Thursday, October 22, 2020

Living To 120

My friends will be glad to know I've decided to live to be 120 years old.  For the rest of you, too bad.  Now, I realize the odds are against me but such a feat is absolutely possible.  My crack team of biologists assures me that the telomeres in human cells are capable of of lasting for at least 120 years of cell replication.  If my telomeres are willing to hang around that long, so am I. Virtually all developed nations have individuals who have lived past 110 years, so what's another decade?  The fact that supercentenarians exist all over the world is evidence that exceptional longevity is not dependent on a certain gene pool.  Okay, Bill, then how come 110-year-old people are so rare?  Simple. To live to 120 you have to have the right attitude.  I have it in spades.

If a man is, say, 70, and the average lifespan of an American male is less than 80, he is going to spend his declining years fretting about how much time he has left, getting his affairs in order---whatever that means---and going to church a lot.  He is not going to climb stairs two steps at a time, swim from Key West to Cuba or join the Rattlesnake Roundup.  “Better be careful, George, you’re not a spring chicken anymore,” clucks wife Mabel.  “If I were you, Georgie, I’d trade that Harley in for a nice safe trike,” advises best friend Barney.  George is assaulted on all sides by a hailstorm of reminders he’s not at Woodstock anymore.  No matter his mettle, any victim of this deluge is almost bound to reconsider his bravado, pull in his oars a bit, grease up the front porch swing.  Not me, though.  As soon as the Covid relents, I’m going to find one of those mud runs to compete in, join a speed-walkers club, trek through the wilderness with Wild Bill Thacker on a giant agouti safari.  You can take the kid out of the arena but you can’t take the arena out of the kid.  You got a problem with that?

“We Can Run Like The Devil Where The Ground Is Level For About 400 Yards!”

In the United States, despite free-ranging viruses, awful television and statues falling on you in the park, the population of people over 100 has grown by 65% in the last three decades.  And a LOT of them weren’t even trying.  Geriatrician Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, claims that research shows behaviors have a greater influence on survival at least until the late 80s since most people have good enough genes to get that far.  “There are certain commonalities among those who live to be 100,” Perls says.  “Few smoke, nearly all the men are lean and centenarians have high levels of HDL, the good cholesterol.”  I never smoked, still weigh 152 pounds with a 33” waist and have an HDL of 70, a good number for men.  So there, doubters, off to a good start. 

Perls does say genes play an important part in carrying a contender the rest of the way.  My maternal grandmother lived to 93 and my mother died at 87.  My sister, Alice, is 77 despite being a Republican, and my other sister, Kathy, is 69, though somewhat compromised since Tom Brady left the Patriots for Tampa.  Perls also says intelligence helps because “the more educated people know when to go to the doctor and are smart enough to follow the doctor’s advice.  Intelligent people now tend to spend more on health care and improved diet.”  Despite a slight dalliance in pastries, my diet is excellent, eschewing red meat, embracing fruit and vegetables.  My wife even has a kale garden and monitors my tea intake.  And I am working very hard at learning to be intelligent.

120 Is The New 95

You can argue that 123 is impossible, but not 120.  Jean Louise Calment was born in Arles, France and died there 122 years later.  Her age was well-documented.  Emma Morano of Verbania, Italy almost made it, passing into that Great Pasta Garden in the sky at 117.  A study at Canada’s McGill University argues that there is no evidence that maximum lifespan has ceased increasing and that studies positing otherwise are flawed.  The Canadian biologists believe super-centenarians will become more and more common as time passes.  Pretty soon one of them will be delivering your pizza.

By analyzing the lifespan of the longest-living individuals in the U.S., the UK, France and Japan for each year since 1968, the McGill researchers found no evidence for a particular limit; if such a maximum exists, it has yet to be identified.  Professor Siegfried Hekimi said “We just don’t know what the limit will be.  In fact, by extending trend lines, we can show that maximum and average lifespans could continue to increase far into the foreseeable future.”

In 1841, the average newborn Englishman could expect to live 40 years.  A Brit born in 2011, however, could expect 79 years, double the time of the earlier Britisher.  Scientists point out that technology, medical interventions and improvements in living conditions could push the upper limit back to previously unheard of lifespans.  “If we had told those folks in 1841 that some day many people would live to 100, they would have reacted the same way people do now about 120,” smiled Hekimi.  “There are no convincing studies available which permit us to predict the limits on maximum lifespans in the future.  It is not fixed and subject to natural human constraints.  Assigning an ultimate limit is folly.”

You tell ‘em, Doc.  I’ll be checking over the global warning predictions to see when I leave for Colorado.

Sex And The Single Geezer

A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 56% of Americans would not want any kind of treatments to enable dramatically longer lives.  Fine, more room for me.  I wonder what that figure would be if the 56% did not envision an afterlife on the sunny streets of Heaven, where white-robed angels plucked a happy tune on golden harps and the pie shops were open 24 hours a day.  Or if a little hanky-panky was still an option.

What wears us down now is deteriorating health, loss of friends and family, gross physical limitations.  Eventually, medical advances could eliminate or drastically reduce these concerns.  One of my friends moans, “I feel like I died when sex was no longer an option.”  Aging bodies and certain medications can sap the pizzazz from a previously lusty specimen.  Only one in 10 women 85 or older is still a participant (she’s very popular in the aging community) and a mere 25% of men, but lack of a partner rather than a dearth of interest is often the culprit.

“Those figures are definitely out of whack for some of these ladies here in The Villages,” claims a wary male resident.  “If a single man goes out after dark down here, he’s liable to get shanghied.  There's no question in my mind that people who still have sex are a lot less likely to be cashing in their chips.  Nobody commits suicide when Celia is coming over Saturday night."

The Blue Zones Project

In 2005, Dan Buettner’s National Geographic project studied five Blue Zone communities to find their commonalities.  The Blue Zones are those places on our planet where people live the longest: Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Ikaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California.

“None of the people in the Blue Zones TRIED to live longer than everyone else on Earth,” Buettner said.  “It’s they way they live naturally.  So rather than nag people to exercise or eat healthy, why not shape people’s environments so that health is basically mindless?”

Thus, the Blue Zone Project was born, its aim to reshape culture and environment to change individual behavior so the changes stick.  “The thing about these longevity principles,” avers Buettner, “is that you have to do them for a long time.  If you’re a vegan for two years and then eat burgers and fries for the rest of your life, that earlier vegan diet won’t do much for you.”

So far, Blue Zone initiatives have reached almost 3.5 million people in more than 40 cities.  Social change begins to happen when as little as 10% of a population changes its thinking.  The project aims to sign up about 20% of the population of a place to Blue Zone pledges to do things like de-conveniencing their homes to encourage more physical effort, offering to volunteer at a variety of places, etc.  “Interested cities usually come to me,” states Buettner, “most recently Minneapolis.”

