Archive for June, 2010

            Of course it had to happen. It had to happen because no good deed goes unpunished. You try to do something to help your fellow man and some greedy, ignorant bureaucrat comes along and messes things up. Oh, you don’t know; you haven’t heard? Well, as the late, great Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the rest of the story.”

            A Turkish born doctor in New York, Dr. John Muney decided to help his patients who are unable to get health insurance. Dr. Muney, who operates a group of clinics in all five boroughs of the Big Apple planned to charge his patients $79 a month for unlimited visits, plus $10 a visit. This meant that it would cost a patient about $1,000 a year to see the doctor. Go as often as you want; get treated for whatever ails you; no problem, right?  Wrong; the New York state insurance regulators say that Dr. Muney is running a private insurance program and he has to have a license to sell insurance.

            So let me get this straight: The President of the United States is saying that everyone should have access to adequate health care, but when one doctor tries to create a program that will assist in achieving that goal, the state says, “No?” As one blogger wrote, “Unfortunately, the state sees money running through its fingers. Rather than paying the state insurance licensing fees, he suns insurance, enabling his patients to pay cash. The government worries that if all doctors did this, the government would not be able to continue employing people to process insurance, doctors could cut overhead by laying off insurance billers and accounts receivable employees, and the economy as we know it would end! Good grief.”

            Speaking to the New York Post, Dr. Muney said, I’m not doing an insurance business. I’m just providing my services at my place during certain hours.” Sure you are doc; we know your type. You just want to do some good for people who can’t afford to pay for health insurance. You’re one of those ‘do gooder’s’ we were warned about in bureaucracy school.

            It really is pathetic that someone who honestly wants to help his fellow man is being painted as the bad buy by a system that is so tarnished, it is virtually impossible to clean. In all fairness, I’m certain that the New York State Insurance Commission has a number of cases of fraud, deception, and other types of medical crime on its hands. Probably it has so much that when something like this happens, they are only too happy to tout how good they are while hiding how much real criminal activity is slipping past them. These are the cynics who, if not calling the altruistic ‘crooks,’ can’t possibly understand that their altruism is all too real.

            By the way, there is a middle to this story…the end may never be written. It seems that the State of New York has come to an agreement with Dr. Muney. The American Justice Center wrote recently that the doctor can offer his fixed fee of $79 per month for preventative health care, but if someone comes in complaining of an illness or injury, he has to charge them at least $33 rather than $10…go figure!

            One can only hope that the State of Illinois exercises a bit more common sense when it comes to what will surely be a case brought by some bureaucratic idiots against Dr. Gary L. Turpin. An Associated Press article in the Chicago Sun Times notes that Dr. Turpin posted this ad in the Greene County Shopper: “For the duration of this calendar year, I will treat, free of charge, my regular patients who have lost their jobs or health insurance due to the current recession.”

            There are many lessons that we can learn from the actions of these two physicians. The first is there are still some pretty fine people out there who believe in making some sacrifices to get this country back on track. I’m willing to bet that neither of these two men approached the media about their plans…somebody snitched, thankfully. Another lesson is that it doesn’t have to be a big deal to get us out of this mess that we’re in. Hundreds of billions of dollars given away by the government scares the daylights out of us. We can’t compete with that. However, if we offer a service for which we are getting paid, maybe we can forgive a late payment from a customer who has lost his or her job, rather than tacking on a huge penalty. If each of us puts his or her mind to how we can help in some small way, we can probably think of something. I’m not in your shoes, so I don’t know what you can do. I could tell you a little thing I’m doing but that’s none of your business.

            My heart and my thanks go out to Drs. Muney and Turpin. Thank you, gentlemen:  Maybe you’ve started the snowball. Hopefully, the rest of us can keep it rolling and building until it topples the bureaucratic houses of cards that have been standing in the way of progress in this nation for far too long.

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             “No man is an island…entire of itself” John Donne wrote that sometime in the late 1500s. Donne believed, as far as we can interpret, that human interaction is an absolute necessity; that the death of one diminishes all.

            Fast forward, if you will, from the Sixteenth Century of Donne to any point in the last or this century. Fast forward to your own life and the loss of a parent or grandparent, or perhaps the loss of a spouse; is it possible that you now better understand what Donne was saying?

            Every single day I miss my wife. I miss asking her opinion of something I’ve written; I miss her standing in the doorway and asking, “Is this all right,” questioning an outfit she had put on for dinner or another social occasion. I miss the scent of her perfume and many, many other things about her.

            There also have been many times in my life that I think about the questions I would like to have asked my Dad. With a ninth-grade education, he still had more common sense than many faculty members I have known with their multiple degrees…and I worked in higher education for over forty years. He could analyze problems in an uncanny way and solve them in a simple fashion. He would have known, as one brilliant economist did not, that there is no such thing as a ‘room expander’ on the second floor of a completed building…oh, boy!    

            There have been other times when I wished that “Bumpa,” my maternal grandfather, was around so that I might quiz him about life when he was growing up in the mid and late 1800s. Of course it might have been difficult to ask him since, if memory serves, he always had a twinkle in his eye, rarely took life seriously, smiled a great deal, but really didn’t open his mouth much except when he was exhaling the smoke from an unfiltered Camel that was stuffed into a cigarette holder. Besides, my grandmother spoke enough for the two of them, and “Nana” usually just gave him “the look” when he was about to open his mouth. She could also silence him with one word…”Charlie?” and whatever was on his lips died right there.

            I miss these people in my life, just as I miss my mother, who was a wealth of history about our family. We didn’t see eye to eye in the last few years of her life, but that’s my fault and I’m willing to live with that burden. Hopefully, we will reconcile one day.

