Category Archives: Personal

Baseball, the thread that runs through our lives and ties them together

win

I had a little “Field of Dreams” moment during the wonderful conclusion to the World Series last night. In the sentimental “Dad, you wanna have a catch?” sense.

While Joe Buck or someone was talking about how it had been 95 years since a team from Washington had won, a picture of Senators legend Walter Johnson came on the screen. The BIg Train.

And I was reminded of a story my Dad likes to tell of when he was just a little guy. He grew up in Kensington, Md., in a house his grandfather had built for his Dad. My great-grandfather had a construction business, and he did that for each of his kids when they got married. Consequently, several of them lived quite close together. My Dad’s Aunt Ethel lived behind my Dad, on the next street over.

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Aunt Ethel’s daughter Jean married a guy named Walter Perry Johnson Jr. — the son of the Big Train. Occasionally, the great man was a guest in their home. When that happened, Aunt Ethel’s husband Carroll would call over and tell my Dad to come over, and bring his glove. Dad would go running, and then he would play catch with the great Walter Johnson.

Speaking of the Senators, there’s a story that my grandfather was invited to play for the Senators’ organization, but decided to go into the construction business with his father instead. It seems to me a surprising decision, since his life had revolved around baseball up to that point. Ancestry offers me scores of “hints” about his life, and most of them are clippings from The Washington Post telling about some ball club or other that he was forming, or pitching for, or the captain of.

He worked for the Post Office for awhile, for just one reason: So he could play on its baseball team.

Here’s how he and my grandmother met (which I think I’ve told before): She would see him walking past her house, in his suit and wearing a straw boater, with a satchel dangling from one hand, on his way to the Kensington train station. She decided he must be a traveling salesman, and the bag contained his wares. But when she finally spoke to him, she learned that the bag was filled with his uniform, glove and cleats. He wouldn’t have thought of going to work without them.

What's he doing in an Expos uniform?

What’s he doing in an Expos uniform?

I could go in all sorts of directions about baseball and how its threads run in and out of American life. I could reminisce about when we lived in Tampa, and in the spring we’d go over to St. Pete to watch the Cardinals play. I was an autograph fiend at the time, and in those days the players were easily accessible. (Once in Tampa, I went into the Reds’ locker room to get Pete Rose to sign my glove as he sat shirtless on a table during an interview with a sportswriter. Things were that informal then.) So I would chase Joe Torre, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood. But I failed to get Tim McCarver’s. He was on the other side of a chain-link fence signing for some other kids, but I couldn’t get him to turn around, despite repeatedly calling, “Mr. McCarver! Mr. McCarver!”

Years later, when I was first dating my wife, I was over at her house and she was working on organizing her family’s photos. I asked why there was a publicity photo of McCarver in the box (in an Expos uniform, which is not the way I think of him). “He’s my first cousin,” she said. So, several years after that, we happened to be at the Red Sox training camp in Florida the one year Tim played for them. Carlton Fisk injured his wrist in the first inning and Tim went in for him. After the game, we went over to the house Tim was renting during spring training. As he drank a beer, guess what I chose to talk him about? That’s right: I complained that he wouldn’t turn around and give me an autograph when I was 14.

His answer? “Aw, I wasn’t playing when you were 14.”

Not long after that, his playing days ended. After that, he started his broadcast career. He would eventually be teamed up with Joe Buck, who I think was the one talking about the Senators in 1924 last night.

Which is where we came in.

(Oh, wait, something I forgot to mention: There’s meaning in the fact that Tim was, against all expectations, in an Expos uniform in that photo. The Expos are now the Nationals.)

Anyway, that’s a small taste of what baseball means to American life. My American life, anyway.

It runs through the years and the lives, tying everything together…

I’m very pleased for the Nationals today. And for Washington…

One of my grandfather's baseball teams. That's him squatting on the right.

One of my grandfather’s baseball teams. That’s him squatting on the right.

Candidates, please don’t promise to do anything for me.

Here's Bernie, seconds before he promised me my hearing aids...

Here’s Bernie, seconds before he promised me my hearing aids…

My family thought this was hilarious.

It was during the televised debate on the night of July 31. I was together with most of the fam down at the beach.

I had said something dismissive about Bernie Sanders, as I am wont to do. Then, I was busy writing a Tweet about something that had just been said, so my mind wandered from the next thing that was said (a hazard of real-time commentary).

My wife, who was sitting on the side of my bad ear, said, “See what Bernie’s going to do for you?” And I said, “What?” and she said, “Didn’t you hear? He wants Medicare to pay for your hearing aids!” And because she was on my bad side, I said, “He wants to WHAT?”

And everyone thought this was hilarious. They weren’t laughing AT me; they were really… Well, no, they were laughing at me. But fondly…

They all know that I have declined to look into getting hearing aids because a) conventional hearing aids wouldn’t solve the problem I have, and b) I discovered upon going on Medicare that it won’t pay for hearing aids. And personally, if I’m going to have to scrimp and save for something that expensive, I’d prefer it to be something like another trip abroad, like the one we took to Ireland earlier this year.

So now that I know Bernie wants to pay for them, I’ve gotta like Bernie a little better, right?

Wrong. In fact, I find it extremely off-putting, the idea that someone out there is making a campaign promise to do something that benefits me, personally. No, it’s not like Bernie called me on the phone and asked what Brad would most like to see changed in Medicare and then promised to do that in return for my vote, but it sort of feels like it to me.

And I don’t hold with that sort of thing.

In the universe of politics, there are few things that I find more offensive than the idea of voting for someone because you think it would benefit you personally, or “people like you” (another concept I find offensive, which is all tied up with my objections to identity politics, but that’s a whole other subject).

