Thursday, September 24, 2009

Another Season of Change

It’s fall. The autumnal equinox, to be a little more specific. It’s occurring today (Tuesday), as I write this column. It’s an interesting time of year, as school children struggle to balance eggs and brooms, and we experience an unsettled stretch of weather to replace the idyllic, sun-drenched days of early September.
It’s a season of change, but the weather isn’t the only thing I’m watching.
I’m not always much of a current events kind of guy, I guess. Given the choice between watching “Meet the Press” and a rerun of the third game of the Little League World Series, I’ll pick the kids every time. But there’s something going on--something that absolutely needs to change--that has got me more than a little interested.
It’s called healthcare.
It’s an issue that was, I think, well-stated in a simple statement that was going around on Facebook awhile back. It went like this:
“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick.”
I agree.
That’s a pretty simple way to express a complex issue, I know. But I can’t help that think most of those who oppose universal healthcare are doing so for the wrong reasons. And while there is bound to be some disagreement as to how healthcare reform should be be accomplished, I, for one, think a Medicaid-style program could work just fine, just as the current program works for many Americans who are over 65 or disabled. While I can generally see both sides in most issues, how can you argue with the fact that all the citizens of the greatest country on earth have a right to a shot at good, affordable healthcare?
I was doing a little websurfing on the issue the other day and happened upon this chilling statistic:
A 2008 study showed there were 101,000 deaths in the United States that could have been prevented by access to timely and effective health care.
The researchers, who were from the London School of Medicine, included deaths before age 75 from causes like heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, some bacterial infections and complications of common surgical procedures.
Now, in a day and time when we’re constantly bombarded with mega-statistics, I realize 101,000 might, amazingly enough,, seem like a smallish number. So think of it this way. Would you think universal access to effective healthcare was important if every man, woman and child in Henry, Stark, Bureau and Marshall Counties died next year?
Same thing. Think about it.
It’s time for a change.
Speaking of health, September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month. So, once again, let me deliver a simple message: PSA.
Thanks to the PSA test, prostate cancer is being detected and treated earlier than ever before. The earlier it’s detected, the more easily it can be treated.
Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education & Support Network recommends that men have annual prostate examinations starting at the following ages:
-By age 40 if you are an African American man, or have a family history of prostate cancer (either are considered high-risk.)
-No later than age 45 for all other men. I, for one, would suggest starting even younger, especially if you are in the high-risk category.
But in any case, just remember, a PSA is a simple, once-a-year blood test that can save your life. And if “save your life” is a little too dramatic, consider this: Early detection of prostate cancer can give you a much wider range of treatment options and help you avoid a whole host of side effects that--believe me--you don’t want to experience.
Do it for yourself. Do it for the ones you love.
Do it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Kid with the Wooden Crossbar

I’ve learned a lot in the couple of years I’ve been working as a sports reporter for the Star Courier. You find yourself watching games in a whole different way when you have to write about them later. Plus my job has required me to learn about sports--like volleyball, for instance--where I had virtually no prior background. I’ll never be another Grantland Rice. Heck, I’ll never be another Mike Landis or Rocky Stufflebeam. But I muddle through.
Despite all the different sports activities that have been thrown my way, I never thought in a zillion years that I’d write about bicycle touring. But I did, a couple of weeks ago, after I participated in the Tour of Hog Heaven on Labor Day weekend.
I was surprised at the amount of reader comment I got after I wrote that little article on my experiences, so I thought I’d better provide some background, just in case I’m asked to cover Lance Armstrong on the big-time biking circuit.
For instance, archival photos from the latter 1800’s show my grandfather, Simpson Sloan, astride a bike as a member of the Galva bicycle club. A googlesearch of his name even revealed that he actually designed and manufactured a series of bikes with names like Sloan, Sloan Special and Creole from 1896 to 1898.
I currently ride a circa 1985 Huffy 15-speed that I bought at a garage sale a few years ago for ten bucks. I increased that investment by a factor of about 15 with new tires, brakes and other essentials, but it’s a great bike and more than I’ll ever need. Like most of us, I only use about three of those 15 gears, but it’s nice to know I’ve got the other 12, if I could only figure out how to find and use them. But as much as I enjoy my new/old bike, it’s not the one that truly defines my riding career.
As the youngest--by several years--of three kids, I was used to hand-me-downs, Usually, it worked out pretty well. My brother’s toys and sports equipment were generally pretty cool and broken in--but not broken-- by the time I got them. But the timing was all wrong when it was time for me to move up to a bike big enough to ride to school. My brother was still using his current bicycle, so the one that came down to me was my older sister’s baby-blue, balloon-tired, 24-inch Schwinn.
It, of course, had no crossbar. It was a girls’ bike.
My big brother didn’t generally make it his business to solve my problems, but he could see the angst that this was causing me at F.U. White School, as the big kids taunted me with shouted remarks about my gender identity.
“Hey, look at the shrimp on the girls’ bike!”
So I was grateful, indeed, when he pulled me and the bike into the garage with the equipment needed to solve my dilemma:
A broom, some wire and a roll of electrical tape (the ’50’s precursor to duct tape.)
Quick as a wink, he sawed off the broomstick to the proper length and taped/wired it in place. My shameful girls’ bike was now a boys’ bike, or so it seemed to the both of us.
If you think this sounds kinda like a “Leave it to Beaver” episode, you’re probably right, even down to the dialogue:
Beaver (me): “Gee Wally, do you think mom will be sore when she finds out what we did to her broom?”
Wally (my brother even looked kind of like the handsome Tony Dow, who played the part): “Aw, naw, Beav. She’s got a lot of brooms. I didn’t take one of her favorites, just this new one... .”
...And so on.
It was a defining moment in our relationship, and one I’ll never forget.
Of course, the solution was not without its flaws. Instead of “the kid on the girls’ bike,” I became “the kid with the wooden crossbar.” But I was willing to live with it, just to avoid any confusion about my budding manhood.
The problem resolved itself within a few months, when he got a new, bigger bike and I inherited his manly red boys’ Schwinn. I asked him about the new one via email the other day, and he replied with a precise set of memories that indicated just how much we appreciated the stuff we got.

