Acting Up on Scott Boulevard

We took a walk on Scott Boulevard used my smartphone for the first time to take selfies with the Sitting Man. Can you believe it? I’ve had that phone for over 7 years and never took a selfie with Sena until then.

It was a sunny day and we walked clear out to the intersection of Scott Boulevard and Rochester Avenue. When we did this last February, we saw a sculpture by Iowa City artist, Eugene Anderson. It’s a striking white abstract called “Family.”

Except it wasn’t there anymore. There was a lot of heavy construction equipment and large excavation holes with construction stakes all pretty close to the concrete pedestal where the sculpture had been mounted.

But it was gone. We remembered talking with the developer not so long ago about the new development planned for the area. He mentioned something about a plan for moving the piece somewhere. I sent him a message asking about it.

The President of the Harvest Preserve Board, Douglas Paul himself, got back to me about the sculpture. This is the same Douglas Paul who created the Sitting Man sculpture. Eugene Anderson’s sculpture is in the shop getting needed repairs. Doug Paul is doing the work on it. The plan for now is to move it to the western entrance of Harvest Preserve. It’ll be near the gate, visible from Scott Boulevard.

Doug Paul told me about his book, Go Figure. You might be interested; I know I am.

Juggling and The Wings of Change!

The other day we were at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area mainly to see how juggling goes outdoors for me. We filmed the event for posterity.

It turns out that “wings” had a lot to do with it. I juggled next to Hilde DeBruyn’s sculpture “Winds of Change.” It’s my favorite sculpture, although the winds of change are dictating that the Iowa City Parks Dept. is again going to accept new sculptures for this year which will replace all of those currently on display.

Wings figured in a different way and you can tell by how I react to the bugs flying around. We picked a nice spring day when all the winged insects were buzzing around in my face.

The level of juggling difficulty goes way up when gnats are zipping up my nose, my ears, my mouth, etc.

Resident Physicians on Strike at Elmhurst Hospital in New York City

I read the news story about resident physicians at Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York City who went on strike this past Monday about low pay. The story doesn’t mention whether psychiatry residents joined the strike. The story did mention how difficult it was to work there during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

I looked up the report from the consultation-liaison psychiatry department at Elmhurst during that time. Their report and many others were submitted to the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (ACLP).

The Elmhurst report was submitted April 1, 2020 by Dr. Shruti Tiwari, MD, Professor Consultation-Liaison, Icahn School of Medicine at Elmhurst Hospital Center, Queens, NY.

I read the report in order to figure out what I and my colleagues at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics needed to do in order to respond to psychiatry consultation requests in the setting of the Covid-19 pandemic. In general, we followed the Elmhurst suggestions.

I remember how difficult it was to operationalize the consultation protocol in light of the need to control spread of the Covid-19 infection. We worked with our IT department to use iPad devices with video hookups to evaluate patients in the emergency room. Early on, incredible as it may seem, there was limited supply of PPE for emergency room physicians.

We could do curbside consultations sometimes. Often, when I was on service, I found it difficult to use the iPad because of glitches in the device. In order to reduce the number of consultation team members huddling together, residents and I saw patients separately. Often, delirium with agitation demanded we evaluate the patient in person. There was an adequate supply of PPE with some limitations. Psychiatric consultants didn’t have access to N95 masks because of the shortage of them at the time. We wore surgical masks and face shields as well as gowns and gloves. We were not to see patients in the ICUs other than by video assisted means.

I couldn’t tell from the news story when the residents formed a union. One them was interviewed for the story and said that their immigrant status made working conditions more difficult as well as insufficient pay. The story also mentions that the last time doctors went on strike in Manhattan was in 1990.

It would have been difficult for physicians (including psychiatrists) to go on strike during the pandemic, probably impossible. I’ve written about physician strikes before and have given my opinion about that. I hope things work out for the Elmhurst resident physicians and the patients.

Terry Trueblood Birds Show Off in the Spring

Just about any time of year is a great opportunity to walk the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. The birds are busy competing for mates and nesting spaces.

The nest boxes for the tree swallows are up. Already, vacancies are few. Their iridescent feathers are dazzling.

The music in the first part of the video is a piece called “There Are Chirping Birdies In My Soul” by Reed Mathis.

