My Plan to Repair Our Dysfunctional Government

The men who wrote the Constitution of the United States were hard-working, brilliant and brave. Our Constitution is a model for other countries who seek to establish  a fair and just government that serves all the people. That is what the opening three words, "We the people" are meant to affirm. It contains a clever system of checks and balances which were intended to assure that our government exists for the sole purpose of serving ALL it's citizens.

Unfortunately, we now see that those good intentions have been perverted over the years. Most of our elected representatives and senators (more so one Party than the other) are in Washington to serve their benefactors, their Party and themselves. We the people come somewhat further down their priority lists.

All this can be fixed! Our government can once again serve all the people as our Founding Fathers intended. We just have to make a few repairs:

1. Term Limits. It will be much more difficult and costly for organizations like the NRA and ultra-rich families like the Koch brothers to buy our representatives, if those representatives can't serve indefinitely. The President's term is limited - why are our Senators and Representatives allowed to "serve" indefinitely? This is what leads to individuals having control of their niche areas, and the legislative backroom deals and bargaining that it fosters.

2. Campaign Funding Reform. The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission in 2010 insured that We the People now means We the Corporations. Our Senators and Representatives votes can now be purchased by the highest bidder, with no controls. Our Justices (more so those appointed by one Party than the other) felt that buying yourself a Federal Representative is Freedom of Speech! We have to pass legislation that outlaws this travesty. Then we have to put inflation-adjusted caps on campaign spending. 

3. End to Gerrymandering. This evil, done by both parties (but more so one than the other) must be ended and undone. State legislatures all over our Country have redrawn voting districts with ridiculous, nonsensical borders to ensure that their party's Representatives will be sent to Congress. The Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves at this one. Even the Supreme Court has ruled that it violates voters' rights to free and equal elections. State legislators who vote to do this anyway should be imprisoned.

4. Single-Subject Rule. The act of adding riders or "wrecking amendments" to legislation must be made either unconstitutional, or at least illegal. The deviousness of this evil practice is something else the writers of our Constitution unfortunately never contemplated. It occurs when a provision that has NOTHING to do with a bill is added to the bill for one of two evil purposes: 1. get something unpopular made into law with no one noticing, or 2. force legislators to vote against a law they are in favor of because of the onerous provision. This happens all the time. Aren't you amazed that this could be allowed in our democracy?

Those are the biggies. Put those four in place and we'll be on our way to restoring our government to the people. But here are a few more suggestions that would also be a big help:

Limit Executive Orders. When Barack Obama became President of the United States, Mitch McConnell called a meeting of Republican Senators and told them that their goal over the next fours years was to get that uppity young black Yankee democrat out of the White House. His party did everything they could over the next eight years to prevent Obama from getting any legislation passed that would help our Country. Party first! So yes, Obama resorted to Executive Orders many times to put regulations in place to protect the people. But as we've seen, now that the Republicans are back in control, the current occupant of the White House is reversing most of them and putting his own in their place. I mean, why should coal mining companies be prevented from dumping their sludge in nearby streams, right? When we no longer have such a dysfunctional Congress, these orders, which result in instability, should be limited to smaller matters not requiring Federal legislation.

Publish Tax Returns. This is a no-brainer. Why should people who want to be elected to represent the people be able to hide their tax returns from the people? If there is anything in those returns that would keep them from being elected, they shouldn't be running for public office. So simple.

Establish a Three-Party System. I'm not advocating parliamentary rule. But the big problem with only two parties is that it does not foster legislative cooperation. It's easier to smear your opponents, buy more votes, and get a majority, than it is to compromise with the minority. We need a way to prevent any one party from having a majority in either house. Let's force them to actually talk to each other and compromise. All the "repairs" I've listed here could be the planks of the new party's platform.

Abolish the Electoral College? I don't really understand why the Founding Fathers thought this was necessary. I've read that they were afraid a clever demagogue could take over by tricking gullible citizens into voting for him. So these clever electors were inserted between the popular vote and the actual election result as a safeguard against that. And how's that working out for you? This is my only repair that is not an omission on the part of the Founding Fathers. I think they just blew it this time. 

