October 14, 2019

Well, I got it done again.

 

By John Guy LaPlante

I made my New Year’s resolutions.  And I wrote them down.  And I made my review of the year just past.  Which had hits and misses, of course. I felt good getting the annual job done.

I’m sure some of you are saying, “New Year’s resolutions!  Hey, that’s crazy, John!”

I respect your right to say that.  But I think you’re dead wrong.  I’m sure that you belong to the “One Day at a Time” school of thinking.  What a pity.

Travel through the year one day at a time and for sure you’ll be short-changing yourself. My opinion.

When I was 12, we rented a cottage at Gaspee Point for two weeks “Don’t scoff at New Year’s Resolutions. You’ll be short-changing yourself! on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.  It came with a rowboat.  I loved rowing it, but just, just offshore, or Maman would scream at me.

One day, family friends visited us. With their son, Armand, unfortunately.  He was two years older and I didn’t like him.  But to be nice I invited him out for a row in the little boat.  As a passenger, I mean. Besides, Maman had ordered me to. [Read more…]

“Go West, young man!” Well, at 85 finally I’m going.

Hi, Friends,

Better late than never, they say. Off to Morro Bay, California, I’m heading, and that’s as far west as you can go without tumbling into the Pacific.

My nice, little new home! I never, never th0ught I'd live in a mobile home. Life is strange, isn't it? Now I thank my lucky star. And that's my trike!

My nice little new home! I never, never th0ught I’d live in a mobile home. Life is strange, isn’t it? Now I thank my lucky star. And that’s my new trike! What you don’t see are the palms. And our community center. And get to meet my neighbors.

Why, oh why, you ask. “You, John, the born and bred New Englander?” The reason is simple and startlingly obvious to anybody who has seen me of late. Because I’ve hit real old age and am beginning to show i!. Gotta be prudent! In Morro Bay I’ll be under the loving eye of my daughter, Monique. Lucky me.

So I’m selling my beautiful condo at Piano Works here in Deep River and getting rid of 95 percent of my earthly possessions. No room for all that stuff there. Here’s the story.

For 15 years–which is a big chunk of my retirement years–my condo at Piano Works has been my most happy home. Buying it was a darn smart move indeed. It’s as painful as heck to give it up. Giving up Deep River, too, and saying goodbye to this gorgeous corner of the world.

And here’s how I’m going about this stressful and exhausting business. For one thing, I am selling my condo by myself, without a realtor. “By owner,” as it’s called in the business. I’ll bet you’re surprised.

I’m no stranger to California. I’ve been wintering there for 20 years. Did that for good reasons. Not the least was no cold, no ice, no snow. I’m so glad I was there last winter, in the short-sleeves sunshine, under the palm trees, with the smell of the sea in my nostrils, while most of you poor folks were suffering through the worst winter in centuries. Well, that’s the way some of you spoke of it to me.

In California except for one month. That’s when I  made that long, exhausting flight across the Pacific to visit China again. My fourth time over there. Fine trip despite a couple of difficult moments. Then I flew back in time to spend Christmas and New Year’s with Monique and her hubby David. I think the world of him, too.

And as you know, I took the decisive step of buying a place for myself there. A nice mobile home in a nice mobile home park convenient to everything that interests me. Even lived in it for two weeks. That way I’d be smarter about what to take with me when I left Deep River.

So, I came home from California in May to work 30 h0urs  a day to make all this happen. Well, you know what I mean. First, I had to find a buyer to take over my condo. Second, I had to unload, unload, unload. No room back there.

On my first morning back, I got up early, strengthened myself with a big working man’s breakfast, and got right to it.

This is it. Just for the 55 and older. High standards! Close to Monique and David's. Convenient to everything. I can smell the sea air!

This is it. Just for the 55 and older. High standards! Close to Monique and David’s. Convenient to everything. I can smell the sea air! Already I have friends here. Ice and snow are unknown here.

And then POW! In just a couple of days I became so, so, so sick. I got slowed to a crawl. So weak. Too exhausted even to write at my computer. Some of you wondered why you weren’t getting my blog.  That’s why.

But now, why was I selling my condo by myself?  Well, I’ve had real estate experience and felt I could handle the job.

Until 20 years ago, I ran a side-line business buying and managing income real estate. My main bread and butter was being a consultant in public relations and development to a variety of clients, non profit and for profit. This was after my years as a journalist and also my college work.

In this second business I got to own 26 condos and apartments. So, you see,  I bought and sold. Even got into  a few big construction projects. Well, big for me.

Now I counted on that experience to help me sell my home, sweet home. Make that my home, sweet condo.

Of course, I developed a sales plan to find a good buyer. And in the process I had the good fortune to make two fine contacts.

I met Lyanne Sanford, a mortgage specialist at my bank. I needed to update myself about mortgages. Most likely, a buyer would need a mortgage. She sat  me down and gave me a good briefing. Plus, she told me she would qualify any potential buyers for me and recommend a mortgage best fitted to their needs. Great.

Sitting across from her at her desk, I got an idea and said to her, “As I go along, Lyanne, I may need a good realtor as a backup. Can you recommend somebody who is really terrific?”

“Yes!’ She said it instantly. “There is one! Mick Marsden. As you may know, the real estate market has been soft lately. This despite the low mortgage rates we have. But Mick has had an incredible sales run–this when a lot of real estate people have been complaining how slow business is. Talk to Mick Marsden!”

I wasted no time. He came. Middle-aged. Very articulate, as I expected. With a surprisingly diversified background–as an engineer, then a graphic design artist and ad director, and now, year in and year out, a remarkable results-focused realtor.

He came and saw my condo for himself. I threw a lot of questions at him. And yes, I told him right up front that I would be selling my condo myself.

“I understand why,” he told me. “To save the commission, of course, But you know, John, selling ‘by owner’ can be very disappointing. And I’ll tell you why. Just so you’ll know.”

He did that. You could fail, he explained. It could take forever. The worrying could keep you awake nights. You could wind up with less money than selling through a sharp realtor.You could spend all that time and energy more profitably. Then he went on to explain his services and approach to the challenge. No way could I have gotten a better briefing. He really impressed me. I could see why he was so successful. I came close to giving him my listing.

But I felt I had to give it a good try. Bracing myself, I told him, “Well, Mick, I’m going to tackle it myself. But I’d feel awfully good if you’d be available if I decide I need a big helping hand. Or if I run out of time. It could happen.”

“Yes, I’ll do that.” He showed no disappointment, What a nice surprise that was. I was so pleased, and so relieved. I’m sure some realtors would have given me a curt “No, sorry,” hopped up and taken off.

But what astonished me is that, knowing that I was moving forward on my own, he nevertheless sat there and gave me valuable background info.

“Nowadays most real estate sells online,” he told me. “We still use print advertising, but much less so. It’s important to know this and act accordingly.”

Plis  advice from his own experience. “First,” he said. “You have much too much stuff in here. You have to give your condo a more open look. Not only that. Everything here in the condo is all about you. People will be fascinated…will forget why they’re here!”

Mick wanted me to make a great big sweep. “Get rid of that!” He’d point to something. And pointing to something else, “And that!”

I planned to do much of that anyway. As I said, no room in California for it. Finally he said he had to leave for another appointment. And off he went, very pleasantly. And wishing me well. It was all so remarkable.

Taking his advice and getting rid of stuff became a huge job.It went on for days. And was so painful emotionally.

I would pack a box of books to donate to the library. I would pick up a book from the box, look at it , and put it back on the shelf. Same thing with other possessions. So it went.

But! And I said it to Mick. This was my home. After all, I had to live here until my condo sold. I felt it was important for it to look like my comfortable, much-enjoyed home. I’m sure I retained more stuff than he would have favored.

But, thanks to him, I did thin out much more than I intended. I am amazed by how much stuff I did give away–books, clothing, housewares, tools, furniture, things of all sorts. Of course, I considered using yard sales, consignment shops, flea markets. Not practical.

I contributed a lot to the Congregational Church, and to our Estuary Senior Center, and to Goodwill. And I gave stuff to neighbors at Piano Works. I am still considering possibilities.

Mick astounded me by offering to do another thing that was very important. Something I had never thought of. You’re wondering, I’m sure.  What was that? He offered to create what he called a Gallery of Photos for me.

He is a gifted photographer. He creates a Gallery of Photos for any property that he sells. He showed me a couple. It’s a series of photos of the property. They show off the place in brilliant detail and color, and suggest the lifestyle possible in that property. He posts the Gallery online, as part of his normal marketing. He considers it a basic and essential step.

He showed me a couple that he had created. Immediately I saw how valuable such a Gallery is.

And I saw how he is an artist at heart, An artist who uses a camera instead of a paintbrush.

He came back on another day with his camera and started shooting. His results were terrific. They showed my condo in its full potential.

And I quickly put my marketing plan into action. Yes, I have gotten some serious lookers. Each time I thought, This is the perfect buyer! But so far, nobody has committed. But it takes only one buyer, right?

Piano Works has 70 condos. Truly mine is one of the two best  in the building. I say that with solid reasons. I could argue it is the very best, but I don’t want to get into any shouting match with any other owner.

I see this enormous move of mine as another adventure. My life has been rich with adventures. Lucky me. I wouldn’t want a life without adventures.

By definition, of course, an adventure is an enterprise with a high chance of success, but also a chance of failure. Right? My scorecard over the yearshas not been perfect. But my hits have enriched my life. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. I’ll let you know.

But know what? My condo may be perfect for you. Yes, you!  I invite you to come and look at it. No obligation. I won’t twist your arm.I will also give you a good tour through Piano Works. After all, that would be important for you. I am pleased to tell you Piano Works  is a good condo association. Some are not.

Or it may be perfect for someone you know. Please pass on the word. And I make a promise to you.  If someone comes  and buys who was referred by you, I will give you a nice reward. Count on it. So spread the word.

That’s enough about all this. Now, as my time permits,  I intend to get back to blogging. As usual, I have no idea what I’ll be writing about. For sure it will be something that interests me. And I hope interests you.

Of course, I’m aware many of you live far from here. You may think my selling my condo is interesting. But you find little practical value in it for yourself. But hold on, please.  Remember—Deep River is in a very beautiful and interesting part of this world, of course! A very nice place in many ways to live in. You might get the idea of moving here. Just as I did. Lucky me. It could be a very smart move for you, too!  Give it some  thought.

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

About my son Mark, the …………. . The what?

My son, Mark. Relaxing at home after teaching. Mark, the ........  The what?

My son, Mark. Relaxing at home after teaching. Mark, the …….. The what?

By John Guy LaPlante

Know what? I’ve just coined a word that is brand-new to the English language. And badly needed. I’ve checked and checked. I can’t find it in any dictionary. It came to me in a flash. How about that?

I write this from Madison, Wisconsin, where I am visiting my son Mark and his family. He is a professor at the University of Wisconsin here. Important for you to know this. This new word popped up in my mind last night in bed.

“Wow!” I said to myself. “That’s it! It’s perfect!!”

The word? “Financist.”
I know you’re saying, “So…?”

Some background will help you.

All three of my children, Arthur, Monique, and Mark, have doctorates. Arthur and Monique have JDs–doctorates in jurisprudence. Mark has a PhD–a doctorate in philosophy, which is a degree that covers a multitude of professional fields. That’s a problem and you’ll see why.

When someone asks me what my kids do, I say, “Arthur is a lawyer, Monique is a lawyer, and Mark is a professor of finance.”

“Professor of finance” is not as specific as “lawyer.” Don’t you agree?  It’s really clumsy. What I was striving for was something much closer to the mark. Simpler. Easy to remember.

What Mark is is an economist, specializing in finance. That’s quite a mouthful, too. I just felt we needed something better. A single strong word. And it came to me so easily!

I said to myself, “Mike is a financist! Yes, a financist!” This was my wonderful brainstorm.

I know “financist” sounds awfully strange to you. Of course it does. It’s the first time you see it. But you’ll realize the beauty of it right away when I explain. [Read more…]

Well, what do you know…I’m back in China!

By John Guy LaPlante

         I’m as surprised as you are. This is my fourth time over. At my age I never thought there would be a fourth time.

         Speaking of age, I’m going to turn 85 during my month over here. But this is the right place to be old.  The Chinese venerate old people.  They tumble over one another to be of service to us. It’s just the opposite of the attitude in too many other countries.

