Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Friend Rick

Rick (Photo source: 1954 “Maroon”, the Menominee H.S. Yearbook)

Dear George,
Several weeks ago I got an e-mail from a classmate that my friend Rick had died from cancer at age 74.  It came as a shock.  When I’d last heard some news about Rick a year ago, he was doing fine.  Though we hadn’t seen each other for many years, we were close friends in high school, and I still picture Rick as I knew him then.  He was one of the most enjoyable kids I knew as a teenager – warm, laid back, funny, and completely easy to get along with.  He was the sort of person you could always count on to be supportive and to stand up for you – a really good friend.  I’m sad that we lost contact over the years.    

I met Rick in the seventh grade at Menominee High.  Most kids went home for lunch, but those who lived too far away ate at the school cafeteria.  That included kids who were bussed in from Menominee County and those who had gone to Grant School on the north edge of the city.  My former grade school friends who lived nearer all walked home, but our family lived out in the country so I was a caf eater too.  I soon found myself hanging out with the Grant School kids, mainly Rick, Bob A., Alan (Sonny) K., John (Fronz) F., Eugene (Bur-Deen) B., Bob (Gus) G., and Dickie M.  In September we started playing touch football every day on the school’s north lawn.  Bob was the top quarterback, and Rick, one of the bigger kids, was his prime receiver.  When the snow arrived in November, we moved into the high school gym to play basketball, and it became our No. 1 priority in life. When the noon hour bell rang we raced down the halls to be first in the cafeteria line so we could get out on the floor as quickly as possible.  As we grew older, our games took on a more competitive flavor.  The varsity coach’s office was up on the balcony overlooking the gym, and he’d watch us a bit every now and then.  He suggested that Rick try out for the varsity, though Rick didn’t opt to do so. 

When we were juniors our group played in the annual Junior-Senior Intramural game. We got trounced in the game, but we vowed to reverse that outcome as seniors.  We came back excitedly the next year, but the Juniors fielded an unusually strong team.  They pulled out to a sizeable lead in the fourth quarter, and, facing probable defeat, our team was about to collapse.  Rick, however, began playing like a teenage Michael Jordan.  While everybody else was really tired, Rick’s adrenalin was flowing, and he’d charge in, intercept a pass from the other team, and race down the floor for a layup.  He must have done that five or six times in the waning minutes of the game, and we squeaked out a narrow one-point victory.  I still have a sense of awe when I think about Rick’s determination and his amazing athletic effort.

The city built its first tennis courts at the airport and at Roosevelt School when we were in tenth grade, and we all went to Lauerman’s and bought wood rackets.  I’d played golf up till then, but my brother Steven, four years younger than me, had started to beat me regularly, and I decided it was time to change sports.  We played at the airport courts every day after school and on the weekends.  Nobody had any extra money and tennis balls were five times more expensive than they are today.  We used each can as long as the balls had any bounce to them at all, literally until the white covers wore through and we could see the black rubber interior.  Rick and I were among the more enthusiastic and dedicated players, and, when the school formed a varsity tennis team, we played #2 and #3 singles.  We enjoyed winning records during our junior and senior seasons, though we never were able to beat our arch-rival, Marinette High. One spring day in our senior year the Hi-Y Club took a field trip out of town, and, lying to teachers that we’d gone on the field trip, Rick, Sonny, Mickey B., and I skipped school and played tennis for eight straight hours. It was the only time I ever dared to play hooky.      

In tenth grade Rick and I took Mr. Chambers’ biology class together.  Mr. Chambers had come to Menominee from Missouri, and he had a thick mid-south accent that none of us could quite make out.  The class’s high point of the year involved dissecting a frog.  Mr. Chambers talked about it all year long.  Because the school science budget was limited, we worked as lab partners, each duo sharing a single frog.  Rick and I paired up to work together. We named our frog Marilyn after Marilyn Monroe.  The dissection proceeded slowly and precisely under Mr. Chambers’ instruction, spread across an entire week.  Halfway through the second class session Mr. Chambers, sounding like his mouth was full of marbles, gave some instruction that neither Rick nor I understood.  I thought he said it was time to remove the frog’s back.  Rick didn’t hear anything like that, but he agreeably went along with my opinion.  Mr. Chambers walked down our aisle just as I’d scraped the last piece of the frog’s back from its torso.  Unfortunately I’d scraped off various organ parts, veins, and arteries along with the frog’s surface flesh.  Mr. Chambers took one look and began shouting at us at the top of his voice.  We still didn’t know what he was saying, but it was clear that I had made a major error.  The upshot was that I had destroyed our invaluable frog, and we were doomed to sit twiddling our thumbs for the rest of the week while all our classmates completed their assignments.  Rick was chagrined, but, true to form, he didn’t say an unkind word.  

