Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Guys

Mealtime was the time we all got together. It was at 7am -- noon -- and 5 pm. We called ourselves "The Inmates." No we were not in prison. But we all had at least two things in common -- We were all Vets of one period of time or other -- and we were all blind. At least we were all "legally" blind. We were all trainees at the Blind Rehab Center at the Souwestern VA Hospital in Tucson, Arizona.

There were about 30 of us in various stages of visual imparement. A few were totally blind but most of us had some degree of vision. Many of these vets were from WWII. Some were from Korea and several from Viet Nam. The most popular problem was ARMD -- Age Related Macular Degeneration. This condition takes the central vision leaving only the periferal vision. Many of the older guys had that.

The smallest but saddest group were blinded as a result of Agent Orange in Viet Nam. Richard is one of these vets. He is from Houston, Texas and looked and sounded remarkably like Patrick Swayze. He has a guide dog. His name is Alphonso. Richard became my short term buddy as we sat and broke bread together each day. He spoke of Alphonso as tho he was a family relative -- that is because he is! Rich said he could not function without his friend. He got a bit choked up when he admitted that his K9 friend would probably not out live him. One could probably have seen a tear in his eyes except that he always wore his totally black sunglasses -- hiding what might have been his grotesque eye sockets. Richard was in the computer training program -- it was his third visit to the VA rehab program. He was able to function as tho he could see perfectly well. When he finished the program, he was taken to the Tucson Airport and got on a plane and flew to DFW. There he changed planes and flew to Houston and got transportation to his home. All of this with no help except his friend Alponso and his cane and his GPS system. Oh yes -- and his training.

There was Doc, Roy, Mack, Ed, Jerry and a host of others whose names I can't recall. These mealtimes were an intergal part of our training -- although many of the guys didn't realize this.It was the time when werealized there are others who share our disabilities. It was the time when we joked and made fun of ourselves and told of our daily tasks and how we got through them. "What do I have on my plate today," Mac would say to Doc.

"How the hell should I know, I am blind." Doc would retort and we would all laugh. Doc is 90 and had been a surgeon in WWII. He developed a tremor in the 80's and switched to epidemiology and worked for the World Health Center. He joked about trying to eat Jello with his shaking hands. He said "If I try to eat this stuff I will throw it all over you guys." He had a wonderful sense of humor and a brilliant brain. His body was wearing out but he was still as sharp as a tack. I observed him in the hobby shop hammering out a Christmas tree on a piece of copper. I had a few seconds of pity for him as he struggled to see his little tools and hold them still. I thought something like how he was once a fine surgeon and now is hammering out copper Christmas trees. But that soon left me when he chorted, "I am making a Christmas tree. It'll take me 'til Christmas to finish it." It was June. No getting ahead of this blind vet!

My disease is called RP -- or Retinitis Pigmentosa. It has taken my right eye and narrowed my left eye to a tunnel of vision. I must hasten to say -- I am thankful for this small bit of vision. I was taught to use it to its full advantage. I was given a white cane which folds up neatly when I don't need it. I was given a thorough exam by two optomotrists -- which took about an hour and a half. This was to determine the extent of my visual needs -- no guess work here. I was taught how to c00k, clean and do all the necessary things to live a normal life. I was given a phychological exam by a young girl who I sware was only 16 -- who has a PhD. I was taught how to make things in a workshop and hobby shop and do it safely with my limited vision. But most of all -- I was taught "Mobility."

First order of business was my 56 inch cane -- white with a red tip. This is my eyes when I am walking. I was taught to use this extention of my vision with expertise. I was taught to determine when I heeded help and when I needed to go it alone. I was taught how to ask for help and when to refuse it -- politely. We began in the hospital hallway -- then out to the parking lot. Finally a trip to a neighborhood in Tucson. We practiced going up and down stairs hundreds of times -- until it was natural. Then the day came when I began to cross streets -- small ones at first -- then busier streets and finally the busiest intersection in the city. All this training took an entire month. But I passed the test.

