Friday, November 11, 2011

"All clear..."

I've been silent for too long, but there was a reason: I was on cruise control as far as my health was concerned. Nothing up, nothing down, just day-to-day maintenance as I was weaned off the anti-seizure med.

Well, that's over, with no discernable side effects.

During that weaning process, I had to wait two months for the "final" CAT scan, which was Monday. On Thursday, the call came: "All clear."

I will avoid the obvious reference to "nothing there" re the "all clear" reference. It simply meant that the brain cavity was filled with only what should be there: brain. No leaks and no gasses filling empty spaces. Just brain.


The "all clear" also meant "life as normal," and that's a quote, meaning "as it used to be" BBS (before brain surgery).


So, martinis on Sundays again (though, to celebrate, we kicked off martini night Thursday night shortly after the "all clear" message).

Thanks to all who kept me (and us) in your thoughts and prayers.

All that positive energy from folks I love and respect really did help.

I am forever grateful. For everything.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The circle of life...

We had a visitor this weekend, and it was humbling.

He was 13 months old and, if you were to paint a picture of "beautiful," it would be of Eli.

He's the son of Katie Nelson, a former student and now dear friend, and Eric Owles. Both are exceptional journalists, she with The New York Daily News and he with The New York Times. Eli is, as they are, of Brooklyn. And if his intense gaze at his surroudings is any key, he'll be a great journalist, too.

I met Eli in Weston, Mo., at the wonderful wedding (they're all wonderful, aren't they?) of Neeley Spellmeier (to John Watkins), another former student and now good friend (though she tends to ignore that part by not communicating as often as I'd like -- even though she has MY book! More on that later in the P.S. below.)

Eli and I bonded. Though, I must admit, he bonded with just about everyone, but I'd like to think we bonded, well, more! After all, I am the one who proudly caused the need to have his clothes washed because of the abundance of chocolate wedding cake residue on his clothes. (To be fair, my suit is heading to the cleaners because of cake residue, too.)

He and Katie then came to our home both Saturday and Sunday nights, so we had lots of time to play with Eli. He slept well, both nights. He was busy. I'm just sore, can barely stand, from crawling, lifting, bending, jumping, carrying, crawling (did I mention crawling?) and playing endless sessions of Peek-a-Boo, which always brought a chuckle from him -- and everyone else in attendance. Either Eli looked silly or, perhaps, it was me. But who cares? It was fun.

The reason for this is to take note of how beautiful Eli is, how beautiful all children are. And how Eli, and Katie, and Eric are beautiful, too. And how amazing, challenging , invigorating the raising of children remains, especially when it's done so well by them. And how virtually everything else in the world is infinitesimally less important.

Including brain surgery, especially in my case: The doc, last Wednesday, gave me a big thumbs up after my latest CAT scan with another scheduled in two months "just to be sure." And another welcome edict: I'm being weaned off the med I'm on, so martinis on Sunday in about four and a half weeks!

So life is beautiful. Especially with special visitors like Katie and Eli. So rejoice. I will.

* * *

P.S.: A friend of Neeley's, on graduation, if I recall correctly, gave her a book, "The Natural," by one of my favorite authors, Bernard Malamud. She showed it to me. To her surprise (but not so much to mine), the inside flap had an impression -- the stamp I put in many of my books noting that the book was the property of one Malcolm Gibson. I'd loaned the book to a student, whose name had long slipped from my memory. Apparently, he had sold the book, likely along with a lot others and not noticing mine was among them, to the Dusty Bookshelf downtown. We laughed about it, and, of course, I said the book was hers. At Saturday's wedding, the couple had placed an old typewriter on a table for guests to write something special for that special day. I decided to write a limerick (and for those who've taken my editing classes, they know that it's appropriate because it's something I use to teach word use, cadence and headline writing). It read:

Neeley once was given a book

That from Malcolm someone had took

Amazed they sure were

When the stamp did concur

But no clue to who was the crook.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brain blips: "Poor soul..."

The big problem with having had brain surgery, whether once or, as in my case, twice, isn't the big ass Y-shaped scar that decorates my scalp. It's not the med I'm taking, which has some puzzling side effects and has barred my consumption of martinis for the time being. And, no, it's not, now, as I wrote about earlier, the uncertainty of healing fully and avoiding seizures.

It's perception. It's you. Or, actually, my fear of you and what you'll be thinking.

Here's why.

This past week or so has been an adventure in misplacing things or overlooking things.

