Saturday, August 27, 2011

Health Update

I have been reluctant to post any news regarding my health; I did not want to appear to be trying to elicit sympathy or just plain whining. Christina, who is a friend and neighbor as well another cancer survivor, suggested that I should update this blog with my recent news.

A quick recap: I was treated for Stage IIIB Hodgkins Lymphoma with chemotherapy and radiation during 1976 and 1978. I have been cancer free since. Late effects, however, began occurring in the late 1990’s, including congestive heart failure (1998) and atrial fibrillation (2003).

The fibrillation returned in 2010. A pacemaker was installed in November 2010, but the fibrillation continued and the CHF got worse. In April 2011, various tests confirmed that I had coronary artery disease. On May 17 triple-bypass surgery was performed. That was successful, but my kidneys failed shortly thereafter and I have been on dialysis since June. Also, the surgery indicated that I had severe radiation fibrosis further impacting my heart. Additional tests indicated that the CHF is very severe and that the best course for me will be a dual heart and kidney transplant within the next two years. Without the heart transplant, my cardiologist gives me a 50/50 chance of surviving for two years.

So, if any of you who read this have any experience with heart and kidney transplants, I’d welcome your comments!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I've been quiet since February, trying to get healthy but not succeeding. Following a couple more stints in the hospital, it has been determined that I need a triple bypass operation, to occur on Tuesday 5/17. With any luck, I'll be out of the hospital come Saturday 5/21, just in time for the Rapture! Can't wait to see the look of disappointment on on the believers' faces. I wonder what the billboards will be changed to?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A RI Yankee's Tea Party

Obviously, I am an unabashedly liberal conservative in the strict-constructionist camp of non-revisionist history, geography and baseball hagiography. Certain things mystify me; others just bewilder me. Really, I just do not understand. As Elvis Costello sings, “I used to be disgusted, now I’m just amused.”

Well-off, educated, employed, older mainly European-Americans (so-called white folks) are the vast majority of Tea Party members and call themselves “Patriots.” The “system” has worked for them: they are well off, educated and employed or retired! They want to take “their” country back… from themselves? If the Tea Partiers that I see on TV or those who watch Fox (not really the) News, or Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity, were aboriginal native Amerindians I would say “Go For It!” No, the Tea Party members are the actual Caucasian winners; so they want what? A bigger, better victory? A Marcus Garvey solution? A return to ante-bellum times?

The governors of Virginia (Bob McDonald) and Mississippi (Haley Barbour) are celebrating the memories of Confederate veterans. Virginia and Mississippi are part of the southern USA, an area that currently claims to be more American and patriotic than the east coast, west coast or the (Yankee) north. The Civil War (or The War Between the States, in the southern idiom) was not about slavery or rebellion against the greater United States, it was about “states rights.” In a narrow way I agree: a state’s right to allow slavery within its borders. Slavery is/was wrong, therefore the Confederacy was wrong to insist upon slavery as a state’s right and was wrong to rebel against the federal government. The Civil War was a treasonous, terrorist act against the United States. Treasonous, terrorist acts against the United States are sometimes punished with execution (see Eddie Slovik, Sacco & Vanzetti, and Timothy McVeigh, amongst others). The treasonous Confederate rebels were compassionately pardoned (for the most part) and went on to found such stalwart American patriotic institutions as the Ku Klux Klan, the spiritual antecedent to many of today’s militias. They believe that the second amendment is gospel but want to repeal the fourteenth amendment. They believe that the founding fathers were perfect, a group that thought that slaves were worth only 3/5 of a human being for representation purposes, but not human for moral purposes. WTF, indeed.

Many of these American Patriots that are members of the Tea Party believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. It should make no difference what folly a person believes in, so long as that person is performing their duties. Many of the same folks believe that Obama was born in Kenya and is, thus, not an American citizen. Many of the same folks equate Obama with Adolph Hitler, while calling Obama a Marxist. (OK, they are not that well educated, confusing a Marxist and/or a Nazi with a centrist Democrat. If you listen to Hannity and Beck religiously enough, anything is possible.) This as they shout out to Obama to “keep the government hands off my Medicare!” Many of these folks are screaming about their taxes, without realizing that they are paying less in taxes than they did under their fiscal god Ronald Reagan and his illegitimate acolyte George W. Bush. Hey, Ayn Rand used Medicare and collected social security.

