Archive for the 'Aging' Category

Simple Pleasures

Did you ever listen to friends describe their latest adventures?

“Uzbekistan was amazing. So many things to see. The people were great. Can’t wait to do it again.”

“Our trip to New York was mind-blowing. Had to book tickets to Hamilton two years in advance…worth every penny. You should go.”

“The Falkland Islands were one of the top five events in my life. I’ll never forget the sheep in the road. Weather was perfect. Never knew there were so many ways to prepare mutton.”

Time was that I would think “Why aren’t I doing things like this?  I must be missing out on life.”

Probably so.

But things being what they are, Sweetie and I tend to find pleasure in simpler things. Things that don’t involve shleps to the airport, uncomfortable plane seats, annoying children and rude adults.

Like yesterday.

The library foundation bookstore is closing for a major rebuild. We wanted to sell lots of books so that we could avoid moving them to temporary storage while we build the new structure.  We volunteered for the 2:30 shift and arrived to find very little activity. One or two customers, much like a normal day. So since we weren’t really needed, we excused ourselves and went for a walk.

One of our favorite places is Rains department store. A venerable institution serving the community for over a hundred years. Weekends are pretty busy in the store but on most weekdays you can call the store your own. We hardly ever leave without buying something. Sort of like freshly marking our territory.

There’s a wooden bench just off the main aisle in the women’s department. I’m sure it’s intended to allow the ladies to sit and try on the shoes that are cloistered in the area around the bench. It looks uncomfortable but the bench’s shape sort of matches my fanny so I can sit for a while before I develop calluses or bone spurs. We often alight on that bench and stare at the dozen or so women’s shoes that beckon to be tried on.

Spending thirty minutes or so sitting on a wood bench in Rains’ shoe department may not sound very exciting. And it’s not. So to lighten things up, we sometimes pretend that we are on a cruise. At other times we pretend that we are waiting for a city bus to come rolling down the department store aisle. In either case, we must look odd to the sales people and to the customers. But, being old, most observers simply assume we’ve got nothing better to do and ignore us.

Yesterday was special, though. I began staring at the array of shoe boxes stacked directly ahead of me.  About thirty of them in about six stacks.  All the same brand. I zeroed in on the 3×5 stickers glued to the end of each box that announced the style number and shoe size of the contents. I wondered “Are all those labels glued to the box by hand or is there some clever piece of machinery that does it?” I compared the placement of each label and the amount of empty space surrounding each. My suspicion was that they were hand applied. But I couldn’t be certain. So I asked Sweetie for her wise counsel. Recognizing a unique opportunity, she smiled and immediately bought into the adventure. Carefully eyeballing the boxes and measuring her response, she said that she was certain beyond a reasonable doubt that a machine was doing the deed. Good enough for me.

Having some time remaining in our busy schedule, I then focused on the boxes themselves. I was surprised that each shoe size seemed to have a box whose dimensions were tailored to the size of the contents. What a revelation! Sweetie was not nearly as excited as me since she claimed to already be aware of the shoe box size protocol. Probably because she has more shoes than I do.

So there you are. A relatively inexpensive adventure that did not require a plane trip, questionable accommodations, tickets bought two years in advance, or the need to learn a foreign language.

Now won’t that be an amazing story to tell our friends when they return from the Galapagos?

Sourdough Slim and Other Characters

Sweetie and I joined six other aging but still competent Upper Ojai friends for a much-anticipated Sourdough Slim appearance at the Ojai Valley Women’s Club Thursday evening.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Recognizing the danger that excess stomach acid can produce when one is running late for the theater, we chose to have an early senior-style dinner at Il Giardino’s, about half a block from the Women’s Club.  Not being a big fan of that particular eclectic restaurant, I had agreed to it while gritting my teeth and expecting the usual combination of poor food and questionable service, topped with a general feeling of grouchiness.

Eight of us were banished to the Devil’s Island corner  of the outdoor patio.  Being the last to pick a seat, I had the pleasure of facing the wall which depicts a painted saga that is desperately in need of renovation by one or more otherwise unemployed Italian artisans.

