Monday, October 1, 2012

Is Myrtle Beach Just For Golf?

Early September with summer waning is the perfect time for going to the beach. The crowds are down but all of the businesses are still open and ready to help you spend your dime and the ocean is at its warmest.

Usually we go to Atlantic Beach, NC or Hilton Head but for some reason Mrs. Commish wanted me to show her Myrtle Beach, a place I had visited many times in the past. Although being there more than two dozen times, strangely I knew almost nothing about the area. All of my previous visits had been golfing trips in either December or January, which, coincidentally, is exactly when the rates for lodging and greens fees are at their absolute lowest. I could show her “courses I have played,” and “bars that have the Golden Tee game”, but other than that was there anything else to do in Myrtle Beach?

It seemed that there must be, but, just in case, I packed my clubs along with beach chairs, umbrellas, suitcases and food and off we went for our “Myrtle Beach Experience.” Oh yeah, our daughter, Gwaltney, and her husband, “That Boy Next Door” or TBND for short, came down for the week also. Since Gwaltney hates to miss a vacation and plays a little golf, we always get in a round sometime during our vacations, but, ironically, in the golf mecca of the world, she didn’t bring her sticks simply because she happens to be pregnant and is due next month. Oh well, it is a family vacation, after all.

We arrived just before the 8 p.m. check-in time and were delighted to find that our condo in North Myrtle Beach was just across the street from the ocean. For those not familiar with the area, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach are separate towns separated by two or three other little burgs and about 20 miles. However, unless you are extremely observant, it all looks like and feels like one big seamless town and is considered to be the “Grand Strand.” After a week there, I think of North Myrtle (hereafter referred to as NMB) as kind of like Key West, laid back with “island music” coming out of the bars and clubs while Myrtle Beach itself (or MB) is more rock-’n-roll. NMB has local, small businesses while in MB you can find Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, the NASCAR CafĂ©, Planet Hollywood, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, etc. Depending on your age and temperament both NMB and MB has something for everyone.
Feeding at Alligator Adventure

When visiting Myrtle in the past, one of the Bad Golfers Association’s favorite courses was a little gem called Eastport Golf Course. We deemed it our “home course” and tried to play it at least every year or two. This course produced the Commish’s infamous 16 on one hole and The Snowman’s never-to-be-forgotten 7-putt on another. We also have had some of our best rounds on this course whenever there had been a little more sleep and maybe a little less beer involved. Sometime after our trip in 2008, Eastport was closed to make way for more condos and homes. Nothing is sadder than to see a fine golf course become overgrown and uncared for and such was our remembrance of Eastport when we last saw it in January of 2009.

After carrying all of the family’s gear up three flights of steps in our condo, I was reading through some of the resort-supplied information and saw that Eastport had been reopened under the name of Valley Eastport Golf Course. If I only played one round this trip it was definitely going to be at this course. Bear in mind that Myrtle has almost 100 courses, many of them world-class and designed by the biggest names in the business, but this little course, less than 6300 yards, has a special place in my heart. Now all I needed was a little time to myself when we were not enjoying all of that family time together. Alas, it was not to be, as we found so many things to do that the week went by as if it was only a weekend getaway.

Waking up on Monday morning Mrs. Commish and I turned on the cable station that touts the various eateries and clubs to visit. While we aren’t what you would call “club-types” we definitely are the eating type! A diner named “Dino’s” was featured and the owner spoke so glowingly of his breakfasts that we went looking for his place…and it was well worth it. Friendly waitresses and conversations between tables really made this the place to eat breakfast. I had Eggs Benedict Florentine and Mrs. Commish had simple grits, eggs and their signature “special” country ham.” The Belgian waffles that were going to so many of the tables really made us want to come back for more and we made a note to return but, alas, there was not enough time.

