Simplicity & Technology

bellstreetpress.com Autobiography, Bell Street Press, Friendship, Memories, The way it was 10 Comments

It was the late 1950’s and the early 1960’s. We were kids, and the way we communicated with each other was by talking or by writing a letter. Letters were pretty much reserved for birthday and Christmas thank you notes. 99% of our entertainment was from playing – playing outside with our siblings and our neighborhood friends – and in our case, because my grandmother lived near the ocean, we spent a lot of time playing at the beach. we lived next door to the Kennedys in San Jose, hence they were known to travel with us to the beach.

At Twin Lakes Beach in Santa Cruz, CA circa 1960. Me, Johnny Kennedy & my sister Mary in the back row. My brother Herbie, my sister Jane and Sally Kennedy in the front row.

There were no electronic games or phones or tablets. We would do things like pitch a tent on the front lawn and create an adventure while others in the group were sitting at a “lemonade stand” – pretty much a table and chairs gathered from various houses for the event. My dad’s old robin eggshell blue ’38 Chevy parked out in the street in front of our house on Newhall Street (He called it his Jaguar – pronounced with his Southern Gentleman accent as jag – you – aah). We would play outside until we HAD to go inside because the sun had set or it was dinner time.

In the tent, left to right, Clarke Blauer, Johnny Kennedy, Me – At the table, clockwise, Mary Bell, Sally Kennedy, Herbie Bell and hidden behind him was Jane Bell.

Bobby lived across the street and was older and used to sit at his bedroom window and shoot BBs at me while I was helping to unload the car after a trip to the grocery store. After that happened a number of times, it was rectified by my father talking to his father. Today it would be a huge todo with lawyers and police involved.

In the early 60’s we would get up on a Saturday morning, have breakfast, and then head out on our bicycles. Just bicycles – no head gear – no knee and elbow pads – and just one gear on the bikes. Sometimes we had a destination planned, but many times we would just tell our parents we were going and they would tell us to be home for dinner. There were easily 1,000,000 fewer people in the Santa Clara Valley back then. Numerous times we would pack a picnic lunch and ride our bikes to Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. I Googled the distance (something we couldn’t do back then) and it is about 13 miles each way. The directions say to use Hwy 17, but Hwy 17 hadn’t been built yet – we rode on surface streets. The hardest part was getting there because it was all uphill. But it was worth it because of the beauty of the grounds. The way home was delightful and much faster.

Map and directions today
Montalvo Art Center

I was looking at a CBS News report that said that “Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than 7 hours a day looking at screens.” If they go to school 6 hours a day and sleep 8 hours a day, that only leaves them 3 hours, at the most to go outside and discover the world in which they live.

I’m glad I grew up when I did and was able to learn how to play and interact with ALL the kids on the block. My first electronic device was a transistor radio that was tuned to KLIV and KYA – both Rock stations. I didn’t get a calculator until after I was married in 1972 (because they hadn’t been invented yet) and didn’t own a cell phone until I was 46 years old (1996). It was a Motorola flip phone that Rita got for me when I was in the hospital recovering from surgery for the Stage-4 colon cancer. She wanted me to be able to get in touch with her anytime.

State of the art in 1996 – it was large

I think our first computer in 1983 was an Apple 2e. If I remember correctly it had about 64k total memory and huge FLOPPY discs. Thirteen years later when I was in the hospital we thought the technology had reached as high as it could. Not the case by any means, but no matter how high technology gets, it will never be able to duplicate six kids on the beach or a bevy of kids playing on the front lawn. I’m not in the least against creating new technology – I just feel that a child being outside and playing with their brothers and sisters and friends is as creative as it gets.

