Monday, April 10, 2017

A silent journalist? What next?

No, this reporter was not taking a pizza order from
Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. at the U.S. Capitol.

Well, yes, I admit under questioning that I enjoyed a suite at Mar-a-Lago at a time when Donald J. Trump may have been building towers with a child’s erector set. It was about the time of my first visit to the White House, too, but I was there because I was a young reporter. The only newspapers I ever owned I bought for a nickel a copy.Edward F. Hutton, the stock broker who invited me to the home he and Marjorie Merriweather Post built in Palm Beach, did not know that my bedroom suite in his home was larger than my basement apartment, where there wasn’t even a butler. I think Hutton would have voted for Trump, but I’m not so sure about the 40 servants who kept Mar-a-Lago dust-free and hospitable.

Newspaper reporting was fun most of the time, except maybe at the coffee machine at the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, a smoky jewel of the Hearst empire in the days before an Australian fellow became the news emperor. There was foxy news, but no Fox News, in the late 1940’s.

Neither was there anything called multiple system atrophy. The disease was around for quite a while, but it was treated as three separate ailments. It wasn’t much more than 15 years ago when my neurologist diagnosed sporadic olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA), which is now called multiple system atrophy (MSA). Same dizziness, same pains, same tumbles, same tendency for patients to talk about it whenever they can corner a listener. Same all of that but they were known as three diseases. Diagnosis takes time. There’s plenty of time because the disease has no cure.

Now that I’m 92 I still enjoy life with my daughter Marie and son-in-law Mark Veldman. Living with them, and being in close contact with son John and his wife Pam, along with son David and his wife Toni, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild expected soon, is the best medicine.

MSA, which some say was invented by the Marquis de Sade, whose name inspired the word sadism, is said by others to have been invented in an overheated cellar pungent with sulphur fumes. MSA sharpens arthritis in people’s fingers, makes feet shuffle, trip and puff up with gout. It does noisy things inside heads, interferes with the swallowing apparatus, sneaks in a Jeopardy memory game that has neither questions nor answers. And so on.

Thank you for reading this far, and thanks for your friendship. MSA has imposed low speed limits on everything its impatients do. I used to get fully dressed faster than I now pull on a pair of socks, and computer keyboards mock me when I start touch-typing. My notes on Facebook and Wall’s Paper are switching from Central Standard Time to MSA Saving Time. I’ll miss making greeting cards and tuning in regularly to Facebook. Every once in a while when you feel a mild thunk in your head you’ll know I’m thinking of you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

There go the cards

I began downsizing by giving a bunch of books to a monastery library. A smiling priest thought it was like Christmas to be given a 20-volume Oxford English dictionary and a collection of poets. There’s more poetry in words than we sometimes notice. Here are two of them:

Thanks. Sorry.

Thanks for God’s love and yours. Thanks for your generosity. Thanks for your forgiveness.
Sorry I ever let you down, tested your tolerance or failed to do the right thing.

One of my early satisfactions was learning that everything began with the Word and that the Word is God. Words, upper case or lower, were the toys of childhood. They became tools of  grownup life.

I don’t remember when I started, but it wasn’t long after I acquired my first computer almost three decades ago that I found how how much fun it is to make and mail Christmas cards. Something called olivopontocerebellar atrophy, which changed its name to multiple system atrophy, began to interfere with card production. MSA tangles fingers on a keyboard, causes hours of design to vanish, jiggles the alignment of mailing labels, distracts from  folding cards evenly and diverts hands from stuffing the envelopes and stamping them. The fun part is making the cards, but some computers are haunted.

Mine is haunted by MSA this year, and it is leaving me with ghosts of Christmas cards past. I’m skipping the joy of sending my Merry Christmas greetings on cards, beginning this year. The arrival of Christ in the conscience of the world is a welcome mystery. Without it we might suffer more violence, including the physical and emotional violence of MSA and other so-far incurable diseases and the sense of medical terrorism that accompanies them.

I’ve already received gifts of affection and understanding from family and friends, including their tolerance of occasional MSA brain crashes, which are almost as baffling as computer crashes. It is a lot more fun being 91 when you live with your daughter and son-in-law, when you’re as close as email and Skype to your sons and their spouses, when you have six grandchildren who are smarter and better-looking than you are.

Please join me in prayers of gratitude for Christmas, a yearly gift from the timeless giver.

Merry Christmas to you, and a Happy New Year.

