Tuesday, June 29, 2010
She watched the wheelchair, the walker and me approach and remained stubbornly, defiantly, absolutely still. The gap between us narrowed to a foot, to six inches, to an inch, and then the walker pressed gently against her midsection. Cuddles got to her feet, slowly, of course, and stretched. Putting her chin to the floor and extending her forelegs, she proudly raised her rump to let me know I was being just a little inconsiderate. Then she arched her back before taking a step or two toward the bedroom door. I inched forward in the wheelchair; Cuddles stretched some more, again with her backside pointed directly at me when she lifted her butt. She took a couple more baby steps and went through her stretching routine one more time before allowing me into the bedroom.
Perhaps Cuddles, with the keen intuitive sense that animals have, has determined that I am not the man I and one or two other easily fooled people believe I am. But, if she's so darn smart, she'd realize that I am clumsy, klutzy and someone whom it isn't safe to be near when I'm in motion. For the innocent bystander, stumbling, bumbling ineptitude is just as dangerous as testosterone driven rage. Cuddles will realize this some day, and she'll stand aside when I approach. Even if she snickers as I pass, cats are so discrete about such things, I won't notice and will assume she fears and respects me. She'll be safer, and I'll continue to think of myself as one of the world's more manly men - a good deal for both of us.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Of All the Gull
Everything is still this summer morning. The sky clear and the sun bright, but there is no wind to rustle the leaves. I’m in my car at Lake Shore Park, looking at the lake that barely ripples and watching an ore boat get smaller as it heads out on the open water. Eating a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit from McDonald’s and listening to an appropriately mellow piece for string quartet on the radio, I begin to feel the heat and humidity, harbingers of the oppressive afternoon to come.
A few gulls and a Canada goose or two mill around the beach, the grass and the parking lot. They are bored, listless creatures, each one lost in its thoughts. They ignore me and each other until, a few feet from my car, a goose picks up a wilted, sand-covered French fry. He holds it in his beak the way the tough guy in the old movies stood on the corner with a cigarette hanging from his lips. Two gulls see the punk and approach him. The goose flees on foot; the gulls go after him. The chase ends when the goose drops the fry. Then the two gulls fight over it.
After their little dust-up, the gulls walk back to the parking lot. They notice I am eating and are hoping for something fresher than the three-day old French fry. They stop a few feet from the car and give me the eye. Another gull joins them, then another and another. Soon there are a dozen gulls, silently standing and staring, forming an arc outside my car door.
I can feel their eyes and I can hear their voices. It’s like high school, waiting in the hall for another hopelessly square kid to show up and give the gaggle of jocks and cheerleaders over there someone else to talk about. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but you’re sure it’s something about you and your all too obvious shortcomings. Or like being the only third-grader in a room full of adults. You know each them has an unseen clipboard in hand and is making notes on your behavior and will report any and all lapses to your mother.
As I sit in the car, one of the gulls, I’m sure, is telling his buddy about the nice guy with the bag of breadcrumbs who came by yesterday. Another gull is griping about how hard it is feed a family these days. Another says I could afford to lose a few pounds, and her friend shakes her head and says something about gluttony being a deadly sin.
I don’t have to take this. If I wanted to find out why I’m unfulfilled and the object of scorn, I could have stayed home and watched television commercials. So, I start the car and back out of the parking space. But I hear a gull exclaim, ‘ere I drive out sight, “You cheap bastard!”
Friday, June 25, 2010
A couple years ago, Nancy and I volunteered to help with the MS Walk at Mentor High School. Nancy helped set up the cafeteria, and we folded T-shirts and then sat behind a table brimming with literature on MS. As we sat there - I was in my wheelchair - a number of women who appeared to be in their twenties or thirties, several with young children in tow, asked the date of my diagnosis. It turned out, all the women had been diagnosed long before I was. What a burden MS must be for a young mother of father. As I understand it, most woman who contract MS in early adulthood have the recurring-remitting form of the disease, and they don't experience symptoms all the time. Still, they must miss out on many of the joys of being a parent during the recurring phases. I guess if I had to have a date with MS, I'm glad it came after Russ and Beth were grown and on their way to responsible (I hope) adulthood.
