Dale Says

May 23, 2024

On My Birthday

Filed under: On My Birthday, Uncategorized — Mr. D @ 3:21 pm

On my birthday I am 73 years old.

When I sat down to write this, I discovered I didn’t write a birthday story last year. While that’s very unusual for me, the more I thought about it the more sense it made. My year between 71 and 72 was a mess, and at this time last year it probably didn’t even dawn on me to write.

As I age, I am beginning to see that life is not a straight line, but rather a series of highs and lows, often brought on by the occurrence of major events.

During the past two years I have realized significant challenges and momentous changes. I have faced loss, disappointment, and image issues, and although I struggled mightily with it, I made it through, and I am now battle-tested, tougher, and ready for the next chapter of my life. I have come to realize that I have a good life, and that I’m very fortunate to live where I do, when I do, and have had family and friendships to help me take advantage of my good fortune! And, most important, I once again realize how lucky I am to have Patty to help me, support me, and love me.
And so I am in a good place on my birthday — physically and mentally. I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I have a lot to look forward to. But it’s been quite a journey to get there …


Roller Coaster Ride
The past couple of years have been a roller-coaster ride for me, full of ups-and-downs. I went through a real downturn after Anne died, as I wrote two years ago, and I lost my interest in writing when my San Francisco book flopped. I was heading down a very dark tunnel and to some extent my life was falling apart. I was so focused on the negative things that were happening I often forget to remember the good things. I struggled through many days, and I was really happy only when travelling or volunteering. I was hard to be around sometimes, and I started to drop friendships and connections with family. I was even hard on Patty, and she noticed it. I was heading for trouble.

Last Fall, Patty brought it to my attention. She very nicely pointed out that I was not myself, and she worried that I was hurting my health and my relationships. She didn’t want me to die earlier than necessary, she told me, and she didn’t want to live without me.

I can’t think of a nicer way to tell someone they are falling apart, and it worked. I began to have weekly sessions with a local psychotherapist (Clare), who dug through my superficial coverup and recognized the core issues. She encouraged me to sign up with an outpatient treatment program, which I did. It involved group therapy and individual therapy and withdrawal from all alcohol and pot. I resisted the discipline for a few weeks, and I had trouble sleeping (waking up early and not able to go back to sleep) but I attended and participated in the therapy, and after a couple of months I got into a routine with the program, and my sleeping began to improve. I used meditation and journaling to get the “negative” thoughts out of my head, and to help me work through bouts of anger or embarrassment. My confidence began to increase, my memory started to clear up, and I started to feel better physically. It was working!

Over the next two months I struggled with controlling my emotions, dealing with the routines of the program, and sleeping. I had strange, disturbing dreams and usually woke early in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. Then, about three months into the program things began to turn around.

November 27: Feeling better about the program, my health, and life in general today. Slept better (though still waking very early) and feel more rested in the morning. Have found lately that I am getting things done (calls made, people talked to projects completed) quicker and more effectively. Saying things to people I only thought about saying before. Coming up with ideas to help people and following through on them. It feels good!
From then on, my days improved – I felt more energetic, positive, and happy. Still some moodiness and occasional temper issues, but much more optimistic. Each day throughout December my journalling included the words “positive” and “energetic.” Shorter writings too, and clearer. I had passed a milestone!

I got through the Christmas stress (which is always a trying time for me) and after Christmas I started to sleep better, go with the flow of the program, and enjoy my improved mental and physical health.

January and February were busy and involved ups-and-downs in moods, but overall positive and energetic. I got very busy, with several involved projects: finishing the sunroom, attempting to donate a kidney (more on that later), a big check fraud against me, writing our wills, and planning a vacation – and at times I felt stressed. But overall, I was energetic, positive, and my mood improved. I was beginning to see the light: this lifestyle was so much better than my previous one that I had absolutely no desire to go back.

February 20: Maintaining a pretty steady tempo the past couple of days. Feel good physically and mentally. Thinking a lot about ending the program and getting on with my life. Also, background thoughts about age and what’s left of life. Haven’t felt this good physically in years!
That positive and enthusiastic feeling continued week after week. My sleep was better, my moods were improved, and I now had tools for dealing with the stressful situations that arose. I wrestled with the kidney donation situation and found it to be a reasonable parallel to the stage I was at in my life.

March 18: Very good weekend! Feel good physically and mentally. Got in two good bike rides, good workout, lots of quiet time with Patty. Not thinking about kidney donation. Sort of ambivalent about it right now. Thinking about ending the program April 10 or 17.
After six months of the program, I started to understand what was happening to me and how to deal with it. That was a huge realization for me, and it gave me the confidence that I would be able to deal with future issues on my own.

April 10: Things that used to drive me crazy aren’t quite so important anymore. That’s crucial going forward, and I need even more practice with it and more progress because they used to lead to meltdowns and that was/is bad for me. I need to learn to let things go and to let them work themselves out. They usually do …

It has dawned on me over the past six months that the state I was in presented a huge challenge to me, which if left unchanged could cause serious relationship issues or health problems. I was at an impasse, which needed to be addressed. I had to fix it or ruin my life!
I fixed it. It wasn’t easy, by any means. And I had a tremendous amount of help.


A Kidney for Kevin
It had been a while since my sister died, and I was pretty much finished with the darkness that followed her death. Over a couple of years, I figured out other reasons to carry on, and gradually I built up strength and energy. I was ready to consider another noble gesture. My chance came up early in 2024 when our good friend, Kevin, went on dialysis.

Kevin has had chronic kidney disease as long as he can remember, and he has been tracking his kidney functions his whole adult life. We have been getting reports of decreased kidney functioning for several years, and he knew that eventually he would either need a new kidney or he would have to go on dialysis. He began seeking a kidney donation two or three years ago, when his kidney functions began to approach the danger stage. Three people stepped up (his brother, a neighbor/friend, and Julia his wife. All three went through the testing phase, and all three were denied. Kevin’s kidney functions continued to decline, and he began to worry. He solicited help from his contacts, at one point even posting an appeal on social media. No one else stepped forward.

The time eventually came when Kevin had to go on dialysis. He prepared by having a tube inserted into his belly, and he was trained in how to do it. He decided to do home dialysis, which was invasive and complicated, but at least he can do it while he sleeps. His life is very different now, from having to make sure everything is extremely sterile to having a tube sticking out of his stomach, and having fluids pumped into him while he sleeps. And he can’t travel, as he would have to take all the dialysis equipment with him if he did. And he can’t have their dog in his bedroom. So, it involves great inconveniences, but at least he’s alive, he feels vibrant, and he doesn’t have to go to and sit in a dialysis center for hours several times a week.
Patty and I had lunch with Kevin just as he was starting dialysis, and he described his situation to us, and he expressed how much he hoped to get a kidney – soon. Patty and I talked about it on the drive home, and I thought about it for days afterwards. Eventually, I concluded that I could (possibly) offer to donate a kidney to him, and I did research on the process of donating and what life would be like afterward. I stewed on it, and I thought about it, and I eventually came to the conclusion that it would be a worthy thing for me to do to help a very good friend who is in very dire need.

I discussed it with Patty, who was skeptical, but agreed to give it a try. She was not keen on the idea and expressed concern that I might not be as healthy afterwards, and that I might not live as long after the donation. I did enough research to determine that life expectancy was equivalent after donation, as was quality of life. Then I talked at length to a friend who had donated her kidney to a friend in Kevin’s situation. That friend spoke very highly of the process and of her quality of life since, and she assured me several times that she would do it again, knowing what she now knows. That eased my concerns.

With Patty’s tepid approval, I contacted UCSF’s kidney donation department and requested information about donating. They sent me information and a form to fill out if I was interested. I did more research on the testing and donation process, and on life after donation, and I spoke to several people who had medical backgrounds. I met with my physician, who assured me that as far as he could tell I was healthy enough to donate, and that at the very least I would receive the most complete physical exam of my life.

So, I signed up for the donation process with UCSF on January 11, 2024.

The donation process starts with gentle screenings (blood tests, blood pressure tests) and progresses as those are passed. In January and February, I took several blood pressure tests at home, followed by two blood draws and a urine test at a lab. No significant issues were uncovered, and I progressed to a 24-hour urine collection test, a stool sample, and another set of blood tests. Again, no significant issues were uncovered.
At that point, I met on the phone with a patient advocate from UCSF, who questioned my intentions, my background, my mental health, and my lifestyle. It was a serious probe into my previous and current state of mind, and apparently I passed. I would later have five more calls with staff from UCSF, who reviewed with me how organ donation worked, how the process would go, a list of my medications and their purposes, a request for me to conduct a 24-hour blood pressure monitor, and sessions with a social worker and an advocate.

Then the serious testing began. On March 5 and 8, I spent two full days at UCSF, to determine how rapidly my body processed fluids, what shape my heart was in, x-rays of my lungs, talks with nephrologists and kidney surgeons, and having fluids flow through my body and organs while taking cat-scans. Those were anxious days, filled with serious tests, dedicated UCSF staff, and incredible equipment! I came home exhausted, and yet determined to proceed.

That night I wrote about it in my journal:

March 8: Very emotional day! All day at UCSF, after all day there two days ago. In no particular order, I had the following tests/procedures: NM Plasma GFR, Treadmill Stress Echocardiogram, Chest X-Ray, Laboratory, Vitals, Complete Physical and consult with (2) Nephrologists, Consult with Transplant Surgeon, and Renal CT Angiogram.

Emotional ups-and-downs for three days now – very relieved my health is so good! Very excited about the possibility of doing something noble for a good friend! Very disappointed I’m not getting more support for it from PMC and tonight from her brother. Makes me determined to not mention it to anyone else. This is something very personal to me, and other people don’t understand it. I will pursue it until they tell me no! Or, if they don’t tell me no – I will do it! This could be the answer to my need to excel!

At some point in the testing process, I found out that I could donate directly to Kevin. That was a huge psychological boost! Instead of donating a kidney into a pool (which would go to a stranger – but which would move Kevin to the top of the kidney donation list), I would give my kidney directly to Kevin! That meant that I would be in the same building on the same day as Kevin, and that my kidney would be taken out and given directly to Kevin. That made what I was doing much more personal and much more meaningful, and it renewed my determination to do it! I amped up Kevin’s excitement, too!

There were two minor concerns raised by the testing: (1) the tests had determined that I had a couple of small aneurysms in the blood vessels near my kidneys, which while they weren’t a grave danger to me meant that I would not be left with one perfect kidney, which is UCSF’s goal. (2) my blood pressure continued to fluctuate. To see what was causing that, UCSF asked me to wear a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours, which I did.
I thought about the donation process a lot then! I had a lot going on in my personal life, and my days were very full, but this was on my mind all the time.

March 11: Torn about kidney donation. It’s not “haunting” me, but it’s there bubbling under the surface. Sometimes I’m gun-ho ready to do it, and then I get excited about doing a great thing for a good friend. Then other times I’m a little scared and nervous, and I wonder how I would be after the surgery and with just one kidney. Would my life be changed? Would my life be less? Would I regret doing it? I still think UCSF is going to say NO at some point!

Then UCSF stopped calling and sending me messages. I was busy with other projects, but their silence was noticed. I took it to be a bad sign.
March 16: Haven’t heard from UCSF for a week. The longer it goes, the less excited I am about donating.
On March 24 I had a call with Sandy, a social worker. It was intense! She pushed me on my past, my present, and why I want to donate. At the end of the call, I had a “feeling” she was going to recommend against my donation, although she let the testing proceed. I thought about her call for hours, and I confided parts of it to my journal:

March 24: The question and answer I will remember the most was why I want to donate? My answer: “my good friend, Kevin, needs a kidney and I would be able to donate directly to him.” Then I added – “and it would also be a chance for me to do something noble – maybe my last chance to do so.”

We’ll see where it goes from here …

Then on March 28, I had an interview with DeAnne, the advocate for potential kidney donors. She started her call by asking me to name (on a 1-10 scale, with one being I don’t want to donate and 10 being I absolutely want to donate), where I was that day. When I answered that I was at about 7.5, she asked me what it would take to get me to 10. My answer was that if she (or someone else) would assure me that my life would be as good and as long after donation as it would be without donation I would be at 10 “in a heartbeat.” I had the feeling that was not the answer she was hoping for when she responded by telling me that no one could assure me of that. I answered by telling her that’s what everyone had told me, and I was OK with that.

At that point, I got busy with our annual Easter party and didn’t dwell too much on the process. I figured it was out of my control.

Ten days after DeAnne’s call the woman who had been my donor coordinator phoned. She told me “The evaluation committee had met and discussed my donation application and they had decided to “pause” the process, because there were enough concerns that they didn’t want to proceed”. I asked a couple of questions, she responded in general terms, and then she indicated she needed to end the conversation. I told her I had two more questions: (1) who would tell the potential recipient (she said his donor coordinator would contact him, and (2) would I still be able to get the results of my blood pressure tests, to be able to understand why they were erratic (she assured me I would). She hung up and I haven’t heard anything further from UCSF, including the results from the blood pressure tests.

