Ooh, a fraternity

When I was in college – yes, they had colleges back then, and no, we did not write with pieces of charcoal on the heads of shovels – I joined a fraternity. The term that was used at the time was “pledged.” One pledged a fraternity and if the brothers thought that you were acceptable, ie, take a good paddling on your ass and perform other, less vicious and idiotic tasks, e.g., going to the ladies room at South Station in Boston and present a detailed sketch of how the inside of that toilet appeared, then you were voted into the fraternity. The catch was that each of the brothers was given two colored balls with which to vote, a black ball and a white one. If you received all white balls, you were in; one black ball and you were out, fini, kaput, so long, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out! Somehow, this vote of no confidence was supposed to ensure that all brothers were fine, upstanding young men of similar strong character. We even had a fraternity house. It was a rather large Victorian, located off campus. Rather than staying in on-campus housing, a brother could stay at the fraternity house at a somewhat reduced rate. The expectation was that all residents would chip in for food and other household necessities. Since I was a commuter student, I’m not certain how that really worked out.

In my junior year, a freshman pledged ‘my’ fraternity. He had been asked to pledge by one of the upper class brothers from the same hometown. I knew the young man by name and community only. I knew that he had impregnated a high school classmate and that his parents had paid for the young woman to travel to another state to go through the nine month gestation period – abortions really weren’t approved of in those days, particularly if you were a member of the Roman Catholic church. How I knew all of this is quite immaterial, but you should be aware that this young man was considered to be something of a rich asshole who liked to play, “hide the pecker,” and he didn’t care which young lady was available. Did I mention that his parents were rich? Very rich? Very, very rich?

During the pledge period, I went to the brother who had been designated, “pledge master,’ that is, he was in charge of the pledge class and responsible for assigning the idiotic tasks and ensuring that the pledges were doing what the pledges were supposed to do. I told my “brother” of my concerns about this rich asshole and requested that he be washed out immediately. I was informed that if I wished him out, I could do so by blackballing him at the end of the pledge period, not before…veddy interesting! When the time came for the vote, I dutifully cast my black ball. Somehow, it never made it to the final count. My vote was not in the voting box when the balls were counted. Despite my protest, the rich asshole became a member of the fraternity and I left the organization. It was not that many years later that the fraternity lost its national affiliation, was forced to sell its house, and to the best of my knowledge, was eventually disbanded.

I’m not in the least surprised by what is supposedly going on at the University of Virginia or at any other college or university in the country that allows fraternal organizations on campus. Can they be good spirit boosters and create lasting bonds? Sure, of course they can. Is it possible for them to become the animal house of movie fame? You bet your ass it is and there will always be an element within the frat who believes that is exactly what they are supposed to be.

Understand something very clearly; every four or five years, the leadership of any campus organization undergoes a complete transformation. If leadership succession is not considered a major part of the organization, it can go from top dog on campus to the bottom of the heap in that short a period of time. And once the “good old boys” take over and every night is keg night, the organization will go straight to hell in no time flat. With the mentality that goes along with eat, drink, and make merry, come other attitudes which are far more criminal in nature, and which involve, eventually, taking advantage of young women by getting them drunk and doing things that neither party would ever consider when sober.

“You’re speaking from only one experience,” you may say. The answer to that is, “No. I spent forty years in higher education; on two campuses where fraternities were in place.” My experience goes far beyond my single personal episode when I was an undergraduate. I have seen young men and women drunk out of their minds at ten o’clock in the morning. I have seen couples screwing in stair wells and behind a tree – not in the trees – knowing full well that one of them had to be drunk…and you can well imagine which party it was.

