Friday, May 26, 2017

Mar-A-Lago West

I think a lot of my discomfort over our new president is with where he chooses to spend his weekends.  Instead of jetting down to Florida to play golf, mingle with his well-heeled guests, and occasionally leak top-secret info to visiting Russians, he should instead head to Jenny Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park.  I'm convinced it would give him a new perspective on some of his signed presidential orders and it would certainly force him to look at the environment differently.

In the spirit of full disclosure, let us get some facts out of the way.  There are some similarities between Jenny and Mar-a-Lago.  They both rely on immigrants from Central America on temporary visas to get the work done.  Of course, Trump's Florida resort extends their head hunting to Middle Eastern countries when the pickings south of our border get slim.  Both resorts do manage, however, to help their housekeeping staffs get around walls both real and imagined.  Also, even though I've never been to Mar-a-Lago, I suspect it, like Jenny, is populated by mostly white people.  I've spent two weeks at Jenny for over twenty years now and I don't think I've ever seen a guest who was a person of color.

Come to think of it, one rarely sees non-white people, if you don't count all the oriental people with cameras around their necks, in National Parks.  Here is a case in point.  Katherine once used the outhouse close to the canoe launch at Colter Bay.  As she was walking in, a black woman dressed in hiking clothes was coming out.  As Katherine made a move to use one of the stalls, an elderly white woman warned, "Oh, don't use that one.  A negro was just in there!"  The white lady was taken aback when Katherine informed her that she was scum.  Sad to say, that so far has been our only encounter with a non-white vacationer in the Tetons

The comparisons between Jenny and Mar-a-Lago stop there.  There are plenty of differences that would probably give Boss Tweet pause.  First of all, there is the whole business with tweets.  Not happening at Jenny Lake.  In order to get enough bars to make some kind of a connection on a smart phone, you have to find a relatively open, unforested spot away from the cabins and hope to find a signal.  Once you do find a signal, you have to keep moving because signals come and go in the middle of a national forest.

Even more problematical, there would be nothing to tweet about.  There are no televisions at Jenny.  That means no FoxNews, no bottom crawls telling viewers the latest thing to be furious about.  The Donald would go crazy.  No more pacing up and down in his room ranting about fake news.  No more getting his intel in thirty second sound bites.  There is an old lady who delivers The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today each morning, but all of those involve reading and precious few of the articles in those publications (excepting USA Today) are illustrated.  There would be nothing for him to think about, no deals to make.

Jenny is in a national park.  That is another thing that is anathema to our President.  Just across String Lake from the lodge is prime fracking territory if it weren't for those annoying mountains.  There is no property for sale and if there was, the park service would not allow him to build a tower emblazoned with the name TRUMP all over the place.  And even if he could, the park service would frown on private golf courses running along the bottom of the Cathedral Group.  It would be the whole liberal bias (DISGRACEFUL) running rampant through the national park culture that would drive him up a wall.

To add insult to injury, Jenny Lake Lodge is completely powered by the wind turbine farm you might have noticed along I-80 between Laramie and Rawlings.  I mean here is Jenny, residing in the largest coal producing state in the country, relying on something as ephemeral as wind power.  There ought to be a law and if Trump ever figures out how to govern, there just might be.

Finally, Jenny is a pretty egalitarian place.  Just look at the photo above.  It doesn't shout posh luxury.  Sure, there are lots of wealthy people up there, but nobody seems to notice.  Everybody looks the same after a ten mile hike.  Everybody's cabin is spartan, old, weathered, with the same two rocking chairs on the porch.  Everybody spends time sitting on those porches in the late afternoon.  Everybody's views are at the mercy of the trees that keep growing and getting in the way.  You don't get to tell the park service to cut down a tree that might interrupt your view of The Grand.  Our cabin, Bluebell, started out with a great view of Mount Rockchuck (Wyoming for marmot) that is now being impeded by a stand of lodgepole pines.  Everybody's cabin will have a mouse from time to time.  Sometimes, you might end up with a bat.  Hey, it is a national forest.  The only special treatment is directed toward the critters.