If you feel like a “pig-out” night, try Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood House. There are others but never have I been disappointed by this place. They say they have more than 170 items to choose from and all I know is that, for me, this is plenty. Fried oysters are my weakness and I tried to create a local shortage in them but I was just a piker compared to some of the huge piles of king crab legs we saw others eating. If seafood is not your thing, then there is the prime rib, cut to order, or tenderloin tips, or whatever you feel like eating. Just don’t schedule anything too early for the next morning.

Alligator Adventure, sounds like a tourist trap, doesn’t it? Well, find time to go. In fact there is so much to see that your admission allows you to go back a second time, and we did. It reminded me of the “Crocodile Hunter” on TV and his zoo in Australia. Lots of things to see and animals to learn about…much more than just a gator show. One of the crocs, “Utan,” is over 20 feet long and 2,000+ pounds and watching the handlers feed this colossus was spectacular.

Another night we went to the Carolina Opry, another “must see” attraction. This has been a staple of the Grand Strand for over 25 years and they really know how to put on a show. Somehow we got front row seats and if you can get them, do it. There is music, country and rock, comedians, dancers…it’s an oldtime variety show. If you watched “America’s Got Talent” on TV then you will recognize the stomping group “All That” that almost made it to the finals. They have been part of the Opry repertoire company for years.

When we finally got around to playing some golf it was of the miniature variety. Our standard bet was for ice cream and with so many local places to get cones and sundaes I hardly minded missing so many putts. The courses are huge and gaudy as each tries to outdo the other in order to attract players. You can’t pick a bad course so just play any one or two and enjoy. The afterwards visit the Sugar Shack in NMB. It looks like a dive but is a really friendly place to get ice cream. Plus they usually have some live music that you can listen to while you drown your sorrows in whipped cream and chocolate chip cookie dough.

Then, of course, there is the beach part of Myrtle Beach. Very impressive. Wide with fine, white sand and a shallow slope that lets you go out close to 75 feet without needing to tread water. This became a daily event as we walked across the street with our umbrella and beach chair and proceeded to “zone out” for several hours each day. The weather was spectacular. Mid-eighties every day and low to mid sixties after the sun went down. September is the time to go, I bet the golfing would have been terrific, too. Or more precisely, the golf courses would have been spectacular even if the scoring wasn’t.

After all, I am the Commish of the Bad Golfers Association.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Didn’t Plan It, It Just Happened

We tend to think that the plans we make allow our lives to proceed in a linear manner. Go to school, get married, raise a family, etc. With the gift of hindsight, let me show how little of what we plan really matters. What seems to matter is that we remember to be kind to others because it will come home in ways that we could never anticipate. My tale goes like this…

“Marburg 2? Who do you know to get in Marburg 2? That’s where VIPs go for recovery.” So said Fran, a friend, a kidney transplant recipient, and now a volunteer at Johns Hopkins Hospital, when she ran into Mrs. Commish in the corridors of the hospital in late November 2011.

This was my second encounter with the famed institution.

Some 60 years before, my mother was told by Dr. Arnold Lavenstein, her pediatrician, that he didn’t know why her infant son was having convulsions. What he was sure of, though, was that someone he knew at Hopkins could figure it out.

That was my first experience at Hopkins.

In the intervening six decades a remarkable “Butterfly Effect” of coincidences and choices made and not made wove the tapestry that became my life. Now I can see how so many seemingly random and unassociated events put me in a place to be saved from a feared sentence of leukemia as a child (it turned out to be a “simple” ascorbic acid deficiency) and from the very real incidence of prostate cancer as I approached my retirement years.

I have always been dog person, a “Big Dog” person to be precise. No yappy little barkers for me. In fact Chow Chows were the smallest dogs I ever had and then in June of 1969 I bought a Persian kitten. It wasn’t for me, of course; she was a surprise wedding gift for my lovely bride-to-be. Despite the fact that “Misty” peed on my tuxedo going from the church to the reception hall, she turned out to be the perfect gift.

Misty was the first “butterfly” in this saga.