On the other hand, a neurologist from ACMC talked about Copaxone and other promising drug therapies at a meeting of the MS Support Group at KSU-Ashtabula this spring. She went through a list of ten or so drugs and explained how they worked and what types of MS they seemed to help. When she finished, a man at our table whose wife is in a wheelchair asked, "You've talked about all these different types of MS, but I didn't hear anything about primary-progressive MS. Are there any drugs for that?" The doctor shook her head and said, "no."
Because my diagnosis is primary-progressive, the look on the doctor's face and her barely audible "no" have stayed with me. Being realistic can be a good thing, but too much realistic thinking can be a downer. As luck would have it, soon after yesterday's bout with realistic thinking I received a much needed kick in the butt. The kicker was Gene Collier, a sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Thursday he wrote about soccer and the TV coverage of the World Cup, finishing with Landon Donovon's answer to a question about the two US goals that were disallowed.
" 'We embody what Americans are all about,' Donovon said. 'We can moan about it, or we can get on with it.'
"So we get on with it, because the clock doesn't stop. Not really," Collier wrote.
With that in mind, perhaps I'll get on with it and spend more of my time at the computer writing and less time playing Free Cell. And I'm hopeful I'll have more success with this than I did with the other bit of wisdom I gleaned from Collier's columns. One day in the fall of 2003, much of the Star Beacon sports section was given over to the girls basketball preview, which contained twenty or so stories under my byline. That night, I got on the Post-Gazette web site and read Collier's column, which concerned the flack Lisa Guerrero was taking at the time as the sideline reporter for Monday Night Football. Given the sea of words I had contributed to that day's Star Beacon, a sentence from that column has haunted me ever since: "As Coach Cowher loves to say, 'there's a fine line in this business' between occasional insight and incessant vacuous yammering."
More than a few times, I fear, I've tripped over the fine line and fallen into the morass of incessant vacuous yammering. Like now, for instance.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Lying there a few feet from me, she sought to intimidate with her stare, attempting to bore holes through me with her beady little eyes. "Enough," I thought, and I powered up the wheelchair. Then I moved the joy stick, causing that electrical clicking noise the motor makes a split second before the wheels start turning. At the sound, Cuddles became taut, her eyes narrowed and she was poised to pounce. But I let the joy stick fall back into the neutral position before the chair moved, and Cuddles reluctantly relaxed, the disappointment on her face as obvious as that of a boy who discovered that the big package under the tree with his name on it was full of underwear. Elated by my ability to frustrate, I did it again and again and again. I did it a fifth time, and the sight of her anticipation giving way to disappointment was no less pleasing than the first time. In the interest of ergonomic efficiency, I left my hand on the control, ready to issue false alarm No. 6 as soon as I stopped gloating over No. 5. Alas, Cuddles couldn't wait; she came over to me, raised herself up and began batting my hand with her front paws in an effort to get the chair to move. She said, "You've had your fun; now it's my turn." So, I spent the next ten minutes going here and there and around in circles, giving Cuddles an opportunity to chase elusive points of light that she will never catch, but never tires of pursuing.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
There was a little preview of spring Tuesday. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the 60s and the breeze was gentle. There was another harbinger of spring that afternoon: the fellow next door and his son were out with a bat and ball.
It made me think of my dad. Long ago, during Eisenhower’s first term, he and I, and later my brother Ed, would get the bat and ball and walk to the playground at Bethel Memorial School. By the early 1960s, Dad was also playing ball with our younger brother Jim, but we had moved by then and the venue had changed.
In any event, Dad pitched the ball, and I tried to hit it. Listening to the neighbor, I heard my dad. The fundamentals of hitting haven’t changed much. I watched as the guy next door stood behind his son and reached down to move young boy’s feet, so that when he stepped into the ball, he’d step toward the mound.
“Get your bat up,” he said. “Get your bat up. That’s it.”
Then the little boy took a few swings.
