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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bears


Before I get to bears, a couple of updates on life.

When I retired in 2004 from law teaching my OSU replacement was Professor Larry Garvin, a good friend, notable legal scholar and teacher, and fellow Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado. A week and a half ago he slipped on the ice while walking from the law school to the parking lot, and broke his femur up near the hip. It’s a very serious break, and he will be in the rehabilitation hospital until at least the end of the first week of March. The dean called and asked me to step in and take over Larry’s four-day-a-week Contracts class, meeting 11 a.m. until noon, M-Th. I was willing to do this on the clear understanding that I would NOT HAVE TO GRADE ANY EXAMS. The classes have been fun, but it is a lot of work to have to prepare for classes out of a strange casebook when for most of the decades I taught this subject I used my own book.

Today (Tues. Feb 23) is the three month anniversary of my heart transplant. That is an important milestone, particularly since my health is so good. I can now stop wearing a mask in public, which did cause comment. On the day I, a stranger, first walked into Larry's Contracts class wearing the mask, the students (who knew about Larry’s accident) were abuzz. When it was time to begin I looked up at them and said, “I’m wearing a mask because I heard you all have germs.” That caused a laugh, and I explained about the heart transplant, and things went on from there. Now back to the main topic.

I have always been fascinated by bears and I don’t know why. In zoos, for example, I can spend a lot of time just watching them—big bears, small bears, black bears, white ones. I had a period of about a year in law school when I had repetitive bear dreams every few months. In these dreams the bear would always start out friendly, was always wearing a hat, and then turned mean, at which point I climbed something to escape the bear. In one dream, for example, the bear was Smokey wearing his park ranger hat and there was a camera crew filming a public service announcement (“Ditch the butt, Smokey, this is a take”). Then Smokey suddenly became vicious and started attacking people with huge paw swipes, at which point I climbed a tree (which makes no sense since bears can climb trees, but, well, running didn’t seem better). When Smokey came after me I kicked at him, and then woke up. In another it was a children’s birthday party (I was an adult in the dream), and the two pet grizzly bears were wearing party hats. When they turned on the guests, I climbed a china cupboard to escape.

These dreams may have been influenced by a real life encounter with a wild bear. This occurred in the summer of 1960. My father had been transferred from Nashville to Langley Air Force Base in southern Virginia, and I would spend my senior year of high school there (at York High School, a few feet away from the battlefield where Washington beat the British and secured the American nationhood). Dad was already in VA when my mother, sister (Mary Beth), and I set out driving from Nashville to Yorktown VA. On our route we passed from Gatlingburg TN into NC and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We had driven this beautiful highway before, and were always fascinated by the wild bears who could sometimes be seen digging through the tourist trashcans in the mini-rest areas on the side of the road.

I was driving (having gotten my license the fall before), Mom was riding shotgun, and Mary Beth was in the back seat, when I suddenly pulled into one of these little picnic spots because I had spotted a bear (which we had been looking for). He/she was a good sized black bear, and not at all afraid of cars or humans. The bear came up to our car and started sniffing around (and—trust me on this—we knew enough to stay in the car). The bear was near the back tire on the passenger’s side when a station wagon pulled into the area and parked on the gravel a couple of car-lengths in front of us. There was a family in the car, and the man who was driving promptly exited the station wagon, camera in hand, and started walking our way, making calling noises to the bear. When the idiot was about five feet in front of our car, the bear suddenly charged, growling (well, really it sounded more like a howl). The man, dropping the camera, fled, and immediately fell as he slipped on the gravel. The bear, which had appeared pretty lethargic when calm, was a monster in motion, fat bouncing up and down, as it rounded the car and made for him.

I hit the horn as loud as I could, and the bear squealed to a stop. I hit the horn once more, and the bear, being right in front of the car where the horn would be noisiest, looked back at us, half annoyed, half startled, and then, confused when I honked yet again, turned and bounded into the woods.

