December 17, 2018

Don’t you want to live to be a hundred?

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA –Well, don’t we all? But know what? We might be better off if we don’t.

As we know, we’re living longer, at least in the more advanced countries. Better food, better sanitation, better drinking

Centenarian Victor Duerksen, a “victor” in the very best sense. 

water, better working conditions, better medications and medical care, and better all-around everything.

One thing which would improve our chances would be fewer wars, and fewer people having to bear arms.

Right now the latest census tells us two percent of us will live to be one hundred. Women stand a better chance than we men.

For many of us, becoming centenarians may be bad news. The prospects can be grim.

We can get there but be unaware because of Alzheimer’s.  We may be incapacitated – to use the definition of gerontologists, unable to manage “the activities of daily living.” Meaning unable to walk, dress up, use the john, bathe, feed ourselves, cut our toenails, on and on. May be institutionalized, in assisted living, or in long-term care, or a nursing home, or even in hospice.

If once married, we’ll most surely be a widow or widower. Will probably have lost loved ones along the way, siblings perhaps, even children and grandchildren. May be very poor, especially if a woman. May be so unhappy with our lot that we’d welcome saying a final goodbye.

Well, I have met the Great Exception! Peter Duerksen, a pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. That’s what I call him. Yes, the Great Exception. Because he’s on his way to a hundred and one (!)  and has missed not all of these terrible realities. – that would  be just about impossible – but most

Well, I’ll tell you about Pastor Duerksen. And then you can judge for yourself whether he deserves my calling him the Great Exception.

But first, how did I meet him?  It was a strange start.  I have a friend –Dick – who’s aware I’m a vegetarian. And knows I’m always on the lookout for interesting people and things to write up.

“John, my friend.” he said one day, “Why don’t you come with me to the Seventh Day Adventist Church Saturday. Interesting service. Nice people. Always a big buffet afterward. It’s 100 percent vegetarian!”

“Sounds good, Dick. Never been to a service in that denomination.  But you mean Sunday, don’t you?”

“No. It is Saturday. At 10:30.”

Well, it turns out the Adventists – that’s what they call themselves – are a bona fide Christian denomination. But they  observe the Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week, which is what is ordained in the Bible.

And not on Sunday, which of course is the first day of the week, per our modern calendar. Which is when all other Christian denominations hold their weekly services, methinks.

And – this is interesting – they call themselves the Adventists because Christ proclaimed He would come back one day, and they pray for and live in anticipation of this great advent.

So I said “Sure, Dick. Count me in!”

He was totally right. I’m not much of a church-goer these days. But I did enjoy the service. Lots of hymns, with everybody, everybody joining in, meaning me, too. Members calling themselves Brothers and Sisters. And I got the feeling they meant it.

I did notice most of them were on the mature side though.

And a positive and uplifting talk. Not just a five-minute quickie. More like twenty-five minutes.

And yes sir, afterward that bountiful and wonderful vegetarian dinner. Potluck, with everybody bringing this or that, and most of it home-made. And very good vegetarian it was, with some dishes new to me. I had seconds of a couple of things, which is rare for me.

And Dick was there, and he fit right in, and was terrific in introducing me around.

I think some thought I might become an Adventist, and hoped that. Understandable. But not my intent.

Men and women in their Sunday best — retirees, now happily so. A Hispanic couple in their 50’s. One black lady, about that age also.  Two elderly ladies, widows undoubtedly. One guy, elderly, thin, in what seemed a shawl, with a long pony tail and equally long beard. Very friendly.One fellow, maybe two, who looked homeless. And oh, a well-dressed couple with two teen-agers. Another with a three-year-old.

In chatting, a lady in her 40’s told me she attends every Saturday, and on Sundays attends the Christian Church – that’s what it’s called – just down the street. Said she’s a Christian, the two churches are Christian, and she enjoys them both, so why not?

I met the gentleman who had preached. The lady who played the organ. The fellow who passed the donation basket. For all of them, being friendly seemed to be a way of life.

So I enjoyed the mix. And to me it said something very nice about Adventists. I wish all Americans could be like that, but it ain’t so.

At table, I was sitting next to an old man. Very old man. Seemed a nice fellow.

“Sir,” I ventured. “This is my first time here. I’m in my ninetieth year. You look a bit younger. (What a fibber I can be.)  May I ask you how old you are?”

“Why, of course. Thank you, but I’m older than you. I’ll turn 100 in three weeks. What is your name?”

I told him. I marveled — he was one hundred. And still functioning!  It was the first time I meet a man that old in such good shape.

His name was Victor Duerksen. And that’s how we became friends. I do think we are friends.

He told me he is a pastor in the church. And what a remarkable career he has had! But right now as I tell you about all that, I want you to notice the reasons I call him the Great Exception. Okay?

He walked with a walker, sure, but he didn’t need help. He was well dressed. He had all his marbles. He chatted with people. He had a good appetite. He needed no special attention. And he was having a good time.

I said to him he looked quite hale and he said, “Yes, I’m fine. Quite fine.

“But I had to give up my driver’s license 14 months ago. I was still driving, no problem. But my doctor refused to sign a letter saying I was in good shape. Told me not to take it personally. Said he’d refuse to give any old man or woman a letter like that. You know, 95 or over. Well, I accepted that.

“Folks give me a ride when I need one. Like today. And I live in San Luis Obispo!” (That’s our big city 15 miles south.)

Not sure how it came up, but he said in World War II when young men were being drafted, he reported for duty. But as an Adventist, he refused to bear arms. “So they made me a medical corpsman. Went overseas. And that’s what I did.”

Later, looking over the church bulleting more closely, I saw him listed on it as Pastor Victor Duerksen. Yes, at age 100. It was obvious his career was far from over.

He mentioned he’d be the preacher in three weeks, on the occasion of his 100th birthday. I jotted that down on my calendar.

I drove home thinking of him. I liked him. Was pleased to have met him.

And three Saturdays later went back for his big birthday. I arrived a few minutes late. He was sitting up by the altar. But had a strange hat on. Looked like a baseball cap, but with the visor cut off. I hadn’t seen that the last time. Looked odd.

The service was conducted by Elder Art Bonilla, according to the program in my hand. He was spirited. Lively. Hymns, several again, everybody standing and joining in. Then the moment for the sermon. I thought Elder Bonilla would  preach.

No. Pastor Duerksen walked to the pulpit. Using his walker, haltingly but steadily.  A small man, but fit. Determined. Then, standing at the pulpit, before saying a word, he scanned all of us, left to right, smiling and making eye contact with us.  It was obvious he was practiced at this.

“Good morning!” he said cheerily. But quickly touching his strange hat with his right hand, he asked, “Do you like it?” Not waiting for an answer,  “Well, I have skin cancer up there  now. Have to use medicine up there, don’t you know, and have to keep it bandaged. But it’s going to be okay.  Anyway that’s what they tell me. Hope you like my hat” And he smiled again.

And launched into his sermon. I checked the program. Could find no title for it. But what he did was talk about passions. Faults. Deficiencies. All human. How they can afflict us. Anger.  Jealousy. Prejudice.  Dishonesty. Laziness. Betrayal. On and on. Defining each. Giving examples. And giving practical advice.  A good talk, not only for Adventists. For anybody. For me.

And this turned out to be his 100th birthday celebration! He didn’t say a word about that. At the festive meal, we all sang “Happy Birthday!” And he was presented with candles, not 100, no room for that many, and he blew them all out. Lots of applause. Lots of good wishes.  Lots of good vibes.

I got to chat with him, just as I had hoped. “Pastor Victor,” I said, “From everything I’ve heard, you deserve your first name, Victor. You really are a victor!” And I went on a bit.

Then  said, “As for me, well, I’m a writer, yes, still a writer even in my old age. These days I like writing about people  and things that interest me. Like you, sir. I’d love to get together and chat with you.”

He looked at me sharply. “Sure. But not sure why you’d want to write about me.. There’s nothing that special about me. But I like having visitors. Come by any time.”

Gave me his address and phone number. I went a week later, calling first. “I’ll be here,” he said. “But take your time.”

A mobile home, a double-wide, attractive, in a well-maintained mobile home park. I parked. Wasn’t sure I had the right mobile home. A young woman came out. She had been on the look-out, escorted me. Many potted plants on the veranda. Very neat inside.

Pastor Victor was in a lounge chair, his legs straight out. Fully dressed. A cute small dog on his lap. He was gently stroking it. No bandage on his head. I was pleased to see that.

He said, “Pull up a chair. That one,” pointing to an upholstered chair.

Brenda, that was her name, was puttering in the open kitchen a few steps away. About 50, efficient and pleasant. She was his daily caretaker. Later she told me another lady came in at other hours, slept in, so he had coverage 24 / 7.

We talked, he and I, for more than an hour.  He spoke without hesitation, though twice mentioned he didn’t understand this fuss of mine.

He was a Californian by birth, raised in the Seventh Day Adventist faith. He had graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder. Was interested in helping people.  He became a registered nurse.  Liked being an Adventist so much he studied for the ministry. In his early 20’s he was ordained, authorized to baptize and marry and so on.

And he set out on what he called a double vocation. To spread the word about Jesus.  And to heal people spiritually and medically. He spent his whole career doing that. Always as an active pastor, and all while serving as manger of a number of hospitals, all Adventist, all over the world. Often for years at a single assignment.

In Palestine, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Mexico twice, China, Thailand, Santa Domingo, Japan, I believe. Sometimes working at more than one hospital in some of those countries.

“It was very, very good,” he said. “Exactly what I wanted.  Never tired of it.”

He married June. They had two sons. They were married 25 years. One of his sons died. He married Eileen, a widow. She had one son and two daughters. They were married 42 years. She died not long ago. Her two daughters – “my gals” – live in San Luis Obispo. That’s why he and Eileen settled there.

On all these assignments he took his family along.

He made no fuss about what he did on those assignments. But I could imagine all the challenges. Dealing with the climate differences. Learning the language. Attempting to understand the culture.  Adjusting to the new standards of living. Making his way around the new city.  Meeting community leaders.

And always doing his best to make his family comfortable and content about all this.

And at the hospital, being the C.E.O. Maintaining high standards for the best of care, budgeting, hiring, fund-raising, expanding the hospital’s reach. And of course, by setting an example and preaching, spreading the word about Jesus and The Seventh Day Adventists.

For years at a time. Then being assigned to a hospital in another country and doing it all again.

Of course, finally I asked how he felt about getting so old now.

He threw up his hands again. And shrugged. And thought a minute. “You know,” he said finally, “I’m not really interested in more years. This is my life now, sitting in my chair here.” He patted the puppy on his lap. “I’m ready. I’ve had a good life. The kind of life I hoped to have. Doing the work I wanted to do.”

I was doing my best to remember  everything he was telling me. I made no effort to take notes. I felt doing that would have spoiled our chat. Finally I asked  to take a picture or two. He shrugged, throwing up his arms again. In a sort of bafflement, but said okay.

I took a couple of pictures with my smart phone. I showed them to him. He nodded. I felt he was pleased. The one up top was the better one.

I got up to leave. He was getting tired. We shook hands. He gave me a nice smile. Remained in his lounge chair. I understood. “Come back anytime. I like company. Yes, do come back. I’ll be here.” Smiled again.

Brenda walked me out to my car. Very kind of her.

“Pastor Duerksen is a very, very good man,” she told me.

I nodded. I knew that.

~ ~ ~ ~

Later I boned up about the Adventists. The church was started in New England about 160 years ago. So quite recently. It is now an acknowledged Christian denomination … believing of course in the divinity of Jesus Christ. But yes, unique in observing the Sabbath. It now has a membership of 20 million, in countries all around the world. That amazed me.

I believe some other Christian denominations would be delighted to say the same.

What also amazed me is how many hospitals it operates. Even medical schools. Here and abroad, in country after country, and still spreading. This was all new to me. Perhaps to you, too.

Oh, being a vegetarian is not a core requirement. But Adventists gravitate to it as a humane (you know, not killing animals to eat them), healthy, and economical lifestyle. The very same reasons I’m a vegetarian.

If you want to see more fascinating stuff about them, just go to Wikipedia.com.

I was so grateful to my friend Mike for inviting me.  He had said, “Nice people. Nice service. And a nice big pot luck dinner afterward. Vegetarian!”

He was totally right.

