Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

You never know that you’ve missed something until it suddenly reappears. Please, let me explain. For ten years, between 1969 and 1979, we owned a summer house in North Falmouth. For you who may be from outside of New England, that’s a section of a town on Cape Cod. Our house was about three blocks from the water. When I was on vacation, I would be up before anyone else, and I would walk down to the water, to the ocean, to that wonderful sound of water lapping against the shore, small waves breaking on the jetty’s, the stink of salt water that had been captured by the seaweed that had washed ashore during the night. I’d pick up beach glass, that white, brown, green, yellow, and red pieces of broken containers that had been pounded by the ocean bottom from who knows how far away, and that had eventually deposited on the shore. I might see a cargo ship on the horizon or a bit closer, but I’d feel the sand between my toes and the water caress my feet, and it was wonderful. It was rejuvenating. It brought the world together for me and it was a place of peace…early in the morning. From where we were, we didn’t get to see the sunrise, but our sunsets were magnificent. There were times when I would drive over to the other side of town and stand on a bluff, and there I could watch the sun rise out of the water, out far beyond Martha’s Vineyard which could be seen, and out beyond Nantucket which was out of our sight from the mainland. Imagine being able to get up in the morning and watch the sun rise out of the ocean and then, as evening fell, watch it drop back into that same ocean, just from a different side of town. That casts a spell, and when you no longer get to see that ocean, walk that beach, smell the salt air, pick up the beach glass, you don’t really know that you’re missing it because other things consume your time. You take on more responsibilities in your job. Perhaps you don’t take all the vacation you’ve earned because, “It’s just too busy.” The kids grow up and have other things to do. They go to the beach with their friends or, as ours did, they became involved with activities that didn’t allow them ‘beach time.’

Time goes on. You may realize that there’s something in your life that you’re missing, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. “The beach? Oh, yeah, well, haven’t been for a while. The back’s been acting up, and the wife’s knees are bothering her, and we don’t walk in the sand all that well, and…well, you know, maybe next year.” And so it goes. Then, one day, you don’t have to work anymore. You’re a “retiree,” and you have all that free time, but the beach seems farther away now. You don’t have a house to go to, and the cost of a motel on the Cape in the summer, well, wow, we’ve got to watch our dollars now because we’re retired, and we have more medical costs for prescriptions, and the real estate taxes are killing us, and we had to hire a guy to cut the lawn, and, and, and, and and go the excuses. You just don’t get to the ocean. Oh, sure, you might take a run over to Castle Island in Boston, but that, too, requires finding a parking place and walking around, and well, you know…we’re back to the aching legs and backs and so forth.

Then that day comes when everything changes. In my case, it was Joan’s cancer and for a long time that was what occupied every minute of every hour of every day. There was no talk of anything else. How can we make her declining life better? What can we do to help her? And then, she’s gone. No matter how prepared you are, you aren’t. That hole in your heart doesn’t go away. After a while, you may learn to accept that it’s there and always will be, but it doesn’t go away.

In my own case, along came Juli. I’m one of the few very lucky people on this earth who has been able to find great happiness with two women in my life. The two are almost exact opposites, yet they meld. They are two strong forces, yet they are gentle. Today, a magnificent fall day in New England, one of the first because this month has been so warm, we went shopping. “Anywhere else you want to go?” I ask as I’m pulling out of the Dollar Tree parking lot. “Yeah,” Juli says, “Let’s go look at the foliage up by St. Timothy’s, on that pond.” That’s what we did. I was shocked when I pulled into a space overlooking Willett Pond. The sun was glinting off the small ripples of the pond. The trees all around were sharing their beautiful fall colors. The wind was blowing just right, and I was transported back to the peace that I used to know when I would walk on the beach in the early morning. “What’s wrong,” she asked. “Nothing,” was about all I could say for a few minutes. Somehow, in some way, I wasn’t really sitting in the car. I was walking along the water’s edge. Strange? Weird? Oh, yeah, it was all that and more. I didn’t realize that a part of my life that had been missing was showing up once more as I sat in the car, watching the water, almost searching for that big ship. It wouldn’t be there of course. I could almost smell the salt air. I could almost hear the seagulls over the ocean. I could almost envision myself picking up the beach glass once more. If I never get to the ocean again, I will have today’s remembrance forever. I think I might just have found some peace.