Kids turned sixteen in the tenth grade, and that meant obtaining driver’s licenses, the most important mark of status in Menominee’s teenage car culture.  If you’ve ever seen the movie American Graffitti, with its high school students cruising around town, drag-racing, hanging out at the drive-in, etc., you have a good picture of our small town youth.  My friend Bob A. was the only tenth-grader to have his own car, a Model A Ford coupe with a rumble seat.  He’d take us all out – Rick, Sonny, Fronz, me, Mickey B. and a couple of others – on a near-nightly basis, packing three boys in the front seat, two in the crawl-space behind, and another three in the rumble seat.  We’d cruise the loop, explore Menekaunee, watch drive-in movies from behind the fence, even ride around in the city dump.  Gas cost 19.9 cents a gallon at the Zephyr station at the foot of the Interstate Bridge, and Bob would solicit donations of a nickel or a dime from each passenger in order to finance the trip.  One night on a back street Rick dropped a dime between the seats, and we all got out of the car to look for it.  Just then a police car drove up, and the patrolman, convinced that we were hiding bottles of beer, did a meticulous search of every inch of the car’s interior and the rumble seat in an effort to find the evidence.  Finally he believed our story that we’d been looking for a dime and let us go.

By the end of tenth grade we’d started to discover girls, and driving around with a car filled only with males came to an end.  Nobody in Rick’s gang had their own car, so he, Sonny, Fronz, and Mickey devised their own creative solution. In the absence of automobile transportation, they started spending weekend nights riding the city bus around the “loop” which circled through the twin cities of Menominee and Marinette.  The whole route took nearly an hour, then would repeat itself ad infinitum.  The guys would pay their ten cent fare in the early evening and ride around till ten or eleven p.m.  While this seemed odd to me, if not illegal, I joined the group one Friday night, and it turned out to be hilarious.  Rather than silencing or expelling his passengers, the bus driver enjoyed having a bunch of noisy teenagers in the back of the bus, and he entered into the joking around. The most exciting times came, of course, when a couple of teenage girls got on, preferably from Marinette.  Lots of flirtation and silliness.          

By our senior year kids had started partying and drinking beer on weekends.  I’m not sure just how it got started, but, probably because of some of our Birch Creek chums who played basketball with us, Rick and his gang started going out on Saturday nights to country wedding dances in various rural locations in Menominee County.  It seemed like somebody got married every weekend in the county, and these were wide open events that didn’t require invitations or ID’s.  There would always be a polka band, and Rick and colleagues became adept polka dancers.  Someone volunteered each time to be the designated driver, and the beer flowed freely regardless of age.  Rick invited me to come along many times, but I was always too inhibited.  It’s one of many adolescent choices that I wish I could do over.  

Suddenly we all graduated.  I saw Rick a couple of times in the summers after that, but then we lost touch.  I learned from his obituary that  Rick was married over fifty years and worked for Wisconsin Public Service for 27 years.  Not surprisingly, he coached youth basketball and Little League baseball in Menominee, and he enjoyed U.P. pursuits like hunting and fishing, cooking, woodworking, and spending time at their cabin with family and friends.  Rick was survived by his wife Carolyn, two sons, three daughters, and numerous grandchildren  It sounded to me like he enjoyed a rich and satisfying life.  I should have expected that from him, and learning about it made me feel better.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Moving the Hospital Into our House

A get-well present from CABVI friends means happiness

Dear George,
Katja got out of the hospital from her knee replacement surgery on Saturday, June 8th.  They had originally planned to discharge her on Thursday or Friday, but she had an adverse reaction to her IV painkillers the first night, and that slowed her progress.  The surgeon had said her operation was the best he’d ever done, and he was dismayed to find her in such an incoherent state the next day since he’d been elated about his success.  Our doctor son J told us that years ago Katja would have stayed in the hospital for three weeks after an operation of this sort, so she shouldn’t be in a hurry to get out.  However, the hospital didn’t offer any options, and Katja was eager to leave anyway.  Both of us were nervous about her coming home for her recovery since her condition seemed pretty delicate.  The physical therapist at our pre-op class said that she would require 24/7 care at home for fourteen days following her hospital discharge.  That was a challenging prospect.  I tried to explain to the therapist that we had two large dogs who required multiple walks a day.  She advised me to just put them out in the back yard since I needed to have Katja in my sight at all times.  Since we don’t have a back yard, that seemed unrealistic.

Because Katja’s leg needed to be protected against jarring and banging, I decided Mike and Duffy shouldn’t be allowed in the bed.  To get them used to the idea beforehand, I built a barricade of chairs and laundry hampers several days before Katja’s return. This was clearly the most traumatic event in the dogs’ entire lives.  They just sat outside the chairs, looking soulfully at me and uttering pitiful squeaks and yelps.  I spread out several camping blankets on the floor, hopeful that they might think they were in our tent, and eventually the dogs would reluctantly retire there for the night.  But they never got used to it.

When Katja came through the back door with her walker, the dogs were thrilled to see her.  However, they clearly recognized that something was amiss, and, rather than their normal jumping about and rowdiness, they were gentle in their greeting.  Duffy came up and sniffed the brace on Katja’s leg, then gave it a lick.  Katja spent the rest of the day napping, and, in her presence, the dogs suffered even more from their exile from the bed.

Katja had her first physical therapy session that Monday.  The physical therapist said that she was able to bend her knee at a sharper angle than any post-surgery client she’s had recently.  Katja has been working out on the recumbent bike several times a week at the fitness center for the last year.  I think her leg muscles were more ready for surgery than they’d been for her first knee replacement.  Her pain has also been less agonizing than the first time around.  While it’s still severe at times, Katja grits her teeth and carries out her regimen as best as possible. 