         I love being venerated. I step onto a crowded subway car—bingo, somebody jumps up to offer me a seat.

         I’m in China to visit two friends. Camil in the huge and gorgeous city of Guangzhou. And then Wu Bin in famous and bustling Shanghai. Two weeks more  or less with each.

         I’ll fly back to California May 2 for a reunion with Monique and David, my favorite daughter and favorite son-in-law, in Morro Bay on the central coast.

         (That’s a little joke that I enjoy—I have only one of each! But I am awfully fond of them. Just as I am of my two sons and daughters-in-law.)

         And in mid-May I’ll be home finally in Deep River, CT.  After months away!  God willing, as we say.

         What the heck am I doing here on the other side of  the Pacific? A good question.

         Camil invited me.  He is a Canadian…a Quebecois, so French-speaking.

         I met him at a hostel in Trois-Rivieres up there. Total strangers, we shared a room.  That’s the way it can be in hostels. I love hostels–I could write long and enthusiastically about them.   He had an IPad. He’d lounge in his bunk and give it his rapt attention.

         Curious me, I asked him what movie he was watching.

         “Non! Non! I was a photojournalist here for two big newspapers. My whole career!”

         Yes, we spoke in French. Not a problem for me. In fact, I love having a go in my mother tongue. I consider it all-important to keep it alive in me.

         He continued, “I have thousands of my photos on here.  I just retired. I like to look at them now and then. So many memories!”

         Of course, I mentioned I was a journalist, too—but a word journalist, not photo–with years on a big paper. Often I teamed up with a photojournalist for assignments. So we had “beaucoup” to talk about.

         Then, he surprised me. “I’m going to take a trip around the world.  In stages. Over six or seven years, most likely. And you bet I’ll be taking these along with me!” He indicated his IPad and his camera nearby. “I’ll be putting them to good use.”

         So of course, I mentioned to him I had traveled around the world. Also alone.  In one big swoop of six months—36,000 miles, across the Equator, on some 20 airlines, plus bus, train, and boat. But at 75, not at his age. And had written a book about it. So we talked and talked and talked.  Became friends.

         Then we each went our way–I home to Connecticut, and he to Vancouver to visit one of his sons  before hopping over the Pacific to China, his first destination.

         Well, you don’t really hop over it. It’s a 14-hour flight.

         By the way, going westerly around the world was a tip I gave him. Rather than easterly.

          “Oh?” he said, much interested.

          “Yes, traveling with the sun will be much easier on you. You would find going around the world against the sun awfully difficult. You shouldn’t do it that way.”

         Well, he loves China! And the Chinese!  Has been here for many months. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed here a very long time.

         Oh, he’s made side trips to Cambodia and Vietnam and Hong Kong. Always with his camera. Once a photojournalist, always a photojournalist, I guess. He’s passionate about that.

         But he always  returns to China. And he has thousands and thousands of photos to document what he’s seen already.

         He emailed me that he was going to have a big exhibition of some 25 of his four-star photos—an exhibition six weeks long–at the Four Seasons Hotel in Guangzhou. It’s one of China’s top hotels. Just as Guangzhou is one of its top cities.

         And at the show’s  debut,  he would introduce his new book–“Life in China,” yes, by Camil LeSieur–as seen through his artist’s eye. I’ve seen some of his photos and he really is an artist deep down.

         This will be the Chinese edition, with the text in Mandarin, the big language in China. But in this section of southwest China, the big language is Cantonese. In fact, Guangzhou at one time was called Canton. The Mandarin / Cantonese situation is much like the English/Spanish reality in our country.  It makes sense for him to do it Mandarin.

         But there will be an English edition of the book, too, and a French edition.

         He asked me to write  the preface. Also some texts. Quite an honor. I’ve gotten most of that done. He wrote the many photo captions in French, of course.  He asked me to put them into English, which I’ve done, but with some still to do. 

         Translating is a tricky challenge. I wanted to give him not only a very faithful translation, but one that would catch his style and persona as well. And it’s my English version that is being used for translation into Mandarin. So my English version has to be excellent.

         But why me doing the translating? Well, there are many Chinese translators who translate from English but relatively few who do it from French.

         I do plan to keep you abreast of all this as it develops.

         By the way, getting to Guangzhou here wasn’t easy. In fact, it was close to being more than I could handle. I’ll tell you all about that in an upcoming blog.

         From here, I’ll be flying back to Shanghai, where I arrived.          Wu Bin, my other dear friend over here, lives in Shanghai and planned to greet me at huge Pudong Airport there. But everything on that flight over the ocean got so tangled that that became impossible.

         But he was there to greet me on two of my three previous visits to China, and what a delight that was.

         I met Wu some 10 years ago in Nairobi, of all places. That is the huge and bustling and in some ways very modern capital of Kenya, with skyscrapers, mind you. (It also has huge slums, by the way.)

         As with Camil, we met in a hostel.  He was young—young enough to be my grandson—but we hit if off. For one thing, he was eager to practice his English, and I was eager to meet another Wu. 

         In college, one of my pals was a Chinese youth  named Wu.  Yes, from China. Unfortunately, that young friend and I lost track over the years, and we were very close. I hoped my new friend Wu might be related to my young friend Wu (who would now be as old as I, of course). But in China, the name is as common as Smith or Cohen in ours, so to speak.

     But my friendship with my new friend Wu didn’t dry up once back from Nairobi. That often happens even among friends with strong common interests. It thrived, thanks to the Internet and email.

         Wu was a tourist in Nairobi, like me. He had brought over a stock of very advanced pocket cameras, all digital and all Chinese, of course. And he was peddling them around to camera shops. They were amazed by what he had to offer them. He made numerous sales. And that helped him to finance that expensive vacation of his. I was so impressed.

         No surprise to me today that Wu is the marketing director of a high-tech digital company here,  making a range of products. He often flies abroad to bring back orders. Not long ago he was in Germany. Just before I arrived here, he had just returned from Istanbul. I’m positive someday he will be the president.  I wish I could buy stock in him.

          Well, when I completed my world trip and wrote and published my book about that incredible feat–well, to me it was– I got an email from him. He had been receiving frequent blogs from me as I traveled around the globe.

         “John, your book should be published in China,” he told me.

         “What?! In China! Why in China?”

         “Things are getting much better for us here.  Now we can take vacations abroad.  We’re like you Americans—we love to travel, too! And there’s another reason. Nobody in China will believe that a 75-year-old man can travel around the world, and all alone.”

        And what he said next took my breath away. “I will buy the rights to your book.  And I will get it published in China!”

         And that did happen! It was a marvelous, incredible event in my life.

         Remember, please, that he could have bought one copy from amazon.com, say. Had had it translated and published. And I never would have known a thing about that. But he’s above such shenanigans. He truly paid me for the right.

         I came over for the book’s publication. It was a snazzy event in a fine hotel with lots of publicity. My sister Lucie came along for me, so a very proud moment. I also came over when he got married, and milady Annabelle was with me then. That was a spectacular event, too.

         I have gotten to know his father and mother and other relatives, and a number of his friends.  All very wonderful experiences.

         Of course, this time I alerted him that I was coming to see Camil in Guangzhou.

         Immediately he emailed back. “John, please come to see me. Come for two weeks if possible. I will be at Pudong International Airport to meet you.  I will be holding a big sign, ‘Welcome, John Guy LaPlante!’”

         I was thrilled.  Hey, who wouldn’t be? Remember, I thought that trip to China five years so was my last time to China!

         By the way, I was in Peace Corps in Ukraine then, but Peace Corps gave me permission, and  I flew to Shanghai all the way from Kiev, the capital,  and easterly, not westerly, across Asia to do it. But I made it.

         What was very interesting was that I invited Annabelle to attend the wedding also. She lived in Los Angeles. And she flew west across the Pacific to Pudong. So, I went around in one direction, and she in the opposite direction! And we met there at that vast airport only70 minutes apart. And Wu was there to pick us up!

         So you can understand how I am looking forward to seeing Wu in Shanghai and sharing a bit of his life again.

         I’ll be telling you all about that, too.

         Oh, I got up in the dark to write this.  Now the sun is up very bright and promising now. This is still winter, but it’s as warm and pleasant here as in southern California or Florida.

         So, it’s time for me to shut down my computer and enjoy Guangzhou. And there is so much to enjoy here. I’ve got to make the most of it.

~ ~ ~

After all these years, I meet my first “denturologist”

My final fitting.  Dr. Linden tries my new partial on me. Proud lab technician Lori looks on. Receptionist Jessica captured the moment.

My final fitting. Dr. Linden tries my new partial on me. Proud lab technician Lori looks on. Receptionist Jessica captured the moment.

Orange, CA–Over the years I’ve been treated by a whole assortment of specialists. Far more than I’ve been able to keep track of–medical doctors, dentists, chiropractors, osteopaths, physical therapists, nurses.

Now I’ve met one who has a unique specialty.  He’s a family dentist who specializes in dental prostheses. Makes just dentures, full and partial. I call him a “denturologist”–it’s a word I just made up.

A bit of background. I’ve had a heck of a lot of dentistry over the years.  With this dentist and that one and then another.

For fillings. Extractions. Root canals. Crowns. Implants. And dentures, but just partials, thank God.

I’d be shocked to see how much $$$ I’ve paid out in total. But it’s been money well spent for the most part.

Oh, I’ve been paying for dental insurance of late, too. That’s been very nice.  But it’s far from free.

Most of this work got done in the United States.  But I’ve also sat through hours of dentistry in Mexico (Tijuana and Guadalajara), Ukraine (Kiev), and the Philippines (Manila).

Ninety-five percent of all of it has been quite satisfactory, including the work outside the U.S., which may surprise you.

True, I’ve had a couple of excruciating experiences, but that was long ago, when you knew going to the dentist was going to turn very painful.  Pain was a part of it.

I have lived to see astonishing improvements. The wonderful ultra-high-speed drill. Much finer needles. Fluoridation of the public water supply, which some consider controversial, but I think is worth the risk, if there is any.

Also faster and better anesthetics. Simpler X-rays, and much safer, too–and now digital imaging. And most dramatic of all, dental implants. I’ve had three, all at the same time. And how good they are.

And one more great improvement. It’s the better training for dentists. Not only to help patients with their teeth, but to get them through the experience with less tension and anxiety. That’s so important.

Speaking of this, I went to a dentist for a long time who had studied hypnosis and used it, but without tipping off his patients. I knew because we were close friends. I believe it works.

You know, when I was a boy, there was only one kind of M.D.—the general practitioner who visited his patients at home with just his  black doctor’s bag.

It didn’t seem to contain much more than a stethoscope, an arm cuff for blood pressure readings, a thermometer, a few instruments,  and some bandages and ointments and a few dark brown bottles with a few potions he favored. But his care and, most of all, bedside manner, were considered excellent.

Now, if you’re like me, you go to a general practitioner, sure, and undoubtedly he uses the latest hi-tech this and that. But you don’t stop there. You go to a specialist. And there’s such a variety–dermatologists, oncologists, cardiologists, urologists, opthomologists, on and on.…..  All possible, I think, largely because of the arrival of Medicare and private medical insurance and .

Same thing with dentists. We have periodontists, endodontists, orthodontists, and still others.

So dentistry, like medicine, has gotten infinitely better.

The result of all this? There are several, but two big ones.

One: we now keep our teeth much longer and better. It’s not uncommon to live into retirement with all your teeth. That hasn’t been my experience. Far from it.

Which baffles me. I’ve been meticulous in caring for my teeth. For decades I’ve made regular visits to the dentist, including for preventive cleanings. In addition to all the care to this tooth and that one. So why have I been beset with so many problems?! Doesn’t seem fair.

By the way, I remember when I was young, some people, especially women, were eager to have all their teeth extracted and get full dentures. Usually right after their first experience with a dentist.

Getting them all pulled would save them pain and money in the months and years ahead, they would eat better, their smile would be prettier, and losing their teeth was inevitable anyway.

Result Two: we now live in a time when pain in the dental chair is largely past-tense. What a feat! How wonderful!  Pain now is a rare occurrence.

The biggest pain now is paying the bill, even if you have dental insurance.