The big surprise was meeting a centenarian gentleman who had lived his life exemplifying what an Adventist should be and could accomplish. My opinion. And who felt a hundred years is quite enough.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

Auto-Camping across the USA and back 58 years ago. Me!

This was the report I wrote of our grand adventure.  I followed it with more articles along with a series on the national parks and monuments we got to visit.By John Guy LaPlante

Yes, yours truly. With my wife Paulie and our two little kids.

All the way from Massachusetts across to California and back — 11,200 miles in a fast 42 days. Most of it was great. A few things went wrong. I wrote a zillion words to finance it. It seemed a zillion!

It was 1960. I was 31, a writer on Feature Parade, the magazine of the Worcester (Massachusetts)  Sunday Telegram. Circulation 100,000 every Sunday. An  estimated 150,000 taking at least a look every Sunday.

I yearned to see the USA. Had never been farther west than a few hundred miles from home.  I was a young dad with two little kids.

Well, with an elderly friend handy with tools, I built a folding tent trailer —  a newfangled thing back then but so wonderful for a young fellow eager to Go West!  But had to do it on a tight budget. Couldn’t afford a factory-made one.

And I wanted Paulie to share the adventure. We’d face a special challenge. We had our little Arthur and Monique behind. Unthinkable to leave them behind. Somehow we’d manage.

And I’d write stories about all that. Well, because I was a writer and that’s what writers do. Also because it would be the way to pay for our adventure. That’s the way I looked at it — a great. marvelous adventure.

Truth is, my folks and Paulie’s and some of my newspaper colleagues opined it was a wacky idea. Paulie thought the same thing when I brought it up. How fortunate I was she sided with me. I’m sure she had her fingers crossed.

But I got only two weeks of vacation. What to do?

I talked Fred Rushton, my editor, into letting me tack four weeks onto my two weeks coming up, those extra weeks without pay. And — this was key — agreeing to publish my travel reports at the magazine’s going free-lance rates. He took a week to think it over. Imagine my suspense! Then said, well okay….

Paulie taught second grade in public school, so she had the summer off. Perfect.

So with her at my side… and Arthur, just two and a half, and Monique, just one and a half, in a play pen I built for the back seat of our station wagon… and every spare inch jammed with supplies, we set out for California. Or bust. That was a few years before our little son Mark joined our family.

What kind of writing did I have in mind? First, I’d do personality profiles, but with people along the way who had a strong connection to Worcester.

For instance, an actor in Hollywood who grew up in a Worcester suburb. The manager of the L A. International Airport; he had jumped to that big job from being manager of our Worcester Airport. A young couple, neighbors of ours in Dudley, who had migrated to California, for good. And so on.

It’s that local angle which had convinced Fred Rushton to go along.

Second, I’d write about our experiences along the way, good and not so good. And also impressions of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park and other famous tourist meccas. And some far less known but worth knowing.

By the way, that long ride of ours was long, long before our fantastic Interstate Highway System. It was slow roads all the way to the Pacific and back. Through mountains and prairies and deserts and agricultural lands. And into huge cities and little towns.

Enormous hard work. For one thing, I had all these appointments that had to be respected. On this date in Detroit for this one, and on that date in Malibu for that one.

And of course we had have to find a campground each night, set up our tent trailer, cook our chow, put the kids to bed. Then get up early, rush and get ready, break camp, and hit the road again. And rush on to the next appointment.

Hard on Paulie for sure. Whenever I went in to interview someone, and take some pictures, which could take a while, she had to sit in our station wagon and mind the kids. A good sport.

We slept under canvas every single night. Some things went wrong, of course. Wouldn’t be an adventure without the possibility of that.

And lots of tension for both of us, it developed. Paulie had her way of doing things and I had mine. We both did our best to be patient and forbearing.We managed to return home on our scheduled 42nd day still happily wed.

One thing went very wrong. I hurt my back hard one night lifting a corner of our trailer with my two hands. Every night I would jack it up to make it level for a decent night’s sleep. This time I was tired and in a rush. I skipped the jack. In Polson, Montana, right on the shore of magnificent Flathead Lake..

Went to bed in great pain. At 2 a.m., excruciating.  Needed to get to a hospital. Paulie ran to a couple in a tent a hundred feet away. Total strangers. Woke them up. Explained. The startled young guy said, “I’ll drive him!”  What a Good Samaritan!

That was one of the joys of the trip — meeting so many fine people and of all backgrounds.

Well, no hospital in Polson. But were told by a parked cop there was a chiropractor nearby. Had never been to a chiropractor. I was leery. Rang his doorbell. He was sound asleep upstairs but came down to check who was ringing at such an unholy hour. Well, he did a fine job.  Had to return for two more treatments. It set our schedule back three days.

Arthur and Monique were angels all those many miles. Except Arthur one morning. We started driving. Paulie looked back to check the kids. Arthur didn’t have his shoes on. Where were they? We couldn’t find them. We had driven 20 miles or so.I made a U-turn and we went back to our campsite. Found the shoes. He had thrown them out the window!

Yes, our journey did turn out to be the wonderful, fantastic adventure I hoped for. We covered those 11,000  miles. Good weather and bad weather. Saw wonders of all kinds. Not a single encounter with a bad hombre. Came back on the 42nd day, just as planned. Triumphant and delighted. Both of us.

Recently I gave my daughter Monique a fading copy of the first big article I wrote about it when we got home.  It was the “play” article –the major article–in Feature Parade that Sunday. It ran four full pages, along with photos,  all by me. It’s the one you saw up top.

Monique surprised me by scanning it and emailing it to members of our family. Very nice of her to do that. Some had little memory of our adventure, and in the case of our in-laws and grandkids, had never heard of it.

Monique also sent me a copy of it. Reading it, I had an idea. Maybe some of you would find it interesting.

By the way, that article was just the first of at least half a dozen full-length Feature Parade articles I wrote about our trip. Also a series of some 20 articles ab0ut national parks and monuments we visited. These were published one Sunday after another in the Travel Section of the Sunday Telegram.

Reader response was enthusiastic. Fred Rushton and Nick Zook, the editor of the Travel Section, were both tickled.

Got to tell you again all those thousands of words were pounded out by me, yes, on a free-lance basis, on the side, separate from my regular writing assignments for the magazine. A darn god thing I could type with all ten fingers!

Well, in time I became editor of Feature Parade Magazine.  As boss, I had a constant stream of six issues in the works. For example, at 8:45 on this coming Friday night, the magazine would be printed for inclusion in the nearly two-inch-thick Sunday newspaper.

We published a morning paper, the Telegram. And an evening paper, the Gazette. And the huge Sunday Telegram. An enormous job. It took a payroll of 850 people to get all that done.

Different sections of the Sunday paper–the Travel Section, the House & Home Section, the Week in Review Section, the Book Review Section, and other sections, would be printed  during the course of the week. It was the only way.

And the sixth magazine in that rigid schedule of six issues at any one time might be for the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, say. So what would be a good play article to tie in with Labor Day?  Should be something new, fresh.

It might take special expertise in business or economics to write it.  So who should I get to write it?  And what should be the big front-cover photograph to kick it off?  What pages should I run the story on? And so on.

You know, I found the work so interesting that sometimes I had a hard time falling asleep at night.

But why am I telling you all this? Good question. I thought you might like this brief insight into that kind of journalism.

Of course, it’s virtually impossible for you to read my actual story as seen in that photo of it up top. If you’d like to read the article, please contact me and I’ll try to make that possible.

I said we took the trip because I yearned to see the U.S.A.  It did that. But know what Tha just fanned my yearning to travel.  I went on traveling and traveling, as some of you know, and most of it solo.

Around the world. Across the Equator and back up. Around Asia. To every country in Europe except the topmost three.

To India twice. To China four times. To France 10 times. To Mexico several times. To Brazil twice, and to several other South American countries, including Panama. To all 50 states, some several times.

And I’ve written about all of those travels. Again, that was a main incentive. In articles and books.

Well, I’ve asked doctors if they think I might have caught travelitis when I was young.  And never got over it. Travelitis? They tell me they’ve never seen a case of travelitis. Well, okay.

The good news, I tell them in case they ever diagnose it in someone else, is that travelitis totally vanishes in old, old age. Just fades away.  How about that?!

~ ~ ~ ~

 

I go visit Carl. Inmate 4389616. I’m shocked.

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — He’s a friend. Well, sort of.

Never have I been to a prison. Nor a jail.  This is a first. And what a first. So awful I end up doing something unthinkable.

San Luis Obispo County Jail. Grim and full. But why so few visitors? Strange.

Had to. I said he’s a friend, sort of. We meet now and then.

I’ve called him Carl but that’s not his name. I’ve also changed other things that might ID him. He’s in trouble enough.

Carl’s close to 70. A white man like me. Strapping, yes, and fit. Pleasant. Likes to bat the breeze.  A nice guy. You’d probably consider him a nice guy, too. A regular church-goer, it turns out.

But basically homeless. I say basically because he has an old, battered pick-up camper. It’s running and registered. Well, till now. His home for some years, I believe.

I don’t think he could get a thousand dollars for it, but it’s everything to him. Otherwise he’d be sleeping in the woods somewhere. I know some homeless here who do that.

And he keeps an old bike chained up at the back. He parks on a quiet side street. Rarely the same place twice.  Cops are

The warning leaves no doubt. In two languages. The penalties are serious.

tough on homeless here. Pull them in for “loitering.”

He takes down his bike and pedals around.  It’s common to see him doing that. His long, thick white hair held in place by his old felt fedora, which he’s never seen without.

As always, he’s got his big purple sunglasses on. He even wears them inside so they’re prescription, I guess.  Anyhow, he loves pedaling around. And he pedals hard. Not many old gents do that. Plus it saves gas.

I like to chat with people. I’ve chatted with him half a dozen times. He’s interesting. One time he said, “Hey, John, I lost my padlock for my bike. Need one bad. Know anyone might have a spare?”

I understood. His having the bike stolen would be a loss. But how can you lose a padlock? Well, I had one and gave it to him the next time I ran into him. He was genuinely surprised. “Thank you, John. Thank you, my friend!”

Another time he spotted me and said, “John, have you got $10 you can spare? Gotta buy gas to get out of town at night.

The waiting room. Surprise: nearly empty on a Saturday! Visitor Window is at far end. The wait time was awful.

You know… the damn cops! You’ll get it back. Count on it!”

I had a spare ten and handed it to him.  Again, big thanks. But I felt I was kissing it goodbye.

One day he spotted me and hurriedly pedaled over. “John, my friend, I just got my social yesterday. Been looking for you.  Here’s your ten! You’re a good guy, John.”  My respect for him zoomed way up.

In our talks he had found out I was a vegetarian. He said, “John, I go up to the Xxx Xxxxxxx Church. Kinda small, but nice people. I like the service. Makes you feel good, you know.

“And they always put out a big spread afterward. You’d have no problem sticking to vegetarian.  But why do you eat that way? Anyway, I’d be glad to introduce you around.”

“Sounds great, Carl. Count me in.”

A bit of background. I was raised Catholic. Some years ago, for three months or so, I would go to a different church

Vising room. I sat on this side. Carl on the other side. Scene of great frustration for both. Then I couldn’t get out!

service just about every other week. Presbyterian. Methodist. Episcopal. Unitarian. One time, Mennonite. And so on.

One Saturday I even went to a synagogue. There were spare yarmulkes in the lobby. I put one on my head. No problem.

A wonderfully broadening experience, visiting all these churches, to say the least.

All because of John Steinbeck and his “Travels with Charlie.” The eminent writer got himself a truck camper, much like Carl’s but fancy. That was something new back then. He wanted to tour the country and size it up. And write up his experiences. His wife turned him down for the trip, so he took Charlie, their poodle.

On Saturday he’d pull into a campground. Meet and chat with other campers. On Sunday morning he’d put on his white shirt and tie, don his blue blazer, and go to church somewhere. Always a different church. Would have a fine time. Learn interesting stuff. And he did write and publish that wonderful book about it all. A best-seller.

So that’s why I quickly said yes to Carl. I had never been to a church of that denomination. It turned out just as he described. A beautiful small church. A small congregation. Only 40 or so. Wonderful feeling of loving togetherness from beginning to end. But a long service – an hour and a half. Followed by that wonderful buffet spread.

Carl was there, of course. Greeted me. Did introduce me around. Knew quite a few of them. Leaving, I said, “A great idea, Carl! Thank you.”

