Category Archives: health

Codger’s Corner

Notes, observations, and subdued rants about aging without complaints about the metric system, young people, or liver spots.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.  This universal truth was originally scrawled by Piltdown Man, unearthed at Olduvai Gorge, and attributed to Hammurabi.   I remember it every time  I receive a mailer to come for a free dinner and coincidentally hear about a wonderful investment opportunity.  I suspect a conspiracy between my local pharmacist, AARP, and my subscription to a daily print newspaper.  I have been profiled.  They know the Internet for my crowd is unreliable, so it is a four color foldout in the U.S. mail.   They may be selling funeral plots, bit coins, eternal life through cryogenics, or space travel but

I rip up the brochures because they think I am an idiot.  The glossy invitation invariably features the juicy steak and potatoes I could be enjoying next Tuesday evening.  Am I living in a hovel eating cat food?  If so I do not have the money to “secure my children’s future”. Granted I am a vegetarian, but a giant picture of the dinner is supposed to entice me to invite the little woman out for a high class evening of sophisticated conversation and haute cuisine.  (Mother, put your teeth in we are going to motor off in our Olds Cutlass to sit in an overly air conditioned Days Inn in Temecula with 300 other rubes and learn the secret of biorhythmic investing).

Aging has made me more sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement and the horrors of segregation.  It is not that I have become wiser and more mature, I just need to go to the bathroom more urgently, unexpectedly, and frequently.  What do a local hardware store, a Jiffy Lube, and a mom and pop grocery have in common?  They each require pleading, cajoling, and groveling to allow a civilian to use their facilities.  Often I am directed to a latrine too far and I need to clarify the importance of my request.  It is then I imagine a sliver of what it must have been like to be black and the target of Jim Crow laws.

I am waiting for the day with impatience and dread when I care if a kid cuts across my lawn.  Are the Woodstock going, free lovin’, frisbee playing peaceniks I went to college with now sitting in folding chairs in their front yards with a hose just waiting for a young miscreant to attempt a slingshot ollie over their azaleas?

The big reveal may never come.  I guess this is a very sad one.  Many classmates, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances have been born again or found inner peace thru Transactional Analysis, Krishna, EST, Scientology, Bikram yoga, Reflexology, or selling Amway,  In my younger day well meaning folks (mistakenly as it turns out)  saw me as a seeker.   They urged me to read, experience, and be in the moment. I grudgingly agreed to attended mind expanding, grounding, enlightening ceremonies, lectures, and services as long as there was no cost, I could keep my shoes on, and it didn’t conflict with Hill Street Blues (Thursday at 9:00 PM).

My host would say, “Oh Tom, give it half a chance.”  Invariably that is what I give it.  I  am grateful, solicitous and genuinely interested on the way there.  I have a natural curiosity and I am good at asking questions and making people feel comfortable.  I tell myself not to be judgmental just let the experience wash over me.  If I am not converted, be an anthropologist and don’t poke holes.  This is the gist of my self-talk.

I fail to disclose that I am very irreverent and the more somber the occasion the more likely my cynical black humor will emerge. I am responsible, but almost powerless over it. I have to look behind the curtain and see the wizard. Every time I forget that I see comic potential in serious situations.  When my poop detector goes off, I will seek out an audience, a fellow infidel and convulse them in wicked concealed laughter.  Modesty aside, I am hysterically funny.   My “true believer” sponsors are mortified and the ride home is excruciating despite taking place at great speed with the wife screaming “faster” through clenched teeth.  There are no second dates.  JoAnne (the editor) will not accompany me and when I return home she gives me a credulous look that says, Didn’t you know you would do this?”  “I knew you would do this, you simply can not control yourself!”

Tom H. Cook has signed on at least long enough to see the current president living in a Winnebago with his fourth wife Candi, hawking Ginzu knives at the Minnesota State Fair.

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.

Aging Perceptions

belanko by Tom CassidyDon’t worry; it gets worse.
—Barbara Amram (on aging)

Young women get changed in front of me.
—Jay Leno (on being old and invisible)

Why do seniors get a discount? They’ve had more time to make the money.
—anonymous (possibly Homer)

* * * * * * * *
“Are you comfortable?”
“I make a good living”

My very young dental hygienist (fresh from a small town in Idaho and trying to catch on in the glam world of L.A. dentistry) directed me into her chair and asked me the question. Granted, it’s funnier with a Yiddish accent, but it helps to be of a certain age to really sell the line. My response made her giggle and then laugh hard. There is a new audience, a whole generation that has never heard the classics. It is small recompense for getting liver spots, but too much is written about the downside of the whole aging process.