We also were treated to the added attraction of live music performed by two young men who were oblivious to the hearing afflictions foisted upon elders due to the advanced atomic decibel readings achieved by today’s amplification systems.

Actually, surprise, surprise, the food was tasty, the company stellar and the two young musical aficionados graciously offered to turn things down after several of our party collapsed on the floor pleading for respite.  A good start, I’d call it, and totally unexpected.

Finishing with a flourish and with fifteen minutes to spare, several of our party with space remaining  in their large intestines made a quick stop at Bliss, the local do-it-yourself frozen yogurt eatery, and heaped calorie laden yummies on their already distended stomachs.

Having been clever enough to buy advance tickets to Sourdough’s performance, we entered the Women’s Club ahead of those who were either still enroute or who had the misfortune of thinking that purchasing tickets at the door would give them something other than a seat requiring the Hubble Telescope for a decent view of Slim.

This was the third time we’d attended a Sourdough Slim concert.  A masterful combination of Howdy Doody and Slim Pickens, Sourdough regaled the crowd with cowboy songs, jokes that have stood the test of time, and amusing facial expressions, all topped by a ridiculous ten-gallon hat that is as important to his repertoire as his music.  Accompanied by the formerly famous Robert Armstrong on a variety of instruments including the yet to be universally embraced musical saw, the aging but still standing  Sourdough keeps you rooting for him to complete his performance without suffering a massive coronary.

We picked seats that were close to the stage yet far enough removed to avoid becoming an unwilling part of the evening’s festivities.  I sat on a folding chair that had just enough cushioning to be comfortable for a full twenty minutes before wreaking havoc on my under-stuffed  fanny.  Looking for a comfortable spot to rest on, other than bone, was to be a major part of the festivities.

Two fiftyish party goers arrived and sat in the row in front of us.  Wearing over-the-top cowboy hats large enough to block out the sun, they mercifully sat to our right, out of our visual spectrum but close enough for those with adequate peripheral vision to observe the couple’s own performance that was in competition with that of the Sourdough.

The woman wore a tight red dress, short enough to allow a proper airing of her private parts yet tight enough to allow the substantial hills and valleys of her aging body to attract prying eyes to the various displays of her abundant cellulite deposits.  The man, balding and handle-barred moustached, spent much of the evening prodding and caressing the lady’s abundant flesh.

The lady in red, attired in cowboy boots that could have easily stomped a whole herd of cows, began the festivities by banging her heels to the rhythm of Slim’s music…well almost.  She then progressed to raising both her arms to the heavens, waving them with abandon and providing further evidence of her deepening dementia.  When this failed to draw the attention of those in the far reaches of the theater, she orally fixated us with randomly delivered whooping and hollering clearly intended to alert all, including the paramedics, to her presence.  I began to feel sorry for the lady in red who assuredly had been ignored as a child and, other than for her groping escort, was suffering the same fate as an adult.

The seat in front of me was occupied by a tall man with short legs and a long Yao Ming torso.  His shock of white hair was directly in line with my view of Slim.  Fortunately, the Cardiff Giant look-alike parted his hair down the middle affording me a limited view of the very top of Slim’s ten gallon hat.  I accepted my fate as being payoff for my many sins, and for most of the rest of the evening focused on Mr. Armstrong’s musical saw.

At least no one had a coronary.

sourdough slim

The results are in…

Where were we?  Oh yes, we had just completed my prostate biopsy.

Now it was time to await the results.  Dr. Greenberg had said “Should take about a week to get it back from the lab.  I don’t like to phone results to my patients.  So make an appointment and you can come in to see how things turned out.  Good or bad.”  Fair enough.  After all, how long could a week of waiting be?

I strolled confidently to the cute young lady at the front desk.  The one who makes calls to patients’ answering machines and rattles off information faster than any human can write it down.  “Hi” I said confidently.  “How about an appointment next Tuesday?  The Doctor says my results should be here by then.”  Silence.  Followed by her nimble fingers doing speed of light calisthenics on the computer keyboard.  Followed by more silence.  “Hmmmm.  Looks like we’re booked.  The earliest I can get you in is next Friday morning.  How’s 8:40?”  Restraining myself from leaping over the counter, strangling the young lady with her telephone cord, and making my own appointment, I sheepishly said “OK.”

