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Three score and ten or more

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Just lately I have had a compulsion to write. If you follow this blog ( a lot of folks used to, not so many now) you know I haven't posted since the middle of the month, and that is because the things I have a compulsion to write about are not the types of things I have been posting on the blog.

I started this thing to give those who might read it a little insight in what is is like to be a seventy plus old coot with marginal health but a lot of interest in what goes on around him. I haven't; however, done much of what I was doing earlier, that is writing a memoir for my kids so that hey might have some idea of how I, and they, have reached this point. (Oh come on, all of my kids are over forty, they KNOW the technical part of how they got started, and that will not be part of the blog, OR the memoir.)

Anyway, I haven't written much of anything about my life as a Mormon Missionary, how I got into, and what I have done with and about theatre, (My department heads at Georgia Southern have ranted for years about my unwillingness to spell theatre - theater. Some sort of effete connection with the British spelling I guess. I always tell them that theaters are where movies are shown and theatres are where plays are done.) and the relationship between puppetry and sculpting (which led to making dollies).I am now writing in my memoir about college, slipping into theatre, and my missionary experiences

(If you read hereafter, you will read about them. You are unlikely to get much about Mormon theology, I have already been a missionary, but you will get more about what it is like to be dumped into a totally unfamiliar culture without any language training, and some of the good- and bad- things that evolve. I have always been pleased that, coming into a society where the Lutheran Church was the state church, and most of the society didn't pay much attention to it, that by challenging existing faith, I created more really involved and active Lutherans than I did Mormon converts. I don't care what one's faith is, I can't help thinking that one is better off actively involved with it than just floating along as a member of record.)

I hope to involve you in theatre, in Puppets, in my family (most of my memoir about the family will remain on the page rather than on the blog. I have been threatened by my progeny), in the society in the mountain west, and what happens to a westerner who becomes a member of the Cranston Men's Republican Club in Cranston, Rhode Island. For those of you who may find these things intriguing I welcome you, for those uninterested, it was nice to know you while you were here.

Writing briefly about Mormonism, I do want to write about one issue, and I will never mention it again. When I wrote, last May or June about my experience while going to immerse myself in Southern Gospel Music at the Gaither Fest in Gatlinburg, Tennesse, an anonymous commenter blasted me for even attending the festival (among other things), and I really didn't perceive at the time that he was angry about a Mormon attending a music festival that dealt with Jesus, Faith, and Salvation, when he was sure that no Mormon could have a any concept of what it was really about.

I confess that as the festival was going on, when I occasionally stood with others, moved to tears by the intensity of what was going on, it occurred to me that many of the folks with which I shared hand holding and hugs and tears would possibly have shunned me had they known my faith, and it made me sad. In spite of the doubts of others, we Mormons worship the same Jesus that is worshiped by Baptists. The same one who (if one believes the bible, and I do) wept and while in prayer on the eve of passover sweat, as it were, drops of blood, He was so anguished for our sins and His atonement for them. We worship the same one who was crucified for us, who gave up His life and, in three days was resurrected. We worship the same one who created in his faithful all the experiences of the day of Penacost. The fact that we take more literally the nature of His resurrection and the prayers to His Father than others does not make Him less significant to us than to all others who follow Him, nor does the fact that, although we are aware and grateful that He is our Savior and accept Him as our personal Savior, we feel more strongly than some that his commandments are to be observed by the faithful.

The fact is that I had much more in common, in faith, inexperience, and even in worship with"anonymous" than he would ever admit, and this makes me sad. I felt such brotherhood with my fellow audience members at the Gaitherfest, and I am so sad that they might not have included me had they known "who" I was /am. We Mormons are not big on Holiday rituals (Midnight Mass etc.) and many of us follow those of others. Some of the most wonderful Christmas Eves in my life have come in the Midnight gatherings of the little Community Church of Christ here in Statesboro, Georgia, and these Christians were perfectly willing to accept me as I was, as I accepted them ( Some, in the Bell Choir in which many of us from both congregations participated played in both our services and theirs.)

Okay! that's over but you all, both faith oriented and otherwise know what I think and feel, and that your disapproval will not hinder my prayers in your behalf (as well as in my own behalf.) I hope no Christians, in fact no Americans, and even no more human beings than are already in its throes, could get caught up in the kind of fanaticism and hate of those who do not share your beliefs that has led to the kind of war in which we are now involved.

