Disorientation and Mobility

“I wish I could fly to Spain,” says my friend, Sadie.  “to the place called Land’s End.  Where the land meets the sea.  It’s vast and open and…forever.  You can’t tell where the land ends and the sea begins.  You stare long enough, you get disoriented.  I want to experience that.  It sounds beautiful and…inspirational.”

“Send me a postcard, Sadie.  I’ll stay put.  I can get disoriented in my garage.  Think I’m kidding?  Once, I got disoriented in a Porta-Jon.”

“I don’t want to hear about that.”

“It was during a hockey game in Phoenix…but I’ll spare you the details.”

“You remember everything, don’t you, Mister Mister?”

“Sadie, I remember things I’d rather forget.”

“Well, then, you don’t have to go to Spain if you don’t want to.  I’m not sure I invited you anyway.  No offense, mind you.”

“None taken.  I figure it this way: With my eyesight, I’ve got Land’s End all around me.  When I can’t tell figure from ground, when I lose points of reference, when everything melds together, then I’m disoriented.  I’m hearing Twilight Zone music, my stomach’s dropping to my feet and my head’s swimming like jellyfish.”

“Well, then, you wouldn’t have much fun at Land’s End.  Besides, if you were with me and I was your sighted guide and I got disoriented, then we’re both up a creek, so to speak.”

“Swimming like jellyfish.”

“Say, Mister Mister, do you think I’ll get disoriented?  I mean, I’m all in for beauty and inspiration but I’m not all in for the Twilight Zone.”

“Sadie, you’ll be fine.  If you start feeling weird, turn your head and stare at the tour bus or a windmill and, voila, there’s your figure and ground.  You’re reoriented.  If you don’t believe me, take a Dramamine beforehand.”

“OK, it’s settled.  I’ll fly to Spain; you’ll stay here.  I’ll see Land’s End; you’ll stay away from Porta-Jons.  I’ll look to get disoriented; you’ll look to avoid it.” 

“It’s a deal.  You go and I’ll stay.  You tell me all about it and I’ll listen.  OK, then, that takes care of this week.  What’ll we do next week?”

Playlist:

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

Spanish Caravan” by The Doors, from the album “Waiting for the Sun” (1968)

Spanish Bombs” by The Clash, from the album “London Calling” (1979)

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

Holiday” by The Kinks, from the album “Muswell Hillbillies” (1971)

Castles of Spain” album by Andres Segovia (1970)

Sketches of Spain” album by Miles Davis (1959-1960)

The Rain in Spain” by Lerner and Lowe, from “My Fair Lady” (Broadway-1956; Film-1964)

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Watch Your Step

“Say, Sadie!”

“Over here.”

“Do you remember our first adventure in sighted guiding?”

“When dinosaurs roamed the earth?”

“Yes…Before Facebook, even.”

“Imagine that!  Tell me more, Mr. Memory.”

“Picture this.  New Orleans.  Twelve revelers, twenty years ago.  Harry and Dave lead me along the avenue, slaloming parking meters.  Skeeter tells them they aren’t handling me safely.  She takes my left arm and you my right and off we march.  And when we get to Bourbon Street, Skeeter turns left and you turn right.”

“We didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“And I didn’t, thanks to you.”

“Right…after Skeeter and I nearly tear you in two.”

“Skeeter on the left, Sadie on the rightwild horses couldn’t drag me away!”

“We all had to learn.  We weren’t born knowing.  Sighted guiding?  What’s that?  Thing was, you didn’t want someone meant to help you end up hurting you.”

“Nor did I want to end up hurting someone helping me.”

In my mind’s eye, New Orleans morphs into Colorado mountains.  It’s last winter.  Sadie and I hiking.  Sadie guiding.  Snow.  Rocks.  Roots.  Downslope.  I trip.  I’m lurching forward.  I pull Sadie off her feet.  She’s falling to the ground.  She’s in pain.  She’s sprained her ankle.  I tend to her.  She wants to stand.  I help her to her feet.  She takes a few steps.  We walk on.  I feel awful.

Sadie’s voice joins the scene.  “Don’t blame yourself.  You know, I’ve taken a tumble or two all by myself out there, before and since.  And I’ve recovered from them all.”

“Thank God.  And thank you for absolution of guilt.  But it was scary!”

“For you and me both, Mister Mister.”

“Why didn’t I let go of your arm?  Why did I hold on like Grim Death?  There’s so much at stake.  Work hard.  Build core muscles.  Stay strong and stable.  You do all this and then your friend comes along and yanks you off your feet.  We talk about bone density and osteoporosis and osteopenia and that kiss of death hip fracture and—BOOM!—down you go through no fault of your own.  That’s traumatic.”

