Communing with the Desert

The Cactus Garden at Sunnylands

Tomorrow, I’ll be driving to the Coachella Valley to spend some time with my brother and his family—a mini-reunion of sorts. It’s wonderful that I could go to the desert when the weather is perfect for hiking (highs in the mid-sixties), rather than having to slave away on processing tax returns. (I’ve already filed my tax return a few days ago.)

My next post will be on Monday or Tuesday of next week. See you all then.



A Place Onto Its Own

Until late in 1966, when I took a train from Cleveland to Los Angeles, I had never been farther west than Detroit. My only notion of the American Southwest came from watching Roadrunner cartoons. Then, early one morning late in December of that year, the El Capitan went through the Mojave Desert. It was d-r-y, yet there were little puddles beside the track that were frozen over. It was the beginning of my adjustment.

More than half a century later, I am still adjusting. Where back East, rain was a frequent occurrence, here it was rare, though occasionally tumultuous. In our last rain, some 17 people in Santa Barbara County were buried in mudslides when a heavy rain hit an area that had been affected by the Thomas Fire.

If you have never been “Out West,” you won’t get the picture over a short weekend. There is an element of time in the deserts of this Earth that has to be experienced. It’s not like Woody Allen breezing into town and complaining about mashed yeast and the legality of making right turns at stoplights. Experiencing L.A. will probably involve some discomfort. This ain’t no Paradise, nor yet is it Valhalla.

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park

What helps is to travel around the Southwest to see the variety of strange scenery, from the Grand Canyon to many of the other National Parks—one vastly different from the other.

After all these years, I’m just getting started on the road to understanding what life here is all about.


You Don’t Ever Want to Dance with Me

My Cousin Peggy and Me in Hungarian Folk Dance Costume

This is partially adapted from a post I wrote for the late lamented Multiply.Com in March 2010.

That’s me at the age of five with my pretty little first cousin Peggy. Both of us are wearing Hungarian folk dancing costumes—but I’m not quite sure about how those cowboy boots fit in. Knowing what a stubborn little cuss I was, I probably insisted on wearing them instead of the traditional black leather boots.

Stubbornness was very much a part of my early years. I did not like being photographed: Many of my early snapshots show me glowering at the camera. And I most certainly didn’t like to dance. Even in those days, I had no idea how to move in time with music without punishing the feet of my partners. Of course, that made me fiercely unpopular with all my dancing partners; and that didn’t make for enjoyable dancing lessons.

Notice how thin I was in the above picture—so thin that it was around then that my parents took me to St. Luke’s Hospital for observation. The doctors said there was nothing wrong with me and predicted that I would eat my parents out of house and home. (I did.)

I have always been a little out of step. As much as I enjoy listening to music, I recall with pleasure the anecdote about Ulysses S. Grant, who is supposed to have said, “I know only two tunes: One is Yankee Doodle, and the other one isn’t.”

Although I played the alto saxophone for many years, it was with little pleasure. By a fluke, I became first saxophone in my high school band; but Chuck Matousek, who played second sax, was much better than me. He could play “Night Train” from memory: I couldn’t play anything from memory.



Identical Twins

My Father, an Unidentified Friend, and My Uncle Emil

This photo was taken long before I was ever thought of, probably in he late 1930s or early 1940s. Both Paris twins are shown: Elek (Alex) on the left on Emil on the right. There were times as I was growing up when it was difficult to tell one from the other, but here, it is clearly my Dad on the left. What’s the giveaway? My Dad was always a bit scruffier than my Uncle, who in this picture is actually wearing spats over his shoes and, in general, is more stylishly dressed. Unfortunately, I inherited my father’s sense of style and have always been described as scruffy.

The Paris twins were born in what is today Prešov-Solivar  in the Republic of Slovakia. When they were born in 1911, it was merely a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, primarily under Hungarian administration. Although Elek and Emil chatted in Slovak whenever they wanted to hide something from me, both of them were more comfortable speaking Hungarian.