I graduated from this wonderful institution a few days ago with my diploma in hand. I was asked if I wished to learn the GPS. I immediately said "Yes!" I will go back in a day or two for another week of training with this marvelous instrument (I Was given a demo to see how it worked).

Yes all this training costs the government (taxpayers) many hundreds of thousands of dollars. That bothers my consertive nature. But maybe it is a little payback for all the time we gave with such a small income. And I think we will each make a contribution to society in our own way after this training. Each "student" has only one instructor at a time -- everything is individualized to the needs and desires of the vet. You get only what you request. All instructors are required to have a Masters Degree in blind rehab training. They are the finest.

I was told before I went to this program that this was the best Blind rehab program in the world -- right here in Tucson. I was dubious. But not any longer. It is. I am living proof. I have no fear of the future -- I have my confidence, my cane and will soon have my GPS and I am ready to do anything anyone else can do.

From the Heart by Olaf Hart

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dog doesn't bite man

In our local Casa Grande Dispatch this mornng, an article was written by two AP reporters (Phil Davenport andJonathan Cooper) It begins: "Arodi Berrelleza isn't one of the targets of Arizona's new anti-illegal immigration law -- he's a U. S. citizen.
But the 18 year old high school student from Phoenix said he's afraid he'll be arrested anyway, if police see him driving around with friends and relatives, some of them illigal immigrants.."

The article goes on to talk about how he is afraid he will be stopped and asked for "papers" just because of the color of his skin.

Well now! How about a big headline that "Thousands of Mexican-Americans are NOT stopped today." Or "Hundreds of cops did NOT racially profile or invade anyone's privacy today." or "Dog did NOT bite man today."

Why do these AP writers seem to need to write a front page story about someone who did NOT get stopped -- nor is likely to get stopped if he is minding his business and staying out of trouble? Thousands of high school kids were out of school on the day of the signing of this new bill by Governor Jan Brewer,just to protest something they know nothing about. I wonder who let them out! As I understand, this bill takes the language of the Federal law word for word and makes a state law out of it. If one is not constitutional -- then wouldn't the other also be unconstiutional?

Maybe I just don't get it. But it seems pretty simple to me. Some are breaking our laws and need to be arrested and taken into custody for it -- and then delt with in an appropriate manner. If that is the job of the Federal Government -- then why did we have a rancher who's family has lived just next to the Mexican border -- killed in cold blood by an illigal immigrant -- and the Federal authorities said they had insufficient manpower to do anything about it? We do. Arizonans do -- now. But a segment of our population (not nearly a majority) are screaming about getting stopped because they have brown skin and will use "racial profiling" as a means of filtering out the illigals. They are yelling about stopping people just because they "Look like Mexicans." Welll -- at the risk of sounding politically incorrect --- DUH! They are coming from Mexico they would -- in all probability -- look like Mexicans! Right?

My neighbors all around me are Hispanic people -- American
Citizens. They were either born here or got their citizenship. Thoughout my life, I have had felolow workers and hundreds of friends who are of Hispanic origin. I have not discussed this law with them. However, I suspect they would tell me they would be happy to fork over their "Papers" in the very very unlikely event they should be "stopped" for some reason. I liken it to a drunk driving blockade. If you are legal (not drunk), it might be a little inconvenient -- you simply stop and show your license and go on down the road. No big deal But if you are drunk and might get caught, it really scares the hell out of you and pisses you off for getting stopped and checked. (But it also might save your own or someone else's life, too.)

Back to the writers of the AP article. Guys -- I was in the news reporting business for many years. I know we need a glamerous hook on the story to get the attention of the public -- it is the way we make our living and revenue for our media. But, for God's sake -- lets stop slanting stories in the wrong direction and stick to the facts and the truth.

From the Heart by Olaf Hart.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Urban Legends

My old uncle Ned(Rest his soul) was a wonderful Urban Legend guy. Oh, he really believed those stories -- as did most of the folks in my little home town. It is a kind of small town passtime -- these stories of strange happenings. The first one I recall was shortly after I-74 was completed just a couple of miles outside of town. It seems that a local guy (no one can recall who) was driving home down the Interstate and he came upon a big black Cadallac with a flat tire. He stopped to lend a hand and was confronted with a very pretty black woman who was sitting in the drivers seat of the car. He got into the trunk and retrieved the spare tire and changed it for the pretty black woman.