For the first few days Katja needed help with everything – getting in and out of bed, sitting in a chair, adjusting her pillows, meds, food and drink, turning on NPR, etc.  Then she gradually started getting out of bed by herself and moving about a bit.  After a week Katja couldn’t stand it any more, and she invited the dogs back into the bed.  That was the end of sleeping soundly, but good for some of the parties involved.  Now that Katja has finished two weeks of post-hospital recovery, I’m freer to go here and there.  The recovery process hasn’t been as draining as I’d anticipated, mainly because Katja’s doing better than last time around.  Being stuck in the house for two straight weeks, though, hasn’t been much fun.  A couple of times a day I help Katja get on and off her continuous motion machine, which mechanically bends her knee up and down for an hour or two at a time.  At the beginning she was bending her knee 60 degrees, and she’s now up to 120 which the surgeon said was her goal.  Afterwards we hook her up to an ice water machine which circulates freezing water through a pack which is velcroed to her knee.  Katja’s using a walker for outside the house excursions, e.g., to physical therapy or Panera, but she’s walking on her own in the house the rest of the time, getting steadier each day.  Whenever Katja calls from the other room, Duffy starts barking like crazy.  I don’t know if it’s protectiveness, alerting me, jealousy, or early onset dementia, but it creates commotion.  The whole situation has been difficult for Katja – boring, painful, physically demanding, seemingly endless.  And, given that we’re used to being self-sufficient adults who don’t need much assistance, the past two weeks have been a sometimes onerous change for both of us.  It once again reminds me how deeply intertwined people’s lives are, especially in marriage.  The other day Katja said I was being a saint, but that’s not true.  Saints don’t get grumpy and irritable from being cooped up.  But now we are clearly on a forward path, and it won’t be that long before life returns to normal (or maybe even better than normal).

G-mail Comments
-Linda K-C (6-25):  Maybe not a saint, that's a little hard to imagine, but saintly, but on the other hand, if you really did this alone, I'd look up martyr.  I am good for 7 days, then I hire someone, even if it meant I could not buy food, saint and martyr sound do religious , that in itself would drive me out of the house.  Glad everyone is getting better , love to Katja for being such a trooper.
-Phyllis S-S (6-25):  Dave,  Maybe saints DO get upset when they are cooped up in the house for two weeks.  You were a thoughtful and caring husband - who cares if you were upset and maybe wanted to scream - you did it...That's what counts.  Phyllis

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Manly Cincy: Who'Da Thought It?

A typical Cincinnati guy

Dear George,
Most of our relatives live on the East or West Coast, and we southwestern Ohioans suffer a serious inferiority complex as a consequence.  The East Coast is suave and sophisticated; the West Coast, cutting
edge and hip.  Though Cincinnati is strong on Neilsen ratings for TV evangelists and on contributions by the 1% to Mitt Romney's campaign coffers, I’ve never been sure what else we excel in.  Then, much to my surprise and relief, I discovered in the Enquirer that a new study ranks Cincinnati in the top quartile of "America's Manliest Cities."  It turns out that Cincinnati is a lot more manly than all the East Coast cities in the study, i.e., New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Rochester, Providence, Buffalo, and Washington DC.  And it's still more manly than Seattle, Portland, and every sizeable city in California. In fact, there wasn't a single East or West Coast city among the twenty manliest metropolises in the U.S.  Nine of the ultra-manly places were in the Midwest, and eleven were from the South. These revelations completely restored my waning civic pride.  While I hadn’t even recognized how manly a place we live in, now I view our city in a whole new light.   

It’s easy to think of individuals as manly or unmanly, but what exactly makes a city manly?  The research criteria were devised by Bert Sperling, the expert who does the well-known "Best Places to Live" studies  (see   Factors contributing to ratings of high manliness include: number of professional sports teams, NASCAR events, monster truck rallies, triathlons and marathons, American-made cars, pickup trucks, motorcycles, bowling league participation, hunting and fishing, woodworking, steakhouses, sports bars, BBQ and wing joints, doing your own plumbing repairs, "Playboy" and “Maxim” subscriptions, and numbers of hardware and home improvement stores.  Conversely, cities lost manliness points for sushi restaurants, home decor stores, coffee houses, minivans, foreign cars, cupcake shops, and subscriptions to unmanly publications, e.g., "Martha Stewart Living," "Vanity Fair".  

I myself have never gone to a NASCAR race or monster truck rally; don't hunt, fish, or bowl; dislike BBQ and wings; can’t imagine doing my own plumbing; and rarely visit the hardware store.  We do, however, eat sushi, buy coffee at Starbuck’s, like chocolate cupcakes, subscribe to "Vanity Fair", and own a foreign car.  Nonetheless, this isn't about oneself, but about the macho prestige ranking of one’s community.  Besides, I will probably start going to NASCAR events now that I know what’s “in” locally.  I've always wished that I could fit into our community better.

