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 A TOAST. . .

I want to raise a toast this week, or a mock toast, as my stomach is not enjoying the presence of alcohol these days. So I hoist a glass of sparkling apple cider to:
        My old pal, Shirley, who just got her right knee replaced at the age of 81. After two separate heart valve replacement surgeries in the past five years, and beating various forms of cancer at least a half-dozen times in her life, she is a monument to courage, assertion of will, and healing. She is now up and around and her spirits brightening with each new step. That this legendary former Cedars-Sinai nurse happens to be among the most generous and kind human beings who have ever lived---no exaggeration---makes her success that much more of a joy.
          My old pal, Joe, who is back from the hospital after an infection and pancreatitis, Joe has multiple sclerosis, and is largely bedridden except for the days he scoots to breakfast in a motorized wheelchair. Yes, as he is wont to tell you, it’s a horrible disease. Yes, the fact that he has one of the largest personalities ever to be contained in human frame makes his illness all the more terrible. But he remains delightfully cantankerous, with spirits and smarts intact, and that is a joyful thing---if not for the world, certainly for mine.
          My old pal, Betty, who has overcome all manner of bizarre Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-like symptoms in recent years to---get this---found, organize, and operate a library in Wisconsin. This almost arcane achievement, in these increasingly illiterate e-mail/text lingo years, comes while she also balanced work as a music teacher with playing piccolo and flute in a venerable symphony orchestra. The most impressive of her triumphs? When muscle fatigue from a life of holding up a flute(!) threatened to end her career of 30-plus years, she tracked down a guy who designs ergonomic flute mouthpieces, and now plays the instrument like a clarinet. Voila.
          My old pal, Leslie, who after a long and successful run as a radio journalist, remade herself as an English teacher. Now this might sound like no great stunt, but you try going back to school and getting a graduate degree in your 50’s, and then try landing a job, and then try teaching a roomful of teenagers with cell phones and Blackberries. She pulled this off while raising twin daughters and doing public relations on the side. Not bad.
          My old pal, John, who found himself with two kids, a full-time job, a nearly completed masters thesis, and a heart-attack two years ago, followed by double-bypass surgery this past winter. John handled all with characteristic deadpan humor, practicality, and realism, and the doctors have pronounced him good as new. He is back on the job as a full-time reporter/editor for Associated Press, and as a full-time and very happy dad. As he is famous for saying, he is feeling “oh, pretty good.”
          My old pal, Jerry, who quit his career of about 40 years as lead singer of the great American a cappella group, The Persuasions, because he wanted to settle down and make some changes. First change was to get married to his longtime sweetheart, Julie Hurwitz, then to set about getting himself some new teeth, a new (and drastically lighter) physique, and a new career. Jerry now takes great pride in driving a bus for, cooking for, and generally caring for a large group of disabled adults in a facility in Phoenix, Arizona. He says he’s never been happier. And neither, perhaps, have his fans, because Jerry and Julie took out a second mortgage to finance the recording of a just-released new album---his first in five years---where he sings with the San Francisco-based a cappella group, Talk of the Town.
          My old pals, Ken and Phyllis, who somehow always take life and its travails with a smile and a laugh, come life-threatening illness, a fall in a shower, or crack-smoking neighbors. They volunteer as tutors for grade school kids, organize against rampant over-development in Santa Monica and L.A., and have heroically watched over a young girl growing up in less than favorable circumstances, providing her only real guidance, encouragement, and inspiration.
          My old pal, Dave L., whose book has almost singly fueled the movement to impeach Bush and Cheney, and who shows singular courage and patriotism in attempting to stand up for the best values of this country---and who lately has taken to traveling around, singing his own updated version of Country Joe McDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag.” Dave is absolutely everything---everything---that Ann Coulter is not.
          My old pal, Country Joe (okay, my old acquaintance), who in his mid-60’s travels about, bringing the best of the the 60’s with him. While managing to still write very wonderful and powerful songs, still sing them with a wonderful and powerful voice, and lead protests for sanity and civility. And perform a one-man tribute to the great Woody Guthrie.
          My old pal, Terry C., who battled back from a nasty case of breast cancer---a year’s worth of chemo and radiation horror---and is back to living with relentless zest and zeal as she raises her son, Sam, and switches gears from being a lawyer to becoming the artist she always wanted to be.
          My old pals, Sherm and Ann, who are absolute models of effervescence and bonhomie, well into their 8th or 9th decade. And that’s no easy trick when you’ve lost a husband, or you’re a lifelong music teacher who has lost his hearing. Still, the hearing loss has not prevented Sherm from telling really bad jokes.
          My old pal, Terry R., who is 92 years old and still vital as he works as good will ambassador for the ritzy Sports Club L.A.. Terry devoted his life to fitness, training stars including the great tenor, Mario Lanza, and still does a daily two (or is it three?)-hour workout, plus a “mental workout” in which he reads, writes, and paints (very lovely oils.) This in addition to taking care of his beautiful wife, Silvia, a longtime paraplegic. Current humanity does not deserve their like.