“You’re taking your eye off the ball,” the neighbor said. “You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball. You’re watching everything but the ball.”
It could have been a recording of Dad talking to me all those decades ago. Then the boy next door made contact, sending the ball back through the box, as they say.
“That’s the way. That’s the way you want to hit,” the neighbor said.
Dad used to say that too, although not very often. But that was my fault, and the reason, Dad would tell me, was I was had my foot “in the bucket.” The neighbor didn’t tell his son that, which bodes well for the boy’s future.
About 15 years ago, I read one of George Will’s baseball books, I think it was Men at Work. Early in the book, Will told of his father taking him to Forbes Field to see his first Major League game. I’m not sure what grade I was in – probably third or fourth – when Dad took me to see the Pirates for the first time.
I don’t recall what the occasion was, but we were downtown, and he asked me if I wanted to go to the ballgame. “Sure.” So, we caught a streetcar and headed out to the Oakland section of the city. In his book, Will writes that he was struck by how green the grass seemed as they walked into the park.
I don’t think I’ll ever see grass as green as the grass in the outfield at Forbes Field that night. More amazing to me were the lights. When the sun went down, it was still daylight on the field. I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure who the Pirates played that night, but the Buccos won with the help of a Dale Long homerun.
More recently, I thought of Dad while reading David Maraniss’ biography of Roberto Clemente. In the chapter about the 1960 World Series, Maraniss talked about Pittsburghers taking the streetcar to the games.
Dad never drove. So, by necessity, he became an expert on public transportation in Pittsburgh. He passed some of that knowledge on to sons, and we were able to get to the ballgames on our own long before we learned to drive.
“Going out, you can take any car with a number in the 60s or 70s,” Dad told us. “Coming back, you can take anything coming down Fifth or Forbes except the 77/54.”
If we took the 77/54, also known as the Flying Fraction, he warned us, we’d end up taking a long, slow trip to the North Side, which wasn’t where we wanted to go.
The last time Dad played ball with his three sons was on Christmas Day 1996. We were all in San Antonio to celebrate the holidays and my parents’ upcoming 50th wedding anniversary. That morning, Dad found a football and told us to get outside. As he had done countless times before, he motioned for us to go out, and then he delivered the ball to each of us in turn.
“If nothing else, at least you guys catch the ball with your hands instead of your bodies,” he said as we went back in. “I guess I did teach you something.”
Dad is 93 now and much more spry than I am. He doesn’t remember much anymore, but I do, especially on spring days when fathers are out playing ball with their sons.
This piece was originally published in the Star Beacon.
Just a Word or Two
Dad never said much. He wasn’t morose or bitter; he didn’t go off by himself to ignore the world. He just didn’t say much. That often frustrated the people around him. One fine summer day in the early 1960s, I remember Nana sitting at the head of the dining room table reminiscing.
“We always told your father, if he wasn’t going to bring anything into the house, he better not take anything out,” she said.
Years later, after Dad had retired and he and Mom moved to San Antonio, Mom talked about the early years of their marriage. She was the stay-at-home mom of three pre-schoolers, and Dad worked for the Bessemer and Lake Erie by day and went to law school at Duquesne by night. And in the summer, when he wasn’t going to school, he played softball several nights a week.
“He’d leave the house at six-thirty in morning and not get home until almost ten that night,” Mom said. “‘How was your day,’ I’d ask. ‘Fine,’ he’d say. ‘What’s new,’ I’d ask. ‘Nothing much,’ he’d say. That was it.
“ I could go to the store for twenty minutes and talk about it for three hours.”
Despite not having much to say, Dad liked to keep in touch, and he called his kids every week after we went off to college and beyond, although, he still didn’t have much to say. The longest phone conversation I had with him while I was in college was the time I asked him something about a business law class I was taking. He spent the next half-hour explaining the complexities of depreciating railroad cars.
There were times when I felt Dad was snubbing me, and when we got together for Uncle Jim’s retirement party, I discovered my siblings - Barb, Ed and Jimmy - sometimes felt they too were getting the brush off. Dad went to bed early that night, and the rest of us stayed up for a few hours and talked about him. We laughed about the short conversations, but Mom said there were times she wished he’d just stay off the phone.