Later he told me folks there had been extra good to him. He needed dental work. They sent him to a dentist and picked up the bill for him. How about that?!

Oh, he mentioned one time he’d park in the quiet lot in back at night. As a regular thing. He’d be alone back there. Less chance for the police to see him sleeping back there. The church said that was okay.

I have two or three friends who know Carl. Ten days or so ago, one, Patrick, said, “John, hear about Carl?”

“No, what about Carl?”

“He’s in the county jail. The police had a warrant. They grabbed him! He failed to make the monthly check-in with his probation officer.”

I picked up details bit by bit. Carl was a registered sex offender. He had told somebody, “She was cute. Under age. But I felt she wanted it. And I did it.” That was a felony. Trial. Was found guilty. Did a lot of time.

He was a very young man. It changed his life for the very worse till this very day. I’ll explain in a few minutes.

Over the years he also did time for other crimes, much less grievous. Not sure why or for how long. The details are hard to come by.

I decided to visit him in jail. I thought he’d be pleased to see a friendly face. And of course I was curious.

Thought I could just stop by and get in to see him. No, no. A big deal. Had to make an appointment. Online, mind you. Fill out a long form about myself. Get checked out. Finally got an appointment: Saturday at 12 noon, but I had to be there at 11:15 at the latest.

Thought that on a Saturday it would be a busy place.  The jail is at the end of a long, winding dead-end road. It’s obvious they wanted to play it down. It looks like an industrial building, with a few touches and lots of fencing and security around. It’s big – more than 600 inmates.

Only two cars in the visitor parking lot. Yes, on a Saturday. I made my way in. Long, narrow, deep room. Rows of red plastic chairs for visitors. Fluorescent lights. Registration Window at the far end.

Only three visitors. A middle-aged woman, sitting, brooding, obviously forlorn.  Another  middle-aged woman, heavy-set, tattoos, with a teen-age girl next to her. Sitting and not saying much. Three females waiting to see their locked-up menfolk. I felt bad for them. Imagine the young gal growing up with memories of this!

I walked to the Registration Window. A heavy glass plate. A uniformed officer on the others side, a woman. She nodded. “Driver’s license, please!” She was speaking through a sound system.

A steel drawer slid out in front of me. I dropped in my license. The drawer slid back in. The officer picked up my license and typed in a computer.  Gave me my license back. “Twelve noon. Please take a seat.”

“What will happen, please?  Where will I go? This is my first time.”

She pointed to a steel door over on the right, set in at a right angle. That’s why I hadn’t seen it. “Twelve noon!”

I took a seat. Looked around. A literature rack. Many pamphlets. All related to Alcoholism and Narcotics Addiction. Their symptoms. Where to get help.  On and on. Obvious that many inmates have a problem of this kind..

I saw a sort of vending machine. I took a look. You put in coins. Lots of coins. For a specific prisoner.  The money would pay for their calls out, at so much per minute.  No coins, no calls out, it seemed.

Oh, I had looked up why somebody got locked up here. It would be on a criminal complaint, so locked up awaiting trial. That is, unless they put up bail or got bailed out by a relative or friend or by a professional, expensive bondsman.

But many here were serving time after being convicted. The largest number, I think.

Carl was here awaiting trial. He couldn’t make bail. And no way could he pay a bondsman.

I had also looked up jails versus prisons. Especially the differences. Interesting. But I’ll let you Google or Bing that.

Why did I have to come so early? Seemed unreasonable. I fretted. I read some of those pamphlets. I did learn stuff.  Finally it was 12 noon. But nothing happened.

What’s this? I walked up to the woman officer behind the heavy plate glass. She pointed to the steel door.  “Open it. Go inside.”

I walked through the door. Very heavy.  I thought the two women and the teen-ager might come in, too. But they didn’t. A long, narrow room. I was alone in there.

The room was split lengthwise. Big panels of thick glass divided it in two. Fifteen steel stools were bolted down on my side. Fifteen matching stools on the other side.

Where to sit? I sat on No. 12 and waited.  Each seat had a phone. Each matching seat on the other side had a phone. Nothing happened. I waited five minutes, it seemed.

Finally Carl walked in from the far end. Alone. Saw me. Sat on the stool opposite me. Same long, thick shaggy hair. Same purple glasses. White T-shit. Orange jump suit. He nodded and smiled a wee bit.

Said something. I couldn’t hear. So he picked up his phone. I picked up mine. He spoke into the phone. I listened on mine. Nothing. He frowned. Searched for what to do next. Nothing worked. Frustrated, he held up one finger, meaning “One minute!” and walked out.

Finally returned with a male guard who gave instructions then walked out. Carl picked up his phone again. He looked at a wrist band on his left hand. Studied it. There was a number code on it, it seemed. Picked up the phone and tried. Didn’t work. Tried again.

Greatly frustrated, he again held up one finger and strode out. Finally returned with a different guard, female this time. That surprised me – a woman guard with all these men. She instructed Carl. He tried. Tried again. Zero.

I felt like screaming at her, “Why don’t you just do it for him!”

Poor fellow. Couldn’t get the sequence of numbers right or something. All the while I was holding the phone to my ear. Finally, finally, he spoke and I heard him! Whoopee!

He was sitting now. Gave me a glance but then dropped his head, held it in his hands. Long seconds went by.  It was clear. Total frustration. Total despair.

It occurred to me that in his various jailings here, this was his first time receiving a visitor. His total phone failure said it all. Must be true of a lot of inmates.

“How you doing, Carl?”

He looked up. Grimaced. Jabbed his thumb down. Muttered….

“Can’t hear you, Carl!” Yes, I have a hearing problem, still….  “Carl, turn up the volume, please!”

Bit he was having a hard time hearing me, too! He fumbled. No better. So it went. At least for me the whole session became a guessing game. This is what I made out:

How long will you be here? No idea. Waiting for a court date. Hope it’s soon.

Are you in a cell? No. Most of them are. I’m in a large room. About 80 men. No privacy.  Big TV set, pre-set, on all day. That’s good and bad.

The food? Pretty good. We go to a cafeteria.

Your biggest worry?  What the judge will decide. Anxiety big-time.

Other worries. Yes, my pick-up camper. In storage. Costing $100 per day! How will I be able to come up with that kind of money?

Sleeping okay? Big problem. At least twice every night, we have to all get up and stand in front of our bunk. They take a count. Make sure we’re all here. Awful. It’s driving me crazy.

Should I notify anybody? Yeah. For sure. Anybody who might know me. And tell them how awful this is!

With the lousy phone set-up, this had become an ordeal for both of us. And now not much left for either of us to say. I pointed to my watch, said I had to go. He nodded. Hung up his phone. So did I. Dropped his head. Long pause. He stood up. Gave me a tiny wave and walked back into whatever it was back there.

I looked at my watch. We were entitled to one hour. Eighteen minutes had gone by. I stood up. I was the only one in the room. No other visitor had come in. This on a beautiful Saturday, mind you. And 600 inmates here.

I walked back to the door. That big, heavy door. Tried to open it. It wouldn’t budge. Tried again. Impossible. Was I locked in? There was a grate next to it. Maybe I was supposed to speak into it. I spoke into it. Nothing happened. Spoke again. Nothing.

My God! Was I a prisoner in here, too!?

What to do? I strode to the far end to the heavy glass panel that you couldn’t see through. With my cane I tapped, tapped, tapped on the glass.

A man’s voice. “Go back to the door, when you hear an alert, push!”

I heard a low alert, pushed, nothing happened. I waited for the man’s voice again. No voice. Walked back to the window. Tapped, tapped, tapped.

“GO BACK TO THE DOOR. WHEN YOU HEAR THE ALERT, PUSH!!!”

I heard, went back, pushed with all my might, and the damn door opened!

I was furious. I strode to the female guard at the Visitor Window. The two women and the teen girl had left. There was just a new woman here.

I suspected the female guard was aware of the whole damn, crazy experience.  I burst out, “This has been awful! Awful!”  I wasn’t yelling. But I was damn loud. “People gotta know!”

She didn’t say a word. I couldn’t even see if she was watching.

I was getting even madder.  “Hey, I’m going to call the newspapers about this! The Trib and the New Times! Both of them!”

Now the guard stared at me. But not a peep from her. No, “Oh, that’s too bad!” No, “I’m sorry!” And that irritated me!

The new woman had come right up to me. “Do that!” she said. “Call the papers. I’m with you!”

“You a visitor?”

“No, I’m an R.N. here.  Just coming on. But you do that!”

“I will! I sure will!”

I got home and was still fuming. Rare for me to explode like that.

And the R.N. had applauded me when I said I’d call the newspapers. That told me a lot. She was on the payroll. She must know the problems.   A lot of people must have a lot of frustrations about going to visit at the jail. Hey, how come such a terrible turn-out of visitors?

The next day I followed through on my threat. Left a detailed voice mail for the editor of The Tribune. Joe Tarica. It’s a daily. Serves the whole county. Does a decent job despite the financial squeeze all daily papers are living through these days.

Then reached the editor of the New Times, a weekly. It features exposes, loves to splash a new one. Camilla Lanunh. She listened carefully. Asked many questions. I hung up feeling good about her.

My message to both: “You must do a story. And the right way is to check out the whole process. But not by going and showing your press pass \and asking a jail spokesperson a lot of questions. No, no, no.

“Go and test the system. From a visitor’s point of view.  Act like just another first-time visitor trying to get to see an inmate. Find out how difficult it is to set up the visit, then go through every step. From your first minute in there to your last.

“Look up an inmate in there. That won’t be hard. Hey, look up the one I went to see, Carl Zwink! Then go through the whole awful ordeal to get in to see him.

“Experience how awful the phone system is. I hope you’re alone in there with Carl. Or whoever else you choose. Try to get out afterward. And write it all up!”

Remember, dear reader, what I told you way up top. My experience was so bad that I felt I had to do something dramatic about it. Just had to! Well, this was it.

The next day I got a call from Matt Fountain from the Trib. Joe Tarica, the editor, had told him to check me out. I recognized his byline—a top journalist. Listened carefully. Said, “I’ll look into it. But it’s got to wait. The election. Other stuff. Thanks for sharing!”

Back in Morro Bay, I passed the story around to people who know Carl. Called an  elder at the church. He thanked me and said they have a member who visits people locked up in the jail and the prison. He’d get in to see Carl.

Oh, must tell you we also have a very large state prison here. It’s called The Men’s Colony. How’s that for a euphemism?!

It’s for felons, right up to murderers.  I’ve heard some criminals would rather do prison time than jail time. The prison has more programs of various kinds for prisoners than the jail does. More interesting. More helpful.

A few days later I was pedaling my trike through our shopping center grounds and I heard a loud “John! John!”

I looked. It was Carl. What?! He came running over. “Yeah, John, here I am. They let me out. Gave me a bus ticket.  So glad to be out of that damn place! Look!”

He showed me his right wrist, then the left one. “Look! I was in handcuffs! You can still see the marks!” He rubbed both wrists, vigorously. It seemed to help.

“Thank God, Carl! So happy for you. Congratulations! But what happened?!”

“I had a good public defender. He did a great job. He convinced the judge. The judge even eased a couple of the probation rules for me! Am I glad to be out! Boy oh boy!”

I’ve seen him a couple of times since. He knew I wanted to write a story and publish it as a blog post. I had to explain about blogging. He’s even more eager now.

“People gotta know! Use my name, John. Tell them about me and how I’ve been treated all these long awful years! How it’s ruined my life!”

“Yes. Yes. That’s what I’ll do. But I won’t use your name, Carl. I’ll disguise you. If I used your name, believe me, you might get very upset about the way some people react. This is a small place. I’ll do it my way. I insist!”

And that’s how we stand.

Here are some things I’ve learned.

He got his pick-up camper out of hock. But it cost him $1,000. And he still has $3,000 to pay. No idea how he’ll raise the dough.

He can’t drive it. His license has lapsed. He didn’t have the money to renew it. So it’s parked in some quiet corner. He uses it as his little house.

And his bike is missing. Got to buy a cheapie. Meanwhile, he’s riding the local bus here and there.

Still has to meet his probation officer every single month. Must not miss! But the public defender got the judge to loosen up on a few things.  But not enough.

His old mother lives in a neighboring town. He’d like to go visit her. But he can’t. He’d be too close to a school. Prohibited!

The main bus stop here is right at the little park on Morro Bay Boulevard, the main drag. But he can’t step on that park. Maybe kids there. Prohibited!

