Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Battle Of 77


This ole house is a-gettin’ shaky,

This ole house is a-gettin’ old,

This ole house lets in the rain,

This ole house lets in the cold.

Oh his knees are a-gettin’ chilly

But he feels no fear or pain

‘Cause he sees an angel peekin’

Through a broken window-pane.

---Stuart Hamblen


Exploding Head Syndrome.  It smarts.

Is There A Doctor In The House?

Not any more, but theres a passel of ‘em on The Schedule.  When we were kids, the medicos made house visits, their eminent vehicles sporting green crosses on the license plates, society’s imprimatur to park anywhere they had the inclination.  Most of the time, however, we visited their bustling offices in downtown Lawrence for the dreaded “checkup,” which involved getting a large, flat wooden stick shoved down your throat, then being poked hither and yon with a pudgy finger, leading up to the grande finale---a jab or two with a ferocious needle.  Then, if you were lucky and they hadn’t run short, a lollipop.  It hardly seemed like a fair trade, especially with the one-hour wait in an anteroom filled with coughing, gagging imps run amok, turning over chairs, beating on their brothers and sisters and creating a state of high dudgeon in their beleaguered mothers, whose only weapon was an impotent “Jimmy, wait til your father hears about this!”  Yawn.

As we got older, doctor visits fell by the wayside.  Between the ages of 30-55, about the only physicians I ever saw were the docs who helped me recover from those jolly trips to Mexico.  Other ailments, some of them debilitating, I simply waited out like most of the other males of the era.  If doctors were an afterthought, hospitals might as well have been on another planet.  The only time we resorted to those was when errant friends needed deliverance from ODs.  We almost took Stuart Bentler to Alachua General the first time he dropped acid and insisted on medical intervention because he was “going crazy.”  Stuart relented, though, when we reminded him he was crazy in the first place.

Now, of course, zipping through our seventies on the Marrakesh Express, the medical profession plays a major part in our daily existence.  Scarcely a month passes when some form of doctoring is not required.  We have allergists to help battle the outrageous pollen counts, dermatology practitioners to whack off or freeze deteriorating flesh, cardiology wizards to monitor that aging ticker, gastroenterologists to rectify the consequences of our terrible diets and GPs to check our blood, write the prescriptions and keep all the balls in the air.  This doesn’t even take into account the specialists for such inconveniences as Porphyria, Necrotizing Fasciitis or Exploding Head Syndrome, nor the peripheral heath professionals involved with dentistry, chiropractic, massage or colonic (gulp) irrigation.  Sometimes, there aren’t enough days in the week.  And then, of course, everyone is his own best doctor, reading up on suspect illnesses on PubMed, comparing medical notes with brethren at the gym, scouring the ever-expanding list of promising new cure-alls on Facebook.  It’s a full-time job, this personal health care, as 70-year-old bodies find interesting new ways to cause trouble.  Savvy investigative measures are required.  Is that a horrendous melanoma or merely a piddling squamous cell?  Should I up my resveratrol with another glass of wine or stick to the boring supplements?  Will HGH pull me back from the brink or push me over the cliff?   Should I listen to Doctor Oz or Doctor Strangelove?  There’s no end to the dilemma and no night classes to bring us up to date.  All we can do is all we can do.  In times like this, it’s important to remember the words of the fabled metaphysicist R.C. Crumb: “Keep on truckin'.”  Inscribe it on your doilies if that helps.


The Eyes Have It

In faraway China, this is The Year of The Dog.  The Chinese regard Fido as an auspicious animal, a good friend who can understand the human spirit and obey its master whatever his conditions.  If a dog happens to come to a house, it symbolizes the coming of fortune.  The invincible God Erland used a wolfhound to help him capture monsters.  We discussed this monster-hunting with our dog, Lila, the other day and she ran into the closet.

In North Central Florida, of course, we have no monsters, except for Ted Yoho.  In NCF, it is The Year of The Eyeball, the one with the cataract in it.  Cararact surgery---everyone’s doing it.  At first, I thought they were just trying to be chic but then I incurred the problem myself, and I am only chic when they give donuts out as prizes for chicery.  In the past year alone, cataracts have been removed from my own eyes and those of my gym pal Gail, from Donna the Bakery Queen, from Siobhan’s lead employee Julie, from Gainesville Socialist artist Nancy Kay, and those are just the ones who aren’t stalling.  Are the planets out of alignment?  Is there something foul in the Florida air besmirching our precious lenses?  And what’s next---an eardrum blight?

Cataracts aren’t the only eye problem around here.  Siobhan has a terrible ocular condition which sneaks up on her at night when she’s sleeping and glues her inner eyelid to her eyball.  When she wakes up in the morning, she has to tear the eyelid loose and squirt gallons of liquid pacifier in there to soothe the savage beast.  If there is a cure for this horrible condition, we haven’t found it yet.  We could, of course, remove the eyelid, but Siobhan would then require a patch and she has a lifelong animosity towards pirates.  Every year on Gasparilla Festival Day, she lays a wreath at the door of our local Marine Recruiting Station.  If anyone else has had this condition and solved the problem, please let us know.  A successful remedy will earn the submitter an all-expenses-paid trip either to the Halls of Montezuma or the Shores of Tripoli.


Colonic Irrigation: Hope for the future.

Breaking The Seventies Barrier

It’s really a wonder anyone makes it to eighty, let alone the century mark.  You need a combination of good genes and pure luck more than anything else.  A good diet, exercise, abstinence from drugs and alcohol are all fine unless you have an overlarge heart, a grouchy pancreas or lumpy breasts.  I have friends and acquaintances in good health who rolled their cars into a ditch and passed into oblivion; when I did the same thing, I got a little cut up.  Meanwhile, there are alcoholic chain-smokers and lifetime drug-doers out there on the cusp of eighty still battling on.  I can list a half-dozen one-time addicts and drug peddlers right now who have gone on to long lives with minimal problems.  (Don’t worry, Steve, I won’t.)  Good genes and luck, the vital difference.

That said, everyone’s chances are improved with the usual suspects mentioned above.  It stands to reason that the items the average person ingests into his body are critical.  “Crap in---crap out” is a reliable prediction, despite the occasional outlier.  Kazillions of studies have clearly established there is almost noone who will not benefit largely from exercise.  Smoking and excess alcohol intake are proven killers.  A yearly blood draw with interpretation by your G.P. will often head off trouble at the pass.  The point being that despite the requirement for good genes and luck, the main determinant of your own fate is you.  The Cosmic Arbiter has passed you the baton you carry into your seventies.  Whether you trip and fall over an untied shoelace or reach the next hurdle is largely up to you and the allies you elect to enlist for the balance of the race.  Choose wisely, tread carefully, and we’ll see you at the next roundup.   Otherwise, give our regards to Mr. Rogers. 


Alternative Medicine

If a 77-year-old man is going to battle with The Scythewielder, he needs all the troops he can assemble.  In my case, I have a GP, a cardio team, an allergist, a dermatology clinic, a urology surgeon, a medical lab, a dentist, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, five maids a-milking and a partridge in a prune tree.  And I’m pretty healthy, with a mere two prescription drugs.  Some people open the medical cabinet and are buried under an avalanche of pills.  On the medical front, however, there’s always room for another ally, even if it’s a medico some consider sketchy.

