Thursday, December 31, 2015

Losing It

The other day I spent two hours looking for our telephone book. It’s a red one about 5 by 7. Maybe you’ve seen it. Usually when I lose something I find something else that I lost but didn’t know it. This time I got so flustered I also lost one of our land-line phones.

I hate wasting my time looking for things when I could be wasting my time doing other meaningless things. I once spent an entire day looking for Peggy’s medication that hadn’t arrived yet in the mail.

Now in the search for both the phone and phone book, I hit upon one of the most profound thoughts in the history of epistemology, namely, that everything is somewhere. I’m not sure if the inverse is also true… that nothing is nowhere. But I am willing to go out on a limb and declare that some things are certainly somewhere.

Life is a series of losses. We lose our virginity and that’s really a gain. We lose our innocence but not entirely if we’re lucky. Peggy went on a diet and lost height. Then there are a series of lost causes. Even countries have disappeared from the map. After World War I an entire generation was lost. One by one our children scatter and we gain a bathroom. We lose our temper, a few teeth, hair and hearing. I’ve lost my shirt once or twice by dumb investments. In the end we lose our marbles.

Slowly we get dispossessed. It all starts with a prodigal sock which slithers out of the washing machine and makes its way across the street where it shows up in a garage sale a year later. I have lost two cameras while on trips abroad and a sweater which I left in a New Orleans taxi.

I’m stalling now waiting for my lost objects to make an appearance. I have imaged them both, pleaded, meditated and chanted for their safe return.

Aha, you rascal you. Here it is. The red phone book was leaning against a photo of Peggy wearing a red robe. Two minutes later I got a vision of the phone tangled in the bed sheets and there it was just where I left it.

I hope they didn’t feel neglected but in mitigation I must admit I was looking for them with only one good eye. My sinister eye has been delinquent for the past two weeks. Now I’m only hoping my lost vision returns.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Remembering Ernie White

He was a sophisticated man. A dear friend and a highly regarded psychiatrist with a well-developed aesthetic. Yet he also had a bit of Huck Finn in him. He gave mischief a good name.

Ernie loved language like nobody else I’ve ever known. He elevated listening to an art form. He investigated words, their sound, their weight and elasticity. Also their derivation. We enjoyed many moments together knocking phrases around to see if they stood up to scrutiny.

Ernie liked to tell of his days of truancy in elementary school. He refused to make the curlicues in penmanship demanded by his teacher. For this he was banished from the room, made to stand outside in the hallway when his favorite story was being read.

Maybe it offended his aesthetic, his singularity. He owned his own voice, his particular way of seeing. I cherished the way Ernie had of re-framing a work of art or a film or a life experience.

He integrated this particular gift through his profession, his appreciation of art and his entire being. Like any artist he was both intensely present and deliberately truant. He found his perch … just outside the door.

I’d like to believe that during these past few years when he fell nearly silent he was still present refusing life’s needless curlicues.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My Number One Christmas Song

I can almost remember Christmas in a previous incarnation. There I was back in merry old England with fellow wassailers, scarf flowing, hot toddy running warm and wild in my veins while our dulcet tones harmonized a repertoire of carols. A ha-penny or slice of mince pie was our recompense. Off behind the snow bank Charles Dickens could be seen scribbling his tale of a repentant Scrooge making his way to Bob Cratchit’s hovel. One man’s stab at addressing income inequality.

Many carols came out of Victoria’s reign. Even Old King Wenceslas, as we know it, was written during the mid-19th century. The Czech king actually lived nine centuries before. That was one of my favorites until I worked in a store where it was played on a continuous loop and numbed me into a catatonic stupor. It got so bad I welcomed Jingle Bells and Bing Crosby’s syrupy, White Christmas.

The one song commemorating the birth of baby Jesus that has always caught my fancy is the Cherry Tree Carol. It tells of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. Stopping in a grove of cherry trees Mary asks Joseph to gather some berries because she is with child. Her husband angrily tells his pregnant wife to have the father of the child do it. At this point, Jesus, speaking from the womb, lets Joseph in on their little secret by commanding a branch to lower with an offering for his mother. And the rest is pseudo-history.

The song goes back to the Middle Ages. It doesn’t have the usual refrains of other carols. Whether this is a nativity carol or a ballad seems to be a matter for scholars to ponder along with the number of angels dancing on a pin.

On yet another level it can be taken as the subversive Jesus with his seditious ideas about rich man/poor man, cheek-turning and do-unto-others, being carried by the feminine sensibility. This is not to be confused necessarily with the female as in Carly F. or Sarah P. The message brought into the world is being delivered to the masculine ear.

Or we can forget all that and just enjoy the haunting melody.

Joan Baez has a beautiful rendition available on you tube

Friday, December 18, 2015


The two directions could also pertain to our current divide. This country is more polarized than ever between people who agree with me and those who don’t. I suspect my ten worst anything list is their ten best. I’m comforted to know that a mere 24% of Americans are registered Republicans and 40% of them adore Donald Trump which means 90% of us don’t. But then there are those Independents who have allowed fear to damage their moral compass.

On yet another level there are times when I know the Janus-head feeling. I don't always agree with myself. That other face may be my disowned one. It's not a bad thing to stand on a threshold looking at both the wreckage and repair of one's life.
At this age I certainly have more memories than plans, more auld lang syne, old time's sake, times gone past, old long ago. Any excuse to raise a cup and bend an elbow, works for me. And so we sing with blood alcohol rising:

And there's a hand, my trusty fere! 
And gie's a hand o' thine! 
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught, 
For auld lang syne.

It makes a lot more sense after emptying a bottle of bubbly. The song laid fairly dormant till Guy Lombardo, my least favorite big bandleader, popularized it on radio in the late 20s and then later on TV. Had Robert Burns known about this he would have disowned the tune. But he didn’t own it to begin with. Its origins go back before the Scot.