The dining room is the most egalitarian place of all.  There are five prix fixe menus that rotate.  Boss Tweet would have a hard time.  There might be a small steak on one of the menus, but there are no ketchup bottles on the tables.  I doubt if there are any on the entire property.  There are no power tables to preside over.  And even though there are a number of "famous" people who show up, none of the guests seem to care.  They are all too busy getting advice from the wait staff on the best hike for the next day.  Harrison Ford lives in the area and he called up the main desk once to see if he could get a late dinner reservation for his rather large party.  The time he asked for would have made the staff work late and there really wasn't a table big enough to accommodate his party, so Angela told him to try elsewhere.  I mean, how cool is that?  Presidents Clinton and Bush have dined at Jenny, but I'll bet they had a hard time convincing Angela to give them a table and I'll bet none of the guests even looked twice.

I'm a pretty typical Jenny guest.  If Trump and Melania and company were sitting at table thirteen (that's as close to a special table as Jenny has), I wouldn't feel compelled to run over and get an autograph, or tell him what a fine job he was doing.  I would, however, be appalled if he tried to order a steak well done and drown it in ketchup.  For me, that would be a deal breaker.

Vail Associates bought The Grand Teton Lodge Company a number of years ago.  It was one of those mergers that business types would say made good sense (I guess), but most of the guests I knew were outraged by the whole corporate scene trying to invade our space.  One of Vail's first ideas was to build a conference center on the property that would act as a draw for corporate events, board of director getaways, society weddings, etc.  It would be the kind of space for corporate meetings complete with power point presentations, white boards, continental breakfasts, name tags, and team building exercises (Just as soccer is impossible without traffic cones, business must be impossible without team building exercises.).  But the long time guests at Jenny were having none of it.  We wrote letters, made angry phone calls, and were getting ready to storm Vail's corporate headquarters.  I'm proud to say that Vail caved and allowed Jenny to retain its charm.

Donald Trump just wouldn't fit in.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Desperately Trying To Think About Something Besides Politics

The String Lake Bridge

That is Katherine on the String Lake Bridge standing beneath the Cathedral Group in Grand Teton National Park.  We have a professional photograph of this same scene (sans Katherine) framed and hanging above our kitchen table.  It is possible to spend two weeks at Jenny Lake Lodge hiking a new trail every day without ever getting in your car.  We've tried it often, but the lure of the art galleries in Jackson and the need to haul our kayak to certain distant put-ins have always put a crimp in our plan.

The String Lake Bridge is notable because it is only a quarter mile from our cabin door and marks the beginning of most of our favorite hikes in the park.  From the exact point where Katherine is standing  it is a twenty-one mile loop up Cascade Canyon, into the North Fork, on up to Lake Solitude, up and over Paintbrush Divide, down past Holly Lake and finally back to the bridge.  Luckily, that trail is more often than not snowed in when we visit, so we've only made that circuit four times.  Snow or not, we always make the eighteen miles up and back to Solitude.  Making it up to Solitude every year is how we assure ourselves that we are still young.  We know there will be a time when the staff at Jenny Lake Lodge will fervently ask us to reconsider the hike and then when we still take our eighty year old selves up that trail, the front desk will undoubtedly alert the park rangers to keep a lookout for our bodies crumpled somewhere along the trail.

Actually, that has already happened.  We started out at eight one morning for the Paintbrush loop.  When we got back at five that afternoon, the relief on the faces of the folks behind the desk was palpable.  It seems that just after we left, there were reports of a mother grizzly and cubs foraging along the trail on the way to Holly Lake.  The rangers closed the trail just minutes after we set out.  We made it back, tired but still in one piece.  We did hear some major growling on the way up, but we just attributed it to overactive imaginations.

You can also access the String Lake Loop, the Jenny Lake Loop, and the valley trail that goes from one end of the park to the other, all from that bridge.  It serves as a milestone on the return trip from any of those hikes.  The last mile of a hike is always the worst.  You're exhausted, you are out of water, and your feet are beginning to hurt.  It feels like the trail head is just around the next curve, but it never is.  But there is a moment when the trail crests above the river rushing to feed Jenny Lake and the bridge is just visible.  When that moment comes, I feel just like a trail horse must feel when he can smell the stable and I start walking faster, thinking about the drink I'm about to have while I recover on the porch of Bluebell.

