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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

There was a time when I could be as shocked as the next person over some well-known celebrity’s death, but if you think about it, what the hell, it’s going to come to everyone sooner or later. When your time is up, it’s up, and there’s really not much one can do about it. In the Bible it says, “Oh death where is thy sting; oh grave, where is thy victory.” This is told to us because the Bible says that something better is waiting on the other side of death. We don’t know that for certain because no one has come back and gone on the lecture circuit to tell us how great it is. Why would they? If it’s so great, heck, they’d stay there and soak it up…which is probably why no one has come back. My sister tells me that when she died and before she came back, she saw “sheer beauty,” but then the doctors’ reclaimed her so she’s no help…nah, she’s a good kid!

Many of us have experienced family death. The question is whether it’s been sudden and shocking or a lingering illness that steals the live of someone we loved. My father was rather young when, riding in an open touring car, he lost his biological mother to a train crash. My mother’s folks were not so lucky. They lingered in a hospice facility, side by side, as cancer wasted them away. You might raise the question, “Why were they ‘not so lucky’?” If you’ve ever watched cancer kill, you would have your answer right there.

When Florence Henderson died recently, it got me to thinking. Here was a woman born in the same year that I was hatched. I didn’t really think of her as the “Brady Mom,” but more for the musical shows in which I had heard her. She had a terrific voice, was the voice of the first ‘Fanny’ and, as I understand it, ‘Oklahoma’ was written with her in mind for the lead role. But now she’s gone, and it was just another reminder of my own mortality. She died of heart failure. I’ve had four heart attacks. Makes me sortta wonder.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really fear death itself. My life has been extremely full. I’ve traveled across America from east to west; been north and south and spent time in the places in which I wanted to spend time. Got married to a terrific lady and together we raised three pretty darn good kids. Got them educated, into adulthood, married, and now they each have three. Along the way, I’ve watched the kids set collegiate records, run their own businesses, coach Olympic athletes and, in many ways, do far better than I ever could have dreamed…or done myself. I guess we can all brag about our families in one way or another. I have been twice blessed by another woman whom I love and now, in my dotage, I can look back and say that there are very few things I haven’t done that I truly wish to have accomplished. So, bring it on. Death, you have no sting for me. My sins are many and I may wind up where the sun doesn’t shine and heat is pretty bad, but what the hell (so to speak), I’ll meet so many friends that at least I won’t be lonely. The single drawback will be that my wife won’t be there. She’s in a more heavenly place.

Dying, of course, is a different story. It’s rather like that interim step toward the completion of your goal. You’re born…you live your life…interim step…death. Those seem to be the stages. Perhaps that third step, because of its uncertainty, is the one that I fear. I’ve known several folks who have just gone to bed at night and didn’t bother to get up the next morning. That sounds all well and good but what the heck were they dreaming about when they passed. A former classmate was laying on the couch and didn’t say anything…just rolled off and was dead before he hit the floor. It doesn’t really matter what that interim step is because we will all take it in one way or another.

It might be wise for all of us to pay heed to the words of author Jordan Smith, “When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so that when you die, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.”

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I keep thinking that I’m living in one of the very worst political periods in the history of this nation. Yesterday afternoon I learned that I am wrong. Shocked? You shouldn’t be. I’m perfectly willing to be wrong, after all, I have been wrong once or twice in my life. I happened to arrive in the family room as Juli was beginning to watch an episode of “American Experience” on PBS (It’s on Amazon in case you happen to have that). If you’ve never seen one of these programs, your education is, as mine was, sadly lacking. This particular ‘experience’ dealt with the assassination of President James Garfield.

Here is the paragraph that displays my naked ignorance. I did not know that Garfield had served as an officer in the Civil War. Nor did I know that he made rank all the way up to Major General…at the ripe young age of 33. He was victorious in battle, brilliant of mind, and a dedicated abolitionist after seeing the way in which slaves were treated in the Confederate South. Although he was left fatherless at the age of two, he somehow worked hard enough to earn enough money to go to college, graduating from Williams in 1856. President Lincoln persuaded him to resign his commission with the Union forces and run for Congress, telling him that he could find plenty of major generals, but he couldn’t find many allies in Congress. He was reelected 18 times and became the leading House Republican, respected by all and hated by more than a few for his honesty and his ability to speak eloquently on every topic of the day.

