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Friday, October 25, 2013


I thought I lost my left hand ring fingertip a few days ago. No exaggeration.

You remember the guy who got his arm stuck in a rock crevasse almost 10 years ago? His name is Aron Ralston. He was 27 at the time and while exploring a rock canyon on his own, an 800-pound stone fell, trapping his hand in an inescapable position. After five days alone and dying, he realized he had to cut off his arm to survive. So he did.

I had major empathy for him... as did most everyone else. It was hard to imagine what that must have been like because almost none of us have ever been in a situation like that before... at least, not been in an impossible situation and lived to tell about it.

Well, I kind of was. Oh, I didn't languish. I didn't have to drink my own urine to survive like he did. My wife was there and she could have brought me ice tea while I awaited almost sure death.

But the fact is, I was totally trapped and couldn't free myself. That was a very odd feeling... something totally unexpected that happened in a fraction of a second. Oh sure, you may say... a fingertip? HEY! I really did think I would loose my fingertip.

I was retracting the awning of our small RV into its traveling position when one of the side rails didn't fit correctly into its housing. So I placed my left hand behind it to force the inner piece in place. I was so successful that the tip of my finger became wedged between the two pieces which had now snapped into its full retracted position... with me trapped. My hand was stuck on one side of the rails, pinned against the RV's side... and my finger was solidly caught on the other--with the tip curled back like a hook--stuck tight. The awning was now locked in a non-retractable, closed position holding my fingertip as hostage with me out of reach of any object that might be of help.The strap which could help open it had rolled up into the folds of the awning, out of reach.

After just a few painful moments, I quickly realized that I was in that impossible situation and had no way to get loose... at least none that I had examined as my life passed before me in those fleeting moments. I really was stuck... and in pretty good pain.

Then I quickly and calmly thought, "Hey, I can holler for my wife to help. So I did. And we both had to puzzle through a solution. It took about 10 minutes to evaluate how to get my finger out at any cost. She quickly found a rod and managed to pry the two pieces apart... just enough for my finger to come loose.

My poor finger was flat... really flat at the tip and numb, with my fingernail a Halloween greyish-purpl, sporting a large blood blister underneath. It took about an hour for me to realize that the finger was regaining its form and I had a good chance at a full, non-amputated recovery over time. Three days later, at the time of the photo, it is still one painful puppy but, like Aron Ralston, I can now appear on all the talk shows and write a book (like Between a Rock and a Hard Place )  if anyone would ask. I think I'll title it Don't touch me there... ever, or I'll kill you.

"Honey, I will have that ice tea now."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bring back old fashioned diners!

In your dreams
If you want fun... if you want decor... if you want grease... if you want food that is sinfully tasty, find a good, old fashioned diner like we did just a few days ago.

My wife and I were in Natural Tunnel State Park Virginia (Virginia State Parks are rated tops in the nation) and found the Red Stone Drive In just outside the entrance to the park. It had a counter with stools and six tables. Breakfast is available all day... as is lunch and dinner.

Curb-side service, short orders, banana splits
We just couldn't pass it up. And we were not disappointed. When a first timer (like us) ordered the shrimp, he was advised to "Be careful... it is very hot and you could burn your lips [pointing] like that guy over there."

The guy 'over there,' a regular, responded, "That's why they call me hot lips." Everyone in the place (all eight of us) laughed and that was just the warm-up.

That's another thing about diners... the waitresses (always female) seem to be natural comediennes and know instinctively how to 'work their audience.'

"What do you have for dessert?"

"I don't think we have any dessert." Minutes later... "Well, we have ice cream." Minutes later... "We have pie too... lots of pie. What do you want?"

"I pass."

"That will cost you a bigger tip."

They have the "Love Meter."

'Love Meter" answers: "2 hot 2 handle," "Lover boy,"
"No pep," "Sex Machine," "Huggable" and "Frigidaire."

My score: I think that because of all the kids reading, I will keep this private, but is "wow!" a good clue? "Betty's never
 wrong," the waitress says, and you don't argue with the waitress.

Fun signs fill the walls:
"In case of emergency, pay your bill and RUN!"

