Tempus fugiting faster

March 23, 2008

I think my best interviews – using the term broadly – have been with the very old.

I once talked to an old guy named Samuel, whose daddy picked him up one clear night in 1910 and showed him Halley’s Comet. He lived long enough to see it again, and wept remembering that night so long ago. He also said “I saw the first airplane land in Adams County, and I sat in this chair and watched a man walk on the moon.” Neither one of us could say much after that. After all, what could be said?

Just this past week I wrote about a remarkable woman who had died in a Washington, D.C nursing home at the age of 102. Not exactly an interview, obviously, but fascinating.

Frieda was born the year President Theodore Roosevelt begin his full term as president. He had ascended to the presidency on Sept. 14, 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley. The year is regarded as Albert Einstein’s “miracle year.” In 1905, he published four papers. In one of them he developed the theory of special relativity that gave birth to the famous formula E=MC2. It was the year a little town in Nevada named Las Vegas was founded after the auction of 110 acres of desert, and in Paris, infamous exotic dancer and purported spy Mata Hari made her debut.

Frieda’s grandson sent me a photo of her taken in about 1919, when she was 14 and had just finished the eighth grade. It was as far as her schooling would go.

 Shortly after the photo was taken, her father died, and she had to go to work. She worked for 80 years as a bookkeeper before retiring.

What a century to live through, I thought. Born four years before the introduction of the Model T, she lived to see space shuttle flights become commonplace.

On the other hand, tempus fugits faster all the time. I was born 43 years after Frieda, and I hardly recognize the world from back then. I did some quick research. I was born the year the 45 rpm record was introduced. Today, I have an ipod. I’ll wager that if you show a 45 to somebody younger than 30, they would have trouble identifying what it was.

We had a telephone, a black Bakelite thing with a rotary dial. It was on a party line. Neighborhood gossips on the same line could pick up the phone and learn what their neighbors were talking about. Today, I don’t have a “land line,” but a cell phone that has more functions than I’ve probably discovered yet, including the ability to give me directions on the road.

The first two VW beetles were brought to the US that year. They were regarded more as curiosities than viable transportation. “Too small,” people said. The sedan I now drive, a product of the early 21st century, looks like some sort of silver aquatic creature giving birth when I get out of it. Too small, yes, but a necessary evil in these days of long commutes and soaring fuel prices.

A few weeks before I was born, a USAF crew made the first nonstop round-the-world flight, covering about 23,000 miles in a shade more than 94 hours.

The aforementioned space shuttle makes the trip in about 90 minutes.

The Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb in August of that year, and whatever innocence might have about how humanity holds its fate in its own hands was gone forever. The USSR is gone, but the specter of nuclear annihilation is still with us. And I can’t help but note, because I live in Gettysburg, that a few months after my birth, the last six surviving veterans of the Civil War met in Indianapolis. That brings into focus the fact that the war was really a recent thing, in historical terms.

That same year Howard Unruh killed 13 neighbors in Camden, New Jersey, using a Luger he had kept as a souvenir from WWII, making him America’s first single-episode mass murderer. There would be more.

In the years since, my country has gone to war a handful of times, with very mixed results. The death count in American lives lost in those conflicts tops 116,000. Just in the latest fracas, we have chalked up nearly 30,000 wounded. Some unofficial sources push the number up to 100,000. And that’s just our soldiers. God knows how many civilians we have wiped out.

So, a very mixed bag. I have been here a tad less than 60 years. There’s no point in engaging in discussions about what was good and what was not. Some of the good and bad was obvious. The jury is still out on the rest. I’m no Luddite, scornful of technology. I confess that when it comes to human nature, I am intuitively a pessimist, which means that all my surprises are happy ones.

I just can’t wait to see what’s next.

==============================.

 

© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

 

 

In Harm’s Way:

March 16, 2008

ptsd.jpg

It was the eyes that caught me first.

The sergeant sat at a downtown Starbucks waiting to talk to me for a story I’m working on about soldiers like him. Soldiers who come back from the wars, in one piece, more or less, but not the same.

Never mind the digital hearing aid in each ear, from being too close too often to things that went boom. That’s not the worst of it. The real damage is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. We called it different things in different wars, but we tend to pooh-pooh the afflicted because the wounds don’t show.

The sergeant who went away for three tours of combat never came home, his wife says. Somebody else did. He does not disagree.

What went to war was a prankster, a burly good-natured everyman sort of kid with bad hair and an attitude and a twinkle in his eye. A friend of the sergeant told me he was the first guy in town, back then in the late 1980s, to learn breakdancing.

What came home was a ball of fury, barely contained, the twinkle gone. He said he is always in “battle mode.” He said if you’ve never been in combat, you don’t know what that means. But I see how he sits, coiled, eyes tense. There is no ease in him.

Under treatment, including medication, he seems compliant, resigned, and doomed, a dispirited being in a slaughterhouse pen.

Get this. Some studies predict that three out of 10 combat vets come down with symptoms of PTSD within a few months after they return.

I don’t want to write too much on this now: I still have his story to tell in the newspaper, and I don’t have enough of him to do that yet. The Army is not being helpful. They won’t let me follow him through a day of therapy. In fact, they tell me that he is not, technically, allowed to talk to me at all about his PTSD. It needs to be done, they tell me, through designated representatives of the military. The sanitized version.