I lost my glasses and had to buy a pair of off-the-shelf reading glasses from Walgreen's. (Those glasses, by the way, broke, and I had to buy another pair tonight because my new tri-focals won't be ready until Thursday.) Then, a lens fell out of my sunglasses, and we haven't been able to locate it.

Oh, and I misplaced my office keys. But they turned up a day later (thanks to Joyce). She found 'em where I'd left 'em -- in the spare car, the Nissan Altima, which was safely parked in the driveway. The keys were there because we had been checking to see that all the lights were working (one tail light was out), and, yep, I had left the lights on, so the battery was dead. (Hey, it was daylight when we did the checking. Lighten up.)

And earlier, just this past Thursday, I'd pulled into the garage with the Miata, dashed into the house, and, next morning, when I went out to start it, the Miata was stone-cold dead. Yep, a dead battery because I'd left the lights on. Thankfully, the Nissan worked (until that next morning after Joyce and I did the "check the lights" exercise. But the Miata was working by then, thanks to Triple-A.)

Yes, I know it's confusing, but, now, you know why we own three cars!

(A note of defense with both the Miata AND the Nissan -- and not with Joyce's HHR, the lights of which switch off automatically. I don't hear well, even with my hearing aid, so the high-pitched "beep, beep, beep" the cars emit when you leave the lights on after the ignition is turned off is lost on me. So, on Saturday, I went in search of a solution from auto parts stores, looking for a device that either increased the volume or changed the sound to a loud truck-proud "ayooooogah!" when the lights are left on. No such device apparently exists. Interestingly, all the clerks at the counters of the auto parts stores said they'd like one, too, because they'd done the same thing!)

Ah, but back to me. And you.

I know what you're thinking every time one of those memory "blips" leap to life these days: "Poor soul. Those brain surgeries sure have taken their toll."

But, nope. Always been that way. Forgetful as hell when it comes to stuff like that. We were hoping the brain surgeries had fixed it, dammit. Still the same ol' me.

But in all this lies my real fear: That folks will, in fact, with every one of those little blips in my behavior, give rise to the "poor soul/brain surgery" response.

Well, again, it ain't.

So, family, friend or foe, please don't do that. It truly is my greatest fear.

Just chalk up quirks, any and all, to the real reason I switched from doing journalism to teaching it.

I truly am an "absent-minded professor." Always been.

And quite happy with it, thank you. Makes life more interesting.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Part of the plan: "Oh, Canada..."

We're movin' to Canada.

Not today or, even, tomorrow. But Joyce and I are serious.

(And now it has less to do with the prospects of a political loony being elected to our nation's top office.)

I've checked out rentals in both Vancouver, B.C., and Nova Scotia. (It, by the way, appears to be but a one-day's drive to Chelmsford, Mass., where our daughter, Jennifer, her husband and grandson live. Vancouver is but an overnight train ride away from our son, Ian, and his girlfriend, Andrea, in California.). And housing is affordable. Plus, after three years, we'd qualify for Canadian citizenship, if my sources are reliable, which would then put us under universal coverage of the Canadian health care system at little or no cost. And health care is the biggest scare with our pending retirements.

The boot in the butt to head north came because I just got the bill from the doctor who roamed the ripples of my brain.

Now, I think he deserves to be paid -- and paid well -- and (or, rather, but) he had to do it twice. (You'd think the second one, at least, would be like the Men's Wearhouse -- buy one, get the next at half price. The doctor even admitted to Joyce that the second one would be easier because he'd just have to remove the staples and plunge back in.)

But no. Same price for both (a hair under $10,000 each for sub-scalpal surgeries that left a Y-shaped bald spot), plus a hefty $3,600-plus for something called a "pierce skull implant device." (Isn't that from a scene in "Young Frankenstein"?)

My beef is not with the doctor (though I still think the second "emergency" surgery two days after the first unsuccessful effort should have been at a reduced price because I've never been told what happened with the first to demand a second unless . . . "Oops, nurse pick that -- er, him -- up, please").

It's with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Or, more truthfully, with our health care system in general.

Seems I have to pay the doctor -- all but about $2,000 -- out of my own pocket.

Yep, $20,000-plus. (Hope he ships the pierce skull implant device. I'll have it mounted.)

I thought I had health care coverage. Apparently not.

In the interest of full disclosure, Blue Cross did cover about $270,000 -- yep, more than a quarter of a million dollars (though it paid less than half that because the hospital was "part of the plan") for my 15-day stay (seven in ICU) in the hospital. (But I'd like to note again, had the first surgery "taken," I was told that I'd have spent but three days in the hospital.)

