Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

Well, here we are...the end of another year, and what a year.  For me, this one was a beauty cause I'm still on the top side of the turf; I didn't get caught in any major lies and I didn't spend any time behind bars -  prison bars that is.  I did enjoy a few hours seated in front of some other bars, but far less time than years gone by.

It's really a time for me to be ever so thankful for all my blessings.  Both my daughters and their families are relatively healthy and doing well.  Most of my friends are still coherent and mobile.  The ones who fail to qualify in the coherent category don't realize it and are blissfully happy in their own little universe where days are always sunny and woes are not to be experienced.  Not a bad deal and I think I'm subconsciously headin' thataway.  Some say I'm on the fast track.  Gal Friday has my insurance man's number on speed dial.  

Gal Friday still loves me regardless of, well, so many things.  Just about everyone who knows me questions why she continues to love and stick with me, but I know and I ain"t atellin'.  We help push each other to do better things.  I admit she has to push a lot harder.

It would take the rest of my life to count my blessings, but suffice it to say, God has been overly generous with me and last year was no different.  Like everyone, I could find something to moan about, but my complaints are insignificant compared to the important things like family, friends, and...you fill in the blanks.  

To all - HAPPY NEW YEAR and may 2011 bring you health, joy and peace.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow

Living on the south side of the Mason-Dixon Line has many advantages and a major one is the lack of  that icy white stuff that floats down from the heavens and causes so much trouble.  Snow is so beautiful and at the same time, oh, so dangerous.  I've known some women like that, but I'm not going there.

I grew up in the snow belt of upstate New York.  We had two seasons -- winter and the Fourth of July.  Actually one Independence Day, while visiting back home, my girlfriend and I were golfing in the wonderful little upstate village of Newport and the clouds suddenly gathered,  the temperature plunged and down came the flaky white stuff that's supposed to fall many months later.  However, we all must realize God doesn't watch The Weather Channel.  During that episode, my girlfriend, who was from Alabama where I too lived, decided if we were ever to have a future together, it wouldn't be spent in upstate NY.  Truthfully I'm positive that was one of many factors that contributed to her decision to definitely not having a future with me...there or anyplace else.  Meeting some of my old buddies from my hometown was another.

I did marry a southern belle from North Carolina and one winter we visited my hometown to celebrate Christmas.  That year happened to be a particularly hard winter and by March, 24 feet (snow, that is) had fallen on the Mohawk Valley.  The snowplows were kept constantly busy and the snowbanks grew to heights challenging the surrounding hills.  My wife, now deceased, stood about 5 feet 4 inches.  Walking through towering 30-foot snowbanks caused her onset of claustrophobia.  She made me promise if she died and was interred in my family's area of the local cemetery, I'd put two pair of socks on her feet.  She hated cold feet. 

Since graduating college and moving away, I've resided in the so called "sunny South."  I've lived in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Delaware.  One may wonder why all the moves.  The answer is simple; I had to stay one step ahead of John Law.  Not really, but that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.  But the point is I thought I escaped that frigid weather and all its accoutrements.

But here I sit in Delaware (a southern state) only 3 miles from the ocean and sandy beaches...SNOWED IN!  There is something dreadfully wrong with this scenario.  We have almost 20 inches of that treacherous white stuff piling up in our driveway.  Our front door is blocked by about a 4-foot accumulation because the wind has blown additional snow from the roof.  We just paid for some guys with shovels to clear a path to my ramp van though I'm not sure the ramp will even deploy.  My heart tells me the ramp isn't used to this oddball cold junk and when it first touches it, will close back up in pure disgust.  I'm getting cabin fever already and Gal Friday is upset because I'm doing wheelies and my chariot's tires are leaving black scuff marks on the floor.

What a dilemma.  I should move to a tropical zone like south Florida, but then I'd miss the change of seasons.  Mother said there would be days like this, but I didn't listen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas

Last night after dining with some friends, my Gal Friday (and every other day of the week) chauffeured yours truly around to see Christmas decorations.  The night was crisp and clear with a full moon lighting our way.  Of course the van's headlights helped too.  After feasting on a delicious presentation of veal piccata with a pasta side dish and sipping on some liquid of the grape (the name of which I can't even pronounce, much less spell), I felt in a well-sated and glorious mood.

She drove me to see many homes decorated with wonderful displays of Christmas lighting.  One place had the whole house, trees, bushes and man-made configurations depicting Santa and his sled among other things, covered with lights that blinked on and off to the beat of different Christmas tunes.  We listened to the music by dialing a specific station on the car radio.  Quite impressive to say the least.

As we continued our gawking at more dazzling displays and even in my euphoric state, a feeling of loss crept into my awareness. I wasn't sure what this represented, but it wouldn't leave me. Later, after bedding down, I silently deliberated on this sadness I harbored and why. Did the festive lighting remind me the holiday season brought on bittersweet memories of my departed parents and siblings? No, that wasn't it; I believe they're in a better place free of life's woes. Could it be I wouldn't be sharing the joy of Christmas Day with my daughters and their families? No, I'm not one of those parents who can't let go. I'm ecstatic my daughters have wonderful families of their own to enjoy not just holidays, but the special moments of everyday living.

So why did this sense of loss overcome me? There are certain times I, along with many others, wonder about my degree of sanity, but I didn't think I had taken that last step yet. Although if I had entered the land of the totally confused, would I know it? Let's drop this subject; it hits too close to home.

Then suddenly, during my evening chat with the Almighty, the answer to my dilemma flashed into focus.  Recalling our visit to the homes with the Christmas displays, I realized what I missed.  The loss I felt was Jesus.  Gal Friday and I saw some astounding displays of Santa and all his counterparts, but very few, if any, references to Jesus.  Don't worry, I'm not about to expound on taking Christ out of Christmas as so many have done.  This is just a note on a personal outlook. My politics don't direct me to any left or right wing extremes and in fact I'm what many would call a centralist independent. My political decisions are based on individual cases, not party lines.

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Rastafari and the Baha'i Faith all spawned from a common basis-- the founding patriarch, Abraham.  Other major religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism, etc. are based in various other beginnings.  The largest of the Abrahamic religions, in numerical order, are Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  As most of the world recognizes, only the Christians observe Christmas.  I just wonder if we Christians forget that it's Christ's birthday, not Santa's.

Well, Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends; Happy Holidays to all the others; and a safe, joyful and healthy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Shopping

Gal Friday did it again.  This time she tied me down and drove me to the mall's stores for our annual voyage of wonderment.  At least she blessed me with the privilege of riding inside the van, not behind the sucker.  Since the weather is so frigid and the exhaust vapor so acrid, she took pity on me.  Of course my traveling inside also minimizes the time to get to the mecca of money pits while maximizing time to watch our bank account shrink.  

You may question why I call this a voyage of wonderment.  Please allow me to explain.  All year I try my utmost to avoid stepping foot into any mercantile emporium, with the exception of Lowes, Home Depot or a necessary stop in our local pharmacy.  Consequently when Christmas shopping comes around, I am always amazed at the things I observe during our annual spree.

First of all I think every store plays the same Christmas music tape.  And why do they start blasting it before Halloween?  If you're in a mall, you'll notice the same song radiating throughout the massive edifice as in the smaller boutiques and haberdasheries.  By the time you've finished deleting your checking account to the minimum balance, these carols, hymns and ditties will remain entrenched in your subconscious until Easter.  Last year I found myself humming "Jingle Bells" during the baseball All Star Game.

