IS IT HOT OR IS IT ME? WHAT?

SECOND OPINION – What are some (or one) of the things about which you usually don’t trust your own judgment, and need someone’s else’s confirmation?


You mean … there IS another opinion other than mine that might contain something worth knowing? Are you implying that I am imperfect? I am insulted. How dare you suggest such a thing. I will report you to … someone. I’ll have to think for a while which authority should be involved, but really! Such gall!

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

There is one little thing. It seems that as I’ve gotten older, my thermostat no longer works. It started with The Change, you know, menopause.

Shhh. Let’s not be indelicate. Although my husband is … a man … and not subject to the full Monte of mind and body altering experiences that this special Time of Life engenders, he too seems to have acquired a broken thermostat. Thus neither of us is entirely sure if it’s hot, cold, or us.

Conversation A:

“Is it hot or is it me?”

“It’s hot.”

“Oh, good. I’ll turn on the fan.”

Conversation B:

“Is it hot or is it me?”

“It’s not hot. It’s a bit chilly.”

“Maybe it’s hot and you are chilly.”

“Possibly, but you asked. All I can tell you is what I feel.”

“I’m turning on the fan.”

“I’m putting on a sweatshirt.”

You can see the value of a second opinion under these circumstances. Oh, and there’s another one.

Conversation: What?

“What did he say?”

“What did who say?”

“The guy, the one with the hat.”

“The guy on the left?”

“No he’s not there anymore. The one who had the gun. Before.”

“They all have guns.”

“Oh, never mind.”

Otherwise, I know pretty much everything. Ask my husband. He will tell you. “She knows everything. Just ask her.” You see? We are in complete agreement. On everything.

SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT AGAIN — AND AGAIN

Think Again — Tell us about a time you made a false assumption about a person or a place — how did they prove you wrong?


Between pretty good marriage one and fabulous marriage three, there was unspeakable marriage two.

To explain it by saying it seemed like a good idea at the time, is not entirely true. I knew from the get-go it was bad. Not only did I think it was bad, but everyone who knew me thought it was terrible. No one said “Follow your heart!” because it was clear whatever I was following, it wasn’t my heart — or my brain — but some part lower down and less rational.

bad-idea

Why did I marry someone obviously wrong for me?

I didn’t realize he was stupid. I thought he was just quiet. I had no experience with stupid people, after all. There were warnings. Like when his mother took me aside and said “You know, he isn’t really stupid. He just seems stupid.” His mother?

I overlooked the evil temper, ignorance and drug abuse. The lack of any ambition or profession. That he was courting me while his wife was dying of cancer. There were levels of wrong too many to count.

I figured he was merely a little stressed.

So, how did it work out?  How do you think?

Some crazy risks are fun. Just make sure, before you take a mad plunge, the price you pay isn’t beyond your means. When your brain, friends and  family, are screaming “DON’T DO IT?” Don’t. Do. It.

The real reason I did it? I was too proud to admit I was wrong. Pride will nail your ass every time.

JUST AN OLD MARRIED COUPLE

Long Exposure — Among the people you’ve known for a long time, who is the person who’s changed the most over the years? Was the change for the better?


Garry and I at President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard

Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

All the people I’ve known a long time have changed, me and my husband in particular. Better? For whom?

I am far less sociable and hugely less outgoing. I was quite the party-maker with a wild and crazy social life and now I’m a virtual recluse.

1970

1970

Much of my life centered around work … and I don’t work any more. I’ve gone from being gregarious to being a loner, being work-centric to being survival-centric.

Good? Not good? If I hadn’t changed in response to the realities of life, I’d probably be dead or living on the street. I guess that makes them good, right? I read less, write more.

I keep taking pictures. It’s now more than forty years of photography. That’s consistent, anyhow.

Garry was shy, solitary. He was so driven by career and work he didn’t have time for anything, anyone else. Like making friends, building a personal life. Yet … when I came back into his life, he began to emerge. He started to pull back from work, become more sociable. Now, he couldn’t be paid enough to go back to work.

1990 in Ireland

1990 in Ireland with Author Gordon Winter

He used to be the kind of guy who always looked like he’d just stepped out of the pages of GQ. Now, he wears sloppy shorts and old tee shirts or pajama bottoms and sweatshirts.

He remains passionate about sports, but can miss the game and watch a movie without having a crisis.

Both of us eat less, don’t drink at all. Our world centers around each other and a few close friends and family.

You know what? I think it’s good. And appropriate.