Confusing. Yes. (And if you think you're confused, what about me? Remember, I've had brain surgery. Twice.)

Interestingly, the first bill we received -- and the first call we got from a detached, rather unsympathetic young woman demanding blood from this turnip -- was from the ambulance company that transported me the 13 miles from the Alameda hospital to the brain palace in Castro Valley. She insisted that we had to pay a good chunk of the bill because the ambulance company wasn't "part of the plan." And we had to do it within 12 months or, she said, she'd have to turn it over to the collection agency. That bill (you do the math) was about $300 a mile. (Hey, Joyce, call a damned taxi.)

What was I supposed to do? "Excuse me, you'll have to remove the IV from my arm unless you're 'part of the plan.' Got the number for Yellow Cab?")

Same with the doc. Why is the hospital "part of the plan" and he isn't? (And I don't recall him saying, "Oh, by the way, I'm not 'part of the plan.' Scalpel, please.")

Now, we are, thankfully, in a position to pay (though it does eat into our retirement plans somewhat). But what about folks -- most of America, by the way -- who aren't as fortunate? No one should go bankrupt because of the need to be healthy or to save a life, as in my case, especially in an emergency.

So, "Oh, Canada, where good health care for thee..."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Another step to 'normal'...

Confucius was correct: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

I took another on Wednesday during my tête-à-tête with my new neurosurgeon.

The news was mostly good. (Actually, all good considering; the only real bad had to do with martinis!).

The news is that (a) I'm doing as well, actually better, than expected, that (b) the swelling on the right side of the head is a muscle -- didn't know the skull had a muscle -- and it'll eventually go back to normal, that (c) the big, crooked "Y"-shaped scar that still has jarring (to the viewer) red spots will eventually subside and shrink a bit (though I'll always have a weird-shaped sliver of baldness, but that doesn't bother me much because I can't see it), that (d) the likelihood of seizures is "low," though I must continue the anti-seizure medicine for two more months, that (e) the weaning of the one med I'm taking will take another two to three months, (but) that (f) , if a seizure does hit, it likely will NOT involve passing out, but likely will manifest itself as severe twitching of appendages on the left side ("But no one might notice," I replied, "because that's how I dance."), that (g) I still can't fly because they drilled four holes in my head so the docs could then saw a big square hole in my cranium for access to the brain matter, and those holes haven't yet "closed" completely, that (h) the big square hole is secured by four titanium screws (that won't set off the metal detectors at the airport when I can fly again), and that (i) I'm not to exercise ("Just take walks," he said.)

Oh, and "no alcohol," he insisted after I asked about beer and martinis. (Sorry, Joyce, still no Sundays over gin, vermouth and three olives).

After tense negotiation (and questions from him about good beers after I told him I'm a beer snob, and me recommending New Belgian's "1554" and anything of the Samuel Smith's brand), he allowed me to continue the one-(good) beer-a-day regimen that I'd put myself on.

"It's not drinking the beer (or martinis) that's the problem," he said. "It's the 'coming down' when the alcohol wears off," he said. "It increases the chances of a seizure."

OK, as I told Joyce, I've got a solution for that. I'll just drink all the time and never 'come down.'"

Hmmmm, whataya think?

Ah, but, under that plan, those steps Confucius alluded to wouldn't be quite as steady as the doc (and I) would want them to be. And falling is the biggest fear (for him and for me) on this road to recovery.

So, one beer a day.

And one step a day.

And after a thousand miles, back to normal.

I plan to enjoy the trip.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The real residue...

I'm mending.

All is not perfect, but most is not bad, and that is good.

The real residue from this little medical adventure of mine is not having to cut back on driving, spicy foods or beer, or having to take some meds for six months or more.

The real residue is less medical, and mostly psychological.

The real residue is uncertainty.

In my mind, I know that this all will be fixed. But, in my mind, I also will have lingering doubts.

When driving at 80, me at the wheel with Joyce beside me, heading to K.C. or across the salt flats of Utah or the mountains of North Carolina, invading my thoughts will be doubts -- that uncertain feeling that I am 100 percent OK and what if a seizure hits. Or even when driving to school in the morning, that bit of uncertainty will creep into my mind and grab my attention, for a second or a minute or more. (And what if I hurt someone if something does happen?)

Or when trying to reclimb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Or in a compartment watching the wastelands whiz by on the trans-Siberian Railway, a thousand miles from nowhere. Or, our first bucket list item, that freighter trip from Brooklyn to Cape Town, the same one I took in '71. What happens if something happens?