And now, after all these years, I’ve had a totally new experience. It’s been discovering Dr. Frederick Linden, the denture dentist. Here’s how that happened.

In January I had to have my upper right molar extracted.  It was a key tooth and a great loss. An expensive one, too.  More that one dentist got to work on it over the years. In time, I paid for a root canal for it plus a crown. Then a second crown. So, hundreds of dollars.

As you know, when some people lose a molar, or any tooth, they sometimes say, “Well, I ‘ll just get along without it.” Of course, often doing that might spoil your smile, or make it harder to chew, but it won’t be a tragedy. A lot of people get along with half their teeth gone.

Believe me, that never came into my mind.

I liked the dentist who did the extraction. It was my first time with him. That happened because my molar went bad just when I was leaving Connecticut for California just before Christmas. My big concern was finding a good dentist fast.

I didn’t know any dentists here. A friend recommended him and I felt lucky to come under his care.  When he got finished, I felt he had done a fine job.

I said to him, “Well, doctor, what do you think I should do now?”

He looked at my whole mouth again, and much more carefully. Took more X-rays, including a panoramic one. For you uninformed, the camera circles your whole noggin, and the dentist gets a view of your entire mouth. Quite remarkable. Finally he pronounced himself.

“Already you have an upper partial. It replaces four teeth. You’ve had it a long time. That dentist did a fine job but it’s getting old. And now you need something to replace that molar that I pulled.” He paused a bit.

Then, “What I think would work best for you would be a new partial. It would replace the four missing teeth your present partial covers, but swing behind the six teeth to the left of it, and provide a molar for the one that’s now gone.”

My gosh! That isn’t what I had expected to hear.  I digested his words, then said, “How long would that take?”

“First, we have to let that hole heal–you know, where that molar was. We should allow several weeks for that. It will be a problem if we skip that. And then three weeks or so after that for your new partial.”

“Well, doctor, how much would that cost?”

“I’ll make an analysis of the best way to go. Then my secretary will call you. She’ll do that in two days, if that’s okay. Then you can decide.”

I waited impatiently to get the word from her. I really wanted to get the job done.  I knew the price would be higher now. All prices are higher now, right?  As you see, I’m good at rationalizing.

Then she called.  Explained everything. Then said,
“The price will be $2,600.” Then, as a sort of consolation, “But that should cover everything.”

I whistled when I heard that, well, to myself.  I felt the price was high. And one thing nagged me.  She used the word “should.” I would have liked it better if she had said “would.”

Yet, I had a big thing in my favor.  As I said, I did have dental insurance.  A good plan.  I called its 800 number and was told 45 percent would be covered.  Very nice.  That said, I must tell you that the annual premium is also something to whistle about.

A big complication has been that I’m not just in one place here in Southern California.  I’m on the go–two days here, three days there, one day over there.  Which has been wonderful.  But I kept saying to myself, “I’ve got to do something!  Just can’t put this off!”

Now I must tell you I have loved my three implants.   And that’s because they work so well in every way. I feel they are my own, very sound teeth! All done, by the way, by the same dental implant surgeon, over a period that took more than four months.

So now I considered another one.  My old implant surgeon was no longer around.  I spotted a big newspaper ad that offered one implant with a crown on it for $1,499.  Very tempting.

I went and saw that implant dentist.  He examined me and said, “You have bone loss in your jaw where you lost that molar.  You’ll need a bone graft.  That will cost $300 and will delay my doing the implant. Got to make sure it takes!”

Imagine that–a bone graft. Talk about big improvements in dentistry! Cadaver bone, by the way. Did you know that?

True, the price of implants is coming down. But the process is still long and unpleasant. That implant dentist   will disagree, I’m sure, but that’s my opinion. I’d have to stick around a long time to get it all done.

And, once done, I would still have that old partial denture that should be replaced, I had been told. So, I said no about the implant.

Besides, there was something about that dentist than I didn’t like. It bothered me that he had an M.B.A. as well as his dental degree.

Then, in that same newspaper, I spotted a new ad.  Not a great big one.  A tiny one—really a fancy classified. Here is what it said, to the best of my memory.

“Need a denture? Come to us. We specialize in dentures, full and partial. That’s all we do. Excellent dentures that are affordable! We have our own in-office lab for more control and faster service. General dentists do 2 or 3 dentures a month. We do 25 or 30. We know dentures! We also do relines and repairs, often while you wait”‘ Plus his address and phone number.

I liked it.  Clipped it out and put it in my wallet.  And forgot about it.

Two weeks later, but in a different newspaper, I read the same ad. I did some checking online and liked what I found out about Dr. Frederick Linden.

He has been a dentist  42 years. He grew up in cold and windy Chicago. He got his dentist degree at the University of Indiana, which I checked and saw was excellent.  Joined the Navy and served as the staff dentist at the Navy hospital in Long Beach, California.  I learned all this from his website.

After his service, he was a staff dentist at two hospitals for four years, then opened his own family practice. You know, doing everything for men, women, and children. But what he enjoyed most was making dentures.

“They are a great solution for many patients. And I really enjoy working with my hands! Designing and making fine dentures can be very challenging.”

He got a wild idea–to open a denture practice.  Yes, just dentures, full and partial.  That was a big novelty in itself back then, and still is.

Most general dentists do dentures.  Which means that they make the necessary impressions and design the denture.  And then job out the work of making it to a dental lab. Then they try it on the patient and make any adjustments necessary.

Dr. Linden took his concept a big step further.  He decided to have the lab in his own office—integrate it!  That would give him closer supervision, speed up the process a lot, shave costs, and allow him to drop the price.

I questioned him a lot. He told me that new concept of his has worked out beautifully.  It’s been his specialty for 15 years, and he doesn’t know of any other dentist doing it anywhere close.

He has designed and made dentures for thousands of patients.

I made an appointment.  His office was an hour away. I found it is a small storefront in a shopping center. His big sign says, “Affordable Dentures”. Who wouldn’t feel good about that?

It’s in a Target shopping center, with ample  free parking. I parked right in front of his door.

His office set-up is simplicity itself.  He works with only his receptionist-secretary, Jessica, and his technician, Lisa.

His office seems to have been designed by Henry Ford himself. It’s so simple and efficient. Reception area. Bathroom. His treatment room And somewhere in the back, his office and lab, which are off limits to patients.

Finished with the paperwork for me, Jessica seated me in his dental chair, which was more of a lounge chair.  No drill.  No X-ray camera.  No rinse and spit basin.  No big, powerful overhead light.

He walked in. A hefty man, age 68 he told me. Dressed in an open-necked shirt and chinos, but carefully pressed. Pleasant, but businesslike and given to few words.  He did answer all my questions, and nicely, even though he wasn’t aware I’d be writing this.

He has a long counter nearby with a few instruments and supplies.  The first meeting took thirty minutes.

He scrutinized my mouth, examined my present partial, told me that my gums are okay as are my other teeth, and saw no big problem.

“I can design a metal partial like the one you have now.  Or a plastic partial that would be more flexible.  The same price–$1,100.  That would take three visits. We’d be done in two weeks. It would include adjustments after that if necessary. Most patients don’t require any.”

I thanked him and said I’d think it over. What he had done had taken 25 minutes.

Quickly I decided to go ahead. Jessica had checked. My insurer, Altus Dental Insurance, would pay half, less a $50 deductible. To proceed, I’d pay half of the balance now. I handed her my Visa credit card.  I’d pay the balance at the end.

I was in his chair in 10 minutes. He went right to work—doing much of that at the counter two steps from my chair.

He mixed some gunk and used it, with my partial out, to make an impression of my upper gum. It was obvious he knew what he was doing.

Firmly but so carefully, he removed the fresh impression from my mouth and studied it. “Excellent!” he said. I was out in 30 minutes.

Returned a week later. He had the partial finished and showed it to me. “But these are not the final teeth,” he told me. “They will require adjustments. That’s what I’m going to determine today. Then we’ll go ahead for the final piece.”

My old denture had two clasps, one at each end. This one had three. “It will do a better job. You’ll be happy! But I must check one thing—how much the clasp in the middle will show.”

He snapped it into place on me. I liked the way it really snapped in. Click! He spent a full two minutes studying it in place, trying to move it a little bit this way and that way. Then handed me a mirror.

“Take a look, please.” I did. I liked what I saw. The teeth matched my natural teeth. But I wanted to be sure. “Will this be the final color of them?”

“Yes, they are an excellent match. Now smile, please. A big smile! I want to see how much that center clasp will show.”

I smiled wide. He asked me to smile a second time, really wide. He told me, “It does show but just a little bit. If you want just two clasps, I can remove the center one. But it won’t function quite as well. What do you think?”

I told him I wanted all three. If somebody noticed, well, I felt they’d be nice and wouldn’t let on.

I did have a chance to chat with him as he worked. I found him open and friendly. At the end I told him I planned to write about my experience. That pleased him. It would please any dentist, I think. If he felt he had done a good job.

I had been with him a few minutes short of half an hour. Quickly I was back in my van. Jessica did her job the way he did his. She was efficient and friendly. No dawdling.

In a week I returned for my final visit. It all went smoothly and swiftly. I made my second and final payment. Jessica seated me in Dr. Linden’s chair. A few pleasantries and then he went to work.

It felt strange in my mouth, which was expected. It was bigger, and there were more contact points between my upper and lower teeth. And my upper lip rubbed against that center clasp.

“You’ll get used to it very fast. Before long, it will feel as comfortable as you’re old one.”

To myself I thought, it’s like breaking in a new pair of shoes. Which is a good comparison.

Only one minute adjustment had to be made–he had to file down one of the teeth a hair.

“How long would might it be if a sore spot developed?” I asked him. “I was thinking to start the drive up to my daughter Monique’s up North this afternoon. Would that be okay?”

“Very few patients need a further adjustment. But it’s possible.”

“Well, then, I’ll stay over till tomorrow. Just in case.”

“That’s an excellent idea.”

I was on my way in a jiffy.

The next day, everything seemed fine. No pain. No bad fit of my uppers and lowers at any point. My new partial felt different because it was bigger and had that third clasp. I was sure I’d get used to it fast.

That’s been the case. I’m eating and chewing just fine.

There should be more such “denturologists”! But just as efficient and cost-conscious.

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

My take on embattled Ukraine. Finally.

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

I’ve been getting one e-mail after another: “John, what you think about Ukraine? What’s it all about?  How do you feel about it?”   Why those emails?  Because many of you know that I served my Peace Corps hitch–the full 27 months–in Ukraine. And that was barely four years ago.

I never dreamed this awesome historic event would happen.  That I’d see the Ukrainian protestors —revolutionaries, in fact–storm into Kiev and topple the government. See their hated president abandon his office and take off to Russia to save his life. See the revolutionaries take over their parliament, the Rada. And set the country on a new and so-longed-for course—toward affiliation with the West and the European Union!

But I understand why it did erupt.  One day as I read about the huge developments, I had an amazing thought.  “This is like Bunker Hill!  Like the American Revolution!”

Like these Ukrainian revolutionaries, the American patriots were fighting against the King and the Parliament back in England! They had had it! Didn’t want to take any more!  They were taking things into their own hands.  They wanted change, big time!

Magnificent Independence  Square in Kiev in peaceful times . I was there often. Never imagined it would the scene of the violent showdown that toppled the government,.

Magnificent Independence Square in Kiev in peaceful times. I was there often. Never imagined it would be the scene of the violent showdown that toppled the government,.

They had so much to resent.

I believe that over the years the Soviet world, meaning primarily Russia, took advantage of Ukrainians in the same way that we, the white society in the USA, have taken advantage of the blacks and the Mexicans, among otherses, I got to know a thing or two about Ukraine and its ways. Thank you for your email queries asking for my take on all this. I’ll fill you in the best I can.

I got to all those places that have been part of this crisis—to Kiev (Peace Corps spelled it Kyiv, by the way): to Lviv, where the revolt started; to  Crimea, so red-hot right now;  and to numerous other places, big and small across the land, of both camps– pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian.

First, it’s important that I give you some background about how I wound up in Ukraine, what I did there, why and how I got around as much as I did, and what I learned that’s relevant to all this.

As a rookie Volunteer, I flew right into Kiev, the capital, with my fellow rookies. Officially we were called Trainees.

