Thursday, July 21, 2016

Age What? You Must Be Kidding!

Dear George,
When I turned on the computer this morning, the calendar blatantly announced that I’m 79 years old today.  Even though I knew it in advance, it still came as a shock  — like something out of a sci-fi fantasy.  If you’ve been watching Wayward Pines on FX, you know that all the characters have woken up in their pods after sleeping for 2000 years.  That’s how I feel.  The last age that’s firmly in my mind is 44.  After that everything else whizzed by, practically overnight, and here I find myself 35 years later.  What should I make of that? 

I Googled “age 79” to learn more about what to expect.  That was a mistake.  Twenty-seven of the first 30 hits were news reports about the death of one or another 79-year-old person: Merle Haggard, Antonin Scalia, former Ohio governor George Voinovich, Chinese activist Harry Wu, Jennifer Anniston’s mother, and a variety of lesser-knowns.  The three non-death items dealt with life expectancy, joint impairments, and a list of celebrities who have managed to survive for 79 years.  Determined to find something positive, I kept reading.  After 60 items, I finally reached a life-affirming post, namely, “Mick Jagger Gets Girlfriend Pregnant at Age 79.”  This was definitely more encouraging, though the article wasn’t clear if it was Mick or the girlfriend who was 79.

The other thing I found out from Google is that, according to USA Today, the average life expectancy in the U.S. these days is 78.8 years.  That’s of particular interest to those of us who are celebrating our 79th birthday.  We are people have spent our entire lifetimes on the good side of average life expectancy, and now we suddenly have shifted over to the downhill side.  This does make for a notable birthday, though it gives one the jitters. 

When I reached middle age, I started accumulating a list of famous people who were born in 1937.  It made me feel more secure to have a group I am moving along with.  Then I started Googling photos of these people to see how they were doing.  This was reassuring because these are mostly Hollywood people whose staff members help them appear more youthful than they really are.  Here is how my 1937 age-mates are looking these days.  

Colin Powell (born Apr. 5, 1937), Heart symposium, McLean, VA, Apr. 15, 2016

Sally Kellerman (born June 2, 1937),  Los Angeles LGBT gala, Nov. 2015

Warren Beatty (born Mar. 30, 1937), Cinema awards show, Apr. 12, 2016

Dyan Cannon (born Jan. 4, 1937), L.A. art show, Jan. 28, 2016

Morgan Freeman (born June 1, 1937), Academy Awards, Feb. 16, 2016

Jo Anne Worley (born Sept. 6, 1937), Film screening, May 9, 2016

Sir Anthony Hopkins (born Dec. 31, 1937), Interview, Jan., 2016

Loretta Swit (born Nov. 4, 1937), Interview, Feb., 2016

Dustin Hoffman (born Aug. 8, 1937), NYC theater opening, Mar. 2, 2016

Roberta Flack (born Feb. 10, 1937), Feb. 10, 2016

Jack Nicholson (born Apr. 22, 1937), L.A. Lakers game, Mar., 2016

Jane Fonda (born Dec. 21, 1937), Golden Globes, Jan., 2016

By and large, it looks like 79 isn’t a complete catastrophe.  That’s especially true for Jane Fonda who hasn’t changed one iota in the last four decades.  Given that the last age I remember is in my forties, I have to say that my late seventies don’t seem dramatically different.  It is true that my hearing is poorer, my close-up vision is erratic, and it’s harder to figure out who the murderer is in Masterpiece Mystery.  On the other hand, I exercise more, eat healthier food, and experience much less stress than during my turbulent work years.  In some ways, life is better these days — more relaxed, more free, more pleasurable.   

