Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

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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I know a little bit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Today I have decided that I am going to ramble. You may elect to stay on this train or you may choose to get off at any point. We won’t be moving particularly quickly so it – whoops, there goes the first one – should be relatively painless.

Let’s suppose for a moment that I could be reborn as myself; same mom, same dad, same sister who bullied the hell out of me. Being three years older and much wiser, she got away with that crap. However, let’s assume that the current me left that “note to self” that many people seem to be talking about these days so that I could take advantage of what I have or have not learned in my rebirth. There are so many things I wish I had known in my various stages of life, so let us have a look at what I’d say. It might even trigger some thoughts of your own.

First, I’d say that I couldn’t be any luckier to have a Mom and Dad like my own. Neither one made it out of high school, but that was in the late 19th and into the beginning of the 20th Century. Seems a long way back, does it? You bet your ass it was, and things were a great deal different than they are today. Our telephones, if one was able to afford one, were party lines. I’m quite certain that I was in my teens before we had a private phone. We had no computers of any kind, much less the ones that we carry around in our pockets today. There was a pilot at the Hanover airport [a dirt strip with one hanger] who took us up – one-by-one – in his biplane – and I was smitten by flight. On Sunday nights, we had ‘monkey’ for dinner; it was tomato soup with cheese melted in it and poured over soda crackers. It was either that or fried bologna for Sunday dinner. When I ask people now about those two meals, most remember the fried bologna, but no one seems to ever have had ‘monkey.’ I was born just as we were starting to come out of “The Great Depression,” – we got by.

If I was leaving a note, I’d tell my new self to be more interested in what school has to offer and not to look at it as a drudge. Just because my folks didn’t go very far doesn’t me that it’s something I should want to emulate. My mother and father always believed in education; the fact that they dropped out was merely so they could earn money for the family, and it was a practice not uncommon in those days. Therefore, when Madeline Lannin was teaching us to read and write in the first grade…that’s correct; the first grade was for teaching reading and writing; there were no kindergartens back then, nor were there pre-schools or playschools or whatever the hell they’re called today…she was giving us the building blocks on which every other teacher would add a level. By Grade 6, I’d say to my new self, you better have mastered all of the subject matter you were given because if you hadn’t, Mr. Metiever would probably cuff you upside the head – see, even what you learn and when you learn it has changed – because you’re now heading for junior high school, a time for you to make some hard decisions. You can choose the easy road or the more difficult one; you can loaf your way through the next six years or you can work your ass off in the hopes that it will make a difference in your life. Personally, I’d recommend the latter; I did not and have paid a price for it up to this point of my life. I’d work harder in Agnes Lioy’s English class, and study harder in Mr. Joyce’s algebra period. I’d choose the more difficult curriculum over the one through which I could coast.

Like many kids of my time – at least as far as I knew – I was the first member of my family to go to and graduate from college…but I wasn’t any great shakes as a collegian – and I’d tell my new self to spend more time with studies than with trying to make time with girls by joining every coed club on campus.

I’d tell myself that smoking was perhaps the dumbest thing I ever did. At least today they put warnings on cigarette packs. They didn’t do that in my day and even those of us involved in athletics thought we could smoke without fear…what a bunch of idiots. It eventually catches up with you in one way or another, so don’t look at it; don’t touch it; don’t even think about trying it. We didn’t have narcotics like cocaine, heroin, oxycodone, or any of God-knows-what when I was growing up so I was never tempted. Let me advise you to put nothing in your body other than what might be prescribed by a doctor…even then, check out its potential chemical dependency

If you are interested in being an athlete, take good care of your body, and with all due respect to those who enjoy them, please stay away from sports where you stand a chance of concussions or what I call ‘later-life-injuries.’ Hell, I’ve had both knees operated on and three back surgeries which I can relate directly to my “glory” days…if that’s what you want to call ‘em! On the other side of that ‘dangerous’ coin is your talent. If you find that you have a talent, whether it is in athletics, academics, music, theater, or whatever, plunge into it with all of your heart and all of your soul. Don’t hold anything back; you will never know the full extent of your potential if you are shy with something that is uniquely yours.

As you move through your life, you will probably hear the word, “loyalty,” a great deal. You must be loyal to your company, to your boss, to your colleagues, etc. Don’t believe it. Loyalty is a two-way street, and unless your company, your boss, your colleagues have shown loyalty to you, don’t believe that you owe your loyalty to anyone who has never shown any to you. Another word you will hear a great deal is integrity. It’s the right and wrong of your soul. No one can ever take your integrity from you…you must give it away. To give your integrity away is always wrong, because when someone asks you to do so, their reasons are inevitably for the wrong reason…don’t give your integrity away…to anyone…to anything…ever!

