TOM’S CATARACT SURGERY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Recently, Tom’s cataracts started to give him problems driving at night. He began seeing large halos around the headlights of the oncoming cars, which made driving a challenge. He went to the eye doctor who told Tom that his cataracts were ‘ripe’ and it was time to get cataract surgery in both eyes.

Now, no one looks forward to someone slicing and dicing their eyeballs, but Tom was borderline phobic about anyone touching his eyes. We had two close friends who had recently had the surgery and they both reassured Tom that they had felt nothing during the procedure and little if any discomfort afterward.

Tom listened to them but didn’t believe them on some level. So he procrastinated about scheduling the surgery – and procrastinated, and procrastinated.

When he finally scheduled it, he didn’t feel good about it. He worried more and more as the surgery date drew near and he reached a peak of panic the sleepless night before D-Day. On the ride to the surgery center, as well as in the waiting room, Tom kept repeating that he really didn’t want to do this. I began to worry that he might make a run for it.

Of course, Tom had to wait endlessly at the doctor’s office before he was finally taken in for the seven-minute procedure. So by the time he saw the doctor, his blood pressure must have been off the charts. Fortunately, along with buckets of numbing drops, they gave him some ‘good drugs’ to relax him.

I waited anxiously in the waiting room for an hour before he came out the other end. During that time, I saw a veritable parade of post-surgery patients, smiling in their identical pairs of unfashionable sunglasses. I relaxed as I realized that no one seemed freaked out or even stressed.

So I was not surprised when Tom reappeared, gushing about what a weird but not unpleasant experience it had been. As he had been told, he felt nothing but water being pumped into his eye. He saw strange lights and heard psychedelic music, which made it all feel like a mini acid trip.

Tom in his ‘cataract sunglasses’

Fresh out of surgery, his eye was blurry and totally dilated, and he felt like he had a grain of sand in his eye, but he could already tell how much better his vision was. Everything was brighter and clearer, especially colors. Tom said it was as if he had been looking at the world through a yellow filter and suddenly now he was seeing everything in vibrant, living color.

We bumped into an old friend in the waiting room who was coming in for the same surgery. Tom went on and on about how awesome his vision was now and told his friend not to worry but to get ready to be amazed at how colorful and sharp the world is.

By the next day the dilation was gone and even though only one eye was fixed, Tom’s vision was dramatically improved. He no longer needed his glasses for distance vision but will still permanently need reading glasses. Not a big deal. He also could see that our sunroom was painted bright blue, not green or teal.  And he was telling everyone what a miracle he had just experienced!

Tom seeing great without his glasses for the first time in decades

Now Tom can’t wait for the second surgery!

REMY’S DADDY ISSUES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Our two-and-a-half-year-old rescue dog, Remy, is a Daddy’s girl.

Remy

She shows her love for Tom in a variety of ways, some endearing and some annoying. For example, when we go upstairs to bed, Remy immediately lies down smack in the middle of Tom’s ‘spot’ on the bed and won’t budge. She follows Tom with her eyes and wags her tail, but no amount of Tom’s cajoling or commanding will get her to move. When Tom gets into bed, he has to physically push her out of the way to make room for himself.

Remy sleeping with Tom

Remy has problems with her anal glands (if you don’t know about dogs’ anal glands, you’re lucky) and she has to go to the vet every three weeks to have them cleaned out. That’s a lot of vet visits!

Remy pawing at Tom

Originally I took her myself, but she would sit bolt upright in the car and cry, howl, whine and scream for the entire half hour ride. It was unnerving and probably not pleasant for her either.

Then I got the idea to have Tom come with us on our torturous rides to see if it calmed Remy down. It was miraculous.

With Tom in the car, Remy was quiet and even lay down peacefully and closed her eyes, so now Tom is stuck going to the vet with her every three weeks.

Tom and Remy cuddling

Another weird expression of affection comes every morning right after breakfast when Remy starts to jump around, wag her tail expectantly and bark at Tom as if she wants him to do something. But when he goes into the backyard with her, she just sits on the steps and looks at him.

Occasionally she’ll run around with him for maybe a minute and then run back inside. We can’t figure out what she wants Tom to do, but whatever it is, she doesn’t want the same thing from me.

Remy with Tom driving the boat

In the same vein, when I’m getting the dogs’ dinner ready, Remy will go up to Tom and bark and whine and jump on him and paw him. I always feed the dogs, never Tom, so why she is pestering him while I’m actually preparing her food, is another mystery. But it’s always all about Tom.