OK, that's how to fix everything.. Let's get to work! 

People are Puzzles

We're all so different. And we keep getting pissed off at each other because the miracle that is our human brain makes the billions of us each perceive things differently. On the micro level, friendships come and go. On the macro level, countries and races try to annihilate each other. What a stupid waste.

I just finished a wonderful book by Nathan Hill called "The Nix" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016). Besides being a great story, I found that there was so much wisdom in there about human nature. I wanted to share the following excerpt from the book which I found particularly meaningful:

"Pwnage [an online game player and yes, it's spelled correctly] once told Samuel that the people in your life are either enemies, obstacles, puzzles, or traps. And for both Samuel and Faye, circa summer 2011, people were definitely enemies. Mostly what they wanted out of life was to be left alone. But you cannot endure this world alone, and the more Samuel's written his book, the more he's realized how wrong he was. Because if you see people as enemies or obstacles or traps, you will be at constant war with them and with yourself. Whereas if you choose to see people as puzzles, and if you see yourself as a puzzle, then you will be constantly delighted, because eventually, if you dig deep enough into anybody, if you really look under the hood of someone's life, you will find something familiar.

This is more work, of course, than believing they are enemies. Understanding is always harder than plain hatred. But it expands your life. You will feel less alone."

Motorcycle Musings

This is my longest Blog entry ever. So if you want, pretend it's National Geographic, and just look at the pictures!


In 1959 Triumph Engineering launched the new 650cc Triumph Bonneville T120. I was 7 years old and I thought it was the most beautiful motorcycle I'd ever seen. The name Bonneville came from the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. When I was a kid, that's where all the hot vehicles were sent to set land-speed records going in a straight line. The first Bonnie's 120 designation was because this bike achieved 120 miles per hour there.

By the time I reached puberty, in the mid-60's, the Bonneville had only gotten better looking, and a little more reliable. I came to realize that owning one of these would someday be the key to being popular and sought-after by women. Just read the first paragraph of the ad above for proof!

 I mean, seriously - take one look at the 1960 model above, and you couldn't possibly disagree!

I mean, seriously - take one look at the 1960 model above, and you couldn't possibly disagree!

And not only that, but every entertainment idol I had as a kid had one of these beauties. Here is just a sample:

 Paul Newman (cool even in short white socks)

Paul Newman (cool even in short white socks)

 Steve McQueen (possibly the coolest dude ever)

Steve McQueen (possibly the coolest dude ever)

 Paul McCartney (a popular singer/songwriter of the time)

Paul McCartney (a popular singer/songwriter of the time)

 Bob Dylan (poet?)

Bob Dylan (poet?)

 Clint Eastwood (the name says it all)

Clint Eastwood (the name says it all)

I mean, these guys just proved that I was right about what this motorcycle could do for me!

So in 1969 I finally got my driver's license at age 17. That meant I sorta knew how to drive a car (I lived in Manhattan and was the first person in my lineage to even have a driver's license). And no sooner did I have a license - Then Came Bronson!

 Michael Parks doing the opening scene of each episode of the TV series. Ordinary man: "Hey man, where you headed?" Bronson: "I don't know. Wherever I end up I guess." Ordinary man: "Man, I wish I was you." Bronson: "Really?" as the light turns green,he rolls on the throttle and roars onto the PCH.

Michael Parks doing the opening scene of each episode of the TV series. Ordinary man: "Hey man, where you headed?" Bronson: "I don't know. Wherever I end up I guess." Ordinary man: "Man, I wish I was you." Bronson: "Really?" as the light turns green,he rolls on the throttle and roars onto the PCH.

Here was cool Jim Bronson riding around the country on his Harley Sportster (without a helmet) saving or educating people everywhere, for an hour every Wednesday night. That was clearly my calling as well.

