Tag Archives: fear

The Fiftieth

25 Feb



The Fiftieth

L. Stewart Marsden

Barton Chandler looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and was not pleased. He pulled the bags under his eyes down with his index fingers, widening the spider-veined eyeballs until he began to tear.

There was no doubt about it –– the old man staring back at him was nothing like the taut-skinned pimply face of the 18-year-old he once was fifty years ago. He wondered if any of his classmates would even recognize him, and was a little fearful they might.

Taking the bar of soap and wetting it, he worked up soft white suds, which he gently massaged onto his cheeks and forehead. It was Dove. His mother swore by it, telling him it hid a thousands faults that had lined her face. He hoped she was right. It smelled good, anyway.

Rinsing and toweling off, he began to comb his hair. In his effort to distract from numerous bald spots, he had let it grow. He had never done the “old man thing” –– that of growing out the hair on one side of his head and combing it over his pasty dome. He had seen many of his father’s friends do that. Or pull it forward from the back in a quasi-Italian mafia style. He cringed at the thought. No, he preferred what he called the George Carlin look, and let his now fine and brittle hair grow long, into which he rubbed a special holding cream that cost far too much. He then combed everything back and into the nub of a ponytail, which he held in place with a tiny black rubber band. With his trimmed snowy beard and mustache, he fancied he did indeed look like the comedian. It was his homage to Carlin.

This, he thought, was the best of two worlds. He wasn’t hiding his hair loss, and he was making connection with the 60s and the hippy movement when he had been a fringe member in college –– until his dad sat him down and read him the riot act.

“I don’t spend good money on your education so you can traipse around looking like a long-haired freak, pretending to hate everything I’ve worked and stand for! Get it together, or get off the family dole!”

So he got it together. His dad was right on the money. The fling with the protest movements and anti-establishment was more or less a facade. Deep down he no more wanted to live in a commune with drug-heads than any other person. And while he shook his fist in rallies protesting the war, he was more afraid of being shot or blown apart than upset with the ethics of American presence in Vietnam. Plus, he had become used to the fineries his social and economic status afforded him.

He continued to primp, taking a small electric nose hair clipper to each nostril, and carefully plucking long eyebrows gone amok. Then he examined his ears, where to his horror tufts had appeared in recent years in the canals, but worse –– single hairs from his earlobes.

This was the first night of three at Caulden Academy for Boys. It was the must-do anniversary. The Fiftieth. After his graduation in ‘68, Chandler had been sporadic in his attendances, hitting the one-year and the five-year events. The first gathering was special because he knew many of the students and faculty still at the school. It was his opportunity to strut about on campus as a College Man; to flaunt the fact he could smoke there with impunity, and drink sherry with a faculty member without fear of being expelled. His second gathering he had graduated college, and was in his first year as an underling in the Chandler Corporation –– his gateway to ancestral sameness. His classmates were like him, many starting career paths. Still others were toe-deep in their post-grad pursuits of the law or medicine or some other impressive occupation. Fewer attended that reunion, although none had died yet.

Until tonight, there had been a drought lasting years where he had been too busy, too far away, too fearful to make an appearance. He had kept abreast of classmates who were featured by graduation class in the school’s annual report. It was how he found out the first death in his class was due to suicide. Other news items storied a variety of impressive and ho-hum feats, from world travel to partnerships in medical practices or prestigious law firms to various honors and accolades.

Chandler never sent in news items to the school about himself. Asked by his starter wife (he had gone through two wives) why that was, he couldn’t answer.

“You’re embarrassed, that’s why,” she said dryly.

He fell off the map where Caulden and his classmates were concerned, despite the regular requests for money, or invitations to attend school soirées held in local communities. Even his best friends at school grew distant, and he was totally out of touch with guys who helped him endure the prep school and its idiosyncrasies.

Satisfied he had soaped, cut, rubbed and covered enough to look presentable, Chandler reached for the starched dress shirt hanging from a hook on the hotel bathroom door. As he buttoned, he practiced smiles and looks of glad surprise. “Oh, you haven’t changed a bit!” he said mentally.

He opted to button his monogrammed sleeve cuffs, and not to insert the gold cuff links he brought. He preferred the toned down look. Tie, or no tie? Should he go casual, like a jet-setter? He chose a tie. It was a good juxtaposition to his ponytail, he thought. Go with who you are, his dad had told him. This is who I am, he thought.

