OUR G.I.s IN AFGHANISTAND AND THEIR FAMILIES

I was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1959. That’s 52 years ago this past January. I had been overseas in Germany for two years during a peacetime period through the draft. My experiences were not the same as they are now during a period of war in either Iraq, Afghanistan, or maybe now in Libya. I have come to know some things personally through a young person of our acquaintance whose spouse in now deployed in Afghanistan.

Besides the new acronyms and divisions within the Army, there are many new things that are beyond my experiences. The need for new soldiers, on a consistent level, is the primary goal of the military. Because there is no draft, the Army, especially, has to offer incentives to young people to join. During a lack of jobs for young people, these incentives make for an attractive lure for the post high school young people.

As college becomes increasingly expensive, the military is seen as a refuge for unemployed youth at a stage of their lives when they do not know what is in store for them in the job market. The Army offers training, structure and a steady paycheck. In return, the kids have to serve at the pleasure of them military and be deployed to dangerous areas in the Middle East.

Some of these youngsters are married with children. Their wives, mostly in their late teens and early 20’s have had no experience living by themselves. Many went from their parent’s homes directly into marriage and then a military life. That life may include living on a post, or in a town or city that is completely unfamiliar to them. They have only the same situated women to be friends with.

The Army has created helping organizations on post that try and take care of these young women (I am not familiar with what happens to the spouses of women in the military who have children). There are so many things with which these young women are not familiar- insurance, powers of attorney, taxes, benefits and so on. These military organizations make sure that these folks are taken care of, if they know that there is a problem.

Communications between spouses is a sometime thing. Although there may be Skype or email, or voice communications, there are still times when everything is silent. If the soldiers are in areas where they are not allowed to communicate, the people at home are at wit’s end.

With the occurrence of negative happenings- wounding, death, or lost in combat, these friendship organizations may be the first to report to the families. In any case, most of the spouses are pretty much alone in their terrible circumstance. The friendship organizations try and help out as much as they can.

The soldiers remain at the front lines for long periods of time. They sometimes are brought back for a little while to spend some time with their families. The leaving takes place once again with all the accompanying sadness. When a soldier comes back with a wound or an injury, their spouses, once again, are in an unfamiliar situation. They must now deal with the medical end of things and that is totally new to them.

With a younger aged Army and spouses with very little life experience, the military must provide services that it never had to in the past. It is certainly a difficult job. We should be thankful that it is there for the families.

CARDIO REHAB

For those who have been following the adventures with my physical health, this will be part of the ongoing story. After a 5 week rest and recuperate, lots of visitations from the home health care people, lots of medications and doctor visits, I was ordered ( yes that is the word) to undergo 36 visits with the cardio rehab therapists. I must go for my visits each Monday, Wednesday and Friday without fail. Somehow, if I have a cold or some other emergency, I can reschedule. In fact I will do my 36 visits.

The first visit with Nurse Doris was almost all discussion and some preliminary exercises. Each of the exercises, whether the stationary bike, the arm bike, or the treadmill requires a cool down period and lots of checking of blood pressure. My regimen of medications crosses every human activity. I now have both the lowest blood pressure and cholesterol readings and heartbeat as I have had in my life.

I seem to operate at a slower pace and seem to see most things through cotton candy. I am actually permitted to drive during my lucid moments, which are not more frequent.

Nurse Doris explains the routine to me. It is a plan to make one feel independent. You come at 9:00 a.m. and grab your oat bag and place the heart monitoring electrodes on various parts of your anatomy. The hardest part is putting on these items. Which have a sticky back and then snap on. I can never seem to get them in the right places, even though there are diagrams. I fiddle for quite a while and finally get them correctly placed. Through these electrodes, the nurses can see your heart rhythm and tell whether you are going to pass out or not.

I fill out a piece of paper that continually asks me for my name and my birthdate, the channel of the heart monitor, my weight and my glucometer reading. This is done so that the nurse does not have to perform these functions. Each week, I am now having my blood sugar taken. It is a strange process that makes someone think that they are giving blood in some third world country . Nurse Doris gives me the high sign and announces that we are going over to the Sugar Shack for each reading.

There are many 3 minute cruises in the hallway. These are all cool down periods. There are antennas in the hallway to monitor your heartbeat. Some of my compatriots have tried to bug out of few times, but found out that the nurse keeps an eye on her monitor and can see when they are shirking. I guess they see the heart rate slowing down. Since the hallway is electrified, they can tell when you have gone astray.

There are about 7 or 8 people in most sessions, sometimes less. They are a compendium of men and women of all sizes and shapes and colors. I have even found a few who want to listen to 1950’s music. It helps to wile away the time if you can sing with the Drifters and Sam Cooke. Most of these folks are not quite as well as I am. They have had more severe operations and need more rehab than I do.

