Archive for the ‘Exercise’ Category

I have a serious problem with aging, that is, I don’t particularly care for it. “Exercise,” they say, “you’ll feel better if you exercise.” That’s wonderful, so I exercise most mornings during the week and at least one of the weekend days. Yes, I feel better after exercise, but it doesn’t last, this euphoria of having busted my ass riding a friggin’ bicycle. Within an hour or so, I’m ready to climb back under the covers and sleep the day away. But that’s not the proper way to do things either. The whole thing leaves me somewhat confused. Am I tired because I’m old, or am I old because I’m tired? Ask the question of five doctors and you’ll probably receive ten different answers.

I believe it was the late Andy Rooney who said, “It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.” Getting old seems to mean that what one thought of as a pretty good body and mind begins to deteriorate too fast for one to actually comprehend. “So how does this aging process work?” I ask myself. The first answer that I receive from this wonderful Internet of ours is, “The human body goes through a variety of changes as it gets older. In general, muscles, blood vessels and other tissues lose their elasticity. The heart becomes less efficient, bones become weaker and the metabolism slows down.” Aha and eureka, that explains why I can no longer bench press the weight I did when I was 60 or even 70. It probably also explains why I get up so often in the middle of the night to pee, but that’s a bit of information overload that no one really wants to hear about…discussions of my bladder are rather…well, you know. As far as my heart’s efficiency is concerned, it, hopefully is as efficient as six stents will allow it to be. I find that my heart rate on the bicycle I ride appears to be getting lower and lower, which, as I understand it, is a pretty good sign that all is well.

It’s really just that getting older is a pain in the arse, as the Brits might say. My mind tells me that I should be getting the garden ready for planting, yet when I step outside, the very thought of mixing peat moss, manure, and garden soil exhausts me, and I have to sit and rest. It is written in Matthew (26:41) that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” This fits my situation on the one hand, but on the other, it does not. Jesus thought that his disciples should be praying rather than sleeping. My mind tells me that I should be doing one thing, but my body asks, “Are you kidding me?”

I remember back to the days when our kids were in elementary school in Newton. My late wife and I were part of a team of parents that built a new playground for all of the children. Actually, it was the men (and this is really sexist!) who moved the heavy truck tires and screwed all of the giant timbers together. Joan and her colleagues were busy preparing the pot luck meal that we would enjoy at the end of a hard day. And it was a hard day, but the playground was great, the kids enthralled by their new things to climb on, swing from, and slide down. The meal was terrific, and the soreness went away in a couple of days. Today, the very thought of tackling such a project is enough to cause me to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep…even dreaming about doing such a ridiculous thing makes me tired. As Mark Twain once remarked, “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.”

The good thing about aging is the very fact of doing it. Many are denied the opportunity to do so. Therefore, I guess that I am somewhat blessed to be 82 and still writing, reading, crafting, and exercising at the local gym. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy the quote from best-selling American author, Brandon Mull…“The curse of mortality. You spend the first portion of your life learning, growing stronger, more capable. And then, through no fault of your own, your body begins to fail. You regress. Strong limbs become feeble, keen senses grow dull, hardy constitutions deteriorate. Beauty withers. Organs quit. You remember yourself in your prime, and wonder where that person went. As your wisdom and experience are peaking, your traitorous body becomes a prison.” Yes, I still dream of hand-over-hand on the monkey bars, being able to press 200 pounds, doing the 50 pushups that I could do when a drill sergeant screamed, “Drop and give me 50, pig shit;” but those days are long gone. It’s nice to dream about what was, but it’s wise to remember that those are just dreams.

My real dream now is to reach 90. It’s the age at which my Mother said her last goodbyes, and it’s a nice round number. I see all of these ads now that promote new cancer drugs that enable those with that terrible disease to live longer. I have to ask, “Why, why would you wish to live longer if it means that your quality of life is shot to hell?” I prefer to have a good quality of life, free from pain, for a shorter period of time. As one wag put it, “I want to slide into Hell with a martini in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a horny blonde in my lap, and shout ‘Wow, what a ride!’” Of course, in my case, I stopped smoking and drinking a long time ago…and I really don’t remember…what’s a horny blonde?

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“From the day you’re born, you begin to die.” I have heard this so often from so many bloody pessimists, that I’m rather disturbed by the statement itself. Furthermore, nothing could be less truthful. It would be better if it was said that, “From the day you are born, your destiny is to die.” Not one of us can foretell whether or not we will be a great chemist or teacher, mathematician or bus driver, doctor or physicist, but we all know that from the moment we begin to understand life, our final destiny is death.

Obviously, I think about death. What 82-year old do you know who doesn’t consider it to some degree or other? Oh, don’t know any 82-year olds? Hell, you don’t know what you’re missing. We are, alternatively, joyful, cynical, hypocritical, positive, negative to a degree you wouldn’t understand unless you were 82, and at times, we are absolutely youthful and playful. In other words, we’re just about as screwed up as the rest of the world’s population…but we can be one whale of a lot of fun at a party…as long as it ends by 7 pm.

