Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Unforgettable, That’s What You Were

Following up on my previous blog, here are some materials from yet another proposal for a book that never saw the light of day. Its working title was This ‘70s Book: Remembering the People, Events, Fashions, Fads, and Mores That Defined an Unforgettable Decade.

It was the grooviest snapshot in time—the 1970s. At once colorful in fashion and remarkably colorless in politicians—from Presidents Nixon to Ford to Carter—the decade began with the nation mired in a contentious war and passed into the dustbin of history with Americans held hostage by a fanatical Ayatollah in Iran.

It was the decade that added both spice and controversy to television sitcoms, as the perfect TV family at last became dysfunctional—just like the rest of us. The 1970s also furnished us with a heaping helping of variety on the boob tube—quite literally—as a diverse cast of characters from Flip Wilson to Mac Davis to Howard Cosell hosted their very own “variety shows.”

The 1970s gave us a Secretary of Agriculture named Butz, a presidential brother named Billy, and a nightclub named Studio 54. It witnessed the rise of a thing called “free agency” in Major League Baseball, altering the face of the American pastime forever. In this inimitable decade, Volkswagen defined the “cheap car,” with the German automaker’s “bugs” crawling all over America’s highways and byways. So what if the trunks were on the wrong end of the car. And, lest we forget, 1970s automobile owners also cruised about in Dodge’s “Dart Swingers.” Meanwhile, two-legged swingers created a thing called “disco fever,” while gyrating the nights away to the latest Bee Gees blockbuster hit.

Yes, the 1970s were a decade to remember. From Richard Nixon and Watergate to John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever, the people, events, fashions, fads, and mores are lodged in the memory banks of millions of baby boomers. Their children are even caught up in the nostalgia of what came before them. For no matter what transpired three decades ago—from war abroad to scandal at home—it was unquestionably a simpler time. It was the end of the “good old days.” 

In the 1970s, only those with acrophobia gave second thoughts to ascending high-rise buildings. Al Gore had yet to “invent” the Internet. Job outsourcing was not a political issue. With most Americans driving around in the same old heaps until the wheels fell off, car leasing was unheard of. And there weren’t more than four hundred-plus TV channels with nothing on, but a mere ten to twelve with seemingly something for everyone.

This ‘70s Book will chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly of an epoch—from the birth of the disposable razor to cigarette vending machines dispensing the poisonous pleasures in high school cafeterias. It’ll recall Jimmy Hoffa’s mysterious exit from this mortal coil, as well as baseball players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swapping wives, children, and dogs. 
            
This ‘70s Book will wear hot pants and attend college toga parties. It’ll get behind the wheel of a classic Plymouth “Duster” and American Motors “Gremlin.” The book will furnish readers with crash courses on the era’s economic highlights and lowlights. The Dow Jones Industrial Average reached an all-time high of 907 in 1979! Inflation topped 13% and the prime interest rate soared above 15% in the late 1970s. And the Chrysler Corporation received a highly contentious $1.5 billion worth of government largesse during this time period.

This ‘70s Book will cast its net far and wide over a unique and momentous period in American history. Readers will relish this enticing retrospective. They will learn things they never knew before about everyone from Louise Brown, the first test tube baby, to Tony Orlando, who turned yellow ribbons into gold nuggets. They’ll relive Argentine stripper Fanne Foxe doing her thing with a powerful Congressman. This ‘70s Book will recall when Superman was a guy named Christopher Reeve and when Ernest Borgnine and Gene Hackman sailed the extremely rough seas on a ship called the Poseidon. 

A short sample chapter from the book that never was but could have been…

Rolling in the Hays

Every decade makes a celebrity out of a mistress or gal-pal of somebody famous or otherwise powerful. It’s part of our cultural heritage. The 1990s gave us Monica Lewinsky; the 1980s, the dynamic duo of Donna Rice and Jessica Hahn. And the 1970s were hardly devoid of sexual hijinks and scandal. 

Famously quoted as saying, “I can’t type…I can’t file…I can’t even answer the phone,” Elizabeth Ray nevertheless found employment as a secretary on Capitol Hill. Despite her less than impressive administrative attributes, she landed a $14,000/year clerking position with influential Democratic Congressman Wayne Hays of Ohio. In our bicentennial year of 1976, the world discovered that the comely Ms. Ray’s job responsibilities had precious little to do with typing, filing, and answering the phone. 