“It was the best bike in town,” he wrote. “My Schwinn American was a 26" middleweight bike with 2" tires and a 2 speed Bendix hub, with back coaster brake and front caliper brake. Due to a unique combining of 2 inch tire tread and the brick paving of "Heaven Street" (Northwest Third Avenue in Galva), the bike would emit a high pitched and very loud screech whenever I locked up the back brake. That act was a wonderful attention getter of girls walking home after school.”
“If I could find one today, I'd get it,“ he added.

I was truly happy when he got the new bike. Not only did it save me a significant amount of embarrassment, but it gave me something to look forward to.
You see, I knew that, someday, the new bike would be mine.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Manhattan Requiem

Galva News Editor Doug Boock runs an interesting weekly feature in my hometown paper. In it, he asks four regular correspondents a question on a variety of topics. I know all the folks who offer their views, and enjoy reading their responses. Their answers are often fun, even funny.
But not this time.
Last week, the four were asked to recount their memories of 9/11, the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
“Wow, has it been that long?” I thought.
I remember, as, surely, most of us do, just exactly where I was and what I was doing at the time we heard about the attacks, just as I remember those same things about other events, like the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But it is my memory of a business trip I took to New York City a few months later that stands clearest in my mind. I visited Ground Zero, the site of the attack on the World Trade Center that day and, afterwards, wrote this essay, which I’ve never published before:

I meant to take a camera.
Megan and I talked about it before I left.  After all, I would be in New York City with some time on my hands.  My hotel was just 16 blocks from Ground Zero--the site of the World Trade Center attacks just a few months before.  It’s an easy walk for millions of New Yorkers who practically sprint up and down the avenues each day, wearing running shoes, while carrying their "good" shoes in shopping bags and briefcases.
As I say, I had the time, and I was close.  I would go see.
Of course, I forgot to pack one of the several cameras we have lying in drawers around the house.  "Oh well, " I thought.  "I’ll just pick up one of those disposable jobs."  One of the streets bordering my hotel was Canal Street, right on the edge of Chinatown.  Canal Street is famous for its sidewalk shops, with incredible bargains on clothing, shoes, CDs, souvenirs, and, yes, cameras.
But I walked right by them.  It was a beautiful, chilly day in Manhattan South, with streams of people walking, running and standing in line.  I headed down Broadway, past the Federal Building and City Hall.  There was a lot to see, and probably a lot of pictures to be taken.  But I knew the real reason to have a camera was to take some pictures of Ground Zero…and I couldn’t.  I’ve always fought the impulse we all have to gawk at human disasters.  I try not to slow down and look at accidents.  I don’t generally follow fire trucks or ambulances.  I like to think people deserve a little privacy--and respect--at their worst moments.
I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I knew I was getting closer, as many of the buildings were still stained with ash, while others had scaffolding built alongside for cleaning and repairs.  My first glimpse of the actual site was a police barrier blocking traffic, and a taped-off walkway leading to a fence on the other side of the street.  I crossed over to what I realized was the fence we’ve all seen in pictures and on TV.  The fence was covered with posters,pictures, letters, names and messages of remembrance from all over the world.  Some showed pictures of victims.  Others showed families and
friends.  Many were from school children and church groups and cities and organizations.  There was even one from the prisoners housed in a correctional institution in South Carolina.  It was an incredible--even beautiful--montage of love and sorrow and hope and fear and pride.  Very little hate, though, was posted on the fence.
I entered a walkway and moved up to what could best be described as an observation deck.  As I did, I saw a sign that said, "No cameras,please.  Our rescue workers deserve privacy."  "Good," I thought. "I’m glad I didn’t bring one."
Of course, some people did have cameras, and no one tried to stop them from using them.  But, in fact, there was not much to see.  The actual site of the Trade Center Towers is a massive hole in the ground. There’s really nothing to left to indicate what was there before.  The buildings immediately surrounding the site remain blackened and dark, with windows still broken and workers just starting to make repairs.  The spot where the towers stood looks like a very large construction site, with a deep hole looking like it’s ready for concrete to be poured for some new skyscraper.  Workers dotted the area, with construction shacks set up all around the perimeter.  A few earthmoving machines rolled slowly across.  Of course, no one was building anything at all.  And no one was moving very fast.
I stood at the wall overlooking the site.  The woman standing next to me cried quietly until her husband walked to her and said in the very little bit of French I know, "It is very cold.  We should go."  A man on my other side turned to me and said, "There’s nothing to see here at all."  He didn’t really sound disappointed; just confused that so
much could end up as so little.
I prayed, as I know many did, for the victims and their families and for all the people affected by terrorism and war.  And then it was time to go.  As I walked out, I passed more signs, posters, notes and prayers written on the fence.  I thought about adding something, but I didn’t know what to say.  As the walkway exited back onto Broadway, I met a young rescue worker, striding towards the site, singing "Day Tripper" by the Beatles.  I smiled at him.  He smiled back.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad anymore.
Later that day, they announced on the news that the remains of five more people had been found.  Four of them were firefighters.  The fifth was a woman they were trying to rescue.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