Ten days to wait for results.  Ten days to try not thinking about it.  Ten days to imagine the worst.  Anything from “Hey, no problem, you’re OK.  Go home.”  To “It’s stage four.  Get into Hospice and put your affairs in order…today.”

The days passed and I was, at first, only mildly irritated.  Young children I encountered on the street sensed that I should be avoided.  My feeling of foreboding grew to tsunami proportions and it took all of Sweetie’s cooing and cajoling to keep me from self-immolation.  I pasted a perpetual smile on my face and studiously maintained my public persona so as to avoid losing all of my friends.

Sleeping was fraught with adventure.  Getting to sleep was no problem.  Staying asleep was.  I tried various mind tricks.  First I imagined lush green fields with bubbling brooks.  No good.  So I enhanced my vision of lush green fields by adding romping, nubile maidens.  Not good enough.  So I simply deleted the green fields and focused completely on the nubile maidens.  Nothing was a panacea.

Instead of sticking with the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen and the U.S. Congress for laughs, I made the mistake of reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  A long repetitive dissertation on the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, it reveled in a glorious depiction of the misery of those poor farmers who lost their land to the wind, and were forced to rely on clubbing rabbits to death and boiling tumbleweed for sustenance.  As an added bonus, the book described the concurrent, abject misery of the Great Depression and the twenty-five percent of out-of-work, apple selling Americans.  On the other hand, maybe reading about their misery deflected a bit from my own self-imposed malaise.

Thursday night was mostly sleepless as the nubile maidens all sought refuge from me.  Arising well before we needed to, we leapt from bed, did our best to greet the rather dark morning, and got in the car for the forty minute trip to Ventura.  Needless to say, we arrived at the place of execution a full thirty minutes early.

The waiting room was empty except for the young lady with the flying fingers.  She was removing the last vestiges of Halloween decorations including the monstrous hanging ghost that happily greeted us on our arrival.  I decided to read Wine Spectator in the foolish hope that I might get seriously drunk.

A rather large man and his rather large wife entered the waiting room.  He held a large manila envelope that obviously contained a very large x-ray.  The Rather Larges sat across from us.  Mr. Rather Large stared straight ahead for a full twenty minutes and held onto the envelope in the same way that Charlton Heston  famously rabble-roused the NRA with his cold, dead hands speech.  I realized that I was not alone in my misery.

“Mr. Rothenberg, you can come in now.” Nurse Ratched said as she opened the door to the business end of Doctor Goldberg’s shop of horrors.

We sat in the exam room.  My blood pressure reading taken by Nurse Ratched was at the high-end of abnormal and my throbbing pulse could be felt without the need of placing her fingers on my wrist.  “How have you been feeling since the biopsy?” she said.  “Fine” I lied.

Waiting for the Doctor to make an entry, Sweetie and I talked about things of which I have no recollection.  For some strange reason, my mind wandered back to 1960.  I remembered anxiously awaiting the results of my CPA exam, results that would appear in my mailbox.  I remembered what my fellow exam takers had said.  “If your results come in a big fat envelope, you failed the exam.  The fat envelope has all kinds of stuff including how to reapply and retake that awful test.  If you get a nice thin letter, it will simply have your passing grades.”  I thought, “I hope Dr. Greenberg has a nice thin piece of paper.”

He did.  And we went home.

Signs of Aging

The phone rang early Sunday just as I was finishing up my granola, fruit, yogurt and milk concoction. I hate when that happens because I have to stop, answer the call and, if a friend, talk while the whole thing turns to mush.

It was Coleman calling from Detroit. An old school chum who I’ve probably seen twice since high school, he calls every so often. A welcome voice, he occasionally calls about one of my blogs. Coleman is one of those rare individuals who, unlike me, maintains semi-regular contact with anyone who he’s come to call a friend.

