonderful cloverleaf rolls and two rhubarb and strawberry pies marking time over on the cupboard. 

In all my years, I have never known anyone who could cook like Mom or somehow make something wonderful out of nothing.  We raised what we could, but the turkey was a special acquisition.  We were all smiles and waited impatiently for my stepfather to come to the table and take his seat. 

When he did, I could tell something about him was amiss and apart and anything but festive.  I never liked my stepfather because of the cruel side of his character.  On the one hand, he was strong, resourceful and capable of hard work.  He had a sufficient number of useful attributes but a dark one negated all the rest.  He turned into Mr. Hyde when he was drinking.  He only drank beer (whiskey was like poison to him), but once he got started, he drank whatever good was in him into oblivion.  His name was Bill, and Bill #1 was tolerable, but Bill #2 was a monster.

He had started drinking early that day and brought Bill #2 to the table.  I never figured out what it was that set him off, but something did.  He stared glumly at what was before him.  We paused in our chatter and all bowed our heads except him.  He stood suddenly, grabbed each table by its edge and overturned both dumping all that beautiful feast crashing to the floor in a heap of broken dishes.  I beseeched God to strike him dead on the spot. 

Our young guest ran screaming out the door with my stepsister following.  I never saw her again.  It was a final blow for my stepsister, who hated her father, and she went to live with her grandparents.

In 1946, my grandmother loaned Mom $500 to pay off that asshole for his share of the common property and Mom divorced him.  I remember the remarkable sight of those twenty-five, twenty-dollar bills.  Mom paid back every penny.  I would enter active duty with the Marines four years later, but, until then, the peace and quiet and the absence of fear in the house was wonderful.

Many years later, I saw him one last time.  I was trout fishing Lake Koon in nearby Pennsylvania.  As walked along the bank, I saw ahead of me a little old gray-haired man sitting on the bank fishing.  He looked bent and feeble, but the profile was unmistakable.



"It's George."

"Oh.yeah"  He looked befuddled while he fumbled among old memories.

Even in those couple words, I could detect his unmistakable Johnstown accent.  I was tempted to say, "How would you like it if I threw your worthless ass in the lake for the way you mistreated all of us?"  I knew I wouldn't, but it was a comforting thought.  But I turned to old Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes,

"I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands.but time and chance happen to them all."

So I passed him on by and let the old bad memories be free to take a quiet place way in the back.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


My friend, Sam Cohen, was a Jew, and you will see later why I mention it.  Sam was a nuclear physicist who was famous in nuclear circles as the Father of the Neutron Bomb.  I wrote this piece awhile back and have had to change all the “is” words to “was” words, because I learned a few weeks ago that Sam died a few months ago just short of age 90 by a little bit.

It about broke my heart, because Sam and I called each other three or four times a year, and it was his turn, and I hadn’t heard from him, which foreboded bad tidings.  So I called him at his home in Pacific Palisades.  I got a no-longer-working message and thought, uh-oh.  I Googled him and there found his obituary.  Look for it, if you like.  He was quite a guy.  I was always proud of the fact that he called me his good buddy.  Sam was a tough pisser to deal with, but he and I never had a cross word.

I have a million stories about Sam, like the one he told me and Sundi at dinner one evening about the time Curtis Le May told him he wasn’t satisfied with a bomb that would take out Minsk or Pinsk or even Moscow.  He said, “You know what I want from you nuclear guys!”  He clamped down on his cigar and growled, “I want you to make me a bomb that will take out the whole goddamn Soviet Union!”  I asked, “Was he serious?”  Sam said, “You’re damn right he was serious.”  That danger was a real one back then and someone over there was having the very same conversation.  I said that this made all those guys who were digging bomb shelters back then not look so silly after all.  Sam said, “They weren’t.”  Sam was interesting to be around.

But one of my favorite stories about Sam is a short one.  In the 1940s, when Sam was a young man working on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, he hitched a ride with an old farmer in a pickup truck.  Sam played tennis a lot and tended to tan pretty quickly, and the desert sun had him pretty dark.

They had ridden along for a spell, when the old farmer asked, “What tribe are you with, Sonny?” 

I said he should have told him the Levites.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


WHERE ARE WE HEADED?                                                                                            

The longer I live the more I realize how tragic and futile it is that we fight so much among ourselves.  Nothing is ever made better this way; only a productive argument leads anywhere, but that’s rare and another subject and not what this paper is about.   