But I certainly didn't know how to drive a motorcycle with that mysterious device called a manual transmission! To the rescue came our wonderfully kind neighbor Mr. Barish (I'm ashamed to say I don't remember his first name). He owned a 160cc Honda Dream, and he kept it in the basement garage under our building. He actually loaned me a set of keys and told me I could ride it around the garage as much as I wanted (underground City garages are pretty big) and figure out how to handle that clutch and those gears. Here was that beauty:

 Late-60's vintage Honda Dream

Late-60's vintage Honda Dream

I spent hours after school riding and stalling that ugly thing up and down the aisles of our garage. Eventually I had to give the garage guy a few dollars to look the other way. Fortunately the Honda wasn't too noisy. With a lot of trial and error, and my new girlfriend Ellen Kaplan looking on (see, the spell was working already!), I started and stopped hundreds of times, eventually even getting into second gear. It finally clicked! I gave Mr. Barish back his keys and went looking for my Bonneville. Rude awakening for a 17 year-old whose only income was as a part-time sales clerk in Macy's: they were expensive! And I had to have a motorcycle. By this point I had figured out they were more than sexy - they were fun. So I settled for a brand new 1970 250cc Yamaha that I bought from Cam-Rod Motorcycles on West 52nd Street:

 Paul Steve Clint Fisher in the Catskills, NY - Summer of 1970

Paul Steve Clint Fisher in the Catskills, NY - Summer of 1970

I found out what it felt like to really ride a motorcycle - not in the basement of a garage, but for real. There was absolutely no other feeling like it. My very first ride was from my apartment on East 19th street in Manhattan to visit my girlfriend Ellen at her summer bungalow at Rockaway Beach in Queens. I remember being very scared out-bound, but in heaven on the way back!

Years later I got a pilot's license and owned two Cessnas over a ten year period. Flying never felt as good as motorcycling. And you can see how cool I was in my US Army surplus T-shirt, belt and boots plus my white jeans! You can also see the hole in my left pants leg and my right elbow. Plus the missing right front turn signal and mirror - all the results of my first crash. Hey, I was only 18.

But the stars kept buying those real Bonnevilles. None of them were buying little two-stroke Japanese bikes.

 Richard Gere in "An Officer and a Gentleman"

Richard Gere in "An Officer and a Gentleman"

 Ann Margaret

Ann Margaret

I got a summer job making emergency motorcycle deliveries to and from film companies in NYC. It was very exciting. In the evenings I rode out to Far Rockaway to be with Ellen - still smitten with me, no doubt due to the motorcycle (which her mother wouldn't let her ride on).

I went away to college at Syracuse University. And of course I took the motorcycle up there with me since I couldn't bear to be without it AND Ellen. Freshmen weren't allowed to park a vehicle on campus, so I kept it in my dorm room (we had BIG elevators). My roommate Jim Alkon was not delighted, but he was a good sport about it.

The next summer I foolishly thought my little 250 could make it to Canada with me and my friend Josh Jofen on the back (plus our gear). Nope! We ended up hanging out in Montreal for a week while a local motorcycle shop overhauled the engine. It was time to get a bigger bike!

I still longed for a Bonneville, but now Yamaha had just released this Bonnie look-alike:

 1972 Yamaha XS650

1972 Yamaha XS650

It was really very beautiful, had triple the horsepower of my 250, a four-stroke engine and a fairly new thing for motorcycles: a front disk brake! It was almost a Bonnie. So after putting 45,000 miles on the 250, I sold it and bought the 650.

But it wasn't a Bonnie at all. It didn't sound the same. And it vibrated terribly and was pretty uncomfortable. And it just didn't have that British panache. In the meantime, the real men kept riding those Bonnevilles.

 Jean Claude Van Damme

Jean Claude Van Damme

 Like it says - Antonio Banderas

Like it says - Antonio Banderas

With the help of a petition signed by most everyone in my college dorm, I convinced Ellen's mother and father, Evelyn and Lester Kaplan to let her ride with me. A bike and a cute girl at the same time - I had made it! Unfortunately, Ellen now remembers those wild and crazy halcyon days as, "been there, done that."