As he measured the tie around his neck for a Windsor knot, he remembered Timbo Matthews. Timbo had taught him how to tie it. Previous to that he had always used the sloppy overhand knot he had learned when he was a Boy Scout.

“You can’t use that knot!” Timbo critiqued, then showed Chandler the only knot permissible if you wanted to prove you had class. For the school prom, Timbo tried to show Chandler how to tie a bow tie, but Chandler opted for the clip-on instead. Less frustrating. At least he still used the Windsor after all these years. When his dad retired from the family corporation, he took to wearing bolo ties, much to Chandler’s disdain.

“I can wear whatever the hell I like!” his dad said.

Chandler registered with the school for the reunion at the first email alert he received from the Caulden School for Boys Director of Development. He signed up for all the events, and made sure his room was booked in the only hotel in nearby Statler. That was months ahead of time. He even promptly filled out a questionnaire about himself that was to be reproduced in a yearbook format –– only paperback because of the cost. It was the first time Chandler could remember being put on an honor list of any kind having to do with Caulden.

Still, as the weekend neared, he found himself weighing whether or not to go. The class of 100 graduates had been whittled down to eighty or so due to a variety of illnesses and tragedies . His roommate during his Fifth Form year had just died. He had to find out via the annual report. It hammered home how out-of-touch he really was. Which led to him thinking about his starter wife’s comment. Was he embarrassed? He thought at age sixty-eight of what could or should he be embarrassed? Perhaps the greatest thing any of his classmates could boast about was that they lived long enough to attend the fiftieth.

He knew that wasn’t true. But embarrassed of what? Mediocrity? He was surprised to see one of his classmates referred to as The Honorable Terrence DuPree. A judge, for chrissakes! One day Terry bounded into his room during his Fourth Form year and dived onto Chandler’s bed as if to make a watermelon splash. The only problem was Chandler’s classical guitar was on the bed at the time!

When he was a student, comparisons were of a lesser, albeit more evil sort. Things like intelligence, looks, physique, athletics. Chandler fell into the midrange of each. He was smart, but not brilliant; okay-looking, but a bit dorky; never six feet tall; and though he reached varsity levels in sports his Six Form year, he mostly rode the bench. In college his greatest success was Shot-A-Minute Champ at his fraternity, and driving around campus in the ‘63 Chevrolet Corvette his dad gave him. Nothing stellar. And the guy who sat on his guitar at Caulden became a friggin’ judge!

Those thoughts gave him reason to reconsider attending the reunion. His was a hand-me-down career. The right of primogeniture and nothing more. Even his derelict brother –– the one everybody knew would end up to no good –– had created a business from the ground up that was now listed on the DOW.

Chandler pulled on stylish socks, then his pants, and slipped into his shoes. One last glimpse into the mirror. Oh, and a splash of Bay Rum cologne.

His hotel room phone jingled.

“Hello?” he said.

“Bart! Where the hell are you? The van is here to take us to school, man! Get your butt down here!”

Chandler felt a twinge of nausea and thought quickly about saying he was coming down with something.

“Yeah. Thanks. I’ll be right down.”

Things That Go Bump in the Night

24 Aug

Things That Go Bump in the Night

By L. Stewart Marsden

Since a kid I’ve been susceptible to my imagination at night, seeing things or hearing things that weren’t there. The jacket hung on a door hangar, transformed into a ghoulish being by the dark tones of night. The darkest corner of the ceiling, harboring a shapeless “thing” that would suddenly jump out at me. Things skittering about on the periphery of my vision.

I saw “King Kong” down at the beach one summer, and was effected for life. Years later, “The Time Machine,” also at the beach, had me turning my back on the one window in my bedroom, assured that if/when I turned to look, I’d see the red eyes and white-haired blue bodies of the Morlocks staring in on me.

Karloff, Lugosi, Lon Chaney & son, Price, Christopher Lee were the men behind the monsters, and I loved them all. I devoured magazines on horror make-up, anxious to uncover the magic behind Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula and the Wolfman.

Like Cosby’s great schtick on the radio show, “Lights Out,” I loved being scared. Not horrified, mind you (the advent of Nightmare on Elm Street and other blood movies was not to my liking at all), but scared.

Everything was filmed in black and white, even though Technicolor was available.

Yeah. Scare me to death.

The night before I left for prep school I watched a horror film called “Blood of Dracula.” It was about a girls school where one of the faculty had somehow procured the blood of the vampire, and along with a magical pendant, could turn students into creatures of the night. I wondered if one of the faculty members – maybe the science teacher – was likewise preparing for us boys and I would meet my destiny with horror.