About six weeks ago, I began to feel pins and needles in my hands while watching TV at night.  Around the same time, I started getting an itchy red rash on various parts of my body.  PubMed told me the tingling sensation could be a prelude to diabetes or carpal tunnel, but recent blood results cancelled out the former and the lack of pain negated the latter.  My GP told me to use Ivory soap in the shower and take the little Bounce critters out of the laundry.  I did these things to no avail.  Nobody had any satisfactory answers so I decided to go over to the Dark Side.  I called Dr. Mariana, mistress of Naturopathy, Acupuncture, Herbs, Homeopathy and Colonic Irrigation.  Don’t worry---nobody was going to convince me pins and needles and a blotchy rash could be cured by a colon intervention.  Siobhan, of course, pooh-poohed all this as a big waste of time but she didn’t have any answers either.  When you’ve got nothin’, you’ve got nothin’ to lose, so I went to see Dr. Mariana in her little office in Gainesville.  It was nice.

The doctor is Eastern European, probably Bulgarian since she has a for-real medical degree from the University of Sofia.  She listened for twenty minutes and pored over recent blood results while I recited my medical history.  Then she looked up and said, “I can fix you.  You’ll be fine.”  See, that’s what I like in a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief.  Positivity.  “You’ll be fine.”  Of course I will.

I laid on a table while Dr. Mariana inserted acupuncture needles, mostly in my lower left leg, but also my right hand and left ear.  That’s right---ear.  Then she swung an ultraviolet light about twelve inches over my stomach.  The light, she said, was to “charge your batteries.”  Okay, God knows it had been a long time since my batteries were charged.  Then she left the room for twenty minutes while I was repaired.  Almost instantly, my right hand began to hurt, I could barely move my fingers.  I had a pager for unexpected crises but I decided to wait awhile and see what happened.  After about five minutes, the pain diminished and the hand felt looser than usual.  When twenty minutes had passed, Dr. Mariana came back in, put me on my stomach and rearranged the needles.  After fifteen more minutes with the UV light, she came back in to assess the situation, then gave me shots of vitamins B-6 and B-12.  She also dispensed a small container of homeopathic pills designed to quell the rash.  Then, she promised I’d get better and moved on to save the next patient.  On my way to the car, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t feel the buoyant jolt of energy I usually got from a B-12 injection.  The ever-scornful Siobhan had assured me earlier that if I felt better it would be merely a psychosomatic reaction.  I didn’t feel better, so I guess I’m not psychosomatically disposed.  I felt worse.  I couldn’t imagine how bad it would have been without the B-12 shot.

Next morning, same thing.  Very fatigued, worn-out feeling.  I Googled “tired after acupuncture” and was advised that my body was basically coming to grips with the treatment.  I might feel this way for three days before the big rebound.  Fortunately, it only took 24 hours.  Later that afternoon, I felt great.  I took my homeopathic meds and the rash went away.  I told my pal John Cinney at the gym about the instant cure.  He had a year-long rash worse than mine.  He took the pills and his symptoms disappeared immediately.  Siobhan, who doesn’t believe in any of this, was last seen telling Julie her own rash-suffering husband ought to try the stuff.

One day later, the pins and needles were gone.  I felt a slight recurrence after about a week, but the sensation was much diminished.  It hasn’t returned since.  I called Dr. Mariana to give her the good news.  She asked if I wanted to continue treatment.  I don’t know what that means but I said sure.  I don’t think the doctor can cure cancer or Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, but perhaps she can deal with some of the unpredictable insults which assault septuagenarians and confound their regular doctors.  At any rate, she’s earned her place on the team.  Hell, she’s currently Player of the Month.

That’s all, folks….     


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Spring Fever


“Oh, why should I have Spring fever when it isn’t even Spring?”---Oscar Hammerstein III

Because that’s when Old Man Winter lays off the accelerator, Oscar, especially here in the South; that’s when the azaleas rush to the fore and tap the redbuds and dogwoods on the shoulder.  Spring Fever heralds the anticipation of Spring rather than its actual arrival.  ‘Twas ever thus.  The Vernal Equinox is fixed in time, but not the anticipatory parade announcing its coming, the outburst of garden festivals and arts fairs, the first trips to the beach to make sure the ocean is still there.  It’s a time of hope and high expectations, a celebratory interval where all things are once again possible.  That’s why we’re “starry-eyed and vaguely discontented, like a nightingale without a song to sing.”  That’s why we’ve got Spring Fever….when it isn’t even Spring.


Oh, To Be In Florida, When The Baseball Is In Bloom

When we were kids, possessed of racing imaginations and bottomless naivete, there were three times each year which popped the mercury right out of our thermometers.  These were the approach of Christmas, the end of the school year in June and the onset of Spring Training in Florida.  In the case of the latter, it wasn’t just the baseball….it was the magic and the promise.  Here we sat in the frozen North, wind-whipped and redfaced, buckling and unbuckling galoshes, camped out in the comfort of hissing radiators listening to the boundlessly optimistic Jim Britt broadcasting from a fairytale place called Sarasota, where it never rained, the grass was velvety green and angels with harps descended from on high in the seventh inning to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

We could almost see it, feel it, thanks to Jim, a detail-oriented fellow who realized the importance of describing each team’s uniforms down to the shading of the letters, reporting on the number of clouds in the sky (not many) and giving us a daily injury report on compromised players.  How does anybody ever get hurt in a perfect place like Florida, we wondered?  If we were lucky, Jim would toss in an interview he recently had with people like us, Ed and Judy from Medford or Sam the Milkman from Attleboro, visiting Red Sox fans who would reassure the folks back home that the team was looking incredible and this would finally be the year we caught the Yankees.

The Spring Training reports made the frosty temperatures in Massachusetts seem a little warmer, warm enough perhaps to knock the old horsehide around a bit, snow be damned.  We shoveled off the basepaths, measured out a mound and cleared home plate.  In lieu of the old horsehide, we utilized the old electrical-tape-covered ball, less zippy but much longer-lasting.  We played until the spheroid was hopelessly lost somewhere in the outfield and went home satisfied with our efforts.  It wasn’t the quality of the game, of course, in the waning days of Winter….it was the promise of things to come, as if we could push opening day closer by force of will and the penance of frozen fingers.  It wasn’t Spring yet but how could Spring resist much longer the demands of youth, the shouts of fiery young boys racing around the bases oblivious to foolishness like twentyish temperatures and rank precipitation?  We reach back for those memories and the memories are still there, but their colors are fading now and a few of the particulars lost in time.  We can no longer see with the eyes of a ten-year-old boy, no longer grasp that level of excitement available only to children enjoying the experience for the first times.  The closest we can come is during this clever time of year, when the cold relents, when floral beauty tickles our senses, when Spring is warming up its pitching arm out in the bullpen.  It isn’t exactly childhood, but it will do for now.


The Obligations Of Spring 

If you were ever disposed of the notion you’d like to know how many seed companies there are in the United States, you might want to ask Siobhan, who has a catalogue from every one of them.  There is a little known rule among these businesses that all seed catalogues must be mailed out the same day of the year to as many customers as possible, so the Post Office is an interesting place to be when they arrive.  The P.O. in Fairfield, Florida is about half the size of your average 7-11 store, and so on catalogue day resembles nothing so much as a hoarder’s den devoid of walking aisles.  The nefarious publications block the entrances, annoy the postal staff and blot out the sun.  They will not be transportable in Aunt Bessie’s delivery Opel or anything short of a Ford 150 with good tires.  Somehow, though, all the catalogues are delivered by next day, a miracle on the order of the construction of the pyramids or the parting of the Red Sea.  At least, we think they are delivered.  Everybody’s heard those awful tales of errant postmen who snap, spend the balance of their days at the tanning salon and bring all the mail home for safekeeping.  The Postal Oath refers to rain, snow and gloom of night, but never to nervous breakdowns.