Congressman Hays chaired the House Administration Committee, which controlled the purse strings and myriad perks on everything from custodial help to travel allowances to parking spaces. This enabled the long-time Washington insider to wield considerable power with the most modest of mallets. In other words, he could cut off colleagues’ air conditioning if he saw fit, or punish elevator operators for sitting down while he had to stand, which he in fact did by removing their jump seats.

So, when Ms. Ray went public with her story of having been hired solely as a congressman’s mistress, not too many folks in Washington felt sympathy for the beleaguered Hays. Ray said she spilled the beans because she felt snubbed at not being invited to her paramour’s nuptials. In 1976, Hays married Patricia Peak, a bona fide secretary from his Ohio office, not too long after divorcing his wife of thirty-eight years. Ray grumbled, “I was good enough to be his mistress for two years, but not good enough to be invited to his wedding.” She also wanted it on record that she did not enjoy her intimate moments with the flabby senior citizen for whom she worked. Ray said, “If I could have, I would have put on a blindfold, worn earplugs, and taken a shot of Novocain.”

When all the dirt surfaced of the two-year-old liaison between Ray and Hays, the Congressman admitted to romping in the hay with his employee, but emphasized that she was not hired to serve as his mistress. It wasn’t, after all, against the law to fool around. Hays immediately resigned from his committee chairmanship and a couple of months later from his congressional seat. He escaped any criminal charges, largely because Ray was certifiably flaky and completely unreliable. People from her past came out the woodwork and made a convincing case that she was the antithesis of a naive Girl Scout and, too, a far cry from the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

A former boyfriend—and a trial lawyer—told the media: “She wasn’t very intelligent. If I took her out somewhere, I’d tell her not to say anything. Now and then she’d forget and call me the next day to apologize.” A restaurant owner who once employed her as a waitress said that he had to let her go because “she was hustling.” 

After Wayne Hays resigned from the Congress, he disappeared from the limelight altogether into a well-earned obscurity. He succumbed to cancer in 1989 at the age of seventy-seven. His second wife, Patricia, survived him.

With more than thirty years of resume building since the scandal, Ms. Ray has posed for Playboy several times and tried her hand at acting and screenwriting. It has been reported she is a part-time stand-up comedienne.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Be True to Yourself: Be a Goober

I just stumbled upon a disk that contained a mother lode of non-fiction book proposals of mine from—yes—a simpler time in the publishing world and world in general. Approximately fifteen years ago, I had a lot of ideas and literary agents, too, representing many of them. Some of the projects got past first base and were discussed in “pub board” meetings. However, in the end, salespeople typically had the final word and shot them down. Yes, the same men and women who champion their incredible knowledge of what sells and doesn’t sell in the book market by reciting a litany of books that have bombed. Countless titles—believe it or not—that the aforementioned all-knowing professionals somehow let slip through the cracks and see the light of day on bookstore shelves.

Anyway, that was a long, long time ago. I will say that the perseverance complex paid off for me in that I kept re-branding my ideas—after one rejection after another—until I hit pay dirt. What follows, though, is sample material from a proposed book—one that never was—entitled TV Dinners for the Soul: 101 Solutions to Life’s Problems and Riddles from Your All-Time Favorite Television Personalities.

Goober, you got real talent.
- Gomer Pyle to his cousin

Fall is Goober’s favorite season, he says, except for summer and spring. This is quintessential Goober: a simple man who loves life. Seasons change, but not Goober’s lust for living.

Simplicity defines Goober. It is the most admirable quality of Mayberry’s Forrest Gump. Like most of us, Goober experiences moments of despair in which he rues his lot in life. In Goober’s case, it’s pumping gas, changing oil, and fixing flat tires.

In The Andy Griffith Show episode “Goober Makes History,” the man grows a beard, endeavoring to erect an intellectual aura around him and cast asunder his image as lovable doofus. Goober takes a history class and pathetically attempts to dominate it with volubility decidedly out of character. In so doing, he transforms himself into an overbearing clod and achieves persona non grata standing in the community-at-large of Mayberry. Happily, Goober comes back to the reality of being Goober: kindhearted, ever loyal, and fun to be around. He accepts the fact that he’s not cut from the same cloth of William F. Buckley, Jr.

