RIDING IT OUT – Marilyn Armstrong

For almost two years, I’ve barely used the chair lift. I was glad it was there and it was useful for hauling groceries and suitcases upstairs and that was good for both of us. But lately, I’ve started using it. I realized there was absolutely nothing to be gained by dragging myself up two staircases, gasping, wheezing, with heart pounding.

Although I can —  and do — get up and down the stairs, it’s slow and getting slower. It’s more than a bit nerve-wracking too. It takes me a while to take that first downward step (up is easier) and I’m always sure I’m going to fall. I have fallen a lot over the years, including when I was younger. I can’t seem to find my balance going down.

One step at a time and carrying packages, stairs are impossible and dangerous. Riding up and down the stairs takes the fear and pain out of the process of getting in and out of the house. I’m okay walking on the sidewalk and the floors, but the stairs put such a strain on my lower spine and hips, I went from feeling okay to feeling ready to collapse.

It was time to actually use the chair lift.

Not only is it a way to get upstairs not on my feet, but it ‘s also possible to get someone in a wheelchair into the house and up to our living level. Before that, we’ve had to tell anyone with disabilities that our house was unready for them.

I reached the end of assuming that I’m going to get better and the stairs won’t be as difficult. Asthma is worse, probably because it’s untreated and my spine is worse, especially at the S1 juncture which was never fused — unlike the three discs above it. The pressure on the spinal cord is serious and unlikely to improve. There’s no exercise that will improve it.

It’s my final nod to the realities of my life, the “giving in” to the pain as something that won’t get better. The new drugs I’m taking help quite a bit — as long as I walk on relatively flat ground. I can climb a little bit if I am very careful. I can cook and clean in the house and if the ground is not rough, I’m mobile. To a point.

When I’m tired, I have to take it seriously. I need to stop and rest. When I do that, I don’t fall apart and I stay reasonably well. No amount of goodwill, determination, or optimism will change the condition of my spine. I think not hauling myself up and downstairs will probably marginally improve my mobility.

I cannot begin to tell you how much this isn’t what I envisioned for my life as a senior. I was planning to be a dashing senior. Like in the movies. Gray and wise, but ready to do it all.

Sometimes giving in is the right thing to do. I wanted to force myself to be that snazzy senior I imagined. Overall, I think it’s better if I stay alive and able to move!

THE UNREALITY OF FINDING YOUR WAY HOME – BY TOM CURLEY

AND because this is absolutely relevant to the previous story … here’s one by Tom Curley.

I’m not a fan, I’m a zealot. I’ve read all his books. Listened to all the BBC radio series. And watched both movies of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.”  The first one done in the ’80s with the original BBC radio cast was actually a TV series. It was done on a budget of maybe 25 bucks, but it was great.

The Disney movie was okay. Mostly, because Douglas Adams was the producer. Unfortunately, he died before it was finished. Even if you didn’t like the movie, it was worth watching just for the opening musical number “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”.

While Hitchhiker is my favorite Adams work, I also loved the Dirk Gently series.

One of the things in the book always stuck with me. Whenever Dirk was lost he would simply follow someone who looked like they knew where they were going. He found that he never got to where he was going but he always ended up where he needed to be.

I used that concept once. I was driving home from work one night and I was on the local road that leads to my house. I came upon a police barricade. The road was closed.

There were no detour signs. I only knew that one road. So, I did what Dirk did. I saw a car in front of me turn off the road. He/she seemed to know where he/she was going. So I followed him/her. For the next 20 minutes to a half-hour, we wound our way through twisty back roads in the bowels of Southern Connecticut. I had no idea where I was.

Suddenly, the car in front of me turns on to the main road again. Past the barricade. I couldn’t believe it! It actually worked! But here’s where it got weird. The car in front of me turned off the main road and on to the road I live on. OK, I thought. Makes sense. There are a lot of houses on my street. This person was obviously going home too. But then the car turned into my driveway! That’s when I realized it was my daughter. I should have recognized the car, but I didn’t put two and two together.