This raises the question; are college campuses safe places to be? For the most part, I would have to say that yes, they are. They are safe enough for anyone who knows the reason they are there. They are safe for anyone who knows their limits when it comes to alcohol consumption. They are safe enough if you understand that you’re not in college or attending a university where getting drunk every night is tolerated. Every year, some magazine or more than one will come out with their rankings for “party schools,” and every year, school administrators who find their institution on that list attempt to clamp down…or not. Did my kids belong to a fraternity or sorority when they went to college? My oldest daughter belonged to one of the two sororities on campus. They were so busy competing with each other for good kinds of recognition, they rarely found themselves on a Dean’s carpet. Did she drink along with others? I’m certain that she did…but I was never told by anyone, “Hey, your kid’s a drunk,” and a great many people knew who she was and to whom she was related. My son belonged to a different type of fraternal organization; it was a team; a swim team to be exact. Between practice, a tough academic schedule, and meets, he still found the time to booze it up occasionally…and he’d be the first one to tell you that. However, to this day – and he’s damn near 50 – he’ll tell you that he never once intentionally plied a female visitor with booze for dishonorable intentions. As far as the youngest was concerned, she was too busy overloading her academic schedule and, like her brother, swimming on her team, that I have to admit, I’m not certain when she had time to drink…add to that, that she’s not much of a drinker today, and you sort of get the point.

Are all fraternities’ places of debauchery and indecency? Of course not, I’d be willing to bet that those where wild things take place on a reasonably regular basis are a very small group. As I have said, that can change in one four-year cycle. Fraternities, however, are supposed to have advisors. With a weak advisor or a weak Greek system – the administrators who are, theoretically, in overall charge – things can change rapidly. Just because there has been no trouble in the past doesn’t mean that just below the surface, trouble isn’t brewing.

It’s a fact of life; they are among us!

You don’t care for them, that’s your problem!

They’re queers, faggots, queens, dykes, and a thousand other slurs that have been hurled at people whose sexual preferences are different from our own. It’s about time, we stopped thinking that they have horns and are evil, the spawn of the devil. Hey, don’t kid yourself; there are people out there who think exactly that. It’s the ignorance of the world, and it really is about time that the world wised up.

Here is just the latest example in the “this-really-pisses-me-off” report that I compile off and on. “If you’re homeless in Kansas City, Missouri, you’re always welcome at the City Union Mission shelter — unless you’re gay. City Union’s executive director says that because they are a “Christian, faith-based organization,” they don’t allow same-sex couples or families to stay together, and they require transgender people to dress according to the sex they were assigned at birth, regardless of how they identify today. The shelter claims to be adhering to “biblical standards,” but Jesus’ words about welcoming the stranger didn’t include any asterisks excluding LGBT people. That’s probably why other Christian organizations in Kansas City, like the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, welcome same-sex families.

I’ve been to high school and college with people whose sexual preference was far removed from my own. No one ever tried to convert me. No one ever attempted to seduce me…at least, not that I know of, and I’m pretty certain on that one. I’ve worked with men and women who are gays, lesbians, transgender, and bisexual.  A faculty member confided in me once and told me that he was going to have a sex change operation. Until he came back as a woman, I was one of the only or very few people who knew what he was doing while he’d been away. She was still the same person in my mind. I had a bit of trouble remembering not to call her by her male name, but I got over it. I know several people at my gym who are gay. They’re good people.

Places like the City Union Mission, and people like Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson – the young men who killed Matthew Shepard, are places and people of ignorance and intolerance. People hold up the Holy Bible and say that, “It says in the Bible…” and they twist that fine piece of fiction to suit their needs. Yes, I’m a heretic for saying it’s a fine piece of fiction. The Holy Bible was written by men. They are setting forth what they believe is the truth about the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ.  We do not know the extent of the truth in the Holy Bible other than to take on faith its accuracy. Have I read the Holy Bible from cover to cover? No, I have not. Do I believe much of it to be true? My faith in God tells me that parts of it come close to telling exactly what happened during those times. My faith in man tells me that the Holy Bible is a sanitized version of what actually went on during the time of Christ. It’s been said that the winners write history while the losers weep. That being the case, I leave you to judge in your own way as I judge in mine.

Fred Phelps is dead; however, the Westboro Baptist Church carries on with their hatred of gays. It’s because most of us are tolerant of the beliefs of others that the church can carry on. In Rockford, Illinois, the American Nazi Party was founded, but we allowed it to carry on because we are tolerant. I find it so very sad so many of us are lagging in our acceptance of people who don’t behave the way “we” do. I suppose, that, like so many other idiotic things that have been thought over the centuries, this, too, will pass. The day will come when there will be acceptance of all people, no matter their beliefs. I’ll be long gone by the time that day rolls around but maybe, just maybe, I can look down from a window of one of my Father’s  many mansions – “Were it not so, would I have told you” – and I’ll smile.