Okay, you say, so why was then like now? Good question; glad you asked it…even with a little prompting. The answer is patronage, arrogance, and intimidation. In addition, like both of today’s Presidential candidates, Garfield had a scandal to live down. He was implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandal in which congressmen who owned stock in Credit Mobilier, a construction company for the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad, were accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in the company.

Garfield was content with his position of power in the House and had no greater ambitions, at least, as far as we know. However, at the 1880 Republican Convention, he failed to get his friend, John Sherman, nominated and on the 36th ballot Garfield found himself elected to carry the Republican banner. He won by only 10,000 votes, and everyone wondered whether he would be just another clerk for the corrupt New York Senator, Roscoe Conkling, who had controlled the previous two Presidents or if he would be his own man by selling NY votes to whoever promised him the “best deal.” Conkling was “king” of patronage in New York, then the largest city in the United States, more than double the size of the next largest city. It had been Conkling who could deliver the votes – approximately 10,000 – necessary for any candidate to become President, and while Garfield didn’t promise him anything specific, he agreed to meet with and listen to the Senator prior to the election. He even agreed to accept Conkling’s lackey, Chester A. Arthur, as his vice presidential running mate. Conkling thought he heard what he didn’t really hear from Garfield’s lips and turned the tide in favor of the Republican candidate. When Conkling did not receive the expected largesse from the new President, he tried everything short of assassination to get Garfield removed from office. James Garfield, it seemed, was his own man and would run the country his own way, eliminating corruption and patronage from his administration.

Considered to be one of the four “lost” Presidents – Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, and Harrison – who served uneventful administrations following the Civil War, Garfield is best known for being assassinated…not a particularly notable feat. Since his assassination took place only 100 days after he took office, we will never know what kind of President Garfield might have been. What we do know, however, is that if you wish to enrich your own personal education, you will seek out programs such as “American Experience” on your local PBS television station.

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When I asked about one of my high school classmates recently, I was told, “Aw, he drank himself to death some time ago.” I thought to myself, “Well, that makes two from our class that I know of.” It’s not a pretty picture. How many others, I wonder, abused alcohol? We had less than 80 people in our senior class, and while two out of eighty might not sound so bad, you go ahead and do the math as it may concern the teenage and adult population in the United States. Let me save you some trouble…there are more than 12 million alcoholics in the United States.

Hindsight is a truly wonderful thing. As the cliché goes, it’s 20/20. Looking back to my days at Northeastern and at Babson, I can now recall people I knew who always had alcohol on their breath and who would act confused at times. Naïve little me, I guess. Today, I can honestly say that I was really too damned dumb to notice erratic behavior. Perhaps that’s because there were more than a few mornings when I was nursing a hangover. Thankfully, Joan and I came to our senses before things went too far.

Looking at the statistics on alcoholism, I find that three-fourths of all adults drink alcohol, and 6% of them are alcoholics. That’s really a staggering number – no pun intended – of people who abuse alcohol. Americans spend $197 million each day on alcohol…and that’s not even counting moonshine. In the United States, a person is killed in an alcohol-related car accident every 30 minutes. Perhaps this explains why, even on my early morning drive to the gym or whenever Juli and I are out in the car, my eyes are always shifting to what’s going on in the oncoming lane. Sure, I’m going to die, but I’m not eager to have it be at the hands of some drunk I don’t even know! Two other facts that were somewhat surprising…people with a higher education are more likely to drink, and the same is true for people who are considered to be wealthy. I’m not certain what the correlation is, but it seems that if you’re well educated and rich, you’re more likely to be a drunk…for some reason, that just doesn’t compute, but it’s out there.

