Archive for March, 2009

Boston and Fargo Snow Tricks

March 30th, 2009

shovels and crocuses

It’s scant surprise that we humans anthropomorphize Nature. Winter weather alone this season was plenty tricksy.

Here in Boston, our well snowed season (see chart below) fooled us repeatedly. We had some 60-degree, sunny days in a row, and would move the snow shovels to the basement. Zap — a white-out with another 10 inches.

We haven’t been particularly good crocus custodians in recent years, but some naturalized pioneers return as annuals. A couple of days ago, a few yellow and a blue ones seemed to urge us to call it a winter done for the shovels.

Pic click trick: Click an image for a larger view.

2008-9 Boston snow

Meanwhile, as much of the nation, I’ve followed the arbitrary display of power of the flooding Red River, running North/South between North Dakota and Minnesota. Even today as my volunteer flowers peek up around the lawn, the folks around the Red River may get up to 14 inches of snow.

As the weather news has it:

Just as the Red River began retreating from Fargo’s hastily fortified sandbag levees, the city’s tired residents stared down a winter storm Monday expected to bring a half-foot of snow, powerful gusts and wind-whipped waves.

The snowfall itself was not expected to worsen the flooding, but engineers were worried waves could crash against the levees, further weakening them. The snow is more of a concern in the southern part of the state, where some towns could receive up to 14 inches.

“We are looking at a full-blown blizzard,” National Weather Service meteorologist John Paul Martin said.

Our stereotypes would make it easy to ascribe the difference to the extreme snow and harsh winters of Fargo, but they aren’t right. Actually, Boston and Fargo have similar annual snowfalls, but we come out slightly deeper.

We average nearly 41 inches a season and got understandably excited in 1993-4 with nearly 84 inches. Fargo averages around 36 inches, but has a wide range, as in just over 9 inches several years, but over 117 inches in 1996-7.

We with typical small Boston houses and cars on the street are less excited than resigned. I do love my cross-country skiing, but our city’s system of plowing in cars instead of removing the snow means shoveling several times that five-feet plus we got this year, and often shoveling the icy, salty gunk the plows scavenged from down the block. It’s the cars, sidewalks and then repeatedly the heaping gifts from the city to clear.

Still the sneaky, snaking Charles River is scant threat to our house and not even our basement. We laughingly note that we tower above much of Jamaica Plain at the top of our little hill, soaring to 64-feet above sea level. While it looks like global warming could end up giving us beachfront property at some point. Snow runoff is no cause for local panic.

Given the inconvenience and muscle aches from snow shoveling, the North Dakota version makes us relatively grateful. I’ll try to remember that the next time I have to head to the basement to retrieve the shovels when I thought Old Man Winter had returned to the Great Plains to leave us alone.

Butts and Bins

March 26th, 2009

smoldering cigarette ashI used to smoke cigarettes. While I haven’t had one in 30 years, as a newspaper reporter and magazine writer, I smoke a lot of them — 40 or more a day.

That came to mind today as my wife and I drove home. The garbage guys has been by and as usual, they flung the plastic can in our parking space in front of the house.

We’ve long gotten over having to move the gigantic recycling bin and one or more trash cans to leave or return. What struck me was what commodities the cans they are to the guys in the big trucks.

trash canOf course, the can go willy-nilly. They are the cigarette butts of the trash folk.

I remember when most people smoked and how easy it was to be casual with the butts, the matches, the packages. If I knew a smoker, I would say to pick up the crap, but that kind of littering was so common.

As a smoker of non-filter cigarettes (Camels), I got to feel a little irrational superiority. I grew up in a home where any littering was unacceptable, no single gum wrapper and no butt even in a storm drain. There were street trash bins or your pocket for that. My mother even carried a silent butler, a little lidded case for her butts.

I took a peculiar if small pride in field stripping my used Camel butts. Wadding and rolling the paper in to a ball made for an easily disposable dot. Moreover, if it ended up on the grass, it biodegraded and dissolved quickly. The little bit of tobacco itself actually was fine for grass and soil, adding tiny nutrients and no bad chemicals. Mostly though, I made sure they were dead and put them in an ashtray or trash can. When my car ashtrays were full, their contents went into garbage and never on the street.

I kept company with various women, all of whom smoked filter cigarettes. I’d insist that they not flick the butts out a window or onto the street. I must have been a pest.

