In Memory

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I have never lost a loved one on the field of battle.

I have never received a call, or a visit, from someone telling me that someone close to me was killed in action.

I have never had to face the overwhelming grief and pain such a message would surely bring.

Some of you, though, have, I’m sure. And my heart goes out to you.

You had to say goodbye to a parent, brother, sister, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, son, daughter or best friend long before you were ready, if one ever really is.

You knew this was a real possibility, one that you lived with every day he or she was gone. You knew you could get that terrible news, the news that would shatter your world, and suddenly leave a huge void in your life.

And yet, you stood right by him or her, steadfast in your support, believing because they believed.

This Memorial Day weekend, I’m not just thinking about all the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice throughout this nation’s history, as well as in our time, now.

I’m thinking of all the loved ones they left behind.

I’m thinking of you.

 

War is a polarizing subject. There are those defend it, those who protest it, believers and doubters.

But, this weekend, as we fire up the barbecue grills, or head for the lake, or whatever we have planned to celebrate an extra day off, may we all remember those who gave their lives in battle, whose courage was tested and proven in the crucible of war, whose graves will be marked with American flags in memory of their sacrifice.

And may we offer our heartfelt thanks to the families and friends that remain, carrying on with that same courage.

This grateful civilian salutes you all.

 

Fun at the Airport

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If you’ve traveled by air lately, you know the above title is an oxymoron.

One thing I grasped very quickly as a chauffeur was, airports pretty much aren’t fun. Many of you will discover, or rediscover that this weekend.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many stressed-out folks in one place, mostly trying to figure out where the blue blazes they were supposed to go. Where is check-in? Where is Gate ___? Where am I getting my luggage? Where’s my connecting flight? Where the devil is my chauffeur? (Not referring to me, of course.)

And where is a freakin’ Starbucks?

Surprisingly, though, I have had a few experiences at the airport that were, if not mildly amusing, downright hilarious. To wit:

People leave stuff at security checkpoints all the time: laptops, ID’s, wives, etc. Once, walking through the airport with a client I had just picked up, we heard a voice over the PA system announce: “Your attention, please, will the passenger who left a hammer at Security Checkpoint ___ please return to claim your item?”

My client and I looked at each other, incredulous. Did he just say a hammer??

Who would leave a hammer at a security checkpoint? Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor?

Furthermore, why would anyone travel with a hammer? The nuts available on the flight are already shelled, right? You don’t need the thing!

It would’ve been different if the guy had said,”Would the passenger who showed up hammered at Security Checkpoint…”

Oh, another time, I heard the PA announcer say, “Would the flight crew for ___ Airlines Flight___  please report to Gate ___? Your flight is ready.”

Seriously? The passengers are on board, the bags are loaded, everyone’s ready to go, and the flight crew isn’t there, yet??

Say, does anyone aboard here know how to fly a plane? I’ll man the snacks and the drinks. Have a nice flight.

 

I always dreaded when an arriving passenger had checked baggage to get. We would wait for that baggage long enough for me to grow a beard, most of the time. I swear, the baggage handlers must have rerouted it through New Zealand.

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And, of course, sometimes, it did get rerouted to a different Bag Claim than originally announced, so we would have a group scavenger hunt for it. Lots of fun. One time, I kid you not, we got sent from one bag claim to another, then back to the original one. I’m sure somebody got a laugh out of that, but it wasn’t the passengers, or me. We did get some good exercise, though, I guess. Not that I’m a fan of that; my idea of a good workout is getting up from the dinner table.

Anyway, I’m waiting with a client for his luggage, and a Baggage Service person comes over to our bag claim and starts telling everyone that their baggage can be picked up at another bag claim. Only, nobody can hear what he’s saying. So, standing next to him is another Baggage Service person, yelling everything the first guy is saying.

Absolute truth, folks.

If you’ve ever seen Chevy Chase and Garrett Morris on Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update”, doing the Top Stories for the Deaf, you appreciate just how hysterical a sight this was. My client had seen it, and we had a big laugh over it.

 

I’m walking through the airport one day, and I pass one of those little shops that has stuff like candy, books and magazines, toothpaste, hair products, snacks, drinks, what have you, and I notice they sell suitcases at this one.