There are more than a dozen places in this small city he can’t go near. All prohibited!

Who can live like that? In a way, he’s living in a jail of a different kind. No steel bars. But the prohibitions are steel bars.

And local police know about him. If they caught him straying, they’d cuff him in a minute, book him, and give  him a one-way ride to the jail again.

Anyway, Carl had only a couple of bucks in his pocket. I lent him $95. What I had on me. “Thank you, John, buddy! You’ll get it back!”

It was cold out. I wondered where he’d sleep. He didn’t know. He said he’d figure something out. A man hitting 70.

I went to that little church with him again. I gave him a ride there, then drove him back. We did the service. Then the buffet. People were very nice to him. If they knew, they didn’t let on.  I was impressed.

I asked him why he didn’t let the garage that had impounded his pickup camper keep it, and thereby spare himself the $3,00 he was still obligated to pay. No, no. that camper is his little home, sweet home.

“I’ve been a freelance house painter all these years, John. A damn good one.  You know, my bread and butter work. But I’m also an artist. I like to paint nice pictures. I have a lot of paintings. They’re in my truck.”

Well, I’ve been thinking about Carl a lot. He did a stupid thing nearly 50 years ago. He admits it. He paid the price, and what a price, and he’s still paying it. And I remember his agonized protest:

“But I ain’t a criminal, John. No way! I got friends. They know I’m a good guy!”

Sure. But sadly Carl has not been 100 percent clean. He’s served time more than once, for this petty crime, then that one. He’s invited some of his suffering. As I said, the details are hard to pin down.

I do admit I’ve had a doubt or two. Who wouldn’t? Maybe I’m being conned by him. Maybe there’s a lot of dirt he’s not letting me see. But deep down I don’t think so.

For sure the biggie has been that encounter with the pretty teen-ager long, long ago.

And I’m thinking, there are registered sex offenders…and registered sex offenders. Men, sure, but women sex offenders also. Some who are much worse offenders than others.

Shouldn’t there be a sliding scale of some kind?  A stiff sentence for someone with a whole string of offenses …maybe against little children as well… true rapists, true sadists, violent and vengeful, incorrigible, a proven menace to society.

But should a youth of 20 or so, for a single offense, with a teen-age girl who seemed to want it, be branded with that for decades on end?  Someone who committed no true rape. Did not threaten or torture.  Did not do it a second time, or so I assume.

Who may be going to sleep at night in his old age worrying that that sex crime might be the headline event in his obituary one of these days?

Is that right? Can’t there be some way for someone so branded to be truly contrite, to finally shake that off … the awful label of Registered Sex Offender?! All in order to be a good and productive and reputable citizen again?

Hey, that’s how the people in his little church see Carl. Why can’t all of Morro Bay get to see him this way?

I’m no expert. But why is it that some expert hasn’t sounded off about this?

Do please tell me if you know of some true expert who has sounded off. Please.

Carl must soldier on with his enormous and unrelenting burden. It’s not like a backpack you can take off at the end of the day. There’s no let-up.  But I hope his jail days are finally over. For good. Pray God.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

$8,097 for just six hours in the hospital. Wow!

The Urgent Care Center that David rushed me to.  Monique pulled in a few minutes later. That became the first step of that long and $$$$ night.By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA – Yes. Unbelievable!

I had been waiting for the statement from French Hospital for some time. I had been a patient a few weeks earlier. Finally I got the statement. Looked right away at the bottom line. More than $8,000! Wow!  And I hadn’t even been an inpatient. Just an outpatient. A whopping mistake for sure! Must be somebody else’s statement.

Here’s the whole story. First, there’s nothing French about the hospital. It’s named for a person by that name. A lot of people get confused.

Right away I called my daughter Monique to tell her and her husband how much. David answered. She also picked up. They were the ones who rushed me to French. Had been there every minute of that.

“Well, I just got the bill. Take a guess how much. Make it high!”

“Three thousand,” David said. “Maybe three-five.”

“No, no. Eight thousand ninety seven dollars! Would you believe?!”

David whistled. Monique said, “Well, medical care IS expensive.”

“Sure, we all know that. There are complaints all the time.  But this is outrageous!”

“Yes, it is,” David said. Monique agreed. Who wouldn’t?

Well, let me tell you exactly what happened to me that night. Then put yourself in my shoes..

First, things you should know about me. I live alone. I am in my 90th year. Some of you know that but maybe you don’t. I believe I’m considered a fair and reasonable person, not given to snap judgements or blowing my top.

Now specifics about what I went through that day. It was July 17, about 4 p.m. and I was in bed. Highly unusual. I was feeling awful. My dentist had yanked a tooth two days before. Maybe that was part of it. Anyway I was miserable. Dizzy, nauseous, exhausted. So lousy that I called Monique. David picked up. He said she was at work. I told him my bad news. He got the picture right away.

“I’ll be right over, John!  I’ll make a quick call to Monique and let her know.”

They live less than 10 minutes away. He rushed over. Came right to my bedroom. Saw I was darn miserable.

“John, we’d better go to Urgent Care!”

I had been thinking the same thing. I nodded. “Yeah, David. That’s a good idea.”

The Morro Bay Urgent Care Center is three minutes away. It’s an independent, stand-alone operation. No hospital here. The hospital is in San Luis Obispo, the big city a few miles south.

David  helped me dress. First, I made sure to put my hearing aid in my left ear. My right ear is dead. Zero. He eased me into their car. Helped me up the steps into the office. It was about 4:30.

The receptionist welcomed me. Gave me a form.  A very long form. Which I filled out. Monique came rushing in. “What’s wrong, Dad?” I filled her in. “Probably a minor thing,” I told her.

An R.N. appeared. “What’s the problem, sir?” I explained. David added info of his own. Monique gave other details about me. The R.N. walked me into an exam cubicle. Looked me over. Took my temp, my blood pressure. Asked me for a pee sample, did other things.

“The P.A. will be right in,” she said. P.A. meaning Physician’s Assistant. No M.D. here.

The P.A. was a he.  In his 40’s.  Jeff was his name, I believe. Relaxed. Pleasant. Went right to work.  More questions. Did an EKG. Other tests. Finally he said, “You might have had an MI, sir.  I want you to go to the hospital.”

“An MI? That’s a heart problem, isn’t it?

“From what I can tell, yes, you may be having a heart attack.”

“Can’t be!”

“Maybe so. But we’ve got to make sure. Call 911 please.”

‘”Why 911?”

“The Fire Department will come right over. They’ll take you in their ambulance.”

“I don’t need an ambulance. My daughter and her husband will take me. Gosh, it’s only 15 miles. They’ll get me there as fast as any ambulance.”

“They’ll have a paramedic on board!  You might need a paramedic’s attention.”

“Let me think about that a bit.”

“Well, okay. If you insist. My notes will say I recommended an ambulance.”

Now I was getting even more antsy. Was I that sick?!  Monique and David weren’t smiling, I noticed.

The P.A. didn’t wait for me. He went ahead and called 911. Connected with the Fire Department. It’s only a few minutes away.

The firefighters arrived fast. They’re all trained as paramedics, it seems. These days I’ve heard firefighters respond to more medical emergencies than fires.

One, the leader, it was obvious , checked me.  A bit like the P.A. Was quite thorough. Even did an EKG. My second. Told me they’d take me to the hospital ER. Their ambulance was at the door.

The crew had brought in a stretcher for me. “Let’s go,” hc said.

“But a quick question, please. How much will this cost?”

“About $2,200. Don’t worry. Your insurance will probably cover it.”

“Thank you. Thank you very much. But I’m going to say no.  My son-in-law here is parked right outside. They’ll get me to French in no time.”

He stared at me. “Okay, if that’s what you want.”  I could see they don’t get turned down often. They began packing up. “Good luck, sir,” he said.

Monique and David gave me a hand. Got me into their car. And off we went.

I thanked the Urgent Care staff. They had done an excellent job. Glad we have it in Morro Bay. I’d spread the word about that.

We got right to the door of the E.R. in just 25 minutes. Even with two red lights. Monique rushed in to explain. Came back with an attendant. He was pushing a wheelchair. Helped me get seated. It was about 6 p.m.

At my age I’m familiar with hospitals and emergency rooms, believe me.

As expected, lengthy preliminaries. A long form to fill out.  Name and all that. My health insurance–Medicare and Blue Shield. Next of kin. My primary care physician. On and on. Documents to sign. For sure they certainly didn’t think I was in dire straits.

Finally I got wheeled down the hall and into an examination room. Monique and David had to stay behind.  An R.N. introduced herself. More questions.  Then the process got serious.  Scans. Blood draws. Hooked me up to an IV. Did this and that.

A doctor came in and introduced himself. “I’m Doctor Malcolm,” he told me pleasantly. I’ve changed his name. He was relaxed. I relaxed a bit. In fact I was feeling better.

I asked if Monique and David could join us and he said sure. Greeted them nicely. I answered his questions and Monique added a lot of info. She asked questions of her own and he answered. He didn’t act rushed and I liked that.

“Well, we’ll get right to work,” he said. Added he’d be back later, after he got all the test results and evaluated them.

As we know, everything in medicine is a specialty today. Everything. He wasn’t just an M.D. He was a board-certified emergency room physician. He was in his 50’s, I’d say. The perfect age, in my opinion.  Old enough to be thoroughly experienced. Young enough to still be keeping up with medical developments. I felt good about him.

Some of the tests involved big machines.

I was alone in the beginning. Then Monique and David came and sat with me. I rested and relaxed a bit and dosed and they stayed with me through all that.

Dr. Malcolm came back very late, close to midnight. In fact, midnight came. Monique and David were still with me. I asked if they could listen in.

“Sure. Absolutely.” And gave them a smile. A friendly fellow Dr. Malcolm.

He looked at me. “You’re going to be all right, sir. But you have two problems.” I held my breath.

The first was dehydration. That was certain. The second was tentative. Possible angina.

I could accept the first. The second, no. Angina hurts. I didn’t feel any chest pain. Ever.  Even when I rode my trike hard, which was every afternoon. I told him that. He nodded. “That’s good.”

“But we have to make certain. I want you to see Dr. Schingler soon. I am sending him all my findings.  And I want you to see a cardiologist. To definitely do that!”

Dr. Schingler (true name) is my primary care physician. Knows me well. I like him. We have a nice relationship. But the cardiologist? He gave me her contact info. Yes, a lady. No problem with that though I doubted strongly I had a need. But I said yes, I’d go see her. I wanted to be cooperative.

Monique and David had been listening to all this. Monique had asked questions of her own. David added input. Dr. Malcolm was patient and pleasant. I liked him.

And I had been greatly impressed by all the technology I’d just been through. I saw them doing routine things but with ways and equipment all new to me. Ultra-technology, that’s what I thought it was. Fantastic technology. And I told him so. He  nodded and smiled.

There was one other thing. Very interesting. Dr. Malcolm had trained back in Massachusetts, in fact, in Worcester. The second largest city in New England.  And talk about an interesting coincidence. Just at that time when he was training, I was an editor at the Worcester Telegram-Gazette. The T&G was the big morning and afternoon and Sunday newspaper that served that whole area. We got chatting about all that.

And there was a wonderful store back then, sold all kinds of stuff, unique, enormously popular, people shopped there from all around. It was called Spag’s.  Spag was the owner. He loved spaghetti! People loved Spag and his store. I was a regular there.

Dr. Malcolm smiled. “I remember!” he said, nodding. “Yes, Spag’s!”

But getting back to all that technology, I had an important point to make. “Yes, it’s all very, very impressive, this high-tech stuff, Doctor. Except one thing, There’s still one thing here that’s still old-fashioned. Very old-fashioned.”

He stared at me. He was wondering if he had heard right. “And what’s that?”

“It’s this,” I said, and pointed to the johnny I was wearing. The johnny  that I had been told to change into when things got serious.

“Doctor,” I said, “this johnny hasn’t changed one bit. One bit in more than 50 years!  Oh, maybe the cloth is better.  But it’s really the same, same  old johnny. It really is.?

If, dear reader, that word is not familiar to you, “johnny” is what it’s called back where I come from. I’ve found in other parts of the country they just call it a hospital gown.

Well, way back when I went to a hospital when I was just 20 or 21, I was given a johnny to put on.  I’ve had to go to hospitals many times over the years. Same old johnny every time. Unchanged.

Dr. Malcolm was all ears.