LOVE ME, LOVE MY TRACTOR

You may have noticed the old tractor in the middle of the garden. When we were trying to sell the house some years ago, a couple of potential buyers commented how they’d have to have it towed away. I put a mental black mark next to their names because I love that tractor. If you don’t appreciate the tractor, you won’t like my house (they didn’t)

72-Tractor-29Jun_13It’s a rusty 1928 Fordson. Not a rare vintage; it was common farm equipment in its day. I loved it the moment I saw it, sitting on a lawn up the road a piece. I wanted it. I knew it didn’t run and never would, but for me it was the perfect garden accessory.

Some people put flamingos in their garden. Deer. Ducks. Around Halloween, anything goes and for Christmas — well — we’ve all seen the lengths to which some people will go.

One family just up the road from here has a crèche, a wishing well, several gnomes and a lighthouse almost large enough to use as a real lighthouse, except it’s hollow plastic. I believe they also have several types of small animals tucked in between the other statuary et al. It’s a very busy garden and half the size of ours. Only careful landscaping has allowed them to fit quite so much garden bric-à-brac in so small a space.

And this stuff’s not cheap. If you’ve ever gone and priced garden statuary, a nicely done piece — cement not plastic — can cost you as much as remodeling your kitchen. Well, almost as much. Okay, about half the price.

The tractor wasn’t cheap. It was (is) a real tractor, not some phony doodad. Someone farmed using that piece of machinery. It was, in its day, a serious investment. So I don’t understand why someone would think a fake lighthouse looks cool while yearning for a bigger bogus wishing well, but find our antique tractor odd. Maybe they’d like it better if we’d bought it at Walmart?

tractor with daffodils

Garry bought it for me as a tenth anniversary gift. Now that is a husband who gets his wife. He knew to whom he is married. And that’s why we are still married and likely to remain so forever (or as close to forever as we may).

As we approach our 25th anniversary — now a mere 10 weeks distant — I love my tractor more than ever. It has stood the test of time. In another 13-1/2 years, it will have its hundredth birthday. In its second life, during the past 15 years we have planted around it and vines have grown over it. It is as much a part of the garden as the earth on which it stands.

Love me, love my tractor.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, MOM AND DAD!

I intended this to be a Father’s Day tribute to my Dad. But my youngest brother, Anton, just reminded me it’s a double celebration. It’s William and Esther Armstrong’s 73rd wedding anniversary!

Dad has been gone twelve years, Mom seven. But I’ll bet the house they are celebrating right now.

We were never big on talking about our feelings. Maybe it’s a family thing, maybe it’s generational. Whatever, my two brothers and I never doubted our parents love. We tested their patience many times and were duly rewarded.

Dad was from the John Wayne school of conversation. Brief chats and meaningful looks to make his words (or silence) crystal clear. He was handy; I wasn’t. Remember what I said about patience?

One of our most emotional moments came after I enlisted in the Marine Corps. It was one of the rare times I saw Dad cry.

75-edited-GarryMomDad-WW2-300

Mom, Dad and baby me

My Father was a World War II veteran and like most vets, he didn’t talk much about his combat experiences. He kept it to himself for decades. Near the end of his life, Dad talked a little about some truly horrific war experiences. After he died, we found medals amongst his stowed away possessions.

Mom was always the voice of the family. She was the classic strong woman, but it came at a price. It was our last lucid conversation before dementia began to take its ugly toll. Mom, who always seemed estranged from Marilyn, asked how things were going. Before I could finish, she interrupted and quietly but firmly told me I should show Marilyn my love, to make her feel wanted and appreciated. Mom had a funny look on her face.

I just listened. Mom talked about the courtship years with Dad. It was fascinating. I never could picture Mom and Dad as young adults with all the ups and downs of dating. Those were the days when you wrote letters to your loved one.

It wasn’t easy for them. But, finally, loved conquered all.

75-edited-wedding-2

Perfect wedding

Their wedding in 1941 was something out of Hollywood. Bigger than big. Lovely women, handsome men.  Mom and Dad never looked happier.

My parents never talked about their dreams. I think they were put on hold — permanently — after I made my début the following year. Dad was off to war. Mom was beginning six plus decades of molding our family. I guess their dreams wound up in the lives of my two brothers and me.

I still see Mom and Dad in my dreams. Dad in his uniform, Mom looking like a cover girl. I’m the kid from central casting.

Here’s looking at you, Mommy and Daddy!

GROWING OLDER

Marilyn and I are watching a “NCIS” episode involving Gibbs and his dad. Mark Harmon and the late Ralph Waite. We’ve seen it before but it’s an especially poignant show because Waite died just a few months ago and the story deals with a difficult father son situation.

It also touches home on aging and health issues. Gibbs’ dad, his driving license just revoked, is desperate to find an old war buddy who is dying. Gibbs is preoccupied with a case and impatient with his dad. Conversation is awkward. It reminds me of another father and son.

