Six Days Can Be A Long Time

[Photo credit: Mel Brown]

The moment happened a few hours ago.  I was probably sitting in Starbucks on Broadway and 75th Street when the time came and went.  I was aware of the time, but I was likely checking my email.  Our apartment wifi was dead for the time being.

It was an arbitrary time, marked only by a sweeping second hand on an office wall clock.  It turned over at 5:00 pm on June 12, 2017.  One moment it was 5:00 pm, and then it was another time altogether.

So, what’s so important about this?  That changing moment marked the end of a work day for my wife, Mariam…an ordinary work day.  But, now, she now has only six days left to the end of her working career, her fifty-one years in health care is coming to a close.  That’s a long time of working and an inspiring event to celebrate.  Ever since she graduated from the Bellevue School of Nursing, she has changed bed pans, helped AIDS patients, started up a cardiology unit in a hospital, and rose to being the head of the hemophilia treatment center at Mount Sinai Hospital.  She also is the president of two boards, both in the bleeding disorders world, in the intensive and competitive world of New York City.

I have expressed my concerns about the vacuum that will enter her life from a powerful position…into retirement.  She says she is not concerned.  I trust her instincts…but I still worry.

Her boss, Dr. Chris Walsh, is now reviewing aspects of her job.

“I’m going to miss you,” he understated.

I am proud of Mariam’s accomplishments.  I am looking forward to when she will be by my side, each day…for years to come…to travel and to sit at home…reading, playing chess, discussing politics and learning new things. We’ll be having a quiet dinner at a small Italian restaurant on 73rd St. on June 21.  Yes, June 21, her final day…and the traditional Summer Solstice.  How appropriate is that?  The longest day of the year.  The days will be getting shorter, but I will be there with you, Mariam, to help you through the long winter nights to come. And, I will be there on December 21, the traditional Winter Solstice, when the days begin to grow longer.  I know that’s the date you look forward to the most.

I will be there when the black flies come and go and the mesquitos arrive.  I’ll be there when the hail hits the roof and the leaves begin to fall.  I’ll light the campfire and I’ll play some Leonard Cohen for you on Spotify.  I’ll be there to ease you into your years of retirement.

Good luck to you, Mariam.  God speed!

Six days can be a long time…after all, that’s how long The Creation took.  Let’s hope there’s rest on the seventh day.

The Winters Of My Life

garagepathsnow

“Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.  If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see.” 

–Robert Service. The Cremation of Sam Magee

I live in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York.  I don’t live in the Yukon.  But lately, I feel like the Yukon would be a bit more comfortable.  Am I living in Lapland or Spitzbergen or Thule…in lovely Greenland?

Don’t get me wrong.  Don’t misunderstand.  Don’t think I’ve lost my spirit and my love for wintertime.  I love snow.  I used to be able to skate backwards on the Brick Pond when I was young.  Remember the Brick Pond blog post?  Of course you do.  I have fond memories of the winters of my life.  My childhood girlfriend and I built a fantastic snowman in my front yard on Front Street after an unusual April snowstorm.  It was probably 1963.  In four days it was a pile of melted snow…like Frosty.  A birch tree grows in that place where the snowman stood and wasted away that April.

My brothers and I would play ‘Fox & Geese’ in our backyard on dark December evenings.  We’d make paths in the 18″ of snow, making figure 8’s and sharp turns…and then the game began.  It was a form of Tag, except you were expected to not just ‘tag’ someone…you would push them into the snow.

It was unbelievable fun.

And, we’d take our snowsuits off in the backroom and our faces were red and our clothes steamed from melting snow and sweat and our mother made hot chocolate and maybe popcorn while we changed clothes…into our flannel pajamas.  No hot chocolate or popcorn has tasted as good as it did on those winter nights in the 1950’s.

But, time moves on and bodies get older and the joy of moving snow has become a challenge that I can hardly face these days.  See the path to the garage?  I’ve shoveled such a path for sixteen years…at least (this is a rough guess) 30 times a year.  That makes an estimated 480 times I’ve pushed the shovel and threw the snow from the front porch to the garage door.  (I’d feel comfortable rounding that number up to 600).  Then came the carrying of the garbage and recycling bags.  Then I would walk into the garage where the bins are and find myself holding onto something to prevent my slipping on the frozen surface of the floor (from the melting of the snow from the car).

My back hurts in places I didn’t know existed.  I’ve learned all about the L3 and L4 that I will need surgery to correct my stenosis.  I think I may have had enough of the North Country winters.