 Buettner likes to deal at the city and community level.  There are usually 5 to 10 low-hanging fruits in terms of changes to make right away which are relatively inexpensive and don’t stir up political tension.  Here are five principles communities can adapt to create a culture of longevity….and justice, in the bargain.

1. Eat mostly plants (also legumes and fish, make meat rare.  Try to eat with friends when you can.  Laughter with others reduces stress, contributes to less heart disease, improved immune systems and sharper cognitive function).

2. Move naturally (gardening, frequent walks to visit friends, anything which encourages motion).

3. Decrease stress (practice yoga, mindfulness, spend time in nature, prayer or journaling, etc.  Cultivate friends, visit, join a group with common interests).

4. Cultivate a sense of purpose (helping others in the community, giving time to community efforts, accepting your stewardship of the Earth).

5. Belong to a healthy tribe (cultivate ‘medical gardens’ full of vegetables, herbs and spices and consume them daily; maintain a deep dedication to friends, family and social networks, a strong sense of shared purpose, establish friendships for life).

Social philosopher Roman Krznaric states “Individualism that pictures each human being as totally self-sufficient providing for all his or her material, physical and social needs is damaging and dishonest.  But individualism that celebrates each human being’s unique personhood and potential contribution to the world---that’s good and necessary.  Shifting our collective story away from rugged individualism and more toward interconnected individuality will reduce the stigma around asking for help and relieve the terrible burden of loneliness and stress if one has to make it all on one’s own.  A culture that supports, protects and honors friendships will give everyone more opportunities to be surrounded by caring people making healthy choices.  Changing our environments might be difficult, but it’s easier than changing all by ourselves.”

Words to thrive by.  Live long and prosper.

That’s all, folks….

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Weird Science

Your favorite friends from the Flat Earth Society are at it again.  While the Elks, the Rotarians and the Woodmen of the World are content with a nice annual picnic in the forest, the Flat Earth International Congress is planning a cruise to the purported edge of the world.  Not for nothing, of course.  They’re looking for the ice wall that holds back the oceans.

The FEIC calls the event “the biggest, boldest adventure yet,” but it is not without some concerns.  First, navigational charts and systems that guide cruise ships and other vessels around Earth’s oceans are all based on the irritating principle that the planet is actually round.  GPS relies on a network of dozens of satellites orbiting thousands of miles above the Earth; signals from the satellites beam down to the receiver inside a GPS device, and at least three satellites are required to pinpoint a precise location.  “Had the Earth been flat,” asserts retired ship captain Henk Keijer, “a total of three satellites would have been enough to provide this information to everyone on the planet.  But it is not enough because the Earth is round.”

The flat-Earthers have not commented on whether they intend to rely on GPS or deploy an entirely new flat-Earth-based navigation system for finding the end of the world.

Believers in a flat Earth argue that images showing a curved horizon are fake and that photos of a round Earth from space are part of a vast conspiracy by NASA and other space agencies to hide the world’s flatness.  These and other flat-Earth assertions appear on the website of the Flat Earth Society, allegedly the world’s oldest flat-Earth organization, dating to the early 1800s.  In diagrams which appear on the FES website, the planet appears as a pancake-like disk with the North Pole smack-dab in the middle and an edge surrounded on all sides by an ice wall that holds the oceans back.

Serious-minded observers have dismissed the FES diagrams out of hand.  Local self-taught scientist Freeman Register scoffs, “No right-thinking person is going to accept these grossly inaccurate FES charts.  They don’t even have Winterfell on them.”

Current non-believer Bill Killeen is looking for a spot on the trip.  “I’m dubious,” says Killeen, “but I’m open-minded.  I mean, who knows what’s possible anymore?  They laughed when Donald Trump sat down to play, right?”


If you are a fan of Douglas Adams’ sci-fi series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” you already know that the answer to questions about the meaning of life, the state of the universe and everything else is 42.  But you’re not exactly sure of the question.  Recently, however, mathematicians claim they have discovered it after centuries of frustration.  The result came from a stumper called the Diophantine equation, which asks whether you can express every number between 1 and 100 as the sum of three cubes.  The question is named for the ancient mathematician Diophantus of Alexandria, who proposed a similar conundrum 1800 years ago.

Answers for most of the numbers between 1 and 100 have already been discovered but a solution for 42 required a global network of 500,000 computers, which crunched through huge numbers of possibilities to find that (-80538738812075974)^3 + (12602123297335631)^=42.  Got it?  Good.

Some people have too much time on their hands.

The power supply for GEOMAR'S lab; tough to sneak into your purse.

But It Was There Just A Minute Ago…”

Fans of minor crimes will tell you that the best pickpockets in the world come from Italy or France.  Paris is notorious for its clever thieves, and Florence almost as bad.  Surprisingly, however, the world champions in the sport are the light-fingered lifters of Prague in the Czech Republic, who are so clever and swift as to be down the road and on the plane to the Maldives before their larceny has been noticed.  Now, however, these practiced Czechs have been challenged for supremacy by the Burglars of the Baltic.  Last Fall, someone stole a 1600-lb. undersea observatory from the bottom of the Baltic Sea off the coast of Kiel in northern Germany.

Suddenly, the detector, which was run by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, went silent.  At first, nobody suspected tomfoolery was afoot.  Researchers merely assumed that something had gone wrong with the communications transmission.  But when divers went out to check the site—oh-oh!---they were stunned to find the entire observatory had disappeared, with just a shredded power cable left behind to ponder over.  No storm, tide or large animal could have done the deed, GEOMAR said, calling the lost environmental data “priceless.” 

Police, of course, are investigating, for all the good that will do, and GEOMAR officials have appealed to the public to report any lost-looking laboratories they see wandering aimlessly down the street.  The station is valued at $330,000, has little resale value and is too hefty for your neighborhood pawn shop.  The owners are offering a discouragingly small reward.

Time For A Change

Ronald Mallett is building a time machine.  Before you scoff, that would be Ronald Mallett, PhD, astrophysicist and tenured professor at the University of Connecticut.  Still not impressed?  Fine, but Richard’s here to tell you he’s not fooling around.

His research into time travel focuses heavily on Einstein’s theory of relativity and the power of light.  “In a nutshell,” contends Mallett, “Einstein said that time can be affected by speed.  What he meant by that is the stronger gravity is, the more time will slow down.”  The professor points out that energy can also create a gravitational fieldWhat he plans to do is to harness the energy and subsequent gravitational fields of “a single continuously circulating unidirectional beam of light.”  In other words, a laser.