The second butterfly was borne out of tragedy. Mrs. Commish wanted to have kittens and, like so many foolish young people, we bred our pet Persian to another pet Persian we had acquired in Rochester, N.Y. and anxiously awaited the kittens’ arrival. A botched C-section by a “dog vet” left a dead mother cat and us with five newborns. We found a cat breeder that said she would try to help us but that there was little chance for the kittens to survive. This was how we met Louise Otto of Chatalain Cattery. To this day neither of us can remember how we found Louise; but even with her assistance all of the kittens died.

From this sad experience we became life-long friends with the Otto’s and learned how to be serious cat breeders. For the next 30 years, long after Louise had passed away, we bred and showed many Best in Show Persians with more than our share of Regional and National winners and Grand Champions.

Wanting better facilities for our cattery, we moved from Baltimore City to build a new home in Sparks, Maryland in 1978. North of Hunt Valley, Sparks was country. No neighbors, just woods and the occasional moo of a distant cow. From here we were able to create our own bloodlines and a distinct “look” for our show cats. When you are breeding for top show animals there are also many terrific pets that need to have homes also. One of the nicest couples we ever sold a kitten to was the McCullochs, Duncan and Kitty. Since we seldom advertised, it was less than a 1 in 100 chance that we would have an ad in the Sunday paper but this one particular Sunday we had placed an ad and that particular Sunday Kitty was bereft because her long-time pet had died. She saw our ad, we lived close by, and later that day she and Duncan came to our home and purchased the only 2 kittens we had.

They were to become the next “butterfly” in this tale. Throw in a legendary gambler and railroad tycoon, gourmand, and philanthropist from the roaring nineties (that’s 1890’s folks) and all of the pieces were finally in place for this last butterfly to save my life some twenty-five years later.

Kitty and Duncan loved the two Persian boys they bought that day and invited us to visit “Rusty and Buffy” and have dinner with them. This happened many times over the next few years and I later learned this was out of character for Kitty since she was a very private person but they treated us not just as friends but as if we were family. Anyway, the directions to their home took us through the campus of Oldfields School (a boarding school for girls). We knew exactly where they were because we sent our daughter, Gwaltney, to a pre-school program that Oldfields had recently opened. When she was 5 years old she left Oldfields pre-school and went to Montessori for a few years before going to public school for 3rd grade. Gwaltney had gone to Oldfields because it was close and convenient. She went to Montessori because a good friend of ours (and a fellow cat breeder) taught French there and loved the school. She went to public school because the schools in the Hereford Zone were excellent and they cost thousands less than what we had been paying.

Duncan, a good Scotsman, showed me how single malts are the only way to enjoy Scots whiskey and how to concoct “Kilt Lifters,” the only acceptable way to adulterate scotch. We enjoyed solving the world’s problems over a wee dram or two; and then, way too soon, he became a widower as Kitty became ill and died. Several years later he remarried and we got to know Beth, his second wife. In the ensuing 15 plus years, Beth has become as close to Mrs. Commish as a sister.

Beth was not a country girl and to acclimate herself to the area she began having Duncan entertain more. As she learned about the area she also learned about the McCulloch family and their history in the area. When we would go to a cookout at their home, more often than not there would be teachers and staff from Oldfields. I didn’t think anything of this since it was necessary to go through the campus to get to their home. We later found out that Beth had been instrumental in getting Duncan and the rest of the McCullochs once again involved in the school that they had founded just after the Civil War. In fact, Duncan’s father had been the headmaster when Duncan had been a youngster. Beth was also key to getting Duncan re-involved with Immanuel Episcopal Church, the little church we attended that was just across the street from the school. From this we also found out that Duncan’s Grandfather had been the second Rector of the church.

For over a decade Duncan and I had discussed politics, sports, religion, etc. and never once did any of his personal history come out. There is more too, like the precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling of McCulloch vs. Maryland and all of the historic homes he had lived in like Filston, Clynmalira, and other “Carroll” family connections but the Oldfields connection leading to his involvement with Immanuel Church is my butterfly effect.

