Exactly When Were the Good Old Days?

I just saw a short web article about Baby Boomers and their opinion of what’s going on these days and comparing it to the “good old days.”

There were the usual complaints about bad music, lack of teamwork, no effort to maintain social bonds, and the like.

I’m not sure I can identify any such good old days. I can think of good and bad times. I tend to think of them as being a byproduct of good experiences with people you enjoy being with—which don’t always fit with the times.

I grew up in the 1960s during the Civil Rights struggle, and I would be hard-pressed to call it the good old days. I can recall my mother trying her best to straighten out the curls of the hair of my younger brother and me with a lot of hair oil. It was almost painful as she tried to press the evidence of our mixed white and black parentage out of our hair.

I think the perception of what the good old days were might depend on your place in society at the time.

There’s this old Twilight Zone episode about a guy trying to make it in the tough business world and he wasn’t doing too well.

Spoiler Alert: I reveal what happens in the ending, just in case you want to try to find a YouTube.

On the train home from the office, he would dream of a place called Willoughby. It was a place years before his time. It was sunny. People were friendly, enjoyed picnics, went fishing and it was always summertime. He longed for it. His boss was a tyrant and his wife pretty much called him a failure. He got off the train at the Willoughby stop a few times and really enjoyed the good old days feel to the place. But he always got back on the train.

One day, he had that “last straw” moment. His boss was tyrannical; his wife belittled him and called him a loser. He got off the train at Willoughby, determined to stay in the good old days.

OK, this is the spoiler:

Willoughby turns out to be the name of the undertakers who pick him up where he jumped off the train and died.

Anyway, this “train” of thought led to Sena and I reminiscing about the trip to Hawaii we made way back in the day. The flight was long and excruciating. My ears were plugged most of the way there. We were both exhausted, but the tour group we traveled with were raring to go after we got to the hotel in Waikiki. They were mostly 3 decades older than us. I can’t remember if one of them or somebody else at the airport made a disparaging comment about Waikiki, something like: “I don’t know why anybody thinks Waikiki is anything special; what the hell, it’s just like Des Moines!”

While we camped out in our hotel room, the older folks went out to see Don Ho perform. When they got back, they said Don was drunk, they had a few drinks, and we just marveled at their energy.

We developed a friendship with a married couple in the tour group named Leota (Lee for short) and Norman. Lee took exception to Norman having a beer with the rest of us on some outing. I think it was about a health problem he had. He grumbled a little and we toasted the event anyway. Norman, who had been in the military, shed a few tears at the Pearl Harbor monument.

We traded Christmas cards with Lee and Norman until their children sent us a card telling us that Lee had died. Norman died several years later. We still have a photo of Sena with Lee and Norman taken while we were having a great time in Hawaii.

I guess you call those the good old days. Maybe you could even find a reason to call the present times the good old days after a while—if you were as drunk as Don Ho during the whole era.

Thoughts on the Song “Against the Wind”

A couple of days ago, while we were playing cribbage, Sena asked me who sang the song “Against the Wind.” I offered a name, which later turned out to be wildly wrong. It bugged her so much she got up from the cribbage game and went to the computer to look it up.

Of course, Bob Seger wrote the lyrics and sang it. She asked me what I thought it meant. I wasn’t sure at the time. I hadn’t thought about it for a really long time.

I read about it on the web. I didn’t know what the lyric “8 miles a minute” meant and found a forum message saying that it corresponds roughly to the speed of a cruising airliner which is about a “480 mph.” That’s technically more like 480 knots, which converts to about 550 mph.

Anyway, it’s really fast and might be a way of saying you’re moving through life at breakneck speed. In Seger’s case, it might have had a more concrete meaning, referring to flying all over from concert to concert.

The song was released in 1980, which was about the time we moved to Ames so I could go back to college at Iowa State University (ISU). It was a big change from working as a draftsman and land surveyor’s assistant in my hometown of Mason City.