The phone call haunted me, and I thought about it for days. I wrote about it in my journal:

April 2: Just got the call I’ve been expecting and dreading. I’m out as a candidate to donate a kidney. UCSF is officially “pausing the process for now.” Unofficially, they felt I have too much going on in my life now, between health issues and personal issues, and they said they felt I didn’t need this extra stressor.

I was crushed and, at the same time somewhat relieved. Patty was out of town, so I took some time to think about it, and over time I decided I needed to write my feelings down.

April 3: It’s starting to sink in on me now – what happened to the kidney donation process. My intentions were good, but my timing was bad. And now, I have to live with that.

I wrote Patty in Mexico, and she answered in kind. Then I wrote to Kevin.

The note to Kevin was one of the hardest notes I’ve had to write, because I knew he would be crushed. He was.

April 4: Kevin’s note hit me – he’s really taking it hard! But there’s no guilt – because I did my very best and I was completely open and honest all the way to everyone.

I “suspect” that if I wasn’t undergoing the treatment program, and if I hadn’t been so honest about my concerns for the surgery and recovery – I “might” still be on the donation program. But I’ll never know for sure!

Kevin took a couple of days to absorb the news and to calm down. Then her wrote me a very gracious note:

Good morning, Dale.

OK, let’s start at the top. Needless to say, I can’t thank you enough for your kind and thoughtful offer. I also want to thank you for your dedication, time, and patience throughout the entire process. I do know that it is a lot of work…trust me, I go through it all the time. I can completely understand when, after the call, you noted that you collapsed. The result was overwhelming.

So I have had a few days to process the outcome…to be honest, I was a wee bit heartbreaking with it not happening (maybe more than a wee bit),…I was so positive for many weeks. But I’ve just come to the realization that it wasn’t my time yet. The good news is that there is a kidney for me somewhere out there…it just might take a little more time (hopefully not a lot more time.) I’m so happy that I am mobile, still vibrant, and hopeful, as when I visit the clinic, I do see patients that are lost, tired, and in really bad shape. I’m the lucky one…truly.

So, the dialysis continues…while not a bunch of fun, it has shifted to a habit and thank God I can do it while I sleep. If I had to go into a clinic 3 – 4 times a week during the day and sit in a chair for four hours or more, well, I would look lost and tired.

As I always said, you are a hero and will forever remain a hero to me.

Let’s stay positive and as healthy as we can, and hopefully, just hopefully in a year or so, life will take on a different scope –of vitality, energy, and most important travel.

Kevin’s note let me off the hook and helped me get into a better space.
April 7: Becoming calm and relieved about kidney donation issue. Kevin was VERY gracious about it, which helped me settle down. Now, I need to document it before I forget it. It fits in nicely with my inability to “excel” throughout my life.

That bothered me for a few days – the nagging thought that once again I had failed to excel, to deliver that one big accomplishment that would be the pinnacle I had sought for so many years.

Then, a few days later, I drove to Menlo Park to see our good friend, Lynne, and to see the solar eclipse. Lynne is one of those rare people who can capsulate thoughts and really get to the root. I had told her about my attempt to donate a kidney earlier, and she asked me how the process was going. When I told her UCSF had stopped my donation process, she said she admired my gesture, and at the same time she was relieved the process was over. Then she looked at me, and she apparently didn’t think I was as relieved as she thought I should be, and she asked me about it.
“But now I can’t excel at it,” I told her. “I’ve always wanted to excel at something, and this was an attempt on my part to excel at being noble.”
Lynne let that sink in for a few seconds, then she looked me in the eyes and said, “But you did excel by offering to donate and by going through the donation process!” She stopped walking, squared up, and looked at me.

“Don’t you agree?” she demanded.

My mind raced, as I tried to come up with reasons her logic was faulty. I drew a blank.

“Yes,” I agreed. “You’re right! The decision to donate and going through the testing process was in itself a courageous act.” We both smiled, turned, and started walking.

***

So, I did excel at something. I offered to give part of myself to help a friend. That knowledge is settling into my heart and radiating out as comfort. And it also makes me realize that I give part of myself each time I drive across San Francisco to shop for a shut-in lady, or drive a senior to a doctor’s appointment, or serve lunch to a group of low-income seniors. And each time I sit down and write the story about someone whose life story would otherwise go untold. And each time I call Keith or Cousin Judy or write to June or Lana just to make their lives a little better.
Maybe the act of excelling isn’t curing cancer, or winning the Noble Prize, or becoming a professional baseball player or the youngest Vice President of a bank. Maybe it’s becoming a good, helpful human who spends the years given to him or her doing good and helping others.


Writing
I lost my interest in writing when Anne died. It didn’t drive me anymore, my writing wasn’t successful, and I was depressed. I tried writing stories about the difficult decisions U.S. presidents had to make, and lost interest in it – it had already been done and it was difficult to read. About that time, I watched a documentary movie about Judy Blum, who wrote books for children, and it dawned on me that I would like to try that.
So, I cooked up a book about two eight-year-old boys who were assigned to do a “big project” in their U.S. history class. They decided to do it about U.S. presidents. I researched kids’ books, talked to teachers of 8-year-old children, and invented a storyline. It required several drafts to get it to the point where 8-year-old kids could absorb it, and I continued to add a few twists-and-turns to make it interesting. When I was satisfied with it, I reviewed it with the teachers, who blessed it. I found an illustrator, who worked up some wonderful images to go with the story, and I published it as Noah and Mateo and the Big Project.

I was pleased with the way it came out, and I gave copies to my friends, relatives, local bookstore, and library, and I moved on to another project. The book got good reviews, but it didn’t sell well. Oh well … by now I have realized that I’m not writing for the public, but for myself.

My next writing project has been my hardest so far – a fiction story about a driverless taxi that kidnaps a guy. It’s loaded with characters who have deep, dark secrets, and one of the characters is hard for me to articulate. So far, I’m at about six months and three drafts, and while it’s getting closer, it still needs work. As a result of these last two writing projects, I have resolved two things: (1) I will probably not write more fiction, and (2) I will continue to write as long as I’m able.

I still love writing, and it’s a big part of me. I scheme aspects of whatever project I’m working on during the day, and as I lay in bed going to sleep. When a sentence or an article turns out well, I feel good and tend to read it over-and-over. I’m happiest when I write something about someone that makes the subject out to be special. It’s possible that that’s my superpower – writing good things about good people.


Health
My physical health is good, and it has improved over the past year. I’m stronger than two years ago, and as durable as I’ve been in the past decade. I have some minor balance issues (which I’m working on) and the arthritis in my feet is painful. The intense examination I went through to donate a kidney examined every aspect of my physical health, and I came out in good shape! Other than up-and-down blood pressure readings (which no one seems to be able to explain), all they found out is that I’m low on Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12, so I’m taking supplements. I go to a gym two or three times each week and do an intense workout that involves stretching, strengthening, core and balance exercise, weightlifting, and a cardio workout. In addition, I do cardio exercise (walking or cycling) nearly every day. I can still walk as far and lift as much as when I was 60, so I’m happy with my physical state.

Sunroom
After four years, we finally finished our sunroom this past year! The project that seemed like it would never get done, that was held up by San Francisco bureaucracy, then Covid, and then when we couldn’t find a contractor to do the work — was finally completed in January. The room is wonderful, and it adds another welcoming space to our already cozy home! So far, we’ve added a rug, two chairs, two indoor trees, and a table. It’s so nice to sit there and look out on our garden, especially when it’s raining!

Volunteering
I’ve stepped up my volunteering a little over the past year. I help serve lunch to the seniors at Tel Hi on Wednesdays, and I shop for two seniors every week. In addition, I take seniors to and from doctor’s appointments as needed.
I’ve recently started shopping for Amelia and Margaret DeBono, who are sisters living in the Marina district. Amelia is 95 and Margaret is Amelia’s older sister. They are wonderful, sweet women, and I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to know them!

Friends
The older I get the more our group of friends means to me. We’ve been together for more than three decades now, and we’ve shared happy experiences, sad experiences, ups and downs, and the one constant is that we always support each other. At this age, we’re beginning to experience illness and other health issues, and it’s even more important that we have each other. And now, we’re beginning to experience our friends’ grandchildren, which is yet another wonderful part of friendship. Patty and I have had the good fortune to spend time with Beck and Sarah’s children, Will and Lydia, over the past year, and it’s very special to watch them grow and develop. I will never forget walking with Lydia and when we needed to cross the street she reached up and took my hand. I looked down and there was this tiny warm hand clutching mine!

Travel
We had two major trips over the past year, and both were excellent!

The first trip was to Lake Bled in Slovenia, followed by a week-long bicycle trip through Italy, Slovenia, and Austria. Both segments were terrific – among the best trips we’ve taken! Slovenia is a wonderful, hidden treasure, filled with friendly people, beautiful sights, and all at an easy pace. Lake Bled is a gathering place for tourists, honeymooners, and seniors, and it features a beautiful setting amidst snow-capped mountains, and traditional row boats manned by locals who pass the craft down from generation to generation. The locals are taught English throughout school, and they speak it fluently. We spent our days hiking around the lake, cycling in the hills on all sides of the lake, and dining in a variety of interesting restaurants.
After a few days at Lake Bled, we joined our bike tour group (VBT) in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital. It was a good group (all Americans) that included nine people who went to the University of Michigan many years before and who re-united for this tour. They were fun to be with, and the guides and lodging were terrific. It was Spring, and we were treated to wildflowers, snow-capped mountains, the Italian cycling championship, and the European rowing championships at Lake Bled.

One down note – Patty got a bad cold part way through our tour, and with Covid still around, we were sequestered from the group at our gatherings and required to wear face masks. The rest of the group were kind, however, so it wasn’t too bad.
In September, we took a week-long trip to upstate New York with Ken and Vicki, Geoff and Nancy, and Misty. There were numerous highlights, including the Baseball Hall of Fame, FDR’s home, Culinary Institute of America, West Point, Storm King Art Center, and Olana (Frederic Church’s estate). Everyone got along well, and it was terrific to be able to travel with our special group of friends!

News
The world is slowly coming apart, little by little. Tensions are flaring in the Middle East, Europe, China, Africa, and Asia. Those of us who have been around for awhile can sense growing unrest, and it wouldn’t take a lot for it to burst wide open. In the middle of all that unrest, most economies are still hurting from the negative effects of Covid, now three years removed from the peak.

The war in Ukraine is the worst conflict. Russia attacked Ukraine over two years ago, and they have murdered soldiers, women, and children, attacked churches and schools, bombed electric plants in an attempt to freeze the Ukrainians, and left millions of landmines behind when they retreated. For a while the Ukrainians were pushing the Russians back, but they ran out of ammunition and now it seems to be a stalemate. Biden asked Congress for additional funds to help the Ukrainians, and most members of both houses agreed, but then Trump interfered, and the House of Representatives tabled the request. The Ukrainians were running out of ammunition. Finally, the House relented and voted to pass the request for additional funds, which is now being used to help the Ukrainians.

Last September, war broke out in Israel. The conflict began after the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, launched an attack on southern Israel on October 7, 2023, that left 1,200 people dead and saw over 200 more taken hostage. Israel declared war on Hamas and attacked them in Gaza, sometimes killing innocent Palestinians living there in the process. That goes on, and to date thousands of Palestinians have died, but Israel says it will not stop until Hamas is wiped off the face of the earth. Many countries have intervened, trying to work out a solution, to no avail. The U.S. is not directly involved, but is implicated, because we supply military supplies to Israel. Biden tried to persuade Israel to stop the war but was not successful. Now, protests against Israel’s military actions are breaking out across the U.S. and in Europe. People want the killing to stop.
The wars are taking some people’s attention away from climate change, which continues unabated. Ice caps are melting, oceans are heating up, storms intensify, and still little is done to correct the situation. Future generations, long after we’re gone, will ask why we did nothing to prevent the climate disaster they must live with.

The U.S. continues to be deeply divided between those who think the country is led by good, knowledgeable people and things are generally going well and those who think the government is the worse in history and the country is in horrible shape. And that’s not an exaggeration – there are people in leadership position who say it out loud. Perhaps they are parroting Donald Trump, who at every campaign speech says the U.S. is in terrible trouble and is led by the most corrupt president in history.

Trump
Speaking of Trump, he is currently on criminal trial in New York City, accused of illegally hiding reporting payments he ordered made to a porn star who accused him of having an affair with him. So, we get to see the former president of the United States (and the presumed Republican candidate for president this year) sitting in a New York courtroom every weekday now, charged with crimes. And we are confronted daily with the names he calls people who oppose him, and we are insulted by the constant lies he tells. Then, we must witness when Republican Senators, Representatives, and Governors endorse him for president.