Someday you’ll fall in love. It won’t all be sex and starry eyes. If you can determine whether or not she’s really the one for you, you’ll be the first man ever to do so since Adam. If you commit to monogamy and marriage, remember this…there will be good times and there will be times that are not so good. There will be great times and there will be times of inconsolable sorrow. Only together, depending on each other’s strength, will you both get through them. Just as you are her rock, so she must be yours.

Well, young me, there are many more things that I should probably tell you, but I’m in my dotage now so I can’t remember what they are. Let me leave you with a quotation from Leonardo da Vinci, “Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”

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It’s no longer enjoyable to give or receive Christmas presents.

Like you, I think, I’m not crazy about Christmas promotions that begin sometime in late September. Also like you, I recognize that need for merchants to sell goods, make a profit, even create jobs to help keep the economy growing, but I truly believe pushing some of this crap that you never see advertised at any other time of year is just plain tacky, tacky, tacky. For example, when else do you find ‘Clapper’ ads being pushed so hard, or the plush animals with all of their pockets? Want to drink fizzy flavored water, buy the stream dream or whatever the hell they’re calling it this year? I must admit that Chia Pets don’t appear to be big this year, but energizer bunnies are getting another shot in the arm.

This year, Christmas ads are vying with health care promotions; thus, it would appear making it unnecessary for writers to develop scripts too complicated. While there may be rules and regulations regarding how many minutes of advertising can be crammed into an hour of programming, I get the gut feeling that those rules are suspended between Halloween and the Super Bowl.

The one market that has yet to be tapped by the advertising agencies or the manufacturers is the over 70 group. Since some are saying the, “Seventy is the new fifty,” there must be a Christmas market there somewhere.  You can’t really sell them a “year’s supply of…” anything because while you’re preaching youth to these folks, the fact of the matter is they could go anytime…and they know it. Since so many seniors are computer literate, selling board games (a) isn’t particularly profitable and (b) can easily be found as an “app” somewhere. Pushing a Nook or a Kindle also becomes a complex issue when dealing with seniors, most of whom will tell you they “…like the smell of paper and ink” that a book gives them, and what do you say in a thirty-second spot to counter that one. Gift cards are great but for how much? Is the degree of importance measured by the amount of a Walmart card? Not only is it a gift card – which shows just how little you think of me” – but to what store…”you know I never shop there” – which means you’re just going to regift the card anyway. Understand something very, very clearly: When you are searching for a gift for a senior citizen, there is a ninety-nine point nine percent chance that you will screw up!

I sort of came to an agreement with my three kids years ago, after they were married and had children of their own…I won’t give to them and they don’t give to me. I will give only to the grandchildren and because I have no idea what they like – our ages being as separated as they are – I give money. Obviously, it can never be enough but I figure that’s their problem, not mine. If I have a rough year, they have a rough Christmas…my answer to their downturned-little-mouths is a very silent, “tough shit; get over it!”  I say that the agreement to give or not with the children versus grandchildren only, because the kids will sometimes try, but then, they don’t know my tastes, nor do they know that I really don’t need anything. I’d rather they put what money they spend on me into reducing their mortgage or buying something extra, like a good steak, for their refrigerator…”I don’t friggin’ need anything.” That’s not to say I have everything I want. Sure, I’d love the winter home in Boca or the Grand Caymans. The jet to get me there and back would also be nice, but who the hell is kidding whom. At my age, I like my bed at home; I don’t like flying anymore; and Boca in the winter is just as bad as it is in the summer – it’s God’s waiting room and who wanted to be reminded?

When Joan was alive, I would give a gift in her name to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It was her favorite charity. If you asked her why, she wouldn’t have been able to give you a good reason, but she loved what they were doing. She may have seen a story on television or something that impressed her. To me she would give a gift in my name to the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge to help benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. I have lost so many friends and family to that insidious disease that anything that can be done to find a cure makes me happy.

Christmas is a great Holiday. It’s also a great Holy Day. Sure, scholars can prove six ways to Sunday that Christ was not born on December 25th. I don’t care; that’s the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christian’s Lord and Savior. My rabbi next door and my Jewish friends at the gym all wish me a Merry Christmas and, tomorrow being the first day, I will wish them a Happy Chanukah. Our faiths may differ but I’d like to believe we all have faith. My prayers may be a bit longer around the Christmas Holiday, but that’s not to say that my faith is weaker throughout the rest of the year. It seems at Christmas I just like to spend a little more time talking to the Big Boss. Gifts don’t seem as important as prayers that He somehow help to unscrew this screwed up world.