Next, I'm amazed at the variety of items to be sold.  How do people make choices?  Once I sat with my agent in Capetown, Africa and he asked me that very question.  "How do Americans ever make a decision on what to buy?  You have so much to choose from; it's mind blowing."  At that time, they had three channels to watch on television while we had 133.  The selection of cars to purchase came to less than ten percent compared to us.  You get the picture.  No wonder women spend so much time shopping.  If they are serious about buying "just that right thing" for uncle Buster or cousin Susy, hours or even days could be spent on a proper choice.  Men shouldn't worry when the wife is away from home for 10 hours and comes back looking messy and spent.  When she claims she's been out shopping, gentlemen, she hasn't been out playing footsie with her lover; believe her, she's really been shopping.

Now let's look at the shoppers themselves.  Upon crossing the threshold of a store, they all seem to suffer sudden cases of Alzheimer's.  They slow to geriatric shuffle mode.  Reverse becomes their popular speed as they tread the carpets and tiles.  They can't seem to remember to get out of the way.  Clogging the aisle as they search the shelves and racks has become a favorite hobby.  Even young mothers seem afflicted with this elderly disease.  And it's no wonder - I mean so much merchandise - so many choices.  I think the average brain goes into overload.  They wander around looking like zombies from a Fifties horror film.

Now me, on Christmas Eve I can go up one aisle in the men's department and down a second in the ladies' section and complete my Christmas shopping.  "Just the right thing" doesn't apply in my case.  In fact my women giftees very seldom get the correct size or style garments and the guys are lucky to receive matching socks.  In the event they need to return or exchange my gifts, ( I'm batting almost 1000 in that department) I have the receipts wrapped with my presents.

Most of the time the racks are so close I can't get ole Red Chariot through and when I finally find an escape to a main aisle, people are so crowded together, I can't find an opening.  Sometimes I honk my horn (yes, my powerchair has a horn), switch to dirt track devil persona and ram my way through.  I've been ejected from a few stores because of this; however, it's a terrific traffic jam buster...and kinda fun too.  Some of those senior citizens, the same ghouls clogging the aisles, can really move when motivated.  Oh, yeah!

Do shop owners purposefully reduce the number of registers during peak buying seasons and why doesn't each clerk know how to operate one?  The lines at some of these counters rival those at the Super Bowl ticket gate.  Gal Friday shaved me just before entering our initial store.  After more hours than the gestation period of an elephant, we bought an item.  Then we entered the line to pay the piper.  By the time we reached the counter, I had a four-day beard.  I was terrified my chair would run out of charge...or worse, my pacemaker.

Yes, we should all emulate the Christmas spirit year-round, but if you get involved with the purchasing of gifts, be very careful - your "Ho, Ho, Ho" may turn into a "Bah Humbug." 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Computer Breakdown

Remember when people use to crack wise ("crack wise" is a term I learned from our ultimate teacher, the tee and vee) with an insult to your appearance while having your picture taken?  They would say, "I hope your face doesn't break the camera."  I really doubt if anyone's face broke the camera but then again maybe some did.  Of course, I would never make those kinds of derogatory remarks, no siree.  Really, how uncouth.  I'm so happy I'm above that sort of thing.  Yep, pure as the driven snow, that's me.

I think I just discovered "saying" words now is the same as "typing" words on your keyboard.  I must admit I have written a few...to be kind, let's say "sarcastic" remarks on my keyboard.  My camera is working fine, but my computer stopped computin' last weekend.  Somewhere on the computer's menu I've seen the term "hibernation," but this wasn't hibernation; this was terminal work stoppage.

Never, never have I considered myself an over committed "user."  No siree, not me.  I feel sorry for those poor dopes who are tied to their computers - I mean don't they have a life.  Come on folks, get with it.  You people need to get out into the real world; you know, shed your pool room tan; get with the crowd; enjoy life.

Uh, I believe I should change my tune.  Since my Dell let me down for the last six days, I have discovered I need not be so critical of the "users."  I'm beginning to see the light.  Yes, there is a trace of a dim glow rising in my pea-brained consciousness.  I once believed "user" was the appropriate title for people as dependent on their computers as druggies on crack.  Addiction seemed their common dependency.  However this last week has given me a whole new perspective.  Yes, I have definitely modified my opinion.

It started the morning after my friendly computer decided to take a vacation.  As Gal Friday readied for the day, as usual I wheeled over to my desk to check news and emails.  Refusing to accommodate me, my now not-so-friendly computer reminded me it had taken a well-deserved time off.  Hmm, I wondered, "How do I fill up this empty time?"  I turned on the TV to learn of the day's news.  That didn't last long because I detest commercials and most TV programming is advertising for everything from cars to condoms.  Next I opened a novel by Nelson DeMille I've been itching to read...for the last two months.  After a couple of short chapters, I pondered, "What have I been doing with these morning hours?"

Next came the first meal of the day.  After breakfast, I attempted my initial daily project - brushing my teeth.  Observing me trying to brush my teeth is hysterical.  I've often thought about charging people to watch.  Once the word got around about the laugh-a-minute procedure, I know I could reap a small fortune.  Because my hands and arms are so dysfunctional, I end up polishing my eyeballs or cleaning my ears.

After the decay-preventive laugh, I again wheeled over to you-know-what.  Again the monitor stared blankly at me and again I remembered how accustomed I had become to doing this.  I made some phone calls I had been planning to make...for the last few months.  Gee, you really have some time to do the things you need or want to do when you're not computin'.

After lunch my chariot, on its own accord, headed for my computer, but this time I forcibly stopped it.  "No, no, big fella," I clamored.  "No emailing, facebooking, blogging, googling, etc. today."  But then I realized this was false bravado.  I faced my moment of truth - I missed my computer.  Sweat began its slow trickle down my spine.  I felt perspiration on my brow as I watched my hands quivering from lack of keyboard.  I resembled an addict in withdrawal.  How could I possibly fill in the remaining hours of the day?  What could I do to consume the waiting ticks of the clock?  That's when I knew...I was computer dependent.  Oh, God, how could I have sunk this low?

Frantically I called to Gal Friday.  When she appeared, I desperately tried to act composed, but she saw right through the pretense.  In fact she thought I was in cardiac arrest once again, but we calmed each other and then I asked my sweet angel (I always refer to her in that manner when I need something done) to "fix" my computer.  I begged and pleaded my case.  I shouted, "These damn things are smarter than man; they have a mind of their own!"  Gal Friday once again and as usual, displayed her superior intellect with, "No, Edward, if they were smarter than us; they would be the users and we would be the computers."  Kinda hard to argue that logic.

Well, suffice it to say, after the purchase of a new monitor, my nerves have eased; my sense of order has returned...I'm back on line.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Needles

Well, my Gal Friday did it again.  She dragged me over to the local drug store to suffer through a flu shot.  Like most macho American males, I hate shots because they involve the use of needles.  My one exception is a shot from a glass.  Even as a baby I learned having your epidermis pierced with a sharp metal object is not amusing.  It doesn't rate too high on the "having fun" curve on which I valiantly attempt to reach maximum marks.