I always believed that people needed four distinct seasons to keep one’s brain alive and enjoy the difference in weather.  In my hometown of Owego, NY, we had four seasons.  None of them went on too long…some of them like autumn were too short.  But, here in the Adirondacks there are five seasons. Sounds great, right?  Well it comes down to this:

  • A Long Winter
  • Mud
  • Bugs
  • A Short Summer
  • A Brief Autumn

I’ve checked my indoor/outdoor thermometer on a March night and saw that it was -38 F.  This was early in our years in the North Country.

“Mariam, let’s step outside and take a breath.  The inside of your nares will feel like pin pricks.”

“No,” she said.

“But it’s bracing, invigorating and stimulating,” I said.  “You never experienced this in Queens.” She stared at me for a moment probably wondering if I truly understood the word “NO”.  She went back to the warm sofa and picked up her book.

Clearly she didn’t fully understand the vibrant and visceral pleasures of walking our loop road when it’s forty below zero.  Sometimes I find her hard to understand.  What was her problem with a bit of a chill in the air?  It took me a year or two to fully get her point.

temp

[We never got around to setting this clock back an hour.  It’s really 11:20 on December 15 as I finish this blog. It’s expected to go down to -14 F in a few hours…but I can’t stay up that long. So take my word for it.]

I own more fleece than is legal.  I own enough wool to keep all the Irish Aran Island knitters in their due pint of Guinness.  I have seven pairs of gloves, none of which keeps my fingers from numbness.

So, without regret, we are relocating to New York City for about six months.  This is not because of my whining, mind you.  It’s a professional move on the part of my wife, Mariam.

This is a fantastic country here in the Adirondacks, but it’s a young person’s world.

The skiing is great on Whiteface this year, so I read.  But when your age is on the wrong end of the 60’s, I’d rather let someone else move the snow.

The weather in the City can be bitter in the winter when the wind blows off the Hudson, but I won’t have to shovel a path to put my garbage out or to get the newspaper.  All I have to worry about is the slush in the gutters that will be my challenge as I stroll up Broadway to Zabars for some Irish Cheddar and some salmon fillets.

And, if its way too awful to get out…I can always order take-out from a Chinese restaurant.

snow2000

[Mariam and I in front of our new home in 2000. Who would have guessed?]

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

snowroad

Sure, I could be walking down this snowy, quiet and picturesque road.  I could be thinking about the approaching holidays, the snow men, the fire in our downstairs living room wood burner…but I don’t imagine I’ll be making this walk.  Don’t get me wrong, I love snow.  I always have.  But as I stand in the middle of this road to take the photo, I can feel my lower back aching from the shoveling I already did twice today.  And now my left knee hurts.  What’s that all about?

It’s Monday afternoon.  On Saturday afternoon, I was on our roof in a tee-shirt and a leaf-blower and a pair of ear protectors (they look like high-end Bose earphones).  I couldn’t hear a thing.  The only way I knew the blower was ON was to watch the twigs, pine needles and wet leaves fly away…away to the back deck and the front porch.  This would require another half-hour of leaf blowing.  I stood on the roof like the Colossus of Rhodes…like Paul Bunyan.  I looked down at my wife whose job it was to help keep the extension cords from kinking up.  She was saying something to me.  I couldn’t hear a thing.  She could have been saying “the house is on fire and I just called 911” or she could be saying “I need to go to the bathroom”.

That was just this past Saturday. On Sunday, it began to snow.  It’s 5:30 pm on Monday as I write this and it’s still snowing.

That’s a quick transition from late fall cleaning to mid-winter torture.

Take a look at the next two photos.  The top one was taken an hour or so ago.  The next one was taken a year ago almost to the day (give or take a week or so).  Which photo shows a happy contented 69-year-old guy?  Which one depicts a senior citizen who is cursing the weather gods and feeling his lower back going south?

snow-shoveling

sailing

Trust me.  Both photos are of the same man.

No, I don’t think I’ll take a walk in a winter wonderland.  Instead, I’ll pour a glass of Cabernet and watch the darkness descend on the view toward the lake.  I’ll think of how quick things change.  How you’re young one minute and lost in late middle age the next.  How your friends are laughing and loving and talking and dancing one minute…and then their heart stops the next.  I’m not being morose here…I’m still grieving my childhood buddy, Jimmy Merrill, who passed away last Thursday.

Old friends, old loves…and memories.  I’m Irish so I tend to dwell on these things.

A little dose of melancholy falls into everyone’s lives.  It’s not a bad thing.  I just have to keep my eye on the future and the fact that there will be a day when the snow will melt and the crocus and the Lady Slippers will grow beneath the ferns and color will return to the world.  It’s so monochromatic right now.  But, that’s to be expected.