First, I don’t like campaign promises, period. We’ve discussed this. I vote for the person I trust most to do the job, and I’d like to see that person as unencumbered by promises as possible, so that he or she can simply do the right and smart thing with regard to any issue that arises.

But if you’re going to try to sell me on a campaign promise anyway, you’d better come prepared to persuade me that it’s the best course for the country as a whole. Don’t insult me by saying how it would benefit me personally.

Yeah, I know, I’m sounding really self-righteous, priggish even. And I know that there are a lot of people out there who are NOT middle-class white guys who feel a need for the government to redress some wrong that hurts them personally, and/or “people like them.” And I’m not judging them. I can only speak for me.

And to me, it feels just a small step away from the days when candidates handed out free booze on Election Day. There’s just too much quid pro quo to it.

Don’t try to buy my vote. Not with free hearing aids, or lower taxes, or free drinks, or whatever other goodies you have in mind. I won’t take kindly to it.

I first became all high-and-mighty about this in 1976, when I was talking about the upcoming presidential contest with a colleague at the newspaper where I worked then, my first job out of college. I mentioned that I really liked Jimmy Carter, and she said she was going to vote for Gerald Ford. With real interest, I asked why. Not because I was demanding justification for a wrongheaded act. I liked Gerald Ford, and I could think of plenty of legitimate reasons that a person might chose him. I was curious which ones mattered to her.

I was completely unprepared for what she said, which went kind of like this:

Well, my husband and I studied the candidates’ positions on issues, and we sat down and did some math, and we figured out that if Carter were elected, we’d have to pay a thousand dollars more in taxes a year. So we’re both voting for Ford.

Not, I think Carter might raise taxes, and that might have a chilling effect on the economy, or even, I think Carter might raise taxes, and on people across the country who can ill afford it. No, she was talking about a very specific effect that she expected on her pocketbook. And on that basis, she was willing to choose the Leader of the Free World (we used to call the president that back during the Cold War, kids).

I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped, although I don’t think she noticed. I was shocked. I was scandalized. I couldn’t believe that anyone — much less a fellow journalist (people who love money that much generally don’t choose to become journalists, and if they do, they must have been seriously misled by somebody) could possibly sell his or her franchise in such a mercenary manner. I was even more shocked that she would tell someone that, and not show any sign of being ashamed of herself.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Didn’t I know people think like that? No, I didn’t. It had never occurred to me that people could. And even though I’ve seen a thousand times since then that her way of looking at things is WAY more common than mine, I’ve never ceased to be appalled at that point of view.

I would worry that by writing this I might insult a lot of folks out there, but I justify it by telling myself that those pragmatical souls are more likely to scoff at my utterly absurd, stuffy, priggish, and completely unrealistic notion of what politics is all about. They’ll see this post as embarrassing me, not them. And all the people whose opinions they value will agree with them on this point.

Anyway, it’s been preying on my mind that I should say something, because a lot of the Democratic candidates vying to go against Trump have a tendency to make the kinds of promises I don’t like to hear.

Meanwhile, all I hear Joe Biden promising is to save our country from Trumpism. Oh, he might have a few policy positions out there (because some people out there hound him into it), but I’m ignoring them, and that’s easy to do because his main message is the one I want to hear: He wants to restore the presidency, and the country, to something reasonable human beings can respect.

And if any of the other candidates want my vote (something I’m sure they sit up nights worrying about), I just want to let them know that I don’t want to hear any promises that would benefit me, Brad Warthen, in any way, shape or form. My conscience it just too delicate to put up with that, weird as you might think I am for saying it.

Don’t ever say I didn’t tell you that.

Yeah, I realize there may be more votes in a strategy of promising folks stuff than there is in a high-minded strategy of not offending Brad.

But I can only speak for myself…

If it were up to me, the windows would just STAY dirty

Whoa! And there he was...

Whoa! And there he was…

I kept trying to ignore the ropes while eating my breakfast. It wasn’t easy. I was in a window seat, 25 floors up, and they were dancing, jerking, vibrating and jumping around, about a foot away from my head.

I knew there was a fellow human being at the end of them, dangling far above the sidewalk, washing the windows. And I couldn’t help identifying with his precarious state…

My fear of heights is such that normally, I can sorta kinda ignore that I’m so high up if there’s a nice, solid window between me and Kingdom Come. Like on an airplane. I think some trick of the brain pretends that it’s just a video screen or something. As long as I can’t feel the wind, I’m good (I was definitely NOT good atop Blarney Castle, where I suffered unprecedented vertigo the instant the wind hit my ear, and I was doing well not to throw up, much less kiss some stupid rock… let’s not talk about Blarney Castle…).

But the ropes kept reminding me that it was real, and there was a person just dangling out there….

Then, when I got up to leave, a few tables away, there he was! And he was reaching out to clean this way and that as casually as though he were standing on the ground. I just barely got my phone out before he dropped out of sight.

There is no amount of money that would induce me to do such a job. I would starve first. My body would just betray me, my acrophobia is so bad.

If it depended on me, the windows would all have to just stay dirty…

And then before I could take a second shot, he was GONE...

And then before I could take a second shot, he was GONE…

Feeling kinda lumpy, and kinda ratty, too… but grateful to have figured out what’s wrong (I think)

lumpy

The swelling on my right side — your left — has flattened out some, but it’s still there.

About three weeks ago, I had a headache, in the sinus above my right eye. Then, it moved to my teeth on that side, both upper and lower. Then to my inner right ear. Then to my face, along a line running under my right cheekbone, from the teeth to the ear.

Then, it started getting intense. It was a particularly bad brain freeze, although it would surge for several minutes rather than seconds. It would ease off for awhile, then come back with a vengeance.

My regular doctor, I learned, was out of the country. So I went to an urgent care, where I was told it might be a number of things, including shingles. Yikes. I’d been meaning for years to get that vaccine — like 95 percent of adults, I had chicken pox as a kid — but had not gotten around to it.