“And so is losing your eyesight, my friend.  But you get up and do your best.  And there’ll always be snow and rocks and maybe even trips and falls.  We’re not always going to get every step like Fred and Ginger.  But we keep on keeping on.”

“Right on!”  I jump to my feet.  “We’ve lived to tell the tale.  We’ve lived to stand tall and keep walking.  Walking  and talking and, well, chewing gum…just not at the same time!  At least, in my case, that is.”

Playlist:

Walking to New Orleans” by Fats Domino (1960)

Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison (1964)

Fall on Me” by REM, from the album “Life’s Rich Pageant” (1986)

“It’s So Easy to Trip” by Mason Proffit (help me find this one, Ted)

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

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, from the album “Transformer” (1972)

Watch Your Step” by Elvis Costello & the Attractions, from the album “Trust” (1981)

I Can’t Believe It” by Eric Burdon & The Animals (1965)

Struggle” by Keith Richards, from the album “Talk Is Cheap” (1988)

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It’s So Nice to Have a Cane Around the House

“Hey, Mister Mister, whatcha doing with that stick?  Poking a hole in the sky?  Writing your name on a cloud?  Skewering a goose?  Is that what you’re doing, Mister Mister?”  Exuberance carries my friend, Sadielike wings.

“What I’m doing is more practical than celestial,” I tell Sadie.  “I’m discovering new uses for my white cane.  Observe how I tap it into the patio roof—BONK!  Or into thin air—WHOOSH!  I’m learning where to place the patio furniture so my guests and I won’t be sitting in the rain.”

“Don’t ask me to sit in the rain.  It reminds me of being a kid sitting in my wet bathing suit or, worse, that I’d wet my pants.”

“God forbid.  Nor do we want the chairs in the hot sun.”

“Don’t ask me to sit in the hot sun.  When I sit in the hot sun, I get short.”

“You shrink?”

“No.  I get crabby.  People don’t want to be around me.”

“God forbid.  The whole time I lived in the stinkin’ desert, I was cranky,” I tell Sadie.  “Well, maybe half the time—the hot half.”

“Ditto,” says Sadie.  “I served my time in the hot seat.”

“Ow!  Hot Pants!” I sing and, stiff as my white cane, jerk into a James Brown dance move.

Sadie rewards my pathetic effort with a high-five.  “Ow!  Hot Pants, wet pants! Keep me cool and dry!”

“And looka here,” I tell Sadie.  “The cane makes it so I don’t trip over the petunia pots.  I can walk right up to them with my watering can, not sidle up to them like I’m sneaky.  Plants don’t trust sneaky people.”

“You want to make friends with petunias so they’ll bloom all pink and purple.”

“Picture this.  I’m sitting in a shady spot on the patio, in the swivel rocker, listening to a book or ball game.  Tundra’s lying at my feet.  I get a hankering for a root beer float or a bowl of white cheddar popcorn.  I stand and, thinking the dog’s still there, take this giant step over her, like Hannibal crossing the Alps.  Thing is, Tundra’s moved on.  So, you see, not only will the cane keep me from tripping over Tundra when she’s there, it’ll keep my neighbors from thinking I’m weird when I step over the dog that isn’t there.”

“Well, that’ll partially explain it.”

“And that’s not all!  My white cane reduces the incidence of those unsightly abrasions and contusions, bumps and bruises that decorate my bony parts like shins and head.”

“You think that will keep your neighbors from calling you Mr. Bone Head?”

“I can see it now—shady spots, petunia pots, baseball, summer showers.”

“When it rains at a baseball game,” says Sadie, “I go inside for a hot dog and a beer.”

“I can taste it now, Sadie.  And when it’s a hundred degrees in the sun—or in the shade—I go indoors for a cool drink.  Let us adjourn to the refreshment stand.”

I tap my way to the front door, open it and stand aside as Sadie passes.  From kindness and habit, she offers her arm as sighted guide.

“Thanks, but not this trip,” I say.  “It’s my turn to lead.”  As we walk toward the kitchen, I call, “Two tall, cool ones, coming right up!”

Playlist:

It’s So Nice to Have a Man Around the House” by Dinah Shore (1960), Della Reese, Peggy Lee, etc.

Mean Mr. Mustard” by The Beatles, from the album “Abbey Road” (1969)

Sexy Sadie” by The Beatles, from the album “The Beatles (White Album)” (1968)

“’Round Here” by Counting Crows, from the album “August and Everything After” (1993)

Dead End Street” by The Kinks (1966)

Rain on the Roof” by Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)

Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks (1966)

Rain” by The Beatles(1966)

Paper Sun” by Traffic, from the album “Mr. Fantasy” (1968)

Sitting in the Midday Sun” by The Kinks, from the album “Preservation: Act One” (1973)

I’ll Go Crazy” by James Brown, from the album “Live at the Apollo”  (1963)

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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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