During second grade in elementary school, we youngsters were lined up to be marched about four blocks to the our town's municipal building where a doctor awaited ready to inflict pain, in the form of a polio vaccination, upon us unknowing kids.  However,  just before the onset, we were told what this little class jaunt was all about.  I immediately conjured up an image of a lurking, fiendish doctor dressed in black ready to snatch any poor kid passing by.  I could envision the building stocked to the brim with ample supplies of needles and polio vaccine to inoculate all of the Western Hemisphere and I was certain, because of a frantic need to dispose of the goods, this dastardly doctor crouched ready to pounce.  My anxiety turned the short walk into an anguished trek only exceeded by the Bataan Death March.  I felt like a young displaced Iroquois trudging along the infamous Trail Of Tears.  The four blocks turned into tortured miles with each step drawing me closer to impending pain.  By the time we arrived my legs refused to carry me over the threshold.

Being my last name begins with "C,"  I stood near the front of the line.  In front of me was my buddy Ralph, whose last name starts with "B."   When Ralph pivoted around to face me, I realized by the lack of color in his face and quaking extremities,  my friend shared my intense apprehensions.  I asked Ralph, "Have you ever had polio?"  Because fear had overcome him, he couldn't speak, but did manage to nod "no."   I told him I never had polio either and didn't find it necessary to needlessly undergo the indignity of facing the needle.  The words may not be exact, but you get the idea.  With extreme relief, Ralph and I slithered away ready to play another day.  Although in the retelling, I realize my logic was flawed, but at that time I'm sure any thought process that resulted in escaping the needle seemed rational.

In your mind great moments like that last forever, but unfortunately, not in real life.  This was one of my first hard lessons in the fact you are responsible for your actions.  The next morning Ralph and I were called into the principal"s office.  The walk from the classroom to the office equaled the feelings of yesterday's death march.  The principal, who we feared even more than the black-clothed physician, explained,  in a not so tenderly fashion,  we were to be escorted back to the municipal building for our inoculations.  The indignity of being called out in front of my peers; the tongue-lashing from the teacher and principal; the rage of my parents as well as the shot itself should have taught me the value of conformity.  I should have learned going along with the crowd is easier than being the salmon bucking the stream.  I should have but I didn't.

At the age of 16, I was walking home with my visiting nephew and suddenly passed out.  I didn't wake up for two days.  Our family doctor suggested I see a neurologist.   My brother Bob, twenty-two years my senior, had a friend who was a neurologist and naturally took me to him.  Actually Bob was one of a duo of half-brothers.  Our mother had married twice.  I was about three when I learned of this family situation.  At that time both brothers were engaged in an epic battle entitled WWII and I had yet to lay eyes on them.  When my mother explained they were half-brothers, I wondered if they were real short or real skinny.  Glorious is the mind of a three-year-old.

Once Bob succeeded in dragging me into his buddy's office, the friendly doctor had me lay on a table to prepare for an electroencephalogram commonly known as an EEG.  Today the contacts applied to your pate for this test are sticky patches, but not back then.  Oh no, back then the contacts were short NEEDLES.  I laid there enduring the pain of having, I'm sure, at least 12,000 needles plunged into my scalp.  Then the neurologist had the audacity to tell me to relax and go to sleep.  The only thing that kept me from leaping off the table and doing as much bodily harm as possible to my brother's golf partner was the thought of 12,000 needles tearing out of my head.

With pleading eyes, I looked over at Bob.  I thought by the look on his face he completely sympathized with my situation.  His gaze left me when he turned to his friend and asked, "Jeez, Doc, have you got any booze in the joint?"  I never loved my brother more.  He was going to let alcohol subdue my fear and pain.  What a wonderful gesture - this was the thing brotherly love was made of.

The doctor poured a shot of Scotch and handed it to Bob.  In my heart I knew the good doctor was wise enough to realize the significance of having my brother give me the Scotch instead of himself.  This was like the cavalry coming to the rescue.  This gesture would only enhance the strong bond between brothers.  Bob took the liquid offering from his friend, but instead of approaching me, he immediately gulped it down.  Now, with a look of contentment, he ordered the test to begin.  So much for "you are your brother's keeper."

My fear of shots lessened as I reached adulthood and lasted until my first business trip to the Orient.  In preparation for this long anticipated venture, I had to undergo a series of shots for about every imaginable disease known to mankind.  I had so many holes punched into me I was afraid to drink anything in public worried that I'd leak on anyone nearby.  I'm not sure, but I believe the yellow fever shot was the one that made me so sick I missed a couple of days at work.  This experience heightened my fear of shots back to its original level.

Since my physical condition has been far less than perfect much of my life, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in ambulances, doctor's offices, clinics and hospitals.  I've endured plunging needles in about every part of my body.  Testing my blood has become as popular as homemade apple pie.  So, have I become more accustomed to the needle?  Yes.  Do I fear it any less?  No.  So goes it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My first grandson's first day

My Gal Friday and I were sitting here discussing possibilities for Christmas and New Years.  Trying to decide on gifts for my four grandchildren, I drifted off into reverie. (I drift off quite often these days.) I recalled the day my first grandson, Andrew Edward (Drew)  was born.  My oldest daughter, Dani, had earlier medical problems and everyone experienced tremendous anxiety regarding the birth of Drew.  But God granted us a most wonderful blessing and Drew was delivered unscathed.

Dani wanted to give birth on my birthday, but the the Ultimate Power had other plans and the baby came into our world a week later.  This is probably a good thing because I know he would always get more birthday attention than me...he's much cuter and nicer too.

Being a normal (I better tread lightly here cause nobody else ever referred to me as normal) grandfather, I think Dani's two sons, Drew and Josh, and my younger daughter Kristy's two girls, Maddie and Elena are all the best grandkids ever.  However, at that particular time, I was dwelling on Drew.

Drew is a smart, handsome, athletic, well mannered and compassionate kid who possesses a great sence of humor.  He is pretty much the complete opposite of me, for which the rest of the world celebrates.  My daughter and son-in-law diligently try to block my attempts to be near the boy in hopes of my not influencing him in any way.  They are too late.  You see when my wife died years ago, Dani took me in and I had daily interaction with Josh and Drew.  I'm not saying I warped thes kids, but my daughter might.  My negative influence surfaced on Thanksgiving Day when Drew was four years old.  Dani had prepared a sumptuous feast for twenty some and asked me to draft and deliver a special blessing in poem form.  I composed a beautiful (my opinion only) melodic verse regarding a sincere thankfulness for family and friends, as well as the food.  As I spoke in my best oratorial tone, everyone pretended to give their utmost attention.  I felt I had captured the audience like E.F. Hutton.  As I flooded the room with my resplendent poetry, a serene quiet wafted throughout and by the time I finished, a peaceful silence was all to be heard.  I didn't know if my words really proved to be some kind of an epiphany or they just put everyone to sleep.

This reverent hush was suddenly broken by four year old Drew shouting, "Hey everyone, let's sing the Fireman's Band."  The "Fireman's Band" is a drinking song I taught the boys.  Back in the early 70's I began a family tradition....when drunken friends and family gather, we tune up and call people in the wee morning hours to wake them to the slurring sounds of this lyrical ballad.  Well, I thought Drew's suggestion a hoot, but my daughter did not share my amusement.  I was sent to the children's table and served cold turkey.

But, as usual, I digress.  Let's get back to Drew's first day.  Here is a poem I composed for him right after I first layed eyes on this beautiful baby.  When he's older, it may mean something.