The shaken man, picked up the camera, and ran back to the station wagon, which pealed out of the parking area, gravel flying in its wake. Almost immediately the bear returned, now calm once more, and came right up our car. It obviously wanted food, which doubtless tourists had given it in the past. The bear reared up on its hind legs, and put its paws against the front passenger-side windows, causing my Mom to make a low keening noise. In those days there were two windows on the front doors of most cars: a big one like there is now and a little triangular one near the front of the car which could be opened separately for ventilation. The bear’s right paw happened to push the little window closed when the bear stood up. Since the bear was heavy and putting its considerable weight on the windows, Mom and Mary Beth began giving quiet little yelps about getting out of there, so I started the car and we gently pulled away. Once we were back on the highway, Mom held her hands out for our inspection to demonstrate how much they were shaking. I have no memory of my reaction at all. Perhaps I was in shock.

That was my last encounter with bears outside of a zoo, and it’s enough for me.
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Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
"Parakeets and Me," February 5, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
"Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Heart Belonged to Andrew

I have received (through Lifeline of Ohio) a letter that the donor’s family wrote to me before they received my letter (so they crossed). Jenny Hoover at Lifeline wrote me that the donor’s family had now received my letter, and would write me again in response.

Here is the entire letter I received, which the writers (signed “Barbara and Byron") sent to all the recipients:

“Byron and I are Andrew’s mother and step father. When Andrew died suddenly at the age of 27, we knew right away that we wanted to donate his organs. Through this process we were able to help improve or sustain life for four individuals, you among them. Although we know people who have benefitted from organ transplants, we are still surprised at the extent of the benefits to the donor family. We are still learning what a blessing donation has been for us. To know that some good can come from our tragedy is comforting beyond measure. We hope that your transplant enables you to more fully enjoy your life.

“Andrew was our youngest son. He has one older brother, and three older stepbrothers. Andrew was a man with a presence. He was very bright, a perfectionist, and a questioner of authority. Andrew loved philosophy which was his major at Kenyon College, along with psychology. He graduated in 2004. One of his professors described him as ‘a true intellectual, a lover of mental challenges.’ Andrew read widely in philosophy and really enjoyed deep philosophical discussion.

“In the years between college and starting graduate school Andrew worked as a research associate at the Center for Learning Excellence at Ohio State University. In September 2009 Andrew began graduate school at OSU for his PH.D.

“Andrew was generous to his friends. He wanted the people in his life to be happy. Andrew loved to cook, and nurtured connections through his entertaining, both from the kitchen and the bar. He prepared many gourmet meals for friends and family, and prided himself on his knowledge of wine, and his ability to mix a good cocktail. Many of our fondest memories concern Andrew and food! The picture I have enclosed is of Andrew cleaning up after the Thanksgiving dinner he prepared last year (2008).

“In the month before his death Andrew had made some major life changes. He and his girlfriend of three years had decided to keep sharing a home after their first lease expired. Andrew committed to a 5-year clinical Ph.D. program at Ohio State University where he could apply his passion for philosophy to real life situations.

“In his eulogy, Andrew’s brother Jonathan described him very well saying that, ‘Some of the qualities we admired in Andrew were his quick wit, his piercing intelligence, his passion and meticulousness when it came to cooking, or even his love of friendly debate, his love of knowledge and learning, his skill in making a great cocktail, his encyclopedic knowledge of the Simpsons, his independent spirit, his unwavering concern for the well being of those dear to him, his generous hospitality, warm embrace, hearty laugh, and bright smile.'

“We are so pleased that you received life from Andrew.”

I am not someone who cries easily, but I didn’t make it through that letter without being a weepy mess.

The photo enclosed, below, shows a tall, handsome young man, with a great smile, cleaning up the remains of a turkey. I cannot look at without a tremendous conflict of emotions: sadness at his early death, tremendous thanks to him and his parents, and a sense of wonder that his heart is beating inside me as I type this.



I later learned that the photo was taken in 2008 as Andrew cleaned up the Thanksgiving meal he'd prepared that year for the family.  Since I received his heart immediately before Thanksgiving in 2009, sadly it was his last Thanksgiving.
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Related Posts:
"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010
"Another Letter to Andrew's Parents," March 10, 2010
"A Toast to Andrew," May 2, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"The First time I Nearly Died," August 3, 2010
"Rehabilitating Doug," June 12, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"1999-2001: A Dramatic Story, " December 15, 2010
"Naming My Heart," March 24, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Put-Out at Home Plate

As a young man my father was headed for a career as a professional baseball player (he was a catcher) until he threw his arm out while in college. As I discussed in a prior post [“My Competitive Parents”], both of my parents were athletes all their lives. In that department, I was a disappointment to Dad, who always assumed I would share their enthusiasm for sports, but, for reasons I will discuss someday, that was more or less impossible. I was a bowler in two leagues in 1968-69 when I moved to Chicago to practice law, and, when in Bermuda [see “My Year in Bermuda”], I was the catcher for my Navy Supply Department team. I was an okay catcher, and I could bat, but I couldn’t run very fast and that made me an easy out.