          My old pal, P.J., whose Irish eyes are still smiling despite the loss of a leg to diabetes and an ongoing battle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. P.J. should have edited a major newspaper, and probably would have had it not been for the fact that many editors correctly suspected that he was much smarter than they were. P.J.’s indomitable will, sharp intelligence, and good cheer have long been a bulwark in my frame of reference---and his!
          My old pal, Bernie, who has so far survived the Ritual Purging of the Newspaperpeople and continues helping to hold together one of the country’s major metropolitan dailies. Though not as major as it used to be. Those who sneeringly dismiss reporters and journalists as slanted or leftist or irresponsible would do well to spend a day watching Bernie in action. He’s been at it for over 30 years, bringing an accuracy, restraint, and dignity to the job. And a touch of humor. A vanishing breed.
          My old pal, Dave A., "The Sawdust Samurai," a man of great skills when it comes to fixing things, designing things, thinking things, and taking pictures that make ordinary stuff look wondrous. Dave A.'s ever-upbeat spirit and disarming, easy manner are a tribute to good natural brain chemistry, or sanity, or hard-won philosophy, or some combination thereof.
          My old pal, Jeff, who has devoted his life and prodigious faculties to further securing the history of music written by the likes of Chopin, Beethoven, Sibelius, Verdi. There are erudite scholars, and then there are down-to-earth, unpretentious, good people who happen to perform erudite scholarship, and Jeff is in the latter group. He is also part of a type that, in my experience, is all too rare in humanity: a loyal and devoted chum who can always be counted on, through thick and thin, and all measures between.
          My old e-mail pal Floyd, who “corked the bottle” a number of years ago and has since become a senior citizen weightlifting/bodybuilding champion. Floyd’s missives from his home at the edge of the Michigan woods are full of good sense about the sad state of the country, and poetic observations about how the simple beauties are the best. He has been a wonderful surrogate father to his grandson, and one fine friend to canines. As Floyd always closes his e-mails, “peace, brother.”
          My old pal, Gary, a steadfast gentleman of (sadly) old-fashioned virtues and values, who endures the viscissitudes of this vale of tears with valor and vim. And whose former English teacher self is now wincing at the preceding alliteration. Gary is a living exponent of the beauty of the ancient addage, "tend your garden," here applied literally and figuratively. A bad back and the grave illness of his beloved niece have not diminished his resolve, good will, or roses.
          My old pal, Scott W., the poet who came back from a devastating, freakish year-long bout with a complete inability to sleep. Idiot shrinks put him on various idiot drugs that did no good except to make him fall down and break his foot and spend three months convalescing in a ghastly home full of dying people, but he got through that and, for some reason, began sleeping like a baby again. He is back with customary aplomb and free-associative narratives, running cinematic commentary, and is working with admirable discipline to get his weight down.
          My old pal, Scott P., who has somehow beaten the system and kept his sense of humor and charity in the process. Scott leads a simple life, almost Zen-simple, and he’d have it no other way. Give this man a tuna sandwich for lunch, good books to read, and an occasional stimulant, and he’s far richer than Murdoch. A bad back turned out to be a good thing for this eternally affable companion.
          My old pal, Dave G. Haven't seen him in many years, but not a day goes by that he doesn't fill my in-box with something (usually pun-based) that gets me to do that awful e-mail-ese thing known as "LOL." Dave G. is one of the last real DJ's, in my book, still spinning discs that he likes, regardless of commercial interests, for a northern California radio station.
          My old pal, Paul, who worked with my dad at the old L.A. Daily News, and who loved that raucous, wonderful paper as no one else. Paul is nearly 90 now, and his remarkable memory is a living history of L.A. newspapering covering The News, the Mirror-News, and the L.A. Times. Paul is the keeper of memories most others forgot or didn’t care enough to recall, and he has found himself celebrating lost comrades more than perhaps anyone should. He remains spry, wry, working (still writing a column), and caring for his dear wife, Barbara, who is fighting a serious illness.
          My old pal, Jack, whose genetic program has never allowed him to knuckle under to any personal tragedy, divorce, custody dispute, career debacle---who is an almost supernatural example of adaptive behavior. A man who goes his own way on his own terms, and who, when the chips are down, still makes time to come through for a friend.
          My old pal, Annie, whose sense, patience, intelligence, calm, wit, charm, beauty, decency, fabulous laugh, forgiveness, and invaluable counsel enable me to keep on truckin'.
          My old, old pal, Kirk, who has been through the mill so many times that the mill fell apart, but keeps his impossibly warm smile intact, along with eyes as bemused as Vonnegut's. How it is that Kirk, and all these people, maintain the better parts of themselves through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is beyond me. It is a great mystery, and it goes to the very heart of the best stuff in humanity. Stuff that needs to be much more in evidence today than it is.
          And so I raise a glass here, to all those named (and many not named) who, scars and all, admirably and triumphantly live up to The Rip Post slogan, “Persevering Through Relentless Absurdity.”
          Here’s to you.
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