Flying to Florida 1959

My first flight was in the summer of 1959—to Florida of all places. Way back around 1946-47, we had all lived in Lake Worth, now a suburb of West Palm Beach. My Dad had the worst job in the world for someone with a delicate stomach: disposing of the bodies of dead alligators. My Mom worked as a checker in a supermarket. So when Mom wanted to hook up with her Florida friends a dozen or so years later, my Dad wanted no part of it.

Wait a minute! Florida in the summer? Were we out of our minds? Apparently. It was either June or July, and Mom had made a reservation at an apartment on Federal Highway in Lake Worth. So Mom, my brother (then seven years old), and me (aged fourteen) were off to Cleveland Hopkins Airport, where we boarded a prop plane similar to the one shown above and flew to Jacksonville, where we landed to embark and disembark passengers, and continued on to West Palm Beach.

That second leg of the flight was a real doozy. We were flying at low altitude through a violent thunderstorm. I saw a stewardess lose her footing and dump a tray of beverages into the laps of a row of passengers.

Then, when we finally landed in West Palm Beach and stepped out of the plane, it was as if we were hit in the face with a hot, wet towel. Cleveland in the summer was humid, but nowhere near so bad as Florida. We sort of got used to it. We even got used to seeing dead palmetto bugs as big as mice piled up along the curbs.

Bookworm that I was, even at that early age, I remember vividly that I was reading Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur, which I completed there and started reading MorrisWest’s The Shoes of the Fisherman. Good reading for a devout Catholic schoolboy, though I couldn’t stomach it today.

One interesting memory of that trip: My Mom had worked for a rich widow in Palm Beach named Mrs. Gregory. One day, we went to visit her. Mom always thought that some rich person would out of the goodness of her heart shower us with money and gifts. It never happened. Instead, we went for a ride in her chauffeured Cadillac with no air conditioning and the windows resolutely closed on a sweltering day. Afterwards, she generously offered us a glass of ice water.

At Sea in 1949

Boats and Fish Seen By Me at the Age of Four

It’s in execrable shape—but then, so am I—but here is a pencil drawing I made at the age of four. It is inscribed by my mother in Hungarian “Jimmy drew this in March 1949.” It displays an attention to detail surprising for a little boy who did not have access to television and who did not know a word of English. All I had were the stories my mother told me. Interestingly, she made them up herself most of the time. A lot of them involved fairy princesses and dark forests.

Then, too, there were the stories she read to me from library books. We would go together to the public library near Harvey Rice School (where I would go for kindergarten and half of first grade) and pick them out, mostly based on the pictures in them. My mother knew English: she was born in Cleveland, but taken back to Hungary to be raised. She would meticulously translate the selected stories from English to my little-boy Magyar tongue. (Magyar means Hungarian in the Hungarian language.)

At the time, we were living at 2814 East 120th Street in the Buckeye Road Hungarian neighborhood of Cleveland. For several blocks around, one could be born, live, and die without knowing a word of English. Not any more, of course. Eventually all the Hungarians moved out and it became a black ghetto. We moved out, too, in 1951, shortly after my brother was born.

Carnitas for My Birthday

Crispy Carnitas with Fresh Corn Tortillas. Yum!

Today I got taken out for my upcoming birthday. I had lunch with my brother and sister-in-law, my niece Jennifer, and her boyfriend John. I didn’t expect that birthday would be remembered—in fact, I haven’t given any thought to it at all. So it came as a pleasant surprise.

We were at the Kalaveras Restaurant in Redondo Beach. I was in the mood for a plato de carnitas with the pork slightly crispy. One of my favorite Mexican meals are home-made carnitas soft tacos with guacamole, hot sauce, and fire-roasted jalapeño chiles. The carnitas at Kalaveras came with cooked plantains and the usual beans and rice.

What with the conversation and the great food, I haven’t enjoyed myself half so much since Martine and I spent a week in Honolulu in September. Martine did not join us as she is still enduring the pain of a cast on her right arm after she broke two wrist bones late in December. She has a orthopedist appointment on Tuesday, so we’re both hoping the cast comes off, or is replaced with something less painful.

I don’t usually feel good about my birthday. In fact, I usually don’t feel anything about my birthday. Somehow, this year looks to be different.

An Abrupt End to Carols

It Happened Decades Ago in Sacramento …

I first met Martine when she was living in Sacramento and working as a civilian at the old Sacramento Army Depot. My mother was alive at the time and lived near McClellan Air Force Base. One day, while I was visiting her, I saw this young woman approach the front door carrying a bag of oranges. It was my first meeting with Martine, whom I invited out on a date set for New Years Eve.

It was a strange date. We saw a Swedish film called My Life as a Dog, then we went out to a Chinese restaurant. We had difficulty finding one, as there were rolling power outages occurring all around the city. But we finally found one where the lights were on.