During that year I spent in Bermuda, I mostly lived on the Air Force Base with my parents and sister, Mary Beth (who is two years younger than me). Dad’s plane-refueling squadron fielded a softball team in the base’s slowpitch league. In this form of softball there are ten players, and the pitcher (always Dad when his squadron played) must pitch the ball up in an arc so that it comes down over the plate. Although Dad’s squadron was small compared with the others on the base, his team, which he also coached, did quite well. Those eligible to play for any team in the league had to be a man assigned to the squadron (they were all men in those days) or members of his immediate family.

I am a great sports fan, and can get into watching any sporting event as long as I care who wins. I assiduously follow college football and basketball, and, alas, due to my Chicago days when I used to go out to Wrigley Field often, the Chicago Cubs (sigh). When it comes to the Olympics, which are currently all over TV, I am quite the chauvinist, rooting like crazy if the USA is involved in the competition at issue. I don’t even have to understand the rules—I’m cheering like a loon. As a consequence, whenever possible I went along with my mother and sister to watch Dad’s squadron’s softball games, and we three joined the other families in cheering them on to victory (which was the rule rather than the exception).

As the squadron team advanced to the point where they might actually win the base tournament there came a bad day. We were all sitting in the stands waiting for the game to start, but there was confusion on the field of play. The problem was that Dad’s squadron could only come up with nine players, and without another they would have to forfeit the game. Dad looked depressed until he scanned the crowd and came to me. Our eyes met, and I knew at once what he was thinking. I was eligible! There was a certain horror in my mind about this, since I was nowhere near the caliber of the other squadron players. But Dad came up to me and said, “Doug, I hate to ask, but would you play?” I replied that I would, but only if I could catch. So he moved their regular catcher to some other position, and, with massive butterflies knocking around in my stomach, I took my place behind home plate, where I did struggle to hold my own, but committed no serious mistakes.

Towards the end of the game there was a moment of great excitement when the opposing team hit a ball fairly into center field, and the runner on second decided he could score (and win the game) by rounding third base and sliding across home plate. Our centerfielder was well known for his throwing arm, and that ball came zinging in at considerable speed from him directly to me. I caught it, swung my arm down with it, and the runner slid right into me. He was out and we won the game. Dad later told me that it was the only put-out at home plate his team had had all season.

Though Dad died years later at age 61, he got to see me do many things of which he was pleased and thrilled (winning high school debating competitions, graduating with honors from law school, conducting a trial with him (there’s a good story there), and teaching law (he and Mom came to class together at one point). But—truth be told—there was no moment in his life when he was prouder of me than that put-out at home plate.

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“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Year In Bermuda


I joined the Navy right out of high school in 1961, doing two years of active duty, two of meetings (well, here George W. Bush and I have something in common in that I didn’t go to all that many), and two years of inactive reserves. The reason I did this, instead of going directly to college, was that my Air Force Office father suggested it. He always planned on me going to college eventually, of course, but he was afraid that if I went there straight from high school, I would do what he did at Indiana University, which was major in playing pool and getting bad grades. Dad also pointed out, and it was true, that I didn’t know what a hard day’s work was really like, and learning that would make doing well in college a top priority. So, dutiful son that I was, I joined the Navy.

After a nightmare called boot camp (the subject of a future post), I was assigned to the U.S.S. Rockbridge, a troop carrier stationed in Norfolk VA. I will discuss that in a future post as well, because, as a common deck had, I did learn what a hard day’s labor was all about, and got to see the world as well—the ship spent six months in the Mediterranean. In the meantime, Dad was transferred to the Air Force Base on the island of Bermuda, where he was in to be charge of a squadron that refueled jet fighters in midair. Dad, ever the lawyer even before he became one, studied military regulations with a fine tooth comb, and discovered that the military was willing to transfer members of the same family but in different services near each other as long as it was not against the overall interests of the military. So Dad, knowing there was a U.S. Naval Air Station on the island, suggested I use this regulation to request a transfer to the island of Bermuda.