If you extend the “against the wind” metaphor a little bit, Sena and I were both moving against the wind in terms of our place in society, income level, location and educational attainment. I thought I wanted to be an engineer at the time, mostly because I had worked for years for consulting engineers.

Backing up in time a little, I had done some undergraduate college work previously at an HBCU (historically black college/university), Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin, Texas in the mid-1970s.

That was also a kind of move against the wind. I grew up in Mason City, and often I was the only black kid in grade school. I got used to that, although the racism was more overt back then and it was difficult sometimes to bear up against that kind of wind. On the other hand, I felt like a fish out of water at H-TC. I just felt like I didn’t fit in. It was part of the reason I left Austin.

It was also challenging to fit in at ISU. I figured out quickly that I would never complete the engineering degree program. The math and hard science courses were tough from the beginning and only got harder. I realized I was going against the wind there.

So, I changed my major and settled on medical technology, which led to working in a hospital laboratory. But it took about a year to get a job after graduation. Looking back, It was a frustrating time and that really felt like pushing against a headwind. I don’t know what I would have done without Sena.

I finally got into medical school at the University of Iowa. Biostatistics and Biochemistry were brutal. I was very close to quitting before the 3rd year of clinical rotations. I doubted I was cut out to be a physician. I thought about going back to surveying. But I didn’t.

Many deadlines, commitments, and struggles leading to brief forays from academia into private practice led me to think of myself as more of a fireman or a cowboy than an academician. Yet I spent most of my career at the University of Iowa.

Now I’m retired. Sena is my shelter against the wind. I guess if you look hard enough, just about anybody can relate to Bob Seger’s song. Let the cowboys ride.

My Old Elevator Pitches on Delirium

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my chronicle as expressed in my old blog posts. As the featured image shows, I used to have a blog I called The Practical Psychosomaticist, which I started back in 2010. It was mostly about how to diagnose, manage, and prevent delirium. One of them was about developing elevator pitches promoting delirium awareness. My blog post Elevator Pitch for a Delirium Prevention Project is below:

“Sir Winston Churchill: Be clear, be brief, be seated.

I have been told that I could improve my chances of selling my product of delirium prevention to various stakeholders by developing a good elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product or service and sell it. The idea is that you should be able to deliver the pitch in the time it takes to ride an elevator or about thirty seconds to two minutes.

I’m a doctor, not a salesman. But I’ll give it a shot.

Pitch to a staff nurse: I’m Dr. JA and I teach nurses how to assess, treat, and prevent delirium in hospitalized patients. Delirium is an acute confusional episode that mimics mental illness but is actually a medical emergency. Delirium worsens concentration, can lead to hallucinations, withdrawal, changes in appetite, reduced mobility, and sleep disturbance. When nurses have the skills and tools to prevent delirium, they ultimately do less work yet provide safer and more effective care for their patients, thereby promoting healing. Delirium leads to increased death rates, longer lengths of hospital stay, and persisting cognitive impairment. Nurses work harder to take care of them because confusion makes patients less cooperative, emotionally volatile, harder to communicate with, and sometimes even violent. Nurses want and need to know how to prevent delirium and I can help them do that.

Pitch to a potential funding source: I’m Dr. JA and I teach doctors and nurses how to assess, treat, and prevent delirium, an acute confusional disorder caused by multiple medical problems that mimics mental illness but is actually a medical emergency. They may be slow to respond, withdrawn, have attitude changes, and have mood symptoms. Because the risk for delirium is higher in the elderly, physicians and nurses in hospitals actually have to work harder to treat delirious patients with serious medical disorders. That’s because the patients are too cognitively impaired to cooperate with treatment, too disorganized to consent for them, and too agitated and restless to sit still for necessary tests. Doctors and nurses want and need to learn how to use assessment skills and tools to prevent delirium. This vital educational resource allows them to provide the best health care for older patients.

