Sighted Guidelines

That Saturday morning was not all cartoons and Sugar-Frosted Flakes.  At ten sharp, my wife and I walked into a waiting room where six couples sat silent, feet shuffling, fingers drumming.  One in each pair ruffled Sports pages while the other cracked their knuckles.  Had my wife taken a wrong turn into the Green Room of “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” and, if so, where were Oprah and Dr. Phil?

A single man strode into that waiting room.  “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the sighted guide workshop.”  Seven couples murmured a reply.  “Today, we will become safer and more effective.  Being a sighted guide is an awesome duty.  You are responsible for the safety of your partner.”  My wife took my handa gentle gesture.  Then I felt her fingernails dig into my palm.

Our sighted guide teams took turns navigating obstacles common to that downtown Chicago building.  We walked through doorways—“Hinged right and coming at you” and stairways—“Eight steps up, handrail right.”  We steered narrow hallways—“Single file now” and crowds—“Shorten up that cane.”  We found which door led into the Men’s Room—“I can handle it from here, Honey.” 

Back on the street, I showed my wife my sore palm, chuckled and asked, “Is this your comment on our host’s opening statement…that you are responsible for my safety?” 

My wife smiled sheepishly, then kissed my palm.  “You know I love you.  I will help with anything you can’t see.  That’s my part.  Your part is to do your best, keep up your skills.  If you get lazy or play the self-pitying victim, then that’s unsafe for you and unfair to me and I’ll lose respect and I’ll resent you for it.  We’ve learned we can face any part of blindness…or anything else…as long as we work together.”

That Saturday morning is long passed.  But its message remains clear to me.  Some folks find my wife’s words harsh; others laud their wisdom.  Then and now, I feel she got it right.  That Saturday, my response was to whisper, “You and me, kid,” then take her arm and walk along Wabash—across streets, up and down curbs, around newsstands and window shoppers—as the L train rumbled overhead.

Playlist:

Two of Us” by The Beatles, from the album “Let It Be” (1970)

This Is Us” by Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris, from the album “All This Roadrunning” (2006)

We Walk” by REM, from the album “Murmur” (1983)

One Step Forward” by The Desert Rose Band, from the album “The Desert Rose Band” (1987)

Walk Right Back” by The Everly Brothers (1961)

You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rodgers & Hammerstein, from their musical “Carousel” (1945” and covered by singers ranging from Gerry & The Pacemakers (1963) to Andrea Bocelli

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Getting There Is Half the Fun

My friend, Sadie, is a skilled and intuitive sighted guide.  Together, we navigate city streets and Rocky Mountain trails.  We climb hills and descend stairs.  We zigzag between tall trees and Costco shoppers.  Last fall, Sadie guided me through City Hall corridors so I could register to vote.  Yesterday, she offered me her arm to walk from the living room to the front doorin my own home.

I am blessed with friends like Sadie.  They balance my needs for safety and self-reliance.  They know they can say, “You might want to…” without me replying, “Mind your own business.”  At other times, when other civilians admonish me to be careful, I want to snap, “Hey!  You have no idea how careful I am, how careful I have to be every single minute of every single day!”

Why, then, do I keep walking into walls?  Why do I furniture-walk, use area rugs as guard rails and light ten table lamps as beacons?  Why, when flying solo, do I sidle rather than stride, assume the Frankenstein shuffle or mimic the untrained and flailing Helen Keller of The Miracle Worker?

The honest answer is that my eyesight is getting worse.  And one obvious solution is to use my white cane within my home.  Last year, as a stranger to these four walls, I used my cane to navigate around sharp angles and square corners.  But as I grew accustomed to the place, the cane became one more thing not to lose track of, leave behind or trip over.

Rather than the white cane assuring safe haven at home, it leads me across that psychological frontier into dependence.  I vacillate between accepting the reality of deeper darkness and demanding retribution from this soul-sucking disease.  I alternately exert self-will to mold truth to fit my needs or face facts and find peace in surrender.

Blindness is hazardous to bodily integrity.  I wear black and blue and red badges of conflicts with counter tops and cupboard doors.  Cause and effect is an equation simple to learn and practice yet I remain incorrigibly myself and my self rationalizes, cuts corners and does what it wants.  Look around—I’ve no yawning staircases to tumble down, no rearranged furniture to trip over.  White cane?  Maybe my yardstick will do for starters—‘til I’m really sure I really need to use my white cane inside my own home.