On the Eve I always talk to my friend, Stanley, who remembers me from kindergarten as I do him. He promises not to reveal how I embezzled money as milk monitor and parleyed eleven cents into an empire of high-rise buildings in Manhattan. Like many memories this never happened but it could have been how a certain Republican candidate got his start.

This past year has been packed with notable events to record. We look forward to taking at least as many trips next year as in 2015…without leaving our computer screen. Traveling is far less strenuous with You Tube plus photos from intrepid friends and family.

I can also report that the dog we don’t have didn’t die. My three daughters graduated from high school but that was 35-40 years ago. I finally got enough punches on my car wash card to get a freebie in October. Everyone I know will soon be a year older except Peggy whose spirit is of no age.

Like the fabled Janus we look ahead, we look back and all the rest of the time we live in the moment. There goes another one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wanted: New Name for the Common Cold

Outside it was 29 degrees. The temperature in my body reached 102.6, rectally speaking. I was nine years old in 1942. The war wasn’t going too well; not over there and not inside me with germs, (were they not Germans?) invading my nostrils, east and west and the only throat I had. My bones felt like they’d been overrun by a Panzer division. My mother blamed the dreaded draft and the three sweaters I didn’t wear.

When Dr. Schildkraut was summoned for a house call I hoped my fever stayed up deserving of his attention. He stood at my bed carrying that outside air with him. What my mother cursed as miasma suddenly was transformed into fresh air. He scoped my ears, tongue-depressed me with an AH and prescribed Argyrol to paint my throat. He also ordered Empirin Compound, Neo-Silvol nose drops and Terpin Hydrate with Codeine cough syrup along with Compound Tincture of Benzoin for the vaporizer.

Argyrol, by the way, may have had no therapeutic effect but it made Albert Barnes a millionaire with money sufficient to pack his museum with great impressionist art…but I digress.

All of those remedies have since been declared worthless even if the smell felt good. We’ve come a long way. Yet we’ve lost some good words in our progress. The doctor diagnosed my misery as The Grippe. When I returned to school at least my larynx and pharynx had earned the purchase of that word, Grippe. Anyone can have a cold but to be in a vise was serious stuff. We have to do better with our nomenclature if we want a Telethon to wipe out the Common Cold. A cold is bad enough even without the adjective.

When I came to California I first heard the word, Croup, a barking cough. Now that’s a good one. It gets closer to croaking. Back east we didn’t bark, we whooped, as in Whooping Cough or Pertussis. We also had nasal Catarrh or Rhinitis, a copious discharge of mucus from inflamed membranes. Those words elicit more sympathy than running nose or sniffles.

Back among the pages of Charles Dickens, people suffered from much better sounding ailments such as chilblains, ague, apoplexy or dropsy. Folks had consumption before it was even conspicuous. Such maladies have either been eradicated or the words have passed into the romance of medical glossaries. Even lumbago has evolved to sciatica.

It might take lower respiratory bronchitis with pulmonary involvement to get the remaining Dr. Schildkrauts of the world out on a bitter winter night in Los Angeles when the thermometer dips below 60 degrees. More than likely the call to a doctor will just say to dial 911 or get yourself to the emergency room.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Vision Thing

I have double vision which is not half as bad as it sounds. If I buy 6 bagels it looks like a dozen. Every ball game is a double-header. When I come to a fork in the road I take both. On the other hand 30 minutes of a so-called Republican debate feels like I’ve wasted an hour of my life. I reported my double vision to my ophthalmologist… both of them.

On Dec. 16th I’m having surgery to correct the problem. It seems that the lens, from the cataract procedure four years ago, has slipped. Who knew I had a slippery slope of my own? It’s called subluxation. They are going to replace the lens, insert it in an anterior position and suture it to the tissue. Ouch!

The medical term for left eye, is o.s….oculus sinister. Southpaws in sports are lefties and there’s nothing sinister about them. I suppose early on all things left were suspect. In my case it is well-named. My left eye has let me down or I’ve let it down.

I’m OK with surgery. I usually just put myself in the
medical team’s expert hands, hope they got a good night’s sleep and close my eyes. Except now my eyes will be wide open. At least one of them.

Jeepers, creepers, where’d you get those peepers / Jeepers creepers where’d you get those eyes? / Gosh oh, get up how’d they get so lit up / Gosh oh, gee oh, how’d they get that size?
My peepers have become weepers. I’ve become a lachrymose sort of guy. The cataract surgery from 2011 also left me with dry eyes which is characterized by wet eyes. Blocked tear ducts produce constant tearing. I not only cry for Argentina. I weep for America after a Ted Cruz sound-byte. I even cry during football games…and that’s before the concussions.

I’ve grown accustomed to my eyes, compromised as they are. They’ve helped me stumble along this far. I’m willing to forgive them for picking out the wrong man at a police line-up. I couldn’t even spot Groucho Marx, without his mustache and cigar, photographed with his other four brothers.

Either I am color-blind or Peggy is. Not that I go through red lights but I see forest green where she sees teal. However we both agree her eyes are green…. all four of them. It’s become a daily challenge to pick out matching socks for her.

If I go blind maybe I’ll suddenly learn how to play the piano like Ray Charles though my preference would be George Shearing. If l live another fifty years I might just go to Costco and buy a new pair of eyes. Except they’d probably come six in a box. I’d have to go door to door to get rid of the surplus.

I’m expecting a full recovery. The test will be whether every sandwich still looks to me like a club. Otherwise I’ll have to rely on my third eye which is turned inward where everything is blurry anyway but is seen with imagined 20/20 acuity.