What is under-reported is the perks. I am no longer asked to help people move, (“We’re gonna have pizza and beer, its just a few things, it’ll be fun…”) I used to feel ethically challenged by party invitations. I was clumsy and awkward declining or accepting as I would almost always prefer to spend a quiet evening with dogs. Marginally interesting activities would torment me. I could go and be miserable, or stay home and feel guilty because I was not really too busy. Now I get far fewer social invitations and it is much easier to reject them. I politely but firmly say I am not coming, it is too far, too late, or I don’t want to.

Another advantage of aging is perspective. I was too often impulsive and short sighted throughout much of my life. I gnashed my teeth and lost sleep over roads not taken, mistakes I have made, hunches I did or did not follow, and decisions that, in hindsight, would have been better left to a ouija board. I am no Leo Buscaglia (how is that for a name from the past?) but I stress less and am more accepting. I did not get rich, but I never had to do hard time. The good news is that at a certain age it doesn’t much matter. My habits are set and more money would not appreciably improve my life. It is delightful to not be looking for a job, or answering to anyone.

People would rather be naked in front of each other than discuss their finances and I will not do either here, but the question that drives us most of our lives is “Why is there no parking at Trader Joe’s?” Oops I meant “How much money do I need to be able to live out my days warm and indoors?” I had always hoped that one of my splinter skills (writing, public speaking, stand up comedy) would thrust me into the public eye. I was never discovered but it’s nice not having to spend all that time in the harbor waiting for my ship to come in.

It is interesting to watch a coach who has prepared and practiced maniacally, forsaking friends, family, food, and sleep for a supreme effort in the big game. A close contest is more exciting but there is a melancholy bittersweet relief in a lopsided blowout. Up or down by thirty points in the waning moments, the contest is decided. It is time to be magnanimous: play the scrubs, avoid injury, don’t argue calls, congratulate your opponents, and let your players know how proud you are of them. My wins and losses have not been as dramatic. I never caught the brass ring, found the pot of gold, made it to Easy Street or [insert your favorite cliche here]. I hope to have many years left but I feel myself letting go of needing to keep score or watch the clock.

Tom H. Cook will likely have a third grandchild by the time you read this. He listens regularly to The Tony Kornheiser Show podcasts and is a “loyal little.”


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

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.


Learning the Hard Way

Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.              —Michael Corleone (The Godfather III)

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nathaniel West, Natty Bumppo, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry James, James Thurber, James Joyce, Joyce Kilmer.  The Crucible, Arthur Miller, Henry Miller, The Mill and the Floss, Silas Marner, George Eliot, T.S. Eliot, J. Alfred Prufrock.  Bret Harte, Hart Crane, Stephen Crane, Ichabod Crane, Washington Irving, John Irving.  It is all mushing together.

In my fourth final retirement, someone with a sense of humor thought it would be amusing for me to teach English full-time for three months while the bonafide teacher is on maternity leave. I just finished my second month and am totally immersed in the curriculum of high school juniors and seniors.  We are cramming for the SAT’s, reading short stories, and beginning The Great Gatsby.  Soon I will be worrying about acne, passing the road test for my driver’s license, curfew, and getting a date for the Spring Fling.

I am not quite sure why I am here.  Perhaps my function is to serve as a placeholder because I have no ambition or designs on a tenured position.  A younger job seeker may not have wanted to commit and risk losing out on a steadier gig.  It may also be the work of the mischievous gods and sprites that hide car keys, cell phones, and important papers.  I also suspect that I have, as the psychologists say, “unfinished business” around this stage in my life.

When I was sixteen, only a few close friends knew that my mother had become bedridden with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder that, combined with cancer, would soon take her.  High school was the lowest point in my life.  As a self-absorbed adolescent, I felt my mother’s illness made me different, and I was the holder of an embarrassing secret.  Many wince at recalling their high school years, but I squint, grimace, and change the subject.