            The point that I’m trying to make – and not very well, I’m sorry to say – is that we really cannot exist in a vacuum. In my own case, I spent fifty plus years with the same woman and three kids as part of my existence. Now, my wife is gone; my children have grown, moved away, and have children of their own. They have the same burdens that Joan and I had, that of raising and worrying about their own children and their own lives.

            It’s a never ending “circle of life” in which we exist for a brief period and then move on. One might refer to it as a reverse concentric circle, beginning at the earliest of our ancestors and moving outward as this circle grows. The circle is continuous, its width determined by how many members of the family are living at any given time. The circle itself remains unbroken. Let me give you an example: When Joan and I married, I became a part of the circle of her family and she became a part of the circle of mine. In effect, we merely widened an existing circle of life with the joining of two families. I suppose that one could carry such a theory back to Donne when he wrote, “…every man is part of the main.”

            Approximately nine years ago, I began a conversation – and that’s all that it was for those whose minds may run counter – with a lady in California. She had recently lost a dear friend to cancer. We chatted about the differences in life on the East versus the West Coast. We talked about education for we are and were in the field. We shared recipes for we both enjoy cooking, and, of course, we talked about our children.

            When Joan’s cancer was diagnosed, my California friend became a one-person support group. She would write such things as, “If she wants dinner at four o’clock in the morning, get your butt out of bed and make dinner,” or “Don’t worry, your family will get through this; you have to lean on each other, but don’t let Joan’s illness make the rest of you sick.” There were words of encouragement and words that were scolding; after all, her wounds were still reasonably fresh and being able to offer comfort was and remains one of her strengths.

            Following Joan’s death, my friend came for a visit. We toured Boston, spent four hours on historic Lexington Green, and went to Cape Cod. We found that many of our interests were similar, including crafts as hobbies, books of a similar genre, foods that neither of us should be eating, and NCIS as a favorite television program.

            Today, we are companions, and, as with my own mother before, the children are not happy that their remaining parent is seeing another person socially. However, I come back to Donne: “No man is an island.” Living life alone after fifty years of companionship is lonely and unpleasant to say the least. Widow or widower, if being alone works for you, great. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid of rejection by your family, for it’s your life, not theirs, and you must live it as you choose, not as they wish. Your happiness is paramount, and the older you are the more you deserve that happiness. After all, if things don’t work out, your family will still have time to say, “I told you so,” even if it’s at your funeral or memorial service, not that it’s going to matter to you a whole hell of a lot, for the older we grow, the more we come to realize that we really don’t wish to be alone and that the choices we make are our responsibility, not that of others.

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            Do you remember the first couple to sleep in the same bed on a television program? No? It had been suggested by the writers in 1962 that Lucy and Ricky Ricardo might share the marriage bed, but that was kyboshed by the censors. The same suggestion had been made for Rob and Laura Petrie of the Dick Van Dyke show a year earlier, but that too was considered much too risqué for television. The first animated couple to sleep together in a bed on television was Fred and Wilma; that’s right, The Flintstones. The first live action couple – somehow that doesn’t sound right – was in television’s very first sitcom, Mary Kay and Johnny, back in 1947. No one has ever been certain of how that one got by the censors.

            Understand, if you will, that I’m not a fanatical television watcher. Yes, I like the  sports and a few crime dramas, but while there may be violence – more so in the sports than in the crime dramas – the sexual innuendo and sometimes more than innuendo appears to be reserved for the daytime soaps of which my wife is so fond. I’ve walked by the family room a few times and been stopped in my tracks to see scenes that leave very little to one’s imagination. I expect this if I’m going to see an ‘R’ rated movie; heck, even ‘PG’ films are getting away with nudity. You might even see it at halftime on the Super Bowl if you’re quick enough, but daytime TV has given new meaning to the word, ‘steamy.’

            As much as the barriers have been dropped for what can be shown on television – I was a bit shocked when I heard a female detective on one drama say, “Well, we’ve got him by the balls” – the ads on television get me even more. Back in The Flintstone days, the primary sponsor was Winston cigarettes. Winston, however, dropped their sponsorship when it was decided that Wilma would be shown pregnant. Slowly killing people in real life was okay, but a pregnant cartoon character overstepped the bounds of decency. What’s wrong with this picture? Since breast enhancement and penile enlargers now comprise a good part of the e-mail we receive, I suppose it won’t be long before we’ll be seeing those ads on Saturday morning cartoon shows. Can’t you just picture a young woman walking out to the driveway where Dad is washing the car and asking him, “Daddy, do you think if your penis was bigger, it would make Mom happier? That’s what they said on television.” At the same time, her brother is in the kitchen telling Mom that she needs to get bigger boobs to satisfy Dad and he just saw how she could do that very thing on a television ad. Jesus, talk about needing therapy!

            I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, consider myself a prude, nor have I ever been accused of such by friends. However, between the television shows and the ads that appear on TV and in print, I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, a reassessment of my moral code might be in order. “When the time is right, will you be prepared,” asks an ad for Cialis or Viagra or one of those pills that will give you a rock-hard erection. They go on to say that if your erection should last more than 36 hours, you should see your doctor. Hell, if it lasts that long, I’m going to go running up and down the street singing, “Love for Sale,” or “For Once in My Life.” Of course, they do warn you that overuse may lead to other medical problems. Sure, you might burst a blood vessel or have a heart attack, but as the old joke goes, “It’ll take the undertaker three days to wipe the smile off your face and get the casket closed.” Hey, if it was good enough for Errol Flynn, Nelson Rockefeller, and a few other stud muffins, it’s good enough for me.