Needless to say the winters were rough in NY with a motorcycle as my only vehicle. So I started getting the urge for a car. I think if I had owned a Bonnie, I wouldn't have been able to give it up. But I sold the Yamaha 650 after putting only 15,000 miles on it to a US Army Paratrooper, and bought my first car, for $600 - a 1967 Dodge Dart:

 Me atop my 1967 Dodge Dart GT Two Door Sedan (still wearing white jeans)

Me atop my 1967 Dodge Dart GT Two Door Sedan (still wearing white jeans)

This was a mistake (the car, not the jeans). I thought owning a motorcycle in NYC was difficult. But owning a car - OMG! So after a year or so of that misery, I gave it up and traded down again. This time to my first bicycle - a Deluxe Gold Mountain Sudersonic [sic] Bicycle. I named it NCC-1701 to honor a popular new TV show at the time. I had transferred from Syracuse University to Pace University in Manhattan. And the City had just closed down the old elevated West Side Highway to all but pedestrian and bicycle traffic (when a truck fell through it). So now I could commute to school and back on my bicycle with no hassle. And that ended my first period of motorcycling.


Over the next years I had no motorcycle and Triumph went out of business. The last years of production were the most beautiful of all, like this early 70's model:

I became a husband, a CPA, a homeowner, and a father - in that order. I bought five Brooks Brothers suits with the guidance of my good friend Ed. Also lots of ties and button-down shirts, cordovan wing-tipped shoes, and an attache case. After our first baby, Jennifer was born, Ellen and I even bought a station-wagon (Minivans hadn't been invented yet)!

Triumph went out of business in 1983, was briefly revived in 1985, and then went out of business again in 1988.

The Japanese company, Kawasaki, made a Bonnie-imitation that sorely tempted me:

 Kawasaki W650 I spotted recently in Berkeley California while visiting Jenny & Mose

Kawasaki W650 I spotted recently in Berkeley California while visiting Jenny & Mose

But it wasn't the real thing and retro bikes were not in vogue at the time, so Kawasaki discontinued this beauty in the US after about two years. It's still sold overseas. Reviews are meh!

I sought my thrills elsewhere, with the first Mazda Miata in 1989, a Cessna 150 in 1990, and then a Cessna 172 in 1992. Actually, of those three vehicles, the Miata came closest to giving me the thrill that motorcycles did. That was a wonderful little six-speed convertible. Flying an airplane was a hoot, but it was never the visceral thrill of motorcycling.

 Here's my Cessna 172 Skyhawk with my daughters Amy (turquoise), and Emily (red) and some of their friends.

Here's my Cessna 172 Skyhawk with my daughters Amy (turquoise), and Emily (red) and some of their friends.

After getting my Instrument Rating, I sold my last airplane in 1997 to pay for Jenny's college tuition. I was done with flying. So what's a man to do? It was time to buy another motorcycle. Triumph wasn't making Bonnies for US consumption anymore, even though the stars were still riding them:

 Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman

 George Clooney

George Clooney

So I went back to Yamaha and got myself a new 1100cc Yamaha Virago. Once again, it was no Bonneville, but the price was right. And wow, it felt so good to be "back in the saddle." As luck would have it, Triumph Motorcycles was reborn the next year and started making "Bonnevilles" once again. I was very unimpressed with this incarnation. It was not the Bonnie of the past at all. So I stuck with my Virago, uncomfortable as it was, and joined a motorcycle gang for the first time.

 The Gang, from left to right: Gregory, Joel, me, and my Virago

The Gang, from left to right: Gregory, Joel, me, and my Virago

Joel was another CPA my age who had just learned to ride. And Gregory was a crazy Greek artist who said he used to be an agent for the Greek Central Intelligence Service.  Gregory inspired us to go on lots of crazy and long rides in all kinds of weather. He carried a little leather bag on his handlebars filled with lead fishing weights which he threw at cars that he felt were not treating him with respect on the roads. Here I am at another one of the many rallies we went to together:

 Abate Rally in New Jersey in 1997. Note my way-cool belly bag and leather chaps

Abate Rally in New Jersey in 1997. Note my way-cool belly bag and leather chaps

And here's my Virago with some of my other gang members:

 Two of my daughters - Jenny (age 17) and Emily (age 8)

Two of my daughters - Jenny (age 17) and Emily (age 8)

Yes, it had a big windscreen and saddlebags, but it also had twin disc brakes and shaft drive! And once again, a big step-up in displacement and horsepower. No more chain adjustments required. At least it was still air-cooled! You can see my carburetor balancer hanging on the wall over the front wheel. I was able to do most of the maintenance on this bike.

