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Three score and ten or more

Friday, July 30, 2010

New Post?

One of the problems with being older than dirt  and having a shaky memory is that it is difficult to be sure you haven’t “told this story” before.  I tried to go back to my archives to see , but I have too many darn archives to plow through.

I own a house which I am renting to students.  So far it has been a good experience.  I med with my renters the other day to have a “everybody sign the lease” party.  As I listened to the boys talk, my memories went back to my undergraduate period and some of the perils that lie within   For instance, I took the first course in Biology as part of my core curriculum and got an A.   On one of the last days of class, my professor took me aside and said something like:”You did so well in this course, I’m afraid you would be wasting your time in Biology II.   I have a course in Ornithology that you would really enjoy.  We have a lot of real ‘hands on’ science, and I think I can get you into it”

Now that I have forty odd years teaching on university faculties, I know that what he really said was”I am teaching a course in Ornithology which I really love to teach and I am afraid that not enough students are going to register so that it will  ’make’.  I will get down on my hands and knees and kiss your feet if you will take it, and it really ‘makes’ “.  

I was young, innocent, naive, and all those things, and I was really impressed that a well known and published scholar/professor thought that I would fit in the course, so of course I took it.

He was right about “hands on” science, and though our class was officially taught at 10:00 AM, the real work went on  in a widely varied time frame.  We were forever getting on busses at 5 or 6:00 AM and bussing out to the desert or up to a swamp to count the number of bird calls from specific birds with a specific time frame, or to identify nesting site, or examine bird corpses to see how they died or something else.  It was interesting as heck, but  put a lot of pressure on me because I was working full time as a boilermaker helper on the 4:30 PM till 12:30 AM shift at the Union Pacific Railroad.  During that semester I took naps at lunch, occasionally in classes and wherever.

I felt like I was doing well in the class, but it was hard to tell.  There were very few activities that could be specifically graded.  The real challenge of the class was that we were each to do a scientific paper involving original research in Ornithology.  First we had to learn how to write up a proposal.  (This was the one part of the course that has had real valuable usage in my life.  He was good at teaching this and good at evaluating it and I have been grateful to him every time I have written a grant proposal, a thesis proposal, a dissertation proposal etc.).

At that time, in Idaho, most fishermen felt like pelicans were competition for the fish population, and it was common for fishermen, especially those who fished in lakes to take a shotgun along  and attempt to depopulate the pelican population as much as possible.

I don’t remember exactly how my final proposal went (after many false starts) but basically what I proposed was to do a food analysis of pelicans in a variety of sites.   I had no trouble acquiring pelicans I just passed the word around that I would appreciate it if anyone who shot a pelican would bring it home where I could pick it up.  I needed the time of day, the location of the shoot and some other details that have slipped my mind. 

Once I received the dead bird I had to dissect it, examine it’s stomach contents, measure the fat of the bird, examine the craw, then, after my own analysis I packaged up the items in question and sent them off to the state fish and game department where they did a second lab analysis.  It was fascinating.  Every fish scale  in the stomach identified the genus, the size and the sex of the fish (How, I don’t know) so when I got the report back I knew everything about this pelican’s diet for a couple of days.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated was the smell.  The first pelican I dissected, I dissected in the zoology lab at about two o’clock in the afternoon.  When I opened it up it gave off the rankest odor of fish, death and corruption you could imagine.  It made my stomach turn and my eyes water.  I tied a handkerchief around my face and went about my business.  I heard sirens outside, but paid them no mind, I wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.  I heard a lot of noise of people moving around and wondered because it was the middle of the hour, not at class changing time.   Suddenly the door crashed open and guys with gas masks holding guns came rushing into the lab.  

I learned that the smell had permeated the entire Liberal Arts Building (Home of Biology, History, Chemistry, English, and most of the other “Liberal Arts” courses.  The odor had appeared to be some kind of gas, poisonous or explosive, so the building had been evacuated and some several hundreds of people were standing around outside waiting for a solution by the Emergency People that were now in the lab.  They laid hand on me somewhat roughly and asked what in the name of Hell I was doing.