Kiev was so impressive–such a fine and beautiful and peaceful, yes, peaceful city.  Now it has become a huge volcano exploding with hatred and anger and violence and bloodshed. As you know.

Our Peace Corps headquarters were in Kiev.  Arriving, we spent three days there—orientation!  Then went off for three months of training– three different groups of us in three different locales across the country.

Then, our training completed, we were the guests of honor at a proud and beautiful ceremony in Kiev and took the Peace Corps oath. That made us Volunteers officially.

Please notice, by the way: “Volunteers” is spelled with a capital V, not a small v, per Peace Corps.

Then we dispersed to our assignments throughout the country.  Sadly we hardly got to see one another again.

All of us got to go back to Kiev now and then on Peace Corps business, most often individually.  For those of us hundreds of miles away—16 or 18 hours by train, for instance—it was a rare and eagerly awaited trip.

But my city, Chernihiv, was only two hours away by road.  I went countless times to Kiev on business.  It turned out I had more business reasons to go than most of my colleagues.

In addition to our decreed assignments–I would be a university teacher–all of us were expected to find another serious project to get involved in.  Well, I developed three—and all related to Kiev in some way.

Impossible to tell you about all that now. It’s all in my Peace Corps book, which has more than 500 pages, by the way.

Every time I went to Kiev, I would make it a point to get to see a bit more than just our headquarters and its neighborhood.  Often I had to stay overnight.  That would give me the chance to extend myself farther in seeing the marvelous city.

So I got to see magnificent Independence Square—where all the protesting and fighting got focused—and much of the city’s heart.

Ukraine is big--second biggest in Europe. Notice Crimea, the peninsula at the bottom. Notice Kiev, the capita. And Chernihiv, my city, right above it.l

Ukraine is big–second biggest in Europe. Notice Crimea, the peninsula at the bottom–this very moment’s red-hot problem. Notice Kiev, the capital. And Chenihiv, my city, right above it. l got to travel widely in the country, more than I expected.

There were numerous Americans in the city.  For one thing, all the Americans who were part of our Embassy, the USAID delegation, and Peace Corps.

The Embassy and USAID were big! I couldn’t believe how big. And we had elaborate institutions like this in countries all over the world! We have no idea.

USAID, by the way, has the mission of distributing millions of $$$ in economic stimulus to various Ukraine programs and projects as stimuli.

And Peace Corps was a hefty operation, too.

In addition, Kiev harbored many American businessmen and professionals of various kinds.

There was even a Rotary Club there.  I was a Rotarian back home in Deep River.  I tried to join the Kiev Club. It didn’t work out.

Plus the city counted plenty of American expats there for one reason or another. Some for the beautiful Ukrainian gals. I’m serious.  And I became friends with several.

Mostly I went to Kiev to get to headquarters. But I also got to our Embassy and USAID in connection with my Peace Corps projects. Quite unusual for a Volunteer.

What an eye-opening experience all that exposure was for me.

A big thing I learned is that these three American efforts employed hundreds of Ukrainians in support jobs. Yes, many hundreds.

Consider Peace Corps. We were about 300 Volunteers—the largest group of the 78 deployed around he world, it turned out.

But what a large staff it took to run our Ukrainian Peace Corps effort! A couple of hundred, I recall.

And only the top three were Americans. All the others were Ukrainians, including experts in different fields, most in Kiev but others scattered throughout the country. They kept Peace Corps functioning smoothly.

It’s good to keep that in mind.  It shows how many Ukrainians got connected to us in what, by the way, were considered plum jobs over there.

And think of the multiplier effect of all that—to their families, friends, and so on.

Remember, too, that we Volunteers were serving in Ukraine because Ukraine had asked us to come.  It’s not Peace Corps in Washington that says to a country, “May we come and give you a hand?”

It works the other way.  The interested country does the asking. Well, that’s what we were told. Maybe there’s some fudging about that.

One important thing to tell you. While I was in service there, Vice-President Biden flew in for a friendly visit with the president of Ukraine.  That shows how close the two countries were back then.

And all of us in those three American programs, along with invited Ukrainian VIPs, got invited to meet Biden in a special meeting  just with us. It was a big deal!

Would you believe? I got to have a few words with him. Most people  never got beyond the crimson cordon that separated him from us. I wasted little time telling my family about that.  Wouldn’t you?

The next day I got photos of that from four people! Everybody at that reception had a camera and was using it.

Oh, most Volunteers were very young–in their 20s.  About 40 of us were “senior” Volunteers–50 or older.  We had a group. It was a club really.  I was elected the president.

We held meetings two or three times a year in different cities across the country. That made it easier for our members to attend.  Also it was fairer.  So I got to see cities and towns all over the country.

Plus on vacation time–we got two days a month/ 24 days a year–I traveled and I chose broadly. In Europe but a lot inside Ukraine,  too.

All Volunteers traveled. But for sure I got to do more of it in part because of my various projects, and got to see more and maybe absorb more.

I went three times to Crimea—to Sevastopol, Yalta, and other cities.  In largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, which abuts Russia and has heavy ethnic Russian populations, I got to Harkiv and Donets and Odessa and Poltava and other big centers. So, yes, I took in a lot.

I not only trained in Chernihiv, which is a big and attractive city in the north central part. I got assigned there. Most of my fellow Volunteers got sent off  to much smaller places, Some to opposite ends of the country.

When you join Peace Corps, you agree to go wherever it decides to send you and do what they tell you to do. You hope they’ll use some common sense. At first, I had some doubts.

It was months later that I found out why I, and other older ones also, got sent to Ukraine. It had better medical facilities, and Peace Corps liked that for older Volunteers.

Our training was intense, six days a week of classes plus hours of homework. About the country … its government … some history … but mostly language, language, language study.

In my case it was Russian.  I considered that strange because I knew that Ukraine’s only official language is Ukrainian.  But some sections of the country have a heavy Russian population, as you have been learning.

Chernihiv was not in eastern Ukraine or the Crimea. It was in north central Ukraine, nearly north of Kiev. Quite close to Russia. I didn’t go to Russia because I had been before and I didn’t want the hassle of procuring the necessary visa.

Chernihiv was bad news for me for special reasons. It was just a long hour or so from Chernobyl, site of the biggest nuclear melt-down in history. Radiation! Countless had died of radiation! Countless more were in sad condition as a result of that exposure. I saw such people time and again in Chernihiv.

No problem the radiation, Peace Corps assured us. “The wind was blowing the other way!” Maybe so, but I kept clear of Chernobyl though I had opportunities to go.

When my Chinese friend Wu Bin in Shanghai heard about my assignment to Chernihiv, he quickly e-mailed me. “John, drink lots of tea! Lots of tea!” I became a more serious tea drinker! Maybe he had inside knowledge.

You know, I was shocked when I got orders to Ukraine.  I expected to go to a country where France had been important.  Why? Because I can think, speak, and write  in French. There are numerous such countries.

When I got that news I’d go to Ukraine, many questions popped up in my mind.  Where was Ukraine exactly? Why was I being sent there? How many universities there? Please remember, I’d be teaching at one. Six or seven maybe? What was the climate like?

Surprise, Ukraine had many  universities, plus dozens of specialized and professional schools and institutes.

I found out Ukraine was not in the boondocks. Anything but. It has a history of more than one thousand years.  It is highly civilized—its literacy rate is as high as ours.

In fact, it was the most important republic in the USSR after Russia itself. One reason was its highly developed agriculture and manufacturing, And there were other reasons.

It boasted great numbers of eminent and famous people in many fields. Here are just a few.

Igor Sikorsky, the great aviation pioneer in both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters—for one thing, he invented the helicopter–was a Ukrainian, born in Kiev. Emigrating to the USA, he founded Sikorsky Helicopters, the world’s leader.

Also Ukrainian was Yuri Gagarin, the great Soviet cosmonaut who was the first man to fly in space.  His name is on boulevards and avenues all over that part of the world now, the way the names of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King are in our country.

In fact, I took the trolley up and down Yuri Gagarin Avenue when I was with my first family.

The mighty Nikita Khrushchev—you know, the shoe-thumping Russian leader who faced us in that scary showdown over Cuba—was partly Ukrainian. At one point, he served as governor of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s climate? Its winters were harsher than ours in Connecticut.  That was awful news for me.  For 15 years I had been escaping from the cold and ice and snow of Connecticut!

Some of us had to study Ukrainian.  We were in Ukraine. So what could be more natural?

But some of us had to study Russian. So many use that as their main language. In fact, just recently there was a strong move to make Russian the second official language. It failed.

By the way, that reminded me of English and Spanish in our country.  We have remarkable language differences across the USA. For instance, Connecticut has just a few Spanish-speaking residents, although growing.  But our Southwest has millions of them, also growing

Why is it surprising to us that Mexicans among us think it’s okay for them to sneak into the USA? Well, they say to themselves, “Hey! This used to be part of Mexico! We were here long before the Gringos!”

I can understand their point of view. They are right—a big part of present California was called Alta California on their maps—“Upper California.”  Just as their territory south of San Diego in Mexico—from Tijuana on down—is now known to everybody as Baja California—“Lower California.”

It’s the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 between us and Mexico that changed everything.  That’s when California and its surrounding southwest states–a quarter of our country today–became part of us.

The history of Crimea is quite similar. It was long  considered a part of Russia and then of the USSR. But now it’s part of Ukraine officially.

So why wouldn’t  the present ethnic Russians there think, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to be a real part of our motherland again!?” In that situation, wouldn’t you think that way?

But now, more about my getting to know Kiev. I mentioned I went every month or so, mostly on Peace Corps business. Sometimes for medical or dental reasons. Or on our Seniors Club business.  Or because it was such a vibrant and interesting place.

It boasted all kinds of cultural and entertainment possibilities, from the opera and symphonies to museums and ever the circus. The circus wasn’t in a tent. It had its own big, impressive building.  By the way, in that part of the world, circus performers are considered  true artists!

It’s a gorgeous city on the great and magnificent Dnipro River. At times, I felt in some neighborhoods I was back in Paris.

When milady Annabelle visited me half way through my service, I took her there.

And when she returned for three weeks at the end of my service (some nice au revoir festivities were planned for me in Chernihiv) –we went to Kiev for three days as a big treat. We stayed at the fine old Hotel Saint Petersburg as our base. And did the city justice.

I also visited other sections of the country. Covered it far and wide.  It’s big.  It’s the second largest country in Europe after Russia. Well, I managed to make it to many corners and many big cities,  including in Crimea — more details in a minute–and in other sectors, such as the cities of Ivano-Frankivsk and Poltava.

I also went all the way west to Lyiv, close to the Polish border. So much in the news right now. Lyiv is the big and intensely proud cultural capital of Ukraine.  Its language is Ukrainian.

Lyiv considers itself European, meaning emotionally linked to France and Germany and Italy and so on. In other words, the European Union. Just the opposite of the ethnic Russians in the west, close to Russia.

We had Volunteers working in Lyiv, of course.

I went to Lyiv four or five times. I found it that interesting and stimulating.  I also took Annabelle there on both her visits. She fell in love with it, too.

It is in Lyiv that the current uproar originated … that its leaders emerged … and that it gained monumental momentum.

We’ve been reading how the swelling contingent of rag-tag protesters and revolutionaries finally made it to Kiev to protest and hopefully negotiate.

And when that failed, how they began to do battle tooth and nail. And made the top news in newspapers and TV around the globe. Even bigger news when they suffered their first fatalities—more than a hundred or so—and horribly mounting casualties. (True, too, of the police force battling them.)

I have also become familiar with the main characters.

Yulia Timoshenko is one.  You know her by now—the Yulia with the long,\ signature braids of blond hair. She has been a power in Ukraine politics a long time.  She was the prime minister in my time.

She was a success in business before she entered politics, and she rose fast in politics.

I see her as a wily, determined, charismatic, and incredibly courageous woman.

She was from the western side, so she was Ukrainian rather than Russian in background and thinking.  She had a strong leaning toward the Europe of France, Spain, Italy, and so on.

She felt that being part of the European community would be terrific for Ukraine as it struggled to grow as a democracy and a capitalist economy.  So, she was eager to get the country into the European Community and she came very close.

She ran for president against Viktor Yanukovich. He won.  He considered her his arch enemy and his most threatening potential rival, and he hated her guts.

