Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

All I know is, he'd damned well better be getting some turkey after this.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kermit the Frog

This is one of those stories that I have told to almost nobody.  And yet it's something that I would hate to leave untold.  I really like the idea that it will float around as long as there's an Internet.

In the summer of 1969, when I was 14 years old, I lived in central New Jersey, in Somerset County.  My summer job was always with the county parks commission.  It mostly consisted of cutting grass and picking up trash, usually at one big park near Doris Duke's family estate called (conveniently enough) Duke Island Park.  It was pretty unexciting.  But every summer the county hosted one of the biggest and most spectacular county fairs in the state, rivaling, in fact, the actual state fair held later in the season near Trenton.  It was on a par with the York Fair in York, Pennsylvania, today, with nationally known singing stars, stock car races, and equestrian events along with the usual cakes, pies, quilts and 4-H animals.  It was, in short, a big deal.  Part of my job was to work at the fair directing cars to an appropriate parking spot in the middle of a big (unmarked!) grassy field.  Once my shift was over, I was free to wander the fair all I wanted.

Later that year, PBS and the Children's Television Workshop would debut a new children's show.  You may have heard of it.  It's called Sesame Street.

WNET-TV in New York City -- Channel 13 (which will always be synonymous with public television to anybody of my generation who grew up in New Jersey) -- came to the Somerset County Fair and sponsored a showcase show with some of the cast of Sesame Street.  Gordon was there, along with David and Bob and Maria.  And so were the Muppets.

Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch were there as was their puppeteer, Carroll Spinney.  Frank Oz was there to do Bert and Grover.  Elmo did not as yet exist.  But Ernie did.  And so did Kermit the Frog.

The Sesame Street show ran a couple of times each evening.  The rest of the time, the raised platform just sat there idle.  One evening after I was finished parking cars I found myself leaning against the base of the platform.  It was a convenient place to set my drink down so I could eat my funnel cake or corn dog or whatever it was I was munching.

I heard a voice say, "Kind of a long day today, huh?" and I looked around to see who was talking to me.  It was Kermit the Frog.

Of course, I didn't know who or what Kermit was.  I hadn't seen the show and had no interest in anything public television was doing for preschoolers.  Hell, most of the time we teenagers thought having to watch public television was punishment.  And nobody outside of local Detroit TV knew who Kermit the Frog was.

I'm sure I just stood there open-mouthed for a ridiculously long time.  Finally, Kermit said, "I said, 'Kind of a long day today, huh?'" and I said something dopey like, "Yeah, it sure was."

Part of Jim Henson's brilliance, in my opinion, was in how quickly he was able to get you to accept his little felt creations as real people.  Within a few minutes, I was chatting away with Kermit.  He made me laugh, I made him laugh; we had a fine old time.  I wish I could remember every word we said to each other, because it was truly one of the best conversations I've ever had in my life.  Finally Kermit said, "Well, this is great but I need to go get ready for the next show," and I reluctantly said good-bye.

I never saw Jim Henson.  I never had occasion to meet him ever again.  That fall, Sesame Street hit the airwaves and children's television has never been the same since.  Years later I saw the original Kermit puppet in Detroit, the one Jim Henson had made from the green lining of a raincoat and a couple of ping-pong balls.  And I couldn't help myself, I teared up.  Because once, when I was very young, I became friends with Kermit the Frog, and it was something I hope I never, ever forget.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

1,000 Cuts

Sorry for the cryptic post last time.  As my long-time readers know, I have a particularly nasty form of something called peripheral neuropathy.  Something is causing the myelin sheaths of my sensory nerves to deteriorate, similar to the way the motor nerves degenerate in ALS.  So far, for the most part, only my sensory nerves are affected.  As they provide less and less information to my brain, it makes up for the absence by manufacturing its own information.  This usually takes the form of cold, but is very variable.  There are days of intense heat, pure pain (for lack of a better description), the feeling that you get when you stand barefoot on gravel (only all over my arms and legs), crawling bugs, electricity, and lately something new:  I feel like I am standing in a wind of tiny pieces of broken glass.  Like the proverbial death of a thousand cuts, only without the death.

I have had a tremendously difficult time coping with this latest.  I used to think the obstructive pain of an attack of Crohn's Disease was the greatest pain I could imagine.  Then I got shingles.  I thought that was the worst thing my body could throw at me.  Then this started.

I don't really have much of an opportunity to vent in other ways, gang, so you're stuck with me writing this.  I did not know I could tolerate this level of pain, for this long.  My doctors are at a loss for much help, even the brilliant docs at the ALS clinic at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.  (And they really are brilliant.  Bless them all, Universe; bless them all each and every day.)  Distraction is the best course of action during the day.  If I can fill my mind with other things, I can actually almost forget about the pain as it becomes part of the background noise of my body.  Nights are bad.  When you're lying alone in the dark, and the only distractions are the sounds of my wife and dog breathing quietly, it can be quite debilitating.  I take pain medication, but it's starting to bump my blood pressure up to unpleasantly high levels, so that "out" may not be a consideration for too much longer.

I wish I could give you some answers.  I wish I had something to share that would give a smile or wipe a tear for all the others who suffer similar afflictions.  I don't.  There are no answers for me, not yet, at least. My rheumatologist is ever optimistic and is always sharing his hopes for the Next Big Thing that's in the pipeline that might help with autoimmune nerve degeneration, and I appreciate that from him.  He also feels that I am not enough of an addictive personality and so can be trusted with painkillers.  I can't wait to hear what he offers next now that this door may be closing.

All I can do is carry on.  It's precious little.  It's hard not to feel sorry for myself, hard not to want it to be over, hard not to resent the simplest things like walking the dog when walking means feeling like walking on razor blades instead of concrete.  But so far any other, more extreme alternative is out of the question.  If there should come a time when my motor nerves are also affected by the same degeneration, that question may have to be revisited.  But for now, I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Monday, November 7, 2011