 Not long after 9/11, Duncan led an adult education course at the church. Since it was going to be more of an historical look at the first millennium rather than a “doctrine” class, I decided to attend. It was a free-ranging class and we had great discussions not only amongst the 8 or 10 regulars but also with guests such as the head of Baltimore’s Islamic Center. Through these discussions I was introduced to a couple I had seen at some of Beth and Duncan’s cookouts but really had never spoken to, Drs. Alex and Emily Haller. They went to the same church I did (admittedly I didn’t go very regularly) but I didn’t know it because they liked to go to the early service and when I did go it was always to a later service. Anyway, Alex was an extremely brilliant fellow but humble and as soft spoken as he could be. Even though I immediately liked him, if I hadn’t gone to these sessions we probably would not have known each other except to occasionally wave when we passed on the road.

Now to wrap this all up…

After a biopsy in October 2011 I learned that I had prostate cancer. Not knowing anything about it, I thought I should get a second opinion since I was not really comfortable with the surgeon, but where to go? Mrs. Commish was worried and talked with Beth McCulloch who told her not to let me do anything until she spoke with Alex Haller. Alex said he would talk with his friend at The Brady Urological Institute at Hopkins, Patrick Walsh, and get me a second opinion. Dr. Walsh was no longer taking patients but put Alex in touch with his associate, Dr. Jacek Mostwin and I got an appointment for a second opinion. Since Alex had recommended Dr. Mostwin and Mrs. Commish and I were comfortable with him, when he recommended surgery we scheduled it for as soon as possible, about 2 weeks later.

After a biopsy in October 2011 I learned that I had prostate cancer. Not knowing anything about it, I thought I should get a second opinion since I was not really comfortable with the surgeon, but where to go? Mrs. Commish was worried and talked with Beth McCulloch who told her not to let me do anything until she spoke with Alex Haller. Alex said he would talk with his friend at The Brady Urological Institute at Hopkins, Patrick Walsh, and get me a second opinion. Dr. Walsh was no longer taking patients but put Alex in touch with his associate, Dr. Jacek Mostwin and I got an appointment for a second opinion. Since Alex had recommended Dr. Mostwin and Mrs. Commish and I were comfortable with him, when he recommended surgery we scheduled it for as soon as possible, about 2 weeks later.

Another one of our good friends from the cat fancy is a nurse at Hopkins. In the 20 years we have been friends I never knew what unit she was on but it turned out that she was one of the head nurses on Marburg 2. She did scold me for not letting her know in advance so she could have gotten me the best care but after she found out who my surgeon had been she calmed down and said, “He is the best. Period. But I still could have gotten you a better room!”

Well, it seems that Dr. Mostwin is not only Professor of Urology and Director of the Division of Neurological and Reconstructive Urology at Hopkins but in 1982 along with Dr. Walsh they had pioneered this particular surgery (radical prostatectomy) and are the world’s foremost experts. Not a bad recommendation, do you think? Thanks again to the Hallers.

Speaking of the Hallers, I was talking with my mother about the surgery and mentioned that a friend from church, Alex Haller, had called Dr. Mostwin and set up our meeting with him. She asked me if Alex Haller been a doctor at Hopkins.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Was his wife also a doctor? Were they both pediatricians?”

Again I told her, “Yes, why?”

It turns out that Alex Haller was the Hopkins pediatrician that Dr. Lavenstein had sent me to when I was having convulsions as an infant. I had been Dr. Haller’s patient some 60 years prior and neither of us knew it, but, once again, he was instrumental in my return to good health.

One last thing to wrap up. Remember I was in the James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins? I thought that Brady was some great doctor that they named the hospital’s urologic division after but I was wrong. My pastor from Immanuel came to visit me just before surgery on the day before Thanksgiving (he was there for a checkup himself) and he asked me that same question. The answer is that James Buchanan Brady was a famous gambler better known as “Diamond Jim.” Diamond Jim Brady was cured by Hopkins doctors of some undisclosed condition (syphillis?) that was preventing him from eating the prodigious amounts of food that he loved to consume. He was so grateful for the cure that he funded the creation of the urologic institute that is named after him.

