Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Real Essence of Cool

When I was a lad I wanted to be cool. Don't we all long to be cool when young? Of course to be cool means avoiding those things which are uncool.

One of the things that were decidedly uncool at that time were rubbers. Now I know in the popular vocabulary "rubbers" has another meaning and I am not talking about those kind. I am talking about the ones you slipped over your feet and nowhere else. Actually you pulled them over your shoes, sort of sox for the outside.

All the ones I saw then were black and shiny. They were made of a rubbery material, the same stuff boots were often constructed from. They were waterproof, which was the whole purpose. When it rained I would hear my mother yell, "Put your rubbers on so you don't catch a cold!"

That was the last thing I intended to do. No way I wanted to be caught, even caught dead, wearing rubbers. I would try to slip out of the house without them, but sometimes my mom was hovering about me and I had no choice but stretch those ugly black shells over my shoes. Once outside I would look for a place to ditch them where I could retrieve them after school.

It was just as bad come the winter snows, only then it was galoshes, by golly gosh! These were
exponentially more uncool than even rubbers. They were black too and they fastened up the front by snapping closed these metal tabs. If you are unfamiliar with these grotesques, they were what the Old Man wore shoveling snow in "Home Alone", only he didn't snap his up. He let them flop about.

I tried my level best to avoid clamping those on my feet as well. They just weren't cool.

No, it was much more cool to sit in class all morning with wet feet and cold soggy sox, risking a chill and ruined shoes.

Another thing to be avoided as all costs, when I was a boy, was the book bog. They existed. My misguided parents even gave me such an object for my birthday one year. Better to gift such an atrousity in June in time for the next school year than at Christmas halfway through. It was a very fine

book bag, as such things went. It was some sort of faux leather, a little too light perhaps, with three inner-departments and a flap that had a little twist knob through a slot to hold it closed. It had a pouch on front for pencils and other small tools of the young pupil trade, like compasses and triangles and erasers.

At least it wasn't embroidered with lassos spelling out Roy Rogers.

It was my intent that it should never see the light of day. It would have been humiliating enough in elementary school, I couldn't imagine the slings and arrows I would have suffered lugging that piece of luggage to Junior High.

No, it wasn't cool. Being cool was carrying your books, hooked by you hand and supported by your

lower forearm and pressed against your hip. This wasn't too bad coming home from grade school, especially since I lived right across the street from East Ward. It was somewhat different carrying the load from Downingtown Junior High to which I walked a mile to and from. Not only was there the hike, but the books had grown thicker and heavier and the teachers, showing little mercy to coolness, gave more homework.

This was not easy. Some books tended to be slippery and tried sliding away from the stack as you walked. Sometimes an edge cut into the flesh of your forearm, which grew more and more uncomfortable as you journeyed along. Occasionally you might try switching the load from your right arm to your left, but when balancing several tomes and a notebook it was easy to lose your grip. There is little of coolness it picking up your fallen schoolbooks and even less if you are chasing papers down the street that have fallen from between their pages. And what if that expensive History book should land in a mud puddle and your parents have to pay to replace it. Yike!

The young females of our species would cradle their books in their arms pressed against their chests. This was a more effective and more controlling way to handle a load of educational volumes. Although this is a perfectly acceptable way for a running back to secure the football, there was no way a "cool" dude was going to carry his books like a girl.

Nope, better to struggle home and then stand, after dropping the stuff on the table, with a sore wrist, numb fingers and a tinkling arm.

Now today when I see school children they are wearing back packs. It apparently is not uncool to do so, because every single one seem to indulge in this practice. Even outside of school you see them ambling along with backpacks on to carry their video games to friends houses or whatever.

I wonder why we didn't think of that when I was a boy? I was in the Boy Scouts and all we Boy
Scouts possessed backpack, or knapsacks as we called them then. Why didn't we strap them on to bear our books about? Think of the advantage, our hands would even be free to throw the random snowball or pull a girl's hair. Still, now that I remember, being a Boy Scout wasn't considered all that cool back in my childhood years either. Maybe it was the short pants and tasseled knee socks, but definitely not cool.

Of course, these examples are only a couple of the many no-no's if you wished to look cool. However, it didn't make a hill of beans if you avoided all the pitfalls of uncool paraphernalia or how much you dressed yourself up in hip (as we said once upon a time) couture and sunglasses, with cigarettes rolled in your T-shirt sleeve with one a-dangle from your snarling lips, you somehow never quite made it into that cool crowd you so envied and hungered for acceptance from.