In terms of crimes against the environment and public health, I was not the worst sinner. However, in retrospect, all smokers, which was the majority of American society, were guilty enough. We didn’t know from second-hand smoke then, but oh, the mess.

So today, seeing the can again sprawled in the parking space, I can project into the pickup guy. It was just another can of hundreds that day. It was just a lid to fling left and the can to toss kind of toward the curb. They were the butts of his morning.

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Fleshy TSA Pass

March 25th, 2009

Savvy folk with surgically implanted metal in their limbs, skulls or elsewhere were quick to let me know that I’d set off alarms at the airport, courthouse and our state house. While a 14-plus inch titanium stick in my tibia is not the sort of weapon I can whip from a scabbard, metal detectors aren’t reasoning beings.

The helpful ones also suggested I get a letter from a doctor detailing my augmented self to speed the entry process. That made sense, but is no longer an option and apparently never really meant much.

The surgeons at Brigham and Womens said they used to have a card they could sign and provide patients. They no longer do that. The post-9/11, hyper-empowered TSA agents don’t care for that kind of paperwork. You will get screened by hand and you have to convince them you are carrying hidden medical devices or implants.

From time to time, I rant about the check-your-brains-at-the-door literalism of flight attendants as well as airport security types.  The bureaucratic attitude of rules are rules is certainly much easier than thinking, plus it absolves the agents of responsibility. It’s like not being a sentient being at all.

So, what the kindly surgeons told me is that my leg rod will definitely trigger screening devices. The TSA would ignore any paperwork on this. Show them the scars!

By the bye, people with medications and machines necessary for their health can bring paperwork. In fact, the TSA recommends, but does not require that. Allegedly that gives you a pass on the 3-ounce bottle rule as well.  As they put it, “It is recommended (not required) that passengers bring along any supporting documentation (ID cards, letter from doctor, etc.) regarding their medication needs.”

On paper at least, the TSA will be jolly about Pacemakers, Defibrillators, Other Implanted Medical Devices, & Metal Implants:

  • If you have implanted medical device, that you would like to remain private and confidential, ask the Security Officer to please be discreet when assisting you through the screening process.
  • It is recommended (but not required) that individuals with a pacemaker carry a Pacemaker Identification Card (ID) when going through airport security. Show the Security Officer your pacemaker ID, if you have one, and ask the Security Officer to conduct a pat-down inspection rather than having you walk-through the metal detector or be handwanded.
  • It is recommended (but not required) that you advise the Security Officer that you have an implanted pacemaker, other implanted medical device, or metal implant and where that implant is located.
  • Security Officer will offer you a private screening once it becomes known that you have a metal implant or implanted medical device.
  • If your Doctor has indicated that you should not go through the metal detector or be handwanded because it could affect the functionality of your device or the magnetic calibration of your device, or if you are concerned, ask the Security Officer for a pat-down inspection instead.
  • Security Officers will need to resolve all alarms associated with metal implants. Most alarms will be able to be resolved during a pat-down, therefore clothing will not be required to be removed or lifted as part of the inspection process.

Apparently the real workaround is to overwhelm the TSA with flesh. The surgeon said to be sure to wear trousers that can pull up over my knee. My case is not too difficult, as the implant is in my lower leg.

I need to tell them about the nature of surgery. That’s the groundwork. Then I have to convince them of my veracity with some skin.

Post-staple kneeThe surgeons said they will want to see the scars that show where they went in to push the patella aside, ream out the long bone and push in and screw in the rod. They said the TSA folk would likely want to see the scars on the side of the leg and ankle where they screw work happened.

Post-staple shinI’ll insert thumbnails of my knee on the top and at the side where they went in to insert the screw into the bone and top of the rod. It’s kind of a shame that the staples they used instead of sutures are gone. I am sure that would be more dramatic a display.

Knee with staples

Yes, of course that is dehumanizing and disrespectful. These are petty bureaucrats. A simple explanation plus a pass of the security wand to verify that the metal is in the leg should be enough. Apparently, just because they can demand more and more they will.

I suspect I’ll also carry a printout of the x-rays that show the rod and its retaining screws at the knee and ankle. That will have the extra benefit of showing the jagged shards that have yet to grow into a single bone around the titanium. What that cliché, an x-ray is worth a thousand whines?