So no, we do not begin to die when we are born. In fact, we begin to grow. As usual, I’ve bounced around the Internet to learn when we actually do begin the process of dying. It appears that our brain, lungs, and skin are the first to go. According to a column in the London Daily Mail, and confirmed by a few others, “As we get older, the number of nerve cells – or neurons – in the brain decrease. We start with around 100 billion, but in our 20s this number starts to decline. By 40, we could be losing up to 10,000 per day, affecting memory, co-ordination and brain function.” Now, I don’t know about you, but the math would indicate that it won’t be long before I become a blithering idiot. No, of course that’s not true. Our neurons can regenerate, if only in certain portions of the brain. Hey, and guess what helps this ‘neurogenesis?’ There are a couple of things, and one of them is physical exercise. I’m not going to ask my neurologist why this is so, but I would add this: On days that I exercise really hard, I have more energy and can attack with greater success such things as crossword and jigsaw puzzles, and have more interest in taking on new challenges. In addition, I find that my attitude is more positive than on those days when I don’t make it to the gym.

Like the brain, the lungs also mature at about age 20 – 24, yep, even those that haven’t been messed up by smoking. Since I happen to be one of those jerks who didn’t heed the Surgeon General’s warnings when they first appeared in 1975, you can just imagine how bad my lungs are. Hell, I didn’t quit until 1998. I now have emphysema as well as COPD, and I can tell you firsthand, it “ain’t no fun!” If you happen to be a smoker, give quitting a chance. I know it’s a bitch, I’ve been where you are, but believe it or not, you will feel better in about three weeks.

As far as our skin is concerned, let’s face it, most of us treat our skin brutally. We’re sun freaks; we don’t ‘lotion’ up to keep the skin soft and supple, particularly men, so it really is no wonder that our skin, by the time we’re 20, is ready to rebel…can ya blame it?

Let’s talk about the heart. The heart begins to age at around 40. Referring again to the article in The Daily Mail, The heart pumps blood less effectively around the body as we get older. This is because blood vessels become less elastic, while arteries can harden or become blocked because of fatty deposits forming on the coronary arteries – caused by eating too much saturated fat. The blood supply to the heart is then reduced, which can result in painful angina. Men over 45, the time of my first heart attack, and women over 55 are at greater risk of a heart attack. What can you do to prevent becoming a victim of the number one killer in the US? This one’s going to hurt so hang on tight. The first thing you can do is to watch your diet. I didn’t, but I sure as hell do now. The second thing is exercise…yes, I know I’m beginning to sound like Bob Harper or the male equivalent of Jillian Michaels, but it’s truly impossible for me to tell you just how much better you’ll feel. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to begin a regime of daily exercise, but it works. I didn’t begin regular workouts until four years after my first heart attack. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t want to join a gym. It was too much work. You think of the excuse and then recognize it for exactly what it is…you’re lazy. Start off by taking a walk around the block three times a week. Okay, so you have to get up half an hour earlier to do it. Your loved ones as well as your heart will thank you. Oh, by the way, before you do it, check with your Doc. After all, he’s the one who’s been telling you for years that you don’t get enough exercise.

I’m not going to go through each and every organ in the human body, but I was a bit surprised that our breakdowns occur a bit earlier in some cases and a bit later in others. Our hair begins to leave us after age 35. The eyes begin aging at 40. Men, you can expect your gut to become noticeable by 55, and ladies, sorry but the boobs begin to age at 35. All in all, while death may be our final destiny, it’s probably a good idea to take care of what we’ve got while we’ve got it. But whatever you do, enjoy life; far as I know, it’s the only one we’ve being given.

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“How’re ya doin’?”

“Terrific, thanks; how about you?”

(No answer, but…) “Well, you’re lookin’ terrific!”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? I told this person I was “terrific,” and he looked at me like I’m some kind of liar. If I was doin’ shitty, I’d tell him, “I’m doin’ shitty,” so what’s the big deal. Does he want me to say that my back hurts like a son-of-a-bitch because all of the lumbar vertebrae are self-fused and they can’t even get a bloody needle in to give me an epidural anymore? That my back is so bad that I now have to use a cane to ensure my balance? That there’s no cartilage in either of my knees and when I walk, I can hear the bones rubbing together? That the doctors tell me I wouldn’t survive the anesthesia required for knee replacements? Is that what he wants?

I’ve stopped telling people how old I am when they ask. “Old enough to know better, but still young enough to learn,” has become my standard mantra. It’s either that or “Old enough to know not to make the mistakes of my youth,” that’s another one I’ve used.