It is odd but cathartic to walk the crowded, locker-filled hallways, albeit 3,000 miles and light years away.   It feels wonderful to be surrounded by so much youth, hope, energy, and anxiety.  I feel empathy for my students and the complexity of their lives. Searching for an example of irony in honors literature, I shared that my first foray into any kind of an advanced class was as their teacher.  It is great to have age, experience, maturity, and the teacher’s edition of the text.  Like returning to a long-neglected crossword puzzle with fresh eyes, I am able to interpret poems, short stories, and novels that were a jumble to me when I was in school.

In high school terms, athletes talk about when they are “in a groove” and playing well: the game “slows down.”  They feel poised and confident even when the ball and other players are moving at breakneck speed.  Teaching can be that way.  Thirty young people in a small room for 55 minutes can feel chaotic.  Mastering the curriculum and presenting it with appropriate respect and more than occasional irreverence is a challenge.  Apologies to William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” but I feel that in football jargon, I am the wizened, grizzled quarterback.  “My head is bloody but unbowed.”  I am now able to call a smart play, and deliver a floating spiral to the right spot downfield.  My students are running mental patterns everywhere but toward Willa Cather.  I do not control the outcome but often above the din and indifference…touchdown!!!

Sharing what I have learned the long hard way is very fulfilling.  It also doesn’t hurt to have the answer key.


Tom H. Cook is still befuddled by Booth Tarkington, Thomas B. Costain, and Eudora Welty.   He is able to distinguish Sinclair Lewis from Upton Sinclair.

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


Popeye Arm

Dateline Pepeete, Tahiti

I am in the Tahiti Airport ready to return to Los Angeles and it appears that I will outlive my most serious blunder.  JoAnne and I have been on a month-long trip to New Zealand, Australia, and Tahiti.  The first two countries were extraordinary.  It wasn’t until our last leg that I seriously began to pay the price for my medical mistake.  I feel a compulsion to confess, but also to get on with the story.  Let me devote a few sentences to my folly, you can tsk-tsk me and mutter, and then we can move on.

I have been taking a single tablet (5 mg) of Coumadin, a blood thinner, to treat a heart condition since 1979.  To save money I recently requested 10 mg pills that I could break in half.  My new dosage arrived by mail just before we left.  I threw it in my bag and the next day we took off for Auckland, New Zealand.   I have no defense, but if I did, it would be that old habits die hard.

What do you call your daughter’s husbands parents?  We are Daniel’s in-laws, as John and Heather Gillies are in-laws to our daughter Rachael, but in-law does not seem an accurate term for the relationship of the parents.  The Gillies are a delight: fun-loving, adventuresome, sociable, and accepting of my quirks.  That they are now family is a bonus.   No amount of wine, good food, or breathtaking scenery provided us an answer for how to describe our bond.  We voted to table the measure and take it up at our next meeting.

New Zealand is a gorgeous land of rolling greenery and profound beauty, unspoiled by billboards.  Think parts of northern Minnesota or the Pacific Northwest many years ago.  The Gillies, as fourth generation New Zealanders, were perfect guides, crisscrossing the North Island and showing us Maori meeting houses, “Hell’s Gate” sulfureous mud geysers, glow-worm caves, and many features visitors do not get to see.  JoAnne, my weaver wife, was captivated by all of the sheep.  One of my favorite things was how open and welcoming everyone we met was.  The common response in New Zealand and Australia to anything that could be a problem or a complication is “No worries.”

I started to feel poorly in Australia.  After a few high energy days in Sydney, I complained of fatigue and soreness.  JoAnne went to the Sydney Opera House, the zoo, and shopping without me. I knew I was getting old, but I thought it would be a more gradual thing.  JoAnne parked me at Bondi Beach while she explored.  I was marooned with thousands of beach goers, including hundreds of topless women.  Fortunately I had a good book, although I can not remember the title.  Sydney is fantastic and before I became really ill we spent a day at “The Three Sisters” in the Blue Mountains. It is on the list of the one thousand things to see before you die, I noted glumly.