It is said that the population of Earth in Jesus’s day, was about 16 million people.  The population of the Earth today is close to 7 billion – more than 400 times as many people gobbling up the world around them and fighting over all manner of differences most of which are small in substance and of little consequence (except as we believe them to be otherwise), real and imagined, trivial yet essential to sustain the basic premise of certain beliefs.  Whether Jesus was the Son of God or not matters very little to the efficacy of the Earth as a place to live; but it means everything to someone who fashions himself a Christian.  It is of no real consequence to the Earth if one man believes in Jesus and another does not.  The question is, of course, completely irrelevant to all non-human species that inhabit the Earth.  The trouble for humans lies in the stress field between opposing poles of thought.  Remove the human being from the paradigm and most differences no longer seem real or never existed in the first place except as a consequence of imagination.  Most of the issues that perplex us have been classified as real or imagined only by human thought.  Consequently the distinction is often irrelevant. 

If there really were other intelligent beings sharing the Universe with us, what a marvelous and thrilling sight our beautiful planet would provide them once it came into view.  Amidst all the nebulous, gaseous, hostile and fiery wonders passing by the portals of their spaceship, this blue, radiant, pristine sapphire of the Universe would shine forth in beauty and in iridescent wondrousness.  And then, what if by some magic beyond what we terrestrials understand, our visitors were to discern that of the several million differentiated species crawling, creeping flying, swimming and abounding thereon -- and merely scratching the outer skin of this miraculous globe -- that just one species of all the millions stands out in supreme intellect, imagination and aspiration – except that this dominant species – and only this one  -- subdivides itself into absurd differentiations by means of the most subtle variations in color, hue, stature, displacement and other differences largely imagined or indiscernible (whereby it calls one “white” and another “black” when side by side, no distinguishable difference can be seen between the two and neither bear any relation to the customary meaning associated with either word), and most puzzling of all, intrusions into the sanctity of that superior intellect whereby coercion will identify and disclose a thought found eccentric enough and deviant from the norm to be declared heresy and thus justify destruction of the one holding it (an Afghan woman who renounces the burqa, for example).  Thus superior intellect has the propensity within itself to corrupt and destroy that by which it can be at once marvelous and at the same time lethal.  Whereas religious piety should stand at the core of man’s morality, more deaths throughout history can be attributed to religious extremism than for any other reason.

The concept of God varies widely among those of you who will read this, from a long and thorough intellectual conclusion of atheism by one friend to fundamental and absolute acceptance of the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures contained in the Christian Bible by another.  Both are beloved friends.  I am somewhere in between.

Contradictions, permutations and aberrations about God are so pervasive throughout the world, ad nauseum, that there is little recourse for the individual except to seek enlightenment within his or her own heart.  Life requires a commitment to yourself.  Don’t blame God for everything, and don’t ask God for everything except the God that dwells within.

I believe survival begat necessity; necessity begat trial; trial begat discovery; discovery begat habit; habit begat practice; practice begat custom; custom begat tradition begat religion; religion begat God.  But the answer does not end there.  We are some sort of creature on an evolutionary path just past the point of discovering the causes of thunder and lightning and headed hell-bent to the ends of the Universe, if indeed it has an end.  I instinctively believe that it does not and that it will perpetually unfold to much greater things than we can imagine now.

God is a search for understanding what we don’t understand, a search for comfort in a world of pain, a search for love in a world of rejection, a search for succor in a world of danger, a search for reassurance in a world of doubt, a search for light in a world of darkness, a plea for mercy in an unforgiving world.  The search for God expresses also a different kind of need, one that cries out in gratitude for the abundant, superfluous and indescribable beauty of the world that rises above crassness, folly, exploitation and evil.  God is the need to believe that someone or something far greater than anything we know or can understand is master of the universe.

And insofar as a belief in God causes us to heed our better selves and do better things, perhaps we will have found all the God we need.

Thursday, November 15, 2012



I resigned from CPB effective June 30, 1980.  It had got so I couldn’t stand the place and the Board any longer, and my last couple weeks were an agony of impatience wanting to get out of there.

It was next to my last week, and Cal Watson called me into his office.  “George, they’re having a CEN (Central Educational Network of 35 or 40 TV stations) meeting in Chicago on Friday, and I’d like you to stand in for me.”