Pitch to Patient and Carers: I’m Dr. JA and I help doctors and nurses care for patients who may be at high risk for or who are in fact suffering from delirium. Delirium is an abrupt change in your mental state that represents a distinct change from your usual self and is often alarming to you and your loved ones. You can be disoriented, restless, hallucinate, have delusions and personality changes, or be very sleepy and seem depressed. Delirium is often temporary but can cause longer hospital stays, or the need for long-term care and raises the risk for falls and bed sores. Those at risk are over age 65, already have memory problems or dementia, have a broken hip, or several serious medical illnesses. We’ll assess regularly for changes in your emotions, behavior, or thinking and if they occur, we’ll use a special test to spot delirium early. We’ll work to prevent delirium by providing high-quality medical care. Occasionally, distress and behavioral changes could make patients a risk to themselves and if non-medication methods don’t reduce these, then a short course of medication called Haldol may be used.”

Well, all of the elevator pitches are way too long. But the message is still important.

Pegging Around Wisconsin

We played a game on our new Wisconsin cribbage board. We made some miscounts I’m sure, but it was because we had so much fun talking. We lived in Madison for a short time many years ago and managed to see quite a few sights in the south-central region of the state. And even after we moved back to Iowa, we made return trips to visit Wisconsin because there’s a lot to do there.

Madison itself is the capital of Wisconsin. One of my first impressions is that a number of fascinating people live there. I remember we were walking west on State Street, and I saw a guy walking in the middle of the street wearing a live rattlesnake coiled on his head. Sena missed that for some reason. He was moving carefully and slowly, probably to avoid rattling his headgear.

I don’t think the sculpture of Harry Dumpty is still standing in Madison, but for several years it was a distinctive bronze sculpture in front of the Madison Municipal Building just south of the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Doty Street. I can’t see it on Google Maps nowadays.

I never knew the sculpture was Harry Dumpty. It sat above a large concrete wall with an inscription on it which I just assumed was connected to the sculpture and probably still sits there although we couldn’t find it in 2012 when we returned for a visit:

“David James Schaefer, 1955-2004
was a phenomenal phenomenon. Though plagued by the progressive debilities of cerebral palsy, “Schaefer” was an uncomplaining and generous friend to many. Disability Rights Specialist for the City of Madison in three different settings, his death of a heart attack in September 2004 made a hole in our community which cannot ever be filled.
Erected by the Friends of Schaefer at private expense.”

It turns out Harry Dumpty has no connection to David James Schaefer. In fact, Harry is one of several similar sculptures created by artist Brent George, who made him in 1997, saying he’s Humpty’s brother. If you look closely at the book sitting open next to Harry, it’s entitled “Harry Dumpty.” Brent George’s name is below it. Brent’s phone number is on the front of the wall. Evidently somebody called him and asked about the sculpture. Brent says there’s no connection between the sculpture and the inscription.

On the subject of art, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (on State Street) is a place to see. Although the art works are free to view on the web, they’re copyrighted and you can’t reproduce them without permission of the artists. However, at the time we were there in 2012 we saw Typewriter Eraser by Claes Oldenburg. I think it’s OK to share our picture of the giant one we saw in Washington, D.C. In 2015.

Typewriter Eraser in Washington, D.C.

One of the more relaxing times we had was having pizza for lunch at Paisan’s in Madison. We were outside and had that breathtaking view of Lake Monona, the breeze was coming off the water, cooling and refreshing—like the Moose Drool brown ale, which is not a Wisconsin brew; it’s made in Montana.

Wisconsin is known for its beer, among many other virtues. New Glarus Brewing Company is famous. I tried a few of the brews. One of them was Stone Soup. It had oil of clove in it and my lips got numb.

We took a dinner train ride at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom. It was great food and great company.

One of the more interesting stories about Monroe, Wisconsin is The Great Limburger Cheese War, which I mangled during the heat of the game. I first heard about it on a TV show; it seemed to me it was on Mysteries at the Museum, but when I googled it, I couldn’t find it.

We had a great time in Wisconsin. Maybe someday we’ll go back for a visit.

Wisconsin Memories

We’re just reminiscing on our time in Wisconsin years ago. We’re hoping this will be a prologue to making a video soon of us playing cribbage on our new Wisconsin board. Until then, you can check out the mini travelogue, including hanging out with the Fonz in Milwaukee. The big mansion in the video is Black Point Estate and Gardens in Lake Geneva.