Now, I know we all end up forgetting one thing or another when we travel; it’s practically inevitable. But, has anyone ever showed up at the airport and said, “Crap!! I left the suitcase at home! I’ve been walking around with my clothes and toiletries in my arms, and I just knew I was forgetting something! Thank God I can get one here!”

 

Many times, though, I got to see some great things. Lots of joyful, tearful reunions. Lots of children running excitedly into their mommies’ or daddies’ arms. Lots of barking, tail-wagging, face-licking dogs. Lots of endless hugging. Lots of laughing. Lots of crying. Air travel may not be fun, but the arrival can be so worth it.

 

One last funny story:

My friend, Gary, (who I hope doesn’t mind me telling this) was at the airport one day to pick up the 80’s rock group, Loverboy, in town for one of those ever popular Night of the Has-Beens concerts. Sounds innocent enough, right?

Okay, picture a middle-aged man, in a black suit and tie, standing alone in the middle of the airport, holding a sign that reads, LOVERBOY.

How suspicious would you be?

Bon voyage, everybody.

Sorry, Kids

I am not a parent.

I am, though, old enough to be one. A grandparent, even.

So, for a moment, I’d like to claim all the children of America as my own, and offer this message to them:

Kids, I’m so sorry. You certainly do not deserve this country you’re inheriting. Unfortunately, it’s what I’m passing on to you.

I’m passing on to you an environment that is only just beginning to get payback for all the abuse that’s been carelessly, shamelessly inflicted upon it by its human inhabitants. Payback that will continue, and get steadily more merciless and widespread. Because your planet is melting.

I’m passing on to you an economy made of straw, just waiting for some Big, Bad Wolf to blow it completely to smithereens. An economy with an ever widening chasm between the outrageously wealthy and everyone else, with greed and resentment both growing unabatedly.

I’m passing on to you a hopelessly dysfunctional government that cannot accomplish anything significant due to its exasperating, everlasting compulsion to sabotage itself, and struggles to produce even one single person worthy of being elected to lead it. Those who deem themselves worthy try to prove it, not through substance and character, but through rhetoric and demagoguery.

And, worst of all, I’m passing on to you a society in which manners, courtesy, civility, respect, compassion and unselfishness are all endangered species.

A society that cares more about its own entertainment than anything else; that can barely afford to look up from its smartphone for so much as a second; that can’t wait for the premiere of the next reality show, which will surely appeal to an even baser instinct than the last one.

A society that believes most everything it hears, with little time or use for such trivialities as facts and truth, which are treated even by the “news media” as amorphous, malleable objects, to be molded and shaped to fit personal agendas.

A society that unapologetically shovels more food into its collective belly, even as it’s surrounded by hungry, even starving people.

That increasingly views anyone of a race other than Caucasian as worthless, irresponsible, inferior, even evil.

That bombs abortion clinics and murders gays and transgendered people, all “in the name of God.”

I cannot tell you how deeply sorry I am, children. For all of it.

Obviously, I had no regard whatsoever for your well-being, or your future.

And I absolutely could not be more ashamed.

I don’t expect forgiveness; these atrocities I’ve committed against you are difficult, if not impossible, to forgive.

All I can do at this point is commit the remaining days of my life, however many there may be, to doing whatever I can to right this terrible, terrible wrong.

See, I long ago talked myself into believing my own individual actions would make no difference. The problems were just too overwhelmingly large and complex, and too many other people would continue to do nothing. I convinced myself I was powerless.

And maybe, I am. Maybe, my actions won’t make any difference. The problems haven’t gotten any smaller, or simpler. And still, there will be plenty of people who choose to do nothing, perhaps because they feel, like I have, that there is nothing they can do.

But, I really just need to quit using that as an excuse. There’s no time for that, anymore, and besides, it’s a lousy example to be setting.

You deserve better.

Good luck, kids. Good luck.

 

 

My 2nd Favorite Roommate

At the beginning, we were complete strangers.

Our first meeting was the weekend before the start of college. It was an orientation weekend for freshmen. Dad came with me to help move my things into my new home, a simple, nondescript room in one of the dormitories. Two desks, two closets, two extra-long twin beds, one sink, one window. I didn’t know a thing about my new roommate but his name and address, and a picture I saw of him in some mailout I got from the school.