This is not exactly pictures of the grandkids (of which I have none). However, surely I have earned the let-me-show-you-my-scars right from all this. The TSA interludes can just be practice.

Disabled…Afterthoughts

March 21st, 2009

Nothing profound here about inconveniences and impossibilities of the physically disabled. Reporters and editors seem to like an annual piece on the likes of how hard it is for those with non-motive or non-functioning legs to get around Boston and the environs. It shows sensitivity, don’t ya know.

I have a couple more months of keener understanding of the frustrations and the resulting compensations and planning that go into navigation. I have folded the walker and use crutches. I can’t fully put weight on the broken/rodded leg and I have to take it slow and rest, but I can see being ambulatory.

My wife has been relishing the idea of picking up my spirits. There’s no way I could safely career through Blackstone Street on a Haymarket day. That’s been my walk almost weekly for nearly 30 years. I am tired of looking at tomato-like-objects and other never-ripe-and-never-ripening things in the groceries. Yet, as chief cook, I am saddened and ill at ease not having chosen, touched and mentally inventoried my food stock.

So as a stopgap, we headed out to stores recently, ones we figured would have motorized carts or wheelchairs. Not only can I not carry things while on crutches, I thump very slowly and make my leg sore or worse.

Dedham Super Stop & Shop

We had seen motorized carts at the big S&S just south of West Roxbury. I called and confirmed that they had them — two said the lady on the phone. So last week, we went there for groceries (and to placate me).

We chose this and then two stores this weekend partially because they had wide aisles.

This S&S was the type a local newspaper might sensationally cite as a scandal for this. As it turned out, I hobbled my way into the store and we did indeed see one cart by one entrance. It required a store key, so we then walked and thumped to the service area.

They gave us the key and we were on our own. We returned and figured out what we thought was the obvious procedure. There weren’t any instructions on the cart or nearby. However, we unplugged it from the wall socket and inserted and turned the key. The little light on the steering bar can on, but it would not go forward. Trying to put it in reverse started the back up alarm beeping, but it did not move.

My wife returned to the service area and saw the other cart. It was inoperative, in a storage room and its basket was full of sundry cleaning supplies.

Some self-important fellow said he’d show her how to use the cart. He blundered full to it and had the same experiences and lack of success. He gave up too.

I lost there and by then my leg was sore. My wife and youngest did the shopping while I sat like an invalid, which I am, in the small, dirty coffee room in the front. Someone had left a Boston Herald. I had thought I’d be shopping, so I didn’t bring a bag with the pens. I ended up doing the three comics page puzzles mentally. It was not exactly the thrill of a lifetime.

BJs and Shaws

Since my injury and operation, we have not restocked things I normally acquire. It was past time for a BJ’s run for the likes of smoked turkey slices for the adults, turkey hot dogs for cost center three, and their big old bags of French roast beans.

It’s a pity that BJ’s produce is so expensive. That necessitated a run to a green grocer or supermarket. As the Dedham BJ’s is across Route 1 from a Shaw’s, we were primed for a second barely suburban shopping trip. Our subtext with availability of wheelchair or a motorized cart, ideally a working one.

BJ’s was a pleasant surprise. We immediately saw two motorized carts by the front entrance. The checkout woman who punches your receipt on the way out reached into the cabinet beside her and handed us a key.

The cart had a sturdy seat and was long with a pretty large basket on front. The controls were simple and plainly marked with clear arrows and drawings for forward and backward. The steering yoke was sensitive. Releasing the forward stick stopped the cart in only a few feet. The speed was a good walking clip, maybe four miles per hour.

We shopped easily with it, except for those pesky humans. It was the same as when you walk in BJ’s but a little more restricted, when shoppers space out and stop suddenly in an aisle, there’s no way to get around them with the cart. We waited. Similarly, at any pinch point, like near the fish counter or by the huge cases of cow parts, I cut a rectangle to the next area to avoid the congestion of huge red shopping carts.

The normal red cart is too big for our typical BJ’s run. We don’t buy those comical boxes of food or household supplies. The motorized cart’s basket held plenty for us.

After checking out, we transferred our treasures to the free boxes and put those in a regular cart to push to the van. I drove the motorized cart back to its station, climbed upright on my crutches and thumped back over to the front to return the key.