“Sunday afternoons I’ll be busy making dinner, or maybe just watching TV or reading a book, just relaxing, and your father will pick up the phone and call one of you or your Uncle Jim or some old friend,” she said. “I might not feel like talking, but I know what’s going to happen. He’ll talk for two minutes and then say, ‘Here’s Martha, she knows more than I do,’ and hand the phone to me.”
Because he never said much, most of the lessons he taught us he taught by example. By living his life the way he did, he taught us not to think too much of ourselves or too little of others, a thought he occasionally reinforced by telling us, “self praise stinks.” He never said much, but he was a wonderfully effective teacher of life’s most important lessons.
Friday, June 18, 2010
On Wednesday, though, Cuddles, for the first time, walked out the front door into the cool morning air. Nancy, who was about to leave for work, attempted unsuccessfully to get the frisky feline back in the house. Needing to be on her way, however, Nancy called out the posse - Aaron. Cuddles huddled under the ramp for several minutes and then made a few quick forays into the neighbor's yard before Aaron snagged her and returned her to the safety of our humble home.
This weighed on my mind yesterday as I was about to leave for my writing class, but Cuddles was upstairs with Aaron watching the World Cup. Well, she was until I was about to yell upstairs to let Aaron I was going. As I was approaching the stairs, Cuddles was coming down. Curses!!! She laid down a few feet from me and let me, with the aid of my three-wheeled walker, get close to her. Why she even let me bend down and reach out to her to grab her. Then, just before I had her in my grasp, she moved another few feet from me. This happened three or four times. But I am a biped, and she, while cuter and more agile, is a mere quadruped. Using my walker to cut off a number of possible escape routes, she was forced to frustrate my attempts by moving closer and closer to the basement steps. Of course, she thought she was drawing me into her own little strategic ploy. When she got to the steps, she hurried down to the bottom, looked up to the ambulationally challenged fellow at the top of the stairs and said without a trace of humility, "Game, set, match!!!!" I shut the basement door, smiled a gloating smile and went on my way.
Pulling my legs into the car, I realized the monumental nature of what had happened: I had herded a cat. It was such an exciting moment, and I kept replaying the scene in my mind as I headed out Route 20 to Conneaut. Somewhere in North Kingsville I returned to reality for a moment and noticed a light on the dashboard. I looked again and realized it was the seat-belt light. In my exhilarated state, I had neglected to put on my seat belt. An unwise thing to do, but understandable given the circumstance: it's not often one can bend a cat's will to his.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
A Catholic priest who fathers a child has committed a faux pas, while a man who, in order to reduce his tax obligations, lists children he doesn't have on his tax return is a faux pa.
And, as if that wasn't enough, water running up hill is a flow pas.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
A girl whose boyfriend is a cad has a faux beau.
An empty boast is a faux crow.
Counterfeit cash is faux dough.
Snails made from a processed meat-like product are faux escargot.
In war games, the battle is between a couple of faux foes.
The aura of artificial light is a faux glow.
A woman working undercover on the vice squad is a faux ho.
A cup of decaf is faux joe.
The guy imitating one of the Three Stooges is a faux Moe.
The coy beauty kept her suitor guessing with a faux no.
His style was so similar to a certain 19th-Century poet that they called him a faux Poe.
To make the situation seem less horrendous, the BP spokesman issued a faux status quo.
Manufactured caviar is faux roe.
When putting up a false front, we give a faux show.
A quarterback who fakes a pass makes a faux throw.
Those who whine when there is nothing to whine about suffer from faux woes.
The ditzy blond who really isn't so ditzy is a faux yo-yo.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Gordon would have been riding, but his friend had other obligations, and when you're eighty-four and have had a hip replacement and have occasional balance issues, it's best to have someone along for the ride. It worked out well for me, however. We didn't have much work to do, but such work as there was for us, Gordon did it. He helped Nancy get things set up and taken down, and in between, he saw to it that the water coolers were kept full. Gordon also told nearly everyone who stopped for water that the bike trail was once Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way and that the current Norfolk Southern Railroad is creating some obstacles to getting the trail completed through Ashtabula to the lake. But as repetitive, ornery and opinionated as Gordon can be, he is on top of things.