He wasn’t in the room when Dad and I arrived, but it was evident he’d already been there and dropped off his things. We unpacked all my stuff, went downstairs and outside, and that’s where I found him. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. He was this tall, outgoing, basketball-playing dude from New Jersey. I was this incredibly handsome (liar), suave (liar), athletically gifted (pants on fire) genius. (pants in ashes, working on the shirt)

But we hit it off from the minute we met. As we stood there with our parents, discussing suitable window treatments for our dorm room, he offered the following helpful input:

“I think pink would be nice.” And we all laughed.

Bingo. This guy has a sense of humor, like me. We’re gonna be fine.

And we were. For the next four years.

Bob (e-Bob, Bob-o-lene, Bobcat, shish-ka-Bob), this one’s for you.

 

I gotta say, we had a blast living in the dorm the first two years of college. We became friends with all these other crazy guys on our floor: Scott, Brad, Fred, Mark, Bob (another Bob), Dick, Tony, Rob, Goat, Walter, and others whose names, unfortunately, time has erased from memory. We played cards, watched Saturday Night Live, ate together in the cafeteria, threw frisbees down the dorm hallway, even bowled a few times in that hallway. All kinds of fun stuff. We were “adults” now, but still, very much kids. And Bob and I were sort of the jesters of the group, supplying most of the funny lines, keeping everyone else laughing as often as we could.

We kept each other laughing, too. We were both brought up with basically the same beliefs and values, and we both grew up in funny families, so we found the same things humorous, more often then not. We constantly cracked each other up; we each had our own habits and rituals which, over time, the other knew well enough to imitate. We improvised our own lyrics to popular songs, making them much funnier. We each tried to prove to the other who could be sillier. I don’t know who won, but it was a fun competition.

One thing that eventually became funny, though it scared Bob a little at first, was when he could hear me talk in my sleep. Bob was a very dedicated student; I didn’t know anyone who hit the books harder at college than this guy. That meant he was often up late studying, while I was getting my (totally unsuccessful) beauty sleep. So, in those late hours, the silence of the room would be broken by my completely nonsensical, sleep-induced declarations, totally freaking out my roommate. He worried that I might be an alien from outer space. Sometimes, I would even have full conversations with him, having no memory of them the next day, when he would delightedly fill me in on what I missed. (“We gotta get rid of Diane…”)

Bob became my brother over the next four years. My own brothers are older than me, and I didn’t really grow up with them, because they were husbands and fathers by then. Bob was my age. (Well, actually, he is about a year older; just a reminder, dude.) We did things together. We trusted each other with personal details about ourselves. We got to know each others’ hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses, and we supported each other through tough times. We were there for each other, anytime.

Now, that doesn’t mean we always got along. There were a few times when I pissed the guy off; seems I’ve always had a knack for that. Fortunately, he would always forgive, and we moved on, a little closer from the experience. There’s no denying, we became the best of friends.

But, of course, at the end of those four great years, we went our separate ways, getting jobs, finding new “roommates”, and settling into the rest of our lives. We don’t stay in touch as often as we probably ought, and that’s not really anyone’s fault. That’s just what life does; it’s a play, evolving from one act to the next, with different scenes and characters, and the previous one just recedes into memory.

But, boy, I’ve got some great memories of the time I spent rooming with this guy. Whether it was destiny, divine intervention or just plain good luck that brought us together, I’m just so glad it happened. No question, I’d do it all again.

 

My favorite roommate is, of course, my wife. More on her another time.

Sorry, Bob. But, you’re the best runner-up I could ever have asked for.

I love you, brother.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ballad of Cullen McPherson

Here lies Cullen J. McPherson;
He was never a real person.
All he ever was, was just exactly what
Whoever he was with wanted him to be.
If you looked beneath the surface,
You would only find more surface,
But deep down at the core, you’d find nothing for
He was never really real.

He never knew what to believe in.
He never trusted his opinion.
So, like a leaf, he flew wherever the wind blew,
Never landing in the same exact place twice.
He shied away from conversation,
‘Cause it might lead to confrontation.
Instead, to keep the peace, he’d just nod and agree,
As he choked on his own pride.

He died the eighth of February,
I read in his obituary.
The funeral was nice, I heard; many spoke kind words.
“A good man,” they all said, “liked by one and all.”
But in the end, nobody knew him,
So, in a way, he kind of fooled them.
He lived his whole life in chameleon-like skin,
But his true color was none at all.

