Category Archives: death

Humor Snob

I never wanted to see anybody die, but there are a few obituaries I have read with pleasure.
—Clarence Darrow

Either he’s dead or my watch has stopped.
—Groucho Marx

They say such nice things about people at funerals that it makes me sad I am going to miss mine by just a few days.
—Garrison Keillor

My uncle Sammy was an angry man. He had printed on his tombstone: What are you looking at?
—Margaret Smith

As one of the few remaining newspaper subscribers, I feel a civic duty to start the day with the news of the night before. I feign surprise and pretend I do not own an iPad. Besides, events are not real until I have seen them in print. My routine has been the same for years. First the sport section, littered with DUIs, assaults, and occasional ball scores. Next the front section, currently featuring the antics of contestants vying for the office once held by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

I have only recently become an avid reader of the obituaries. I read not just about the famous, but ordinary citizens. Obits of the well-known often have a bit of “Behind the Music” quality to them. The hint of graft, plagiarism, or sexual dalliance is included because their transgressions were too public and may be the main reason they are remembered. Note of their passing may offer a “perspective” on the deceased’s penchant for other peoples’ pensions.

Those of us who are less newsworthy have to buy our own space. The loving tributes suggest that in many cases either the will has not been read yet or the prime heir has the responsibility for crafting the final words. An obituary is clearly not the place for a roast or for settling old scores. I have met many dour, petty and dislikable people who, if the paper is to be believed, led a secret life of philanthropy, warmth and kindness.

I may have obit envy after reading about the great accomplishments and sterling lives of those around me. Please consider the following with a grain of salt: My quarrel with most obituaries is they will mention the deceased’s great sense of humor.

I was a not-too-successful stand-up comedian, public speaker and writer on the subject of humor. I admit to being a humor snob. Many alleged humorists are merely exchanging old bromides about Ole and Lena, making fun at the expense of others, or passing on “jokes” that unfairly target a group of people. Their anecdotes are formulaic, and older than they are, some tracing to Homer.

A humorist’s best subject is one’s own misadventures.guy2 by Tom Cassidy Self deprecatory humor is funny because we have all had a similar thought or experience. Another type, observational humor, features the weaving of seemingly unrelated events together. First there is a glint of recognition and then the satisfaction as we “solve” the joke and arrive at the punchline together.

Those clumsily clever Toastmasters and Rotarians with snappy lines like “Cold enough for you?” and “Did you get a haircut or just have your ears lowered?” are not really funny.

As scary as death may be, I believe I am more fearful of being lumped in with everyone else who is said to have a good sense of humor.

Tom H. Cook is a former neighbor who, unlike Rhoda Morganstern, has decided that he will keep better in southern California.

Of Sickness and Health

guy1It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like.
—Jackie Mason

The best thing about getting a flu shot is that you never again need to wash your hands. That’s how I see it.
—Chuck Palahniuk

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.
—Benjamin Franklin

This column required so many disclaimers it almost did not get written, which may not have been a bad thing. How can I possibly complain about being ill when famine, pestilence, drought, and disease strike so many? There are natural disasters like the earthquake in Nepal and man-made tragedies like plane and train crashes in the news. We have all suffered the premature loss of loved ones, friends and acquaintances to cruel accidents and catastrophic illness.

Let me gingerly state that my “suffering” does not even register on a scale of one being Vexed and ten being Death. I was sick, not life flashing before me, writhing in pain, praying to die, or iron lung, do not resuscitate, gather the children, last rites sick. I had what felt like a 24-hour flu and while there was no writhing, it went on (and on) for over a month. It was finally diagnosed as a mycoplasma infection (walking pneumonia). Bless my family, friends, casual acquaintances, and the kindly woman at Costco who witnessed my coughing and were ready with consolation and advice.

The consolation was great. But the “getting all up in my grill,” as we young people say, is tiring. People from many walks of life attempted to diagnose and fix me. Unfortunately none of them had any medical training. A jewelry maker I know thought it was viral, but a leather importer was not convinced it was respiratory. I am sure their inquiries were genuine, but as I entered the third week of ill health I became more of a Sudoku to be solved. My continued hacking seemed to be a refutation of one friend’s medical training (a B- in high school Biology).