At prep school, I was quartered in an old wood frame dorm, House C. I shared one of the second-story rooms with my roommate who was from Savannah. The rooms were spacious. My window looked out onto the delivery court of the Walker Building, a combination dormitory, office, and dining hall structure of brick and antebellum design. Several floodlights illumined the delivery court – a large square with a loading dock along one side. It was the favorite haunt at night of dozens of feral cats, who gathered to fight over garbage and other night-time activities. When late evening fog would roll into the square, and the cats would begin to fight, screeching and growling, it was the perfect soup for my imagination.

After lights out, I would pull out a flashlight, bury myself under my bed sheets, and read from Bram Stoker’s classic horror tale, “Dracula.” The fog, the cats’ yowlings echoing  in the courtyard, were the perfect visual/aural background, and more than elicited my ripe and visceral imaginings.

As I grew older, I outlasted my childish fears. I revisit them for entertainment, as well as escape from the real and far more scary realities of this day – the things that really do go “bump” in the night.



We Need a Little Christmas Now

18 Nov


We Need a Little Christmas Now

By L. Stewart Marsden


This year the Christmas innuendo began sometime in August, I think. It gets pushed back earlier and earlier as the merchandisers claw to the forefront of the buying public’s awareness.

You might be like me, and normally turn your nose in disgust at such blatant commercialism.

Now, however, I’m not so sure we don’t really need Christmas — at least the schmaltzy aspects of it — in the wake of the last few months. Pretty sure I don’t have to explain that last sentence.

Not because of the diversion the season offers, because, quite frankly, it also ushers in a host of contrary emotions and pressures — like having to meet the expectations of everyone by maxing out credit cards.

No. Not that. I still cringe at that one. I can imagine Harry Potter’s cousin at Christmastide, ravaging through boxes and wrapping paper, and asking his mum and dad, “There’s only 23 presents this year (you fill in the number)! Last year I got 28!” But, I’m sure none of your children count or shake their presents under the tree.

I know a guy who was a leader in one of the Boy Scout troops of which I was a member. Later — much later — Cliff became Santa on a full-time basis. Santa Cliff. I’ve kind of thought it was a bit eccentric, red and green not being in the spectrum of my favorite colors. I’m a purplish kind of guy. Christmas 365 days a year? And 366 this year? Over the top?

Knowing that the right jolly old elf had his genesis in some truth, it was still difficult when, as a parent, my older children started winking at me when talking to their younger siblings about Claus. I didn’t have to break their hearts. They found out!

Still, the magic of the season — however dim — still remains.

Christmas — a hybrid holiday of the story of Christ, melding cultish other ingredients — has its other religious and not-so-religious counterparts, much to the delight of those merchandisers.

But the underlying mood is what I’m getting at. Giving. Peace. An excusable time of the year to be nice to your sister. To your neighbor. To strangers on the street as you pass, offering a “Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza or Happy Hannukah — or merely Hankunamatatah!”

Fear not, for I bring you …

So this Christmastide, I hope I’ll not be so Grinchy. I’ll savor a glass of cheer with loved ones and friends and truly hope that humankind will be less tense, and more hopeful. More willing to give and serve. More diligent in seeking ways to lessen the spite and meanness we’ve seen, experienced, and perhaps participated in.

Looking back this year there are terrible things in the rearview mirror. With a broken heart, I say we need a little Christmas … now.

So to all I say, “Merry Christmas!” And, God bless us, every one!

My Facebook post for November 17, 2016

17 Nov



So, basically, nothing has changed. A different set of people are worried and frightened; a different set of people are the targeted bad guys; a different set of people can do no right (no pun); a different set of people are scrounging through the internet trash bins for “proof” of their particular biases; a different set of people … yadda, yadda, yadda.

The die is caste and …

We’re still going to hell in a handbasket.

The apocalypse is upon us.

The media is lining up to vivisect everything and everyone.

It’s Trump’s fault.

It’s Hillary’s fault.

It’s Barack’s fault.

It’s the fault of the DNC.

It’s the fault of the RNC.

It’s the fault of the Libertarians.

It’s the fault of the vote-wasters.

It’s the fault of those who didn’t show up at the polls.

It’s the fault of those who DID show up, but weren’t supposed to.

It’s the fault of the privileged.

It’s the fault of global warming.

It’s the fault of legalized marijuana.

It’s the fault of crack/cocaine.

It’s the fault of binging on Netflix.

