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Archive for Life

April 18, 2018 — Harry Anderson, 1952-2018

For many folks of a certain age, Harry Anderson was the lead actor in a small comedy show wedged in between “Cheers” and “Hill Street Blues” on the lucrative Thursday night broadcast schedule for NBC.

But that situation comedy, “Night Court,” was a precursor to today’s more ribald and quirky comedies. The show tackled such topics as infidelity, discrimination against those of differing abilities, sexual harassment, and bullying. One memorable episode, back in 1985, deftly took on the question of how to deal with someone who has come out as transgendered, and the lessons from that show have remained with me to this day.

Producer and writer Reinhold Weege was able to harness Anderson’s talent and quirkiness to calm down the cast of weird characters who kept on waltzing in and out of the courtroom. Anderson, playing Judge Harold T. Stone, would wear vintage ties and fedoras on set, and would play the music of Mel Torme on a record player in his office. Torme would have several cameo appearances during the nine-year run.

But if you ever got to see some of Anderson’s appearances on television as a comedian or as a magician, you would have seen some true artisanship. He did a routine where he would take a round piece of felt with a hole cut in the middle, and, through folding the fabric or shaping it in different ways, would, through facial expressions, create characters based upon the hat that appeared to be on his head even though it was just a circle of felt.

It was pure genius.

Anderson played Harold T. Stone like some of my favorite quirky fictional characters such as Spenser and Chief Inspector Morse, complicated men who liked the finer things in life even though later generations had trouble understanding what the fuss was all about.

He was an underappreciated genius, and he is very much missed.

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April 2, 2018 — A resurrection of sorts

This afternoon, I was told I was going to be discharged after three days in the hospital.

I’ve been feeling somewhat better, but for some discomfort from this tube installed in my upper thigh designed to drain the area in my skin where the bacteria had grown.

My highlight of the day, symbolically, was a visit from a lay person with the hospital ministry. The gentleman was gray, balding, and appeared to be between 60 and 70 years of age, if not a bit more.

We struck up a conversation about my parents, and how Mama worked at a hospital for three decades and Papa was in the ministry for four decades, and how their vocations had informed my life to that point.

I asked him what his religious tradition was. He said his was a Universalist — not Unitarian, but the kind of person seeking good in all things. He had not been to a Unitarian-Universalist church service in some time because it had not fit him.

I understood what he meant. The changes in the Episcopal Church the last 20 or so years pained my father and has resulted in many of my brothers and sisters not going to church on a regular basis.

And this surgery was the latest thing keeping me away from services — even on Easter. At least, however, I was able to find a bit of solace on the day of my release from the tomb.

 

April 1, 2018 — A necessary break

Hi, all.

Usually, there will be a satirical entry in this slot making fun of some aspect of the games we cover over the course of the year.

But, because of the fact that I was in the hospital over the weekend, I seriously couldn’t think of anything funny. I made an attempt at a couple of entries, but they weren’t very well thought out.

So, we’re leaving this the way it is. Have a great Easter and Passover, everyone.

March 31, 2018 — From a dream into a long wait

One day to a new beginning
Raise the flag of freedom high!
Every man will be a king
Every man will be a king
There’s a new world for the winning
There’s a new world to be won
Do you hear the people sing?
My place is here, I fight with you!
One day more!
I did not live until today.
One more day all on my own!
How can I live when we are parted?

Hey! Wait a second. Isn’t that Leslie Odom, Jr. fighting alongside the French? What are the cast of Hamilton doing in Les Miserables?

That vision was some way to come out of an operation. That must have been the morphine talking. Perhaps with a different application, I would have gotten visions of Phillipa Soo?

Anyway, I was wheeled out of the operating theater into a room which, I was later told, one of the better ones in the hospital, given the views of the sunset.

I was hooked up to an IV, to leg stimulators to prevent clotting, and to a heart monitor on my left hand. As a result, I had no sleep between exiting the operating room and the nurse shift change at oh-dark-thirty.

For the sake of comfort and to ensure the possibility of some sleep, I started taking command of my surroundings with a little of my father’s insouciance. Off came the leg stimulators. Off with the loud heart monitor; we only needed to use it for the vital-signs tech that came in every three hours to check blood pressure, pulse, and temperature.

If there was one thing that I bore in mind, it was to avoid heavy, heavy drugs. No way was I going to be another statistic, an addict to the over-used and over-prescribed narcotic called “opioids.” Tylenol was my choice and I stuck with it.

In the course of my care today, I remembered a lot of the things that family and friends have said about modern-day health care. You have to advocate for yourself, make good decisions that may not be exactly on your doctor’s radar, but above all, have the patience of Job because waiting for a test, a visit, a procedure can be all about whether or not a space and a doctor are available at the same time.

I suppose I got that perspective the previous evening. My pre-op room in the hospital was right next to the industrial-sized revolving door that leads to the entry for ambulance workers. You might have seen these at your local medical center; these are the ones that you can probably drive a golf cart through.

Through gaps in the curtain, I could see at least six or seven gurneys being accompanied by sweaty twentysomethings wearing their fire-and-rescue uniforms. They were bringing in patients who were either in auto accidents or fires or in falls at home. They were in worse shape than I was, a man with a simple bacterial infection, occupying a space.