A friend of mine recently went to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He told me that he’d finally had enough and that it wanted to quit drinking. His feeling was that he couldn’t do so without help. He indicated that he was shocked when he went to his first meeting because he knew every other person in the room. As I’ve learned over the years, alcoholics are very well versed in how to hide the disease from others. Yes, alcoholism is a disease. It’s not a choice that most people make. It consumes the mind and body of the alcoholic, but it also affects those around him or her. While there are 12 million alcoholics as I’ve said, there are another 50 – 60 million friends and family members who are affected by this debilitating disease.

At this point, time has elapsed since the last paragraph was written. I became angry while writing it, and that’s when objectivity leaves, ergo I’m better off walking away and coming back when I’ve cooled down. My anger stemmed from the fact that I can remember, during my drinking days, of how my family was affected by my drinking. I didn’t like who I was or what I did, but thankfully, those days are long past and there don’t appear to be any residual effects.

Just because you or I may live in a ‘dry’ town doesn’t mean that alcohol isn’t easily accessible. There seem to be more “Town Line” liquor stores abutting the dry town lines than there are restaurants or any other type of establishment. No, liquor is a very easy thing to get one’s hands on. Drinking is one of society’s more widespread and accepted forms of addiction, so how do we spot the alcoholic? ‘We’ don’t have to spot someone with an alcohol dependency. Alcoholics know who they are. It’s one of the few self-diagnosable diseases there are. Asking one’s self a few simple questions can provide answers. Do you drink to relax or feel better? Do you hide your drinking or bottles of liquor? Do you drink to the point of blacking out? How often do you drink to this point? Are you unable to stop once you start drinking? Do you drink in dangerous situations, e.g., when you may have to get behind the wheel of your car? Is your tolerance to alcohol increasing? Do you find that you are neglecting things at home, work, or school? Have you tried to quit but find that you are unable to do so? These are just a few of the signs or symptoms that alcohol is no longer your friend but has become your master. I had a boss who, when we went out to lunch, had to have at least two drinks to get him through the afternoon. In addition, he would become upset if I didn’t drink with him. It made for a few awkward situations.

Why am I writing about all of this…again? It’s been done to death, and no one needs to be reminded about the dangers of alcohol. Well, maybe that’s wrong. Maybe we all need to be reminded of it. God only knows we see enough of the results of it on television…cars wrapped around trees or driving the wrong way and killing others just trying to get home. Yeah, we do need to be reminded of it…and on a fairly regular basis. Alcohol dependency is one of those things that for which we do have treatment centers and programs. Let’s make it personal…I used to drink to the point where I wasn’t very pleasant to be around. I used to drink and drive, but I got away with it. I no longer drink and I’m better off because of it. Every so often one friend or another will tell me that they are going to meetings or that they’ve been sober for so many days, weeks, or months. I understand that. I will always understand that. And I will always help anyone who seeks my help to quit. None of us wish to become one of the 100,000 who die each year from alcohol-related accidents.

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Less than a month after graduating from college, I was walking down the aisle of a Catholic church in Waban – that’s one of the many villages of the city of Newton – marrying a beautiful girl that I had met seven months before in one of those quirks of fate ‘thingies.’ I had been exercising my option on a second major and doing some substitute teaching and on the first day on the job, was smitten with an arrow from Cupid’s quiver. She was smart, beautiful, and the weird part was…she liked me! I’d already had one bad breakup over this Catholic vs. Protestant religion idiocy, and while I wasn’t certain about spending a lifetime together, I was damn well certain that that would not get in the way with this girl.

Fifty years, three children, and nine grandchildren later, we buried the girl who’d become a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and my best friend. But as you would know had you read “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, it was neither the date of her birth nor the date of her death but that little line between them that made our lives together so wonderful. If there was ever any truth in the statement that “opposites attract,” it certainly applied in our case. She was an only child from a reasonably prosperous family and lived in a large city. I was one of three from a family that struggled mightily after the Great Depression and who, by comparison, lived in a rather small town. Finding one another as we did, well…you could only describe it as quirky.