When your seed catalogues finally arrive, you must decide what you are capable of growing.  Aside from zucchini and squash, of course, which can be grown by mindless robots just in from Mars.  You can plant zucchini seeds in the middle of the interstate in the desert and the crop will arrive in abundance.  Squash farmers, unable to give the stuff away, must resort to rushing up in dead of night to leave baskets on their neighbor’s porches.  If you hear gunfire in the distance, it is probably some homeowner defending his residence from invaders bearing squash.

Siobhan, ever the optimist, is planting tomatoes this year, hopeful that some of them will actually arrive with a bit of a taste.  It is no longer possible to buy tomatoes in any sort of market which could be fed to a blindfolded person and readily identified.  When we were kids, tomatoes were delicious.  Now it is only required they be pretty.  I’m sure we’ll also have cucumbers, Siobhan being a master of cuke development.  Last year, we had so many we built an extra room on the house with them.  Siobhan became very aggressive in offering cucumber sandwiches to employees, guests, the Fedex man and people who came down the wrong driveway.  None of our friends came by to visit anymore and the Fedex man began leaving packages by the front gate.  Business picked up when we began offering Snickers bars with each cucumber.  Necessity is the mother of invention.


March Madness

Only the worst grump could be cheerless in the merry month of March.  Stuff is busting out all over.  We start off on the 1st of the month with Peanut Butter Lover’s Day.  If you didn’t get your memo in time, you’re allowed a mulligan.  Celebrations are also allowed on the 31st, but late revelers are restricted to smooth, not crunchy.  March 2, as everybody knows, is Dr. Seuss’ Birthday.  Okay readers, all together: “I would not eat them here or there.  I would not eat them anywhere.  I would not eat green eggs and ham.  I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.” 

On March 5th, the parachute was invented.  This teriffic technological advance made it much easier to drop living soldiers behind enemy lines.  Even more important, Oreo cookies were first created on March 6th.  March 8---that’s TODAY, folks---is Be Nasty Day, so if you were planning on visiting grandma at the nursing home or helping out at the soup kitchen, leave it for another day.  If we can get everybody to cram all their nastiness into these 24 hours we should be okay for the rest of the month.  March 9th is Panic Day.  You know what to do, right?

March 11th is a big one for gardeners---Johnny Appleseed Day---in order of the crazed sower of seeds who roamed the eastern half of the United States shoeless, wearing a tin pot hat and carrying a sack of apples.  He planted apple trees everywhere he went, whether you liked it or not.  A man had to work for his fame in those days.  You couldn’t just be a lummox like Dr. Phil and go on Oprah.

March 11th is Worship of Tools Day.  There’s a lot of that going on.  March 13th, celebrated primarily in the North, is Ear Muff Day.  You never outgrow your need for ear muffs.  The scary Ides of March arrives on the 15th.  Keep an eye on your rear-view mirror.  And then, the highlight of the month, St. Patrick’s Day, on the 17th for all you Harps and would-be Irishmen out there.  Anything can happen on St. Patrick’s Day and often does.  We used to drink Jameson Whiskey at the Subterranean Circus on SPD and often wound up going home with people we didn’t know---just like at your favorite bar, but with blacklights.

March 19th is Poultry Day, so set your chickens free.  March 20th is a double-header: International Earth Day, but also Extraterrestial Abductions Day.  Be extra aware of unidentified flying objects while cleaning up the waterways.  We lose more people that way.  March 21 is Fragrance Day, celebrated in beauty salons and under interstate ramps alike.  March 22 is the very popular National Goof Off Day.  If you have been goofing off all year, you’re required to actually do something for a change or be subjected to the likelihood of National Tar & Feathers Day on the 26th (see below).

Now we get to the good stuff.  March 24 is National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day and March 25 is both Pecan Day and Waffle Day.  March 26 is Make Up Your Own Holiday Day.  I’m thinking of something along the lines of Mail Bill A Pie Day or Kick A Trumper For Jesus Day.  March 27 is National “Joe” Day, recognition which is certainly required to help stem the tide of diminishing Joes out there.  March 28 is Something On A Stick Day, which always reminds me of chipped beef.  March 31 is Bunsen Burner Day, the better to burn down your high-school lab.  March, in its entirety, is Optimism Month, and why shouldn’t it be with all this hullaballoo?  March is also, as everybody knows, our beloved Poetry Month.  Matter of fact, I think I feel a poem coming on.

“Spring is icumen in---Lhude sing doo-wah.”  Charlotte Dos Santos said that.  Or maybe it was Lieuen Adkins.



The Other March Madness

Warren Buffet, the world’s third-richest man and a serious basketball fan, is back and has he got a deal for you.  First, though, you have to get a job working for Warren.  It shouldn’t be hard.  Buffet’s outfit, Berkshire Hathaway, is a massive conglomerate with 377,291 employees at 63 operating companies ranging from Geico to Duracell to Dairy Queen.  You may not be able to sell insurance or whip up a battery, but anybody can assemble a banana split.  One of Buffet’s workers will win $100,000 even if no one picks a bracket with a perfect Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA College Basketball Tournament.  Closest employee gets the prize.  About 100,000 tried it last year.

Warren has another contest for the rest of us non-employees, but nobody is going to win it.  He’s offering a million dollars a year for life to anyone submitting a perfect bracket for the entire tournament.  He started this business along with Quicken Loans in 2014 when he offered anyone who completed a perfect bracket $1 billion.  The chances of a winner in that one were 1 in 9.2 quintillion, the latter of which has 18 zeroes if you’re counting.  The employee-only Sweet 16 contest is a relative breeze compared to that.  When ESPN offered a similar contest last year, a whopping 18 brackets were correct out of 18.8 million submitted.

Warren Buffet is presently worth in the neighborhood of $84 billion.  He’ll pay up with a smile if you win.  You can ask for it in ones if you want to be a showoff.

That’s all, folks….

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Day In The Life



Unlike its oft-scorned stepsisters Monday and Tuesday, everybody adores Friday.  When we were kids, Friday liberated us from school for the delicious weekends, it postponed homework, made promises of imminent trips to the beach, allowed us to stay up late for the Friday Night Fights.  Us Catholics had to eat fish, of course, but no day is perfect.  Growing up, Friday was the night of dances and deviltry.  Those who had ‘em roared their spiffy convertibles down South Broadway, tops down, ladies enthroned in the passenger seats, loudest car wins.  In college, Friday was the day before The Big Game.  Fraternities took partying to a new level, parents visited, bands were playing everywhere, the mating game ran rampant.  Friday was the day of hope, of endless possibilities, the cup was full and the horizon far off in the distance.  Friday was the day the presents were put under the tree for speculation.  Friday was the day when anything might happen, and often it did.

In our Golden Years---and who put lipstick on that pig?---Fridays are more sedate, more scheduled, but no less welcomed.  There are street fairs to attend, garden festivals to consider, ball games at the nearby University of Florida to savor.  St. Augustine is an overnight possibility two hours to the east, Cedar Key sits on the Gulf, a mere hour to the west.  Friday is the entrance ramp to the weekend’s highway, the day when invitations are handed out, the moment when optimism abounds, that’s Friday.  If things don’t always work out for the best, well, you’ll just have to blame Saturday for that.