Remy and Tom communing

One other unique token of love happens when Tom gets out of the shower. Remy obsessively licks his legs while he brushes his teeth. I think it’s funny – she may be attempting to groom him.

Tom finds it disconcerting though and tries to get her to stop. While she may give me a few perfunctory licks when I get out of the shower, it’s nothing like her devotion to Tom’s legs. I adore Remy but I have to admit that she has something special with Tom. I actually feel good about that because the dog we lost before we got Remy, Lucky, was also more Tom’s dog. Tom missed that bond.

Remy kissing Tom

Our other dog, Lexi, is my shadow, who thinks her job in life is to protect me from errant squirrels, cars on the road and especially the cleaning lady with the vacuum cleaner. She loves Tom but is clearly ‘my’ dog.

Remy and Lexi

Remy does have an independent streak. Lexi is always on the sofa with us but Remy sometimes disappears while we’re watching TV. Lexi is always on the bed with us, but Remy sometimes goes off on her own. It’s nice that she feels secure enough to do her own thing, but it’s also nice that she shows us how loved we are – especially Tom.

NATIONAL AND PERSONAL TRAGEDIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Everyone who was over the age of five on November 22, 1963, remembers where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot. It was a seminal moment in most people’s lives.

I was in a ninth grade math class taught by my crusty, no nonsense math teacher, Miss Rosenthal. It was the last class on a Friday and I was sitting next to the window in the front row.

Me around ninth grade

I suddenly heard shouting outside on the front walkway and saw kids gathering and talking animatedly. Miss Rosenthal got annoyed at me for looking out the window and told me to face front and pay attention. I protested that something was going on outside but Miss Rosenthal didn’t care. She insisted I stay focused on the class and ignore the crowd growing just a few feet away from me. When we went back to school on Monday, Miss Rosenthal apologized to the class for preventing us from hearing the breaking news sooner.

As soon as class was over, we were accosted by kids in the hallway with reports of JFK’s shooting. In a haze, I went to my locker, got my coat and went outside. By the time I got to the front door, everyone was hysterical because JFK had died.

We were all crying on the car ride home. I spent the entire weekend watching the round the clock coverage of the death and the funeral. I saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot on live TV. I shared this grueling experience with most of the country – the first time we all went through a national crisis together in that way.

Oswald getting shot on live TV

In contrast, my mother was out shopping that Friday afternoon. She was looking at sets of China and fell in love with an expensive set that was way above her budget. She reluctantly left the store but was proud of her frugality. She immediately heard the news about JFK’s assassination. Her reaction, after horror and sorrow, was “Life is short”. So she turned around, went back into the china shop and bought the china! That’s my mom in a nutshell – a president’s assassination translates into the purchase of something beautiful.

My mom around 1963 all dolled-up to go out

I actually saw John F. Kennedy up close, in person, twice. The first time, his car slowly passed ours on the FDR Drive. He was in a convertible with the top down and his hair was blowing in the wind. He was charismatic. The second time, he was president and his motorcade was driving up Park Avenue, in New York City, the street I lived on. I was about twelve and was walking home. I stopped and stood in the street to catch a glimpse of his car. I saw him clearly through the window and I waved to him. As I watched the car drive past me, Kennedy turned around and waved back at me. There was no one else there that he could have been looking at! I was thrilled and I can still see his face in my mind.

JFK

Later in high school, I had a different experience with death. My best friend, Anne, lived a few blocks from me and we spent a lot of time together. One day, Anne’s father pulled me aside. He told me that Anne’s mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he wanted me to be the one to tell her. I was in eleventh grade! I was shocked and terrified. But he pleaded with me and said he just couldn’t do it himself.

When Anne was visiting, I sat her down in my comfy chair and gave her the bad news. As I had expected, she wanted to go right home and be with her parents. Her mother died a few months later.

My friend Anne in her Senior Yearbook photo

Unbelievably, this scenario repeated itself the very next year! In our senior year in high school, Anne’s father was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her Aunt Edna, her father’s sister, was very close to the family. She came to me and, again, asked if I would tell Anne that she was losing her sole remaining parent. I protested but Edna said that she and her brother didn’t want to be the ones to break the news to Anne.

So, again, I sat Anne down and gave her the life-changing news. This was devastating for me as well as for her. We both cried. When her dad died later that year, Aunt Edna moved in with Anne and became her permanent mother and father.

