Friday, December 14, 2007

December 14th

This is the Birthday day. December 14th.

J.R. jr. is the young one. Thirteen today. He is a teenager but from what I understand, he is still nice to be around.

Everett is the "middle aged" one. OK, the one-third aged one. Make sure that you talk VERY loudly if you are around him tomorrow. It will help his headache. You may want to call him extra early on the morning of the 15th to wish him a happy birthday. He likes that. He may be older, but at this point he doesn't have to add any coloring to his hair "product". He still loves his mirror.

And then there is David. He is three quarters age. Older than Dirt. That is meant in the nicest possible way, of course. Old, very old. Cranky too. His only thrill in life is that he is so very much younger than Ted. David doesn't like mirrors, they lie. Talk loudly to him too, but not because he has a headache, do it just to get his attention. He enjoys phone calls early in the morning too. Be sure to talk loudly. He likes that. I am not sure, but I believe that by law, he is required to surrender his Massachusetts drivers license because of his advanced age or else he has to take an on-the-road driver's test every two weeks. Please remind him of this. It should be easy to pass since all of the local cops know him by name.

Happy Birthday Boys.

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Tim, Part I, Good ol Tim

In Freeport Maine today, 1600 miles away from us, our family is having a memorial for Cousin Tim.
As I am editing this, I am inserting this in front of all of my other “Tim” paragraphs, the line below says: “My cousin Tim passed away at 4:30 this morning. His son Karl was with him.”

I have written many paragraphs about Tim since then. Some of them have been coherent and some have been little snippets of memories. I haven't been able to post any of them, and I don't know why. Since today is his funeral, and I can't be there, I will post these now. It still perplexes me why Tim's passing has bothered me so much. I probably got less time with Tim than any of his other cousins, but he had a profound impact on my life that I will never forget. I think that I am so deeply affected because his children, whom I don't really know, would have had more time with him if I had done things differently.
I only got to see Tim up at Roland Park during the rare times that we were up there at the same time, and I saw him at funerals. Tim was ten years older than my sister and I, and from tales that I have heard I get the idea that he was the kid that would tattle on Judy, Betsy, Ted, and David when they were up to no good, which they usually were.
When I was a little kid, one of my biggest thrills up at the lake was going for a ride in Tim's hot-rod boat. Tim had made a very small, very fast, flat bottomed plywood boat many years ago. I wanted to have a little fast boat like Tim's when I became a teenager. When Tim was done playing with it, he took it downtown to the boat dealer to sell it and it was stolen from the boat yard the first night that it was on the lot.
Tim took that as a compliment. He lost the money, but it was a compliment nonetheless.

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Tim, part II, Birthdays and Funerals

Birthdays and Funerals

I enjoyed chatting with Tim because we were both engineers, although in different fields (I was into metal cutting and software and he worked with “New and Used Water”).
At group events like birthday parties and funerals I would always seek him out so we could chat. We both were caretakers of cars that were purchased by our Grandfather Percy. I had the Marmon and he had the Ford. We both loved each other's cars and were both glad that the other one had “rescued” them. Tim had also ridden in my car many years ago, and for many years I still had not experienced such a thing, so I enjoyed hearing about his experiences.
Tim still has a couple of small parts that belonged to my Marmon. He would always tell me about them, but when you are getting dressed for Aunt Libby's funeral you just don't remember to put Marmon wing nuts in your pocket. I would always nag him to start working on the station wagon and he would tell me about his basket-case Jeep that he was going to work on someday. We talked about making the Jeep the front part of the “Roland Park large-crowd mass-transit system”, because we both liked jeeps, trailers, contraptions, and the ride to and from the lake more than actually swimming IN the water. Someday he was going to give me the Ford when he was sure that he wasn't going to work on it anymore. He had lost the back seat forever when he was using the car to haul firewood for several seasons. I was suposed to find a grill that got wiped out on the day that Granpa Percy gave up driving forever. You know, all those things that we knew were never going to happen.

With the cars being the reliable ice breaker we would quickly move on to “zen and the art of cottage maintenance” because we were both very involved with this losing battle of cottage life and I would always get some useful nugget from him.