Excitement, joy, love and a little fear too
Were present and eager to greet baby Drew
Mom and Dad, of course, were as proud as can be
Their souls bursting forth with unbridled glee

Your three Grandmas were there with kisses and coos
Couldn’t wait to see friends and spread the good news
They all tenderly held you with both pride and care
With a wellspring of love they wanted to share

Uncle Dave and Aunt Kristy had come a long way
To share in the happiness of your very first day
Your Uncle Dave was elated and envious some
Cause you were a reminder of things yet to come

Aunt Kristy was ecstatic and tears of joy
Trickled down her cheeks for her sister’s boy
She harbored fears about your Mom’s possible grief
So some of these tears were cries of relief.

You see Mom had suffered past losses before
So you were extra special and meant even more
To all of us there in that hospital room
You symbolized bright promise, not future gloom

When I entered the room, and to my daughter’s side
She was holding you and an aura of pride
Surrounded you both, it was amazing to see
Then she softly whispered “Oh look Daddy”

I bent to kiss her your hand touched my face
Your fingers so long and full of new grace
My lips touched hers and you gently touched me
The circle of love began for us three.

The love for my daughter flowed through to you
And I know you experienced that feeling too
Cause when I kissed her with you at her side
Your little lips smiled and your eyes opened wide

Here is my solemn promise to Drew
From heaven or earth, I’ll always love you
And every time Mommy reads you this part
My love for you will be felt in your heart

Grandpa Conte….4/23/2002

Friday, December 3, 2010

House Design

My Gal Friday and I are planning on building a new home and have contracted with a residential design/builder for this project.  This gentleman and his wife, who is also an intricate part of the business, are sincerely trying to help us design a truly wheelchair accessible home.  This is not an easy task and especially when strapped with our meager budget.

Gal Friday and I, in a state of grandiose confusion, decided to live out our remaining years in a small bungalow at the water's edge in some warm climate where we could sit holding hands blissfully staring out at an idyllic sunset like a couple in an ad for erectile dysfunction.  This decision probably reflects some degree of dimentia onset.  

So we began our search for the building lot.  We looked at waterfront  property in Tenneesee, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida before settling on a spot in North Carolina on the Albemarle Sound.   The lot is not that big, but gigantic in price.  I opted for a larger lot, which was much cheaper, but Gal Friday refused to live in the nearby Great Dismal Swamp.  I tried to convince her the mosquitos aren't that big, but she was more concerned about snakes and alligators. 

Have you checked out the prices people are asking for waterfront property lately?  We paid more for this postal stamp size lot than three generations of my family's combined earnings.  This didn't leave us enough money for a double wide, much less a house.  But undeterred, we plodded on.

We are very involved in the design phase of our "dream house."  At the way the costs are escalating, it will be just that--a dream.  Shock is my reaction to what I'm learning about how much this wheelchair accessibility adds to the cost of a home.  Hallways and doors have to be wider.  Threshholds have to be lower which means longer eaves to protect the interior from water damage.  Bathrooms require space for turning and the addition of grab bars, higher toilets and other special equipment drives up the cost dramatically.  To incorporate all these specialties, the square footage keeps rising and the cost per square foot climbs right along with it.  And how about insurance?  It's a frantic race to see who can set the highest price among the agents selling builders's insurance,  flood insurance and homeowner's insurance.  By the time we're finished I figure we will spend more on our bungalow than Citizen Kane spent on Xanadu.

So now we're looking to cut back.  There goes my endless pool for exercising.  Goodbye elevator-I really don't need to go upstairs to read to my grandchildren.  I'm having a hard time erasing the bonus room over the garage, where I envisioned a game room, off the printed plan.  The boat dock is sinking, much less the boat.  Hmm...can we give up our vehicles?   Gal Friday could ride on my lap in my wheelchair.  I can't seem to muster up enough courage to discuss this with her.  Soon we'll be entertaing the thought of eliminating the whole second floor.  Our guests can tent on the grass, but then, who really needs grass?  I wonder if the Architectual Review Committee allows trailers.  That double wide is looking better each day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hometown

A few weeks ago Gal Friday (and every other day of the week) escorted me to my 50-year high school class reunion back home in Ilion, NY.  This small village is one of four, strung together like links of sausage,  in a fertile lowland area of upstate NY named the Mohawk Valley.  This historical region played pivotal roles in the formation of our nation during revolutionary times, the civil war period and its expansion and industrialization.

What a wonderful time and place to grow up.  In my particular case, please notice I didn't say mature, just grow up.  The 1940's and 50's proved prosperous for the Remington Arms and Remington Typewriter companies, the two major employers in the village.  Employment was high and people were happy.  Patriotism ran rampant and during WWII Ilion sold more war bonds per capita than any other place in the US.  Much of this was due to the fact that the village's young men either served in a branch of service or were employed at either the "Arms" and the ""Typerwriter" as the locals call them,  manufacturing guns and ammunition for the military.  The kids of my age grew up with a strong sense of pride in our country.

Education also topped the list of priorities in Ilion as taxpayers could attest.  My classmates were indeed fortunate to recive their A,B,C's and beyond from such an elite group of educators who ruled the classrooms of our schools.  Of course, like typical waifs of any era, we belittled them, but also truthfully trusted and respected these teachers.

Ilion was not a place of have and have nots; we were all "middle class" with some a little more "middle" than others.  All my friends basically came from the same socio-economic status as me and in retrospect, I think this helped to mold some long-lasting friendships.  And long-lasting friendships are something I'm blessed with.  Through the years it's great to form new friendships and I'm lucky enough to have done so, but  my "old buddies," regardless of gender, will remain my closest compadres.  Until I recently moved from Tennessee, we had 6  close high school chums living within a 5-mile radius and a few more a couple of hours away.  This didn't "just happen;" we all made conscious decisions to come together in later life.  Some others say this is amazing, but not me -  I believe it's simply a result of true friendship.  Many of these people I've known from kindergarten or before and they still talk to me.  Now THAT is amazing.

We all roamed the streets unafraid and enjoyed the freedom of unlocked doors, friendly policemen, and each other's parents watching out for our welfare.  In comparison to today's culture, we "had it made."  At school we didn't deal with student and teacher shootings,  AIDS or  drugs.  Our major concerns were talking in class, chewing gum and running in the halls.  Oh yeah, I forgot, missing the wastepaper basket was a biggie too.

Almost every student graduated and a high percentage continued into higher education.  All my buddies finished at least four years of college and live productive and honorable lives.  I too, earned my college degree, but I hesitate to claim an honorable life.

Although now a bone fide member of what economists call the "Rust Belt," my return to Ilion still brightened my year.  Colorful leaves from the distinguished old hardwoods still filled the streets; the neatly mowed lawns were still as  lush green; and the natives --  still as friendly.  The mighty Mohawk river continues to meander through the rolling hills like a blue ribbon of sparkling contentment and the old statues still remind the citizenery of a revered history  Oh sure, others can see the sores of today's economy, but in my eyes too many terrific memories blind me from these ugly sights.  No, to me Ilion will always remain an idyllic place filled with wonderful people.  Is that so bad?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Part III - The Viet Nam Veterans Memorial

We drove back to DC across the Potomac and stopped to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (the Viet Nam Wall). Unbelievably, we found a parking spot right in front of the path to the wall. I then realized God had forgiven my earlier antics too. I rolled down my van’s ramp, up the path and approached the wall. To my surprise it wasn’t a free-standing edifice, but more like a buttress or a reinforcement wall. There are 58,000 names etched into this memorial - 58,000 grieving families and untold numbers of friends and that’s just Americans. This war lasted from 1959 to 1975. How many deaths total? Who knows? We do know millions of warriors from many countries died, but how many civilians in Laos, Cambodia as well as Viet Nam? And for what? Unification of Viet Nam occurred in 1976 and by 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with most nations. Its economic growth has been among the highest in the world in the past decade. I think now they’re even a member of the UN. Who caused all this pain? Politicians!