I explained, and after some consultation with the powers that be my pelican specimen was place in a sealed cooler to be handled later and perhaps somewhere else.  The ruling was finally made that I could dissect specimens in the lab between 11:00 PM and 5:00 AM in the morning.  (More sleep deprivation).  Fortunately my days off at the railroad were Wednesday and Thursday so I managed to dissect about sixteen or seventeen pelicans.  (I managed a sort of breathing apparatus for my personal use and I called Plant Operations every day when I was through working so that they could air out the place before daily classes began.   I got my paper done, handed it in, and to my disgust received a C.   I got a B minus for the class into which I had been recruited.

To add insult to injury, four years later, after I had completed a Mission to Finland for the LDS church, and returned to school, when I was "clearing for graduation” a process that began at the  end of one’s Junior year, I discovered that the Biology class I had taken was a four credit course, and the Ornithology class was only a three credit course so I was short one hour in Laboratory Science.  Do you know how many Lab Science course are one hour courses?   Finally after agony and begging, and vaguely muttering about law suits, I was allowed to take a course in Scientific Terminology for one credit and was cleared for graduation.

To add further insult to injury, after graduation, marriage and all that stuff I was sitting in a doctor’s office and picked up an old edition of  Scientific American (I think that was the title,) and browsing through it I found my paper, for which I had received a C. (and with more polished writing)  under the name of my former professor and one other name (probably the guy at State Fish and Game who did the lab analysis of the stomach contents).   I wouldn’t have minded if he had given me an A.

By the way, the results of the research showed that most of the fish that the Pelicans ate were trash fish, of fish that were injured or sick.  Very few were good game fish.  (Since I am three score and ten or more years old, and my professor was probably in his early forties when I took the course and has probably passed to the other side,  I see no sense in identifying him).




Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It aint goin so hot (except the weather)

For those few people who might still log in, I am going to try to repent and post things.  I have so many things I want to say about the past, but now I’ll talk about the present.

I am a little worried about loss of my cognitive powers.  I sit at the computer and, except for reading Facebook and my favorite blogs, (and a lot of them have given up on it dang it)  I really have trouble focusing on what I am doing.  As I type, my fingers slip off the pilot keys and I end up with whole lines of stiff tjat ,els mp semcs at a;;/  then I  have to delete and retype and by the time I get there I can’t remember what I was writing about

I guess when I started this thing I said that I would write about what it feels like to be three score and ten or more years old.   I celebrated my seventy sixth birthday last weekend, and had a good time.  I made a low country boil with about a pound of giant shrimp per person so we ate, refrigerated and ate again.

I worked really hard to get my studio into a working shape again, and have spent time out there. (I will try, when I get the exterior trimmed a bit to post pictures.)  When we moved, I thought it would take about six months to get the studio into operation and it took three years.  Part of that came from the fact that I personally cannot safely work from a ladder any more, and can’t anything above my head, so I have had to depend on others.

I bought this house partly because of the pool, and I have loved it part of the time, but it is a fickle mistress and doesn’t love me back.  I have to work like heck, or hire someone to work like heck to keep the algae down.

Anyway the more years you get past three score and ten, the harder things get.  I have a draft of a useful, or at least I think it is funny, post almost done that won’t whine a bit.  I just home that I am still writing in English when I get to it.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Ruminations on stuff.

I’ve never had a Cadillac, and last fall we bought a used smallish Cadillac with about 40,000 miles on her.  We needed a car, and Jan had found that flying was very difficult for her so we bought a car that had a front seat that reclined and soft upholster and all that stuff, with the idea that when we travelled to family out west or in Florida or Mississippi we would take our time, drive out un comfortable stages and have a good time.  Of course it didn’t work.  She quickly discerned that she couldn’t ride much better in a car than a plane, even though she had more room.  I found that the Cadillac gets even more lousy mileage that I thought it would (I drove a Lincoln Continental about the same size as the Cadillac for a few years that averaged in the high twenties in mileage, and the Caddy averages in the high seventeens—or less).  We are having some warranty work done next week that may help.