© A. E. P. (Ed) Wall       December 2016
9218 Dunmore Drive, Orland Park, IL 60462-1152

Friday, November 4, 2016

World Series and other mysteries

Sally’s not here to celebrate the World Series victory of the Cubs, part of her birthright as a Chicagoan of the north. (She broadened her cheers when our daughter and a native southsider Sox fan were married.)

            This is the week of celebration for the Cubs victory over Cleveland, and also the anniversary week for Sally and me.

 We were married 62 years ago. We were in love and life was good. Life was more rugged for people we knew, but it was still a surprise when it grew bumpy for us.

            Sally had recovered from polio in her teens. She was a helper, volunteering to work in soup kitchens, visit strangers in hospitals, look after the homebound , sing in choirs and drive the elderly to medical and dental offices. She did these things while loving our three kids and nurturing them, and finding things to laugh or cry about.

            It seemed more than unfair that anyone so dedicated to the health and holiness of others should come to know triple bypass surgery, the loss of a leg, infections that could not be cured, dialysis and other painful events, depressing to her family and friends. We saw the specialists, who applied every advantage that science knows about, and we prayed. The prayers for relief were not answered in the way we had in mind.

            After more than 90 years of it I know that life is still a mystery. So is death. They are the same mystery, and I like mysteries.

© A. E. P. (Ed) Wall

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When a debater becomes a debaser

You only have to change one letter to turn a debater into a debaser. A debaser is a person who lowers quality or character or value, a dedicated pessimist and spoiler. Debate and democracy serve each other.

Debasers throw beer cans at athletes. They shout words once kept on a high shelf, out of reach for the sober. I was 17 when I first heard words of four letters each used conversationally, rolling off the asbestos lips of drill instructors in the different world of 1942. Almost everybody was at war. Men were drafted into military service. Women volunteered for the armed forces and filled all kinds of war production jobs. Gas was rationed, there were no new cars for civilians, food was rationed, book margins were trimmed to save paper, there were blackouts and the horror of receiving a Western Union telegram announcing the loss of a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent.

Wars continue, but relatively few Americans are part of them. There’s no draft, no war tax, no rationing of gas and food. The country is so great it continues to provide medical care and food for people of any nationality whose lives are impacted by war, tsunami, hurricane, earthquake or flood. But the melting pot country of e pluribus unum developed a medical pot enthusiasm for celebrating differences. That’s part of a process of sharing respect. Not everybody sees it that way. Although nobody anticipated the degradation of politics that erupted in 2016, citizens expect that political sickness will heal itself, as it has in other times of challenge.

I’ve been exposed to a lot of politics. I’ve covered campaign rallies, presidents and governors, written editorials, worked for Hawaii statehood, and loved it all. I spent a few years observing Vatican politics at close range.

Catholic politics is mostly clerical. My time as communications officer for the Episcopal Diocese  in Orlando showed me why so many presidents of the United States have been Episcopalians. The Episcopal Church blends religious and democratic instincts into a denomination of prayers and votes, preaching and politics, generosity in outreach, and lusty singing.

Politics where we work, politics in government, politics in religion, the politics of education and even in family life, is here to stay, along with death and taxes and tax returns.

Back in the 1970’s, when I chaired the salary committee of a printing company, I was alerted by management that health care costs were going to rise very high and very soon. That did not prevent me from picking up an expensive disease called multiple system atrophy, which awaits discovery of a cure by dedicated medical researchers.

Thanks to family and friends I’m receiving better care and kinder comments than even candidates for president. With a firm grip on my rollator I walk from one end of the house to the other as surely as if my head were not full of sloshing oatmeal. I’ve received my share of MSA symptoms, and some of them are cutting into my computer fun. It could be a lot worse. I don’t think I’ll make Christmas cards this year, but I’m going to vote, and I won’t be the only dizzy voter in 2016. I voted for the first Catholic president, the first African-American president and the first Hawaiian president.

And soon another first.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Candidates dizzy? So are some voters

The medical folks say that my rare disease has no cure, and the most promising candidate for president has not yet promised to cure it. The experts say there may be no more than 25,000 of us in the United States. We may not be numerous, but we are dizzy enough to make a valuable voting bloc.

Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) is a homeless ailment that settles itself in the brain like a TV cable company, deciding what its host will see and not see. It gives its victim the diminished animation known as a poker face, but adds a clumsiness that betrays a poker hand. It often wipes out sweating, like an underarm spray that just kept going.

MSA usually appears when a person is in the 50’s. It takes time to diagnose, so there may be some confusion about the precise starting time. One study says that the median survival time after diagnosis is nine years, but another records more than 20 years. If I had my way, both party platforms would call for a higher minimum age.