It’s the fault of road rage.

It’s the fault of carbon imprints.

It’s the fault of solar power.

It’s Al Gore’s fault.

It’s George Bush’s fault.

It’s Putin’s fault.

It’s SNL’s fault.

It’s Wall Street’s fault.

It’s the fault of immigration policy.

It’s the fault of NAFTA.

It’s the fault of Conservative Christians.

It’s the fault of Liberal Christians.

It’s the fault of the Liberal Media.

It’s the fault of Fox News.

It’s the fault of whiney losers.

It’s the fault of the Basket of Deplorables.

It’s the fault of a constipated Congress.

It’s the fault of the Electoral College.

It’s the fault of lax gun control.

It’s the fault of threats on the 2nd Amendment.

It’s the fault of Roe v. Wade.

It’s the fault of attacks on Planned Parenthood.

It’s the fault of Vegans.

It’s the fault of McDonalds.

It’s the San Andreas’ fault.

It’s the fault of ____________________. (Fill in the blank)

So here’s a thought.

Print this out and fill in your own reasons for why our nation is caught up in this eddy of no return.

Put the printout on a fire-safe base in front of where you live at midnight tonight. (Be sure you have a bucket of water close by.)

Strike a match and burn the paper of faults.

From space, a sea of lights should be detectable by long-range satellite cameras, and that sea will slowly spread from the mountains, to the prairies, to the seashores, white with foam.

It will be like the recent Super Moon. Only it will be the Super Light of America symbolically destroying all of our excuses, and in the resulting ashes, perhaps we can then stand up and turn to each other and extend an open hand to greet one another.

Hi, my name is Skip. I’m part of the problem.

“Hi, Skip!” return humbled Americans.

Then we form a HUGE circle around the world, and we sing,

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Or, for others so inclined, “We are ONE in the spirit …”

Or, “We are the world …”

Or, “We are the champions …”

Or, the theme from “I Dream of Jeanie.”

ALL of us are better than this. ALL of us are needed to form a more slightly imperfect Union. Well, the word slightly is probably an understatement, regardless of your perspective.

Share if you agree.

I know EXACTLY WHO OF YOU is NOT going to do this, and IF YOU DON’T SOMETHING HORRIBLE AND UNIMAGINABLE IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU!!! On the other hand, if you do, all your wildest dreams will come true!




On the Savannah

16 Nov


On the Savannah

By L. Stewart Marsden

On the Savannah
Death stalks and waits
In every field of grass
Under each watering hole
For the unwary
Or the weak
Or those left behind;

The kind of strife that daily
Rises in the east and never sets;

Jaws and teeth led by smell and struggle and blood

Yet amply gives and hides in such a way
That prey pray for another day
To continue
And thrive
On the Savannah.

On Fear

6 Oct

On Fear


Much-Afraid, don’t ever allow yourself to begin trying to picture what it will be like. Believe me, when you get to the place which you dread you will find that they are as different as possible from what you have imagined, just as was the case when you were actually ascending the precipice. I must warn you that I see your enemies lurking among the trees ahead, and if you ever let Craven Fear begin painting a picture on the screen of your imagination, you will walk with fear and trembling and agony, where no fear is.

— Hannah Hurnard, “Hinds’ Feet on High Places”

Today I thought of how my family, friends and many I see posting on Facebook are churning in a vicious vortex of fear and hate over the outcome of one day in November. We have become uncivil, and toss rancour and harmful epithets as though they were magic potions in order to change the minds of those we accost. We are unhearing and uncaring.

Fear is a combustible element that can continue to rage, if unchecked, until everything in its path is charred to the nub. Even if our most hated enemy arises and commands for a time, the whisper of everything holy and whole is this:

Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.*

In this scenario with this as an understanding, does your or my opinion really make any difference?

Reverse the time machine effect — the one that says Be Careful if you go back in time not to change anything that will make a difference in the future present. IF such inconsequential action can result in such monumental change, then you and I have no control in and of reality. That’s not a position of passivity nor of denial — it reaches to our basic fears of truly having no control, and going forward in spite of that.

Whether Trump or Clinton or even Johnson grabs the helm of this ship of ours, we will nonetheless continue on. It will not be the end of things. Can you rest in that? Can we please turn away from the use of fear and/or hate?

*While this is a Christian maxim, its broader reach applies to everyone.

On the precipice once again

6 Feb

 EPSON MFP image

On the precipice once again

By L. Stewart Marsden


Years ago a pastor, friend, and mentor shared a parable during a church service on a farm in rural North Carolina.