Lewis and Clarke

bellstreetpress.com Autobiography, Bell Street Press, Friendship, Memories, Sharing, The way it was 1 Comment

With all of the Benjamin Cory Elementary School posting on Facebook, I thought I should bring up one of my earliest friends, that is still one of my very best friends, Clarke Blauer.  Clarke lived on  Bel Air Ave and went to Cory and might have gone to Hoover in 7th, but his mom remarried and he moved to Kensington which is right next door to UC Berkeley.  In 2000, Clarke’s sister, Carolyn surprised him with a 50th birthday party at The Atlantis in the Bahamas and was so very gracious to invite me and my wife Rita along for the almost week long party.  I decided for that party that maybe the world needed to be reminded of what “angels” Clarke and I were growing up together so I wrote this attachment.  We really were nice kids separately, but the chemistry together was pretty crazy.  Clarke and I are still very close, however have calmed down over the years.  I do have to apologize to Tara Burnett.  After we moved to Bel Air, years later, I got to know and love your Mom.

A bad photo, but one of Clarke and me in Yosemite in 1958. A 1500 foot fall behind us.

If you want to read what I wrote, click on the Lewis and Clarke link below.

Lewis and Clarke

At Clarke’s daughter’s wedding in 2014.

July 20, 2016 Reschedule

bellstreetpress.com Autobiography, Music, Sharing 7 Comments

I tried to post this on Facebook, but couldn’t get my audio file to load, so here it is on this blog. I repeat what I had to say on Facebook. I was challenged two to three years ago to start using my talents to start composing and playing my own music. I’d never composed anything prior, so this was a leap of faith. As mentioned on Facebook, my surgery procedures started this morning at 8:00 AM and hopefully end on August 2nd. The music is supposed to show my upbeat attitude. I was born with that attitude and plan to share it as long as I live. Here is my music to prove it.

Inspect What You Expect

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1962 Boy Scout Final

 

I was twelve, maybe close to thirteen.  I was in the Boy Scouts with my friend Clarke, and it was probably the only sane thing going on in my life at the time.  I was charged with making a flag.  In any other household it would have become an event numerous members would want to help with.  At my house I was told it would be expensive, but I could do it, but I had to do it myself.  My parents were dealing with much larger issues that didn’t allow them much time for arts and crafts.  So I took it on myself.

The troop was making numerous flags, why now, I cannot tell you, but my flag was the yellow “Don’t Tread On Me.”  With the snake!  It was so cool.  No way could I let them down.

Don't Tread On Me copy

So, somehow, I managed to replicate that flag.  It was flat out gorgeous!

I went to the fabric store and bought the yellow cloth.  I folded it over and hemmed around all four sides.  I made a stencil out of grocery bags for the snake and traced in the outline.  I then filled in the colors of the body, markings, eye, tongue and grass below.  I also made a stencil of the words below the snake and very carefully transferred them onto the flag.

I worked on it for about a week, because I really wasn’t given much more time.  But that didn’t matter.  I was a member of the troop and would do my part.

When all was said and done, I turned in my flag and a big presentation was given and my flag was there, but it was not MY flag.  Someone else had made another one, because my flag did not say Don’t Tread On Me, it said DON’T THREAD ON ME!

No one ever said I blew it, but I knew I had and it still hurts, God only knows how many years later.

I think it was that moment that I started inspecting everything I did.  Since then I have become a perfectionist for having things done right.  I am not a weirdo about it like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, but do have a few personal faults we won’t discuss here, but there is not much I miss when doing a project now, that many people do miss.

I have learned a lot by making mistakes.  Looking back, most of all I know has been self taught through trial and error.  I won’t say that everything I have accomplished has been based on errors, because I have also had many successes.

It is just that when you are 13 and things don’t go right, it is the end of the world.  How fortunate we are that we then become 14 and then 17 and then 25 and now 66.

Can We Get You A Wheelchair SIR?