You know, those guys sniffling from the cold they got not wearing their rubbers (and sometimes things they got from not wearing those other kind of rubbers either), with the sprained wrist from toting books while eschewing book bags and with the infection in their arm from carving their girlfriends name down its length with a
rusty penknife. Somehow you just couldn't be as cool as those cool guys.

This is probably because you lacked the true essence of Cool, that four-letter synonym, D-U-M-B, dumb!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Decreasing Deafness: A Story for Halloween

I decided to take a little break from writing my usual type of post and do a reading.

With Halloween just around the corner, I have chosen a fitting tale from my collection, Every Little Thing.

This is called "Decreasing Deafness" and as they say in Hollywood:

Inspired by true events.

Written 2003. Originally published, "Creative Writers", Barnes & Noble, Tracy Landmann, editor, 2005. Copyright 2003 by Larry E. Meredith.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hoping Your Net Worth Looks Better than This

When I was an accountant working in various industry there seemed to be some basic principles that were self-evident. One was the books had to balance. Every debit you input had to be offset by some credit somewhere. Thus periodically there is a balance sheet produced. The total on the left side must equal the total on the right side.

We tend in looking at our household finances to think in terms of two flows, incoming and outgoing. We get paid a salary, and we pay some bills. On payday we have x amount of cash on hand, but we have several bills that we must pay. The wages we have in hand are our assets and the bills we must pay are our liabilities. But normally these assets and liabilities don't equal each other. If we have more wages than bills due, then we have some retained earnings left over, which we can save or spend as we please.

This is why a balance sheet has three components. Looking at Classy Company we see all their assets are on the left hand side and total $910,000.

All the liabilities are on the right side and the liabilities total $450,000. So wait a minute, this doesn't balance. The assets are $460,000 higher than the liabilities, which is kind of a good thing. But still, a balance sheet has to equal the same on both sides. This is why there is a third part and it is on the right side under liabilities. On Classy's sheet this is called Stockholder's equity. It could be called other things, such as Capitol, Reserves, Position. This third section can be simply defined as funding that doesn't need be paid back. If this were a non-profit you might see Restricted Funds and Nonrestricted Funds listed rather than Capital Stock and Reserve rather than Retained Earnings.

But where does this come from? In our personal case this was the money left after we paid our bills, (and could be other things as well such as property we own). Looking at business, Capital Stock might be obvious, the par value of stock the company issued to raise funds. In a non-profit the term Fund will be there and this will mean perhaps an endowment or donation or grant. Retained Earnings is most easily thought of as profit that has not been reinvested or paid out to stockholders. Non-profits, despite the title, have to make a profit, too, or they will not exist for long. Essentially what is called Retained Earnings by a business is called a Reserve by a non-profit. These are monies available for use if the outfit chooses to use them for some purpose.

There is another basic sheet called the Income Statement. It generally has two sections: Revenues and Expenses. Unlike a Balance Sheet these two parts don't have to equal and almost never do. Theoretically, a non-profits' Income Statement should, but it is better if it doesn't as long as the difference is more revenue than liability.

Notice that Chair Depot has Revenues, which they call Gross Profits, of $76,000 and total Expenses of $56,000, a difference of $20,000. That is their profit and most likely will be posted to the line Retained Income on their Balance Sheet. (I am simplifying for illustration purposes. Not all of that $20,000 necessarily goes to Retained Earnings.)

It is a little difficult to translate this to ourselves because we are not a business (more like a nonprofit, I suppose) and Balance Sheets and Income Statements aren't in our normal vocabulary. Some of us (hopefully most of us) do some form of budget and maybe even a Cash Flow analysis. I use financial software to track my cash flow so I know when I might have to be careful. These may be similar to the Income Statement for us. People probably seldom if ever do a Balance Sheet.

But let's assume a very rudimentary balance sheet, one with only a couple of items. On the left under Assets we have a house valued at $250,000. We say we own the home, but in reality we don't fully own it, a bank does, because we have a $200,000 mortgage, which shows on the right side of our Balance Sheet as a Liability. This simple Balance Sheet is out of balance. How do we rectify that? By showing in the third section of our sheet, just below Liabilities, our Equity of $50,000. This is our funding that doesn't need to be paid back. We could obtain that $50,000 for use by selling our home. If we sold our home for more than $250,000 we might pay any broker fees or other selling costs and actually walk away with that $50,000 after paying off the Liability. If we sell for $250,000 or less, we may get a smaller portion of the $50,000 back.