My gift to myself is to watch White Christmas and a few other movies on that day. It’s a day when I cry some because Joan is no longer here to celebrate with me; and I cry some because I have a wonderful woman with whom to celebrate the holiday. I’m a pretty lucky guy when it comes right down to it. I pray that you feel lucky too.

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“I have to take fuzzy britches out.”

“C’mon Muttley.”

“Hey Widge!”

“Let’s go dog.”

Cripes, it’s a wonder that the dog will come to you when you call it by its right name. Of course, if you happen to call the dog by its right name, you’d be breathless by the time you finished and the poor freakin’ dog wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about!

Our new pup comes from a top breeder of Cairn Terriers. No one planned it that way. Our last two dogs have been Cairns and they’ve been wonderful. This one’s full American Kennel Club (AKC) name is – now get this – ‘Tin Top Cairn’s Winchedon’s Widget, Wicked Witch of the West,’ summarily named ‘Widget.’ It just fits; no, no, no, not the whole damned thing, but she is a Widget. For those of you ignorant of the origin of the name, Mr. Webster says…”a small gadget or mechanical device, especially one whose name is unknown or unspecified.” Okay, okay, so it doesn’t really fit; blame the breeder. She names her litters by the letter of the alphabet and this litter had to begin with ‘W.’ Therefore, for AKC purposes, her name had to begin with that letter. Then you have to take into account the fact that Winchendon is one of Juli’s favorite towns in Massachusetts and that her favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz – and with all those ‘W’s’ in there, Glenda just didn’t fit – and the naming process becomes exceedingly transparent…right?

Winchendon is a lovely little town….more on that later.

Anyway, as amazing as it may seem, Widget will come when called by name…the shorter version that is. She also knows what to do when you tell her to go to ‘poop hill.’ This really requires no edification, but is merely a dictate of the intelligence of Cairns in general and Widget in particular. It was difficult for me to teach her to ‘stay’ and ‘down;’ Juli, of course, had that down to a science the first time the dog attempted to become entangled in Juli’s legs as well as the first time the dog attempted to jump into her lap – Juli good dog trainer; Dick good chew toy, ugh!

It’s somewhat difficult to describe the manner in which the dynamic of the household has changed since we’ve gone from being dogless for six months to now having a pup – she’s now six months old – in the house. There is, however, a definite change. When I get up at 4:15 am to go to the gym, I do now speak or acknowledge Widget in any manner despite her whines of “I’ve been in this crate the whole night; my legs are crossed, I gotta go so badly. C’mon, bud, let me out.” There is a very good reason for me not to let her out to go or even to acknowledge her in any way. No, it has nothing to do with my cruel personality. Assume for a moment that there comes a day when I do not wish to go to the gym for whatever lazy excuse I may wish to use.  I do not wish to hear a Joe Lieberman whine – that’s what it sounds like – coming from the kitchen just because I elected not to stay in bed that day. It’s amazing what and how quickly dogs can learn…and no, I do not leave the kitchen light on when I leave! And yet, despite my refusal to acknowledge her as I leave, when I return and Juli has taken her out, her tail and entire body wag and wiggle at the sight of me. Perhaps it’s because she knows that if I’m wearing a hoodie, there will be treats in the muff.

I will grant that there are people who do not like dogs or cats or any pet at all. There are times when they are a colossal pain in the ass. Here in New England we seem to have a proclivity in the period between autumn and spring for things called blizzards. They can be extremely unpleasant and if one has to take one’s pet out of doors for biological reasons, the unpleasantness increases a hundred fold. When the pet has finished its ‘business,’ however, and said pet curls up in your lap or at your feet…you realize just how stupid you were not to dry its paws!

Oh, and about Winchendon…check out the town’s web site and stop expecting me to do all the work!

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Driver: “Hey, I think I’ll take a ‘selfie!’

Cop: “Jeez, he wasn’t a bad looking guy ‘fore he went through the windshield.”

Driver: “Watch this guys; the first day, I got my Mom’s car. This really needs a ‘selfie.’”

Cop: “Yeah, all four gone…not one of ‘em with a seat belt.”

Sound stupid…or simplistic…or unrealistic…or like…I’d never do that? If you want to be cool, young, hip, and trendy, it’s exactly what you will do to impress all of your ‘friends’ – all 7,356 ‘friends’ – on your social media page.