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Today I had to drive 90 miles to Stanford Hospital to get some blood work tests done for my visit with the oncology doctor next Wednesday. I called to verify that the lab would be open on Saturday and was assured that it would be. When I got to the hospital it was drizzling rain and I was dismayed to see that the valet parking I am used to does not operate on weekends. I had to drive a few blocks away to the underground garage and then hoof it back to the hospital. Not expecting rain, I wasn’t dressed for it and arrived at the hospital a bit damp. I headed for where I normally go to get my blood drawn but doors were closed and lights were out. I made my way to the information/reception desk and asked three very helpful young ladies where the lab was that was open on weekends. They pointed to the opposite side of the hospital and said if I would wait just a minute they would have someone push me over there in a wheelchair.

Well, I was a little waterlogged and I do have a little limp from the blood clot in my left leg, but Oh-My-God! When did I turn into someone that looks like they need to be in a wheelchair?

I was a bit taken aback, but managed a, “No thanks! I just look like I need a wheelchair.” And off I went to the other side of the hospital. I stopped in a restroom on the way just to look in the mirror to check out the train wreck I supposedly looked like. I guess, luckily for me, this particular restroom didn’t have a mirror. Out for repair, I guess.

So, surprisingly to everyone except me, I managed to get to the lab and back out past the information desk without anyone having to call 911. I even made it back to my car and drove 90 miles back home. On the way I started thinking about how aging really sneaks up on us, at least on me. When my being looks out from my eyes, I feel the same way I did at 25 and 35 and 45. I’m 66 now. The inner me hasn’t changed. Why am I just now being reminded so often that the outer me has changed a LOT!
Can we help you to your car, SIR? Here, let me hold that door for you, SIR? Let me lift that for you, SIR? And today, Can we get you a wheelchair, SIR? I think SIR stands for seriously incapable reject.

I remember all of my years, but now each year seems to go by so much faster. When I was 4, a year was 25% of my entire life. When I was 10, that got cut to 10%. Now that I am 66, a year is only something like 1.5% of my life. We are already almost a quarter way through this year and I am just getting used to it being 2016.

I guess that up until now I have been too busy to notice the rapid passage of time. A number of years ago a friend sent this to me. I break it out and read it every year or so and think now is a good time to share it with you.

“The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings. Perhaps it’s the quiet
solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it’s the unbounded
joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday
morning are most enjoyable.

“A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the basement shack with a steaming
cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as
a typical Saturday morning, turned into one of those lessons that life seems to
hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it. I turned the dial up into
the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to a Saturday
morning conversation. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap,
with a tremendous signal and a golden voice. You know the kind, he sounded
like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whoever he was
talking with something about “a thousand marbles.”

“I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say. “Well, Tom, it sure
sounds like you’re busy with your job. I’m sure they pay you well, but it’s a shame
you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow
should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. Too
bad you missed your daughter’s dance recital.” He continued, “Let me tell you something,
Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities.”
And that’s when he began to explain his theory of a “thousand marbles.”

“You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person
lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less,
but on average, folks live about seventy-five years. “Now then, I multiplied
75 times 52 and I came up with 3900 which is the number of Saturdays that the
average person has in their entire lifetime. Now stick with me Tom, I’m getting
to the important part. It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all
this in any detail”, he went on, “and by that time I had lived through over
twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five,
I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy. “So I went to a toy store and
bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to
round-up 1000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear
plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear. Every Saturday since then,
I have taken one marble out and thrown it away. “I found that by watching the
marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is
nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your
priorities straight. “Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you
and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble
out of the container. I figure if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given
a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time.” “It was nice
to meet you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet
you again here on the band. 73 Old Man, this is K9NZQ, clear and going QRT,
good morning!” You could have heard a pin drop on the band when this fellow
signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about. I had planned to work on the
antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work
on the next club newsletter. Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss.
“C’mon honey, I’m taking you and the kids to breakfast.” “What brought this on?” she asked
with a smile. “Oh, nothing special, it’s just been a long time since we spent a Saturday
together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we’re out?
I need to buy some marbles.”

And yes, I guess I can see the difference between 30 and 66, but I don’t feel the difference.