In yet another episode, “Goober Goes to an Auto Show,” he meets an old school chum and attempts to impress him with braggadocio. Goober tells his friend that he owns a chain of gas stations. This charade predictably blows up in his face and—one again—Goober accepts his lot in life.

What is his lot in life? For many years, Goober labored in Wally’s Filling Station, ultimately purchasing the place for himself. This is the American Dream personified and nothing to be ashamed about. Goober, the Big Kid, achieves self-sufficiency doing what he does best. 

All men and women are created equal under the Natural Law. But reality tells us that individual human beings are hardly equal. Some are blessed with great intellect, while others are vacuous airheads. Some are imbued with enormous physical strength, while others are ninety-eight-pound weaklings. And, sad to say, some human beings are bereft of even a shred of decency or compassion for their fellow man and woman. Individuals are individual to the core.

Goober, for example, is recognized as a gifted mimic in the confines of Mayberry, North Carolina, impersonating Cary Grant and Edward G. Robinson with hayseed aplomb. Maybe at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City he wouldn’t be graded so high. So what! Goober starred on the Mayberry High football team and was the town arm-wrestling champion for four consecutive years. He also won a pancake-eating contest at the county fair, consuming—with butter and syrup—fifty-seven of the breakfast delights.

In other words, Goober excels at being Goober. When being himself he is a winner. When he ventures far a field into arenas outside of his special talents and God-given personality, he fails miserably. There are countless Goobers in our midst who fall prey to societal pressures and feel inadequate in the process. This low self-esteem often augurs problems like drug and alcohol abuse and other self-destructive behaviors. Really, Goober Pyle is a role model for these confused souls.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

If I Could Save a Time in a Bottle

Another icon has died: the incomparable Yogi Berra. The man personified a time when professional baseball—and professional sports in general—had both character and characters. He also transcended the game in which he played and played so well.

Yogi will always be a Met in my eyes. He managed my all-time favorite team, the 1973 New York Mets, who improbably came within a game of winning the World Series against the heavily favored Oakland A’s. Previously, they had beaten the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds—the “Big Red Machine”—in the National League playoffs. The whole spectacle was especially remarkable because the 1973 Mets were floundering pretty much all season long—beset with all kinds of injuries—and closer to the basement than the penthouse when the month of September began. In fact, The New York Post had run a mid-summer poll, which posed the question to its readership, “Who should the Mets fire for their underachieving: Manager Yogi Berra, General Manager Bob Scheffing, or Board Chairman M. Donald Grant?” Scheffing and Grant got the lion’s share of the votes—and deservedly so. Yogi was a beloved figure and wasn’t to blame. After all, he went on to win the pennant. It’s a crying shame the pompous patrician Grant wasn’t sent packing then before he single-handedly destroyed a great franchise. (We shall never forget the Grant’s Tomb years: 1977-1979.)

There was nothing quite like being a kid and a fan back then. In the real world—the adult world—there was President Nixon and Watergate and, too, Vice President Agnew resigning during the post-season excitement. But I was pushing eleven in September and October 1973 and not particularly interested in the goings-on in Washington, D.C. I didn’t care whether or not our president was crook—let's put it that way. I was more interested in watching Mets’ games on the black-and-white television in our family living room and listening to just as many on the radio—my personal radio. No, it wasn’t a transistor. It was a much bigger deal than that with a dial. The radio could be either battery operated or plugged into an electrical outlet. What more could a boy want? Actually, my godmother had gotten me the radio as a First Holy Communion gift a couple of years earlier—one of the fringe benefits of being raised a Catholic. Holy Sacraments and that very first time often came attached to presents and sometimes even monetary rewards. Anyway, the radio is what I wanted so I could listen to Mets’ games—period and end of story. I don’t remember using it for any other purpose but to tune in to the dulcet tones of word painters Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner—the Holy Trinity as far as I was concerned.