As I do my exercises, I realize that I have been through a bodily invasion. It was my first operation. Never had one before, nor have I ever broken a bone. This rehab reminds me that I am working towards a goal of becoming “normal” again. In some ways it is routine, but in some ways, I look forward to walking with more weights, going just a bit faster on the treadmill, hoisting more weights on the ropes and upping the pressure on the stationary bike. All in good time.

AGILE MOBILE AND LABILE

There was a time in the 1960’s and ‘70’s when high school auditoriums were packed with kids listening to speakers who had been drug addicts, people who had been in jail ( maybe you remember “Scared Straight,” and other people who had strayed from the straight and narrow and were now reformed. I must admit that in the 1960’s I thought that this was the way to go with kids. Show them people who had overcome their addictions and their poor choices and they would see that they should not get involved.

By the 1970’s, I was not so convinced. I had seen so many of these presentations that I became inured to their messages. Little did I know that the kids who needed to be reformed were not really listening. In their minds, they were saying, “It can’t happen to me.” Not that all of the potential drug takers and future jailbirds did not hear the message, they just didn’t get it. The community, the school and the parents were satisfied that the schools were doing their job protecting the children.

We now have the same kind of thing happening on other fronts. We now have females who have had children out of wedlock preaching to young girls that they should not do the same thing. We have women who preach abstinence while describing their stories of an earlier life of sleeping with many men. I guess we have given up on the drug presentation, although I am not in the school business anymore and would not know.

My thoughts now run to the positive image kind of presentation. Here we have a young entrepreneur who has done so well in his/her life. Kids really seem to be interested in how you became successful. Look at the Movie about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. You may not like him personally, but kids seem to understand where he comes from.

It is harder to reach kids in the traditional way these days. They are all on their electronic devices and phones ( of every hue and application). In the poorest neighborhoods somehow the kids have these devices and when you see the quick movements of their thumbs, you know that they are using them.

Is there any way for us to tap into the electronic age that has captured our kids? The kids are now more agile with their communications (albeit not human). They are so mobile with the kinds of things that they are able to do. They have the capacity to see the world right on their screens. We should look for other ways to attract their attention. Preaching does not seem to work, but maybe and intrusion into their electronic world. They are certainly labile enough.

IN CONTEXT

(I have known Barnegat Blummis for over fifty years. He is a well known author, although under a pen name Sidney Feinglass, a speaker of national reputation, and a commentator on the human condition. Every so often, I give over this blog to folks who have something to say)

What bleeds, leads. That’s the motto of the network and print news. I think that journalists have a civic responsibility: to tell the truth; inform the public; but to put it all in context. If you watch or read the news, you’d get the idea that this country is a terrible place to live. They aren’t telling us the whole story, just what they think will grab attention and ratings.

I think it’s all about context. Before the 24 hour news cycle and the constant yammering of the press, physical and electronic, life had an ebb and flow and a context. One saw, in one’s own neighborhood, good people living their lives, doing their jobs, etc. Everyone knew someone or knew of someone who was lazy, shiftless, a liar etc. but they weren’t the norm. One was “shocked” by the few bad guys because of how far out of the norm they were. And one’s neighborhood (mostly) was a safe place.

Even in the economically challenged neighborhood I lived in the East Bronx, when I was a kid, was ‘safe’ since the women kept their tenement windows open and would yell down at the kids if there was something wrong. Even someone else’s mom would have the ‘right’ to grab you and take you up to your family’s apartment and tell your mom if you screwed up or were a smartass. The big bad headlines in the Daily News or the Post were of someone else, somewhere else and folks would shake their heads at “what this world is coming to” but it didn’t make you afraid, most of the time, for your own safety because you had that context – the number of good people and good acts you saw vs. the number of bad people etc.

Now, it’s the incessant push of stories: who lies, who cheats, who is screwing around, who abandoned their kids or beat them to a pulp, which feeds the news cycle, every minute; the anchors who have to keep talking and generating words during every event they cover; the field reporters who have to ask, “When your child was brutally murdered, Mrs. Flynn, how did that make you FEEL?” and on and on—all of those help to remove the context. Everything you hear about is someone doing wrong; someone lying, someone being a beast. It’s enough to make us forget the good that surrounds us.

In our little town (there’s 23,000 here now, but when I moved here in 1990, there were 6000) a group of teens in the high school were seeking a community service project. One of them had seen an old, weed-overgrown cemetery at the edge of town and asked his faculty advisor if it would be ok if he and his friends would clean it up as their project. The teacher got the requisite permissions from the town and the kids went to work. They cut the weed and grass; repainted the rusting wrought iron fence; uprighted some fallen gravestones and got interested in some of the old graves they found. They did their homework and found that one of the people buried there had been a personal secretary to Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase.