I sometimes think that people ask how old you are so they can feel better about themselves. The one that really gets my goat is some young stud or ‘studdess’ telling me they hope they can do what I do when they’re my age. Screw that; I do what I do because I’m not quite ready to kick the bucket yet, and this exercise shtick is what the doctors say will help to keep me out of the crematorium. Someone asks if I’m feeling all right and follows up with, “You look kind of pale.” I just tell them I’m feeling a bit ‘ashy.’ They never get it, but it gives me a pretty good chuckle…at their expense…you don’t have something nice to say to me, shut the f..k up; I don’t need to hear it…particularly at five in the morning.

I’ve learned that there is a singular advantage to using the cane. People hold doors for me, and even old ladies who can walk without aid will defer to me as I enter the gym. At home, I often leave the cane and walk around unaided. Then I bump into a wall or a piece of furniture and remember that the cane is used for a reason…yep, you’re right…not the brightest bulb on Broadway!

I’ve noticed, in my dotage, that I get more hugs from young women than I used to. I figure they don’t think I’m any threat to them any more. They’re right, of course, but oh lord, does it ever bring back fond memories of yesteryear. Hell, I wasn’t a threat to them even then…married at 22, father of three ten years later…I never had the time or the desire to be a threat.

You see, the way I look at things now is this: I have coronary artery disease, but I’ve survived the first four heart attacks and now have six stents in the arteries around the heart. I had an aneurysm in my abdomen that one of the doctors caught before it burst, but it was purely by accident that he discovered it…whew. I say “whew,” because abdominal aneurysms are the tenth leading cause of death in this country…yeah, I was surprised too. I smoked cigarettes for 51 years and have moderate emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to show for it…but it could be a whole helluva lot worse. I’ve managed to get by with nearly 20 surgeries to my credit, and if it’s all the same to those who care, I’d just as soon not have to go through any more. Although I must admit that Versed, one of the anesthetics being used today, is fantastic because it blocks out your memory and is great on pain…yippee Skippy!

The latest episode in this medical autobiography is the one that I guess I’ve been dreading for years. I was recently diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes. I don’t know how fast this disease progresses, but for someone whose two great loves are reading and writing, this comes as something akin to a good hard kick in the…backside. However, like everything else, this storm can be weathered. There are always books on tape – I can become a better listener than a reader – and my little blog is so filled with errors that it just means Juli will have to add proofreader to her already endless list of things I ask her to do on a daily basis…as I say, the blog will have a few more errors. I’m certain of this because I know exactly where she’ll tell me to go if I ask her to proofread. Since that may well be my ultimate destination, I don’t wish to encourage more people than necessary to tell me to “do it now!”

Well, that about sums it up from this side of the bar stool. Keep those comments coming. It’s always nice to hear what’s going on in the world of reality.

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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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Yesterday was something new, totally unexpected, and yes, rather frightening. Picture this, if you will; I had finished my workout and was heading to the counter to grab some Tootsie Rolls and to say my goodbyes to the young woman behind the counter. As I put the candy in my pocket, I started to get dizzy…again. “Oh, shit,” I said to nobody in particular, “not again!” You see, about a week before, I had a slight dizzy spell at the same counter, performing the same ‘grab the Tootsies,’ and say goodbye. Evidently, I hadn’t learned my lesson, whatever lesson was being taught by whom or what was doing the teaching. This time, the dizziness did not pass, and I woke up in an ambulance headed for God-only-knows-where.

Waking up in an ambulance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The most important is that you wake up. I’ve been trying to figure just how long I was out, and it appears that it was one hell of a lot longer than I first calculated. Figure it out: I fainted; they had to call an ambulance service; the service had to arrive and check me out. They then had to load me into the ‘bus,’ strap me in; start an intravenous line, and start on their way…that’s when I woke up…with a mouth so dry that desert sands would blow through and leave not a grain. That’s the way I remember it…not a friggin’ grain of sand would have stuck inside my mouth. Oh, and of course, I pissed my shorts…that was a lovely end to all things that were happening.

Now, when something like this happens, gym personnel are to notify your emergency contact. That’s all fine and dandy except the only number the gym had was my cell phone. Later in the day I listened to the message. “Hello, this is Planet Fitness calling. Richard Bishop fainted and an ambulance is taking him…where are you guys taking him…oh, they don’t know where they’re taking him, but he’s going to some hospital, somewhere and he’s talking.” I’m quite happy it was my phone on which the message was left. Can you imagine getting a message like that when you’re at home? Juli doesn’t panic but even so, I consider that to be the message from hell.

The “I don’t know where we’re going guys” finally agreed that Beth Israel Deaconess Health Care (BIDHC)  hospital in Needham would be a good place to drop their bundle. I must have passed out again because the next thing I knew I was laying in the emergency department of a hospital where I had only been a visitor on other occasions. It’s a small community hospital…or it was a small community hospital. It still has only 29 beds, but since it became part of the BIDHC, construction is going on daily…upward, downward, and outward. I was surrounded by nurses, residents and who-knows-who-else and being asked to tell my story over and over and over again. It must be wonderful to be able to tune out if it’s not your question that’s being answered. Of course, it could also be a sneaky way to learn rather or not I’m actually compos mentis…still sneaky.