MSA apparently strikes at random, like the referee at a political debate. It is not contagious and it is not inherited from parents, no matter how goofy they may seem. The doctors say it is progressive. It advances fast in some cases, slowly in others. I am one of the lucky ones, having been labeled slow poke by my mom. Since my diagnosis 14 years ago I’ve become a rollator navigator, learned how to unchoke, how to tumble, how to use the TV captions on all of the shows because all of the performers have started to mumble.

The days slow down, and I enjoy them. The new math is hard to figure, but 24 hours feels like 48, while I spend 24 hours doing what I used to do in 12. I have less time for Facebook and making cards. I’m still here, still in love with family and friends and the Eternal. No big deal. No sweat!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

It was a dandy headline, but then I forgot it

Grandpa William Olmstead reading his newspaper.

I didn’t understand oldness when I was a kid. Nobody around me acted old. My grandpa was up at 3 o’clock every morning to get the first streetcar of the day on the tracks. He was in his youthful 70's and so was my grandma, the one who got up before dawn one Christmas morning so she could do the laundry, hang it up to dry, iron it and put it away. Christmas that year fell on a Monday. Monday was Wash Day and in 1933 Monday was Christmas, both sacred in ways known to my grandma and her neighbors.

It was the Great Depression that had me living with my grandparents in Celoron, N.Y., in 1933, but mental depression may have been a threat to those septuagenarians, all of a sudden having to get an eight-year-old kid off to school every day.

Social Security was still a dream in the mind of an Episcopalian layman, one of 11 who served as president of the United States, and the years of the Great Depression were not notable for pensions generally. Life expectancy for Americans in 1933 was 63.3 years. There weren’t so many elderly, and they were largely invisible. There weren’t many ramps and power wheelchairs to get the disabled out of the house, no wide aisles for shopping or public rest rooms for people with special needs. By 2014 life expectancy had climbed to 78.94, and ways to keep smiling despite disease and disability had climbed with it.

Family and friends, and some strangers, too, have shown me how to enjoy the aging process in ways I could not have imagined. I didn’t try very hard to imagine it when I was young. I was astonished, several decades ago, to be named to the White House Conference on Aging. I didn’t know anything about aging, and I wasn’t ready to learn. If I had looked over my shoulder I would have seen the caisson loaded with dizzy brain cells and wrinkling surfaces . It was getting closer.

Once a journalist, always a journalist, is one of my earliest professional superstitions. It was already taking form in that Celoron house in 1933 when my pal Harold Lind and I produced a neighborhood newspaper, with circulation limited only by the amount of carbon paper at our disposal.  Harold, the smartest boy in school, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in the war we thought would assure world tranquility.

Those journalism genes have kept my itchy typing fingers turning out occasional reports on the rare, incurable disease called Multiple System Atrophy, once known as Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy. I provide an insider’s view, having been diagnosed several years ago. It is a difficult disease to diagnose, and I probably had it for a while before it was named.  Well, some of my co-workers may have had a short name for it, but they usually were patiently confused.

There aren’t many new symptoms, but the old squishy-head symptoms are more aggressive. They add a feeling of adventure to rising out of a chair, or getting out of bed, or taking a shower. There’s a pill for gout, other pills for other things, the names of which I have forgotten because there is no pill for remembering them. The brakes are on, hidden in the throat, fingers, brain, feet. MSA folks tend to get slower. Now that I’m 91 years old I celebrate the happy fact that I’m slow to stop. It is a good omen, and I wish I could remember to buy a lottery ticket.

Thanks for reading this far. I still read a lot, enjoying the latest John Sandford novel, “Extreme Prey.” This gave me a momentary thought about writing a book to be called “Extreme Pray.” Maybe that notion came from some other current reading of Franciscan Father Richard Rohr and Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin during an intermission between mystery/adventure novels on my Kindle Fire. I continue to enjoy the poets, including the vast poetry of the Gospels. May the good news be with you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Backing into a choice parking space


I found a fresh jar of Kava in the alphabetical mover’s carton between Jerky and Lemon juice. I  poured a tall glass halfway full, straight from the cold water faucet, added a generous spoonful of Kava, then some sweetener, stirred it all in a vigorous hurricane style and then added cubes of the final ingredient for iced coffee.

We’ve moved. There are lots of upsides to downsizing. Furniture, clothing, books, electronics went to family, friends and charities by the ton. Ask almost any Veldman, even a Wall or two, about the tonnage, much of it hauled up stairways and down stairways, around and over obstacles fixed in place years ago by determined plumbers and carpenters.

