Model airplanes were all the rage when I was a boy. People would spend hours assembling replicas of World War II bombers or historic planes like The Spirit of St. Louis. The really ambitious kids (usually high school age) put motors on their models and flew them by radio control.
I was reminded of this because of two events in the news recently. First, one of the places where people used to buy radio-controlled planes — Radio Shack — filed for bankruptcy. That’s really sad. First we lost record stores, then book stores and now we are losing electronic supply stores. What’s next, newsstands?
The second recent event that brought the old radio-controlled model airplanes to mind is the flight of a drone onto the grounds of the White House. The President was in India at the time and no damage was done, but the incident further tarnished the reputation of the Secret Service.
Drones first came to the attention of the American public when the military began using them in Pakistan and Afghanistan to target terrorists. But they have been around for years. The civilian versions are usually equipped with GPS and camera and can be programmed to fly a specific course. Prices have dropped in recent years and you can buy a good one now for under $100.
The most popular type of drone is what’s know as a Quad Copter because it has four propellers. They can fly for miles from the controller. And that makes them perfect for search and rescue operations, farming applications and traffic reports. In fact, I would not be surprised if drones replace helicopters for traffic reports in the very near future. They can be sent airborne quickly and moved around with ease. The cameras today are high definition, and they cost a tiny fraction of what a helicopter with a pilot and camera crew cost.
Drones are the future of delivery as well. Amazon announced recently that they want to deliver packages by drone. The FAA is not cool with that yet, but the day will come. I certainly can see newspaper home delivery services using drones in the future.
Yes, it seems likely that the air will be full of drones in the next 20 years. It’s not flying cars, but there is something Jetsonian about drones. Oh sure, there may be problems with abuses like Peeping Tom Drones and Police Drones. There may even be drones falling out of the sky on to people. But every new technology has bugs to be worked out. Hell, we’re still working out the bugs in the Internet after more than 20 years. I have confidence that drones will become commonplace, along with self-driving cars.
Speaking of self-driving cars — that seems to have a lot of potential for providing a way for the elderly to get to the supermarket or the drugstore without endangering anyone. New technology does not allow these autonomous cars to get close enough to another object to hit it. Soon, the Little Old Lady From Pasadena may be hitting the road in something made by Google or Apple. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind that myself. Old age is going to be fun after all!
This is my personal concert hall.
Every morning that I emerge from the swimming pool,
(and isn’t that one inviting pool?), I belt out “I Feel Good” by James Brown and dance around the shower stall.
Through my 20s, when I swam 6 days a week, and my 30s, when I clipped a day; all through my 40s, when again another day was shaved off and now in my 50s where it seems I only make it into the pool 3 days a week, I have sung “I feel good dah dah dah dah dah” as the chlorine is washed away. I feel a little smug and very satisfied because my laps are over with and I deserve breakfast. In the old days I treated myself to a bagel and melted cheddar cheese, but with age and creeping glucose levels, I try to get excited about oatmeal or yogurt.
And as I approach my 60s, my resolution is to maintain the 3-day a week regimen for forever. Swimming has sustained me through thick and thin, love and loss, angst and subliminity. How could I ever give up something that makes me feel so good?
Maria and I recently visited Susan and Mark, old friends of ours who live in North Carolina, and we were at a loss for something to fill a Saturday afternoon. The women wanted to go to shopping for drapes to match the cushions, or vice versa, which to me seemed only marginally less painful than having a root canal. Mark agreed, and as he flipped through the local paper we found the answer: a gun and knife show.
Neither of us owns guns or non-kitchen knives, so we figured we’d get an education.
The show was held in a cavernous building that must have been two hundred yards on a side. The admission fee was ten bucks, and there were two lines to get in: one for unarmed customers, and one for those “carrying.” It was perfectly okay to bring a gun. They just wanted to be sure it wasn’t loaded when you walked through the door.
However, they didn’t frisk anyone to see if they had a pocketful of bullets. And there were a dozen vendors inside eagerly selling every variety of ammunition, clips, autoloaders, silencers, scopes, and other deadly accessories, so if someone had come to the gun show with mayhem in mind, there wasn’t much to stop them. Except, I suppose, the deterrent effect of the other 200 gun-loving patrons, surrounded by weaponry, who presumably would turn the shooter into a multi-ventilated shadow of his or her former self before too many shots had been fired.
The first table we visited was a knife display. These weren’t your grandma’s knives – there were razor-sharp mini-scimitars, Bowie knives longer than David Bowie’s list of hit songs, and tiny purse-friendly switchblades in designer neon colors. They even had a medieval-looking hand weapon that consisted of a leather-wrapped stick with one, two, or three spiked metal balls dangling from the end on an eight-inch chain.
I wanted a picture, and was positioning my smartphone over the table to snap a shot when a grizzled guy chomping an unlit cigar appeared on the other side of the table.