We didn’t remain at the wall too long because I was physically and emotionally spent. I asked Gal Friday to get me back in the van and put the nose down toward Delaware. I remained quiet because of so many mixed emotions, confused thoughts and questions never to be answered. Before we arrived home late that night, I reflected on all I had seen the last two days, The White House, Arlington National Cemetery, JFK’s Eternal Flame, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial...not to mention all the components of the glorious Mall extending from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building. My attempt to put it all in perspective initially failed me. But then I remembered all the other countries I have seen. I wish every American had an opportunity to travel around the world and observe different societies laboring under very different governments. I think then they would better appreciate our wonderful country. The conclusions I finally reached stemmed from my understanding of the men who began this terrific nation - Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe, etc. If you ever desire to perceive the true meaning of anything in this country, there is one simple document that gives you the definitive answer. It’s called the Constitution of the United States of America!

Even enduring all my miscues during this visit to our nation's capitol, Gal Friday still enjoyed the experience. I dare say much more than our next excursion to DC when we toured the National Museum of the American Indian.

Driving up to the building, she spotted an available handicap parking spot directly to the side of this beautiful structure. Disbelievingly she wheeled us in and let me out. Now Gal Friday...well, I wouldn't dare call her uptight or compulsive, but prudent or cautious might more aptly describe her nature.
Because the meter was eating our coins without crediting any minutes, Gal Friday whipped out the cell phone to report the malfunction to the DC traffic division. An adjacent pole bore many signs about parking restrictions, but we only read the one at eye level indicating it was okay to park during the time we'd be in the museum.  Truthfully I thought the call quite unnecessary, but kept the ole kisser zipped. The Washington bureaucrat on the other end requested the specific location and said we could park there till the cows came home or longer - this was a kindness shown to the disabled.  Wow, my rather cynical opinion of our government policies eased a few notches.

We toured the museum which contains a comprehensive historical background of our native Americans including drawings, paintings, sculptures and various artifacts. I found it a terrifically interesting place, but one question lingered - how could they try to capture the history of the Indians without one single reference to John Wayne?

We enjoyed our tour and when the museum closing hour was announced, we left the building to encounter the boiling hot sunshine and stifling humidity for which DC is so famous.  As a natural reaction to the blinding light when exiting, I squeezed my eyes closed.  My squeeze softened to a squint and I finally opened my eyes and wheeled around to drive to the van. As I looked up for the van, I saw nothing but an empty parking space. I blinked and looked again, but nothing had changed. I did not panic, but I can't say the same for my wonderful partner.

Gal Friday spun and hit the bricks to the lonely meter so fast, I thought she was replicating some Indian war dance I apparently missed during our tour. Now this woman is quick. she's fast in thought, speech and action. She can play the minute waltz in 57 seconds. Before I could say Chief Running Bear, she was already talking to another Washington traffic bureaucrat who explained, because of rush hour regulations, our van had been towed away. This did not sit well with Gal Friday...no, no, not well at all.

We were given the van's street location and she walked (as I rode) to this address. She was told it was parked on a street off Maryland Ave. Not only couldn't we find the specific address; we couldn't find the street. Things were not getting better. Here Gal Friday geared up into bulldog mode; told me to sit tight and started an earnest search. About 20 minutes later she drove up, lowered the ramp and I wheeled in. With crimson coloring and without saying a word, she waved a $100 parking ticket in my face. I never said a word all the way home. See, I'm getting a little smarter.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Part II – Arlington National Cemetery

The next morning I had to buy a pair of shoes. It seems the pair I wore to the WH now resembled small boats taking on water. However, not deterred, we headed for Arlington National Cemetery - a place I’ve wanted to visit all my adult years. We passed the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial, beautiful structures commemorating great men. Traveling up to Arlington Memorial Bridge with the horse and rider on each side of the entrance depicting sacrifice and valor, a serene anticipation overcame me. I remember reading that the span, built in the late 20’s and opened in 1932, memorialized the joining of the North and South - the strength of the Union.

We crossed over, parked and entered the visitor’s center. Gal Friday asked me if I wanted to take the guided bus tour but I declined. I really wanted the time to experience and savor the feeling of this hallowed place. Even though my soul mate’s soles were beginning to dog her, she graciously agreed. Large framed photographs of JFK and events during his funeral hung on the wall. Oh, oh, weenie tears again. We decided to walk up, and I mean up, to the Kennedy gravesite and then to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I dearly wanted to see the changing of the guard. I’ve read about the rigorous life of the guards and what an honor it is to be trained for this esteem duty.

Gal Friday walked upwards, as I rode, to the Kennedy gravesite. It sits below the Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s home, overlooking a beautiful valley and the famous Mall incorporating the monuments and the US Capitol. There it burned- the Eternal Flame. We stared at it for a long time, then looked at each other, but didn’t say a word. I’m not sure you can adequately express certain emotions. Bronze plaques denoted the graves of John, Jacqueline and their two children, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy and the unnamed stillborn daughter. Following a few minutes of personal thoughts, we started climbing to higher altitudes and thinner air toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Now worrying about nosebleeds, we followed the signs and went further up an even steeper hill to the Tomb. However, when we reached what we thought would be the site, another sign pointed down steps to the actual site. Gal Friday descended the stairs, but since I couldn’t navigate steps in my chair, which by the way still drained water, I chose to ride back down the hill and take the lower road back up to the Tomb. Here things got a little dicey.

Being a man of keen observation and cognitive reasoning, I noticed a shortcut. It seemed more efficient if I cut through this section of the cemetery instead of staying on the road down the hill and back up the lower road. The whole cemetery is roped off, but at this particular spot the rope was missing and this gave me access to this area. I thought maybe they ran out of rope by the time they got way up here. Although this section was quite steep, I assumed, since my pathway was all down hill, I should encounter little difficulty. So, ignoring the thousands of signs warning you to stay off the grass, I decided to make my play. My reasoning kept me guilt free. I presumed my feet wouldn’t be touching the turf, only the wheels of my chariot and, ergo, I wouldn’t technically be breaking the rules. If caught and they wanted to arrest my chair…well that was a whole different scenario. Once I came to the hillside curb and peered down, I was reminded of the time I climbed to the top of the ski long jump ramp at Lake Placid. But with derring-do, I started down.

Now no one tells you this, but to keep all the lush grass at Arlington picturesque green, water is applied in great amounts and often. As I shoved off, my chair immediately began hydroplaning down the hill and I frantically dodged the white gravestones as they flew by, happy I didn’t have a speedometer to scare me even more. I felt the small amount of hair that remained on my shiny pate flatten out in the wind. I suddenly had a better appreciation for not only those ski jumpers at Lake Placid, but the slalom racers too. With God’s help, I made it safely to the bottom of the hill, but a hell of a lot faster than I anticipated. I looked back to make sure I hadn’t leveled any markers or tore up chunks of this revered sod. After wiping my brow and letting out sighs of relief, I bowed my head in a prayer of thanks and as I did so I glimpsed rope. Hanging rope strung from post to post walled in the section and excluded me from reaching my goal, the lower road.