We could borrow against the equity, this would create a new Liability and reduce the equity left, so we should use caution in doing this. Don't use it for an expensive vacation, for instance. Sometimes we must do something like this in an emergency, the house needs a new roof or there are sudden medical expenses. Of course, we might also resort to credit cards to raise money for ourselves, but doing too much borrowing could lead to a Balance Sheet Like this:

Assets (including the value of the house) of $270,700 and Liabilities of $1,749,270, and no equity, leaving us with little possibility we can pay off that enormous debt load. I mean, we got debt 526% higher than all our assets. If we sold everything we owned we'd still be in deep do-do. Frankly, we'd be in bankruptcy.

Would you want our personal balance sheet to look like that?  I wouldn't.

Fortunately, my balance sheet is not quite in that bad a shape. However, I know of a balance sheet that not only is that bad, but much worse. It is a balance sheet that actually belongs to me and to you and every other citizen. You see,  if you add a few zeros to those figures above you get the balance sheet of the United States as of 2011 (and it is even worse here in 2013, but 2011 were the last figures I could find.)  Yes, the United States had Assets of $2,707,300,000,000 and Liabilities of $17,492,700,000,000.

That was a negative Net Position (think New Worth) of $14,785,400,000,000 in 2011. It's almost 2 Trillion (yes, I said Trillion) dollars more negative today.

I wonder if we should be concerned?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Methodrexate Fog, Meth Heads, Rigid Digits, Exploding Sneakers and a Cat in a Box

This morning I made a little trip and it was sometimes scary. I had to drive my daughter to work after dropping her car off at a garage for repairs. She works down in the Christiana area, so it was a zip (relatively speaking) down I-95 South and then on roads I have less familiarity with. I use to drive the I-95 part regularly on my last two jobs before retirement, since both were in the Christiana Mall so I was familiar with that high-speed, multi-lane leg of NASCAR stretch of road.  I even went over the speed limit this morning just in an attempt to survive, getting to 75 miles per hour and yet still not catching the traffic ahead. The ding-dongs behind me were riding up my tailpipe nonetheless. I can deal with the traffic, but as I have aged I struggle with driving at night and at 6:15 in the morning right now it is dark out, and this morning was positively black. Add to that a fairly thick fog and it was no pleasure drive.

My daughter's employ is down a long narrow lane, through a wood, ending in a circle. It was like a scene from a Slasher Film, the narrow wooded road and the fog. I could barely distinguish the road surface from the bordering ground going in and coming out. Best I can say, at least I wasn't in yesterday's condition.

Speaking of fog, yesterday I was very much in one. I was very fatigued and fell asleep before noon and didn't awake until 3:00. It was as if I was pulling my body up out of quicksand when I tried to get to my feet. I walked about in a haze. I wondered about this, because I have been having these weariness bouts all too often recently and what do we do when we wonder in these modern times? We Google it!

I was most likely in a Methodrexate Fog. I am on Methodrexate because of my arthritis and on Tuesday

the doctor upped my dosage...again, and on Wednesday I took my weekly fix.  Searching I discovered many others in the same state and the fatigue was worse on the day after they popped their pills. Oh, joy, one more wonderful side-effect of a medication. It ends up a Hobson's Choice. Take my medicine or leave it alone. Or perhaps it is a dilemma, for taking the medicine has these unwanted side-effects, but not taking may lead to more twisted joints. I was driven to the medicine by my paralyzed right fingers in the first place because I didn't want to risk more.

I also discovered in my research that some people on Methodrexate tested positive for
Methamphetamines, probably because they both come from the same root chemical. Looking at images of Meth Heads after looking up Methamphetamines made me think they should use these people's images like they do those extreme cigarette smoking cases to scare people from smoking. You want to see same ugly looking faces after being on meth for a while go look up Meth heads.

I certainly hope Methodrexate doesn't have such marring attributes. After all, as you have probably noticed, my handsome face is my fortune.

Yeah, right!