Another month must pass before the days begin to get longer.

dore

My MRI: The Awful Truth

SONY DSC

SONY DSC [Image from Wikipedia]

I have lower back pain.  I’ve had it for years.  Many of my readers will be saying:

“What’s he complaining about now?  I’ve had it for years.”

Point taken.  But, I moved to the North Country for a reason…I wanted to hike and climb more mountains.  Now, this back pain makes those dreams a bit unattainable.  And, besides, I already had back surgery for spinal stenosis back in December of 2013.  So, why the pain now?

I can think of several reasons:

-I lean too far forward when I change the spark plugs in my Ford Escape. (Joke)

-I spend too much time on my knees, with a hand lens, bending over in my small Adirondack lawn, and examining the next insect that will bite the crap out of my forearm and make me bleed like a leaky garden hose. (Joke, but our hose does leak)

-I spend too much time sanding the back deck in order to paint it, yet again, with a paint that is guaranteed to last at least five years. (True)

-I spend too much time bending over, when I visit New York City, to read the headlines of the New York Times without having to pay $2.50 for a copy. (Pretty much true)

-I spent too much time sitting behind the wheel of our Ford Escape on the recent 13,589 mile road trip and not enough time hiking in the Mojave Desert or Joshua Tree National Park. (True, but if you haven’t read all those blogs, then shame on you)

-I spent too much time bending over my laptop writing about forty blogs about the trip. (True)

So, I make an appointment with my neurosurgeon in Manhattan to get an MRI to see if my left side needs surgery to repair the damage from whatever.

On May 18th, I went to my appointment at Mount Sinai to get the truth, the truth that only an MRI can tell you.

I was laid out and tucked in on the moveable bed.  I looked up and saw how much smaller and narrower this “tube” was than the last time I had the procedure done.  I knew I was going to become like a Coney Island Kielbasa or a Nathan’s Hot Dog.  That is, if this thing had a mind of its own and somehow squeezed in on me.

The technician asked if I’d like to hear anything on the earphones.

“Anything but JZ or Big Daddy”, I said.  “How about some Mozart?”

“Fine”, he said.

“I’d like to hear Mozart.  Can you find Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Adagio and Fugue, KV 546?”, is that possible?”, I asked.

“Not a problem,” he said.

And I began to feel the bed slide me inside the stainless steel tube.

I heard the opening notes…and then all I heard for the next ninety minutes was either a soundtrack from Star Wars or a Phillip Glass piece…repeating chords and noise.

When it was all over, the guy helped me stand up straight, which was nearly impossible, and informed me where the nearest bathroom was located.

I knew that my Neurosurgeon was going to see me in several days to discuss the results.  Well, I demanded to speak with the Radiologist on duty that day…I wanted a quick read of the images so I could make future plans, if I had any to make.

Once he heard my name, and that I was a famous blogger from Owego, NY, he readily agreed to give me a quick summary of what he had on his computer monitor.

“Well”, he said, “see these little pinches in between your L-4 and L-5?”

Spine MRI image

[This is not my spine.  Image from Wikipedia]

“Of course I see them”, I said looking at a screen that resembled a NASA image of the far side of Charon, a moon orbiting Pluto.

“But, something worrisome is showing up here,” he said. “See the area just to right of my pencil point?”

“I see,” I said.

“Well, right down here near the end of your endothelial membrane, I see a disturbing sequence beginning to take form.”

“Give it to me straight, Doc, I can handle it.”

“Well, I see a growing sense of self-doubt and insecurity,” he said. “See here?”

I looked and said “yes”.

“Over here, near your Lumbo-sacral spine, is a large mass of guilt and misgivings.  Alongside that is a well of worry and loneliness.”

“I think I see,” I said.

“But there is also a distinct lack of morality, pleasure and sincerity,” he said, “and over here, see, there is growing sense of self-doubt, a mass of existentialism and nihilistic thought, as well as an approaching feeling of fear and trembling.”

He glanced at a copy of Kafka in my shoulder bag.

“But, I care about people,” I protested.

“You’d never know it from this,” he said, leaning back on his IKEA office chair.  “But, there’s more. Can you take it?”

“Hit me, Doc,” I said.  “Give me your best shot.”

“There is a large mass of growing dread and fear over here near your nerve-fibrillae.  You fear that your real active life and vigor of youth are gone,” he said.  “Am I right?”

“But, I’m going to be celebrating my 69th birthday in a few days…people will send me cards and letters.”

“Cards and letters? Where have you been, guy, off in a desert somewhere?”

“Actually, yes,” I said.