One year Katherine and I hiked up and back to Solitude on our first day.  Two days later, we did the whole loop.  We were feeling so good about ourselves that we went back up to Solitude on our last day.  That was also the year we did Jackson Peak for the first time (If I'm  not mistaken Jackson Peak is the summit where Rocky jumps up and down just before he has his fight with Drago.).  We also did Heart Lake in Yellowstone, The Lewis Channel, Hermitage Point, Amphitheater Lake, and, oh yeah, the loop around Emma Matilda.  That's right at 150 miles.  That's why, in spite of the amazing food and wine at Jenny, we usually come back home weighing less than we did when we left.

But we're getting older.  I can tell by the look on my kids' faces when they watch me, or when they roll their eyes and repeat things that I don't catch the first time.  This year, I am happy to report, it looks like there will be too much snow on Paintbrush to do the loop without crampons and ice axes (no way).  Jackson Peak is too precipitous.  There are too many grizzlies at Heart Lake, and Lewis Channel is just too buggy.  Our 150 mile vacations are history.

We will do Solitude, but that last stretch up through the camping zone and into the lake will be a lot harder than it used to be.  We will both be huffing and puffing.  But after that we will settle for pleasant little loops around Phelps, Bradley/Taggert, Bear Paw, String Lake, and Jenny Lake.  That will be more like fifty miles in two weeks.  Not bad for old people, but nothing to brag about.

Mostly, we will spend a lot of time hanging out on our porch, driving into town for lunch at Bin 22, one of the best tapas places I know, and checking out the art at Rare Gallery.  As one gets older, one must make adjustments.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bear Sightings

Above  is a photograph of a rather large black bear looking to catch a fish at Phelps Lake.  I remember the moment quite well.  It came as a fitting conclusion to a hike that was filled with such sightings.

Phelps Lake is on The Rockefeller Preserve in the Tetons and we always start our vacations at Jenny Lake Lodge by making it our first hike.  It works well as an reintroduction to the mountains we love so well.  It is about a six mile loop around the lake that the Rockefeller children used to play on when they vacationed in Jackson Hole.  Since the hike simply circles the lake, it is relatively flat with only a few uphill sections.  It gives us a chance to catch our breaths before we tackle more ambitious treks.  It provides wonderful views of the middle Teton with The Grand and Mt. Owen peaking out in the background.  And it never fails to offer a wildlife encounter or two.  We usually see a fox at the beginning of the trail.  There are, of course, plenty of deer and a few elk hanging out in the woods and almost without exception, there is a bear hanging out down by the lake far enough from the trail for comfort.  After the hike, we usually reward ourselves by heading to Teton Village for something to eat at The Mangy Moose.

The bear sighting pictured above was a little different.  We were hiking with Barbara, who came up to stay for a couple of nights, and the bear encounters commenced at the start of the hike.  We were walking up the beginning of the trail when we met a family of hikers hurrying back toward the trail head.  "There's a bear and her cub on the trail just ahead," they informed us, a little out of breath.  So, we had a decision to make.  We were looking forward to the hike and didn't really want to turn around.  On the other  hand, it would be embarrassing to get mauled by a bear on our first hike of the season.  I, being the brave outdoorsman I am, decided that we could just be patient and kind of follow the bears up the trail.  Bears, moose, elk, and the like prefer using the man made trails to bushwhacking through the dense undergrowth off the trails.  I'm not sure how they survived before the army corps of engineers built the first trails in the park.

Sure enough, we followed the mama and her cub all the way to the far end of the lake without incident and there were enough bear sightings of the two foraging to provide plenty of breathtaking moments.  When we got to the other side of the lake on our way back down to the trailhead, things changed.  I saw Barbara walking briskly back up the trail toward me.  "Bear!" she said.  I looked ahead and there was definitely a bear smack dab in the middle of the trail looking back at me like he was daring me to get closer.  This was not a mama bear and he was busy marking his territory with giant claw marks raking down the trunks of trees.  The sight, like every bear encounter, took my breath away.