Although my aches increased and I seemed to be mysteriously bruising all over, I decided that I was well enough to keep our plane and hotel reservations in Tahiti.  The thought of taking on two bureaucracies seemed more daunting than death.  Our Tahitian island destination of Moorea is such a breathtakingly beautiful place that I rallied briefly before admitting that I needed medical attention.  I feared the doctor would be barefoot, drenched in chicken blood, and swinging pig intestines over his head like my Harvard-trained physician in the states. (I am in an HMO.)  By then my luggage-carrying arm was very swollen and a deep purple from shoulder to forearm. As we waited to see the doctor I idly examined my Coumadin bottle, and it was then that I had my “Ah-hah” moment.  I had been taking enough blood thinner to seriously endanger my health.  My doctor, trained in France, was warm and professional, but clearly concerned.

My blood clotting time is ideally at 2.0 to 3.0, or two or three times the thinness of a normal person.  A 4.0 or 5.0 is cause for concern.  After drawing my blood the doctor sent me back to the Sheraton, where we were staying.  My test results arrived in the form of an ambulance.  Soon I was in the back of a “hurry up wagon” with siren blaring, speeding down the very bumpy road to the island’s only hospital.  It was a tiny two-bed wonder of efficiency with a staff of eight or nine. For the 24 hours I was there I was the only patient.

My blood level was at 12.0.  Unable to sleep, I gave JoAnne the bed and settled on the floor, where I spent the longest night of my life.  Aside from cursing my stupidity, I belittled myself for not having more (any) profound insights. If you have played the parlor game of what have you experienced that no one else has, I now think I have one.

The next morning we received a call from Marc Gourone, manager of our hotel, inquiring how we were doing and offering his help.  The Sheraton Moorea may be part of a vast multinational conglomerate, but that was a wonderful and caring man who knew we were 4,000 miles from home and needed emotional and tactical support.  True to his word, as my health improved and we returned to the hotel, he was solicitous and very generous.

Tahiti is like other places except in Technicolor.   Regaining my health helped me appreciate it even more.  The medical care was first-rate. Without sounding too much like Pollyanna, sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms for follow-up visits, JoAnne and I had the opportunity to meet and talk with many island families in a non-tourist setting.

Now I am home and no longer have a Popeye arm.  I again feel my age, but no more.  It is great to be back, ruefully agonizing over how I could come so close to ruining the trip of a lifetime–or, frankly, my life.  One of the ways I made it through the hardest times was composing this column in my head.  It was a much better piece while blanketed in Codeine, but believe me when I say I missed writing last month, and it is great to be back in touch.


Tom H. Cook is not a globe-trotting travel writer. In fact he needs to be put under house arrest.  He is profoundly grateful to JoAnne for having courage when he didn’t.  

Only A Cold

You might think it would be a smart idea for me to “write ahead” or bank some columns. A wise and prudent columnist for a monthly paper could easily squirrel away a few stories for a time of writer’s block or for a bad cold going into its third week with no sign of abating.  You could choose a classic topic like potluck suppers.  They are ubiquitous, and since everybody has been to them, it is fairly easy to get a chuckle of recognition.  You can go for the easy jokes about Aunt Betty and her tuna surprise or you can zing a little bit and get into how the uptown hip, urban sophisticates, those chrome and glass loving minimalists, secretly reveal their rural roots by continuing to sprinkle potato chips on their hot dish.

A glance at a calendar and the inevitable holidays can provide three or four pieces a year. (When did they start combining Christmas and back to school sales?)  Wry observations on the wacky weather can be written well in advance, and from California! The greed, myopia, and cronyism of fools in high places are always good for at least 800 words.  The destruction of perfectly good houses, the zoning regulations, the slights and injustices perpetrated on us by the bozos in City Hall and the Park Board…some of these pieces write themselves. My point being that a column (like a casserole) can be made well in advance.

So why didn’t I stockpile a few articles for a time like this when I am in the throes of a monster cold with the headache, sore throat, and that maddening unproductive cough?  Is it a fierce dedication to my craft, or the naps I took? Perhaps it was my passing interest in watching thirty-seven college basketball games in preparation for “March Madness” that left me at “crunch time” with no column.  The grand inquisitor asking these questions is JoAnne, my editor and wife, who at this moment would probably like to resign at least one of these positions.  She is wrapped in a blanket and moaning on the couch, where if memory serves, she has been for the last three days.  This is unlike her, and whether she is sicker than I am is a debatable point.  What is no longer open for discussion is why I did not prepare a column for a rainy day.  Thus we are tethered together and she is unable to proofread this and get some decent sleep until I am done.  This vexes her. That my need for her services is directly proportional to my illness-induced incoherency is an irony that is not lost on her.