The really funny part was that my daughter had just spent the last 20 minutes or so completely freaking out because this mysterious black car had been following her, turn for turn and then followed her to her house! True story.

I know Douglas Adams was smiling.

MAO, A CAT – Marilyn Armstrong

Jeff and I got Mao as an 8-week-old kitten in the fall of 1965. We had just gotten married the month before, and of course, we had to have a cat right away. Why a Siamese? I don’t know. Karma maybe?

From the very first day, Mao was Master of All He Surveyed. Although I have had many cats through the years, Mao was the first and by far the most utterly unique.

Mao – our cat – Photo (from print) by Ben Taylor — and THANK YOU!

He was very smart for a cat. For instance, when we were out-of-town, we would have someone “house-sit” for us. No matter who that person was, and no matter how much Mao ordinarily liked them, while we were away, Mao would attack him or her (or them) virtually continuously during our absence. He would hide behind the bushes and attack legs as they tried to open the front door. He would wait around the corner and then pounce. He would launch himself from atop the bookcase, landing on a victim’s head, sometimes causing serious damage.

The moment we returned, Mao ceased his attacks and commenced purring. He figured, I believe, that he needed to drive out the interlopers so that we could return. Since we always DID return, his belief was consistently reinforced!

Mao protected us from bed goblins. If you were on Mao’s “family member” list, he would stop by your bedroom every night. You had to lift the covers so he could walk to the foot of the bed and back up. No goblins tonight? Good, I will go now, and he did.

Mao was the only cat I’ve ever known that perpetrated acts of vengeance hours or days after your perceived offense. If, for example, you shooed him off the table during dinner time, he would wait until you were sitting on the potty with your pants around your ankles and could not chase him. Then he would casually bite your shins. Tail held high, he would stroll away.

Mao patrolled the perimeter of the grounds like any good watch cat should. Every day of his life, he performed it, almost as if it were a ceremony. During his closing weeks with us, he began to patrol in the company of a younger feline, Mr. Manx. As if passing the torch to the next generation, he taught Mr. Manx to walk the perimeter, and inspect the beds, which Mr. Manx then did for the rest of his life.

In October 1978, Mao, who had been diagnosed with cancer some months before, disappeared. We never found his body, though we were sure he had gone off to die. For the last couple of weeks before his departure, we had noticed that he felt different. Where his muscles had been hard, they were now soft. He slept most of the day and moved slowly.

It is many years and lifetimes later. Jeff has passed. I live far from that place where Jeff and I and Mao and all the other fur-people lived. But I remember him. We all remember Mao, the most special cat.

Mao, I am sure you were there for Jeff when he came to the Bridge. I’m sure you will be there for me, too. You and all my other furry friends who I loved will be there together.

But you were and will always be, utterly unique and entirely unforgettable.

NO MORE EXPENSIVE FUNERALS! TIME FOR CHEAP CREMATION! – Garry Armstrong

I was driving along I-95 in Connecticut when I spotted the billboard for “Direct Cremation”.

cremation with confidenceTraffic was just slow enough for me to read a few lines of the pitch. It promised no fuss, no delays, no middlemen, red tape … and a money-back guarantee if unhappy with service. I wasn’t sure who’d get the money back.

I started laughing over Marty Robbins and “El Paso” playing on the oldies CD. I was still laughing when Marty’s gunfighter died in the arms of his young sweetheart. Instead of a tearful funeral and the strains of “Streets of Laredo,” maybe the gunfighter should have had a direct cremation. No muss, no fuss, no mournful boot hill goodbye.

Direct cremation may be the latest answer to a world of violence. Mob hits, drive-by killings, gang bang slayings with collateral damage. Stressed out serial killers and contract button men doing “jobs.” The bodies just keep piling up.

Medical Examiners are overworked. Cemeteries are running out of room. The U.S. government, in its infinite wisdom, only gives each citizen a whopping $242 per body.