I am seventy-one years old and I’ve been fighting RP half my life.  Ten years in, I surrendered to white cane training.  It helped me get around and told people what I didn’t want to have to say out loud.  Still, I fought, I bargained, I chose when and where to use the cane—dark places, strange places.  Then, strolling to work at the hospital, along the avenue I’d walked full-time for years, I didn’t see the freshly-dug trench and I stepped in and broke my ankle.  I rose, removed my white cane from my back pocket and, using it as a crutch, hobbled across the street and into the Emergency Room.  For weeks thereafter, I displayed my white cane—taped to my crutches.

Nowadays, I have my white cane, guide dog Tundra and friends like Sadie to protect me from the pitfalls of blindness.  But who will protect me from my own foolish pride and ruinous ego?  When will I ever learn?

Playlist:

My friend, Sadie, has given me a nickname.  She calls me Mister Mister.

Please, Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes (1961)

Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes (1954)

Mr. Spaceman” by The Byrds, from the album “5D (Fifth Dimension)” (1966)

Mr. Soul” by Buffalo Springfield, from the album “Buffalo Springfield Again”    (1967)

Mr. Wonderful” by Peggy Lee (1956)

Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton (1962)

Mr. Dieingly Sad” by The Critters (1966), later covered by Lou Christie

Mr. Tambourine Man” by Bob Dylan (1965), The Byrds (1965)

Mr. Bojangles” by Jerry Jeff Walker (1970)

Mr. Skin” by Spirit, from the album “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” (1970)

Mr. Blues” by Moby Grape, from the album, “Moby Grape” (1967)

Mr. Blue” by The Fleetwoods (1959)

Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows, from the album “August and Everything After” (1993)

Mr. Bubbles” by The Ruminators (2016)

Mr. Wrong” by Cracker, from the album “Cracker” (1992)

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Animal Magnetism

When I was ten years old, I read a book called The Incredible Journey.  The journey was made by two dogs and a cat who traversed hundreds of miles of Canadian wilderness to reunite with their beloved human masters.  Their camaraderie and courage bore testament to love and loyalty.  It was the best book I’d ever read.

In today’s slice of life, my two cats tussle over a catnip-laced cardboard box the perfect size for one cat.  My off-duty guide dog whimpers at the back door, pleading to be let in so she can snooze on my bed.  Compared to traversing the Canadian wilderness, feuding for a box and angling for a nap might be considered mundane.

But I resist fictional heroes making the rest of us feel inadequate.  I laud my blended family’s bonds of kinship.  Tundra the dog and Hopalong the cat engage in mutual grooming and spirited romping.  And when Mulligan the cat howled pitiably as I forced hair-ball medicine into him, Tundra and Hopalong gathered ‘round, howling pitiably and vicariously.

I applaud Tundra and her predecessor, Randy, for camaraderie and courage.  Each has rerouted wayward felines seeking the great wide open by blocking their path and then, with head bumps, shoveling them through the doorway by which they’d escaped.  Those dogs corral cats better than Colorado cowboys.

Heroism is, at times, subtle and still.  Two years ago, as my wife Mary’s health declined, Randy lived bedside, spooning Mary’s body with his.  Our family shared, all in our own way, our transition.

Now, I awaken each morning with a big black dog and a counterpane of cats.  And on mornings I’m feeling low, missing Mary, Tundra places her front paws on my shoulders and her face next to mine.  “No licking,” I tell her, so she nuzzles my face and we lie, silent and still.

This family has made our own incredible journey.  Through love and loss, across the distance from Windy City to Mile-High, for months of Covid, we’ve remained grateful for companionship.  My three animal heroes need do nothing beyond showing up and acting naturally.  They are incorrigibly themselves—and are loved for who they are.

Playlist

Fido” by The Byrds, from the album “Ballad of Easy Rider” (1969)

Ruff and Reddy” theme from the NBC cartoon series (1957-1960): “They sometimes have their little spats/Even fight like dogs and cats/But when they need each other/That’s when they’re Ruff and Reddy”

The Andy Griffith Show” theme: “Take down your fishin’ pole and meet me at the fishin’ hole/We’ll have you, me and ol’ dog Trey to pass the time away”

Muzzle of Bees” by Wilco, from the album “A Ghost Is Born” (2004)

Powderfinger” by Neil Young with Crazy Horse, from the album “Rust Never Sleeps” (1979)

Meant to Be” by Spanic Boys, from the album “Strange World” (1991).  This Wisconsin father and son look like the guys who run the hardware store and harmonize like the Everly Brothers.