Lewis

Lew

I’m glad I haven’t lost all of my marbles quite yet, and really do have a wonderful life.

Reach Out, You Might Find Out

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Do you often wonder what happened to that person that was so important in your life when you were 8, or 11, or 13, or 17?

I do.

I was disturbed a few weeks ago. I had been somewhat looking for an old friend I had gone from Cub Scouts to college with and had lost contact with him. I casually asked a mutual friend about him and in a few days I got an email that my friend had died. Last year. Everything I wanted to ask him and tell him is now locked up inside of me. He moved to the other side of the country with no forwarding address, yet I feel I have ownership in not communicating before he died. He was only 64.

I still have my oldest friend, my sister, Mary. We are twelve months and 18 days apart on our journey on this planet. She has always been, and will remain, so close to me. I am also so fortunate to call my sister, Jane and my brother Herb my closest friends. So many families have fractures that cause issues between siblings. Not in my life.

I met Clarke when we were 7ish. We have been Lewis & Clarke ever since. His family moved away when we were 12 or 13, but we have maintained communication and a wonderful bond our entire lives.

I was 13 when my father committed suicide. My mother decided I needed the Jesuits to guide me through high school, so I left all of my friends from junior high and went to Bellarmine in San Jose. My best friend at the time was literally dumped. Not by my choice, but by how stuff happens when you are 14 and go to different schools. You don’t associate any more. Back then the parents didn’t have a clue.

I am very excited to say that my friend from junior high and I are going to reunite in February. It will be interesting to share the 50 some years we have not shared. He went to Vietnam. I didn’t. He has no children that I know of. I have a son that is a surgeon.

If you ask how this came about, I reached out to him.

I had a friend reach out to me a couple of years ago because her father was dying of cancer, and she saw my history with cancer. We have almost 50 years to catch up on, too.

I am deeply into genealogy and have traced my family back well over 25 generations, but I have no clue about the kids I had lunch with at school for years and years.

You may be some of them. If you were, do me the honor of getting back to me and sharing your story.

And if you have come along later in my life, shoot me an email, tell me your updates.

Life and survival is all about connecting and sharing.

Who do you wonder about?

Reach out. You might find out.

Living With Cancer Update

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I made the trip back to Stanford Cancer Clinic a few weeks ago and to my surprise, they were much more upbeat than I was. They said, yes, the PSA is slightly elevated at 0.4, but they are not going to do anything about it until it gets to somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0. I asked them if they could locate where the cancer was in my body and the answer was, no. With a PSA of 0.4 after prostate removal, the cancer is so minute that it cannot be detected any way other than blood tests. Or at least that was my take on it. So the beast remains, however small, but I will not worry about it again until I go back in for my next blood test in March of 2016. Sorry if I took so long getting back to you on this. Other wonderful things have been going on in my family like my son proposing to Randi and she saying yes! We had a wonderful visit with them during the holidays.

My First Music Compositions. If And When and Ghost In A Red Cadillac.

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A while ago I reconnected with an old friend who is writing a novel. Within the novel she has written lyrics to some songs. In my infinite “whatever” I volunteered to attempt to write some music for those lyrics. Having never formally composed music in my life, this was a bold step for me, but why not? As it turns out, there are almost 40 lyrics, so if this works out, I will be writing music for a very long time. The first song I tackled is called If and When. It is about love gone wrong and what will happen if and when they meet again. The second lyric, Ghost in a Red Cadillac, ties into a character in her novel. You can access her website at http://www.kathleenrowell.com and search for the novel titled Reprise. I am going to take a leap of faith, here, and attach some soundtracks so you can hear what I have composed. Be mindful that it is just recorded on my cellphone and I am the only musician. If I don’t get boo’d off the stage immediately, I will incorporate the lyrics in my next blog for your inspection and feedback. Brutality frightens me, but I am looking for some honest feedback.

This was a first attempt at the melody for If and When. It is just flute and oboe.