At this point the polls show a very close race between Trump and Biden, and I think much of the world sees it as a kindly, honest, experienced 81-year-old running against a lying, cheating, narcissistic 77-year-old. Historians will write about this for a hundred years, and future generations will ask what we were thinking, why did so many Americans support and vote for such a horrible person, and why weren’t there younger people to take over?

San Francisco’s Doom Loop?
In San Francisco, we are suffering what some people are calling a doom loop, following the Covid pandemic. Downtown office buildings are not filling back up as quickly as in other cities, as many high-tech companies allow their workers to work from home. Some downtown retailers are leaving town (including Macy’s) because of the empty office buildings, decreases in in-store retail shopping, and higher rates of crime. And San Francisco’s reputation has been sullied, largely by right-wing media, who exaggerate the drug, homeless, and crime issues the city faces. My observations are that things in San Francisco are not worse than during the pandemic, but they have not improved as quickly as they should have. There will be an election this November that will include San Francisco mayor, and it will be a crucial one for the city.

Cecil Williams
Cecil Williams died April 22 at age 94. The New York Times wrote this about him:

The Rev. Cecil Williams, a charismatic minister who turned a fading church in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco into a vibrant hub of worship, activism and social services, died on Monday at his home in the city. He was 94.

The San Francisco Chronicle included this about him:

“Civil rights pioneer, champion for the poor and hungry, and probably the most influential religious figure in San Francisco over the past 50 years.”
Everyone in San Francisco knew who he was, and nearly everyone had at least one story about him.

Now, there was a man who excelled!

On My Birthday 2024

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. D @ 3:20 pm

On My Birthday

On my birthday I am 73 years old.
When I sat down to write this, I discovered I didn’t write a birthday story last year. While that’s very unusual for me, the more I thought about it the more sense it made. My year between 71 and 72 was a mess, and at this time last year it probably didn’t even dawn on me to write.

As I age, I am beginning to see that life is not a straight line, but rather a series of highs and lows, often brought on by the occurrence of major events.
During the past two years I have realized significant challenges and momentous changes. I have faced loss, disappointment, and image issues, and although I struggled mightily with it, I made it through, and I am now battle-tested, tougher, and ready for the next chapter of my life. I have come to realize that I have a good life, and that I’m very fortunate to live where I do, when I do, and have had family and friendships to help me take advantage of my good fortune! And, most important, I once again realize how lucky I am to have Patty to help me, support me, and love me.
And so I am in a good place on my birthday — physically and mentally. I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I have a lot to look forward to. But it’s been quite a journey to get there …


Roller Coaster Ride
The past couple of years have been a roller-coaster ride for me, full of ups-and-downs. I went through a real downturn after Anne died, as I wrote two years ago, and I lost my interest in writing when my San Francisco book flopped. I was heading down a very dark tunnel and to some extent my life was falling apart. I was so focused on the negative things that were happening I often forget to remember the good things. I struggled through many days, and I was really happy only when travelling or volunteering. I was hard to be around sometimes, and I started to drop friendships and connections with family. I was even hard on Patty, and she noticed it. I was heading for trouble.
Last Fall, Patty brought it to my attention. She very nicely pointed out that I was not myself, and she worried that I was hurting my health and my relationships. She didn’t want me to die earlier than necessary, she told me, and she didn’t want to live without me.
I can’t think of a nicer way to tell someone they are falling apart, and it worked. I began to have weekly sessions with a local psychotherapist (Clare), who dug through my superficial coverup and recognized the core issues. She encouraged me to sign up with an outpatient treatment program, which I did. It involved group therapy and individual therapy and withdrawal from all alcohol and pot. I resisted the discipline for a few weeks, and I had trouble sleeping (waking up early and not able to go back to sleep) but I attended and participated in the therapy, and after a couple of months I got into a routine with the program, and my sleeping began to improve. I used meditation and journaling to get the “negative” thoughts out of my head, and to help me work through bouts of anger or embarrassment. My confidence began to increase, my memory started to clear up, and I started to feel better physically. It was working!
Over the next two months I struggled with controlling my emotions, dealing with the routines of the program, and sleeping. I had strange, disturbing dreams and usually woke early in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. Then, about three months into the program things began to turn around.
November 27: Feeling better about the program, my health, and life in general today. Slept better (though still waking very early) and feel more rested in the morning. Have found lately that I am getting things done (calls made, people talked to projects completed) quicker and more effectively. Saying things to people I only thought about saying before. Coming up with ideas to help people and following through on them. It feels good!
From then on, my days improved – I felt more energetic, positive, and happy. Still some moodiness and occasional temper issues, but much more optimistic. Each day throughout December my journalling included the words “positive” and “energetic.” Shorter writings too, and clearer. I had passed a milestone!
I got through the Christmas stress (which is always a trying time for me) and after Christmas I started to sleep better, go with the flow of the program, and enjoy my improved mental and physical health.
January and February were busy and involved ups-and-downs in moods, but overall positive and energetic. I got very busy, with several involved projects: finishing the sunroom, attempting to donate a kidney (more on that later), a big check fraud against me, writing our wills, and planning a vacation – and at times I felt stressed. But overall, I was energetic, positive, and my mood improved. I was beginning to see the light: this lifestyle was so much better than my previous one that I had absolutely no desire to go back.
February 20: Maintaining a pretty steady tempo the past couple of days. Feel good physically and mentally. Thinking a lot about ending the program and getting on with my life. Also, background thoughts about age and what’s left of life. Haven’t felt this good physically in years!
That positive and enthusiastic feeling continued week after week. My sleep was better, my moods were improved, and I now had tools for dealing with the stressful situations that arose. I wrestled with the kidney donation situation and found it to be a reasonable parallel to the stage I was at in my life.
March 18: Very good weekend! Feel good physically and mentally. Got in two good bike rides, good workout, lots of quiet time with Patty. Not thinking about kidney donation. Sort of ambivalent about it right now. Thinking about ending the program April 10 or 17.
After six months of the program, I started to understand what was happening to me and how to deal with it. That was a huge realization for me, and it gave me the confidence that I would be able to deal with future issues on my own.
April 10: Things that used to drive me crazy aren’t quite so important anymore. That’s crucial going forward, and I need even more practice with it and more progress because they used to lead to meltdowns and that was/is bad for me. I need to learn to let things go and to let them work themselves out. They usually do …
It has dawned on me over the past six months that the state I was in presented a huge challenge to me, which if left unchanged could cause serious relationship issues or health problems. I was at an impasse, which needed to be addressed. I had to fix it or ruin my life!
I fixed it. It wasn’t easy, by any means. And I had a tremendous amount of help.


A Kidney for Kevin
It had been a while since my sister died, and I was pretty much finished with the darkness that followed her death. Over a couple of years, I figured out other reasons to carry on, and gradually I built up strength and energy. I was ready to consider another noble gesture. My chance came up early in 2024 when our good friend, Kevin, went on dialysis.
Kevin has had chronic kidney disease as long as he can remember, and he has been tracking his kidney functions his whole adult life. We have been getting reports of decreased kidney functioning for several years, and he knew that eventually he would either need a new kidney or he would have to go on dialysis. He began seeking a kidney donation two or three years ago, when his kidney functions began to approach the danger stage. Three people stepped up (his brother, a neighbor/friend, and Julia his wife. All three went through the testing phase, and all three were denied. Kevin’s kidney functions continued to decline, and he began to worry. He solicited help from his contacts, at one point even posting an appeal on social media. No one else stepped forward.
The time eventually came when Kevin had to go on dialysis. He prepared by having a tube inserted into his belly, and he was trained in how to do it. He decided to do home dialysis, which was invasive and complicated, but at least he can do it while he sleeps. His life is very different now, from having to make sure everything is extremely sterile to having a tube sticking out of his stomach, and having fluids pumped into him while he sleeps. And he can’t travel, as he would have to take all the dialysis equipment with him if he did. And he can’t have their dog in his bedroom. So, it involves great inconveniences, but at least he’s alive, he feels vibrant, and he doesn’t have to go to and sit in a dialysis center for hours several times a week.
Patty and I had lunch with Kevin just as he was starting dialysis, and he described his situation to us, and he expressed how much he hoped to get a kidney – soon. Patty and I talked about it on the drive home, and I thought about it for days afterwards. Eventually, I concluded that I could (possibly) offer to donate a kidney to him, and I did research on the process of donating and what life would be like afterward. I stewed on it, and I thought about it, and I eventually came to the conclusion that it would be a worthy thing for me to do to help a very good friend who is in very dire need.
I discussed it with Patty, who was skeptical, but agreed to give it a try. She was not keen on the idea and expressed concern that I might not be as healthy afterwards, and that I might not live as long after the donation. I did enough research to determine that life expectancy was equivalent after donation, as was quality of life. Then I talked at length to a friend who had donated her kidney to a friend in Kevin’s situation. That friend spoke very highly of the process and of her quality of life since, and she assured me several times that she would do it again, knowing what she now knows. That eased my concerns.
With Patty’s tepid approval, I contacted UCSF’s kidney donation department and requested information about donating. They sent me information and a form to fill out if I was interested. I did more research on the testing and donation process, and on life after donation, and I spoke to several people who had medical backgrounds. I met with my physician, who assured me that as far as he could tell I was healthy enough to donate, and that at the very least I would receive the most complete physical exam of my life.
So, I signed up for the donation process with UCSF on January 11, 2024.
The donation process starts with gentle screenings (blood tests, blood pressure tests) and progresses as those are passed. In January and February, I took several blood pressure tests at home, followed by two blood draws and a urine test at a lab. No significant issues were uncovered, and I progressed to a 24-hour urine collection test, a stool sample, and another set of blood tests. Again, no significant issues were uncovered.
At that point, I met on the phone with a patient advocate from UCSF, who questioned my intentions, my background, my mental health, and my lifestyle. It was a serious probe into my previous and current state of mind, and apparently I passed. I would later have five more calls with staff from UCSF, who reviewed with me how organ donation worked, how the process would go, a list of my medications and their purposes, a request for me to conduct a 24-hour blood pressure monitor, and sessions with a social worker and an advocate.
Then the serious testing began. On March 5 and 8, I spent two full days at UCSF, to determine how rapidly my body processed fluids, what shape my heart was in, x-rays of my lungs, talks with nephrologists and kidney surgeons, and having fluids flow through my body and organs while taking cat-scans. Those were anxious days, filled with serious tests, dedicated UCSF staff, and incredible equipment! I came home exhausted, and yet determined to proceed.
That night I wrote about it in my journal:
March 8: Very emotional day! All day at UCSF, after all day there two days ago. In no particular order, I had the following tests/procedures: NM Plasma GFR, Treadmill Stress Echocardiogram, Chest X-Ray, Laboratory, Vitals, Complete Physical and consult with (2) Nephrologists, Consult with Transplant Surgeon, and Renal CT Angiogram.
Emotional ups-and-downs for three days now – very relieved my health is so good! Very excited about the possibility of doing something noble for a good friend! Very disappointed I’m not getting more support for it from PMC and tonight from her brother. Makes me determined to not mention it to anyone else. This is something very personal to me, and other people don’t understand it. I will pursue it until they tell me no! Or, if they don’t tell me no – I will do it! This could be the answer to my need to excel!
At some point in the testing process, I found out that I could donate directly to Kevin. That was a huge psychological boost! Instead of donating a kidney into a pool (which would go to a stranger – but which would move Kevin to the top of the kidney donation list), I would give my kidney directly to Kevin! That meant that I would be in the same building on the same day as Kevin, and that my kidney would be taken out and given directly to Kevin. That made what I was doing much more personal and much more meaningful, and it renewed my determination to do it! I amped up Kevin’s excitement, too!
There were two minor concerns raised by the testing: (1) the tests had determined that I had a couple of small aneurysms in the blood vessels near my kidneys, which while they weren’t a grave danger to me meant that I would not be left with one perfect kidney, which is UCSF’s goal. (2) my blood pressure continued to fluctuate. To see what was causing that, UCSF asked me to wear a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours, which I did.
I thought about the donation process a lot then! I had a lot going on in my personal life, and my days were very full, but this was on my mind all the time.
March 11: Torn about kidney donation. It’s not “haunting” me, but it’s there bubbling under the surface. Sometimes I’m gun-ho ready to do it, and then I get excited about doing a great thing for a good friend. Then other times I’m a little scared and nervous, and I wonder how I would be after the surgery and with just one kidney. Would my life be changed? Would my life be less? Would I regret doing it? I still think UCSF is going to say NO at some point!
Then UCSF stopped calling and sending me messages. I was busy with other projects, but their silence was noticed. I took it to be a bad sign.
March 16: Haven’t heard from UCSF for a week. The longer it goes, the less excited I am about donating.
On March 24 I had a call with Sandy, a social worker. It was intense! She pushed me on my past, my present, and why I want to donate. At the end of the call, I had a “feeling” she was going to recommend against my donation, although she let the testing proceed. I thought about her call for hours, and I confided parts of it to my journal:
March 24: The question and answer I will remember the most was why I want to donate? My answer: “my good friend, Kevin, needs a kidney and I would be able to donate directly to him.” Then I added – “and it would also be a chance for me to do something noble – maybe my last chance to do so.”
We’ll see where it goes from here …
Then on March 28, I had an interview with DeAnne, the advocate for potential kidney donors. She started her call by asking me to name (on a 1-10 scale, with one being I don’t want to donate and 10 being I absolutely want to donate), where I was that day. When I answered that I was at about 7.5, she asked me what it would take to get me to 10. My answer was that if she (or someone else) would assure me that my life would be as good and as long after donation as it would be without donation I would be at 10 “in a heartbeat.” I had the feeling that was not the answer she was hoping for when she responded by telling me that no one could assure me of that. I answered by telling her that’s what everyone had told me, and I was OK with that.
At that point, I got busy with our annual Easter party and didn’t dwell too much on the process. I figured it was out of my control.