            It’s not only these ads for sexual performance that I find offensive, it’s how they work in the side effects. “Don’t take this product if you are pregnant or may become pregnant. Other side effects may include constipation, dry-mouth, runny nose, headaches, spots before your eyes and an insatiable desire to consume a gallon tub of Ben & Jerry’s Rocky Road.”  Actually, I just threw that last one in to make sure you were paying attention. Seriously, however, I really don’t need to be told just after dinner that a drug might cause diarrhea, vaginal or rectal bleeding, increase in blood pressure, or a reduction in semen. This is over sharing at a new and completely uninvited level. Just tell me what the drug is for, why you’re going to charge my insurance or me an exorbitant price to get me to take it, and then let me ask my primary care physician if it’s a drug I should consider. He has a book on his desk. It’s called the Physician’s Desk Reference or PDR. It will tell my doc all about your drug, including the side effects and the interaction it may have with other drugs I’m taking. He will then say, “Sounds good to me,” or “You don’t want that,” and I’ll accept his word. My doctor I can trust; a salesman posing as a doctor is quite another story.

            It’s not only television where we seem to have crossed a line. Many of the print media refuse to advertise tobacco products which leads companies like Phillip Morris and some others to take ads highlighting their names and in small print telling the reader how evil cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are for your health. You’ll note, however, that they still manufacture and sell their cigarettes…more than one way to get brand recognition, eh?

            My late wife once called to my attention a newspaper flyer from a major pharmacy. “Maybe it’s just me,” she said, but I can’t believe they’re advertising these products on the same page. It’s just so incongruous.”  Here’s the lineup for the page: Kotex, Playtex tampons, and Poise Pantyliners – so far, so good – Liv Breast Self-Exam Kit, Ovulation Predictor, and Vagistat ointment. We also have protective underwear and Sennatab laxative, and in case you OD on the Sennetab, we have Imodium AD. If that doesn’t work, you can clear everything up with Mylanta, Pepcid AC, or some generic calcium antacids. The last three don’t really bother me, but I guess maybe I am a prude when it comes to advertising certain things. What used to be regarded as private and personal is…well, it just isn’t anymore. I think I prefer the days of mystery.

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            The story is told of a young boy with a terrible temper. He lived on a farm and when mad, would throw rocks at farm animals and do other terrible things. ‘Strapping’ him didn’t reduce the boy’s temper and his father decided that perhaps another lesson was in order. He gave the boy a hammer and a bucket of nails and told him, “Whenever you lose your temper, I want you to drive a nail into the barn door.” The first few days were somewhat noisy around the farm as the nails were being driven into the door on a regular basis. As the days passed, however, the boy found that it was easier to control his temper than to drive nails into the heavy door. Fewer and fewer nails were being driven, and the boy’s father began to smile. The day finally came when the boy said to his father, “I have not driven one nail in the door today. “Good,” said the father. “Each day that you can hold your temper and not get mad, I want you to remove one of the nails you’ve already driven.” Now, each day, you could hear the squeak of nails being withdrawn from the door. The process was reversed and as the days passed, more and more nails disappeared from the barn door and went back into the bucket. Eventually, the day came when the boy came to his father and said, “I have learned to control my temper so well that there are no more nails in the barn door, nor will I ever have to drive a nail there again.” He added, “But father, the door is filled with holes and it looks terrible.” The father smiled and told his son, “There is the lesson to be learned. Once you said something bad, did something bad, behaved in such a way that you felt the need to drive that nail, the deed was done. Even when you removed the nail, the scar was left. That’s how it is with life. We say things, do things, and behave toward others in a way that wounds them. No matter how hard we try; no matter what we do, we have left a scar on that person forever. As you go through life, son, remember the lesson of the barn door.” 

            I’ve paraphrased the story because there are so many versions of it. My point, however, is that it seems that more and more of us are guilty of driving nails these days. For example, I wrote an article several weeks ago that a friend took as a personal attack. It was never meant that way, but that’s how it was perceived and perception is reality. Unfortunately, I’ve lost a friend. When compared to what I see on television and read in the newspapers, I guess I’m not alone.

            The other day I was speaking with an Asian woman. She’s a professional in the medical field. Her family escaped to this country from Viet Nam when she was only eight. She had been raised a Buddhist; however, her family enrolled her in a private Catholic school in this area. There was another Asian girl in the school, the adopted daughter of American parents. Unlike my friend, Kim, she did not suffer the taunts of “gook” and other insulting, hurting, hateful remarks. Kim’s married now, with children of her own. Her daughter is attending a private Catholic school. As many parents do, Kim volunteered to be a ‘classroom mom’ and cafeteria monitor. When her turn rolled around, she noticed that her daughter was the only Asian in the cafeteria. “It all came back,” she told me. “I thought I’d gotten over it; I hadn’t. When I left the school I was shaking; when I got home, I couldn’t stop crying. I asked my daughter if the other kids ever teased her. She said that they never did. I was so thankful, but to have that memory come back so many years later was extremely painful.” I cannot help but wonder if the kids, now adults, who called Kim racial slurs are aware of the lasting pain they caused. I wonder if they’d even care about the nails they’d driven.

            The former President of the United States went ahead and authorized wire tapping without court orders, endorsed the torture of detainees, told the country that the “mission was accomplished” in Iraq, and then did not understand why his popularity rating was so low. You drove nails into the door of the nation, George and Dick and Karl, and then you tried to justify your actions by attempting to legislate them; then you tell us that this war may not be over for years; you have admitted the truth and pulled the nails from our ‘door,’ the scars are still there and will remain there forever as part of the legacy of you and your administration. What’s done is done and you cannot undo it. You left a mess both domestically and internationally from which this nation may never recover. Why you are still being defended by anyone is beyond my ken.