Some Change” by Boz Scaggs, from the album “Some Change (1994)

Mona (I Need You Baby)” by Ellis McDaniel (Bo Diddley), (1957)

My Life is Totally Boring without You” by Cracker, from the album “Gentleman’s Blues” (1998)

See My Friends” by The Kinks (studio, 1965) and Ray Davies (live album “The Storyteller,” 1998)

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The Wind Cries Mary

At first glance, I’m an ordinary guy walking his dog around the block.  But look closer and you’ll see it’s the dog who’s walking me.  Beyond glimpses of my Black Lab against gray sidewalk, I see only fog—fog that has replaced nods and winks, colors and cars, houses and trees, raindrops and rainbows, cirrus clouds and Rocky Mountains.  Within this fog, I feel solitude so profound I may as well be the only man on earth.  So I hold onto and follow my dog.  I try to memorize the route we take around the block, the twists and turns, the straightaways.

Then I hear the wind chimes and I know where I am, where I’m going and where I’ve been.  I know I am nearing Barb and Jim’s house and that Barb and Jim’s house is three doors clockwise and across the street from mine.  I know I’m about a quarter of the way around the block and I’m on the right track.

As I’m walking and listening, I know I, too, have wind chimesin a shoebox, in my closet.  The wind chimes were a gift from my friends, Mimi and Scooter, a kind remembrance of my wife, Mary.  On the chimes, my friends wrote, “The Wind Cries Mary,” after the beautiful song by Jimi Hendrix.  In Chicago, I found no outdoor spot for the chimes, so I placed The Wind Cries Mary above my living room window and the Windy City did the rest.  She sounded beautiful, just like the song.

Now I’m walking and planning where to place The Wind Cries Mary at my Colorado home.  The sun is soft on my face, the wind gentle at my back and the sidewalk straight and true—all signs point homeward.  I cue Tundra the guide dog and, as we draw abreast of our front walk, we turn as one and we are home.  I hear faintly the chimes three doors down and I decide to place The Wind Cries Mary right out front where, with each breath of wind, the two chimes will harmonize.  Like songbirds, they will call and respond, each with its clear and singular voice.  And, when I’m walking with the dog, walking way out in the fog, I’ll listen for The Wind Cries Mary and she will guide me home.

Playlist:

“The Wind Cries Mary” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, from the album, “Are You Experienced?” (1967)

Against the Wind” by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, from the album “Against the Wind (1980)

Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, from the album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1962/1963)

They Call the Wind Maria,” written by Lerner & Loewe for the musical “Paint Your Wagon” (1951)

Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra (1966)

Candle in the Wind” by Elton John, from the album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973)

Wind Beneath My Wings” by Lou Rawls (1983), Bette Midler (1988) and others

Look to the Wind” by Leslie West, from the album “Mountain” (1969)

Any Way the Wind Blows” by Doris Day (1958) or the Mothers of Invention, from the album “Freak Out!” (1966)—take your pick

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Cat at Large

When I discovered my Colorado home has a master bath with two sinks, I said, “Great!  One for me and one for Mulligan.”  Mulligan is my cat, my Maine Coon cat to be exact, who loves water and whose ancestors worked as ship’s cats catching rats.  While there are no high seas in Colorado, there’s a water-dripping faucet which I tap to satisfy Mulligan’s thirst, curiosity and sense of hereditary purpose.

This morning, Mulligan crouches at his sink, lapping drops and pawing puddles.  I stand at my sink, preparing to christen my new Water Pik.  Steps 1 thru 4: fill water reservoir, set emission control to maximum propulsion, press power button and let ‘er rip.  I do as instructed.  At step 4, a jet of water shoots across the countertop, dousing Mulligan’s backside.  If I could see, I’d see Mulligan thumbing his nose with those extra Maine Coon cat toes.  As it is, I hear Mulligan’s unprintable epithet as he flees high tide for dry land far, far from me. 

The dry land he finds is outdoors.  Mulligan’s habit is to answer the call of the wild, then call for help.  I shake the jar of cat treats I keep on the patio for such occasions.  He saunters in my direction, then hops onto the stone wall and flops on his side, the ingenue at the petting zoo.