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Tim, part III, Porch Talk

Porch Talk, Chatting with Scorched Earth Tim

I have fond memories of sitting on any one of the cottage porches drinking a beer, and quietly chatting together while everybody else would be making noise at the “kitchen end” of the house, and he would make me laugh so hard with his no-nonsense approach to dealing with things.
I called him “Scorched Earth Tim” which would always make him smirk.
“The trees will grow back faster than you can mow them down.”
”Clear the view!”
“Pine trees rot roofs, cut em down.”
He had radical opinions on the width of roads, drainage, blueberry bushes, porch railings, roofs, sheds, porch steps, and porcupines.
There was no sentimentality when it came to cottages, furniture, barns, trees. If it didn't work, replace it with something that did.
When I was considering building a new cottage to replace our old one that had burned to the ground, Tim shocked me by suggesting a contemporary house. A REAL house, no cottage, forget cottages, they are cold, they are hot, quaint isn't comfortable. Cottages have too many problems. I think Tim would have made a house and furniture out of concrete to reduce maintenance if his family would go along with it. Yessiree, he wasn't afraid of change like some of us in Roland park.

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Tim, part IV, My last Visit.

My Last visit

I was very fortunate to sneak in one last visit with Tim before we left on my Adventure this year.
Martha was going to take Edith. I asked if I could hitch a ride.
Then Betsy was going to be able to go too. Martha was overbooked and couldn't go and Edith wanted to “save her visit” until next week. So Betsy and I went together. It was great. Not only did Betsy and I get to answer each other's questions about family history, but we got to see Tim. He was having a good day. He looked good (to me). Betsy asked her brother some technical questions that she had saved up for her visit, which Tim answered for her. Tim was always her “technical” source. We chatted about cottages, kids, vacations, and health. His voice was getting weaker and aimed at the floor, so Betsy was having some trouble understanding him, but I was able to interpret what he was saying without any problem.
Tim wanted to know what my Father had died from.
I told him that it wasn't Parkinsons. “Parkinsons doesn't kill you, it just wears you down.”
My Father had been held down by Parkinsons since he was thirty five years old, by the time he was sixty two, he was very very tired. I asked Tim how old he was and his original answer was too high, which Betsy was exceedingly quick to correct (since Tim's age is related to Betsy's age).
We decided that Tim was about 63, the same age my father was when he passed. He told me that he suspected that the Parkinsons wasn't going to kill him, but boredom would. He was getting antsy to take a nap so we said our goodbyes, I complimented him on his model car on his dresser, and we left.
Betsy was crying like she always did when leaving Tim, but I felt oddly happy. I had a feeling that I would never see him again, so I didn't really understand my mood. As Betsy and I were driving back to New Hampshire I figured out that it was because it was just like visiting my father. Intelligent, fun to talk to, and funny. Very funny. A conversation with Tim was always productive. He didn't talk just to make noise, he talked when he could add something. I felt sorry for Betsy because she had to watch her brother being taken away, but I didn't feel sorry for Tim, he made me feel that he had spent a lot of time reviewing the situation and was at peace with it.

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Tim, part V, Spotting Parkinsons

Spotting Parkinsons

The most important thing that Tim had taught me was how I had failed him.
I didn't know him well enough to tell him what he needed to hear and I shortened his life. He would be alive today if I had spoken up. I will never make that mistake again.
My sister Leslie and I grew up with Parkinsons disease. My father was diagnosed at 35 years old, so ALL of my memories of my dad are a picture modified with the broad brush strokes of parkinsons.
You may have noticed that people with downs-syndrome look like brothers and sisters of other downs-syndrome patients more than they look like their mothers and fathers. Well Parkinsons patients all develop the same “look”.
Leslie and I can pick out Parkinsons patients from a crowd. My older brothers can not spot the symptoms because they were already out of the house when the signs developed.
I would see Tim once in a great while at Birthdays or Funerals and it was obvious to me that poor Tim had Parkinsons. What I was too stupid to realize is that just because something is obvious to you, does not mean it is obvious to everyone else. I would see Tim deteriorate and feel sad after seeing him, but I never mentioned it to him because I assumed that he already was being treated.
Then there was the summer of funerals. All of us were getting together once a week to bury another family member and I was spending more time with Tim. I realized that I was never being asked to hold his tilted drink while he fished pills out of his pocket. Was it possible that he wasn't taking pills? Hadn't anybody noticed that Tim was aging at five times the normal rate?
I was still a wimp, so I talked to his brother Wink.
“Isn't Tim being treated for Parkinsons?”
“You DO know he has it, don't you?”
I still remember Wink looking over his shoulder at his brother Tim. At that moment, Tim was standing by himself, hunched over, and trying to juggle a plastic cup of punch while stuffing something sweet up into his mouth trying to avoid having too much falling onto the floor. Wink looked back at me with the lightbulb look. “You know, SOMETHING seemed wrong.” and we started tossing things back and forth. “I told him that Tim should get treatment immediately so that the aging process can be tempered a bit. Wink was still assembling pieces of the puzzle that explained why Tim would take five hours to do something that he used to do in twenty minutes.
That evening I received a phone call from Cousin Ann telling me that they had all discussed Tim that evening and wanted to thank me. I felt good temporarily.
Tim went to the doctor for a “test”.
The doctor asked Tim to walk across the room, Tim did, and the Doctor said “You've got it!”.
Tim started treatment, everyone adjusted to the new Tim. The rapid deterioration was squelched, but a huge amount of damage had been done. He had already skipped thirty years and he wasn't going to get them back. I want to cry when I see the porch pictures of the family hanging on walls of the cottages and comparing them. Tim ages five years while everybody else ages one. If I had spoken up to mention what was obvious to me (but not to anyone else), Tim would have not lost as many years.
During this same time period there was someone in my car club that obviously had Parkinsons too.
I vowed that I would confirm that they knew about it the next time that I saw them, but it was too late. She had a very rare, very aggressive variation that destroyed their life within a couple of years.
Since I learned my lesson with Tim I have been more “aggressive” with my amateur diagnosis.
There is a chance that I am wrong, the person finds out that they are okay and is angry at me for the rest of his or her life that I scared them so much for absolutely no reason, but there is a reason: My cousin Tim. If I spot the symptoms in someone that I know, I WILL tell them. For Tim.
What I am still struggling with is whether I should ever tell people on the street. If they already know, they don't need to be reminded by some jerk walking by, but what if they don't know?
I have never done it, but it tortures me every time.