In the second part of the video, we let the birds themselves make the music. The birds don’t just show off; they sound off. All the birds are singing—except for the one killdeer for some reason. I managed to save a few clips of them singing their songs. They are in the last minute or so of the YouTube video. The first is the tree swallow. The next is the red-wing blackbird. Last is the song sparrow.

You’ll need to crank the volume to hear them. The tree swallows have a subtle trilling chirp. The male red-winged blackbirds have a distinctive call that probably sounds very familiar to most of us. We also saw and heard a song sparrow, a first for us.

Familiar Backyard Birds and One Sort of Familiar

We were bird watching the other day and saw a few birds we definitely recognized. One of them we puzzled about but finally decided was a sparrow.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is familiar. We think it was a male. The Blue Jay is still interesting because when it’s not in the sunlight it looks like what it really is—a blackbird. When we first saw it, the bird looked sort of grayish black. Finally, it turned just right and its feather bent the light into the familiar blue color. The Northern Cardinal is instantly recognizable, especially the male. They like to sit a long time, which is great for getting pictures.

The last bird looks like a sparrow but the tail seems longer and the bill is narrower. The breast is not streaked. It has head feathers which stick up. It resembles a female house sparrow, but it seems a bit larger than that. We looked around the web to try and identify the sparrow-like bird we saw.

We wonder if it might be a Cassin’s Sparrow. Although it would be out of its range since it’s found mostly in the southwest United States, Cassin’s Sparrow has been known to wander.

On the other hand, it’s not listed on the websites we saw featuring sparrow species seen in Iowa.

I think the reason it had a greenish breast was because it was reflecting the surrounding tree leaves. We’re calling it a Cassin’s Sparrow for now, but if you know better, shout it out.

Can anybody help us identify this mystery bird?

The Secret of Wiffle Ball Farm

I sometimes enjoy watching one of the paranormal TV shows, “The Secret of skinwalker Ranch.” I don’t want to mention the word “skinwalker” too often because some people consider it dangerous to even say it loud because they believe the skinwalkers will latch on to you. It’s kind of a boogeyman thing. Anyhow, the actors on the show can be pretty funny, even when they don’t intend it. There’s even an astrophysicist involved. My spellchecker says the word “skinwalker” should be capitalized. I figure if I don’t do that, I’ll be safe.

Anyhow, it gives me an idea for another show some producers might want to consider, “The Secret of Wiffle Ball Farm.” It would probably get an astronomically high rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It would have a similar format to “The Secret of skinwalker Ranch.”

The setting would be in Monticello, Iowa where the headquarters is located. It’s Whiffle Tree Mercantile. There is some controversy about whether or not you should leave the “h” in the spelling or not. If you’re the least bit superstitious, you might wonder if leaving the “h” in would open a wormhole vortex which would allow a giant Wiffle Ball to zoom in with a vicious curve trajectory and bean you on the back of your head.

This isn’t so far-fetched, at least not as far-fetched as the “skinwalker” capitalization phobia. There is a story about the cartoonist, Gary Larson, getting a letter from Wiffle Ball, Inc. lawyers insisting that Larson capitalize all the letters in WIFFLE in the future and should only be used in reference to a product made by The Wiffle Ball, Inc.

Everybody knows you can put a righteous curve on a wiffle ball, maybe especially if you alter it in sneaky ways (see below). The ball has holes in it and I think I might have played it when I was a kid. If I had been a kid in 2011, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to play it in New York instead of Iowa. It was banned as unsafe for a short while by the state legislature. People laughed at that so hard they probably peed their pants.

The name Wiffle Ball got its name from the whiff sound you heard when players struck out, mainly because of the outrageous curve a pitcher could throw with it. I think I read somewhere the inventors left the letter “h” out because it cut down on the cost of advertising. Regardless, you’ll still sometimes see Wiffle Ball spelled as Whiffle Ball.

But to get back to Whiffle Tree Mercantile (is it too late?), the mystery about it is whether or not you can find Wiffle balls for sale there. There might be a controversy about maybe a conspiracy to hide the ball from the public by favoring another meaning for “Whiffle” by tying it to the word “tree”.

Hang on to your hat, it gets pretty confusing pretty fast. The whiffle tree (which is often spelled “whiffletree”) is supposedly a mechanism to distribute forces through linkages. It can be used to connect an animal harness to a vehicle like a cart or plow. The name would be understandably be used as a cover for an antique store in Iowa.