When I am in a weakened state, I do not want play Twenty Questions, even it is for my own good. Had there been a change in my diet? Have I been drinking dank water? Moving my bowels regularly? Any foreign travel? Was I getting enough ruffage? Was it viral or bacterial? Was I eating plenty of garlic, had I done the chest rubs, run the humidifier, drunk the 8 glasses of water, kept up on my medications, consumed the soup? Like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, one friend hovered. Despite his extensive accounting background, I was not improving. My illness was his failure. Trying to suppress a cough in his presence only made it worse. Was I being passive aggressive? I don’t think so, though I will cop to cranky.

When I am ill, my life is a game of Chutes and Ladders. Friends, neighbors, necessary errands, and even fun activities are obstacles taking me away from the goal, which is to be home, where I can wallow in my own germs. When my mind is foggy, everything and everyone seems to be keeping me from being horizontal.

Writing this after recovering, it seems obvious: Why didn’t I just stay in bed until I felt better? But as the days pile up I feel that I should be better by now and I continue to drag myself around, perhaps fearing the unspoken scorn of, “Are you still sick!?”

In Annie Hall Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) opines to Annie (Diane Keaton) that life is divided into two groups, the horrible (those in constant pain and facing terminal illness) and the miserable, which is everyone else. He advises her to be grateful she is only miserable.

Tom H. Cook a formerly local writer is able to take even large gel capsule medications without water!

Admission to the Afterlife?

“Please listen carefully because our menu options have changed … (garble garble)
or, if you (are brain dead, lonely and bored and) would like to speak to a representative press 9 now or simply remain on the line.”

I am one of the seven drivers in North America that does not run red lights. I vote (even for county deputy assistant waste management controller), yield right of way, hold doors for others, pay taxes, recycle, floss, stand up straight, say please and thank you, and nod agreeably during weather-related conversations. I do not mumble, litter, chew gum, describe everything as awesome, or forget the Alamo. There are other things I do not do but modesty prohibits me from an extensive list. These may be my greatest virtues. Suffice it to say I am not a great humanitarian.

I hope to live quite a while longer, but what if admission to a good afterlife is like applying to college? My life GPA (money) is not the best. I will need good references and solid extracurricular to have any shot at even a state school Heaven. I have trouble imagining a Judgement Day with St. Peter and the Pearly Gates, but if there is one, the topic of good works will certainly come up.

When the economy tightened many jobs were eliminated, and those who remained were asked to do more with less. I sympathize with the front-line service providers. Supervisors, under the guise of efficiency and profitability, became bullies and petty tyrants. Now surveys and questionnaires abound whenever there is a transaction. I know if I indicate anything less than blissful, near orgasmic satisfaction someone will get called on the carpet. (I once had a helpful phone worker counsel me where to safely put 8s and 9s to make the survey more credible.) I am familiar enough with professional jargon to provide a specific critique of a staff member’s performance to management-types.

Recently a Best Buy sales associate was explaining 4K TV, LED versus plasma, HDMI pixels, Smart TV and HI DEF. He knew mountains more than me, but he had a grammar glitch. I felt he would have difficulty getting promoted or taken seriously if he continued to refer to different models as “these ones.” I mentioned it to him lightly and with humor. I do not know if it stuck. I also made sure to find his supervisor and let her know how helpful he had been.

My best work is on the phone. If a representative seems willing to go off script and actually help me, I tell them (and the ubiquitous Big Brother) how much I appreciate them explaining how my cable bill is bundled or why it costs more to fly 300 miles than 3,000. I agree to remain on the line to complete a short survey. Whether talking to an airline or an insurance company, behind the behemoth are people pressured to perform. What I do is not sufficient to spare me from spending my afterlife in a roaring fire pit and an eternity of Kenny G. music, but I try to help.

Tom H. Cook is a local writer and professional jacks player. He accidentally invited everyone he has ever e-mailed to endorse him on LinkedIn.

Good Old Cooper

May God endow you with pain.              Baba Farid, Sufi poet

JoAnne (wife/editor)  “What are you writing about this month?”
Me “I thought I’d write about Cooper.”
JoAnne  “You have already written at least three columns about him…”
Me “Do you know how many entire books have been written about Winston Churchill, Stephen Foster, and Sacajawea?”