I know a little bit

“I know a little bit about a lot of things…but I don’t know enough about you.” It’s one of those golden oldies that pops into my head now and again…the way a lot of the old songs do. I’ve stopped listening to the radio in the car; haven’t done it for several years now. It was on the advice of a psychiatrist that I stopped listening. I’d been diagnosed with depression, and it was suggested that I spend a bit of time with a ‘shrink’…an impolite term, I admit but a hell of a lot shorter than the technical term. She suggested that rather listening to music in the morning, I  consciously practice some deep breathing in the car, listening to the depth of the breaths…in…out; in…out. You get the picture. That’s what I did, and I found that the breathing brought a certain amount of peace to whatever drive I was making. Remarkable what those people learn from textbooks, isn’t it? Boil it down and it’s common sense; if your ears aren’t being assaulted – and with the music of today, that’s exactly what it is – you can actually enjoy driving [unless it’s during the morning commute in Boston, Baltimore or Hartford]. Hell, I don’t even know if the radio works anymore; after all, the car is fifteen years old!

There are times, however, when I find myself humming tunes from way back when…songs, I remember from my high school and college days; songs from shows that Joan and I attended during our early years of marriage; even songs from some of the old movies. I suppose it beats the hell out of trying to practice a quick draw while seated and driving…that would be from some old movies also, but that takes much more concentration than listening to music in your head.

Let me give you, oh, I don’t know, maybe just a few examples of knowing a little bit. We were in the grocery store this morning, doing a bit of rainy day shopping. At the ‘special’ meat counter – where you can pick out; ah, fuck it; it’s where they have the better cuts of meat, ok? Anyway, there were a couple of people ahead of us and they were treating the guy behind the counter with a certain degree of…well, I call it “meanness;” Juli called it a “me first” attitude. I suppose some others might say they were being all business in what they wanted, but that really wasn’t it. They were demanding in a way that just wasn’t very nice. I thought back to the days when I worked in a grocery store. I don’t remember people like that. Maybe I’ve forgotten them, but these people are sufficiently memorable that their arrogance would stick in my mind. At times, I worked behind the meat counter; I remember people saying, “Please” and “thank you.” Not one of the people ahead of us this morning used either word. So, what’s happened? Have we become a nation of “less-polite-people?” Are we so self-absorbed that we don’t consider that others might enjoy a please or a thank you? Therefore, I would say that I know a little bit about courtesy to those who are doing something for us, but I sure as hell don’t know why we aren’t more appreciative.

I know a little bit about gardening…which is a heck of a long way from what I knew before Juli arrived on the scene. Dad had small gardens wherever we lived, but we weren’t allowed to ‘help’ tend them. Since we didn’t know a weed from a plant, Dad was probably correct in keeping us away; he could have taught us the difference, but I’m not certain just how trustworthy we were…kids, ya know! After spending time watching, listening, and asking questions of Juli, I was able to tell a woman at the gym one day that her lilies were being eaten by a bug that first appeared as a black spot on the underside of the lily leaves [doesn’t that have a nice ring to it…”lily leaves,” and that she could just whisk them off with a fingernail into a cup half filled with water.  I’ve also learned a few other things about gardening, but if you asked me to plant, grow, and control all pests before harvest; I’d just look at you with the stupid grin of someone who can talk a good game but who can’t play worth a damn!

Yes, I know a little bit about a lot of things. I’d like to believe that I know a lot about love, but I really think I’d be kidding myself. I thought I was in love in high school but in hindsight they were just childish crushes or the libido exercising its right of passage. There were also a couple of ‘flings’ while I was in college, but by then, I was fully aware that they were far from love. I also remember walking into the teachers’ room at Rockland High School on the first day that I was substituting. There was a young teacher at the back of the room, talking with another female teacher. They were both smoking; I was a smoker back then. One look; that was all it took; just a quick glance and as has been said, “The thunderbolt hit,” and it hit hard. I had no idea who this woman was; I remember thinking that I hoped to hell she wasn’t married because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her…that was that. She wasn’t married or engaged. Talk about pursuit! That was November; she said, “Yes,” in March, and on July 4th we married. Fifty plus years later, we said, “Goodbye.” It wasn’t a pleasant goodbye; it was goodbye because cancer had won its war…again.  “I’ll never love again,” I said to myself. “No one can ever replace her,” I thought. “I’ll be alone until we meet again,” was my philosophy.