            The current President of the United States will be forced to do something absolutely spectacular if he expects to serve another term. He’s been criticized for spending too much money to bail out banks and businesses, but what if he hadn’t? He’s been criticized for pushing through a bastardized version of a health care program that will doubtless wind up as another government bureaucracy and not help those for whom it should have been intended. What will he do? Will he withdraw from foreign wars? Some will say then that he is inviting attacks on our borders. Will he clamp down on illegal immigration? That will incur the wrath of those immigrants who entered legally and who see no reason why America’s borders should not be open to everyone. Personally, I do not see Barack Obama as being able to do anything that won’t piss off one group or another, and you can trust that the irritated group will get much greater media coverage than any logical explanation that might come from the White House Press Room.

            Even the Pope got into the act of driving a nail. In remarks, he “referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything Mohammad brought was evil “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Using the terms “jihad” and “holy war,” the Pope said violence was “incompatible with the nature of God.” Now His Holiness is backtracking and apologizing. Sorry; the damage is done; the nail has been driven into Muslims everywhere, and no amount of apology will make up for the original remark.

            For decades we have ignored global warming as a threat to our environment and to the very planet on which we live. Milder winters, hotter summers, tsunamis and more violent storms, and yet, most of us go merrily on our way, convinced that it’s just a few alarmist extremists who are trying to frighten us. Or, perhaps it’s just that we don’t care. My view is that these are irresponsibility nails that we’re driving into our planet, and I don’t believe there’s a damn thing enough of us can do, so we’ll just continue to drive our nails until one day, like the dinosaurs, we too will disappear.

            Here’s a headline that I saw: “In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal.”  The article went on to say that, “Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest…attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies.” Doesn’t this type of thinking cause you to wonder about the people who are running our country? And should the Democrats retaliate in kind, wouldn’t you wonder about them? Elections are based on issues. Who is best serving you, the constituent? Who will look out for your rights, those of your children, those of your community, those of your country? It seems that there are two requirements to run for political office today: (1) You must be a multi-millionaire, and (2) you must not care for those whom you are supposed to represent. Isn’t that a sad commentary on what our government has become?

            There is a wonderful quotation that applies to our ‘nails.’ “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” These words have been attributed to several authors as well as ‘anonymous’ and ‘unknown.’ The author matters little; the message is what counts. It belongs on barn doors everywhere…from the farm to the schoolhouse, to the town hall, to the state house, to the doors of Congress, and, most assuredly, to every entrance to the White House.

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            “Old people are usually senile.  They’re all alike. They’re so set in their ways that they either can’t or don’t want to learn anything new.  Most of them are just lonely and all they think about is death. Besides, they all die shortly after they retire. They don’t make any major contributions to society.”

            Whoa! Now that I’ve managed to irritate every senior citizen within reading distance, let me qualify the above statements. They are part of a true-false aging quiz given by Linda Woolf at Webster University just outside of St. Louis. Dr. Woolf is a professor of psychology and one of her areas of expertise happens to be gerontology. We spoke several years ago when I was preparing a workshop on ageism, and she was kind enough to share some of her materials with me. Now, as I approach that point where some of my youthful friends have taken to calling me “Old Man” – please note the capital letters – I figure it’s time to dispel some of the myths about aging. To do this, I’m going to draw upon personal experience, Dr. Woolf’s research, and a little bit of Internet ‘digging.’ So sit back, relax, put the feet up, and let’s talk about old age.

            Senility or as it’s known more correctly, dementia, is not a normal part of aging, nor is it inevitable. Statistics vary from study to study, but most agree that approximately 2-3 percent of older adults in their seventies experience some form of dementia. This jumps to 5-10 percent of older folks in their eighties and can be between 20-30 percent of those in their nineties. As our elderly population increases and those over 65 now form a majority, these figures will increase. The point is, however, that just because we’re old, it doesn’t mean that we are necessarily suffering from dementia. Studies have found that dementia is often related to diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease and believe it or not, those diseases can strike at almost any age.

            Anyone who considers that all older people are pretty much alike – and there are many who express that opinion – better get a new pair of glasses or step out of the fog. The older adult population is the most diverse or heterogeneous age group. We have been molded by our life experiences and each of us has been altered by those experiences. We’ve made choices that have led us down different paths into different areas of learning. We’re an exciting group and about the only time we become homogeneous is in our response to disease. At that point, we’re just like everyone else. Not long ago, I had the opportunity to speak with a few high school classmates about our 50th reunion. It was exciting to learn where life had taken them and to see the different paths each had traveled. Elderly people, not as a group but certainly as individuals, are more excited about learning new things that some of their younger counterparts. From weblogs to I-pods and from yoga to pilates, you’ll find many senior citizens as up-to-date as their youthful counterparts.

            The myth that loneliness has an automatic connection to old age and that the elderly think a great deal about death is one of the most widespread…and nothing could be further from the truth. Death is a fact of life. Perhaps we become more matter of fact about death. We lose friends and family members and look at death as just a part of life, accepting if you will, our own mortality.  As far as loneliness is concerned, survey after survey has shown that more than two-thirds of older adults report being rarely if ever lonely.  According to Dr. Woolf, “It closely parallels the degree of loneliness experienced by young and middle adults.” If there is a fear of loneliness, it’s usually based on the thought of losing one’s spouse and the isolation which follows. That, too, is more myth than fact. The majority of men remarry after the loss of their wives. Women, on the other hand, tend to become more involved in new social relationships and friendships with other widows. Believe me, I know there’s a punch line in there but there are times when discretion is the better part of valor.

            Retirement is not a death sentence. If you are still working, think about the number of times you’ve said, “If I only had the time, I’d really like to…” Well, guess what, you now have the time. I always wanted to write and to express my views…no comments please. I wanted to become more active in the community and have found ways to do that thanks to Pat Carty-Larkin, Director of the Council on Aging, Tom Viti, Library Director, Lisa Lehan, Chair of the No Place for Hate committee, and several others. My calendar is full and not every appointment begins with “Dr.” Nor am I alone. Retirement doesn’t kill; inactivity can be the real killer.