The story was written up on the second page of the second section of our small town’s newspaper. On the front page was a story about a teen who had held up a local liquor store. Made sense, I suppose. But you see, for every rotten kid with a gun, there are hundreds of really good kids who do stuff like that group. But the ‘context’ we get from the news is: fear our children/fear for our children, no place is safe, no one can be fully trusted.

Some years ago, there was a major flood in our area. Many people were affected. The news was filled with pictures of the flooded areas, the homes physical underwater (before that term became associated with mortgages), the dead farm animals, the massive monetary losses. The other story, the context went almost unreported: the thousands of people who spent countless hours filling sandbags along the levees; the huge outpouring of donations of money, clothing, food and shelter. A farmer only a few miles from my home lost his entire herd of cattle. He was surprised one day when another rancher from up in the Sierra drove in to his farm with a cattle truck filled with what the man called a “starter herd.” The rancher said that he’d seen a news report about the man’s lost herd. The farmer told the rancher that he didn’t have any money to pay for the cattle nor any hay to feed them. “Not to worry”, the rancher answered, “when you build your herd back up, you can return the same number of animals to me. And my neighbor is a few minutes behind me with a truck full of hay.” That story never made the papers, it was just passed around our town. That’s our country. Sure we’ve got our share of greedy, short-sighted, or violent and uncaring people. But we have a large majority of caring folks who’ll go far out of their way to help a neighbor, to do what is right, to reach out when others are devastated.

I think our country suffers because of this loss of context and a related issue: the 20 second sound bite which I believe is one of the reason for the existence of the Tea Party (the New Know-Nothing movement).

Barnegat Blummis

A GOOD TIME WITH FOOD

Somehow at the back of my mind, I have always known two things about my choices in restaurants. One, was that I could never wait on line and that goes for the ubiquitous buzzer things that light up and explode in your pants when the seaters tell you that your 45 minute wait is coming to an end and that you will be seated right next to the swinging doors of the kitchen.

In the newer places like TGIF and Applebee’s and that sort, you are ushered to the bar and made to stand , or sit, next to, young people who no more are interested in food as they are in nuclear physics. They are there to pick up people of the opposite sex or have a raucous time imbibing the latest beer of fru fru drink.
I am not prejudiced toward these members of the XYor Z generation, but I am most anxious to fill my gullet with some appetizing viands.

The other part of my need is the one for simplicity. I have an aversion to restaurants who believe that their foods will not satisfy you, but that impeccable service, a wine list, and ambience will just overwhelm you. I have been to such places, both exorbitant and cheap and have found myself uncomfortable and tense from all three of those components.

The franchised places which cater to families, or to gourmands ( the eat everything troughs), the fast food places ( although they are not too bad), may satisfy me once in a while, but not when I want a good solid meal. My son-in-law David has described the places that I like as ones where you can get really good meat loaf. He has a point. Whether a diner or a local dive, order the meatloaf and you can tell if this is a place of comfort or a place masquerading as a local dive to draw in truckers and people like me.

My wife is pretty much satisfied with going to most places and ordering the smallest thing on the menu. She has the capacity to be in a place of fine dining and be satisfied with butternut squash soup and a salad. She is a cheap date and mostly caters to my bizarre fetish. She is a wonton soup eater with an occasional moo shu or other light Chinese dish.

This all came to a head last night. We called some friends yesterday and asked if they wanted to go out to dinner. They readily agreed and we said that we would pick them up at 6:30. I told them that we were going to a special place. Who knew that my usually relaxed clothed friends would put on great clothes and makeup ( not the man). I told them that this was a mystery ride and that they should not be expecting to go to anyplace that they know.

This was a tall order because this couple knows pretty much all of the good restaurants in our area. I was taking a large chance as we passed some of our favorite hangouts. Our friends began to guess where we were going. “ Is it the Eat and Park, Perkins, the diner, the Japanese Steak House, Chef Wong’s? I drove past all of these and pulled into a space in front of Peppino’s, a small and local Italian restaurant.

We had not been there for five years. I even called to make sure that it was still alive. I was told that new things were added to the menu in five years and that was about it. When we entered, our friends told us that they had never been there before. The aroma of the pizza ( they do it better than anyone in our area) wafted through the air. We were directed to a table and asked if we wanted something to drink. We scrutinized the menu. It seemed to me to be the same as before, but in fancier print.

