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Cranky Cuss

Cranky Cuss
Ossining, New York, United States
February 28
I am the author of "Send In the Clown Car: The Road to the White House 2012," currently available on Amazon and CreateSpace. I'm currently semi-retired after 23 years in a corporate environment. My motto: The conventional wisdom has too much convention, not enough wisdom. Corollary: Even Einstein was wrong sometimes, and you're not Einstein.


Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 10, 2012 5:42PM

My Two Memoirs

Rate: 39 Flag

They say that you never regret the things that you do, only the things that you don’t do. I don’t believe that’s 100% true – I’ve done a couple of ghastly things I desperately wish to erase from my memory bank – but when I’m melancholy, which is too often for my own good, I dwell on opportunities – adventuresome, romantic, financial, professional – that I have let pass out of fear and uncertainty.

Which explains why my mind has created two memoirs: the fictional one where I followed the road less traveled, and the truthful one where I drove the straight, wide avenue with safety barriers and few bends in the road.

Lately I’ve been thinking about Mariam. No, she was not some great lost love or a woman that I wronged. Rather, her story is a bypassed opportunity, though one of my less egregious and more understandable ones, wrapped in a mystery that I’ll never solve. The story is an example of why waiting for all the stars to align may mean waiting for a day that never arrives.

During the summer of 1976, I spent a month in Europe. The trip was my first true adventure. My best friend had moved to Uppsala, Sweden while his Swedish bride finished her studies at the university. (When I visited, he joked that he and I were the only Americans in Sweden who weren’t evading the draft.) At the same time, another friend, a Greek co-worker, was planning his annual return to the small, non-touristy Greek island where his mother still lived and he invited me along.

It was too good an offer to pass up, since I was 25, single and responsibility-free. My two planned stops were at opposite ends of the Continent, however, so I arranged two weeks of unpaid leave from work in addition to my vacation, allowing me to spend four leisurely weeks abroad. I bought a Eurail pass and took the train down, making stops at a few of the cities along the way. I saw many sights, both famous and off the beaten track, and there were many memorable incidents which I relate, and often embellish, when I’ve downed a couple of beers in the presence of company.

On the flight home to New York, I sat next to an attractive Lebanese woman who appeared to be around my age. She introduced herself as Mariam. She was traveling to, of all places, Texas, where her brother was teaching at a college. He had left his wife and daughter behind in Beirut. However, the Lebanese Civil War had broken out and the city no longer felt safe. Mariam volunteered to fly her niece to the presumed safety of Texas to live with the girl’s father.

Mariam and I began talking about our lives, about our differences – cultural, political – with a curiosity and respect that seem too often absent from conversation today. I learned from her why Beirut was considered “the Paris of the Middle East” (it was much more liberal and cosmopolitan than many Arab locations). In turn, I was proud that I was convincing her that Americans weren’t all stereotypical cowboys. (During my European trip, I met a Norwegian who, when I informed him I was from New York, immediately pointed his index finger at me and said, “Bang! Bang!”)

We didn’t stop talking until our plane landed at JFK Airport several hours later. I persuaded her to reschedule her return flight from Texas to New York so I could have two days to show her the sights of Manhattan.

Two weeks later, she arrived in the Big Apple and I escorted her to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Metropolitan Museum, among others. I recall a wonderful conversation over dinner and wine at a sidewalk café in Greenwich Village. The time I spent with her was warm, enjoyable and informative. It flew by.

When I escorted her to her flight back to Lebanon, I didn’t know that I would never see her again.

Mariam and I corresponded for the next few years. These were the decades before the Internet, social media and cell phones made instant contact with acquaintances halfway around the world as easy as changing one’s socks. Communication consisted of hand-written letters. Every couple of months I would be excited to find a light blue envelope marked “Par Avion” appearing in my mailbox. Our letters were long, filled with details and concerns about our lives and deep thoughts about life.

Mariam’s letters always included the hope that I would travel in the Middle East with her, and we quickly decided that a tour of Egypt would be the least troublesome and most rewarding. I bought the Fodor and Frommer guides, reading them cover-to-cover, and talked to several friends about my planned trip.

The trip never happened. Every year, as decision time would approach, I’d get cold feet, writing, “The Middle East seems too volatile now, with too much violence flaring up everywhere. Maybe next year will be safer. Yes, let’s definitely plan for next summer.”

Finally, inevitably, I sent a letter that was not answered. After several months passed, I wrote another, hoping that the previous one had merely gotten lost in the mail. Again, the response was silence. I never heard another word from her.

It’s possible that Mariam met a man, got married and decided that correspondence with a single American man was inappropriate, but that doesn’t sound like her. Maybe there is another benign reason. The more likely reason, however, is the Lebanese Civil War. Violence flared up in Beirut on and off for fifteen years. According to Wikipedia, one million Lebanese – about a quarter of the population – fled the country during the fighting, and if Mariam was among this number, I doubt that my address would have been one of the important possessions she would have taken with her in haste. More troubling, 120,000 Lebanese died during the fighting; I pray that she was not part of that figure, but there is no way I’ll ever know.