BJ’s did it right. Pay attention Stop & Shop.

Shaw’s was next and was in between. There were supposed to be two motorized carts, but one was nowhere to be found and the other didn’t work. However, they did have one wheelchair with a small, very small basket attached.

My wife enjoyed plunging through the store pushing and pulling me this way and that. It must be what a toddler gets in the stroller. I remember cost center one giggling and saying, “Faster! Faster!” I’m not quite there yet, but my wife is ready.

We barely jammed our two-liter seltzers, laundry detergent and dead animal parts into the basket. Had we a larger container, we surely would have gotten more.

Checkout was much the same as BJ’s. The groceries ended up in bags instead, but we transferred those into a regular cart, parked the wheelchair and I was up on crutches again.

No Country for Lame Men

Overall, in our tiny sampling, this area is not set up for the unusual. There must be quite a few people who do not travel with their own wheelchairs or carts. Probably many of those learn who gives a damn and shop at those stores.

I can’t believe with all the myriad details these big stores incorporate into their routines that maintaining a couple of motorized carts is a stretch. Shame on Stop & Shop and on Shaw’s for not doing so. If they can check their restrooms and maintain their sanitation records, they can schedule cart health. I used to cover the grocery business and know how integral record keeping and equipment maintenance is to them, at least until it comes to accommodating the disabled.

Leave it to BJ’s, the most pedestrian and blue-collar of the bunch to do it right. I’m sure to them, it’s just another part of the store and seeing that there are working motorized carts for the disabled is someone’s assignment.

That really shouldn’t be all hard for the store. Not doing it makes it hard on a few customers though.

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Thumping Like Mildred

March 20th, 2009

Woe to the underpaid black women or those from India if they had their underclothes at their ankles when the thumping closed in on them. At the Fight for Sight (National Council to Combat Blindness), that meant all-powerful Mildred was on the way. When she had to go, the bathroom had better be empty and unlocked!

It was in the early 1970s that I did a brief stint there working for founder Mildred Weisenfeld. We can say of her as A.A. Milne wrote of King John, “King John was not a good man — He had his little ways.”Well, Mildred had many foibles, several of which I saw and heard of in my short time with her in New York City.

AircastOddly enough, it was the sounds of walking with my Aircast (that looks like part of a Star Wars stormtrooper) on my left leg that brought it back. We have 13 uncarpeted wooden stairs between the ground and second floor here. The closest lavatory is on the second, as is bedroom. Climbing with the crutches, I suddenly recalled the thumping sounds on the way to to the john.

Mildred, it seems, was a knockout young woman. The way I heard the story from long-term employees was that she discovered she had retinitis pigmentosa, a blinding disease. It was a Hollywood script — a surgeon told her an operation might cure her or might blind her. She eagerly risked it rather than accept a slow descent into absolute darkness.

The ending, however, lacked the swelling, hopeful music. She emerged blind.

Of course, the sequel movie would have her coping with her new state. She’d use a guide dog or white cane or both, remastering the world in which she found herself.

That too wasn’t the way it worked. She married a rich man (also blinded by the same disease) and wasn’t about to use props of hoi polloi disabled folk. Instead:

  • She used servants at home to care for her all day and night.
  • Her chauffeur ferried her to and from work, leading her to and from the office, as well as waiting for her secretary’s calls.
  • She didn’t know from light or dark, but preferred to travel at low-traffic times. So, the entire office was an M.T., Mildred Time, about noon to 8 or 9 p.m.
  • There was one woman’s room down a long corridor from her office. Because she did not use a cane or dog, she simply felt her way down the hall, thumping on the wall all the way until she found the door.
  • The women took getting yelled at for using the toilet at the wrong time because Mildred liked to hire people she felt really needed jobs, ones willing to take low pay and a bunch of grief. In other words, we all were her servants too.
  • For years, she insisted on sighing all the Fight for Sight checks. That stopped when a crooked bookkeeper had her sign large amounts to him, which he diverted to his new South American home.

She did, however, found the Fight for Sight in 1946. According to her 1997 NYTimes obit, she wed in 1956, was widowed in 1967, and remained as chief fund-raiser until a year before her death.