Christ commanded us to love our enemies and do good to those who would do us evil. I hope we can learn to really love all those who share so many aspects of one faith - - or even those who do not. DONE. No more preaching, I promise. I just had to let it out this time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Movie Review, The Bucket List

Two posts in one week. I must be careful lest this become a habit.

Just before Christmas I reviewed a play that made a particular impact on me. Tonight, I must review a movie that almost overwhelmed me.

Jan and I decided that we wanted to see The Bucket List more or less because we both really like Morgan Freeman. I have never seen him in a movie role in which he was not convincing. The movie also stars Jack Nicholson, who is not in my list of favorite actors. I have been entertained by him in roles ranging from Cuckoo's Nest and As Good As It Gets to the Batman movies and The Shining. I have always been impressed with his competence, but have frequently felt that he was showing off, that the characterization was a sort of a mask that was put on for the show.

We went to see The Bucket List this evening just expecting to enjoy a good film. What we got was well beyond that. I do have to explain that this film is a coot or geezer movie. It is about age, and illness, and how those things affect two very different people in what begins to seem like two different ways. I will say that if one is a coot or a geezer he or she really must see this film, as should anyone who "owns" or "claims" a geezer as close family. It touches things that are not often voiced but that are often felt or shared (or which should be felt or shared)

It is simply the story of two guys, one a billionaire and the other an auto mechanic who become (we discover) terminal cancer patients sharing a room in a hospital that is owned by the billionaire. The reason why the billionaire is not in a private room is revealed in the exposition of the film. The "bucket list" is a list of things which someone would like to accomplish before death (if he/she could know when that date might be). Friend billionaire invites his roomie (all expenses paid) to go with him to do all the things on the mutually prepared list, and it deals with the changes in each of their lives, and those of their families that come about though this series of adventures.

That is SUCH a superficial description of the movie. To deal with the film as a film, it is a tour de force for two masterful actors turned loose with an amazing if somewhat obvious script. I am not sure how one nominates co-stars for the same best actor award in the Academy Awards, but if they are not both nominated, there is something drastically wrong with the nomination process. If it were possible, they should (at least on the basis of the other films I've seen this year) BOTH receive the award. They combined to create something right on the verge of majestic.

I will confess that, for me, it was almost a little too close to home. All the emotions were rekindled from that excruciating fourteen days when I sat beside my wife eighteen months ago, with her kept unconscious, and entubated, with an open incision in her chest that was just covered with surgical mesh, and when I was told that very few survive that surgery; this information was followed by the news that she had two strokes, a very nearly flat EEG and if she recovered she would very likely never be able to walk or communicate. As these two great characters worked through the information that neither of them could reasonably expect more that a few months to a year of life, I sat, wracked with sobs, with Janet's hand clutched in mine. When the only possible, but still somewhat wonderful ending came to the film, I could only sit, stunned, through the credits trying to work up the strength to stand up and leave the theatre.

The sad thing about what I have written so far is that it makes the film seem like some sort of melodramatic tear jerker, and it is not. It is an enormously funny film. It seems really weird to describe a film about the last few months of two cancer ridden old coots as funny, but it is, and not with gallows humor, but with real genuine humanity. It is a film that should be seen by everyone who is a coot or geezer, who is related to a coot or geezer, or who may one day be either/or a coot or geezer. It will make your life richer if you see this film.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Yummm!! Chicken.

I was wandering through MSN today and found five chicken recipes which looked interesting so I printed them up for Janet (and probably for me). Most of them used boneless thighs which are usually fairly economical and, for those of us who are concerned with waistline expansion, provide relatively small portions. We were nearing a supermarket and talked about picking up some boneless thighs, then, somehow the conversation shifted (probably for the benefit of second son who was riding with us) to buying, or getting chicken when Jan and I were kids.

Janet talked about her uncle (who was very close to her age) who would go out to the chicken yard, select a chicken, put its head between two fingers and with a quick movement of the hand, snap the head off, leaving the remaining dead (or deadish) chicken on the ground for the girls (my wife and her sister) to take over near the pump and clean, first stripping the feathers off, then singeing (with fire, not with the voice) the pin feathers off and then gutting the chicken, sorting out the giblets and disposing of the remainder of the innards. (How? Not part of the story.)

