LAL: Life Alert Lessons

You want the good news or the bad news first? Okay, the good news is: reaching my senior year-s (not as a high school “senior;” but a 67-year-old “senior!”), and living in their cumulative confidence and wisdom.

The bad news: everyone’s concern that “I fall-l-l-l and can’t get up.”

Alright! I fell. (Here’s the 911 if you missed the event )

Enter LIFE ALERT! Dun-dun-dun…you know there’s a catch: my life “alert” pendant has a-leer-ing (malicious) intent. It’s sneaky and fickle.

Why is it so-o-o hard to press the activation disk yet, so-o-o simple to accidentally “activate it?!confused look The first time I unknowingly hit it was while North Hope and I were making muffins. I was chopping nuts on the chopping board in my lap when a disembodied voice rose from the base unit. Wide-eyed, we ran to the unit to reassure ADT (my home security) that it was an accident—NOT a fall!

The second time was while putting plates in my lap. (I know. I know. It’s better to be safe than sorry, but I’m sorry!) This last one is, still, only partially solved.

I heard a fire engine, and wheeled to my front window to see which neighbor’s house it stopped in front of…to watch it stop at mine. Reality hit when the driver looked through my picture window at me looking at him. Embarrassed reckoning came as I met the three medics IN my kitchen…after they unlocked the back door (with my hidden key), making the call to ADT: “She’s fine. It’s a false alarm.”

After repeated apologies, the medics left.

Trying to solve the riddle, I mentally flipped through possible scenarios of the 10-15 minutes prior to hearing the fire truck. I remembered, while in the bathroom, thinking I heard a voice, twice. I stopped to listen, twice. I wondered if the TV had been turned on by a weird frequency: an 18-wheeler on McFarland Boulevard; the sanitation truck or school bus breaks?

Then, VOILÁ! It must have been while the commode was flushing that the “voice” was inquiring as to my “alert.” Still, I have no idea how I hit my pendant. The wheels on the bus go round and round….using past experience and common logic, doesn’t always fill in the blanks.

Seriously though, it does provide security to all, particularly loved ones—whose insistence only costs YOU around $30 a month for THEIR peace of mind.

Jesus, JESUS, Deliver Me!

If you know me, read my FB postings, or follow my weekly “Conversations with Cynthia,” you know I love spice…as in spicy food. Nothing delights me more than my taste buds being kissed by cinnamon, cumin, curry, turmeric, pepper–black, cayenne, Jamaican Bird, Szechwan, white (excellent on soft-boiled eggs with orange juice), jalapeños, Tabasco, Wasabi, even hot paprika!

AND, if you know or have experienced, or don’t know and haven’t experienced, “Mild” and “Hot” labels are relative to your sensational sensibilities. Whether it’s pickled asparagus, beets, garlic, jalapeño, okra, string beans, what-have-you, I’m an expert. (If you’re interested, email me for the hottest of “Hot” brands.)

If you’re a spicy-heat virgin: “Cayenne pepper (or capsicum as it’s sometimes referred to) is rated typically anywhere from 30,000 to 190,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the Scoville Rating Scale…based on sensory perception and human subjectivity.”

DAH! What else determines hot but “sensory perception and human subjectivity?!

Well, I’ve experienced a new high in sensory perception! I now know, EXPERIENTIALLY, what the cartoon artist/creator knew. On a sensory scale, it reminded me of the first time my optometrist dripped numbing eye drops in my eyes. I “felt” the roundness of my eyeballs! Have you ever?!

AND, when I swallowed a Szechwan pepper! Speechless doesn’t describe it. Heat billowed out my ears, I PROMISE, PHOTO smoke out ears from spicy food

after licking my cayenne pepper bottle to clean it off (and not to waste any), from the spaghetti sauce I dropped it into. I could feel the anatomy of my semi-circular canals…for some twenty minutes later!

Jesus…Jesus…dear JESUS, PLEASE, deliver me!