After working it through, I’ve concluded that being 79 — like 32 or 11 or 61 — is simply a fact of life, another chronological step that presents its own unique rewards and challenges.   I think the trick in it is to accept what life brings along, do something special every day, try to get out of one’s comfort zone every now and then, keep a sense of humor, and say “I love you” to people who are close.  These are going to be my birthday resolutions.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Archive: Marinette Postcards #3

Dear George,
This is the third archive of Marinette, Wisconsin, postcards that I've posted.  Previous entries can be located by searching "archive" in the box at the upper left.   Marinette is my hometown Menominee's twin city, just across the Menominee River, and it played a significant role in our growing up -- a frequent destination for shopping, eating out, going to the movies, cruising around as teenagers, and my first paid  employment at my grandfather's Marinette Rexall drugstore.  My paternal grandparents lived on Merryman St. near downtown, having immigrated to Marinette from Sweden, and my dad and his siblings were Marinette High School graduates.  

Circus parade, Dunlap Square (see above)
The circus’s arrival in the twin cities was a major highlight of the summer.  Our family would get up at dawn and go to the circus grounds to watch the tents being erected by the workers and their crew of elephants.  Then there’d be a parade through the town, followed the Big Show – the most exciting event of childhood in our small town.  This parade is in downtown Marinette is in the early part of the twentieth century.    

Masonic Temple
The Masonic Temple in Marinette was located at 1610-12 Main St., right across the street from my grandfather's Marinette drugstore.  It was built in 1907 in a Neoclassical style and served as the town's meeting hall for the Masons.  The first floor has been transformed into commercial storefront space and houses Paul's Music and The Psalms.  

Boom logs
Our family moved to the shore of the Menominee River shortly after World War II, and the outskirts of Marinette were right across the river.  Sixty to eighty years earlier the river had been the conduit for the world's largest white pine logging industry, and remnants were still available in the vicinity in the form of log structures and deadheads in the water.  We were well aware of the river's famous history and sometimes fancied ourselves to be young lumberjacks. 

Camp We-Ha-Kee
Camp We-Ha-Kee for Girls was established by the Sisters of the Dominicans of Sinsinawa on the shores of Green Bay near Marinette in 1923.  It's named after Mary WeHaKee La Batte, a young girl raised by the Dominicans whose mother was a Sioux Indian and whose father was French.  In 1964 the camp was moved from Marinette to Hunter Lake in northwestern Wisconsin where it's still thriving today. 

Post Office 1909
Here is the Marinette Wisconsin Post Office in 1909.  I haven’t been able to locate a date for its construction.  Marinette County was formed in 1879 and the City of Marinette in 1887, so I suspect the post office had been around for a couple of decades when this picture was taken. 

Ella Court School
The Marinette & Peshtigo Eagle reported on January 8, 1876, that the "lower part of Ella Court School is finished and ready for use."

Bastol Dairy Meal
According to the Annual Report of the Dairy and Food Commissioner of the State of Michigan, Vol. 20, Bastol Dairy Meal was produced by the Lignum Chemical Company of Marinette.   The report for its analysis listed 12% protein, 20% crude fiber, 46% nitrogen free extract, and 4% fiber extract.  

Parade, Main Street, WW I (1918)
This parade on Main Street in downtown Marinette, in the vicinity of my grandfather's drug store, was held in 1918.  My dad was 10 years old and probably was in the crowd.  A Marinette County genealogy website lists 71 local men killed during World War I, a shocking number for a small, predominantly rural county. 

Yacht Basin boats
Both of the twin cities had popular yacht basins for local and Great Lakes boaters.  Menominee's marina was right on Green Bay off the Sheridan Road downtown business district, while Marinette's was on the Menominee River near where the river passed under the Interstate Bridge.  We'd check out the boats while walking across the bridge to go to the Fox or Rialto movie theaters in downtown Marinette.  

Marinette Opera House
It's quite amazing, but the twin cities of Marinette and Menominee both had large opera houses at the turn of the last century.  The Marinette Opera House had 1,275 seats and a 10-seat orchestra section.  While I’m sure my grandparents went there many times in the early 1900s, the opera house was long gone by the time that my siblings and I were growing up in the 1940’s. 

Sauve’s Courtesy Motel
Given that this is a chrome postcard from the fifties or sixties, Sauve’s was there on Highway 41 during my youth.  We probably passed it by many dozens of time on Marinette’s outskirts as we teenagers drove to Peshtigo and back.   