“Mulligan, you try my patience with your unauthorized escapes.”

“Meow,” says Mulligan.

“Yes, I apologize for dousing you.  But please know that the life of an escapee is a hard life.  The wild west has tamed but that wily coyote, fleet fox and Pontiac Firebird have you in their sights.”

“Meow,” says Mulligan.

“This is Colorado, far from the sailing ships, open seas, salty dogs and fresh fish that formed the lives of your forefathers.” 

Time to return this cat to captivity.  I heft all eighteen pounds of him.  Can someone please put a handle on this cat?

“Mulligan, I promise that tonight we’ll listen to Treasure Island.  I think Mutiny on the Bounty put some wrong ideas in your head.”

“Meow,” says Mulligan, which I take to mean, “just put some goldfish in that sink of mine and we’ll call it a deal.”

Playlist

“Phenomenal Cat” by The Kinks, from the album “The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society” (1968)

Water Song” by Hot Tuna, from the album “Burgers” (1972)

Take Me to the River” by Talking Heads, written by Al Green and Mabon “teenie” Hodges

A Salty Dog” by Procol Harum, from the album “A Salty Dog” (1969)

St. Cajetan” by Cracker, from the album “Cracker” (1992)

Many Rivers to Cross” by Jimmy Cliff (1969)

The Trader” by The Beach Boys, from the album “Holland” (1973)

The Dark and the Rolling Sea” by Al Stewart, from the album “Modern Times” (1975)

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Seniorland

Nomadland is coming soon.  I’ll give you a sneak preview of the film.  When I picture Nomadland, I see Frances McDormand walking across a desolate land.  It’s the same scene I see in the place I am now, the place I call Seniorland.

I qualify chronologically to live in Seniorland.  I qualify functionally because I’m blind.  In Seniorland, they are uniformly kind and caring.  They talk about the grandkids.  I don’t have grandkids.  In Seniorland, they sound like my parents, not like my generation.  Does this make me an ageist?  Steeped in denial?  Fixated at adolescence?  If I seek differences rather than similarities to make me feel superior, then I practice a dangerous habit…unless I simply don’t care to have friends in Seniorland.

“People my age,” sings Neil Young, “they don’t do the things I do.”  I bet I’m the only senior in Seniorland who plays Pink Floyd LOUD through speakers that cost more than my first car.  I walk marathon distance each week.  I weigh what I did in college.  I don’t bake cookies.  I don’t sound old.  People tell me I don’t look old either.  My friends say I don’t act my age and neither do they. 

What I share with seniors is loss.  My wife, my brother and my motherwithin the year.  Mortality stares me in the face and, though I don’t see it, it weighs on me.  Is this how it will be from now on, loss upon loss?  In Seniorland, they agonize over giving up their car keys.  I gave up mine when I was 39.  I’m 70 years old and I’ve lived half my life sighted and half my life blind and I say for a laugh, “Too bad the blind half’s the half I’m in now.”  Then laughter stops.  Long and tortuous is sight diminishing to the vanishing point.

Here’s what would help—if my wife or my brother or my mother were with me in Seniorland.  But I can’t make my well-being conditional, especially with conditions that never will come true.  And, in Seniorland, we learn how few conditions ever will come true.

So…where do we go from here?  Seniorland is not longitude or latitude or altitude.  It is attitude.  It is a state of mind and a place in time.  I see myself falling into step alongside Frances McDormand.  I take her arm and she guides me through her land and my land.  The desolation becomes promise.  We are a part of, not apart from.  We talk of prepositions, of getting through rather than getting over.  We speak of surviving.  We speak of planting seeds.  We practice gratitude.  We endorse optimism.  We sing.  We share a laugh.  We invoke The Serenity Prayer.  We choose to take pleasure in the mundane.  We do what we need to do to keep moving forward.

Playlist:

[This blog came to life as I walked slowly up a steep incline on my treadmill.  This playlist contains the songs I heard while climbing that stairway to…well, you know where…at 2.5 mph.]