My dad was never big on intimacy. We’d talk about sports and men’s clothing. Towards the end of his life, My dad talked a bit about frustration with his health. He was a big, strong man who was very handy for most of his years. Now, he mostly sat in the dark as his strength ebbed. Conversation was even more difficult. Even sports and men’s clothing drew little interest. The award-winning TV news journalist was having difficulty talking to his father. The image of my father, the younger man, kept flashing through my mind as we sat in silence. I made a silent vow that I would not become my father, wrapped in silence.

Almost 20 years later, that vow is still flashing through my mind. For one thing, I’m no longer the perennial young man whose pictures adorn our home. Mortality has made its presence known. Marilyn is fighting to regain some semblance of quality of life after complex heart valve surgery. She is a proud, fiercely independent woman who doesn’t like asking for help. It’s awkward for both of us. We make jokes about our so-called golden years but we don’t really laugh.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

It’s funny because we actually look younger than people our age a generation ago. But it doesn’t help when we hear our bones creaking. It’s certainly no joke to Marilyn who wonders if she’ll be able to do some very basic things to re-establish her independence.

Marilyn has had health issues most of her life so she is no stranger to pain. Fittingly, she sometimes looks at me wryly when I complain about aches. Who do I think I am? Well, I am that vain guy who burned through a lot of prime years with little regard about paying the piper.

The dues are coming in. But the reporter in me must acknowledge there are so many others who have more serious health issues. That’s probably an understatement if you just flip through today’s news stories. Still, growing older isn’t the picture perfect stuff of those old movies.

Print the legend!

DOCTORS DON’T LISTEN – GARRY ARMSTRONG

One of the things I’ve discovered about blogging is you can say stuff that you might be reluctant or timid to share in normal conversation.

I’m talking about myself and Marilyn. About the medical profession and patients. Marilyn is an aggressive advocate. I’m passive. I usually try to be diplomatic, relying on the quiet, persuasive approach honed over 40 years as a TV news reporter. Marilyn’s learned you can’t always be pleasant or nice in dealing with the establishment. Be it doctors, lawyers, politicians, merchants or your affable cable company. Nice guys often finish last. Even worse, in the medical profession, their lives are often in jeopardy.

I’ve sometimes thought Marilyn was too judgmental with doctors, nurses, medical technicians, medical office managers or HMOs. Color me naïve and maybe stupid for all my years in the news media spotlight. The past dozen years have been almost a continuing nightmare for Marilyn who has been through myriad operations including at least two near death experiences resulting from one botched surgery. No “Law & Order” vindication in real life.

One of Marilyn’s big problems is pain management. She is in her second week of recovery from complex heart valve surgery. She’s in almost constant pain, 24/7. Mornings are kind of okay when she has bursts of energy and can do some writing. The rest of the day is downhill. She has limited pain relief options. Her intestinal system, after two gastric bypasses (one botched), is ultra sensitive to medications. Moreover, she has reached the limit of surgical fixes to her gastrointestinal tract. If she ulcerates again, it’s over.

Marilyn has been trying to explain this to her doctors. They don’t get it. I’ve been there and witnessed these conversations.

Most of the doctors who’ve seen Marilyn treat her as if she doesn’t know anything about her own body. Even after she explains the details of which medications work and which wreak havoc on her system, they merely nod as if she’s stupid or they know better — without so much as checking her records. They prescribe drugs Marilyn knows will make her sick, ignoring her protests.

We hoped today would be different. A first visit with a new primary care physician (the old ones’ network would not make a deal with Medicare or Medicaid, so all their poor or old patients are screwed). I intervened before the session began. I explained I’ve known Marilyn 50 years. I gave high or low lights of her past dozen years of medical hell. I explained the difficulty Marilyn has had communicating with doctors who’ve often been arrogant and dismissive. In essence, I was giving our new PCP a heads up if Marilyn appeared angry, hostile or anxious. I emphasized pain control was our major concern with Marilyn’s limited venue for such medications.

I thought I’d set things up to succeed. I was wrong! Marilyn’s worst fears were confirmed. Our new PCP said she was unable (unwilling, really) to prescribe Marilyn the medications she needs. “Not,” she said, “In my comfort zone.”

My passive take on the situation has dissolved into anger. I managed to retain my nice guy demeanor but if thoughts could kill, I would be in lockup right now. Somehow, Marilyn has reached inside and grabbed another chunk of fortitude to search for another doctor.

I have new admiration for my wife. I wish I still had the clout to help, to make things right. All I can do is be here, offering support that, maybe, tomorrow will be a better day.