Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Month's Furlough

Last year at almost the same time, S- and I had a trip all lined up. We had our reservations and AAA triptiks tied into a schedule which would give us a peek at the fall leaves of Vermont. Along the way we would visit old homesteads of ours. We would check out the WWII Memorial in Washington Just a day or so before we were to leave, I had an inconvenient heart attack with accessories. I spent three weeks in a hospital and three more weeks in a nursing home. All of that is to explain why this blog may suffer an interruption lasting most of October. We are going to update the triptiks, repack our bags and get new reservations. We are going to try again. This time we will take the Auto Train from Florida to the Capital, then drive the rest of the way. I will be carrying the laptop with the hope I will be able to post some picture here, but super-geek I am not. So check in now and then so judge my technical abilities. rsl

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Dean

One of the few truly great men that I have been fortunate enough to meet was a fellow named Frank C. Whitmore. Dr. Whitmore was the Dean of the School of Chemistry and Physics at the Pennsylvania State College while I studied there. He was also an active participant on the War Production Board in Washington and dozens of other academic societies and boards. As a genius should, Dr. Whitmore had his eccentricities. The most apparent was his time saving habit of dictating notes to convey his thoughts rather than calling on the phone, writing a letter, or seeking a meeting. No matter the subject, a simple, typed “Best Wishes, FCW” closed each note.

A PhD candidate lived in the same rooming house as I. Irv had an occasion to write Dr. Whitmore with a request concerning his work. He wrote and rewrote, editing until he felt the letter was clear, concise, and everything a letter to God should be. He paid a secretary to type it for him, then confidently sent it off.

When he received a reply, I happened to be with him. Without a word he passed it to me. I looked at him and so help me, he was laughing and crying at the same time. He had mailed the letter to the Dean and forgotten to sign it. The reply was a severe rebuke informing him of how rude it was to not personally sign a letter. And, of course, the last line was followed by “Best Wishes, FCW”, neatly typed.

More FCW

For a na├»ve freshman, the walls of the booths in the first floor men’s bathroom in Pond Laboratory Building were a real education. One could pick from chemistry formulas and lessons to the bluest of blue humor containing hints the birds and the bees never dreamed of. (And some phone numbers in the women’s dormitories.) The writings were always new since the janitorial staff washed the walls down once a week. I had learned the respect for (and fear of) Dean Whitmore all the college community had for him early after my arrival. So in the spirit of true research and a bit of authority defiance, I took pen in hand. In a small open spot just at eye level, I printed, “Please do not write on this wall! Best Wishes, FCW” I drew a little box around it.

Sure enough, each week the walls were washed clean, all but the little memo that was signed, “Best Wishes, FCS”.

But there is more – I left for the army and when I came back 3 + years later, the phony Dean’s instruction was still in place. I doubt that a single inscription was deterred. After all, it was the perfect crime.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Nickel's Worth

This flood of newly designed coins is apparently not a new policy as I thought, but a return to the frequent issuing of new designs as practiced in the years before the early 1900’s. (Coin collectors, feel free to correct me. My vast knowledge of this subject was obtained in about two minutes on Google.) In any event, I have done my part to help the economy by setting aside the new quarters as they showed up in change which I put on top of the bureau every night. I save them because of their novelty and not because I think they are particularly beautiful. And, of course, there is the challenge of accumulating all 50 as they become available. Actually, I’ve decided they look quite like the gold-plated medallions issued by states or fairs or anyone to commemorate and finance some one-time event. I think somewhere I have one from the New York World’s Fair.

But I digress, I started this to say how classy the new Buffalo Nickel is. I have only seen two and I understand (google) that they are already out of production. Pictures of the one to follow (in production now.) suggest it may be equally impressive. I gather there are going to be a bunch of new nickels. In my opinion, when they finish playing around, they should return to this Buffalo design for the long haul. Of course, during my life, a very similar buffalo appeared on the nickel until it was replaced when I was in my teens and stayed in circulation for years after production had been stopped. I may be biased.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


When I was a boy we took our summer vacations in New England. A few times we went to Cape Cod, but more often we went to Lake Champlain on the Vermont side. Both my parents were from Vermont and so there were relatives all over the place. My folks would rent a cottage on Hathaway’s Bay at St. Albans Bay.