He has passed on to better grounds long ago, but his metaphor still lingers, and is resurrected at special times in my life.

Now is such a time. While my words, which dare to remember, the heart of the message is the same.

Imagine you climb the ladder on a 10 meter diving platform. You are blindfolded. Each step and thrust brings you closer to the top of the tower. While you cannot see it, you can see it vividly in your mind’s eye. You have been there before. Many times.

You reach the top of the platform and grab the side rails. You carefully make your way out to the edge of the concrete platform, and curl your toes over the front edge.

Ten meters.

Every other time you have performed a dive you have not been blindfolded. You could look around and see the spectators, or empty bleachers, to the left and right. You could hear the soft spray of water across the water’s surface to even the surface. You could see the water below, and knew when you performed your jump, in fractions of seconds your hands would hit and divide the water’s surface, and you would pierce the pool with your body.

It was rote.

It was something to which you were accustomed.

This time, however, you are blindfolded, and see nothing. It is by the feel of your toes and feet and hands you ascend the cold stainless steel ladder.

You know the step count from hundreds of previous climbs. But this time, your mind is muddled, and you cannot remember the number of steps, and it seems your very first time.

On the edge of the platform, a soft buffeting of air pats your chest.

You listen carefully for the sound of the spray of water down below, but your heart pounds so loudly in your ears it is discernible.

You realize the pool might — in fact — be empty, and what awaits you is the hard reality of concrete as you hit it from ten meters up.

Ten meters. 32.81 feet. About the length of a three-story building.

You see nothing.

“Jump!” you hear someone shout, the word echoing throughout the empty arena.

“Jump!” you feel your heart urging, realizing the words, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

It is a fearful moment.

Yet there have been many times in life prior to this particular standing on the precipice. You have jumped many times. Sometimes the results have been good. Sometimes not.

What are the odds there is no water in the pool below as you stand on the edge of the 10-meter platform yet once again?

When I was a child, I would climb the ladder to the high diving board, and people would warn me, “You know, you can’t go back once you go up!”

Life guards with zinc-covered noses and dark sunglasses and deep summer tans.

A springboard lacks the solid feeling of a platform. There I was, lost in swim trunks too large, bouncing at the end of the oscillating diving board, my arms over my head, looking down at the water which may as well have been a mile down — like the Colorado River from the edge of the Grand Canyon.

And I would jump. Feet first. And plunge into the water, and dog-paddle my way to the surface for a much-needed gasp of air. I had done it!

Blindfolded. On the edge of the 10-meter platform. Unsure whether there would be water or concrete to break my fall. And my fall would be head first.

“Jump!” the voice taunted.

That is the essence of faith,” my pastor, friend and mentor explained. “You jump, without any guarantees.”


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 6 February, 2016


Charleston, SC

21 Jun

Charleston, SC

By L. Stewart Marsden

The Old Slave Mart Museum of Charleston, SC, is located on Chalmers Street, about eleven blocks south of Calhoun Street, where Mother Emanuel AME Church stands.

Historians cite close to forty percent of the slave trade from Africa to the thirteen colonies came through Charleston.

According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in an article published by PBS.org

100facts_slaveslanded_lgThe most comprehensive analysis of shipping records over the course of the slave trade is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by professors David Eltis and David Richardson. (While the editors are careful to say that all of their figures are estimates, I believe that they are the best estimates that we have, the proverbial “gold standard” in the field of the study of the slave trade.) Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.


And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. That’s right: a tiny percentage.


outsidemarket-287x300Between the years 1525 and 1808, when foreign slave trading was outlawed in Charleston [http://oldslavemartmuseum.com/charleston-slavery/], one can extrapolate that close to 135,000 Africans, primarily from the west coast of the continent, found themselves on the auction stage to be sold into slavery.

Interesting that Gates, a black man, uses the term only about 388,000.

More about 21-year-old Dylann Roof is slowly rising to the surface of the media blitz. And, when his profile is compared to those of other 21-year-old males, he is clearly an outlier. His opinions, biases, and compulsion to do harm are not those of the vast majority. As he might have wished himself to become somewhere in his skewed perception of the world, he is the exception to the rule.

Roof and his ilk are out there, embedded throughout our nation. We could categorize him in a Venn diagram with Islamic radicals, Christian radicals, and political radicals. He would share space with the likes of Timothy McVeigh, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Eric Rudolph and James Holmes. He would be elbow-to-elbow with proponents of al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban. He would share his space with the KKK, Nazi Germany, and a host of infamous groups.