The Gym

“If you want to get in shape, don’t sign up for this fancy diet or that cross-training business.  No, the way to get in shape is to go to the gym every single day, change your clothes and take a shower.  If you can do that every single day for a month, pretty soon you’ll start doing something while you’re there.”---Seth Godin

We have some guys at the gym who have taken Seth’s advice, although a few of them haven’t yet extricated themselves from the shower stage.  Our place, LifeTime Fitness Center in downtown Ocala, is not exactly Muscle Beach, the clientele being largely over 50 years of age with not a one headed for the Mr. Aging Apollo Contest.  The center is owned by Munroe Regional Medical Center, which treats the place as sort of an ugly stepsister, paying the help minimum wages, letting defective weight machines go unattended for months and knocking holes in the windows for air-conditioning.  The gym has been owned by a succession of clumsy hospital administrators, each one worse than the next, until we have finally reached the nadir of fitness center proprietorship.  You can tell things are getting rough when geezers are stumbling off the treadmills and there is noone there to catch them.  If customers complain, the management calls them into the main office, stands them over a trapdoor, springs it and dumps them into an alligator pit below.  Lately, there have been diminishing complaints.

I suppose you’re wondering why an exerciser might go there.  So are we.  I guess it’s because LifeTime was built and originally operated by Dr. Steve Gilman, an orthopedic surgeon who delivered a state-of-the-art facility.  The LifeTime center is a huge, two-tier building with a rehab area and a large, heated, enclosed pool on the lower floor; upstairs is the fitness area and a sizeable section for cardiac rehab.  Originally, there was a juice bar and other amenities on the second floor, but those were later deemed too frivolous for serious gymgoers by one or another of the long line of owners.  The place is about thirty-five years old now and many of the clients have been going there forever.  The majority start out as hospital patients, rehabbing from accidents or illnesses, with a hefty dose of heart-attack victims.  Most of them are men.  The wives initially come along, watch the proceedings and drive hubby home.  Somewhere along the line, they get the notion that doing all this work before the heart attack hits might be a good idea.  When cardiac rehab is concluded, many stay on and develop a fitness regimen.  As time goes by, the place becomes part-gym, part social club, with the members developing relationships and off-campus friendships with one another.  If somebody doesn’t show up at the place for a few days, a buddy will be nagging him back into action.  It’s like an assisted living center without the shuffleboard.

Friday is a popular day at LifeTime, the treadmills humming, the gaffers and gaffettes discussing plans for the upcoming weekend, the ultimate fate of the Gators, when Charlie will be back after his angina problems and why that new kid over there (age 40) feels the need to toss his 50-lb. weights on the floor.  “It must sound like the world is coming to an end on Floor One,” says Bennie from the Bronx.  His supplicants nod avidly in agreement.  We cast a jaundiced eye on young whippersnappers at LifeTime Fitness.

People continue to come for the same reasons people go anywhere.  Despite all the shortcomings, they like it there.  There is a genuine camaraderie, a we’re-all-in-this-together mentality as the battle continues against aging, the common enemy.  The competition, the overblown egos of earlier ages does not raise its head in this place.  There is legitimate concern for the wellbeing of the brethren, everyone holds his breath when Joe is undergoing chemo or Margaret is having her aorta repaired.  We are a fatalistic bunch, but we are also optimists.  Joe will be back in next week for a visit, probably Friday.  We’ll kid him about his Dolphins, get him riled up, we’ll all be laughing.  Maybe the gym will even fix the windows.


Aye, There’s The Rub

After the gym, every third Friday there is therapeutic massage for Bill at the nearby salon of Sheree The Reflexology Princess.  Sheree is originally from Canada, but emigrated to Newburyport, Massachusetts at an early age, so she thinks of us as kinsmen and takes good care of me.  I learned years ago that a visit to the massage salon every three weeks keeps my back off the chiropractor’s bench, a worthy trade.

Sheree is in her late forties, boundlessly energetic and spry as a leprechaun.  Her skimpy frame belies strong hands and arms which can untie your knots and cause you to leave her place feeling like you are walking on clouds.  If, however, you are one of those folks who likes to lie in semi-conscious peace on the massage table, wallowing in aromatherapy-candle bliss as soft Asian music caresses your eardrums, Sheree might not be the girl for you.  Sheree will talk.  She just can’t help herself.  She will tell you about her new house and intellectually impoverished neighbors (she feels their pain), about her love for The Art of The Dance and her recent experiences therewith, about her upcoming maiden speech at Toastmasters, about her life’s desire to open a yoga studio and pass her knowledge on to grasshoppers everywhere.  (I would go---the woman can twist herself into a pretzel and zip back to normal fast enough to make Houdini blush.)  Mostly, though, Sheree will tell you about Reflexology.

Reflexology is a system of foot massage used to relieve tension and treat illness based on the theory that there are reflex points on the feet, hands and head which are linked to every part of the body.  In other words, one of your toes may be affecting that crick in your neck, another one may be inhibiting  your basic joie de vivre.  Sheree will immediately take measures to rectify these insults, explaining how the head bone is connected to the neck bone, ad infinitum.  If you have any doubts about this esoteric Reflexology business, that is probably because you are an uninformed dolt, although Sheree would never be so rude as to tell you so.

Now there are some clients, like, say, my friend Greg Poe, who is unduly obsessed with logic, who will not allow their feet to be touched.  Sheree, who has some advanced degree in the subject, casts a sad Mona Lisa smile at this lot, understanding their shortcomings but regretful they will not allow themselves to experience The Pleasures of The Temple.  I allow the woman a meager ten minutes at the end of my session rather than risk letting a tear descend to her charming cheek.  She rewards me by attempting to place my toes back where they were twenty years ago, and God help any of them if there is the slightest hint of overlapping.  Sheree has also discovered a device best described as toecuffs, which fits snugly over each digit and spaces them properly apart.  She leaves them there for an appropriate period while she finishes up with something else.  She would like her clients to don these little critters each night while watching television or even sleeping, but I don’t think she’s having much luck.  Images persist of nocturnal cramps, leaping to the floor and landing on the ouchy toecuffs.  Yowie!….times ten.

Reflexology aside, the massage experience is a cherry on Friday’s cake.  When you walk outside, you are riding the Bliss Bus for several hours, tho’ sad for the fact it won’t come around again for another three weeks.  It is vitally important, of course, to find the right massage therapist, a properly-schooled artist fully cognizant of which body part belongs where and how to fix it when it’s broken.  Not everyone has the expertise, the compassion and the sage advice of a Sheree.  If you find one, consider yourself lucky.  And remember….you can always bring along earplugs.


Take Me Out To The Ball Game

The proper way to finish up any Friday is with a sports event and there are plenty at the nearby University of Florida.  Siobhan and I alternate between softball and baseball, and the quality of the home teams are supreme.  The Gator baseball team won the College World Series in Omaha last year and the softball girls lost in the Women’s College World Series finals to the University of Oklahoma, which somehow gets to play the thing in their own home town.  UF won the WCWS in 2014 and 2015, so this is no one-trick pony.

It’s impossible to get season’s tickets in the 1500-seat softball park, so you have to buy them for individual games.  This is not a fun experience as you sit with your cell phone and schedule in long conversation with the UF athletic department lady discussing the meaning of life and which seats you will get for each game.  “Okay you can have Section A, Row 4, Seats 17 and 18 for Kentucky but you’ll need to move back a few rows for FSU.”  This is still better than last year when the tickets were free and you had to get there an hour-and-a-half before each game.  What does a fan do for an hour-and-a-half?  Siobhan reads about rocks.  Unfortunately for me, I never picked up the habit.  I look at rosters, wander around and, on particularly vulnerable days, nip into the ice-cream booth.  Don’t look at me like that---it’s Friday.