“Oh, Jesus no, Cal, I want to get out of here.  It would be just my luck the damn airplane would go down.  No.”

“Now come on, George, CPB should have a presence there, and I’m just not able to make it.”

“Cal, I just don’t give a shit about CPB’s presence at this point.  I can’t think of any reason my presence would enhance anything they might be doing out there.”

Cal had been my friend for some years, and when the television department fell in his lap, he asked me to be his assistant.  We worked together wonderfully well for several years.  Then, due to the exigencies of the times, eventually, I became Cal’s boss.  Nothing changed in our relationship, and our respect for each other was the same no matter who was in charge.  I loved the guy, and he kept after me to go to Chicago, so, begrudgingly, I agreed to go.

I had planned to spend the weekend at my mountain cabin in West Virginia, and the closer it got to Friday, the more enticing that became.  It was never characteristic of me to welch on a deal, but, on my way home on Thursday, I gave into temptation and said to hell with CEN and Chicago and just drove the hundred miles straight to the mountains.  I had a wonderful relaxing weekend, albeit with a few pangs of guilt for not letting Cal know what I had done.

On Monday morning my office phone rang.  It was Cal.

“George, you sonofabitch!  You sonofabitch!”


“You sonofabitch!  You didn’t show up in Chicago!  That meeting was intended to give you the CEN Man of the Year award.  They had arranged a banquet and had a plaque made for you, and you crapped out on them.  You sonofabitch!”

Jack McBride was CEN chairman that year and sent me the plaque in the mail.  I could never bear to look at it. 

The only time I was ever a man of the year of anything in my life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I’ve heard people speculate about what it must have been like living in New York for days without power.  Well, now I know. 

My dear friend, author and filmmaker, Teri McLuhan, lives in a ten-apartment brownstone on East 19th Street in lower Manhattan which was without power for days.  I was quite worried about her and finally got an email from her.  This is her experience in her own words.

Dearest George,

So many thanks for your emails but especially for your loving concern. I have just returned from Vancouver where my movie was launched --- the West Coast premiere!!!
Yes, I was here in New York for the worst of it. 5 days and nights without ANY power (no cell, no internet, no heat, no hot water etc.etc.). Very cold. And pitch dark; really dark. I was the only person left in my bldg --- a small brownstone with 10 apt. units. Everyone got out as things got worse and worse. I'm on the very top --- 97 steps up no elevator!
I managed to get a flight out late Friday night, the 2nd, to make it in time for the Saturday Nov. 3rd screening event. A Budweiser truck got me to the airport (a fab story)! Buses and taxis were in very short supply --- especially in lower Manhattan where I live. This huge Bud truck dropped from the sky. In other words, it had no business being there!!!!!! Everything was shut tight.
So I will say that I am blessed; truly blessed. And --- I will be better prepared for the next round.
More soon.
Sending love,



There is courage, and then there is courage.

There is the instinctive courage that comes in a split second, the-no-time-to-think courage that throws itself on a live grenade to save lives.  For that they give you the Medal of Honor in exchange for your life.

There is the courage that races through enemy fire to bring back a wounded comrade.  Maybe there will be a Purple Heart in it for you, maybe a Silver Star, or if you’re lucky, your life.

There is the kind of courage that young B-17 pilots, kids mostly, had to have to go up day after day to bomb Nazi factories, flying through “flak so thick, you could walk on it,” with Me 109s and FW 190s coming out of the sun, like a swarm of deadly wasps, after their ass, after their life.

There is the courage of the young men flying those 109s and 190s whose job it was to destroy as many B-17s as they could, knowing that flying into a formation of eighty B-17s is also flying into eight hundred 50-caliber machine guns all seeking your airplane and your life. 

General Mackey Steinhoff said he was twenty-one when he escorted Nazi bombers in their runs over London.  Returning from those terrible raids, he would go to the back of his fighter where no one could see him and lean over the stabilizer “and puke my guts out."  But he went back up every day.

Admiral Bill Houser told me, when he commanded the USS Constellation off Viet Nam and got the radio reports that his planes were coming back, he would go up on the bridge and train his glasses on the horizon.  "From the bridge, you can see twenty miles at sea, and I would look for holes in the formations.  I would stand there with tears streaming down my face knowing from the empty spaces which of my young men I had sent up to die that day."  And he would have to send them back again and again, day after day.  There is that kind of quiet, lonesome courage.

