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Saturday, May 20, 2017

 
Too Many Changes 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
                        -- David Bowie

My life had been getting into a pattern lately. Days took on a sameness with slight variations. Work on a few different writing projects. Go to the gym or go downstairs to our exercise equipment. Read from books or on the computer. Watch MSNBC for hours on end and curse the darkness taking over the White House. Think about and do some research for that long-anticipated book (short story, essay, paragraph, sentence, whatever) about my father’s family’s migration from Eastern Europe to the Deep South—which I still haven’t begun writing in earnest, etc.

Some people hate sameness and look forward to change. Me, not so much.

But change seems to keep coming in waves into my life lately.

Last Friday, for instance, I had to work with a new trainer at the gym. New for me at least. I have gotten accustomed to Marlon, my exercise mentor from Peru. He pushes me, but not too hard. I sweat, but not in buckets. But Marlon was going to be away from the gym for several weeks with a mysterious illness. So, I agreed to work with Will, who, as it turns out, seemed to have no respect for my advancing age. Here is an example. He put me on a new machine and showed me how to push and pull properly. He figured I knew what to do after I pulled or pushed five times. Then he said, “Good, do 20 of those.”  Then we began our count. I figured we were starting at 6 since I had already done 1 through 5 getting into the pattern. He began counting at 1! So, we were doing 25 and not 20, it seemed. Outrageous!

Then, he kept increasing the weight on each machine with each rep. Soon, I was sweating buckets. Amazingly, I agreed to work with him two times next week.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
 
Small changes at the gym, big changes elsewhere.
 
The patterns of our lives have been undergoing major changes at home.  Our son Brett initiated those when he collapsed on a New York street a month ago and was rushed to NYU Hospital. Three life-saving brain surgeries later to deal with a long-festering brain tumor, and all of our lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out. For the next several months, he will be living back in our house in New Jersey, building up his strength and stamina and getting his overall health in order. His doctors are optimistic. He and we are learning to be optimistic. We’re looking to get our patterns back. It’s not quite as simple, or as satisfyingly boring as it was before, but we plan on getting back there again soon.

Brett has a happy reunion with our dog Tess.
He'll need the helmet for a few more weeks
to protect his fragile skull.

Brett posing with two fellow baldies.
His recuperation has been going remarkably well.

 Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange) 

Audrey turned to me the other night in bed and said, “I really don’t like change that much.” I have to agree. After all, I remember those days, just last week, when 20 was 20 and not 25.

Friday, January 6, 2017

 
Seems Like Old Times . . .

I am thinking a lot about aging lately and about one of Audrey’s grandmother’s most famous sayings, “It’s no fun to get old.” The expression is more fatalistic than Oomi was herself. She was a remarkable woman, who was commuting downtown to a job as an inspector in the garment district into her 80s. But she did have a tendency to make sighing and burping sounds in her later years. I have been making some of those same sounds lately . . . and more. Is that creaking that I hear coming from my bones?
Audrey and Oomi, a long time ago
To add to my sense of foreboding is the recent diagnosis by my ophthalmologist that I need cataract surgery. (Isn’t that something for only old people?) So, next week, I will be going under the knife, or whatever they use for removing and replacing my original, now defective natural lens with a better artificial one. My doctor is very optimistic. He assures me that the surgery will help me feel more comfortable dealing with glaring headlights at night, a problem that until recently I thought plagued only old people. (Uh-oh, there goes that refrain again.) He also claims that 98% of people who undergo the procedure come through with positive results. I am not fully reassured. His comment makes me think of those times as a school kid when I would come home with a 98 on a test, and my father would ask, “What happened to the other two points.” It also doesn’t help that the staff at the facility where the procedure takes place asked me during a preclearance interview if I have an advance directive on file—just in case. Oh my!

As Petula Clark sang, "The lights are much brighter there. . ."
I am not alone in this feeling of declining, it seems. When I told a cousin about the upcoming surgery, he noted that he had a similar procedure a few years ago. He assures me that his condition was probably worse than mine. Of course, when I complained previously about another health issue to the same cousin, he quickly topped it with one of his own.

Then last week when I was in Savannah, I mentioned another potential health concern to my brother, the doctor. It has the word “hernia” connected to it. “That’s nothing,” he said, “I have a …”

 
My brother and cousin are both in their 70s, and they are teaching me an important lesson about getting older. Whenever someone mentions a health issue (and that is quite often the topic when us aging people get together), be prepared to describe your own issue in detail and to explain why yours is more worrisome. Maybe Oomi was wrong. There is fun to be had in growing old. It’s just a perverse sort of fun in which you out-complain everybody else.

Friday, November 18, 2016

 
 Good Charity in Name Only!

Sometimes you have to vent. So that’s what I’m doing today.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am a soft touch. For years, I have succumbed to those dinner-time calls from a wide range of charities for small donations. I would make one demand of the caller—that I not be called again for a full year. The caller, of course, would readily agree to the condition and promise to write it on my “card” at the charity office, though I am sure that he or she didn’t make an actual notation. Instead, I would get another call 4 to 6 months later, and, as the caller suspected, I would have long forgotten just when the previous call and donation had been made, and we would go through the same scenario again. And a few weeks later, Audrey, looking over the credit card account, would ask, “Did you give to the Cancer Fund again. That’s the third time this year.”
Charity solicitors know all of the right words.
[It will also come as no surprise that Audrey is a harder touch than I am about these charity calls. And she is probably more in the right than I am. After she called me on several contributions to something called “Good Charity” over the past few months (and not to the Heart Fund, Cancer Fund, or Childhood Leukemia Fund to which I thought I was giving), I decided to look up Good Charity, Inc. as a fundraising umbrella. I learned that only a small percentage of my donation would actually go where I thought it was going.  I even decided to confront my next caller on this matter. I asked what percentage of my contribution the fund would receive and was given an honest answer—about 15%. I should not have been surprised but I was, both by the answer and by the fact that the caller would baldly tell me the truth. Then I thought about the issue from the charity’s point of view—15% of whatever the fundraising callers were pledged was lots better than 100% of no pledges. And the money was raised without any organization staffers or volunteers having to be involved. But I still felt that I was being taken for a bit of a ride here.]

So I decided to change my ways—sort of. I began asking paid solicitors who they worked for, and if I didn’t like the answer I received, I would say no and hang up. My resolve lasted through a few solicitations. Then, last week I succumbed again. I got a call from the Children’s Leukemia of America Fund. Having survived lymphoma more than a decade ago, I am an even softer touch for cancer-related charities. And who is so hard-hearted as to refuse to support a group that promises better cancer treatment for kids?
When the solicitor noted that I had given a certain contribution last year and that they had, as promised, not contacted me for a full year (possibly true), I agreed to match last year’s amount without asking my qualifying questions. I even agreed to give my credit card information to complete the transaction. I know that’s a little too trusting, but if I am willing to pay for my New Yorker subscription and pants from a clothing catalog that way, why not a charity for kids? Of course, two weeks later, I did note that the money I had given was listed on our Visa account as being paid to (you guessed it) Good Charity, Inc.

But that’s not really why I am venting today. Here is the reason.

A few days ago, I got a letter from the Children’s Leukemia of America Fund. I expected a thank-you note, but what I received was an acknowledgment of my pledge and an envelope to use to send in a check or credit card information to pay off the pledge—the pledge that had already been noted on my credit card statement. Good Charity, Inc. was attempting to “double dip,” which is really over the line, even for them.

So that’s my story, sad but true. But am I any wiser for it?