Coincidentally, the Fight for Sight appears moribund. The state lists it as an active not-for-profit, but its website has not been updated in over two years and there is no news of it on searches. It seems to have been a middlingly effective group, which had its best years in the 1950 through 70s. It seems to have raised and distributed over $13 million for eye research by her death and paid out about $400,000 a year in grants.

That’s good, but not great, by the standards of high-powered health-based charities. Considering Mildred’s focus, this is expected. Her year focused on the annual Lights On benefit, which brought in the majority of new funds. She had been organizing these from 1949, when Milton Berle agreed to emcee the first one.

Young MildredI was not there long enough to attend one of these bashes. The long-time employees had lots of stories though. Columnist Earl Wilson loved this event and flogged it relentlessly before and after each one. There was the charity aspect, but for both Wilson and Weisenfeld, it was a stage full of stars. Most of the stars were Jewish, which I heard was Mildred’s strong preference.

The top tier of Jewish singers and comedians were fair game. The old timers there said she was brutal in cajoling or shaming them into performing.

Her methods and style aside, she did fund research. She also led to eye clinics and the like. Her organization did outlive her, by at least a decade. She also arranged eye-disease and research testimony before Congress and spoke herself (1950 in the Truman administration).

She had her little ways though.

The bookkeeper/checks story could be funny and sounds like jokes blind friends of mine might tell on themselves. The thumping to the loo tale was funny too — to everyone except the poor woman stuck in the room at the wrong time.

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Living the Bible with an Ex-Con

March 19th, 2009

For most of us, it seems, there is no such thing as paying your debt to society. A convict is a convict is a convict, regardless of punishment served.

Considering how fond we are of such concepts as innocent until proved guilty or even someone was innocent of the accusations because a jury returned a not-guilty finding, you would think we’d do the other end better.

The concept is simple enough. Get accused of a crime. Get convicted or plead guilty. Get sentenced to jail. Get released per se or on parole. And then…and then…the idea is to return to society chastened and ready to contribute.

The current example of our not accepting that is in small-town New Hampshire. Where a fundy minister is living his and his church’s faith by housing and monitoring a parolee. The convicted criminal was no jaywalker either.

Links of chainIt’s about a nasty as human behavior gets. Raymond Guay tortured and murdered a 12-year-old in 1973, kidnapped a couple nine years later, and stabbed another inmate while in prison. The court ordered him on release on parole to spend the next three years in New Hampshire. That hasn’t proved easy, as the mayors of Manchester and Concord forced him out of their cities. NIMBYism is never subtle and can be relentless and vicious.

The discussion is a lot lighter and easier when the released criminal is not violent. A check kiter or cat burglar is less threatening, even if they as or more likely to repeat their crimes. We don’t fear a Bernie Madoff murdering us or our kids in the night.

In this case though, Rev. David Pinckney of the River of Grace Church in Concord is putting his Christianity in practice for real, not in checkbook religion. He is housing and taking responsibility for Guay in his own home in Chichester, population just over 2,000.

In case you have any doubt of Pinckney’s sincerity, be aware four of his five kids, 13 to 18, still live at home. As the minister put it, “We were warned. It was said this could disrupt life. People wouldn’t like it. He’s not liked. But at the end of the day, this is what Jesus did. He defended the defenseless. He was a friend of sinners.”

NIMBYism is never subtle

 

Pickney’s neighbors are keeping their own kids inside and some have let him know they don’t appreciate his faith in action.

What’s disappointed him, he said, are the reactions of others, given the lengths he is taking to keep Guay under close watch. Though Guay is legally free to go where he pleases, he has agreed to Pinckney’s terms that he always remain under adult supervision, and has even volunteered to wear a movement-tracking ankle bracelet like an inmate on house arrest.

Those just waiting for the worst and ready with shovels of I-told-you-so must be many.  As a father of three, I take a deep breath or two or three at the concept. Here the doctrine and theory are solid, but Pinckney has placed a terrific burden on himself.

Advocates for released prisoner re-entry, such as the Fortune Society, have long and rationally decried the hypocrisy of refusing to accept someone having been punished enough. This extreme case and the penalty for failure here make Pickney a remarkable example of walking it like he talks it.

Interestingly enough for me is that River of Grace is not a UCC or UU church. It is certainly Bible based. Its website doesn’t specifically say it is morally conservative, although it did list on its resource pages Help with homosexual issues: Exodus International. A good look at the sparse site suggests he and I would have considerable theological and political differences.