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Know what the OECD is? I didn’t until I went online to do some research about obesity in this country and others. Anyway, the acronym is simple. It’s the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It was founded in Europe shortly after World War II in an attempt to avoid the mistakes made after WWI that led Europe and the rest of the world on a collision course that began with the eruption of the second world war. Its primary purpose is to “help governments foster prosperity and fight poverty through economic growth and financial stability.” If you’re thinking Marshall Plan, you’re on the right track. In the early days, the job of the OECD’s predecessor was to administer the Plan.

How do I go from the above to talking about obesity? Well, it’s quite simple. The OECD is concerned about obesity in its member countries, largely because more than one in two adults and nearly one in six children are overweight or obese in the countries involved. American ranks as one of the most obese countries in the world. Yep, that’s right, we’re a bunch of fat asses. We’ve already taken the number one position away from Mexico and it appears that by the year 2030, nearly fifty percent of America will be overweight or obese.

What is the major cause of obesity here and elsewhere? Well, perhaps the most important cause is willpower. We eat too much. Let’s face it, there is one hell of lot of good tasting stuff out there and if we can get it, we’re going to eat it. It’s very simple. If we eat more than we burn up, we’re going to gain weight, so how we behave is a major factor. Look, I’m not writing this piece to brag about losing my 60+ pounds over the course of one year…okay, I am…but just a little bit. I did it by not having food after four o’clock in the afternoon. Was I hungry? Sure, for a while, but I got used to it…and trust me, I have as little willpower as anyone. After all, it took me 51 years of smoking before I finally gave that up. So, I guess I can say, “Don’t give me that bull crap about you not having any willpower,” you probably have a lot more than me. Let’s be practical here, how many hours a day are you sitting down with your cell phone, sitting in a car, sitting in the office, sitting at home watching television, sitting this, sitting that. If we don’t move and metabolize what we eat, we’re on our way to extra-large, two x, and so on.

Willpower, however, is only part of the answer to obesity, perhaps the most simplistic part. Biological factors also figure in here. Doctors say that genetics, hormones, and neural circuits complicate human behavior, just as they complicate sleep behavior and sexual behavior. Today, we have what I’d like to call a ‘new’ food group. It’s called hyperpalatable foods. These are foods that have been deliberately engineered to taste better but are not as good for you. Take white bread as an example…it’s really like eating sugar because the carbohydrate has been broken down to glucose when it hits the body. Less processed carbohydrates, like whole grain bread take longer to break down and have less of this glucose effect on you.

What are the most addictive foods that will help you make the scale cry? Well, I’ll use Calorie Secret as a source on this and talk briefly about the most addictive foods according to this one publication…the other sources are pretty close on which is bad for you. Donuts, pasta, pizza, cake, cookies, chips, chocolate, French fries, and candy top the list. Unfortunately, ice cream is considered to be the most addictive food. Okay, so now that I’ve taken away all of the fun, where do we go from here? The solution is simple. To me, it’s found in two words: Moderation and Exercise. We really cannot escape what the food industry has done to make our processed foods more palatable. Hell, even baloney tastes better today than I remember it tasting when I was a kid, and yes, I have a baloney sandwich every once in a while. Even the meats we buy have been genetically modified in many cases. Our trick is merely to be cautious in how much it is of everything we eat. Did you ever take a look at the dinner plate in front of you? Most of us would say something like, “Yeah, it’s the plate we have dinner on, so what?” How big is the plate? We used to use ten-inch plates for our meals, we now use eight-inch plates. They still look filled up with food, just not as much. I’ve just discovered cauliflower potatoes. They taste great, have no real cauliflower taste, and are just as filling. I’m quite certain that when I read the label carefully, I’ll have to swear off them for good…one of the reasons I’m not anxious to read the label.