And I told him when I was in a hospital back in Connecticut, about four years ago,  I had had to put on a johnny again. Looked at it and thought, I can do better than this!

Did some serious thinking. Designed a new johnny. Had a seamstress make one,  then another, then a third, each better. And finally came up with my current johnny, which I must tell you still closes at the back.

That’s the essential feature that has made the johnny so popular these many years. But mine is improved also in several important ways.

For one thing, you no longer have to walk around with one hand in back to keep your fanny covered!

In actual fact, my design’s important innovations  became such a dramatic breakthrough that I applied to the U.S. Department of Patents and Trademarks to protect the name I had given it. Which is MedGown. Spelled just like that.

And told Dr. Malcolm  I’ve been working to promote the MedGown. Far better for patients. Far better for doctors and nurses also.

He had been listening intently. Maybe he thought the old design was just fine. Maybe because he never had to wear one. Truth is, health professionals who have seen it have complimented me. Overdue!

But no time to tell you about all that here. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll tell you the whole story.

Anyway, all this chatting had taken a lot of minutes. It was close to 1 a.m. when we left. In parting, Dr. Malcolm wished me good luck. A nice fellow. I was pleased to thank him for his concern and expertise, which were very real.

Monique and David took me home.  This ride back was a lot more relaxed though David is never a slowpoke. They helped to get me ready for bed, then said goodnight. I was feeling a lot better. They had come through marvelously for me again. Lucky me.

In the morning I called them, as usual. They both picked up. “I’m feeling much, much better,” I told them. “But you know, maybe there was no need for such a big to-do.”

“No. No!” Monique said. “That was the right thing to do.” David said the same thing and added. “Rest today. John. Rest!”

“I will!” And I meant it.

I did follow through and saw Dr. Schingler. He had read Dr. Malcolm’s report.  He checked me over. He told me,”You’re going to be okay, John. But do go see that cardiologist.”

I did see her. I’ll call her Dr. Robbins. I did go see her for a treadmill stress assessment. I had gone through one some years ago.  Knew what if was all about.

When she saw me for the first time, which was on the morning for the test, she paused. Said they could get the same results in a different way, without putting me on the treadmill. I could see she thought I wasn’t up to the treadmill.

But I said, “I’d really prefer to do the treadmill, Doctor.” She said okay. She wasn’t enthusiastic.

Well, I did remarkably well on the treadmill. I could see she was impressed.  My daily workout on my trike has been fun and good in several ways. That was the main reason I impressed her. When I got the results, it confirmed what I thought. No heart problems.

Well, as I said, it took days, but finally my statement from French Hospital arrived.  And  you know I was stunned by the huge $$$ bottom line.

I called French immediately. Asked for “Billing.” Finally reached the right person. She listened.

I mentioned I had been in Emergency about six hours. And much of that had been waiting for this and waiting for that.

“You were here two days, sir!”

“No, no. Just six hours or so.”

She insisted. “The record shows you were here two days!”

“No, no, no. Just six hours or so!”

I saw I was up against a brick wall.  Finally I said, “Please send me an itemized statement of every test, every service that I got at the hospital and was charged for. And the dates. And when can I expect that, please?”

“Certainly. We’ll be glad to do that. It will take up to 15 business days.”

“That long?”

“Yes.”

“Well, okay, I guess. Thank you.” That ended the conversation.

Well, I have it in hand. The hospital’s final breakdown:

–          Laboratory. Four tests. $162.

–          Lab / Chemistry. Six tests. $3,357.

–          Lab / Hematology. $581.

–          Dx / X-Ray / Chest. $210. (Dx – what is that?)

–          Emergency Room. $3,021.

–          Pharmacy. $108.

–          EKG. $658.

–          Grand Total: $8,097.

Now, dear reader,  please tell me. What ordinary Joe or  Jane can make any sense of all that?!

I’m especially curious about that charge of  $3,021 for the Emergency Room. That’s a biggie! I wonder what exactly, precisely. was that for, in detail?! Hard for me to imagine. Your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, the statement clearly says that I was there two days, July  17 and  18. In actual fact, I was there  just that one hour on the 18th when Dr. Malcolm signed his report and we chatted about Worcester and all the technology and my MedGown. The statement acknowledges all the services did take place on the 17th.

So as I understand it, I wasn’t charged for the second day that I thought I was being charged for. Thank God.

Thank God also  that I skipped the Fire Department’s ambulance ride. You heard the more than $2,000 estimate I was given for that. Also thank God I declined Dr. Malcolm’s suggestion that I remain in the hospital for monitoring and further treatment. Imagine how the final dollar total would have ballooned!

I haven’t mentioned the Urgent Care’s bill. The fact is I did not remember paying a bill from it.  I stopped by a couple of days ago.  Was told Medicare had paid for it. And how much was that, I asked.

“Just $56.”

Had I heard right? “Yes, just $56.” In its tiny way that was as incredible as the hospital’s huge total.

And here’s what the final breakdown from French Hospital showed:

Medicare paid the big part. The exact sum is not mentioned. Blue Shield, my secondary insurance, paid the lesser part. That isn’t mentioned either. So what did I  wind up having to pay? Just $50!

So, you may be wondering,  gosh, why have I gone through this awful process of investigating and complaining? With such a small copay, hardly worth the effort.

You’ll probably think I should have dismissed the whole horrible thing and have thanked my lucky stars for my fine coverage. Right? Why bother?

Well, I feel Medicare is being shafted. And so is my secondary provider, Blue Shield. And so are we taxpayers and insurance buyers.

Well, I’m not a solitary example. There are many other folks. Thousands. With far more expensive and disturbing hospital experiences than mine. I firmly believe there’s a lot of tightening up that’s needed through the whole system, and at every step.

You agree now?

I just did a bit of math. Six hours is 360 minutes, right? And $8,097 divided by 360 minutes is $22.49  per minute.  Okay, maybe that bit of arithmetic was kind of a crazy thing to do. But I just had to satisfy my curiosity.

I feel like sending a report about all this to both the president and CEO of the hospital. And to my U.S. senators and congressman. And the director of Medicare and the director of Blue Cross. And even Dr. Malcolm. And a couple of big newspapers. That would give all of them something to think about.

But maybe those in the hospital business would just say, “This is what good care costs, Buddy!”

Truth is, one more concern is running through my mind. Were all those tests really necessary? For instance, the EKGs duplicating those by Urgent Care and the paramedics. And other expensive tests by the hospital. Really necessary? Maybe yes. Maybe not. Oh, perhaps necessary in the opinion of the doctors and others who bill for them.

Why so? For some of them — I certainly will not say all —  the juicy profit incentive may be hard to resist. My opinion.

I’ll bet every day countless Americans are stunned to receive whopping medical / hospital statements like mine. And even worse. Bitterness and cynicism and resentment are the result. Very sad.

Especially when we find out a number of other countries provide better medical care for far less money.

That’s an established fact, folks.

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2019 Calendars, Calendars, Calendars …. Whew!

 

Here are the nine calendars I scooped up. My favorite? Row 3, Calendar 3!

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA – This is an update on the humongous, incredible envelope of junk mail I got from Boys Town.

All the goodies in that envelope, you may remember, had a Christmas / New Year’s theme.

Those goodies included several calendars, all big, all glossy, all beautiful, all very practical. Who’d toss them out? I don’t have any statistics but I’d guess darn few. Boys Town sent me several. All different designs. I believe they send everybody several. Why so many?

Well, maybe some people would put one up in the kitchen, another in the study, maybe another by the washing machine, you know, to keep track of how often they do a wash. Maybe one by the scale to record their weight every Saturday, maybe one in the car to record grease jobs, tire rotations, weekly mileage, so many things.

Truly I’ve been amazed to see how many other charities and philanthropies and non-profits have been mailing out calendars. All with a Christmas / New Year’s theme. I said “amazed” because it is amazing. There’s a flood of them. I had no idea.

And all these outfits are asking for something back. Usually a cash gift, of course. If nothing else, to make themselves known and to make a good impression.

It’s obvious  to me now why such calendars have become such a prime, hi-payback fund-raising tool. Because people keep them, use them a lot, often daily, and the calendars look good on the wall.

They use them to see if it’s a nephew’s birthday or someone’s anniversary or the time to make an appointment or pay a bill or to receive somebody’s rent or get their eyes examined or change the oil in the car, or to jot down something, on and on.

And every time they look at the calendar, every time they jot something on it, they are reminded of that outfit.

The outfit’s name is pounded into their memory every time. Yes, every time. Psychologists would call it a subtle, subliminal thing, I think. The outfits love that.

I’m not sure, but I have the feeling all these calendars are being produced by the same company, though I don’t find a name anywhere. Think of producing all those calendars just for New Year’s! They must start printing them in January.

Here’s how I became aware of this plethora of New Year’s calendars.

Our Senior Center is wonderful in all the services it provides. Here’s one small example. In the lobby there’s a big display of nice greeting cards, for all occasions. Only 10 cents. Imagine that.

Here’s another. There’s a big glass showcase. It  displays a gorgeous assortment of one-of-a kind scarves and caps and doilies and even booties or baby blankets. All knitted or crocheted by enthusiastic lady members. All offered at prices so cheap what they get doesn’t even pay for the yarn. And with every penny going to the Senior Center!

Here’s a third. There’s also a box with a tempting sign on it. It says “Take It If You Want It!” There are a lot of lookers.

Well, on Tuesday I took a look… and among other things I found a lot of 2019 Calendars. More than a dozen. All dropped in by people who didn’t need them but didn’t want them wasted – you know, too nice to toss out. I scooped them up, curious about this whole calendar / fund-raising business.

So who was mailing them out? Well, here’s the list.. Boys Town, of course. Concerned Scientists. The American Heart Association. Human Rights Watch. USO. Four Paws. Habitat for Humanity. Alzheimer’s Association. Easter Seals. These were the major ones.

I took them home. And I decided to take a photo of the major ones because that way you’d get a better idea.

And of course each “sender” is doing its best to send out the most beautiful, enticing calendar possible. They want people to keep them! Want people to trash any received from competitors! But not theirs!

A lot of people receive calendars. All as  junk mail, meaning not solicited. maybe somebody else would like them. In fact, in the box I saw three copies of a calendar from one outfit, and two from another.

I go to the Senior Center every Tuesday and Friday. That was Tuesday. Today I took another look in the box. And saw even more calendars than the first time. Some published by outfits I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t bother to take any of those home.

I’d find it interesting to know how many people are finding calendars in their mailbox. Must be thousands and thousand. Junk mail to some. But nice-enough-to keep junk mail to others.

Have you received a calendar? Maybe two? What has been your reaction? I’d love to hear.

Wish I knew how much money these outfits are raking in from these calendars. Must be a huge take. There are a lot of generous folks out there.

Of one thing I’m sure.  Whoever first got the idea of using calendars as a dandy fund-raiser made the Hall of Fame in the American Fund-Raisers Association.  A genius was he. Or she.

Oh, must confess I made up that association. It’s a fiction. But I’ll bet such an association does exist.

Me? I’m keeping only one. The Four Paws calendar. Only because every page  in it shows a big photo of a gorgeous animal. All exotic animals. Photographed by top photographers. You know, National Geographic-league photographers. A calendar just too nice to trash. I’m keeping it by my easy chair. I’ve always loved animals.

But Four Paws was the only outfit in the nine I knew nothing about. Zero. Now I’m terribly embarrassed.  I didn’t know what kind of non-profit Four Paws is. I just Googled it. Well, it’s not a non-profit. It’s a for-profit company! I blushed when I spotted that. It sells things like Four Paws Wee-Wee Puppy Pads and Four Paws Dog Cologne and so on. Wow!

But then I discovered there’s a different Four Paws, thank goodness. It’s Four Paws International!  Which has the very same logo. Which is soo confusing. Well, methinks it’s a spin-off — a non-profit foundation. And it has a single goal, it says. A noble goal: “to help animals who have been abused for entertainment, economic, scientific or other reasons … and we advocate and champion for such animals.” It develops this noble theme at great length.

Even President Trump wouldn’t tweet anything wrong about that. Well, except if the Democrats jumped on the Four Paws Foundation bandwagon first. Then he’d tweet something awful, for sure.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful theme which makes me feel a lot, lot better even though, like all the other non-profits, it solicits $$$ from us to carry on this good work. Anyway, I still like its calendar.