They had a hard life because they were abandoned my their parents in the famine that struck the area after the First World War. They had decamped to the United States, while Elek, Emil, and their sister Margit had to fend for themselves in the foothills of the Carpathians around their town. They were aided in this by an aunt, Dorcsa, whom I met in 1977. Much of the time, they hunted for mushrooms and frogs to feed themselves. In 1929, the family was reunited in Cleveland, Ohio; but there was always bad blood between the parents and their children.


“We Cling to Whatever Floats”

Actually It’s a Lot Sooner Than That

Let’s face it: 2017 was nobody’s favorite year, unless they’re billionaires or right-wing extremists. And it definitely wasn’t mine. In the month of December, not only did I break some ribs, but Friday I was admitted to UCLA Hospital for one of my rare recurrences of adrenal insufficiency.  If you want the full background of what happened to me in September 1966, click here. To summarize very briefly: Chromophobe adenoma (pituitary brain tumor, rarely malignant) leads to panhypopituitarism which results at intervals in an Addisonian Crisis, which is what I had on Friday. The cure, very simply, is to inject me with 100mg of Solu-Cortef. Otherwise, I just fade peacefully and lethargically into nonexistence.

Unfortunately my condition is rare enough to flummox most doctors. It took a whole day for them to come up with an endocrinologist. Fortunately, she knew her stuff; and I got well quickly. Most doctors know that my condition exists, but they know little or nothing about the symptoms and treatment.

So that, plus my retirement and Martine’s impending departure (some time in January), added to the continuing devastation wrought by the Trumpf Administration, has led me to regard 2017 as an evil year.

2017 was, indeed, a prime number, which school janitor Frazz in the above cartoon strip of the same name, got right. But his teacher friend, Miss Jane Plainwell, is wrong about the next prime year being 4034, which it can’t be because it is evenly divisible by two. The next ten prime number years are, in order: 2027, 2029, 2039, 2053, 2063, 2069, 2081, 2083, 2087, and 2089. As you can see, they come pretty fast and furious.

Are there any benefits to be derived from surviving through a year that is also a prime number? Nope. As Frazz observes, “We cling to whatever floats.”

I wish all of you a Happy New Year!

It Looks Like I Did It This Time!

Three … Count ’em … Three!

On Thursday, I went to see my doctor, who immediately suggested that I get the right side of my ribs X-Rayed. Which I did, but the radiologist never got around to telling me the good … or bad … news. But he had conveyed the info to my doctor, who called me on Friday with the news. I broke three ribs.

Tuesday, the day of the fall, wasn’t so bad, as my body’s own deception system was in force. Wednesday and Thursday, however, were horrible. If a butterfly had collided with me, I would have screamed in pain. Everything seemed to result in spasms of pure torture. Worst were the nights: Spasms attacked me when I laid me down in bed, spasms attacked me if I moved so much as a millimeter, and spasms attacked me when I had to get up out of bed. If I had to go to the bathroom during the night, I awakened Martine with my screams upon shifting my legs to the left and getting up.

Yesterday, my doctor prescribed some acetaminophen with codeine to help me get through the night. It worked, and I actually slept a full eight hours last night—and that’s after napping an hour and a half on the couch while watching Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), a film that I love. And today was altogether better. The miscellaneous spasms seemed to have ceased altogether. Only when I have to lead with my torso do I have any serious pain. I have learned to get up using my knees to take the brunt of the weight (though that won’t work with our high bed) and to lead with my left when I do have to get up.

I have been led to believe that healing will take anywhere between six and eight weeks—but I already feel some slight changes for the better. I still can’t drive safely because I can’t steer crisply without getting my left hand over-involved.

So it looks like my retirement begins with a much-needed rest. I still have two work days the week after Christmas, but there won’t be much to do. I just have to take the bus, which isn’t too bad.

Although she is still planning to leave, Martine has put the departure date off until I get better. She has been incredibly helpful. So we still mean a great deal to each other: She is just on a different life journey. I am grateful to her for her help.