“Hey, you’re scaring me,” you’re saying, but I have to respond that that is the last thing I want to do. I was obese, no two ways about it…261 pounds on a six-foot frame was too damned much. What I did isn’t going to work for you, guaranteed. If you want to lose weight, you have to find your own way. I found that exercise and switching over to a diet of mainly fruit, protein, and everything else in moderation worked for me. I also upped my exercise program a bit. I try to get to “my” gym every day, even if it’s for a brief workout. Don’t like that, try increasing the number of steps you walk in a day.

Okay, I went off on a tangent there, but let’s face it, obesity is a real problem in the US and in many other countries. It leads to all sorts of medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and sleeping disorders. Take it from someone who has diabetes and heart disease, if you can prevent yourself from getting them, DO IT!

I could go one and on about obesity and the problems it has already caused in the world…it’s a social problem, medical problem, mental problem, and damn near any other kind of problem you want to list. The good news is that it’s preventable. I’m not talking about turning to tofu and salad greens. I’m talking about common sense and self-worth. Will I gain some of that weight back? You bet your bottom dollar I will, but will I go back to where I was…never, never, never. The world is a great place. We just have to watch out for the charlatans who want to have us eat our way to an early ending.

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So, there I was, comfortably ensconced in my favorite chair on the back patio, admiring the containers of potatoes, garlic, onions, peas, and yes, even carrots, looking at the eight pots of impatiens we had just purchased from Lowe’s and wondering how I was going to transplant them to the containers on the fence (whew, long sentence), when a fly landed on one of the posts of the raised bin and asked me what I was doing. Yep, you heard right…a bloody fly landed on a support post and had the audacity to ask me what I was doing. Seemed to me that he had a lot of nerve…well, I thought it was a he at the time…to ask a question of someone sitting on their own patio. Heck, I could hardly understand him, the way his wings were flapping so loud. Guess he was probably yelling. What? Oh, you don’t speak fly? Guess you’re not from New England then. Hey, look, if Harry Potter could talk to snakes, you know, well New Englanders – least I haven’t met one yet who can’t – well, we communicate with all sorts of animal species…’cept cats. I’ll be damned if I can figure out what cats are saying. Most of my friends feel the same way. Cats just give you that smirk that says, “I hear you, slave, but don’t think I’m going to dignify what you have to say by answering you…go, go away before I do something evil…which I will do later anyway…when you least expect it.”

Speaking of anyways, this fly and I, we got into a conversation about why we’d started some of the garden but not the whole thing. He was rather funny looking, blue eyes, glimmering wings, and a little yellow spot just above the eyes. I said, “You’re not from around these parts, are ya?” and the fly allowed as that he was from Virginia and was really just stopping off for a while before he flew on to Maine for the summer. Seems the South gets a bit too hot for him and his family during the summer. “You got kids,” he asked, and I said they were all grown up and had kids of their own. “So, you’re a family man,” I queried, and he nodded his beady little head up and down, actually rising an inch or two above the post before settling back down. “How many kids you have?” I asked. He seemed to ponder that question for a moment, then responded, “At last count, I think she told me it was around six-point- two million…but that’s just a guestimate.” “Your wife told you that?” I asked. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” he said quickly. “Heck, the wife only knows about a couple million. No, my girlfriends told me about all the others.” “So you’re what one might call and adulterous fly, is that right.” “C’mon, man,” he said, “It’s what flies do everywhere. It’s no big deal. You should see what the mosquitoes and grasshoppers do. Wow, it’d kill me to try and keep up with them.”

Juli came out with a cup of coffee. “Who you talking to?” she asked, but then spotted the fly. “Oh, hi,” she said, “You going to Maine again this summer?” The fly nodded, and I looked at Juli. “You know this fly?” I asked. “Met him last year,” she intoned. “Really,” I said, “you know how many kids he has?” “Well, last year, I think he said around five million…is that right?” she asked, looking at the fly. By now, of course, even though it was only 7:15 in the morning, I’m thinking it’s time for a couple of fingers of Glenlivet or at the very least, a strong Bloody Mary. But, by the time that thought passed through my brain, Juli and the fly were involved in what appeared to be deep conversation.