How important is it for me to even produce a column in my confusion?  After all, there are a myriad of information sources ranging from Internet blogs to wire services, periodicals, daily newspapers, radio, and television, satellite and cable.  There are other ways to get the news, even in the Midwest.

In a recent survey of seven thousand Hill and Lake Press subscribers,

  • 100 percent (margin of error plus or minus 3%) volunteered that they are not solely reliant on the Hill and Lake Press (HLP) for news.
  • 68% laughed or guffawed at the notion.
  • 7% cited HLP as a secondary source for news.
  • 84% did not know the meaning of the word tertiary.
  • 49% said they would prefer having an ad featuring the face of a grinning realtor in the space my column normally takes up.

Yet it is my abiding loyalty to you, the reader, that keeps me here at my post.  Even though we are but a monthly prairie posting, and all of the denizens of my column could fit comfortably in a stretch Hummer, I am dedicated to reporting the news as it breaks.  My column is one of the last pieces received by the HLP every month.  Some may call it laziness, but I prefer to think of it as a passionate drive to be both relevant and topical.   If Stella my insane boxer does something really cute, I want you to know.  There are misadventures in laundry that happen all of the time, and if I have already submitted a backup column just to make a deadline, you the reader would miss the drama, pathos, intrigue, and immediacy.

Isn’t that far better than some canned column on why the word Internet is always capitalized?  You are getting the real news as it happens.  Right now, my editor is gargling with hot salt water.  I may even risk misplaced modifiers and split infinitives to get this to you without her expert touch.

*                                    *                                       *                                    *

I was recently chuckling over the Cheers episode in which Woody is telling Norm and the gang about his uncle, an Indiana farmer.  In a very matter of fact tone, Woody chronicles the gruesome litany of the poor man’s bad luck. After a string of misadventures, the man is attacked by a swarm of bees.  Swollen and blinded, he falls head first into a thresher.  There is a stunned silence in the bar before someone finds the words to ask what happened next.  Woody pauses and shakes his head, “Well, toward the end, he was just praying to die.”

I felt like that last Thursday.  Lucky for me it’s only a cold.

Tom H. Cook has again sworn never to take good health for granted.  If it is returned to him he vows to cherish it.  In the meantime he wishes it for you and his editor.                                                                                                                                                                              



Dying in My Sleep

THE SUPREME BEING:  I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you want first?

Me:  (In awe and utter terror) The bad news. (gulp)

THE SUPREME BEING:  You are going to die.

Me:   Aahhh…(pause for considerable whimpering and mournful baying).  What is the good news?

THE SUPREME BEING:  It’s probably not going to be today.

I do not fancy myself to be important enough or psychotic enough to have actually spoken to God, let alone shared a good news/bad news joke with The Almighty.  Still when I wake up each morning this silly exercise runs through my mind.  I am going to die, but since it is probably not today I may as well get up and see what mischief I can get into.  A deeper more complex mind may deal with their own mortality, the futility and beauty of life, and the arrival of middle age in a more existential or reverential manner.

Some mornings as I lay in that half awake, half asleep netherworld, I feel secure, able to kid, compliment Him on the suit, asking if it is Armani.  I always marvel at His cadence.  No matter how badly I blow my lines and attempt to weasel out of acknowledging that I am going to die, He is there with the perfect timing of a borscht belt comic.  I marvel at His turn on the word “probably.”  There are no promises.  When I hit forty, I knew my name went into the fishbowl.

“Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake.
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”                  —Child’s Prayer

I may think about dying in my sleep more than most people.  When I realize each morning that my name was not called in the midnight lottery, God and I do our shtick.  I have at least another day to right wrongs, clean the cat box, or be of assistance to someone.  It is a vague mission and I am no Albert Schweitzer, but doing small things like this column hopefully brings you a smile, and helps prepare me for the day when I face the bad news/worse news joke.

THE SUPREME BEING:  “I’ve got some bad news and some worse news, which do you want first?

Me:  (Shuddering) “I don’t believe I am strong enough for the worst news you could bring me, so I’ll take the bad news.”

THE SUPREME BEING:  “I decreed you to die in three days.”

Me:  (Staggered and stunned)   “Oh merciful God what could be worse than having only three days to enjoy thy bounty, say my good-byes, and get my house in order?”

