Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Spitballs and what's important

I've been told a million times to stop living in the past because it's the present that's important. There's no past and there's no future; our focus should be in the now. About the only thing we can get from the past is experience. We can't relive it.

That's good philosophy and maybe I should heed such wisdom. But I can't help drifting back to the days when I was the best spitballer east of the Hudson River.

Let me define my terms. I don't mean I was the kind of spitballer who throws a spitter pitch — when the pitcher wets one half of the ball with either spit or Vaseline and hurls it at the batter. What I'm talking about is chewing a piece of paper and shaping it into a sphere. Then, with your lips puckered as though you were going to kiss your first girl, you blow the spitball through a straw toward a target.

Bruce Springfield sings a song called “Glory Days.” In it he laments, “They'll pass you by.” All you are left with then are broken-down images of what once was. When I think back about my glory days, I recall getting detention everyday for smacking someone in the face with a spitball. If I were to do that today I'd be a three-strikes offender doing 20 years to life.

Did you read the recent police report in the paper? Apparently we have a spitballer living among us, someone who hit a La Cañadan in the cheek with a spitball. There was an actual crime report filed. I kid you not!

With the advent of this calamity, La Cañada is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions. Dr. Peter Veckman, one of the scientists in the movie “Ghostbusters” describes our fate: “Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria!”

Something happens every day that makes me want to throw myself under a bus. After reading that crime report, I wanted to throw myself under a bus twice.

I make no apologies for not sympathizing with the La Cañada resident hit in the cheek with a spitball. There is a duality to existence. Look at the world with one eye and you will see sublime splendor, and then when you open the other eye you'll see the rampant tragedies of life. There are young men and women all over the world dying for misplaced causes. There are psychotic teenagers allegedly blowing up people in Boston. There are tsunamis and earthquakes humbling humanity bringing catastrophes that change the existence of nations.

We are too willing to squander our sensibilities on a frivolous happenstance for the illusion of feeling safe under the slightest affront. Having resilience and being able to discriminate what's real and what's imagined relative to what negatively affects us has been undermined. If we think everything is offensive and that everything is tragic, then what will become of us when things really go south? Hypersensitivity to life's mishaps will not make us better. It will weaken us.

Recently I went back east with the La Cañada High School Orchestra. After overdosing on violins, I took the Number Two train uptown, back to my neighborhood in the Bronx. I was reliving my glory days. My grammar school, Saint Frances of Rome, had chains on the doors and boards on the windows, but I managed to visit my 8th-grade classroom. The crucifix still hung on the center wall but I was more intrigued by the ceiling. When I looked up, I saw a collection of tiny spitballs cemented to the ceiling. I had a big smile on my face. That's because 53 years ago I put them there.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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