This brought to mind my experience with chicken procurement and preparation as a young boy. We didn't have a chicken yard. When we got fresh chicken (we did also get some from the butcher) we frequently got it from Frazier's hatchery which was about four blocks up the street and which also sometimes served as a source of very fresh eggs. Sometimes mom would get in the car and drive up to get chicken, but it was not unusual to send my brother or myself up to get it either on bicycle or on foot. I remember one occasion when mom decided that she wanted five fresh chickens (I believe she ordered spring chickens, which were smaller and younger, but I am not sure. At any rate five chickens was more than our family would eat in several days.) I do remember that she called ahead and told the people at the hatchery that I was on my way to pick them up.

I am not sure why I didn't take the bicycle that had a basket, but this time I walked, and when I got to the hatchery they had five freshly killed chickens ready for me. I don't remember paying for them so they may have been charged on account, but they were fresh and they were ready. Each chicken had a bunch of tissue or cotton wrapped around the neck and secured with rubber bands. They secured three of the chicken by their feet, which I could carry in one hand and two which I could carry in the other. I took the chickens and trudged on home. I have a vivid memory that one of the birds began to "leak" before I got home. I also remember thinking that five chickens were darned heavy, and I was really tired by the time I got home.

I don't remember the preparation of those particular chickens, but preparation was similar whenever we got fresh chickens complete with feathers and feet. Sometimes mom would just put the chicken in a dish pan full of hot water and just strip the feathers off (or have one of her "enthusiastic" sons do so.) Other times she would bring a large stock pot full of water to a boil, then dunk the chicken into boiling water. She (or we) would then, after the chicken had been in the water for the appropriate time, ( I truly don't remember what was the appropriate time, but there are a lot of things I don't remember), remove it and place it in a dishpan full of cooler water. I preferred the latter method because the feathers, more or less, slid off and out easily and didn't make much of a mess. When the feathers were all removed the singeing process would begin. Mom would wrap the tines of a fork with Kleenex or toilet tissue, soak the tissue in rubbing alcohol, light the alcohol on fire, then, having one of the boys hold the chicken and turn it on command, she would touch the flame to all parts to remove pin feathers and any little hairy things. She would then gut the chicken, (or have us do it, reminding us many times not to let the knife penetrate the digestive tract to spread nasty stuff around), remove the giblets for tasty use, and remove the feet for disposal with the remainder of the entrails. When this was complete, she would take a dish of soap or detergent, a heavy but small brush and scrub the thing down. I remember her saying, many times, that "A chicken only gets one bath in its life and I intend to make sure it is a good one." Even chickens purchased from the butcher shop, sans feathers etc., got the singeing and bathing process. She was serious about that one bath being thorough.

This general process was regular enough that I never thought much about it. I just carried chickens when told to do so, stripped the feathers when told to do so, tossed the garbage into the "burn can" when told to do so, and ate chicken whenever possible whether told to do so, or not.

When Jan and I were in graduate school in Illinois, we were poor. I had a doctoral stipend and for a year or so Jan had a graduate assistantship as well, but we had four kids and little enough money that we qualified for receipt of government surplus foods occasionally. (If I haven't already written about that, I will have to do so later). At any rate we were living from hand to mouth. Our big splurge at the time was, once a week, to buy one Vernor's Ginger Ale, cool it in the freezing compartment of the refrigerator till it was almost frozen, then split the bottle between two refrigerated glasses and sip. (I can still taste it in my imagination.) Our most common experience with chicken was chicken backs and necks which could be had for about fifteen cents a pound and made good soup. (I have already told you about our unfortunate attempt to provide protein with a raccoon feast.)

About this time we found a man who lived near the graduate student housing (Our apartment was in a former military barracks about ten miles from campus) who raised chickens and who put up a sign that he would sell them for a dollar apiece. Jan and I had both done the chicken preparation thing so we decided to buy some (four, if I remember correctly, though for a while it seemed like twenty). We brought the chickens into our miniscule kitchen and proceeded to try to get the chickens ready for their last bath and first fry pan. It was a disaster. The kitchen, and soon the house, was filled almost equally with chicken feathers and crying children (Probably because the children had never been in a chicken feather snow storm before.) I think we finally got the damn things naked and into the refrigerator, but I may have thrown them out the window (probably not, we lived on the second floor and falling chickens might have created even more problems).

I know that for weeks we found small chicken feathers in the most unusual places (in bed, in diapers, in all the drawers of the kitchen, in the typewriter-- everywhere.) I remember deciding to be good humored about it, and, out of the blue, quoted my mother's mantra about making the chicken's first and last bath a good one. This earned me a wet dish sponge in the ear, thrown with surprising accuracy from one room to the other.