Ahoooga! For Wheelchair Enhancement

Recently, I was asked what accessories I’ve added to my wheelchairs to make them look cool…well…better.

At first (at 28 years of age), I just sat in it. My looks, pretty much, took the attention away from my red wheelchair. For a while, I even had an ahooga horn.

ahooga horn 1

As I matured, I chose a beige wheelchair…not to compete with my stylish, colorful clothes, and jeweled barefoot sandals.

At middle-age, my amazing smile blinded passersby of my black wheelchair.

In my older years, it’s the groans, bone pops, and whoopie cushion noises that draw curiosity.

Se la vie

Pain Is Relative…ly Painful!

You don’t hear me complain very often. What’s a pain here-and-there? For me, it’s a gratitude nudge for all the easy days. But, man-o-man, my neck and shoulders yell “whiplash” and, by the thoracic aches, I can’t decide if it’s from my spine, ribs, liver, or kidneys. Then, there’s my left knee and shin. I feel like I ran into a brick wall!

DON’T tell me to: “bite your tongue…dig in your heels…ear to the ground…go over your head…or heads will roll,” because I WAS “up to my eyeballs” gazing at my bedroom wood floor! Yeah…I fell out of my wheelchair. In my book, Views From My Chariot: A Wheelchair Oddity, (you can purchase it here or off amazon) , I compare the other falls to extreme athletes. I’ll just call this one a jackknife onto a hard wood floor. No big deal. It’s only the 7th in 39 years.

I always begin a left-to-right transfer by wrapping my left arm around my left push bar in order to shift my weight toward my right “landing.” But, what can I say, I over-shifted…w-a-y over; not only was my head dangling below my seat cushion, my feet slipped backward off my foot rests, leaving me hanging by my left arm in a life-grip!

I was too far from the floor for a push up with my right arm, so my only hope was to hold onto my break extender—with my teeth, and grasp the right tire with my right hand. (As I said in my book, I can rival any Cirque du Soleil gnashers act, except for Igor Zaripov!)

I don’t have a clock in my bedroom floor, so I have no idea how long my delusional attempt of recovery lasted. But, after the prolonged blood rush and brain oxygenation, I channeled Ilsa: LET IT GO!

No brag, just fact: I’ve learned how to plan a fall although…in route, my left leg hung behind catching on my left foot rest/bar—a point deduction in any diving competition for tipping the board!!

The unfortunate part is that I had already hung up my phone and, in hindsight’s 100% accuracy, had recently opted out of a James Bond-ish life-alert chip being encased in one of my dental crowns. I mean, who foresees a spasmodic gnashing or clenching of teeth?!

The silver lining: I had a Raindrop appointment with my sister, Candace, the next morning. That got (body) slammed. She called 911. Two tall handsome hunks air-lifted me into my warm soft bed, took my vitals while telling us about their crazy shift of five fall calls!

After they left, we did get into my oils, but for other body discomforts. I turned out the lights, pulled up the covers and, gratefully, snoozed.

“Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.”

I wonder what this proverb is trying to tell me? Genius…yeah; but, infinite pain?

P.S. If you’re aghast at my finding humor in this, there’s hope for you, yet. It usually takes me years to appreciate “writer’s rumor.” It was ten years before I “discovered” Seinfeld (1989-1998), then Friends (1994-2004) and, later, Raymond (1996-2005).

Willy (coyote) Wisdom

Nine Thoughts to Ponder:

Number 9: Death is the number 1 killer in the world.

Number 8: Life is sexually transmitted.

Number 7: Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

Number 6: Men have two emotions: hungry and horny, and they can’t tell them apart. (If you see a gleam in his eyes, make him a sandwich.)

Number 5: Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks, months…maybe years.

Number 4: Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.

Number 3: All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

Number 2: In the 60’s, people took acid to make the world weird. Now, the world IS weird. People take Prozac to make it normal!

Number 1: Life is like a jar of jalapeno peppers. What you do today might burn your rear-end tomorrow.