It was definitely a time worth saving a bottle. I recall Yogi’s rather humble description of managing. He said, “All you have to know is when to take your pitchers out and how to keep your players happy.” The first year of the Designated Hitter in the American League was in 1973, which more or less torpedoed the only in-game strategy Yogi believed a Major League Baseball manager needed to master. By the way, Tom Seaver completed eighteen games in 1973 (after a career high of twenty-one in 1971). There were no pitch counts and other such nonsense back then. Yogi Berra, manager; Tom Seaver, the ace of the pitching staff; and the legendary Willie Mays on the very same roster in a pennant race and then in a World Series—you gotta believe nothing even remotely resembling that will ever occur again. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cream Sam Summer: the Novel


A Novel by Nicholas Nigro

The year is 1978, a simpler snapshot in time, when New York City neighborhoods had both character and characters—lots of them in fact. At once gritty and charming, the Bronx’s Kingsbridge supplies the vivid backdrop for Matt “Bean” Casale and his pals, who unwittingly find themselves entangled in the lives of their most eccentric neighbors. A hot and humid summer in the city adds further intrigue by simultaneously thawing out a police cold case and sorely testing the bonds of old friendships. Uncovering the real truth doesn’t come easy for the police and for the boys, too, who get swept up in both a Byzantine local soap opera and the rough-and-tumble of merely growing up.

Suffice it to say that the boys will never be quite the same, nor the neighborhood and world that they live in, after the Cream Sam Summer.

Cream Sam Summer ​is based on real people, places, and events from the past. 

http://www.nicholasnigro.net/novel.html

Sample Chapter 1 

A few weeks ago, Jimmy Kern went ballistic in his front driveway—a fist- pounding, foaming at the mouth eruption that was downright scary to witness. Known to most of us around here as “Red,” the man’s a certifiable neighborhood oddball. Somebody once told me that he received the nickname because he was a card-carrying communist, and that it had absolutely nothing to do with his redder than red hair and heavily freckled complexion. Honestly, I suspect my leg was being pulled and sincerely doubt that Red even knows what a communist is. I’m not very good at divining ages, but he’s considerably younger than my mother and father, who are in their mid-forties, and a lot older than me, a sixteen-year-old high school student. I’d wager that he’s somewhere in between and has celebrated his thirtieth birthday, and probably a few more than that, in the not-too-distant past.

The local consensus is that Red is simple—a “bit off” and not the brightest bulb in the chandelier—but he’s no a simpleton. I’ve heard through the grapevine that his childhood was anything but idyllic. For starters: Both his parents drank like fish. Mama Kern was something of a recluse, too. She came out only at night to run errands, which included picking up her regular whiskey stash and preferred smokes—Lucky Strikes, I’ve been told—but that was the long and short of her public appearances. My grandmother recalls her tying young Red and his older brother Peter to a sycamore tree in their backyard. Presumably, this was the oft-intoxicated mother’s foolproof method of keeping an eye on her two boys. Verbal interchange between this strange and solitary woman and her Kingsbridge neighbors—even basic hellos—just didn’t happen.

The reports are that Papa Kern was a tad more sociable. He would on occasion acknowledge his neighbors with the barest of nods, but he never, ever had anything to say. Sadly, the man met a tragic end. On his way home from work one summer’s eve almost two decades ago, the Kern family’s breadwinner fell in front of an oncoming subway train at the 181st Street station near the George Washington Bridge. The lingering scuttlebutt is that his blood alcohol level was off the charts. My Uncle Paul says Mr. Kern was a “tortured soul”—somebody who might very well have jumped in front of the train. Since the Kern patriarch shuffled off this mortal coil in such a dramatic fashion—accident or no accident—his surviving widow has seldom been spotted, even under the cloak of darkness.

Fast-forward to the present and the Kern house on Tibbett Avenue is an unsightly blot on the neighborhood landscape—a ramshackle eyesore. The family actually purchased the house brand new in the late 1930s—they were Kingsbridge denizens even before my grandparents, who moved into the neighborhood several years later. But forty years of utter neglect have rendered the place a complete shambles. There are broken windows in the front of the house, on the sides, and out back, too. Peeling paint is the rule. It’s late July now and the Kern’s front grounds are smothered in tall weeds. Sprouting up through countless cracks and crevices, a slate-tiles pathway leading to steps and the front door is also overrun with them. Our cigar-chomping mailman, Louie, no longer attempts to access the Kern’s rusty old mailbox attached to the house. Instead, he drops the mail into a thick patch of weeds, just beyond a corroded wrought iron gate along the sidewalk’s edge, which he says are the homeowner’s explicit instructions. I often notice uncollected letters and assorted junk mail in this urban jungle for weeks at a time—rain or shine. God only knows what the place’s interior looks like.