The level of play is crisp.  Hard smashes to third base are routinely swallowed up by agile women playing close to home in case of a bunt.  Shortstops range far and wide to pick off sharply-hit balls trying to find a path through the infield.  Strong-armed center-fielders regulary whip the ball in to catch daring runners at the plate.  Florida’s dynamite alpha-female, Kelly Barnhill, zips aspirins toward the batters at up to 70 mph, leaving them fanning in hopeful desperation.  Not many years ago, when college softball became a fast-pitch sport, you might have rounded up a cast of intramural fraternity men to compete on an equal basis with the girls.  Today, the frat boys would get their brains beat out.  Softball elsewhere might be a hodge-podge of 12-11 traffic jams, but at Florida (and the rest of the Southeastern Conference) it is serious business played by wizards at the top of their game.  And the best of these games---the ones for which teams trot out their Supergirl pitchers and draw their most avid whooping crowds---well, they’re on Friday, of course.  It just stands to reason.

That’s all, folks….



Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Scourge Of Invisible Assassins




It’s sweeping Oklahoma!

It’s devastating Roma!

And even Barceloma!



It’s always on the TVs!

It makes us apoplectic!

It gives us heebie-jeebies!



It’s raiding Arizona!

It’s drying up Tacoma!

It’s wrecked the Astrodoma!



It creeps into your cellar!

It festers in your pillows!

And turns your bedsheets yellar!



it puts you in a coma!

It gives you Melanoma!

And darkens your Glaucoma!



You’ll have to get a lawyer!

You’ll need a brace of doctors!

It really will annoy ya!



Will curl your styrofoama!

And melt your ice-cream cona!

And dry up your bologna!



Nobody can avoid it!

It hits you like a dirt truck!

There’s no way to destroy it!



It’s wiped out Texahoma!!

And curdled old Pomona!

And mucked up poor Daytona!



It’s coming now to get you!

All hope is down the drain now!

You have no chance of rescue!



It feeds your hematoma!

It grows your papilloma!

It has a foul aroma!

You’ll never hit a homer….

It wrinkles your diploma….

Untunes your xylophona….

It fades the art at MOMA….

And shuts off your cell phona….

You’ll never get a bona….



Asbestos posse: “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go!”

Help Is On The Way

If a fellow didn’t know better---and some don’t---he might think the universe was falling in on him.  The fearsome blight of television ads regarding Mesothelioma could have one convinced that giant meso-drops are falling from the skies like acid rain, contaminating the masses below and requiring the immediate aid of a lawyer experienced in such catastrophes.  Not a doctor, mind you, to analyze the depth of the problem and perhaps brush the droplets off one’s shoulders and send him home with a bottle of Anacin, but a hardnosed attorney ready to sue the bejeezus out of the culprits who caused the dreadful problem.

Do you have Mesothelioma?  Maybe, maybe not, it can be hard to prove.  It also can be difficult to prove you don’t (like whiplash), especially when you have a team of crack meso-detectives at your disposal, doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs who will attest to your agonies, express their outrage, and demand that someone pay the consequences.  Altruistic as these folks may be, we all have expenses and so does your meso-team, which will regretfully be required to nip off roughly one-third of your settlement award to refurbish the interiors of their Teslas.  After all, appearances are important in this day and age.

Truth be told, Mesothelioma is categorized as a “very rare” disease, afflicting perhaps 20,000 souls a year, if that.  It’s hard to tell since the attorneys employ squads of Evidence Concoctors to make their cases.  There is almost no defining single act or set of occurences immediately evident because exposure to asbestos may have occurred 20-40 years previous.  And with all the asbestos around in the good old days (maybe it was in the walls of your house and also at work or school), when, exactly you were affected.

Companies which manufactured asbestos products or businesses where employees worked with them are generally considered liable for causing the disease because they failed to warn their workers as part of an industry-wide coverup.  Most of these companies filed for bankruptcy and are protected from lawsuits, but the U.S. government required them to create asbestos trust funds with sufficient capital to pay off a portion of the coming claims.  Virtually anyone alive in the Asbestos Era can file a grievance.  Once the claim (not a lawsuit) is filed, overseers who manage the trusts determine the amount of compensation based on certain categories, levels of disease and medical criteria.  There are more than 50 asbestos trusts in existence today with an estimated $30 billion in assets, thus there is plenty of room for chicanery.

“Don’t wait.  Call the number on the screen NOW!” the asbestos attorneys’ ads insist.  That’s because there are statutes of limitation from the date of diagnosis to file a claim.  You wait too long, you get no chowder.  And hey, those Tesla refabrications can’t wait forever.


The Blessings Of Radon

Okay, you don’t have Mesothelioma but you might have RADON, a mysterious gas which sneaks up into your house from the bowels of Hell and gives you dysintery, The Bends, alopecia, testicular grouchiness and the heartbreak of psoriasis.  In a pinch, maybe lung cancer.

You won’t contract any of this nonsense, however, if you will simply purchase and utilize one of the slick Radon Gas Test Kits easily available at any leading home improvement mart.  First Alert has one for a mere $14.48 at Lowe’s, an outfit called AirThings has a better one for $199.90 at Walmart, OR you can opt for the creme-de-la-creme of Radon detecters, the fabulous Yogi home air quality assessment kit for….ahem….a sobering $799.  In all fairness, the Yogi will not only test for Radon but will also search for molds, uproot allergens, track down lead, sniff out formaldehyde, check the quality of your drinking water, snug you into your slippers and bring you an aperitif.  Not bad for a lousy $799.

But who says Radon is all that scary?  The Environmental Protection Agency claims it is the second leading cause of cancer, just behind cigarettes, but what do they know?  When non-smokers develop lung cancer, the EPA doesn’t go running down to their houses to check on Radon exposure.  And even if there’s a cloud of Radon sitting on your property, maybe it’s a good thing.  In Misasa, Japan, doctors report that people who live in villages with high Radon levels in the drinking water exhibit far lower rates of cancer than people in adjacent villages.

Water from springs in Ramsar, Iran is rich in Radon.  The highest environmental levels of radiation in the world have been recorded in Ramsar, but no increase in leukemia or cancer rates has been observed.  The radioactivity there is brought to the surface by the waters of hot springs, visited by locals and tourists.  The concentrations of radium in hot springs in Ramsar are 18 times higher than found in other waters in the same country.  People in Ramsar consume 12 times more radium from vegetables in their area than what is considered to be a toxic dose of radiation, yet have lived for generations in relatively good health despite high radiation, poor nutrition, lack of availability of physicians and low population density.  Is there some kind of unrecognized protection from low-dose radium and Radon gas rather than a health hazard?  Should we sprinkle a bit of the stuff on our asparagus, dip our nachos in a Radon spread, maybe dump a tad in our Cap’n Crunch?  Is anybody working on the commercials?  How about, “It’s double-rich, double-good, Radon Gas Gum!”  Be the first in your neighborhood.


Has Anybody Here Seen Bird Flu?

You remember Avian Influenza.  It was all the rage a decade back, an oncoming pandemic worse than Bubonic Plague that would decimate humanity and leave the world to the rats and roaches.  In one month early in the panic, over 40,000 articles were written on this inevitable blight, 1300 every day.  Nitwits talked about shooting down pigeons and setting traps for their friendly neighborhood sparrows.  But the bird flu, specifically the diabolical H5N1 strain, never made it in on the bus from Sukabumi.  That’s because the disease, very fast-acting in the fowl community and often causing death within 48 hours of transmission, doesn’t readily transfer to humans.  The majority of cases, which can occur when people are in close contact with infected poultry for long periods of time, have been in Southeast Asia.  In the U.S., as everybody knows, we try to keep our visits to infected poultry to a couple of hours on the weekends. 