Truth is, I have to acknowledge something else. Sure, I use a calendar an awful lot. For a great many of the things I mentioned above. But I do it all with my smart phone.

Not only does my phone have an excellent  calendar. It even notifies me of an appointment two days ahead of  time, say. And reminds me of some repeating things from month to month, and  even carries birthdays and anniversaries over from one year to another. You may have one. And that may nix your need for a paper calendar.

I hope Boys Town and Alzheimer’s and Habitat for Humanity and the others are not heart-broken to hear that. They’re all good outfits. My opinion.

If they found out I have a smart phone, they’d start sending me weekly emails, I bet. I’m going to keep mum.

I’ll definitely bet I’ll be on Boys Town’s list for its 2020 calendar.  I sent them a check. Just a token amount. But that makes it a sure thing.

And as for the eight other calendars I brought home to photograph, I’ll put them right back in that Take It If You Like It

box at the Senior Center on Tuesday. Maybe others will scoop them up.

Hope I get the Four Paws calendar next year. But I don’t have a puppy, so I’m not in the market for wee-wee pads. And I’m not planning to send Four Paws International a check. So that’s that, I suppose.

But hey, maybe I’ll be lucky and find their 2020 calendar in that Take It If You Like It Box! With photos of different animals. Especially gorillas. I love mugshots of great big laughing gorillas.

Hope you like my photo….

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That junkmail I just got. Oh boy oh boy!

By John Guy LaPlante

Incredible all the stuff Father Boes sent me. Right away I saw what he was up to.

I’ve received tons of junk mail over the years. Haven’t we all? But nothing like this, ever.

I get my mail in a shoebox-size mailbox in a bank of 50 of them.

With its locked door open, it’s 7 high and 5 inches wide. Totally adequate even for magazines.

This time I was startled to see a huge white envelope wedged in there kitty-corner. Humongous.

Charlie, my mail carrier (not his true name), must have had a devil of a time stuffing it in there. Charlie is a gentle guy but I’ll bet that knowing he was alone, he did some real cussing.

What’s that, I wondered when I saw it. Who can that be from?

I had to tug and tug to pry it out. In fact, I’m a gentle guy, too, and I cussed, too, a rare thing.  And know what, I badly ripped one side of the darn thing in wrenching it out.

Big surprise! It came from Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in Boys Town in Omaha, Nevada. Boys Town is famous. Goes way back a hundred years. But why are they sending this to me?!

A strong suspicion popped up in my mind. I’ll wager you have the same suspicion. They want money!

I opened the envelope the minute I got home. It was jammed full with an astonishing variety of stuff. Eighteen different items! No room for a 19th!

All beautiful. All top quality. All themed to Christmas! You’d be amazed to see it all.

–       Two 2019 calendars. But why two?

–       A 2019 daily planner. Nicest I’ve ever seen.

–       Six gorgeous Christmas cards, all different. One with a big, beautiful LaPlante printed on it. Wow!  All with stunning matching envelopes, of course.

–       A large sheet of To / From labels, some bigger, some smaller. Which is nice to have.

–       Then a sheet of 24 beautiful decorative greeting labels.

–       Next two sheets of “FROM” labels, 24 to a sheet. My name and address printed on each one! Too nice to toss out.

–       And most impressive, well, to me, was “A Certification of Appreciation to John LaPlante for his support in helping the boys and girls of Boys Town.” With my name in big, distinguished lettering. Like what you find on a diploma.

Signed by Father Steven E. Boes himself, the national executive director of Boys Town. Notice, “national” executive director. That’s because now there are 12 Boys Towns, all over the country, and all doing the same fine work.  Father Flanagan would be so pleased to hear this.

At a quick glance, the certificate did pass as a diploma. So impressive. It deserved to be framed. You know, for everybody to admire. Who doesn’t want to be admired?

Mind you, I haven’t done anything to deserve this huge envelope with all these goodies. Quite optimistic, that Father Boes.

Then a letter for me to read. Entitled “My Story.”  Nearly a thousand words, rich in details. Told by a boy named Robert. Nice picture of him up at the top. Clean-cut white boy. About 14 or 15. A good-looking kid.

Robert – not Bob, I noticed — tells his story in plain English, which you’d expect of a teen-ager.  I read every word. A talented writer, this young Robert.

A very, very sad story. And in many ways. Robert was in a bad fix. Nobody to turn to.

But Boys Town took him in, lucky kid. They straightened him out. Put him on the right and sure road to success. And graduating, he went out and proved himself as  a good and promising young citizen.

He didn’t believe in miracles, Robert writes. But now sees miracles are possible.

Which is exactly what Father Flanagan sought to do. Transform boys from bad to good. He looked at boys differently. He  once said, “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.”

Father Boes, I can see, was inspired by him and carries on in the same spirit.

Yes, Boys Town does great work,  he says. Yet Boys Town never, never would be able to continue that same great job without the financial support of concerned and caring people. Like me.

We kind folks make a powerful and essential difference, he says. Unfortunately, I haven’t given Boys Town a dime so far.

But it’s obvious Father Boes knows I’m a good guy. That I realize I might have grown up in a bad way like Robert. Sad to say, there are a lot of boys out there, and girls now, too, just like Robert. They desperately need and deserve help but have no idea where to get it.

This is  his Christmas Appeal, and Father Boes appeals directly to me. He starts, “Dear John….” Which is nice.   Tells how Boys Town continues Father Flanagan’s vital work. Which was to rescue children who’ve been abused, abandoned or neglected.  Which was wonderful.

Says Boys Town now has been carrying on in that same noble spirit for more than 100 years.  And last year provided direct care to 79,209 children!

“This Christmas,” he writes, “I hope you are able to help us with the children who God has entrusted into our care. May God bless you and your loved ones.” And signs off by invoking God’s blessings upon me.

Father Boes says all this much more nicely than I ever could.

For my convenience he has supplied a form. And I can make a gift of any size I want. A one-time gift. Or a monthly gift. Or a quarterly. I can send a check. Or I have a choice of four national credit cards.

And again to save me time and inconvenience, he has included two fine ballpoint pens. Beauties, with no advertising message printed on them, which surprised me. But why two?  In case I lose one, I suppose.  Well, very thoughtful.

As I looked at all Father Boes’ goodies, I marveled at how much I’d have to dish out if I went out and bought them all on my own.. And think of all the time I’d have to spend. And doubtful I would find as nice.

Of course, I’m confident thousands of good people like me are receiving this huge envelope right now. Maybe you have, too, or will.

Yet, I’m still puzzled. Why does Father Boes send me this delightful gift of two of this and three of that? Not just one. Could be he doesn’t want me to run short.

Sure, I could use some but maybe not all. I wouldn’t toss it out. That would be wasteful.  So I’d gift it.  I’d feel good doing that. And I’d also feel good spreading the word about Boys Town.

And the more that friends heard of its fine work, the more boys and girls like Robert would get transforming help.

Isn’t that so?

Yes, I’ve known about Boys Town for years.  I remember it from the wonderful movie, “Boys Town” in 1938. Starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.  Which I got to enjoy much later.

If you haven’t heard of Boys Town’s noble work, let me give you key details.

It was founded in 1917 by Father Flanagan there in Omaha. Born in Ireland, by the way. A man of great charm and-enormous talents.

One day he ran into a boy who was carrying a smaller boy on his shoulders. Quite a burden. But the boy doing the carrying said, “Oh, he isn’t heavy, Father. He’s my little brother.”

Father Flanagan was touched. He glowed. Re-told the story often and it has been passed along and passed along. And made lots of people glow.  It made me glow. Now there’s a little drawing of that boy carrying his little brother in everything Boys Town publishes, it seems.

A few years back Boys Town got another great idea. Like Robert, a lot of girls need help, And Boys Town accepted that challenge enthusiastically. So donations help boys and girls now.

I suppose it would have been awkward to start calling the school Boys and Girls Town. And Kids Town never would have worked. So it’s still Boys Town.

But the way so  many women are now demanding full equality, it seems inevitable some will protest that that name is unfair. Might sue. Wonder if Father Boes loses sleep over that?

Oh, its work has been greatly expanded. It used to serve only kids of middle school and high school age. Now it takes them in much younger as well.

Now it serves all kinds of “at risk” children. The risks can be of many kinds. It provides much more than just schooling now. It also tackles social and psychological problems. Has a much enlarged mission. Now it proudly states, “Serving Children … Healing Families.”

Father Flanagan was marvelously innovative.  He made Boys Town a true town, even with a boy mayor and councilors.

A town with a police department, post office, public services. With its own schools, athletic facilities, library, gym. All the usual sports and clubs. A total package of academic and athletic and social programs.

He didn’t house the boys in dormitories. No, no. He put them up in nice houses, real homes, eight or ten in each. And each has man and wife “parents” who have a full parental role in every way.

They oversee the kids in all their activities. Praise them when they do well and coach them when they need support. This also give the kids an important sense of “family.”

He developed and implemented novel ideas. He spoke in many cities and states and numerous countries, including his native Ireland. Where he found its ideas about educating children deplorable, by the way. He  changed people’s thinking.

He is buried on the grounds of Boys Town. Was so highly regarded as a hard-working and highly motivated priest that the Vatican is moving him along on the long path to sainthood. Truly, Boys Town has become widely recognized for doing a classy job.

I’ve spent a lot of time boning up on all this. The one scandal I’m aware of over its many years is of a former supervisor a few years ago getting convicted of molesting a Boys Town child.

Now back to Father Boes’ Christmas Appeal. The sum of the charitable gifts it takes in every year is enormous. For instance, its 2016 annual report said that Father Flanagan’s Fund for Needy Children provided $44,782,000 of  support. !!! And 86.36 percent of every dollar received was spent on the care of children.

A key tool (there are others) in achieving that is the huge envelope I just received. Every item top quality. Every item useful. All of it personalized. My name on it time and again. Very expensive to produce. Just the Post Office’s bill must be staggering.

Well, I had no intention of making a contribution. It’s a good cause. I’ll make one, and I’m sure Father Boes will be disappointed. But it’s better than zilch.

Thousands of others will also, and I’ll bet Father Boes will be tickled by the final tally.

And know what? All of us will get a personal thank you from Father Boes, even the smallfries like me. And he’ll be so pleased that he’ll send me—and the thousands of other donors–another big envelope next year and the next year. Until he finds out that mine has become undeliverable, if you know what I mean.

Obviously Father Boes and his team are masterful fund-raisers. Everything is carefully calculated.  For one thing, notice his timing.  It’s the first Christmas solicitation I receive this year. Guaranteed I will receive others. Father Boes made sure to get a jump on the competition.

Gosh, how did I make Father Boes’ list? That occurred to me, of course. As I said, I have no connection to Boys Town. So how come?

Well, I know. Father Boes’  knows all about buying lists of names from name-listing services. Such as MailChimp. There are a number of them.

You just tell them what kinds of people you want to mail to. Give them basic criteria of the people  you’re looking for: occupation, education, age, key interests. For example, important data may be their religion, what publications they subscribe to, what stores and companies they deal with, their credit rating, what other charities they may support, maybe even their political leanings.

These list services have an amazing range of customers. Amazing the different outfits that mail to me.

And these list sellers will sell you all the names you want, at so many dollars per thousand. I’m confident Father Boes buys names this way. I made the list he wanted.

Yes, I’ve been calling it junk mail. We all call it junk mail, don’t we? But what is junk mail? It’s mail that we’ve not requested.  Unsolicited mail that wants to sell us something. Or do something, such as vote for so and so.

Some of it indeed is junk. Often I toss it before even opening it. I recognize the sender and have zero interest.But often I do open a new offering just out of curiosity. And know what? I’ve gotten junk mail I’ve found interesting and useful and have signed up for what they’re peddling. As I have for Father Boes’ and Boys Town..

Sometimes I open something from a known vender just because I’ll enjoy reading it and believe I’ll buy nothing.

In my case examples are mailings from Harbor Freight and Haband Clothes and AARP and sundry travel companies.  I enjoy looking them over. And sometimes I say yes. As I will to Father Boes now.

How about you? How do you feel about junk mail?

Unfortunately, I’ll keep little of Father Boes’ goodies in that envelope. Certainly his gold Thank You Certificate to me. The one that looks like a diploma.

But just as a souvenir of this blog post I’ve had fun writing. And I’ll pass along the other stuff. Too nice to just trash.