“You’ll be lucky if anyone notices your Facebook page at all.  And, your blog site? Well, I’ve seen it.  Nothing but pictures of cacti and sand and you posing in a cheap cowboy hat with the Queen of the Sonoran Desert at some rodeo in Yuma.”

“Hey, that hat cost me $14.95 (+ tax)”, I retorted.

“Well, happy birthday, dude, want the real medical story now?”

“Sure.”

“You have age appropriate degeneration of the lower spine.  Live with it.”

“Gee, thanks Dr. Oz.”  I got up to go.

“Oh, one good thing, Patrick, you’re covered by your AARP.”

 

 

 

The Challenge Is Over: An Update On 583.74

I’m composing this post in a loud and crowded pub on W. 30th Street in NYC. And I’m using my iPad instead of my trusty laptop.

I’m going through this tortuous experience to lessen the anxiety in my readers lives who have been waiting for the Answer to my challenge about the meaning of the 583.74 sign on the wall of the Shamrock bar in Saranac Lake, NY.

To my astonishment, it was solved in a couple of hours by a Carol F. She says she went to school with my wife in Queens, NY.

583.74, my friends, is the Dewey Decimal number for the plant group that includes the Shamrock. I should have known this…I’m Irish, for heaven sake!

Another woman, a friend of ours, also came through.

My daughter, Erin, you know, the mother of my grandson, Elias, didn’t read the post until the next morning. She said she had the answer before she finished her morning coffee.

It’s all so depressing in a strange way. I feel like an undereducated senile guy with gray hair and an aching back…let’s not go there, ok?

But, dear friends and readers and followers, don’t give up on me.

I am planning a breath-taking blog in the planning stages right now…it’s a detailed account of my two-hour MRI at Mount Sinai a day ago.

I’m sure you will be riveted to your Barcaloungers, or the 19th hole somewhere in North Carolina or Boca.

There is not enough being written about MRI’s these days. Steinbeck barely touched on it and it’s mentioned in Shakespeare only twice.

Love to you all. Follow me and share the love.

The End Of The Line

PalmDesertSunset

Like, wow…I can’t believe we’re in California.

What a magical and special state this is.  It’s no wonder that all the famous people live here.  It’s the “land of opportunity”, where an anybody like me can become a somebody like…George Clooney.  We weren’t here an hour when I drove to a service station to get a bag of ice and fill the tank.  On a whim, I bought two $2.00 scratch-off lottery tickets.  Would you believe I won $25.00 from those two tickets?  I was elated and felt that my time had come, until I paid for the gas.  When we filled up the tank one afternoon back in Tucson, AZ, it cost me $1.43/gal.  I nearly spilled my Starbucks Latte when I saw the California price (at this particular station) was $2.79/gal.  I thought there were oil wells out here??  I think I saw a Clark Gable movie once and he got soaked from the gushing crude from a well.

Maybe that was Texas…I can’t remember.

lottery

[This probably isn’t legal to post winning lottery tickets online, but I’m from New York…]

This is as far west as our journey is taking us.  If you’re a faithful reader and you’ve paid attention and taken notes, pick up that Rand McNally Atlas that’s sitting on your coffee table…the one with coffee stains and rings left by the condensation of the Bud Lite cans during the Super Bowl.  Turn to page 15 (I’m using the 2013 edition).  We are at the Emerald RV Resort located on the map page at coordinates “15/SJ”.

I feel so…so important being here in the Golden State.  Our RV Resort is located on Frank Sinatra Drive, which is separated from Dinah Shore Drive by Gerald Ford Drive.  (If you don’t believe all this, just Google this place).

We had a long hard drive behind us today.  We left Yuma in the late morning warmth of 88 F.  We sped past the western part of the city and I glanced at the Yuma Territorial Prison…the topic of my last blog.  Ok, maybe misery, murder, death and forgotten graves may not have been the best choice for a Valentine’s Day post, but we were having WiFi issues and I needed to get something out before things got worse.  Note to those planning on RV’ing any serious distance all: Whatever the Resort tells you about how strong their signal is, don’t believe it.  There are some days you can forget email…you’d be better off mailing a letter through the USPS.  Nearly all my posts were composed and posted from Starbucks or McDonald’s (say what you want about the Double Cheese Macs, their WiFi smokes!).

We attended a real rodeo while we were in Yuma and I intended to write something about how excited I was to finally see one in person, for real.  I have to admit that it was impressive.  I’m including a few photos just to prove that we were really there.

RodeoYuma2

[This guy rode like the wind.]