FDR said during his tenure as POTUS, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

As a white man who grew up in the south during the 50’s and 60’s, I have seen a lot of change. Hailing from Minnesota, my dad often said he wasn’t prejudiced against black. “We didn’t have any in Minnesota,” he would allege. Hence his innocence. But along the way by his side, I heard enough to know otherwise.

I was a Republican and rooted for the Republicans because my parents were Republicans. As a kid, it would be like growing up in a household of Mets fans, ergo you were a Met fan.

So was I also biased due to my parents’ attitudes towards blacks?

Mom hired black maids to help keep the house, do the laundry, cook the meals and look after the children so that she could be a part of the Garden Club and the other socialite groups in our southern town. The importance of that was more so because she was a Yankee by birth. Dad’s and her financial success mitigated that fact somewhat.

Mom learned to count the silverware because “it goes missing.” The terms “shiftless,” “non-trustworthy,” and a host of other stereotypes passed to her mindset due to friends’ and neighbors’ input.

When I think about that now, I wonder she could trust her children to be reared by these shiftless, non-trustworthy sorts. Seems a bit counter-intuitive looking back.

Virgie Mae Brown with my brother.

Virgie Mae Brown with my brother.

Virgie Mae Brown was my and my brother’s surrogate mother. She reminded me of the Aunt Jemima illustration — a large, round and brown woman with thick kinky hair. Her bosom was the heart of consolation when needed. Her homespun remedies were as effective as any store-bought medicine (try slicing a potato and wrapping it in a damp cloth and putting it on a feverish brow).

There was a distinct difference between Virgie Mae and my mom. I could talk trash to Virgie Mae and get away with it. I fired her on many occasions, though the firings never stuck.

There was a hierarchy.

Schools I attended were lily-white until junior high. There was no busing. The city was laid out in stereotypical quadrants, with the two quadrants below the railroad tracks occupied by the less-fortunate (as they were politely referred to) and the blacks.

Water fountains were segregated, as were the bathrooms.

Signs declaring “Whites Only” didn’t exist to my memory. It was implied that if a store was on Main Street or other street frequented by whites, “coloreds” were not allowed.

The Paramount Theater had a side entrance for blacks, and those moviegoers climbed steps to a small second balcony. They were monitored for disrupting noise.

I was in the ninth grade before I played basketball with a black student. He was the lone black person on the team. He dressed and showered with us, and traveled to away games on the same bus as we did. Our coach, who we called “Stumpy J,” must have stuck his neck out pretty far to let the guy on the team. The student didn’t start. We were an all-white starting five.

As I grew older, the derogatory words, comments and jokes began to pry into my world. I won’t repeat them here.

Then Little Rock.

And Malcolm X.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Malcolm X’s assassination.

The assassination of JFK.

King’s assassination.

RFK’s assassination.

George Wallace.

Televised marches and police responses.

The Freedom Riders.

The KKK.

Greensboro sit-in.


Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.

And more.

A vortex that sucked all I knew at the time and spun it so fast and hard it was like having your bell rung in a boxing ring.

Then gradual change.

The first black mayor of Atlanta.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” types of films.

Busing and integration of schools at all grade levels.

Affirmative action.

More blacks elected to local, state and national positions.

Black studies at the college level in what were predominantly white schools.

Professional sports cracked open to receive black athletes.

Black personalities coming to the forefront in a variety of areas.






Was no progress realized? Have no changes occurred? Are we, as some suggest, going back to Jim Crow days?

Are white Americans, who will not soon, if not already, become less in overall numbers than “people of color,” digging in and refusing the tide of change?

Is there a tide?

All I know is things are different for me. Perhaps not as much as I’d like. I still live a rather secluded life as a white person. I know the advantages I have today largely have to do with the fact I was born white and to white parents.

I feel the stigma of my whiteness when a black instructor or FB “friend” states, “You are racist,” as though it automatically comes with my pigmentation. Perhaps I am. But I’m also addicted to cigarettes, and I haven’t smoked one since the late 1980’s.

I feel the helplessness of the repeating news stories of blacks seemingly accosted by both white and black law enforcement because of their color and where they live.

It is difficult not to agree with a pervading attitude that we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg.

I don’t know what the solutions are. I only know that calmer heads need to prevail for meaningful dialogue and change to occur.

Wow! More change needed. We still fear one another. Thought that one got checked off years ago.

Then Charleston.