He framed her with what are widely believed to be trumped-up charges of corruption. And got her convicted to seven harsh years in prison. Had her put on ice, so to speak. Imagine that!  We’ve had spirited campaigns in the USA, too, but nothing like that!

The truth is that enormous corruption exists in Ukraine, at every level, right down to the cop checking traffic on the highway. It seems ingrained and even cultural, which is a terrible thing to say.

Even Yulia Timoshenko has been tainted, it is said. I’m not surprised. Overall, I believe that she is a true patriot, is well motivated in wanting to do a good job, and that if she took money for a “political favor,” it was minor compared to how many of the other politicos were on the take.

Hey, it’s a common belief that a seat in the Rada, their parliament, can be bought.  I went bonkers when I heard that. It seems so, so impossible.  Now I believe it.

But where, oh where, is there a national government in this world without corruption? Think of the exposés of some of our leaders at our national and state levels. Certainly we have had corrupt Senators and Congressmen. But Ukraine stinks with it.

All of us trainees  were given a subscription to the Kiev Post, published in English by true professional journalists.  Its circulation seems minor,  only 11,000—remember, but it’s in English. Nevertheless it’s very influential.

I continued to read it during my entire hitch. It’s a brave paper, exposing one scandal and misdeed after another. You’ve got to be crazy to agree to write  political news for it. You risk bad things.  I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to buy a life insurance policy.

And the Post has been continuing to cover this crisis with the same audacity and objectivity.

If interested, take a look at www.kyivpost.com. You’ll be impressed.  Do notice, by the way, that its title spells the city as Kyiv, not Kiev.

Anyway, imagine when the battling protesters in Kiev triumphed and within hours got Timoshenko sprung from prison! You probably saw that.

They rushed her to Independence Square to face the victorious crowd assembled there. She’s not old, but she had to be wheeled onto the stage.  She could not stand.  Looked haggard and weak. Everyone could see the ordeal she had been put through.

But she still had her famous braids. And she hadn’t lost any of her fire. She was still the exciting speaker of old. Again she spoke about getting Ukraine finally into the European Union. She congratulated them. The crowd cheered her.

And already she is taking steps—and being spoken of–as the president following the next general election.

The current president, Yanukovich, now cooling it out in Russia, has a public record that smells so bad that it’s hard to believe he ever got elected.

He has been known as the puppet of the country’s “oligarchs”—the super-rich businessmen of Russian sympathy in the eastern bloc.  He is widely considered as a corrupt man who would sell his soul to the highest bidder.

Yet he has supporters and followers, obviously.  The best explanation is that he got to the presidency because he could deliver the goods to those oligarchs and their buddies better than anybody else around.

We’ve read about the unbelievably lavish presidential residence that he had been luxuriating in. There were rumors of it, but no hard evidence.

How at the last minute he tried there to destroy all the  incriminating evidence of his huge and corrupt deals—in panic ditching hundreds of papers in the Dnipro flowing by his backyard.

How the protestors somehow discovered the soggy records, hundreds of them, and set them out to dry in the sunshine.  Already they are being studied, and it is said that what they show is as sordid as so many thought.

I know very little about the newly elected interim leader in the government, Arseny Yatsenyuk. The big fact is that he was a key leader of the protestors and as such looks forward to a Russian-free Ukraine aligned to us in the West. The fact that he got to be the new leader says something about his leadership and strategizing skills.

The big problem is that Ukraine has long been so vulnerable to Russia. Russia has so much muscle and uses it in numerous ways.

That’s what got Yanukovich into so much trouble just a few weeks ago. He had agreed reluctantly with the protestors to pursue a link with the West. Then Vladimir Putin up and offered him $15 billion of help for Ukraine.  The country had been in financial throes for a long time. He abandoned his agreement to join the West and jumped for the money.

That inflamed the revolutionaries. And we all know the startling result.

For years, Russia has been selling Ukraine most of the natural gas that is essential to it. Russia has plenty. Ukraine has little.  Gazprom has been the big Russian supplier. Controlled by Moscow, it’s a monopoly. So Ukraine had/has little choice.

Gazprom has been delivering the gas to Ukraine at a discount–to court it, remind it that it should be super nice to Russia, and keep it in its embrace. The gas goes to Ukraine through an all-important pipeline.

I saw how Russia used its muscle through Gazprom to get its way.

In Chernihiv, in fact all the cities of Ukraine, most people live in huge apartment blocks. They are all based on the same plain, spartan architectural plan in order to make the building easy and fast to build. They were erected quickly after World War II because millions needed decent housing overnight.

In fact, you can find them in all the countries that used to be in the USSR. Still habitable after decades of use.

The massive buildings come five stories high, nine stories, and fourteen.  I never found out why not five, ten, and fifteen, which would seem to make more sense.

I lived in two of them, with my second and third families. The apartments were very small and very basic but comfortable.

All those huge blocks in Chernhiv—hundreds of them—were connected to the same municipal gas supply, which came from Russia of course.  The gas fueled the people’s cook stoves, kept their water hot, and heated their small apartments.

To heat the apartments, the city turned on the gas on in all those blocks on a certain day in mid-October and then off in late March. In the whole city, mind you.

And that was the situation in the whole country.

Well, while I was there, Ukraine faced a heart-palpitating crisis.  Russia, though Gazprom,  announced a huge price jump.  It was politically related, of course. The gas was going to be turned off if Ukraine didn’t cough up. Yes, in the whole country. Imagine!

Ukraine is a very cold place come winter. I remember vividly how people were scared.  How would they get by without the gas? Hey, I worried, too.  I didn’t want to be cold! . wanted  hot meals. I wanted a hot shower.

Finally, after some wild bargaining and badly frayed nerves, a deal got worked out. Whew! But mostly in Russia’s favor, as usual.

It showed the power of Russia. And the hardball games it could play.

And in just the last few days, Russia has pulled that same stunt again. Gazprom stunned the country by announcing it can’t continue to send it gas unless it pays the nearly $2 billion it owes.

I haven’t heard whether it’s been settled. For sure Ukraine will get the short end of the deal.

Now Washington is discussing loosening its export limits for natural gas.  We could supply Ukraine some gas….

Now how about Vladimir Putin?  He follows in the tradition of the tough, single-minded, all-powerful  leaders of the USSR since its founding. With the notable exception of Mikhail Gorbachev.

It’s Gorbachev who stunned the world by announcing the Communist system wasn’t working and had to be abandoned.  And—unbelievable–that the republics of the Soviet Union should be allowed to break away and chart their own future. Well, they did go independent and that was the end of the USSR.

That historic year was 1991. Ukraine was one of the first to opt out. And, what was dramatic, it announced it aimed to be a genuine democratic country and to switch to a capitalist economy. Others took that same road. Others stuck to the old system.

By the way, Gorbachev was of Ukrainian-Russian lineage.

Not long afterward, Ukraine invited Peace Corps to come in.

After that fateful 1991, Russia itself took a huge fall–in its economy and influence and prestige at home and in the world at large. Slowly it is managing a comeback with Putin in the pilot’s seat.

Putin was thick in the old Soviet hierarchy. He was an operative in the hated and feared KBG. That was his springboard to the higher things that he attained.

It is clear that he dreams of a great Russia again, with as many of those now separated republics back in its fold. And considers himself the master architect and strongman to accomplish that. Believes he can pull it off.

He’s playing his cards with that in mind.  He decided that taking the Crimea would be a powerful start.

Well, we all know how he ordered his troops into the Crimea and how they staked out the most important elements of it. Though he denied he was doing that.

We all know how the new, struggling, untested government of the revolutionaries in Kiev panicked and pleaded with the free world for help.

How the European Union offered $15 billion in support.  How we expressed our sympathy and resolved to help.  How Obama tried to reason with Putin and still is, being careful not to start another war, thank God. We know how angry words flew back in forth.

We know how stock markets, which in the USA where heading toward an all-time high, took a beating. So did stock markets around the world.

How Secretary of State Kerry dropped everything and rushed to Kiev for talks with the new leaders. And tried to calm the populace with assurance that we would be a strong partner.

He told them we would provide emotional and, better still, financial support big time.  Nearly instantly we offered  $1 billion.

After Putin invaded Crimea and the huge outcry that followed, he angrily asserted that Russia did that for one reason– ethnic Russians in Crimea and even other parts of Ukraine felt threatened by the blood-thirsty revolutionaries.

We pooh-poohed that, calling it nonsense.  We insisted he was using that as an excuse.

I don’t quite agree. If I were one of those ethnic Russians, I’d certainly be fingering my prayer beads double-time.

Well, Putin seemed to blink. Though he kept up his swaggering bravado, he de-intensified the invasion. Yet he continued to surround Ukrainian military posts and TV stations and other important things in Crimea.

He’s not stopping to foment trouble. He just had an old Soviet warship sunk to block Ukrainian warships from getting out of their harbor.

It’s clear Russia is desperate to annex Crimea. It’s clear many Crimeans want to join Russia.

In fact, the Crimean regional government will hold a plebiscite in just a very few days about seceding and joining Russia.

And Russians in huge numbers in Moscow and throughout the country are inviting Crimea to switch allegiance.

They’re screaming, “Come back! Come home! We welcome You!” Which is heartening to the ethnic Russians and awfully dismaying to the Ukrainians now in power and to and the European Union.

But such things have been going on around the world for centuries, including our own country.

When I read about the revolutionaries risking their lives by fighting the armed might of the establishment in Kiev, I thought that was exactly what we had done at Bunker Hill and Lexington and Concord.

About Crimea seceding, isn’t that what we did when we broke off from England and launched the American Revolution?

Hey, Washington and Jefferson and Ben Franklin and the other signers of our Declaration of Independence knew they’d be hanged if our revolution failed. Yet they signed.

When we all  that incredibly vast real estate from France in the Louisiana Purchase, did we give much thought to the French and Spanish living down there? Heck, no.

Wasn’t it secession when the South broke off from the North and set up its Confederacy and launched the Civil War?

Think of how we annexed Texas. Which is what Russia is planning for Crimea.

How we muscled Mexico into that deal that got us the whole huge Southwest through that treaty of 1848.

Isn’t that what French Québec attempted just a few years ago—twice? To break away from Canada but failed narrowly.  Is still attempting. In fact, has a plebiscite of its own coming up in just a few weeks about that huge issue.

Isn’t Scotland planning to secede from Great Britain in two years?

Many are yelling that the successful revolution in Ukraine has been illegal…contrary to the Constitution…and therefore immoral and dishonest.

Time and again I have seen how any group of 51 percent or more can turn over any applecart.  Even when doing that is branded as unconstitutional and illegal.

The moves and countermoves between Russia and Ukraine and the European Union pop up every day.

Now the new Ukraine leaders in Kiev are flying to Washington to confer with Obama.

Now flights out of Sevastopol are allowed only to Russia. It’s hard to keep up with the developments.

I have no idea how this will play out. I doubt that it’s going to calm down.

I delayed publishing this because I hoped for resolution of the problem. Well, for sure the problem will go on a long time. Even if Crimea goes independent.

My sympathy is with the Ukrainian protesters.  I’m cheering for an independent, Russia-disconnected, European-allied Ukraine. Even if Crimea checks out. But I’m taking nothing for granted.

Now! I hope you don’t think I’ve lost my mind, but I think it wouldn’t be tragic if Ukraine lost Crimea.

Ukraine would then be a more Ukrainian country in genes, culture, and temperament.

It would still be one of the largest in Europe.  And linked finally to Western Europe.

And look around. Many countries much smaller than Ukraine are doing just fine—Sweden, the Netherlands, on and on, and probably best of all, Switzerland.  Smaller can be better.

By the way, our Peace Corps operation there got shut down during the crisis. All the Volunteers were evacuated out.  Not home to the USA. To some other country, but I’m not sure which, though I’ve tried to find out. No idea when it will go back. Surely it will quickly be invited back.

Time and again through this, I’ve thought of all the Ukrainians working at our headquarters, and with Volunteers throughout the country, including the troubled parts. What about them? I assume our Embassy and USAID are functioning.

And all the institutions across the country, of various kinds, which had important, ongoing programs with Peace Corps. Imagine the lurch they’re in.