 And, as someone recently said: “Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last that long.”

REJOICE! Gratitude is a life-enhancer.

A Leisure Walk

This is a “feel good” article. Michael Gartner, president of NBC News, wrote it about his father, and his father’s philosophy on walking through life. It’s well worth the length!

“My father never drove a car. Well, that’s not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

‘In those days,’ he told me when he was in his 90s, ‘to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.’ At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in: “Oh, bull shit!” she said. “He hit a horse.”

“Well,” my father said, “there was that, too.”

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.PHOTO 1950 Chevy

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we’d ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. “No one in the family drives,” my mother would explain, and that was that. But, sometimes, my father would say, “But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we’ll get one.”

It was as if he wasn’t sure which one of us would turn 16 first. But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown. It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn’t drive, it more or less became my brother’s car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn’t bother my father, but it didn’t make sense to my mother. So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive.

She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father’s idea. “Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?” I remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps—though they seldom left the city limits—and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work…

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn’t seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was on duty that morning.

If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests “Father Fast” and “Father Slow.”

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along.

If she were going to the beauty parlor, he’d sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I’d stop by, he’d explain: “The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.”

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out—and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, “Do you want to know the secret of a long life?”

“I guess so,” I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

“No left turns,” he said.

“What?” I asked

“No left turns,” he repeated. “Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic…as you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn.”

“What?” I said again.

“No left turns,” he said. “Think about it…Three rights are the same as a left, and that’s a lot safer.  So we always make three rights.”

“You’re kidding!” I said, and I turned to my mother for support.

“No,” she said, “your father is right. We make three rights. It works.”  But then she added: “Except when your father loses count.”

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.

“Loses count?” I asked.

“Yes,” my father admitted, “that sometimes happens. But it’s not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you’re okay again.”

I couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day.  Besides, nothing in life is so important it can’t be put off another day or another week.”

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003…my father died the next year, at 102.

They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

He continued to walk daily—he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he’d fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising — and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news. A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, “You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.”

At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, “You know, I’m probably not going to live much longer.”

“You’re probably right,” I said.

“Why would you say that?” He countered, somewhat irritated.

“Because you’re 102 years old,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “you’re right.”

He stayed in bed all the next day. That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night.

He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said:  “I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet.”

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

“I want you to know,” he said, clearly and lucidly, “that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have.”

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I’ve wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can’t figure out if it was because he walked through life, or because he quit taking left turns.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.  So love the people who treat you right.  Forget about the ones who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason.

If you get a chance, take it & if it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.


It’s My Right To Be Wrong

Is it wrong to be right? That depends.

Being knowledgeable, educated, and informed is admirable. Having to always be right is wrong. Not only is it a character flaw, it’s irritating as hell to others! I know. I mean, I know I’m right. I mean…wait. Let me explain.

I was so consumed with being right that I didn’t see how I was affecting others.  I just thought they were copping an attitude because they were wrong. To compound my condition, “not being wrong” trumped “being right.” Anyway, we all know: nobody likes a smarty-pants, a know-it-all.

Pathetically, I didn’t consider myself to be a know-it-all; I just thought I was always right. It’s called “a blind spot.” For me, it was one of many. The incident that triggered my most notorious delusion was a road trip.PHOTO COMPASS N S E W

I was reared in Tennessee, attended college in Mississippi, lived and worked in Mississippi, Illinois, and Colorado until I moved back south to Alabama. On the first trip traveling north to visit my parents in West Tennessee, a mysterious incidence occurred to us, my sister and me, pairofabnormals.

The journey involves driving west across the Alabama border into Columbus, Mississippi. At Columbus, we turn due north, where “magnetic (compass) north” and “geographical (true) north” are exactly the same, toward which we continue through Tupelo (yes, the birthplace of Elvis), then Corinth, and up into Jackson, Tennessee before arriving in Martin, our hometown. It was upon entering the small town of Tupelo that my compass went haywire.