But I was told it would only be that if my face broke out in a rash along that same lateral line under my cheekbone. I was given a prescription for an antiviral med to fill and start taking if that happened. In the meantime, I was given a prescription for prednisone to start taking right away, to reduce the inflammation that was apparently pressing on that facial nerve.

I headed for my pharmacy, thinking “Shingles! How absurd!” But worried about it nonetheless. When I handed the prescription to the pharmacist and explained what it was for, drawing my finger across the line of pain, he said, “Shingles?” Which really worried me.

But it wasn’t shingles, and the prednisone helped almost right away. For the next three weeks, I’d have an occasional twinge, but that was it. But being on the alert for that caused me to be more conscious of chronic sensitivity to cold in some of my teeth on that side. My wife, upon learning that I’d been ignoring warnings from the dentist that I needed three crowns, told me to get started on that.

Then, night before last, when I was going in for a crown the next morning at 8, I was awakened by the facial pain — not terrible, but enough to keep me awake.

Which I mentioned at the dentist, as they were shooting preliminary x-rays. And the dentist pointed out something on one of the x-rays, and told me I didn’t need a crown at the moment; I needed a root canal. I had an abscess, right in the part of the mouth where my pain sometimes resided. And that, he said, was probably what had been causing the whole problem.

On my way to the pharmacy yet again, I felt something that made me unconsciously touch my right cheek, and it was all swollen and sore. That had not been the case when I got up that morning. So things were getting rapidly worse, all of a sudden.

Miraculously, I was able to get an endodontist appointment for the root canal at 1:45 that afternoon. I think it helped that I went there in person to make the appointment, and the receptionist could see how swollen my face was.

It took at least six shots of novacaine before I was numb enough — the endodontist said infection can interfere with the effectiveness of the local anesthetic. But eventually, I was comfortably numb, and we got it done.

I’m feeling better today, although the diminished lump is still palpable and sore, so I decided not to shave this morning, as you can see above. So I’m feeling sort of ratty. But grateful to all who helped figure this out, and acted so quickly to help.

Oh, and that’s why I didn’t post anything yesterday. Which is my point…

I’m no privacy freak, but yeah — that’s a little creepy

door

Actually, the headline sort of said it all.

Today, I got a notification that something my wife had ordered from Amazon had been delivered to my home.

Wondering what it was (apparently, some frozen treats for grandchildren), I clicked, and got the above page.

Yeah, that’s my red front door in the picture.

I can see a practical reason to do this. For instance, Amazon delivery folks tend to put our packages in different places (inside the garage if that door is open, the mailbox, etc.) and sometimes we have to hunt around to confirm that yes, Alexa is right — something has arrived.

But this still bothers me a little bit. Not much, but a bit. Mainly because I wasn’t expecting it. It’s like having some stranger say, “Look, here’s you on a surveillance camera…”

It doesn’t do me any harm that I can tell, but it’s weird…

The weather app on my phone is torturing me

In the foreground the old boards, in the background the new ones. In the far background, you can see some new ones that we've stained.

In the foreground the old boards, in the background the new ones. In the far background, you can see some new ones that we’ve stained.

For the last few weekends, we’ve been engaged in a project.Dublin

The deck on the back of our house has two layers of boards, running perpendicular to each other. I don’t know whether this is standard deck construction, but that is what we have. I suspect the top layer is newer than the other. When we bought the house 21 years ago, the deck was a roofed, screened-in porch. Since the roof was removed, the top layer of deck boards haven’t weathered well. So we’re replacing them with new, treated boards. We’re also spacing them a bit so we don’t get standing water on the deck any more.

We’re doing it in stages. We’ll tear up a section — a tedious process that involves various implements of destruction (hammers, flat bar, crow bar, my old cat’s paw I’ve had since I worked construction while in college, and occasionally my reciprocating saw). Then we clean and repaint the boards underneath. Then we buy enough lumber to do about ten rows. Then we repeat. We’re a little bit past halfway done now.

Of course, the last couple of weekends have been brutal, thanks to the weather. What, I must ask, will August be like if May is like this?here

But it’s made worse by the way the weather app on my iPhone keeps taunting me. I keep consulting it with the thought, “Let’s see whether the heat is going to try to kill me again today.”

For some reason, when I tap to call it up, it does not default to the weather where I am. Oh, no. The first thing I see is the weather in Dublin. So on Saturday, I was told the high would be 67, and the next day it would be 63, and the day after that 58, with a fine sprinkling of God’s generous rain. I could almost hear it add, “And would ye be after havin’ a Guinness after yer toil today, me lad?”

When we were in Ireland, the difference between the weather here and there was not that huge. A little cooler, and I was glad most days to have taken my water-resistant winter coat, although some days I took it off for a short while. Decent weather for the end of winter and start of spring.

But now, it’s like being on different planets. Ireland is the sane, normal, temperate planet. And West Columbia is on the one ruined by greenhouse gases. I’m reminded of the line from “The Matrix” to the effect that “It was us that scorched the sky.”

Last week was absurd for May. This coming week will be more so. Why must we live like this?

boards close

Don’t let today’s earworm bring you down

Perhaps this should be a regular feature, even daily. It would be a gift to my readers, a helpful explanation. They could say, No wonder he says all this stupid stuff; look what he’s got running through his head.