G-mail Comments
-Linda K-C (6-21): Also I am probably the only person you know that can say they know where they were when they heard of the tragic death of famous NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.  When Art and I lived in Williamston there was a gas station right down the street from us. It was Ill kept and the men that worked in it were equally Ill kept. Very friendly, not all their teeth, kind of dirty, but they pumped our gas for no extra cost , rain, shine, heat or freezing, knew our names, did any thing extra we asked.  So one Saturday afternoon our gas pump guy (not the owner) was there at my window when I turned in to get gas.  Poor guy was practically crying, very shaky, he said, "Did you know Dale died? " not sure why but I was suddenly ashamed that I had no idea after all these years of calling us, "Dr Craven and Linda" that I had no idea which of the workers was Dale, was it the owner, or the older portly guy that always said, “Okey dokey, have a great day.”  Anyway, I was genuinely sad. I said in  shocked voice "Omg, how did he die?"  Our serviceman, too upset to notice the absurdity of my question, said "In the wreck of course."  "I'm so sorry ," I said several times, I went home and asked Art if he knew the names of the men that worked in the gas station; he said, no idea.  So I told him one of them named Dale was killed that afternoon in a car accident. Art said "Oh, that's too bad, I think the owner was named Dale."  Several days later I saw on TV what had happened, the fire crash, the family and manly men weeping loudly, only then did it dawn on me who "Dale" was.  So as a joke on Monday I went into my office, everyone was around having coffee etc,  I said "I will never forget where I was when I first found out that Dale Earnhardt was dead."  The looks on their faces. Unpleasant surprise and disdainful -- you like NASCAR? "
-Linda K-C (6-21): David, I don't think you are going to join the manly ranks just because you now know what counts as manly,  But maybe I am wrong, NASCAR might give you points, I was fairly surprised about 10 years ago to find gay couple friends of Jayme and Kevin's spoke highly of the fun of NASCAR, I met them the first time even when they  brought a gourmet meal and elaborate hand made cake in celebration of Ben's birth. 
Later I stayed at their house to take care of the doggie when they were out of town. They continued to bring beautiful gifts to Ben and Jayme, and once in a while they would name a NASCAR driver they really liked, stayed at his home when at a race and really enjoyed NASCAR.  Finally , I couldn't stand it any longer, I just had to ask Jayme how two gay guys were so welcome at NASCAR.  Jayme really laughed, she said "didn't you know Dave was head ad man  for Viagra and he got a well know driver to let Viagra sponsor them?"  Then it turned out they really did go and have a great time, treated very nicely so you just never know.
-Ami G. (6-21): Please don't try to fit in! Please!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thanks to My Dad on Father's Day!

Dear George,
I think about my father every Father’s Day, and it’s such an emotional process.  I have so many different thoughts and feelings from such a long, complex history, e.g., childhood, our young adulthood, my dad as a grandfather, his final years when he came to live in Cincinnati.  All in all, I think that my dad was probably the most interesting person I ever knew.  He had an incredible range of interests, was curious about everything, was well-read and knowledgeable, and was continually absorbed with one hobby or venture after the next, e.g., photography, wildflowers, “Great Books”, community theater, oil painting, stained glass, U.P. geology, organizing summer music concerts, restoring his and Doris’ Farm.  He was also a complicated person, shy and talkative, warm and stern, serious and silly, sophisticated and sometimes provincial.  He and our mom had an extraordinary group of friends, and we children were lucky to have been included in their social network.  Vic died in Cincinnati in 1993, and it seems much more recent than that.  If he were here today, I would thank him for all the ways he made my and my siblings’ lives better.  On the eve of Father’s Day, I started jotting down some of these.  Here’s a sampling from my list.

Thanks to my dad for: 

  • Giving me my first work experience as a clerk at the family drugstore.
  • Taking our family each year to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Chicago Art Institute.
  • Teaching me how to identify all the trees in the forest.
  • Showing up unannounced at my prom dates’ houses to take photographs of the occasion.
  • Taking us on picnics to Indian Island, with our Irish Setter Mike swimming behind the boat for the mile-long trip.
  • Teaching me the basics of oil and watercolor painting and giving me unwavering praise for arts and crafts projects.     
  • Arranging private airplane flights for Frank S. and myself which were thrilling even though I vomited in the cockpit.
  • Accompanying me to the male initiation rites at deer hunting camp at Cedar River.
  • Towing our toboggan full of kids behind the family car on icy Riverside Drive.
  • Taking me on a tour of the state prison at Marquette to dissuade me from becoming a criminal.
  • Along with my mom, opening our home to my teenage friends for swimming parties and picnics.
  • Being my Boy Scout and Air Scout leader and sending me to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.
  • Teaching us that ice cream was a dairy product and one of the healthiest foods you could eat.
  • Putting up a basketball hoop on the garage, making possible many thousands of hours of one-on-one competition by Steve and myself.
  • Taking my friends and I to Peshtigo to buy skyrockets for the Fourth of July.
  • Encouraging me to go to Antioch College and paying the way.
  • Buying a Hammond Chord Organ so the children would learn to play music.
  • Going in the late evening after a heavy rain to capture giant nightcrawlers on the front lawn of the cemetery.
  • Carefully overseeing our shooting at tin cans floating in the river with our family .22 rifle.
  • Showing me how to chop down a tree and build a campfire.
  • Buying me my first .45 record player to encourage my musical tastes (even though I only wanted to buy Spike Jones records).
  • Taking me to the city dump up the road to see what good finds we could bring home (including a six-foot pine snake).
  • Getting me a subscription to Scientific American.
  • Building a tree house in the great oaks outside our front door.
  • Giving me unlimited access to a family car so I could cruise the loop and drag race on Ogden Avenue.
  • Taking us to the Ideal Dairy to get a four-dip Lemon Flake ice cream cone for a dime.
  • Having us help develop black-and-white photo prints in our upstairs darkroom.
  • Arranging for kids’ golf lessons at Riverside Country Club.
  • Sending me off, despite my crying and protests, to two weeks of YMCA camp each summer.
  • Hiring me to paint holiday murals on the drugstore’s bay windows
  • Taking us to the Hattie St. Bridge to watch the fishermen during the April smelt run.
  • Buying me a professional microscope.
  • Hosting Katja and I for a week on the French Riviera.
  • Shooting off my Grandpa guy’s small cannon each Fourth of July.
  • Building a horshoe pit and a high jumping bar in the field next door to our house.
  • Reminding me regularly, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
  • Inviting Katja and I to stock up for free on any products we wanted at the family drugstore on our trips home (though, unbeknownst to us, it all wound up on his bill). 
  • Having our Xmas trees spray-painted white, red, or pink at the local auto body shop.
  • Giving me the silver dollar that he and Doris kept throughout the Great Depression as their emergency fund if they ever became completely destitute.
  • Being a loving, involved grandfather to our son J and his cousins