One of the things I most liked to do while in Vermont was to visit Uncle Sant’s farm, also in St. Albans Bay. His name was Sanford and I don’t know how that morphed to Sant. He was a widower and while he had a fine old Vermont farm house, he had reduced the part in which he lived to two rooms. They were the sparsest, most livable and most efficient living quarters I’ve ever seen. He was a very intelligent man. He read every book and magazine he could get his hands on. His ability to hold his own in discussing sophisticated national and international politics was in breathtaking contrast to his farmer dress.

My folks took me to the Vermont State Fair one year to meet Uncle Sant’s son. He traveled with the fairs selling popcorn made in a small corn popper that he stood behind. To this day I can remember him pitching his corn calling out, “Hot, Freshly Popped Pop Corn! Made with Dairy-fresh Butter!” As we stood chatting with him behind his machine, I watched him pour Mazola oil into the machine. But have no fear, before I lost track he was a very successful man. He had a real corporation that sent large shiny trailers all over the country to set up at fairs and sell the whole gamut of fair fast foods.

I learned that horses are afraid of dead animals the day I stayed with Uncle Sant and he slaughtered a hog. None of today’s fancy “humane procedures”. He chased the terrified hog around a little pen with a sledge hammer until he hit it once on the head and then hit it again for good measure. He tied the rear legs to a rope that went through a pulley on a big tree limb. He backed two horses up and attached them to the other end of the rope in order to haul the dead hog up to hang from the limb. This was a major undertaking because the horses wanted to be out of the county. It appeared the remainder of the procedure was going to be even less fun to watch, so I went looking for eggs in the chicken house. It took me several years to enjoy bacon again.

There was an enormous French Canadian man that worked for Uncle Sant and lived in a house on the farm with his enormous family. His kids were big! I, on the other hand, was a skinny kid. The French man decided it was to be his mission to fatten me up. Whenever he caught me (I avoided him as much as possible.) he would lead me into the cooler room and hand me a quart of whole, raw milk. He would stand there insisting I chug-a-lug the entire bottle. This, without speaking a word of English.

We will be up in Vermont in a couple of weeks and I expect a lot more memories will come back.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Definition of a Good Day

People are always saying, “Have a good day!” I suppose that is a nice wish, but it doesn’t do much to make itself come true.

The other day I had a good day and just a few people made it. I had an appointment with my doctor. As his nurse was leading my wife and I to the examining room, the nurse said I was looking good, better than she had seen me look in a long time. That got the vanity juices flowing and I hardly listened to what the doctor said.

I have to tell you a little secret now. That doctor is the one that keeps track of my cholesterol and tells me I should lose weight, etc. Every time after I have seen him my wife and I head for Krispy Kremes and get a dozen of our favorites donuts. I figure there are three months to the next appointment – plenty of time to repair the damage.

The gal at the cash register was totaling up our bill when she got to the discount part (my favorite part), she looked up and said that she assumed I was over 65. I said yes, about 15 years over 65. There was a pause while she figured it out and then she practically screamed, “You’re not 80. You don’t look 80!” I insisted I was. She said, “But you’re so sharp. You can even do arithmetic!” I took my donuts and change and got out of there.

My day was made. We went home and I took a nap.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hiss and Boo

This morning I went to use Google and I DON"T LIKE THE CHANGES! I was looking for trans global amnesia and all I could find was car parts and hotels in Scotland. Hey, Google, it werent broke, ya shoodna' fixed it. TGA is a memory lapse, sort of a two-hour senior moment.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Friendly IRS

The IRS has changed over the last fifty years.

