Friday, June 27, 2014

"It's A Bird, It's A Plane, Nope…Jafflechutes!"

I love the Aussies.  They have a delightfully upside down sense of humor and are never too busy to drink you under the table ANY hour of the day or night.  So, it came as no surprise to find them gleefully behind the launch of something they call parachuting "jaffie" sammies.  Translation:  these clowns are dropping toasted cheese sandwiches equipped with miniature parachutes from the balconies and rooftops of apartments in downtown Melbourne.  

Catching the "jaffies" in Melbourne
 Jafflechutes, the creation of Adam Grant, Huw Parkinson and David McDonald, is being called Melbourne's first "pop up, float down eatery".  Through an arrangement with Pay Pal,  cheese sandwich loving Aussies can pre-pay for their airborne "sammies" and simply show up at a specified time and location to watch their "Jaffie" float down from above.  The young cheesy entrepreneurs now have plans to introduce this heavenly cheese concept to North America with Montreal and New York City lined-up as inaugural cities.
I can't wait!  Like most Americans I was raised on toasted cheese sandwiches and Campbell's tomato soup.  I used to hurry through the soup (soup is a complete waste of time that only women seem to appreciate) and then plow into the cheesy goodness like the product of rural and small town America that I am.  You see, cheese is an addiction.  It's loaded with feel good chemicals from casein, a milk protein that is enhanced by the cheesemaking.  As we digest and break down the casein morphine-like chemicals called casomorphins are created.  Also, there are trace amounts of morphine in milk produced by a cow's liver.  Who knew those wacky bovines were getting high off farmer Brown's alfalfa?

So bring it on.  My Pay Pal account is ready and I await notification of nearby locations where cheese will soon fall from the heavens into my waiting maw.  God bless the Aussies for embracing their inner party gene.  Genius ideas like this stay in our fun bank forever and are the stuff that keeps life from being just one long dental appointment.

Bombs away!!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ripe Bananas? Hardly

"Every hour 200 Americans learn that they have cancer."  The PSA caught me by surprise as I was listening to satellite radio in the car.  I wondered how many times I had heard this without noticing.  I checked the Internet when I got home.  It's true.

In the past cancer was of little concern to me.  My family was largely untouched by cancer.  Frankly, I'm embarrassed to say,  I considered it primarily a natural malady of old age.  Sure some kids and younger adults were in its sights but weren't they the exception?  Like ripe bananas, I actually thought of cancer as the bruising and mushiness of human decomposition.  Then my mom died of breast cancer.  She was old--nearly 90--but she was MOM and that hits close to home.   Suddenly cancer wasn't just for other people.  I began to notice more people, boomers around my age, in the Irish sports section (obituaries) of the newspaper.  How could somebody from my generation die of a "lengthy illness"?  Celebrities and sports heroes like Tony Gywnn were  fighting this cancer thing.  (Tony died this past Monday.) How could this be?

Last winter  Non Hodgkin's large B cell lymphoma had the nerve to enter our lives.  The lump my wife had found on her neck was cancer.   Her father and two siblings had gone several rounds with the Big C and lost.  Was Linda to be KO ed too?  We walked around the house in a fog for a few days and slowly began to realize that with good doctors, a positive attitude and the prayers of friends and relatives we would fight this intruder and win.

After nearly six months of chemo and everything awful that comes with it the lymphoma is in full retreat.  Today is Linda's last chemo session and in a couple of weeks she should begin to feel healthy again.  Her hair, unlike mine, will begin to return in a few months and be thick and normal in about a year.  Maybe the two wigs she has been using to hide her hairless dome can be modified to help out this  unfortunate victim of male pattern baldness.  Hey, I'm a veteran and nothing looks sexier than a man in his late 60's with a ponytail.  Perhaps I should check with the VA?

As I sit beside her and watch the last of the "good" poison drain into her body it's impossible not to think of how all of this has changed our lives and, most certainly, my perception of the disease that is cancer.  Two-hundred people an hour should not have to hear the words "you have cancer".  Cancer is a bastard.  I look forward to reading its obituary.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Father's Day Reflections

"You can have fun with a son, but you've got to be a father to a girl."
Oscar Hammerstein blew that line of lyric when he penned the hit musical Carousel.  For me raising daughters was easy and fun.  Or, maybe  I didn't do it.  Maybe I was just the guy who showed up at the end of the day to goof around with the girls and the real work fell to their mother.   I sure as hell told them to "go ask mom" often enough when it came to the tough stuff.

The truth is I'm probably like most fathers of the fair sex: LUCKY.  It's a cinch that I came to the job with zero experience and less than a minuscule understanding of females.  I grew up with no sisters and, until I got married, possessed a head full  of crackbrained information supplied by my equally uninformed guttersnipe buddies.  My own father was of little help when it came to women.  He too grew up sans sisters.  The extent of his "facts of life" talk was condensed to an admonition given to me one Saturday night as I backed my old Buick out of the driveway on my way to pick up a date.  It was still light and he was pulling weeds from the flower bed in front of our house in Spencer, Iowa.    Dad motioned for me to roll down the window as he rose and ambled to the car.  I had been going out for awhile with a particular girl and I guess he felt it was time he gave me a "heads up" about "the ladies".  "There is more than ONE kind of trouble, boy," he said to me sternly.  I looked and nodded my head as I continued to back my car away from this sound advice.  I had NO idea what he was talking about.  I'd already been up to my ass in trouble with booze, smokes, and the occasional outhouse tipping rural vandalism so popular in the Midwest, but was clueless to the meaning of his words.  All I knew was I was now late for a major make out session with a hot more experienced woman.  (She was a senior soon to dump my junior ass when she headed for college.)