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Afterlife Wishes, Part 2 (A Reply by Linda K-C)

Dear Dave,
Well, this was actually such a wonderful post I think "death wishes" would have been fine. Sadly I don't think at our age there is a high demand for our organs, but I am going to look into it since at Stanford they did tell me my ticker was fine.  That was after 3 months of days and days of tests and tests until at month 3 one of my many doctors said, “You’re not anemic are you?”, pulled down my lower eyelids like my dad used to do, read my computer screen, said, “Shit you have never had a CBC count.”  Next day after two units of blood I was as healthy as the person’s blood I had.

Since I don't think anyone wants my organs, I will proceed with my well known plan, as instituted by Arthur, to announce I will be dying soon and then die within the next three weeks. My father did the same thing, and it seemed to work out well for both of  them. 

After that I will let God take over and carry my body up to heaven by his favorite angel, and I will reside in that villa in the sky. Yes, I know if there is a hell my last comment will cause me to go there. 

What if K and J get mixed up about which parent wants what?  A meeting may be in order.  I sure don't want to be in a casket with my eyes gouged out.  Hello to Katja, how is she?

*Note:  Linda lives in Michigan where she is known among friends for her quirky sense of humor.  She is our daughter-in-law K’s mom and our son J’s mother-in-law.   

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Afterlife Wishes

Dear George,
At first I titled this “death wishes”, but that’s so morbid and I didn’t want to drive the readers away.  However, one has to deal with the matter from time to time.  It’s on my mind because I heard Katja talking long distance to our son J the night before her knee surgery, and she was giving him instructions on how to dispose of her earthly remains.  She no longer discusses it with me because she doesn’t trust me to carry out her wishes.  It turns out we have completely different ideas about post-life arrangements. We discovered this when J turned two.  Conscious of our new parental responsibilities, we decided that we’d better have a will in case we perished together in a plane crash.  The lawyer was very thorough and asked us many questions, including one about organ donation.  Katja wanted to donate all of her bodily organs, and she instructed the lawyer to write this into our will.  I said that would be o.k. for me too.  Then the lawyer said that, because we were organ donors, we would of course want our bodies to be cremated.  Katja completely balked at this idea, apparently because cremation is forbidden in traditional Jewish beliefs.  The lawyer explained that cremation was normally done because organ donation involves cutting large holes in one’s body.  Katja said that didn’t matter to her, that she planned to be buried in a casket whatever her physical condition.  Then the lawyer explained that they would gouge out her eyes, leaving unattractive cavities in the center of her face.  Katja said she didn’t care, she wanted what she wanted.  The lawyer wound up incorporating both organ donation and full-body caskets into our will, though he frowned and shook his head as he wrote it down.   

The cremation option has cropped up every now and then during the forty years since.  During this time everybody in Katja’s family line has had an open casket funeral, followed by interment of their corpses in a cemetery plot. In my family everybody who has passed away has been cremated, with their ashes and bone fragments scattered in special places. My family’s commitment to cremation is mostly due to my father who resented the idea of giving lots of money to the funeral industry and who had a pragmatic, even nihilistic attitude toward death.  Something like, when you stop breathing, that’s it, and you might as well get rid of the leftover stuff as quickly as possible.  All of his children adopted his mindset and preferences.  Because Katja and I misplaced our original will from 1971 some time ago, our body disposal choices are no longer set in stone. Since she’s made most of the major decisions in our lives, the best bet is that she’ll be the primary decision-maker about deathly matters as well.  Corpses, of course, no longer know what’s going on, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

Lately we’ve moved beyond the cremation issue and started quibbling about burial plans.  Several times Katja has expressed her desire that we be buried in the old Jewish Cemetery up the street from our house.  Maybe there’s a Jewish law that says that couples should be buried in the cemetery of the wife’s religion, though I’ve never heard of this.  I think it probably goes deeper than that.  We haven’t practiced any sort of religion since we got married.  It could be that Katja is thinking that, since she wasn’t a devout Jew in adulthood, her last chance is to be a devout dead person.  I personally am not worried about religion after death and would just like to have my ashes scattered along the hiking trail in Miami Whitewater Forest.  If I did get buried in a cemetery, I think I would probably like to join Katja’s parents at Spring Grove since it’s one of the more attractive and ecumenical cemeteries in the Midwest. Of course, if I were to last the longest, I could take Katja along on a hike and put her ashes to rest on the Miami Whitewater Forest trail too.  I am not going to tell her about this possiblity in advance because it would definitely get vetoed (and I would probably be punched out as well).