Each day (or each hour), it'll impose itself in small or big ways, making me wonder "what if?" It already has.

That is to be the biggest part of this rehabilitation. Not the rebuilding of muscle tissue that disappeared from 15 days in a California hospital. Not the healing of the meandering wound on my skull or between the layers of the brain. But what's "in" the brain: my thoughts, my doubts, my uncertainty.

That is the hurdle I'll need help in clearing.

And I'm not terribly confident I'll succeed.

But I'll try.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Good news, bad news (well, not that bad)...

The local neurologist and his counterpart in California finally hooked up today, and the news was "good and bad," according to the local guy, who called.

The good is that they have no concern about the swelling on the right side of my head. Give it time, they said. The bad is that I'll be on my anti-seizure medicine for six months to a year. Apparently, that's the norm.

OK, I asked, what about driving and what about beer? The answers were:

Driving: OK. ("Don't overdo it," doc sez, which means no long road trips for a bit.)

Beer (and martinis): Well, not recommended (in excess) but, perhaps, once in a while. So, I had half a beer tonight (thanks to a shipment of special Colorado brew from Erin Wiley), and it was great! A lager with a bit of color, which gave it a nice nutty flavor. But, sorry, Joyce, no Sunday night martinis, as was our wont, at least for a while.

But back into the Miata, as least for short trips. And some sips of good brews (which is better than none at all).

And the knowledge that meds will likely be gone at some point before retirement.

Oh, he added: "Lots of sleep." Doc warns that lack of sleep is biggest factor in all of this regarding seizures. "Get at least eight hours a night," he says.

Believe it or not, that may be more difficult than cutting back on beer and giving up Sunday martinis. I rarely sleep more than seven, mostly six, per night. But I'll try.

Oh, I forgot to ask about spicy food, but we dipped our toe (figuratively, not literally) into that world tonight with a lasagna made and donated by Ben Gleeson (husband of Kate Shipley, who's in D.C. on an internship right now, and whose wedding I gleefully performed). Tangy with a bit of a bite, but no side effects, so far, so it's full speed ahead for that part from now on. (Perhaps it was that half-bottle of beer that helped! I think so. Don't you?)

So, progress continues after the excursions into the cranium. Driving, spicy food and (a bit of) beer are back.

What else to say, but "Cheers!"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back in the saddle...

A short post to offer the promised update:

First, I got the clearance to return to work on Monday, so I've been in the office for almost three days now (though at a much-reduced speed).

Regarding my visit to the neurologist yesterday, all OK…doc said he was "amazed" that my brain was back in proper alignment so soon after being pushed so far to the left. I've still got some swelling on the right side above my ear that's puzzling (to him and to me), but doc says it's not brain-related. Perhaps, he says, it's some leftover fluids from surgery. He says he's checking with docs in Calif. to get advice.

Oh, and the doc here did reduce my meds a bit (the weaning begins) and may do more reduction after talking with California docs. Here's hoping that driving the Miata, spicy foods and beer (some special Colorado brew from Erin Wiley delivered by her dad, Jack) are not too far on the horizon.

Overall, I'm feeling OK, just tired and weak from all those days in the hospital, the trip home, and not sleeping particularly well (because of swelling on right side).

But thankful I'm here and feeling as well as I am.

Thanks again to all who've expressed concern or have kept me in their thoughts. I truly do believe it's been an important part of prompting the "amazed" response from the neurologist here by moving my brain back into proper alignment so quickly.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Miata and me...

I'm home, itching to get back to work, which may happen tomorrow (Monday, July 18).

And so is the Miata.

For those interested in an update on me, no real news will come until Tuesday, when I see the neurologist and have a follow-up CAT scan. Though, still, no neurological symptoms (that we can detect) except for a bit of swelling on the right side of my head. That's the side they worked on, twice.

And my golf game a week ago went well. I was as good (or as bad) as I was before all this tinkering in the cranium. I even cut the front lawn (though I cheated with a new-bought self-propelled lawn mower from Sears).

More important: no pain and, thankfully, no headaches -- though, still, until I get off the anti-seizure meds, no driving, no spicy food and no beer.

My plea to wean myself off the meds will be a big part of Tuesday's meeting with the neurologist because I crave all three.