It appears that I answered everything to the satisfaction of the group, most of whom I didn’t see for the rest of the day, but who cares. The nurse, who was mine for the day – isn’t that a great way to put it – was Erin, but to protect the innocent, we won’t use a last name. Let me just say that the hospital is blessed to have someone with her degree of professionalism and with such a wonderful personality [She doesn’t know it yet but I will be crashing her wedding reception]. The ER doctor on duty was Edward Ullman, M.D., and I give you his last name because it’s one of which to be proud. Doctor Ullman loves the emergency room; he lives for the moments of excitement when he can stabilize a patient and pass them on or send them home. His dedication to his task is enviable. He’s witty without being condescending; he’s thorough without being pompous; he’s everything you want to see and hear when you go into an emergency room situation. Throughout the day, as I waited for this test or that test, in corridor after corridor and in room after room, the staff was terrific. Having to wait even a few minutes for a test to begin brought apologies for the delay. One cardiac test required the injection of thallium. Thallium is a chemical element with an atomic number. It’s a minor radiation makes it, at least at this hospital, something you order only when you need it.  Mine had to be schlepped in from Attleboro, some miles away. This particular wait was worth it because the technician was a lovely Japanese lady named “Mako.” It seemed to shock the daylights out of her when I thanked her in formal Japanese. I may not know much, but there are certain things you learn when accepting gifts at a college, and one of them is how to say “thank you” in many, many languages!

I could go on and rave about Mike who transported me all over the hospital, first on my gurney and later in a wheelchair; or talk about the professionalism of Doctor Meghan York, the cardiologist who never appeared to stop moving. There was Philip, the retarded desperate child of Satan – he had the initials RDCS, after his name but I never did learn what they meant. All-in-all, the people I met during my lengthy stay at BIDHC were the same folks I’d like to have sitting in my house, drinking a few beers and just chatting away an evening.

Did they find my problem? No, they did not. However, they eliminated so many potential problems that I left there feeling a whole helluva lot better than when I was wheeled in. Doctor Ullman and I identified potential problems, and I will be following up with my primary care physician. As a piece of advice, I would offer the following: If you work out be sure to keep yourself hydrated. I’m not saying it was the cause for my fainting; I’m not saying it wasn’t. Who knows, but from now on, I will finish an entire bottle before leaving the gym.

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A gentleman with whom I am acquainted – well, I assume he’s a gentleman; never know these days – teaches philosophy at a local private school. For a number of years he was the headmaster of said school, but then he decided to get a real job – as I have been told on too many occasions to count by teaching faculty from here to hell and gone – and became an “educator.” Since I went neither through a liberal arts curriculum nor did I attend a Jesuit institution…the only two collegiate programs where philosophy seems to be a mandatory requirement…I was never exposed to philosophical thought. After several conversations with said gentleman, I began to realize just how sadly lacking my education has been. Were this to happen today, I could probably turn around and sue my undergraduate institution for not providing a compendious educational program, but to attempt this after having been absent the classroom for more – well more – than half a century, I would doubtless be throwing good money after bad. That is not philosophical thought; just common sense.

All of the above having been said, I am going back to school! “So what?” you ask, to which I respond, “When you stop learning, formally or informally, you’re dead and just too ignorant to lie down.” It’s never too late to learn. There are several reasons I believe this, the first of which is that I would like to be able to discuss philosophy on a more intellectual level with my acquaintance. Another reason is that, as was said earlier, without philosophy, my education is lacking and incomplete. I plan to take the same approach with journalism at some point, sadly having been denied the opportunity to pursue any formal training in that area. There may well be other subjects available through the Internet, but right now I’m settling on those two. A third reason for doing this is that I find of late, television programming is (a) idiotic; (b) idiotic; (c) idiotic; or (d) all of the above. It is with a certain degree of guilt that I must also admit that my reading list has begun to lapse into the mystery/murder/thriller genre, and it would be nice to get away from that for a while.

I will not pontificate on what I have learned to date. To do so would be to prove the adage, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln appears to have a quote for every occasion; that is another of his great ones. Let me just say that now that school has adjourned for the summer, I will have a few months to study philosophy and perhaps be able to carry on a reasonably less pompous conversation with my acquaintance when he returns to school and to the gym next year. Oh, that’s right, I didn’t tell you; we met at a gym. You meet the most interesting people in some of the strangest of places. Think about it…talking philosophy in a gym; discussing labor law…in a gym; conversing about politics without coming to blows…in a gym; I have even managed to get my utility company to bill me electronically…by speaking to someone at the gym,  thus proving that nearly all things are possible given the proper environment.

One of the things that I find truly amazing about the Internet is the amount of course work in various field that I can study without having to enroll or pay money, that last being perhaps the primary reason I do not hold a terminal degree from Grand Canyon, Southern New Hampshire, or one of the many online programs that are available; well, that and the fact that I’m on a fixed income. However, I’m not certain I wish to take online courses that are going to tax me beyond my limited abilities. To gain the basics of understanding of a subject with which I have no familiarity may well be as far as I wish to go, but go I will because, in this case anyway, I know someone who is an authority on the subject…and I’m a brain picker!