Ten days after DeAnne’s call the woman who had been my donor coordinator phoned. She told me “The evaluation committee had met and discussed my donation application and they had decided to “pause” the process, because there were enough concerns that they didn’t want to proceed”. I asked a couple of questions, she responded in general terms, and then she indicated she needed to end the conversation. I told her I had two more questions: (1) who would tell the potential recipient (she said his donor coordinator would contact him, and (2) would I still be able to get the results of my blood pressure tests, to be able to understand why they were erratic (she assured me I would). She hung up and I haven’t heard anything further from UCSF, including the results from the blood pressure tests.
The phone call haunted me, and I thought about it for days. I wrote about it in my journal:
April 2: Just got the call I’ve been expecting and dreading. I’m out as a candidate to donate a kidney. UCSF is officially “pausing the process for now.” Unofficially, they felt I have too much going on in my life now, between health issues and personal issues, and they said they felt I didn’t need this extra stressor.
I was crushed and, at the same time somewhat relieved. Patty was out of town, so I took some time to think about it, and over time I decided I needed to write my feelings down.
April 3: It’s starting to sink in on me now – what happened to the kidney donation process. My intentions were good, but my timing was bad. And now, I have to live with that.
I wrote Patty in Mexico, and she answered in kind. Then I wrote to Kevin.
The note to Kevin was one of the hardest notes I’ve had to write, because I knew he would be crushed. He was.
April 4: Kevin’s note hit me – he’s really taking it hard! But there’s no guilt – because I did my very best and I was completely open and honest all the way to everyone.
I “suspect” that if I wasn’t undergoing the treatment program, and if I hadn’t been so honest about my concerns for the surgery and recovery – I “might” still be on the donation program. But I’ll never know for sure!
Kevin took a couple of days to absorb the news and to calm down. Then her wrote me a very gracious note:
Good morning, Dale.

OK, let’s start at the top. Needless to say, I can’t thank you enough for your kind and thoughtful offer. I also want to thank you for your dedication, time, and patience throughout the entire process. I do know that it is a lot of work…trust me, I go through it all the time. I can completely understand when, after the call, you noted that you collapsed. The result was overwhelming.

So I have had a few days to process the outcome…to be honest, I was a wee bit heartbreaking with it not happening (maybe more than a wee bit),…I was so positive for many weeks. But I’ve just come to the realization that it wasn’t my time yet. The good news is that there is a kidney for me somewhere out there…it just might take a little more time (hopefully not a lot more time.) I’m so happy that I am mobile, still vibrant, and hopeful, as when I visit the clinic, I do see patients that are lost, tired, and in really bad shape. I’m the lucky one…truly.

So, the dialysis continues…while not a bunch of fun, it has shifted to a habit and thank God I can do it while I sleep. If I had to go into a clinic 3 – 4 times a week during the day and sit in a chair for four hours or more, well, I would look lost and tired.

As I always said, you are a hero and will forever remain a hero to me.

Let’s stay positive and as healthy as we can, and hopefully, just hopefully in a year or so, life will take on a different scope –of vitality, energy, and most important travel.

Kevin’s note let me off the hook and helped me get into a better space.
April 7: Becoming calm and relieved about kidney donation issue. Kevin was VERY gracious about it, which helped me settle down. Now, I need to document it before I forget it. It fits in nicely with my inability to “excel” throughout my life.
That bothered me for a few days – the nagging thought that once again I had failed to excel, to deliver that one big accomplishment that would be the pinnacle I had sought for so many years.
Then, a few days later, I drove to Menlo Park to see our good friend, Lynne, and to see the solar eclipse. Lynne is one of those rare people who can capsulate thoughts and really get to the root. I had told her about my attempt to donate a kidney earlier, and she asked me how the process was going. When I told her UCSF had stopped my donation process, she said she admired my gesture, and at the same time she was relieved the process was over. Then she looked at me, and she apparently didn’t think I was as relieved as she thought I should be, and she asked me about it.
“But now I can’t excel at it,” I told her. “I’ve always wanted to excel at something, and this was an attempt on my part to excel at being noble.”
Lynne let that sink in for a few seconds, then she looked me in the eyes and said, “But you did excel by offering to donate and by going through the donation process!” She stopped walking, squared up, and looked at me.
“Don’t you agree?” she demanded.
My mind raced, as I tried to come up with reasons her logic was faulty. I drew a blank.
“Yes,” I agreed. “You’re right! The decision to donate and going through the testing process was in itself a courageous act.” We both smiled, turned, and started walking.
***
So, I did excel at something. I offered to give part of myself to help a friend. That knowledge is settling into my heart and radiating out as comfort. And it also makes me realize that I give part of myself each time I drive across San Francisco to shop for a shut-in lady, or drive a senior to a doctor’s appointment, or serve lunch to a group of low-income seniors. And each time I sit down and write the story about someone whose life story would otherwise go untold. And each time I call Keith or Cousin Judy or write to June or Lana just to make their lives a little better.
Maybe the act of excelling isn’t curing cancer, or winning the Noble Prize, or becoming a professional baseball player or the youngest Vice President of a bank. Maybe it’s becoming a good, helpful human who spends the years given to him or her doing good and helping others.


Writing
I lost my interest in writing when Anne died. It didn’t drive me anymore, my writing wasn’t successful, and I was depressed. I tried writing stories about the difficult decisions U.S. presidents had to make, and lost interest in it – it had already been done and it was difficult to read. About that time, I watched a documentary movie about Judy Blum, who wrote books for children, and it dawned on me that I would like to try that.
So, I cooked up a book about two eight-year-old boys who were assigned to do a “big project” in their U.S. history class. They decided to do it about U.S. presidents. I researched kids’ books, talked to teachers of 8-year-old children, and invented a storyline. It required several drafts to get it to the point where 8-year-old kids could absorb it, and I continued to add a few twists-and-turns to make it interesting. When I was satisfied with it, I reviewed it with the teachers, who blessed it. I found an illustrator, who worked up some wonderful images to go with the story, and I published it as Noah and Mateo and the Big Project.
I was pleased with the way it came out, and I gave copies to my friends, relatives, local bookstore, and library, and I moved on to another project. The book got good reviews, but it didn’t sell well. Oh well … by now I have realized that I’m not writing for the public, but for myself.
My next writing project has been my hardest so far – a fiction story about a driverless taxi that kidnaps a guy. It’s loaded with characters who have deep, dark secrets, and one of the characters is hard for me to articulate. So far, I’m at about six months and three drafts, and while it’s getting closer, it still needs work. As a result of these last two writing projects, I have resolved two things: (1) I will probably not write more fiction, and (2) I will continue to write as long as I’m able.
I still love writing, and it’s a big part of me. I scheme aspects of whatever project I’m working on during the day, and as I lay in bed going to sleep. When a sentence or an article turns out well, I feel good and tend to read it over-and-over. I’m happiest when I write something about someone that makes the subject out to be special. It’s possible that that’s my superpower – writing good things about good people.


Health
My physical health is good, and it has improved over the past year. I’m stronger than two years ago, and as durable as I’ve been in the past decade. I have some minor balance issues (which I’m working on) and the arthritis in my feet is painful. The intense examination I went through to donate a kidney examined every aspect of my physical health, and I came out in good shape! Other than up-and-down blood pressure readings (which no one seems to be able to explain), all they found out is that I’m low on Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12, so I’m taking supplements. I go to a gym two or three times each week and do an intense workout that involves stretching, strengthening, core and balance exercise, weightlifting, and a cardio workout. In addition, I do cardio exercise (walking or cycling) nearly every day. I can still walk as far and lift as much as when I was 60, so I’m happy with my physical state.

Sunroom
After four years, we finally finished our sunroom this past year! The project that seemed like it would never get done, that was held up by San Francisco bureaucracy, then Covid, and then when we couldn’t find a contractor to do the work — was finally completed in January. The room is wonderful, and it adds another welcoming space to our already cozy home! So far, we’ve added a rug, two chairs, two indoor trees, and a table. It’s so nice to sit there and look out on our garden, especially when it’s raining!

Volunteering
I’ve stepped up my volunteering a little over the past year. I help serve lunch to the seniors at Tel Hi on Wednesdays, and I shop for two seniors every week. In addition, I take seniors to and from doctor’s appointments as needed.
I’ve recently started shopping for Amelia and Margaret DeBono, who are sisters living in the Marina district. Amelia is 95 and Margaret is Amelia’s older sister. They are wonderful, sweet women, and I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to know them!

Friends
The older I get the more our group of friends means to me. We’ve been together for more than three decades now, and we’ve shared happy experiences, sad experiences, ups and downs, and the one constant is that we always support each other. At this age, we’re beginning to experience illness and other health issues, and it’s even more important that we have each other. And now, we’re beginning to experience our friends’ grandchildren, which is yet another wonderful part of friendship. Patty and I have had the good fortune to spend time with Beck and Sarah’s children, Will and Lydia, over the past year, and it’s very special to watch them grow and develop. I will never forget walking with Lydia and when we needed to cross the street she reached up and took my hand. I looked down and there was this tiny warm hand clutching mine!

Travel
We had two major trips over the past year, and both were excellent!
The first trip was to Lake Bled in Slovenia, followed by a week-long bicycle trip through Italy, Slovenia, and Austria. Both segments were terrific – among the best trips we’ve taken! Slovenia is a wonderful, hidden treasure, filled with friendly people, beautiful sights, and all at an easy pace. Lake Bled is a gathering place for tourists, honeymooners, and seniors, and it features a beautiful setting amidst snow-capped mountains, and traditional row boats manned by locals who pass the craft down from generation to generation. The locals are taught English throughout school, and they speak it fluently. We spent our days hiking around the lake, cycling in the hills on all sides of the lake, and dining in a variety of interesting restaurants.
After a few days at Lake Bled, we joined our bike tour group (VBT) in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital. It was a good group (all Americans) that included nine people who went to the University of Michigan many years before and who re-united for this tour. They were fun to be with, and the guides and lodging were terrific. It was Spring, and we were treated to wildflowers, snow-capped mountains, the Italian cycling championship, and the European rowing championships at Lake Bled.
One down note – Patty got a bad cold part way through our tour, and with Covid still around, we were sequestered from the group at our gatherings and required to wear face masks. The rest of the group were kind, however, so it wasn’t too bad.
In September, we took a week-long trip to upstate New York with Ken and Vicki, Geoff and Nancy, and Misty. There were numerous highlights, including the Baseball Hall of Fame, FDR’s home, Culinary Institute of America, West Point, Storm King Art Center, and Olana (Frederic Church’s estate). Everyone got along well, and it was terrific to be able to travel with our special group of friends!

News
The world is slowly coming apart, little by little. Tensions are flaring in the Middle East, Europe, China, Africa, and Asia. Those of us who have been around for awhile can sense growing unrest, and it wouldn’t take a lot for it to burst wide open. In the middle of all that unrest, most economies are still hurting from the negative effects of Covid, now three years removed from the peak.

The war in Ukraine is the worst conflict. Russia attacked Ukraine over two years ago, and they have murdered soldiers, women, and children, attacked churches and schools, bombed electric plants in an attempt to freeze the Ukrainians, and left millions of landmines behind when they retreated. For a while the Ukrainians were pushing the Russians back, but they ran out of ammunition and now it seems to be a stalemate. Biden asked Congress for additional funds to help the Ukrainians, and most members of both houses agreed, but then Trump interfered, and the House of Representatives tabled the request. The Ukrainians were running out of ammunition. Finally, the House relented and voted to pass the request for additional funds, which is now being used to help the Ukrainians.