Yet, the RoG doesn’t hide from the issue at hand. On the home page, it states:

The River of Grace Church in the news

We believe in the power of God to save and change people, both inside and outside prison walls. While we are committed to love and support ex-convicts as they seriously seek to re-enter society and follow Jesus, we also recognize our responsibility to provide a safe-haven for the families and children God has committed to our care.

Pickney didn’t invite Guay home on a whim though. He explained his process and thinking in a letter to the Concord Monitor. He reported that after examining records and with interviews with Guay and numerous others, he firmly believes there is no danger to anyone in Chichester.

As Pickney wrote, “He has committed some horrendous crimes in his past. What doesn’t get reported is that since 1993 his life has been on a very different course. That year he became a follower of Jesus.” Sixteen year of good behavior and avowed Christianity convinced the minister.

For a differing view, a neighbor who lives across the street told the paper, “I say B.S. Once a murderer, always a murderer. I want him off my street, and I won’t rest until he’s gone, period.”

That seems to be the American way and the practical limit of Christianity for most people.

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Grocery Has No Place for the Weak

March 16th, 2009

A wave of maturity washed over me yesterday. It will surely pass, but I’ll enjoy the accompanying equanimity for the moment.

In my pathetic but relentless expansion of leg use, I push what I can do with my comminuted fibula and titanium-rod filled tibia. The symbol of feebleness, my walker, is folded and hidden. I go as I can on crutches until fatigue and discomfort park me on a chair or bench.

Yesterday, I was back at the gym using the one aerobic machine I can, the SciFit Pro1000 upper body exerciser. It’s sort of a hand cranked bicycle, with no wheels. I sit and operate the hand levers. While I could set it to a weight-lifting mode, I am using some of the hill programs, which elevate my heart rate, take a lot of power to use, and even make me sweat.

crutchesAs the company so graciously puts it, this series of products is “for complete workouts by elite athletes or severely deconditioned users.” So, I’m not a gimp trying to walk, I’m deconditioned. There may be a time in a month or so when I can get in the pool and at the least drag some laps. Right now my fibular shards and the two-piece tibia don’t allow a push off and besides, I could not get into and out of the pool yet. Meanwhile, it’s a minor thrill to be using my body a bit.

As part of my lowered but not extinguished aspirations, I push a little here and there. I still can’t tool around the neighborhood, but I am not immobile. Yesterday after the gym, my uxorial unit and I went a grocery on the way home. I did not accept sitting in the van and thumped in. While she shopped for a wee cart of things, I tried to feign that I too could look for comestibles. I had no way to carry them, but I walked with my head high anyway.

We went to the West Roxbury Roche Brothers. It is locally famous for its regular coverage on Universal Hub. Moreover, videoblogger Steve Garfield hyperlocalizes this particular store. It is somewhere between a large green grocer and a giant supermarket. If some of the clerks were any more Irish, they couldn’t even understand each other. Shoppers call out to each other and employees.

So, while Cindy was wheeling around snagging yogurt and such, I was exercising and trying a bit of confidence building on my own. That didn’t work out too well.

grocery cart

I am definitely less hurried than I was five weeks ago on the day of the big break. I was surprised to find that I mellowed a little, wet with that wave of (at least temporary) maturity. I found a series of folk, largely 30-something and 40-something women charging directly at or rushing inches in front of the big old guy on crutches.

I quickly saw that either:

  • They didn’t have good upbringing or
  • They weren’t in the moment (as Sherlock Holmes would have said, “You see, but you do not observe”) or
  • They didn’t have enough brain power to process other humanoids while they chase a particular food stuff

Two different husband units following these careering shoppers quietly apologized to me when their wives either caused me to rock back on my crutches or literally brushed into me. They apparently were used to seeing a focused grocery hunter in action.

I quickly realized that I normally would have thought evil of these women. Yet perhaps because of my relaxed and reduced pace, I found them amusing.

Very short people at the gym had already conditioned me a bit. Hobbling from the workout area to the main exit generally meant passing by lines (or more accurately line-like clumps) of five to nine-year-olds. Some haven’t learned to be aware of or considerate of others and some are just chatting away being little kids.

