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Archive for the ‘People’ Category

I am convinced that I live in a white-bread-world. Oh, hold your horses, I’m not talking about color or race or any of that crap. I’m talking about a world of naiveté and innocence (that’s what naivete means dummy), a world where my neighbor’s kid is shot by the police because he just happens to be black and is waving a toy gun or knife around. I’m talking about a world where my friend doesn’t wait overnight before calling the police and telling them that her four-year old didn’t make it home from pre-school yesterday. I’m talking about a world where a child’s greatest wish is to have her own bedroom. And yes, I’m talking about a world where fraternity hazing does not include letting pledges drink themselves to death. I just don’t know those worlds. They’re out there, but I don’t know them…and I certainly don’t care to know them…but I should care.

I grew up in a world where I did have my own bedroom…at least until I was twelve and my baby brother came along, but there was no big deal about that. Yeah, we had a bullet come through the living room window one night and lodge in the wall near the TV but we didn’t think a whole helluva lot about it. It wasn’t an every night occurrence. I’m white and so were all the cops in my home town; hell, I didn’t see a black cop until I began attending college at Northeastern University in Boston. Either my mom or dad was still up when I walked in the door one night…well, except for the one night that I slept over after a party…unanticipated good fortune had smiled upon me and I didn’t get home until 6:30 the next morning. Mother was in the kitchen and just looked at me and shook her head…how do mothers know these things anyway? My world, even at Northeastern, consisted of Boston’s South End. We were told that we would not be welcome in the Roxbury community. I just accepted that. “Here’s a place where you don’t go,” period, end of statement, okay, fine by me. Even when I pledged a fraternity, we weren’t forced to down alcohol to the point of getting so shitfaced we might have died. Fact is, I don’t recall any hard drinking during my pledge days. Sure, we got whacked on the ass with the pledge master’s paddle a few times, but nothing excessive. Sure, we had some crazy pledge tasks to perform, but I’ve already told you about those. And sure, we were a bunch of assholes who were supposed to be brotherly, but I never saw it that way.

So, where are these worlds of which I am so ignorant? Who are these people who allow their kids to do things that get them shot by police? Why do people feel the need to carry a weapon in what we call a civilized society, and if it’s so damned civilized, why are so many people either getting shot or shooting others? This. Is. America. It. Is. The. Land. Of. The. Free. This is a place where, if you get off your ass and get a job, work hard at it, go to school – day or night – and work harder and better, then maybe, just maybe, you can avoid getting into a position where you don’t have to carry a gun, don’t have to worry about getting shot by a cop, don’t have to worry about next month’s rent. Or am I dreaming? Am I blowing smoke? Do I even know what the hell I’m talking about? I haven’t lived in that world, those worlds, the worlds where we don’t even know if there will be food for dinner…I just don’t know that or those worlds. I certainly don’t wish to become part of them, but I would like to know more about them. Why? Because maybe if I knew something more about them, I might just get some idea of how to change them, make them “better,” if that’s the right word to use. Are there people out in those worlds who care so little about themselves that they wouldn’t want “better” if it was available to them…even if it meant putting forth a little effort to reach “better?”

We used to have fried baloney and baked beans for dinner a couple of times a week. I don’t recall that we had steak very often. We ate our chickens when they stopped laying. I don’t recall eating a raspberry until after I was married. There were people in my town who sort of looked at my family like we were from across the tracks. That was okay because we just minded our own business and didn’t associate with “them.” When I went to work, part of my salary became part of the household income, and that was just what was expected…no big deal. Based on what I see on television and read in the papers, I guess, in some ways, I must have grown up pretty damned rich, either that or I grew up in a world where things were far less complex or complicated than they are today. Of course, the country was only 152 million strong back in 1950. Today, our nation is nearly 325 million people, and I’m quite certain that is part of the explanation for these different worlds of which I write. Nonetheless, it would be nice if those of us who don’t understand these different worlds could somehow begin to better acknowledge, understand, and perhaps encourage the elimination of a few of them.