Cleopatra’s Revenge

Remember West Nile Disease?  The news media warned of giant swarms of cantankerous mosquitoes heading straight for your neighborhood in 2002, causing widespread panic and mammoth sales of Off! insecticides.  West Nile first poked its head up in New York City in 1999, the first time the virus had been identified outside the Eastern Hemisphere.  Within a 3-year period, it had swept across the United States to California, establishing itself in 44 states and the District of Columbia.  But by August of 2002, only 425 human cases had been reported, with only 20 deaths.  Not a happy event for the Unlucky 20, but hardly The Red Death.

In the early 1990s, there was an outbreak of a mysterious and deadly outlaw in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah called the Sin Nombre virus, a member of the unpopular hantavirus family, which should never have been allowed to move into the neighborhood.  Sin Nombre causes a disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome which makes your lungs very unhappy.  But since there are no actual people in the Four Corners area, the virus caught a west-bound train and was never heard from again.  Until 2012, that is, when hikers in the Signature Tent Cabins in Yosemite National Park’s Curry Village began getting sick and even dying.  Tabloid newspapers went nuts with the story and suddenly the hantavirus was skulking across the country looking for victims.  It didn’t find many, though, and the poor disappointed critter was last seen sipping a cup of lemon-ginger tea at an assisted living facility in Pasadena.



Everybody remembers Mad Cow disease, which swept in from England and scared the dickens out of everyone for months.  Mad Cow, as everybody knows, is the common name for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, a prion disease which gets its name due to its transmission via beef.  The human form of Mad Cow is called Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease.  Ingesting the prions (nervous system tissue) of cattle with the illness causes the person eating the tissue to become infected and often die within a few months.  Some who don’t die develop holes in their brain parts, almost never a good thing.  Especially when those parts are the ones that are responsible for keeping you calm.  So NOW we’ve got people with holes in their brains running through the streets like lunatics, which sounds a lot like (a) a bad zombie movie, or (b) a Donald Trump political rally.  All of this was very bad business for beef-peddlers like McDonald’s and Burger King, which began to consider porcupine patties.  Then, just when everyone was jumping up and down with Mad Cow anxiety, the disease was offered a better job in the islands with a raise in salary and better benefits, and was never heard from again.

If there’s one thing we should learn from all this, it’s that The End is usually further away than one may think.  Humanity-destroying plagues, predictions of Doom, expectations of The Rapture….best to take a breath.  Most of us will be taking the Local instead of the Express.  Nobody wants to be the guy, after all, who is certain he’s dying of yaws, gives away all his earthlies and discovers six months later he’s disease-free.  Or the wizard who rejects all the planet has to offer, waves goodbye and climbs to the mountaintop to await deliverance by those aliens who never come.  What could be worse than that?

Oh, that’s right.  There’s always Mesothelioma.

That’s all, folks….    


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Heart To Heart


If a man lived in the sea caves of Apostle Island, ate dirt, and drove to town only to buy Bayer’s 81-milligram aspirin, he could still detect the holidays.  The drugstores and supermarkets flood their shelves with candies of the season---Peeps and chocolate eggs for Easter, candy corn for Halloween, striped canes for Christmas, and now, the minuscule pastel hearts with inscriptions like “Be Mine, “Kiss Me” and “Bring The Whipped Cream.”  The greeting card racks consolidate their ranks to make room for sweethearts.  Grinning red roses peek out from every store orifice.  And the nearby restaurants gear up for the one night each year when every seat will be filled.

When we were kids, Valentine’s Day was an ongoing challenge.  At first, of course, nobody paid it much mind since it involved girlfriends and the absurd possibility of marriage, neither of which applied to any of us boys.  Who had the time or the inclination for that sort of foolishness?  But then, there is always that one young lady who somehow draws a second look, and everything slowly changes.

The Grand Ruler of our third grade boys class at Saint Patrick’s School, Sister Mary Albert, decided one Valentine’s Day to connive with the Premier of the third grade girls for the classes to swap V-Day cards, bringing about great consternation across the land.  We could buy as many cards as we wished, but were required to get at least three, which could be addressed to any sweet young things we desired.  Since the nuns wished no feelings to be hurt by a dearth of cards, each kid would come up separately and collect his or her bounty.  There can only be so much privacy involved, however, when honey-voiced blondies like Mary Beth Lebrecque bring wheelbarrows to school.

The safe thing to do, of course, is to buy every girl a card, but that’s an expensive proposition with 32 candidates.  There’s also the possibility that all 32 will think they are one of your chosen three and Brunhilda the Large will become sweet on you and perhaps expect smooching.  On the other hand, skimping might bring about repercussions from ignored gal pals, tomboys who could beat you up and young ladies who were foolish enough to purchase a card for a cad like you only to find themselves spurned.

Then, of course, there is the message.  This requires great care.  These cards have all kinds of dangerous and misleading verbiage.  “Let’s get together soon!” is not an invitation you’d like to send to Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, an obvious psycho, or to Rachel Delaney, who looks like a manatee.  If you want to write your own message, how cozy do you dare to get with Mary Beth Lebrecque, who may have no interest.  Even a third-grader is reluctant to make a fool of himself.  The average kid will settle for something like “Have a nice day!” but is this a blown opportunity for a shot at the brass ring?  After all, somebody has to become Mary Beth’s young beau.  What’s that old expression?  None but the brave deserve the fair. 

All things considered, the valentine exchange worked out surprisingly well.  There were no reported suicides and a couple of romances bloomed.  I didn’t send a card to Mary Beth because I hate to wait in line for anything, but I don’t think she noticed.  There’s only so much time in the day to read gushy fan mail, anyway.  The whole affair did make me more conscious of the possibilities, however.  You find yourself developing a rating system involving looks, brains, compatability and sports-playing ability.  Or, if you’re my classmate Chuckie Sullivan, throwing it all out and going back to looks.  If I had just perfected my selection technique in the third grade, perhaps I could have avoided foolish errors in later life.  Sister Mary Albert (“Make wise choices”) tried to show me the way, but I often fell short of the mark.  I’m still trying to atone for my shortcomings.  I think I’m getting better.


A Cedar Key State Of Mind 

“I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky.”---Popeye the Sailor Man

There’s something to be said for tradition.  In our case, we have at least one night a year planned in advance, with our annual Valentine’s Day trek to the tiny Gulf Coast village of Cedar Key, a mere 70 minutes in the distance.  We’re beginning to feel an obligation to make the trip, like it or not, with all the emails we get the following days from Flying Pie readers who enjoy the  pictures of the happy couple and the charming town, out-of staters like Fontaine Maverick of San Marcos, Texas, who keep Cedar Key on their bucket lists but can never manage to get on the plane.  Don’t worry, Fontaine, you can show up ten years from now and the place will still be the same.

Dinner is always at the Island Hotel Restaurant, an intimate spot with limited tables.  We had to show up at 5:30 this year instead of the usual 6 p.m., so it’s obvious we’re giving this place too much publicity.  The Island Hotel is not on the water like most of the other eateries in town, so first we go down to the shore and toast the day with a bottle of Korbel’s champagne.  Or these days, make that a four-pack, a lot less messy than recorking the larger bottle.  The earlier reservations made us a little early for sunset so we moved on to the giant pier for pictures.