Last September, war broke out in Israel. The conflict began after the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, launched an attack on southern Israel on October 7, 2023, that left 1,200 people dead and saw over 200 more taken hostage. Israel declared war on Hamas and attacked them in Gaza, sometimes killing innocent Palestinians living there in the process. That goes on, and to date thousands of Palestinians have died, but Israel says it will not stop until Hamas is wiped off the face of the earth. Many countries have intervened, trying to work out a solution, to no avail. The U.S. is not directly involved, but is implicated, because we supply military supplies to Israel. Biden tried to persuade Israel to stop the war but was not successful. Now, protests against Israel’s military actions are breaking out across the U.S. and in Europe. People want the killing to stop.
The wars are taking some people’s attention away from climate change, which continues unabated. Ice caps are melting, oceans are heating up, storms intensify, and still little is done to correct the situation. Future generations, long after we’re gone, will ask why we did nothing to prevent the climate disaster they must live with.
The U.S. continues to be deeply divided between those who think the country is led by good, knowledgeable people and things are generally going well and those who think the government is the worse in history and the country is in horrible shape. And that’s not an exaggeration – there are people in leadership position who say it out loud. Perhaps they are parroting Donald Trump, who at every campaign speech says the U.S. is in terrible trouble and is led by the most corrupt president in history.

Trump
Speaking of Trump, he is currently on criminal trial in New York City, accused of illegally hiding reporting payments he ordered made to a porn star who accused him of having an affair with him. So, we get to see the former president of the United States (and the presumed Republican candidate for president this year) sitting in a New York courtroom every weekday now, charged with crimes. And we are confronted daily with the names he calls people who oppose him, and we are insulted by the constant lies he tells. Then, we must witness when Republican Senators, Representatives, and Governors endorse him for president.
At this point the polls show a very close race between Trump and Biden, and I think much of the world sees it as a kindly, honest, experienced 81-year-old running against a lying, cheating, narcissistic 77-year-old. Historians will write about this for a hundred years, and future generations will ask what we were thinking, why did so many Americans support and vote for such a horrible person, and why weren’t there younger people to take over?

San Francisco’s Doom Loop?
In San Francisco, we are suffering what some people are calling a doom loop, following the Covid pandemic. Downtown office buildings are not filling back up as quickly as in other cities, as many high-tech companies allow their workers to work from home. Some downtown retailers are leaving town (including Macy’s) because of the empty office buildings, decreases in in-store retail shopping, and higher rates of crime. And San Francisco’s reputation has been sullied, largely by right-wing media, who exaggerate the drug, homeless, and crime issues the city faces. My observations are that things in San Francisco are not worse than during the pandemic, but they have not improved as quickly as they should have. There will be an election this November that will include San Francisco mayor, and it will be a crucial one for the city.

Cecil Williams
Cecil Williams died April 22 at age 94. The New York Times wrote this about him:
The Rev. Cecil Williams, a charismatic minister who turned a fading church in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco into a vibrant hub of worship, activism and social services, died on Monday at his home in the city. He was 94.
The San Francisco Chronicle included this about him:
“Civil rights pioneer, champion for the poor and hungry, and probably the most influential religious figure in San Francisco over the past 50 years.”
Everyone in San Francisco knew who he was, and nearly everyone had at least one story about him.
Now, there was a man who excelled!

May 18, 2021

Alice Marble: A Story for the Ages

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Profile, Uncategorized — Mr. D @ 5:44 pm

The next time you explore San Francisco, you might want to spend a few minutes at the tennis courts on top of Russian Hill, less than a block from Lombard Street. From there, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz – and you can reflect on the remarkable story of a San Franciscan named Alice Marble.

“Tennis gave me the opportunity to serve my country, but it did not prepare me for what I was asked to do – be a spy!”

That’s how Alice Marble opens her autobiography, which quickly turns into a dramatic rise-and-fall-and-rise-again story. She calmly tells how she overcame vast odds (including tuberculosis) and massive loss, to become the best female tennis player in the world. It also tells how she lost everything, and then bounced back to help prosecute the people who tried to destroy her life. It really is a story for the ages!

No one would have predicted such an exciting life for a girl who grew up an ordinary tomboy in 1920s San Francisco. As a girl, Alice Marble was primarily interested in sports, especially baseball. When she was seven, her father died on Christmas Eve, leaving her mother to raise five children. Her uncle filled in by taking Marble and her brother to local minor league San Francisco Seals games. She enjoyed it so much she went whenever possible, arriving early to play catch before the game. Thinking she was a boy, one of the Seals players asked her to come on the field. Marble later wrote that “… my hero, Lefty O’Doul, asked me to shag flies for him. Joe DiMaggio, beside me in center field, yelled encouragement.”

After that, local newspapers printed stories about her, identifying her as the new “Seals mascot,” and a San Francisco Examiner sportswriter dubbed her the “Little Queen of Swat.”

When she was thirteen, her brother gave her a tennis racket and told her, “You can’t keep hanging around the ballpark, hitting balls through people’s windows and acting like a boy.” At first, Marble was devastated to lose her time with the Seals, but she learned to play tennis – and to play it well. She excelled at sports at San Francisco’s Polytechnic High School, and after school she became a champion tennis player, noted for her aggressive play on the court and pioneering a new form of women’s power tennis. She also started a new dress style for women’s tennis, being the first to wear shorts. She toured the U.S., Canada, and Europe, played in tennis tournaments, and won most of the time.

In 1934, Marble collapsed during a match at a tennis tournament in France. Doctors diagnosed her with tuberculosis and told her she would never play tennis again. She was taken to a sanatorium and confined to a bed, where she watched her muscles and her hopes wither. After nearly a year, she left the sanatorium and went to live with her tennis coach. Encouraged by her coach and by actress Carole Lombard, who became a friend and confidante, Marble made a remarkable comeback. Through excruciating rehabilitation and grueling effort she went back on the tournament schedule and, in 1939, she won tennis titles in women’s singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. She became the best female tennis player in the world and was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1939 and 1940. Her comeback and championships won her fame and notoriety. She designed her own line of tennis clothing for women, gave inspirational talks, conducted tennis clinics, hung out with well-known people, including Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, William du Pont, and Randolph Hearst, and was mobbed by fans and given special treatment wherever she went.

During World War II, Marble volunteered to serve in the armed forces, but she was turned down because of her tuberculosis. Instead, she was asked by President Roosevelt to co-chair a physical-fitness program for the Office of Civilian Defense. To pass security, she was interrogated by the FBI, who questioned her about an earlier relationship with a Swiss banker named Hans and delved into her lifelong photographic memory. She also served her country by conducting tennis clinics for soldiers and by performing as a singer at U.S.O. clubs. She fell in love with and married a handsome, dark-haired pilot named Joe Crowley. They exchanged love letters and spent blissful days together when he was home on leave. She became pregnant and looked forward to raising their baby.

On Christmas Eve, 1944, as the Battle of the Bulge was being fought in Europe, the doorbell at Marble’s apartment rang. A man in a uniform stood in the doorway with a telegram in his hand. Joe was dead, killed in action over Germany. Only days before his death, Alice had a miscarriage with their child after a car accident. It was too much for Alice, and she wrote that “Joe was gone, and all my dreams with him.” She fell apart.

Again, Marble’s tennis coach was there to help her find a reason to go on. After a lengthy recovery Marble was approached by the U.S Army and recruited and trained as a spy. Her mission involved renewing contact with Hans, her former lover and a flourishing Swiss banker, and obtaining Nazi financial information from him. She received training in self-defense, firearms, and using a miniature camera.

She was sent to Europe to play in a series of demonstration tennis matches in order to attract Hans. The ruse worked — he contacted her. They dated, and she wound up falling in love with him. He made her feel alive for the first time in months and she was torn by her longing to be with him and her desire to help her country. Her conscience reminded her that she was the only one who could do what had to be done, and she decided to do her duty.

She discovered where Hans kept a key to a safe containing stolen valuables and names of the Nazis who had stolen them. She feigned an illness and while Hans was out she photographed the information in the safe. Just as she was finishing, Hans came home. She suspected Hans had left the keys in his car, as he usually did, so the servants could move it into the garage, and she waited until she heard him enter the house and go upstairs to look for her. She ran out the front door, got into his car, and fled. She was afraid he would follow, or that she would be stopped by police. Instead, she was flagged down by the Army contact assigned to her, who had been watching Hans’ house.

Her relief turned to terror when she discovered her contact was a double agent. He demanded she give the photographs to him, which was not the agreed upon plan. She refused and fled. He shot her in the back, took the photographs, and turned them over to the Russians.

Badly wounded, Marble spent months recovering in a hospital. Fortunately, she recovered fully and she was able to use her photographic memory to recall some of the Nazi names and information, which she gave to U.S. agents. It was valuable intelligence that was later used to help prosecute high-ranking Nazi officers.

***

After the War, Marble resumed playing and teaching tennis. She spent the rest of her life mentoring female tennis players, including Billy Jean King, and she contributed to the desegregation of the sport by writing an editorial in support of Althea Gibson, the first African-American athlete to cross the color line of international tennis.
***

In 1964, Alice Marble was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She moved to Palm Desert, California, where she taught tennis until her death in 1990.

***

The Little Queen of Swat had never given up. She spent her life overcoming adversity and fighting for what she believed in. Hers is truly a story for the ages.

May 1, 2019

On My Birthday 2019

Filed under: On My Birthday, Uncategorized — Mr. D @ 2:32 pm

On my birthday, I am 68 years old. This year I spent my birthday at Pt. Reyes with Patty, my brother John, and his wife, Eva. It was a wonderful way to spend a “tweener” birthday; hiking, enjoying the beautiful wildflowers, and relaxing. And it was quite different from my birthday a year ago, which I spent in Oregon with my sister Anne, helping her with radiation treatments and worrying about her health.

The past year has been good for me. Patty and I continue to be in love, get along well, and explore the world. We continue to spend time with good friends and family and to try to make the most of this very special portion of our lives.

We were able to enjoy a lot of travel over the past year; including to London, the Cotswolds, and Scotland in May, Seattle for a wedding in June, Nebraska to see family in July, Drakesbad with friends in August, Michigan with friends in October, Argentina and Uruguay in November, and Bhutan in March.

I continue to write, which is satisfying. Publishing my writing hasn’t been successful nor satisfying, however, as I have run into obstacles. Patty and I were able to self-publish a collection of travel articles and photographs (which we called The Places You’ll Go) in March. My San Francisco book ran into problems, however, when the publisher we chose discovered copyright questions over some of the images in it. I spent three months locating photographers, obtaining copyrights, and overseeing the making new images. At the end of that exercise, the publisher found a few other minor issues, and when pressed revealed that he didn’t really like the images we proposed. So we are switching publishers, and have now decided to use a small Bay Area company to help us publish it. The other book (Good People) is finished, but it will sit until we are able to publish the San Francisco book. All of that has been a little depressing for me. At this point, a good deal of my self-worth is pegged to my writing, and struggling to produce a high-quality published book has me down. I find myself less enthusiastic about starting new writing projects, and a little less cheerful about life in general.

Patty and I spent time with local friends throughout the year, and we enjoyed the San Francisco Symphony, Smuin Ballet, SF Playhouse, PEO State Convention in San Jose, Healdsburg with Peter and Carol, a baby shower at our house in June, and lots of house guests throughout the year. We hosted Christmas at our house, and Anne, Buzz, and Ian spent New Years with us, and Anne’s much-improved health was very gratifying.

I continue to dedicate part of my free time to helping people; especially our friends Norman and Michael, and my special friend, Ina. And I continue to volunteer every Friday at Tel-Hi, and to donate to several organizations; including the Smuin Ballet, Pt. Reyes National Seashore, Tel-Hi, and the San Francisco Symphony. It’s good to be able to help those very worthwhile organizations.

While most aspects of my personal life are going well and my health is good, there are troubling trends emerging about overall social and political aspects of life. I have documented some of these in previous birthday writings, so I won’t dwell on the details here. Suffice it to say that the world I live in is increasingly divided, self-centered, and angry, which affects nearly every aspect of our lives.

San Francisco and California continue to hum along, with lots of money and high lifestyles, but few solutions to nagging problems like high living costs, poverty, homelessness, and wildfires. Still, it’s a peaceful and prosperous place to live, if you can overlook those downsides.

The U.S. isn’t faring quite as well. While the overall economy is doing great, there is a huge amount of social unrest and divisiveness, and while it’s calmed somewhat since the presidential election in 2016, there continues to be unrest, anger, resentment, and a growing sense that something needs to change. Ever since Trump was elected president there has been a growing divide between conservative and liberal groups, with no sign that anyone is trying to bridge the differences. Trump purposely plays to his base by insulting allies and opponents, making outrageous claims, lying, and enacting policy that he knows will antagonize others. The media is all over it, but he has done such an effective job of casting doubt on the truthfulness of the media with his base (he repeatedly says they write “fake news” and calls them “the enemy of the people”), that few of his supporters believe any source of news except Fox News or the president himself. And so half of the U.S. believes the leader of the country is a deranged, lying bully and the other half believes he was sent by God to lead them to a faith-based, conservative nirvana. That’s where it now sits, and there seems to be little that will change their minds.