I sat there in disbelief. Panic tried desperately to take over, but I thought about the brave interred souls surrounding me and I fought the feeling off. A sinking sensation made its way to my brain and I concluded it manifested itself because of my predicament. I was wrong. My chair, with me aboard, was slowly settling southward into the green, green grass of the most treasured resting place this country has to offer. You see water takes the course of least resistance and uphill won’t do. So there I sat at the bottom of, what now looked like Mount Everest, in a reservoir for the southeastern United States. I reckoned at the rate I was sinking, they would be playing Taps over an unknown civilian at sundown.

As people walked by staring - some even stopped to laugh - I quickly decided to retrace my path and head for the high road, which I was crazy to leave in the first place. Dubious about my chance for success, I began my uphill journey.

I set out on a wide zigzag climb between rows of markers and actually had pretty good control of my chair until mid-mountain. I felt as though I made Camp Three on Everest, but I needed the top. The power indicator on my chair let me know my batteries were getting low and I , once again beat down panic. Very slowly my chariot crawled upward. I’d go two yards up then one yard back as ole Mr. Gravity determinedly pulled at me. After inching up, what I now considered the green monster at Fenway Park and barely avoiding gravestones, I reached Camp Five. But the last five yards were the steepest and I planned a long-angled approach hoping to defeat the natural laws of physics. When I looked at the upper road, now so close, yet so far away, I thought I heard my chair groan. Undaunted we began the final climb. We made one, two, almost three yards when slowly the chair started its downward slide. I quickly tried to reverse direction and turned as acutely as possible to stop the downhill thrust. No dice -- Mr. Gravity emerged victorious. I jammed my joystick every way possible, but to no avail. With an embarrassed whack, my chariot and I came to a disrespectful stop against a grave marker. The name on the stone was Walker, which I found somewhat ironic. I tried the old trick of rocking back and forth like I use to do in the snow trying to dislodge a stuck auto. I couldn’t help crack a smile when memories of going parking in the upstate NY. Wintertime with my high school sweetheart often ended up in a similar situation. But all I accomplished was digging a rut into the plush green earth. What could I do? I knew Gal Friday must have thought I was kidnapped. She had often warned me about not carrying my cell phone in case of some dilemma like this. I thought I heard William Bendix utter, “What a revolting predicament this is.” (You have to be a senior citizen to remember the television show “The Life of Riley.”)

Shots from a nearby military funeral echoed through the pastoral hills. I prayed they weren’t leveled at me. After enough time to berate myself properly, I heard a voice call out, “Do you need some help?” I looked up on the road and five soldiers dressed in fatigues stared back. Many people of all races, creed, color and occupations had passed by, but who stopped to rescue me, the US Army. How much more symbolic could this be? This was like a Hollywood script. Here I sat, in trouble, needing to be rescued, surrounded by thousands of brave soldiers who gave their lives rescuing people in trouble. The poetic irony hit my heart with a thud and weenie jumped to the fore. Following a respectful pause, the five came down the hill, pushed me to the top of Mount Everest and carefully carried my chariot and me over the curb and gently placed us on the road. I felt like raising a flag like the Marines did on Mt. Sarabachi on Iwo Jima. I thanked them profusely. Before they started down the road, one soldier turned and said, “Hey, no problem, you were in trouble and we thought we could help.”

For a long time, I sat there looking over the neat rows of white markers on top of real heroes and I swear I heard wafting softly through the pristine hills of Arlington National Cemetery, “Hey, no problem, you were in trouble and we thought we could help.”

Knowing Gal Friday must be worried about my well-being, half of my brain screamed “Get moving, buddy”, but the other two thirds wouldn’t let this moment end. So I sat there for a few more minutes looking out over our Nation’s Capital and wondering how different this magnificent scene might be if not for these men and their comrades. I reflected on, not only the heroes buried here, but also those who never made it to these sacred grounds. I thought about my dad who served in the Navy during WWII and my brother Bob who served in the Army and was nearly killed when he took shrapnel in the back in Italy. My other brother, Bill, was a navigator/bombardier on a B-29 in the Pacific Theater. Stationed on Tinian, the same island the Enola Gay left for Hiroshima, he flew bombing runs over the islands and Japan. Yes, I sat there a few more minutes.

It had been nearly an hour since Gal Friday and I parted. Finally I sped down the road as fast as my chair would go. I’m sure my chariot was ecstatic about the downhill route; in fact I think I heard it smile. We connected with the lower road and began a much less steeper incline to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the expected wrath of one Gal Friday. As we passed the watershed area I previously was sinking into, I turned my head in the opposite direction. Who wants to be reminded of past mistakes, especially colossal blunders like I just pulled?

As I turned up yet another path, I found Gal Friday resting on a park bench. Trying not to notice the steam blasting out of her ears like an erupting volcano, I described my plight as quickly as possible in hopes she wouldn’t recognize my total stupidity. Somewhat placated, she joined me for the short walk (uphill) to the Tomb. We arrived just as the changing of the guards was being performed.

I mentioned before about my respect for these men. They are the elite, the crème de la crème of the 3d US Infantry (The Old Guard). Guarding the Tomb began in 1926, but the 3d Infantry became the sole group of sentinels in 1948. In 1920 during WWI, Great Britain honored their soldiers killed or missing in battle with a tomb in Westminster Abbey and we built and interred our first unknown soldier in 1921. You should read about that initial ceremony, it’s really something. There have been four burials - unknowns from WWI, WWII, Korean and Viet Nam. The Viet Nam soldier was later identified by DNA testing and exhumed. His body now rests in the cemetery.

The changing of the guard goes like this and I quote from an official website: “An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknowns who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, "Pass on your orders." The current sentinel commands, "Post and orders, remain as directed." The newly posted sentinel replies, "Orders acknowledged," and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed -- the 21-gun salute.”

As we left the Tomb, I asked Gal Friday, who has nerve problems with her feet, if her dogs were hurting. I didn’t have to be in the National Honor Society to guess the answer since I saw her now limping. At that point I did the smartest thing I did all day; I asked her if she would like to ride with me back to the van. She sat on my lap. I don’t think my Chariot was too happy about taking on a second passenger but off we flew down the roads of Arlington National Cemetery. Because she appreciated the relief so much, she graciously forgave my earlier faux pas.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mr Smith - I mean Conte - goes to Washington

In June of last year my Gal Friday (and every other day of the week) strapped me to my red chariot, tied me down in the blue van and chauffeured me to DC.  I wrote an account of what transpired and a reader asked me to post it.  Because my telling of the story is so long, I'm breaking it up into three parts that I'll post in sequence on future days.  The first involves our personal tour of The White House.  The second will tell our tale of Arlington Cemetery and the third the Viet Nam Wall.  I hope you enjoy my recollections.

Part 1 - June, 2009
This was the night - the night of our personal tour of the White House. Great expectations abounded as we pulled out of our driveway at 1 p.m. for the 3-hour drive to Arlington, VA where we booked a room for the night. The tour was scheduled for 8:30 PM.  As part of my birthday “package,” Gal Friday had asked Pauline,  her friend since graduate school and a powerful force inside and outside the Beltway, to arrange the tour. Pauline had alerted her White House contact that my confinement to a wheelchair might require some accommodations. His reply was “Not to worry.”

Because of the killing of a Holocaust Museum guard by an 88-year-old Nazi sympathizer earlier that afternoon, Gal Friday and I arrived into DC grid-locked on New York Avenue. Since I used to have an office in DC, I knew how much time could be consumed with traffic tie-ups, but I kept reminding myself not to worry; we had plenty of time. Unfortunately my nerves stopped listening to my brain. The longer we sat there, my anxiety level kept building and I became sick of British Karen, our GPS girl, correcting directions or telling us to turn around. By the time we reached our “destination,” I thought British Karen had given us directions via London, England. In no uncertain terms, I gave her a piece of my mind, but apparently she wasn’t listening, because for the first time since hitting the city, she fell silent. Then again maybe she was listening and had no retort to my verbal diatribe.