A parallel between those Roche shoppers and the Y kids is that they seem used to adults accommodating them. While I grew up in a time and in places where we held doors for each other and no child would ever think of pushing an adult aside to get to the door first, that is not here and now.

I do enjoy the simple, warming grace of consideration. Beyond being attentive to the elderly or disabled, making minor moves for even big guys laden with packages is just plain nice…and it’s nearly free, with only the cost of a few seconds lost.

The middle-aged women in Roche Brothers surely were not being malicious. Had they thought about it, they likely would not have threatened the guy on crutches. The point is that they didn’t think of it and likely won’t the next time or times.

These are the same folk who push their carts at other people, parking willy-nilly on any side or even in the the aisle middle. They are busy, not thinking about it and reflecting their family culture.

I hope I can retain my humor and calmness about such interactions. They are so common that moving them from annoyance to amusement could be a real stress reducer.

I think I’ll stay emotionally ready for my next grocery visit.

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Three Lads Making Dinner

March 14th, 2009

This being on crutches thing has some odd benefits. Today, I choreographed number two (in college) and number three (still home) sons in cuisine. Number three (the adult on his own) came for dinner and arrived in time to finish up the chapatis.

I can do a modest, very modest, amount in the kitchen. That’s hard on an old cooky who is used to making multiple dishes at a time. Not being able to carry food in transition from sink to stove, not being able to stand and stir, and not being able to do much at all is at best frustrating.

Today though, I was the choreographer, while two and three made a fairly elaborate Indian meal for the family.

Number two is seven hours away at college. He has minimal cookware for the shared dorm kitchen. His one pot/one pan set reminds me of my early bachelor years.

He asked for recipes and particularly for Indian food. I am amused when the invariable question when someone hears that I am the primary cook here is “What kind of food do you cook — Italian? Chinese?” It’s the rare type that I don’t know and cook. For some reason the guys have always enjoyed the Indian meals, even after the steaming thrill of poori is gone.

However, it remains a bit challenging to climb into the WABAC machine and plan for limited tools and ingredients. However, I ran through the essentials and produced simplified instructions for:

  • Banana and coconut-milk curry for shrimp or chicken
  • Tomato-based curry for chicken or beef
  • Dry vegetables (alu mattar)
  • Vegetable curry
  • Chapati

In consideration of limited herbs and spices, ease and speed of preparation, and some resulting wow factor for guests, I reduced them to the basics. As a side effect, this made my guy-on-crutches choreography simple as well.

cooks.jpgNumber two and three were eager to learn a bit and be able to claim they made the whole meal. When each one had his own dishes to prepare, their usual competitiveness turned into focus on the food at hand.

In a way, it was like having four hands. It is certainly simpler to instruct two people simultaneously and see the work done from a distance. Today included the tomato-based curried chicken, alu mattar, chapati, papadum, green pepper raita, rice and some jars of chutneys and pickle.

My two-legged, stand-for-long-periods self would have no trouble doing it all and probably more quickly. However, that person is in the past and future. The current version needed and appreciated surrogate chefs.

This turned out to be a good test run for the minimized recipes for number two. The entrées did in fact work well, taste fine, and look attractive. I am sure they would have been better with my fuller set of ingredients, but they are what I intended. They are something a college student can shop for and prepare in a starter kitchen.

I have been teaching two and three for some time. This was a satisfying show of their confidence and competence. Neither had cooked these dishes before and both did superbly, both when things were obvious and when they needed instructions and tips.

This is not in that class of attending your own memorial service, but it was comforting to see another generation of family cooks. Three lads talking food, chopping, sautéing, spicing, and tasting was my Johnny Appleseed moment today. It’s enough to make me click my heels if I could do that.

Dancing Doctor Exits Too Soon

March 11th, 2009

 The world was not through with Michael Shannon. If anyone was leaning toward immortality in his love of life and those around him, as well as in physical vigor, Dr. Shannon was he.

The Dancing Doctor as the Boston Globe‘s story calls him was returning with his wife and another couple from a tango trip. They took lessons together in Argentina. Family friend Nancy Teumer said, “This was the trip of their lifetime. They had the time of their life, dancing all day and all night.”

Nutcracker rehearsalHe, the former professional dancer of great vitality, collapsed as they changed planes in New York.

We often seek mitigation if not meaning in such cruel surprises. That could include guarded thanks that he died suddenly without prolonged pain and medical intervention. That would be scant comfort to his wife and friends.