“Eventually, a circulating beam of laser lights could act as a sort of time machine and cause a twisting of time that would allow you to go back into the past,” Mallet continued.  And that’s where he dearly wants to go.  The prof lost his father to a heart attack when he was only ten years old and he’s determined to see him again.  And to place a big bet for the old man on whoever it was that won the Kentucky Derby that year.

Twelve months after Mallet’s father died, the grieving son picked up a copy of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic The Time Machine.  He says it’s the book that changed his life.  Mallet escaped into Wells’ world, where the past was not locked away forever but instead could be revisited at will.  He has nurtured the idea of traveling back in time ever since.

Professor Mallet went on to specialize in relativity and black holes, acquiring his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in physics from Penn State University.  An early job working with lasers for the aerospace industry inspired his model for time travel.  “It turned out my understanding about lasers eventually helped me in my breakthrough with understanding how I might be able to find a whole new way for the basis of a time machine,” he says.  Mallett has now finished a theoretical equation “that could make the whole thing work.” 

Make sure you land near a clothing store, Doc.  In your Dad’s day, they put people in jail for running around naked.

Attention, Gary Borse!

The newly-formed U.S. Army Futures Command, created to support the “continuous transformation of Army modernization in order to provide future warfighters with the concepts, capabilities and organizational structures they need to dominate a future battlefield,” is living up to its name.  The Command is undertaking an intriguing partnership with Tom DeLonge’s To The Stars Academy to test exotic metals acquired by TTSA earlier this year.  Luis Elizondo, a former Pentagon official reputed to be involved with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, will be a principal investigator for the joint endeavor. 

TTSA is best known for its release of headline-grabbing videos purporting to show Navy fighter jets encountering unidentified aircraft.  Elizondo suggested these UFOs might have had extraterrestrial origins.  “These crafts are displaying characteristics that are not currently within the U.S. inventory nor that of any foreign country,” Elizondo said, further calling them “things that don’t have any obvious flight services, any forms of propulsion, and maneuvering in ways that include extreme maneuverability beyond the healthy G-forces of a human or anything biological.”

The metals to be investigated are reported to have come from an advanced aerospace vehicle of unknown origin and were purchased for the princely sum of $35,000.  UFO researcher Linda Moulton claims the materials possess some interesting qualities, including the ability to levitate when exposed to certain electromagnetic frequencies.  Oooh!

“I Just Thought The Tylenol Was Out-Of-Date.” 

A 25-year-old barista from Australia besieged by migraines two or three times a month for the last seven years was at her wits’ end.  When the latest one hit, it lasted for more than a week and brought extra baggage in the form of blurred vision.  An MRI showed a suspected tumor.

However, when surgeons operated on her brain and removed the lesion, it was no tumor at all; it was actually a cyst full of tapeworm larvae.  Yuck and double-yuck.  Somebody get the albendazole and stick my head in the freezer.

A new study of the by The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene published on September 21 showed the Aussie’s aches were caused by the tapeworm larvae taking up too much space in her brain.  Since the victim had never traveled abroad, this was the first native case of the disease in Australia.  The woman’s condition is now known as neurocysticercosis and can cause neurological symptoms when larval cysts develop in the brain.

People are normally at a very low risk of infection with tapeworm larvae since they would have to be ingested from a carrier.  Somehow, this woman accidentally swallowed eggs found in the feces of a person with an intestinal tapeworm.  Las Vegas will give you big odds on that ever happening, but it did in this case.  The victim had a full recovery with no need for medication after the surgery.  According to the World Health Organization, neurocysticercosis is the leading cause of epilepsy in adults globally.

Even your tiniest tot knows the moral of this story.  “Don’t eat POOP!”

There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old O. R. Tonight

Finally, there’s the poor 60-year-old heart surgery patient in Australia.  The man was undergoing an emergency procedure under combined inhaled and intravenous general anesthesia to repair a small tear in his aorta when a complication arose.  The patient had previously been treated for pulmonary disease at a different hospital and had an enlarged right lung with several permanent air pockets known as bullae.

The lung had stuck to his sternum, which the surgeons needed to crack through to get to his heart.  In spite of their best efforts, they punctured one of the bullae in the lung and air began leaking out.  To counteract this, the flow of oxygen in the anesthetic inhalant was increased by 100%.  Alas, it turned out to be a real big leak, as the doctors were able to smell the sevoflurane anesthetic as it seeped into the air through the patient’s lung.  That sevoflurane was now mixed with a strong concentration of highly oxidizing oxygen, making the conditions volatile.  The lead surgeon winced, looked at his crew and whined in his best Roseanne Roseannadanna manner, “It’s always SOMETHING!”   

Unfortunately, the team was using an electrocautery device, a surgical tool that uses heat to seal wounds.  The device was sitting just a smidge too close to a dry surgical pack near the patient’s chest and when a spark from the electrocautery device landed on the surgical pack in the highly oxygenated air, the whole chest area of the man exploded into flames, causing much yipping and yapping and a bit of the famous O.R. hotfoot dance.

Fortunately, the flames were quickly doused and the patient saved.  A family member watching the procedure from above, however, was not at all happy.  Didn’t you people ever hear of anti-inflammatories?” he hollered from above.

That’s all, folks….

Thursday, October 8, 2020

News Of The World In Review

Short of a typhoon ravaging Mazatlan or a fleet of UFOs landing on Gary Borse’s alien-friendly lawn, the national news will speak about only three things---the Covid-19 obsession, Donald Trump’s reign of terror or the virus' just desserts being delivered to Trump.  Apparently, there are 194 countries in which nothing of consequence is happening.  Even the late-arriving football games are first examined for their whittled down fandom and infected players rather than oh, say, their final scores.  If we’re lucky, the ABC Evening News may sign off with a 30-second snippet about a dancing mailman or a tot who can recite all the state capitals (it’s Pierre, Ralphie), but that’s it.

The Flying Pie thinks all of this is a travesty, an abdication of duty on the part of the television networks.  There are things happening out there that you, the valued reader, should know about.  So just in case you forgot to renew your subscription to the New York Times, here they are:

The Elusive Butterfly

In chaos theory, which almost everybody believes is correct, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a determinate linear system can result in large differences in a later state.  In other words, if you accidentally disrupt the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in 1915, maybe Archduke Ferdinand will not be shot three years later and maybe there will be no World War I.  Everybody likes butterflies, but this looks like a good tradeoff to us.  Trouble is, nobody can determine which butterfly to mess with.