“You never mentioned that you had a fly friend,” I said. “Would you have believed me?” she asked. “Hell no, I wouldn’t have believe you,” I responded and continued, “I probably would have called your brother to take you to the funny farm. Matter of fact, when he leaves, I might just head there myself. I mean, I know we can talk to flies and stuff, but this sure as hell is a first time for me!” The fly flew over and landed on my knee. “Look,” he said, “it may seem strange at first, but you’re the one who told me that New Englanders can talk to us and others. We’re cool with it, and Juli and I were just talking about the compost bin over there,” and he turned and nodded at our bin in the corner. “She was kind enough to put some rotting food in there last fall so we could stop for a snack on our way back home.”
“Well, I gotta buzz off,” the fly said, “Nice meeting you, and Juli, don’t forget, the oranges were really good last year. Gave us a lot of energy for the rest of the flight.” With that, he hovered, did a couple of loops around our heads and headed north.

Juli and I just stared at each other. She finally broke the silence. “Don’t forget to write oranges on the calendar around Labor Day,” she said. “They come back a day or two after.” What could I do? I just nodded, went into the house, and looked for the calendar. Now where the hell’s that scotch?

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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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There are problems, and then there are PROBLEMS. I have both. The biggies are my age, my knees, my back, my eyes, and the fact that my mind is slowly going to hell in a handbasket. There is little to nothing that I can do about these problems, ergo, that go into what I call the “Fuckit Bucket.” If there’s nothing that can be done, pull an Alfred E. Neuman (of Mad Magazine fame) and say, “What, me, worry?” The little problems, the ones that I can do something about, include getting enough exercise, taking medications on time and seriously, eating the right foods, finishing up all of my latch hook problems before I die, ibid the harvesting of this year’s garden, and…books before I go blind from glaucoma.

Books are my most pressing problem. Please don’t ask me why, but I own four Kindles. I have not read all of the books that are stored on any of them. If books and Kindles were an addiction, I would be considered and incurable addict…no hope. Take away one Kindle, and I’d go into ‘reader withdrawal.’ In my heart of hearts, I’m convinced that I will never get to read all of the books on all of my Kindles before I make my way to whatever lies beyond. Perhaps it will be The Reluctant Demon, the third in a trilogy by Mark Cain. He’s a very funny writer. Hell’s Super and A Cold Day in Hell are absolutely hysterical, and why I haven’t read the last is somewhat beyond me. It may be that when I see a new ‘prey’ book by John Sanford or something by Robert Ludlam, David Baldacci, Greg Isles, Michael Connolly, Lisa Scottoline, Brad Taylor, or any of more than two dozen authors, I can’t resist…c’mon Amazon, sock it to me…one click and I can own this sucker…and so I click.

Looking for a mystery, thriller, fiction or non-, I’m your guy. Just finished Steve Berry’s The Lost Order, a fascinating story about a horde of Southern Civil War stolen gold and silver that…nah, you’re going to get it and dig in yourself. A word of warning, however, don’t start this book after dinner or supper or whatever you call your evening meal. You may not fall asleep reading it, but you probably won’t get to work or school the next day either. This is a very well research and readable piece of fiction. Oh, and don’t forget to read just how much research he did to write this masterpiece.

There is something else you should know about my reading addiction…I didn’t always have one. In fact, as a “yute” – thank you, My Cousin, Vinny – I stayed away from books as though each and every one carried the plague. Shakespeare…I’d rather drink beer; Edgar Allen Poe…Oh, no, no, no. Arthur Conan Doyle…I’ll go play pool with Billy Boyle. Really, it wasn’t until I married in 1957…an English teacher, no less, that my interest in the written word began to grow. Oh, sure, George Khiralla, a literature Professor at Northeastern, had piqued my interest somewhat with the manner in which he brought Shakespeare to life, but that was George and that was one course, and we tore through the Bard’s plays at the rate of one-a-week, and if you didn’t read and didn’t understand, come the quiz on Friday, you were in deep do-do. Following back surgery shortly after we were married, Joan, my wife, brought home a few books from the library, among them, Allen Drury’s, Advise and Consent. Ouch, talk about getting hooked. The book was a political thriller that lasted 102 weeks in first place on The New York Times best seller list (I did not know that at the time). This was followed by book after book, and I suddenly found myself surrounded. I truly believe that it was the reading of so many different authors that enticed me into doing a bit of writing on my own. Did I ever want to be a published author of a successful book of some kind? Sure. Did it ever happen? Nope. Is there still a chance? You’ve got to be kidding. How could I ever become intelligent enough to do what James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, or Joel C. Rosenberg have done? It would take a fourth book by Mark Cain…Hell Freezes Over, before a book by me would ever appear.