The following year, the prestigious Guggenheim Museum in New York City hosted a marvelous exhibit - The Art of the Motorcycle. The 100 most beautiful motorcycles in history starting with the first one - an 1868 Michaux-Perreaux Steam Velocipede - through the present (1998). The entire spiral exhibit floor of the Guggenheim was filled with spectacular, pristine, historic motorcycles. Jenny and I went to the exhibit and this is the only picture I took that day:

 1967 Triumph Bonneville T120 at "The Art of the Motorcycle" in 1998

1967 Triumph Bonneville T120 at "The Art of the Motorcycle" in 1998

That, and a few other of these pictures, was taken with my very first digital camera, so forgive the quality (it was pretty amazing at the time). Btw, you can pick up the beautiful color volume that the Guggenheim published with great photos of these historic bikes for about $12 used at Amazon, or about $200 new. Don't buy one for me though - I already have it!

Well, after putting about 40,000 miles on the Virago, I was getting pretty uncomfortable in the saddle of this "cruiser." I was then lured into the comfortable class of old man's bikes called "Tourers."

Triumph was again out of business when I picked up this 1200cc Honda Shadow Ace Tourer (a very complicated name for a motorcycle):

 Jenny and me on the Shadow in 1999

Jenny and me on the Shadow in 1999

Again, a step-up in displacement. As far as comfort and convenience were concerned, this bike had everything: big, lockable, theft-proof hard saddlebags, a huge windscreen, shaft-drive, quiet dignified exhaust and water-cooling. It was huge, with a huge turning circle, and it was heavy. It was superbly comfortable on long rides. It had everything but a soul. I got so bored riding this bike over the next couple of years. And when the thrill is gone, what's the point? So I sold it in 2003 with only 20,000 miles on it and gave up motorcycling for the second time.

There's an unfortunate lack of photographic evidence in Part Two that my daughter Amy was also involved in the adventure. She rode with me many times, but I think she tried to avoid photographic evidence because she subconsciously knew, even back then, that she would someday be a mother to my two impressionable twin grandsons - Sam and Josh. 

 Amy and me reflected in the chromed crankcase of my last Yamaha 

Amy and me reflected in the chromed crankcase of my last Yamaha 


In 2001 Triumph was resurrected (again) and started producing a brand new water-cooled Bonnie. Gosh it was ugly. It bore a definite resemblance to the original. But nothing that would make me want to actually own one.

I always thought that if I ever came across one of the classics for sale in good condition, I would be tempted to go back to two wheel adventures. It didn't happen. But the stars kept buying them:

 Jay Leno and his Bonnie in his famous garage

Jay Leno and his Bonnie in his famous garage

 Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt

For the next 15 years Triumph continued to produce basically the same ugly duckling with a few improvements and variations along the way (yawn).

Then (a few months ago as I write this) they hit the mark! In mid-2016 Triumph announced the all-new 2017 900cc Triumph Bonneville T100:

Bingo! If you've read this far, you can clearly see this is the motorcycle I've been awaiting for over 50 years!  Just scroll back up for a moment and compare it to the third picture in this article. Look at the "pea-shooter" tailpipes, the spoked wheels, the seat, the tank knee-pads, and the front-fork gaiters. This is it!

And if you're really interested in the new Bonnie, here's a short, excellent, unbiased, and very funny video review by Marlon Slack on YouTube:

Or if you'd just like to see how the new Bonnie makes me feel, check out this roll-out video done at the new Bonnie's Media Launch in Tasmania, Australia:

Yes, I know what you're saying, "but Tom, it's water-cooled!" That's true, but can you even see the radiator cleverly hidden between the frame's front down tubes? And check out those real air cooling fins on the cylinder head!