It was during a July 2012 visit to Madison that I found, at Browzers Bookstore, an old medical book my class used in my first year, Robbins’ Pathologic Basis of Disease. My class used the nearly 7-pound red 3rd edition containing 1,467 pages. 

Also on that trip, we rented a couple of bicycles from Machinery Row Bicycles. We can’t imagine paying $7,500 for a bicycle, much less what looked like $25,000 for a double tandem.

We rode all the way out to Olbrich Botanical Gardens on a sweltering summer day. The Thai Pavilion shown in the video was a gift to the University of Wisconsin from the Thai government.

We never ran into a Bigfoot in Wisconsin, but there have reportedly been over 70 squatch sightings in the heavily wooded areas. Don’t tell the Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings (AIMS). Wild Bill would just cuss a blue streak and shout, “Hell, that ain’t no Appalachia!”

Snow Day Reflections on Elevator Pitches

I got up early this morning, partly because I knew I wanted to shovel the snowdrifts from last night, and partly because I heard my neighbor’s snowblower, shortly after 5:00 a.m.

I don’t have a snowblower. I’d rather shovel. It was the wet, heavy stuff. It was still coming down when I charged outside without breakfast, not even coffee.

While I was slogging away at the snow, I kept thinking about how to update my YouTube trailer. It’s been about a couple of years since I made the last trailer. I’m evolving since my retirement from the hospital where I worked as a consulting psychiatrist. I guess it’s time to update my About page on this blog as well.

The further I get in time away from work, the more I wonder what I’m evolving into. Work is not my focus. Sena and I got a big kick out of doing the Iowa cribbage board video. It brought back memories of our travels in Iowa.

I noticed my YouTube trailer is long by usual standards. It’s about 2 minutes. I found instructions for making it on YouTube. It’s supposed to be no longer than 30-45 seconds. Technically it’s supposed to be sort of like an elevator pitch.

I tried to develop elevator pitches back when I was working. There’s all kind of guidance for them on the web.

The framework is designed for those who are job seekers and students and salesmen. I tried googling “elevator pitches for retirees” and didn’t get any real hits.

I’m not trying to sell anything. I’m not competing for a job. The basic format for an elevator pitch could include:

  • Who are you?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What’s your proposed solution?
  • What’s the benefit of your solution?

I guess the answer to the first one is that I’m a retired psychiatric consultant. I’m not sure who in his right mind would be interested in that. If I shorten it to just “retiree,” that doesn’t seem to gain much traction.

The second one is even harder. Frankly, the problem I’m trying to solve is deeply personal although arguably could be applied to any retiree. I’ve been trying to adjust to no longer having a professional identity. I know George Dawson, MD remarked that he had little trouble with the meaningfulness issues with which one could wrestle after retiring from one’s profession, some after several decades of work.

I’m actually still wrestling with it and I would say it’s normal, at least for me. The loss of my professional identity was a real struggle for at least a year after my last day of work on June 30, 2020. I often failed to cover it up with a sense of humor, although I never fully lost that trait.

I don’t have a solution, and therefore can’t propose one. I have discovered other interests, which have gradually overtaken the one which kept my mind on the hospital most of the time, even when I was not at the hospital. I know I never really seriously considered the solution of going back to work in my former role. Some of my colleagues did, though. I hope they were happier when they did.

Since I don’t have a solution to the problem of adapting to retirement, I can’t really talk about the benefit. On the other hand, I notice I’m changing very slowly from being the firefighter psychiatric consultant to whatever I am now.

I think mindfulness meditation has been helpful, which I started in 2014 mainly as a way to cope with burnout. I was in a class with several others who had various reasons for being in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class at the hospital. The class is no longer given there, and my teacher, Bev Klug, retired. However, resources for it are available elsewhere on the University of Iowa campus.

Maybe I have the beginnings for an elevator pitch after all.