The most irritating thing is that I can’t seem to get into the front seat of the car without bumping my head.  I am just not flexible enough to avoid the the top of the car door opening.  I have a constant cast of Dagwood Bumstead hair on my right side.

On the other hand, whoever designed the seatbelts should get some kind of honor.  For arthritics and old folks fastening the seat belt often requires acrobatics beyond our skills, but in this Cadillac, when the driver sits, he/she drops the left hand to the corner of the seat and there is the seat belt.  One pull across the chest and it is fastened.  Every time I do it, it tickles me plum to death.  (Right side works just as well, though one drops the right hand to the seat belt gizmo.

On another track:  I mentioned in my last post that we have both been physically a  mess for the last few weeks.   Last spring I was having pain in my left shoulder to the stage that I couldn’t put on my shirt by myself.   I went to Janet’s orthopedist (to keep her company) and while we were there mentioned my pain (which I though arthritic).  He said “Let’s xray it"!” he did and came back to tell me that I essentially have no rotator cuff (I mentioned the possibility of reverse shoulder replacement in another post).  He gave me a cortisone shot and all the pain went away, till I fell down in my bedroom and caught myself with my right arm.  It was instantly very painful, I saw the doc and he gave me another shot and set me up for therapy (It was much less successful than the previous shot, and that’s life.

Soon thereafter my lumbar vertebrae (the doctors give them numbers, I can’t) attacked  me and I  was in excruciating pain in my lower back with sharp  pains in my hips and down to my knees.   I soon reached that stage where I was almost crawling most of the time.

This vertebrae thing has happened before and my local doc referred me to a neurosurgeon at the Medical College of Georgia, expecting me to have momentary surgery.  Instead the neurosurgeon made a deal with me that when the pain gets so bad I can’t stand it, I call him and he sends a prescription for a dose pack of prednisone.   (six tablets for two days, five the next two days and so on untill they are all gone.  He tells me I can’t do this very often because prednisone gives men boobs and aggressive attitudes and women facial hair .  At least it doesn’t make my facial hair fall out.)    At  any rate, I had been in pain somewhere in my body  almost  twenty four hours a day since March.   I took my first dose and felt almost instant relief .  After the second day it was even better.   On the third day I had a kind of epiphany.   I was driving down the road with Janet and suddenly became aware that I didn’t hurt anywhere; not in my shoulders, not in my back, not in my hips, nowhere.

I don’t think I can adequately describe what a wonderful feeling for an old coot, that, now for five days, I am pain free.   I feel like I want to go out in the street and shout, “I am pain free”, but with my luck I would get hit be a car and be full of pain again.  I know that this is a transient thing, that my pills will run out in four or five days and all of these pains will potentially return, but I am so grateful that I am sitting here at the computer, past bed time, (that is another side effect of prednisone, I think, to make one alert longer during the day)  with actual tears running down my face it is so wonderful, even if transient, to not hurt anywhere in my body.   

I am getting sleepy, but tomorrow I write about wild strawberries, real wild strawberries that I found growing my lawn.   Sometimes life is real good.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Sorry bout that

It never would have occurred to me when I did the last four posts in a week that it would be over a month before I would post again, but it has been one of those months.

I while ago Patrick   the Redneck and I spent a few posts each on what he called “organ recitals” that is, explication of the various physical problems we were having.  If I were to explain what has been going on for the last month, it would start a new series and I think organ recitals have run their course.  But, Janet and I have therapied (she says that the real word is terrorized), doctored, shot and pilled and  we have lived through it.

When one owns time-share properties in a variety of places it is really miserable to have to try to schedule vacations between doctor appointments.  It gets still more confusing when we have children and grand children  both in Florida and Washington State (and great grand children in Florida) whom we would like to see.  As it is, the only real victory was that we finally got the algae out of our swimming pool, but that is in contrast with the fact that the hot-tub (which has been one of the things that kept me walking for the past two weeks) quit working the day after the swimming pool came to life.  (When we bought our house we had always wanted a pool, now I’m not so sure.)

I have a number of semi-historical (hysterical?) posts in my mind (iincluding a final high school teacher episode, and I will try to get al least one out each week.   Sigh!!!