The first seven years of our marriage was a series of highs and lows. The highs came in attending numerous shows in Boston, having a place of our own on the Cape and attending every performance that the Falmouth Playhouse had to offer; dining in some of the finer restaurants around and generally enjoying our jobs. She became Director of Admissions at Tufts Dental School, and I was slowly moving up in my job at Northeastern. We commuted together, tried new recipes together, did a few crazy things together that you don’t need to read about and in total, had a wonderful life. The lows came as we lost three children before they were born…and if you haven’t been there, it’s pretty low.

The first two children might have been called Irish twins, they were born so close together. The third came along a few years later. As those of you who are married well know, life with young kids is a life unto its own. They become the center of your universe. We were no different. Elementary school, Cub Scouts, Brownies, PTA, Little League, and a host of other activities combined to eat up that time formerly dedicated to plays, movies, and restaurants. In our case, swimming became the dominant focus. I swear that our car could have gone from Newton to the Brown University swimming facility on its own. As parents, we maintained our “slim” figures by sweating it out at day-long swim meets where the indoor temperature seemed well into the triple digits.

Then…she was gone. The kids, by now, were married with children of their own. The house…well, the house was empty…except for a man growing older with little to do. A few years later, a new lady came into my life…all the way from California. Life became worthwhile living once more. This love was different…and so was the lifestyle. From restaurants and shows, it became craft fairs and drives around New England. It was learning the history of this part of the country and teaching me the history of her part of the world. It was a renewed form of education. From Boston Duck tours to a helicopter ride.

The rite of spring became building of raised garden beds – she did the building – to watching seeds turn into summer squash, jalapeno peppers – wow, could they be hot – and tomatoes. I was taught about heirloom, pear, cherry, yellow, and beau coup other types of tomatoes. We had radishes – who the hell eats radishes – cucumbers, and even a season or two of green beans and peas. All of this was totally foreign to me and to what my life had been like. Other parts of the yard were taken over by a variety and abundance of lilies, sun flowers, forget-me-nots, and hyacinth. Roses included Mr. Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, cocoa, roses-within-roses, yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and on and on. Flowers were planted that bloomed in early spring, followed by late spring, followed by summer. It appeared that color appeared from April through October. My new love sprayed with her own concoctions of both fertilizer and bug killer. Diatomaceous earth, normally used in the pool filter, became a barrier against slugs; lily beetles were plucked with tweezers, and tomato worms quickly learned the errors of their ways if they were gutsy enough to get anywhere near our plants.

Why do I tell you these things? Why would I lay a part of my life bare for all to know? There are many answers, but perhaps the most important one is directed at those who are widows or widowers. Life does not end when your partner dies. It does not end when the nest empties and only the two of you remain, often as strangers because so much of your time has been devoted to children rather than each other. You may have to learn to love again, but it will be a deeper love and yes, it will be a different type of love. And then, as I have said, you will be alone. Friends will come and they will go; few, if any, leaving the footprints on your heart that were already deeply imprinted. If you are as fortunate as I, and you may well be, someone will come along, and you, you will find a totally different world…again, just as I did. Remember, life is worth living to your very last breath.

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Let us make some assumptions…you may believe them to be unwarranted and that’s your privilege. However, that is the Royal “us” which means that I am the one making the assumptions, and you, well, you’re just along for the ride.

The first assumption that I will make is that I, you, me, we, am dead. We have crossed the great divide, gotten on board our particular plane, seen the bright light and heard the most beautiful music we’ve ever heard, etc., etc., etc. By the bye, this really isn’t an assumption; like it or not, there will come a day when whatever is on our bucket list will have to remain there because we have kicked that particular bucket.

The second assumption I will make is that we – you and I – have been reasonably good people. Without fanfare, we have supported charities, given a buck here and there to a homeless person, not committed murder, although we have stolen things from the office, lied about a few “small” things, seen a special human being along the way and, as President Jimmy Carter once remarked, “Lusted in my heart.” All in all, though, our former life had more ups than downs, and, except for that time when our bracket got totally busted in the first round, life has been good.