Of course I thought of all the students that I worked with personally. And the members of the English Club that I started and ditto with my French Club. And of the three families I lived with and the neighbors I met, and the folks at the big Chernihiv Public Library and in other projects I got deep into.

So many of those folks thought of the USA as Paradise, though I made sure to tell them we were very good but not that good.

What about them in all this?

I have little idea.  My hunch is they’re distressed.  Alas!.

Some dreamed and struggled to get into our land of the free and the brave.  I saw that for myself.  Counseled more than one.  Very few succeeded. It’s so difficult.

And—I just thought of this after reviewing what I’ve written–if one or two of you have read all the way down to this final sentence, I’ll say, “Are you kidding me?”

Gosh, the  word count has stopped just short of 6,000!

P.S.

If you want still more background about Peace Corps in general and its mission in Ukraine–and some things about Peace Corps that troubled me– look up my Peace Corps book.

It is available as a print book and e-book at www.amazon.com.  It’s a fine book. I’m proud of it.  Check out its reviews at Amazon. That would be a good start at learning a few things.

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

My very unusual Sunday morning today

By John Guy LaPlante

I’m in warm and sunny Costa Mesa, California. And the morning has been gorgeous!

We sprang forward one hour last night. I love that.

As usual, I  spent  a fine night, and enjoyed my  fine usual   breakfast of oatmeal and fruit and black tea, yes, in  my comfy one-person camping van.

And decided to go to a church service.

I am not a church-goer. Do not belong to a church. But it was the first Sunday in Lent, and that still means something to me after all these years.  And I felt a need. It was that simple. I put on better clothes and headed out.

Last year here, I went to a service at the tiny Christian Community Church nearby. I enjoyed it.  I decided to go back.

I arrived just in time for the 10 a.m. service.

It’s a lovely small church of traditional design on a beautiful corner. Thirty or so cars were in the lot.  Expensive ones and cheap ones. Two men and a lay sporting prominent name tags welcomed me at the front door. Such warm smiles!

“Welome, sir!  Welcome!” I felt they meant it.

It was, I repeat,  a small church and with a small attendance, sad to say. Maybe only 35 or so. It could seat four times that many. I noticed four or five women to every man.  And just three or four traditional  couples. So, quite unusual. Half a dozen approached me, welcomed me, inquired about me.  All wonderful. One of the things I needed, I guess.

Beautiful, joyous music, by a choir of six or seven, plus a piano, a guitar, and drums. They were terrific. We sang along. I didn’t. That’s a talent I sadly lack.

The hymns they were happily singing were projected onto a big screen up front. Every seat had a thick hymnal, but unnecessary these days.

I loved the melodies and the rhythms. I tried to make real sense of the words, but as usual, couldn’t.  Oh, well.

People were well dressed, I liked that.  Some were dressed conventionally.  A few had wilder outfits.  Some men had conventional haircuts like mine. Two or three had long pony nails, but neat.

The church calls itself  “Vibrant, Open, and Loving,.”  Prints those lovely words on its program. Practices them. I remembered all that from last year.  That was one reason I was back.

That, by the way, means that it is open also to the LGBT community. I didn’t know what that meant.  Well, it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender folks. My goodness! But I’m a liberal in most ways, and that sounded good to me.

I looked around to see who I could spot as L, G, B, or T. I couldn’t tell though I hazarded a guess or two.

Dr. Sarah Halverson was the speaker.  She’s the minister—seven years now.  About 35,  maybe touching 40.  She was another reason I was back.  She radiates faith, and community, and openness, and acceptance with Jesus as the ideal. She’s a wonderful person. They’re lucky to have her.

And she speaks with such sincerity, and charm, and warmth.  Plus such learning and wisdom.

Then followed the fellowship hour, out on the patio in the golden sunshine. Shirtsleeves weather! That’s why I’m in Southern California! Coffee and nice goodies. I got to have a nice chat with Dr. Halverson, and somehow she remembered me from last year.

She pointed me to a slim, white-haired  lady in her  upper 60’s, but I’m guessing about that.  Lina, I believe, but I may be mistaken, and I found her so delightful that I’d be profoundly embarrassed because she made such a good impression on me that her name should have remained crystal-clear for me.

As they say, old age isn’t for sissies.

Dr. Halverson—everybody else calls her Sarah—sent me to Lina because she had served in the Peace Corps, too. As an older Volunteer, like me. In Thailand.   She she told me she was a Ph. D. and had had career as a professor of education “I taught aspiring teachers how to teach,” she told me. So, extremely important work. Told she had enjoyed her Peace Corps. We got to talk about a lot of things, some significant. She was another highlight of my morning.

I also got to talk to others.  I met a man, about 60, with a pony tail. And our talking somehow led him to open up to me.  He told me a terrible hard-luck story.

But I liked him.  And was able to make some helpful suggestions, and he seemed to consider them helpful.  I left him thinking our talk had been a win-win situation. We both got something good out of it.

In fact, I felt good, good, good about my whole experience at that lovely small  church. And went on my way.

 

My fuel tank was getting very low.  I pulled into a Shell station, stuck my Visa card into the machine, punched in my Deep River zip—and it didn’t work. Tried again. Failure. Tried again.  Failure.  Walked into the store.  The counter man swiped my card.  It worked. How come?

By the way, I bought $75 worth. The price was $4.01 per gallon.  So, a bit more than 19 gallons. That didn’t come close to filling my tank.

Anyway, a woman had walked in.  In her 40s, neat but with soiled clothes, a scruffy big lady’s handbag in one hand, and a big, big plastic bag crammed with stuff in the other. Homeless for sure, I thought.

She had a couple of dollars in her hand and walked to a display of peanuts and chips.  And looked at the cashier, rather uncertainly.

“No, no, no!,”  He said it sternly, wagging a big finger at her.

I was shocked.  And hey, I was here fresh from a marvelously inspiring  talk about acceptance and openness.   “She wants food!” I said to him indignantly.  “What’s wrong?”

“No.  She wants alcohol.  We know her.”

Anyway she walked out. So did I.

Outside she was waiting for me.  She had three $1 bills in hand. I was sure she had darn little money.

She said something to me and offered me her money.  She was a minority person, and I didn’t understand her English. Besides, I have a hearing problem.

I said, “What kind of food do you want?”

“Beer!” she said.  “Beer!”

In a flash I shot back, “I’m sorry.  I cannot do that!”

She looked so, so crestfallen. So pitiful.  She turned, picked up the big plastic bag she had put down, and trudged away.

I felt awful.

If I had really accepted that heartfelt message of Dr. Halverson’s—be open to others, try to do good to all,  be helpful in practical ways—maybe I should have said, “Yes.” Gone inside with her money, made the purchase, given her the beer, and said, “God  bless you and have a nice day!”

Sure, I would have been encouraging her in her habit.  But hey, I would have been consoling her in a way that seemed so, so essential to her at that very instant.

Did I do right?  Or did I do wrong?

Those two questions are stuck in my mind.

What do you think?

 

The rest of my day has been wonderful.

I am so lucky in so many ways.

How come I’m so lucky?  And that poor woman so unlucky?

I have no explanation that satisfies me, unfortunately.

“Dr. Halverson, help! Please! Please!”

~ ~ ~

To me, A.C. is our patron saint of libraries

 

Would Carnegie weep to see what had happened to this great gift of his? Or would he grin and chalk it up to progress?

Would Andrew Carnegie weep to see what has happened to this great gift of his to the people of Oxnard? Or would he grin and chalk it up to progress?

By John Guy LaPlante

Oxnard, California — I just visited the nice small art museum here. It’s called the Carnegie Art Museum.  It’s a gorgeous building with beautiful Greek columns…Corinthian, I believe.

Right away I guessed it used to be the Carnegie Public Library, and I was right.

Carnegie became a titan of industry but didn't stop there. His greatest achievement was still to come.

Carnegie became a titan of industry but didn’t stop there. His greatest achievement was still to come.

Oxnard has a new and bigger library nearby but it is not called the Carnegie. What a shame!  I feel sad about it. It was named for Andrew Carnegie because he provided the money for it. It’s that library which many years later made the city’s bigger one possible. And he did that same wonderful in communities big and small across the country.

But how many remember Andrew Carnegie? He was famous back in his day and the following few decades. Not many any more.  I do. And you probably do if you’re an older person and enjoy libraries.. But very few in the younger generation do…unless they’re history buffs. Very unfortunate. Because Carnegie did so, so much for public libraries.

Thinking about Andrew Carnegie today, I am reminded of Bill Gates–the Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, of course.

For two reasons.  Both were preeminent industrialists who started from scratch and made history two ways. First, for what they accomplished as businessmen. Andrew Carnegie in developing the steel industry and Gates in ushering in the computer age.

Second, for the good they did later in life for society as a whole–meaning lots and lots of people.  A lot of people who become very wealthy use their wealth to live it up–you know, retire to a life of luxury and loafing. That’s okay.

Carnegie used a huge portion of his enormous fortune to do good by making life better for countless people. And Gates is doing the same thing through his foundation.  It makes me wonder whether he got the idea from Carnegie.

Carnegie not only provided the cash. He worked hard to make his philanthropy successful—as hard as he did to make the money. And the same is true of Gates, it seems to me.

But it’s not on Bill Gates that I’m dwelling today.  Just about every person who enjoys reading, or watches TV news,  knows about him. We are familiar with the spectacular work he is doing as a philanthropist.

It’s Andrew Carnegie that I want to talk about.  If you do know about him, stick with me nevertheless, please. You may learn some interesting new things that will flesh him out.

His business was making steel, and he made tons and tons of it. He became the world’s champion steel maker. He did that by building and operating steel plants in numerous cities, but especially in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He turned it into one of our mightiest cities–in fact, the steel capital of the USA.

And he made what some say was the biggest fortune of any man up to that time.  But it’s because of how he spent a lot of that money that history remembers him, and with deeper reason.

He got a new idea.  A big idea. He grew up in a family that loved books. And he became a great reader himself.

His idea was to build libraries–public libraries open to anybody and everybody! That would be free!

Today we expect public libraries to be free. In fact, we take that for granted. But do you realize what a stupendous and extraordinary concept that was back then?

Sure, there were libraries, but they were private libraries–clubs, sort of, that were supported by members who paid dues for the pleasure of having access to lots of good books. Which meant that you had to be fairly well off to belong. Ben Franklin started one in Philadelphia, our country’s first. Wealthy Bostonians did the same thing with their Athenaeum. So did wealthy people in other cities.

Well, Carnegie built one library, then another, then dozens and dozens.  And he kept at it for nearly 30 years. Between 1891 and 1920 he handed out the cash to build some 2,400 libraries. The exact number is not clear.

And remember, the USA back then was not our great big USA of 50 states today.

Oxnard’s library, built in 1907 with those magnificent Grecian columns, was one of them.  Can you imagine how proud and happy that must have made the book-loving citizens of Oxnard back then? And how it must have encouraged many others who never thought of reading books to develop a passion for that?

He put up $12.000 for that library. That covered the cost of building it. It would be staggeringly more if he did it today.

And it was his typical deal. It would be up to local businessmen to come up with the money to furnish the library and stock it with books. A lot of communities jumped at the chance. “Count us in!” said one community after another. And that’s how he funded 144 libraries in California alone.

And this idea of his gave work to many architects and contractors and suppliers, plus countless workmen, all while greatly expanding the market for books–superb news for authors and publishers and printers, of course.

Today our leaders in Washington speak of stimulus programs to boost our economy.  Well, Carnegie’s program must have been the biggest stimulus program our country ever had up to that time, and a private one it was, mind you.

Yes, he read a lot, but he also wrote. Late in life he published an article entailed “Wealth.”  In it he argued that wealthy people should invest hefty amounts of their wealth in projects whose primary purpose would be to help society. That was a novel idle then. it got attention. Nowadays we recognize that by giving people an IRS write-off for charitable and philanthropic donations.

 

I myself was the beneficiary of Carnegie’s vision and generosity. I was only 12 or 13, as I remember it, when my Maman took me on a trolley car to downtown Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  Then she walked me up the stone steps and through the beautiful doors of our  public library and got me my very first library card.

That’s how I fell in love with libraries. I didn’t even know what a library was.  I’ve never been without a library card since then. And I’ve enjoyed hundreds of libraries. I am not exaggerating.  Many of them Carnegie libraries. I  consider the public library–as he conceived it — the most important building in any community. After the food supermarket, to be sure. We do have to satisfy our stomach before we can our mind.