Well, I wasn't about to turn around and retrace my steps that close to the trailhead, the prospect of a beer or two at the restaurant within reach.  I  held my ground and tried to look big and brave, all the while avoiding eye contact.  (Important tip:  Bears are like groups of old white Republicans walking down the street in ill-fitting baseball caps.  Avoid eye contact and move to the other side of the street.)  The bear finally mosied off the trail and down to the water's edge where he proceeded to decimate a few trout.  It was a great moment and I managed to get a few photos before we moved off.

I'm writing this memory in a valiant effort to forget about political stuff.  That's what is so great about going to Jenny every year.  I can fast from the news for two weeks, eat great food, drink from a remarkable wine list, hike those wonderful mountains, and commune with a few wild beasts.  They are so much better than the tame beasts I have to read about on a daily basis while I'm at home.

Running into bears makes you forget all your other troubles and just concentrate on the moment.  We had our first close up bear encounter some twenty years ago at Surprise Lake.  We were sitting on a rock on shore eating our lodge packed lunch when I looked up from my piece of chicken to notice a mama bear and her cub walking directly toward me.  I got up, grabbed my food, and backed away.  I told Katherine to do likewise and she did, but she noticed that I had left my camera on the rock and, unaware of the bear, went back to retrieve it.  She raised up with the camera in hand only to come face to face with the bear!  I mean, they were almost touching noses.  You would have been impressed by her aplomb.  She backed away slowly and let the two bears pass.  Another thrilling moment and she saved a very expensive Nikon to boot.

There was another encounter with a cinnamon black bear that we of course thought was a Grizzly on the trail to Amphitheater Lake.  We just turned a corner when there it was eating berries under a giant lodgepole pine.  Another thrill.

More often than not, there will be a bear wandering around the cabins at Jenny.  That's why it is a bad idea to have open bags of food available in your cabin while vacationing in a national forest.  Usually, it will just be an occasional mouse that attacks, but sometimes it might be a bear.  I was sitting on our cabin porch having a gin and tonic when I got up to look around the side of the cabin.  There it was.  A mother bear and her cub were walking right past my kayak and up to my porch.  I grabbed the gin and tonic (I figured bears like berries and gin is made from juniper berries.)  and went inside to watch the bear slowly walk past our porch headed for the main lodge.  When she was safely in the distance, I refilled my drink and reclaimed my porch.

We will be up there in just another month.  I can't wait for our reunion with all our friends at Jenny, both staff and guests.  I can't wait for the reunion with the mountains and lakes and the alpenglow that colors Teewinott at dinner time.  And I can't wait to show those bears that we have come back for more.

Friday, March 31, 2017

All my favorite sitcom characters were Trump voters

One of the many ways I can tell I'm getting old is that I would rather watch reruns of old television sitcoms than watch a new show.  I've never seen an episode of "West Wing," never watched "Parks and Recreation," and have no intention of seeing "The Young Pope."  I would list other examples here, but I don't know any of the titles.  Instead, I watch reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show" on the Sundance network.  That's on Thursdays.  On Fridays I watch reruns of "The Bob Newhart Show."  Wednesday means "MASH."  Since I have committed all those shows to memory, I can watch without having to pay attention.  That's one of the other signs of old age.  It is increasingly difficult to pay attention.

Yesterday, I watched the episode of Andy Griffith where Opie and his young friends get into Robin Hood and his Merry Men.  In the course of their play, they run into a derelict old bum living in a cardboard shanty outside of town.  The guy is a good story teller and he feeds Opie's desire to be the best Robin Hood he can be.  At the bum's urging, Opie and his gang run to their homes and abscond with left over fried chicken, maybe a ham or two, and one of Aunt Bea's prized apple pies.

Andy and Barney quickly jump on the Mayberry crime wave and discover, after one of those father-son things between Andy and Opie, that the kids are enabling the old bum.