The third assumption I will make is that we – thee and me – went directly to the first level of heaven. No, it’s not like Dante’s first ring of hell. And, this isn’t like purgatory where you get to serve time before you go ‘up’ or ‘down.’ This is a nice place…with one exception. When you arrive, you are immediately assigned a seat in a beautiful glass building. This chair to which you have been assigned and to which you are magically transported, is known as the seat of heavenly knowledge. You see, for as good as you and I have been, we still have to ‘earn’ our wings, so to speak. While we thought that we knew the consequences of our actions on earth, here we are to learn precisely the results of our actions. For instance, remember the time when you nudged that golf ball a bit to the right to help you make that shot that got you out of the woods. You didn’t think anyone was watching, but your young caddy saw it; saw you get away with such a simple thing; he went on to be a world class money manager who robbed people of their savings…and you can just imagine the consequences of that. But that’s okay because in front of your seat is a long desk. It has books that tower out of sight. You will stay here and read every one of those books. You will ponder what happened worldwide when you took every single action in your life. Once you have completed reading, you will be asked what you might have done differently, either to make the results other than they were or to leave them as they happened. This isn’t a quiz on which you’ll receive a grade…well, not as we know grades…no, this is a quiz to determine your eligibility to move on in the heavenly scheme of things. By the way, cheating isn’t an option. Saying that you didn’t actually move the ball will just put you on another plane…very quickly…and it isn’t going up…get the picture?

So you sit in your seat, looking up at the tower of books. Next to you is another heaven-bound individual. His book tower is somewhat smaller than yours. You ask him why his book tower is smaller. He answers by telling you that he died over 3,000 years ago. This rattles you just a wee bit and you look back again at your tower. “Holy crap,” you think, “I’d better get busy.” As you say this, the first book, the one at the very bottom of the tower, slides out before you. Before opening it, your curiosity gets the best of you and you turn your head this way and that, to the left and right; then you turn and look back. The seats and desks go back far beyond your ability to see all of them. What you can see is that some seats are empty; others have towers of books larger and higher than your own, and some are much smaller. Looking ahead you see the same thing…seats, desks, occupants, small towers, larger towers, everyone reading, everyone concentrating on the book in front of them. You begin to read.

Each second of each minute, of each hour, of each day, week, month, and year appears to be contained in these books. As you read, you find that you and everyone, everything, every moment of your life affected the lives of millions of others. You learn that you, along with everyone else who ever has been or is now existing, is part the Chinese butterfly effect which, in turn is part of the chaos theory. Let me give you a simple example: In your middle years, for no reason at all, you passed a street musician, stopped, listened as she played the violin, and she played well. You dropped a five dollar bill in the hat in front of her. With that five dollars, she went to a fast food restaurant. Her violin case was seen by a man who was having a quick lunch. He asked if she played. He heard her music and took her to someone he knew in the music business. She went on to become a concert violinist of such renown that others were influenced to pick up a violin and being playing, etc., etc., etc. And all, of this happened because you took the time to drop a five dollar bill in a hat. Obviously, there were a thousand steps before the violinist achieved her dream of having thousands or millions hear her music, but you were a part of that. It has been said that a butterfly, flapping its wings at just the right moment, may someday, cause a tornado in Kansas. True or not?

And so you read…

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Four score and a bit over a year, it has come to me that the Lord, yes, the same God who judges us all after we exit stage left, right, or into the orchestra pit, has a remarkable sense of humor. Man works like hell to solve problems, and it seems that just when he has the answer to one, the Good Lord smiles and tosses man another little problem to solve. Examples? How about the diseases that plagued London in the 18th Century? There was sewage in the streets and filth everywhere; smallpox was killing people by the thousands. Bye the 19th Century, however, man had semi-conquered smallpox with a new device and sera called vaccinations. No sooner was smallpox considered more of a minor irritant than cholera and typhoid appeared. It was rather like the God saying, “If you’re going to do nothing about sewage and cleanliness, I’m just gonna keep tossin’ these little diseases attcha until you wake up!” Of course, mankind did finally wake up, which is perhaps one of the reasons for the cliché, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but let us attempt to keep the clichés to a minimum.