Photographs are kindly taken by chance passers-by, usually visitors to Cedar Key who have a nice story to tell.  This year’s photos are courtesy of Pat and Richard from Sevierville, Tennessee, annual visitors to the tiny town who make it a three day stop on their way to other select Sunshine State ports of call.  “When we run out of restaurants, we run out of town,” says Pat, who appreciates the pace of the town, the live-and-let-live mojo and the Spring-like weather.

One of the problems with photographic records, of course, is that they provide incontrovertible evidence that Bill and Siobhan are getting older every year.  In order to avoid future pictures of wobbly granny-people kissing on the dock, we’ve decided to incorporate body doubles in the coming years.  If our substitutes look toward the sunset, you’ll never know the difference.  Before you titter, consider that this sort of chicanery has worked swimmingly for many famous people, notably those provocateurs of duplicity, Donnie and Melania. 

So, another Valentine’s Day in the books, another island visit.  We embrace these unique occasions to play dress-up, to escort our brides to happy destinations, to reinforce our fealty and affection.  The holiday-spankers at Grumble Central rush to the parapets to declaim the moment, yoking these days with merchantry run amok, floral profiteering, a raft of shrill complaints.  “We treat our wives wonderfully every day,” they announce, “and not just on special occasions.”  Well, so do we, Mr. Humbug, just a tad more wonderfully on the now-and-then holiday.  Not to mention, there are a few of us out there who need the occasional tap on the shoulder to send us in the proper direction.  Last time I noticed, there were not many members of the gentle sex complaining about the imagined ills of St. Valentine’s namesake.




Me and You

(1) Percy the Pelican surveys his realm, (2) Mysterious stranger lurks, (3) Siobhan approaches official photographers Pat & Richard (that’s them on the bench), (4) Requisite kissyface photo, courtesy of Rich.

The Courtship Of Eddie McCauley

Those who do not learn from History are doomed to repeat it, or so advises the soothsayer.  Sixth-grader Eddie McCauley, having digested The Courtship of Miles Standish, should have known better.  The famously reluctant Miles made the epic error of sending his best friend, John Alden, to propose to the apple of  his eye, Priscilla Mullins, whose pert reply was, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”  We all know how that worked out.  Well….all of us but Eddie.

Seems, McCauley had a crush on a fellow sixth-grader named Melanie.  A little shy, and fearing his intended would recognize his handwriting, he paid a friend named Tom to deliver a single rose to the girl and to write a mysterious note advising he would contact her later.  Tom followed through and presented his bounty at lunch in the school cafeteria on Valentine’s Day.

Melanie was thrilled, sharing the missive with a group of tittering friends.  She took her rose, got up from the table and sauntered over to where Tom and Eddie sat.  “I know what’s going on here,” she said, smiling.  “So, Tommy---there’s no use in being coy.  The Valentine’s Dance is tonight.  You can pick me up at seven.”  She turned and walked a few steps, turned and said, “Oh, and hi, Eddie.”

Second Chances

Have you ever met a person in a bar, at a party, on the train, struck up a conversation and were totally smitten but left without following up?  You spend an eternity regretting your lack of chutzpah, for all you know he or she could have been The One.  I did it once, but never again.  In later life, I quickly---and illegally---parked my car to jump out and catch up to a smooth walker who turned out to be Pamme Brewer.  Later, I wrote a note to a Miami dress salesman who brought my second wife, Harolyn Locklair into my store, asking him to pass it on since I had no other way of finding her.  In the note, I only half-kiddingly told her I loved her even though she had visited little more than an hour.  Months later, Harolyn was passing through town and came back to the shop.  Her hair was different and I didn’t instantly recognize her.  “Well, for crying out loud,” she said, “you told me you loved me.”

Michael Young, sitting in seat 2C on a flight from Belfast to Newcastle, was joined in 2B by Juliet Lever.  The conversation was delightful and Juliet was a beauty (Yes, I know, this never happens to you.)  Michael, alas, was too intimidated by Julia’s magnificence to procure her vital information.  At the end of the flight, she was gone forever.  After mooning for days, he got himself on a BBC radio program and tried to track her down, sadly to no avail.

What to do?  Young contacted the airline and begged the personnel to help him get in touch.  We don’t think so, Michael.  Ever hear of stalkers?  How about lawsuits against airlines who put stalkers in touch with their prey?

Fortunately, one sympathetic young lady in the airline office decided to let Juliet make the choice.  She contacted her and left Michael’s telephone number.  Juliet called, they went to dinner, a whirlwind romance ensued and they got married 30 days later.

Ain’t Love wonderful?


That’s all, folks….

Thursday, February 8, 2018

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done


“They said it couldn’t be done….they said nobody could do it.”---Ligget & Myers Slogan

When we were kids, there were few absolutes, not many certainties in life.  One guarantee, however, was that no one would ever find a cure for polio.  The other was that the Red Sox would never win the pennant.

As we negotiated life’s trails, other impossibilities became apparent.  The mad bombers of the Irish Republican Army would never make peace with the government of England.  The United States would never elect as president an ignorant misogynist with Hitlerian tendencies.  Cancer would never fall to the Armies of Medicine.  The Berlin Wall would stand forever.

None of these were as impossible, however, as the likelihood that our old pal, Michael O’Hara Garcia, the self-styled Lothario of Gainesville, would some day not have a date.  MOG would prowl the streets of town in his spiffy Silver Phaeton, shooting arrows at young ladies on the sidewalks until one fell.  His eventual success was inevitable, as much a guarantee as the sun setting each day in the West.  When, on one rainy day, this failed to happen, we were seized with amazement.  If Garcia could be defeated in his Quest, anything might happen.  And pretty much anything has.  About the only thing we can still be certain of is that no one will ever shoot an automobile into space and send it off to Mars.  All other impossibilities are fair game.

Tales Of Long Ago

I was named after my maternal grandfather, Bill Gosselin, a formidable man easily met, a fellow fond of conversation, racing dogs and alcoholic spirits.  The fact that Bill Gosselin was an absolutely confident and fearless character is easily proven when one considers that he voluntarily married my grandmother, Celia, then known as Alphonsine.  There are many ways of describing Celia.  “Not especially cuddly” would be one of the kindest.

Bill opened a neighborhood bar on Union Street in South Lawrence.  He named it The Whippet Club and painted a couple of the dogs on his green-and-cream windows.  The tavern did well, which was not a great miracle in South Lawrence, where 101% of the population was known to bend an elbow.  At five years old, I often got to sit at the bar, where the patrons posed me baseball questions.  “Ask him anything,” my proud grandfather would announce, and they did.  The MLB standings.  The batting averages of the entire Red Sox roster.  The starting lineup of the St. Louis Browns.   I knew it all, and I had to.  Not everybody earned a seat at Bill Gosselin’s bar.

Perhaps it was his lung cancer or maybe just his innate joie de vivre, but my grandfather drank more than his share.  When my grandmother showed up to pour him into the car at closing time, my job was to sit in the back seat and hold his hat.  By the time I was six, he was in bad shape, restricted to the house and visited by traveling nurses daily.  I watched as they cleaned a foul-smelling silver dollar-sized opening in the side of his neck, then bandaged it back up.  More than once, he fixed his eyes on me and warned, “I got this from Camel cigarettes, Billy.  Don’t ever smoke.”  That image was etched into my brain.  I never touched the stuff.  In those days, practically everyone equated cancer with death.  You got it, you died.  A diagnosis was grounds for jumping in the river or high-diving from a tall building.  Fortunately for the citizens walking below, suicide was a mortal sin, the last thing you want to commit when the Silver Elevator is on the way.