            The classic myth about senior citizens not making any significant contributions to society is one of my favorites. If you happen to wear bifocals, you can thank Ben Franklin; of course, he didn’t invent them until he was 76, the same age at which Galileo invented the telescope. Picasso was still painting at 92 and Grandma Moses was doing the same at 101. Alexander Graham Bell may have been a youthful 27 when he invented the telephone, but he also solved the problem of stabilizing airplanes when he was 70.  The examples can go on and on. Age is not a factor when it comes to making significant and positive contributions. As Somerset Maugham wrote, “Imagination grows by exercise and, contrary to popular belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.”

            There are any numbers of myths concerning aging, just as there are a number of truths. Yes, our five senses tend to decline as well as our overall strength. However, we can be fast, flexible, and focused. Most of us are looking ahead, not in the rear view mirror. Just think of all of the changes we’ve seen in this world. We’re excited and looking forward to seeing what the future will hold and how we can be an integral part of it. Move over world; here come the old folks.

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            Can you remember back to the time a few years ago when retirees in Florida were being arrested for shoplifting? There were a number of news stories about it, and they were rather sad to see. The senior citizens were very good at hoisting hamburger, grabbing grapes, or pilfering prune juice. For them it was a question of which was more important, buying food to eat or paying for the medications that were helping to keep them alive. Catch-22 doesn’t begin to define the bind in which these people found themselves. It really wouldn’t surprise me at all to know that the “senior food capers” are on the increase everywhere. We just don’t hear about them anymore because the news that sells is more vicious and violent.

            Some seniors, however, have discovered a new way of supplementing Social Security or other meager programs of retirement existence. According to a police source in a surrounding community, seniors with medical problems are asking their doctors for oxycodone for pain or hydrocodone for coughs. They may then get their prescriptions filled and sell them, piecemeal or in total, to those with opiate dependence or addiction. “Never happen?” you say. Sorry, but you’re wrong. It happens not because that nice little white haired old lady a couple of apartments down wants to be the local ‘dealer.’ It happens because she’s trying to put food on the table as well as pay for medications which she really needs to be taking.

            Oxycodone addiction is a regular dependence on the drug. If the addict is unable to get it he or she will begin to feel the pain of withdrawal. The person may feel shaky, sweaty, and nauseous, develop cramping in the abdomen and is unable to maintain a focus on anything. The only concern is getting more oxycodone. This may sound like an exaggeration; however, it is the reality of addiction. If the addict is not experiencing this, he or she will. The fear of these withdrawal symptoms can be the reason that someone addicted doesn’t stop taking oxycodone.

            According to Narconon, a California-based web site and treatment center, “Addictive drugs activate the brain’s reward systems. The promise of reward is very intense, causing the individual to crave the drug and to focus his or her activities around taking the drug. The ability of addictive drugs to strongly activate brain reward mechanisms and their ability to chemically alter the normal functioning of these systems can produce an addiction. Drugs also reduce a person’s level of consciousness, harming the ability to think or be fully aware of present surroundings.”

            Let me give you an example from personal experience. In 1972, Joan, my wife required back surgery. This was before the days of morphine pumps that mete out only so much of the drug over a 24-hour period. In fact, things were very different. Every four hours, Joan would receive an injection of morphine…day, night, awake, asleep, it didn’t matter. After three days, all morphine was stopped. After 18 injections of morphine, she was ‘cut off,’ cold turkey. She had become addicted in that space of time. I sat in her hospital room as she described a wall covered with black bugs and witches flying through the window, coming to ‘get her.’ She kicked it and came back fine, but for several hours, it was a living hell. It’s also one of the reasons why both of us are loathe to take any painkiller that is a morphine derivative. That includes Percocet or oxycodone. This, of course, leads to other problems. If one doesn’t take pain medication when it really is required, he or she can actually inhibit the healing process. It’s a damned if you do; damned if you don’t situation.

            The Narconon web site talks about the cycle of drug addiction. It follows a pattern similar to this: A very normal person has a problem. It may be causing emotional or physical pain, and it becomes extremely difficult for them to deal with what they are experiencing. The person feels a need for help in coping with this problem. That ‘help’ may take the form of drugs or alcohol. The pain is deadened by these artificial ‘saviors,’ and so the person continues to turn to them. Eventually, the person loses control; the initial problem is forgotten, or becomes a distant memory; and the only thought is how to get more drugs or alcohol. The person begins to develop an obsession with getting and using drugs and will do anything to avoid the pain of withdrawal from them. The newly-created addict will resort to anything for drugs, including lying, cheating, or stealing…from strangers, friends, or even family. Narconon states, “The addict will seek drugs for the reward of the ‘pleasure’ they give him, and also to avoid the mental and physical horrors of withdrawal. Ironically, the addicts ability to get ‘high from the alcohol or drug gradually decreases as his body adapts to the presence of foreign chemicals. He must take more and more, not just to get an effect but often just to function at all.

            “At this point, the addict is stuck in a vicious dwindling spiral. The drugs he abuses have changed him both physically and mentally. He has crossed an invisible and intangible line. He is now a drug addict or alcoholic.”

            Addicts rarely know they are out of control. Helping them to seek assistance can be a challenge. Intervention can often be painful and strain relationships. Oh sure, there are steps and programs that are recommended by any number of groups, Narconon among them. I feel inadequate to tell you which works and which don’t. My single recommendation would be to seek professional guidance from your family physician if you believe someone in your family or circle of friends has a problem. One other bit of friendly advice: If you have any of these prescription painkillers around the house, either lock them up or dump them when you’re through with them. Why put temptation in the way of a member of your own family?