In 1845, the Great Famine that killed over a million people in Ireland was another little gem tossed to the beings on the planet. It took 168 years to figure what the hell it was, but in 2013, scientists finally figured what the infestation was that caused crop failures worldwide, but that hit Ireland particularly hard. According to one source, Ireland has yet to recover its full population.

I really shouldn’t say the God is responsible for the famine and disease that has plagued the earth since the time Eve took the first bite of an apple. Man seems to have done a fairly good job of mucking up the gene pool on his own. The Native Americans were far healthier than the European settlers who landed in North America. According to Native American Netroots, “The diseases brought to this continent by the Europeans included bubonic plague, chicken pox, pneumonic plague, cholera, diphtheria, influenza, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. The diseases introduced in the Americas by the Europeans were crowd diseases: that is, individuals who have once contracted the disease and survived become immune to the disease. In a small population, the disease will become extinct. Measles, for instance, requires a population of about 300,000 to survive. If the population size drops below this threshold, the virus can cause illness and death, but after one epidemic, the virus itself dies out.” Nonetheless, our European forbearers did a pretty good job of infecting the Native Americans with disease. Other than stealing their land, this seems to be a pretty good reason for the Indians to be pissed at the settlers.

When I was a child (okay; no wisecracks; no, I did not know Adam and Eve…or their kids), my world was terrified of chickenpox and measles. It was believed that exposing us to a neighbor child who had one of the diseases would give us a lesser case or at the very least would give us immunity after the disease had run its course. Today, we know that the chickenpox virus remains in the system and can result in shingles in later life. It was just last year that my own doctor recommended a vaccination to prevent the virus from resulting in shingles. In addition, I don’t believe it’s any accident that one of my pox scars later turned into a basil cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that is rather easily cured.

Another frightening disease throughout my childhood was infantile paralysis or polio. It’s a disease that has been around probably has long as man has been here. In The History of Vaccines, it is noted that “Polio reached epidemic proportions in the early 1900s in countries with relatively high standards of living, at a time when other diseases such as diphtheria, typhoid, and tuberculosis were declining. Indeed, many scientists think that advances in hygiene paradoxically led to an increased incidence of polio. The theory is that in the past, infants were exposed to polio, mainly through contaminated water supplies, at a very young age. Infants’ immune systems, aided by maternal antibodies still circulating in their blood, could quickly defeat poliovirus and then develop lasting immunity to it. However, better sanitary conditions meant that exposure to polio was delayed until later in life, on average, when a child had lost maternal protection and was also more vulnerable to the most severe form of the disease.” The one thing that I know for certain is that a 16-year old named Jerry left work at the A&P in Rockland on a Saturday night in 1951 feeling great. On Tuesday Jerry was dead from polio. I still pray for his soul. He was a good kid, and I’m sorry I never got to know him better. Thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk and company, polio has nearly been eradicated, although 250,000 cases still appear annually in lesser developed countries.

Like polio, cancer has been around for thousands and thousands of years. Hippocrates, yep, the same guy for whom the oath was named, used the terms, “carcinos,” and “carcinoma” when describing some ulcer like sores that spread and killed. Today, we are still fighting the fight to find a cure for the disease. I do not know of one person I have ever met who has not, in some way, been affected by cancer. I lost my wife, my Dad, and two grandparents to the disease. You have either lost someone or know somebody who has lost a parent, child, or some other relative. Cancer is the most insidious disease I have ever known. Yes, Jerry died of polio and that was terrible. Worse is watching as your spouse, the mother of your children, waste away and stop breathing. Cancer will not be cured in my lifetime. Hopefully, it will be eradicated by the time my great grandchildren are born.

It’s easy to toss a lot of the disease and death in God’s lap. ”Man plans and God smiles.” No, that’s not really it. Perhaps the Good Lord did throw us a few speed bumps when things first got going, but we have certainly done a fine job of creating our own little killer bugs. I wonder what’s next on the agenda.

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The gym rat is an interesting species and comes in many forms.