THE SUPREME BEING:  “I decreed it the other day, and then I got tied up in Botswana and forgot to tell you.”


Tom H. Cook attempts to articulate the obvious in a slightly revised form to patient and bemused friends and neighbors.  He has just begun meeting with an estate planner. 




To sleep, perchance to dream…                 –Shakespeare


…I’m dreaming my life away…                –Bobby Darin (“Dream Lover” 1959)

Winter is the season for sleep.  For years I worried that I was missing something.  Life changing events seemed to be happening just beyond my grasp.   This is not to suggest I aspired to be a social butterfly, the life of the party, or mystically enlightened.  Whether opting out of attending a concert or sporting event, or deciding not to hear a provocative speaker, or not showing up to schmooze at a social gathering, I would generally feel guilty for not going and losing out on yet another opportunity to broaden my horizons.

The process of becoming self-actualized can be particularly challenging if you do not have four wheel drive.  Generally the events I ruminated upon were too costly, too far away, or I was not invited in the first place.  Still it gnawed at me that a potentially mind-altering occurrence was just beyond my wallet, my navigational skills (Coon Rapids/New Brighton), or my social connections.

I have never regarded myself as a hedonist, an intellectual, or a thrill seeker.  Nor am I a seeker of truth through Zen, crystals, pyramids, or pyramid schemes.  I am not a ‘foodie’ (“You have to try the new place in the warehouse district, and you must order the Szechwan duck; it is unbelievable…”).  In essence, on a cold winter’s night in Minnesota (pardon the redundancy) there is not a duck, an economist speaking on the Euro, or a reunion and resurrection of the Jethro Tull band that can lure me from a night of relative warmth (62 degrees) and domestic tranquility.

So what has changed?   I no longer miss the life I never really led.  I am resigned to being a somewhat slow-witted, easily amused, left-leaning, minimally consumptive taxpayer. On a cold night, when the wind howls, I consider how blessed I am to be indoors, in a mostly paid-for house, watching my neighbors trudge or skid by.  They are hurrying to aerobics classes, secret trysts, community education offerings on how to enliven Power Point presentations, or meeting with Walter Mondale to ask his opinion on the future of Burma.

Winter in Minnesota is like the Taliban.  If we give in and alter our lifestyle, they win.  For years I believed that not only was I missing great things, but I was somehow letting the state down.  Our jewel of a city somehow shone a little less brightly because people like me were not out driving around on glare ice to patronize experimental theater.

Now, on a winter evening, unless “West Wing” or a new “Frasier” is on television, I am probably reading, hanging around, or trying in vain to keep Stella (our insane, allergic boxer) from licking her spots off.  If not engaged in one of the aforementioned activities, I am probably taking a pre-bedtime nap.  Yes, I am out of the closet and on the couch. I nap and I am proud.  My motto is less guilt, more sleep.

Cocooning has been in for years.  As the post WWII generation ages, it has become fashionable to have a ‘great room’ and a home theater system to help pass the savage winter.  What I have is more of a ‘fairly good room’ and a decent video collection, but many nights even staying up for a movie is too strenuous.

My wife has suggested a more biological basis for napping.  Older bodies may wear down, of course, but she believes, (with kudos to Charles Darwin) in a Shared Space Theory.  Simply stated, we as a community need to cohabit finite resources.  If we were all out ‘burning the midnight oil’ there would be too much congestion on the roads, competition for parking, and overcrowding in Chino Latino and other evening venues.

As Marlin Perkins would suggest, an influx of older people could dangerously pollute a habitat.  Given they have more resources, sophistication, and connections, if the 50-something crowd wanted to take over, say, First Avenue, they could throw off the balance of nature. Young people need to find each other, engage and spawn in order to keep things going.  A bunch of ‘forever young’ baby boomers with face lifts and hair plugs would disturb the natural order of things.  Young people seem to come awake after 10:00 PM, and the city becomes theirs.  As we age, we cede the nighttime to another generation.

My job–and I am ready to begin it immediately–is to pull myself out of circulation and take a nap.


Tom H. Cook is a local writer and social critic.  He is not clinically depressed.  In fact, he is rather delighted at the prospect of his next nap.  He is still ‘about’ wishing people a Happy New Year.