The reason this was lodged there is stupider than most. I was playing a video game that involves blowing up castles. Really. I’ve got a blog post I want to write that will explain. My time-wasting pursuits are growing dumber and dumber.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the song is supposed to mean.  Without having really thought about it, I’ve assumed subconsciously that it was a sort of leveling, sixtiesish nod to social equality: Who cares if castles are burning? Most of us don’t live in castles, and those who do deserve to be burned out. Anyone who lives in a castle is The Man.:

Don’t let it bring you down,
It’s only castles burning
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around…

But maybe that’s not right. The song contains a number of alarming or at least dark images, things I don’t think people would shrug off easily — the dead man lying by the side of the road, the red lights flashing through the window in the rain. Are we not supposed to be brought down by any of that?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just meaningless rhymes. Maybe it’s like “I am the Walrus,” which Lennon composed from random lines he would write down and stick in a drawer to use later. One day, he just pulled them out and jammed them together.

Anyway, that’s today’s earworm…

neil young

I’m deeply shocked to learn of the death of Burl Burlingame

After our tour of Ford Island in 2015, we dropped by our Alma Mater to pay respects.

After our tour of Ford Island in 2015, we dropped by our Alma Mater to pay respects.

Y’all know I’m not a big Facebook user. So I had to return to America to learn that my high school friend and blog regular Burl Burlingame had died suddenly on the Ides of March — just two days after we left for Ireland.

I had just gotten into the office this morning, and Lora said she had been looking for Ireland pictures on my Facebook (there were none — I was putting them all on Twitter), and she noticed that my friend had died. That’s how I learned about it.

His most recent FB profile photo, from 2018.

His most recent FB profile photo, from 2018.

WHAT?!?!?

“Sudden” was the way his passing was described. It was certainly that from my perspective.

Wow. The world has lost an extraordinary person. Even in high school, Burl was a Renaissance Man — writer, photographer, cartoonist, musician, actor. Wherever you looked, Burl was there and playing a major role. Larger than life. Before I had even done so much as work on a school paper, he wrote, illustrated and published his own underground newspaper in which he regularly referred to our principal, Mr. Yamamoto — who was seldom seen by students — as the Ghost Who Walks. He used to carry around a briefcase with multiple harmonicas in it, which he could really, really play. When he portrayed the secret policeman in the senior class production of Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water,” his was easily the most memorable performance.

Burl in 1971.

Burl in 1971.

As an adult, he just expanded on all of that. Like me, he spent 35 years as a newspaperman, but while I was concentrating on that one thing, Burl was making his mark in other spheres — writing books on military history, becoming a master modeler (of course, like most of us, he had taken up that hobby as a kid, but then turned pro), and establishing himself as probably the leading expert in the world on Japanese minisubs. So it was perfectly natural when he left the paper to become staff historian at the Pacific Aviation Museum.

I feel privileged that I got to reconnect with Burl, through this blog, almost 40 years after we graduated from Radford High School together. And I’m glad I got to see him twice in recent years, first when he gave my wife and me a personal tour of his museum and Ford Island, and again when he came to Columbia for an international modelers convention.

And I’m having trouble absorbing the fact that I’ll never see him again in this life.

On Ford Island in 2015.

On Ford Island in 2015. Note the rainbow.

128 gigabytes? 128 GIGABYTES?!?!?!?!

My new iPad came yesterday, and I’m as excited as Doc Brown finding out that his flux capacitor actually works!

Perhaps the best part is that, after years of having to constantly dump stuff to keep my old 32 GB model from getting too full, I now have 128 GB to work with! Last night, the new one automatically went to the cloud and downloaded every app that was on the old one (which I didn’t necessarily need it to do, because I can do without some of them), and when it was done it took up only 14 gigs!

I’ve got 114 gigs of completely clean, virgin, unexplored space lying before me! I’m like one of the English settlers at Jamestown with the whole continent to my west! (Yeah, not a particularly pleasant analogy if you’re a Native American, but it was the first one that came to mind. Race memory stored in the collective unconscious, or something.)

But when I left the house this morning, I suddenly chickened out and brought my old beat-up iPad with me instead. Because if I left the house with the new one it could get wrecked, stolen, scratched, breathed on wrong!

I think I’ll just go home to it tonight and rub it with a diaper.

OK, I’ll stop with the silly movie references now. But I’m kind of giddy about this thing. I’m a heavy tablet user, and having one that’s new and fast and doesn’t freeze up and has more space than I (currently) need is actually going to make my day-to-day life easier…

This reminds me -- I really need to get a haircut...

This reminds me — I really need to get a haircut…

 

‘Dooanld the Ready’

Vm3rI_8P

I’ve called your attention before to the hilarious Twitter feed Donaeld The Unready, the chronicles of a king from the era of “The Last Kingdom” and “Vikings” who goes about blustering and promising to “Make Mercia Great Again!”

Sample recent Tweet:

As you probably know, my first name is Donald. My first name comes in handy because I can always tell when I’m being addressed by people who don’t know me or anything about me — they call me “Donald.”

But I was really confused this morning. My wife and I are planning a trip to Ireland in a few months. We signed up for a package deal that my brother-in-law and his wife are also planning to go on, out of Memphis.

Today, I got an email from one of the organizers telling us that… well, I’m still trying to sort out what it’s telling us. Something about our flight to Heathrow and from there to Dublin, I think.

Anyway, it addressed me as “Dooanld.”

Is that an ancient Irish version of “Donald?” No, that would be “Domhnall.” (The name is of Gaelic origin, by the way.  It means “world ruler,” which tells you I have yet to come into my birthright, and I’m kind of getting impatient about that. I mean, don’t names mean anything anymore?)

Also, how is one to pronounce “Dooanld?”

Whatever. I’m looking forward to the trip. Call me Dooanld the Ready…

Actual photograph of Dooanld the Ready. OK, so technically it's an actor portraying my ancestor Ragnar Lothbrok. Best I could do...

Actual photograph of Dooanld the Ready. OK, so technically it’s an actor portraying my ancestor Ragnar Lothbrok. Best I could do…

So much for my best-selling diet book

When I first joined the Smith campaign, Doug Ross suggested I take good notes so I could write a book about it when it was over.