I took the regulation to the ship’s yeoman, who was in charge of such paperwork, and showed it to him. “I’ll be damned,” he said. “Never heard of such thing, but okay, let’s send it in and see what happens.” When filling out the relevant form when it came to the name of the place I wanted to be transferred, I told him I believed it was called the “U.S. Naval Air Station.” But since I wasn’t sure, the yeoman said it was best to just type in “Naval Facility,” and that would do the trick no matter what the actual name of base happened to be. So he did that.

My family and I arrived in Bermuda in July of 1962, they to live on one end of the island where the Kinley Air Force Base was, and me to live with them as much as possible and commuting to the Naval Base, which was on the other side of the island. This is easier than it sounds, since the island is only 20 miles long and about one mile in width (though it nonetheless has FIVE golf courses). I travelled back and forth on my Velosolex, a motorized bicycle, which was barely adequate to the task. Bermuda is hilly, and the motor wouldn’t climb the hills, so I was forced to exhaust myself peddling (sometimes in heavy rain—Bermuda is in the part of the Atlantic where hurricanes form, and it was often wet). After a couple of months, with my parents help, I purchased a used car, an Austin A35, and learned to drive on the left side of the road from a driver’s seat on the right side of the car. This was made easier by the fact that Bermuda strictly enforced a 20 mph speed limit, which seemed fast enough given their roads, but when attempted back in the states was impossibly slow. I only became confused by the British system when backing out of a driveway, which took lots of thought in order to pull into the correct lane.

The first day I reported for duty at the Naval Air Station, the Officer of the Day looked at my orders and said I was in the wrong spot. When, alarmed, I asked why, he said that I was assigned not to the “Naval Air Station,” but to the “Naval Facility.” “What’s that?” I asked. “No one knows,” he replied, “since it’s a top secret naval project at the top of Bermuda’s highest point.” I gulped. The OD called a for jeep to take me to the Naval Facility, and so I hopped in and was distressed when we went through a major gate, up a steep and winding road flanked by intimidating signs like “United States property, authorized personnel only. Others will be arrested or shot.” Finally we pulled up in front of little village of military buildings, surrounded by barb wire, and I was deposited at the front gate. The Officer of the Day there had to come out to me, since I didn’t have a clearance to enter the facility. “Frankly, Whaley,” he told me, “we’re a bit puzzled as to why you were assigned here without the usual skills or clearance.” I knew, but kept my mouth shut, always a wise thing to do when talking to military superiors. I asked what I should do, and he told me to go back to the big base and await further orders. Eventually it was decided that I would become the Naval Facility’s supply clerk, who worked down at the Air Base supply office handing requisitions to the Facility. This was mostly light work, and to appear busy at my desk (because if one didn’t do this, other people’s work would gratuitously be dumped in your lap) I wrote a novel and the libretto for a musical. I was good at the supply job, and was promoted to working in the large hanger where the supply department had special needs (often involving heavy lifting).

Bermuda is a lovely island with a splendid climate, but it is not a place for people who are neither rich nor on vacation. If you didn’t have a lot of money, there was little to do on this tiny island except go to one of the beautiful beaches, but that wore out its charm after the first ten times or so. The native Bermudians are great people, with a lovely version of the British accent, and I became friends with a number of them (great music too—I can still sing some of the popular Bermuda songs).

When the year was up, I was discharged from active duty in the summer of 1963, and, due to circumstances I will address in a future post, I had no choice but to attend the University of Maryland, where I (and my sister, who is two years younger) went in search of an education.

And Dad was right. I really appreciated the need for a college education after being first a deck hand and then a supply clerk. I now knew what a hard day’s labor meant, and I had no intention of doing that again if it involved physical activity such as swabbing decks, standing watch, moving supplies around, or obeying the orders of people whose competence was greatly in doubt, even in high risk situations.

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“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Friday, February 5, 2010

Parakeets and Me


I’m an animal lover, and that goes for dogs (we always had a dog when I was growing up), cats (I had two kittens for a year, and then they died of feline leukemia), etc., but first as a child in Japan, and then for most of my adult life I’ve had parakeets. They are wonderful companions, easy to keep, feed, etc., but with very individual personalities, and, with the exception of Floyd (who hated human beings and thought it was amusing when sitting on a finger brought close to a human face, to bite the nose area immediately between the nostrils—he didn’t last long), the birds were all great pets.