Camp Bird
Camp Bird near Crivitz in Marinette County is located on land that was owned from 1875 to 1920 by Isaac Stephenson who used it as a fishing and hunting camp.  Sold in 1929 to a land company, Marinette County became the owner that year because of $82.75 in unpaid back taxes.  The plans to build a youth camp were approved by the County Board in 1939, and construction was begun by the WPA in 1942.  Camp Bird opened in 1943 and has been used since that time by the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, schools, and religious organizations. 

Loret’s Beauty Salon
In my mom’s final years she experienced severe pain in her legs and wasn’t up and around much.  My task on home visits was to take her for her weekly appointment at the local beauty parlor.  It wasn’t Loret’s, but I’m sure her salon was similar  It’s hard to describe the invigorating effect that going to the hairdresser had upon my mother.  She loved conversing with the stylists and fellow customers and getting filled in on the gossip of the day. 

Lakeside Inn
To the best of my knowledge, the Lakeside Inn was located at the Chautauqua site on the outskirts of Marinette along the Green Bay shore.  When we were kids this had become the residential area of Pine Beach.  My grandfather lived there with my Aunt Martha and Uncle Ralph and their kids, Ann and John.     

July 4 parade 1913
This is a shot of the Fourth of July parade on Main Street in downtown Marinette in 1913.  It's clearly a grand occasion.  Lauerman Brothers Department Store is in the background to the left.  My grandfather's drug store was two blocks up the street in the direction that the parade was proceeding.  My father was four years old at the time of the parade, and odds are that he was there, taking in the splendor.

Miscauno Inn
The Miscauno Inn (now the Four Seasons Resort) was located on Miscauno Island in northeast Marinette County on the Menominee River.  It opened in 1905 and initially served a Chicago railroad clientele before being destroyed by fire and then becoming an exclusive club and golf course.  Legend has it that Al Capone was a frequent guest at the Miscauno Inn, using it as a getaway when the heat was on in Chicago.  Reportedly because Chicago gangsters were such regular guests, all of the private resorts in the area had armed guards and barbed-wire fences.  (Source: NY Times, "Where public enemies went for a little peace and quiet," 6-26-09) 

St. Anthony’s Church (interior)
St. Anthony's was located at 900 Wells St. in Marinette.  In 1958 the four Marinette parishes of St. Joseph, Sacred Heart, St. Anthony, and Our Lady of Lourdes assumed joint control of the former Our Lady of Lourdes High School, establishing Marinette Catholic Central High School (which later became the St. Thomas Aquinas Academy).  To my understanding, St. Anthony's church is now located in Niagara in Marinette County.    

Oakwood Beach Club
The Oakwood Beach Club is a mystery to me, and even Google couldn't untangle it.  I did find out that Oakwood Beach Road is located in Marinette's Pine Beach neighborhood, just south of the Bay Area Medical Center, and it seems likely the clubhouse was located there.  As kids, we spent much time visiting the Burkes and swimming at Pine Beach.  

Schofield Resort, Lake Nocquebay, Archie Photo 1944
Lake Nocquebay remains a major resort area and tourist center in Marinette County, though I don't find traces on the Internet of the Schofield Resort today.  Noquebay is one of Wisconsin's largest inland lakes, offering 2400 acres of fishing for Bluegills, Perch, Crappie, Walleye, Bass, and Northern Pike.  The Mohawk Resort and Supper Club, located 4 miles east of Crivitz, might be Schofield's replacement.  It offers eight lake front cottages and a year-round vacation home spread along a 500-foot beach.  (Source:

We plan to visit Marinette and Menominee soon, and we look forward to stopping by at least some of these scenes from days gone by.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Our Cardboard Chums Have Moved In With Us

Dear George,
Our house is still a disaster zone from the burst pipe and flooding in late April.  The construction people moved everything out of our living room and dining room in preparation for renovation, so it’s sort of like occupying a barren warehouse.  It got so gloomy that I decided to populate the first floor with some friendly people and their pets.  Some cardboard boxes from Ace Hardware, felt markers, a box cutter, a roll of masking tape, and — voila — we have a gaggle of visitors who have moved in to cheer us up.  Though sympathetic to our damage, they are looking reasonably cheerful despite it all. 