If you were planning ways to downsize from a large home to a smaller one, you might turn out a new home just like this one. Our move took us almost literally from one end of Orland Park to the other. In the big house I used to think that a mild nudge would slide us out of Cook county and into Will county. Our new address is in Orland Park also, but the back door is not many steps from the Palos Park boundary line, maybe 20 minutes closer to Midway Airport.

Marie and Mark, my daughter and son-in-law, have brought the vibes of affection, fun and caring along to this new address. Whether it is the five-pound tail-wagger learning the ways of an invisible fence for dogs, or a  91-year-old grandpa enjoying electronic super-gadgets and health gear only dreamed of by childhood space hero Buck Rogers, everybody thinks this place is dandy. And dandy is the word for Mark and Marie.

Along with moving sofas, there’s the less muscular issue of moving the postal mail. Friends and magazines have to be told. This move came just as my credit card expired and was to be renewed for another three years. Simple, except that all automatic payments of bills via that credit card come to a stop. The new expiration date has to be applied to each one.

I began with my monthly dues to the National Press Club. I emailed my message of change and added that I appreciated the club’s decision some time ago to collect dues monthly instead of yearly. I hardly noticed the modest monthly charge.

That led to a return email from the National Press Club in Washington. I learned that I do not pay any dues to the club, and that’s why I hardly noticed it. After 50 years in the club, a member becomes a Golden Owl and no longer pays dues. Finally, a hooter.

I give a hoot over what happened in Orlando. The horror is immense and the implications are still unwinding. Violence and hatred force their way into cities as hospitable, progressive and charming as Orlando, just as they appear in other unexpected ways and places.

When I was a kid it was common wisdom that a Catholic would never be elected president of the United States, nor would an African American, nor would the candidacy of a woman be taken seriously. Jews were denied rooms in some hotels, home ownership in some neighborhoods and membership in some clubs. Black citizens were subjected to wider restrictions, especially in justice, politics and education. Just as white men and women were active abolitionists during the shame of slavery, white legislators, judges and journalists of my generation fought successfully for civil rights laws. The conscience of a nation was enlarged in a couple of generations, not long in terms of history but each moment was too long for the victims.

I’m no longer that kid who was born during the Coolidge administration, growing up in the Great Depression, coming of age during World War II. The population of the USA was not much more than a third of what it is today. Most of the action in commerce and agriculture seemed to be east of the Mississippi. Radio was big, newspapers were bigger. Television was still a notion awaiting motion. John Dillinger and Al Capone were famous, but crime and drugs seemed tamer than they were to become.

Religion was everywhere, in the Easter Parade, in the Catholic Legion of Decency and the banning of books in Boston, in the serving of fish in Friday school lunches and Bing Crosby crooning Christian music in the movies. The Methodists and others enacted Prohibition for a while, then the country repealed it and the crime it nurtured. The prohibition idea was applied to drugs, but it put huge numbers of prisoners into prisons at great social and monetary cost. It stimulated more crime.

Christians do not seem to be taking religion as seriously any more, in North America and Europe especially. Marriage is more optional. Mosques are being built, but not so many churches or synagogues. I’d like to be around to see how this works out, but I have lived through the most stimulating years in human history, years of invention more than convention.

I’ve been loved and I’ve been hated. I’ve been cheered and despised. I’ve been right and I’ve been wrong. In school I was taught cursive writing and the use of blotters. I took classes in mechanics and woodworking, using methods and tools now in museums, and with the rest of the boys I learned about blueprints while the girls sewed. There’s an invisible cosmic blueprint for goodness, for good impulses, and I think that blueprint is adapted to worship everywhere. So don’t be surprised, if you’re one of my friends of atheist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian or even Republican persuasion, if sometimes you see the blueprint maker in the mind’s eye, or any eye.

In my teens I survived a strep infection because my doctor decided to try something new, called penicillin. Medical knowledge moves on and someday there will be a cure for multiple system atrophy (MSA). Having it has not turned me into a snob, but it is a rare, if not exclusive, disease. Doctors call it progressive. I call it aggressive. It tampers with the brain. It causes dizziness and other distractions, and thanks to my children and their spouses and their children  — John Wall and Pam Heyda, who will arrive here today from San Francisco for a visit; Drs. Marie and Mark Veldman, the outsized downsizers; and David and Toni Wall, who were just here from Seattle for a week — I am spared much of the exasperation of it. But writing becomes physically demanding like rock climbing, so I’ll be downsizing these essays. I used to get paid by the word. Old habits are the toughest. So are old men.