"Drink coffee and do stupid things faster and with more energy."

"If our food isn't up to your standards, please change your standards."

"Either you love bacon or you are wrong!"

There were a few more, but some were a little too filled with double entendres.

And the food is... greasy of course but hey, the napkins are very absorbent...  and our food was really, really tasty. Be careful though, because the shrimp is very hot and you could burn your lips.

Our cost: The very hot shrimp plate with LOTS of perfectly done deep fried shrimp, vegetable soup, a hamburger on toasted bun, French fries a little soggy, endless good coffee and a great hush puppy sampler. $10.85, tax included, water free. And while that price may not be found everywhere, you have to understand, they don't take credit cards. A twenty covered it nicely. Call it entertainment tax.

...Or, you could go to McDonald's.

As we left, the staff lined up at the door to say goodbye

Thursday, October 10, 2013

If the world isn't going to the dogs, it should.


This is Abby, our six-year-old yellow Lab. She makes people happy.


This is Tess, our seven-year-old golden. She also makes people happy.

They are both HOPE dogs and they do marvelous things. My wife Kathy and I belong to a volunteer organization known as HOPE AACR (Animal Assisted Crisis Response) which does just that.  The animals are our pets and this is our avocation.

Early on, HOPE was at 9-11 when a handful of dogs and handlers brought comfort and some sense of emotional relief to those first responders and families of the many who lost loved ones there. HOPE dogs have been at Virgina Tech, Hurricane Katrina,  TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors... of the military fallen), wildfires, train disasters, shelters of hurricane, tornado and flood victims around the country and so many more places where people have serious need for comfort. We work with The Red Cross and other organizations as part of a large network of assistance where there is need. There are about 160 HOPE person/dog teams in 24 states and that number is growing.

And for anyone who has not experienced what comfort dogs can bring, the enormous response and gravitation to the dogs in traumatic situations is unbelievable. I'm convinced God put these animals here for this greater purpose.

A few weeks back, we and Tess were among those HOPE dog teams that were requested by the Navy to help bring needed comfort to all at the Washington Navy Yard. The shootings there on Sept. 16th took 12 lives (plus the shooter) and brought trauma, fear and heartbreak to all the military, staff and contractors on the base. It was enormous to those who were in building 197, the site of the tragedy. We worked under the Navy team of experts and psychologists responsible for the personnel recovery program.

We were there with our dogs for three days. There were five and six dog/handler teams per day at the Navy Yard over a two week period right after the shootings. We are second responders. The need was great and the response to the dogs had to be see to be believed. As the teams visited building after building, some off-site as well, we were often met by welcoming committees who cheered. We visited desk to desk in most cases, and if it was a secured building, we had an escort... but we tried to miss no one. One woman, seeing us from a third floor widow, rushed down to ask us to please come to her building.

We worked the Yard and were present where those directly affected by the shootings returned for the first time to claim their belonging as they were brought from the crime scene. It was most emotional. We were stopped by everyone from Navy Brass to the security teams, contractors, staff and anyone on the base. We heard stories and shared tears. What we heard most is, "Thank you for your service." Unbelievable that this should come to us when it is so much the other way around.

One could never imagine the scenario unless it happened to them. It was so moving... and also stressful for us and our animals too. It brought the enormity of what happened more clearly into our focus... something that just doesn't come across any other way.

All of the HOPE dogs and owner/handlers go through a training and education process to reach this level. Our animals are certified working dogs who do their magic as second nature to what dogs do. And the dogs know their job well.

When one of the Navy officers asked us what our dogs do, the answer was, "They make you smile," if only to put you in another place and give respite and calm, even for an instant.  Check it out. Dogs make a difference in lives in so many ways.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

There is no God save one, and Darwin is his name. The natural order of things takes care of each one of us until death… and that’s all there is, unless…

This is a short story I wrote for an on line writing competition. My assigned genre was Ghost Story and the primary scenario was to be a hotel room. The assigned object that had to be in the story was a tricycle. I found this a difficult task--to make it not sound like The Shining or any other like it... and the story came out ok... just ok. But here it is for you to judge. Thanks.