Four summers ago, I laid eyes on the old lady for the first and only time in my life. Spying this ghostly pale apparition standing on her front porch—dressed in all black with a long shock of unruly white hair—sent shivers up my twelve-year-old spine. No exaggeration here: She was a dead ringer for Grandmama Addams. Nowadays, her reclusiveness is the stuff of legend. Seeing her in the light of day, or dark of night for that matter, is the Kingsbridge equivalent of a Big Foot or Loch Ness Monster sighting.

Red Kern, on the other hand, is a familiar face in this sliver of the Northwest Bronx. Just about everybody knows him. A notorious packrat, the concrete sidewalls of the family’s sloping front driveway are perpetually lined with his most recent street finds. He once amassed a diverse assortment of discarded glass containers—everything from beer and soda bottles to mayonnaise and cold cream jars. Red envisioned making “piggybanks” out of them someday. On another occasion, the man gathered together wood scraps of every conceivable shape and size that he plucked from neighbors’ garbage cans. He spoke often of his grand plans to build an extra room to the house—his room—in the driveway. Construction hasn’t begun.

When we were much younger, Richie Ragusa, “Johnny B” Bauer, and I christened Red “Cream Sam”—a sub-nickname of sorts to his more popularly known one. The three of us had gotten into the habit of parking our bicycles in his driveway during the warm months of summer. Red was always ready with a good yarn, opinion, or outlandish philosophical discourse on the meaning of life. He frequently spoke of the existence of these rare culinary delights—at least that’s what I think they were supposed to be—called “Cream Sams.” Red said time and again that we would just love these “Kingsbridge Caviars,” and he always promised to get us some real soon.

On numerous occasions, my parents have instructed me to keep my distance from Red and his combination driveway-junkyard. Richie’s ex-Marine father has laid down the law concerning contact with anybody named Kern. I have no doubt that Johnny B’s over-protective mother would lock him in his room, and throw away the key, if she knew what he was up to. But Red has just fascinated us too much, with both his never-ending stories and ever-evolving collections of rubbish, to stay completely away. And since our parents don’t have us under constant surveillance while in the great outdoors—this is 1978, not 1984—these decrees from on high amount to little more than a hill of beans.

Admittedly, there has always been a feeling of trepidation—an intoxicating whiff of danger—when standing in the Kern’s driveway, on the periphery of the open garage, or even when passing by the house on the front sidewalk. The mere possibility that a crazy old lady could, at any moment, materialize—brandishing an ax, sharp kitchen knife, or ice pick—is enough to make my blood run cold. The decidedly more visible and real specter of Peter Kern has long been part of the equation as well. While Red’s big brother doesn’t officially reside at the house anymore, he nonetheless keeps a watchful eye on the place and his kinfolk. The brutish Peter’s got an unsavory reputation in these parts for being perpetually drunk, habitually mean, and sometimes violent.

But there’s more to the Kern family mystique than a colorful cast of characters on a dilapidated urban stage. It encompasses, too, the unsolved mystery of a neighborhood boy from the past—a playmate of little Red and Peter—who one day just vanished never to be heard from again. My mom and dad remember Mr. and Mrs. Kern being questioned by the police, but so were many others on the block—men and women who were not considered suspects in the disappearance, or guilty of any wrongdoing. Still, bizarre and unfounded rumors persist to this day that the boy’s body is buried somewhere in the Kern’s backyard, and that Mr. Kern may have done himself in because he knew what really happened.

For further reading, click on this link: Cream Sam Summer

http://www.nicholasnigro.net/home.html

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Story of Us: Home Sour Home

For many years, my mother worked as a nurse’s aide in a local nursing home. It was not, by the way, a highly regarded one. I recall the familiar morning ritual of my mom recounting her war stories to my dad. Life on the nursing home frontier was never boring. My father, in turn, regaled my mother with tales from the dark side, aka the third-class mail center in the General Post Office on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, where he plied his trade. Pop had the not especially enviable four-to-midnight shift, commuting from Kingsbridge in the Bronx via the subway—the Number 1 train—for a quarter of a century. Although the behind-closed-doors postal-employee antics were frequently the stuff of TV sitcoms, my father’s job really wasn't a barrel of laughs.