This next audio file is with piano and strings.

This third one is a slowed down version to help better fit with the lyrics.

And here is Ghost in a Red Cadillac.

Be gentle!

 

Ghost in Red Cadillac

Living With Cancer – Turning a Frown Upside Down

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On Thursday I drove ninety miles to Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California to get blood work done to see if the hormone therapy I was on for a year had worked in curing my prostate cancer. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April of 2013. It was discovered because my PSA level, tested during a yearly physical exam, had crept past the 4.0 level, indicating a potential problem. I was referred to a local urologist who suggested two options. I could wait six months and retest the PSA or I could undergo biopsies to determine if any cancer was present. I chose the biopsies since I have a history of cancer, surviving stage 4 colon and liver cancer in 1996. They did 12 biopsies and all 12 came back positive for cancer and a very aggressive cancer. My doctor recommended that I go to the Stanford Cancer Clinic. I did, and I was scheduled for surgery at the end of May.

The prostate was removed and I was told everything looked great. They would test me in a few months to be sure that the PSA level was ZERO, indicating no cancer. Eight weeks later, the PSA came back at 0.3. Not good news. I was scheduled for radiation therapy right after Thanksgiving Day, and made the 180 mile round trip trek to and from Stanford every weekday until the 4th of January. In all, I had 35 radiation therapy treatments. Having undergone 60 chemotherapy treatments in 1997 and living through the hell that chemo does to one, I was amazed at how tolerable the radiation therapy was. The worst part of it was the drive. A couple of days, I got to my appointment to find that the radiation machine was not working, so I had to just turn around and drive home.

Being told that I tolerated the radiation therapy extremely well, I was looking so forward to the PSA coming back at ZERO. It came back at 1.46, higher than when I started the radiation therapy. Not good news.

I then met with the head doctor at Stanford and it was determined that I should start hormone therapy. I was injected with a drug called Lupron. The Lupron destroys all the testosterone in my system. The PSA feeds on the testosterone. With no testosterone, the PSA goes away and hopefully so do the cancer cells. That is a very simplistic explanation, but I think it will do. I was scheduled to get a Lupron injection every three months for a year, which I did. The drawback to Lupron is that when the testosterone goes away, so does one’s sense of manliness. During the year I was on the therapy, I felt like a jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was missing, but I felt a void and didn’t like it. I also became much more aware of my emotions, which is not a bad thing, but it was different. The other drawback to Lupron is the fact that the loss of testosterone causes the muscles to start breaking down, so for the last three months, the fatigue really set in and there was a lot of back and side pain. That went away as soon as the Lupron wore off and the testosterone started regenerating.

After the last Lupron injection, they waited three months and tested the PSA. It came back ZERO! I was in Heaven! A huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders and it felt so good! They told me they would test every three months just to make sure things were going okay.

Three months later the PSA came back at 0.2. Disconcerting at the least, but I was told that if it stayed at 0.2 things would be okay. Yesterday I got the results back for the 2nd three-month checkup. The PSA is now 0.4, which indicates that the hormone therapy did not work.

It is not the end of the world, at least my world, and I assume I will have to go back on the Lupron for a second try at it. As much as I don’t look forward to it, I like it a lot better than other options like not being.

I have people ask me all the time how I can go on, day by day, knowing I have cancer. My answer is simple. I have no other choice. I love being alive. So what if I have cancer? People with M.S. and people with diabetes and people with heart disease have to face life from their perspective and carry on. I choose to live my life happily, looking for the good and not dwelling on the bad. Fearing the unknown is really a waste of time, in my humble opinion, because tomorrow is an unknown for everyone living on the planet. At least I know what is wrong with me and can deal with it. There are people who refuse to go to the doctor because they are afraid they may find out something is wrong with them. They will worry themselves to death long before I leave this planet.

So, next Wednesday I make the trek back to the cancer clinic in Palo Alto and we sit down and discuss what the next steps will be. I will let you know.