Think about this for a moment: You have died and on your first whatever in Heaven; I will assume you have gone to Heaven and not any of those other places, but on your first night, you are given the opportunity to dine with five other people of your choosing…and…there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion following dinner. Yes, I know, if you’re dead you probably won’t eat, yadda, yadda, yadda…give me a break, will you please? Who would you choose? Remember Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven? This isn’t like that. You pick five people; they may be people you have admired because of their contributions to the world…Mohandas Gandhi, Budda, or Confucius. It might be you’ve admired great warriors like Genghis Khan, Hannibal, or Alexander. I have to tell you that I would be very hard pressed to pick just five people with whom I’d like to exchange ideas. Recently, I watched – yes, back to television again, but this was Netflix or Amazon or one of those – a piece on Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Their fight for the rights of women might have put one of them at my table, but then I watched a piece on Jefferson and…well, you know what follows. Our world has been filled with those who could rightfully demand a place at your table or mine. What about our own ancestors; would they be a choice? If you have an interest in philosophy, would you have Epicurus, Aristotle, John Locke, or Plato at your table?

I can [and will…as always] offer a bit of advice on how to choose your dinner companions. Years ago, I taught a course in creative problem solving. The first step in what was known as the problem-solving wheel, was to identify all of the “messes” that required your attention. From that, your job was to identify the problem that first required your attention; which of the messes had to be cleaned up first before you could move on. In selecting that problem as the most important, I asked students and teams of students to answer one question when they felt they had identified the problem that they would attack. The question was, “Why?” If you can answer the question, why, five times in a row and receive a satisfactory answer each time, chances are you have the correct problem to attack. Perhaps that’s the question you should ask about your dinner partners. Why do you want Abraham Lincoln, for example? After you have given your complete answer, ask the question again and again and again, and one more time. If he stands the Five Why question, then he probably belongs at your table.

I leave you with this advice…use the Internet wisely; find out who attends your gym; and stay tuned for more about my foray into philosophy.

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In the midst of a world that is confounded by international terrorism, attempted takeover of nations, barbarism, an out-of-control drug problem, disrespect and harassment of those who are different, white collar, blue collar and any-other-collar-you-wish-to-name, I find myself surprisingly happy. Perhaps because it’s Friday, but that doesn’t fit because I’m retired and every day could be Friday for me. Perhaps it’s because winter is slowly, very slowly, beginning to give way to spring. However, I’m fully aware of what a fickle bitch winter can be, having lived through a late April blizzard and a May ice storm, so that probably negates that as a reason. No, I believe my happiness of today comes from something far simpler. I’m happy because I’m alive and functioning fairly well in a world that, despite all of its problems, is also alive and functioning reasonably well.

Would I, could I be happier if I was dead? I don’t know the answer to that question. My faith tells me that the answer is yes. The way in which I look back on my life says that, in my own mind, I have many sins for which to atone…and I’m not certain whether my God is Old or New Testament. If mine is an Old Testament God, I’ll probably burn in the fires of Hell for eternity. If He is from the New Testament, I’ll still burn in Hell, but it may not be for quite as long. Am I trying to mock the writings contained in the Bible? No, of course not; none of us can, with any degree of certainty, know what lies ahead of us when we shuffle off this mortal coil. You know the old saying, “Man plans; God laughs.” But, for today and for the foreseeable future, I plan to be happy just to be alive.

I went to a new doctor for something or other several years ago. He was a specialist, but frankly, I don’t even remember the ailment or the occasion. The one thing I do remember is that after looking at my medical history, he half-jokingly said, “My God, it’s a wonder you’re still alive.” I didn’t care much for the comment which is why he and his practice escape my memory, but his words linger on. In other words, don’t judge me by what I’ve been through; judge me for who I am right now.

Think about this for a moment…you, if you’re reading this…are alive. You’re a living breathing person, complete with soul. You can look up at the sky and see the sun; you can look at night and see the moon and the stars; you can watch buds come onto trees in the spring and smell newness in the air, a rebirth of the season that has its own distinctive odor and feel. Sure, you’ve got problems; they may even be life-threatening, but not right now; not this second. This second, you have the gift of life. Take the deepest breath you can, let it out; go look out the window and shout, “I’m alive and I love it!” [Notice I didn’t ask you to open the window; wouldn’t want the neighbors calling the cops.]

If this piece was being read by anyone under 25, they’d think I was nuts…and that’s okay. I believe you have to be over 50 or even 65 to appreciate how great it is to still have a bit of a bounce in each step you take. Since Juli came into my life, following the death of my wife, I have learned to have a greater appreciation for things that grow and bring new life. Anyone who has been a care giver for a period of time will tell you that you begin to lose a bit of perspective, and when the one for whom you are caring dies, there is not only a sense of loss, but a sense of “what do I do now?” that is quite difficult. You have actually been living their life for the past weeks, months, or years and suddenly, you have to begin living your own life again. It can be quite an adjustment.