Science fiction books and movies have been playing this song for years, and it seems a reasonable assumption.  After all, if I don’t go to the grocery store today, there will be no avocados tomorrow.  If I don’t tip the parking valet three times in a row, my car might come back with an antelope’s head in the back seat.  So if John Wilkes Booth has a gun misfire it’s logical to assume society would be much different today.  Or if Booth gets a toothache and is delayed at the dentist, same result.  The smallest factor seems capable of changing the future.  Thus, it’s logical to assume that if someone were able to return to the past almost anything he might do would change the future.  Except, of course, that the future has already arrived intact.  What’s up with that?  Man’s eventual ability to return to the past is fraught with danger, assuming it was ever possible.  Or is it?

Author Stephen King wrote a book a book about a man who went back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination, but King is not a subscriber to the butterfly effect.  “The past is obdurate,” Stephen says.  “It doesn’t want to be changed.”

Researchers at the University of Queensland now agree with him, claiming the paradox could not exist.  “Say you travelled back in time,” supposed Queensland scientist Fabio Costa, “in an attempt to stop Covid-19’s Patient Zero from being exposed to the virus.  And you actually stopped him from becoming infected.  That would eliminate the motivation for you to go back and stop the pandemic in the first place.  This is a paradox---an inconsistency that often leads people to think that time travel cannot occur in our universe.”

Looking again at Patient Zero, “You might stop him from becoming infected but in doing so catch the virus yourself.  Then you would become Patient Zero, or someone else would,” said co-author of Costa’s paper, Germain Tobar.  “No matter what you did, the salient events would recalibrate around you.”  Whew, that’s a relief!  Will someone run over to Marty McFly’s house and tell him not to waste his time?

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: The Transparent Toilet?

Okay, so those wily Japanese have, ahem, unveiled transparent toilets in some Tokyo parks.  We know what you’re thinking, but architect Shigeru Ban would like to put your mind at ease.

“There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located in a park,” says Ban.  “The first is cleanliness and the second is whether anyone is inside.”  

Transparent walls, of course, can address both of these concerns about what awaits one inside.  But then there’s the issue of, well, everyone can see them inside.  Ah but, watashinotomodachi wa son’nani hayakunai, or not so fast, my friend.  After users enter the restroom and lock the door, the room’s walls turn a powdery pastel shade and are no longer see-through.

“Using a new technology, we made the outer walls with glass that becomes opaque when the door is closed, so that a person can check inside before entering,” the Nippon Foundation says.  “Our ambition is to create toilets like the world has never seen.”

Kudos, men---you’re off to a good start.  Maybe you could add a ceiling fan that puffs out a bit of lilac potpourri when the thing is flushed.

Turn My Emu Sibs Loose, Bruce….

Kevin and Carol, two emu survivors in a nestful of eggs which was abandoned, have never been shy.  When their brothers and sisters moved on, the two siblings took a liking to the nearby Yakara Hotel, the social center of a tiny town in the Australian Outback.  They paid their way, posing for photos with visitors and making cameo appearances when the hotel owners, Chris and Gerry Gimblett, were once interviewed by ABC.

Alas, Kevin and Carol have now found themselves emu non grata.  Their cardinal sin?  The emus have learned to climb stairs.  This new skill has given the birds access to the hotel pub, and once inside they unleashed a wave of terror on the customers.  They snatched away toast and french fries.  They gallivanted behind the bar and scared off the polite drinkers.  They ran through the place like feathered torpedoes and “heaven help anyone who might be in front of them,” according to Chris.  “People would be making toast in the annex and suddenly a big head comes round the corner, takes the toast and gobbles it up.  It is not safe to get between emus and food; they have sharp, strong beaks and their long necks can suck up food like a high-powered vacuum cleaner.”  Besides, they’re incontinent.

Despite all this, the Gimbletts are glad the emus have hung around.  Until recently, Chris said, they have been kept at bay by cordons which were erected around the back of the hotel.  When they learned how to limbo under the restraints, the stairs proved a second barrier.  “We never thought they’d learn to climb stairs,” says Lynne Byrne, a Yakara resident who raised Kevin and Carol.

A prominent sign at the base of the stairway now reads, “Emus have been banned from this establishment.  Please replace the emu barrier after entering.”  Kevin and Carol, who cannot read (yet) look at the stairway bar, miffed.  They’re thinking of taking the matter up with the local magistrate the next time he passes through town.  Until then, their diet consists mainly of leaves, grasses and native flowers.  “It’s not french toast,” complains Kevin, “but we’ll manage.”

Anyone Here Seen My Roach Clip?

We all know China is….well, different.  Therefore, we might expect most aspects of Chinese life to vary greatly from the everyday pursuits of the people of other lands.  Take agriculture, for instance.  While the natives of most countries raise goats, sheep, cattle and chickens, several farmers in China are more enchanted with (ahem) cockroaches.  Your overarching question will be “Why?” 

To find out why, you will go where the action is, walking in pitch-black darkness through the narrow corridors of an industrial-sized hangar, sweaty and nauseated, the air thick with intense heat, humidity and the stench of rotting meat.  All of which is a walk in the park compared to the awful, everpresent noise all around you.  It sounds like the pitter-patter of rain but it's really the scurrying footfalls of a billion palm-sized cockroaches.  Okay, we just lost our female audience and Nancy Kay has run screaming into the street, but we’ll continue.

In China, cockroach farms are a burgeoning business, with over 100 thriving enterprises active across the country.  The farm described above is managed by a professional bug farmer named Yin Diansong.  His facility is located in eastern China in Zhangqiubei, near the city of Jinan, for those of you who want to avoid the place at all costs.  “We have 60 small rooms,” says Yin, and there are 20 million cockroaches in each room.  In total, there are one billion cockroaches.”

Every day, the farm’s impressively elaborate system of pipes and pumps dumps 50 tons of ki tchen waste collected from restaurants onto metal shelves.  As if it were Maxwell House, the roaches enjoy it down to the last drop.  Hey, it’s one way to keep that nasty landfill from filling up.  The whole experiment was started to investigate means of dispensing with food waste.  But then the Chinese discovered something else.  This sea of gorged roaches actually had a second use.

“We grind them up into powder,” says Li Yanrong, head of the country’s cockroach farming project.  “Cockroaches are rich in protein.  Mixed into animal feed, the roach powder provides a cheap, nutritious and practically everlasting feed supplement.  If we can farm cockroaches on a large scale, we can provide protein that benefits the entire ecological cycle.  We can replace animal feeds filled with antibiotics and supply organic feed, which is good for the animals and the ground soil.”