G-mail Comments
-Terry O-S (6-20): Hi David -  I'm spending most of the summer with a friend in Ocean City, NJ where I have less than satisfactory internet access and have not been able to stay abreast of Letters for George.   I'm home this week and have been thoroughly enjoying catching up on your ever-delightful blog!  Hope Katja's knee is now fully recovered. And - I have requested that my ashes be spread on the Bay at Henes Park (although I'm beginning to think that may be a burden since, sadly,  my children really have no reason to go to Menominee.)  Enjoy your summer!  Terry
-Mary B (6-12):  Another possibility to consider -- I've opted for a conservation burial, my body in a biodegradable shroud, with a bush or tree planted to mark the spot. That satisfies my son, who wants a grave site to visit, as well as my wish -- very much like your father's -- to not further fatten the coffers of the funeral industry (and further pollute the earth with costly and intrusive caskets).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What's Going On At Our House?

People at 435 Ludlow Ave., Clifton

Dear George,
Even though I didn’t know exactly what it was, I’ve always had a vague interest in Zumba.  Then I noticed that a new Zumba class was starting up at the fitness center, so I worked up my courage and went to the first class.  The leader was a white-haired guy named Rick, but most of the other participants were women in their thirties or forties.  Within minutes it was apparent that my classmates were experienced Zumba-ers.  When the first number ended, the instructor asked if we wanted to take a break after each song.  A young woman called out, “No, no breaks – we want the Max!”  “O.k.,” Rick said, “no breaks.”  Zumba is more strenuous than line dancing.  After thirty minutes I started watching the clock on the wall.  After forty minutes I began monitoring my interior chest cavity for tiny signs of pain.  I didn’t detect any, and the hour came to an end.  I’m not sure I’m cut out for Zumba.  I think I’ll practice at home with the On DemandFitness Channel, then  decide whether or not to resume.

Campsite #145 at Miami Whitewater

Because of Katja’s upcoming knee replacement surgery, I realized I had a narrow window in which to do a little camping.  Despite showers in the weather forecast, I packed up my gear and took sheepdog Duffy to Miami Whitewater Forest.  We’d finished a pleasant day when Katja called at suppertime to say there was a tornado warning in S.E. Indiana, just a short distance from us.  I promised to come home if things got dire.  I’d put a large blue tarp over the tent so I felt pretty secure.  It started to drizzle just after I lit my campfire, and Duffy and I retreated to the tent.  Duffy thinks of the tent as his den, so he is eager to go there.  I would normally take an Ambien to sleep better, but I decided I should stay alert for tornado warnings.  The sirens went off shortly after I lay down, though the winds weren’t excessive at the campground.  The rain got heavier and heavier, pounding against our tent ceiling.   I must have lain there for four hours listening to the clatter before I finally drifted off, and even then I slept fitfully.  The rain was unrelenting all night long, and there were huge resounding thunder claps.  Duffy seemed impervious, but he climbed on my one-person air mattress in the morning hours, and I just let him stay there.  When I woke in the morning he was wet, as were my clothes, knapsack, books, air mattress, shoes, and everything else.  The water was an inch deep in the back corner of the tent, and mud had splattered up the tent walls a foot or more on every side.  The rain had subsided by 8 a.m., but I put Duffy in the car, dismantled the tent, packed up my wet gear, skipped breakfast, and set off for home.  It was a less than perfect conclusion, but I decided that riding out the storm had made the trip memorable.  After all, roughing it is what camping is about.

Steve C-F, Anna L, Paula D, and Jan B celebrating

Saturday the Sociology department held a big retirement party at a restaurant in the student union for three of my long-term colleagues, Jan B., Paula D., and Neal R.  It was the first time in fifty years that three people in the department had retired simultaneously, and, for a twelve-person department, that’s a huge turnover.  It means that this coming September over half the faculty will be untenured assistant professors, an exciting prospect for the future but one that also could involve some peril.  Jan was one of my students in the early 1980’s, had pursued a career in business and counseling, then returned to the department in a full-time teaching position about a decade ago.  She’s very innovative and funny, and she provided a dose of good feelings on a daily basis.  Paula and I came to the university around the same time when we were all youngsters in our early 30’s, and she’s been one of our good friends ever since.  She was the department head for 18 years, an almost unfathomable term, and it’s testimony to her commitment and interpersonal skills that she lasted in the role so long.  Neal, a demographer, is one of the top level social science methodologists at the university, and he’s been a thorough and patient mentor to successive generations of graduate students.  Lots of alumni from years past came to the event, and it was filled with emotional reunions and exchanges.  It was a little overwhelming to have such intense contact with so many people important to my life in the space of a few hours.  