The common thread here, to me, seems to be racism; similar to the racism that dominated baseball and caused the game to be restricted between the careers of Moses Fleetwood Walker and Jackie Robinson. How could a black man play baseball with a white man? How could a black person be president over white people?

And now, Sarah Palin has a WTF moment (she said it, not me) and gets it all wrong about sputnik; Michelle Bachman just gets it all wrong and misinterprets her own chart. I rather like this Tea Party stuff. Reminds me of the Know Nothing Party of the mid-1800’s.

Damn, that rant felt good!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Moose Juice

On our epic pilgrimage to Evansville IN in 1971 for the NCAA Division II hoop Elite 8 tournament, after learning what it meant to have the bridge freeze before the highway (see my post of April 2009), we did get to see some great basketball. In the first round, Assumption College and Southwest Louisiana State, despite both being ranked either No.1 or No.2 depending upon which national poll you read, played against each other. Of course, the tournament was held on the home court of the University of Evansville (they competed in Division II in those days) and as hosts of the tourney, Evansville, apparently, had some say in the pairings. In the second round, they got to play the winner of the AC / SWL bloodbath.

The AC / SWL game was a superb run and gun battle, with the Ragin’ Cajuns winning the slugfest 110-99 (if my memory serves me well). The next night, the Evansville Aces easily defeated the weary and spent Cajuns. Luck of the draw or canny scheduling?

But this is about the party after the Hounds’ defeat by the Cajuns!

The party was held in the hotel where some of the teams and many of the fans were staying (that hotel was converted later to some sort of residency – Ken Szymanski would know about this from his days as a city planner in Evansville). People and players were everywhere; bathtubs were full of beer and wine coolers. Cheerleaders were pouring beer down players’ throats (other teams’ players, of course). Someone had brought a mechanical hockey game and guys were sitting on the floor playing the game.

As I wandered about the hotel, it became apparent that I had run out of my beverage of choice that evening (scotch). I met some of the good folks from Old Dominion University (VA) who offered me some of the “punch” that they were drinking. I had a taste. Pretty sweet-tasting stuff without much kick, I thought to myself. “Have some more of the Moose Juice, y’all,” they said, “but be careful – it sneaks up on you!” “What’s in it,” I asked. “Fruit cocktail and grain alcohol,” they replied. Within the hour I was virtually blind.

At some point approaching midnight, it was decided that we had to head back to our motel. Jim could drive, but he did not know the way. Lou could not drive and also did not know the way, but he could (barely) read the signs. I could not drive and could not see, but I knew the way. So, Lou navigated, read the signs and I barked orders. Jim followed my directions and drove while John moaned “we’re all gonna die!”

We made it back to the motel. We did not die. But later that early morning as we attempted to sober up, we listened to Radio Havana (heard very clearly on the AM dial) break news of a wholesale retreat of US and South Vietnamese forces in the face of a furious Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attack. CBS, NBC, ABC and the Pentagon all spoke of a strategic withdrawal. History later informed us that Radio Havana was correct.

Yeah, we drank too much and maybe Jim was a little too “tired” to be driving, but it was 1971 and, damn it, we were in Evansville! Ken, did they really convert that hotel to a residence after that party?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Remembering Steve Morris

It was Fall Semester 1970 at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. I had been thrown out of a Philosophy class because I was neither a major, minor, senior or junior. As I was departing that classroom, I encountered Professor Jim Barbato, from whom I had taken an environmental science class the previous semester. He had seats remaining in his current Oceanography class, so I quickly signed up and joined the first meeting of a class that would change my life in so many ways.

While I was familiar with Prof. Barbato, I do not remember knowing anyone else in the class that first day. Somehow I ended up sitting and becoming friends with Lou Boyatzi and Steve Morris. That led to friendships with several other folks, including Brendan Bierch, Ed (Chick) Chalmers, and a host of others.

A little over 40 years later, I am saddened to learn of Steve’s recent death in an email message from Brendan. I had not seen Steve in several years, but had remained somewhat connected via email and the Assumption College website. Most recently, I had emailed him complaining that the Phillies had stolen my birthday present by signing Cliff Lee. His reply: “Heh, heh!” I could hear his voice.