As for the Miata, which we'd planned to use on the trip back from California mostly along fabled Route 66, it is home after a return 1,900-mile journey nestled in a covered car carrier. It arrived on Tuesday, along with five other vehicles. They included some royalty: a Dodge Viper and a '70s-era yellow Corvette. (The other three cars, and our Miata, were of the proletariat.)

A confession: The car carrier couldn't drop off the car in front of the house, as expected. It needed to unload or reposition five cars before getting to our Miata. So it headed to a Wal-Mart a mile or so away to do the unloading. Once safely birthed, I sat in the contoured leather seat, feeling comfortably at home. Not wanting to leave her again, I drove, slowly (and against medical advice), the mile or so back, safely, into the comforting embrace of our garage.

Early Saturday afternoon, I took Joyce out -- she at the wheel -- to introduce her to the mystery and magic of the Miata's six-speed manual transmission. At a local high school parking lot, next door to the Wal-Mart, I talked her through the routine of going from first to second, then third, fourth, fifth and sixth while synchronizing those moves with a left foot pushing the clutch to the floor and letting it out precisely at the proper moment.

She did well enough that we headed, later that afternoon, her at the helm, to a Miata club meeting in Kansas City. By our return early that evening, Joyce was a pro at negotiating the gear box

I must admit that I was envious the entire trip there and back. For someone who truly hates to drive, wishing that Lawrence had subways like New York City so I wouldn't have to own a car, I love driving the Miata, as I loved driving the '79 MGB all those years. It's simply fun!

So good thoughts for Tuesday, please. For driving, for spicy food and, of course, a good beer or two.

Oh, and for good health.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Life after death...

I think I died.

Three Mondays ago, I was on life support in California. I even told Joyce it was OK to "let me go," and she had expectations of making the trip back home to Kansas alone. But thanks to the miracles of modern science, and the good folks who put those miracles to good use, I'm still on this good Earth, we assume healthy, or at least healing, and happy. And back home in Lawrence.

For much of the last two weeks of June and two days into July, I'd been in a California hospital recovering from what started as what I (and others) thought were sinus headaches to something called a subdural hematoma. In layman's terms, that's bleeding between two layers of the brain.

What started as one of the most beautiful drives across the Western U.S. wound up with literally the top half and right side of my skull being bored and sawed into, and medical miracle workers digging (delicately, we assume) in the folds of the brain to stop some bleeding.

That was Friday, June 17.

But let's begin almost a week earlier with my 68th birthday, June 11.

That day, we left Lawrence, Kansas, in the Mazda Miata, top down, of course, for the three-day trip to Alameda, Calif., to see our son, Ian, and his girlfriend, Andrea Garcia, and her parents. (We'd planned to drive back home along a southern route through Las Vegas to see Penn & Teller. Then, we'd planned to spend two nights at an old hotel in Williams, Ariz., with a train trip to the Grand Canyon. Finally, historical Route 66 would lead us most of the way back home to Kansas.)

The first day heading west, the drive across Kansas was uneventful (except for the guy who almost careened into us from the adjoining lane in Topeka). We headed through Denver into the high Rockies, where the Garmin found us a B&B in Empire, Colo., literally nestled at a breathtaking 9,000 feet.

That night, the headache, which had been with me off and on for a few weeks, really dug in. In the morning, our host, on request, offered some Advil, which helped a bit, so we headed across Colorado into Utah, speeding through the salt flats (where we almost ran out of gas -- literally no gas stations for what seemed a thousand miles; the Miata, which had been averaging about 29 miles per gallon on the trip, went to 32 mpg during that leg, thankfully). We made it into Nevada for the stay that night. Then, on Monday morning, we continued across Nevada, which, to our surprise, was a gorgeous mix of desert and mountains. Neither of us had expected the vistas to be so captivating.

Late that afternoon, Monday, June 13, we pulled into Alameda, headache bearable but still persistent.

The headaches droned on, to varying degrees, that week. On Friday, the pain got so intrusive that we headed to the emergency room.

That was "best decision" number one (aided by our daughter, Jennifer, a pharmacy technician, who had said the meds I was taking for sinus trouble should have knocked it -- and me -- out).

There, the ER doctor, too, thought sinus infection and was ready to prescribe a new set of meds, but then he made "best decision" two: Let's do a CAT scan just to be sure, he said.

I walked the long walk to the CAT scan room. Once the technician saw whatever he saw, that's the last time I walked for a while. Into a wheelchair for the trip back, onto a gurney, into an ambulance, IV in arm, and off to the Sutter East Bay Neuroscience Center at the Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Calif., about 20 miles away. (It, by the way, turns out to be one of the best places to be if you ever need brain work.)