The cockroach business is already showing impressive results.  The traditional farm animals in the area---chickens, ducks, goats and pigs—are now subsisting on the roach diet with no complaints.  Matter of fact, the critters seem to prefer the new vittles to the old feed.  “I particularly like the new food’s crispness,” raves Petunia Pig, while her pal Porky loves the dreamy almond undertones.  Next thing you know, there’ll be a fast food joint on the corner selling Roach McNuggets.  They’ll probably call them something else.

Working Class Hero

Your common everyday rat has been cast in a bad light ever since Jimmy Cagney allegedly uttered the phrase “You dirty rat!” in a 1932 movie.  Decades of impressionists have used the line when pretending to be Jimmy, who never actually said it.  Unfortunately, the insult long ago passed into the  public domain and now the rats have no one to sue.  After a long and unpleasant century of bad press, however, there appears to be a light at the end of the rodent’s tunnel.

A top vermin hype agency called Halos ‘R’ Us is avidly telling the world about Magawa, the hero rat.  Stop shaking your head.  This African Giant-Pouched Rat was trained to detect landmines by the Belgium-based charity APOPO.  Using an excellent sense of smell and memory, Magawa has now discovered 39 landmines and 28 pieces of unexploded ordnance.  He can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, a job it would take a human with a metal detector up to four days to accomplish.

Unlike metal detectors, the rat ignores scrap metal and only sniffs out explosives, making him a fast and efficient landmine detector, according to Christophe Cox, chief executive of APOPO, the non-profit organization which trained Magawa and several other rats.  It also trains the creatures to detect tuberculosis in their spare time.

Magawa, now called “the hero rat,” was presented with a small blue collar and tiny gold medal in late September for his work in saving countless lives in Cambodia by the British veterinary charity PDSA.  The director of People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, Jan McLoughlin, lauded “Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines.   Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.”

And you, foolish human, laughed when Mighty Mouse first donned his scarlet cape.

That’s all, folks….

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Autumn Reverie

Fall Guy

The day’s light shortens, the surly morning temperatures finally nosedive into the fifties.  There are school buses on the streets again, leaves in the water troughs and footballs in the air.  The equinox slips into the room barely noticed, but noticed nonetheless.  The trappings of Autumn bring back memories of sweet youth, of travels through coolish streets of burning leaves, a singular potpourri.

The joys of summer are gone now, but Autumn brings its own credentials.  The daily rains will soon slow, the rampaging grass in the paddocks will stop to take a breath, the onerous heat promises to relent.  Thrilled young women will storm their closets to uncover long-lost boots, angora sweaters, light jackets, making a mental note on where the gloves reside.

It’s time to start anew, to open the book, survey the empty pages and make a plan.  The days shorten and we are another year older, the precipice one step closer.  There is still time to do everything, only the willingness holds us back.

Where Have You Gone, Joey Football Fan?

The Covid pandemic has routed the nation.  It has closed the bars, sealed up the moviehouses, wiped out live music, created a rift in the populace and killed over 200,00 souls and counting.  Thus, few are losing any sleep over the sad fate of bereft football fans who shed a tear as cardboard cutouts occupy their seats, munch on their nachos and fail to do The Wave.

Sneer if you will, but there are millions of these unfortunates, broken up into hundreds of tribes, who weekly inundate college towns and dispense money as if it were penny candy, boosting businesses, insuring jobs, and keeping the alma mater from disappearing into the sea.  Shockingly, the once-thriving scalper industry has collapsed overnight to the calloused indifference of the average citizen.  Who is going to buy all those styrofoam “We’re No. 1” fingers?  Will the hard-pressed chicken-wing industry survive?  Is there any hope for those agile men who quickly print the final score on little cards in the backs of trucks and sell them for outrageous prices to delirious fans?

Where there once were mere Florida football fans, now there is Gator Nation, a growing colossus, which has fans strewn about the Earth, none of them happy.  Multiply this by hundreds of other nations and you get the picture.  Some schools have tried to salve the wounds by allowing in about 20% of their stadiums’ seating capacity, which finds 17,000 people rattling around in an arena built for 85,000.  That’s better than Emptyland, of course, where faux crowd noise and contrived music make a sad attempt to convince television fans that everything is normal.  But where’s Albert the alligator?  Where’s Ralphie, the rampaging buffalo?  Where’s the rickety Sooner Schooner?  And how are we supposed to get through the season without a single glimpse of the nonpareil USC cheerleaders?

If there is a God, and most football fans are sure there is, it’s time he took the suffering of his subjects seriously.  All it takes after all, is one well-placed extra-large lightning bolt into the brewing stew at the Moderna or Oxford pharmaceutical labs and we have a viable vaccine.  Will a significant contribution to the Vatican help?  Can we sacrifice a few virgins to Pele at Kilauea?  Should we build Billy Graham’s son Franklin a summer bungalow in Maracaibo?  Let’s go, before you know it we’ll be selling tickets for the SEC Championship game.  Despite Paul Simon, nobody really likes the sound of silence.

Road Trip

For the legions of despairing wives and scattered recalcitrant males who dislike football, Autumn is a discouraging time.  The bulk of the male population retires to fortified cave dwellings stocked with every manner and make of gustatory joy, locks the door and throws away the key.  Call us in December before the bowl games start.

Why this strange compulsion, ask the disaffected.  What hidden charms does this clash of ruffians possess?  Why do these men raise a silly game to the level of an art form?  Is it a substitute for battle, a love of violence?

Not quite.  While there is undoubtedly some lust for the perfect hit a safety lays on an outstretched pass receiver or the collision between a punt returner speeding in one direction and a 250-pound crusher heading in the other, physical contact is only a slice of the pie.  The overarching appeal is the membership in Buckeye Nation (or a hundred others), the inclusion in a phenomenon much greater than oneself, the bonhomie of a crowd where millionaires and street sweepers sit side by side and worship a similar entity.  Everyone is equal in the stadium, except maybe for those guys high up and behind the glass, and who wants to be that far from the field?

A trip to a foreign venue is an opportunity to be part of an invading army, like Hannibal barging through the Alps.  The visitors storm into town, their little flags fluttering from car windows, their bright colors clashing with the hues of the home team.  They sit in their own wispy corner of the stadium screaming bloody murder to counter the vast swell of the locals’ roar.  If their team emerges from the fray holding the severed head of the opposition, they paint the town red.  If the severed head turns out to be theirs, they bravely suffer the taunts of their enemies and gather in mortified groups to console one another.  It’s only a battle, they reassure, there is still a war to be won.

For the purists, there is the strategy of the game, the cleverness of the offense versus the ability of the defense to solve the game plan and staunch the tide.  One side surges, then the other, as wily coaches put years of experience into practice to checkmate their rivals.  Impossible physical feats are performed, clever sleights-of-hand, a skinny kid with a leg of steel kicks a football through a goalpost 55 yards away.