In essence I owe my entire good fortune to a gluttonous gambler with intestinal problems and a kitten that peed on me many years ago. From that little kitten forward, friends and people who love me in spite of myself have created a series of events that put me where I needed to be at the time I needed to be there.

And the ripples don’t just end with me. Some 10 years after leaving the Oldfields pre-school program, Gwaltney suddenly said that she had always wanted to go back there for her schooling. With her persistence and the McCullochs assistance she was able to attend this remarkable school for her high school years. The extent of those ripples are still yet to be determined.

We may never know how our actions affect others but be sure that “the Butterfly Effect” is not an illusion. It is real, only it can’t be seen except by hindsight. With this in mind a little selflessness will go farther than you can ever imagine. You just might not be aware of who it helps down the road.

Thank you, everyone.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Today we played our last round of golf for the season. In so many ways it was just like any other round this year, yet it was very different.

Like so many other times this year, the weather was wet and threatening when we teed off. Unlike most other rounds, I striped my opening tee shot straight down the middle.

Like so many other rounds my score was not what I wanted it to be. Unlike other rounds, I didn’t really care.

Like too many other rounds when the scores were totaled I bought the beer. Unlike other rounds I didn’t go to the nineteenth hole so I paid my tab in the parking lot.

Unlike other rounds this year, I didn’t sleep well last. A chest cold has been dogging me since last week and last night I was up most of the night with a hacking cough. I used this as my excuse for not going to the bar for a couple of cold ones. In a way it was true, too

Yesterday I got my biopsy results back. Unlike other days, today I became a cancer patient and having another poor round of golf didn’t seem as important as it used to be.

Yesterday is gone. Today I feel numb. Tomorrow I start on the road to becoming a cancer survivor. Hopefully, next year when I have a poor round of golf it will once again make me pissed off.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Wall of Good Deeds

Makai, my Anatolian Shepherd, and I were taking our morning walk and Fall was announcing its presence. Leaves were beginning to accumulate in and around our woods and there was just a bit of a “nip” in the air. Since Terrible Tim, a red “Ori-Per”(half Oriental Shorthair and half Persian), chooses to walk with us, too, I looked back up the lane to make sure he was coming along. No Tim, but then I had to smile because he was plodding along as usual but his coloration blended so perfectly with the fallen leaves that he practically was invisible. As Mak stopped to leave his pee-mail message on a tree that some buck had previously PM’d on (PM... that’s pee-mail for the not so swift that are reading this, you know who you are), Timmy caught up with us and the three of us walked down the lane and out onto the road.

Most mornings I keep a wary eye peeled for cars so that when one approaches I can pick up Timmy and hold him until it passes (just so Tim can’t do his “squirrel” imitation and get squashed). By now most of the drivers look for the three of us and wave and smile at the old man holding a cat and hanging onto a huge dog that looks like a yellow lab on steroids. Thankfully, Tim no longer scratches me to get away; but, this morning we were alone, just the three of us… and my thoughts.

Looking up at the sky as daylight was breaking through the cloud cover, I saw leaves lazily drifting down from the old stand trees that line our country road. One leaf would float gently down, back and forth, left to right, as another fell more swiftly making a pleasing and very calming tableau. In fact, I began to feel like I was in a movie, a cartoon actually, as life was imitating art and I could envision a young Bambi watching nature and all its wonders.


I literally could see the words and accompanying stars surround my head as Mother Nature scored a direct hit with an acorn hurled from some 60 feet above. So much for the pastoral setting and I began to notice that “my” acorn was not a single shot, they were falling as fast as rain drops so I left my personal movie and continued on my walk.