A booth at Summerfair

Sunday was a cool, sunny day, and Katja and I drove over to Coney Island on Cincinnati’s east side along the river to take in Summerfair, an annual outdoor art festival that began the same year that we arrived in the city.  There were about 300 artists there exhibiting and selling their wares: paintings, photography, sculpture, woodwork, leather and fabrics, designer outfits, musical instruments, pottery, etc.  The show was highly selective, drawing vendors from across the nation, and, though there were a zillion people, there are few things more pleasant than strolling about and looking at beautiful artwork on a Sunday afternoon. 

Katja at rest, Day 2

We’ve been awaiting Katja’s knee replacement surgery for months, and the day finally came on Tuesday.  We arrived at the hospital at 8:15 a.m., and she was checked over by a succession of people, each of whom asked her name, date of birth, and which knee she was having operated on.  The operation itself took about 90 minutes.  The surgeon said that it went excellently, better than he expected, with minimal blood loss, near zero likelihood of blood clotting, and a perfect fit for her new knee.  I saw Katja two hours later in the recovery room, and she was in excellent spirits, aided, no doubt, by various drugs and painkillers.  By Wednesday morning things weren’t quite as idyllic, though Katja remained a good trooper.  They talked about her possibly getting out by the next day, though we both thought that seemed too early.  When we had gone to the pre-op class, the physical therapist said that she would need to have a home caregiver present on a 24/7 basis for two weeks after her hospital discharge.  That seemed daunting.  Katja said she would rather go into a skilled care facility, but I doubted that Medicare would be enthusiastic about that.  So far my main preparation is that I’ve barricaded the bed so the dogs can’t jump into it and bang into Katja’s knee.  They are dismayed, to say the least.  Soon we’ll discover how the rest of it will go.

G-mail Comments
-Gayle C-L (6-7):  David,  I can't believe you went to a Zumba class
Very. Cool. It's a good work out.  I would have like to have been there to
see that.  Lol.  :).   G

Saturday, June 2, 2012

School Was Never This Much Fun In My Day

Dear George,
Another school year is drawing to a close.  Of course, the ne’er-do-wells and the scofflaws are always griping about the school system, harkening back to some imagined golden era.  Well, that’s just a bunch of sour grapes.  I’ve been keeping track of news stories about the local schools right here in America’s heartland, and I can tell you some very inspiring things are going on.  Here’s just a sampling of the uplifting stories I’ve run across in the Cincinnati Enquirer.  All of these are real, though names have been changed to protect the innocent.  

We Southwest Ohioans are fortunate to have dedicated teachers who rely on Midwestern family values in order to instill truth and morality in their pupils.  The best example is eighth grade science teacher Jon Frishwatter of Mount Vernon, OH, who has creatively infused his otherwise boring science curriculum with fascinating ideas from fundamentalist Christian doctrine (1).  Always the advocate of critical thinking, Frishwatter states that his goal as a science teacher is to generate skepticism toward modern science. Thus he keeps a stack of Bibles available on his classroom desk and supplies a Christian rendition of topics like evolution and homosexuality.   Some parents complained that Frishwatter went too far when he started burning crucifixes into his students’ arms.  However, the community should tolerate a certain degree of over-enthusiasm when it’s in the pursuit of eternal truth.

While our fundamentalist teachers are innovative, this doesn’t mean that they’re wishy-washy.  To the contrary, many enforce rigorous standards.  Take the example of Christoff Robersan who teaches at Camp Ehrnst Middle School in Broone County. Robersan not only runs a tight ship in the classroom, but he extends his teaching techniques to his child-rearing as well.  Just recently he was arrested for beating his son with a leather belt because the son wasn’t successful in hopping on one foot on a cul-de-sac (2).  He also beats his son with a belt if the son doesn’t swim fast enough, doesn’t clean his room completely, or gets a low grade at school.  Confronted with the many bruises on the boy’s body, Robersan explained that they come from falling down at the swimming pool.  The local judge acquitted him, concluding that Robersan may be a strict disciplinarian, but there’s no crime in that. 

In my day Gym teachers were the strictest, and I’m glad to see that’s still the case. Veteran St. Bernard-Elmwood Place gym teacher Rich Stabler got into trouble when he hit one of his female students in the head with a basketball (3).  Later he smacked another unruly male student with a basketball as well.  Stabler’s lawyer argued that the school board was just punishing the coach because he hadn’t given enough playing time to a board member’s child.  Besides, the lawyer argued, the school’s soccer coach smacked a player in the face with a water bottle, then required the whole team to undress in the parking lot after they lost a game.  Nothing had been done to him.  The judge ruled that there’s no law in the state of Ohio that says that teachers can’t throw basketballs at their students’ heads. 

In this era of standardized testing, our local teachers are dedicated to enhancing their students’ performance.  A paragon is math teacher Scott Muylers of Charles Seppelt Elementary School in suburban Milford (4).  Muylers regularly uses study guides to prepare his students for upcoming tests, and he has found that they are most effective when the study guide contains exactly the same items in the same order as the questions on the state exam.  Some of the children, ingrates that they are, were confused by this and complained to other teachers.  Mr. Muylers was suspended for three months, but we’re sure that he will be back to continue his excellent methods next year. 