With time, Mariam faded from my memory. I don’t think about her more than once or twice a year. I am not sure I have ever mentioned her name to my wife. Mariam’s letters are still bundled together in a box shoved in the back of my closet. At least I think they are; I haven’t looked at them in thirty years.

I no longer have a great desire to see Egypt – I’m old and set in my ways – and my travel guides have long since taken up residence in some landfill. However, now that I am at an age when adventure no longer figures into my present or future, I find myself wishing that it played a bigger part in my past. In my fictional memoir, I went on that Egyptian trip with Mariam and had a wonderful time which transformed my view of the world. Perhaps I was inspired to learn Arabic and became a globetrotting diplomat.

On Tuesday when I began writing this, I took a break to drive my daughter to work. As we drove through a nearby residential neighborhood, we noticed a commotion – flashing police lights, an ambulance. As we crawled by, I saw a man lying on his side in his driveway, clearly not moving. Since the paramedics were not trying to revive him, I assumed he was dead. I felt awful for the family members who stood helplessly there near him. Judging by his head of hair, I’m guessing that his age was pretty close to mine, a fact that made me feel queasy.

Later, when I returned home, I wondered about him. Did he have a Mariam or an Egyptian reverie in his past? Did he have a goal he’d never pursued, an itch he’d never scratched, a taste he’d neglected to indulge? Did he have a wish that he kept putting off until next week, next month, next year, someday, not knowing that someday would never arrive? If he had known that his somedays were about to end, would he have been at peace with who he was?

Pondering his mortality, as well as mine, I decided upon a title for my fictional memoir, a motto by which I wish I had lived my entire life: “Carpe Diem.”


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This is so brave. Puts me in mind of one of myt deepest regrets, losing touch w the woman Tamar and I got out of China after the massacre of 3,000 students in Peking, 4 June, 1984. It's why I joined FB, to find her. So far, no soap radio.

Cranky - this is one of your best. I love that idea of a double memoir. I often dwell on the opportunities past, never to be seen again. I love the idea of writing them and giving them air to breathe. Rated.
I'd give another rate for Loudon, but alas, I cannot. A virtual one then, for the blog not written.
My motto is live for today as you do not not know what;s coming tomorrow as shown by that poor man that got hit. Such a great story and wish you could have know what happened to her.
I really do..

And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and ev'ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Frank Sinatra
Really touching memories here, I recall the thrill of many old letters written and waited for. I have had chances to go somewhere exciting I didn't take up, and now I would take them but they are no longer there. I am trying to find those new adventures. It's not too late to visit Beirut, and you never know who you'll meet at the airport.
Ever since I heard "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road," Loudan has always been one of my favorites... I think he may be the bastard boy of Ramblin' Jack Eliott. R&R ;-)
I loved this post. I have memories and regrets too. I am just beginning to understand what being old means and I think we all have regrets and roads not taken. I want to tell young people to savor every moment but they are moving too fast to listen.
Did he have a goal he’d never pursued, an itch he’d never scratched, a taste he’d neglected to indulge? Did he have a wish that he kept putting off until next week, next month?

you know it.


Dunno how ya do it: “when I’m melancholy, which is too often for my own good, I dwell on opportunities – adventuresome, romantic, financial, professional – that I have let pass out of fear and uncertainty.”

That stuff stuffs my head back down to the evil ball of pain………
Uh oh: wrapped in a mystery that I’ll never solve.
Takes too much work, I know, in foreign territory……
Doing it now, me , gos h or gawd help me , and She,
And this post tells me I cannot give up no matter how weird the waters.
Thanks man for giving us a glimpse of yer mariam.
This one took my breath away, Crank. Your writing has never been better-- so wistful, so sad, so relevant. I think I might have told you about the date with Arthur Ash I turned down. I've often written my fictional memoir starting from that point, changing my answer. The EP is much deserved.

This might be my favorite of all your posts. ~r
Excellent post, Cranky. I think we all feel this way at times, particularly as we get older. It helps me to remember that for each thing I didn't do, I did something in its place. Maybe not as exciting, but things that ended up bringing me parts of my life that I wouldn't want to give up. There are always trade-offs. My daughter, who actually is a globe trotting diplomat, wonders if she's not missing out on the stability of a home and neighborhood and connection to a place.

And finally, if I remember right, we're the same age. There are still some days to be seized
Thank you, Cranky, for another wonderful post. Beautifully written.
I'm a fan of the travelogue posts so certainly enjoyed this one. Your memories of Mariam reminded me of that recollection in Citizen Kane where one the characters reflects on some young woman he saw decades ago and has never forgotten her. I guess everyone has an inventory of the paths not taken.
I wonder what would have happened if the 2012 Cranky had the ability to go back in time to warn the 1970s Cranky of this dilemma? Would it have changed things?