MissSonoranDeserts

[In case you’re confused: The Happy Camper is on the left and the bored Miss Sonoran Deserts Queen is on the right.]

RodeoYuma1

[Woman rider]

Just across the California-Arizona state line were the Imperial Sand Dunes.  I parked in a kind of base camp for the dune buggy people.  I took a picture of one of the beautiful dunes and made it even more stark and raw by filtering it through my Instagram app.

B:WImperialDunes

[A lonely bush in the Imperial Sand Dune National Recreational Area]

After a few miles along I-8, we turned north on Rte. 86 and drove through some of the agricultural (and highly irrigated) parts of Southern California.  We passed truck loads of carrots, groves of date palms and vineyards.  I also caught glimpses of the smiling happy faces of the migrant workers as they leisurely picked cabbage and turnips.  They were so fortunate to have such jobs, out in the open fresh air, getting a tan…instead of being stuck inside some awful office building or factory.  I was tempted to stop and pick a bushel or two just to get the exercise, but we had places to go and I couldn’t see any convenient parking places.

So, is this the end of our trip?  Have we reached the farthest point from our home?  Well, no and yes.  The eastern slopes of the Rockies are still between us and home.  The prairies of Kansas are still ahead of us. (The last state in the Lower 48 I have yet to visit).  We still have to get home…and there is a place I must visit.  It’s not far from here and it is the magical and mythical destination of the trip…for me, anyway.

I’ve been dropping hints about this place since I first started posting these blogs.  It’s a real place.  Thousands of people came there to get healed…to get clean…to wash away sins, ancient and recent, that have darkened souls that were pure as snow at birth.

Water has been a healer for thousands of years.  Spas and hot springs have saved the lives and repaired the souls of countless individuals.

Now, it’s my turn.  Sometime next week, I will arrive at this strange place that has a strange name…and see if anything remains of the healing waters of seventy-five years ago.

Will I find sage and tumble weed and cracked concrete in the old pools.   Or, will the ghosts of those who came to find succor still roam about in the weedy driveways and dying palms?  If the spirits are walking around the now-empty fountain, will they take a moment to tell me their stories?

I’ll tell them mine.

Reality Check: 66% Of The Road Trip Is Behind Us

OrganPipeCactus

[Organ Pipe Cactus]

We are roughly two-thirds of the way through our long and event-filled road trip.  As I write this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks, about 263 dusty, windy and empty miles from Tucson.  According to my four weather apps on my iPhone, it’s going to be nearly 80 F today.

We need warmth.  I’m still wearing fleece in the evening.  I’m not shocked by that fact.  As a science teacher for over thirty years, I know that deserts aren’t defined by temperature, but by rainfall.  And we haven’t experienced very much precipitation since it snowed on us in Silver City, NM.

This is the country of the cactus.  I bought a small field guide-book to the shrubs of the Southwest but I can’t keep up with all the varieties of cacti I have seen in the past week or so.

I took many photos of many succulents and I will spend weeks back in the Adirondacks, during our brief summer, identifying them and filing the images away on my 32 MB memory sticks.  I’m sure I’ll find plenty of uses for those close-up pics of spines and spikes, so threatening and so full of that dangerous “Hey, you…yeah you.  Come a little closer and test me…” attitude.  Those spines could sever your Femoral artery.

So, has the trip recharged me?  Has it calmed and satisfied my restless nature?  Am I happiest on the road?

Yes and No would be my answer.  The “bed” in our rPod is making my back feel post-operative.  The “shower” is located in the “bathroom”, but I’ve only used the shower head assembly once since we bought this RV in 2013.

I’m still restless.  I haven’t found what it is I’m looking for on the byways of the South and Southwest America.  I’m not even sure what I’m trying to find…but I have some hope, meager and thin, but filled with promise that there is a place in the Mojave Desert that may be the Jordon River of my creeping old age.  I’ve read about a place of healing and mental regeneration.  I’m heading there.

“I hear the aging footsteps, like the motion of the sea.

Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there…other times it’s only me…”

     –Bob Dylan Every Grain of Sand

I’ll let you know when I get there.  I’ll tell you whether I can wash away the sins of my youth and misspent middle age in the mineral springs of this, most mythic place.  I’ll even post photos.

I’ll tell you the truth about how to cure a cracked and flawed psyche.

And then, I’ll begin posting another set of blogs about our return trip.

Please follow me…read me…and “like” me on Facebook and/or WordPress.  Sometimes I feel I’m a disk-jockey, playing the tunes and spinning the vinyls…late in the night…but the broadcast tower is broken or no one has their radio turned on at that lonely hour…

SeguaroCactus

[Saguaro cactus]