“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

Yesterday I had a conversation with a client where they had done something nice for someone and instead of being thanked they were being besieged by requests to do even more for this person. Where a simple “Thank You,” would have been appreciated, the request to do more was not. Hence our conversation ended with me reminding her that, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

This was what I was thinking about after escaping from the acorn barrage and then I had another thought. Once again I could see the light bulb coming on above my head as I was back in cartoon mode. Why not do something that recognized some of the nice things I do for others? Luckily I refined this initial thought somewhat and here is the final product of Mak’s and my walk this morning…The Wall of Good Deeds.

I recently completed construction of a dry stone retaining wall. Thirtysome years ago I also completed construction of this same wall but it was not a dry wall. Gravity and my lack of experience finally brought it down last winter. This new wall is built like a castle, about 7-feet high and back-filled with rubble and rock. I expect it to last longer than I will and, as I told my daughter (Gwaltney) and her husband (TBND…”That Boy Next Door”), it’s their problem 30 years from now, not mine.

Anyway, I have this beautiful wall and I have decided that anyone who has done a good deed for another is invited to sign the wall as recognition of their being “nice.” If you visit us and feel that you have done something nice for someone other then yourself, then you are invited and encouraged to sign the “Wall of Good Deeds.” It’s graffiti with a purpose and best of all, you decide if you are worthy of being enshrined forever on The Wall of Good Deeds.

I cannot call it just “The Wall” because, to me, The Wall has only one meaning, The Vietnam Memorial, and my wall is neither as important nor emotionally powerful as “The Wall” but the criteria for being on my wall is easier to meet because you decide if you are worthy. Much easier than being MIA or KIA. For instance, I signed the first rock because Mrs. Commish had to work late and I made dinner for her. A chuck roast with rosemary from our garden, herb and garlic rigatoni, and fresh-picked stringbeans, also from our garden. Then while we ate I let her choose the program to watch as I switched off Monday Night Football. I felt that was deserving of recognition. Don’t you?

I do have to admit that I left the dishes for Mrs. Commish and after we finished I did flip back to MNF and that did chase her upstairs. Hey, football deserves to be watched on the 54” screen, doesn’t it? And, unless she reads this, she doesn’t know that I used her best nail polish to sign “my rock.” Hey, it’s about “good deeds” not perfection.

Because I do think “The Wall of Good Deeds” is a pretty good idea, I will be starting an e-Wall soon on Facebook so that those of you who will never be able to sign the real “brick and mortar and rock and rubble” wall can be recognized, too. It is time to put an end to that old saying and instead pat ourselves on the back for the little unrecognized things that we do from time to time.

P.S. Here is the link to The Wall of Good Deeds (TWGD) so that you can post a pat on the back to yourself or someone else.
If your name appears on TWGD then you have made life a little bit better for someone else. Congratulations for a job well done.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Delete to Strengthen

Ah yes, Mrs. Reminschneider. How I do remember her even if I can’t quite remember how to spell her name. She holds the distinction of being the only teacher to ever crack me across the knuckles with a ruler. Totally uncalled for, of course. I was innocent, really. So, I must admit that I don’t have too many fond memories of the old girl whom I am sure has gone to her reward since she was at least 100 way back when I had her for Journalism 101 at Towson High.

However she had a phrase that has stayed with me and even gains in veracity as the years fly by. “Delete to strengthen,” was her mantra. Not words to live by if you get paid by the word but certainly good advice if you are writing a news article or if you find that you are trying to pack too many things into too little time.

Delete to strengthen meant that extraneous adjectives and phrases were not necessary to tell the story of an event. They should be saved and used judiciously when you some day write The Great American novel. In much the same way, we really don’t have to pack our lives with so many activities that we almost stroke out if traffic delays us going from one thing to the next. You know it’s time to reassess when you see a horrible accident and your immediate reaction is frustration because you are going to be delayed. This is the time to see if deleting a few things might actually strengthen your life.

Last night I left my office and was waiting at a traffic light to make a left onto Padonia Road. The light changed and a full 3 seconds later a car ran the red light and made a turn in front of me. I had hesitated because I have learned to expect people to make wrong choices when driving. I suspect that way too many of us have personal “tunnel vision” and have lost the ability to see the cause and effect results of our actions. The driver was someone I recognized, she goes to my gym and must have been late for a workout.