God rest Cullen J. McPherson.
He was never a real person.

One Thing Leads to Another

In my relatively brief career as a chauffeur, I was privileged to drive a fairly wide variety of clients: showbiz celebrities (or their spouses/partners/significant others), sports figures, war heroes, media executives, a couple of politicians (one of whom ran for President but got run over by the Trump clown car), one jerk of a sportscaster, medical professionals, and “regular folks”, who just wanted a nice evening out, or a nicer ride to/from the airport than a taxi or Uber.

The majority of my passengers, though, was made up of business professionals and executives. They usually came into town just for the day, to attend some important meeting, or to close some big deal, or for a business lunch, whatever. Their time was very valuable, and it was essential for me to pick them up at the airport on time, get them to their destination quickly, and get them back to the airport on time to catch their flight back home, or to their next destination.

Many of them were quite friendly; they wanted to carry on a conversation about topics such as what was new in town, local sports teams, the latest events in the news, etc. Others were much more businesslike, limiting their conversation with me to the obligatory courtesies: how are you, thank you for driving me, can I please adopt you and make you sole heir to my vast fortune, the usual stuff.

Then there were some that said nary a word to me, typically because they were on their phone the entire length of the trip. What was really fun was having more than one passenger in my car, and they were all on their phones simultaneously; it hurt my ears. That was understandable, though; business continues all the time, 24/7. It doesn’t pause to talk to the chauffeur. (By the way: how anything ever got done before the advent of smartphones baffles me.)

But, you know what eventually dawned on me?

There’s a lot of business going on!

 

I know that, right now, many of you just read that last statement and said, “Well, duh!”

And, yeah, it does seem like a ridiculously obvious statement, but honestly: do you realize all the deals and meetings and other machinations behind the daily conduct of business, unless you’re personally involved? I mean, I just heard a sample of that, and not that large a sample, either, and it was kind of overwhelming to realize how many things go on in a single business day that have such wide-ranging impact on all of us. Mergers and acquisitions, sales and investments, a few million dollars here, a few billion there, like so many chess pieces being moved around the board by all these Grandmasters.

Meanwhile, the rest of us just go through each day of our lives with little or no regard to how much of our economical well-being is determined by all the business going on in the course of that day.

And if I really wanted to get a headache, I could think about how interconnected all these business decisions are. How does one impact another which, in turn, impacts another, so on and so on, downstream? Does a business decision made in January affect one made in September? If someone didn’t do his homework in advance of a pending deal, and made an ill-informed choice as a result, how much could that modify the overall business landscape?

Well, that thought led me, subsequently, to this one. What actions do each of us take on any given day that end up having consequences reaching beyond our perceived small sphere of influence? How many of us have had our day ruined by a complete stranger who cuts us off in traffic, or gets our drive-thru order wrong, or tells us to go do something to ourselves, and not for the pleasure of it? Have any of us ever been that stranger?

And never mind us, folks; think about how far any decision made in Washington regarding economy, environment, foreign policy, et al. could ripple out like from a rock innocently thrown in the water.

Holy Crap! Kinda scary to think about, huh?

That is, unless we remind ourselves that this could be a positive, just as well as a negative. Perhaps we should all take a moment to think about how some good thing we do, or say, could alter someone else’s state of mind in a way that inspires good words or actions, and the chain reaction of positivity just snowballs from there, without stopping.

It’s certainly something I need to be more mindful of, being the chronically depressed pessimist I usually am. Venturing away from the negative end of the spectrum is a struggle for me, at times.

Still, I’m vain enough to think, and wishful enough to hope, this blog can fit in that formula somewhere.

The interesting thing is, this started out as a thesis on the complex web of business, then I kinda jumped off from there, and look where I ended up. Giving you my little Life Lesson for the day.

Shows what happens when I don’t shut up.

 

I Hope You Knew

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I had a terrific mother.

She took really good care of her baby boy. She cooked what I wanted to eat, even if it wasn’t what everyone else was having. She looked after me when I was sick, which was pretty often. (Of course, it helped that she was a registered nurse.) She took me to school in the morning and picked me up in the afternoon. She tucked me in my bed and kissed me good night. She held me when I cried.