Years ago, some first lady or other made it her cause to get kids reading. The slogan was “Reading is Fundamental,” with the first three letters of that last word emphasized. I just wished to hell she had been around in my younger days. Instead, I had to wait until I was older to read about the Civil War in books by Bruce Catton or The Civil War by Shelby Foote. I guess, by that time, I had already trod the battlefield at Manassas and seen some of the old cannon. By the time WWII ended, I had not yet become a ‘bookie,’ but trust me, I’ve read many since my addiction began. Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation and Ken Follett’s Jackdaws are just two that come immediately to mind.

There is one thing that I know for certain…I will never read every single book I’d like to read before my time on this earth is up. Perhaps my idea of Heaven would be lying in the big brown bear chair, floating among the clouds, some soft music in the background, and me reading book after book after book for all eternity…man, what a…death.

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I dunno, I sort of got pissed off at Bill Shields yesterday. Bill is a reporter for Channel 4 television – a division of CBS – well, shit, that’s what they always say, so why shouldn’t I? Anyway, Bill was out in the ‘first blizzard since 2015’ – BFD – and he said that he felt he was slowly losing his mind. Now, I like Bill. He’s a damned good reporter, sort of the modern day Shelby Scott, for those of you who can remember back that far, but his comment was bothersome. Bill has beaten cancer, but his comment about slowly losing his mind was rather deleterious to those of us who are actually going through the process of doing just that. I don’t need any public broadcast of what I’m going to become.

Let me start at the very beginning – according to Julie Andrews, a very good place to start. Last year, at my annual “turn your head and cough” visit to the doctor, I experienced a spate of dizziness while getting dressed…no, he wasn’t smiling and smoking a cigarette. He helped me retain my balance, but suggested I see a neurologist whose office was one floor below where I was. Sure enough, down I went and talked to the good doctor. He told me that he’d like to schedule some tests, and we did. A few months later, I was sitting with electrodes attached to my head as images were shown, and all sorts of other, little testy things were done. Following the tests, I met with the neurologist. “Everything okay?” I asked. His well yes and no answer temporarily made me forget that I was in a neurologist’s office and not sitting with a shrink. It seems that the tests indicated that while my body is a temple, my mind is becoming akin to the privy behind. It also appears that while I do not now have dementia, there are some signs that say I’m a pretty good candidate.

“I want you to begin using a cane,” he told me. When I asked, “Why?” he indicated that my episodes of dizziness or losing my balance could be aided by the use of a cane…I haven’t bumped into a wall since I began using the damned thing, something I would occasionally do when walking down the hallway of our house…aha, the light dawns on Marble-head. Here I thought that I was just being clumsy. It was good to learn that it was something a bit more than me being me.

I guess I shouldn’t be taking it out on Bill Shields, but like most humans, I’m just looking for a scapegoat. The thing that is most bothersome about this whole diagnosis is that it isn’t actually a diagnosis. There are signs. Well, what does that mean? According to a picture of my brain, there are three little white spots that indicate my propensity toward some form of dementia. I watched my mother-in-law slowly die of Alzheimer’s disease. It wasn’t a pretty picture. I have a dear friend whose husband has frontal lobe dementia. It’s very unsettling to see him, and I don’t know how the hell she manages it. I have another friend who has become forgetful and is in the early stages of I’m not even certain what to call it. Am I going to be joining these people? I don’t know, but it’s a bit wearying to consider. Perhaps the most irritating thing about it is the idea that I wouldn’t be able to continue writing this blog. As I’ve said on many occasions, writing brings me tremendous joy…yeah, and I’ve got over 1,100 essays on this sucker to prove it! I love the idea of reading about or seeing some topic on which I can do Internet searches, to learn about someone or something, to be intrigued by some mystery or other, and then to gather information and present it to you, the one or two of you who actually read the blog…it’s just a hell of a lot of fun, and to be deprived of that is to take away a big part of my reason for being. Heck, I’m no threat to real writers, but I sure do have some fun.