Perhaps we could begin to eliminate some of these worlds by using a bit of common sense. If you can’t afford to have another kid, keep your damned legs closed. If you don’t know where your kids are, get off your ass and find out. If the boyfriend gets rough with your baby, throw the bastard out the door. If, if, if, and I know these things won’t be done…just like I know I’ll never know those worlds. But I sure as hell wish they didn’t exist.

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Individual responsibility. You, yes, you, are accountable for actions taken in your life. And every action you take has a consequence. Or, to quote Sir Isaac Newton, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Study hard, you get an A+ on the test. Slam your fist into a wall, it’s going to hurt like a son-of-a-bitch and you stand a good chance of breaking some bones. Take certain drugs while you are ill or in pain, you will feel better or get well. Continue to take some of those same drugs, you will become addicted and chances are pretty good that you will die.

Okay, so perhaps I took a bit of liberty with poor old Sir Isaac, but do you see what I’m saying? You are responsible for your actions, particularly when it comes to taking drugs in what today we are calling a world-wide opioid epidemic. If you are an adolescent or an adult and doing drugs has been your “thing” in life, great, that’s something that you have elected to do, and you are probably aware of the consequences of your actions. If you’re strung out all the time, you may not give a damn about the outcome. To hell with your family and friends who care about you because you’re doing what you want to do. Besides, if you happen to overdose, some EMT will probably have some naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, to bring you around…maybe…or maybe not. So, if you wish to continue to get high on Percocet, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, or perhaps heroin because it’s become cheaper than some of those prescription medications, you just go ahead. I would remind you of one thing…you are the one who elected to continue to use opioids.

For those of you who may know someone with an opioid addiction, please, please do not give me excuses for their addiction. Yes, I’m certain that they had pain. Yes, I know that the doctor prescribed the drugs to which they are now addicted. Yes, I know the prescriptions ran out but by that time they were hooked. Yes, I know that they turned to the street drug, heroin, because it was cheaper and more available than Oxycontin. Yes, I know, I know, I know. However, who chose to continue taking the drugs? Who chose the feeling of euphoria over saying, “Wait just a minute here. I’m gonna be in some kind of trouble if I don’t knock this off?” It’s called individual responsibility. It’s called not-making-excuses-for-a-bad-decision. Oh, we can blame Purdue Pharma for creating the drugs, Oxycodone and Oxycontin as an alternative to morphine, codeine, Percodan, or Percocet. And we can blame our doctors who prescribed the pills for the pain, but…when it comes right down to the bottom line, did that individual really need to take something as powerful and addictive as Oxycontin? I have had over twenty surgeries in my life. My back has been invaded three times, both of my shoulders have been opened and closed, as have my knees, elbow, wrist, hand, and on, and on, and on. After my first knee surgery, I was given Percocet. It was terrific…took away the pain and the world was a great place…whoopee. I didn’t move my bowels for damn near a week, and when, after multiple doses of laxatives…well, I won’t tell you just how bad it was. When I asked the doctor why that had happened, he had one word…”Percocet.” No two ways about it, Percocet is a great drug, but I really would prefer not to have the cramps that I suffered getting away from it.

When Oxycontin came on the market, one of the advantages being pushed by Purdue Pharma was that it was “abuse resistant.” Later, when the company had been given the go ahead to create 80 and then 160 mg time release pills, its marketing materials claimed that the potential for addiction was “less than one percent.” Many articles have been written about how Purdue Pharma duped the FDA, built dossiers on doctors more likely to prescribe opioids, and segmented the country for its promotional campaigns to increase its profits. If you would like to read more about Purdue Pharma, I invite you to Google them but I will warn you ahead of time, I believe they bring ethical behavior to a new low.

Pharmaceutical companies and doctors who freely prescribe opioids as a pain medication are such a small part of the epidemic in my own mind that I just cannot bring myself to write more about them. Certainly, I have only my own experiences to go by, what some may call a single case study, but those people who allow themselves to be lulled into a false sense of easy pain elimination without regard to the addiction consequences are abrogating their responsibilities to themselves and to their families and friends. I really find having sympathy for them to be difficult.