I don’t know the fate of these folks. I hope they were, and are, OK.

March 30, 2018 — A Good Friday odyssey

Today, I almost fainted coming out of the shower.

I was showering so that I could feel relatively clean while visiting my doctor’s office as we were to prepare for the colonoscopy that everyone over 50 should undergo.

But that plan was scrubbed with nine words from my physician.

“We have to send you to the emergency room.”

Your Founder has never been overnight in the hospital; indeed the last time I was in the emergency room was for a broken finger from playing basketball more than 35 years ago.

I noted the time we checked in: 3 p.m. on Good Friday. I know Papa was having a good laugh about it.

Later in the day, after a battery of tests and a dose of morphine, it was time for me to undergo something called a CT scan, which kind of reminds one of being slid into either a tray in a morgue, or perhaps into a tomb back in first century Jerusalem.

I had to put my trust in the surgeon and the CT result to get to my problem: a bacterial infection that was going to be removed by the able surgeon.

But first? General anesthesia. I was very heartened by the fact that I was not going to be given the heavy anesthesia that paralyzes the body and requires human or mechanical assistance for breathing, but it was instead one that was a triangular mask that went over my nose and mouth.

That’s about the last thing I remembered before the surgery began.

March 21, 2018 — The folly of protection schemes

One of the earliest jobs your Founder had was as a summer intern for an agency in a major mid-Atlantic state.

It was in the central office that ran the state’s prison system. I spent time with the legal team, with the deputy director’s office, and with a group that dealt with planning and logistics.

The experiences gave me a pretty good depth of knowledge as to how applied policies worked in the real world.

I got an appreciation for written policies and standards, documentation, and for policies which may seem contradictory at first varnish, but made sense once explained.

One such policy was that the guards at every prison were unarmed. The Hollywood scenes of prison guards with rifles slung over their shoulders as they overlooked the yard were just fiction.

Why? Because arming prison guards means that prisoners would have a ready and available supply of weapons to help make their escape. That’s why, in most prison systems, weapons are kept in an armory, well out of reach of the inmate population.

It’s this principle I cycle back to when I track the debate as to whether to put armed police officers in schools in the wake of school shootings that have terrified American students and parents alike. Putting a so-called “resource officer” in a school as a potential deterrent against desperate and sometimes mentally ill individuals may sound like a feel-good measure, but what that does is put a weapons or weapons within easy reach of members of the school population.

We’ve kind of had this debate before when it comes to recent combat in the Middle East. American and allied troops used to be able to take care of themselves and respond to threats coming at them whether they were car bombs or snipers. But now the military has been spending millions of dollars on something called “force protection,” which are security guards for troops.

Many of these people in the force protection game are ex-military who are actually earning twice the salary of the troops they protect, and make millions of dollars of no-bid contract dollars for well-connected insiders.

I shudder to think what the size of the school-protection racket is going to be if more districts start putting armed guards in schools during the day.

And worse, what the effect on the children will be.

March 15, 2018 — The real reason behind an industry downfall

After 70 years in business, the Toys R Us toy chain is slated to shut down in mere weeks, a circumstance necessitated by high debt, low sales, and competition from other sales outlets.

Well, that’s what the pundits on cable might tell you, but I think there’s one over-arching reason that the last big-box toy retailer is going out of business: toys, as a consumer good, are not what they used to be.

How? Just go to almost any American household the evening after Christmas morning. Long after the paper is ripped into and the boxes opened, are the children still playing with their new toys? Odds are, the answer is “no.” The average new toy, according to one survey, holds the attention of the average child from anywhere between five and seven hours.

HOURS. Not days or weeks.

Gone are the days of generic playthings like plain dolls, little red wagons, or small die-cast cars, where kids make up their own stories and dialogue around them.

These days, every toy has to have a backstory that is played out on a cartoon show or movie. And, as such, these toys are focus-grouped to death, and it is the Madison Avenue marketers — not real kids — who determine, nine months to a year ahead of time, what the “hot” toy is going to be.

Indeed, in the marketing of action figures for the movie “The Force Awakens,” the marketers completely blew a chance to capitalize on the popularity of Daisy Ridley, who plays the central character Rey. There were not enough Rey items in the pipeline when the movie opened, continuing the criticisms that women are marginalized in both science fiction and in Hollywood.

In terms of playthings, large and slow-footed corporations are less and less able to meet consumer demand. When, for example, the “fidget spinner” started becoming popular around April 2017, big-box stores had no clue what these things were. But as Google searches spiked in May 2017, cheap imports from China found their way into independent shops.

Toys R Us is the latest major toy outlet to close, falling after the likes of Kiddie City, Kay-Bee Toys, and Hammacher Schlemmer (although it is hanging on by a thread through its retail offerings).

To me, I think it will be very difficult for the likes of Amazon, Target, and Wal-Mart to pick up the slack in the toy business. Kids want to try out toys in a toy store; curb appeal is very much an inspiration to get parents to part with their hard-earned money.

But then again, perhaps the closing of Toys R Us is an opportunity to reframe the very idea of recreation and play. Instead of buying a $75 gee-whiz-bang toy that shoots lasers and speaks in a certain way, why not buy your kid a $5 ball?

It allows him or her to play for hours, getting neighborhood children involved, and perhaps getting them to play their own games.

Fancy that.