“No pictures of the flails,” he rumbled. Feeling foolish, I pocketed my phone and picked up the two-ball model, as if testing its heft.
“Pretty nice,” I said, clueless as to what to look for in a quality flail. “How much?”
“Single ball twenty bucks, two for thirty, three for forty. Stainless steel balls, genuine leather grip. Handle’s hardwood.”
He awaited my reply. In my khaki shorts, New Balance walking shoes, and gray cotton golf sweater, I didn’t fit his usual customer profile. We moved on.
A guy walked by with a rifle slung over his shoulder, and I realized why people brought weapons: sticking out of the barrel was a wooden dowel with a paper sign taped onto it reading: “FOR SALE OR TRADE.” It reminded me of the popgun rifle Wile E Coyote points at the Roadrunner that shoots out a flag reading “BANG” when he pulls the trigger.
The next table was arrayed with 50 rifles in a row, each chained to the next so you couldn’t raise them much above table height. Their burnished wooden stocks and oiled barrels gleamed in the harsh fluorescent lights. Similarly, the handgun tables had hundreds of sinister-looking weapons, from petite two-shot ladies’ pistols (the vendor’s description, not mine) to hulking hand cannons that would terrify Dirty Harry.
The sheer number and variety was staggering. We approached a rifle vendor and I picked up a small-bore shotgun. At a loss for words, and inspired perhaps by the walking FOR SALE gun signs, I asked, in my best Elmer Fudd voice:
“Excuse me – would this be good for hunting the wascally wabbit?”
The guy behind the table smiled thinly and turned away, clearly not interested in such nonsense.
I actually considered buying a self-defense baton. These are metal sticks that, when you flick your wrist, telescope in length from one foot to nearly three feet. Tapering to a dull point, it locks open and will only collapse again if you strike the tip solidly on a hard floor.
“Say you’re in a parking lot, and some guy’s comin’ at you with a broken beer bottle,” the seller proudly explained.”You can whip that open and give him a hot rap on the head or arm or leg or whatever, make him feel some real pain, from a couple feet away.”
He jabbed the end of the extended stick at my midsection and chuckled.
“And a poke with this here into some soft tissue can be very persuasive.”
I resented the insuinuation that my abs constituted “soft tissue,” or rather, that he could so readily discern that. But he was right: that hard metal stick created a well-defined, non-negotiable boundary between us.It seemed like a bargain for only 25 bucks. But then, I’ve been around for sixty years and haven’t yet found myself in need of a “soft tissue persuader” or head rapper.
So why would I need one now? I’ll just avoid honky tonk bars at closing time and save myself the money. I passed on the deceptively innocuous-sounding baton. But I couldn’t resist asking the vendor before I left:
“Could I use this to whack a wascally wabbit?”
For years now, I have been known to wax poetic about how much I love and miss playing in the snow — specifically skiing in it. Last year I publicly pleaded for comrades to “slide down something!” with me.
So when a good friend invited Julie and me to spend the long Presidents’ Day weekend at his sister’s house on the mountain in Killington, Vermont, we were in. And for the first time in my life that I can recall, I was afraid to have fun. I was afraid to ski.
For Julie it was a “no-brainer.” She’s never skied, and in her words, “has no balance of power,” and “has been known to topple simply standing on skis.” She’d be happy to “head for in for a bloody.”
For me, I’ve been a skier for most of my life (often with a bloody before, during and after).
But I haven’t skied in eight years. And the last time I slid (and ran through, and jumped into, and rolled around in mud) , my madcap self was shut down by a back injury that incapacitated me for almost three months. And my eyes were opened by a recovery period that humbled me for the rest of my life.
This weekend was the first test of my mettle. Therefore, I wanted to forget all that I learned and wrote about — the wisdom that sprouts during the recovery from a devastating injury. That “intellectual renewal” that can emerge from “physical pain.” I was contemplating ignoring “the gift of aging,” including the pronouncement that “fear can serve to gather perspective – quickly.” It can offer “…levelheadedness … a re-routing … a savvier path.”
Instead, I wanted to pretend that careening down a wind-swept, icy incline while buckled into two laminated slats would not be foolish for a 60 year old with an iffy back who hasn’t slid down anything snowy in eight years. I wanted the older me to be the old me — sometimes cautious, sometimes reckless, but always game.
The deadline-driven decision as to whether or not I should hit the slopes locked me into a tortuous head game for days. (As my friend noted — women forced to make a major life decision such as whether or not to have a child, probably spend less time deciding than I did on whether or not I should ski.)
If I skied and fell, re-injury was a possibility. If I skied and didn’t fall, redemption was a possibility. If I didn’t ski, and ultimately didn’t fall, a snowball effect was certain: “the gift of aging … intellectual renewal … perspective … levelheadedness … a re-routing.”