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            Oftentimes, simplification results in excessive complication. Have you ever noticed that? “This new ‘hoo-ha’ is going to make everything you do easier and with less burden.” Meantime, the ‘hoo-ha’ is so damned complicated that instead of making things easier, each time you go to use it, you need a written set of instructions tattooed on one or both arms just to make the thing go. It’s the classic, “So simple a child can do it.” This is probably true, but if you happen to be beyond childhood, it will take you several degrees in various fields of engineering and electronics. The marketing people who think up these classic challenge statements are also the same sadists who, in charitable moments, note, “Some assembly required,” which translates to “If you can build a space station to the specifications of several countries, you’ll have no problem putting this together.”

            I can hear the laughter and see the smirks now. You’re saying to your spouse or significant other, “Hey, Dumbo, the writer, got something for Christmas, and he doesn’t know how to use it. Probably can’t follow the directions,” and you chuckle at my expense. How nasty of you; how unfeeling and callous; how wrong you are! It wasn’t this past Christmas; it was several holidays ago, but I’m just now learning the complexities of the device or devices. Well, perhaps “learning” is not the appropriate term here because I have not yet mastered all of the intricacies of these marvels of electronics.

            “Stupid?” you call me. Is that what you said? “A VCR is the simplest thing in the world to use,” you chuckle. Hold it, Ace, I’ve got news for you. Let’s go back in history. I purchased a new television set a few years ago. It came with its own remote. Comcast, of course, has their own remote, which is supposed to take care of everything…a universal remote. Maybe so, but I’m not certain it’s for this universe. Then, because the television remote and the Comcast remote don’t control the VCR, there is a VCR remote. To give you a small indication of just how complicated the process of watching a DVD on a VCR – don’t you just love the acronyms – you have the potential to use 138 buttons. That’s how many there are on the three remote controls…one hundred and thirty-eight bloody buttons. Do you realize, do you have the slightest comprehension of the possible number of combinations and permutations to which that could equate?

            Give these three remotes to a child between the ages of seven and ten and the video disk will be playing beautifully in approximately thirty seconds. Give the same three remotes to anyone over the age of 17 who is not attending MIT on a full scholarship, and you may – note that last word carefully – get to see the DVD sometime before the twelfth of never…and that’s a long, long time.

            Now I will admit that each of these remotes has the numbers one through zero as part of their face. In addition each has a button on either side of the zero. One remote has a smiley face and a sorrowful face; what, I have never dared find out do those do for me. A second remote has a “TV/VCR’ button on one side of the zero and an “HD/ZOOM’ button on the other side. I tried the first one day, but it merely shut off the television set and the cable box, so I don’t think I should bother with that, and, as a result, I have been too terrified to try the other button. The third remote also has a button on either side of the zero. One is blank and the other is marked 100+. I think of myself as somewhat courageous, but I’m not about to touch either one, not while the Celtics and Bruins are doing so well…and I do enjoy watching them.

            There are red, green, yellow, and blue buttons; there’s a “sap” button which I think may have me in mind. There are “angle” buttons, and “skip” buttons, and buttons that bear the initials, “A,” “B,” and “C.” There are even buttons entitled “swap” and “pip.”  Perhaps my favorite is another I’ve never dared touch; it’s called “sleep,” and I don’t know whether that means that it will put me or the television set into a sleep mode…I don’t think I want to find out.

            Here, then, is my dilemma; one television set; one VCR, and three remotes. I heard somewhere that there is a thing called a universal remote. I’m told that I possess one of those. However, the people who tell me these things by telephone never volunteer to come to the house to demonstrate how one of the three is ‘universal.’ I think they lie. They probably don’t know which is universal, if any, and they don’t wish to be exposed.

            To be somewhat charitable, I will tell you this: I can turn on the VCR with one remote. I have even learned to remotely open and close the gizmo into which the DVD is inserted. This remote, I have learned, does not start or stop the DVD; that’s the job of a second remote. This second beast is also the one which I must use to change the television set into a projection screen for the DVD. Are you still with me? Oh, Lord, I hope not. I hope you’re as confused as I have been in the past. It would make me feel so much better. Finally we come to the third remote and this is the one that will control the sound, speed, and everything else about the DVD.

            I blame the disk, the movie I so wish to enjoy and I shouldn’t. More correctly, I should lay the blame at the door of Philips, Comcast, and Samsung. Heaven forbid that one of these remotes should ever be misplaced. Either my house will become off limits for visiting grandchildren or the four-year old will make everything work without benefit of any remote. And, as Jimmy Durante used to say, “What a revoltin’ development that will be”

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“Some days you’re the bug; some days you’re the windshield.”

“Some days you’re the statue; some days you’re the pigeon.”

“Some days you’re the dog and some days, you’re the hydrant.”

These somewhat-less-than erudite clichés occurred to me as I was losing another game of solitaire on my computer. I was, once more, the bug! Cards? What are cards? Do they still even sell those cardboard thingies with which we used to cheat at solitaire…or any other game that we played by ourselves? Remember “peeking,” and don’t tell me you never did it. If you can say you never “peeked,” you have to be wearing wings and a halo, and for that, you’d be in bigger trouble. There’s another game that I “enjoy” playing whenever I’m trying to lose myself in creative thought; it’s called “spider solitaire.” It’s a mindless game and one that you have to think about to lose. However, it is still possible to become the bug, the statue, or the hydrant. This is why I don’t join those online games where you’re playing against someone or a group of someones. In my heart of hearts I just know that I would become the bug, the hydrant, or the statue. My fragile ego just couldn’t stand it.