It scares the devil out of me to think that we are becoming a society of people who refuse to take charge of their lives, who believe that there will always be others to cover for their mistakes. Pain is a part of life, both physical and mental anguish. Disappointment is a part of life; learn to live with it. It’s so much easier to place blame elsewhere rather than accepting the fact that the fault lies right at one’s own front door. Why do people get medals just for participation? Why are trophies given to everyone on the team? I’m all for teamwork and cooperation but within that team, each member must shoulder his or her fair share of the burden, responsibility, or whatever term you may wish to use. It is time we recognize that making excuses for others, defending the actions of others who create problems, is not what we are about. Big pharmaceuticals don’t care if you die. Doctors who continue to prescribe opioid pain pills obviously don’t care if you die. It’s up to the individual to know and understand the consequences of just how bad opioids are and to stay as far away from them as possible.

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Without question, what happened in Manchester, England is beyond comprehension. “Evil losers,” as Donald Trump has called those responsible, perhaps begins to describe those responsible, and yet, I’m not certain there are any words in the vocabulary of any peoples that adequately describe the mindset of what we now classify as “terrorists.”

We are attempting to ascribe to others our own morality, and we are attempting to apply our own cultural mores, ie, “the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community,” to those who are completely different from any of the characteristics, customs or conventions of any community. Their moral compass is 180 degrees from that of Western Civilization. What these “radical jihadists’ have done is to cannibalize all of the beauty of the religion of Islam and turned it to their own egregious ends. In effect, they are completely ignorant of the Quran, its teachings, or even their own end game. Their ultimate goal appears to be killing for the sake of killing and terrorizing those more culturally developed nations into fearing them purely for the sake of fear. I have yet to hear anyone in any leadership position within ISIS, ISL, Al Qaeda, Taliban, or whoever happens to be calling the shots these days, issue any statement of purpose or what it is they wish to achieve.

As I understand it, Salman Abedi used to be a “lovely kid” when he first attended Didsbury mosque with his father. Something changed. What was it? Was he confused by his family, his schools, the study of business management, his friends, what? We will never know. Perhaps this was a young man who turned to radical Islam as an escape from pressures that he felt, but that others didn’t. We will never, ever know, why this man/child exploded a device that, so far, has killed 22 and injured more than 160 people of all ages.

I have a theory. It goes something like this: I believe that all of these people who blow themselves up in the name of something they don’t fully understand are weak-willed and ignorant immature sheep. I would classify them as lemmings, but we all know that that is a myth created by a Canadian film crew back in the 50s. I’d say that they should be driven out of the Middle East the way St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland except we also know that never happened. No, these people are sheep, searching for a shepherd to lead them and give them some direction. Unfortunately, the leadership they find is with arrogant, ultra-conservative groups and individuals who brainwash the sheep into believing that they will live a much better life after death, and that their ‘ultimate’ sacrifice will please the god they worship. All of this, of course, is pure fabrication consisting of half-truths and outright prevarications.

Following a religion is a bitch. Seriously, being tied to a single faith, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hindi, or any one of a million other faiths, only tends to create problems with those of other faiths. As stupid as it may sound today, I was banned from having a serious relationship in high school because my girlfriend’s family were strict Roman Catholics and I, god forbid, was a Protestant. As life would have it, I married a woman who was Roman Catholic by religion, and our children were raised as ‘they’ wished to be raised. We took them to a variety of Christian churches and were allowed to make their own decisions regarding faith. Would we have blessed an inter-religion or inter-racial marriage? I don’t have an answer for that, largely because it never became an issue. Look, if you will, at the restrictions imposed by the Holy See. They may not lead to war, but there are some pretty strong “Oh, no, you don’ts’ in that faith. It appears that the Muslim faith, as practiced by some sects in the Middle East is akin to, “My way or the highway,” and in this case it’s the highway to death. Can you imagine, for example, a minister, priest, or rabbi telling his or her congregation to stone a woman to death because she went out in public without her hajib or because she wanted to divorce her unfaithful husband? The people who are putting forth laws created in the time of Caesar or before have no concept of gray for anyone other than themselves. It’s fine for them to rape, rob, and pillage wherever, whoever, and whenever they so desire, but they do so in the name of their god without fully comprehending the messages of their god.