Pegging Around Iowa

Sena and I got the Iowa map cribbage board and pegged around the state. It was a great way for us to relearn what’s great about Iowa. There is a ton of fun things to do in Iowa.

The 2022 RAGBRAI route, scheduled for July 23-30 will run from Sargeant Bluff to Lansing. It’s the oldest and largest recreational touring bicycle ride in the world, according to the RAGBRAI website. RAGBRAI stands for Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It’s the largest, longest, and oldest recreational bicycle touring event in the world.

It was started by Des Moines Register reporters John Karras and Donald Kaul. The 7-day trip goes from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River with many stops along the way.

One of them is Mason City, where John Dillinger robbed the First National Bank in the 1930s.

Lake Okoboji in northwestern Iowa is well known for a lot of reasons. It’s a great place to boat and fish, but if you’re an X-Files fan, you’ll recognize that it was the setting for the episode “Conduit,” in which a young woman was kidnapped by aliens although Fox Mulder was unable to prove it happened. The show misspelled the place as “Okobogee,” a mistake that was easy for any Iowan to detect. It was actually shot in British Columbia.

Of course, Iowa City is the home of the Hawkeyes, The University of Iowa, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The African American Museum is in Cedar Rapids.

Clear Lake, as some of you might recall, is where the Surf Ballroom is. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, after performing there were killed when their plane crashed shortly after taking off from the nearby Mason City Municipal Airport in 1959.

Riverside is the site of the Star Trek Museum and the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk in 2233. There’s an annual Trek Fest festival. William Shatner played a hoax on Riverside in 2004 when he visited with a film crew, claiming that they were going to make a science fiction movie there.

Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa. One of the places to see is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.

Although it’s not on the cribbage board Iowa map, about a half hour west of Dubuque is Dyersville, where the movie Field of Dreams was shot. The New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox played there in 2021.

The Pella Tulip Time Festival runs in early May.

You can see Albert, the largest bull in the world, in Audubon. The solid concrete sculpture weighs 45 tons. That’s a lot of bull (obligatory rim shot here).

The Iowa State Fair is in Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. Iowa State University is in Ames. I’m part Cyclone and part Hawkeye because I got my bachelor’s degree at ISU and my medical degree at UI.

Although Nashua is not on the Iowa cribbage board, it’s in our hearts. We were reminded of our wedding at The Little Brown Church there 44 years ago. Come to Iowa and make memories of your own.

The Little Brown Church in Nashua, Iowa

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Boy, are you guys lucky! I woke up yesterday morning with the crazy idea of making a video of me singing “L-O-V-E.” You know, the one Nat King Cole made famous. What do you mean, “No, what are you talking about?”

No kidding, though; I even cleared my throat a couple of times just thinking about it, getting ready to burst into my full-throated, only slightly phlegmy 60ish voice. I let that go after my first cup of coffee, thank goodness. You don’t know how close you came. My singing would kill a cat from a hundred yards.

Anyway, Sena got a kick out of my Valentine’s Day card because it had a scrabble theme. The top line actually is made of 3-dimensional Scrabble tiles. I bought that card before I found the Tile Lock Scrabble game.

By the way, I’m zero for 3 games so far. We really need a Scrabble dictionary. Sena plays the video scrabble game a lot and she played the word “Qi” twice (at right angles to each other) in our second game, claiming it’s a real word. I didn’t argue and without a dictionary, I couldn’t challenge it. But she didn’t know what it meant. “I’ve been meaning to look that up,” she says.

It turns out Qi is a variant spelling of CHI (pronounced like the first syllable of cheapo, a variant of cheapskate, as in a guy who spends the least amount of money possible on a Valentine’s Day gift for his wife). Qi is defined as the energy or life force in everything and it’s the basis of most of Chinese medicine and philosophy. It’s also the single most commonly used word in Scrabble tournaments.