An interesting thing. At our Senior Center I had quite an experience. There’s a box of freebies there. People put in stuff they don’t need. Others look in for nice freebies.

I looked. And found Boys Town stuff in there from others like me who got Father Boes’ envelope. And  I decided that’s where I’m going to leave my Boys Town stuff.

But that made me think of Charlie, my mail carrier. He must have cussed more than once delivering those envelopes to others on his route. Poor guy!

Anyway, I hope you have a bigger mailbox than I do. Just in case.

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Is it okay to ban books? Or is it not?

 By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — What a hot potato!

This is the dramatic exhibit in our library. Other libraries all over the country are doing the same thing as part of Banned Book Week.

Some good and really well-motivated people believe that it is okay to ban books. Not just nuts do.

Others feel it’s evil and fight it fiercely.

I stand with those who think it’s awful.

Why am I bringing this up today?  Simple. At our public library I spotted a powerful display that featured three books that had been banned.

The three were side by side. All open. And look at the word plastered over them. Who could miss that?!

More than that. The display listed some 300 books right here in our own library network that had been banned.

And on exhibit below that were about a dozen of these books. Powerful indeed!

It was all so fascinating. So provocative. I’ll blog about this, I thought. And took the picture  to show you.

The three featured books from left to right are:

— “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits,” published in 2006, by novelist Ayelet Waldman,

— “An Introduction to French Authors,” 1894, all in French by the way, by Alphonse N. Van Dall, a celebrated professor of literature back then.

— “The Hymnbook” of the Presbyterian Church USA, MCMLV, a collaboration.

Looking around and sure that no librarian was watching, I took the liberty to skim through all three of them. Impossible to be thorough, of course. But all were inoffensive, I decided finally, and put them back.

Still, I scratched my head and wondered, What in God’s name could have been so vile and awful about these books that somebody felt compelled to step up and “challenge” them? And managed to get them banned!

Here’s something interesting.  I just looked up that Ayelet Waldman novel at Amazon.com and know what? It’s easily available. You can buy it as a paper book or even an e-book. The paper edition sells for less than $6. And it boasts more than a hundred reviews, many calling it wonderful, terrific.

So: all those banned books that I cited have outlived their banning. No doubt about it.

This display was a part of the ALA’s annual Banned Books Week. The American Library Association, very powerful indeed, has been fighting banning for years.

Please notice I used the verb “challenge.” In this context it means to officially demand that something be suppressed, in this case books. The person challenging has to give a reason, which makes sense.

Well, I went digging. People get steamed up for so, so many reasons. Here are the top 20. Brace yourself:

Anti-ethnic, cultural sensitivity, racism, sexism, anti-family, nudity, offensive language, drugs / alcohol / smoking / gambling, games,  violence, suicide, sexually explicit, political viewpoint, occult / satanism, inaccurate, technical error, and others….

Wow!

Well, as some of you know, I have published three books. Copies of them are on the shelves in this library.

It’s doubtful yet conceivable that some crackpot might get inflamed by something he / she spotted in one or another of my books. I do express many an opinion in them. And the crackpot would begin yelling, “Ban this awful, awful book by LaPlante! Right now!”

Without a doubt some authors at one time or another do get uptight about such a possibility and keep a bottle of sleeping pills at their bedside just in case. It could imperil their career. I do not keep sleeping pills by my bed, I assure you.

To ban or not to ban has been a hot potato ever since our earliest days, long before we became a republic — before our Founding Fathers. Even going back centuries earlier on the other side of the Atlantic to when Martin Luther in 1517 nailed his theses on the cathedral door —  and made history that shapes our thinking to this very day. He paid a heavy price. But it launched the Reformation.

It’s impossible to talk about banning books without talking about burning books. To ban a book means to say, “Naughty, naughty, naughty!” Burning books — putting a match to them — is far worse. No need to say more.

Who decides to ban a book? Often parents will fight to ban a book used in class in order to protect their kids. A troubled reader. Or a private school that finds something awful.  Or churches. Or political groups. Even a country will.

Fanatics, for sure, but as you see also some very well-intentioned people and groups have clamored to ban books, and often have succeeded.

The most notable anti-banning group for sure has been the ALA. It sees banning as blatant censorship. Working with its thousands of public libraries, it has had an enormous impact.

Other powerful groups have joined the fight. The Association of American Publishers. The American Association of Booksellers. The American Society of Journalists and Authors. And others. Easy to understand why.

What we may not realize is that through our First Amendment and its successive interpretations, the freedom for anyone to publish has been strengthened. And for us to read. How fortunate we are.

Yet keeping pace all the while has been the effort to ban books. Ban! Ban! Ban!

It’s amazing how many hundreds of books have been banned, including many greatly esteemed and written by eminently successful writers.

Here is just a tiny sampling:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

—  Anne Frank, the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

—  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin.

Another Country by James Baldwin.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

To repeat, this is just a smattering. All these were banned on “social” grounds, mind you. Threatening our society, I guess.

Here is the official stance of the ALA:

“To actively advocate in defense of the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“A publicly supported library provides free and equal access to information for all people of that community.

“We enjoy this basic right in our democratic society. It is a core value of the library profession.”

Amen! The ALA has been fighting the good fight for 23 years. I applaud it.

Here are the four steps that the ALA insists we take if we agree that banning is bad.

  1. Stand up for our rights!
  2. Read a Banned Book!
  3. Defend the First Amendment!
  4. Protest Banning!

And not just now during Banned Book Week!

The ALA’s good news is, and I quote, “due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students, and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.” Bravo!

Yet I confess I have reservations. Sure, I’m against banning as a general policy.

But if I said I opposed it unconditionally, that would mean I would have to be open to and be tolerant of some awful stuff. Pornography. Sadism. Inflammatory rhetoric. Debauchery. Obviously flawed and untruthful garbage. On and on.

Again keep in mind that the First Amendment gives us all the right to read whatever we like.

I know I sound contradictory. Let me explain a bit more.

For general books and all around reading matter in a public library, meaning newspapers and magazines and also CD documentaries and movies, I see no problem.

How come? Well, someone in any public library system decides which books and items to purchase and stock. Every public library has a budget that has to be respected. And any library has only so much shelf space. The only library we have that has the ability and makes it a point to stock everything is our Library of Congress in Washington.

And that professional librarian who specializes in selecting books to buy (probably a committee is involved) selects for a middle ground. Nothing to the extreme left or the extreme right. Everything in a safe and reasonable in-between.

So in effect that person is saying yes or no. And in effect is banning by rejecting.

See my point? Do I make sense?

Thinking about all this, I was startled to remember that I banned a book at one time. In fact it was a kind of “burning.” Yes, me!

I was 14 or 15. Loved book-reading, as I do now. I was a kid in a Catholic prep school. A boarding school. And I came into possession of a book that shocked my adolescent sensibilities. What to do? Well, in a quiet corner, sure that nobody was around, I tore the book apart. Then tore the pages into pieces. Then buried them deep into two different trash cans. All the while thinking, of course, that I was doing the right and proper thing. Felt very good about it.

One other troubling memory. When a student in a Catholic college I — we — became aware of “The Index.”

A teacher  about a certain book would say, “Oh, that book? It’s in The Index! So it’s awful! So, no, no! It would be a sin for you or me to read it!”

Taboo!

And we accepted that. Again the thinking was that this was the intelligent and right thing to do.

You see, for some 400 years, the Vatican had listed some books in “The Index of Prohibited Books.”  Many, many. The kind that the faithful should not be exposed to, the Vatican decided.

The Vatican felt that those books would be “a contamination of the faith” or “the corruption of morals.”

It’s just yesterday in researching all this that I learned that The Index finally was suppressed by Pope Paul the Sixth in 1966. Hallelujah!

To me, all this is a reminder that all of us, well, nearly all of us, are the unconscious victims — maybe “prisoners”  is a better word — of our culture. And we must hope, through study, and reflection, and exposure, that we shall escape it and survive it.

This ain’t a light topic, is it? It hasn’t been easy for me to figure out where I stand myself. And of course I wonder, what do you think of all this? I know you’ll be honest. Is banning okay? Or is it not?

How do you feel about this hot potato?

* * * * *

 

 

Bill Fairbanks’ long, long walk across the USA

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Five years ago I was still living here six months a year over what I call our winter months and in Connecticut six months over the summer months there.

It was time to go home again. I still had my one-person camper van. If I drove 300 miles on the big Interstates, I’d get home in 11 days. Nice and easy.

Bill and Carole show their route from California to Massachusetts. He walked for a grand total of 4887 days! She was his 4-wheel escort and daily rooter.

But I drove the slow roads on which you see so much more, and so much of it is so interesting. Many a time I stopped here and there for two or three days. You know, to see this wonderful thing and that wonderful thing.

So that’s why  I was on the road for s 101 days and drove 5,300 miles. I’ve taken many long and varied road trips. I’ve loved every one. But this was the best. A real adventure.

Well, I just met Bill Fairbanks. He’s William L. Fairbanks II, a retired Ph.D. anthropology professor residing in nearby little Los Osos.

He crossed the country, too. But he walked it! In his 70’s! And it took him six years to do it. I whistled when I heard that. Plus his wife Carole accompanied him all the way. When I heard that, I whistled double loud.

He’s 81. He’s a big guy, 6 foot 2, hefty and fit and doesn’t give the impression of having held down a desk job during his working years. He is outgoing, likes to talk, enjoys being with people — just what it takes for anyone who is going to be a teacher.

He was born in San Francisco. His dad was a PBX expert for AT&T. And he founded and was first president of a credit union for its employees. Bill was a little kid when his dad resigned and took his family back to the farm Bill’s mother had been reared on.

“Dad loved farming. I grew up on the farm. As a farm boy I walked and walked. Every day my brother and I would walk two miles to school, then back. I enjoyed walking. Always have. Still do.  It’s a natural for me.”

He and Carole met in high school. ”She wowed me. Such a cute girl and very smart. Plus her wonderful sense of adventure!”

They got married while students at what is now San Jose State University, where they earned their bachelor’s and Bill went on for a master’s.

“We planned to be high school teachers and did that. She became a home economics teacher. I taught history and geography.

“I got hired at Cuesta Community College. It was just its second year. It offered a two-year curriculum. Some graduates went on to four-year colleges, some went to work. While teaching at Cuesta I went and got my Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara.”

“I taught sociology and anthropology. Most of my students went on to further study. They learned from me and it’s surprising how much I learned from them. I truly mean that. I put in 41 years at Cuesta and loved it. I also taught occasionally at Cal Poly University here. Enjoyed that, too.”

Bill became active in anthropology circles, and over the years served on committees and boards and became president of both the Southwest Anthropological Association and California Mission Studies Association.

He’s a family man. They have a son and two daughters all living within 11 miles with frequent get-togethers, and three grandchildren. For 40 years he and Carole have been members of the Los Osos Methodist Church.

How did he develop the idea of walking across the country?

“Well, as you know, I love to walk. And as you know, rites of passage in life involve challenges. But retirement provides no traditional challenge. Some of my great-grandparents crossed the nation in the 1840s and 1850s. That inspired me. I decided to give it a try. That became my challenge.”

Yes, he planned to walk all the way to the Atlantic.  Maybe to Washington D.C., maybe to New York, specifically Wall Street.. But as his target destination he settled on the small city of Dedham, Massachusetts. Why?

“The Fairbanks Family House is there. It was built in 1636, mind you. It would be exciting to walk in the very door one of my ancestors walked out of several centuries ago.”

It’s interesting that all Fairbanks in the U.S. can call Dedham their ancestral home.

Just like me, on the way he wanted to enjoy the astounding variety of sights and scenes of our great big USA.

“But in all this I had a special focus,” he told me. “Anthropology is my field, yes. But cultural anthropology has been my specialty.”

I asked him to tell me about that. He said that anthropology is the study of man, which wasn’t news to me.

But cultural anthropology, he explained, studies how we organize ourselves in so many ways to live our lives. In governmental bodies and political parties- and churches and corporations and societies and clubs on and on. Large and small and good and not-so-good. And that has all kinds of consequences, positive and sometimes less so.

So in effect, for him our country as he walked it step by step became a huge and wonderful laboratory, so to speak,  just as he knew it would.

Now why Dedham? Well, a good reason. There’s an old, old house there that all people named Fairbanks in the US can call their ancestral home.

Today the Fairbanks House, as it’s called, is a museum and rightfully so. In fact it is considered the oldest frame house in the country.  Even furnished with period antiques.  It’s operated by the National Fairbanks Family Association of America.