There will be more attacks, particularly on Western Civilizations, particularly on countries that are predominantly other than Muslim. On the other side of that coin, however, there are millions upon millions of Muslims who understand perfectly well what Allah’s teachings were and are. They are at peace with their religion and religions as practiced by others. Do they understand these other religions? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Do those of us in other religions understand Islam? Perhaps so, perhaps not.

I’m quite certain that there are some people in the Middle East, Taliban, ISIS, and all of the others, who consider themselves to be “freedom fighters” as opposed to terrorists. I don’t know what freedom they are fighting for, nor do I really care. I’m certain also that they believe those who are attempting to exterminate them are, in their own right, ‘terrorists,’ and that includes the American and other nations’ soldiers who are shooting at them. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Most important of all, how do we prevent these extremists from continuing to kill innocents. If you have an answer to that one, I’m all ears.

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Didn’t seem to be a big deal. Fellow came by yesterday. We were sitting at the kitchen table, just chatting, and he asked, “Do you know those little Tedeschi stores?” I just smiled and nodded that I did know them. Maybe my smile gave something away, I really don’t know. However, he followed up with, “What, why are you smiling?

I had to ask, “Do you know the history of the Tedeschi’s?”

“No, whadda you mean?” he asked.

Well, you know me, I’m not one to let an opportunity pass, so I had to tell the story…at least as I know it, and so I began…

Years ago, gosh, I couldn’t have been older than six or seven, we lived on the first floor of a two story house in Rockland, Massachusetts. The house was on Belmont Street, number 51 to be exact. Down the street from us was a little neighborhood grocery store. It was actually attached to the residence, but it had a parking lot that was big enough for maybe six cars. The husband and wife who lived there were Angelo and Katherine Tedeschi. There were days when my dad would take his shotgun and some shells, walk down the street and into the store. He’d yell, “Hey, Angelo, get the dogs and let’s go hunting,” and Angelo would tell Katherine to mind the store, and off he and dad would go to hunt. Remember now, this was late 1940, early ’41. If they were lucky, they would bring home a number of rabbits. Angelo would skin them and put them in his freezer. I have to tell ya, this store was just a little big larger than a two-car garage, so when I say it was ‘neighborhood,’ I mean, if you walked in there, you knew right away who was shopping. They were your neighbors. They knew you. You knew them, and it was a gathering place for neighborhood gossip as well as for picking up that night’s dinner.

It was later in 1941, December 7th to be exact, that America changed. We were drawn into a Second World War. Angelo and my dad were too old to join up, but some of the Tedeschi boys, as I was later told, went right down and enlisted. Ralph, the oldest, went into the Army as an officer. He fought in Europe and was promoted to the rank of major. To his misfortune, he was captured by the Germans. Ralph’s treatment at the hands of his captors was not too good. He was severely beaten. He was urinated on, and a number of other rather vile and despicable treatments were his wont in the camp in which he was held prisoners. He was isolated and thrown in a cell that had a dirt floor. As I understand it, he found a small stick at some point, and that dirt floor of his cell and that stick probably saved his life. You see, Ralph would diagram on that dirt floor his ideas for a new kind of market that he and his family would build when the war was over and he could go home. Different stores, different designs, different this and different that…all on the dirt floor as he was recovering from his beatings and his interrogation. Eventually, Ralph was freed from his captors by Russian soldiers. He was reunited with his family, and he began to plan.