The ‘selfie’ culture doesn’t necessarily focus on taking pictures of ‘oneself’ while driving. It merely focuses on taking a picture of ‘oneself,’ and posting said portrait on Instagram, Tumblr, or some other social media site, period. If this isn’t the ultimate form of narcissism I’m not certain what is. Sure, my picture is on Facebook; however, the photo was taken eons ago and I’m not particularly eager to update it. I’m not proud of my looks; neither, I should note strongly, am I ashamed of my looks…I think the nose less, one eyed, no teeth look is coming back into vogue, don’t you?

To me, self portraits are somewhat akin to posting everything and anything on your Facebook page, including what one had for breakfast as well as the time of your daily bowel movement. I hate to be a spoilsport but unless one has friends as warped as they are, most of us just don’t care that you lunched at Old Country Buffet or Applebee’s. I ate at Applebee’s once, not that it matters, but I managed to lose about ten pounds after that meal in what was an unpleasant and very uncomfortable evening. The worst part was that I was staying in a motel and had to get up early the next morning to teach an all-day workshop…yuk!

One of the arguments I have heard for taking ‘selfies’ is that they show the mood of the person at the time of the photo. Why? If, as many of these photographers have said, you are not taking them for friends but for total strangers, why should they give a damn about your mood; better yet, if you don’t even know them, why care about what they think?

Over one million self-photographs are taken every day. While the percentage is relatively small, several ‘selfies’ have admitted to taking what they thought was a sexy photograph and have later regretted it. A photo taken of you by you leaves you open to all sorts of comments from compliments to the ugliness that we all know exists in the world today. The minute you post a picture, you’re asking for trouble. Photos are an open invitation to criticism, even if it’s only joking. Depending on whom you are and your degree of self-confidence, the remarks made by others can be devastating to your psyche. “Oh, I don’t let that type of thing bother me,” is bullshit. No one takes kindly to criticism; I don’t care what they say or how strong they may believe they are.

You are what you are. You don’t need to become a ‘selfied,’ seeking approval from your peers. I’m old, fat, bald [by choice], have a white mustache, and have started to grow a hairy chin. I wear a T-shirt, shorts, sweat socks and sneakers to the gym. I know any number of people at the particular Planet Fitness where I spend time most mornings. We joke about age, weight, and anything else we can think of. However, every one of us realizes that we aren’t there to become a body beautiful; we are there for two basic reasons. The first is that we understand the importance of exercise to our health and well being. The second reason is that we all enjoy getting stoned. What? No, no, no, it’s not that kind of stoned. Well, perhaps in a way it is; you see, physical exercise triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins were discovered in 1975. According to Symptomfind, “They are neurotransmitters, which mean they can prompt or suppress the signaling of nearby neurons. Mostly, endorphins function by interacting with receptors in cells in the part of the brain that controls emotion and blocks pain.” Cutting through the bullshit, here’s what they can do…

  • “Block pain: Endorphins affect the part of the brain that controls how you feel pain. When beta-endorphin was injected directly into the brain, it was 48 times more effective at pain relief than manmade opiates.
  • Boost mood: Endorphins have long been associated with increased feelings of pleasure. It’s thought that endorphins help encourage us to do the things we find pleasurable, including everything from friendship to exercising to eating food.
  • Relieve stress: When you’re stressed out, a boost of endorphins can make you feel more relaxed.
  • Moderating appetite: Part of endorphins’ role is to let your body know when you’ve had enough of something.
  • Enhance the immune system: Your immune system can get a boost when endorphins are secreted.
  • Release sex hormones: The production of endorphins can also trigger the release of sex hormones.”

Holy macaroni, Batman, one little drug can do all those things? Yes, it can. When I talk about getting ‘stoned,’ that comes under the mood-boosting part; however, I kid you not…when you get an endorphin rush, you feel on top of the world. The beauty of releasing endorphins is that this release lasts for hours. You don’t need photos of yourself; you know you’re great!

Leave the ‘selfies’ to the insecure ‘stars’ like Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and the rest. Recognize that it doesn’t matter and it particularly doesn’t matter if you also happen to be driving a car at the same time.

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I think I’m in the early stages of dementia.