The story goes -- in a few days, a big delivery truck pulled up in front of his home and he was soon the proud owner of a new color TV (that was considered the prize gift back then). There was a note with the big TV set. It said "Thanks for changing my tire" and was signed "Mrs. Nat King Cole." I guess they did not know her name was Maria.

This story was the gospel truth in my home town. Everyone believed it.

A few years later, I had moved to the LA area and was watching a
TV interview with Maria Cole. She told the same story. Except -- she said it happened in every state in the Union, outside of hundreds of small town along the interstate. And it was simply not true!! It never happened! She never drove a black car of any sort across the country. And, she had no idea where the story originated.

That was my first experience with Urban Legends. Since then I have heard of scores of stories from the Pepsi can that refused to put "Under God" in the pledge (It was Coke and it was a July 4th ad campaign using only the first line of the pledge.) -- and more recently -- the new dollar coin that left off "In God We Trust." (It is on the edge of the coin if anyone bothers to look).

Many of these legends are of a religious nature. I am not a terribly religous man -- but I have no problem with religous symbols and words that are traditions in our country's history. But it might be nice if these people would get their facts straight before they e mail everyone in the world to boycott this that or the other for no good reason.

Anyway -- back to Uncle Ned. There are hundreds of Uncle Neds in the world living in small towns -- telling stories that have little or no basis -- and swearing they are true because someone or other (they can't remember exactly who) was there and saw it happen. I really loved my Uncle Ned and wouldn't have him be any different.

I suppose it is a part of Americana and we should just let it happen -- shake our heads with wonder and let the teller of the story have his moment of fame with his scoop. At least it makes for good memories of all the old Uncle Neds in the world.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where's the Coffee Pot

I think it twas Sunday night. But what ever night it was, it was time for Gun Smoke!! We all watched every episode. But the part I remember the best was when Marshall Dillon had a discussion with Chester (played by Dennis Weaver) about the coffee. Chester would hobble over (he had a stiff leg) to the old wood burning stove in the Marshall's office and get the old coffee pot and pour the coffee. He always had a word or two defending his special blend. It had little to do with the plot -- but I remember it well.

I remember my parents and grandparents all had a coffee pot or one sort or another. Some were pretty simple -- just put in the water and put in the coffee and let her boil. It often boiled over and had to be pulled off with a hot pad or towel and the mess wiped up.

Then there were the percolators which bubbled up into a dome top and sang a little tune. There were drip-o-laters. Then we switched to various electric versions. Then we had a glass pot under a gadget into which we poured the water and let it do its thing. One could even set the timer and -- bingo -- coffee in the morning when you got up. The similiarity in all these various versions of the coffee pot was -- they all smelled so good. NOthing like the smell of a good pot of coffee in the morning. Until now!!

A few weeks ago my daughter and son-in-law took us to visit a wealthy friend who invited us for a breakfast at his home in the mountains in Arizona. He has a beautiful view through his big picture window -- looking out over the valley below and the mountains above. But he also had something else to show us -- his new coffee making machine. It was made by Keurig. He showed us how one simply filled the reservoir on the side -- then lifted the lid and placed a pre measured little plastic cup with a sealed lid into the recepticle -- pulled down the lid and lights began to flash. Then you select just how strong you wanted your coffee by determining the size of your cup -- smaller cup -- stronger coffee -- place you cup under the spout and here comes your fresh coffee.

We all got a cup of our choice of coffee from scores of blends and brands from all over the world. He even had several blends of tea and hot chocolate! And it is all fresh and took only about 10 seconds to brew.

My daughter fell in love with this new gadget and went out and bought one immediately -- that same day. Also available is a nice display rack which holds a few dozen of those little plastic cups. And, of course, the little plastic containers of coffee. The whole thing was nearly $200.