When I would drive up to visit Martine around Christmas time, she typically listened to a radio station that played nothing but Christmas carols. That didn’t bother me much, except they always snuck in “The Little Drummer Boy” (pa-rum pum pum pum).

Once, as it was nearing midnight on Christmas Day in 1988 or 1989, they started to play that damned song. Somebody at the radio station must have been of my mind, because just as they were to ring out with the nth pa-rum pum pum pum, at the stroke of midnight there was a sound as if a chicken were having its neck wrung. And that was it for the Christmas carols on that station that year. I laughed so hard I started coughing.

I always hated that song pa-rum pum pum pum.

The Better Angels of My Nature

Christmas Angels at the Grier-Musser Museum

Although I am of two minds about the Christmas holidays, the better angels of my nature have urged me to wish for all of you a time of caring and warmth. Even if you don’t have a tree decorated with ornaments and tinsel, even if you don’t send out a hundred Christmas cards, even if you don’t spend hundreds of dollars on carefully wrapped presents—may the real meaning of the holiday catch up with you and leave you with a good feeling all throughout this year and the year to come.

Merry Christmas!

Ach! Not Again!

UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center

Yesterday morning, I found myself being admitted to UCLA Hospital’s emergency room. That morning, I awoke around six in the morning to go to the bathroom. Coming back I found myself bumping into things. When I tried to get back into bed, I slipped and fell on the floor pinning my left shoulder between the bed and my nightstand. I was too weak to make a serious attempt to get up.

Martine heard my fall and frantically tried to help me. But how could she, with her right wrist in a cast from when she broke it the week before. For hours she tried to make me comfortable and gave me water to sip through a straw. Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to give me 30mg of Hydrocortisone, which, as it happened, is the cure for the symptoms I was experiencing.

Time and time again, she asked if I wanted an ambulance. My consciousness was improving from the Hydrocortisone Martine gave me, so I finally said yes. It seemed that the bedroom was crawling with Emergency Medical Technicians from the Fire Department within minutes. They hauled me out of my wedged position and dumped me on the bed. Their strongly recommended I be admitted to the hospital. I tried to resist their suggestion until I had the feeling that it was pretty much de rigeur in their profession.

So, as when I had my last serious Addisonian Crisis on December 30, 2017, I was trundled down the apartment steps, plunked into the ambulance, and driven to the UCLA Hospital emergency room (but without the sirens).

What was wrong with me? The scientific term is panhyopituitarism, which means I no longer have a pituitary gland. It all happened many years ago. To read the gory story of my near-death experience in 1966, click on this post from April 2015.

By the time I got to UCLA, I was feeling pretty good as the Hydrocortisone was doing its job; but I knew I would have to go through the medical profession’s equivalent of the death of a thousand cuts. I was wheeled from one clerk to another and asked for details which were entered into their system. Fortunately, In December 2017, I had roughly the same situation.

Still, it seems that emergency wards assume you have some internal organ problem such as a heart attack or cancer, so I was hooked up with little stickies all over my upper body and probed with needles until the doctors determined that, yes, I would not be likely to die on the spot. My problem was not a disease of an internal organ, but the fact that I was missing the body’s master gland and occasionally needed to have extra amounts of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) in lieu of natural adrenaline.

On at least two dozen times, I made the point that the problem was that I had no pituitary. I had to talk with an endocrinologist because my ailment was not a common one, certainly not one that a typical emergency room physician would grasp. Not only that, but the cure had been applied hours before when Martine gave me my medications. Back in 2017, the same hospital held me for three days until the resident endocrinologist strolled in with her hands in her pockets and, immediately understanding my situation, had me released.

Fortunately, I was released late that afternoon. Maybe it was the record of my 2017 experience that convinced them to let me go. Maybe it was because they had me walk to the bathroom and saw that I was fully mobile. And apparently, the doctors did talk to the endocrinologist who told them to let me go. I felt bad to be around all those persons who were really suffering. I kept telling the nurses I felt I was occupying space in their emergency room under false pretenses.

So I took a taxi home, and Martine was at the front of the apartment to give me my wallet so I could pay the driver.

The funny thing is, there is little advanced warning when one is about to suffer an Addisonian Crisis. In this case, I didn’t suspect something was wrong until I returned from the bathroom to go to bed. That was approximately a half-minute warning.

No Nurse, He!

I Discover That I Would Not Make a Good Nurse

Last Tuesday, I posted here that Martine broke her wrist in two places. Worse luck, it was her right wrist; and she is right-handed. I suddenly found myself in the position of being on call fifty times a day or more to help dress her, open jars, wash dishes, help with the laundry, and carry out the garbage and recycling, Neither of us has been in a particularly good mood throughout this ordeal, though our eruptions are fortunately short-lived.