P.S. When our 7-year-old granddaughter V came to town, she decided that we needed more animals, so she made a turtle, two goldfish in their bowls, and a snake in the grass.  Here they are.  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Slower Than a Dog, Faster Than a Whale

Dear George,
After fiddling around for eons, Katja and I finally saw a lawyer to make up our will.  Actually we did have a will 45 years ago when J was an infant.  All I can remember is that the will specified, at Katja’s insistence, that she will donate all her organs to science and she will have an open casket funeral.  The lawyer strongly advised against this.  He said they gouge huge holes in your head and torso for organ donation so an open casket funeral would be horrifying for the mourners.  Katja was adamant, insisting on an open casket, large holes or not, and that’s how our will wound up.  It doesn't matter because that will disappeared somewhere in the attic.  It was easier to hire a new lawyer than to search for the old document.  

There’s nothing like doing a will to make you aware of your mortality.  Right in the midst of these legal matters, something unsettling happened at the fitness center.  I routinely take my blood pressure and pulse before my workout.  A normal pulse rate is between 60 and 100 beats a minute, and my pulse is always about 75 or 80.  On this occasion, however, the machine said my heart was only beating 40 times a minute.  That seemed impossible.  How could my heart rate drop by 50%?  I informed one of the trainers that the blood pressure machine was malfunctioning.  Just to be sure, I rechecked my pulse on our neighborhood drugstore machine later in the day.  Much to my dismay, it was 42.  What was this about?  Was my heart in the process of quitting altogether?  

I googled “low heart rate” and learned that large dogs’ hearts beat 75 times a minute, blue whales only 6, and the lowest human pulse rate in recorded history is 28.  At forty beats per minute, I was a lot closer to 28 than I was to 75.  I was six months overdue for a cardiologist appointment anyway, and this news spurred me to action.  When I called the office, they said Doctor Weinberg didn't have an opening for a month, but I could see nurse-practitioner Carrie Jenquist the next day.*  I opted for the nurse-practitioner.  

Carrie Jenquist took my pulse manually, and it was 60 (better than 40 but still much lower than it’s ever been).  Then she did an EKG, and my heart rate zoomed up to 90.  Explaining that the EKG was correct, she said that the fitness center and drugstore machines were inaccurate because they aren’t sensitive enough to pick up irregular heart beats.  She asked if I’ve always had irregular heart beats.  I had no idea.  Carrie Jenquist said they might be harmless or they might not be (i.e., most likely they are fatal).  She scheduled me for a treadmill stress test and prescribed a heart monitor which I was to wear on my chest for a month (to determine whether my heart rate dips below 40 in the middle of the night).

I get excited about doing stress tests because they are one of my few areas of achievement nowadays.  I’ve reached an age where the hospital staff think I’ll barely be able to climb onto the treadmill, but, in fact, I do the treadmill all the time.  Mikhail, the technician who administered the test, said my target heart rate goal, based on my age, would be 120 beats a minute.  I said that was good but I would like to go higher than that.  Mikhail asked every 60 seconds if  I were having chest pains, and each time I said that I’d like to go faster.  After 10 minutes I'd reached 136 beats per minute.  Mikhail suddenly said "Oops, I pushed the wrong button.  Such a mistake.  I’m sorry, but the test is over."  He said he'd gotten all the information they needed, and I wouldn't have to repeat the test.  I don’t really think Mikhail hit a wrong button by mistake, and I was disappointed not to keep going.  I think he decided that stopping the test would probably save my life.  Unlike my past stress test visits, Mikhail didn’t say anything about my doing well.  I had been watching the printed output on the roll of paper, and the ups and downs of my heartbeats looked like something Jackson Pollock might have drawn.  I told Mikhail it seemed very erratic, and he said it was because my heart was going fast.  When I thought about it after leaving the medical center, I decided he didn’t tell me I’d done well because, in fact, I’d done terribly. 