Well -- now guess who has one in his kitchen? --ME -- We had to have one. Gone is our coffee maker with the clock and the timer. Now we select a little plastic container of our favorite blend from the rack and put it in and pull the handle, press the botton and here comes fresh coffee in about 10 seconds.

But there is no smell -- no aroma. It never boiles over. It is perfect every time. What would Chester say about that?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter has come and gone

Is it the first Sunday -- after the first full moon -- after the first day of Spring? I don't remember but that is close enough. Easter! That day of the year when we do strange things in strangely different traditions.

I lived in New Mexico for many years. That is the home of the Penatente. That is a group of believers who are leftovers from the Catholic/Indian culture, I am told. They select a member of their group to become Jesus for the weekend. He is honored by allowing himself to be hung on a cross (some assure me that years ago he was actually nailed to the cross -- but that is highly suspect in its validity). On Easter morning he is removed from the cross and hailed as the messiah and the celebration begins.

I was in Old Mexico one year on Easter weekend and observed a man in a small village in the Copper Canyon. He was in great pain (and also a good actor) as he carried a very large and heavy cross down the street, through the village, leading what appeared to be a parade of every person in the village behind him. They were singing and moaning and celebating the holy day (holiday?) as they reinacted the legend of Jesus's path to Calvery.

Then, we are all familiar with and have participated in, the traditional Masses and sunrise services and religious gatherings with which we all grew up. No need to describe those.

But for some reason -- I know not where it originated -- we switch to eggs and rabbits. Children all over the country hunt eggs planted by the Easter bunny -- a kind of spring-time Santa, I guess. In my career and as a parent, I have participated in these hunts many times..They are a sight to behold. Little kids go first. Parents help tikes who are not yet old enough to know what is going on. The struggle to find their hidden treasures. Then the next age bracket. They have been here before -- they know the ropes -- they grab and fight over the eggs as though they were gold. And so it goes with the hunt.

When I was a lad, there were no commercial hunts -- just around in our back yard. My Easter bunny parents did the hiding. But before the hunt began, there was a big basket of candy for each of us, waiting to be discovered when we got out of bed. It was a day of candy eating that was allowed -- stomach ache or not. My parents had little money for frivisous things like candy --(maybe that is why I still have my own teeth) but Easter was the exception. Those baskets were home created -- put together by my parents -- no pre prepared baskets in my famiy. But the candy was great with lots of jelly beans (they were cheap). I liked the black ones best.

Yes -- Easter has come and gone for another year. The faithful have celebrated it in whichever way they have seen fit. The bunny is gone for another year with his eggs and candy. And I wonder -- What would Jesus have thought about this holiday and its various spinoffs?? He would probably roll his eyes and chalk it up to progress.

From the heart -- Olaf Hart

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I am proud of myself

When I was born, there were telephones, to be sure. But there was an operator who put through your call for you. You just gave her the number you wanted after she said "Number Please." And small towns had only one operator. She was "Central."
And you got her attention by cranking your phone. I won't bore you with the historical chronology of the phone company -- but eventually we did get dials and then touch tones. But that is not the point.

My family spent hours on Sunday afternoon listening to the radio while we might put a jigsaw puzzle together or just stare at the wall -- using our imaginations instead of our eyes -- following the audio only story on the radio. It was wonderful. Every9one had their own notion of what was happening. Yes, there was NO TV.

Old folks like my grandparents always resisted the new changes, claiming "What's wrong with what we got?"

And it is a temptation. "Why do we need these cell phones, or these confounded computers?" The good old days were pretty nice and comfortable. But were they? That might be a subject for another blog.

The point is, progress did happen and we have some wonderful toys these days. And we can now talk to each other instantly from nearly anywhere. And we can express ourselves in anyway we chose for anyone who wishes to read it -- or not read it!

And thus -- the blog. I have played the role of my grandparents for a while on the subject of the blog. But I have finally -- today -- succumbed and joined the world of blogging. Who knows what great prose might come of it! I am proud of myself. From the Heart -- Olaf Hart