What to do?


Direct cremation!


Speaking of overworked medical examiners, I’m reminded of a story I covered in Boston.

direct-cremation-crematorium-main

Goes back 40 plus years. The county medical examiner was “under the gun” with some of his findings. He didn’t look like Quincy, Ducky, or even the sexy Lacey from the “Castle” series. He was a sad, tired, bleary-eyed man in the autumn of his years.

Your intrepid reporter was on the scene. The M.E. was momentarily diverted so I could check the autopsy lab and the morgue. I found the controversial corpse and made a cursory examination. I confronted the M.E. about his findings on the case. He insisted the victim was stabbed to death. I asked him about the several large bullet holes I’d just found. He was speechless.

Direct cremation would have avoided a lot of controversy and embarrassing questions. It’s an idea whose time has come.

These are also known as “drive-through” cremations, I’m sure you can find more if you look. Google “drive through crematorium.” I’m sure every mobster should have these places on speed-dial.

FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #33

Fandango’s Provocative Question #33

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding pious or self-righteous. Personally, I always wonder if I have a price too and it’s merely that no one has offered to pay it that I have managed to stay true to my fundamental beliefs. When you’ve never been tempted or at least not tempted enough, it is hard to know what your own boundaries truly are.

This question was plucked from my post, so to a large degree, I’ve answered it already. Still, it’s a valid question with many possible answers and even more questions that lie along its borders.

The question of whether morality is part of “God’s personal patch” versus being a basic human issue is old. It’s a question that goes to the heart of every religion and dogma — as well every set of personal beliefs. It’s older than our literature and for all I know, they were pondering some version of this in cave dwellings.

For at least most of my life, as a child, adolescent, and adult, I have believed that we are all born with a fundamental knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong. It isn’t something we need to be taught. We know it. Actually, Genesis essentially says more or less the same thing.

In our bones, in our brains, in that strange space we have that is neither physical or “brain matter,” but rather a special place where we preserve our personal beliefs.

That we all know what is right and wrong from our earliest youth through all of life does not mean that we always adhere to it. We have all done the wrong thing, whether it was big and bad, or little but nonetheless, wrong.

The cynical saying that “Everyone has a price” means no matter what you believe — or why you believe it — if you are offered a good enough deal, you’ll fold and do the wrong thing. It insinuates that greed is ultimately the most powerful emotion of which man is capable.

I want to believe that this is untrue and some of us cannot be bought. But do I know that? Or have many of us never been offered a high enough price? After all, the payment doesn’t have to be money. It can be power: legal power or religious power. It can make us godlike or rich beyond the ability of our calculator to count.

Greed can be the lust for knowledge, power, drugs, or land, though somehow money seems to squeeze into the equation somehow.


To quote Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good.”


Do you agree that greed is good? Or only that greed is good within limits, to a certain extent, but not beyond? That it’s okay to be greedy as long as you don’t get excessive about it?

What is excessive?

Does it mean only if you aren’t killing or crushing other people to reach your greed level, it’s okay? Or are there other issues?

I don’t believe that greed is good. The concept that greed is good offends me. I understand why greed feels good, though. I understand everyone wants to be safe from hardship and live life in comfort and dignity. I don’t consider that greedy. More like survival with benefits.

I certainly don’t think survival is greedy until you have to murder other people to achieve it. At which point you need to put down the gun and think about it.

It’s the excessiveness of greed that’s the problem. Because once you’ve broken through the comfort barrier and moved into luxury, when is enough, enough? What amount of whatever is sufficient?

When everything the eye can see, a man desires and comfort has long been surpassed, at what point do you stop? Do you ever stop? Can you stop? When you have the greedy bit clamped between your teeth, is there an end to your run?


ALEXANDER LEARNS VIRTUE
Gold coins of Alexander of Macedon

When Alexander had flown on the back of an eagle to the gates of Heaven itself, he bangs on the door until finally, a wise man answers. Because he is a great and powerful leader, he demands the right to ask questions of the wise men. These are his questions:

“Who is wise?” asks Alexander.