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Tim, part VI, The Symptoms

Parkinsons Symptoms that I see.

A Parkinsons person will hold a glass at a tilt with the liquid almost spilling. Other people would automatically level out the glass, but with Parkinsons, unless it is actually spilling, it is not worth the extreme effort to adjust your wrist.
The Parkinson's mask: Limited facial expressions that limit interactions with new acquaintances. The family doesn't even notice because they read the eyes, which still dance and laugh just fine.
The hunch. People that have always had good posture will start drooping. I think gravity wins and you don't have the energy to keep telling the shoulder muscles to do their job.
The fish was thiiis big. If they are explaining the size of something, a Parkinsons person cannot just hold a finger on each hand six inches apart. They will touch their thumbs to create a bridge that keeps the two hands steady.
Rotating your hand. Try this at home. Hold your hand out with the palm down. Now rotate it to the palm up position. Notice that the whole assembly rotated around an axis that is almost at your middle finger, your “driving finger” if you are a New Yorker. To simulate how Tim and my Father would rotate their hands, try locking your thumb in one spot in the air and rotate your arm and hand around your thumb. Curl your fingers into a cup shape and you will approximate the look of a typical conversation. Both hands are connected by an invisible cable that goes up and over the shoulder so both hands will rotate simultaneously. Isn't that tiring? Are your arms sore? That is how every movement is when you no longer have an auto-pilot. You have to send a message to each muscle to tell it to move. They will still do it, but it is a lot of work. Sitting quietly and listening is much easier.
If you could bring me some food, it is even better.
Tippy toes. The knees bend, the arms reach forward, but you aren't able to shift your weight to actually lift one foot to slide it forward. You end up leaning into a crouch that looks like you are ready to jump off a dock, and then everyone stops and turns around to watch you jump off the dock, which makes it that much harder. Try walking across the room and concentrate on a few steps to take note of how you shift your weight from one leg to the other one, lift, slide, place, shift weight. It's very complicated.
Obstacles. When you have parkinsons you can step up over a curbing, but you can't walk down the sidewalk. A long hallway can stop you cold because there are no obstacles. Walking down railroad tracks would keep your mind from wandering so that you can concentrate on which muscles need moving. When you are in a long hallway, the person next to you will ALWAYS start chattering because THEY have gone into auto-pilot mode, and if they expect a reply from you, forward movement has to stop while you are talking. Very frustrating.
An interesting tidbit: Parkinsons patients do not burn. In nursing homes where parkinsons patients have been bedridden for years, if the fire alarm rings, the patient who couldn't walk will run to the sidewalk. They can't stand up when they are out there and will keep falling down, but they can run down stairs faster than anyone. It seems that adrenaline can make auto-pilot work for anyone.
Intelligence. This isn't official, but most people that I have seen with Parkinsons are very smart and very funny. The kind of people that I like to hang around with.

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Tim, part VII, Goodbye.

I am sorry that I couldn't make it to Freeport today. I hope that his entire family knows that we were thinking of you today. I am sorry that I didn't raise my voice sooner when I first spotted the problem, I have learned from it, and I hope it will never happen again.

I will miss Tim. He was fun.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

The goat farmer.