During Joan’s health crisis, I received an e-mail from a lady in California. It wasn’t meant for me – or maybe it was – so I responded that she had the wrong person. She thanked me, and we started a conversation about New England and California. I’d been there; she’d never been here. We became friends in the best sense of that word. Two years later, she asked if she might visit. She arrived and it soon became apparent that the friendship was stronger and more attracting than either of us had originally thought. Love became a word I thought I’d never use or hear again, but yeah, it happened. Did she ‘replace’ Joan? No, that could never happen. She lost someone to the same disease that killed my wife? We were simpatico in so many ways that it was wonderful. After she retired, I asked her to move from California. She did, and we’ve found a new love. Therefore, I think I can say that I know a lot about love. I’ve been blessed because Joan and Juli are my loves. Each has sameness and each has many differences, but they are loves, very, very genuine loves. I’m a lucky man. I may know a little bit about a lot of things, but I’m happy to report that I’ve been taught a lot of things about love.

A new kind of slave

We have a new kind of slave in America today. In reality, they are still beaten and bear the scars of their enslavement. They are paid slave wages in exchange for what we are calling an education…which they don’t really get because their masters have them on a particularly short leash, and when the ‘massa’ calls, they damn well better jump. Who are these modern-day slaves, you ask? They are Black collegiate athletes who are preyed upon by the likes of too many Division One recruiters, coaches and athletic directors.

In a recent study by The Center for the Study of Race and Equality in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, it was stated that, “The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) noted in a recent television commercial that Black male student-athletes are ten percent more likely to graduate than are their same-race male peers who are not members of intercollegiate sports teams.” However, “This is not true across the six major NCAA Division I conferences whose member institutions routinely win football and basketball championships, play in multimillion-dollar bowl games and the annual basketball championship tournament, and produce the largest share of Heisman trophy winners. “

For Black kids, one of the few ways to improve themselves and their families’ economic status is to play sports to the extent that they can receive a scholarship to college and go on to become a professional athlete. The best road for doing that is to play collegiately at the Division one level and to tout their wares on the gridiron, basketball court, or baseball diamond. With luck, much, much luck, they will have an opportunity to become professional athletes…somewhere in the world. While not broken down by race, an article from the Business Insider in 2012, noted that only 11.6 percent of collegiate baseball players went into the major leagues. It’s worse for other collegiate sports. For example, of the nearly 68,000 college football players, only 1.7 percent are drafted; and a mere 1.3 percent of NCAA hockey players make it to the NHL. Of the over seventeen thousand college basketball players, the percentage drafted is 1.2. These figures are pathetic when one considers that playing sports at the D1 level becomes more important than education at the D1 level. Colleges spend millions of dollars recruiting high school men and women to come play for the “good ole U.” The University of Tennessee, for example, spends over two and a quarter million dollars to recruit. Auburn and Notre Dame are also in the two million dollar club. Million dollar recruiting schools include Texas Tech, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska, Oregon, and several others.

Let us, however, get back to the plight of the Black collegiate athlete.  The University of Pennsylvania study found that, “Across the four cohorts (consecutive years) studied, only 50.2 percent of Black male student-athletes graduated within six years, compared to 66.9 percent of student-athletes overall, 72.8 percent of undergraduate students overall, and 55.5 percent of Black undergraduate men overall. The study found that 96.1 percent of the NCAA Division I schools graduated Black male student-athletes at rates lower than student-athletes overall and that a whopping 97.4 percent of the institutions graduated Black male student-athletes at rates lower than undergraduate students overall.” Let us look at one school as an example: The University of Miami’s undergraduate population of Black students is 3.3 percent, yet its football and basketball teams are 75.7 percent. The graduation rate for Black male athletes is 66 percent as compared to 78 percent – pretty miserable – for all undergraduates. At Boston College, another ACC team, the overall rate of graduation rate for undergrads is 91 percent; for Black male athletes, it’s 68 percent.