After this dizzying excursion, we arrived at the motel. Gal Friday headed for the room to unpack, but I detoured to the bar to regain equilibrium. Pauline had planned on meeting us for dinner and drinks, but because we were late arriving and had to meet the guide at 8:30 p.m., we cancelled out. At 7:30, we again placed our faith in Karen (by this time I felt so familiar with our GPS gal, I could be a little more casual so I dropped her regal title} and took off for The White House (WH).

Our tour guide, Michael, a member of the WH staff and President Obama’s transition team but not an official tour guide, was slated to take a new position in the Dept. of Energy on June 22. Mike is a lawyer with great credentials and a young lion in the political jungle of Beltway politics. He had meetings in the WH a couple days a week and was familiar with the West Wing, which we toured. The East Wing includes the President’s residence, staterooms, bedrooms, etc. Mr. President obviously didn’t realize we were visiting or I’m sure he would have invited us to stay over. I packed a toothbrush just in case. Mike had suggested a parking garage two blocks from the WH and we pulled in forty minutes early. Now things really got interesting.

We were to meet Mike on a corner so he could escort us to the WH - a very gracious offer. After being extremely diligent about remembering to bring the exact corner site when we left the house, we weren’t as careful about bringing the same information from our motel room. Accordingly I rode in my power chair up and down G Street looking on each corner for a guy I’d never seen before. I spotted a very attractive girl on a corner. She happened to be with a man dressed in a suit, so I rode up to her…er, excuse me, them.  Before I could speak, the gentleman asked if I was Ed Conte.  Because I recognized the name I nodded “yes.” I figured this guy must be clairvoyant or something and asked him how he knew I was me. He smiled at me with the look a teacher gives to an idiot student who asks the dumbest question possible and explained I was the only guy he could see riding in a red power chair. To save face, I started looking around for Gal Friday who by now was standing next to me. Gal Friday tried her best to politely excuse my stupidity, but he wasn’t buying. Breaking an embarrassing silence, Mike introduced us to his very attractive (oh, I think I mentioned that before) fiancée, Anna-Lisa. Now you have to understand, Gal Friday can somehow get a complete stranger to tell her their life story in under three minutes.  Consequently, six minutes later we began our trek to The WH.

We arrived at the security checkpoint outside the southwest entrance and I began to sweat. I knew they did a background check and I could envision, not only barred entrance, but one of those obscene body searches we see in the movies and possible jail time followed by deportment to some small desert country in Africa. Gal Friday was quickly allowed to pass through, but when I wheeled up in my red chariot, time, as well as my breathing, stood still. The guard, who acted like an amiable old grade school first love to Gal Friday, suddenly morphed into a testosterone-sated, pissed off military sentinel guarding the gates to Hades. As he looked at my name on his clipboard, his smile turned upside down and deep furrows gouged his forehead. He looked at me and back to his clipboard four times. Each time it appeared his facial reaction became angrier and my imagination began conjuring up various torture devices awaiting my arrival. Images of Mr. Poe’s pendulum and Wong’s Chinese water rick, er, I mean trick, came to mind. Then for the first time, I noticed a lot more of these military types hovering around me. Why was the riot squad here? I became very happy I wore plastic diapers.

After what seemed two months, they checked my little pouch on the back of my chair and waved me through. I set my chair speed as high as possible and scurried away from the frightening guard gate - only to run into the second security checkpoint. The only difference between the two was the guards. These were bigger and meaner and made the first group look like little 5-year-old girls dressed in pink tutus breathlessly awaiting their dancing debut. Denying I had any affiliation with Rush Limbaugh, they allowed me entrance to the world’s most famous residence.

Mike reached for the door, but I asked him to wait. This was the moment of truth and I wanted to savor every second. Looking at the Presidential Seal above the door, my whole sensory system transformed from panic to wonder. My parents embodied patriotic spirit and I grew up assimilating their feelings for our nation. Now here I sat, ready to enter the most cherished and revered house in our country - the home of the President of the United States of America. Some may say I’m a minor league history buff and to a degree, they are correct. Let me say I have the utmost respect for our national history and the men who stood to the challenges and molded our country into this wonderful place for us to live freely and pursue our right to be independent. I have traveled around the world and seen the alternatives. I understand and deeply appreciate what we have. After a moment’s reflection, I nodded to Mike; he opened the door, and in we went.

A security station! A guard checked our passes and we started down a long hallway. My first impression - the ceilings were low. Reflecting on this, I remembered construction of this residential house started in the late 1700’s so, of course, the ceilings were low.

We passed yet another checkpoint and Mike showed us the FDR room directly across from the Oval Office. A large oil portrait of the famous man dominated the room which is used for various meetings. I have read a great deal about FDR and consider him one of our finest leaders. He served longer than any president - over12 years. His leadership of our nation through dire times was only matched by his personal courage.

While Mike pointed out the Situation Room, I took note of all the security guards. They were uniformed, carried side weapons and always-in alert mode. Times have changed in the WH from the old smiling, accommodating guards.

Next came the Cabinet Room. It sat adjacent to the Oval Office. A very impressive room with a long polished mahogany or cherry conference table fronting beautiful flags with wooden staffs secured in gold stands. The history of this room smacks you in the face. You can’t help but be daunted by the significance of what it represents. Decisions, which changed the course of world events, were made here. This room was American History 101.

Now the big enchilada - “the” room - the Oval Office. First of all, it is beige in color. The desk is backed by an expansive view of the south lawn and lighting above a lower tray ledge completely circling the room uplights the high-domed ceiling. Various chairs are situated around, but one conversation pit area has a sofa, coffee table and two chairs. The furniture was eclectic, but each piece of historical significance. Many of the oil paintings in this area as well as the hallways, depicted Native Americans. Some portraits of previous Presidents also graced the walls. I noticed a Remington bronze sculpture of a cowboy on horseback sat atop a sidewall credenza. This credenza sat adjacent to the infamous alcove of a side room where Monica lit up Bill’s cigar. I tried not to think about that.

We were told Michelle Obama selected the Indian motif. I felt proud of her. If the Cabinet Room smacked you in the face, the Oval Office knocked you on your butt like an uppercut from Ali. I found myself whispering like I was attending a funeral and soon realized it came from total respect of what the room connoted. I sat there staring at the most important room in the world, thinking of the men who once occupied this office and important events enacted here. Gal Friday asked me a question, but I was speechless. Yes, me speechless. I bowed my head thanking God and Pauline for this wonderful privilege. I stared at the American flag and the Presidential flag standing like two proud sentries behind the desk ready to ward off enemies, foreign or domestic. Emotion overcame me as tears welled up and I lowered my head to avoid questioning glances. Wow, what a place to display my “weenieism.” But sometimes a man, even a weenie, has to do what he has to do. Sitting there, my sense of pride for being an American flourished and in some significant way, my appreciation of the true meaning of being President of the United States of America clarified and took on a greater respect than ever.