Two decades of service, often in harm’s way, indeed, harmed. And he is not supposed to tell anybody what happened to him.

It is no wonder he feels anger. So do I.

==============================.

© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Outside, trees and shrubs tugged at their moorings. In a riot of branches and pinecones, it seemed as though they really wanted to get away in a hurry.

It was a weekend after a bad week, one of missteps and worries. Now the sky had gone from gray to black. Wind howled and hurled things at the house. Rain hissed on glass.

There was not a lot of rain, but the wind bulled its way up from Texas and other rowdy areas in a way that indicated what it thought of Yankee landscapes.

The kitten, Kaboodle, purred like a Cummins diesel and chewed on my hand.

She was naked.

Kaboodle is one of the semi-feral cats that lives outside, bumming around on the deck and looking for – and getting – regular handouts. There’s an ongoing project to spay and neuter the population, but, well, it could be going better. Hence, Kaboodle, and Autumn and Agate and Amber, (this is the Year of The A’s) and a few more.

kaboodle.jpg

 Kaboodle is inside because she came down with some bacterial equivalent of the Mongol horde and was clearly dying. We scooped her up and took her to see Doc Dodson. After a couple of weeks of dosing her with medications and special food, she’s bouncing off the walls and full of mischief.

She is also, as I noted, naked as a new bird, and warm as a fresh biscuit.

Well, nearly naked. She’s normally a long-haired cat, but her feeble condition left her unable or uninterested in personal hygiene. By the time we intervened, her coat was a filthy mass of felt, impenetrable, full of burrs and dried feces.

There was nothing to do but to have it all clipped off, and keep her inside until the weather warms up and she has some protection. By that time, of course, she’ll be part of the household and probably never be an outside cat again.

I have to say that there wasn’t a lot of cat under all that fur. The groomer clipped off everything but the fuzz around her face, the end of her tail, and her feet. She looks like a rat in a lion costume and fuzzy slippers.

Outside, the wind was hitting gusts of up to 60 mph. Now and then something thumped against the wall, as though the wind were hurling small children at the house. With each strike Kaboodle turned toward the source of the sound, and stopped purring for perhaps a full second.

I leaned back in the recliner, watching the front move through, clawing at the world as it passed by. I played with Kaboodle, who returned the favor, and at the same time tried to show me how to live in the moment.

==============================.

© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

I have said it before, but I have to say it again:

The trouble with playing God is that you can’t ever quit. We keep screwing around with the balance of things. From deer to rabbits to rain, we have things in a fine uproar.

In the past I’ve written about kudzu, a wonderful woody vine that some very learned types introduced into the South in the late 1800s. Everybody figured it would grow well and be a useful crop. They were half right. It grows like nobody’s business, and you could probably feed it nuclear waste and not slow it down. It’s not useful for much except aggravation, though I did once make dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) out of kudzu leaves.

There really isn’t all that much demand for dolmas.

Kudzu is only one of the more obvious snafus we have created for ourselves because we seem incapable of realizing that everything in the world is connected to everything else in the world, and if you grab a string and tug on it, you just never really know what bell’s going to ring.

We see it time and again, rabbits in Australia, hundreds of invasive species in the U.S., from shrubs to fish and snails to starlings, which were imported from England by some oddball in New York City who wanted to see that all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare were in this country, too. Have you ever walked under a tree full of starlings? Much ado about doo-doo. Ugh.

We’re also guilty of removing things without thinking through the consequences. The best example is the plague of whitetail deer up and down the eastern U.S. We removed all their predators because we did not like the idea of sharing space with wolves, cougars and the like. We cleared the heavy forests for agriculture (and now housing developments,) creating just the kind of environment the deer require. Hey, you might think those landscape plants are for decoration. To Bambi, they look like a buffet. So, today, deer are the new pigeons. At least they can’t perch on statues.

Now, with some areas under persistent threat of drought, we find that we may very well have brought a lot of it on ourselves because we are so good at fighting plant disease.

Scientists have long known that raindrops, snowflakes, and so on, need a teeny bit of something to form around. The assumption was that the “something” was dust.

Well, sort of.

Researchers at Louisiana State University have discovered that a big share of those “nucleators” is actually a type of bacteria that make certain kinds of plants sick.

The most common germ found was Pseudomonas syringae, the sort of moniker that makes me glad I don’t work in radio. This particular bug can cause disease in plants, including tomatoes and beans. The scientists say that as high as 85 percent of the snowflakes tested had that particular germ at their center. In samples taken in 20 locations around the world, the same little speck of life was found.

Naturally, Pseudomonas is one of the bacteria that our agricultural scientists have been trying to eliminate to help increase crop yields.

See where I’m going with this? There is a clear possibility that our efforts to eliminate some plant diseases has contributed to drought, to some degree. So, here we are, caught on the horns of another dilemma of our own devising. Do we continue trying to make healthier crops and beans, tomatoes, and so on and risk more droughts? Do we start re-infecting our bean fields with Pseudomonas in hopes that additional rainfall will make up for the crop losses created by the bacteria?

Somebody go wake up Dr. Frankenstein…he only THINKS he had problems with HIS monster.

Maybe we should just learn to eat kudzu.

==============================.

© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/