“Hi, Fred. I wondered why I haven’t seen one of your blogs in a while.” I suppose he really meant “I wondered if you were still alive.” I appreciated his concern for my well-being and assured him that my health was within reasonable parameters. We spent the next fifteen minutes talking about the status of mutual friends, the pros and cons of retirement, the dismal nature of the news media and things related to one’s declining years. I said good-bye and scraped the remaining mush from the bottom of my bowl. It was still good.

That afternoon Sweetie and I went to the Ojai Playwrights Conference. I enjoy the conference for two reasons. It’s only five minutes from our house and therefore does not require exposing myself to the traffic and noise associated with treks to the big city. And it has some excellent content. The Conference spotlights the work-in-progress of experienced playwrights as they attempt to fine tune their work prior to its appearance in the real theater. The audience performs the role of guinea pigs and, at a somewhat reduced cost, regularly experiences some surprisingly good theater.

This day we were fortunate to be treated to the work of a dozen or so highly talented, still in school, young men and women who presented some amazing original work that included a treatise on being gay, the curse of having too-big breasts and the clever musings of a hungry dog. It was one of those times when you didn’t count the remaining sets while you prayed for a quick exit to a dreary performance.

But, in spite of the enthralling performance, I had to pee.

As luck would have it, my seat was poorly placed in the middle of the top row of the theater. Exiting would require a grand performance of my own, witnessed by some two hundred people who I knew would know what I was going to do. I toyed with the idea of gutting it out until the end of the performance but I found my concentration too often wandering from the stage to my bladder, now in its own red zone. It finally got the better of me and, finding a small break in the action, I began an ungraceful sideways march down the narrow space between the rows, colliding with strangers’ knees and, on occasion, their toes.

I paced off the steps down to the main level, went through the exit, entered brilliant daylight, found the waterless urinal that proclaimed an astounding savings of forty thousand gallons a year and ultimately achieved blessed nirvana. A return engagement to the theater was now required.

I passed the ticket table outside the theater entrance where the young, official looking woman behind the table said “Yes, can I help you? Do you have a ticket?” Because of the prerogatives of advanced age, I ignored the need to hide the purpose of my trip and said “I have peed and now I have returned. Thank you.”

I entered the dark confines of the theater which, for all I knew, could have experienced a power outage. My eyes, which now require about two weeks to adjust from bright light to darkness, forced me to loiter inside the door while I waited for my sight to return to a level that would permit my climb to the top row of the theater. I pretended that I was an usher.

It was now time to negotiate the all too black steps upward and the much too narrow aisle between rows that I’m certain was designed for anorexic theater goers. I negotiated the steps without incident and congratulated myself on not performing an unscheduled backward roll for the audience.

Buoyed by my dexterity, I entered the aisle fully prepared to bang knees and squash a few Birkenstock clad toes. I passed the first seat without incident, then clipped the next person’s toe and began to fall forward. My life flashed before my eyes. But before I could crash, hands shot out from all directions like passengers on a life boat extending an oar to a drowning man. I grabbed arms and hands, interrupted the fall, righted myself, performed the act once again and made it to my seat, uninjured.

A few years ago I would have been chagrined and embarrassed by my performance. But age has a way of moderating those feelings. And it did.

aging

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

I’m sitting here listening to a song written and sung by Mark Kozelak, a prominent performer who I’d never heard of until I found the essay he wrote about his eighty year old father for the NY Times.

It includes that song. Not very complex, it recounts his relationship with his father and some of his dad’s siblings. And it ends somberly, musing about what will be when his dad is gone.

Since tomorrow is Father’s Day, the essay and song took on some additional meaning and I silently reminisced about my own children and their relationships with me. And then I suddenly realized that I should really be thinking about my own father. So I did.

I thought about how my remembrances of him don’t pop into my head nearly as frequently as thoughts about my mother.

About how he left early for work, sometimes came home after dinner and usually worked at least one day on weekends. And never complained.

How when he was at home on Sundays, we’d lie down together on the couch in the dining room and listen to radio shows…The Shadow, Nick Carter and Gangbusters. Maybe I’ve screwed up the time slots, but so what.

The used toys he once brought home in an old cardboard box. An electric train (just the engine) and a two foot diameter track. It ran around the track in three seconds. A telegraph set made of sheet metal with only one unit. But it had the Morse Code on it and it clicked when you punched the key.