Dad has been gone nearly twenty years now and I don't think a day goes by where I don't feel remorse for all the stupid things my brother and I did to let him down.  A veteran of World War II who worked hard all his life to provide for us was rewarded with an almost daily recitation of our misdeeds and insubordination.  I sometimes wonder why he ever came home.  The temptation to just keep on driving toward the horizon must have been constant.  All he wanted to do was to maybe have a drink and read the paper but we--especially me--made that almost impossible.  I can still see him shaking his head at the colossally stupid jams we were always getting into.  I'm sure he thought at least one of us was headed for prison which is probably why he didn't seem to mind that I wound up in the broadcast business and my brother the newspaper game, businesses loaded with reprobates and re-treads but at least legitimate.  He should have just killed us.  I thank him everyday for exercising some discretion.

My daughters were a breeze.  Outside of a few high school years where heavy sighs were expelled at my every utterance and doors were slammed in disgust, they were mostly respectful to me and their mother.  A speeding ticket or two and a couple of minor fender benders were about all we had to contend with when it came to their relations with the law.   I have since discovered that there was slightly more smoking and drinking going on than I realized at the time but I wasn't exactly the perfect role model in those days.

Both kids have done well.  Each is successful professionally and in their personal lives.  I like their husbands very much and am crazy about my new best buddy, grandson Dan.  I wish my dad were here to see how well it has all turned out.

Someone once said, "A father is someone who carries pictures in his wallet where his money used to be."  Fine by me.  Somewhere I hope my dad agrees.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Memories Erased? Not So Fast

The rollidex is full.
The older I get the more junk collects in my brain pan un-filed.  Names, important events like the date of Soupy Sales death, (October 22, 2009), ancient phone numbers and scenes from favorite movies lay scattered on the floor of my melon longing to be cataloged.  I don't know about you, but I would get NO sleep if not for Google and its uncanny ability to fill in the blanks of my aging memory. 
The late Milton Supman aka Soupy Sales
I hadn't thought about the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind since seeing it in 2004 but thanks to the article on the front page of yesterday's paper it has emerged from the depths of my discard pile.  The newspaper story told of research at UCSD regarding the removal or strengthening of memories. Scientists at UC San Diego, led by neuroscientist Roberto Milinow, have been able to train rats to fear a stimulus delivered to the brain and then erase the fearful memory by merely flipping a switch.  They know this works because they were also able to restore the fear of the stimulus by reversing the process.  Scary stuff.  Though currently confined to rats, the project was created with  dementia patients in mind.  Alzheimer's and other dementia's cause synaptic weakening involving  a complex formation of proteins as building blocks.  The hope is that this research will lead to the ability to restore memory in humans.

As I mentioned, this scenario reminded me of the premise of the Eternal Sunshine movie.  The film starred Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey as two strangers who meet on a train headed for Montauk, Long Island on Valentine's Day weekend.  As it turns out Joel (Carrey) recognizes Clementine (Winslet) as his one time girlfriend.  To his surprise he discovers that she has had her memory of their sometimes tumultuous relationship erased from her mind.  Joel decides to do the same erasure procedure himself as he has been having a difficult time forgetting Clementine.  However, as he watches his memories of her leave him he realizes that he still loves her and it may be too late to correct his mistake.  It's a very weird movie that had been pretty much erased from my mind without a trace.  
The idea that ten years later science is working on what was once the province of a wacky movie seems almost surreal. Memory restoration for dementia patients would greatly enhance the lives of countless Americans and their families while saving billions of dollars earmarked for medical care.   This enormous savings would help our economy beyond measure.  

On this 70th anniversary of D Day I can't help but wonder what the few remaining brave Americans who participated in the operation that turned the tide of the war in Europe and began the demise of Adolph Hitler would think of this.  If given the opportunity to erase the horror and sadness of that day, would they chose to do so?  To see these vets with tears in their eyes recalling stories of lost buddies, sleepless nights and the nigntmares that haunt them seventy years later provides ample evidence that some memories refuse to die. 

Maybe we should stick to strengthening memory and lose the idea of erasure. Memory has purpose.  We  store important lessons that prevent the repetition of mistakes.  Burn your mouth on hot food as a kid and you remember not to do it again.  A memorable spanking for taking something that doesn't belong to you instills the negative ramifications of stealing.  On the other hand, there are some memories that none of us would ever miss, in my case: high school algebra, geometry and a couple of bad girlfriends.

So, I wish the researchers at UCSD luck with their project.  Memory restoration would be a godsend for many but memory disposal poses multiple ethical questions that suggest we go slowly.  Looking back is both painful and necessary.  We have been given only one life on which to build some sort of shrine to meaning and the wisdom to do this consists of the anticipation of consequences.  Memory is a  tool and, maybe even more so, a gift.  The veterans of D Day are living proof.