“Driveby” by Neil Young with Crazy Horse, from the album “Sleeps with Angels” (1994)

“Heart” by Rockpile, from the album “Seconds of Pleasure” (1980)

“Holiday” by Weezer, from the album “Weezer (Blue Album)” (1994)

“I Found Love” by Lone Justice, from the album “This World Is Not My Home” (1998)

“I’m the Ocean” by Neil Young with Pearl Jam, from the album “Mirror Ball” (1995)

“Planet Telex” by Radiohead, from the album “The Bends” (1995)

“The Way That It Shows” by Richard Thompson, from the album “Mirror Blue” (1994)

and, thematically:

“My Generation” by The Who, either the radio version or, ye gads!, the long version from the album “Live at Leeds” (1970)

“I Wanna Go Home” by Holly Beth Vincent, from the album “Holly & The Italians: The Right To Be Italian” (1981)

“Prom Theme” by Fountains of Wayne, from the album “Utopia Parkway” (1999)

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Tundra Explores the Frozen Tundra

The blizzard was forecast to arrive Saturday.  When it didn’t, skeptics said the forecasters got it wrong.  When the blizzard hit Sunday, forecasters said it was the skeptics who’d got it wrong.  But everyone agreed the blizzard was bona fide: heavy snow, high wind and low visibility.  The snow and wind came courtesy of Mother Nature; I contributed low visibility.

Sunday into Monday, the blizzard raged and we hunkered around the fireplace.  Tundra the guide dog required occasional relief outdoors, during which, glad to say, neither man nor beast became unleashed, lost their way or blew away.

When Tuesday dawned clear and calm, Tundra and I ventured into the back forty to assess the terrain.  Beyond our covered patio lies eighty-eight square feet of fenced, grassy lawn we call Tundra’s Happy Acre.  Using my fifty-eight inch white cane, I determined the snowdrift atop Tundra’s Happy Acre stood sixty-six inches, thirty inches above the top of the fence.  In human terms, I was up to my neck in snow.

Tundra celebrated her winter wonderland by climbing the snowdrift and slaloming down the opposite slope into unfenced freedom.  I heard her romp and roll, snort and cavort while I shoveled the top foot or so from the snowdrift layer cake.  I felt the warmth of the sun and heard water trickle through the downspout.  Then things got quiettoo quiet.  “Tundra,” I called.  “Tundra,” I called, louder this time.

“She’s over here,” shouted my neighbor.  “And now she’s heading next door.  She’s visiting the shut-ins.”

“Good for Little Miss Sunshine,” I yelled back.  “but now’s not the time to make house calls.  Tundra!  Tundra, come!”

“Oh, hi Tundra,” said my neighbor’s neighbor.  “So kind of you to drop by…but I think your daddy wants you home.”

Eventually, out of curiosity or obedience, Tundra reversed her escape route, ascended the backyard snowdrift and paused at its summit to observe her domain—Queen of the Yukon.

“TUNDRA…GET…INSIDE…THIS…HOUSE…RIGHT…NOW” I snarled and, sensing discipline, or lunch, she complied.

As I dug into a warmed, leftover bowl of my Crock Pot Extravaganza #34, Frosty the Snowman tromped across the roof.  I heard his corduroy pants go “ VOOT! VOOT! VOOT!” before he leapt from the roof and landed with a “THUMP!” onto the recently-reduced snowdrift atop Tundra’s Happy Acre.  As I stared straight ahead and stirred my soup, I calculated that, as twenty-four inches of blizzard snow covering a one hundred sixty square-foot patio rooftop slides bit by bit onto Tundra’s Happy Acre, she’ll keep smiling with the gift that keeps on giving while I keep shoveling the leftovers of this Daylight Savings Sunday blizzard…‘til the Fourth of July.

Playlist (from Tundra’s perspective):

I’m Free” by The Who, from the album “Tommy” (1969)

I’m Free” by The Rolling Stones, first released as the final track on the UK “Out of Our Heads” album (1965). It was also released at the same time as a single in the US and later included on the American “December’s Children (And Everybody’s)” album (1965).

I Am Free” by The Kinks, from the album “Kinks Kontroversy” (1965 U.K.; 1966 U. S.)

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Adjustment Reaction

On January 3, 1994, I was declared legally blind.  Soon after, I was diagnosed with Adjustment Reaction with Depression and Anxiety.  The declaration was uttered by the ophthalmologist who calculated my remaining visual field as less than twenty degrees.  The diagnosis was muttered by the psychiatrist who nodded along to my tale of living eight years with RP.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was the bible upon which my diagnosis was based.  “Adjustment Reaction” was a no-brainerI was reacting to going blind.  Depression implied I had exhibited at least five of nine symptoms for awhile—like losing interest in pleasurable pastimes, feeling helpless/hopeless and/or losing sleep/appetite.  I condensed my symptoms thusly: “I feel like it’s the end of the world.”