No matter what statistics are thrown around, the Black male athlete appears to me to be little more than chattel, just as the Black slaves were way back when. Compare graduation rates; compare the number of collegiate athletes who go on to play professional sports; compare the percentages of overall Black undergraduate population to the percentage that compete in the arena, and one has to ask the question, “Are these kids being treated fairly?” Some might answer by saying that it’s the only way a Black kid could get to college. What does that mean? Does it mean that the secondary schools attended by Black kids don’t prepare them for entry? Others put it more crudely by saying the Black kids’ value sports more than they value education. Well now, who puts those values into their heads; where do they acquire those values? It’s that type of ignorance that has to be addressed.

I enjoy watching college football, and I enjoy college basketball. When I watch some offensive or defensive coach berating these young men on a Saturday afternoon, screaming so hard that the veins in his temple are pulsating, I get pissed. Yell at them for what they did wrong, fine, but don’t go apoplectic on them. Don’t get caught on camera shoving them or slapping them across the helmet while you’re spitting venom into their face masks. Sure it’s your job to point out their mistakes; of course, it requires that you demonstrate just how upset you are, but you’re missing one point…these are supposed to be student athletes. If you want to treat them like shit, pay them; pay them and don’t call them students. You don’t care if they go to class as long as the grades they get allow them to play for you. Let’s take the phoniness out of collegiate sports as far as the Black athlete is concerned. Pay them for playing for four years. After that, pay for them to attend a junior college for two years, and if they are successful, pay for them to go on, but don’t give me this bullshit of calling them a “student/athlete.” Study after study has shown how the Black male athletes are used and tossed aside. It’s time for it to stop. Black parents have to instill in their children a different set of values. Education will get you where you really want to go. Athletics is a gamble with very, very long odds against success.

Anyone who believes that slavery is a thing of the past hasn’t watched D! collegiate football or basketball lately.


Trying to catch a killer

As a planet, we are engaged in so many wars, it’s a wonder we have time to think about anything else. The Boy Scouts are coming around soon to collect non-perishables for the local food pantry – helping to fight the war on poverty. Hardly a day goes by that the mail doesn’t include a letter asking for donations to help win the war against heart disease, muscle disease, childhood cancer, adult cancer, cancer research, or some other plea to “help win the fight against…” Oh, yeah, we’re also fighting wars against Ebola in West Africa, crazy people in Somalia, and a group of religious zealots in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq.

If you stop to think about it, our lives are consumed by wars and fighting. “I fight the traffic everyday of the week.” Right, you’ve heard people say that, haven’t you? Or, “I fought my way through the store;” generally a Black Friday story or at one of Macy’s one-day sales…speaking of which, how can one store have so many one-day sales?

So, you see, we’re engaged in mortal combat against disease, social inequities, as well as outright crazies with whom it’s kill or be killed. If there is a Higher Power, and I certainly believe there is, He, She, or It must be looking at mankind and muttering, “They may talk about peace on earth, but they sure don’t seem to know how to go about achieving it!”

Of course there are good fights versus bad fights; I think we can all agree on that. The question is, “Are we winning,” and the answer is “Yeah, on many fronts, we are proving that we can win.” We’ve made remarkable advances in the treatment of heart disease, for example. Yes, it’s still this nation’s number one killer, but it appears that more and more people are surviving because of the research and new methods of treatment. The fight against cancer is one where I have taken up the figurative cudgel and fought on a pretty regular basis.

Cancer…Growing up, it was just another word, and one that I rarely heard. Throughout elementary, junior high, and high school, I’m willing to bet that I never even heard that word. Friends of my parents got sick and died, and today, I’m certain they were taken by cancer…but that word was never used. I lost a couple of friends but those were auto crashes and polio. Cancer found its way into my vocabulary a bit later when Helen White, the secretary in our department (they weren’t call personal assistants back in those days) went on sick leave. It was only after her death that I learned her killer was breast cancer. In retrospect, even that didn’t make me become a draftee in the war on cancer. When Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, I certainly paid more attention and learned more about the disease. Lung cancer had no cure; basically, if you received a cancer diagnosis back then, you had just received a death sentence. Today, while still the number two killer, cancer mortality rates, particularly among children, are showing signs of decreasing.

Recently, I received an appeal from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and yes, I will probably send them a contribution. That’s not important. What was truly gratifying were the statistics showing how survival rates are increasing for certain types of cancer. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 1982 had a 96 percent fatality rating within five years. Today, the five-year survival rate is 94 percent. Osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, has gone from a 20 percent survival rate to 70 percent. A friend of mine and the person responsible for getting me truly involved in this fight, died of Ewing sarcoma, another type of bone cancer. Leslie was 32 when she died, but she crammed a lifetime into those years.  Back when she died, the survival rate for Ewing sarcoma was about five percent; today, the five-year survival rate is 65 percent.