JoAnne (a bit exasperated and recognizing she has again fallen into an exchange where logic is useless.  Nevertheless she continues gamely) “They were famous people. Cooper is a dog.”

Me (exchanging a conspiratorial wink with the behemoth at my feet) “That,” I say, pausing for emphasis, “Is what he wants you to believe.”

*                    *                *               *                 *                  *                  *                    *

Cooper was a wedding present my daughter Rachael and son-in-law Daniel gave to each other almost eleven years ago.  Cooper is an over-sized yellow Lab who comes across as an oafish, hale fellow well met, ready to ask about “the missus” and your golf game.  A tail thumping Rotarian glad hander, who will grab your clothing and pull you to the ground to rub his belly.  At dinner parties he settles down after the meet and greet and plays the perfect guest.  Careful not to take the host’s favorite chair, he avoids politics and religion and does more listening than talking.  He seems to blend into the woodwork.  It is not until dessert is about to be served that the host realizes that an entire pumpkin pie that was on a high counter is missing.

Cooper is a trickster, perhaps in the coyote or Sufi tradition.  He has been pulling stunts like this for more than a decade.  Traveling with Daniel, he adjusts seamlessly to months of fast-paced downtown living in a Toronto high-rise.  Charming the doorman, he is off, walking without a leash through the financial district.  He could be just another securities trader concerned about the downturn in the China market.  What gives him away is not that he is a dog, but that he is not on a cell phone.  He knows that a cold wet nose to the back of a knee can redirect a chatting, oblivious business person and keep things moving.

Daniel and I believe Cooper is a prankster, far smarter than he appears.  In repose he is a Zen-like cipher, a Rorschach test.  We love to speculate on his past.  He often acts the part of a tweedy, befuddled, long tenured classics professor oblivious to the toilet paper stuck to his foot.  We are convinced this is just his cover.  Was he C.I.A.?  I am not sure where that rumor started.  Did he prep at Hotchkiss and get recruited to be a helper dog before washing out?  Was he once a companion to an elderly man who was finally unable to care for him?  He gets very excited when he sees very senior citizens.  He still pees like a racehorse in one spot as if he used to receive very few walks and had to make the most of every outing.

“Coopie” was already an old soul when Rachael and Daniel found him in a shelter in the San Fernando Valley.  This would lend credence to him having been in The Company and then discarded.  While all the other dogs barked and pleaded to be noticed, Cooper slept undisturbed as if he knew the kids were coming for him.  He ambled off just hours before facing “the green mile.”  He has been family ever since.

That is what is making his present condition so gut wrenching.  Cooper is probably about fourteen and has led a full if circumspect life.  His eyes are clear, and his appetite legendary.  His back legs are now too weak to support him.  After a few steps he likely tumbles over.  He remains good natured and nonplussed by his worsening condition.

After fall his tail thumps loudly, signalling that poltergeists have again tripped him up.  He rises with aid, his dignity and sense of humor intact.  Doctors have ruled out hip dysplasia and arthritis.  He baffled the neurologist; his X-rays, CAT scan, and MRI were unremarkable.  He has received laser treatments, acupuncture, and is on more drugs than Michael Jackson.  Cooper has a rear harness that allows us to take some of the weight off of his back end.

The veterinarians say he does not seem to be in pain.   Still, it is like watching the once graceful Willie Mays attempt to play centerfield for the Mets at forty-two.  No one wanted to cut the future Hall of Famer.  If you squinted just right for a play, he was still the “Say Hey Kid.”  Fans cheered mostly from relief every time he made it back to the bench alive.  “Coopie” still takes great joy in eating and a good nap.  He is “still in there” and we cannot let go.

When informed an injured athlete is “day to day,” Keith Olbermann will add, “Listen, we’re all day to day.”

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer.  This was an incredibly difficult story to share.  For happier Cooper columns and others visit sanduponthewaters.net. 

Football

Some people think football is a matter of life and death.  I assure you, it is much more serious than that.

—Bill Shankly

Nobody in football should be called a genius.  A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.