Fred
There were a number of wonderful birds, but the best of them was Fred. In 1968, when I was fresh out of law school and practicing law with a large firm in Chicago, on impulse one day I bought a parakeet and a cage and brought him to my apartment in the Marina City Towers. I named him Fred, and had fun playing with him, but it didn’t occur to me that he was particularly interested in me until a month or so later I threw a party for fifteen or so people, which was a lot for my tiny apartment. I had penned Fred up in his cage (normally he was loose), but at one point someone let him out. In a panic at all the people, he flew around squawking until he spotted me, and immediately landed on my shoulder. That changed our relationship dramatically. I realized that he thought of me as a safe haven and could distinguish me from all the other people. That led to a bond as strong as any I have formed with another being on the planet.

As related in another post [“How I Became a Law Professor”], I accepted a job in Indianapolis in late 1969, and Fred and I moved there. For the first few months before I bought a house, we were situated in a small high rise apartment building downtown. The walls were very thin, and I had an inquisitive little old lady who lived next door to me; she seemed very interested in all the residents and liked to gossip. I knew that through the walls, she could hear things I said, which led to being careful when, for example, talking on the phone. It amused me to think that since she didn’t know I was talking to a parakeet, some of the things I blurted out would sound very strange: “You’re going to get your feet caught in the refrigerator!” for example. This would occur when I opened the frig’s door and Fred would land on the top of it, hoping for food. Or: “There is nothing more disgusting than you sitting on my shoulder and biting your toenails!”

One day I heard the newspaper being delivered in the hall as it hit my door. I was dressed in just a t-shirt and jeans, and unaware that Fred was sitting on my shoulder(if you are used to having a bird on your shoulder, it’s like wearing a hat—you forget you have it on). I got up and opened the door to the hallway, and as I bent to pick up the paper, I jarred Fred loose. Not a particularly adventurous bird (as some were), he nonetheless went flying off down the hall. Since there was no place for him to go once he reached the end except to turn around and come back, I put the paper under my arm to await his return. Wouldn’t you know it, this attracted the lady next door, who promptly opened her door and peeked out. We exchanged greetings and then, seeing me just standing there, she asked what was I doing. “Waiting for the bird,” I replied, “Oh, here he comes.” Much winded (it was the longest flight he’d ever had), Fred didn’t fly to my shoulder as usual, but instead landed heavily on top of my head. My neighbor looked startled. “Good morning,” I said as I went back inside. I’m sure she thought that I exercised my bird every day by having him fly the hall.

I married Charleyne in the summer of 1971, and Fred, initially leery of a woman with very long hair, quickly learned to love her (and the hair, which he explored by getting lost in it). We had a number of adventures together before late 1972 when Fred died in a tragic door-closing accident. Charleyne was desolate for days, but I was stoic, being much too macho I suppose to weep over the death of a bird. But a week later we were driving home from a bridge tournament and Charleyne, sitting in the passenger seat suddenly said, “Oh, look the first stars are out!” At which point she recited the “star bright” wishing jingle, which concludes with hoping for a wish to be granted. “What do you wish?” she asked me. Without thinking, I replied, “I wish I had that bird back.” That did it. I broke into tears and began crying so hard I had to pull over into a shopping center parking lot. Char drove home.

I have a great many bird stories, but to cut to the end, my most recent pair of birds were Petie and Alice. We had a good time together for over three years, and I was much distressed to be told by one of my heart doctors that after the heart transplant I could not be around birds, who carry too many diseases that can be passed to humans. This was a major blow. So, when I had the sudden heart transplant surgery, my good friend Barbara kindly took the birds for herself, and I now live in a pet free environment, which is lonely. The doctors do say I can keep a mammal as long as I don’t deal with the feces myself. Well, that pretty much eliminates dogs, who must be walked, pooper-scooper in hand, but does allow for a cat. Nowadays there are self-cleaning kitty litter machines that only have to be emptied once a week. I am looking forward to the cat, but that has to be postponed for months until my lung infection is completely gone.

In the meantime, due to habit, I find myself talking to birds that aren’t there (“I’m home, birds!”).
I miss them very much. 
 

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Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
“Bears,” February 23, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Milking Cows," June 8, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
"Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013