Anxiety featured a bunch of clinical symptoms, too.  I zeroed in on fear, dread and doom—like slicing my head open on a stop sign, then falling into an open manhole all the way to China.  Then losing my job, isolating physically, withdrawing emotionally and ending up depressed.

During the intervening twenty-seven years, some disturbances manifested, others didn’t.  Some symptoms endure, others don’t.  In the revised DSM, the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has gained prevalence.  I’ve adjusted accordingly.  I’ve deleted the word, “Post,” because the trauma of progressive vision loss goes on and on.  And I’ve excised “Disorder,” so as not to pathologize my otherwise benign adjustment reaction.  That leaves “Traumatic Stress,” which pretty much sums up my state of mind.

At the holidays, I read of the Two Blind Brothers, entrepreneurs who tout their cotton, bamboo and spandex shirts as the world’s most comfortable.  The inscription on each shirt is in print and Braille.  I see this as the perfect mode for self-expression.  One flaming red hoodie, please, with the extra-large declaration and diagnosis…”STILL ADJUSTING.”

Playlist:

Can’t Stand It” by Wilco, from the album “Summerteeth” (1999)

Ain’t Got Nobody” by Weezer, from the album “Everything Will Be Alright in the End” (2014)

Don’t Let It Bring You Down” by Neil Young, from the album “After the Gold Rush” (1970)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones, from the album “Let It Bleed” (1969)

Oil in My Lamp” by The Byrds, from the album “Ballad of Easy Rider” (1969)

(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by The Kinks, from the album “Low Budget” (1979)

“New Day” by Voice of the Beehive, from the album “Sex and Misery” (1996)

Amazing Things” by Megon McDonnough, from the album “Spirits in the Material World”

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Welcome to The Pleasure Palace

“Hey, Siri, what time is it?”

“It’s 4:05 am.”

“Hey, Siri, what’s the weather in Fort Collins?”

“It’s snowing with a temperature of minus two degrees.”

Roused by sounds of life, Tundra, Black Lab and bedmate, shovels her nose under my pillow and thumps her tail as I curl around her.  Mulligan the cat, born during the Blizzard of 2011, paws at snowflakes floating outside the window.  Hopalong the cat, salvaged from the wilds of East St. Louis, chases his imaginary friend into the darkness beyond the bedroom doorway.

And so begins the day in The Pleasure Palace.  The Pleasure Palace contains reality, wishful thinking and silliness.  It’s all this—and it’s home.  The Pleasure-Dome called Xanadu was home to Kublai Khan and Citizen Kane…and Olivia Newton-John.  But I digress.  In The Pleasure Palace, I listen to rock & roll and entertain.  I write stories on my screen reader-infused PC and read my mail via OCR.  I put mileage on the treadmill parked in my garage.  I dress in color-identified clothing.  I stock my shelves with food ordered online and delivered to my door.  I prepare meals from bar code-identified boxes, following recipes downloaded from Blind Mice Mega Mall and cooked in bump-dotted appliances.  I wash dishes and laundry in similarly bump-dotted conveniences.  The Pleasure Palace is all things at all times—work and play.

This dark and peaceful hour signals transition.  I check my iPhone for overnight emails, texts and voice messages.  At NFB Newsline, I catch weather trends and read newspaper articles hot off the press.  I listen to Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters from an American.”  I peruse stock market futures.  I talk back to sports talk radio and sing along to tunes on my Victor Reader Stream.  I replay the portion of the NLS BARD audio book or Netflix feature I fell asleep to last night.

The mantle clock strikes five.  “Up and at ’em!” I call to the animals—with little effect.  “Who wants to eat?” I shout and the menagerie scrambles toward the kitchen.  As I cross the dance floor-sized living room, I say, “Alexa, play ‘Good Morning’ by The Steve Miller Band.”  The programmable thermostat has taken the chill from the overnight air.  Ah, The Pleasure Palace.  More like The House of Gizmos and Gadgets.  Independent?  Heck yes, with lots of help.  Hey, at least I clean the cat box and water the plants.  Just remind me to ask Google how to keep that ivy alive.