I did escape my fog enough to accomplish something yesterday. I got new sneakers, although nobody calls them sneakers anymore, so what I got was cross-training foot gear. What I had was running shoes. I just bought the running shoes back in June I believe. My old sneak...whatevers I wore on my feet had finally disintegrated after years of wear on the trails. I wanted something light with a good tread. These runner shoes I bought for about $45 seemed just right. They were light and definitely had a real imposing tread. Forty-five dollars was a bit high for me. I had generally bought sneak...whatchamacallit footwear under twenty dollars, and they usually held up a couple of years, so these $45 jobs should keep me moving for a lot longer wouldn't you think?

You'd a thunk wrong. Here we are just entering October, like five months or less later, and my running shoes were exploding. The tread wasn't waring, it was just plain coming off in toto. My inner sole was sticking three-quarters out the back of the shoe like a green Miley Cyrus tongue.

You do the amount of walking I do and you can't have that happening. So I made it out to a Payless and bought a pair of silver cross trainers for $23.

Let's see how they hold up.

When you buy shoes, you get a shoebox. So I'll put my difficulties behind and leave you with a smile, I give you, Mark in a Box!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Doctors Doctoring

Now that I established I was old and fine with that in my last post, I will write a companion piece about being old. The companions are apparently doctors.

I did pretty well health-wise during my life, but lately the engine light is coming on more often. I have always avoided doctors and their ilk, and especially such nasties as blood tests, because they like to stick you with needles. I haven't been in a hospital since I was ten, except to visit some other unfortunate, but I don't like hospitals either, as a patient or visitor.

Oh, I've had my occasions with the medical professionals. When I was 22 or thereabouts I was sent home an hour early from work because the staff doctor could not detect any heartbeat. He didn't want me traveling in the rush hour. I guess he thought it was unwise to have the undead wandering about in the subway.

Between then and now I was fairly safe from doctors. I just didn't get sick much  and when I did I tended to ignore it as much a possible and keep on keeping on. Oh, now and again I visited a dermatologist because of my psoriasis, which I have written about before and probably will again because of its comic overtones, but not here.

I had a bad patch back in the early to mid-1990s that forced me into the clutches of several medical practitioners. I took my children swimming in our community pool one Saturday and standing in the water I was hit with a horribly painful muscle cramp. It wasn't in my legs where I usually experience such things. It was in my ribcage. I struggled out of the pool fearful I was having a heart attack until it went away. After that I began to have regular cramps hitting me everywhere, my legs, my arms, my chest and even my neck. It was quite annoying.

Then one day I walked out of my office at Wilmington Trust, did a little semi-circle and walked smack into the wall. How odd! I was also experiencing double vision. When I looked at TV I saw two sets, one slightly atop the other. I went to the eye doctor and he said my eyes were fine, but double vision could indicate some underlying problem elsewhere in the body.

I went to my doctor and was passed off to a nephrologist. That worried me because he was a kidney guy and I didn't want kidney failure. He had me take a bunch of tests and scans and thumpings and proddings and said, "You have hypothyroidism. Take this little pill every day and you'll be fine." (Do I hear Jefferson Airplane playing "White Rabbit" in the background?)

And indeed I was for about a year and then I kept waking up with what felt like sand in my eyes. It scratched and hurt, and worst when I walked outside into the sunlight the beams stabbed my eyes like knife thrusts. The pain was excruciating.  I was driving I-95 to work with one eye closed and my hand over the other, peeking between the fingers.

Back to the doctor, who ran blood tests and then called me up one evening and said, "You better come see me. Your blood tests make no sense." Just what you want to hear your doctor say. When I visited he showed me the tests and said he didn't know what the heck was going on. This led to more tests and finally to an Endocrinologist. (Gee, the titles are getting longer.) I had done a rare thing, flipped from hypo to hyperthyroidism. At any rate they eventually killed my thyroid, drove a stake through its heart, steroided me, radiated me, iodized me, and sent me home more or less cured.

And from 1995 until last year I was doing great. I was seldom ever sick, and never seriously so. I had off and on arthritis attacks, mainly in my feet, but I bore the pain and did what I was called upon to do at home or work. I got a lot of perfect attendance awards at Wilmington Trust. I felt invincible.

But age and Doctors caught up to me.

It started with the beginning of last year. Both my wife and I were sick that January 2012. I hadn't been
ill like that in a couple of decades. It held on, too. Happy New Year! The bug went away eventually, but before I was fully on my feet my leg was kicked out from under me. I guess it was bursitis. Whatever, my knee swelled up and appeared to have a grapefruit implanted within and boy, did it hurt. I could barely hobble or get in my car. Driving was a horror, because I couldn't bend my leg and the pain was extra sharp cramped between seat and pedals. Obviously my morning walks had disappeared throughout January and February.