The times he took me to a synagogue to hear very special Cantors on Yom Kippur. It was the only times he went to Temple. Maybe he wasn’t religious but he never stopped being Jewish.

How he coughed seemingly without end. Until the doctor said he might try giving up the two packs of unfiltered Luckies that he smoked every day. He did when I was a little kid, cold turkey, and never touched them again.

When the landlord raised our apartment rent by fifteen dollars a month in 1954. He refused to pay it and bought a two-flat with my Uncle Max. Dad became a homeowner for the first time and loved cutting the small patch of lawn in the back.

The time I dented the fender of his new car the first time I soloed in it. And how I woke him from a nap to tell him. Stupid me.

When he refused to pay my college tuition until I promised to study something that I could make a living at. And I did.

He loved to play cards. Any kind. At home with friends. And won most of the time.

They loved company. Any excuse to feed people, share stories, and laugh.

How he lost most of his sight in his seventies to macular degeneration. He’s sit sidewise up against the TV and watch the baseball game. It was the only sporting event he could watch because it seemed the players never moved.

He’d drink one shot glass of Canadian Club before dinner. That was it. Never drank more. Maybe one drink at a party, maybe none.

I know he loved my mother. I never heard him raise his voice to her. But he was the boss. And she loved him very much.

How I learned more about him when he was dying of cancer than I did in all the years before.

I missed by flight home to Los Angeles the last time I saw him in the hospital. It was 1986 and he was eighty-four. I remember the year because it was the last time the Bears won the Super Bowl.

I can’t remember ever saying “I love you, Dad.” But I did.

Happy Birthday, Steven

Jon and Linda invited us to their home to hear their friend, David Roth, play the guitar.

I have great admiration for people who open their homes to large numbers of people, risking red wine carpet stains, backed-up toilets and conflicting requests about the thermostatically controlled temperature. The purveyors of such hospitality are usually adventurous, gregarious and welcoming. The Lamberts fit the mold perfectly.

Sweetie and I arrived unfashionably early, said hello to those we knew and a few we didn’t. Most were in the vicinity of our age group but with a smattering of the very young who, as the evening progressed, may have thought longingly of their idle smart-phones.

A couch at the absolute rear of the bridge-chair festooned room beckoned to us and we plopped ourselves into its welcoming softness, fully expecting to have our vision blocked by anyone who might choose to occupy the two taller chairs in front of us. No one did.

David Roth, a personable man with a name that abbreviated our own, and who you would be pleased to have to dinner, introduced himself and made us laugh. A folk singer and composer of some renown, he seemed quite at home in the cozy surroundings. My first inkling of what was to be a memorable evening came when David told us about his Chicago roots. Hmmm. A fellow landsman, I thought. Not a bad start.

David’s mother sat, appropriately, in the front row. He took genuine pride in talking about her, including her accomplishments as a theatrical performer. I’m sure Mrs. Roth must have thought, more than once, what a good boy.

David’s father also figured prominently in the Chicago scene having toiled at the long defunct Chez Paree, a restaurant cum nightclub that featured the likes of Jack Teagarden, Morey Amsterdam, Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman, Frances Langford and a cast of now almost forgotten names. I spent Von Steuben High School prom night there in 1956 with Brenda Dobbs. Another connection.

My mind wandered a bit and, maybe as a result of the connections, I realized that tomorrow, June 12, was Steven’s birthday. Our son who left us much too early in life. He too, like David, was a singer, guitarist and composer. I tried to remember the words to some of Steven’s songs and failed miserably.

It seemed to get softly warmer in the room, more relaxed, more at home.

David reminisced about his bar mitzvah and the mischief he got into as a very young boy who reveled in running about the Chez Paree, no doubt pursued relentlessly by his father. Displaying a photo of Jimmy Durante, he pointed out his own angelic face alongside that of his sister, both sitting on Durante’s lap.

He shared that time when, not so long ago, he was confronted with thyroid cancer and saw his singing career flash before his eyes. Another connection.

Sloan Wainwright spelled David and shared her own brand of music. And the loss of her husband to leukemia four years ago. Her house that he had built for her and that now provided only warm memories. Another connection.