Andy, being the wise father we have all come to love even though if he had been a registered voter back in November, he would have most assuredly voted for Trump, goes out to the old guy's cardboard camp with the kids and confronts him.  He assures him that he could get a job doing road work, or night watchman work, or security guard work and start off on the road to financial solvency and redemption.  The old guy wants no part of it and runs off, leaving his cardboard mess and a couple of partially consumed hams behind.  Opie and the rest of the gang are shocked and disillusioned, but wiser.  They have learned the important lesson that you have to earn your own way in the world and the people who don't are lazy liars and cheats.

I was probably 12 when I first saw that episode and I took the lesson to heart.  Watching the same propaganda at 68, on the other hand, was infuriating.  I started thinking of all the other shows of that era that used the lazy bum trope.  Beaver had a few run-ins with the homeless, all of whom were lazy and shiftless.  Ward came to the rescue just like Andy and exposed those bums and their hypocrisy.  Jim Anderson on "Father Knows Best" certainly ran his share of bums out of town.  Uncle Charley taught Fred McMurray's three sons about the value of self-sufficiency.

I loved those shows when I was a kid.  I still do.  But the message behind those shows is nothing more than right wing propaganda.  No wonder Ronald Reagan won an election by making us all outraged at "Welfare Queens."  No wonder that part of being a "compassionate conservative" for George W. Bush was giving tax breaks to the wealthy so their largesse might trickle down to the undeserving poor.  No wonder Mitt Romney excoriated the "takers" in a speech to his base of billionaires.  And no wonder pseudo-compassionate people like Paul Ryan want to eliminate anything that smells of income redistribution in an effort to help the poor develop the skills they need to not be dependent on the rest of us.  What a guy.

In one of the most horrible conversations of my life, I was talking to a couple of dear friends who were outraged at the idea of helping the homeless because they knew that a large number of the homeless were making more than 50 grand a year and didn't have to pay taxes!  God!  If that's true, being homeless pays more than being an Uber driver.  I asked them how I can tell, when I drive past a group of homeless gathered around a Sterno can and leaning against their shopping carts on the corner of Lawrence and Park Avenue, which ones are making the big bucks so I can be sure not to give them any money.  They didn't have an answer.  Neither does "The Andy Griffith Show."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Capitalization Rules

Intersectionality is a term I've been running into quite often lately.  It was first coined in the mid-80's by women's rights advocates to suggest one couldn't look at the issue of women's rights just by looking at the historical oppression of women.  There were other factors at play like racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.  Makes sense.

Back in the 80's, intersectionality was just another lower case word tossed around in the discussion.  But lately, according to thinkers like Andrew Sullivan and Paul Krugman, it has turned into a capitalized word with all the characteristics of a religion, asserting that all the different forms oppression takes in a society--racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, religious bigotry (There are plenty more.)--intersect.  They do not function independently, but interrelate and feed off each other.

This continues to make sense, but as the belief has become a proper noun, it has become bastardized. That's the way it works with religions.  The word catholic (small case) simply means comprehensive, or universal scope, including or concerning all mankind.  The Catholic (upper case) religion has come to mean something else entirely.  I have Catholic relatives who regularly send me racist and xenophobic attachments explaining how all Muslims are evil.  There are devoted Catholics at the Y who spend every Sunday morning shedding tears for the poor and gathering donations to help orphans from Syria, but spend the rest of the week decrying dangerous immigrants and welfare queens, calling for a wall, desperately fending off the very real fear that pretty soon their country and their religion, a religion that regularly hangs paintings of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus on sanctuary walls, will be overrun by people of color whose babies won't look like the rest of the congregation.

The capitalized version of Intersectionality acts the same way.  For instance, Intersectionalists are at work at The Whitney in New York where Dana Schutz's "Open Casket" has been hung.  It depicts Emmett Till in a casket, evocative of the famous photograph of same.  However, Schutz is white and the Intersectionalists are demanding the painting be taken down because, given the history of white oppression of black people, a white artist has no right to depict anything from the black experience, and certainly doesn't have the right to make money from such a depiction.