And I'm not sure what the average age of the people is in my writing class, but I'm pretty sure it is over seventy. They are all vital people with a wide range of interests. It does me good to be around people like them.
What is bothering me is the old people in AARP publications, specifically Laura Bush. Now, she isn't exactly old; sixty-three would have been old twenty-five years ago, but as my birthdays pile up, the number needed to get old increases. But, AARP the Magazine is aimed at mature persons, and it did have a feature on Mrs. Bush. "What's reassuring is that time passes and things change and war doesn't last forever," the ever-hopeful Laura tells us. That might be true for those of us watching from half a world away, but for those killed, disabled or psychologically scarred on the battlefield and their families, the war will be a fact of life long after the hostilities end and the last soldier has come home.
The crux of the problem, I suppose, has less to do with Laura Bush than it does with amount of time available for me to think about it. With that in mind, I offer the following:
Mornings in retirement
The old routine took but minutes of my morning:
the papers were there, and I turned to the crossword
to get my puzzle fix. But then came Sudoku;
it had my number, and I found time for Jumble
and then it was on to Celebrity Cipher,
which led to a stubborn addiction to word search.
I’m pretty sure it’s not a good sign, doing word search.
Better I should read and write more in the morning,
instead, I decipher Celebrity Cipher.
But first I have coffee and finish the crossword
and then more coffee, causing my nerves to jumble,
distorting the logic I need for Sudoku.
I get so perplexed when I work on Sudoku
and get stymied and give up and then flee to word search,
which I always solve. It’s easier than Jumble,
not a challenge, even early in the morning,
unlike the Plain Dealer’s tough Saturday crossword,
and never witty like Celebrity Cipher.
It can be baffling, that Celebrity Cipher,
although it’s never as humbling as Sudoku,
and isn’t nearly as much fun as the crossword.
But it takes a dull sort to opt to do word search.
Yes, I’m a dull sort and not sharp in the morning,
which also explains why you’ll find me doing Jumble,
those weird anagrams of words all in a jumble,
and decoding words in Celebrity Cipher.
And so I use the precious moments of morning
finagling numbers to finish Sudoku,
before I throw it aside and go to word search.
I really should stop when I’m done with the crossword,
but on I go, without uttering a cross word,
and don’t even think as I go and do Jumble,
and let some power drag me on into word search.
Are my wits sharpened by Celebrity Cipher?
Does my thinking improve when I do Sudoku?
Do these exercise my brain or waste my morning?
I do the crossword and Celebrity Cipher,
fumble with Jumble and fight, too, with Sudoku,
and finish my morning in a mindless word search.
Friday, June 11, 2010
They were all duly impressed. Suzanne went so far as to suggest that I might mention Russ' name if I submitted something to one of the magazines that has published his cartoons. I think she was joking about having Russ open doors for me, but I'm not sure.
The point of all this, which I have thus far so niftily avoided, has to do with the black-and-white cat in the cartoon, which looks like it might be a cousin of Cuddles, the cat that came to live with us last fall. She was just a kitten at the time, and her previous address was the Animal Protective League. In her first few months with us, Cuddles displayed the usual feline attitudes toward the people in her life: she tolerated them for a few minutes each day and ignored them the rest of the time. She did at times seem a little sweet on Aaron, Nancy's son, but was always less than impressed with Nancy and me.
Then came spring. The sky cleared and the sun rose higher and stayed out longer, sending its rays through the living room and dining room windows in the late afternoon and early evening. A byproduct of the sunlight are the reflections that dances on the walls or floor; those Tinkerbells that spring from a glass of water on the table, or a shiny book cover or from the spoon in the hands of a devious diner. Living in the restrictive environment of 3126 Lincoln Drive, Cuddles can be excused for mistaking the sprightly reflections for prey. When she spots one, she gives chase.