Are we going to win the war on cancer? No, probably we will not. We will win battles; some of them will be decisive battles where we can say definitively, “Yes, we have won the fight against this type of cancer.” However, cancer, just like the religious zealots, mutates and comes back in different forms, immune to the weapons that killed it only years before. There are a number of parallels that can be drawn between cancer and Al Qaeda or ISIS or ISL or whatever initials are being used this week by people whose sole joy appears to be in killing those who will not submit to their will. The figures are all over the place regarding how much has been spent on cancer research and finding cures for one kind of cancer or another just as they are varied for how much we are spending in our shooting wars. However, we cannot blame the scientists and doctors for not coming up with a silver bullet just as we cannot blame the individual soldier, unit, or even the planners for the mire in which we find ourselves. Much of the fault lies with the individual at home. Early detection is the key. Mammograms, chest x-rays, colonoscopies, and a variety of other examinations are available to each one of us. It’s our responsibility to take advantage of those tests.

Yea, It’s Over!

Thank God!

The mid-term elections are over. The attack ads are off the air and everyone can go back to being friends once more. That’s the bullshit of elections. These people or their “staffers” rip and tear, and spit on and smear their opponents for nine months and then have dinner with them. I’d wear a bulletproof vest and carry a Kalashnikov if I had been an opponent of one of these people…win or lose, and was invited to join them for a meal.

“I have a plan to reduce taxes; to spend more money on education; to create jobs; to help the elderly; to remove tax loopholes; to do this, that, and the other thing. I will do anything to get your vote!” No you won’t, you lying sack of excrement. If you have a plan to do all that you say, why won’t you tell us what that plan is? Are you saving your plan because you think your opponent will tear it to shreds? Are you holding off on revealing it because you’re concerned that your opponent will adopt the best parts of it and strengthen it for his/her own purposes? Have we become a land of such secrets that we won’t reveal what we’re going to do until we’re in the office? If you had to answer “Yes” to any of those questions, I don’t want you in office because you’re a sneak and if you hide things from me now, what the hell will you hide when you’re in office.

Being a politician is now the scariest job in America according to a poll of three thousand people by Career Builder. I can see that. You can get more rejections than a mean drunk at a hooker party, but that really is beside the point. I’m not certain I see how many of these people can accept the scariest job in America and then turn around and screw the very people who voted for them. If I hear, “We’re going to make America great once more,” one more time, I’m going to puke…again…and again…and again. What does that statement by so many United States Senatorial and Representatives actually mean? Really, what does it mean? Is it that we won’t be sending our young men and women into harm’s way anymore? Does it mean that we will close our borders to illegal aliens and send back those who do nothing but create problems? Does it mean that hospital costs, prescriptions, groceries, and gasoline will finally be sufficiently reasonable that the elderly won’t have to make hard choices about how to live? Does it mean that public servants such as police, fireman, and school teachers will finally earn a living wage? I was shocked that kindergarten teaching was the only job mentioned in the Career Builders list. Being the wife/husband, boyfriend/girlfriend of a cop or a fire fighter might also be considered one of the scariest jobs in the nation. Those people don’t know, from day to day, whether or not their partner will return or if they will have to go somewhere to identify the body. That’s pretty darned scary to me, my friends. Can you say, “We take our protectors too much for granted?”

I refuse to be classified as Republican or Democrat. I believe anyone who labels themselves in that way is a complete and utter asshole. In this most recent election, I voted both sides of the aisle. Does that make me the fool? I surely hope not. My Congressional representative is a Democrat and has done a good job for our district. My vote for governor was for a Republican because I believe he will do the best job for the state. For some of the other state offices, I voted both parties. Those for whom I voted appeared to have the best interests of the state, not a party, in their platforms. Is it going to work? At the state level, yes; at the national level, I sure as hell hope so.