Stay tuned for updates as the old man gets older and, with any luck, loses some white spots!

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I was a depression-era baby. My mother and father believed strongly that if you couldn’t pay for it, you didn’t need it. That included just about everything, including a can of baked beans to a new or used car. It’s just the way things were. Mom had a ‘Christmas Club’ whereby she would go to the bank each week and deposit five or ten dollars – sometimes as little as a couple of bucks – in order to buy presents for the kids in December. This was ingrained in us from our earliest years…”Don’t get into debt!”

When I went off to college, my folks had scraped enough money together to get me through my first year. My part-time job put money in the bank so that I could continue. Since I went to a university that offered the co-op plan, I was able to work a term to pay for a term…”But I didn’t go into debt!” Tuition and books were a lot less expensive then, and I most assuredly was not a residence hall student. One book that was a required text was “Advertising Production.” At the first meeting of the class, the instructor informed us that it was not his choice of a text, but the department chair insisted. He then said that it wouldn’t bother him in the least if we returned the text to the bookstore. That had been the most expensive text I had ever purchased and, suffice it to say, no one from the class came close to getting to the bookstore with the speed and exuberance of yours truly.

When it came time to purchase our first home, my wife and I were very concerned. We both held full-time jobs, but both were in education. Anyone who has worked in the field knows that the salaries are not exorbitant. My folks couldn’t help but my wife was the only child of a successful theater chain executive. He helped us with a ‘wink, wink loan,’ and our mortgage became something manageable.

By this time, credit cards were becoming a bigger and bigger business. “Buy now; get it now; pay later,” was the mantra and many people fell into the trap. Since she, too, was a depression baby, our philosophy was a bit different…”If you can’t pay for it, you don’t need it.” Gee, where had I heard that one before? Did we eventually build some credit card debt? Absolutely, but not to the point where we couldn’t pay the debt off in the short- rather than the long-term. We calculated annual rate percentages and couldn’t stand the thought of “them” taking all of our interest. Hell, it ticked me off that our mortgage payments were more interest than principal for a while.

The biggest drawback to this frugal behavior didn’t catch up with me until the other day. In order to get a substantial discount on a moderately expensive item, I agreed to apply for an Amazon credit card. In the turn down letter that I received, was written, “We used information from your credit report in making our decision. In whole or in part, from the credit reporting agency below (Experian, Inc). The agency won’t be able to provide the specific reasons for our decision. We’ve enclosed details about your right to know the information in your credit report at the end of this letter.” I was truly pissed! I called Experian to learn what was going on, only to be told after an hour and two minutes on the telephone, that I didn’t have a credit rating because, basically, I didn’t have any credit debt. Of the three people with whom I spoke, not one could speak the King’s English. I kept asking to speak to a supervisor which only got me transferred to another – be polite now – international speaker. After the first 26 minute wait, I asked how many people were working the phones in the office. This question at first stumped the person on the other end. Finally, she admitted that there were somewhere between 100 and 150. “Why then the long delay in answering your phones?” I asked. She just chuckled, yes, chuckled, and asked how she could help. She couldn’t and I was again transferred. After a similar wait, I reached Kadherin, who neither spoke English very well and either chose not to understand or didn’t understand my request. Here’s the topper: I am now being charged $39.95 for calling Experian plus a $1.00 charge for my credit report, which I will never see because it’s nonexistent!

Tomorrow I go to my bank and request a credit card from them. I will use that credit card, but only to the extent of receiving a monthly statement for the purpose of establishing some credit line. I should not have to do this because I pay my bills on time. This has been ingrained in me since birth. Thinking back on it, while mother was changing my diapers I do remember her singing a lullaby about “…the Joneses are in debt; we won’t keep up with them, etcetera, etcetera,” and the chorus was “…if you can buy it, you don’t need it,” or words to that effect. Yeah, yeah, I remember that (uh huh, sure you do)!

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