With two minutes left in the game, the visitors have a nine point lead but the home team is unruffled.  Casey the quarterback leads them down the field in no time and the extra point is good, but a mere 40 seconds remain on the clock.  The only option now is an on-side kick which must travel a minimum of ten yards and somehow be recovered by the home boys.

Magically, it works!  Our side has the ball with 32 seconds remaining and an Australian soccer kicker on the bench.  You know the rest.  The offense moves the ball to the 30-yard-line, the Aussie does the deed and crowd rises as one to celebrate the day.  The band plays “Waltzing Matilda” and the scribes hurry to record these feats for posterity.  Beer is sold by the gallon long into the night, arcane tales are retold and a good time is had by all.  Some love the hullabaloo, a small minority repairs to the sitting room.  All things considered, we subscribers to the fray have always found it was eminently more fun than walking the dog.



My mother’s father, Bill Gosselin, was not the shy, retiring type.  He raced whippets, owned a bar, drank like a pirate and smoked like Mount Etna.  He died of lung cancer in his fifties when I was in first-grade.  His greatest advice to me was, “Billy, I got this hole in my throat from smoking Camels.  Don’t ever smoke cigarettes.”  I’ve carried it with me and adhered to it my whole life.

My grandmother’s second husband was the shy, retiring type.  Bob Vogler grew up in a large German family home in nearby Methuen, Mass. and introduced us to tomato farming, “picking the horses,” and the Liederkranz Singing Society, which was a fancy name for a congregation of Germans who liked to drink.  Thankfully, they never bellowed out the Westerwald, at least during regular hours.

The Voglers also like to attend, en masse, the Methuen High School football games, where they sat on the fifty-yard-line in the front rows.  My sports-oblivious grandmother married into this hoop-de-do and decided to make the best of it.  She and Bob started bringing me along to the games.

The Methuen Rangers were not the biggest, toughest team in the state but they might have been the feistiest.  Their diminutive fullback, Rock Bamford, who went about 5-4, could run through the Maginot Line and it generally took a posse to drag him down.  Win or lose, Methuen was in tight quarters almost every game and they never went down quietly.  Their proud blue-and-white dancing cheerleaders sang the fight song in good times and bad and laid on the line, “For our team never falters.”  I never forgot that line.

The Rangers lost football games, of course, and I once equated a loss with faltering.  But I was wrong.  You can teeter, you can drop to your knees, you can lose the battle,  that doesn’t mean you have faltered.  You have faltered when you don’t get up, when you accept the loser’s lot, when you don’t try over and over again until you change the result.

The Democratic Party has taken its beatings lately, a discouraging four-year stretch of crushing losses and embarrassing setbacks to a team of bullies and louts.  Sometimes it seems as if they’ll never win another game.  But lose though they might, they have never faltered.  They have slogged their way through the quicksand, risen from the swamp, put on their Sunday best and marched out to confront the Forces of Infamy.  The battle is soon to be met.  We hope Rock Bamford is still out there somewhere.

What Abe Said:

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.  We are met on a great battlefield of that war.”

Time to kick ass and take names.

That’s not all, folks….33 days to Glory.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Life In The Rabbit Hole

"Onward, through the fog!"---Oat Willy

It’s the 24th day of the ninth month in the year 2020 on Planet Wonderland and nobody knows how we got here.  We were just sitting around minding our own business when this pink-eyed rabbit came hurtling by and we decided to follow him down a dubious hole.  You’d think we’d know better by now.  After hurtling downward for endless minutes, we wound up here at the bottom, confused and abandoned.  You won’t believe a word of it, but here’s what it looks like down here.

First, the Grand Leader of the Local Faction is a Kool-Aid brewer called The Orange King, who daily dispenses free product to the masses.  “Drink Me!” the stuff insists and the people do.  “It makes us taller!” they foolishly contend.  “It let’s us see things that are not there!”

Now as bad luck would have it, a great plague has inundated the land.  The people here run from it, hide in their bungalows, cover their faces with magic cloth to keep the pox at bay.  But the Orange King will have none of it, promising his subjects shelter from the storm if they will but wear little bells around their necks.  “Faith, not fear!” he counsels and they eagerly jump up and down, ringing their wonderful bells.

The king sits in the counting house, counting out his money.  The queen lies in the parlor, eating bread and honey.  And the gravedigger rolls his deathwagon through the town, throwing another body on the pile.

To be continued.  Or not.

Life In The Time Of Cholera

Welcome to Purgatory.  The Sisters of Charity told us about this place decades ago when we were mindless tots, barely able to pay attention.  Purgatory is the outpost to which the souls of sinners are assigned for atonement.  Hopefully, when their papers are all in order, they will catch the 10 a.m. express to Heaven.  Dante claimed that there were seven terraces of Purgatory but the nuns had no appetite for the sordid details.

If you have previously resided in New England, California or New York, Purgatory is a morose, unacceptable state of being.  If you’re from Kansas or North Dakota, it’s not too bad a change.  Movers and shakers, people who strive for great accomplishments are helpless here; slackers are right at home.

The days are pretty much the same in Purgatory.  Nobody takes you out to the ballgame, nobody bounces into a neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name.  There is no music in the air.  Not a soul down on the corner singing “Sweet Adeline.”  That used to be an indication that wedding bells were breaking up that old gang of mine, but now there are no weddings either.

The citizens of Purgatory plod along to funless jobs in carefully delineated boxes, feast on non-sumptuous takeout lunches and drive home in empty cars to watch sporting events played in venues where cardboard people don’t cheer.  Are we having fun yet?  Well, the task is lighter for the janitors.

Sometimes a crack of light slips through the constant cloud bank.  The air and water are cleaner with so many vehicles sidelined.  A friend has discovered a remote beach, peopled only by sand crabs.  Glad Hands Sally is back at the massage parlor.  A vaccination is being prepared which will allow everyone instant access to heaven.

We sit in our domiciles, watch ancient television programs and wait for the interminable cloud to lift.  We remember what life was like BP (Before Purgatory) when we could go to parties, meet girls, hoist a few cool ones with the bros.  We imagine how wonderful things will be when the Renaissance finally comes.  Look—is that a patch of blue sky over there?  Or just the Cosmic Joker leading us on?

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to live in Occupied Territory?  A place where alien forces control the land and the citizens are forced to bow to their wishes with little hope of resistance?  A country like France under Hitler, India during The Raj.

Do you remember the old Saturday Evening Post story, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where an extraterrestrial civilization slowly invaded an unaware midwestern town while the population slept?  The aliens had hundred of duplicates of the townspeople growing in pods in a vast field, waiting for the originals to go to sleep.  When the locals went nighty-night, the dopplegangers took over.