—Joe Theismann (former quarterback)

 Football is a mistake.  It combines the two worst elements of American life.  Violence and committee meetings.

—George F. Will

I take no solace in reading that some hulking, swaggering, high school hot shots and big men on college campuses that used to stuff people like me into lockers are now suffering from football related injuries.  Many of these men who succeeded in the professional ranks were my childhood heroes and it saddens me they have such a high rate of dementia, physical afflictions, and premature death.  It sounds hollow, like claiming to read “Playboy” for the articles, but I never enjoyed the “big hits” and violence of the sport.

Some four thousand retired professionals recently settled a lawsuit against the National Football League claiming that the full ramifications of head injuries was known by the owners but not shared with the players.  Much like the suits against “Big Tobacco” a generation ago, there was intuition that slamming your head into a crazed 300 pound opponent running full speed, and inhaling smoke were both bad for you.

Tobacco companies secretly manipulated the amounts of addictive nicotine and the risk of cancer.  NFL coaches, general managers, and owners (from their plush sky boxes) questioned the courage of any concussed player who just had their “bell rung” and displayed no obvious broken bones.  The crux of the players’ argument was that while exhorting them on and relying on their loyalty to each other (like soldiers in an unpopular war), team honchos knew more than they disclosed of the long term hazards to their charges.  That a former player shot himself in the heart, leaving a directive that his brain be used for medical research, is sobering.

In my youth the strategy, artistry, and pure athleticism of football on a perfect autumn afternoon captivated me.  A running back juking past three defenders leaving them grasping at air.  A sixty yard touchdown pass that perfectly leads a streaking receiver.  A stout band of brothers of all races, shoulder to shoulder, bloody but unbowed in a desperate goal line defense on fourth down, bunched up, unwilling to grant the invaders even an inch of ground.  These are the elements of football that I miss.

I was never big or talented enough to make even the junior varsity, mighty mite midget, pee wee, Pop Warner traveling squad. Growing up, I watched the Philadelphia Eagles with my father, wrote a sports column (“Cook’s Corner”) for my high school paper, and went to the University of Michigan (Go Blue).  Is my exile, going on twenty years, just a case of sour grapes?  I do not believe so.  I was a fan.  I wasted thousands of hours on beautiful fall days watching Nichols State get trounced by North Carolina A&T, or the Phoenix Cardinals handle the St. Louis Rams.

Every year there are rookies who are bigger, stronger, faster… until they are not.  They are blithely discarded for the next new thing.  We are a consumer culture not only of products, but human lives.  The only match for our thirst for violence is the greed of the owners.  Between product licensing, alcohol sales, television revenue, and gate receipts, the NFL brand is a billionaires’ club.   It still amazes me that I once cared so deeply about the sport.

Re-watch “The Magnificent Seven.”  The Seven arrive as saviors, to defend a village from ruthless invaders (from Green Bay)?  The farmers welcome them but wisely hide their women.  The children idolize the gladiators whose lives appear more glamorous than the back-breaking labor of their parents.  Yul Brynner, the leader of the hired guns, realizes that he and his cohorts risk their lives, but in the end have nothing.  Then consider this: Three quarters of professional football players are bankrupt within five years of their retirement.

Free Clipart Illustrations at http://www.ClipartOf.com/

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer wondering who is advocating for the high school and college players who have suffered post career concussion symptoms.  He is delighted that the Gophers have given up plans to field a serious football team.

 

Motorist Critique

Safety first: Keep both hands on the wheel. Chew Wrigley’s Spearmint gum and see how happy you feel!

—Wrigley Gum commercial circa 1955

Most of us freely concede certain shortcomings, such as the inability to carry a tune, do simple math without a calculator, recall names of former neighbors, and even remember the title of last night’s video.  We are touchier about a subjects like having no sense of humor (no one admits they don’t have one) and operating a motor vehicle.  Just about everyone from Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man to your great Aunt Minnie believes they are  excellent drivers and it is the yahoos on the road that make modern ground travel hair-raising.

I have no such illusions. I drive when necessary and never for pleasure.  Still I reserve the right to savagely critique my fellow motorists.  Speeders, tailgaters, phone talkers, and drunk drivers are in another circle of Hell.  What follows are behaviors that are more annoying than life threatening. 