That didn’t really appeal to me, but I did think for a moment that maybe I was onto an idea for a best-selling diet book.160.7

That’s because I lost about several pounds in the first month of the campaign, even though I was eating like a horse.

I had already been steadily losing weight in the months before, what with my walking/elliptical regimen. I had dropped down from 177.6 on the last day of December to 166.7 on June 26, a few days before joining the campaign on July 1.

I felt good about that progress, but as you know, it took a lot of hard work. I was a walking demon, averaging over 16,000 steps a day in some months.

But once I joined the campaign, my workout regimen was severely curtailed (like a dog watch) — I’d do the elliptical in the morning — maybe — and make no particular effort to walk further during the day.

And as I said, I ate as much as I wanted. Yet on the last day of July, I had dropped to 160.7 pounds. I appeared to be on track to weigh less than 150 by Election Day, easily.

And all it took was stress like I had never experienced in a job before! Pressure all day and into the night! Going from 0 to 60 in one day, and it never letting up!

A small price to pay for eating all you want, exercising only moderately, and still losing weight.

I was onto a best-seller, called “The Campaign Diet:” All you had to do is get someone to hire you as the most visible staff person on a statewide political campaign, doing a job you had never done before in your life! No problem!

But then, my premise started to fall apart. My weight hit its low point on Aug. 23 — 160.6.

Then, it started climbing back. Inexorably.172.2

It hit 165.7 on Sept. 25, and then 168.7 on Oct. 22. Then, during that week on the RV, my working regimen fell completely apart, and despite the fact that I was missing meals, it kept climbing. And as stressful as that week was, it didn’t do the trick any more.

This morning, at my lowest point in the day — after a short workout, and before breakfast — I hit 172.2.

I think the problem is, you get used to stress. Your body adjusts. It ceases to be a magic potion for weight loss. And then there’s the fact that eventually, the stress itself goes away. You get used to a new routine. You might even enjoy it.

So I’m back to long walks and watching what I eat, if I want to get back down into the 160s.

So much for the best-seller…

Congratulations to Samuel Tenenbaum (on a milestone I’ll never achieve)!

Samuel

Last week, my good friend Samuel Tenenbaum shared the above photo with me.

I’m proud to share it with y’all. And proud to know Samuel. He’s been giving platelets at the Red Cross for more than a decade, and on the day this was taken (eight days ago) he had officially given 250 units! He gets up and does it sometimes at the crack of dawn, and has been known to bring donuts for the Red Cross workers. So they love the guy. On the day he passed his milestone, he brought pizza.

Of course, to Samuel the milestone is already a thing of the past. That day, he reached 251. This past weekend, he gave two more units to reach 253. (They generally take two units at a time, and sometimes three.)

He’s the one who inspired me to start giving platelets on a regular basis myself. I had hesitated. Although I’d been giving blood for years, overcoming a lifelong horror of such things in order to do so (something I bragged about a lot), I had balked at this.

Why? Because of the inconvenience factor. Once you get good at it, you can give whole blood in little over 5 minutes, from the moment the needle goes in. Giving red cells only, which I did for awhile, takes a little longer — maybe 40 minutes or so — since they have to separate the red cells from your blood and pump what’s left back into you.

Whereas giving a couple of units of platelets can take as much as three hours from the time you walk into the place until you walk out, stiff from lying there so long. Not only that, but while you have to wait 8 weeks to give whole blood again and 16 weeks to give red cells, you can give platelets weekly! And as soon as that week is up, you’ll start hearing from the Red Cross again. Not because they’re greedy, but because they’re desperate: There are few platelet donors, and many urgent needs for platelets.

But, inspired by Samuel, I gave in and started giving platelets. And I compromised on the weekly thing, setting up a standing appointment every two weeks (I found I felt really tired for a couple of days after each donation, and figured I needed the recovery time).

So I built that standing appointment into my gmail calendar… which tells me I’m supposed to be there right now, as I type this! But I’m not.

That’s because I’ve been banned from giving, for good. It happened several months back — at the end of last summer, in fact. I just haven’t had the heart to take it off my calendar. I miss giving. It was my thing, you know. I can’t afford to give money, and my stupid asthma and allergies kept me from military service, but at least I could do this for my community!

But no more.

Here’s what happened: I got a call from the Red Cross one day. Thinking it was someone reminding me of my appointment, I was about to say, “I know; I know!” when I was told something unexpected. Someone, somewhere, had had a problematic reaction to my platelets. They wanted me to come in for a special blood test, just in an abundance of caution.

So I went in, and had the test done, and figured I’d be going to my next appointment as usual, and then… I got another call. I was told that because I had some unusual antibody in my blood, they could no longer accept my donations, according to FDA guidelines.

I was told I was perfectly healthy — that this condition was no threat to me. But the existence of that factor in my blood could be harmful, under certain rare conditions, to someone else. Again, the abundance-of-caution thing.

I got a letter in the mail with a couple of charts from my test with mysterious notations about a1 cells and a2 cells and b cells, and it made no sense to me.

All I know is, I can’t give any more. Ever, apparently. I just made the list, buddy.

Which means some of y’all need to do so. Samuel can’t do it all. And the need is constant: Platelets are only good for five days.

Why does he do it? For a number of reasons, starting with the selfish: It tells him he’s healthy, and each time you give, you get a mini-physical — blood pressure, iron levels, pulse, and so forth. But ultimately, as usual with Samuel, it’s because somebody needs to do it. “Each time I walk out of there, I know that I have changed the world,” if only a little bit.

More briefly: “It’s called, ‘Love thy neighbor.'”