Intersectionalism was at work at Middlebury College in Vermont when protestors shouted down Charles Murray, who was there to talk about his new book, because back in the 70's he co-authored "The Bell Curve," an unfortunate work that included a chapter explaining with lots of charts and numbers that one of the reasons blacks don't do as well as whites is because  black IQs tended to be lower.  The findings in that chapter were absurd and thoroughly debunked, but Murray's fall from grace, his stupid assessment of black intelligence, was enough to permanently exclude him and his ideas from any other discussion.  He was persona non grata at Middlebury and was shamefully shouted down.

Whenever an idea, no matter how harmless and self-evident, gets capitalized, starts attracting followers, starts alienating the non-followers, it begins to take itself too seriously and ends up doing damage.  The basic underlying universal acceptance in the word catholic becomes an unyielding standard by which to judge anyone who is not Catholic.  There is a natural tendency to think you and your group have a handle on things people not in your group don't.  There is a tendency to think you know all the answers to all the important moral and ethical questions.

This is particularly dangerous on a college campus.  Let's face it, if there is anyplace on earth where folks believe they have all the right answers, it is a college campus.  Smugness is a defining characteristic of a college kid.  Those kids at Middlebury were armed with the knowledge and certainties they gained in the classroom.  They knew how politically correct people ought to behave.  They knew what politically correct people ought to believe, and like college kids all over the country, they made noise and demanded change whenever a new belief, a new piece of knowledge threatened their certainties.  It is an easy call.  Intersectionality says that anyone who transgresses in any of those areas of oppression at any time, automatically and irrevocably disqualifies himself from any discussion on any college campus.

This, of course, transitions to the political realm where Democrats and Republicans are capitalized true believers.  A small case democrat is simply an individual who adheres to the "principle of social equality and respect for the individual within a community."  An upper case Democrat is an entirely different animal where the respect for the indidual and the community get eroded by loyalty to a party whose main goal is, has to be, getting reelected, maintaining power (or trying to get it back).  The small case word republic simply refers to a group of people working as equals and holding the supreme power in a political order.  It sounds a lot like a democracy, but stick a capital letter at the front and it becomes a party that demands loyalty just like the Democratic party and looks askance at anyone who doesn't belong, who doesn't toe the party line.  In any event, Democrats and Republicans take no prisoners.

Those students at Middlebury take no prisoners.  The outraged folks at The Whitney take no prisoners.  Donald Trump.  Paul Ryan.  Mitch McConnell.  Bill O'Reilly.  Sean Hannity.  Rush Limbaugh.  Bill Maher.  Nancy Pelosi. Chuck Shumer.  Hillary Clinton.  Bill Clinton.  All these people are upper case partisans and none of them take prisoners.

And it is all because of capitalization.  Intersectionalists from both sides of the political spectrum are armed with a whole list of capitalized words--Patriotism, Duty, Faith, Charity, Humanism, Originalism--they use at will to describe all sorts of feelings, attitudes, shoulds, and shouldn'ts.  With all those buzz words and speaking points at their disposal, they don't have to think.  All they have to do is point a finger.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I just heard her say "Client Retention"!

Katherine is becoming a businessperson!  Pretty soon, she'll be using expressions like "thinking outside the box" and "running it up the flagpole."  Just the other day I heard her use the term "client retention."  It's getting serious.  She has a name--Starkeycards--a logo, business cards with the logo affixed, three clients, and orders to fill.  She spent a couple of days filling out all the forms and jumping through all the hoops required to be a small business.  (Side note:  The forms and regulations and hoops didn't seem particularly onerous from my viewpoint.  If that's the kind of government intervention that would make a potential small business guy give up, maybe he has no business in business to begin with.) Starkeycards has its own checking account with its own checkbook.

Her cards are unique and place specific.  There is a Jenny Lake Lodge card set and another set just about Jackson Hole.  Katherine has done another set for Vallarta Eats and still another of scenes in the  Puerto Vallarta area.  Vallarta Eats is going to give the cards as gifts to clients.  Client retention is also the reason The AXS Group is buying a bunch of cards set in Denver and focusing on AXS clients.

She has a major HP printer that is spitting these things out, but if the orders increase, she will have to shop out the printing.

Mostly, she is being creative in a totally new way and the sense of accomplishment just wafts out of her all the time, especially when she comes up from the printer to show off a new card, or a completed set.