The nursing home experience was completely foreign to me as a youth. I could never have envisioned anyone in my life circle—and certainly not me—ending up in one for any reason at all. While growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s, families—by and large—took care of their own come hell or high water. There were certainly a few nursing home candidates in the neighborhood—by today’s standards at least—who remained in their homes courtesy of family on the premises.

Fast forward to the here and now and I have been in the belly of the beast. Fortunately for me, I was merely visiting a close relation for four months running. And happily for the patient, she escaped the nursing home confines and has lived to tell. A lot of people there will not be so lucky. For those ill-fated souls: the nursing home is their Roach Motel—they’ve checked in but won’t check out. Well, not exactly. They’ll leave at some point in the future—but they’ll be carried out feet first.

Visiting this particular nursing home as often as I did was downright disturbing. For starters, I’m not a boy anymore. I am closer to the end than the beginning. The patients I observed in the place ran the gamut from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest types to the deathly ill with one foot in the grave. I couldn’t help but consider this diverse lot of men and women, who once upon a time functioned in the outside world. They had careers and raised families; they cooked meals and took trips. They were Everyman and Everywoman, the living embodiment of what is in store for many of us.

I looked upon permanent residency in that nursing home—or in any nursing home—as a fate worse than death. It is, though, not out of the realm of possibility I could one day end up in one—a destiny, too, beyond my control. This reality bite is why I'm not interested in longevity for longevity’s sake. Anyway, to keep my sanity in the nursing home milieu, I embraced my rather potent cryptic side while there. The guy in the room across the way, I thought, was a Burt Mustin clone. He shuffled along in his pajamas like an old geezer out of central casting. His roommate—on the other hand—was a textbook blowhard who once worked as a cook, I learned. He awaited with bated breath his breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and also offered culinary commentary on everything on the menu.

Strange, but the paper menus that accompanied patients’ meals rarely, if ever, matched what was on their trays. As for the fare itself: I’ve never seen anything so consistently disgusting and utterly bizarre. Vegetable lasagna served with vegetables; baked ziti served with mashed potatoes and a slice of bread; and the most god-awful-looking macaroni and cheese served with a side of stewed tomatoes. And how pray tell can one screw up chicken nuggets? Well, this nursing home had the uncanny knack for doing just that. The chicken nuggets were nauseatingly soggy. I discovered that the hard way by sampling one. I incorrectly assumed chicken nuggets were beyond messing up. I often wondered what the well-compensated nutritionist on the nursing home payroll actually did while on the job.

I’ll give the place its due in that it was very clean. Just a few seconds in its interior ensured that your clothes and hair would reek of disinfectant. I always changed my clothes and showered, too, when I arrived home from the home.I had little choice but to conclude that if the strong disinfectant stink—or whatever combination went into that distinct nursing home aroma—attached itself to hair and clothing with such alacrity, it likely wormed its way into the food chain with equal rapidity.

A footnote on that ultra-unique nursing home cuisine: I must say that some of the residents considered it akin to roast beef at the Ritz. Still, so much of it went to waste. A gander at the rounded up post-mealtime trays told you as much. In fact, the waste of just about everything there—just like in hospitals—was mind-boggling. It’s little wonder why we are poisoning our planet beyond repair.

The nurses and nurse’s aides there were mostly good—a dedicated enough bunch who just had too many patients to contend with and too little time on their hands. Like, for instance, a woman who was perpetually crying out, “Please, will somebody help me!” I thought she sounded an awful lot like the mysterious voice that frightened young Jimmy Olsen in a black-and-white Adventures of Superman episode called “The Haunted Lighthouse.” You must remember: “Help, I’m drowning!” Jimmy was visiting his aunt who lived on an island with a lighthouse. As things turned out, his aunt—whom he hadn’t seen in a while—was an impostor and the disconcerting shriek from the foggy ether was a parrot. Anyway, I subsequently learned this poor woman in the nursing home was riddled with cancer, in horrible pain, and had every reason to be desperately crying out for help. An aide later reported this once very sweet woman mercifully passed away.

A nursing home is just not a good place to be—as a patient and as a visitor, too. New Age disciples like to declare: Life is good! It’s not typically the case in a nursing home. The blaring TV sets alone were enough to drive me batty there. They nicely complemented my disinfectant cologne.