As best remembered (with Joyce's aid):

Whisked into surgery, where they drilled, sawed, then folded back the skull to get at the brain and the bleeding.

I came out talkative, I'm told (because I don't recall much of that), awake and alert.

The next morning, Saturday, was OK, but then I began to deteriorate, especially my heart rate. By Sunday afternoon it was evident (to them, not me) that something had to be done. So another CAT scan, which revealed more or continued bleeding.

Another surgery. (Joyce and the kids were away at the time of the decision, but the doctor called Joyce -- It'll be quicker this time, he said, because they just had to remove the staples to get back in -- so they rushed back to the hospital.)

After surgery, dicey at best, with machines doing the breathing and heartbeat.

That week is a blur for me, of course, and even for Joyce, who spent most nights trying to sleep in a chair in my room.

The next weekend, my condition began to improve. By the Monday, I was a bit mobile. And with physical and occupational therapists, I began to be more like my old self, ignoring advice of therapists by walking, unattended, the halls at night (with a walker) and joking. (If this is normal, the doc said to Joyce, maybe we should go back in!)

The toughest part was convincing the therapists and doctors that we needed to get home. We finally brought them to the idea, because of my rapid progress, that we could take the train home. (They'd vetoed Joyce driving, and flying, because of air pressure issues, was out of the question until the hole in my skull had healed.)

Trying to get a room on the train during the July 4th weekend proved to be as trying as convincing the doctors to release me. Ultimately, we found the one remaining room on the #4 Amtrak leaving L.A. for Lawrence on July 3.

So, after a relaxing night in Modesto at Andrea's parent's house, Ian and Andrea drove us the six and a half hours to L.A. for the Sunday evening train that ultimately got us back home at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, where Ann Brill met us with tea and coffee and Egg McMuffins.

As for the Miata, it's on its way home (on a car-carrying truck) as we speak. It should be here Monday or Tuesday.

Unfortunately, I have three (painful) bans right now because of the medication I'm on: no driving, no spicy food and, alas!, no beer.

But the need for medication will end, so life will soon be back to what it was.

And for that I am grateful beyond words, thanks to the miracles of modern science and the good folks who practice 'em so well. And, of course, all the family and friends who were there when we needed.

P.S.: More later on those good folks.

P.P.S.: A sign of my improvement -- this Sunday (tomorrow), I'm playing, with doctor's OK, less than a week after our return, in a charity golf tournament (a "scramble" so I won't have much pressure.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A long way to go...

I'm disappointed. In us.

In 1607, the English established its colony at Jamestown. Many earlier attempts had been made by Europeans in the 16th century, but none took. (And, of course, what would be come to be called our "Native American" population established civilizations well before that.)

But, for the purpose of this discussion, let's begin with Jamestown. Since that time in early 17th century, we've come a long way by some measures. Big cities, huge skyscrapers, interstate highways, airports, and trips that would take many months to make by ox and wagon now take but a few hours by air.

While we've come a long way in structures, mechanics and, obviously, technology, alas, we still lag horribly in the real measure of progress: being truly civilized.

Throughout the world, bigotry still exists.

Look through history (and, even, religious texts), and bigotry is a central theme -- with the urging that we rid ourselves of it and treat others as we would treat ourselves and as we would want to be treated.

And here in Kansas, bigotry and the abandonment of civilized approaches raises itself again.

Rep. Virgil Peck, a Republican from Tyro, suggests -- he says he was joking -- that we should treat illegal immigrants like feral pigs by shooting them from helicopters.

He, and others, serve as an important reminder of just how far we have NOT come. And, as important, how far we still have to go.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The real value of money...

I've never worked for money.

Good friend and my main mentor, Ed Johnson, editor of The Gainesville Sun at the time, would tell Joyce when I got a raise. He knew that I'd never looked at my paycheck, didn't care, because it went straight to her. Always has.

I also joke, but it's true, about the time I went to work for the Associated Press in Miami. As I was walking out the door for my first day on the new job, Joyce said: "Don't forget to ask 'em how much you make."

Never crossed my mind to ask. It's what I wanted to do, what I needed to do. And I was confident that we'd have enough to live on. Nothing lavish, of course. (But one great benefit was that our apartment was next to a restaurant -- a crab shack -- that was wonderfully "lavish," if "lavish" is eating off old newspapers, which we did often there, and where the garlicky fragrances of the "shack" always wafted throughout our apartment in south Miami.)