I once considered this hypothetical situation for myself, but stopped after realizing my 1970s self would just be so shocked to see how we've aged. Then we'd both be depressed.
Congrats on the EP Cranky! I know that Clooney will be available for your Part when it comes out on the Big Screen! R
Maybe this should be a PM, but I feel like I have watched you grow, Cranky , from a little bit of a defensive place to a really funny you to this - an amazing essay that characterizes all of the youse I have encountered. I love this so much, and I loved the last piece as well. Your walls are down and you are writing like there is no tomorrow. Thanks for your courage and your words, which continue to be wonderful. Congrats on finding your stride, your voice, and your very important message. (I love the funny stuff too!)
I had a friend named Anche. We were friends for years during my girlhood. Then one morning they were just gone. The trucks to ship everything back to Iraq came in the middle of the night. So during the war I had two worries first where was my husband and was he alive? And will my girlhood friend make it through the war? So I understand this blog and am quite familiar with the history of Lebanon. It was a sad history. I am sorry about the loss of a friend. But I do understand them disappearing in the blink of an eye. It hurts.
There's only one story. It's written in parts, it's lived in its entirety. You don't get to warn yourself. You second guess yourself. But the truth is that certain conditions influenced your decisions and, if you had to go back to do them over again and the same conditions existed, the same result would also exist.

As a regret I get it. Remember, however, that you don't know the consequences of what you missed. You know of the potential good ones but you don't know the potential bad ones.

Sometimes you spill milk from your gallon carton. That means that you've wasted milk, but it also means you're carrying a lighter container. When the gallon is heavy enough, it matters.
This was so moving. I feel like so many of us have regrets and wonder about "the road not traveled." I wish yours didn't involve someone who possibly met an awful fate, though. If you have Mariam's full name, which I assume you do, would it be possible for you to try Googling her? I understand that it might lead to nowhere - for one thing, as you point out, she could have gotten married and thus would probably have changed her name - and for another, there may be a very big language/written character barrier issue. But you never know. Maybe if there's a Craigslist Beirut, you could post there and see if anyone knows her? It might be worth a shot. But then again, I understand that there are some benefits to not knowing. This post has given me so much to think about - and again, it was just so moving. All the best to you in this life, and to Mariam, wherever she might be.
Hmmmm..... Memoirs of trips you haven't taken?? Get out there, Cranky!! You need to see Egypt before it's gone...and when you get there you'll know what I mean!! I have a guy who will take care of you once you're there!! You write brilliantly, but there is a bit of the unfinished here. Take your own hint....
I'm not laughing. Something's different. You shouldn't scare us like this, Crank!
Best thing I've read all morning. Thanks for taking me back to my own seventies European adventure. How many potential friends and loves did I also carelessly let pass me by? Your post has left me in nostalgia land.
A woman spontaneously kissed me at a party once because she said I looked sad. We talked, had a great time, but I was from out of town and left the next day. Traded letters once, lost touch. The counterfactual possibilities!

I'm not sure I have regrets but there are those precious people from our pasts which memories' haunt when we think of the "if" scenario. Rekindling old flames can be an adventure into one's soul. It's been said reality is stranger than fiction. As is dualism. ;)
A magnificent story. So few of us escape the One Big Regret.
Another excellent and moving story. Thanks!
I've been seeing this on the front page for a few days and kept saying I'd circle back to read it. And I'm glad I did. What a fine piece and great story. But, unlike you, I think the actual memoir is plenty good -- better than it would have been with the trip to Egypt.
It's nice to know I'm not the only one who tries to rewrite history in my head. I'm finally getting my car paid off so I might get to take an actual trip next year, depending on Puff, of course. So many places I still want to see.
Fine, fine memoir(s). Thank you!
Yeah, regrets. I too have a few, but I doubt I could tell the world about them with the style and grace you did yours.

I'd tip my hat to ya, but I don't have a hat on. So I'll just say: ACES!
This must be Robert Frost Day on OS!
Cranky, you such a good writer , an insightful person and a caring person. I truely admire you. I see that you seldom , if never comment on the comments of others on your excellent articles. I recently submitted a post to OS on First Love: The Ecstacy & tge Agony . This was a real life experience.

All the best. Lyle
I loved this. Like everyone else, I've also fantasized about "what might have been" at different moments of my life, and what impact different choices might have had, and most of these fantasies concern various "Mariams" of my own. What keeps me from getting sentimental about it, though, is my suspicion that even if I had taken a different fork in the road, I might well have ended up pretty much where I am now. As Hamlet put it, "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will."

The Swiss author Max Frisch discusses this issue in his wonderful novel "Gantenbein," which is entirely about imagining alternative scenarios for one's life. In one memorable scene, a man meets the wife of a colleague of his in a bar, has a few drinks with her, and ends up spending the night in her bed. The next day, on the way to the airport to return home to his own wife, he debates whether he should ask the taxi driver to turn around and take him back to the woman, thus beginning a serious affair with all the consequences that would entail. He imagines both scenarios, knowing that he would regret both, before realizing that it doesn't ultimately make much difference: In life you always do one thing and imagine the other. The result is basically the same and in a sense we're all living double lives: The life of what is and the life of what might have been.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with Frisch (since our actions have consequences for others), and yet there is a great truth in what he writes. Overall, I agree with you and Mark Twain: We don't regret what we do, but what we don't do.

Highly rated.
So well done, and moving. There are certain people that leave an indelible mark in our spirit, aren't there?

I've no doubt she feels the same. In this life still? Or maybe the next. It's the mystery that keeps us alive.