Back in 1950, I was faced with paying taxes for the first time. In the year 1949 I had worked for the six months after college graduation. Prior to that, for the first half of the year my wife had a job working for a grant based-foundation run by a professor at the college. I was going to be conscientious about this tax thing and went over everything very, very carefully. I had known that my wife and several other employees on occasion had been given extra pay checks by the professor on the understanding that they would cash them and give the money back to the professor. We had kept records so I calmly deducted those amounts from our tax return and sent a polite and naive letter with the return explaining how the extra checks weren’t really income and so we weren’t going to pay tax on them. Ah, youth! (Please understand the amount of money involved was only large in the eyes of a couple making $263 a month.)

Several weeks later I received a friendly, personal (honest) letter from someone at the IRS explaining how they were obligated to use the information they received from the employer and not the employee’s records. He advised me to write the college and ask for a revised W2 form based on my info and resubmit to the IRS. In the meanwhile, this fellow suggested I pay the full tax and then ask for a rebate when I sent in the new W2.

It sounded logical, so I did just that. I sent my data to the college and asked for a new W2. Again I received a friendly reply, saying they would look into it. That, however, was the last I heard directly in response to my letter. About four months later I went to a large convention. At the college cocktail party, the dean stood up on a chair and gave an update on what was new at school. Among the items was the appointment of a new director of the foundation my wife had worked for and the resignation from the faculty of the former head. Thou shalt not cheat.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Post-retirement II

You know, we old folks cannot DO many things as well as young people. But when it comes to things that we do not want to do, we can NOT DO them with tenacity unmatched by the young. Parents approaching the age when total self-care is not feasible may surprise their children with the vehemence with which they resist moving, especially to a facility designed and operated to make things easier for seniors. While my wife and I thoroughly enjoy, even revel in, our lifestyle here in a Life Care Center, it must be recognized that there are those that are completely convinced that they don’t want this life. They can dig their heels into bedrock and simply refuse to concede.

This presents a problem for all concerned. We know of a resident here whose relatives “put” her here. She didn’t want to be here from the very beginning. She never made the adjustment or gave up her resistance. She is a delightful lady in conversation, but she wants out and is finally getting her wish. (Rumor suggests a nudge from management is helping her get her wish.) Dollars to doughnuts, her next destination will be less satisfactory.

I am sure that the people who have invested in lifestyles for seniors have tried to find ways to overcome preconceived ideas that the life is not for them. (And with some success. Look! we are here.) But largely what is happening is a skimming of the elder population for those that like the idea of not having to cook for themselves and/or other of the “not having to’s” that come with residence.

The point of all this is to suggest that while you are young enough to be a flexible thinker, find out about life care facilities. Go visit one. Talk to residents. Think about extending those fun retirement years by bringing the fun close by. Listen to the voice that says “Leave the driving to us”.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina Breeds Hypocrisy

The horror that was Katrina and the horror that is the aftermath can only be exceeded by the hypocrisy spewing from the mouths of politicians of both parties. Two US Congressmen from Florida each raised hypocrisy to the level of a political anthem the other day. Each purports to represent districts in Florida. One I vote for and the other is only a district away. Each ranted about the necessity to find out the who and why the dikes surrounding New Orleans have not been strengthened in recent years.

Now, I would like to point out that the 2nd largest fresh water lake (after Lake Michigan) in the United States is Lake Okeechobee in Florida. It is surrounded by a 150 mile, 40-45 foot dike. This was built in the early 1930’s after a hurricane caused Lake O to flow over its banks. The result was 2300 plus deaths. At that time the total population of South Florida was only 50,000. That dike is apparently nothing more than piled up dirt, mud, sand, and pieces of rock and broken pieces of concrete. In other words, the contents of any “clean dirt” dump. There are no concrete supporting structures. It continually springs leaks which are patched using materials stocked and spaced nearby around the lake. The problem I have with that is that I can’t imagine repairs being attempted in winds exceeding one hundred miles per hour. Lake O is shallow and covers almost 700 square miles. In an ordinary breeze it can whip up some good size waves. The Army Corps of Engineers says that it is “highly unlikely” that a Category 5 hurricane would reach 30 miles inland to Lake O. The winds of the 1928 storm were estimated to hit the lake with winds of 140 miles per hour. The South Florida Water Management District allows as how it is remotely possible a hurricane could overwhelm the dike. In any event, the Corps says that rebuilding the dike to provide assurance would be “too expensive”. I hope Messrs Wexler and Foley are comfortable that their districts will not become the New Orleans of the future given their lack of action at home.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Two Weeks