A few days later the office called and said that Dr. Weinberg wanted me to come back and do a nuclear stress test.  That made me exceedingly nervous.  What had they discovered from my treadmill stress test that now called for a nuclear stress test?  It was a good thing that the lawyer was close to completing our will. There's something about getting your will done that makes the end of life much more acceptable.  A young woman named Marlee did the nuclear stress test. After injecting radioactive fluid into my veins, she invited me back onto the treadmill.  Marlee was friendlier than Mikhail and didn't hit the wrong button by mistake.  When I reached 140 beats a minute, she said "that's awesome!"  I was watching the x-ray of my heart on the computer screen, and it stilled looked sort of crazy though.  There was a big fuzzy undulating area on the upper left side of my heart that looked to me like a large, impenetrable blockage.  Marlee was not allowed to tell me anything.  I started mentally preparing for the worst.    

Carrie Jenquist went on vacation, and so I saw Dr. Weinberg the next week.  I asked Katja to come along for moral support.  Dr. Weinberg came in the room, shook my hand, and opened by saying that my heart was doing just fine.  I have a lot of irregular heart beats but they are harmless and nothing to worry about.  I asked about the heart monitor that I'd worn for thirty days, and he said that was also fine (though I suspected he hadn’t actually looked at it).  I asked why my heart rate on the machines had dropped down to the 40’s, and Dr. Weinberg said maybe I hadn't been drinking enough water.  The upshot is that I’ve stared Death in the face and have returned to the land of the living.  I’m trying to remember to drink more water, though old habits are hard to break.  I have lost all interest in keeping a written record of my pulse rate.  Since the machine is wrong, why bother?   On the other hand, I will definitely feel better when the lawyer completes our will. 

*Pseudonyms are used in this story. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hanging Out With Grand Children

L, J, V, and Katja at Skyline Chili

Dear George,
It’s been an overly long time since December when we last saw our seven-year-old grandchildren, V and L, so we were excited about their arrival on Thursday evening for a long weekend.  We had some initial trouble retrieving their carseats at airport baggage, but, the very moment that our son J had arranged for vouchers from the airline to purchase new ones, the carseats magically appeared on the conveyor belt.  Katja had made lasagna, and we topped it off with ice cream at our neighborhood Graeter’s.  Friday morning we went to the zoo, watched the baby cheetahs playing, took a zoo tour on the train, and did the gift shop.  Then lunch at Skyline Chili, the children’s Cincinnati favorite.  I did my annual interviews with L and V (see below), and V drew some cardboard animals to add to my recent arts and craft project.  That evening we saw "Independence Day: Resurgence" at the Western Hills Cinemark (34% on Rotten Tomatoes is generous), and wound up at Putz’s Creamy Whip where the children were equally interested in eating softserve cones and capturing lightning bugs.  On Saturday a.m. we went to a neighborhood yard sale, bought a flower and leaf press, and went to Burnet Woods to gather interesting leaves to be pressed.  After hot dogs and baked beans, J and I took the children to Sunlite Pool at Coney Island for the afternoon, the  biggest hit of the trip.  L persuaded me to stand under the Typhoon Tower where seeming tons of water cascaded down on our backs and heads.  J asked me to watch V do the diving board at the deep end of the pool, but, when he and L returned, I’d lost track of V and we couldn’t find her anywhere.  As it turned out, she’d swum away to some unknown destination.  We had pizza at Dewey’s, more ice cream at Graeter’s, and listened to the rock music at Clifton Plaza while V and a couple of other kids did a dance at the front of the crowd.  Sunday came too quickly, and we got up at 5:30 a.m. to be at the airport for their early flight.  Because we packed four days’ worth of activities into two and a half, we have lots of pleasing memories.  Probably most grandparents think this, but I'd say that V and L are remarkable.  Not only are they smart, articulate, and fun, they get along amazingly well and look out for one another.  Here’s what L and V had to say when I interviewed them.       