Although we followed the road signs, we found ourselves on the road back to Alabama. We circled back in our autocraft to the city’s entrance and tried it again, paying closer attention.

Flabbergasted, we found ourselves back on the vexingly familiar road to Alabama. From our prior practice runs, we recognized the Tupelo exit and frantically veered for it before it was too late.

This time, my navigational skills kicked in. I knew we were headed north. For us to have persisted in circling Tupelo, we must have been turning back west to end up returning south, so I offered this sage advice to calculate east: “Follow the sun because it sets in the east.”

Well, there are two things you can’t take back: childbirth and your words. Now, it is written!

We finally found our way out. But, on our second and third trips back to Tennessee, we experienced what we have respectfully labeled “The Tupelo Triangle” again, and again. Now, the interstate bi-passes Tupelo, but I suffer déjà vu just at the thought.

I’ve been humble, and I’ve been humbled. Hmmm. Do I want to be right or have satisfying relationships? It’s a heart choice. In truth, I was hiding my insecurity behind the mask of confidence. The masquerade translated into arrogance.

You know: When being confronted by arrogance, it’s like a burr under a saddle? Woe, Nellie!

I’ve learned that it’s not important to have the last word, to know all the answers, or to appear to be more than I am. What matters is other’s feelings and doing my best not to cause offense.

My feelings don’t suffer anymore when I’m wrong; though when I am, it’s always good for a laugh. In fact, stroking my ego is a thing of the past. Toot, toot! Ooops…

Even now, sometimes when I’m wrong, my sister loves to remind me: “The sun sets in the east.”

“East is east and west is west, And the wrong one I have chose.” (song “Buttons and Bows”)


Animal Love

I’ve been the blessed owner of 3 dogs: a precious, loyal Miniature Schnauzer, Wolfgang (“WG”), a gorgeous, sweet Irish Setter (“Coors”—yes the beer; he and WG were stepbrothers in the 70’s), and a happy, playful Black Lab, “Shadow,” in the 90’s. (I couldn’t find a picture, but he’s highlighted in the “FYI” chapter of Views From My Chariot: A Wheelchair Oddity

I understand canine loyalty…UNTIL they catch a “can’t-say-no” scent, decide to cause mental distress from a run-away-offering-cash-reward-for-information-of-their-whereabouts, or just to take a cooling swim in the nearby lake!

Even though they were all indoor dogs, they car-traveled, hiked, camped, and jogged with us; and, the Lab loved duck hunting, especially retrieving in the frigid water!

I’ll agree that loved/cared-for dogs will develop a steadfast loyalty to one (occasionally a second) member of their human family. I can even attest to it. The minute I stood up, WG came to attention anticipating our destination. And every day after work, he was waiting at the door to greet me. (Before Coors, WG’s feline stepbrothers, Trampas and Trooper, were associate “look-outs” in my front windows.)

But, let me tell you: my EVERY move is accompanied by my Chinchilla-furred cat, the debonair Fred Astaire—a feral I tamed. His unclipped claw’s dance taps behind me. He knows my routine so well that half the time he leads me, anxiously looking over his shoulder to make sure I don’t get lost on “our” way! He’s as much unconditional love as any dog doesn’t think about being!

iPhone Pictures 066

To squeeze in as much time as he can with me, he sits in the bathroom sink when I brush my teeth, as well as when I put on and take off my make-up; on my desk in front of my computer screen as I write and research; beside my chair when I eat, read, talk on the phone, and go to the bathroom. And, of course, my lap; that goes without saying! Your dog, and Mary’s lamb, have nothing on Fred!

Not only can he scale my fireplace to spring onto the horizontal wood beams adjoined to the outer walls, but he can jump vertically, almost 5-feet, straight up, from my countertops to the top of my kitchen cabinets…to keep a look-out while I cook.