Modern technology has has opened up lots of rewarding communication between teachers and students.  Mason H.S. gym teacher Stacey Schuller (5) is a prime example since she frequently texts her students after class hours.  Apparently some parents must have misinterpreted this because the city police charged Ms. Schuller with “inappropriate text messages,” and she has been ordered to stay away from school grounds and to have absolutely no contact with students.  As it turned out, she has also been sleeping with five of the school’s football players.  But isn’t that what texting is all about?

In nearby West Chester there’s also been some official misunderstanding of a teacher’s creative use of technology (6).  Just because fifth grade teacher Ryan Falkenkamp takes his male students on trips out of town, gives them alcohol, takes art photographs of their private parts, and stores the results on his school-issued laptop computer for later sharing with men across the country, the FBI has chosen to investigate Falkenkamp’s caring relation with his students.  High school students, of course, are even more adept at new uses for technology than are their teachers.  When Mason school authorities confiscated a male student’s cell phone for using it during school hours, they found nude photos of several of his 15-year-old female classmates (7).  Stodgy as they are, school officials petitioned the Ohio State legislature to update laws to be more attuned to  modern technology.   

Contemporary students, far from being passive or alienated, bring positive energy to their schools.  Often this takes the form of amusing pranks.  In Lockland, for example, twenty senior students, most of them top athletes and cheerleaders, snuck into school at night, planning to move all of the books from the library to the cafeteria (8).  Finding the library locked up, they instead sprinkled rubber bands on the stairways, hung posters about their “Class of Dimes”, and began filling Dixie Cups with water to place in the corridors.  Police officers, tipped off by neighbors entered with drawn guns and K-9 dogs; then chased down, caught, and handcuffed the fleeing students.  One boy was held at Taser point; another was treated by a paramedic squad for a panic attack.  Horrified parents complained that this was simply a senior prank and that at least one mother had driven her son to the school to participate.  The police, however, said, “It’s not amusing to us.  We take this very, very serious.”   

Three teens in Mason came up with the amusing idea of disconnecting the heating blocks from all of the system’s school buses on a frigid January morning (9).  Much to the joy of their classmates, all classes were cancelled.  It did cost the school about $300,000 lost in salaries, wasted food, etc. but these children will probably grow up to be CEO’s in the banking industry.  While we know it’s not politically correct to joke about terrorist threats these days, a 15-year-old Madeira H.S. student told various classmates that he had a gun and intended to kill 20 of his classmates who had been bullying him (10).  The police found a lot of guns in his home, but they were locked up securely, and they couldn’t find his list of twenty names (10).  Maybe the kid kept the list in his head.

There’s a lot of discussion these days about bullying in the schools, and we are proud to see that Cincinnati area schools are holding their own.  A typical case occurred when fifteen-year-old DeWayne Moolis was listening to music while riding home at the back of his Middletown High School bus and three fellow schoolmates grabbed him from behind, held a cigarette lighter flame to his face, pulled back his hood, and then lit his hair on fire.  The fire burned down to the scalp, and his outraged mother said that if he’d used gel on his hair his head would have caught fire.  The perpetrators, a freshman and two juniors, were charged with aggravating menacing, assault, and arson and are currently being held in the juvenile detention center.  DeWayne decided to get a haircut

It’s not only local students and teachers who are performing admirably, but staff members are part of the upbeat school culture as well.   This is important because the schools face such grave fiscal difficulties, and innovative thinking is crucial.  Take the case of the cooks at New Britain schools who found that boll weevils had built nests in the packages of noodles used for school lunches (12).  Rather than waste precious money on new noodles, the cooks painstakingly picked out the boll weevils one by one, then carefully boiled the noodles before serving them to the children.  The principal said that eating boll weevils won’t harm children, though he did admit that official policy was to not serve food containing insects.

School staff members have more fun on the job than do teachers.  Southeast School bus driver Jon Datthelmer of Harrison gets a big kick out of his job (13).  After dropping off his load of 33 high school band members at a basketball game, Datthelmer, whose blood alcohol level was six times the legal limit, crashed his bus head on into two pickup trucks.  Datthelmer was suspended last year for driving with beer on his bus, was convicted of drunk driving in Hamilton County, and was suspended for aiming his school bus at a school janitor.  The students think he’s a cool cat.

All in all, I’d have to say it’s very reassuring to discover that all these stimulating things are going on in Cincinnati area schools.  It almost makes me want to be a kid again.

Sources: 1, Cinc. Enquirer, 1-12-11; 2,, 8-23-10; 3, Cinc. Enquirer, 8-25-09; 4,, 3-5-11; 5,, 1-28-11; 6,, 1-13-11; 7, Cincinnati Enquirer, 3-4-09;  8, Cincinnati Enquirer, 3-4-09; 9, Cincinnati Enquirer, 2-19-09; 10,, 1-27-11; .  11,, 4-5-11;   12, Cinc Enquirer, 1-12-11; 13, Cincinnati Enquirer, 10-15-10.