Four times in my career (including the AP job), I've taken significant pay cuts to do what I thought was best for my career and my family (including, the biggest cut of all, when I came to the University of Kansas to join the faculty at the journalism school).

Shoot, I've even taken nothing!

Each year, the Social Security Administration sends a reminder of my earnings throughout my career. For 1993, taxable income earned that year is zero. Yep, nothing. Nil. Nada.

What a great year that was!

I had left a great job that paid well -- my dream job really -- as executive editor of The Gainesville Sun. But I had decided that teaching was what I wanted to do. And, yes, as sappy as it may sound, the main motivation was that I wanted to try to give a younger generation of journalists the same passion for journalism that I have always had and was instilled in me by folks like Ed Johnson.

So, I gave notice and, a few months later, started graduate school at my alma mater, The University of Florida.

That year proved to be many things, but mostly about renewal (and the loss of retirement savings) with absolutely no regrets.

I encourage each of my students to find a passion and follow it. That's what I've done. And I've virtually loved every day of work. And, I am confident, my family was better for it, too.

Simply put, it ain't work if you love what you do.

It's why I haven't retired -- and am struggling with the thought of retirement -- because I still love going to work every day.

And that's the biggest paycheck you can receive.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pleasures and passings...

Sunday was full of surprise.

Two came, as usual, in the Sunday New York Times, which is always full of surprises. The other a few minutes ago from the Associated Press.

All were about great pleasures and passings.

The first surprise, which I actually learned from a former student on Friday, was the end of a staple in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The "On Language" column, written for decades by William Safire, whom I had the pleasure to meet several times during my tenure with the company, announced that today was the last entry for the column that began in 1979 with expectations of lasting "a year, maybe." The predictor, then-Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, who was not often wrong, certainly missed it by a few years.

The column explored the vagaries of the English language. It was pithy, often humorous, always instructive.

I must admit I hadn't paid as close attention to it since Bill Safire gave it up on his death in September 2009.

In recent years, my attention, immediately upon hitting a temporary hurdle in the Sunday crossword, went to "The Ethicist"' by Randy Cohen, who'd been waxing on ethical issues for all of the column's 12 years.

I enjoyed the interesting spots that people found (or put) themselves in. Even more, I enjoyed Mr. Cohen's attempts to put all issues, big and small, in proper ethical perspectives. I, as many of his readers, did not always agree with his proclamations. But that's what made the column so enticing: It got you to think! About ethics. About the ethical paths we set for ourselves.

(And, by the way, that it's OK to sneak food and drink into a movie theater.)

Then, shortly before I sat down to write this, I checked the AP wire and discovered that one of my childhood heroes had passed: Duke Snider, who roamed center field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, my team during my formative years.

I had the pleasure of meeting my childhood hero once. As a young reporter for the Melbourne (Fla.) Times in 1966, I went to Dodgertown in Vero Beach to do a story. Directly behind me in the stands, which were mostly empty that day, sat the Duke chatting with Joe Garagiola, another former player who became far better at broadcasting than he ever was at baseball.

I eavesdropped on their chatter, then turned and said, "Hi." We had a pleasant exchange, for a few minutes, I recall. I recall nothing of what was said. No matter, it was the moment that counted.

Passings are always a bit sad, but they offer important lessons.

Whether columns in a newspaper magazine or, to a young lad, a pillar of sport, enjoy the moments.

"On Language" lasted 32 years, "The Ethicist" 12, and the Duke 84. Long or short, the moments I've spent with them throughout my life will be missed.

I enjoyed them all, though I appreciate them more now.

And I am thankful that those moments are now part of my memories.

* * *

Update: To my surprise, today's Sunday Magazine (March 6) included the Ethicist column, just not by Randy Cohen, who said farewell last Sunday to begin a similar "gig" with public radio and gave the impression that the column, not just him, had been discontinued. The new "Ethicist" is Ariel Kaminer, the "City Critic" for The New York Times. Her first column read well, though lacked the humorous touches (even on serious issues that often masked chagrin) displayed by Cohen. Happy that the column survived the magazine's retooling, and I wish her well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The rich get richer...

We were burgled once. It was 1993 in Gainesville, Fla.

In mid-morning, the thief broke in through a bedroom window -- the bedroom of our son, Ian, who still has "issues" about first-floor windows to this day -- and roamed through the house, no doubt after being greeted warmly by our beloved Dalmation, Sparky, the nicest dog ever.

"Woof!" ("Glad you're here!," in dogspeak.)