The Mueller Report, which the U.S. anxiously waited two years to see, finally came out last month. It found that Russia did purposely interfere with the U.S. elections in 2016, but that the Trump campaign and administration did not knowingly coordinate in those efforts. However, it documented numerous attempts by Trump and his people to obstruct the investigation into that interference, but declined to press criminal charges. At first, Trump and his cronies praised Mueller, his team, and the report saying that it “fully exonerated” him. But, when the full (except for redacted portions) report was released and studied, it became apparent that Trump had indeed made numerous immoral and possibly illegal moves, and there were many more stopped by his staff. Now, numerous investigations into those activities are starting in the House of Representatives, all of which are being opposed and in some cases stonewalled by Trump.

The Democrats are offering a huge number of candidates to run against Trump in 2020; including mayors, congressmen, senators, businessmen, and a former vice president. It will be entertaining to see which of the two dozen candidates rises to the top.

There are warning bells going off throughout the world on a number of topics – signs that a larger crisis is near. Huge numbers of people are on the move throughout the world, driven from their homes by hunger, unemployment, war, drought, famine, and political unrest. Those millions of people seeking a better life in new lands are causing unrest in the countries where they are trying to settle, and a backlash is underway in more economically-advanced countries; including the U.K., Germany, Hungary, Turkey, South Africa, Australia, and the U.S. Some residents (including people we know and respect) do not want more immigrants in their country, because they fear they will change their culture and lifestyles. In some cases, severe reactions are being taken to prevent more immigration (including Brexit and the Trump anti-immigrant responses). Clearly, building a 30-foot high wall across a country’s entire southern border is a desperate and antiquated response, but that’s what a sizeable portion of the U.S. population (including the current president) support.

So, how to resolve those issues? No one has a solution. Instead, it has become personal, and each side is intent on destroying the reputation and credibility of the other side in order to advance their case. The angry and divisive responses on both sides are now fueling harmful rhetoric and hate crimes, which are on the increase in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The U.S. economy is strong, which further supports the short-term solutions that have been taken to prop it up. Having reduced tax rates to please their voting base and give a short-term stimulus to the economy, the Republican Party now ignores massive resulting increases in federal debt, and is instead touting low employment and a strong stock market as signs that their measures are working.

The election of Trump and a Republican majority in the Senate also mean that many federal regulations that protect clean air, clean water, oceans, and national parks are being cancelled. That will surely have long-term negative effects. Similarly, cancelling international treaties and alliances, imposing tariffs on allies, bullying weaker nations, and insulting friends and foes around the world will most likely cause the U.S. to lose our global leadership and invoke future reactions against us. The damage that the current administration is doing will surely have negative impacts for years.

In other areas, homelessness is becoming a larger problem in many parts of the U.S. Many millions of dollars are being spent to reduce the number of homeless people and to get them back into society, but at this point it does not seem to be making a difference. San Francisco’s new mayor (London Breed) seems to be intelligent and forceful, but does not seem any more capable of resolving this major issue than her predecessors. Gavin Newsom, California’s new governor, couldn’t resolve the issue when he was mayor of San Francisco, and I doubt he can affect it from Sacramento. At least he does have a strong economy to work with, and budget surpluses.

In other areas, in a year without any standout movies the upbeat film Green Book won the Academy Award for best picture; Olivia Colman won best actress for The Favourite and Rami Malek won best actor for Bohemian Rhapsody. The Golden State Warriors won the National Basketball Championship last year, and the New England Patriots won the Superbowl. Our local football and baseball teams (the 49ers and Giants) are mired in or near the bottom of their respective divisions.

On My Birthday 2018

Filed under: On My Birthday, Uncategorized — Mr. D @ 2:32 pm

“Each day is a new beginning; that’s why the sun comes up.“

On my birthday, I am 67 years old. I woke early today and watched the sun rise over the hills at the Oregon coast. I am in Oregon on my birthday this year, with my sister, Anne, and her husband, Buzz. This is a special birthday for me because I get to spend it with them.

About a month ago, Anne fainted while volunteering at a local school. She had a seizure and woke up in an ambulance, on the way to a hospital. She was transferred to a larger hospital in Corvallis, where tests were administered. She had lesions in her brain and one on her left lung. The brain was the most immediate concern, as there were 10-12 large lesions there. After several consultations, she opted for a biopsy, which was positive, and she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which appeared in her brain and lung. She had surgery, which removed two of the tumors in her brain, and when the wound healed, she scheduled full-head radiation therapy, to shrink the remaining tumors. As of today, she has completed seven of the ten scheduled treatments, with the remaining three to be this week.

Anne has an uncertain future. She has stage IV cancer in major, vital organs. She is relatively young (63), in excellent physical condition, and has taken care of her body, so she is well-equipped to fight the battle ahead of her. Her oncologist told her that people do survive this, so she is determined to give it her best. She is also realistic, knows the odds are against her, and is prepared for whatever lies ahead.

My dear sister’s illness has hit me hard. If she were to die it would be a very hard loss for everyone associated with her, including me. It’s made me introspective; I realize that I may not have a lot of years ahead, and that the ones I have left may not include the people I love the most. And that makes me want to make the most of every day left to me.

The past year has been very good for me. Patty and I continue to be in love and to get along well. We spend time with good friends and family and we try to make the most of this very special portion of our lives.

We were able to enjoy a lot of travel over the past year; including the U.K. in May, New York in June, family reunions in June and September, Drakesbad in August, Oregon in August (for Anne’s birthday and the solar eclipse), and Amsterdam and the Balkans in September.

I am continuing to write, which is very satisfying to me. After the Balkans trip, I hunkered down, re-wrote the San Francisco book, and went to work on a book of short articles about people.

Patty and I spent time with local friends in the fall and winter, and we enjoyed the San Francisco Symphony, Smuin Ballet, two trips to Parajo Dunes, and lots of house guests. It was a time of adventure and joy, but also a time of loss, as our good friends, Ruth Diefenbach and Lee Tyree, died in October. Patty and I suffered (and still suffer) their loss. The year-end holidays were a little funky without those two close friends, and with having to quickly throw a Christmas party together when Sue backed out of hosting it. Anne, Buzz, and Ian spent New Years with us, which was healing.

Loss of close friends has been hard to bear, and it weighs on both of us every day. It’s different than losing an uncle, or an aunt, or a parent. It’s loss of a peer, which not only brings grief, but reminds us of our mortality.

The past year has also been difficult as we watch our country go backwards on many fronts. I am now beginning to understand how our conservative friends and relatives must have felt when they saw the U.S. adopt policies that used tax revenue to help the disadvantaged, encouraged equality and diversity, and promoted diplomacy and globalism. It’s a feeling of helplessness – of an avalanche coming toward you with no way of stopping or diverting it.

For me, it has been frustrating and maddening to watch the loss of leadership, values, and decency in my country over the past year. It was such a bizarre year – one that historians will write about for centuries. Beliefs that had held the world together for generations; including cooperation, compassion, and civility were thrown aside in favor of a selfish, hateful, and short-sighted course of national interest and isolation. John Diaz, of the San Francisco Chronicle put it this way:

It was that kind of year. Strange happenings all around, from epic weather catastrophes to the first total eclipse to cross the United States in 99 years to a president so tethered to Twitter and untethered from reality that the Washington Post counted more than 1,500 false or misleading claims in his first year in office.

Political, social, and financial behavior in the United States has taken a much more selfish, basic, and coarse path over the past year. Our political leaders and half of our society are now determined to follow whatever course brings them the most gain, whether it is best for the world or not. People living among us relish Trump getting back at the “coastal elites” and they chuckle at his outrageous behavior. Neo-Nazis openly march in our cities and preach hatred for Jews and Muslims. Republican politicians encourage and support deviant behavior, and they openly spew vitriol and hatred toward members of the opposition party. This is from the people who are supposed to be our leaders, and to set good examples for us.
Congressional Republicans secretly drew up and passed (without hearings) sweeping tax legislation that primarily benefits large companies and the wealthy (and hurts middle-income taxpayers in states such as California with high wages and high state and local taxes). They passed a budget that increases spending for the military and will significantly increase our deficits for years. Trump criticized the media, attacked the FBI and Justice Department (who work for him), and repealed legislation that would benefit the environment, the poor, and the needy. He fired James Comey, the head of the FBI, who wouldn’t swear loyalty to him. He insulted everyone who crossed him, made up belittling nicknames for his opponents, and withdrew from global treaties.

Immigrants have been blamed for crime and economic difficulties, and they are being rounded up by armed military forces and deported, many for no other reason than coming to the U.S. without permission. Huge swaths of people are not allowed to come to the U.S., many from mostly-Muslim countries, because right-wing Americans fear that Muslims are evil and intend to kill Christians. Rural and right-wing Americans fear losing their culture and way-of-life, and they attack people and groups that are not white, heterosexual, and Christian.
Gun violence is increasing in America. School shootings and mass shootings in public venues are common and occur nearly every day (including 59 people slaughtered by a single gunman in Las Vegas, 26 parishioners in Texas, and numerous smaller mass shootings). No political leaders have the courage to do anything about it; instead they offer “thoughts and prayers” to victims after each shooting. After a school shooting in Florida in which a teenage former student killed 17 high school students, the student survivors rose up and demanded gun control measures. Trump met with them and promised to take action to prevent future school shootings. But after meeting with the NRA, Trump changed his mind and offered that schools should arm teachers, repeating the NRA slogan that “the best way to stop bad guys with guns is with good guys with guns,” and to promote more guns. Students who survived school shootings were they ignored by the president and state and federal legislators, and they were criticized by adults on social media for their lack of knowledge about some technical aspects of the guns that killed their school friends. None of this makes any sense to those of us who reject gun violence and legal ownership of military-style weapons. None of this makes any sense to the rest of the world.

Future generations will wonder why measures weren’t taken to prevent mass shootings, and there will be no reasonable answer. But, living in the midst of it, I will say that a good percentage of the U.S. today has been convinced by gun lobbyists (especially the NRA) that the “left wing liberals” want to take away their guns, and the only way to fight that is to stop ANY gun control measures.

“America First!” Trump exclaimed as he signed bills that put us at odds with allies and eliminates regulations that would ensure clean air and water. “Business First!” Trump claimed as he and his cronies passed legislation that favors coal, oil and natural gas industries over renewable sources of power. “Fake news!” Trump cried whenever the media disagreed or criticized him, while he lies, bullies his enemies, and insults his opponents.

Parents are at a loss to explain Trump’s behavior to their children. Adults apologize for him to friends in other countries. Families and former friends split-up and refuse to talk to each other, divided over his crass and dishonest behavior, and they try to figure out why we have stooped to that level.

The U.S. has lost its way in this, one of the darkest chapters in our country’s history.

We have depleted our global standing. Other countries are confused by our lack of compassion and selfishness, and they are forming alliances that exclude us. We are becoming an isolated, confusing, and selfish bully.

That situation is hard for half of the country to take, and a counter-movement is forming. Massive marches have taken place; including the Women’s March after Trump’s election, marches to protest Trump’s immigration policies, protests against neo-Nazis, and numerous student rallies that protest gun violence. Mid-term elections will be held this November, and I hope the reaction will be severe. Thousands of new candidates are running for state and federal offices this year, and early indications are that massive numbers of people are registering to vote. Most of them are upset by the turn of events that put a sexual predator in charge of our country, and they intend to vote out Republican lawmakers who have supported him. There is a chance that one (or possibly both) of the houses of Congress can become dominated by Democrats in November, which would be a counter measure to the Republican legislature and administration.

The vast majority of U.S. Republicans support Trump, and to a lesser extent the Republican-led Congress. One reason they stick with them is they are passing legislation that supports conservative social issues (e.g., abortion, sexuality, immigration, religion).

Another is the U.S. economy is doing well. Unemployment is at record lows and the stock market is at record highs. Conservatives attribute that to Trump and the Republican-led Congress, and they don’t want to rock the boat while things are good. Last year was terrific for people who have invested in the stock market, and for those who needed to find work.
Terrorism is on the wane, which Trump takes credit for. ISIS is on the run in Iraq and Syria, which Trump takes credit for. And North Korea has agreed to talking about the possibility of de-nuclearization, which Trump takes credit for.

There is an investigation into the possible collusion by Trump’s campaign with Russia during the 2016 election, and one into possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself. The special counsel doing the investigation (Robert Muller) has filed charges against several of Trump’s campaign staff and his close associates, and the State of New York has filed charges against Trump’s personal lawyer, but there’s nothing yet against Trump. For his part, Trump throws under the bus anyone close to him who is charged, and he decries the investigation as a “Witch Hunt.” He has recruited Republican lawmakers to attack the FBI, Justice Department, and members of the media who are involved in the investigation.

This is another very sad chapter in our country’s history, similar in scope to the communist hunts of the McCarthy era, and it’s shameful.

Democrats are fighting back, including many state and local governments that object to being trampled on by shady, ruthless Federal agencies. Lawsuits by states are prevalent, efforts to stop immigration, deportation, taxation, regulation, and other Trump policies. I am proud of the way California’s senators, representatives, and governor have stood their ground and fought back.