  1. No turn signal.  Generally a guy, often in an oversized vehicle.  The inference is, it is none of your business where or when I am turning, despite how much it may aid you in making your plans.  Turn signals are for wimps and people who want to take away my freedom and my country.  (The last part may be a stretch, but I have felt it.)
  2. That is my lane!  I am in the right lane signaling to move to the left to pass a slow moving vehicle.  A car in the left lane is well back, but on seeing my signaled intent develops a deep proprietary interest in all of the passing lane and immediately accelerates so that I am unable to get over.  Similarly, when one is faced with an upcoming lane merger there are only two types of drivers.  One sees the need to quickly assess, communicate, and accommodate.  The other decides they must beat you to the spot no matter the carnage.  The latter is a common impulse in preschoolers lining up for recess.
  3. The shaming pass.  I admit I usually stick to the speed limit plus 5 miles per hour in and around town.  As one lane turns to two I am sometimes passed by a driver who feels the need to explode around me as if I had been holding them underwater.  After accelerating as if on fire, or late to a consult at the Mayo Clinic, they usually turn into a Burger King.
  4. Left turn arrow.  We are in our left turn lane, waiting for a green arrow. We are the misfits; the vast majority of cars are happily and feverishly speeding on in both directions.  Who are we to stop the onslaught and make our puny turn?  The driver of the first car in the left turn lane is the captain.  Since the light changes only in months with an “R” in them, a good safe jump is imperative.  When I am the captain, I take pride in being alert and getting as many of my team through as possible.  I hate when captains dawdle.  They always get out but seem not to care about how many of us they leave behind.
  5. The left turn swoop.  This is related to #4, and may be caused by a derelict captain who is already blissfully down the road.  The green arrow has gone from yellow to bright red. “But it has not been red for long,” reasons the swooper who flies into the intersection and forces green-lit traffic to hit their brakes, shake their heads, and shudder.
  6. Red light/Blue light.  Long ago in the playground game, and on the highway red meant stop.  Red has become the new yellow.  To many, a light turning red is a challenge and a signal to accelerate.  Perhaps we need a fourth color.  A blue light that really means do not enter this intersection until it is your turn!

Tom H. Cook now annoys other drivers in both Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

Compartment Syndrome

I awoke one morning this past October with the forearm of a bodybuilder.  My slight frame was suddenly weighted down with a solid and treelike appendage.  I inexplicably possessed an arm the post-spinach Popeye would envy.  All I was missing was a tattoo of an anchor.  My left arm remained frail and unimpressive, but my right, at three times its normal size, felt like a club.

What followed was a lightening quick trip through my version of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages.  I remember denial, wonder, panic, and fear.  My physician immediately diagnosed it as compartment syndrome (the compression of nerves and blood vessels within an enclosed space) and dispatched me to the nearest hospital.

Fortunately I did not realize how limb threatening my condition was.  I remember thinking that Compartment Syndrome lacked any panache and that it sounded like I had fallen out of the upper berth of a train, or dropped a file cabinet on myself.  I figured doctors’ would use the medical equivalent of a keg tapper to drain my arm.  Instead it required two surgeries, and a rectangular 3”X 8” swatch and a skin graft from my thigh to close the opening.  I am in the process of recovering and am thankful to have full use of my hand and feeling in my fingertips!  I would be even more grateful if it did not hurt so much.

What has been interesting has been the reaction of friends, neighbors, and curiosity seekers.   Do not get me wrong, people have been wonderfully solicitous and caring.  I have received cards, calls, candy, and prayers.  If there is any humor in this, it is the reaction of visitors who are game to “Take a look at it”.  It is like the Seinfeld episode “Bubble Boy” where George will not concede that he is unnerved by the situation. (“Ah my uncle’s in a bubble, I’ve had a lot of bubble experience”).

To cheer me up friends will suggest they are prepared and have witnessed plenty of gore, either live or on TV…until they see it.  My arm looks as if I gave birth to an alien.  Experienced nurses said they had never seen anything like it.  My arm could work for Barnum&Bailey.  I have creature from the black lagoon/alligator skin on my inner arm.    Still most people will choke out an “it’s not that bad” before turning away in horror.  There is a disconnect between what I know to be true and the reaction of well-meaning well-wishers.