Today Martine had her plastered splint removed and replaced with a fiberglass cast. It turned out she replaced one fiercely uncomfortable hard wrap with another. At first, the fiberglass cast was a vast improvement—until it hardened and pinched as bad as the plaster and splint ever did.

Until such time as Martine’s wrist heals, I am the only pair of working hands in this household.

Broken Wrist

Today, Martine slipped on a rug in the bathroom and, grabbing for the wall, broke her right wrist in two places. She was in such excruciating pain that she was not able to communicate with me for upwards of a half hour. As soon as she was able to move, I drove her to UCLA Santa Monica Hospital’s emergency room. It was only by clutching a largish container of blue ice that she was able to endure the agony.

We were in the ICU for over six hours while she was X-Rayed, injected with Lidocaine, and bandaged with a splint (twice, after her thumb became numb the first time). For the whole time that I was waiting next to Martine’s gurney, a homeless woman tried to use me as her private nurse while she loudly threatened to check herself out of the hospital if she didn’t get her oatmeal instanter.

It looks like there will be some changes to my schedule as Martine is unable to wash dishes or wet her bandaged splint. I had been planning to visit my brother in Palm Desert this weekend, but we’ll have to reschedule.

My goal is to see Martine through this difficult period, just as she helped me through two broken shoulders and three cracked ribs. That kind of support is an effective way of showing love.

Journey to the East

Indian Holy Man

In many ways, most of my life has been a “Journey to the East.” I was raised as a Roman Catholic, going to Catholic schools from the 2nd through the 12th grades. Even at Dartmouth College, I was a worshiper at the Newman Club. In fact, when I fell into a coma in September 1966, it was Father William Nolan, the Catholic chaplain at Dartmouth, who urged the school’s medical insurance program to keep covering me, even though my coverage had officially lapsed at the beginning of the month. So my family and I owe a debt of gratitude to the Catholic Church.

One does not undergo a massive physical trauma without affecting the way one thinks and believes. That September, I was getting ready to take the train to Los Angeles to start graduate school in film history and criticism at UCLA. I had to delay my film classes until the winter quarter to allow me to recuperate.

What was the first book I read when I arrived in Los Angeles? It was Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, closely followed by Paul Reps’s Zen Flesh Zen Bones. I had begun my own Journey to the East, mostly in my reading.

Why did I never fly to Asia to experience Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism directly? Strangely—especially for someone who was visited so much of Latin America—I was afraid that I wouldn’t survive the experience. Among my fellow Clevelanders who attended Dartmouth College was a student by the name of Noel Yurch. I was shocked to find out from the alumni magazine after I had graduated from college that he had gone to India and died of some gastrointestinal disease.

Curiously, my niece Hilary went to India and studied Yoga at an ashram without suffering any major adverse effects. Today, she is a yoga instructor in the Seattle area. But I was convinced it would be fatal for me. Was it nothing but funk? Perhaps.

Today, I still read many books about the Eastern religions. I consider myself to be a strange combination of Catholic, Hindu, Taoist, and Buddhist. Although I do not go to church on Sundays, I do not consider myself to be an Atheist or even an Agnostic. And when I visit Mexico or South America, I spend hours visiting Catholic churches and even attending Mass. But I no longer buy the whole package.

So in my so-called Journey to the East, I still have one foot in the Catholic Church, or at least one or two toes.

Family Life in America

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, first of all, it’s a big family dinner with all the trimmings in which all the participants are openly delighted with one another. And they’re actually listening to one another. Where’s the strange uncle wearing the red MAGA hat? Where are the scowling teenagers? On the plus side, there isn’t any food on the plates yet, though there’s a big turkey at the far end of the table waiting to be carved. So perhaps there’s still time for the expression of discontent.

Martine and I both agreed that we liked Halloween better than Thanksgiving or Christmas. There was no need for any pretense of a closely-knit family. One just pretends to be someone else and pigs out on candy. Americans don’t do family well. We talk about it a lot, but most families at best have the appearance of an armed truce.

Read J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy or Tara Westover’s Educated to get an accurate picture of family life in America. Oh, I’m not saying that the disaffection is universal, just that it’s dismayingly prevalent.

It wasn’t that way for my own family: but, being Hungarians, we did not care that much for American holiday traditions. Except my brother and I really got into the Halloween sugar rush. We never had turkey for dinner in Cleveland, as both my father and I did not like it very much, and I still don’t. We usually had Christmas dinner with my aunt and uncle in Novelty, Ohio, but it was usually as much Hungarian as it was American. Come to think of it, back then we enjoyed the holidays without feeling in any way obliged to grin and bear it.

We now usually go out for Thanksgiving with friends. But over the last several years, Martine and I celebrate Christmas with home-cooked beef stew served with a Hungarian red wine, preferably Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood of Eger).