So many “Steve” stories. Most people addressed him as “Merc,” and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, in its recent article on Steve’s death, remarked that the late Assumption College basketball coach Joe O’Brien nicknamed Steve “Merc” during a gym class. True, but the whole story of the naming reveals much about Steve and his character. I remember that day well.

It was a Monday morning, a Monday that followed a Sunday wherein the flamboyant, speedy and talented flanker/running back/kick returner Mercury Morris of the Miami Dolphins had ignominiously fumbled at least two kickoff returns. In the open gym class, we were engaged in a touch football game in which Coach O’Brien served as the designated quarterback for both squads. Somehow, Steve managed to sneak into the open several times and Coach hit him square on the numbers on each occasion. Somehow, Steve managed to drop each of Coach’s perfect tosses. “Just like Mercury Morris,” chortled Coach O’Brien. Of course, Steve was slightly less fleet of foot than the professional Mercury Morris, but the name stuck. Steve became Merc. Sure, Coach O’Brien had teased Steve by calling him Merc, but Steve saw all of the irony and humor and adopted his new name. “Merc72” was on his auto registration plates and "Merc" in his email address.

In the process of getting to know each other, Steve quickly found out that I was not only a fan of the hated New York Yankees, but that I rooted for the Chicago Black Hawks as well. Bobby Hull was my favorite player. One morning, upon my arrival at Zip’s (then the day-hop or commuter’s hangout) Steve solemnly informed me that Hull had been traded to the Bruins for chump change and a case of stale Narragansett beer. “I just heard it on WBZ,” he informed me. All day long I moped around campus, finding it hard to believe. As I was cutting through the gym on my way to a class, Coach O’Brien paused to speak with me, saying “Sorry to hear about Hull going to the Bruins, Mike. You must be heartbroken.” Later that day, Assumption’s All-American basketball payer Jake Jones stopped me to say the same thing. Of course, it was all a great practical joke set up magnificently by Steve. Steve’s comment the following day when I sheepishly acknowledged his yanking of my chain and pulling of both my legs: “Heh, heh!”

Steve got me a small position as a statistician with the athletic department. Mostly, I kept track of steals, rebounds and the like during JV and varsity basketball teams. I got to travel with the team on many trips, including Washington DC to take on Catholic University and Georgetown University and most games throughout New England and New York. It was great fun and I owe it all to Steve. One of the most exciting tasks I performed was to help compile and then deliver the halftime and final stats to the radio and television broadcasters. During the heyday of Assumption basketball in the 70’s, that meant hobnobbing with Tom Heinsohn and Bob Cousy.

When I was in graduate school at Western Kentucky University, I made it a point to meet Steve and his good pal Fr. Ed Chalmers at the old NCAA Division II tournament in Evansville, IN. Steve got me press credentials for the games.

So many memories of Steve: sports trivia contests, meatball grinders at his uncle’s pizza shop in Shrewsbury, word games, bad jokes, cold-cut grinders and root beer at Zip’s, driving Bentley College’s basketball coach to Robert’s Arena in Evansville, insulting Bobby Goldsboro in Evansville at the Executive Inn, Queen burgers at some god-forsaken diner in Reynoldsburg, OH (“Ya gotta go to the restroom and see for yourself…”).

Yesterday, Wednesday January 26, I spoke about Steve with Fr. Ed – Ed was in Worcester at St. Stephen’s parish and I was in Larkspur CA visiting my father-in-law. Our conversation started sadly, but ended in laughter as we reminded each other of the joy that we shared over these 40 years (more for Ed) of friendship with Mercury Morris. Ed and I made plans to visit the next time I am in Worcester. I am sure that we will talk about Merc.

See Ya 2010!

2010 was not a good year. Too much unpleasantness, sadness and grief - never mind ill health and Wammo leaving the Asylum Street Spankers. And Carl Crawford signing with the Red Sox, Cliff Lee with the Phillies and the Bronx Bombers making do with the likes of Bartolo Colon, Rafael Soriano and Mark Prior. And I turned 60. Oy vey!