One friend, tired of witnessing the discrete reactions I was drawing, decided to shake me out of my self pity.  “Tom, I just want you to know your arm is hideous.  It is grotesque.  Don’t listen to all the people telling you it’s not that bad, it looks horrible!!!”  There was more, but I was laughing too hard to hear it.

Tom H. Cook enjoys surprisingly good health in between bizarre medical maladies.  Breaking character, I want to thank you for indulging me for another year.  “Sand Upon The Waters” began in the ECCO News in 1979 and came to HLP land with our family in 1985.  Somehow the column has survived the move to California without gaining wisdom, humor, or relevance.  Here is wishing you a fulfilling, and meaningful 2010 (and beyond).           

 Nurse Hannah

 

Visiting Henry

Our family does not go in for Christmas miracles and apple-cheeked cherubs gathering around a Yule log and counting our blessings while toasting the elusive dream of world peace.  We are a crusty lot. Therefore visiting Henry this past December lacked an over the river and through the woods feel.  For starters, JoAnne’s dad can be a sharp-tongued codger, who at 87 has lost only a bit of his vinegar.  His divorce from JoAnne’s mom after sixty plus years (HLP May, 2004) had strained relations and shifted alliances in the family.  Furthermore, his Naples, Florida home has not conjured cozy holiday images, and in the past his full blast blaring of the Fox News network has provided an ambiance more akin to George Lincoln than Norman Rockwell.

We temporarily put aside whether we would be welcomed and the wisdom of going to Florida, and concentrated on if it were even possible.  JoAnne’s two sisters were in Sacramento and Philadelphia when the idea of a quick visit to “Pop-pop” was launched sometime after Pearl Harbor Day.  It began with our daughter Rachael (in L.A.) who wanted to see her grandfather but was pressed for time.  She invited JoAnne and me to join her for this very short visit.  We asked Donna (Philadelphia) if she would like to join the venture, and she and her three adult children, Geoffrey, Sean, and Lauren (Seattle, L.A. and L.A.) were all game.  The elusive Sacramento sister Mikki, not wanting to miss the fun, then marshaled her two kids, Andy and Aaron, both living in San Francisco.  Our son Ben (L.A.) was a last-second addition, as was Rachael’s husband Daniel, who arrived home from Columbia on Thursday night, just in time to catch the Friday morning flight.

In football they call it the seam in the zone, the spot where a quarterback can throw between defenders.  Apparently the second weekend of December is such a vortex in the airline world.  Thanksgiving folks are safely home and the Christmas/New Years rush is just gearing up.  On three days notice but with a willingness to stay over a Saturday we were all able to get on reasonably priced flights that allowed us to rendezvous in Florida by Friday evening, December 14th.  We wisely decided to warn Pop-Pop that the low key visit he was told about initially was turning into a near invasion by The Gang of Twelve.

Donna, ever the planner, realized that fourteen people (including Henry and his neighbor   friend Kurt) may get hungry, and brought enough groceries to allow everyone to graze and laugh all day.  Her thoughtful gesture provided the social lubricant for the festivities.  Saturday day and long into the night was a wonderful mix of the generations.  It was resolved that last minute plans are sometimes the best and that if we had begun to organize months ago it would have been more difficult to get a quorum.

We staggered our arrival times so that Pop-pop could greet each of his children and grandchildren separately.  Although he had not seen some of the kids in more than a decade, he knew little things about them made them glad they came.  I was overjoyed to watch the seven cousins, all in their twenties, banter about their work and their lives.  Grandmom Teresa, who died in September, was in many conversations, as her kind heart and lovable eccentricities brought forth fond memories and gales of laughter.

One of my favorite parts was the spontaneous game of “Who’s Taller?”  Played back to back with a builder’s level as the final arbiter, anyone could challenge anyone else.  The game has a Mozzone twist, as Henry the patriarch is 5’4”, the sisters all hover around 5’ and the seven grandchildren average about 5’5”.   At times the house looked more like a jockey convention than a family reunion.