Without Andrew Carnegie, I’m not sure I would ever have discovered the joy of books and reading.

Well,  if today you, too, consider yourself rich in having a public library card in your wallet, thank Andrew Carnegie. To me he is the patron saint of American libraries.  I suspect that he was a patron saint of libraries all around the world–by his inspiration, I mean.

More than a century has passed since he did all that.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a Centennial Celebration in his honor? A first step would be to publish a Centennial Stamp with his image. To be followed with commemorative ceremonies in our thousands of public libraries.  And then winding up with a huge fête in Washington, DC.

The idea has to be developed, of course, but that could be done by soliciting suggestions from anybody with a public library card.

Of course, it would be encouraging to have some cash to get this Centennial Celebration up and going.

Do you think we could get Bill Gates involved? I think he would be a natural!

~ ~ ~

 

 

I have an accident. Get banged up. My fault.

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — We all have accidents, don’t we? There are two kinds, it seems. Stupid ones because they’re our fault. And genuine ones because they are not.

I just had a stupid accident. The results could have been horrendous. I could have been the biggest headline in the Tribune here the next morning! I am still alive (or so it seems). I did get banged up, but I got off lightly and nobody realizes that better than I do.

My accident was a humdinger and my family know all about it.  I sent all of them an email as soon as I could pull myself together.

Now I am telling you because I have calmed down and I can function better and, very important, there’s a lesson I want to share. Which is how the potential calamity that I precipitated–unintentionally, mind you–was triggered by one second of inattention. Well, maybe two seconds. Got to be more vigilant!

Here’s how it happened. I drove back in my van from a ride into town to Monique and David’s—my daughter and son-in=law. It was around 7 p.m. Very dark out. Parked as usual on the street right in front of their house.

I pushed in the light switch, which turned off both the exterior and dashboard lights. Then shifted into Park and turned off the ignition.  It’s a sequence I’ve done countless times.

I opened the door and stepped out. It’s a big step down and I just started to get out. I had my left foot out and was shifting out. The van began to roll backward. I lost my balance and tumbled out.

As I fell, the heavy door closed on my right arm and pinned it.  I fell on my right side onto the pavement. By some miracle I wrested my arm  free…and laid there stunned.

I hurt but none of my bones seemed broken. I had to flip over. Tried, tried, kept trying. Finally I did it. Managed to get up onto my knees. Tried to stand but could not.  Yelled for help. Nobody heard.

My God! My van had disappeared down the slight incline. Was out of sight.  I crept on my hands and knees toward the sidewalk—had to get out of the line of traffic. Painful. Finally, with a mighty effort, managed to stand. Dizzy. Wobbly. Felt I’d fall.

I took a better look. Where’s the van?  Finally  I spotted it. Diagonally across the street, about 150 feet away in dark shadow. It was hard to see. It was backed up against something in front of a neighbor’s house. A tree, it seemed.

If the road had sloped to the left rather than the right, the van would have hit David’s car, maybe Monique’s also! They were side by side on the short driveway.

I was too hurt, too shaken up to get over to the van for a better look. Had to get into the house. There are 10 or 12 steps up to their big deck. It was tough going. Finally, finally I made it up and opened the door. They had left it unlocked for me.

They were out of sight. Blurted very loud, “What an awful accident I just had!” Both came rushing, saw me, started to help me.

I began explaining. I was breathing hard.  Gave them detail after detail. Monique was examining me. David was looking me over. Both were listening but taking care of me.

Monique rushed to the medicine cabinet. The minute she got back, David ran out to the van. He came back in a few minutes.

Yes, it had backed into a small tree. Magically, its branches had acted as a spring. Without that tree, he said, the van would have run smack into the bow window of the living room. Wow!

Hard to tell how damaged the van was. “But it’s not bad!” That sounded awfully good.  He had started it and driven it back to its proper spot.

They looked me over carefully. Already my right arm was black and blue–grossly so. From the wrist nearly right up to the shoulder! My shoulder was terribly sore. My neck ached. I had bloody scrapes on my elbows and knees. A rip-like cut on my right palm.

My right ankle was horribly swollen and black and blue. Had a bleeding scrape on my right heel—very strange because my heel was protected by my shoe, which had stayed on, and the shoe didn’t show any damage. How come?

My right thigh ached bad, especially when I tried to stand.

Monique cleaned my wounds, put bandages on me here and there. David had gone to the bathroom and come back with two tubes of ointment. “This one is for those sores,” he said, pointing. “This one is for those awful bruises.” I went right to work with them.

Monique gave me two Advils and a glass of water. “Take them right now, Dad!” She’s no nurse, but no nurse could have tried harder.

Strangely, my clothes showed no damage at all.

Of course I wondered whether I should go to Emergency at the hospital. I’m sure Monique and  David were wondering the same thing.

I decided that wouldn’t be necessary. “I have no broken bones, and that’s a miracle!” I told them. “I think I’m going to be all right. It’s not that bad. Thank you. A good night’s sleep will do me a lot of good.”

As soon as she could, Monique phoned the neighbors across the street whose tree had stopped the van. Explained exactly what had happened. My fault.

She happened to speak to Greg, the husband. He took it all calmly. “Glad John is okay!” he said. “I’ll go out and look at the tree in the morning.”

Just a few days earlier, we had attended a dinner at a neighbor’s. I had been invited, too. There were a dozen of us there, including Greg and Lorraine, his wife.

I had enjoyed chatting with them. He had been a tattoo artist, but for the last seven years had run a computer shop–sales and repairs of PC’s- a mile up the road. He loved to go surfing in the Pacific a few blocks away. She was a ballet dancer and taught ballet. It was a wonderful dinner.  Now this awful thing had happened.

Monique and David helped me to bed. Fussed over me. Left a low light on for me. “Call if you need anything!”  Monique said, giving me a kiss.

Sleep didn’t come easily. I was in pain. I had the same thoughts over and over.

How lucky I was that I wasn’t hurt worse. How lucky that my van didn’t do more damage to Greg and Lorraine’s across the street. Imagine if the van had had to be towed away…then been declared a total wreck!

Imagine if it had rolled into an oncoming car! Think of the injuries to those in it. And the van could have dragged me back with it that whole 150 feet! I’d be dead.

Finally I dozed off. Sleep can be so, so wonderful.

In the morning I was somewhat better. I had calmed down. I made a better survey of my injuries.

Monique put new bandages on my sores . My black-and-blue areas looked awful. My right ankle was huge. More ointment on both. My shoulder and neck were very sore. My left hip hurt. But by now I was positive nothing was broken.

Yes, I got off very lightly. It re-enforces my belief that in old age it’s good to be a few pounds overweight. Which I am.Falls are common for us seniors. Those pounds were good padding for my bones. They will also help if I’m ill in the hospital someday and not eating well.

I got up for breakfast with Monique and David. Of course you know what was our Number 1 topic. This stupid accident!

Afterward, I was determined to go outside and see for myself. Got dressed. The van knocked the bark off the tree in four or five places. The worst damage to the van was a slight depression on one of the back doors. About the size of my hand.

In fact, I was amazed by how small all the damage was. I had worried this would be a huge deal!

I went back to bed and slept till nearly noon! That’s incredible for me. Explained by the heavy emotional toll, I guess.

And on the following morning, I drove over to Greg’s computer shop. He was in. Smiled broadly when he spotted me. “John, so glad you’re okay!”

I explained the whole accident, told him it was my fault and offered to pay for the damage to the tree.

“Not a problem! It was all minor!  I’ve got some tree paint. That will take care of it. Forget it!”

What a good guy! The following day I returned to his store and left off a little something for him. Just a token of my appreciation.

What triggered the accident, of course, was that in the dark I didn’t notice that I hadn’t shifted into Park, just into Neutral. I should have turned off the lights just after shifting properly and before cutting the ignition!

The previous week I had just finished three sessions with Dr. John Watson. He’s the chiropractor who finally fixed my neck after my terrible fall down the stairs back home in Deep River four years ago. I couldn’t hold my head up! I walked around with my chin slumped down against my chest!

He figured it out after everybody else failed—including three MD’s, physical therapists, another chiropractor.  When I come every year, I return to him. He always finds some part of me that needs adjustment.

Well, I saw him also after this accident, and he put his skilled hands to work on me again. Again he was helpful.

A week has gone by. I’m much better. My sores are healing. My extensive black and blue is nearly gone. But my right thigh still hurts. And my right foot is still swollen. But I’m confident I’ll get back to normal.

If we, too, have only nine lives, I feel I have only one or two left.

I’ll be starting my 86th year in April. I am so surprised—and pleased—to have reached this advanced age. I’ll be satisfied with one or two.

~ ~ ~

The latest about little old Marjorie and her little old beloved Alabaster

By John Guy LaPlante

Hello, my Friends,,

Your feedback tells me strongly that my sad tale of a few days ago about  Marjorie’s  ongoing heartache  interested many of you.

The wrenching dilemma she faces!  Put Alabaster out of his obviously failing health?  Or spend some of her severely limited funds for veterinary care that might not do much for him? Except assuage her  conscience maybe?  What’s best for Alabaster? What’s best for her?

Well, here’s the latest. From my point of view, not good.

On another morning walk down to Spencer’s Market, I did see her again.  I lit up with a big smile–was so happy to see her approaching. She was on the sidewalk on the other side of the street, coming toward me, a long block away. Again cradling poor old Alabaster in her arms.

As she drew closer, I gave her a great big wave.  But no response, which was strange. Of course, she was  carrying Alabaster, and surely that explained it.  But a  minute later, she took a sharp right turn into her supported-living  complex—a right turn that was not her usual  direction. Away from me!  And quickened her steps.  I was surprised.  And  so disappointed.

“Hi, Marjorie!” I yelled to her.  It had to be a yell.  She kept right on. Then hesitated. Then turned toward me and  gave me a tiny wave…the tiniest wave possible….then turned away and hurried toward wherever she was going,. This was  not the way back to her tiny apartment. I couldn’t believe it. Really couldn’t.

So, friends, what should I make of that? Did she feel  deep down that I had butted in? And resented it?  I myself felt I had been quite helpful.  Was proud to have given her a bit of emotional comfort. What do you think? Have I blundered?

Whatever the explanation, there’s not much I can do about it now.  I have left Monique and David’s after a wonderful visit and I’m on the road in my van again.  I’m heading south toward Los Angeles, approaching beautiful and deservedly famous Santa Barbara.  It will be months before I see Marjorie again, if ever.

I realize Marjorie’s heart has been aching non-stop. What’s best for Alabaster? What’s best for her? What to do? Yes,what to do?   So much on her mind. But now my heart is aching, too..

~ ~ ~

Marjorie is walking into the New Year with her heart aching.

 

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Walking down the hill from my daughter Monique’s on this bright sunny morning, I ran into  little old Marjorie

I wanted to enter the New Year with a new look...my new chin whiskers! To complement my long-time mustache! I think I grew it as an act of adolescent senility, plain and simple...and I'm not sure I'll keep it all 12 months. But what do you think?

I wanted to enter the New Year with a new look…my new chin whiskers! To complement my long-time mustache! I think I grew it as an act of adolescent senility, plain and simple…and I’m not sure I’ll keep it all 12 months. But what do you think?

again.  I was heading down the few blocks to Spencer’s Market for the exercise and a cup of coffee.

Marjorie is a little wisp of a lady, old like me.   Again she was walking up and down the sidewalk outside her subsidized apartment. This was the third time I was running into her.  And again she was cuddling her cute little dog in her arms…holding it right up against her bosom.

“Hi,” she said to me  warmly as I came close.  “Your name is John, right?”

“Yes! And you are Marjorie! And he,” I said pointing to her little dog, “is Alabaster! And you told me that you called him Alabaster because he’s very light in color like alabaster.”

“Perfect!”  And she smiled.  But quickly her smile faded.  Her happiness of a moment ago just went poof.  She looked down at Alabaster.  Tenderly she brushed his head.  Brushed it again. And again.

“Marjorie, it looks like Alabaster is not doing very well this morning.”

“Yes,” she sighed.  “Yes, that’s true.  Oh, this is so, so hard….”  And stopped talking right there.