My senior yearbook photo

Anne and I stayed friends through college but then lost touch. We only reconnected, by email, after our 40th high school reunion, over ten years ago. She was a lawyer, was married and had two grown daughters. She seemed content with her life and I felt relieved to know that she had landed on her feet after her early tragedies.

So my high school years had different but powerful brushes with death that helped shape who I am and how I deal with tragedy and death.

BERNSTEIN VERSUS THE BEATLES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother had a friend named Helen who was tall, thin, blond, classically beautiful and always stylishly dressed and coiffed. She could be a bit ditzy but she was a wonderful friend with a wide circle of people who loved her. She was fiercely loyal and would go to great lengths to help, protect, or defend her friends.

Helen in 1979

Helen lived in the same Park Avenue apartment building in New York City as Leonard Bernstein and the two families became close. Bernstein was a world-renowned conductor and composer whose works ranged from classical pieces to Broadway shows, like “On The Town”, “Wonderful Town”, and his most iconic, “West Side Story”. He conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years and gave popular TV lectures on classical music. In addition, he was an author and a pianist and a flamboyant personality.

Coincidentally, Linda Eastman’s parents also lived in the same building as Helen and Leonard Bernstein and Linda Eastman, who married Paul McCartney. When Paul and Linda visited her parents, word would get out and large crowds of avid Beatles fans would gather outside the building in the hopes of getting a glimpse of Paul McCartney.

Paul McCartney and Linda Eastman in their early years together

One such day, Helen was out with Leonard Bernstein and they returned home to find Paul’s fans congregating outside their apartment building. For some reason, Helen saw Paul McCartney’s fans as a slight to her friend, Leonard Bernstein. So she got on her soapbox and started to lecture the crowd on what a brilliant and creative musician Bernstein was. She listed his composing credits as well as his conducting accomplishments and told the crowd that they should be honored to be meeting him!

Beatles’ fans

Her stump speech for Bernstein went right over the young girls’ heads. But it’s the sign of a true friend when someone goes to bat for you even when her words fell on deaf ears. But I always loved the image of this elegant beauty schooling a bunch of Beatles fans on classical and Broadway music!

STORM STORIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There are many interesting storm stories in my family history, starting with my Mom as a young woman. Sometime in the mid-1940s, before she married my dad, my mom and her friend Ethie were staying at my father’s summer house in the woods in Easton, Connecticut. There was a terrible storm raging outside, complete with brilliant lightning and crashing thunder.

Mom before she married my father

To wile away the time, they listened to the radio. That night, the radio drama piece that was on was a scary story about a woman alone in the woods on a stormy night. In the play, there was a sudden knock on the door. Cue the ominous music. In real life, there was a sudden knock on the Connecticut door, accompanied by an eerie silence. Then there was another knock.

Mom and Ethie nearly jumped out of their skins! They weren’t expecting anyone so they were terrified. They ran into the kitchen and each grabbed a heavy pot to use as a weapon, if necessary. They bravely approached the door. Ethie stayed behind the door and my mother opened it, pot brandished.

There stood a drenched man – Ethie’s boyfriend! He was worried about Mom and Ethie being alone in a secluded house so he decided to check in on them. Instead of the warm welcome he anticipated, he almost got his head bashed in with a pot!

Ethie with me as a baby

The earliest storm I remember happened when I was about six or seven years old. Again, we were in the Easton house and there was a hurricane that caused the power to go out. I don’t remember much except that I thought this was a great adventure. I loved watching my parents improvise to keep us warm, fed and entertained.

My dad lit a fire, which he rarely did. Our fireplace was mainly there for decorative purposes and often had flower pots or decorative objects in it instead of wood. That night it got to be a real fireplace with a real fire. That in itself was a treat for me. Then Dad proceeded to cook salami on a stick over the fire. It’s the only time in my entire life that I remember seeing my father cook. And I’ve never heard of anyone choosing to cook salami over an open fire. But it made a delicious sandwich!

Dad and me when I was around five

In my teen years, another hurricane knocked out the power in Easton and this crisis went on for days. My mother arranged with the local butcher to store her frozen meat in his freezer so it wouldn’t go bad. We had filled the bathtubs with water so we were able to flush the toilets.

Me at around fourteen or fifteen

When the tub water ran out, my mother got a clever idea. We could drive down to the pool (which was at the bottom of the hill that the house stood on) and bring pool water up to the house. So we took our biggest, cast iron pots with handles, and filled them at the pool. The problem was that the ride back to the house was on a bumpy, dirt road. We tried to drive slowly and carefully, but by the time we got back to the house, most of the water had sloshed onto the floor of the car.