Sometime after 11:00 PM Henry’s friend Kurt (at 6’1” a ringer in the height contest) unearthed the 8mm home movies.  There on the living room wall was projected the Philadelphia childhood of the three girls.  The pool parties, dances in the basement with the six foot ceiling (see height contest), and holiday party and special occasion footage of so many of the relatives.

The climax was the 1943 wedding of Henry and Teresa.  After the obligatory Sopranos jokes about an Italian family (some of the men really did look like Uncle Junior), it was amazing to watch so many Troncellitis and Mozzones. There was Merk, Charlie Horse, Eva, Manrico, Vince, Gilda, Rudy, Stella, Emma, Florindo — all in their prime.  I do not know what the young cousins took from it, but to Henry, being “the last man standing” of thirteen brothers and sisters, it must have been sobering and bittersweet.

As we hugged him goodbye long after midnight, each of us had a $50 bill pressed upon us and the order to have some fun on him.

Sunday morning, sitting in the airport, JoAnne and I attempted to recap the memorable moments and found them too numerous and overflowing.  Weeks later it is still hard to fathom how much life took place in a single day.

 

Tom H. Cook is a local writer wishing you a joyous Primary season and a short winter.

 

 

 

 

Retirement Pursuits

Well-meaning folks who barely know me seem to think I would be happiest playing golf every waking moment of my retirement.  Many seem disappointed almost to the point of belligerence—and that’s without me launching into a PC rant about the geo-ecological water and land resource usurpation that the game requires.  I could claim that moral high ground, but the real reason is more mundane.  It is too clichéd a solution for what to do now that I retired for the third and probably final time this past February.

I have good friends who golf, and a few that may even have the patience to play with me, but aside from their company there is little that draws me to becoming a links man.  And just a look at me tells all but the most obtuse observer that I am no Mark Trail.  I would rather watch an entire golf match on a grainy black and white 7” television while standing up than to hunt or fish.  Most of my inquisitors are well-intended and simply curious as to how loitering, reading, and wandering around with my dogs can provide me with sufficient stimulation to sustain life.

I was not on a quest for fulfillment, and long ago gave up the notion of an examined life, but I have stumbled onto two things I enjoy.  One is my version of gardening or, more specifically, plant rescue.  Since Monday is Trash Day, Sunday is Trash Eve, and a good opportunity to adopt plants, pots, hoses and brooms, as well as umbrellas, lawn furniture, fountains, and so forth.  I do not have a green thumb or know the plant name of anything that is not a rose, but I enjoy picking up discarded plants and nursing them back to health.  JoAnne often accompanies me on this Sunday sleuthing.  Our back yard, while not yet old people scary jungle eccentric, does show promise.  We take much of the furniture and other goods of value to the local Salvation Army, forestalling its date with the landfill.  I am now on a first name basis with some of the intake workers, and while none have ventured to ask where all of this stuff is coming from, the consensus seems to be that I am a conscience-stricken cat burglar with very bad taste.

The other role that I am growing into is neighborhood anchor.  In 1977 JoAnne and I moved to the East Calhoun neighborhood of south Minneapolis from Naples, Florida.  Knowing no one, we were clearly in need of good neighbors.  The two families right out our back door were wonderful to us.  They were each Austin, Minnesota natives and only a bit older than we were, but wiser, and more established professionally than JoAnne and me.  Jay and Joy Dean had two young angelic children, Mike and Margo, and Linda and Lance LaVine had the equally sweet Nicky and Natasha.

We resisted the impulse to alliteration, but started our own family in part because of the happiness we observed in these helpful, mentoring families.  When our kids came we were often too busy to take full advantage of the guidance and acceptance they offered to us.  I owe my career choice to Jay.  Regardless of how frazzled we would be, Lance had the remedy: “Come on over for a cup of tea.” Many times we declined, begging off due to this imagined crisis or that.  Lance was wiser but knew we had to chase our own windmill.

We now have neighbors with two very young children and high stress jobs.  One is an attorney, the other a corporate recruiter.  I am not smart or worldly, and I have never been a head hunter for a Fortune 500 company, but I have made lots of mistakes, and I have time to listen. He is generally gone and she is running here and there.  Frequently they are too busy, as we were twenty five years ago, but in the spirit of Linda and Lance LaVine, I have extended to them a standing invitation for a cup of tea.