“He who can foresee the future,” answers the wise man.

“Who is a hero?” asks Alexander.

“He who conquers himself,” replies another wise man.

“Who is rich?” asks Alexander.

“He who rests content with what he has,” the wise men respond.

Alexander depicted on an ancient synagogue wall

Following this question, there is a story Talmudic legend about Alexander (who was a Jewish hero — a story too long to explain here), a balance scale, and a human eye.

The eye is placed on one side of the scale. On the other side, are piled mountains of gold, gems, and all other riches. Yet the human eye is heavier, no matter how many riches are put on the other balance. Finally, one of the wise men sprinkles a bit of dust over the eye. From that moment, even a feather is heavier than the eye.

Until a man is dead and covered in earth, he will always desire more. Only death can end his greed.

“By what means does man preserve his life?” asks Alexander.

“When he kills himself.” (Talmudist notes: By this, the wise men meant when a man destroys within himself all passion.)

“By what means does a man bring about his own death?” asks Alexander, referring back to the previous question.

“When he clings to life.” (Talmudist notes: When a man holds onto his passions and belongs to them.)

“What should a man do who wants to win friends?” asks Alexander. This is his final question.

“He should flee from glory and despise dominion and kingship,” the wise men conclude.

At the end of the Judaization process, Alexander is a humbled dictator. Although the lesson does not make him a wise man, the Talmudic dialectics bring Alexander the Great down a notch or two, make him a better person and a more benevolent leader.


If anyone assured me that one can be moral and hold a strong belief system without a formal belief system, my mother did that. She believed in virtue — goodness for its own sake. She believed in dignity, kindness, fairness, and equality. She was not a racist although she was positive that education made you a better person. If there was a break in her “system,” education was it.

She loved beautiful things for their beauty, yet before she died, she gave away or sold all her jewelry and art.


In the end, I do not believe anyone of any faith is incorruptible. We all have a weak spot. Something about which we feel so passionate, we would give or do anything to achieve it.

Incorruptibility is a choice. To find out if you are incorruptible, you’d need to be tempted by whatever it is that means the most to you. You would have to make painful choices and would forever wonder if you were a fool for choosing virtue over greed, especially if you urgently needed what you refused.

If you do not have a God about whom you can say, “His laws made me do it,” you will probably feel even sillier than the religious man who at least believes he is following the route God laid out for him.

A non-believer has only his self by which to gauge the rights and wrongs of life. Standing alone is hard. A good life is a hard life.

And no one ever promised it would be easy.

THE SUPER BOWL OF GROCERY SHOPPING – Garry Armstrong

Men can shop. I shop. Moreover, I am a highly competitive shopper. This is Guy Shopping, in three scenarios.

Scenario #1

I’m one of those guys who, if shopping “solo,” can zip through the aisles, getting everything on the shopping list. Sometimes I time myself. It’s like a “Wide, Wide World of Sports” event for me.

As I exit the supermarket, my cart full of groceries, I look at my watch. A big smug — almost “45-ish” smile on my face. I quietly proclaim in a “Howard Cosell-Marv Albert” style, “Yesssss!!

Scenario#2

I’m on my game as I begin shopping. First stop, produce.

As I check over the tomatoes, a cougar lady in stilettos, low-cut tank top, and stretch jeans — strike up a conversation about how nice it is to see a man knows how to handle tomatoes. I switch into my TV guy mode, wrap the chat, and move on. Next aisle, it’s the “groupies.” Folks who grew up watching me on TV. They’re blocking access to the pasta sauce and other canned goods. I do two or three minutes of my greatest hits and move on.

The deli section is always difficult. There are inevitably two or three people buying a quarter pound of everything. They must taste a piece of each item to make sure it’s quality stuff. Oy!!