She had a great sense of humor, which was essential for life with our family, ’cause Dad was a practical joker, and my brothers and I were all smart alecs. She loved to laugh, and did it often. And she had a smile that could only be measured in megawatts. Honestly. You could see the room brighten up when she smiled. (I submit the above photo as Exhibit A, B, C…)

She was a very warm, very giving person, always concerned about others’ welfare, and doing whatever she could to help. She saved a woman’s life once who was having a heart attack in church. She looked after my two oldest nieces one summer while their mom was in the hospital. Those are just two examples. She was so compassionate and caring.

She came to me one day when I was eight, and told me she’d signed me up for piano lessons. I remember my exact response as, “You what??”

I mean, come on! Eight-year-old boys don’t take piano lessons! Eight-year-old boys play ball, and other boy things!

But she saw something in me. She saw I had a knack for music, and she wanted to see me develop that. So she saw to it that I practiced regularly (which I hated!) and she came to all my recitals, and she envisioned me becoming a concert pianist one day. (That, of course, didn’t pan out, but that’s another story.)

But Mom loved me very much. She loved my two older brothers, too. Her boys meant so much to her.

I just wish she hadn’t died when I was sixteen.

 

It was a hospital screw-up.

She had gone in for back surgery. While she was in recovery afterward, someone had administered phenobarbital to her as a sedative. Problem was, no one bothered to check to see if she was allergic to phenobarbital.

Which she was. Highly.

Needless to say, that set off a chain reaction of calamities that ultimately led to heart failure and death. (I’m the same age now she was when she died; just realized that. Kind of a chilling thought.)

I didn’t even know about any of this until many years later. I was told not to come to the hospital that afternoon; just go next door and hang with my best friends until someone came home. I didn’t know anything had gone wrong at the hospital. All I knew that beautiful, starry January night was that my brother came home to tell me Mom was suddenly gone.

People started coming by that night to offer sympathy and support. Dad finally came home, slowly shuffling in with the longest face I’d ever seen on a person. He and I walked straight to Mom and Dad’s bedroom, knelt by the bed and prayed. I think I was basically numb through all those hours after I first received the news.

I couldn’t cry that night. I tried to, but only managed a few perfunctory tears. Maybe I was just too shocked. It probably still hadn’t hit me with full force what just happened.

Until the next day.

I went to school, and spent the whole day in some sort of fog; I was there, but not really. I came home and spent the afternoon with family, and later they went to the funeral home. I don’t recall why I didn’t go the same time as them, but I’ll never forget what happened later that evening. I walked tentatively into the room where Mom lied, my father and my brothers and their wives waiting for me. I started to sign in, like a guest, and one of my brothers gently told me, “That’s all right, little brother, you don’t need to sign in.”

I slowly approached the casket, where my sweet mother lay in peace. I looked down at her beautiful face, absent that megawatt smile.

And that’s when the floodgates opened. I just broke down crying, and kept it up the rest of the night.

It finally hit me. Mom was gone. Really gone.

 

She called me the morning of her surgery from the hospital before she went into surgery and I left for school. She told me to always be a good boy, and that she loved me.

That was the last time we spoke. Forty years ago.

And I didn’t tell her I loved her.

And the thing that has haunted me to this day is: I never told her. Not once. Not even in response to her saying she loved me. Not even that day. It never occurred to me that would be my last chance.

You know why I didn’t? This is so stupid. I was embarrassed.

It embarrasses me to tell someone, “I love you”, except for my wife. I don’t know why; maybe I feel like it puts the other person in an awkward position. Maybe I’m afraid there will be tears, which makes me feel awkward. Maybe I worry the other person won’t say it back.

But I let those excuses hold me back from saying what I should say more often, to more people. And it held me back from saying it to my mother.

And now, I don’t even have the chance. And believe me, I would give anything to be able to look her in the eye just once to say, “I love you, Mom”.

So, for Mothers’ Day, if your mom is still around, please tell her you love her, while you still can. Even if it embarrasses you. If she isn’t, then wrap yourself in the warm memory of the time she spent with you, and all the many ways she poured her love out for you.

And if you truly don’t love her, perhaps because you feel she’s never loved you, my heart goes out to you; that is a pain that I, luckily, never knew. I wish you comfort and, maybe, even resolution one day.