We took a small, casket-sized elevator down one floor and still enthralled with what I witnessed and felt in the Oval Office, I remained in a dazed state and banged my chair against the beautiful wooden walls. The harder I tried freeing my chair, the more I seemed to wedge myself in. My brain screamed, “Oh, God, please don’t let me get stuck in the White House elevator. I’ll do anything. I’ll even tithe again.” I had to concentrate on piloting my chair and not damaging anything, or worse case scenario, killing someone. I figured I’d get a bill if I marred the elevator wall and I forced myself not to think about its cost. Would this involve the IRS? IRS!!! - Panic mode rushed in as icy tentacles started collapsing my chest cavity and my brain shot out a red alert. Let’s face it - even thinking about the IRS can easily cause all kind of cardiovascular conditions.

Willing myself back to some semblance of sanity, I wheeled out of the elevator and Mike escorted us to the Press Room. On TV, this area looks rather large. Surprise, I’ve seen bigger bathrooms. The rows of chairs, which are like seats in a cinema, are about seven or eight wide and maybe eight to ten deep. They are squashed into an area of approximately 40 by 60 and the front platform could fit into the back of my van. I noticed each front row seat was designated with nametags for the major news networks. Front row center was saved for Helen Thomas, a woman who has covered the WH beat for 22 centuries. The Presidential Seal is hung from a blue backdrop behind the podium. There is camera equipment covering each sidewall and another area behind this room is for correspondents’ use.

Mike then took us past another checkpoint and out to the Rose Garden. Being I can’t see very well in daylight, much less night, I’m unable to report on its beauty. However Gal Friday has stood in a reception line there to meet President Nixon and she can fill you in. I did note the brick ramp from the door down to the garden and recalled reading in a Roosevelt biography how they built it so FDR could be wheeled to this area. It was the first ramp constructed in DC. Those WH guys beat the ADA by 50 years. As Mike took a picture of us in front of the Rose Garden entrance, I felt a few drops of rain, but in my surreal state, didn’t consider their implications.

Back through the checkpoint, I dreaded dealing with the wheelchair-eating elevator. But this time I readied myself for the challenge and made the ride without incident. The time had flown by and we were in danger of not getting back to the parking garage before closing, so we left. Remember the sprinkles I mentioned while in the Rose Garden? They had turned into hurricane-force sheets of water coming not down at you, but at an angle dangerously close to 90 degrees. Even before I reached the first outside security gate, I stopped to slide a plastic sleeve our newspaper comes in over the electronic controls on my chair. I’ve learned the hard way. I also fastened my seatbelt on my chair. Yes, power chairs do have seat belts. Considering the strength of these winds, I didn’t want to end up atop Mr. Washington’s obelisk flagging planes into Reagan International. I could see the Washington Post headlines the next day - “Man Apes King Kong on Washington Monument.”

By the time I reached the first guard gate, I was soaked. By the time I rolled up to the second one, I seriously considered asking if they had oars for rent. Mike, being the kindly host that he was, inquired about umbrellas. The security guard looked at all three of us drenched souls and responded, “What’s the use now?” He made his point and it’s the only time I saw a security man smile.

We tucked our heads in and started for the garage. Mike took the lead and looked like a mother duck with little ducklings waddling behind. I followed Gal Friday, who looked like someone pushed her into the pool at a wet T-shirt contest. When we turned the corner at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), a frigid Arctic blast hit us directly in the face. At that point I questioned my recall of American history. I remembered the site of the nation’s capitol was a victory for the South in Revolutionary negotiations, but now wondered if I missed the news story about the move to Nome, Alaska. If this was the South, I’m tall, dark and handsome.

We made the parking garage as it was closing. The attendant, who knew we were going to The WH, looked askew at us. I figured he was thinking we got into some kind of trouble and they hosed us down with high-powered water jet sprays trying to elicit information. He calmly, but firmly asked us to hurry our exit.
We dropped Mike off and as he slid out of the van, rivulets of water cascaded off his suit. I instinctively knew he was already plotting the wickedest revenge possible. Still the dignified and charming host, he thanked us for the ride. (This guy needs to work in the Diplomatic Corps.) We cancelled all future plans for the night, sloshed back to the motel to warm up and dry off. I flippantly say dry off and warm up. This was no easy task. After major league toweling, Gal Friday turned the heat to high, stood me under the heat lamp in the bathroom and defrosted me with her hair dryer. She then dismantled my chair (I never knew there were so many parts) and wiped it down. By the time she got to bed, I was dreaming about George Washington, in a driving rain, crossing the Delaware. But my rendition had him striking the famous pose painted by Emanuel Leutze not in the bow of a boat, but instead atop my van with everyone below bailing to beat the band. Then it turned into a nightmare because I couldn’t get the wipers to operate. Wow, what a night.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Medical Offices

Last week I had 9 medical related appointments. By Friday I noticed a common thread among most of the medical offices. Now one would think with all the baby boomer generation now senior citizens,  medical personnel would figure out many more patients will be hiking with walkers or riding in wheelchairs and offices should be configured to accommodate them.  Guess again folks. I'm not even asking for automatic doors like at Wally World or the grocery stores, but how about a handicap accessible front door that automatically opens when a wheelchair operator gives a button a push?  Not to be. In fact the front doors, which weigh about the same as  6-ton dump trucks, open into ante-room cubicles approximately 4 by 4. They're so small I have to put my foot pedals up on my faithful chariot to maneuver through another door to my favorite area, the waiting room.

The term waiting room is appropiate because wait is what I do and not usually for a short period.  Even slow readers often start and finish tomes in the waiting room.  I don't quite understand why the receptionists always warn you to be on time - the docs never are. A guy can't even chat with the the front desk girls anymore cause they're so busy and they sit behind sliding glass, which I suspect is bullet proof. (Probably an insurance requirement in case Abdu-bin Abdu busts through the doors with TNT strapped to his body. I think that qualifies for cherry pink alert.)  And why are these rooms so small, especially if you're at a multi-doctor practice?

Finally my name is called and I start down a hall to see my wonderful PCP or specialist, whose ex-wives' alimony I'm probably paying. The places are like  mazes with narrow hallways and tiny offices. I think they were built for tests on big white mice. Even though I carry a reputation for adeptness at driving my power chair, I know I scrape a few walls and dent some doorways. 
 Next I sit in a real close imitation of a nun's cell, as I wait still longer. My Gal Friday normally bathes and shaves me bedore medical appointments, but by the time I actually lay eyes on a doctor, my face simulates 3 days' growth. After what seems like half my projected life span, the cold gets to me and I usually start shivering. The room temperatures qualify for hanging Angus beef. By the time the doc arrives they have to thaw me out with an old Bunsen burner someone finds in the storage room.

Since I've moved around trying to stay low and keep one step ahead of the law, I've had many family doctors...oops, I mean PCPs. I feel sorry for these guys. They shouldn't need to waste so much money on 4-year educations,  3 years of medical school and residency when needed. They shouldn't be required to have medical board certification anymore, just a general contractor's license. All these guys do is sub you out. You got a tummy ache - you are sent to the tummy ache specialist. If you suffer a bunion, off you limp to the bunion specialist. Got a wart on your derriere-well, let's not go there.

The clincher is this--after 8 previous appointments last week, when I arrived in the last waiting room, to kill time I watched a program on the T and V about how bad our American medical system actually is. Some celebrated doctor was telling the audience the cost per patient to receive medical services in our country doubled the cost of any other of the top 5 civilized nations. He followed that tidy bit of info with explaining that life expectancy in the good ole US of A was the lowest of the 5 countries.

Hmm, sure made me feel warm and fuzzy all over.