One Man's Flower is Another Man's Weed

Our yard will probably never be featured in a gardening magazine. It bears little resemblance to the closely manicured beauty spots I occasionally glance at when paging through those publications at the doctor’s office or the library. Rather, it’s got kind of an old-fashioned look, or at least that’s what we like to call it. You know, like back in the good old days before people had access to newfangled gadgets like lawn mowers, roto-tillers and weed eaters.
While we like to grow domesticated things including roses, hostas, peonies and zinnias, we also share a love for wildflowers, like the ones you see growing in great profusion along roadsides, in meadows and untilled fields. It’s always a source of mild frustration that those same plants--the ones that seem so prolific and hardy out in the country--seem so resistant to our attempts to nurture them in our own backyard.
Two of our favorites are Sweet Annie and Queen Anne’s Lace. The former is a little harder to find, though we have discovered entire fields of the fragrant stuff from time to time. The latter dominates our country roadsides around here, along with Cornflowers and Brown-eyed Susans. We were pleased when, earlier this summer, we obtained both seeds and transplants of both Sweet Annie and Queen Anne’s Lace from a couple of vintage gardener friends, planting them in the hopes that this would be the year we’d see a crop of our own.
Keep in mind, though, that while we love these wild plants, to others, especially many farmers, they’re nothing more than weeds. That’s part of the challenge of finding them in their wild state...getting to them before they’ve been mowed, sprayed or plowed under.
But it’s our yard and, weeds or not, we wanted to grow them.
Steady readers of this column already know we were on the road a lot in the last month of the school vacation. Other than enlisting a friendly neighbor to trim the grass, we left the rest of our plants and flowers--and even the tiny patch of tomatoes, peppers and herbs that’s situated just next to the deck off the kitchen door--to survive as best they could, depending on nature to provide equal parts of rain and sunshine. It was not until we returned from our final jaunt that I really took the time to check things out in the backyard, as I finally mowed my own lawn after a couple of weeks away.
The lawn was looking pretty good, to my eyes, at least, thanks to a vow I took this year to resist the temptation to cut the grass as short as possible. Like many guys, I harbor a secret desire to have my front yard look like the fairways at Augusta National. The result has been a patchy, dried-out hunk of turf that, by late summer, better resembles a pasture for goats. So, I’ve gone for a different look this year. The result of keeping my mower at the highest setting means the lawn looks more like the rough at the U.S. Open than a smooth, gentle, undulating fairway, but it’s still growing, and that’s a switch.
Otherwise, things looked all right. Oh, it’s more than a little overgrown here and there, and the tomatoes I planted are now dominating their little patch, with a network of vines that look like they might be ready to haul passing kids off their bikes and into the deep, green underbrush. But that’s a good thing, too, unless you’re a nine-year-old on a Schwinn.
But, t was when I got to the east side of the house that I saw it:
Sweet Annie!
I plucked off a small, bud-filled branch and crushed it between my fingers, enjoying a rich, complex fragrance that has filled our home every fall and winter as part of our own seasonal wreaths and arrangements. A closer look found some Queen Anne’s Lace, too, nestled behind the Sweet Annie and probably in need of an eventual transplant, but growing all the same. Then, looking down the side of the house, I spotted another new entry. Growing in a bed that we’ve struggled with in past years, they were tall, sturdy, leafy plants with a rich, green look to them that I admired. In fact, I liked them so much that I used some of the leafy fronds in a vase full of flowers I clipped and brought into the kitchen to greet some weekend visitors. I didn’t exactly remember planting them, but just figured they were another wildflower find that was now a part of our home-field fauna.
That evening, we toured the yard together. I showed off the successes of the season, and we oohed and aahed over the Sweet Annie and admired the infant Queen Anne’s Lace. Then I pointed to the other new plant.
“This looks like it’s doing well,” I glowed.
“That’s a weed,” she replied. “Here, let’s get it out of there.”
So we did, with a lesson learned:
One man’s flower, is one woman’s weed, indeed.