“I’ll bet you  spend a lot of time with Alabaster in your arms.”

She nodded. “Yes. Sometimes in the night, too.”

The last time we met, Marjorie had told me a thing or two about Alabaster.  He was 16–which, as dogs go, made him very old like Marjorie and me. She had taken him in 14 years ago and he had become her whole family now. Well, here in Morro Bay anyway.  It happens so often for old people who find themselves living alone. Their bet becomes everything to them.

She had been married, and for many years.  She had told me about it.  “Oh, he was a good man. But he started drinking, and much too much.  He became a bum. Yep!  Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had a brother here, so I moved here.  And he”–she clutched Alabaster even tighter–“entered my life.”  She smiled again, but just a bit.

Yes, Alabaster was very old.  That was clear to me.  And he was obviously contented in Marjorie’s loving arms. In a way, Alabaster was so, so fortunate.

“I can see you are troubled this morning, Marjorie.”

Slowly she nodded.  Was silent.  Then spoke. “Alabaster is sick.  I’m so worried. And I have to renew his license.  And can you imagine–a license costs $25 now!” A heavy sigh.  “And I can’t keep him with me  in my apartment if he is not licensed!” She paused.

“And I should take him to the vet.  Really should. He needs the doctor’s help. And…  and maybe… maybe…” now her words came hard, ” I should have him put down….”  She clasped Alabaster even closer to her heart. Stared down at him.  I could see how she was aching.

“I know, Marjorie.  I understand.  Yes, I do. You love Alabaster.  And I can see Alabaster loves you. That’s for sure.  And I see how he is such a wonderful, wonderful pet…and such a huge blessing in your life.”

She nodded.  She held him. Rocked him a little.  I kept mum.  Put my hand on his head and brushed his soft fur a little.  I remained quiet.  She was quiet.  We both understood the sad situation.

“You know,” she said, “I tell my children, When my time comes, all I want is to be kept comfortable.  Take care of my pain if at all possible, of course.  And stay close to me if you can, please. Stay right by my side. But let me go.  Just let me go.”

“Gosh, Marjorie. I think that way, too.  And know what?  Maybe that’s how Alabaster feels.  Who knows?  It’s possible.  I’m sure he loves you the way you love him.  For sure you are the most important person in his life, too.  Maybe he just wants you to let him go. To just let him go….”

“Maybe so… maybe so….” She looked up at me.  Gave me a little smile.  It was weak, but she smiled.

I smiled back.  Patted Alabaster again. Gave Marjorie a pat on the shoulder. Looked into her eyes and smiled.  And resumed  my walk down to Spencer’s Market.

Well, I haven’t been able to do that little walk of mine for a couple of days now.  But I hope I’ll run into Marjorie again my next time down.  I wonder whether she’ll still be cradling Alabaster if I do.

END

I changed my friend’s name.  Her dog’s, too. Changed another little thing or two.  I’m sure you understand. I thought of taking a picture of her and her pet for this. But that would give them away, of course.

 

The shockingly unthinkable has happened!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 3 photos.

It’s like going to the moon. Unthinkable when I was a boy.  But it happened! Now something else totally unthinkable to me has happened. A brand-new library has been

For years like many others, I've loved poling through the stacks of public libraries. Will my grandkids have this pleasure? I doubt it.

For years like many others, I’ve loved poking through the stacks of public libraries. Will my grandkids have this pleasure? I doubt it.

built but with zero printed books!  It’s filled with digital books– only e-books! Can you believe it?

This isn’t a science-fiction fantasy. That e-library is a reality, here on this planet and now. with its doors open to the public as I write.

It’s in Texas, in San Antonio, which is in Bexar County. It was designed and built just for this radically new purpose, so it’s futuristic looking, of course.  Take a good look at the photo I’ve included.

This amazing library is called the BiblioTech. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? A marriage of books and technology! But as I mull  over the name, I see it is wonderfully  appropriate.

Bibliotech opened  September 14. It’s been getting enormous attention, and some brave souls  are calling it the library of the future. Which to me suggests the demise of libraries as we know them. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

To get the Bibliotech ready, by the way, $178,966 worth of  iPads, iMacs and MacBooks was purchased from Apple, Inc..  It will be like being in an Apple store, I would think. It seems the BiblioTech designers  even  gave it the look and feel of an Apple store. The Microsoft people must be weeping.

Of course, it’s common now for libraries all over the civilized world to have a digital area, or a digital room, with computers and printers and scanners and all the associated stuff. But who ever would have thought of a dedicated e-book library?

It’s not surprising that this first of its kind is located in Texas. Texans are known for their big hats, big boots, big ideas.

This is the Bibliotech! Right out of "Buck Rogers," if you remember that wonderful comic strip. The future has arrived! if you remember him.

The BiblioTech seems right out of “Buck Rogers”!  Do you remember that great comic strip?  Well, that future has arrived!  I hope to get to visit BiblioTech.

But now let’s look at BiblioTech’s details, which are fascinating. Here is what BiblioTech says about itself. I’ve put in italics.

BiblioTech is the first public digital library of its kind. Membership is
free to all Bexar County residents. Patron services include:

Access to BiblioTech’s digital collection including e-books, audiobooks.
Wireless internet access.
Computer classes.
Laptop, desktop and tablet access.
E-readers (available for circulation).
Programs for children and adults.
Study/meeting space.

Through BiblioTech, residents of Bexar County will be able to access over
10,000 current titles through e-readers that they can check out to take
home or read on the premises.  Residents will also be able to use their
own e-readers or tablets to access the collection.

BiblioTech currently has 600 e-readers, 200 pre-loaded enhanced e-readers
for children, 48 computer stations, 10 laptops and 40 tablets to use on-site.
Additional e-reading accommodations will be made for the visually impaired.

Its Mission:
To provide all Bexar County residents the opportunity to access technology and its applications for the purposes of enhancing education and literacy, promoting reading as recreation and equipping residents of our community with necessary tools to thrive as citizens of the 21st Century.

About Bexar County:
It includes the city of San Antonio), is located in South Texas and covers approximately 1,247 square miles.  Based on the 2012 Census Estimate, the overall population is 1,714,773 individuals.  The city of San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the United States having surpassed Dallas, Texas and San Diego, California.  Bexar County is currently the 4th most populated county in Texas (out of 254 counties) and the 19th most populated county in the country.

Gosh, isn’t it all mind-boggling?

Ashley Eklof,Bibliotech's head librarian. A true pioneer!

Ashley Eklof,,BiblioTech’s  librarian. A true pioneer!

Who’s in charge. BiblioTech’s librarian is Susan Eklof. She’s beautiful.  From her photo, looks like a 22-year-old geek right out of an Apple store.  Nothing like the unfair stereotype that we’re all familiar with–the classic old-maid librarian with  books in one hand and a feather duster in the other hand. Anything but.
Actually, Ms. Eklof was trained at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. In computer science and library science, I presume.  Later she worked in a public school system up there, at that kind of work, I would think. Well, she is walking into history as a true pioneer. For sure she will be famous in the annals of library science–or information technology–as some in the field now call it.

The County Manager is David Smith. He said, “One of her passions is increasing access to technology and information,” So no surprise she was chosen.

Said another high official to her. “You’re about to embark on an adventure that’s not been done anywhere in the United States, probably anywhere in the world. You’ve got a good team. We’re going to build something for the kids of the South Side of San Antonio that will enhance their learning like no other place in the country.”

Truth is, I kind of saw this coming. But never, never in my lifetime did I expect to see an  e-library like the BiblioTech.  But a year or so ago I read something startling. As you know, Amazon.com, among other things, is our biggest retailer of books. Bigger than Barnes & Noble even. But last year it sold more e-books than print books! Wow! And at that time, a report by the Pew Foundation said that 19 percent of adults in the U.S. had read an e-book. I was amazed the percentage was so high. And the trend showed no signs of slowing.

What does this portend? Not good news. Certainly not from my point of view as a library lover. It portends that public libraries as I know them and you do, too, are imperiled. Doomed. Will disappear. I say this although I’m aware public libraries have more users than ever, which is encouraging. But this is only because libraries are morphing into something far more than the our narrowly focused libraries of even ten or fifteen years ago.

People go to public libraries take out books, of course, and read newspapers and magazines, but also take out movies and music disks, listen to talks, take the numerous mini courses more and more libraries now offer, and relax in the coffee shops some libraries now run, and be among people–it’s  surprising how many folks live alone, particularly older ones.

And to use free computers! That’s Number 1 for most users.  In fact, I believe that this is the most popular service provided by any public library in the United States today.

I have often said that I consider the public library the most important institution in any community–second only to the food supermarket, of course. Nearly everything I need to know  about any city or town I can find out just by taking a ride up and down its main street and then checking out its library.  That will tell me plenty.

I myself have a stake in this new e-technology. How so? Well, my three books were published as printed books but they have also been published as e-books–this is so essential nowadays.

For years I wrote articles and columns and essays and PR releases for newspapers–print newspapers, that is.  Now what I write appears in e-newspapers mostly. In fact, you will be reading this  initially in my blog. Later in an e-paper or two. And this all because of  the great advances of computer science–a science which never existed back in my school days.

Computers are an essential part of my life. I own three. Plus all the peripherals. I use them daily for work and research and entertainment. It’s a real emergency for me when wi-fi fails or some other weird thing happens. Also digital camera and cell phone. And I own two e-book readers, a Kindle and an iRiver Story HD–it accesses many things my Kindle doesn’t. I’ve downloaded books onto them. But know what? I hardly use my e-readers. I’m just too old-fashioned, I guess. And I’m experimenting with a tablet. So some would say I’m quite computer savvy though I often feel I’m a klutz.

Still. and I know I’m repeating, I am totally amazed that a library like the BiblioTech can exist.  But if I were 20 or 30 years old and lived in Bexar County, for sure I would be a regular at the BiblioTech. Certainly many more like it will appear. City after city will jump on the bandwagon.

The BiblioTech people call their e-library progress, of course, and deep in my heart I believe that it is.  I wish it well.  Progress is a steamroller and there is no stopping it.  But I’m not ready for this particular variety of it.

As you know I have had a passion for books since I was a boy. I’ve had a public library card since I was ten or eleven, I believe. I got it back in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
My Maman walked me right up the granite  steps and through the bronze doors of the Slater Public Library and got me signed up. That was very soon after she had taken me to the Pawtucket Boys Club to get me started in swimming lessons.

Yes, my mother, a young French-speaking immigrant from Québec who never got to learn to speak English well because she spent all day at home taking care of my Papa and us! But she, too, loved to read, not only in French but in English, and got so good at reading in English English and did so well that she subscribed us to the Saturday Evening Post and the Reader’s Digest. When they arrived, she’d stop everything, curl up in her favorite chair, and escape into them for half an hour.

I inherited my love of books from her. I have books in every room. Plus two sets of encyclopedias. Plus a variety of reference books. Much of their content is now easily accessed by computer, of course. But it’s a comfort to feel them around me. And I own them. Not true of e-books. And e-books do zero for the ambiance I like. I feel about books the way some feel about paintings (I do own paintings as well). I owe so much to all the authors who have entered and enhanced my life through their books.

My Papa had the same background as Maman but he learned to speak English on the streets and through serious practice and in time became a successful businessman. Even moved us into a nice colonial-style home with an in-ground pool, quite unusual back then. But we always spoke French at home, right to their final breath.

Well, I have never been without a library card ever since Maman got me that first one.  And I hope I never will be.  It’s a rare night that I go to sleep without a book in my hands. Often a library book. That card is one of the most precious things I own. For symbolic reasons, too.  That in itself is remarkable. Wonder of wonders, that library card will be honored at any public library in the state! No questions asked. That in itself is remarkable.

It doesn’t seem likely that I will ever become a card-carrying member of a BiblioTech-like library. But who knows? Right now I have only one more comment to make. If you have read all this, you, too, are definitely a reader!  How lucky you are! Whether you are reading printed books or e-books or both.Reading is the key to so much.
So, how do you feel about this amazing development of the BiblioTech? I’d be pleased to get your comments.

Oops, a new thought. Will users of  the BiblioTech be allowed to bring in pads and pencils and pens and printed books? Probably not. Who needs that old-fashioned stuff? Well, I do.

 

To subscribe or unsubscribe Click Here