Another big trend over the past year involves women reporting inappropriate sexual behavior of men in high positions. It’s called the #MeToo Movement, and it has snared a huge number of men in political, entertainment, media, and sports positions. Much of it is good and well-deserved (including Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Crosby), but recently there have been some questionable accusations made against some well-respected men, including Al Franken and Tom Brokaw.

California is in the midst of one of the best times since I moved here. The economy is solid (thanks to high-tech and Governor Jerry Brown), unemployment is low, and the legislature can concentrate on forward-looking tasks. Still, housing prices in much of the state (particularly San Francisco) are sky-high, due to too many people and too few homes. And, amid the economic boom, homelessness is as bad as I’ve seen it, with over 6,000 people living and sleeping on San Francisco’s streets.

San Francisco suffered the death of its popular mayor, Ed Lee, in December. It was sudden, unexpected, and threw a pallor over the city. I knew Ed and greatly respected his tenacity, integrity, and the way he respected everyone, from immigrants to millionaires. He was the ultimate example of the immigrant living the American Dream.

I continue to pursue my own American Dream, which involves helping people and trying to find my way to a satisfying second career. I still write – about people, about what I find good about life, and about what I find troubling about life. I’m not yet sure where this will take me, but I know I am heading in the right direction. At age 67, I am very concerned about the future of our country and our world. But I also believe in the fundamental strength and nature of Americans and humans.

On my birthday, I am in a good place – healthy, secure, and surrounded by a loving wife, caring family, wonderful friends, and respectful neighbors.

This stage of life is good.

This stage of love is great.

April 26, 2017

On My Birthday 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dale @ 2:52 pm

On my birthday, I am 66 years old. This is another ’tweener birthday – not as stressful as the big ones, but meaningful none-the-less.

For the most part, life is excellent at sixty-six! My health is good, I have the freedom to do what I want, I have a loving wife and wonderful friends, and (barring any really extreme economic downturns) I should have enough money to live the lifestyle I enjoy. I don’t feel older, but it is a little harder to get up off the floor, and lately I’ve been making that “noise” when I straighten up. My eyesight is much better than a year ago (cataract surgery), which has given me more confidence and I appreciate colors and scenes more.

There is a pall over this stage of life that involves loss – of parents, relatives, and friends. I guess it is part of the natural cycle of living, which rationally makes it acceptable, but each loss is a dark cloud that hangs over everything.

About the only significance to this birthday is I will start withdrawing Social Security. I certainly put a bunch of money into Social Security for many years, and it will feel good to take some back out.

With my life relatively level the past year, the most noteworthy events for me was the aftermath of my mother’s death and the presidential campaign and election.

I’ve accepted the fact that I am an orphan, and I’m over most of the grief of losing my mother. I am comforted by the knowledge that she did not to be alive any longer, and that she got her wish. I’m also happy with the way we distributed her belongings and with the young family that moved into her house. It’s still a loss, but it had a satisfying ending. I’ve filled in most of the time I spent helping her with volunteer work and writing, but there are still times when I feel the loneliness, and grief washes over me. I spent several weeks sorting through her diaries and photographs, writing about the records of her life and sharing it with my siblings. Now, I have good memories of her to accompany me through my days.

The presidential situation isn’t going down as well, and it is my greatest worry and consumes a portion of each day. I spent time today writing and sending notes to U.S. Senators and Representatives expressing my opposition to using U.S. taxpayer funds to build a border wall between The U.S. and Mexico. It’s the “cause” I’ve picked to resist this Administration’s efforts to de-construct recent efforts to make our world a better place, and focusing on it keeps me from being overwhelmed by the many other horrible things happening in Washington D.C.

It will be important for future generations to understand what happened November 8, 2016, and to know how we reacted to the election of Donald Trump. As far as I am concerned (and there are millions and millions of people in the U.S. who feel the same way), the presidential election was one of the worst days in my life, and one of the worst days in the history of the U.S. A good portion of the country was in shock and despair for weeks, and the country is still extremely distressed and divided. Protest marches occur nearly every week, as the U.S. is now run by an incompetent narcissist who has surrounded himself with cronies who are attempting to undo most of the progress we have made in equality, fairness, leadership, and environmental protection. Each day brings more blows, and the effort to combat it is exhausting to everyone. Future generations will be disgusted with us and wonder how we could do so much damage to the country and the world.

So how did he get elected?

The U.S. has been deeply divided for years, with half of the people satisfied with the direction and pace that was set. Under Obama, we were a respected world leader who took careful and deliberate moves to keep the world as peaceful as possible. Domestically, we were making slow, but steady progress to make sure everyone had equal access to basic services like work, education, and health care. Most people were satisfied with that movement. However, a segment of the country felt left out. Their personal situation was not improving after the economic recovery of 2010 – 2016, and they were falling behind in income, lifestyle, and savings. That segment became increasingly bitter and angry, which was further fueled by frustration over lack of concrete progress by the Federal Government, as Republican-controlled houses of Congress blocked virtually all attempts by the Democratic Administration to pass laws.

The frustrated segment looked for a new leader; someone different than the usual politician that had been able to do so little to resolve their difficulties. Enough of them bought into the promises that were made by Trump, a real estate developer, reality television actor, and snake oil salesman who guaranteed them he would bring their jobs back, give them high-quality, low cost health care, and “make American great again.” They believed him and voted for him.

What has happened during the first 100 days of his presidency is the opposite. Lacking any government experience, and having only his own interests at heart, Trump has surrounded himself by immoral advisors, Wall Street executives, and family members and has been able to accomplish very little. As a result, a majority of the country disapproves of his performance and are embarrassed by him. Other countries do not know what to make of him; he has insulted many of our allies, praised our enemies, and flip-flopped on many of his major campaign positions. His administration is shaping up to be one of the most corrupt and ineffective of all times, and the U.S. has lost its leadership role and is seen as a dangerous pariah. There is uncertainty and fear of the U.S. throughout the world.
Several major problems face Trump: a civil war in Syria; a mad dictator in Korea with nuclear weapons; ISIS continuing to conduct and inspire terrorist attacks in the U.S., Middle East, and Europe; Russia getting aggressive in Eastern Europe; the EU is under threat; and right-wing groups in Western Europe are getting stronger. It is a tense time throughout the world.

The Trump election and ensuing chaos has been the most momentous issue facing me and the rest of the world over the past year, but life goes on.

At this point in life I am healthy, financially secure, and have the freedom to do what I want. I am also fortunate to have a wonderful wife and good friends and family that support me.

Last year was a difficult one. My mother died in March, and my siblings and I spent the spring and summer cleaning out her house (the house I grew up in) and selling it. That was a sad task, involving three trips to Chappell, lots of sorting and sifting, agonizing memories, and dividing up and parceling out things to my siblings. It had a satisfying ending when a young couple we know bought it to live in and raise their three small children. I’m sure my parents would be happy it came out that way.

My writing continues to be an important part of my life and I am still working on a book about people from San Francisco. Last fall I finished the book and sent it off to 15 publishers and five agents. None of them wanted it, so I took it to an editor who pointed out the need for a substantial re-write. After setting it aside for a couple of months, I am now back at it, editing stories, adding more stories, and gathering photos. It’s a tough effort that is now becoming enjoyable.

We continue to travel, and we enjoyed four excellent trips during three past year: Cuba, the Deep South, Finland and the Baltic States, and Cabo. All were educational and enjoyable, and I wrote and published articles about the trips to Cuba and Baltic States.
We still see our circle of good friends often, and their love and support means a great deal to us. The group gets together several times each year for holidays, and at Drakesbad, and this February we spent a week together in Cabo, Mexico. And the guys get together each quarter for DHSOS meetings.

As in previous years, we continued to lose friends this past year. In addition to my mother, we also lost Kathleen Kokezas, a long-term and good friend to Patty and I, and Eva’s uncle, Jan, passed away in March. Ruth Diefenbach is very ill now, and won’t be alive much longer, and our friend Lee became very ill in February with leukemia. Life is precarious.
Life in California continues to be wonderful. The economy is strong, the governor (Jerry Brown) is an excellent leader, and the culture is varied and accepting. San Francisco is similar, in a smaller way, with a flourishing economy, strong leadership, and accepting population.

Entertainment often reflects the times, which was the case last year. Hamilton is the hottest play, and Moonlight won the Academy Award for best picture (after a mix-up that initially gave it to La La Land). In sports, the Super Bowl went to overtime and the New England Patriots squeaked out a comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Local teams did well, but lost in the end. The Giants made it to the playoffs, but lost in the first round. The Warriors made it to the NBA finals, but lost in the finals. The 49ers were one of the worst teams in the NFL and fired their coach after the season.

August 4, 2016

Mom’s Diaries

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dale @ 1:24 pm

I didn’t know my Mom kept diaries until I ran across them in her desk while we were cleaning out her house. There they were, eight five-year diaries that covered four decades, neatly ordered by date, with daily entries in her tidy cursive handwriting. They start October 19, 1967 (her 42nd birthday) with this entry:
Rec’d this diary this birthday, also hankies from Ed and gloves & nail polish from other kids. Ate out at Bowling Alley.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that she kept diaries, since she came from a family of diary-keepers. Her grandmother, Anna Lacy, kept a journal for years, which consisted primarily of brief handwritten notes; and, her mother, Josephine, kept diaries and accumulated poems, recipes, and newspaper articles for more than 40 years. So Mom came by it honestly. Mom’s diaries are small, five-year books, and each page is for one date (e.g., October 19), so when you look through the pages you see what was written for that date for five years. At first, I found that a little confusing, but the more time I spent with the diaries the more interesting it became. On a single page, it is possible to compare what she wrote for that date for five years — on her birthday, for example, or Valentine’s Day or Christmas — and to see how her life changed over those five years.

Most of her daily entries are brief and factual, with little personal feelings or reflection. And the vast majority of her daily notes deal with her routine, her children, and the weather. The entry for October 4, 1970 is typical:
Made pumpkin pies for Altar Society lunch. Paid bills. Went for a ride in the country.

Occasionally, she commented on the news or on her health. In her notes, her husband was “J.” and her children were identified by their first names.

Most of the entries described her very busy days of running a household, taking care of a husband and eight kids, and volunteering at her church and community events. They give the image of a dedicated and hard-working woman who was proud of her life, her family, her community, and her country. They also tell a story of a lady who worked very hard at doing her duty every day of every year. This entry from November 5, 1968 is typical:
Washed & ironed. Made two apple pies. Went to Lion’s Club pancake feed. Voted for Nixon.

Over the years, her focus changed: from her daily chores and her church, to working and volunteering, to travelling and seeing her children and grandchildren, and to taking care of her husband. The last few diaries were mostly about seeing family and friends, and noting which of them called or visited her.

She recorded significant events in her life as they occurred: birthdays, weddings, illnesses, and deaths, and it’s possible by reading through those events to track the major milestones in her life. There’s little emotion, just facts. For example, this entry from May 14, 1991 noted the birth of her first grandchild:
Dan called to say they had a baby boy, William David, at 1:00 AM. Weighed 8 lbs., 7 oz., and is 21 inches long.

Likewise for deaths, this entry for July 4, 1973:
Gramp F. died. We went to see Gramp M. and to Peetz in P.M. Took boys to fireworks display at Big Springs. Ray came home.

There were surprises, too. I knew, for example, that she played the piano and organ – but I didn’t know that she also took lessons to play the guitar, recorder, and violin. And I didn’t realize her level of involvement playing the organ for her church until I saw it in her diary entries. There were entries for many years in which she met with someone to go over music for an upcoming wedding or funeral, then practiced the music before the event, then played for the event. She was truly dedicated to it!

Mom was a busy lady, and the older she got the busier she became. Many of her activities were recorded in her diaries as simple notes, such as this from March 2, 1987:
I gave the lesson, “Home Filing System” at Extension Club. Red Schroeder died. I went to Altar Society meeting.

I tend to forget that Mom worked, and she took each of her jobs seriously and noted her hours, responsibilities, bosses, and even her salary. She kept the books for Dad at his business, was a bookkeeper at a local car dealer, worked as a computer operator and office clerk at the local Farmer’s Elevator Company, and was a bookkeeper at the local nursing home. A typical entry from October 28, 1980 indicates the variety of her days:
Worked at Rest Home. Had two for piano lessons. Hail adjuster came and looked at Ford and left a check for $350.00.

Family birthdays were important to Mom, and she noted them in her diaries. Often, she recorded how old we were, what type of birthday cake she made for us, and what gifts we received. Those entries were probably practical solutions for her, since she could later remind us to send thank you notes for the gifts, and she could look in her diary to remember what our favorite birthday cake was.

Think her family didn’t keep her occupied? Meals were a huge part of her everyday life, preparing meals for and feeding up to ten people. Surprisingly, she seldom mentioned meals in her diaries, unless there was a special occasion, such as a child’s birthday, or Easter, or Father’s Day. She was aware, however, that she had a crowd for most meals, and on June 18, 1973, she wrote the following:
Wind blew hard all day. Anne had 2nd wisdom tooth pulled. Took Ed out to Don Johnson’s to go to the circus with them. J. and I ate alone for first time in 22 years.