When her sales burgeon and Starkeycards becomes equivalent in clout to Hallmark, I'm sure I will be happy with the fact that my wife is involved in business.  Until then, I worry about things.  Will there be calls she has to take over the table at Mizuna?  Will she start wearing (shudder) power scarves?  Will she get a subscription to Forbes?  Will she still read fiction, or just buy an annotated copy of "Who Moved the Cheese?"

Notice how I throw those expressions and attitudes around.  Jack, a FoxNews conservative down at the Y, once said to me, "You just don't know anything about business, do you?"  Au contraire.  I've got my business terms down pat.  It's all about reducing friction, right?


Monday, February 20, 2017

It doesn't make sense. But there it is, heads again.

When I was five years old, I was at my grandmother's house watching Friday Night Fights when the most unbearable pain of my young life shot down my legs and I started screaming.  It was an acute attack of rheumatic fever that sent me to the emergency room and ruined the bout between Gene Fullmer and Sugar Ray Robinson.  I spent the next year in a bed overlooking the yard between my grandmother's Victorian and my parents' little Lustron home next door.

Some sixty years later, Katherine and I were walking back from breakfast at Estelle's in San Pedro when I dislocated the big toe on my left foot.  San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize is the kind of a place where if you are wearing a shirt and shoes you are overdressed, so I was barefoot on the beach and stubbed my toe on a piece of concrete jutting out from a place it had no business being.  I think I made it through the rest of our stay in San Pedro without letting my toe put too much of a damper on things, but my left foot up until that moment was my best body part and I was bummed.  Now it is permanently marred by my displaced toe (If you look carefully, you will notice that my formerly straight and symmetrical great toe now slants at a slight angle to the left.).

In the six decades between those two incidents, nothing of consequence has gone wrong with me.  Oh, there was the time I bloodied my nose falling down on the trail to Lake Solitude, but other than having a bulbous nose for the duration of our vacation, it wasn't particularly traumatic.

All those people carping about the cost of health insurance should take note.  I have been paying big bucks for more than forty years and I've never been able to cash in, so to speak.  But am I mad?  Never.  Just bemused.

Maybe that is why I look at every new ache and pain, every new symptom, as a harbinger of something awful.  I'm due.

I was going to write a list of symptoms here to illustrate my point, but other than a back that has periodically ached for as long as I can remember and lots of urgent calls to the bathroom, I can't think of anything.

I take that back.  I can thing of one thing.  I'm sixty-eight.

I remember my mother at the same age telling me that besides it being harder to get up off the floor, sixty-eight felt a lot like sixteen.  She still had all the insecurities and hopes and dreams and fears she had when she was a teenager.  My mom could be wise like that and she was exactly right.  I try to project the distinguished older gentleman look, but basically I'm still the same screwed-up kid I was when I was in high school.

It has just been in the last year that I have begun to notice certain physical changes that tell me I'm not sixteen anymore.  Mowing the yard has become more difficult and I can see how I might want to hire some neighbor kid to do the job years (I hope) from now.  I can't hold my liquor as well as I used to.  It takes my muscles longer to recover.  For instance, if I work out on a different machine, or a different weight bench with different angles, I can't move the next day.  I find myself dosing off in front of the television at night (SOMETIMES IN THE AFTERNOON!).  That's something I vowed I would never do.  In fact, I remember telling one of my kids to shoot me if he/she ever saw that happening.

I haven't felt a similar lessening of mental skills.  I'll keep you posted as the degeneration advances.  However, I do have to admit that there are numerous times when I go off on an errand and pull up to the stop light on Wadsworth that I find myself forgetting where I'm headed.  Should I turn left, or right?  Maybe a U-turn?  But that confusion quickly passes and I remember my destination.  I know that happens to everyone and at all ages, but the thing that bothers me is I am more panic-stricken by it than I used to be, wondering if this might be the first sign of my inevitable decline.

I know this sounds silly (another sign?), but it seems like something bad should happen.  It's like at the beginning of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead."  They're flipping a coin that keeps coming up heads dozens of times in a row.

It just doesn't make sense.  But there it is, heads again.