Perhaps that’s what happened to me this morning; I began to realize that I’m entitled to be happy once more. I don’t believe this was some kind of revelation or epiphany. New things happen to us every day, but we aren’t always aware of just how new they are. We hurry through our lives, rushing from one thing to another and all too often, we don’t recognize all of the wonderful things that are happening to us and around us. Yeah, you’re right, it’s the old stop and smell the roses cliché, but that’s a bitch to do in the winter.

I hope you’ll take a moment – after you finish reading, of course – and make a couple of columns on a piece of paper. Write down every single reason you’re happy to be alive on one side and on the other, reasons you’d prefer to be dead. When you finish, I’m willing to bet that ‘alive’ column is going to be a hell of a lot longer. Hopefully, it will help you or reinforce your belief in just how great it truly is to be alive.

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“Oh….I wish I was in the land ‘o cotton” or anyplace far enough below the Mason-Dixon Line or West of the Mississippi where my butt cheeks didn’t feel like a couple of very, very large ice cubes! I generally cast aspersions on my cowardly friends who retreat to Florida this time of year; now I’m wondering if it isn’t cowardice but a firm grasp on reality that drives them south. Our low this morning was minus eight degrees; right now it’s a blistering fourteen…and tomorrow is supposed to be worse? You have to be kidding.

On a bit more serious note, I received my first bit of “that’s how badly your lungs are damaged” information this morning. Juli was sleeping and I decided to let Widget out for her morning ablutions. The ‘long’ leash is about twenty feet. This allows one to stand in the Florida room off the kitchen, open the back door, and let the dog out to do her business without having to step outside. There’s only one problem…the door to the outside must remain open so the dog can see who’s holding the leash. She couldn’t have been out more than three minutes – poopsicles and peesicles form quickly – and she was back in the house like a shot. As I was removing the leash from her collar, I felt so faint that I collapsed in a chair and had a measure of difficulty breathing that caused me to think I might be joining my late wife any moment. I can make light of it now, but it scared the living daylights out of me. Research says that breathing freezing air isn’t necessarily bad for one unless he or she has exercised-induced asthma. Since that’s not a problem, I have no clue about what happened and would prefer that it not happen again.

It was wonderful to watch Deval Patrick, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts doling out instructions on television about how to dress; how to drive; and how to keep your house or apartment warm and cozy during this snowstorm that just passed. Either he didn’t have much else on his plate or he felt lacking in television time. Best part of the whole thing was watching a friend from the gym do the signing for him.

Winter in New England certainly isn’t for everyone. It’s not that ‘we’ [notice that, did’ja?] are all that much heartier than folks from the more temperate climate. It’s more that we’re cheap bastards who say we can’t afford to spend the money. Then we die and our kids get what we should have spent going south. Therefore, it may be truly said of us that we aren’t all that bright.

Some will say, “Oh, but you get to see the changing of the seasons and that’s so beautiful.” Bullshit; I’m willing to bet that I could sit in a beach chair in Islamorada and watch the sun set and never get tired of that either. The seasonal changes themselves have changed up here. We go from winter to rain; there is no spring anymore…it’s just that you know winter must be over when, instead of white stuff falling from the heavens, it’s crystal clear and doesn’t stop until July 1. It then goes from monsoon season to the grass-growing-brown season, also known as “turn on the goddamned air conditioning” season. White people lather up and try to turn brown, and Black people prove their mental superiority by staying the hell out of the sun. A Black friend once told me that his sunburn made him turn purple. I didn’t believe him until I actually saw a Black guy on the beach one day and he was turning purple – I kid you not!

Sometime in late September – still summer by my calculations – a day dawns that has a ‘snap’ to it. This is rather shocking since summer seemed to have begun yesterday. The next day is back to being one of summers finest, but by early October, ‘snap days’ become far more common than those of summer temperatures. The leaves change, returning to their birth colors and we all “oooh” and “aaaah” over nature’s beauty. If we’re fortunate, the snow doesn’t begin to fall until after Thanksgiving. Then we repeat the cycle…and repeat, and repeat, and repeat ad nauseum until eventually we give up the ghost and pass silently and gently to another life.

I’m one of those who says that it doesn’t snow as much as it did when I was growing up. Of course, I’m also the one who says that the classrooms in my old elementary school are much smaller than I remember them to be. The stairs are steeper and the desks are smaller, but hey, that’s life.

So here I sit, away from the book I was reading and trying to warm my fingers by pounding away on the keyboard. If we turn the heat up any higher the energy police will probably come knocking. Ah, to hell with it; I’m going back to bed. Someone kindly wake me at the end of the rainy season, puh-leeze?