The first “supermarket” opened by the Tedeschi family was on Market Street in Rockland. Ralph’s family, including brothers, Sam, Nick, and Bobby, as well as sister, Etta, were all part of the team. There could have been other brothers, heck, I could never keep track of all of them. Anyway, Angelo and Katherine were able to retire and watch their boys build a small empire. Stores in Braintree, Hanover, and a couple of other towns followed. Eventually, Stop & Shop, another major New England chain of supermarkets took notice. They offered to buy out the Tedeschi’s, and Ralph, as I understand it, drove a pretty hard deal, one that resulted in reasonably good wealth for all members of his family. Oh, and there was another proviso in the buyout. Ralph was prohibited from opening any other supermarket with the Tedeschi name for a period of ten years. Hey, they were all now millionaires, right, so what’s the big deal. Well, not so fast. The Tedeschi family hadn’t gotten to the position they were now in by being lazy and sitting on their collective butts. Within five years, the supermarket bug that had bitten Ralph was back and chomping away. As a result he opened some supermarkets on Cape Cod under the name of his father. They were called, “Angelo’s,” and they were big! As time went on, Ralph turned the business over to his brothers and other relatives. Eventually, another chain came and, once again, purchased the stores.

That, however, is not the end of my tale. My own Mother and Dad were in Florida when Angelo Tedeschi died. They read of his passing in a paper, and Mom called me. “Will you please go to the wake and the funeral and represent our family?” she asked. It was an honor I couldn’t refuse…probably would have gone anyway. When I walked into the funeral home, there they were, all of the brothers, greeting people who had come to pay their respects to this wonderful man who, along with his wife, had raised some pretty damned good kids. Ralph walked over and asked, “Excuse me, but who are you?” I explained that my folks couldn’t come and that I was representing the family because someone from our neighborhood had to be there. I no sooner got the words out of my mouth than Ralph grabbed me in a bear hug and carried me into the room where Etta was sitting with her mother, Katherine. “Look,” said Ralph, “It’s Dickie Bishop!” [Gad, how I hated that nickname…still do]. I spent some time with the family and, really, it was old home week. It was also the last time that I saw Ralph alive.

Years later, my wife and I were spending a vacation in Bermuda. As I was heading for the water at our little beach, a lady ahead of me yelled out to her friend, already in the water, “Wow, not like Green Harbor,” – a beach on the Atlantic to which our my family and all of our friends frequently visited. Being the smart mouth that I am, I responded from behind her, “Not like Brandt Rock either,” another haunt of our neighborhood and right next to Green Harbor. We both laughed and went for our swims. On getting out of the water, I told my wife of the brief encounter which she thought to be rather amusing. About half an hour later, I noticed one of the women talking to a man on their blanket and point over toward me. “Ah, what the hell,” I figured, “might’s well walk over”…which I did and introduced myself. “I’m {can’t remember the first name] Tedeschi,” he said. To which I responded, “Whose are you?” This rather confounded them, and I asked if they were from Rockland. “No,” the man said, “We live in Norwell.” I repeated my question, adding, “Which one of the brothers are you the children of?” It was as though the lightbulb went off, and he responded, “Do you know my family?” I allowed as how I did and asked them what they knew of their grandparents. Turned out that both Angelo and Katherine had passed on before these young people were born. “Did you know my grandfather,” I was asked, and thus, once more, I had the privilege of telling some folks a bit of their own family history. Did I embellish just a bit? Of course, because Angelo and Katherine deserved to be embellished. They, along with their children, believed in and became the American Dream.

I write this not out of a need to tell a story. I write it because another fellow came by yesterday, sat at the kitchen table, and asked if I knew the name Tedeschi. This fellow, too, is an immigrant. He and his mom, escaped from the Soviet Union about thirty-five years ago. He owns a small business, and I can see in his eyes and in his work ethic, that he, too, is pursuing this thing we call the American Dream. I think he’s going to make it, maybe not the way Ralph or his counterparts did, but I really think he stands a good chance of realizing what just about every immigrant dreams of when he or she enters the shores of our United States of America.

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I find it difficult to understand why Senate Democrats would block Neil Gorsuch’s nomination when they all know that it will just lead to the ‘nuclear option’ that will allow the man to be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. This is just the child-like behavior that Republicans showed over the past eight years of the Obama administration. It seems to me that the two-party system in America has degenerated into a bunch of name-calling, infantile, assholedness that we often attribute to police state countries in other parts of the world. Perhaps the part that bothers me most is that the American public appears to be content to tolerate this behavior on the part of our national law makers…and that my friends is no less than absolutely frightening.