I’m quite happy to see that one party now has control of Congress. For the Republicans, it’s an opportunity to show that they can govern; that they are not just the party of “No.” For President Obama, it’s an opportunity to show that he can work with the opposition party for the good of the nation.  Will Mitch “Lizard Lips” McConnell demonstrate that he is not just an opportunist and not merely attempt to pull everything apart that has anything to do with Democrats? Will Nancy Pelosi finally fade into the background where she belongs? Dammit, something has to be done to unlock the gridlock under the dome. Is this Republican ‘sweep’ the something that will bring order out of the chaos we’ve been in for the past several years? If not; if control of both Houses by one party doesn’t work to get us moving, I would venture that the “Empire” is just one step away from falling.

“Of all the things I’ve ever lost, I miss my mind the most!”

It’s supposed to be an old joke; yet, it’s not so old, and by far, it is no joke. Dementia comes in many forms. In addition, it is something of which to be truly terrified. For the person affected, it becomes a series of frustrations, very often angry frustrations. At first, I believe one is angry with oneself for not remembering something as simple as a favorite restaurant or what one’s favorite dish was at the restaurant. As the disease progresses and memory loss becomes greater, the frustration probably becomes more accepted by the victim. The frustration, anger, and sense of loss become the problem of the caregiver.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain.” Now I’m no authority on the subject, but it seems to me and some others I’ve read that short-term memory loss is natural as we age. Remember, we have millions upon millions of brain cells. It’s as natural as losing skin cells to lose some of them along the way. When this short-term memory begins to affect our daily functioning is when dementia is setting in.

The minute someone says “dementia,” the natural assumption is Alzheimer’s. While that disease accounts for about sixty to eighty percent of dementia patients, it does not describe other forms which can be just as devastating. A friend of mine had to stop her daily routine at the gym to take care of her husband. He has Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) which is a progressive degeneration of the brain cells in the front temporal lobes of the brain. “I can’t leave him alone, and I have no one to come in because he doesn’t like strangers,” she said. This is just another form of dementia as opposed to Alzheimer’s. “The second most common form of dementia, vascular dementia is caused by poor blood flow to the brain, which deprives brain cells of the nutrients and oxygen they need to function normally. One of the ten dementia types, vascular dementia can result from any number of conditions which narrow the blood vessels, including stroke, diabetes and hypertension or abnormally high blood pressure.”

The Alzheimer’s Association page notes, “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

A form of dementia that affects about 1.3 million people is known as Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). It was discovered in the early 1900s by Friedrich H. Lewy, a scientist who was, at the time, researching Parkinson’s disease. Lewy found abnormal protein deposits that upset the normal functioning of the brain. These proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they actually reduce the release of dopamine causing symptoms similar to those found in Parkinson’s disease.

There are several other forms of dementia, some of which combine with Alzheimer’s while others are caused by imbalances somewhere within the brain. Whatever the dementia type, caring for one with the disease is exhausting and frustrating. My late mother-in-law, Anna, a gifted pianist and a beautiful lady became afflicted with Alzheimer’s in her 60s. Her husband had attempted to care for her at home, and both my late wife and I were convinced that it led to his fatal heart attack. We attempted to find a private hospital for her, against the advice of the family physician. Our decision was based on the fact that we had two young children and that Joan was pregnant with our third. Anna spent one night in the hospital we found before they told us they could not handle her. We committed her to a state hospital and found her care to be magnificent. Even though we were not the primary caregivers, visiting Joan’s mother was, to be frank, a horrible experience. Callous, perhaps, but each time became more difficult, and being called by the hospital with news of her passing was an indescribable relief.

An article in Web M.D. notes that “In severe dementia, there may be extensive memory loss, limited or no mobility, difficulty swallowing, and bowel and bladder control issues. There may be a need for around-the-clock care. At this stage, the patient may have difficulty recognizing family members and caregivers.

“Caregivers experiencing high stress levels during the moderate and severe stages may also be dealing with anticipatory grief associated with a feeling of impending loss of their loved one. Talking with the palliative care team’s social worker can help caregivers understand these feelings and develop strategies for dealing with them.

“Experts warn that caregivers who do not get such help may be more likely to experience a prolonged, complicated period of grief after their loved one dies.”

I can add little to a discussion of dementia, but having been through it with a loved one and having seen others attempting to care for those they love, I will say that reaching out to get help is not only the very best answer, but it will also help to relieve high blood pressure and might just save your own life.


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