Now, I’m trying to make up ground. Taking short cuts through various aisles and BAM — elderly people, crying kids, and a Mr. Know- It-All, blocking access. I silently curse their birthrights and smile my TV guy smile.

Finally, finally, I’m at the checkout counter.

Groceries bags are lined up in front of my stuff on the counter. The “hot and cold” bags are clearly open to be used for frozen food, meat, and so on. I slowly and clearly explain how the bags should be used. You know — perishables into the “hot and cold” bags. Please pack evenly.

I always bring extra shopping bags so I don’t have to lug overloaded bags up two flights of stairs.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

What was I thinking? It’s like I was speaking Klingon. Outside, I repack stuff at the car, loudly cursing the gods. The drive home is slow. Very slow.

The slow drivers who are always waiting for me are blocking the lane. Probably the same folks who blocked the supermarket aisles.

Scenario#3

I enter the supermarket and eyeball the “self check out” section. Do I have what it takes? I promise myself to try. Someday.

I can do it.

Fast forward. I approach the checkout counters, eyeball the “self check out” counter. No! I don’t have it. No true grit. Maybe next time.


Note: I omitted the folks who still ask why I don’t have “my people” shop for me. They are of the opinion that we are too rich to shop for ourselves. Yeah!

TOO LATE LEGAL – Marilyn Armstrong

“Have you considered marijuana?” floated past me on the conversational breeze. It was my previous cardiologist speaking. Was I in the Twilight Zone? No, he was merely suggesting pot might be a good drug. For me. It would deal with a variety of issues. He wasn’t suggesting “medical marijuana” because though theoretically we have it, insurance won’t pay for it and almost no doctors are certified to prescribe it. But don’t worry, now we can buy it recreationally — and legally — at a local shop.

“Uh, yes,” I said. “The downside, other than the price tag, is coughing. Coughing hurts.”

“Take in more air when you inhale,” he said. “You’ll cough less.”

Right. Like I didn’t know that already. He forgets that mine is the generation that made it popular. The biggest users of legalized pot are —  you guessed it — senior citizens.

I grew up in a world where getting busted for having a couple of joints in your pocket could land you in jail for a long time. A world in which marijuana supposedly was the gateway drug to a life of dissipation and degradation which would end with you lying face down in a gutter in a part of town where the cops won’t go.

Now I live in a world where the cardiologist recommends smoking pot.

My mother was born in 1910 and passed in 1982. Growing up, horse-drawn carts were far more common than automobiles. She was a child during World War I, a married woman and a mother in World War II. She survived — somehow — the Great Depression and marched with friends and family in a spontaneous parade of celebration when the New Deal passed. Even though the Depression didn’t really end until World War 2 and brought employment to everyone who wasn’t fighting.

By the time she passed, there was cable television, home computers, and two cars in every driveway. One day (I was a kid) I shouted: “Oh look, a horse and cart!”

She looked bemused. “When I was your age,” she said, “We used to shout “Look, a motor car!”

And today, my cardiologist suggested pot. Okay. I think I see a motor car.

Our local cannabis shop is at the edge of town, close to the main road that goes to Rhode Island. Convenient. It also has a parking lot.

I was afraid they’d put the shop in the middle of town and we’d have a permanent traffic jam.

Massachusetts, in its infinite wisdom, has so heavily taxed cannabis that it’s more expensive to buy it legally than to get it from ye olde dealer. In fact, it’s a lot cheaper to buy it from the same guy you bought it from before they made it legal. Competition lowered his prices while the state upped theirs. Figures, doesn’t it?

As it turns out, pot has no particular medical advantages for me.  The cannabutter I made was so strong, I didn’t feel better. Mostly, I just passed out.

I wish it did work medicinally. I wish something would work. The company that made the medication that always worked for me stopped making it a few months ago. It was cheap to buy and it helped. But it wasn’t profitable. Now we are searching for something else that won’t make me sick, make my heart stop, or give me ulcers while reducing the pain enough to allow me to function.

Pity the pot didn’t do it.