Ring-ring-ring. That damn ringing in my head is driving me crazy.

I live. I die. That’s all. And I can prove it.

Darwin—now there’s my god. He was first to show how evolution brought us all to today. To see otherwise is to believe in Penn & Teller, Houdini and David Copperfield. Now where did that skyscraper go? It’s a trick… and that, you can believe.

It makes life so simple. I live in this grand hotel that provides me with all I could want… a clean suite--just like magic, food and services whenever and whatever I desire, magnificent landscaping and artwork, location, location, location--and respect, especially if you tip as I do.

My belief is to lead a good and moral life because I have the means to do so—self-made, I tell you. And yes, I have loved and I have lost. I have lived a full life and when I am finally at peace of mind, I will have won.

Death is nature’s way of telling me to take it easy. Life is hard. When the body begins to show wear, when life becomes more difficult than pleasurable, when you reach your tipping point and when peace of mind eludes you, it’s time to go. Maybe that’s why naps are so welcome… they are very good practice.

I love naps because they are my respite from the pressures of the day and the weariness of the heart. The older one gets, the more weariness there seems to be. Naps are my escape from the dregs on my mind… especially that damn ring-ring-ringing in the background of my head most waking hours, most of my life. And the days get lonelier and harder to bear.

The best doctors tell me the ring-ring-ringing is tinnitus, but it is not. And that definitive conclusion has cost me thousands. Next best guess—I’m going crazy. But that’s not it either, though some will beg to differ. And let me tell you, psychiatrists cost more than audiologists. It all wears a body down so.

I take several naps a day, some days—especially when the ring-ring-ringing tells me to, like now! Mercifully, I usually wake with a clear head, until the day’s momentum catches up.

Good grief! I’ve overslept. I was supposed to be at the Waldorf to receive the Goodman Humanitarian of the Year award and that was an hour ago. I’ve never overslept before, or missed anything important, for that matter.

How come I didn’t get a phone call? How come it’s still light outside? Is my clock wrong? I’ve got to splash some water on my face to…

Ouch! Damn. What the hell? A tricycle. What is this doing in my apartment and how did it get here?

Now the concierge won’t answer. Someone is supposed to be on duty 24/7. ANSWER THE DAMN PHONE!

Look at this little trike… pink with a white seat, streamers sprouting from the rubber grips and a bell on the handlebar. I just can’t figure this out. I’ll bet Helen was on duty and she brought it up… but why?

That’s odd. The emergency light is blinking. What’s going on?

“Hold it. HOLD IT! What are you doing? What are all of you doing rushing into my apartment? What’s happening? ANSWER ME! Why is the Emergency Squad here? There is no emergency and you don’t need a gurney.

Oh my God! That’s me on the couch. I’m still sleeping. No, NO, THAT CAN’T BE. I’M HERE.

“Helen? HELEN! WHAT’S GOING ON? HELEN!” She can’t hear me.

There are three of them frantically working to revive me and Helen, wringing her hands, is looking on anxiously, with tears in her eyes. I try to shake them but they don’t feel my touch. I’M DEAD! I’m dead.

I shouldn’t be here then. What’s the deal? I… wait a minute. WAIT A MINUTE!

The bell on the bike…[ring-ring-ring!]  It’s my bell. IT’S MY BELL… all my life it has been with me… it’s my bell.

“That’s my bike Daddy… you bought it for me a long time ago. Remember? I ring my bell every time I  think of you. Mommy and I have been waiting a long time. Oh daddy, I have missed you so.”

Jenny… my little Jenny… AND MOLLY… oh my god! OH MY GOD! (I know now you can cry tears of joy when you are dead.)

“Hello my darling,” she beckons with an angelic smile and radiating warmth.  “Welcome home.”

But… but 63 years ago you and Jenny were killed by that drunk driver… my life ended. There was nothing else to live for. I had lost everything that ever mattered when you were taken from me. God I knew, was a myth. THERE IS NO GOD!

“Come, see for yourself, silly man. We are together again, forever, my love. Forever.