But wait. There’s another dimension to the meaning of whiffletree. One guy says it’s a mechanical digital-to-analog converter. It’s based on the mechanical one described above, but it was a kind of calculator used in typewriters. The comments in the YouTube video are pretty enthusiastic about it, which makes you wonder what star system they’re from.

But hang on, the conspiracy and mystery go deeper than that. Some say that the whiffle tree is where you hang your whiffle bat. Okay, we need an astrophysicist or at least a scientist of some kind to play a serious role here—sort of.

In fact, there’s a story on the internet posted in 2010 about a mechanical engineering professor who studied the unhittable Wiffle Ball pitch and possibly discovered the secret. Dr. Jenn Stroud Rossmann studied the aerodynamics of the Wiffle Ball as well as something called “scuffing” which is to cut or scrape the ball so as to give it almost magical properties to make batters strike out. Scuffing is legal in Wiffle Ball, but not in regular baseball. What’s up with that?

The connection of all this with Whiffle Tree Mercantile in Monticello, Iowa is the biggest mystery, of course. What are they hiding? Why don’t they just tell us on their web site whether or not they sell Wiffle Balls? Is there an underground cache of scuffed Wiffle (Whiffle) Balls somewhere in the back of the store? Did extraterrestrials teach humans how to scuff them? Why does the internet story about Dr. Jenn Stroud Rossmann show her juggling Wiffle Balls? Is there a wormhole connecting Jones County (where Monticello is located) with Area 51 and when will the Federal Government simply admit that?

These and countless other questions could be answered in the soon to be considered blockbuster paranormal TV show “The Secret of Wiffle Ball Farm.”

Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week!

Teacher Appreciation Week this year started on May 8, 2023. I found my old report cards from Lincoln Elementary School in Mason City, Iowa. Lincoln was torn down many years ago to make room for expanding the Post Office. But I have my memories. I rediscovered reasons to celebrate the dedication of teachers. I don’t know how many people keep their grade school report cards. My mother kept mine along with old elementary school photos, including class pictures.


Brief remarks on my grade cards remind me how supportive my teachers were—and how they expected me to buckle down. I was kind of a handful and there are indications that I had difficulty focusing my attention. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Cole, was instrumental in identifying my near sightedness, which helped me to get my first pair of eyeglasses.

It wasn’t a bed of roses. My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Myrton (who always smelled like cigarettes), once slapped me so hard it made my nose bleed because I bumped into her when I was running around the classroom. I don’t remember why I was doing that. She was really sorry for slapping me.

And there was the time me and another kid got caught throwing snowballs on the playground (I can’t remember what grade I was in), which led to the usual penalty levied by the school Principal, Esther Ahrens. We each had to draw really small circles (signifying snowballs) to fill a sheet of paper.

We (meaning the kids) thought Ms. Ahrens was a witch. On the other hand, on a really hot day shortly before summer break, my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Hrubes, started acting really strange and was sort of wobbling at the open window in the classroom. There was no air conditioning in the school. Ms. Ahrens happened to be walking by the room and rushed into the room just in time to catch Ms. Hrubes as she was falling backward in a dead faint from heat exhaustion.

But other than that, along with the usual physical and psychological cuts and scrapes of elementary school, I remember those years as instrumental in turning me and other kids into smarter, nicer people and better citizens. We also learned how to make really tasty homemade ice cream the old-fashioned way, using nested containers, the larger of which had a mixture of salt an ice and a hand crank.

The notes and letters with my report cards often had illuminating comments:

“Jimmy has done well in Physical Education class. He has excellent aim and can hit a moving car’s windshield with a rock (yelling ‘bombs away’) with fair accuracy.”

“During this quarter, I was able to dissuade Jimmy from trying to fly like superman from the second-floor window of the classroom.”

“Jimmy reads well. He could apply himself more carefully in science. We were finally able to remove all the exploded paint from the gymnasium. It took only a few weeks this quarter.”

“Jimmy’s command of spatial relationships has improved a great deal! He can figure out how to fill his emptied milk carton with spinach in seconds, often without attracting the attention of the lunchroom monitors.”

I’m giving a great big thank you to all the teachers! You deserve it!

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