I began to wonder if this evening had been carefully choreographed to remind us of Steven’s birthday. Whether some wizard had conjured up David Roth and instilled memories in him that were just close enough to raise our own. You’ve been there, I’m sure you have.

David finished and a few people wandered to the front of the room, telling him how much they enjoyed his concert. I shared my Steven story with him. At first he seemed just polite, nodding and listening to me. And then his eyes told me that it meant something more to him.

Happy birthday, Steven. Wish you were here.

DuranteDavid

Is it prostate or prostrate?

It’s the simple things that count.

Our day started with a trip to Dr. Ericson’s office for Sweetie’s every three weeks’ allergy shots. A ritual that has gone on since well before the foundering of the Titanic, the serum allows us to luxuriate in the Upper Ojai where, other than during a nuclear holocaust, something is always discharging its microscopic sexual reproductive organs into the air. Pleasantries exchanged, Nurse Ratched smilingly deposited the magical serum into both of Sweetie’s arms. Better two than one, I always say.

Following the insinuation of the sinus clearing, sneeze modifying and itch suppression miracle drugs, we proceeded across the road to the ever friendly confines of Ojai Community Hospital. Other than the classy emergency room which is usually entertaining a near-relative of Evel Knievel who misguidedly believed he could defy the laws of gravity, the hospital normally seems quite peaceful and generally deserted. As though it were really a front for something else, like a pot farm, it graciously absorbs our periodic donations, generated to some degree by our fear of the hospital’s potential demise. Thereby condemning us to the big city where we will be absorbed in the less homey environs of the ever-expanding Community Memorial Hospital.

It was my turn in the barrel. My last physical revealed the continued, fear inducing, and generally misunderstood elevation of my prostate specific antigen. Better known as PSA, I have been following my own numbers with mild interest for several years and have, with an occasional slip, finally learned the difference between prostate and prostrate.

My two-year ago physical, ably performed by Dr. Ericson, prompted my first visit to the friendly Dr. Goldberg, a jovial, middle-aged urologist, conveniently located near Trader Joes. Dr. Goldberg’s probing and diagnosis resulted in his sage country doctor advice to “go home and let me know if anything happens”…whatever that meant.

Nothing happened…until two months ago when my PSA crossed a new, exciting threshold prompting Dr. Ericson to say, “let’s try that test again in February, maybe this one was a fluke…oh, and avoid sex within five minutes of the test as it has been known to raise PSA levels.” Although mildly constraining, I accepted his reassuring technical advice. Hence, my return to the hospital lab department where, after a search for a suitable vein, I proceeded to donate several liters of PSA laden blood.

Unfortunately, the results of the make-up PSA test mirrored the previous one. I had again flunked the test with a D-. Time for me to listen up and pay attention. Especially since Dr. Ericson had previously regaled me with a plethora of mind-numbing tales about the misguided folks who had, in the words of that ancient grail knight in one of the Indiana Jones movies, chosen poorly. Not me. I’m going to spend another glorious afternoon with Dr. Goldberg.

The debate over the need for and value of the PSA test continues to rage. Googling will provide you with a boxcar of information that is both informative and argumentative, not to speak of the impact it has on your systolics and diastolics. Friends are likely (other than women friends) to either have personally been confronted by rising PSAs or will have a relatively uninformed, but kindly opinion of what one should do about it. Ranging from nothing, to better make sure your will is up to date. Easy for them to say.

Cousin Ronnie was particularly helpful by sharing his own story, that of our three prostate challenged uncles and, finally, the alternate universes experienced by a gaggle of his business colleagues, some of whom had, as we say, chosen poorly. Bless his heart. He means well.

So, it turns out that March will be my “let’s explore new vistas” month. In addition to the probing sure to be employed by the jovial Dr. Goldberg, it’s also the ten-year anniversary of my last colonoscopy. It’s an event scheduled to nearly coincide with Dr. Goldberg’s hide and seek party. Alas, it’s too bad the plumber and the gas man can’t buddy up and lead but one expedition into the dark recesses of my anatomy.

And keep things simple.


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