And HONESTLY, I carefully take over-the-shoulder rear views before moving! Even after 13 years of accidentally pressing a claw or tail, he’s still bad about sitting under and behind my wheelchair.

What an unconditionally loving, loyal dat! Or, could it be “separation anxiety?”

Have you a “Big Fish” tale?

Here’s more on Fred: (an excerpt from Views From My Chariot: A Wheelchair Oddity )

“He’s a Russian Blue on the outside but pure dog on the inside. He’s that rare breed, half dog/half cat, that I call a dat!

The cat part of him has sleek, satiny slate-colored fur, grass-green eyes (all three of my cats got my eyes), and exceptionally long, fang-like canines. They make it appear as if he’s always smiling. He head butts for kisses, closes his eyes in feline bliss when petted, and stands up on his hind legs to politely pat my arm for attention when I am otherwise predisposed.

The dog part comes running when I whistle, drools when his ears are rubbed, climbs my chair, cat-like, to stand show-dog-style on top of my push-handles, and rolls over on his back with front paws extended…offering up more belly for a belly rub.

Most nights he sleeps propped against my chest under my right arm, on my right shoulder or at my head.”

*The Russian Blue is a naturally occurring breed that may have originated in the port of Arkhangelsk, Russia. They are also…called Archangel Blues. It is believed that sailors took Russian Blues from the Archangel Isles to England and Northern Europe in the 1860s.

Rabbits in the Marijuana Patch

Spoiler ALERT!!…for anyone who’s put me on a pedestal: Cushion YOUR FALL! I’ve had mine.

In my youth, this innocent, naïve, credulous ostrich married a drug addict. In spite of a “should o’ been honeymoon night eye-opener,” I didn’t catch on until months into our marriage; even then, denial clouded my knowledge of facts!

Though I was out to “save the world,” after months of observing his and his friend’s TOK-clouded (transcendence?) behavior, I became curious. Yeah.

Would you believe that he was in Law school, and I was in grad school? Anyway, I always studied away from the zombie fray, and in solitude—the graveyard behind my church. I hatched a “harebrained”experiment: “what is the influence of marijuana?” for after I studied for a final.

I knew how to roll a joint. I had watched it being done, MANY-A-TIME, on the little thingamajig they used. But before my “education,” I mistakenly threw one away. (I never fessed up, and guiltily searched everywhere along with the motley crue.) But, I must say: I rolled a beaut!

I don’t remember why I drove the Bronco, because I had a Monte Carlo, but I did. Middle afternoon, I parked behind the church, found my favorite tombstone, laid out my blanket, and studied until experiment thirty—dark. It was time to investigate the supposed “marijuana effect.” I knew exactly what to do.

I reverently removed it from the baggie; hesitant but determined. I struck the match, lit the end, held it close to—but not touching—my lips, sucked in deep, watching the red embers glow….

It was like someone karate-chopped my Adam’s apple! I couldn’t decide if I was going to die from the “hit” to my throat or lack of air from the coughing fit! Man…how stupid…golly-gee!

Everyone always took several hits so, after recovering, I took 2 lesser emphatic puffs…nothing. No euphoria. No “peace out.” Nothing. What was the fuss? That proved it. It must have been those pills they passed around.

I packed up and headed home.

On the way, the steering column seemed to come out of the dash! OMG!

To be safe, I slowed down. While trying to maintain control, I had to overly rotate the steering wheel back-and-forth, and back-and-forth, and back-and-forth…like a child pretending to drive. To make things worse, some impatient driver behind me started honking and flashing his brights!

What’s his rush? Man!

I slowed down more. Who can be safe with people like that on the road?!

On the last stretch, I thought about the Zesty Cheese Tortillas in my pantry.



A.A. (After Awakening), not a P.S.:

In the 60’s, while in college, I remember a front page headline: “rabbits uprooting marijuana plants from the cannabis research patch.” I wondered how a rabbit could have that strength; and, how they got the plants out of the fenced field.

Now, I wonder if my ex was one of the “rabbits.”