Are the Democrats so fearful the Justice Gorsuch will sway the balance of power that they have to use anything they have to prevent his nomination from passage? Yes, of course it’s true that he will be a voice of conservatism on the Court, just as Merrick Garland’s appointment would have made the Court one that would lean more to the liberal side of the aisle. However, I have to assume that the successful block of Garland’s nomination was nothing more than a cry-baby attempt by conservatives to further their agenda of diluting any kind of legacy that would be left by Obama. Certainly, Trump’s executive orders and the House’s idiotic attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act seem to be designed to ensure that there is no Obama legacy to be undone.

Call me naïve or dumb or whatever you wish, but I find it absolutely ridiculous that 435 men and women, sent to Washington to do the very best for this country by composing, comparing, and enacting legislation that will benefit this nation as a whole, cannot do so. Sure, I understand that what the people in Maine want, the people in Mississippi want, and the people in Montana, Minnesota, and Massachusetts may want, but goddammit, somewhere along the line, there should be things that people in our 50 states can say, “Well, yeah, I’m not crazy about it, but I can live with it.” This is not the case today in the Houses of Congress. It’s “my way or the highway, and fuck you very much!” and that does not serve the best interests of anyone in any part of the country. Congress has become too self-absorbed with what it considers to be its own importance. To top it off, we now have a person in the White House who encourages this type of discord, although for what reasons, it’s hard to imagine. Congress can censure its own members, but the only way that America can benefit is if we throw some of these people out of office and let some new folks attempt to understand the word, “compromise.”

I can hear the politicians now…”Oh, you don’t understand how government works. You don’t realize the pressure we’re under from our constituents to stand our ground.” Perhaps not, but what I do realize is this: Too many of you have been in office too long, and you have turned government into your own political play thing, that does nothing for the nation, but that lines your pockets in ways that are unimaginable to the vast majority of your constituents. Do you think I’m joking? Time Magazine, in a January, 2014 story, wrote, “The Center for Responsive Politics analyzed the personal financial disclosure data from 2012 of the 534 current members of Congress and found that, for the first time, more than half had an average net worth of $1 million or more: 268 to be exact, up from 257 the year earlier. The median for congressional Democrats was $1.04 million and, for Republicans, $1 million even.” In that same year, the median income of Americans was $51,939. Doesn’t that make you stop and think that perhaps members of Congress cannot possibly understand what it’s like to be an average American citizen? They listen and nod their heads and commiserate with their folks back in East Bumfuck or wherever, and then they return to Washington, dining at Fiola Ware, Bourbon’s, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, or The Source, usually at the expense of some lobbyist or other who will get them to vote for a bill that is actually at odds with what the interests of their constituents happen to be…but they tried…they were just overwhelmed by their fellow Congressional leaders or members of their party…and it’s all a bunch of bullshit…just so they can pocket a few more bucks or increase their portfolios.

Am I a cynic? No, that’s not cynicism, it’s realism. I’ve been on this earth for over eight decades, and in that time, I’ve learned one or two things about political leaders. The first of these things is that they are overly impressed with their own self-importance. A second thing is that they may have begun their political careers hoping to change things for the better, but that they soon become corrupted by those who were in office before them and took them under their wing, and if they refused to be taken “under a wing,” they were soon out of office and never even saw the bus that they had been thrown under by their ‘friends.’ Remember what Mark Twain said, “We have the best government that money can buy,” and by God, he was absolutely right.

My political ambition never carried me farther than being vice president of a Little League, and seeing the back-biting and chicanery that happened in something as low-level as that was enough to convince me that getting into the real political arena was somewhat akin to shoveling shit against the oncoming tide…you just won’t win.

I love America with all my heart and soul. It is the greatest country on earth. It’s a land where people are free to pursue their dreams, and whether they succeed or fall flat on their collective faces, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because they are free to get up and start their pursuit all over again. Yes, I love my country, but sometimes I wonder just how we ever came to this sorry impasse that we call the United States Congress.

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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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“Didn’t we?”

“I mean…weren’t we?”