There are times when your days are like that. You wake up; the sun is shining; the sky is blue; your shower, breakfast, and clothing feel just right; and then….bam, you become the bug. Traffic on the central artery to work is back to back because someone was busy talking on a cell phone, texting, putting on makeup or even trying to read a newspaper, when the back of the big rig “just appeared,” and their front end came to a crunching meeting with the semi’s back bumper. You think, “If my day is starting to suck, imagine what that one’s going through.” So, despite the fact that you’re stuck in traffic, for you the world is a heck of a lot better than that “bug” you finally managed to get by. Unfortunately, because of the traffic tie-up, you managed to miss the first meeting of the morning. Even though you used your cell phone – oh boy – to call the office and explain the situation, you still receive some of “those looks” from some of “those people.” – back to being the bug again.

Should the rest of your day pass without further incident, you may consider yourself (a) fortunate, (b) just plain damned lucky, (c) you’ve found just how expendable you really are, or (d) nobody really gave a rat’s ass and they looked at you “that” way just to piss you off because you looked at them that way the last time they screwed up. Look at the positive side: You’re leaving the office alive. You may now, as you head for the parking lot, assume that you are once again the windshield. If this happens to be the summer, you are the windshield only until that point where you unlock the door of your car and get slammed in the face by escaping heat – forgot to crack the windows open a bit once again, eh – bug! Upon entering the car, you may now consider that you have joined another exclusive club. As the sweat pours from your face and forms in pools in your armpits and over your love handles, you realize that, in addition to being the bug, you are now the hydrant!..Your beloved vehicle has become the dog. While the air condition begins to work its miracles, so does the traffic. Fortunately, you have a full tank of gas, because you, my friend, are a planner. Unlike that idiot at the side of the road, with his hood up and his radiator steaming, you take care of your wheels. Once more, you have achieved windshield status.

When, not “if” but when, you receive the call on your cell phone to pick something up at the market, you are not at all concerned except (a) for getting off the phone because of the traffic and (b) trying to remember what you are supposed to get because you really should have had a list for that many damned things. The market is fine; however, the line in which you find yourself is the one where the person at the register has a coupon for each item purchased…all fifty of them! Should you decide to change lanes, you may rest assured that the one to which you go will also suffer some malfunction of some type while the one where the coupons were on display will suddenly speed up and you watch the people who were two carts behind you leave the store. Stay where you are unless you wish to assume “bug status” one more time.

When you finally arrive home, you will be asked one simple question: “Did you forget the hamburgers?” or whatever was really the most important thing on the list. Don’t fuss; don’t fume; you are now living in complete “Bugdom,” where all good bugs go to die. With luck, you have not chugged down that first, second or third highball to ease the tension of the day, so back you go to the market for the…”What the hell was it; oh yeah, the hamburger…whew!” Into the store, pick up the hamburger, into the express line where you are the only customer, back into the car, the traffic has diminished to nothing, and you head home, once more the windshield.

Just as you close your car door, a low flying pigeon accurately makes a deposit on your shoulder. This is how your day ends. You have been the windshield; you have been the hydrant; you have been the bug; and now, you end your day as the statue with shit on your shoulder. Congratulations and have a nice life.

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            “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast” is actually wrong…well, the quote is wrong.  William Congreve’s 300-year old couplet actually reads, “Music hath charms to sooth the savage breast, To soften rocks or bend a knotted oak.” Breast or beast, it doesn’t really matter; there is no question that music has power and can cast a spell over most of us.

            I’ll bet you think I’m going to launch into a diatribe about what passes for music today versus the tunes of yesteryear. Wrong, because I’m not qualified to make that comparison. I don’t and won’t pretend to understand today’s music any more than my parents could understand what we found so compelling and appealing about the music of the fifties and sixties. No, I would prefer to discuss with you what music means to you and to me.

            Many of us are so hung up on the computer and the Internet, cell phones and text messaging, as well as other innovative electronic devices, that I’m not certain we even pay attention to ‘music’ except as background noise in our everyday lives. If you happen to be a gym rat, as I am, you see around you people of all ages, weights, shapes and sizes; men and women wearing I-pods of two, four, and eight gigabytes strapped on their arms, attached to their waists, or wherever. You see the ‘Shuffle’ clipped to a shoulder strap or hanging on for dear life to some part of the outfit while the exerciser bounces up and down on a treadmill, elliptical, stairmaster or some other torture device. At the same time, there are multiple television sets, sound turned off, and a sound system screeching for the benefit or to the horror of those without earphones.

            But let’s get back to the music; to the headset crowd. Whether it’s working up a sweat in the gym, shopping in the mall, walking down the street, or laying out in the summer sun – a little late for that, but you get what I mean – we are a nation of ear buds and headphones. Does the music mean something to you, or is it just ‘there?’ What do you think about when you hear a certain song, or artist, or album? Does music have meaning for you or is it just the ‘white noise’ of having something going on in your head so that you don’t really have to think? Does it, as is true for many of us working out, make the time go more quickly? Better yet, why am I asking you all of these questions when I know damn right well you won’t be answering me? Aha, therein hangs the tale.

            A friend suggested that I might like to add Nana Mouskouri, a Greek singer, to my own I-pod – yes, I’m one of those. Her voice is truly magnificent, and when she sings, no matter what she sings, I’m transported to someplace I’ve visited or have seen in film or on television. When she sings Amazing Grace, I can see myself standing by the Custis Lee mansion in Arlington, Virginia, staring out at the fields of crosses and Stars of David that dot the cemetery landscape. She performs The Long and Winding Road with a strong mandolin accompaniment and I see the Greek Islands and the blue-green sea. Does this sound weird to you? In talking with people, I’ve learned that I’m not alone in how I interpret music or see beauty in song.