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What if I elect to drink and smoke, eat fatty foods that taste good, and probably die at 50? So what if I don’t give a damn and think that you’re a fool for eating healthy, going to the gym each day and don’t think I’m particularly bright? Which one of us is correct in our thinking? The answer is that we both are. It may sound rather insane but at the very least, we must consider that we are following our own paths and not allowing others to influence our thinking…or are we?

It seems to me that there comes a point in time when we are so besieged with messages of how bad smoking is; how bad obesity is; how much we should be following federal dictates about what to eat and what not to drink, etc., that a form of rebellion may set in. If I want my mother to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my school lunch, why should I be forced to eat somewhere isolated like a leper? Let the kid with the peanut allergy eat elsewhere; there are more of me than there are of him or her, right? You’ve forced me to have a smoke outside the building where I  work; you won’t allow me to smoke in bars, restaurants, on beaches or in city-owned parks, and now you’re trying to tell me what I can and cannot do inside my own car? When you take over the car payments, then you can tell me what to do. I’ve gotten along just fine without health insurance for 40 years [actual case] and now you plan to fine me if I don’t buy health insurance from a government that cannot even allow me access  because its site shuts down regularly…like, I’m supposed to believe that’s going to solve my problems; are you nuts?

About 43 million people or 19 percent of adults over the age of 18 smoke tobacco. That’s a significant minority to me. Right now, 27.1 percent of Americans are obese. Depending on how you look at figures, that’s also a whale of a lot of people – pun intended. And would you believe that 15 percent of Americans are considered to be alcoholics. Holy, moly Batman!

Time out; time out…what does all of this actually mean? Well, first of all, it means that we sure know how to keep statistics. Remember, “figures don’t lie…but liars sure can figure.” It also means that we haven’t made cigarettes so prohibitively expensive that people who are addicted will have to turn to something else or quit altogether. In addition, since the tobacco lobby in Washington is allowed to continue to flourish, we all know that cigarettes, while costing an arm and a leg, will continue to be smoked in the closet or out. You can’t pass a prohibition law on smoking in the US. We saw what happened when that was tried with alcohol, so don’t even bother thinking about it.  Of course, what could be done is to pass a law stating that anyone who contracts lung cancer from smoking can be refused medical treatment for the disease. If you want people to stop smoking – and from first-hand experience, I can tell you that it is a horrible addiction – make the consequences so frightening that fewer and fewer will be tempted. Unfortunately, there will still be those who have the “it won’t happen to me attitude,” and will smoke anyway.

There is a myth that all obese people are only those in low-income groups. While this holds true for women and children, for some reason, it doesn’t hold true for low-income men. If you attempt to interpret what is said in some of the studies that have been released, you come away with nothing. My conclusion is that people are obese for two reasons: (a) they eat what they can afford, and; (b) they don’t care. There are also studies, most of which are controversial, that intelligence also plays a role in obesity, i.e., that those with a lower I.Q. are more likely to become obese in their middle years. What can be done? Well, one of the things that we have learned as we have ‘matured’ as a nation is that education about social issues rarely works. It appears to have failed on a variety of social issues, eg, smoking, and even on legal issues…buckle up; it’s the law…yeah, right! Okay, so what can we do? What I’d like to see is food manufacturers take a greater role in reducing the ingredients in their products that cause obesity. I’d like to see teachers able to express their true feelings and be able to say, “Your kid is fat and so are you; bring him back when you’ve both lost a hundred pounds!” I just don’t see that as a feasible alternative.  School cafeterias have revamped their menus; restaurants are noting healthy choices for their customers who are serious about keeping off the pounds. Unfortunately, if people wish to eat unhealthy foods, they’re going to do so. At one time, the military had an interesting way of ensuring fitness. During basic training, soldiers were required to pass a fitness test. It combined strength, fitness, and stamina. If you failed the first test, you might find yourself in a special group that ran a bit more, did more sit-ups and push-ups, and ate apart from others in the dining area. Fail the second time, and you were worked harder. If you failed the third time, you had to repeat basic training.  Yes, those were harsh measures, but if we’re so concerned about obesity in America, why not require that a physical fitness test also be passed before a high school diploma is received? Some would argue that physical fitness has no place in an educational environment. I happen to be among those who believe that physical fitness and mental alertness go hand in hand. While one is being taught to maintain a healthy body, they can also be taught how to bring those lessons into their home life. Earlier, I spoke of buckling up when you’re in your car. As a family, we never did it, at least not until our youngest was taking driver’s education. It was at her urging or noodging – depending on how one looks at it – that we began to buckle our seatbelts religiously…and that was before it was the law. The children really can become the teachers if we do it properly.