Have you voted yet? How did it go?

quail hollow

As you know, there are two candidates I particularly want to see elected this year — James Smith and Micah Caskey. And as you may have noticed, in recent days I’ve been more anxious about James than about Micah — after all, Micah received 97.6 percent support at a recent county GOP meeting.

So I chose a Democratic ballot at Quail Hollow precinct this morning. I felt a bit weird doing so, since not a single Democratic candidate had posted any signs in front of the polling place, as you can see above. In fact, it occurs to me that the closest sign for a Democrat to this location might be the one for James in my yard, 1.6 miles away.

But I wasn’t quite alone — I was the 15th to choose a “DEMOCRATE” ballot, as it was hand-lettered in red magic marker at the sign-in table. (You can’t expect folks in Lexington County to know how to spell every weird, exotic word in the dictionary, can you?) And as it happened, only 44 had chosen a Republican ballot. Which was weird — my precinct going only three-fourths Republican. One of the poll workers told me it seemed a lot of my neighbors had voted absentee.

This, of course, raises the stakes on who those few voters were. Was it only the extreme partisans who would go for a Phil Noble because James is too sensibly centrist, or support a woman who is proud of being a purely destructive force (which is what is meant by “buzzsaw”)?

On my way in, there were two people standing in front of the entrance where candidates or surrogates are allowed to campaign. The young woman smiled at me, but didn’t say anything (was I glowering at her or something?). The young man said, “Mr. Micah Caskey thanks you for voting today!” I said, “Well, I like Micah very much,” which seemed to please him although he probably noticed how noncommittal it was.

(Man, I hope Micah wins big. If he even comes close to losing, I’m going to feel really bad.)

As a result of not having to vote on them, and no longer having to make an endorsement decision, I never made up my mind on a couple of hot races (or at least, they should have been hot) in the Republican primary. Since I didn’t have to, I just didn’t do the legwork:

Attorney General — I like both Alan Wilson and Todd Atwater. I don’t damn Alan for his Quinn association (I don’t do simplistic, or at least not usually), and I think he’s been a pretty decent AG. And I like Todd as well. I just didn’t focus enough to force myself choose between them.

Lexington County Council District 8 — Incumbent Ned Tolar has two or three opponents. I’ve seen a lot of signs for him, and for opponent Glen Conwell (the guy who got all that money from Lou Kennedy of Nephron). I tried doing a little web research on the candidates, and found virtually nothing. I’d have tried harder if I’d been voting in that one.

Anyway, have you voted, and if so, how did it go? I see that there were lines in some locations, even though there were not at mine…

I voted

There’s my famous daughter, in Dance Magazine!

dance mag

I’ve told you about my Peace Corps daughter Becca and her efforts to get dance education back up and running on the one Caribbean island most devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Now, she and her efforts in Dominica are the lead story in Dance Magazine — which is the magazine for folks involved with that art form. (My wife, who danced as a child, said she remembers seeing copies in her studio when she was 4 years old.)

Here’s hoping that, seeing as I’m her Daddy and all, the magazine won’t mind me sharing the whole piece:

Meet The Ballet Dancer Teaching Hurricane Maria Survivors

Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she’d been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.

But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica’s history.

Some of her students at a makeshift barre.

Some of her students at a makeshift barre.

The Peace Corps sent her home to South Carolina for two months while they assessed the situation.

“I spent much of the next few weeks worrying what had become of my coworkers, students and community, finding out only bits and pieces through news and social media,” says Warthen. “Many people evacuated to neighboring islands or the U.S. but even more stuck it out through the aftermath without roofs or enough food and water.”

When the Peace Corps asked her to return in December, she instantly agreed, even if that meant living without electricity.

“Some people probably thought I was crazy for wanting to return to a place that people were still evacuating from,” she says, “but I was just excited to round up my students and start teaching again.” So excited, in fact, that she extended her service until January 2019.

She shares in a blog post for the Peace Corps that during her first week back, she held a “return to dance workshop” for the kids. She asked the students to write a poem describing their experiences, then had them choreograph to their own words. She writes:

Many students had traumatic tales of what happened during the storm, yet it was the things that were missing they most wanted to talk (and dance) about. Many were staying with neighbors since their homes were unlivable. One girl never found her pet puppy. Another missed the flowers in her garden. And they all longed for the normal things: eating fruits, going to school and taking dance class.

She’s found that teaching them has been transformational: “For these children whose lives have been so disrupted, ballet brings stability, a positive focus, friendship, joy, dreams, goals and something beautiful when much of the outside is still recovering from disaster.”Boo in Dominica

Unfortunately, Dominica School of the Arts’ dance studio—the only one on the island—was completely destroyed. The dancers are now taking class in an art gallery while Warthen raises money through a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant to help rebuild the studio. Fortunately, she just found out that her $8000 fundraiser to repair the floor and mirrors is now fully funded.

“The people living in Dominica have adapted to a ‘new normal,'” says Warthen. “Most schools have yet to be repaired, so students are sharing space on shift schedules. Many businesses have closed and with them many jobs have been lost. Agriculture systems were quite literally uprooted. Maria did a lot of damage, but she also managed to instill a sense of resiliency in everyone that survived her.”

Meanwhile, Warthen’s found that her work in Dominica has not only been a way to empower her students and help them process this traumatic experience, bot it’s also reignited her own love of dance.

“I get to witness the total joy they emit when they dance,” she says. Teaching them has allowed her to feel the wonder of being a beginner again: “It’s the joy of jumping really high and relishing a slow port de bras. It’s synergy and dancing with other people that share your passion. This experience has reminded me how lucky I am that this is my life.”

Note that her project is now fully funded. Thanks to those of y’all who contributed!

I’m very proud of my baby…

Here's Becca dancing in the studio back before the storm.

Here’s Becca dancing in the studio back before the storm.