I, too, was going to be late for a 7:00 p.m. meeting but fortunately for me and Mrs. Commish we have “deleted” some of the things we once tried to squeeze into our schedules and thereby have “strengthened” the things we choose to do. Waiting those few extra seconds saved serious damage to my car and possibly even saved our lives. Thank you Mrs. Reminschneider from whatever level of Hell you now dwell within.

Twenty years ago I would have tried to squeeze in a workout, rushed through it, showered and run out to race towards this meeting that we “had” to go to. As soon as that light changed I would have been into the intersection trying to get a jump on traffic as I raced to the next traffic light. For me, that is no way to live. Even though I look forward to working out and even feel like I have missed something when plans change and I can’t go to Brick Bodies as planned, I now find that it makes sense for me to do fewer things but get more satisfaction and enjoyment out of the things I do.

Simon and Garfunkle once said, “Slow down, you move too fast; got to make the morning last, just kicking down the cobblestones, looking for love and feeling groovie.” Do fewer things, enjoy the things you do more fully, and feel groovie, man. Or simply, “DELETE TO STRENGTHEN.”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Psychic Vampires vs a Night Well-Slept

The last TV program worth watching is over and it’s time for bed. You complete your nighttime rituals, turn out the lights, and … Nothing. Still awake. Tick…Tick …Tick. The small clock across the room that you didn’t even know made a sound announces its presence and in the stillness of night every sound is magnified. And, what’s worse, you’re awake and hearing every noise.

We know that a good night’s sleep makes everything go smoother the next day but problems, anxieties, and Psychic Vampires conspire to keep sleep away. I started using the term Psychic Vampires thirty-five years ago to describe what it felt like being around a certain relative who shall remain nameless. After leaving a family function, be it an everyday dinner or, even worse, a holiday gathering, I would feel so spent both physically and mentally that I felt like a walking advertisement for psychotropic drugs.

Psychic Vampires aren’t just people we would rather avoid. They are not Aunt Matilda who talks constantly about people and things you have zero interest in; they are not the cousin that always has a get rich scheme that he wants you to invest in. Psychic Vampires are those people who are so negative that you can literally feel your energy just escaping your body. If you discuss the birth of a child, they go on and on about the difficulties of parenting; if politics is the subject, they monopolize the talk with bombastic rants about this S.O.B. or that jerk of a Senator. Health? Well, no one has had things tougher than they have and then they proceed to re-tell all of their problems beginning with the time they were in an accident in 1937 and continuing to the present where those damn doctors who can’t do anything right …etc. etc. etc.

After getting home, sleep would not come. Reading helped but some nights I could read 100 pages or more on a lively topic like Richard Feynman and quantum physics before sleep would come. Then, more often than not, if I fell asleep I would drop the book either on Mrs. Commish or the poor dog sleeping next to the bed.

Between Psychic Vampires and “normal” worries triggered by other things we are plagued with in this hectic world, my sleep rhythms were not very rhythmical. I had trouble turning off my mind so that sweet oblivion could overtake me. Then one day Mrs. Commish and I discovered a sure-fire way to go to sleep literally almost before our heads hit the pillow.

First, I check before family functions and if “The Vampire” is coming I suddenly get a 24-hour flu and have to stay home that day. Secondly, and most importantly, we listen to Books on CD when we get ready for sleep.

It doesn’t matter what the book is. We have “read” 1000-pagers like “Pillars of the Earth” and fluff like Harry Potter or True Blood novels and never do either of us stay awake for even 10 minutes. We fall asleep so quickly that most of the books we get from the library have to be renewed so that we can find out the ending. It is wonderful as our minds don’t dwell on the day’s troubles and we listen to someone reading to us. It’s almost like being a child again at bedtime.