The Cancer Vaccine

For years, Cancer has been The Last Holdout, the machine-gunner in the world’s Alamo, holding off Santa Ana’s vast armies and anything else that was thrown at it, including kazillions of dollars in research grants.  Decades ago, scientists were “on the edge” of success.  They’re still out there, carving holes in its defenses but not getting all the way through.  Until, it seems, perhaps now.  Could this be the day Michael Garcia doesn’t get a date?  Dr. Ronald Levy is cautiously optimistic.

A new cancer treatment at Stanford University using immune-stimulators to target tumors in mice is having shocking results.  After injecting a combination of two immune boosters directly into solid mouse tumors, Levy’s research team stated the vaccination eliminated ALL traces of the specifically targeted tumor from the animal’s entire body, including metastases that were previously untreated.

“When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumors all over the body,” Levy told the Stanford Medicine News Center.  “This approach bypasses the need to identify tumor-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient’s immune cells.”

One of the two immune agents used in Levy’s study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, has already been approved for use in humans and the second is currently involved in a lymphoma treatment trial.

The study explained that when an immune system detects cancer cells in the body, its T-cells attack the tumor.  Over time, however, the tumor devises ways to overpower the immune cells and continues to grow.  In Levy’s experiment, the cancer-fighting T-cells from the immune system were rejuvenated when a microgram of the two immune boosters was injected into a mouse’s lymphoma tumor.  Those same cells then moved on from the tumor they destroyed to locate any other identical cancers in the body.  The T-cells did not move on to a colon cancer tumor also found in the animal, however.  Okay, so nobody’s perfect, right?

“This is a very targeted approach,” Dr. Levy declares.  Only the tumor that shares the protein targets displayed by the treated site is affected.  We’re attacking specific targets without having to identify exactly what proteins the T-cells are recognizing.”  Good enough for me, Doc.

The experiment was replicated in 90 other mice and was successful in 87 of them, allowing the researchers to declare them cancer-free.  The cancer did recur in three of the animals but the tumors later regressed after another round of immune treatments.  The study was also successful in mice that had breast, colon and melanoma tumors.  “I don’t think there’s a limit to the type of tumor we could potentially treat,” Levy said, “as long as it has been infiltrated by the immune system.”


Alzheimer’s Advances

If the right one don’t get you, then the left one will”---Tennessee Ernie Ford

It’s all just fine to successfully navigate the Straits of Cancer and other dangerous facsimiles, but what good does it do you if you can’t remember your way home?  Alzheimer’s Disease is rampant across the land and there’s scarcely a one of us without a relative or close friend tainted by the blight, a dreary and hopeless progression which starts with the loss of a few names, progresses to an inability for self-care, evolves into calling the cops to report Martians have landed in the parking lot and winds up with the afflicted sitting in a chair, staring out into space as if he had just tried to read Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.  Talk about a no-fun antagonist.  Alzheimer’s is the Antichrist.  Researchers have not been particularly optimistic about a cure.  And Mighty Mouse, usually a dependable rescuer, apparently has business elsewhere.  What to do?  Where is the White Knight galloping to the rescue?

Enter Dave Schubert of the Salk Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory and his faithful companion, experimental drug J147, not only an elixir for Alzheimer’s but a reverser of aging in mice.  (Which could explain the Mighty Mouse absence; perhaps he’s been reversed back to pre-school, or worse.)

In a paper published on January 7th in the cheerily-named journal Aging Cell, Schubert’s group reports that J147 binds to a protein found in the mitochondria, the energy-generating powerhouse of cells, making aging cells appear more youthful.  “This really glues together everything we know about J147 in terms of the link between aging and Alzheimer’s.” says Schubert.  His group originally developed the drug in 2011, after screening for compounds from plants with an ability to reverse the cellular and molecular signs of aging in the brain.  J147 is a modified version of a molecule found in the curry spice curcumin.  In the years since, researchers have shown the compound reverses memory deficits, potentiates the production of new brain cells and slows or reverses Alzheimer’s progression in mice.  At the time, they still didn’t know how the drug worked at the molecular level.

In the latest findings, led by Schubert and Salk Research Associate Josh Goldberg, the team used several approaches to home in on what, exactly, J147 is doing.  They identified the molecular target of the drug as a mitochondrial protein called ATP synthase that helps generate ATP within mitochondria.  They illustrated that by manipulating its activity, they could protect neuronal cells from multiple toxicities associated with the aging brain.  Moreover, ATP synthase has already been shown to control aging in C. elegans worms and flies.

“We know that age is the single greatest contributing factor to Alzheimer’s, so it’s not surprising that we found a drug target that’s also been implicated in aging,” says Goldberg.  Schubert adds, “I was very surprised when we started doing experiments with how big of an effect we saw.  We can give this to old mice and it really elicits profound changes to make these mice younger at a cellular and molecular level.  People have always thought that you need separate drugs for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke, but it may be that by targeting aging we can treat or slow down many pathological conditions that are old-age-associated.” 


Changing Pace

While most treatments for Alzheimer’s focus on improving memory, researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center have a different notion.  They want to slow down the decline of problem-solving and decision-making skills with a newfangled brain pacemaker.  For the first time ever, researchers surgically implanted thin electrical wires into the frontal lobes of the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease to determine whether using the gizmo could improve cognitive, behavioral and functional abilities in patients with this form of dementia.  The deep brain stimulation implant is similar to a cardiac pacemaker device, but the wiring is implanted into the brain instead of the heart.

The first study of the pacemaker involved only three people, but all showed improvement.  After two years of deep-brain stimulation, LaVonne Moore, 85, of Delaware, Ohio, is able to assemble ingredients and cook a meal, something she was unable to do prior to the treatment.  Her husband, Tom, commented, “LaVonne has had Alzheimer’s Disease longer than anybody I know and that sounds negative, but it’s really a positive thing because it shows we’re doing something right.”  Next, OSU researchers intend to explore non-surgical methods to stimulate the frontal lobe, a less invasive option.

Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease, which means it involves damaged and dying neurons.  Most Alzheimer’s drugs in development have focused on preventing that damage, but a few researchers are developing treatments to reverse it.  In 2017, Dr. Roberta Brinton developed allopregnalone, which seems to spur neurogenesis.  Dr. Brinton is now preparing for Phase 2 trials with the drug, which has the potential to become the first regenerative therapy for Alzheimer’s.

The Last Word

Since not all of our readers live in Geezerland, a note of encouragement to those of you with teeth.  Many of you would rather attend a rap marathon in Djibouti than visit a dentist, but there’s good news on the dental front.  How about No-Drill Tooth Repair?  British researchers have announced a novel technique that could make dental fillings obsolete.  Their work illustrates that teeth can repair themselves naturally, using stem cells to stimulate the growth of dental tissue.  Who knew?  Should we sell all our stock in the Implements of Dental Torture industry?  Could be.

Scientists at Dental Institute at King’s College London found that small amounts of tideglusib, an Alzheimer’s drug currently in clinical trials, promotes the growth of dentin (that material under the enamel that can repair teeth) and jump-start tooth regeneration.  In experimentation with mice---and what would we do without them---researchers soaked a small biodegradable sponge with the drug, then put it in the tooth pulp, where stem cells reside.  New dentin began to grow and---voila!---within mere weeks the sponge decomposed and in its place was a perfectly restored tooth.  Now, if we could just do something about that name.  Nobody wants a miracle drug that sounds like a sticky, if brotherly, detergent. 

That’s all, folks….