Playlist

*“Feels Like Home” by Bonnie Raitt, written by Randy Newman (1996)

*”Green” by Edie Brickell, from the album “Picture Perfect Morning” (1994)

*“A Well Respected Man” by The Kinks (1965)

*“Shangri-La” by The Kinks, from the album “Arthur, or the decline and Fall of the British Empire” (1969)

*”In the Garage” by Weezer, from the album “Weezer (Blue Album)” (1994)

*“In Dreams” by Roy Orbison (1963)

*“Dream River” by The Mavericks, from the album “Trampoline” (1998)

*“Good Morning” by The Steve Miller Band, from the album “Number 5” (1970)

Posted in Adapting, Assistive Technology, Independence | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

This Is Where I Belong

I’ve set my dining table for my friends, Mimi and Scooter.  Instead of crystal and silver, I’ve placed white cane #1 head to foot and white cane #2 perpendicular to its midpoint.  Cane #1 is College Avenue; cane #2 is Mountain Avenue.  They intersect at the epicenter of the city street grid.  They proscribe the four quadrants of my new home town: Fort Collins, Colorado.

“What is this, crossed swords?” asks Scooter, striding into the dining room.  “Are we the Three Musketeers?  Swashbucklers?  Shish-kabobers?”

“This,” I announce, “is a tactile map of our town.  It will help me get my bearings, learn landmarks, feel at home.”

I hand Scooter a loaf of bread.  “This is Colorado State University.  Where does it go?”  I hear the bread plop onto the table.

“Sourdough State University,” declares Scooter.  “My alma mater.”

“I think it should go over there more,” says Mimi.

“No,” says Scooter.  “I cut enough classes to know where I was supposed to be.  And right here is where I was supposed to be.”

“Halls of ivy!” I say.  “Now, Mimi, may I ask you to place the Cheerios box where you and Scooter live?”

“We call it the Ponderosa,” says Scooter.

I hear the Cheerios box hit the table.  After a pause, I hear it slide a few inches to the left.  “That’s where the Ponderosa belongs,” says Scooter.

“Scooter thinks I’m directionally challenged,” says Mimi.  Mimi and Scooter have been married a long, long time.

“OK,” I say.  “My house is that jar of peanut butter.”  I hear the jar tap the tabletop.

“Now we’re getting somewhere.  Three landmarks on the map.”

~~~~~

In Chicago, where I lived until four months ago, I could direct cab drivers along back streets to avoid construction zones.  I knew where to board the #147 bus to get to Michigan and Randolph.  I knew which color ‘L’ line to take.  I’d been given the key to the city by my wife, Mary.  After Mary died, I felt adrift.  Then Covid hit and isolation doubled.  My final six months in Chicago, I traveled no farther than three blocks from home.  The intimacy I had enjoyed with friends was thwarted by necessary distance and plexiglass barriers.  I felt estranged from the city I’d known so well.  I rerouted energy toward people in other places, from other times.  Momentum accelerated westward.  I had known one person when I moved to Chicago; I knew three people in Fort Collins.  I’ve been given three keys to this new city.  I’m betting on this Colorado trifecta.  I’m learning the basics: within my dining table city limits dwell 170,244 souls within 57 square miles traversed by 1922 miles of streets along which we souls call home.  This is my new town.  This is where I am is my declaration.  This is where I belong is my affirmation.

~~~~~

Mimi and Scooter add landmarks to the cityscape.  I roll up my sleeves and, with that spider-finger walk, explore my new home town: CSU, public library, City Park, restaurants, ice cream shop, the corner of Shields and Centre, the Ponderosa, my place.  

“One final touch,” says Scooter, rustling a bag of white cheddar popcorn.

“Snowstorm?” I ask.

“You can think of it as a flurry that becomes a blizzard,” replies Scooter.  “It’s a winter visitor, all right.  And it leaves a mess.  But it’s not snow.  It’s…geese!”

Playlist

*“This Is Where I Belong” by The Kinks (1966)

*“I Get Around” by The Beach Boys (1964)

*“Never No Lament” instrumental by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1940)/“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (1942, lyrics by Bob Russell).  Covered by Mose Allison, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, The Ink Spots and others.

*“Last Good Time in Town” by Eagles, from the album “Long Road out of Eden” (2007)

*“Living in the USA” by The Steve Miller Band, from the album “Sailor” (1968)

*“Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)

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