The life of a gentleman is (or was) the life for me…

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To live any other way would be… insupportable…

Kay Packett, who has been known to comment here in the past, confessed on Facebook that “I want to live in an English novel, where, when anything goes wrong, someone immediately makes tea. I don’t even like tea.”

I responded immediately:

I’ll drink anything you like, as long as I’m a country gentleman with a competent man of business to deal with the running of the estate. I’ll be happy to serve as an MP as long I don’t have to think too hard, just vote the High Tory line. Will I have a membership at White’s, for when I’m in Town? If so, I’m in… Yeah, I’ve thought this out…

And I have thought it out; that’s the pathetic part. All that stuff was right there at my fingertips when the question arose.

And just so you don’t think I want to be a leech on society, I would also be happy to serve as a post captain in the Royal Navy during the same period (Regency era), commanding a frigate, with plenty of independent cruises and therefore opportunities for prize money…

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I’m ashamed that I thought I was having a bad day

shooting

To begin with, I’m still not over this cruddy cold thing, and haven’t done my quota of steps all this week. That keeps me from feeling myself.

Then, I decided I had to drive the Volvo today because I’d be transporting grandchildren this afternoon and I can’t do that in the truck. And the Volvo was still like a rain forest inside because the rain took me by surprise the other day with the sun roof and windows open, and since the rain hasn’t ceased, I hadn’t been able to air it out. So I drove downtown with everything open to try to dry it out a little. And then a rear window wouldn’t go back up. With more rain on the way…

So over breakfast, I actually sent my wife a whiny text that began, “Not having a good day…”

Then I got to the office, and heard the news that reminded me what an actual bad day is like:

At least eight people were killed in a shooting Friday morning at a high school in Southeast Texas, police said, and a student was taken into custody amid the carnage.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said there were “between 8 and 10 people” killed, most of them students at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County, south of Houston. Some faculty members were also killed in the shooting, which occurred before 8 a.m., he said….

God help those folks out there. God help us all…

Help! Help! I’m backsliding!

Sometime last summer, I once again started working out on the elliptical trainer in my home office, initially doing about 20 minutes a day.

Then, at the end of August, I discovered that there was an app on my iPhone that had been counting my steps every day for the past two years. I looked, and decided that following Doug Ross’ example of walking 10,000 steps a day was entirely feasible. I started doing it immediately.

Over the months, I built up and up. My morning elliptical workouts went from 20 to 25 to 30 to 35 to 40 to 45 and most recently to 50 minutes (which means I get in more than 6,000 steps before even leaving the house), with an occasional full hour on the weekends. I started adding a walk around downtown in the middle of the afternoon, and another 3,000-5,000 around my neighborhood in the evenings.

My steps-per-day averages climbed:

  1. August (before I started counting) — 5,737 steps
  2. September — 10,510
  3. October — 11,308
  4. November — 11,892
  5. December — 12,988
  6. January — 12,476
  7. February — 15,536
  8. March — 15,294
  9. April — 16,346

For the first eight days of May, I was averaging easily over 17,000. And I was feeling great. In all these months, I had not once felt sick. Various viruses, sore throats, ear infections and the like swept through our family without touching me. I carried on, going from strength to strength.

I felt an abiding sense of achievement.

Then came last Monday.

It was the day I put out my signs for James and Micah. My wife said if I was going to call attention to our yard with political signs, I should mow the grass — or at least mow the weird assortment of green weeds that substitute for grass in our yard. I agreed. And such was my feeling of well-being that I mowed the front yard on a week night. You don’t know what a huge deal that is for me. Normally, mowing our hilly, just-under-an acre property is an ordeal that ruins my whole Saturday, after dreading it all week. But last Tuesday — after having done my allotment of walking for the day, I mowed all the parts of the yard that could be seen from the street like it was nothing.

There was one incident, of which I didn’t think much at the time….

I had had a horrible time starting the mower. This was the first time this year, and nothing would happen when I pulled the cord. I pulled again and again. Nothing. There’s no little bulb to push to prime the engine, so I tried detaching and reattaching the spark plug. Nothing.

Finally, I just started pulling again and again, getting a rhythm going, and on about the 16th pull, it coughed. So I accelerated the rhythm, and finally it started. It wasn’t running great, but it was running.

So, when it came time to empty the bag to dump onto the compost, I was reluctant to stop the engine. So I bent down to detach the bag, and… got a huge cloud of dust, clippings and other debris that hit me in the face just as I was inhaling, going up my nose, into my mouth, down my throat and into my bronchi.

But I continued the mission, and afterwards tried cleaning my breathing passages out with a saline rinse. No big deal, right? Take a shower and forget about it.

Yesterday's pitiful performance.

Yesterday’s pitiful performance.

But over the next few days, I started losing my voice, especially in the evening. I started coughing at bedtime, and had trouble sleeping, despite all the drugs I could think of. I kept up my routine — in fact, on Tuesday I achieved an all-time personal high of 22,158 steps — 8.9 miles!

But each night I felt worse, and Friday evening I was really dragging when I tried to walk the neighborhood. I just barely went 12,000 that day. On Saturday, I had to finish a big project on my deck in the hot sun, and only got in 11,277. Pitiful.

On Sunday, despite all my busy running around and cooking out for Mother’s Day, I only got in 8,479. Yeah. Below the minimum.

And this morning, I felt like total crud, Ferris. Puny, weak, achy. And when, at the start of my morning workout, I had that thought I often have in the morning, “Why not quit!,” I did. I hadn’t done that in I don’t know how many months.

And I still feel pretty cruddy, just kind of low-grade out of sorts. Achy, in all the muscles I used on that deck-reinforcement project Saturday. And I’m wondering if I’ll even get in 10,000 today, or tomorrow for that matter. At 11:38 a.m., I’ve only done 1,768 steps.