But he couldn’t finish the sentence. It just wouldn’t come to the front of his mind. He knew what he wanted to ask, but he just couldn’t remember the words. It’s not as if it happened on a daily basis. Lately, however, it did seem to be happening a bit more frequently.

“Am I losing my mind?” he wondered to himself, adding, “Maybe I’m just getting old.”

Forgetfulness, memory loss, whatever you wish to call it, has happened to all of us. We misplace our keys, we remember how great a movie was but can’t think of the title, and so on. In my own case, I’m constantly looking for my phone. Of course, that’s easily solved by calling it, which means I’m fine as long as Juli has her phone turned on! While lapses in memory can be extremely frustrating, they are not generally a concern for [us] older adults.

According to the web site, Health Guide, “As we grow older, we experience physiological changes that can cause glitches in brain functions we’ve always taken for granted. It takes longer to learn and recall information. We’re not as quick as we used to be. In fact, we often mistake this slowing of our mental processes for true memory loss. But in most cases, if we give ourselves time, the information will come to mind. Memory loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process. The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. But just as it is with muscle strength, you have to use it or lose it. Your lifestyle, health habits, and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain. Whatever your age, there are many ways you can improve your cognitive skills, prevent memory loss, and protect your grey matter.”

I can’t say whether exercise increases blood flow to the brain, but I find that on those days when I have had a good workout, I feel sharper in my mental functioning. Of course it often happens that I’ll leave my cane somewhere – yes, I now have a cane – and a couple of hours later wonder where I left the damned thing. One day recently, I was talking to someone I’ve known for over 20 years and I completely forgot her name for a few minutes…talk about frightening yourself! These things, I’m told, can be considered a normal part of aging and not dementia-related. Recently, a nurse practitioner came to the house. It’s a part of my health plan that she drops in once a year. During our conversation, I reminded her that in 2015, she had asked me to think about three words. She did this at the beginning of our conversation and approximately an hour later asked me to repeat them. This year, as we were chatting, I asked, “Are you going to ask me to remember apple, penny, and table again?” She was somewhat taken aback, but laughed. “Guess your memory’s okay,” she said.

Let us suppose, however, that my memory or that of our hypothetical man mentioned above is a sign of dementia. How do we know which is which is which. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which may or may not lead to some form of dementia, occurs when someone cannot recall recent events, gets lost or continually misplaces objects. Other signs include personality changes, trouble expressing what one is thinking, and difficulty completing problem solving or complex tasks, such as managing a budget or doing one’s banking. We still may be able to function without assistance but with mild dementia.

Going back to the Health Guide, “The primary difference between age-related memory loss and dementia is that the former isn’t disabling. The memory lapses have little impact on your daily performance and ability to do what you want to do. Dementia, on the other hand, is marked by a persistent, disabling decline in two or more intellectual abilities such as memory, language, judgment, and abstract thinking.”

Now comes the sixty-four dollar question…when is it time to become worried about whether you have dementia or are just getting old? The answer is really quite simple, however, you have to be honest with yourself and with those around you. If you or someone close to you expresses concern about your forgetfulness or your inability to do things that once came naturally to you, it’s time to check with your doctor.

Before I go any further, let me explain something: Dementia is any one of a group of diseases that cause memory loss as well as degeneration of other mental functions. The key word there is ‘disease.’ Health Line notes that “Dementia occurs due to physical changes in the brain and is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time. For some people, dementia progresses rapidly, while it takes years to reach an advanced stage for others. The progression of dementia depends greatly on the underlying cause of the dementia. While people will experience the stages of dementia differently, most people with dementia share some of the symptoms.”

I’ve put this piece together because I have a couple of friends with differing forms of dementia. While it’s sad to watch the deterioration, my friends’ families saw things happening early on. In that way they were able to plan for how care would be given and there were no surprises. Please don’t assume that I’m trying to pass myself off as some kind of authority on the subject. It was of sufficient interest to me that I did a bit of research. If you have concerns about a parent or a friend, I invite you to do as I have done, and check out the many authoritative sites that deal with mental health.

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