I discovered the instrusion with good friend John Perry of King Features as we drove up to the house. We spotted an open-mouthed front door and, curiously, two socks in the walkway.

At first, I thought that I'd left the door open and that Sparky had grabbed a couple of Ian's socks to play with.

It wasn't Sparky.

Police told us the thief, once in the house, used the socks so that no fingerprints would be left as evidence. (Though the intruder had left them all over the window he had broken for entry. Hmmm, says something about the logic of petit thieves.)

The police came, expressed their regrets in monotones and assessed the loss (some jewelry, of which we didn't have much, though the thief was expert because only "meltable" metal objects of worth were taken).

We were happy in the thought that not that much was missing, except that bit of jewelry. (My antique Nikon and equipment, which was far more valuable than the thief's booty, sat highly visable, though undetected, on the living room floor.)

The police were candid, saying that, most likely, no one would ever be caught (and that, honestly, they wouldn't spend much, if any, time on the case. "The stuff will be melted down in an hour." "Happens all the time in a college town.")

Just after their departure, suddenly, a stark realization hit: The eff-ing thief had taken my bicycle, which had been, as is the case for most grad students, which I was at the time, parked at the ready in front of the fireplace in the living room.

"Holy crap," I yelled (literally). "He took my friggin' bike. Now, I'm pissed."

Well, for a relatively short time, which brings us to the purpose of this piece.

We value experiences. We value memories.

They can't be stolen except by, at times, the ravages of old age and, ultimately, death.

I had a friend, once, surprise me with tickets to Carnegie Hall. There's the 70-mile round trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro on foot. Those few beers with Nelson Mandela in a back yard in Johannesburg. A road trip to Montana with a good friend to see more good friends, and Bloody Marys most mornings. An angst-free childhood because of two nurturing parents. A beautiful wife and an ever-growing love more than 40 years after that first kiss on a New Year's Eve. Two kids who continue to inspire and amaze. A grandson who can bring a smile with a wink or a nod. A life overflowing with memories old, new and anticipated.

In our case, the rich get richer, and no one can make us poor.

Especially folks who break windows.

* * *

P.S.: Photo is one of our priceless memories -- Malcolm, Valerie Rollison, Joyce, Jerry Rollison, and dear friend Ann Brill at "breezy" Beartooth Pass in Montana this summer.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A different league...

What the Baylor game proved to those of us sitting in the stands (after braving a snowstorm and slippery roadways to and from Allen Fieldhouse) was simple and clear:

Baylor is in a different league, playing at a different level. The KU women, who have a long way to go to be "that good," were crushed, 76-37. (Quite frankly, it wasn't even that close because Baylor's "scrubs" played a good part of the second half. Once, when I glanced up at the scoreboard, the lineup on the floor for Baylor showed zeros after each name -- no fouls and no points scored, which meant they hadn't played any of the game up to that point.)

Baylor's success (and KU's lack of it) can be attributed to many things...though, it helps when you have a 6'8" center who can play, and play well.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

OK, already, here it is...

OK, I’ve already broken my New Year’s resolution. Call me human.

And I’ve been chided by one of this blog’s loyal readers, who shall remain nameless (but whose initials are Ian Gibson. Oops!).

So, I will renew the promise: if no tome, then a feeble sentence or two, such as these I've posted today, to this blog once each week (usually on a Saturday, though this is Wednesday).

However, as I write this, exists a world that is most distracting, a post card of sorts: a true winter wonderland, with snow falling briskly – at about one inch per hour. Magical and magnificent.

Until the drive home that is.

Ah, but then, a warm fire and a cold beer.

Who could ask for anything more…

…except a bit of luck at tonight’s women’s basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse against the Baylor Bears, the #1 women’s team in the nation right now.

Wish us luck. We'll be there.

The KU women have the talent, I am convinced, but apparently not the confidence. The women’s team, unlike the men’s, which seems to always find a way to win, seems to find a way to not.

Joyce and I made the road trip (by booster buses) to Lincoln, Neb., on Sunday. It was exciting contest, enjoyed by a 100 or so KU fans who made the trip, including my 95-year-old mother and 88-year-old dad. KU tied the game at the end of regulation with an aerobatic, almost impossible three-point effort from Monica Engelman. But, alas, in overtime, it was all Cornhuskers. KU could score but a measly two points, while Nebraska tallied double digits.

Tonight’s test will require a consistent effort throughout from a team that seems to have embraced the concept of inconsistency instead.

Let's hope I eat my words.