So, I opted out. And, along with my good friends, slid down a “savvier path.”
We went tubing. In record-cold wind chills and wind. Two 50-somethings, and one 60 year old careening and twirling down the hill amidst teenagers and youngsters (some with parents younger than us who simply pushed their kids down).
So — trading an icy ski slope for an icy tube hill? Smarter. Levelheaded. Older and wiser. So much fun! And brave.
On top of the $2000 yearly bonus guaranteed G.M. union workers by their contract, Mary T. Barra, the CEO of the company, approved an extra $9000 as a message that said G.M. acknowledges that management, not the workers, were responsible for the ignition mistakes that led to driver deaths.
I said to Steve, “I do not believe any male CEO would do that.”
And Steve said, “I agree.”
I don’t know if our perception is accurate, but it is interesting that our gender differences didn’t come in to play and we both acknowledged Barra’s ability to see the big picture and subsequently make, in our opinion, a compassionate executive decision.
I’ve got osteoarthritis in my right hip, and when I mentioned to my older brother Jim that surgery was an option if pain management didn’t work, he started raving about acupuncture. Apparently he’d woken up with a sore hip a year ago, and limped in to see an acupuncturist who fixed it in one visit. He walked out the same day, pain free.
This was high praise, particularly since I knew that, as a boy, Jim would break into cold sweats and/or faint dead away whenever he got an inoculation. I didn’t like getting shots, either, but if I looked away and didn’t dwell on the fact that a pointy piece of steel had been stabbed into my flesh, it was no more painful than a mild bee sting. So I decided to give it a try.
I made an appointment with a local acupuncturist of Chinese descent who’s certified by what appears to be a reputable national organization. His office, reassuringly, was in a standard brick professional building, and Doctor Needleman (my pseudonym), was about my height and dressed in a casual shirt and khaki pants. He looked at my tongue, felt around my lower back, and pronounced that my kidney qi (“chee”) was low.
I’d been there all of two minutes.
It reminded me of the joke about the guy who goes to the doctor to find out why he’s feeling poorly. He’s got carrots sticking out of his ears, and stringbeans and French fries jammed up his nose, and the doctor says “I can tell just by looking at you — you’re not eating right.” How could Needleman tell anything from such a cursory examination?
“Got low energy? Pee a lot?”
No to the first, and yes to the second, but the need to pee isn’t qi, it’s my 60-year-old prostate. He nodded knowingly.
“You get cold easily?”
“Only in New Jersey in January, which is why I’m in Florida, Doc,” I answered flippantly.
He told me to remove my shirt, socks, and shoes, and lie face down on the table with my hands relaxed on a chair positioned under the headrest. On the chair was one of those bells you see on a hotel front desk, which seemed random. Then the sticking began.
First Needleman palpated both sides of my spine, apparently identifying choice spots. Next I felt pressure and a hot jab of pain about midway down my back, punctuated by what felt like two gentle taps as he inserted the first needle. The pain subsided within two seconds.
He inserted at least twelve more needles going down both sides of my spine, and even a few into my left ankle and calf. Because I’d mentioned the arthritis in my left thumb, he put three there for good measure. I peeked and saw one hair-thin needle dangling from the meaty flesh at the base of my thumb, and closed my eyes again.
Except for the first needle, I felt no more than a mild pinch and slight pressure as he pushed them in. Then he spritzed my back with a cool liquid and swung a goosenecked heat lamp over the table.
“Okay, nap time,” he said cheerfully as he closed the door. “Thirty minutes. Just relax. Don’t move. Ring the bell if you need help.”
That wasn’t reassuring, although I couldn’t imagine what exactly might go wrong. He’d turned on a loud kitchen timer in harsh counterpoint to the piped-in flute and sitar meditation music that flowed into the room. As I began to feel the warmth of the heatlamp spreading across my back, I had the queasy sensation that something was going on in my body.
Needleman would say my qi was moving, but it’s just as likely I was overcome by the strangeness of lying there like a chubby white porcupine, waiting to see if panic would overtake me and make me ring the bell. But then, maybe 10 minutes later, I drifted into a deep calm. I no longer cared about the nest of needles sprouting from my skin, or my forced paralysis for a half hour, or even the timer’s relentless ticking — it all faded away. I was in a trance (or sleeping), dreaming about swimming with dolphins or how it would feel to be a loaf of freshly-baked bread.
Then Needleman was back, breezily plucking the metal pinpricks from my back. He asked how I felt, and I considered telling him I felt “perforated,” but that wasn’t true. My hip and thumb still hurt, but I felt better somehow. Was it all imaginary?
Have the Chinese been practicing acupuncture for millennia merely for its placebo effect? Could that many people be consistently fooled into believing they’re being helped when nothing is happening at all?
I’ve scheduled three more human pincushion sessions with Dr. Needleman to find out. I’ll keep you posted.