Not an efficient solution.

Our pool

As we were trying to figure out how many trips we would have to make to solve our toilet flushing problem, the power miraculously came back on! We often laughed about this creative but flawed McGyver moment!

Another memorable storm story happened when I was a teenager. My mother and I were driving from our apartment in New York City to our house in Easton in a raging blizzard. The snow and the wind created total whiteout conditions. We couldn’t see two feet in front of us. We literally had to get out of the car to figure out where the road was and which way it went.

This was how bad the visibility was!

I had anxiety issues so this could have been a terrifying, stressful experience. But my mother was an upbeat, positive person with a wicked sense of humor.

She turned this situation into a silly game. I remember laughing hysterically as we blindly inched our way up the highway. Somehow Mom made it feel like an episode of “I Love Lucy.”

From then on, I tried to model my crisis behavior on my mother’s. I always try to find humor in muddling through. When given a choice between laughing and crying – always go for the laugh!

Mom when I was seventeen or eighteen

One more interesting storm experience involves Tom and my boat. When hurricanes directly hit our marina, the marina staff have to take the boats out of the water, to protect them. They put them in the parking lot, on stilts, like they do to store the boats over the winter. This happened in advance of Hurricane Sandy, in 2012. Amazingly, the small staff managed to get over 130 boats out of the water in about 36 hours.

What hurricanes can do to a marina

The crazy thing was that in the storm, the water flooded the parking lot and came all the way up to the bottom of the boats. Any more flooding and the boats would have started to float around the parking lot, crashing into one another. That would have been a major disaster. One sailboat from a nearby mooring also ended up in our parking lot, marooned when the water receded. It was a bizarre situation.

In 2011, we had lost power in the house twice, for a week each time. That’s when we decided to get a generator. It took forever to get it installed and it was operational just a week before Hurricane Sandy hit the next year.

Since then, our storm stories have been boring – the power goes out and then ten seconds later, it comes back on again. We often still lose phone lines and internet service, so it can still be an inconvenience. But nothing to write home about – or write a blog about!

This is our precious generator!

QUOTH THE RAVENMASTER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There are some strange professions. Many of them are with the British Royal Household, like Keeper of the Queen’s Stamps, Grand Carver, and Royal Clock Winder. However, the one that caught my eye was written about on October 21, 2018, in the Washington Post: Ravenmaster.

The Ravenmaster takes care of the seven ravens who reside at the Tower of London, the 11th-century fortress that is one of Britain’s most popular tourist sites. It was a prison and an execution site for many, like Anne Boleyn. It has numerous lurid stories from it’s long and brutal history.

Christopher Skaife in his regular Ravenmaster uniform

Ravens seem to have started living at the Tower in the Victorian era when the Gothic Revival was in full swing. Charles Dickens kept a raven as a pet.

The Tower birds are now celebrities in their own right and they receive loving and meticulous care from the current Ravenmaster, Christopher Skaife. He gives them treats of dog biscuits soaked in blood and he has had to climb parts of the Tower to retrieve rogue ravens.

Treats for the ravens

Mr. Skaife was a machine gunner in the British Army for 24 years and then became a Yeoman Warder, one of 37 élite guards who are keepers of tradition and tour guides. He now lives at the Tower with his family. It must be fun for his kids to bring friends ‘home’ for playdates!

The Tower ravens come from bird breeders. They are wild, though acclimated to humans. They roam free during the day. At night, Skaife has to round them up and put them in airy enclosures to protect them from foxes, who ate two ravens in 2013.

Night enclosures

In the morning, Skaife releases the birds in careful order, from least dominant to the most dominant. The birds apparently have a very strict hierarchy which the Ravenmaster must respect. They have also divided the tower into individual territories according to that hierarchy.

Ceremonial Ravenmaster uniform

The birds are scavengers and like to rummage through the trash cans. They are particularly fond of potato chips but they don’t like the flavored kind, like cheddar or onion. So they wash the flavored chips in puddles to get rid of the extra flavoring, which I think is very clever! They are also known to steal sandwiches from children.

Ravens at Tower

Ravens can fly but not too far or too often. They can fly to the roof or the ramparts, but that’s about it. Previous caregivers would trim their feathers so they couldn’t fly at all. But one bird, on Skaife’s watch, climbed up some scaffolding and leaped off it. He died in Skaife’s arms so Skaife will no longer limit the ravens’ flight.