“So it’s easy to see why Dedham would be perfect as my final destination. We became excited about it.”

In fact, it’s from there way back in the 1840s and 1850s that his great-grandfathers on both sides of his family crossed the country to  California to start a good new life.

Well, as you know now, he made it, covering 5,605 miles at an average pace of 11.53 miles a day. Of course, on some days he took far more footsteps than on others. For one thing, weather could be a big factor.

Typically he’d start from February on to May and return home in November.  He had other obligations at home he had to keep in mind.

This is how he and Carole worked it. They would set the destination for the day and the quitting time. He’d start walking. He carried a small backpack. Carole would drive ahead to their motel for the night. She would sightsee, shop, return to the motel to read or quilt. She loves to quilt. She’d always hope to locate a quilt store.

They’d eat in interesting restaurants and coffee shops. And would try to get to as many museums, historic sites, and unique shops as possible. Which was exactly my goal when I drove home to Connecticut.

If he ran into a problem, he’d call her and she’d come pick him up, but that was rare.

They started out on July 2, 2009, and finished on August 20, 2014. He was 72. She was 69. When they finally got to the Fairbanks House, he was 77 and she was 74. That certainly was a record.

Look at their route and you’ll see that it cut across our country’s mid-level right to the East Coast at Virginia. Then it took a 90-degree turn north and went way up to Vermont, then turned down toward Boston and finally Dedham.

The hardest part was making it through California, right at the beginning. It took time to work out the kinks. Calluses on his feet!  After walking 22 miles over the Santa Lucia Mountains he had to take two week off to recover from blisters. But that didn’t daunt him.

The first year they made it to Carson City. The second year from Carson City to Oberlin, Kansas. The third from Oberlin to Cane Ridge, Kentucky. The fourth from Cane Ridge to Richmond, Virginia. The fifth from Richmond to Catskill, New York. And the sixth from there to Boston and finally Dedham. Hallelujah!

“But bad luck. it turned out to be one year more than we planned. In 2012, while at home for the holiday season, I fell through a wood deck. I was bare-footed. Gashed my right foot. It required surgery and I had to stay put for weeks. But I just couldn’t wait to get going again. So it was late, in August, when we got started.

“But one result is that it took us an extra year to finish.”

He  chuckled. “I wore out eight pairs of shoes!  I don’t remember how many dogs barked at me.  It was amazing how many folks would hand me a bottle of water. Lots of good people out there!

“And got to tell you I walked through some rough neighborhoods. But never ran into a bad person. Not anywhere!””

As an anthropologist did he learn something new?

“Indeed I did. I had a lot of time to think. And reflect.

“There’s a lot of fear out there. People are worried. You can see it. Bars on windows of houses. Locked cars. Gated communities. On and on.

“Oh, one more thing. I should tell you I ran into a lot of Afro-American neighborhoods.” He uses that because it conforms to other ethnic groups, such as Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and so on.

He got to talk to some, mostly middle-aged and older. Enjoyed their chats.

“I found Americans very nice people. Invariably they’d tell me to be careful. Would say, ‘Watch out for gang bangers!’ Or ‘Take care!’ Or ‘I’ll pray for you!’ Nice things like that. It impressed me.”

On the road he was cautious. One example. He walked not with the flow of traffic but against it. “I wanted to see what was coming.”

Now talking about myself for a moment, On my long ride across the country in my camping van, I had used the best-selling AAA atlas. Excellent atlas. But Bill used one I never heard of, “The DeLorme Atlas.”  He showed it to me and right away I understood why. It had all the usual good info plus a great big plus – all the geographical elevations and in fine detail! Every up and down just about.

“On the road Carole and I would study it every morning. We would choose the easiest route to walk that day. And there could be terrific differences depending on the time of day.”

Think of this. In Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, his path took him way up to 12,183 feet. That’s more than two miles up. And then down.  Now remember his age.  It made me wonder. Did he ever think of quitting and returning home for keeps?

“No, no. When I walked 12 miles on my very first day, I knew I could do it.”

A real challenge, he said, was getting across some rivers. Many bridges, major ones such as across the Mississippi, or the Missouri, or the Ohio, do not permit pedestrians.

“I crossed the Mississippi on the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. It’s on I-72 at Hannibal, Missouri.’

“A sign said bicyclists could use it, and pedestrians have the same rights, but walking facing the traffic instead of going with traffic. Which was my practice, as you know.”

Hannibal is where Mark Twain grew up. Where he got the ideas for “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.”

In all those miles he didn’t have a single accident, which I found remarkable.

Along the way several times he got checked out by police. “I’d tell them what I was up to and they’d wish me good luck.”

Several times he got written up in local papers. One time he got interviewed by TV Station WVVA in Lewisburg, West Virginia. People told him they had seen it.

I was surprised that time and again he had a walking companion. A high school classmate. Or a former student. Or a cousin. For a day or two or even longer.

His final day after six years was from Boston down to Dedham. Exactly 9.42 miles.

He knew a delegation of Fairbanks members would be waiting for him and Carole at the Fairbanks Museum. Walking with him would be his son Bill from San Luis Obispo, the city next door to his home in  the Morro Bay Area. And Kathy Butterfield, one of his son’s high school classmates living in the Boston Area. And Tom Potter, another of Bill’s classmates, who flew in from Los Angeles.

They had 10 miles to go. Bill expected it would take about five hours.

Bill chuckled. “Wrong. Very slow getting out of Boston. Took seven hours! But the folks at the Fairbanks House were still there, which was wonderful.”

It was a beautiful day. “We were worried about that. Carole got there ahead of him, of course. And she made sure to have everything for a nice party, including a sit-down celebration repast. It turned out a celebration not to be forgotten.”

Remember, he had walked 5,606 miles! How many zillion footsteps would that be? He told me he finished in better health than when he took the first step. How wonderful.

Bill took hundreds of photos. “I wish I had taken more. They keep the memories alive.” They’re still enjoying the glow of it all.

He wrote daily updates and emailed them to people who requested them. The updates became his  daily journal of the adventure.

No wonder he’s being invited to give talks at churches and clubs. He always says yes. In fact, it’s at our Senior Club here in Morro Bay that I became aware of him. It turned out to be a full house and some had to be turned down at the door. How about that?!

And he’s writing a book. An excellent idea, I believe. The tentative title is “Across the USA one step at a time. By a septuagenerian walker.” I’m eager to see it.

And he is still walking, would you believe?

Well, I thought I had an adventure driving across the USA in 101 days. Indeed I did. But Bill’s turned out to be a super-duper adventure.

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends, four things to tell you today.

Yes, just four!

And I’ll make this short and sweet. Impossible, some of you are thinking. It’s 180 degrees contrary to my nature.

 Well, I’ll prove to you right now that I can write short and sweet.

 1.Thank you to those of you who let me know that you got my “I’m blogging again” post. Very nice of you.

 2. Some of you asked whether I’m okay. You were worried about my unusual silence. I am! Your concern made me feel good.

 3. If you haven’t gotten a thank you note from me yet, my apologies, please. So busy here! I’ll do my best to catch up.

 4. This is a further test that the app that I use to deliver my posts to you is truly doing its job. If you get this, just send me three words back, please: “John, got it!” And I’ll know I’m back in business.

 Have I been short and sweet? Oh, come on now! (Chuckle, please!)

 Best!  John

 

I’m finally blogging again. Whoopee!

Yes sir, this makes me a most happy fellow!

What happened is that a freak WordPress snafu put me out of business. Just temporarily, I hoped at first. But then for keeps, I feared.

It was a whopping blow. WordPress is the app I’ve used for many a year to compose and then email my posts to you. You may not know it but WordPress is the most popular blogging app of all, I ‘m told. I’m just one of thousands of scribblers who count on it.

Well, when I noticed the breakdown I sent all of you an email! SOS! SOS! ”Please let me know if you get this SOS!” And I explained my humongous problem. The feedback would help diagnose the problem.

But darn, I got only four responses out of the nearly 500 alerts that I sent out. Oh my oh my!

The truth is that blogging on a variety of topics as I do is all-important to me. It’s being who I am and what I am. It may  sound but it’s a fact. Sure, I’m in my 90th year and getting a wee bit old to be doing this, you may think but I love it and quitting — well, quitting would be hard to accept.

So, how to handle this WordPress headache?

I immediately contacted two longtime friends who are very savvy in just about anything and everything digital. They’ve been wonderful. They would help me again, I was sure. But gosh, they were up tied up with challenges of their own.  I could understand that. No problem.

Of course, I mentioned my plight to my daughter Monique and David, her hubby. ”Dont worry,” David told me right away. ”I’ll call Tom!”

Wonderful! Tom is an old buddy of his. I’ve met Tom and his wife Tulsi several times over the years when they’ve visited Monique and David. Tom is a long-time digital consultant.

They live in Southern California near San Diego. Monique and David have been swapping visits wtth them as long as I remember. I knew I’d be in good hands. I relaxed a bit.

Tom diagnosed the problem from way down there and fixed it. His solution was to use a new app, well to me, called Mail Chimp. Very popular. WordPress would piggyback on Mail Chimp. In fact, Nigel, one of my two savvy tech friends, had mentioned Mail Chimp as a solution.

Tom set it up for me and I’ll be using it in sending this to you.  I’m looking forward to sleeping better tonight, believe me.

So this is my first new post. Hey, I’m back in the saddle again!

So, as inspiration hits me, I’ll craft a new post now and then and send it to you.  Hope you’ll enjoy these fresh ruminations of mine.

Do feel free to forward them to others who you think might also enjoy them. Or send me their contact info and I’ll be delighted to put them on my list.

If you don’t enjoy my posts, or if you’re too busy to read them, let me know and I’ll unsubscribe you. An easy matter. Subscribers is what WordPress calls regular recipients.

If you’re a regular reader, I’d enjoy a comment about them now and then. A bit of personal news from you would be nice, too. This chatting with you and other subscribers brightens my day.  Really does.

Snafus do happen, as we know. I’m praying I’ll be spared another for a long while. You’d feel the same way, right?

* * * * *

WordPress Test

This is just a test suggested by Tom Milliken to check the effectiveness of WordPress teamed up with MailChimp. which is all new to me.

This is an SOS, sort of

By John Guy LaPlante

Yes, my frantic cry for help—Help! Help! Help!

Oh, don’t panic. I’m not lost at sea or running out of gas in an airplane. But truly I am befuddled, frantic, perplexed, greatly frustrated.

Here’s why.

I’ve been a writer for more than 65 years. Newspaper reports. Magazine articles. Essays. Opinion pieces. Lots and lots of output. And for some years now, a blogger – I write not on paper any more but online as the author of blog posts. “Post” is the digitalized word for what I used to write and publish on paper.

A month ago, the big, nasty problem popped up. I would write my post and yes, it would be published.  Meaning it would land as usual in the archive of my posts on my website, www.johnguylaplante.com. But it wouldn’t get emailed to you and my other subscribers, who are many.

What a headache. How come? I don’t know. Nor do a couple of hi-tech friends who have bailed me out of hi-tech breakdowns in the past.

But this morning I was sitting and brooding about it. I’m an old, old guy, as you know, but I don’t want to quit. I enjoy this work, lucky me, and I want to keep at this writing. It’s good for my spirits and my soul.

And I’m encouraged that some of you enjoy what I put out, sure, some pieces more than others, which is understandable. I enjoy the feedback you give me, well, some of you. In fact, this online back and forth is a good part of my social life.

But as I was brooding about it, I thought, Hey! Maybe this crazy problem has worked itself out somehow. Maybe the publishing app is really working again. Maybe I’ve been assuming all along it’s still broken but maybe it isn’t.

You know, strange, wonderful, miraculous things like that are known to happen,

So I’m putting it to the test. This instant. I’m going to send you this very message. Yes, as a post. I’m going through all the necessary steps. And I’m going to send it on to you and all my other subscribers.

All I’m asking you to do is to tell me you got it. Just email me back saying, “I got it, John!”

If I do hear that from you, I’ll know I’m in business again.  Glory be! Hallelujah!

Hope my SOS works!

I’m pressing the magic button right now. This post  should land in your Inbox in minutes.

I know some of you go online only occasionally. No problem. Just let me know asap. I’ll be keeping count.  Very nervously and apprehensively. The more of you, the better. I know you understand. Thank you!

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