The new Joe Smith looked just like the old one, but there was a certain reserve, a slight hesitancy in conversation in the newer models.  The locals were slow to catch on because this was an unprecedented event, impossible to imagine.

The same thing could be happening today.  Some of our previously reasonable friends are turning up dazed and confused, perhaps brainwashed by unknown entities.  They are beginning to do things contrary to the town’s interests, seemingly contrary to their own.  There seems to be no rational explanation for their deviance, but everything could be explained if they were replacements grown in a pod field.

Every day, their numbers increase.  One day it’s the butcher, the next the baker, soon the candlestick maker.  Eventually, they will control the city, make decisions affecting you, begin growing thousands of pods to export to nearby towns.  By the time they are discovered, the police may be converted.  If you try to escape with warnings to the outlanders, you may be pulled over, jailed or worse.  Once out of the bottle, the genie will be difficult to hogtie.

Stay alert.  Look for signs of perfidy.  Organize the resistance and counterattack before it’s too late.  Before long, we could all be eating grasshoppers, worshipping at the Church of the Soma Drinkers and wearing leashes.  It’s the rainy season and the pod fields are growing apace.

Places To Go, People To See

We may be living in Limbo, it might be the rainy season and great flotillas of Covid bugs could be hurtling through the air, but some people still have serious business to attend to.  When a man is approaching his epic 80th birthday, rarefied measures must be taken to celebrate the occasion, especially since the odds of yet another epic birthday are not encouraging.  Photographs must be taken to record the accomplishment, proof must be delivered that the honoree thrives, that one foot is not firmly planted in the grave, that body and soul are not covered with leper’s spots, inverse psoriasis, Morgellons disease.  Everything must be bared, like it or not.

The theme of the first of three birthday blogs is 80 Years And Still Standing, in which Bill is likened to a building which has seen its day, crumbling perhaps, or showing signs of wear but refusing to topple.  To capture that theme, we sought out photographess Kimber Greenwood of nearby Newberry to help plan poses and insert appropriate backgrounds to meet the theme.  “I am the Queen of Photoshoppers,” declared Kimber, “place your trust in me.”  Bill would like you to know that he does not approve of photoshopping bodies, only buildings, so his head was not moved to a better body.

Further proof of this is the set of pictures in the second birthday blog, taken by bare-bones photographer Sam Rivera of Avalon Park, who does his tricks with nothing but lighting and a little makeup.  A person has to really want to see Sam because he is not easy to find.

First, you drive about 15 miles past the Orlando airport, then get off Route 528E on a dubious road which leads past a nuclear power plant and a gigantic landfill, giving one pause to contemplate whether he is now heading directly for Hell.   But nope, just when all looks lost, up pops the charming little community of Avalon Park, which would be right at home in the middle of The Villages.  And there is Sam and his helpful wife Bethany right in the middle of it all.

Several people have asked what one of these sessions is like, terrified at the prospect.  Well, it’s like this.  You show up at the agreed upon hour as clean and well-groomed as possible, your entire ensemble of costumes in tow.  In my case, that was almost irrelevant.  For almost 30 minutes a makeup woman does the best she can, considering.

The posing usually starts with the most clothing you will be wearing all day, then a little less with each pose, the better to make the subject comfortable.  Bethany and I had exchanged ideas for a few weeks and she had about fifteen classic poses ready.  I had chosen a category which provided fine art prints in which Sam’s expertise in lighting a subject rose to the fore.  The Riveras have more lights than Fenway Park and they know what to do with them.  Bethany monitored the poses and constantly asked for a little movement here, a little there (“pull in your stomach” was a popular request).

An hour after the shooting was finished, Sam posted large photos of each pose separately on a huge TV-type screen.  The three of us first chose 67 shots, then whittled them down to a dozen, the size of the package I’d purchased.  Many of those will be included with the second blog, a few with the third.

We may be living in Limbo, it might be the rainy season and there could be gigantic flotillas of Covid bugs hurtling through the air, but some people have serious business to attend to.  When a man is speeding up to 80 years, neither rain, nor snow, nor fear of insects can stop this near-octogenarian from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.  The results will appear on October 29, November 5 and November 12, just about the time Joe Biden will be thinking about making his appointments.  I hope to be considered for a prominent elderpost.  I will have already proven I have nothing to hide. 

Image by Kimber Greenwood

That's all, folks....

Thursday, September 17, 2020

It's A Wonderful Day In The Neighborhood

When we were kids, the nabe was the thing.  Our relatives lived and died there, our best friends played there, our happiest moments were spent therein.  We met other friends at school, of course, joined sports teams comprised of kids from all over town, knelt at the communion rail with raw outsiders, but the neighborhood peeps reigned supreme.  Need someone to throw the old horsehide around with?  Trying to get up a game of three-on-three tag football?  Want a fellow fisherman to test the waters of the Shawsheen River?  Knock on a couple of doors and your wishes are fulfilled.

In high school, the world opened up a bit.  You met a wider variety of friend candidates, somebody’s father bought him a car, people began going to dances.  Still, when push came to shove, when there were battles to be fought or solace to be solicited, that small slice of land surrounded by the B&M Railroad tracks, Winthrop Avenue, Andover and Falmouth streets was our fortress.  A guy might be the Prince of Wales but if he didn’t live on Garfield Street he lacked a certain panache.

The old nabe; looking north down Garfield Street from Bill's front porch.

Time passes and people repair to far-away universities, to out-of-town jobs, to woebegone army posts, but they never forget the nabe.  Letters fly back and forth, the occasional expensive long-distance phone call is made, reunions are planned.  When there is a wedding to celebrate or a funeral to abide, the old faces are back to perform their responsibilities.  Handshakes all around, a remembrance of times past enhanced and occasionally misremembered with a smile.  And the inevitable but well-meant false promises to write, keep in touch.

The neighborhood is still there physically, but it is easing away from its old inhabitants.  It slowly fades, like a dream upon waking, and then, finally, it is gone to us, the houses refilled with new families which never heard of the glories of Leo Gervais’ variety store or the arcane exploits of the witchlike Grace Dineen.  Sometimes, we drive by and remember.  There are fewer trees now, the houses seem smaller, the distances from one to the other much shorter.  But where are the children, where is the raucous laughter, the streets teeming with ballplayers and jumpropers, the little girls chalking up a hopscotch box?  Does all this no longer exist?

It does, in fact.  It lives as long as one of us lives….as long as there is a single voice to tell the stories, glorify the escapades. exaggerate the wonders and lie boldly about the deficits of the Good Old Days when boys were tough, girls wore dresses and Garfield Street was the center of the universe.  Skoal!