We made this deal a while ago. If we buy a cribbage board in the shape of the state of Iowa with a road map and names of major cities, etc. on it, then I would agree to play Scrabble. We got the Scrabble game first. A deal’s a deal, even if it’s backwards. Sena ordered the Iowa State Map cribbage board yesterday. She wins most of the cribbage games, too. Here’s how she counts her scores: “15 for 2, a run of 3 for 19 (laugh it up you people, these are the jokes; hint, you have to know what scores are impossible in cribbage), and a flush for a total of 29; hey, I win again!”

You guys need to thank for me another thing. At first, Sena allowed me to use just one snapshot of us in this post. It’s of us at Niagara Falls in front of the helicopter we took a ride on to get a fantastic view of the falls. But we got to looking at a ton of pictures. We laughed a lot. We chose more pictures.

Have a great Valentine’s Day!

Reminisce Once in a While

Occasionally I’ll reminisce, an activity which recently got triggered when I realized why I tend to like watching TV shows like Highway Thru Hell and Heavy Rescue 401, which are heading into the 10th and 6th seasons, respectively. Despite that, last year I didn’t see any episodes in which the COVID-19 pandemic was even mentioned. Nobody wears masks. They’re hard-working people in Canada who basically drag semi-trucks out of various ditches. It’s hard work, they’re down-to-earth and they’re not acting.

I marvel at what they do. It’s brutal, real, and no-nonsense. While I watch them, I tend to forget about the pandemic, and the social and economic upheaval everywhere on the planet. For a little while, I almost stop thinking about bored I am and without a purpose or meaning sometimes in retirement. I just find myself being glad I don’t have their job.

Sometimes I think about how I got my start as a working stiff, starting out as a teenager doing practical work like the heavy tow truck drivers. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sell you the idea that land surveying is really hard work. I was outside most of the time, although in the winter when highway, street, and other construction was down, I would do some drafting. I worked for WHKS & Co. If you click the link to their website, scroll all the way down on the About Us section. There’s a black and white picture with four frowning men sitting at a heavy desk in front of a bookcase with many large books in it. They are from left to right, Richard “Dick” Kastler, Francis Holland, Ralph Wallace, and Frank Schmitz. I didn’t know Richard but his brother, Carol Kastler, was my boss along with the other three. Carol Kastler was the head of the land surveying department.

This is not going to be a history of surveying, which I’m not qualified to do; just my impressions of it as a young man. I can flesh it out a little with a video about how to throw a chain, and an extremely detailed reminiscence written by a real old-timer about surveying that was a lot like the way I remember it. Try to read all of Knud E. Hermansen’s first essay about measuring with a steel tape, “Reminisce Of An Old Surveyor, Part I: Measuring a Distance by Taping.” You can skip Part II, which even I couldn’t relate to because the stuff was way before my time.

Hermansen’s description of measuring distance using a steel tape and plumb bob is spot on, though. The other thing I would do in the winter down time was tie up red heads—which is not what you’re thinking. You tied red flagging around nails which were used to mark distances measured.

We often did work out in the field through the winter, though. When we set survey corners using what were called survey pins. Sometimes we had to break through the frozen ground first by pounding a frost pin with a sledge hammer. I remember WHKS & Co. made their own cornerstones using a wood frame box and cement. They were several feet long and they were heavy and surveyors carried them slung to their backs through the timber.

We spent a lot of cold days on straightening out a lot of the curves in Highway 13 between Strawberry Point and Elkader in eastern Iowa. We had expense accounts and were often away from our homes a week at a time for most of the winter. We ate a lot of restaurant food. Carol Kastler was partial to pea salad.

Guys told colorful stories out in the field, some of them pretty sobering. We were out setting stakes for widening a drainage ditch and talking with an old timer running a piece of heavy equipment called a dragline excavator. It has a long boom and a bucket pulled by a cable. The old timer told a harrowing study about his son, a dragline operator himself, who suffered a terrible accident. Somehow the boom broke off and fell on him. It didn’t outright kill him and workers frantically called his father (the old timer). They told him to come quick to see his son before he died because they knew they couldn’t get him to a hospital quick enough from way out in the field. The old timer just said, “I don’t want to see him.” It was just like that, a simple statement. It sounded cold but he somehow conveyed that he just didn’t want his last encounter with his son to be under a horrifying circumstance like that.