After her children were grown and gone, Mom re-shaped her priorities. For a while, her diary entries were less frequent and briefer, but then she gradually added activities and interests and the tone of the diaries grew more fulfilled. She began noting her bowling scores, ladies’ club meetings, the dates when she delivered Meals on Wheels, art classes, and piano lessons she gave to local children. She and Dad took classes in square dance, and she took up quilting and made a quilt for each of her children. She went to concerts, visited with neighbors, and saw her sisters and her “aunties.” She took aerobics and went with a friend to water exercise. She planted flowers and helped Dad harvest and can vegetables. She picked cherries from the neighbor’s tree and pitted and canned them. When the neighbor’s wife died, Mom invited her husband over for meals. And she travelled – to the east coast, New Orleans, Hawaii, Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevasa, Oregon, and Florida, and she had a major adventure when she travelled with her siblings to Ireland. That trip, and all of her travels, were carefully documented, with details about what she saw, who she was with, and what she ate.

Wedding anniversaries were important to Mom, and she noted each in her diary. The most lengthy entry in any diary was about their 50th anniversary celebration, on September 6, 1998:
Had special ceremony at Mass for 50th anniversary. Renewed wedding vows. Children and grandchildren held votive candles. Grandchildren took up offertory gifts. Open House was 2:00 – 4:30. Had nice noon meal for family and relatives. (Also, played organ for Mass.)

Mom had a “fun” side, which also wound up in her diaries. She corresponded with the group of friends from college she called the “Fab 5”, and she and Dad got together with them regularly, including New Year’s Eve. She square danced, and she saw her sisters and brother regularly. She was a member of several local clubs; including the Extension Club, Altar Society, Booster Club, Heritage House, and later the Red Hats. She taught piano lessons and catechism, went to concerts and “shows” (movies), and took lessons in art, ceramics, and calligraphy.

Going through the last couple of diaries was hard. That was when Dad was sick, and Mom’s life revolved around taking care of him. I had to take frequent breaks while reading these diaries to keep from getting too sad. The tone of her entries changed from excitement — as she travelled, went to art classes, and did volunteer work – to sorrow as she took care of Dad when his Parkinson’s got worse. She noted each doctor visit and each fall, and she seemed to take it in stride, although the pain is obvious between the lines, as in this entry for November 1, 2004:
J. fell in bathroom. Keith Mitchell came to get him up.

When Dad couldn’t get out of bed two mornings in a row, Mom put him in a nursing home and then visited him nearly every day. This, too, was recorded in the same straight-forward, factual style. This entry from January 11, 2005 is typical:
I ate with J. at nursing home at noon. Anne called to say she will come Saturday. Cut J.’s fingernails.

I realized again while reading her diaries that Mom was one tough woman! She had a difficult childhood — growing up poor, with too much discipline and not enough love. She responded by excelling at everything she did (school, work, marriage, parenthood), and by keeping an even keel. That came out in her diaries — she didn’t get too high when things went well, and she didn’t get too low when they were bad. She noted that her childrens’ weddings were “pretty” or “nice” for example, and she reported that some funerals were “sad.”

I also realized as I read through her diaries that she appreciated her children. Next to her husband, we were the most important thing in her life, and each card we sent, each phone call we made, and each visit we paid to her was noted in her diaries. She was immensely proud of us, and those last few years, when Dad was in the nursing home and later after he died, were the hardest for her. Our calls and visits made it possible for her to carry on. She didn’t brag about us in her diary, which I guess was just her way, but it came through loud and clear that she depended on us and she was proud of us. That will stay with me forever, and that made it all worthwhile.

Thanks for keeping diaries, Mom. And thanks for loving me.

July 21, 2016

High Blook Pressure

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dale @ 10:35 am

In some ways, this presidential election is like going to see two doctors for high blood pressure.
As the Mayo Clinic describes it, high blood pressure generally develops over many years, and it eventually affects nearly everyone. Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily detected, and once you know you have high blood pressure, you can work with your doctor to control it.
The U.S. has high blood pressure. It has many causes; among them are an increasing gap between low income and wealthy Americans, evaporation of the middle class, salaried workers feeling left behind, trying to absorb immigrants into our economy, the increase in global terrorism, and other challenges.
How to treat our high blood pressure? We are taking medicine now to keep it under control. It’s called moderate liberalism, and it involves sharing our wealth, treating everyone with dignity, and restrained involvement in the world’s problems.
Now we have opinions from two physicians about how to treat our high blood pressure going forward. One has been a physician her whole life, and she has been involved in several other high blood pressure treatments. She recommends continuing to take the same medicine, with modest changes in dosage. Her goal is to keep our high blood pressure under control. The other says he has a cure. He’s not a doctor, but he has been a successful businessman. He recommends a new type of medicine that hasn’t been tested, and which is viewed with suspicion by other physicians. His new type of medicine might cure our blood pressure. He says it will. But it might kill us.

April 27, 2016

On My Birthday 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dale @ 3:17 pm

April 24, 2016

On my birthday, I am 65 years old. I am now officially a senior citizen.

Patty asked me recently if I felt differently now than I did when I turned 60, and my reply was, ”No, not really.” I’ve been thinking about it since, and it’s true … physically, I don’t feel much different than I did five, or even ten years ago. I look different – less hair, a little grayer, and a few more wrinkles – but my weight is the same and I can still do everything I could five years ago. Mentally, I’m not as sure of myself now, and my eyesight and memory are a little worse. But that’s not too bad.

The past year has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions; highs and lows, ups and downs, and good times and sad times. The most notable example is a super-good 90th birthday party for my mother in October, followed by her death in March. Such happiness in October, and such sadness in March. My family is still recovering from and getting used to her being gone. Now the sad task of emptying her house and selling it will begin. And, for me, the trips to Chappell to take care of Dad and then Mom will stop. That has been a huge part of my life for more than a decade, and I will miss it. The loss has created an empty space in my life where I used to call her, think about her, and go see her, and that spot won’t be easy to fill. And not being able to go to and spend time in that house –where I grew up – will be very sad. So this, too, is part of getting older.

I enjoy this stage of life. My life with Patty is wonderful, and our circle of friends is supportive and kind. I have successfully organized my life into writing time, volunteering time, and Patty time, and I love the balance and variety of that. Mondays are when I spend time with Norman, getting him out to exercise, having lunch and talking with him, and enjoying each other. Fridays are for Tel-Hi and Ina, and I very much enjoy the sense of accomplishment that brings. Tuesday – Thursday are for office time and writing; including working on my book, organizing trips, and working on Ed’s estate. And weekends are Patty time, when we work on the house and garden and spend time together.

My book is done. I spent a year-and-a-half writing and re-writing it, and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. I had John Milestone create illustrations for each of the stories, and they add a lot to the book. Julia Scannell designed the cover, which uses John’s illustrations. I would like to have a publisher print and distribute it, and so far I’ve sent it out to four publishers. I’m waiting to hear from them. It is designed as a gift book or coffee table book, and I think it will sell pretty well. Now, I’m eager to get on with it, so I can turn to another writing project.

Ed’s estate is nearing completion. It’s been a grind, primarily because he did not leave a will and everything has to run through probate, which really slows the process. And, since my mother was the beneficiary for some of the financial accounts, her death will further slow the process. I’m treating it like a part-time job – working on it a little each week.
We participated in the Noe Valley Garden Tour last June, which was a lot of fun. That weekend, we had over 200 people tour our garden, and we had John Milestone and other friends join us for it. It was a great experience, which we will repeat.

We continue to spend holidays and vacations with our gang of friends, and it continues to be a very meaningful part of our lives. One down-side is that Ruth’s health has deteriorated to the point that she was placed in a care facility last December, and she now has little reaction when we see her. Her family has rallied around Bill, who seems to be taking it all in stride, but it is a very sad situation.

We had two very good trips over the past year: Oregon with Ken and Vicki, and Greece with Anne and Buzz. The Greece trip involved sailing and cycling in the islands south of Greece and exploring the mainland, and it was terrific! Greece was having financial troubles while we were there, but there was little sign of it, as the people were upbeat, positive, and very friendly. We loved Greece and would like to go back to see more. We also spent our usual week at Drakesbad in August, where everyone got along well and most everything went well.

In the news, the world seems to be coming apart at the seams. Terrorism, uprisings, massive migration in the Middle East, and poverty in Africa and Asia are increasing global tensions and forecast more problems to come. The extremist group, ISIS, is still in charge of huge sections of Syria and Iraq, and their especially brutal methods of treating conquered people is deplorable and sickening. The western world is uniting to fight them and making some progress, but there is still a long way to go before this is over. And meanwhile, millions of displaced people, fleeing the terrorists, are migrating to western Europe, where they are not welcome. ISIS is behind mass murders the past year in Paris, California, and Belgium, and parts of the western world, including the US, live in fear of them.

The US economy is slow, but strong, and the stock market is up, unemployment is down, and most things are running pretty well. Obama has been an excellent President, and this is his last year. He is praised by Democrats, Wall Street, and most educated people, for steadying the economy and for working to bring peace to the world. But he is hated and criticized by right wing and under-educated people, and the Republicans and right-wing media tell their constituents that the US is in terrible shape, with everything going bad. Our country is being torn in half by the hateful rhetoric.

In the US, there is an element of the population who feel left out, disenchanted, and angry, and many of them have supported the presidential ambitions of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz – two worrisome extremist politicians. Both espouse nationalism, isolation, and racial and religious bigotry. It appears that Trump will be the nominee for the Republican Party, which will be disastrous for the Republicans and for the US. Hilary Clinton appears to be the nominee for the Democrats, so we will likely have our first female President. If that is the case, I forecast trouble from Trump supporters.

In sports, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship last year and they set a record for most wins in a season this year. They are phenomenal, and the entire Bay Area has caught Warriors fever. The Giants had an off year, as did the 49ers. Maybe next year.

January 13, 2014

Naresh Dreams of Paris

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dale @ 2:59 pm

There are so many people in India that need help, and it’s impossible to help them all. But we wanted to make just a few of their lives a tiny bit better if we could. On our last day in India, we found an opportunity.

On some of our travels we have bought a small landscape painting from a street artist; an inexpensive reminder of the country. We wanted one from India, and we had let it go until our last day.

When we left our hotel that morning, a local tour guide was in front, waiting for a client. We asked him if he knew anywhere in Varanasi we buy an inexpensive painting of the city. We said his brother was an art student in town. By now, we were used to being sent to people’s cousins, or “brother-wives” and we weren’t expecting much. When he said his brother worked at a chai shop just down the street, we were even more cautious. But, what the heck, it was our last day, and there was nothing else we had to do, so we made our way down the street, past the pilgrims bathing in the Ganges River and the piles of firewood for the funeral pyres.

There were two brothers at the chai shop, which was simply a table set up in the street. As we sipped the pro-offered cups of chai tea, we visited with the brothers. One of them, the older of the two, knew more English, and he was the “slick” one. He was dressed Western style, and his long, curly hair, sunglasses, rings, and cell phone would have fit in Los Angeles. His younger brother, Naresh, was his polar opposite: quiet, less English, and more traditionally dressed. But the younger one was more interesting. He worked part-time at the chai shop, went to school full-time, and was studying to be an artist. He wants to design fabrics, like those used to make saries, and he whispered that his dream was to go to Paris.

We explained to Naresh that we wanted to see some of his paintings, which he had created for art class, and he agreed to get some from his locker at school and meet us back at the chai shop. When the appointed hour arrived, there was Naresh, with a small bag of his work.

He does mostly landscape pieces, in ink and water color. Many of them depict what he sees from the chai shop — scenes of the riverbanks and the buildings of Varanasi. His work is good for a first-year student, and he likes to paint in vibrant colors: yellows, oranges, and greens. He called it “modern” art (his favorite artist is Piccaso), which is a bit of an oxymoron for this ancient city. But we liked it. We picked out 2-3 and lined them up on the table. We were leaning toward one, and he said nothing until we asked his opinion. He pointed to another similar one, which he preferred because it had more color and more work in it. We went with his choice, and he proudly wrapped it in a bag.

We asked how much he wanted for our new painting. He took a deep breath and told us he would like 800 rupees (around $13). We agreed and handed over the money. Naresh beamed! We then quietly handed him another 1,000 rupees (about $16) and told him it was “for his dream.” He was really touched, and he took our hands and then wished us namaste. Off we went to our hotel and our lives.

We think about Naresh whenever we look at his painting of Varanasi. It’s certainly not a masterpiece, and we’re sure he will develop skill as he continues his studies. But it reminds us of our time in Varanasi and it reminds us of Naresh. We hope he becomes a famous artist and we hope he has a good life. But, more than anything, we hope he makes it to Paris.

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