            Tell me that you and your wife, husband, lover, or partner don’t have an “our” song. Any version of Old Cape Cod used to cause us to sneak a peek at the other with a little smile. The rendition offered by the late Patti Page, however, will invariably cause us to begin talking about other times. Today, when I hear the song, it brings tears to my eyes, thinking of the one I’ve lost. One friend of mine speed dials his wife whenever The Wonder of You plays on the radio as he’s driving home. When she answers, he just holds the phone close to the sound until the song ends; doesn’t say a word, and hangs up…she knows. Others tell me of friends who cry when they hear a certain song, not from sorrow, but from the joyful memories the music conjures up.

            Does all of this sound rather crazy to you? These are the things about which we don’t openly speak, and it’s usually for that very reason. When we ask what music means to them, friends look at us strangely and sometimes ask, “What are you, nuts?”  You can bet, however, that secretly they’re asking themselves, “How did he know,” or, by the very question, a song and a memory are brought forth in their minds.

            There are, of course, those to whom music is nothing but noise designed to interrupt the beauty of silence. Although, as Aldous Huxley noted, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”  Elvis Presley once admitted, “I don’t know anything about music. In my line, you don’t have to.” However, there are many to whom “The King” will always be a master of music…well, at least of his genre of hip shaking, teen screaming music. And Jimmy Durante, for those who remember the gravelly voiced, piano playing comic, is quoted as saying, “I hate music, especially when it’s played.”

            So whether you happen to be a “knotted oak,” a cranky old “rock,” or a savage beast, I’m willing to bet that some music, whether it be classical, rock, opera or easy listening, can make your world a better place, if only for a few minutes at a time.

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         “Have you stopped writing?” he asked me. We were at a celebrate-spring-in-the-backyard cookout, and I was chatting with a neighbor. “Not really,” I told him. “It’s just that the news and the issues are all so depressing that writing opinion pieces about them tends to magnify that depression. “Know whatcha mean,” he said, and we went back to our Buds. His comment did get me thinking, however, that maybe, just maybe, it was time for a ‘Mouthing Off’ column…one more time.

Have you noticed that the NCAA is now saying they’re going to enforce academic standards for collegiate athletes? Of course, academic reform is something that the NCAA has been talking about for decades. I’ve yet to see them do anything about it other than in those collegiate sports that didn’t produce any revenue for the organization. Now the NCAA is proposing an incentive/disincentive plan that will penalize colleges and universities whose athletes don’t make normal academic progress and reward those who do. Sorry, but this is just another joke being perpetuated by a close-knit group who will, as always, find loopholes to crawl through. The NCAA has to rank at the top of the list as far as “old-boy networks” is concerned. We may be tossing kudos to former Dedham High School and Northeastern basketball coach, Jim Calhoun, but did anyone bother to notice that Connecticut graduated less than 33 percent of their men’s basketball players? Perhaps it’s unfair to single out UConn; perhaps the criticism should be leveled at Division I athletic programs generally, with football, basketball, and increasingly, baseball, as the real culprits.

            I can remember years ago, when Pat Dye was the head coach of Auburn football. His star quarterback was exposed by a local paper and going to be penalized for plagiarism, carrying a concealed weapon aboard an airplane, and accepting gifts above and beyond what was allowed by the NCAA. The first and second charges were mysteriously dropped, the first by intervention of the university president; the second by the local police…who just loved their Auburn Tigers. Dye said that he’d suspend the quarterback on the third charge, and he did. He suspended him for one play of one game. Wow, that’s a pretty harsh penalty! Sometimes I wonder if that quarterback ever received a degree from Auburn, or did he, for whatever reason, become academically ineligible right after his last game. Most recently, we’ve had coaches accused of getting others to buy the booze and get the hookers for recruits, and if you haven’t seen the final exam given by assistant basketball coach, Jim Harrick, Jr. at the University of Georgia, you haven’t experienced the ultimate in “gut” finals. Question number 19 particularly impressed me: “If you go on to become a huge coaching success, to whom will you tribute (that’s right, ‘tribute’) the credit? The options were (a) Mike Krzyzewski, (b) Bobby Knight, (c) John Wooden, or (d) Jim Harrick, Jr.  Is this a fine example of the coaches to whom we’re entrusting our youth? Fortunately, Harrick is something of an exception; unfortunately, there are too many coaches who don’t see what he did as being wrong. I’m certain, for example, that a sterling example of ‘coachinghood’ such as Dave Bliss, the former coach of Baylor, will land on his feet somewhere. Hey, all he did was try to frame his murdered center as a drug dealer. A number of “big name” coaches have left one school amid a scandal, only to wind up in a major program elsewhere. This includes people like Lou Holtz, Tubby Smith, Gary Barnett, and Bobby Knight, all embarrassments to the coaching profession.

            The list goes on an on, but now the NCAA is putting forth a “new reform package,” labeling it as an historic step forward. Just who is kidding whom? Graduation rates will, of course, improve. However, the education rate will remain the same. It’s up to the college and university presidents to clamp down and insist on standards that are just as high for athletes as for others. And if you don’t think that’s a Catch 22 situation, let me tell you that when many Division I football teams have a losing season, gifts to the annual fund drop drastically. Two losing seasons at some schools and the coach is out the door, all too often followed by the president.

            Here’s one alternative: Let’s not impose any standards of academic performance on these ‘professional’ athletes. Let’s just classify them as an “alumni entertainment expense,” bring them in on weekends for the games, provide them with full-time employment, and at the end of four years, say goodbye and good luck. You think that’s wrong? Hell, folks, it’s a lot more honest than what the NCAA and too many Division I colleges and coaches are doing right now.

            That’s me; just mouthing off…again.

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