The company had Christmas parties which almost everybody enjoyed a lot. There were some guys who had a hard time relaxing. I remember a driven, work-devoted surveyor, who was thinking about work. I could tell because there was some kind of game we were playing which involved writing something like a question on a piece of paper and giving it to someone else, some inane thing like that, I can’t remember the details. I gave him my slip, and he took it. While he scribbled something on it without looking at it, he looked away and mumbled, “I really don’t have a whole lot of time.” He was at the party but his mind was out in the field.

It’s hard not to absorb experiences like that early in your life when you’re still young and impressionable. Work can become a way of life. It doesn’t seem to make a difference what kind of work it is. Even Agent J in Men In Black 2 gets a short lecture from Zed after Agent J returns from a mission and seems like he’s on autopilot, asking Zed for yet another mission, “What do you got for me?” Zed says, “Dedication’s one thing, but this job will eat you up and spit you out.”

It’s even hard for some of the guys in Highway Thru Hell and Heavy Rescue 410 to relax; even after a heart attack, one older guy can’t wait to get back in the tow truck. But even he knows that it’s a young man’s job.

Anyway, I promised I would show a video about how to throw a chain, which I learned how to do back in the day. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it today.

Signs of Anecdotage

I remember when we were kids, we used to get gifts of fruitcake from well-meaning older ladies in our church. I think that’s where I first learned how to lie. If my little brother and I didn’t praise the weaponized loaf of glazed, syrupy candied fruit studded with rotten walnuts, we caught hell from Mom. Lying gets a bad name, I know. But if you don’t learn this essential social skill early in life, you end up with a sore backside from the paddle in the corner of the family room. Ironically, the paddle was a repurposed paddle ball toy we got for Christmas—which was always the time the old ladies from church would gift us with fruitcakes from outer space, obviously via wormhole vortex.

Speaking of friends, we occasionally had dinner with an older couple, RellaMae and Ray, who owned a gargantuan mongrel dog, part bull mastiff and part mastodon. His name was Moose. When he was tied to a post out in the back yard, he spent a lot of his time barking and snarling at anything living that passed by, especially the paperboy. On the other hand, he played like a puppy with me and my brother. At the dinner table, he would lay his head on my knee, mournfully staring at every forkful and leaving a pond of drool on my pants.

RellaMae was tickled to death with her old Chrysler which had a push-button transmission. I bet you thought that was a modern invention. I know next to nothing about cars, but Chrysler made some of these in the 1950s and 1960s. We went for a drive in it and I half-expected it to fly. It was pink, if I recall correctly. Ray was a cab driver with bad heart disease who chewed on but did not smoke cigars the size and consistency of Black Angus bull turds. The cab dispatcher where he worked had a singular talent. The phone was always busy but because she was the only dispatcher, she had to make her bathroom breaks very speedy. The legend was that she could be in and out in less than a minute.

The push-button Chrysler reminds me of a car my wife and I owned for a while sometime in the 1980s to 1990s which talked to you. I believe it was a New Yorker. It said things like “A door is ajar” which everyone made jokes about (When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar). Har! That chatty car got me across Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio when I was interviewing for residency. I got stranded along with a lot of other motorists at a rest stop on the way back from Ohio because of a snowstorm. That was brief, uneventful, and we were on our way after the plows went through in a couple of hours.

But that does remind me of another time I got stranded in Wyoming on my way back home from college in Texas. I traveled by bus back in those days and me and my fellow passengers were stuck in a hole in the wall sandwich and gift shop at the bus depot. A couple of us sat at one of the tables and were entertained by what sounded like tall tales from a couple of local guys bragging about their criminal exploits. One of them finally pushed up his sleeve, exposing his arm which was covered with about a half dozen or so wristwatches—which he hinted were stolen and he was trying to sell.

You can tell when somebody is in his anecdotage. Anybody out there with a story?

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