Interview with L

How old are you now?  Seven
If you could be any age there is, how old would you want to be?  Twelve.
Why is that?  Don’t know.  
What do you think it will be like to be a teenager?  Fun.  Different.  Be grown up.  
What do you think will be different about your new school?  I went to visit.  It was good.  
What is your favorite thing about school?  Recess.  
Why is that?  Play games.  
What is the most difficult thing?  Working.  
How would you describe yourself as a student?  Smart.  Hard-working.  I play.  
Do you have any hobbies?  No.
Do you collect anything?  No…  I collect legos.
Do you collect Pokemon?  No, I’m all done.  
Which would you like most?:  To have lots of friends; to make lots of money; to help children and poor people; to write a Broadway show?  Make lots of money.
How much money?  A couple hundred thousand.  
What animal are you most like?  Lion.  
Would you say you are more funny or more serious?  More funny.
Are you more good-looking or more intelligent?  (pause)  More intelligent.
More cautious or more bold?  More bold.  
Which is the best time of life?  Babies; young kids; teenagers; adults; old age?  Young kids.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what it would be?  My intelligence.
More intelligent or less intelligent?  More.  
What is your favorite holiday?  Christmas.
Why Christmas?  Lots of presents.  
What is one of your earliest memories as a little child?  Me holding my mom’s hand for the first time. 
Do you get an allowance?  Yes,
How much?  Five dollars every Saturday. 
What do you use it to buy?  Toys.  
Do you like: 
Movies?  Yes
Zoo?  Yes. 
Going to the dentist?  No
Airplanes?  Yes
Doing math?  No
Watching sports on TV?  No
Tests in school?  No
Roller skating?  Yes
Walking the dog?  No
Have you ever had a nickname?  Yes, Shezong. 
What is something that makes you sad?  V kicking me. 
If you found a genie in a bottle who could grant you any wish, what would your wish be?  Having more wishes. 
If you could vote, would you vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Donald Trump. 
What do you think makes for a happy life?  Being loved by my mom.  

Interview with V

How old are you now?  Seven.  
If you could be any age there is, how old would you want to be?  One.
Why is that?  I’d be the smallest. 
What do you think it will be like to be a teenager?  Fun but scary.  
What is your favorite thing about school?  Recess.
What is the most difficult thing?  Working.  
Do you have any hobbies?  Gardening.
Aside from your brother, who is your best friend?  Sophia.
What do you like about her?  She’s been my friend since kinder.  
Do you ever get mad at your brother?  Yes.
Why?  I don’t want to say.  
What do you want to be in life?  A vet.
Which of the following would you want to be?: An actress; a politician; a soldier; an airplane pilot; a police officer.  A police officer.
Why is that?  Because I can make the world a better place.  
Which would you like most?  To have lots of friends; to make lots of money; to help children and poor people; to write a Broadway show.   To help children and poor people. 
What animal are you most like?  A cheetah.  
Did you see the baby cheetah at the zoo today?  Yes, they were so cute. 
Which would you like to do the most?  End poverty; end cancer; end war; end blindness?  End blindness.  
Would you say you are more funny or more serious?  Serious. 
Are you more good-looking or more intelligent?  Intelligent. 
More cautious or more bold?  Bold. 
What is your favorite sport?  Swimming. 
If you could change one thing about yourself, what it would be?  Nothing.
Do you like: 
Movies?  Yes
Zoo?  Kind of. 
Going to the dentist?  No
Airplanes?  Yes
Doing math?  No
Watching sports on TV?  Yes
Tests in school?  Yes
Roller skating?  Yes
Walking the dog?  Yes
Have you ever had a nickname?   Yes, Nacho.
What is something that makes you sad?  Seeing a puppy die. 
If you had a hundred million dollars, what would you do with it?  Help the homeless. 
What is your favorite possession?  My dog Iko.  
If you found a genie in a bottle who could grant you any wish, what would your wish be?  All the animals in the world as a pet.   
If you could vote, would you vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?  Hillary Clinton. 
What do you think makes for a happy life?  Seeing other people happy. 

Here are a few photos of our visit.

On the train at the zoo

Out for treats at Graeter’s ice cream parlor

Supper at Dewey’s Pizza

Sunlite Pool, Coney Island

Yum — Skyline Chili

To the movies at Oakley Cinemark

At the airport