First, and I think and hope, the good news. Two weeks ago, I suffered two frightening episodes unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I kept the first to myself, but when it happened again I was properly scared and called our doctor. He took it seriously and had me see a specialist. In turn, the neurologist set me up for an MRI and MRA. Then I saw the cardiologist who set me up for more tests (Echo sonogram and a Holter Monitor and a blood test just for ??? ). Then, of course, one sits around waiting for results. Yesterday a nurse called about the Echo test but I couldn’t understand what the results meant. She confessed she didn’t know either. Then today I saw the brain guy and he explained that those results and the MRI and MRA results were all normal for my age. (When you get up here in years you will find that doctors seldom say that you are getting old. Things become “normal for your age”) Anyway, tomorrow -- more results, but I am full of confidence.

I blame malpractice insurance and Medicare for a nervous couple weeks. This is the second time this year that a doctor has told me what he is “reasonably sure” what my problem was, but then set up all sorts of tests to eliminate other things such as strokes. I don’t think he would be quite so cautious if malpractice insurance weren’t in the picture. (I don’t think my family would sue, but how would a doctor know that?) Further, if Medicare wasn’t there to allow me to pay only a small fraction of the cost, I would say, “that’s alright, doc, I’ll trust your diagnosis.”

For those curious about what the episodes were --- gee, I can’t remember! Hint, hint.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Pancakes and...YUCK!

There were advantages and disadvantages to working in the mess kitchen in the army. Perhaps the most annoying disadvantage was the requirement (in our outfit at least) that clean fatigue uniforms be worn each day. This meant washing every evening since standard issue was only two sets and drying time in the Philippines was often more than 24 hours. As supply sergeant I managed to come up with extra fatigues for our cooking crew to cut the frequency of laundering. In return, I would often wander into the mess hall after breakfast and receive a privately prepared meal of my choosing.

One morning, for reasons I can’t remember, I decided to eat with the troops. Breakfast that morning was pancakes. They were served by having the troops line up next to a very large griddle onto which batter prepared the previous evening was ladled from an equally over-sized vat. As the pancakes were done, they were plopped onto a guy’s mess kit and he made way for the next in line. It was military style mass-production. I was in line when one of the cooks saw me. He came around and whispered to me to “come back later”. I told him I was a democratic type guy and I was willing to eat with common folk. His next “Come back later” sounded very much like an order so I stepped out of line and went back to my tent.

After breakfast service, I strolled over to the mess hall. The cooks were having a jolly time laughing at a steady stream of wise-cracks which I gathered were related to the pancakes. When I asked what the joke was, I was beckoned over to the still not empty vat of batter. Paddling around in the batter was a tiring, very large rat. They had ladled from around him all morning. I stuck to black coffee.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Buff, Super Buddy

I was six or seven years old when my chart of excitement in one day went through the roof. The Becker Milk man told my mother that a neighbor of his was trying to get rid of a litter of puppies. He offered to take me in his horse driven wagon on the rest of his route, then back to the barn, pick up his car and go to see the puppies. As I first saw them they were in a squirmy yellow bundle of long ears, tails to match, and soft fur, playing and nipping at each other. It was hard to pick but we drove back with “Buff,” soon to be a full partner in the family firm. (Despite the fact that she became car sick on the way home and so embarrassed me that I could barely thank the milk man.) Imagine, in one day I got to ride in a horse drawn wagon, see the horses get fed and bedded down, and got to pick out a puppy for myself.She became my buddy for the next twelve years. I chatted with her and told her my secrets. She slept in my room, she tracked me everywhere I went. She hiked with me to the top of the “mountain” near town. I would lose sight of her but I could hear her thrashing through the leaves. If I called, she would stick her head up and decide whether to come to me or be playfully stubborn.

When I went off to school, she helped Mom with the empty nest syndrome and helped Dad with the yard work. She was a family member until she died while I was in the army.