Happy Mothers’ Day, Mom. I Love You. I always have.

I hope you knew.

 

P.S. – To my wonderful stepmom: Happy Mothers’ Day to you, as well. I love you very much. I am so glad you came into our family’s life. You are one of the kindest, friendliest, happiest, most down-to-earth, most relentlessly optimistic people I’ve ever been lucky to know. Always know how special you are to me. Blessings on thee.

 

The Little Devils

There are two faces in my life that never, ever fail to make me smile:

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They came into my wife’s and my life eight years ago, when they were just itty-bitty kittens at the local animal shelter. We had been “petless” for a few years following the passing of our sweet dog, and when we finally decided to get another pet, my wife asked me if we could get a cat this time.

Sure, I said. I love cats and dogs, along with a few other animals. Animals are increasingly becoming much more favorable company to me than people. Draw your own conclusion from that.

Anyway, we started our cat search, which eventually led us to the shelter where these two sweet black kittens were. They were sisters. The lady at the shelter told us black cats were usually the last ones to get adopted; they were deemed not as pretty as other cats, people were superstitious, etc. We said, enthusiastically, “We love black cats!” We think they’re beautiful, and besides, my brother-in-law had one that was the coolest cat I’d ever known. (Here’s to you, Nicky; you were sumthin’ else.)

We hadn’t originally planned to get more than one, but these two were family, and so sweet together, so we decided we couldn’t break up the team; we had to have both of them. And so it came to pass that we took Lizzy and Izzy – the names we gave them – home that day.

We always ask ourselves now what we ever did before we had cats. They have added so much joy and hilarity to our lives.

(Incidentally, if someone else asks what we did before cats, my standard reply is, “Had nicer furniture.”)

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It’s amazing how animals can have distinct personalities, just like people. Izzy’s the happy-go-lucky, personable, attention-hungry, loudmouth chatterbox. I mean, she can go on and on and on!! She will not be denied when she wants something, usually lots of hands-on treatment. She’s hyper, too; about the only time she holds still is when she’s sleeping, which she loves to do under the covers, so she can stay toasty-warm.

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Lizzy is the more moody one. She’s as sweet as can be, but she doesn’t seek attention as much as Izzy. Really, she kinda goes through phases where she either wants no attention or a lot. You’re affectionate to her on her terms.

Also, she gets pissed at Izzy pretty regularly. These two are so jealous for Mom and Dad’s attention, and when Lizzy’s getting it, Izzy just can’t help being a pest and trying to get some, too. That’s when Lizzy hisses at her. Although, she has been known to hiss at Izzy for no other reason than just being in the same room as her. (Poor Izzy)

They have their similarities, though. They both love getting in boxes, large bags, (Lizzy especially loves those) and laundry baskets. Anytime we bring home something new, whether it’s for them or not, they have to investigate it right away; our little detectives. Even if we move a piece of furniture from one place to another, they’re inspecting it like something they’ve never seen before. They like lounging in any part of the house where the sun is shining in. (Got to maintain their tans, don’t ya know?) They like chasing each other through the house, at breakneck speed. They both like playing ball;  if you roll a ball to them, they’ll slap it away, like feline soccer pros.

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And they’re both really interested in what my wife and I are eating. We don’t feed it to them, but they certainly act willing to eat it. Lizzy’s interested in chips; Izzy has what my wife and I call “chocolate radar”, which reliably goes off anytime one of is having something chocolate.

They’re a great comedy duo. Sometimes, my wife and I will be watching TV, and we’ll quit and just watch these two instead, because they’re much more entertaining. (Of course, for a lot of TV, that’s not saying much, but I digress.) I tell them all the time that they’re a riot.

And they’re so graceful. They just jump up wherever they want and make it look absolutely effortless. We just watch in amazement.

Sure, sometimes they do something we wish they hadn’t – my wife has dubbed them The Little Devils for their mischievous antics – but we can’t really get mad at them, because they’re just so darned cute. One look at those sweet faces, and we’re just putty.

And they know it; I’m sure of it.

They’ve got us right where they want us. It’s their house; we just live in it. It’s like the saying goes, “Dogs have masters, cats have servants.”

But, trust me, we don’t mind a bit.