Fresh chicken. Yumm.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I have a lot of things I'd like to write about, not very much conscious time, and a serious headache after watching the cable news about the New Hampshire Primary. I spent last week in our Time Share at Hilton Head Island and will write further about that, then yesterday I went to the Medical College of Georgia to see the neurologist about the pain I had last month in my back. (I believe I gave you pictures).

First the medical stuff. I have said before that three score and ten plus some more years is a pain in the butt. Actually it is a pain in the neck, in the back, occasionally in the heart and head, often in the shoulders (thank heaven for naproxin) and a frequent major problem with the bladder and urinary tract, but this trip was primarily for the back. I ended up in the Neurologist office being examined by the Doctor with whom I have appointments two or three times a year to run herd on my peripheral neuropathy (I forgot pain in the feet and hands). He looked at the CD of my back (which my family practice physician was supposed to have sent him and didn't, it was a good thing I had a copy) cursed the quality of the MRI and arranged for me to go back up there and get another one (actually I was going anyway for the ophthalmologist who did laser surgery on my eyes a few years ago to keep my retinas from falling apart-- No pain there, just another part of me wearing out). I discovered that instead of extruding disks in the L4 and L5 vertebrae I have bone spurs on the L1 and L2 vertebrae. Knowing that the locals completely misdiagnosed the problem really makes one feel confident. He was in no hurry to do surgery. There doesn't seem to be muscular degeneration in this area and he said that surgery just for pain is sometimes not a good idea. (Not out of the question for the future, but not good now). He then ran me through my usual tests, concluding with an EMG (electro myologram or something like that.

I have discussed the EMG before. I thing it is one of the few things that can happen in a Doctor's Office that can compare with a non anesthesia root canal (yes I have had that too, but I was young and stupid (er) then.) They stick electrodes (and sometimes needles) onto or into the top and bottom of a nerve then shoot electricity between them to time the reaction between the electrodes. It is particularly fun when they insert needles for this purpose into the joint between abdomen and thigh. Since we were there to check on the vertebrae as well, he turned me on my side and stuck the needles into my back (or spine or thereabouts). That was a new and "refreshing" experience, the other stuff I get about once a year, but now they have a new and more sensitive place to play pin cushion (I wonder if that's how "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" started?) At least in the electric chair (which was outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment) the did it all at one time, from the top down.

One thing about it, when you go to the doctor's office and they work on you for two full hours it is harder to resent the size of the bill. (Especially when sometimes five minute office calls are billed for eighty to a hundred dollars.)

Jan waited patiently for me and when all was done we went to Logan's Roadhouse for a bucket of peanuts and a"Little bit of Everything Salad" which is one of my favorite restaurant meals with two or three kinds of lettuce, crumbled bleu cheese and chopped almonds on the bottom and hot grilled chicken, hard boiled eggs, and various other goodies mixed in. It is one of those salad that you can tell yourself is good for the diet, even though in your heart you know taint true.

Now from one "pain in the butt" to another--- The Primaries. I am not going to spend a lot of time on politics, though my resolution to avoid this is getting harder and harder to maintain. I only keep my sanity because I can make comments on the political blogs of others. I do get a little irritated at the "Primary Process" . Iowa only has about ten percent more inhabitants than Wyoming but half the world's press spends weeks in Iowa, and cable news (all of it)stays with every second to the bitter end of the Iowa Caucus. The Wyoming Caucuses were covered by a cub reporter from the Denver Post.

I really can't stand Hillary, but the one redeeming feature, to me, of the New Hampshire Primary was the fact that the media and the polls got the New Hampshire Democratic Primary so completely wrong. That almost cures my indigestion. Why? WHy? Why do people let a miniscule percentage of the nation's population (about a total of a hundred or so thousand participants in the Iowa Caucus and as close as I could count from the tickers about three hundred thousand voters in New Hampshire) have so darn much influence (I had to go back three times to take the "m's" out of "darn") on the selection of the nation's president? Some talking head on one of the shows stated that Romney, having lost twice was about done. If you look at Everything that has happened, he now has more committed delegates to the convention than any other Republican. Huckabee won in Iowa but got less than ten percent in New Hamphsire and he's in the catbird seat. Of the Democrats I only have one real comment, I taught oral communication in one form or another for forty plus years, and Obama is one of the best I have heard. With his skills as a communicator, he may not be elected president in this election (I rather hope not), but I would be really surprised (though I probably won't be around to really be surprised-- another part of the three score and ten jazz) if he isn't president of the U.S. within the next twenty years.

I've got to get some sleep. I will rant about time shares later.