We were wrong. The struggle is not over. We might have seen the mountain, but we are far from conquering its summit.

Notice, I said “we.”

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 21 June, 2015


17 Jun



By L. Stewart Marsden


My nephew and his daughter encounter an unexpected swimming mate. Actually, it's Photoshopped.

My nephew and his daughter encounter an unexpected swimming mate. Actually, it’s Photoshopped.





There’s shark activity off the NC coast this week. My family and I are about ten days from driving down to the feeding grounds for two weeks’ of sun ‘n sand ‘n shark bites.

One hapless swimmer was nipped at a beach to the south of where we’re staying. Her boogie board has two very nice impressions gouged out of either side of the Styrofoam carcass. The kind dentists use to make a dental impression. Say ahhhh!

Two others, a boy and a girl, lost portions or all of an arm at the next beach up. In the surf. In the afternoon. Not far from the beach’s pier where fishers have been chumming the waters around the stilted wooden structure. Both were left arm injuries. Apparently liberal sharks.

They were tiger sharks — or bull sharks, say the experts.

According to one website, you are more likely to die from bee, wasp or other insect stings than at the jaws of a shark. Actually, twenty more times likely to die from a cow bite.

Doesn’t take the attention off that meeting of land and sea, though. I’m sure the victims could care less about the remote chances of being bitten by a shark.

My youngest daughter says all sharks need to be killed. Yeah — that’s the spirit … kill the bad beasties.

Meanwhile I’m following Katharine and half a dozen other tagged sharks who meander up and down the east coast. Ba-bum … ba-bum … But it’s not the tagged sharks that cause the heartbeat to flutter.

The shark killed by humans ratio to human’s killed by sharks is something like a million to one each YEAR! I’ll bet the sharks don’t like those odds one bit. American Pharoah stood worse odds of losing the Triple Crown than sharks have of surviving the slaughter of their species.

Imagine what the shark newspapers are saying? What the headlines are … Keep Your Dorsals, Avoid Japan! And any other country’s waters where men worship shark parts over Viagra.

You know who’s fault this is, right?

Peter Benchley.

He’s not around to kick, though. And actually, Benchley became an advocate of shark protection before he died.

Spielburg runs a close second. And he is still around.

Then there’s Shark Week as well as the Sharknado film series.

Oh, god — if we can’t get hysterical over something …

Thank god for Donald Trump and comic relief.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 17 June, 2015

The incident

17 May




The incident

by L. Stewart Marsden


How do you feel?


They have you on some pain meds. You had stitches in your head and quite a few on your arm.

Cuts. At least I didn’t break my damn hip. ‘Cause then I’d know I was gonna die.

You’re not gonna die from this. The doctor said she wants to run a battery of tests.

They always want to do that. Assault and battery is what I call it.

It’s for your own good.

Says who? The doctor? She’s just trying to screw the system with her tests.

I really don’t think that’s the case.

Trust me. This whole medicare thing is another way to line the pockets of doctors and lawyers.


Well, doctors.

Speaking of lawyers . . . the guy you hit has got one, I hear.

Screw them, too!

Calm down, your heart monitor’s beginning to look like a roller coaster.

It’s supposed to look like that — otherwise, I’m dead.

Oh. So tell me. What happened?

It was an accident.

Yes I know. What happened that got you into the accident?

How the hell should I know — it happened so fast! And the guy jumped out of nowhere, by the way!

But what were you doing up on that side of town?

I got turned around. I don’t know. I went to Publix. Hadda few things to get and I got ’em. So I’m pulling out of the parking lot onto the big drag.


I don’t know. I turned right instead of left. The traffic was so heavy, and it was easier not to turn against it. I guess I figured I’d go around the block to catch a light. I dunno. I just never went around the block.

How did you feel?

Whaddaya mean, how did I feel? I felt fine! I guess. I was thinking of another time . . .

Your wife?

No. There was a time I got lost.

As a kid?

Not as a kid. As me. An adult. I got lost on my way home from work. Jeesh! I bet I’d driven that same route to work and back for thirty-five years or more. And I got lost.

When did that happen?

A year ago. It happened a year ago. In October.

Not quite a year.

Who’s counting? Anyway, I was thinking about that time.

Weren’t you retired then?


Why were you coming home from work, then?

I dunno. I was out driving. And I went past the office. What’s the big deal? So I was on my way back home.

What happened?

I just told you! I got lost! And . . .

And what?

I guess I freaked out.