You think I’m kidding? Dementia is not a subject about which I would try to make jokes. Illness is not funny, particularly an illness that very slowly drains you of the powers you once had. My mother in-law had dementia. While it was pneumonia that actually killed her, her mind was long gone before the disease hit. She never even knew that her husband had died. The doctor told us that part of his death was probably caused by his determination to take care of her at home rather than put her in the care of professionals. Watching her waste away so slowly was not only torturous, it drove us away from going to visit her.  As examples I would offer that first she thought Joan to be her sister; then her mother; then her grandmother; and then a complete stranger. After our visits, Joan would sit in the car and cry. It would take a day and a half for her to recover from those visits…and they became fewer and fewer. It was easy to find some excuse, flimsy as it might be, not to visit Anna.

I have a couple of friends who are going through the problem right now; one is my age; the other is nearly fifteen years younger. In both cases, it’s the wife who has the illness – funny, I was going to say “problem,” but dementia isn’t a problem, it is an illness. Webster defines it as “a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.” That’s not completely accurate because it’s a term that really describes various symptoms of “cognitive decline such as forgetfulness,” according to Medical News Today, “but is not a clinical diagnosis itself until an underlying disease or disorder has been identified.”

“Dementia is a collective term used to describe the problems that people with various underlying brain disorders or damage can have with their memory, language, and thinking.” When the majority of people think of dementia, the first word that comes to mind is Alzheimer’s, but it’s only one of the mental disorders that come under the heading of dementia.

Why do I consider myself in the early stages category? Good question…what was the question again? Now I am trying [and failing once more] to be facetious. Seriously, I have trouble remembering things. For example, there was a time when I – he said with great braggadocio – had no problem with putting words in logical sequence. It was no problem for me to write long passages without repeating adjectives or nouns or adverbs. My lexicon was vast. Uh-uh, not any more. I find that I have trouble stringing several sentences together in a cohesive fashion…and it is truly maddening. My car keys and wallet appear to grow legs or wings and aren’t where I usually put them. Of course, with a new puppy in the house, the kitchen table probably isn’t the safest place to leave things where they were usually left.

I find myself recognizing faces to which I can’t quite put names. Is this the onset of dementia or is it, perhaps, a function of age. After all, we know that we brain cells begin to die off when we are in our twenties and that cognitive ability does decrease with age. As a consequence, I’m torn between seeing someone whose name does not come to me until after we part company and calling it dementia, and merely saying, “Nah, that’s just because you’re old.”

Brain cells can be sped on their way to death by something such as a brain injury. If you happened to see the recent revelations by Brett Farvre  former Greenback Packers quarterback, or Tony Dorsett, retired running back of the Dallas Cowboys, you are aware that brain cells can be killed by sports injuries. Farve indicated that he didn’t remember his daughter’s summer soccer season while Dorsett admitted that his memory loss is increasing. Does this mean that we should ban football because of the head injuries? Hell, no, because if people elect to play sports, they are going to get injured somewhere along the line. Soccer is considering helmets for some levels of the game. Hockey went to wearing helmets years ago; unfortunately, ice and helmets don’t mix well, and concussions are still part of the game.

Let us not condemn all athletic competition as the major contributor to the death of brain cells leading to dementia. Heck, shaking your head rapidly from side to side is enough to cause a reaction that can kill brain cells. Other things that can kill them include most illegal drug use such as cocaine, meth, or ecstasy; sniffing paint isn’t a good idea either. Drinking too much water or allowing oneself to become dehydrated, eating junk food, smoking, steroids, and even not getting enough sleep are contributing factors in brain cell death. Where do I get all this stuff? It’s quite easy to do research on the Internet if you have the interest. When I began to consider what I felt was happening to me, I did the research. Happily, I’ve found that the majority of my failing brain issues can be explained (a) by my age and (b) by youthful indiscretions that are probably better left undetailed at this time. I will say that smoking and alcohol abuse were certainly contributing factors.

Do I really have dementia? No, probably not. What’s going on with me doesn’t seem to affect my daily life in a severe way, which is one of the warning signs. I don’t seem to be having any trouble working with the spread sheet that governs the manner in which money is spent on a monthly basis, and I can still balance a checkbook….if it’s becoming a problem, that’s another sign of dementia. Misplacing things like the wallet and keys may be a first sign, but remember, new puppies will make you change where you put things pretty damned fast, and so far, I still remember where everything else is…just have to get used to putting the wallet and keys where ‘Widget’ can chew on them!

I think I’m going to stop worrying about whether or not I have dementia. After all, excess worry and stress can also kill brain cells. As long as I can remember my way to the gym and how to put words on paper in some semblance of order, I guess I’ll just continue to do what I do and enjoy the time I have left.

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