Well, we’ve covered tobacco usage, and obesity; what about this thing called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘problem drinking.’ Long before Joan was even diagnosed with cancer, we had stopped drinking. The stated reason was that we had lost the taste; the real reason was that we both felt we were on the border of becoming alcoholics, and it was getting too damned expensive. Do I drink today? Sure, if I want a drink, I’ll have one, but it’s usually overpowered by something that takes away the alcohol taste.  Since her passing, I have had a single drink the first time I’ve been back to any restaurant we ever frequented. I’ll offer a toast to her and, just as often, not even finish the drink. For some reason, people who drink to excess don’t bother me as much as they might.  I’ve worked with people who were functioning alcoholics. I’ve even told one or two that I knew what they were and that I never wanted them to come to work drunk. They get pissed at first, but that’s okay, they get over it. Thankfully, no one ever accused me of any kind of harassment, so I guess things worked out for the best.

WOW…we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Please don’t get the idea that I have the real solutions to these problems; I don’t. Far wiser heads than mine are looking at these problems daily and if they have yet to reach any solid solutions, who am I to believe that I can? Smoking? Yeah, it’s a problem because it can kill, not only the user, but those around the user. It killed my wife; it’s damaged my lungs; it’s a terrible, terrible addiction and anyone who allows themselves to become addicted is a fool. Obesity is another question; why wasn’t it a problem when I was growing up? Do we have too many food choices today that are bad? Are we disinclined to take physical fitness seriously? Anyone I have ever known who works out on a regular basis says that they hate working out but that they love the feeling they get from exercise.  I have belonged to three gyms since 1994. Each has had its own personality, but each also has had its own commonality and that commonality is the way people speak about how they feel after their workout.

As we begin another year, forget the resolutions, just do something right…for you and for others.

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There are too many people with big egos living in America today…and there are too many charlatans who are more than willing to play to those egos and to take the money of the egotists.

Have you seen the number of ads for this cream or that treatment to make you look younger? Perhaps it’s me but I don’t understand why we all can’t be who we are. Why do we need to spend thousands of dollars – not covered by insurance by the way – to make ourselves look like who we are not? Since these are the types of people who would sue my ass big time if I mentioned their names, I’m not going to give them the opportunity, but you know who they are; you’ve seen the commercials; you’ve seen the before and after photos that, while they may not be retouched, they are certainly posed in a different manner, clothed in a more attractive fashion, and lit in a more complimentary way….ah, the tricks of the trade!

I don’t understand this desire to look like you’re 40 when, in fact, you’re damn near 80. We’re not who we are on the outside. What makes us us, is who we are on the inside. You may be the handsomest guy on the block but it will soon become apparent that you’re a son-of-a-bitch the minute you open your mouth or take some kind of action that shows your true colors. Women who may be gorgeous to the eye may also be beautiful on the inside but there are others who, when the make-up, false eye lashes, hair extensions, and other ‘additions’ are removed, show what makes up the real person.

One night I was sitting at dinner with a member of the Babson College board of trustees. I have no idea how it came about but I began speaking of my mother. In her later years, I told this lady, mother began to lose her hair. My aunt, who was a hairdresser, asked mom if she’d like to have thicker hair. While I never considered my mother to be vain, she was excited at the prospect. Evelyn, my aunt, would give mom some kind of hot oil treatment and sure enough, mother’s hair grew much, much thicker. When she died, it was with a full head of hair. The trustee asked if she could speak with my aunt about restoring her hair. When I asked her why, she grabbed her hair and lifted it straight up for everyone to see. “This show you why?” she asked. I’ve seen billiard balls that had more hair than her head. I mean, it glistened. All I could do, along with the rest of the people at the table, was roar with laughter. Talk about someone who didn’t give a damn what people thought; it was wonderful. This lady was a well-known philanthropist and a member of the boards of several organizations and businesses. She was who she was; she didn’t care what others might think, and, I absolutely loved her for it. Unfortunately, my auntie Ev was gone from this earth so putting hair back on this trustee’s head was moot.

If you really want to know how someone looks, go to a gym at five o’clock in the morning. Men and women stagger in with no make-up, hair that looks like it hasn’t seen a brush since yesterday – a lot of the women wear headbands or bandanas; the men just the cowlicks stick where they are. These people don’t give a damn about what they look like; they care about how they feel. They come to the gym to sweat and stay healthy and they couldn’t care less about what others think.

I look at wrinkles on people as signs that they’ve lived life more fully than those who parade around with “a pound and a half of make-up on their face.” My high school and college classmate, George, has so much hair, he could probably grow it out for ‘Locks of Love.’ Me, I’m a bit different. My wife died of cancer; although she did not go through chemo, her hair fell out. I shave my head as a tribute to her and every time I shave, I think of her and all of the fun times we had together [In case you’re interested, I also talk with her every night]. She didn’t care too much for make-up, and yep, she had the wrinkles to prove it.

As I said earlier, we are who we are; what we look like makes little difference. We’re loaned this shell we call a body for a very short time in the whole scheme of things. As hard as we might try; as many face lifts as we may get; as many crèmes as we may use, we might change what we look like, but we can never change exactly who we are. It’s not what we look like or how we dress that makes us. It’s what’s inside; it’s how we treat others; not how we treat ourselves that shows our true beauty or ugliness.

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