By mid-March I was finally back walking and things were becoming normal, but when April came I was called up home because my mom had a stroke. Most of the remainder of 2012 was taken up with getting proper healthcare for my parents through to their deaths and then dealing with the funerals and the aftermath of settling the estate. I looked to 2013 to bring some relief.

But this year started much as 2012 did, with both my wife and I ill with something like the flu. This hung on, seemed to go away and returned again. Then in March I was hit with an especially vicious arthritis attack in my left wrist. I had never had an attack in my wrists before. It usually attacked my feet, specially my toes. Arthritis attacks normally lasted a few days, then went away for a while. This wrist attack would not let go. It went on for two weeks and the pain was intense enough that I began popping aspirin for relief. I am not big on medication. I always took as little as possible and I only took pain relievers when the pain got extremely unbearable.  After the two weeks the arthritis lessened, although to this day my wrist aches if I turn it too far in any direction.

Note that up until now I still avoided doctors. I was on some medications as it was, I didn't want more. I have to take a pill to replace my thyroid hormone. I also have been on two high blood pressure piles for a decade of so now. I take them in the evening. That's all I wanted.

But right after the wrist got better I felt I was getting sick again. I had a pain in my midsection. I feared it was a stomach flu, oh joy. It eased up and on the Thursday before Palm Sunday we went out to dinner at Dead Presidents in Wilmington.  When we got home I went to the bathroom to urinate and as I stood I felt woozy. I thought I would faint. I had to lie down on the bathroom floor for a bit. I attributed it to the drinks I had with dinner.

On Friday and Saturday I was okay, but after church on Sunday I felt very tired. I plopped down on the sofa and fell asleep. When I awoke I got up, but after a few steps had to sit down on something. I couldn't walk but a short distance without being faint. I assumed I did have the flu after all, but next morning I had to rush to the bathroom right after awakening, not to urinate as was usual, but the other. I had a ghastly bout of diarrhea (dratted flu). I stood up very wobbly and looked down and saw what was there was black.  I knew what that meant, something was bleeding inside somewhere and it could mean cancer.

Now the doctors were going to get there clutches upon me. My family physician examined me and ordered an emergency colonoscopy and stat blood work. If the blood work came back that afternoon showing my hemoglobin was low she was going to put me right in the hospital. Fortunately, though it was low, it wasn't that low and I was able to remain home and make the Easter Sunrise service that week. The next Thursday I was off to doctor number two (no pun intended) for the colonoscopy and an endoscopy.

I had a bleeding ulcer, but otherwise was clean, nothing cancerous threatening. At the end of the month on follow-up the gastrologist gave me the okay to eat whatever I wished. He had also done something that closed up that bleeding ulcer while he was in there. He did put me on another medication, Prilosec.

I was happy with this result, but three days after that meeting, as we entered the merry month of May, I was hit with another vicious arthritis assault. This time it was to the middle finger of my right hand. It was awful and as it entered the second week it spread into my index finger. I also noticed that my index finger had become rigid and this scared me. If this could happen here, it could happen anywhere to any joint. Back to my family physician, who sent me for blood work again and an X-ray of my right hand. Results of this was a visit to doctor number three, a Rheumatologist.

The doctors have me now. I have two more medications. One is very powerful with many frightening and dangers possible side-effects, like death. It is the same medication they give cancer suffers as chemotherapy. The second medication is Folic Acid because the other depletes that in your body and your cells need it to stay healthy. This medication also suppresses the immune system, so I am now more prey to infections and disease than ever.

Because this medication is also a threat to liver health I must have a blood test every four weeks. I visit the doctor every six weeks. The doctors have won, they have me for life!

My medications look like those decals on the rear windows of cars, you know, the ones that show daddy and mommy and each little tyke and maybe the family pets all lined across the glass.

Doctors, medications, blood tests, oh my, I'd rather face lions and tigers and bears.

So there I am with my good buddy, whose somewhat worse off than I, waiting in the doctors office this morning for my latest six week check in. My blood pressure was 120/72 and my blood test results were all fine, but my middle finger on my right hand has grown as paralyzed as the index finger recently, so he upped my medication dosage and I must go get another x-ray of my hand (actually both hands this time). Welcome to the side issues of age, Larry.

Maybe I should write about my visits to dermatologists again. At least that is humorous and involves nudity, always a popular subject.