How do I know I fall asleep in 10 minutes or less you ask. Well, it’s easy to tell because the tracks on most stories are about three minutes long and we have to find where we last remember the story and it is never, never ever three tracks from where we started the previous night. In fact, more times than not we don't make it to the next track.

Having trouble falling asleep? Rid yourself of those Psychic Vampires in your life and replace them with a story about real bloodsuckers! Try it and I’m sure you will look forward to bedtime and refreshing sleep without the need for pharmaceuticals.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hide the Silverware, Congress is Back

As Makai, my huge Anatolian Shepherd, and I took our walk this morning, the sun was just thinking about rising for the day, the eastern sky was a beautiful red-orange, and the cold, crisp 16 degree morning was full of peace and promise. The holidays were over and they had been nothing but a wonderful time. Even Makai seemed to walk at a more brisk pace, as if he, too, were enjoying the beckoning day.

Why, I wondered, was everything so perfect this morning? Then it hit me. For the last couple of weeks I had assiduously avoided thinking about politics, politicians, and the crumbling of my country. What a pleasant time it had been; but, now it is early January and Congress is back in session, so to paraphrase Will Rogers, “Hide the silverware, Honey, Congress is back in town.”

Our Elected Betters just can’t help themselves. They spend; they are addicted to the mother’s milk of politics…money. If any of the rest of us Great Unwashed out here had to straighten out these problems, it could be done in a heartbeat because Congress and the lawyers that draft their legislation have made everything so complex that we are moribund. Fear of offending any group has made us totally unable to make logical and sensible changes in the way our government operates. We, the Great Unwashed, are used to offending people and making choices that are right for us and our families and letting others make their own choices and then letting them live with the consequences of their own decisions.

So, herewith are a few of my suggestions that I would make if tomorrow I became “King for a Little While”:
  • We have unfunded mandates, such as pensions, so from today forward all government hires will be encouraged to invest in their own 401K or IRA programs as defined pensions are no more.
  • Congressional pensions for all future electees are also eliminated with the same proviso as above;
  • Congressional salaries are doubled and congressional staffs are halved. Congressional sessions will be three months in Washington and then three months returning home to their districts. This simple change will allow our Elected Betters to stay in touch with their constituents. Senators and Representatives that live in the DC area and do not return to their home districts will be deemed in contempt of the Will of Congress and be expelled.
  • All Departments will have their budgets frozen at the current funding levels for 5 years;
  • Every bill will be single subject legislation; no more “Christmas Tree” bills. Line item vetoes will also be in effect.
  • Withholding taxes make things too easy for us Great Unwashed to forget that we pay taxes; therefore, they will be phased out over a five year period. Then, every April 15 we will have to pay our taxes instead of being happy that the Government is giving us a refund;
  • Bring home our military from overseas. Let the people who live in Korea, Japan, Kuwait, Germany, Philippines, Bosnia, etc. protect themselves. I no longer want to be the “Policemen of the World.”
  • United Nations headquarters and the den of thieves that inhabit it will be forcibly encouraged to relocate in one of the third-world countries that they wish to help so much.
  • Every new bill submitted for consideration will also have a list of 10 current bills attached to it. From this list of 10, Congress will choose 5 to be eliminated before any new legislation is signed into law.
  • No troops can be committed for more than 180 days without a Declaration of War by Congress;
  • No state or jurisdiction can aid illegal aliens with public funds. If churches or private organizations wish to help them with food and shelter then that is their right. However, that being said, illegal means illegal and when found they will be detained and/or deported. Employers hiring illegals are subject to heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
  • America needs petroleum and until alternatives are practical then we will exploit all oil resources.
I believe this is a good start for the first 90-day session. Admittedly, many Senators and Representatives will not be met with happy constituents and perhaps might even lose their next election. I don’t see a downside to this. After all, they will have done their public service and then returned to private life, just the way the system is supposed to have worked.

In the next 90-day session we might think about how to handle illegal drugs, organized gangs, social security, etc., etc., etc. But, at the very least, we will have begun.