The evening went beautifully. The food was majestic and plentiful. The conversation was delightful and we spent about two hours just gabbing over our food. It then dawned on me what I really liked about the place. There were no pretensions. The service was not intrusive. The atmosphere was plain and not overwhelming and the company was superb. I guess I just like to feel comfortable, with friends, at a no sweat place with good food. Does life get any better?

VOX POPULI

I think I am getting tired of surveys and polls, even if I agree with their findings. What does it mean if the poll has a ¾ + or -. Does it mean that the poll could be off by a factor of 8, so that someone with a 50% approval rating to his/her opponent’s 42% with 8% undecided mean that the 50% could be 46% and his opponent could be 46% and that the undecideds could be 12% or 4%? As I look at these numbers, I get even more confused.

How about the movement of the percentages as time goes on? Last week the President’s overall approval rate was 40% and his disapproval rate was 60%. This week his approval rate was 50% and his disapproval rate was 35% with 15% undecided. What happened to those people from last week to this week? Did they come into some money from an inheritance? Do they feel better about the President because he really did something right this week, as opposed to the wrong things that he did last week?

How about opinion polls in certain subjects? Each year Phi Delta Kappa ( an educational organization) does a poll on education and how people feel about it. In all of the years that I have seen the poll, people really don’t like education in general, but really like their local schools. How can they have a feeling about the 13,000 school districts in the United States when they have not seen anything about them? What makes the pollsters even as such a general question?

At the beginning of our country, the Founding Fathers had a serious distrust of the hoi poloi. You can see it in the Constitution that they created, with a myriad of checks and balances. They did not trust the people to elect Senators and left that to state legislatures. It wasn’t until the constitution was amended that we changed that to a general election.

Hamilton was cautious about “the people” and said the more local the governing body, the more chance of hankey pankey. He expressed more clearly and looked to the aristocracy to lead us. It wasn’t until that fella’ Jackson that we had a non- landed gentry President.

What happens when the people speak? How do they make their wishes known? Is it through polls these days that are instantaneous and plentiful? There are polls on mostly everything. The results, if positive, are flashed across TV. screens the moment that they are completed. There is no subject that is not tainted by polls- politics, theater, sex, sports, education, etc. We have no way of gauging the veracity of these polls. After all, who cares, if Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, or Shia LeBoeuf, is the sexiest man alive.

I have had some commune with polls. I have seen that the phrasing of the question is the end all of how people answer. With just a tiny change of focus, the question is answered in another way. Try this old saw from an old Russian story. The Czar of Russia once gave out an order to “Pardon denied, transport to Siberia!” In the transcription to the actual order to the prison, the ukase read, “Pardon, denied transport to Siberia.” Just one change in a question can change an answer.

You may be a follower of polls and surveys. I have my doubts and after the scandals with the Neilsen Ratings, I am not sure anymore. I trace my doubts back to the $64,000 question TV. show and Mr. Van Doren. Call me skeptical.

THE WIZARD OF OZ

You walk into the large hall. There are bolts of lightning, strange sounds, clouds of steam and a laugh that could curdle sour cream. As you approach the front of the hall, you become more apprehensive that you will never leave the place in one piece. Your trepidations increase as a voice from beyond vibrates your eardrums and upsets your metabolism. You should not have come here.

The questions that you have for the Wizard of Oz seemed so trivial compared to the frightening majesty of the giant hall and the deep baritone voice that shakes you to the quick. You stumble forward knowing that each step might bring you closer to the abyss. A large screen appears overhead and the image of the Wizard is frightening. He looks fierce and all knowing.

“Why have you come here, impudent troll? Why are you disturbing the Wizard at his work?” I can hardly open my mouth. The ominous vision in front of me is so appalling that my feet and legs want to do an about face and run to the exit. Once again the giant apparition speaks, “The questions that you want to ask are unanswerable. I have knowledge of your thoughts. Many others have come to me for answers and I have nothing to say. I work in mysterious ways, incomprehensible to man. My ways are not of humans, but of the gods. Hear me, listen to me and ask no questions.”

I am stunned by this soliloquy. How did he know what I wanted to ask? There as so many questions. Why are there so many unfortunate happenings around the world? Why can’t we know about them ahead of time, so that we might prepare. Why are the tragedies to all encompassing? As a mature species, why haven’t we been able to avert these happenings?
The Wizard of Oz is silent. His silence encourages me to move forward to see the movement behind the screen. I move stealthily, so that I make no sound. As I approach a curtain, I hear the Wizard’s voice once more, this time, unaided by a sound system and startlingly like a regular human voice.

I walk quickly and pull the curtain aside. A man stands with earphones and a microphone dangling from his ear. He looks slightly familiar. It is as if I have seen him many times before. Where have I seen him? Yes, I now know the source of my lack of comprehension. This is the man who appears to me every evening on my television set. He is the meteorologist.