The Facebook Alternative

Once upon a time, over the course of years, old friends traveled far and wide and often fell into darkness, never to be heard from again.  Addresses were lost, phone numbers haphazardly disappeared, names suddenly changed, and a great sense of  ennui covered the land.  But then one day, a wise man planted a single seed in fertile soil, watered it daily and watched it flourish and grow to the sky.  He named the mighty beanstalk Facebook and sent a memo to the world:

“Your old neighborhoods may be gone, but I have brought forth the opportunity for you to create new ones peopled with those you choose, unavailable to others.  You can converse with them instantly, send photos of the great grandson’s date for the senior prom, remind us of your recipe for Shepherd’s Pie.  You merely have to tolerate the occasional commercial message, not much to ask.  Hey, even in the old days those neighborhood stores had big ‘Moxie’ signs over the front door.”  And the people saw it was good.  Mostly.

The Virtual Nabe

Say what you will, little Markie’s Facebook has reinvented the neighborhood.  Grandma in Poughkeepsie is thrilled to be able to communicate instantly with grandson in Seattle.  Shy little Mairzie Doats can safely flirt with Bud the Stud 800 miles away.  Playmates can enjoy games together, cry on one another’s shoulder or refer a pal to the latest shenanigans on YouTube.  Hermits like painter Chuck LeMasters can exhibit their latest art pieces and never leave their properties.  Humanitarians like Storm Roberts and Anne White can show us what the beach looks like at sunrise and sunset.  Ubiquitous characters like Will Thacker can hop on stage with their straw hats and canes and deliver their newest comedy routines.  Yea, verily, the nabe lives!

I, myself, am not one to jump on the latest bandwagon.  Years ago, I was on my way out the door to the typewriter store to check the inventory when I got the bad news; there no longer was a typewriter store.  I went to Blockbuster video stores until they issued me a restraining order.  I had to be dragged into the computer age kicking and screaming.  After several years of considered abstinence, I decided to join Facebook only to procure new readers for The Flying Pie.  That didn’t work out particularly well, since most FB denizens prefer reading sentences to paragraphs, let alone epistles, but I’ve stayed nonetheless because I like the neighborhood my pals and I have created.  My sister, Kathy Scanlon, is always up early to say hello.  I’ve discovered a fellow football fan named Deb Peterson to share my Saturdays with.  Old Subterranean Circus customers come by to recall their pleasant memories of the Golden Age of Hippiedom.  Carolyn Holmes, Sherry Snyder, Lynn Maxwell and David Hammer invariably check in to say nice things about The Flying Pie.  Nancy Kay is always available to give me a hard time.  And George Swinford is unafraid to dispense fervid political advice, like it or not.

My new peeps are a varied and eclectic lot.  I can depend on Chris Thibaut for brilliant photographs, rely on Gary Borse for the latest interplanetary news, follow my old pal Bob Follett and his busy camera around Oakland.  And just this year, an old girlfriend of many names---we’ll just call her Patti Walker---magically appeared from out of the clouds to make sure I was performing to expectations.  There are no childhood pals, of course, like Jack Gordon to listen to Allen Freed with in my new neighborhood, no plasticman like Mickey Murphy to swing on vines with or Jim St. Hilaire to help me throw old televisions out the window when the Red Sox blow a three-run lead in the ninth, but all-in-all it’s a good little consortium, a colorful group with an appreciation for the glories of neighborhood.  And believe it or not, we’re thinking of getting together in person soon.  When the Covid clears up, we plan to rent an old school bus, paint it in psychedelic colors and drive up to Pennsylvania to visit the last resting place of our hero, Mr. Rogers.  It will, without doubt, be a wonderful day in the neighborhood.

What Do They Do On A Rainy Night In Bangkok?


I am writing this on the morning of my first experience with Thai Massage, which is not much like the traditional massage at all.  Your average massage is a mostly pleasant walk in the park.  You lie on a nice comfortable table surrounded by exotic scents and New Age music while the clever masseuse tries to rearrange your frazzled body, placing all the beleaguered parts back where they used to be.  The worst thing that could happen is your massage therapist complains for the entire hour about her breakup with Maxwell, the love of her life, something which happens only occasionally.  Otherwise, you’re pretty safe.

In Thai Massage, all bets are off.  There is no table, you sit on a mat on the floor and the torturer burns sulfur to the strains of heavy metal music played by bands from Liechtenstein.  You are volunteering for this mission because aging bodies have a disturbing tendency to shrivel up, contract and become tight as an angry drumskin, in dire need of stretching.

Rather than using the civilized means of, say, Swiss massage----hands, fists, forearms and elbows--- the average Thai masseuse will also use legs and feet, “sometimes a combination of both to gain leverage as they initiate deep stretches of the client’s arms, legs, hips and shoulders.”  Oh-oh.  I hope they give me a Pain-O-Meter so I can plunk the magic twanger when my misery gets unbearable. 

If all goes well, I expect to report back to you later in this column.  If things go awry, I am prepared.  I have all my affairs in order and have just finished up tending to my Will.  My Facebook friends will be happy to know that I’m leaving my entire supply of skin tightener to Nancy Kay.  I also bequeath her my outstanding sense of humor.  You can’t have one without the other.


Not so bad.  It was nice of Siobhan to have a squad of EMTs on standby and/or a pickup truck to toss the body into but it never came to that.  A brief review:

First, therapist Deborah Shahadey led me into an impressively large room with a well-padded floor, a vastly different chamber than the usual smallish rooms used for table massages.  She had a lifetime's worth of accoutrements and decorations installed here....lights, candles, visual treats available to the massagee lying on the floor.  It was chilly, so she put a blanket over me while I got acclimated, which didn't take more than a couple of minutes.

Since my lower back is the main issue, we worked on that this session.  In ninety minutes of stretching me in every conceivable way, Deborah used hands, feet, elbows, fists and a funky little machine that made funny noises.  She constantly asks you for your pain level from 1 to 10 and when it reaches 7, she eases up and lets the muscle relax.  After about four bouts with each muscle, the pain level is very low.  Onward to the next muscle.

The therapist in Thai massage seems able to locate soreness not found by practitioners of traditional massage.  Deborah says there's no fooling Thai, you discover every deficit.  I'm here to tell you she found plenty of mine and ran them out of town.  By the time I left, I felt like a mildly intoxicated rag doll, loose limbed and ready for action.  Good thing, too.  Later the same afternoon, Siobhan had scheduled a yoga class.  I hate to say this but sometimes you can be just too healthy.

That's all, folks....