While most would consider the gym rat a person who is constantly working out, this is a fallacy. I have been in gyms where, when one opens a locker – generally a bottom locker and one that actually opens without the use of a pry bar –  a genuine, a-number-one gym rat will jump out and slink away, finding some hole in a wall that has either been kicked in or punched out. These particular gym rats are not sociable, have little to say, but they will feast on athletic gear that has been left behind for any period of time…including sweat socks and old jock straps. You might wish to consider moving away from this nominally-named gym rat at a rapid pace or send it on its merry way with a good swing of your gym bag. Do not concern yourself that this particular species will fight fair if it decides to challenge your authority; it does not work out on either cardio nor with free weights. Its only form of protection lies in its mouth…a rather nasty set of incisors which can cause a surfeit of damage.

There are many more species of gym rats, some to be avoided at all costs, and others to be admired from afar…or up close and personal if you have no fear of being torn limb from limb by some crazed martial arts specialist who’s just been dying to try out her newly-acquired-skills on some unsuspecting fool. It’s also necessary that you understand that species of gym rats vary from facility to facility and name to name. For example, at some establishments it is possible to see a species of gym rat known as “Musculature-excessivitis.” The male of the species can usually be found around the free weights rack, admiring both the free weights and the image of himself in the mirrors that abound in this area. If you should espy one at a time when he is using these free weights, you will note that the weight is sufficient to cause each vein in the body to appear that it will soon burst through the skin and send a torrent of blood skyward. In all fairness, it should be noted that all well-muscled members of the species are not steroid users, merely men so in love with their own musculature that they are constantly attempting to improve the way they believe men or women will find them more attractive. The female of this species is exceptionally deceptive for their manner of dress differs markedly. It ranges from the floppy sweatshirts and pants to spandex that appears to have been spray-painted on the body. The former are generally friendly and will offer suggestions if asked. The latter are usually too busy admiring their own bodies to be concerned dealing with yours.

The species or category of gym rat that I have found to be most common in the several gyms I have attended are the “Preservationists.” These are what I might refer to as “my folk.” They or we, whichever floats your boat, are the middle-aged to seniors who attempting to preserve some form of dignity with whatever they have left on their decrepit frames. Most of us have suffered through some life-altering experience that has set us on a long-term plan to not suffer such an experience again in the near, middle, or even distant future. The exercise pattern is not complex by any manner of means. It is a combination of cardiovascular exercise, accomplished by use of a treadmill, elliptical machine, stair stepper, rowing machine, or some other sweat creating torture device, with either free weights – those dumbbell type ‘thingies’ – or machines that, when first viewed, scare the living daylights out of the prospective user. In total, the preservationist may spend as many as two hours in the confines of the gym, a minimum of one hour of which will be spent chatting with others of their type regarding various aches, pains, and lack of sleep. Preservationists are harmless. Their desire is to live a bit longer than others who do not exercise or, as in the case of some, live just to see another sunrise.

Many gym rats are hybrids, the only thing classifying them for what they are being that they are consistent in their use of the gym. Six days a week, generally at the same time, you will find them exercising. For some, it’s a regimen for dropping pounds in order to fit into last year’s shirts and suits; for others, it’s wishing to fit into last year’s bathing suit or skirt. For almost all, it’s an attempt to look and feel better, both physically and mentally. From over 20 years of experience, I can say that on those days when I return from the gym, I feel energized, and I find that my mind is just a wee bit sharper than when I don’t exercise…wisecracks about my state of mind are always accepted!

Are there other pure, non-hybrid gym rats? Of course there are. To classify most of them, however, would be insulting. The “Look-at-me-look-at-me” and the spandex crowd are more pathetic than pure, and those who use the gym merely as a hangout for an hour or so are just comedic. I have been fortunate in my years as a preservationist. I have met men and women from all walks of life; from drug dealers to headmasters; from police officers to doctors; from prosecuting attorneys to those involve with homeland security; from teachers and nurses and everyday housewives just trying to stay in shape; all have been nice to me, and I’ve enjoyed my conversations with each and every one. The heterogeneity of a gym is remarkable, and I love every minute of my time spent there…rats and all!

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