I don’t know . . . I got scared! It was growing dark and nothing looked familiar to me. After all those years, and nothing looked the same any more.

How did that end?

Like today. I ended up in the hospital.

Were you hurt?

No. I was scared, like I said. I pulled over and put my flashers on. A state trooper came along, and he ended up calling for an ambulance. It was a lotta hype over nothing. I was fine.

Did you stay in the hospital?

Overnight is all. And, they ran tests, too. I tell you, you even drive by a hospital these days and they run tests.

What were the results?

I went home.

Of the tests?

See? That’s the thing. The doctors were kind of mumbo-jumbo with me. I think they told my daughter more than me. She said I was upset over my wife.

Over your wife?

Yeah. She had just died. Cancer.

I’m sorry.

Why should you be sorry? You didn’t know her.

I know you.

Yeah. It was a tough time for me. But I was handling it.

So she would have died a little more than a year ago, then?

In September. When the leaves were just starting to turn. When we would head up to the mountains and stay until the really cold weather set in.

Was she . . .

Hospice. She had been in hospice for about a month. I have a picture of her — one of the last ones I took — at the beginning of the summer. She looked pretty good then.

I’d love to see it.

I sent it to my daughter.

Oh, speaking of your daughter . . .


She called.

She called you? How the hell did she know to call you?

The office administrator called her. The police had reported to The Glens that you were in the accident and in the ER. The gal knew about you and me, and called me. That’s how I found out where you were. I was so worried!

Yeah? You were worried?

Yeah. I was worried. Anywho, they gave your daughter my number and she called after she called the hospital. She’s nice.

She can also be a pain in the ass.

I wouldn’t know about that. She was nice to me over the phone, and told me she would be down as soon as she can catch a flight.

Oh, jeesh! More drama! She probably wants to know how long I have left, is all.

Why do you say a thing like that?

Because it’s true! Alla my kids are sitting by the phone, waiting for the damn thing to ring out the news that I’ve died.

I don’t think . . .

You don’t know! Since their mom died, it’s just me separating them from all that money!

All that money?

Okay — maybe not a huge amount.

And don’t you live off that?

That’s the point! I’m a drain on their inheritance! Every day my heart continues to beat, that pile of cash flows out the hole — like an hourglass! Exactly like that!

She sounded very concerned about you on the phone. Why would she rush down here if she didn’t care? I told her you were fine and there was nothing to worry about.

Did you tell her about the guy I hit? I bet she was all upset about that!

We didn’t talk about that. And she was concerned about how you are.

And did she mention the other time?

Last October? She didn’t say a thing about it.

They think I’m losing it. You know, the A- word.



Oh. Well, we are the right age.

Not for the bad kind.

There’s a good kind of Alzheimer’s?

You know — what they call chronic. Comes on earlier — and works on you faster. You vacate quicker.

I didn’t know that.

That’s ’cause you don’t read. If you read more, you’d know a lot about these things.

And I’d have my head full of them and worry about everything.

I don’t worry about everything! Just the important things.

That’s why you take all those pills, I bet — ’cause you only worry about the important things.

See? I’m supplementing all the things my body doesn’t make for me anymore.

And how many are prescribed by a doctor?

Well . . . one.

And how many of those pills you take does the doctor know about?


My point. If you don’t gag to death first, all those other chemicals in your body are going to blow up!

What you don’t know.

What I don’t know might kill me — right! But at our age? Who gives a flying fart? Look, they’re gonna keep you over one more night, and I’ll come get you. You can stay with me until your daughter gets here. She said she’s going to stay a week until she knows you are safe.

A week? Jeesh! What the hell did I do to deserve all this?

Well, apparently you got lost again and hit someone. And for the second time, already.

I didn’t hit anyone the first time.

Thank God for small miracles.

I’ve got to go and clean up your place for your daughter.

It’s not messy. And it’s only my daughter.

It’s not messy to you — a guy. To me? It’s messy. And she is a daughter who loves you. All that other stuff you think is crap. So, they tell me tomorrow around ten. Hey — we could catch ball game!

Spring training is over. It’s the playoffs and the World Series is coming up.

Whatever. So, let’s catch a World Series game, then.

You know nothing about baseball. Absolutely nothing. You can’t get tickets now!

I don’t know. Ever been to a World Series game?


I’ll work on it, then. I gotta go. You rest and don’t get so upset with the doctors. They’re all trying to help.

Help themselves. Hey . . .


Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Yeah. You’re welcome. See ya tomorrow.


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 17 May, 2014