 

Tom H. Cook hopes that you will say hello to the LaVines and Deans for him.  Thank you for the great response to Keith Oldemann.  I am glad to see he has so many fans.  Please add the work of film-maker Robert Greenwald.  He is also able to cut through our national political pea soup in an entertaining manner.  His four documentaries (Out Foxed:  Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers, Uncovered: The War On Iraq, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices) are sobering and informative.  He validates our greatest fears, but does it in a manner that is pointed without being pedantic.    

Never Too Old For Love

I feel that I am living in a Henrik Ibsen play.  JoAnne is an off stage presence, alluded to but never seen, always here, except for now.  She is spending three days in the mountains of San Diego County at a basketry retreat.  In her absence I am in charge of Stella the insane boxer, and JoAnne’s mother, Teresa, who resides at a nearby senior residence.  Teresa and her husband separated after being married for sixty-two years, and in the ensuing divorce we somehow got custody of her.

Teresa is a sweet soul with a lot to give, but still we were unprepared for her to fall in love with Lou, a distinguished 97-year-old gentleman at the same residence.  For the last 20 months they have had a November/December romance.  Sharing a first generation Sicilian heritage, they quickly became inseparable.  Teresa again had someone to fuss over, and Lou was her courtly escort.  They were together for every meal, and spent most evenings in the community parlor holding hands and nodding off to the movie, piano recital, or lecture.  When Lou required a walker, he sometimes pushed Teresa as she sat in the “jump seat.”

They became the lovebirds of the residence and were voted cutest couple at the Valentine’s Day party. If senior housing is like high school with cliques, gossip and the cool table, then Teresa (a pretty wallflower sixty-some years ago) was now the sociable homecoming queen. She and Lou frequently napped together bundled in blankets and holding hands, she in a loveseat and he in a nearby rocker. I could watch them for hours, except each kept their apartment at a toasty 85 degrees.

Lou had been a garment manufacturer and salesman in New York City before moving to Los Angeles.   He remained in the garment industry in California, but also worked briefly as an actor.  At 6’1” with a full head of white hair, he still looked like central casting’s version of an aristocratic patriarch.  A strikingly handsome man, he was the catch of the residence, where women outnumber men ten to one.  Lou charmed Teresa and our whole family because he was a kind soul and an old world gentleman.  We loved having Lou and Teresa at our home for meals, and our close friends included the couple for holiday dinners.  In short, Lou joined our family.

Lou died of a stroke yesterday.  I have brought Teresa to our house to step away from the memories and the sea of well-intended supporters.  JoAnne, still in the mountains, is blissfully unaware of Teresa’s (and our) loss.  JoAnne would be doing a much better job of this than I am.  Fortunately, we have Stella the insane boxer, who at the age of ten is no longer nuts.  Stella has been most solicitous of “Grandmom,” licking her tears and just being there. I am working on the being there part as well, and writing this when Teresa sleeps. The funeral date has not been set.  We still have two days until JoAnne returns, but the three of us are holding up.

 

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Postscript:

JoAnne returns tonight and we have done well in her absence.  Rather than hunker down and gut it out, we have turned to others, first by phone and then in person.  Last night friends came over for dinner and we toasted Lou’s life.  We needed the company and the laughter, and the reminiscing helped us both.  Teresa has been wonderful, lovingly re-telling the story of her late in life romance and how fortunate she feels to have loved someone so special.  As I write this, she is at church for Palm Sunday, sitting in “their” row.

 

We have not yet talked about her going back to the residence and facing all of the old familiar spots without her Lou.  The senior residence is like a ship: except for occasional shore leave, people spend a great deal of time together, and relationships can be intense.  I imagine their 20 months together feels much longer.  I cannot imagine what it will be like for Teresa to eat in the same dining hall, walk the same corridors, and sit in the same parlor without her sweetheart.  For now Teresa is calm and gracious.  Although she is clearly shaken, she is grateful for the time they had, and accepting of the almost inevitable loss when you date a much older man.

 

Tom H. Cook, while far away, is still a local writer– particularly now that the snow is gone.