So… this is when all of y’all tell me to get off my dead ass and on my dyin’ feet, to drop certain appendages and grab my socks, to acknowledge that the going is tough but, being tough myself, this is the time to keep going…

Although I really don’t feel like it…

If my DNA helps catch a serial killer, I’m totally fine with that

my DNA

My DNA results overview page. I do not “shudder” to share this, with you or the cops.

This morning while working out on the elliptical, I started watching a movie on Netflix called “Anon.” It imagines a near-future in which there is no privacy. Apparently, everyone’s brain is wired to record video of every single second of his or her life — sort of like Google Glass without the glasses. And that data is easily shared wirelessly with other people, and is completely available to the police. The police can even access the last experiences of a dead person, which makes finding murderers ridiculously easy.

Also, you can watch TV or movies without a TV — they just stream in your head — and talk to anyone anywhere without a phone. Which, if an accurate prediction of the future, is really bad news for Best Buy. (First showrooming, now this…)

So since the main character (played by Clive Owen) is a homicide cop, a plot twist is needed to make his job interesting. In this case, the plot twist is that he’s on the trail of a serial killer who has managed to hack people’s digital memories, so that everything in the victim’s last moments is seen from the killer’s POV — so you see the victim being shot, but you don’t see the shooter.

I lost interest in it after 39 minutes, and switched over to “Babylon Berlin” for the rest of my workout. It may have been low-tech, but Germany between the wars was never boring.

But it reminded me of something I meant to blog about a week or so ago.

You’ve probably read about how the Golden State Killer was caught more than 40 years after his crimes when investigators tracked him genetically through a consumer DNA service like Ancestry. Basically, they found links to some of his relatives who had voluntarily shared their DNA info on such databases. Then they found him, and made a positive DNA match to something he’d discarded.

Which I thought was awesome.

But of course, this development immediately led to such headlines as:

The Golden State Killer Is Tracked Through a Thicket of DNA, and Experts Shudder

Data on a genealogy site led police to the ‘Golden State Killer’ suspect. Now others worry about a ‘treasure trove of data’

Really? Experts “shudder?” People worry about a “treasure trove of data” that not only can connect you to a 4th cousin, but help cops determine whether he’s a serial killer? Which would be a cool thing to know before you reach out to meet him or trade family information?

Why? That’s utterly absurd.

Sharing DNA info can lead to some pretty painful results for a lot of people. For instance, you can find out that your “Dad” isn’t really your Dad. This can lead to a great deal of family trauma and upend lives.

I’ve been lucky in that regard. My results have been boring. I am related to the people I thought I was related to in precisely the way I thought I was. There could be surprises in results from folks who have not yet been tested, but so far it’s been pretty vanilla. (Extremely vanilla, in terms of ethnicity — so much for those Ancestry ads that tell of all the exciting, exotic backgrounds people have found in their DNA.)

Not that there haven’t been surprises elsewhere on the tree. Some months ago, my daughter was contacted by a guy who was trying to find his birth parents, who thought a cousin of mine might be his father. Sure enough, he shows up on Ancestry as being right behind a couple of my first cousins in terms of his closeness to me. He narrowed it down to one of my cousins. I don’t know whether that cousin knows about it, because I haven’t wanted to pry.

Something like that can be upsetting to those involved, and I’m very sympathetic to that. But that’s just the DNA service working as advertised.

What these “experts” out there are “worrying” and “shuddering” about is the police being able to use these connections to solve crimes.

This does not worry me. If one of my cousins is a serial killer, I’d kind of like the duly constituted authorities to know that, and act upon it.

And I have trouble imagining a scenario in which that is a bad thing — although I’m sure we’ll see a movie soon that shows it to be a frightening thing…

Ha! I don’t even HAVE TO walk today, unless I want to!

Just keeping y’all current on my exercise routine, so y’all can in turn keep me accountable.16k

In February and March, I averaged more than 15,000 steps a day. So my goal for April was 16,000.

Once I had done my morning workout on the elliptical today — I’m doing at least 50 minutes a day on that now, which starts me off with more than 6,000 before I even leave the house — I had achieved my goal for the month!

I don’t even have to walk another step today if I don’t want to. But I probably will anyway.

So… can I do 17k a day in May? I think maybe I can.

I’m just so danged virtuous…

The Kid Who Batted 1.000 (almost)

My MLB At Bat app brought the above video to my attention today.

The brief description:

Jaime Barria and Brandon Belt face off in a 21-pitch duel to set the record for the most pitches in an MLB at-bat in the modern era

Here’s the NYT’s report on what happened: “21 Pitches, 16 Fouls, 12 Minutes: Brandon Belt’s Marathon At-Bat.”

Now that’s what I call some baseball — not these towering home runs the app usually tells me about.s-l225

It reminds me of one of my favorite books from my youth, The Kid Who Batted 1.000, by Bob Allison and Frank Ernest Hill.

I read it over and over when I was a kid, checking it out from the school library multiple times to do so. Then I went years without seeing a copy, and had thought it was something I’d never see again, until my wife found a dog-eared copy that had belonged to one of her brothers. So I got to read it as an adult, and enjoyed it just as much.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of Dave King, a farmboy who is discovered to have a weird talent: He can foul off any pitch thrown by any pitcher. He gets signed to a Major League team and leads it out of the cellar because he always draws walks — usually after wearing down and shattering the nerves of the opposing pitcher.

Finally, in the last game of the World Series, he hits a home run, thereby earning a batting average of 1.000 — albeit only in postseason play.

It’s great. If you can find a copy, I do recommend picking one up…

By the way, the real-life batter, Brandon Belt, didn’t quite equal Dave King’s achievement. After those 21 pitches, the Giants first-basemen flies out to right field…