Less excusable, though, is the behavior of the guy in the power wheelchair. With a host of reflective do-dads, the wheelchair is the most dependable source of enticing light. The fellow in the wheelchair will sometimes move back and forth in a small arc so he can watch Cuddles chase the elusive sparkle the chair creates on the floor. Hunched down and alert, she will spring forward and try to capture the light with her forepaws. But the light keeps going, and Cuddles springs again and then again and again without success. The guy in the wheelchair enjoys playing this game that Cuddles can't win. Even when she wins, she loses. She lands on the light, and it disappears. Well not quite, it's now shining on the middle of her back and she can't see it.
Cuddles, however, remains undeterred. During those few hours before the sun goes down, she often behaves in a very canine sort of way. Cuddles will find a spot a few feet from the wheelchair and quietly lie there. She appears to be sleeping, but the truth is, she is on full alert. She ignores every sound in the house except the sound of wheelchair. And when she hears the wheelchair, she springs up and looks to see where the guy in it might be going. There's no way of knowing if Cuddles enjoys this, but the guy in the wheelchair does. But once the sun goes down, the guy in the wheelchair is just another guy.
Cuddles has other odd behaviors. While Nancy and I were having breakfast yesterday, Nancy spotted a hummingbird out front. As we watched the hummingbird flit about outside, Cuddles was equally intent as she watched a common housefly that was inspecting the ceiling fan. It hardly seems possible that any creature would find a housefly more intriguing than a hummingbird. Still, I didn't see that fly, or any fly, the rest of the day. Could it be that the ever vigilant Cuddles is keeping the pests at bay?
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Confidentiality rules are necessary, of course, but they can be strange. The measuring this morning took about five minutes, but we spent almost a half hour talking about MS - I talked about my experiences, and she talked about Jim's. Then, as I was getting ready to leave, I told her to say 'hi' to Jim. She couldn't do that, she said, because she couldn't tell him that she saw me for the fitting, although she had spend a lot of time telling me quite a bit about Jim.
PUN ALERT: Yesterday, I got a text from Russ which I think must have been intended for someone else. I felt as if I was suddenly in the middle of a conversation I hadn't previously been a part of. Russ was upset that so many people don't seem to know the difference between 'abridged' and 'unabridged.' That led me to think about the time years ago when Simon and Garfunkel realized their song was too long to fit on a 45, and they had to abridge Over Troubled Water. Thinking back now, I believe the person who discovered the time problem was a valley girl, who told them, "You're going to have to like abridge Over Troubled Water.
I'm pretty sure this is a sign of an underused mind.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
In the writing class I go to, I was once asked to write a limerick a day. A sampling of my efforts will demonstrate why the assignment was never renewed after the first week.
Whoa, big fella
There was a shy guy named Harry,
Timid and so very wary
Of kissing a girl
Until he met Cheryl.
Who slapped him and said, “How dare he.”
A word to the wise
Joe thought that his verbosity
But those who heard him
Always referred him
To comments on pomposity.
It happened one night
The sexy, sensuous Mable
Seduced the actor, Clark Gable.
But once in the bunk,
Said Clark, who was drunk,
“Frankly, my dear, I’m not able.”
Act of love
When hoping to be romantic
Harvey would try the dramatic.
Enjoying his flair
Madge entered his lair
And made him highly ecstatic.
To hear Limbaugh vituperate
Makes me ask what it was he ate.
Perhaps it’s the beans,
Or those collard greens
That make him rant and bloviate.
On the hook
There once was a girl named Sarah
Who resembled Yogi Berra,
But the man she sought
Was the one she caught,
While she toured the Rivera.
I am a little worried about this venture. The people who offer advice to would-be writers often suggest keeping a journal. I've tried that few times and never had much success. After a few weeks of feverish scribbling, I inevitably turned into a person I wanted to avoid. You know, the guy you don't ask "How are you?" for fear he'll tell you at great length. My hope is, flinging this stuff into cyberspace where anyone can read it will keep me from whining to excess. Time will tell.
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