There is the courage of a mother or father with a disabled child, for whom three meals a day must be prepared – a thousand this year and a thousand next, who, day after day, with no room for error and no time off, administers medications, cleans, dresses, lifts, transports, reads to and finds ways to brighten the life of someone unable to do the same for himself – day in and day out, year in and year out with a little sympathy to help now and then but never much more than that.  There are no medals for this kind of courage, not in this life.

Perhaps the greatest courage is that which comes softly and is held within.  It is the moral courage it takes to send men aloft or into peril.  It is the courage to take risk and responsibility for other lives.  It covers the long day’s journey helping the helpless without complaint.  It will speak the unpopular truth to anyone at any time. 

It is courage that prepares a man to stand tall in his final hour and accept himself for everything he is and everything he is not.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012



Faith is impossible to define, yet everyone knows what it is.  Faith is believing in something you can’t see, touch, hear or feel yet know is there.  What faith means to me is not quite the same as what it means to you.  What I feel will always be at least a little different from what you feel.

No one wants to be told what to believe.  It can’t be done anyway, although many will try.  Faith is an intensely private thing, the essence of which is personal and sublime.  It can carry the spirit soaring above the mundane.  It  can envelope debilitating stress in a healing calmness, bring solace and consolation in times of grief and can give sheltering succor when there is no other place to go.  It can inspire those who tremble in doubt and uncertainty to extremes of courage and dedication.

To me faith is more about what is felt than what is written, what I instinctively believe more than what is prescribed.


LAND THAT I LOVE                                                                                              

Almost from the day I could walk, I roamed the eastern woodlands and fished the mountain streams of this beloved land.  The feel and smell of treasures found therein are impressed indelibly and forever on my spirit and being. 

Here in spring is where the incredibly delicious morel rises peeking from under last fall’s matted leaves.  Here, trout are on the prowl and wait for me in tumbling, translucent blue-green April streams.  Yielding to the warmth of resurrecting sunlight, bluebells spread out in casual profusion along the riverbank.  Here is where May apples pop up in shaded glens like so many tiny palm trees with white waxen flowers and a delicious little fruit some say is poisonous, but I'm still here after eating them for many years. 

The well-named bloodroot, that bleeds as red as a cut artery, rare lady slippers (a species of orchid) trilliums, trout lilies, columbine, salvia and other secrets of streamside and deep woods await discovery in quiet seclusion.  Soon, daisies, black-eyed susans, violets, Johnny-jump-ups and tiny bluets will awaken to the sun and cover the land. 

Here, at day's end, the wood thrush sends forth its clear, sweet song from just inside the forest's edge.

In mid-fall, the first week of November holds magic of a different kind.  All the leaves are down and crunch underfoot with a fresh new pungency.  The weather, bracing for winter, is still mild.  Vacation people have closed and locked their summer homes and returned to urban indentures.  I am alone now with the permeating sweet smell of an oak fire blazing up, left in peace for another season and feeling the blessed richness of it. 

Once, as snow fell dense yet soft and light, I trudged the path to sit beneath the giant old white pine and meditate.  The air was bathed in quiet stillness, so much so, that every flake clung to whatever it fell upon.  Snow piled high and higher upon every stem and twig and upon me as well.  Except for falling snow, all movement stopped with every sound replaced by utter silence.  Afterwards, I traced the tracks of forest creatures that had passed nearby: deer, grouse, rabbit, quail, mice and little feet too tiny to identify.  Their stealth had been so profound that none disturbed the snow on so much as a single twig or blade of grass.    
And in the quietude of this pristine and gentle land that I share with other creatures of field and forest, I find restoration as if returned to a time when the land was surely as it must have been when yet without man.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Haiku for November 2012

Snow came down all night,
And from my morning window,
All the world had changed.

The mists are lifting;
The sun is slowly rising;
Deer have come to drink. .

Rain drips from the eaves;
Wet bricks glisten in the street.
The fire feels so good.

Life is never fair,
It is only reflective
Of what we make it.

Waves roll in to shore;
Each one follows another
To the end of time.

If there’s a heaven
Where do you think it begins?
And where does it end?