The goat farmer needed supplies. He had bought one of those fancy label printers to keep track of his inventory.
He was the proprietor of a modern state of the art business that could boast of customers that were some of the biggest names in goat farming.
This label printer was the perfect addition so that those little vials could be tracked, sorted and shipped without errors. The old technique of hand-writing the labels caused errors, tied up employees whose hands could be doing more important things, and didn't convey the image of a modern operation like he was running.
He was happy with the printer, felt that the prices for the ink and labels were reasonable, but there was a question about the taxes.
How come he was being charged a sales tax on his ink and labels?

The farmer was transferred to the tax department. Betty would get to the bottom of this.
“OK, so what is your product?” Betty asked.

“Goat sperm” the farmer said.
“Excuse me, did you say goat... sperm?”

“Yep, I'm the largest producer of goat sperm in the tri-state area.”

Betty regrouped. She would have liked to pass this research off to somebody/ANYbody else, but no one was available. Act calm, stay in control... “Oh? And how large would that be?”

“We ship twelve hundred units a day” the farmer said proudly.

“My my, that sounds big all right.” Betty said, sounding as knowledgeable as she could, “and you use our machine for what?”

“To label the vials.” The farmer replied “We keep track of the sire, the date of the collection, and the sample number.”

Betty kept thinking 'twelve hundred per day', 'twelve hundred per day'. She was having trouble wrapping her brain around that. “You 'milk' one thousand two hundred goats per day?” She paused, “is 'milk' the correct word?”

“You can use that” he chuckled, “I'll know what you mean.” “How come I'm paying taxes on labels that are for use in my plant, these supplies should be exempt!”.

Betty assured the farmer that she would contact his states' tax department.
Betty called the correct department and went through the entire dilemma with them. The woman on the other end was sympathetic to the difficulties of sorting through this, but they worked out the details between them based on what they understood of the process. Armed with this information she felt that she was better prepared to deal with the farmer without being embarrassed.

She called the farmer and told him “You may be eligible for an exemption based on where in your process you use your labels.” “I have to know if these labels are used for the vials that are shipped to the customer or if they are used for storage or inventory.” “It makes a difference in your state whether the labels are for marking 'per goat' or 'per customer'.
Betty was pulling it off. She was professional, in control...

The farmer said “Well I don't know exactly where you draw the line?”.

Betty suddenly felt that she might be forced into delving into the details. She popped up to look around her cubicle to make sure that no one was approaching.
She crouched over so she could talk quietly into the phone. “It makes a difference WHEN you put the label on the product.”

The farmer was still talking at the same volume but Betty was sure that he was yelling loud enough so that everyone in the other cubicles could hear.

He said “you mean the vials of sperm?”

Betty waited for “sperm” to stop echoing around the office. EVERYBODY heard that, didn't they? “yesssss” she hissed. “I mean the vials of...”
“product”. Deep breath. Keep going. “At what stage of the process do you affix the label?”

The farmer said “we print em out as we need em so they don't get mixed up.” “Each goat has a bar code on his collar and the label is printed to match.”

Betty lowered her head even lower so that the phone was clunking against the keyboard
“No no, I mean do you label each batch or is each vial kept separate?” she said in a very low voice.

“I told you, twelve hundred per day.” he said. After Betty's disappearing volume, the farmer's voice sounded like it was booming on a speaker phone. “Twelve hundred per day means twelve hundred glass vials, twelve hundred labels, and of course, twelve hundred goats.” “You can't really do this without the goats now, could you?”

Silence. Betty was waiting for the echoes to stop.

“Could you?” “Hello Betty?”

“Yes... I'm here....”

“I was saying you need twelve hundred goats, did you hear that?”

“Yes, I heard it.” She wanted this conversation to end.

He continued “so if I'm labeling twelve hundred vials and I freeze them, and I also ship twelve hundred every day, I doesn't matter whether a vial was collected today, yesterday, or two months ago. I don't care and I don't think the state should care either.”

Betty offered “the way that they explained it to me, is that it makes a difference whether the bottles are labeled before or after the collection machine”.

Now it was time for the farmer to pause “What kinda machine?”

“You know... the 'milking' machine.”

“Honey, we ain't milking them, these are BOY goats!”

Betty blushed and drove her chin down on the M key of her keyboard and only lifted it to stop the beeping. “I know that!”. “I mean the machine that collects the sperm from the twelve hundred goats per day”.

The farmer laughed. “Honey, nobody sells a machine to do that!

Betty said "Okay, I will have to get back to you... Thank you for calling, we will have to do a little more research".

Then she stood up, adjusted her blouse, and went out for a walk. This was a call she would have to finish another day.

I wrote this story this particular week because I am spending some time with the person that originally told me this story several years ago. I wanted to have the facts checked. The dialog is not exact but it has been confirmed that this is how it happened, more or less. I was also told that Betty had just started this job when this happened. She had plenty of tax experience but not very much goat experience.

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