Once one raven did manage to escape the Tower and flew down the Thames River. She was captured by a local birdwatcher who recognized the bracelet on her leg as belonging to the Tower flock. The Good Samaritan put the raven in her gym bag and returned her to her home.

Raven at the Tower

I love all animals so this job caught my imagination. While not the cutest or friendliest of birds, it must be gratifying to preserve a long-held tradition at an historically famous site. Caring for a ‘conspiracy’ or an ‘unkindness’ of ravens, the words for a group of ravens is clearly not a job for everyone.

After eleven years, Christopher Skaife is still going strong at his job. He’s even written an autobiography. Who knew that being a Ravenmaster could be the route to becoming a published author!

 

DOG DISCRIMINATION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The TSA uses about 1200 dogs at airports to screen passengers and baggage. These dogs are from seven breeds, two of which have pointy ears, including German Shepherds. But four out of five of the recent additions to the canine corps have droopy ears. Why?

Because the TSA decided, purely anecdotally, that people generally view floppy-eared dogs as more docile and friendly and pointy-eared dogs as more aggressive.

Allegedly, floppy-eared dogs don’t scare children but the pointy-eared dogs do.

Floppy-eared Golden Retriever

There is some research that supports the idea that people view pointy-eared dogs as more intimidating. This is a totally unsupported prejudice and it’s unfair to dogs because many dogs with pointy ears have had their naturally floppy ears cropped as puppies. Others have been genetically engineered by breeders to look that way.

Let’s be clear – pointy ears do not indicate an aggressive or dominant temperament. Ear configuration has no relationship to a dog’s disposition. This fear of pointy-eared dogs has been called ‘canine racism.’

Pointy-eared German Shepard at airport

I know a lot about doggie discrimination.

My daughter, Sarah, works with a Pit Bull rescue group in LA called Angel City Pit Bulls. One of their missions is to fight breed discrimination, like breed specific legislation which prohibits Pits from certain buildings and even certain cities. London had a Pit Bull ban and Montreal is trying to enact one. This forces people to choose between living where they want and giving up their beloved pet or finding somewhere else to live with their dog.

Pit Bulls are the canine ‘bad guys’ du jour. In the past, German Shepherds were shunned as aggressive and dangerous but now are used as companions and seeing-eye dogs. Then Rottweilers became the ‘bad dog’ du jour — and they don’t even have pointy ears!

Rottweiler

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Pit Bulls were used as the ‘nanny’ dog – to protect children and be their early companions. They were considered the ideal family pet and many family photos from the period include young children with their Pit Bulls.

Old photo of Pit Bull with his child

What’s even more galling about Pit Bull discrimination is that ‘Pit Bull’ isn’t even a legitimate breed. It’s an umbrella label that encompasses dogs from at least four different breeds, including Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bulldog.

In shelters, dogs are labeled ‘Pit Bull’ if someone thinks they have some Pit Bull in them. The designation is totally arbitrary and subjective. And there are more Pits in shelters than any other breed and they are euthanized at a higher rate than any other breed.

Modern Pit and baby

To add insult to injury, the breeds that make up the faux category ‘Pit Bull’, are smack in the middle of the ratings for aggressiveness by breed. They are rated between Labs and Golden Retrievers! Clearly, these dogs are nowhere near being the most aggressive dogs.

In fact, the two most aggressive breeds are Chihuahuas and Dachshunds. But no one lodges complaints when attacked by a Chihuahua, probably because it would be embarrassing.

Sweet-faced Pit Bull

The most dominant traits in Pit Bull breeds are their gentleness and sweetness, their friendliness and their desire to please their humans. They got a bad reputation decades ago when dog fight promoters started training Pit Bulls to fight.

Remember, any dog can be trained to be aggressive and fight. And Pits are especially trainable because of their desire to please. Many Pits who have been rescued from dog fighting rings have been successfully rehabilitated and have been adopted as family pets – even after being trained to be aggressive.

So there is no basis for the widespread perception that Pit Bulls are more dangerous than other breeds. There is also no basis for the perception that pointy-eared dogs should be feared more than floppy eared dogs.

People seem to need to discriminate. They discriminate against people and dogs. We should fight prejudice and discrimination wherever we find it, even when it’s dogs. Mostly, dogs are nicer than people anyway.

Support dogs!