I admit that it was the right way for my mother to go. She did go suddenly and some of us can conceive that she somehow made that happen. She dropped dead of a heart attack traveling between her bathroom and bedroom while preparing to lunch with a friend. The coroner said she looked very surprised and did not have time to hurt.

After caring for her sister following removal of a massive brain tumor, first at home and then in daily visits to a long-term facility in Santa Fe, my mother was solidly in the camps of:

  • I want to die in my own home
  • I don’t want tubes in my arms and nose
  • I don’t want anyone wiping my butt

She got her wishes and there will be those who surmise that was also the right exit for Michael. It just should not have been his time for so many reasons.

I was one who got the call early, from leaders of our church. He and Elaine also attended First Parish in Brookline. The call came to me as a parent of youth who had been through the rigorous Our Whole Lives (OWL) relationship/sex ed program that UU and UCC churches use.

As I understand he was with children and parents in his roles at Childrens Hospital,  Michael was the run-away favorite teacher of the youth and their parents in OWL. Funny, energetic and knowledgeable, he was at once the expert teacher and a comrade.

By coincidence, it also fell to me to inform a mutual friend. I had gone to undergraduate school with Jasper. He and Michael met at Duke a few years later, as Jasper got his masters in psychology and Michael finished his M.D. They were in regular folk dancing programs together. They re-met a couple of years ago when Jasper attended the UU Coming of Age program at First Parish. My youngest was one who completed the program and the old grad-school  dancers learned that they had each moved to the Boston area.

Last night, Jasper was shocked as we all have been.

Let us praise Michael Shannon. Professionally and personally, he turned the spigots on full for his talent, enthusiasm and caring.

Followup: Word is that Michael had a blood clot that migrated and ended his life.

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Smuggler to Ahab to Empathy

March 10th, 2009

I am increasingly aware that unnatural things happened to and below my knee cap. The rigidity from the patella down and the Frankenstein-monster gap on it remind me that this was the entry for a 14-inch metal rod.

That awareness is a welcome luxury, enabled by a state change recently. I folded up my walker and switched to crutches. This is possible because of a big drop in pain as a result of moving. In turn, this lets me be more granular in identifying sensations.

Just when I thought I was about philosophized out over my smashed leg and nascent recovery, Ahab comes to mind…circuitously. The catalyst was an Explainer piece in Slate today. It went after the not too eternal question, “What’s the best way to break your own tibia?”

The inspiration for that was not folk who fall and twist their lower leg into pieces, rather the crazed and failed drug runner. J.S.P.F., as the news report identifies him, failed to smuggle nearly five kilograms of cocaine from Chile to Spain. Most of it was in the form of a leg cast. Inside that, his leg (same side and bone as mine) really was fractured. Police figure he had it broken on purpose for this ruse.

To me, with an unhealed fractured tibia, my empathy and recollection surprised me. I could feel that smuggler’s pains.

Capt. AhabThat also catalyzed another flashback, this time to high school. Our advanced English class had a typecast teacher for Moby Dick or the Whale. Mr. Berman walked like Capt. Ahab because he had a WWII battle injury that resulted in an artificial leg.

He was able and all too willing to give us one long lecture and several pertinent descriptions of phantom limb sensations and how it was to walk like that. He was articulate and students agreed that he could produce disconcerting sensations by his explication.

In my to-be-healed state, the idiot smuggler who would break his own leg produces more intense physical and emotional sensations. While I appreciate verisimilitude, his brutal and masochistic version exceeds my limits. Even so, the resulting methods description in Slate makes me squirm.

Brian Palmer has a grand time in the Explainer riffing on how you’d surely need a friend (friend?) to help you smash your leg, about hammers and hatchets, and how this guy’s bone had broken the skin. I’m rather sorry I read it.

I don’t think I could keep track of the number of newspaper and magazine articles, online stories and tales in novels or documentaries that pass through me without eliciting empathy. I suppose I am too shallow to feel others’ distress too frequently…unless I am or have recently been in a similar situation.

That seems a natural defense mechanism. Going emo willy-nilly could leave you little time or thought for your life. Then again, it can be its own lifestyle. I think I’ll stick with the must-feel empathy. That’s powerful enough and frequent enough.

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