 My first contact - at the Ducati-Triumph New York City showroom right after release

My first contact - at the Ducati-Triumph New York City showroom right after release

 ...and after almost 50 years of waiting, my Bonnie comes home.

...and after almost 50 years of waiting, my Bonnie comes home.

This is the one I've been waiting for most of my life. No wind screen, no saddlebags, no more 10-hour rides and no more bad-weather rides. Just the occasional joy ride through the meandering, pretty roads of Western Monmouth County and environs. After all, nothing can match the sensation of twisting the throttle through the curves on a motorcycle - I've really tried.

Because in the end, there's nothing like a Triumph Bonnie to make The Great Escape!



Stop the ObamaCare Nonsense!

For the past seven years Republicans in Congress have wasted millions of dollars with their repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now we're going to waste even more time and money as the repeal has become our new administration's top priority.

It's time to face up to what's really going on here. The Republican Party doesn't really want to take healthcare away from 20 million Americans. They don't really want to prevent people with pre-existing conditions from getting health insurance. There are just two facets of the ACA that really bother Republicans:

1. The subsidies to the poor in the Act are paid for by a small tax increase on the most wealthy Americans. Those are the people who pay Republican politicians to support their best interests.

2. It's called ObamaCare! That name, originally attached to it with derision, now puts focus on one of our greatest President's legacies. The Republican Party, led by Mitch McConnell, vowed to bring our country to a halt for the last eight years, rather than let President Obama accomplish anything good. They will now spend the next four years trying to undo anything that he was able to do for our country.

So here are the simple steps our Republican-controlled government can now take:

1. Stop trying to repeal it, and just fix what's wrong with it!

2. One of our new President's principal goals is to increase the value of the Trump Brand. So just rename the ACA:  TrumpCare and let him take credit for the whole thing!

3. The net effect of the ACA is currently REVENUE POSITIVE! It is taking in more than it is costing Americans. Replacing it with something that works better is a fantasy. I propose we let it create DIVIDENDS from it's surplus. Then pay those dividends only to the wealthiest supporters of the Republican Party.

Simple! Now everyone can be happy and we can get on with more important business like firing up all our old coal plants again. 

We Almost Lost Pogo

A few weeks ago Pogo almost died. It was a harrowing experience for Ellen and me, and of course for Pogo too. Now that he's clearly going to be OK, I want to tell the story. It's a story of our encounter with Gastric Dilation - Volvulus (GDV), the number two killer of dogs after cancer. It's more commonly known as Bloat, or Twisted Stomach.

Any barrel-chested dog can get this, so we've been careful all of Pogo's life to avoid all the things that can cause it. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago it happened anyway.

We were playing ball with Pogo in the backyard as we have hundreds of times for the ten years of his life. But on this day he took a bad fall. He twisted to catch an unexpected throw, tripped at high speed and tumbled head-over-heels. An hour later I saw him lying by himself on the lawn, away from everyone else - something he has never done. I went and sat with him, but he got up and moved away from me. The warning signals started going off in my head. I watched him some more and saw him trying to throw up. But for the first time in his life, nothing was coming out.

I got him into my car and rushed him to our vet without an appointment. They saw him immediately when they saw our distress. The vet said she had to take an x-ray right away and took Pogo in a back room. A few minutes later she came out and told me that I had to get him to Red Bank Veterinary Hospital immediately. 

I didn't get to see this picture until the following week. The big dark circle on the left, filling his rib-cage, is not his lungs as I presumed. My son-in-law explained to me that this was his stomach swollen grotesquely with air. Swollen so much that his lungs were crushed above it.

His stomach had twisted in the fall and now the openings to it were all closed off.

The vet said, don't stop to pay us now, just go! I got my dog, who was faltering very quickly now into the car again and we headed for the hospital - a half hour away in the best of conditions. But this was rush hour. As we crawled in the heavy traffic, Pogo started to shake violently. I started driving pretty aggressively. Then he started having trouble breathing. I started running red lights, thinking what I would say to the police officer who would pull me over.

We made it to the hospital unscathed and Pogo stumbled out of the car with me and into the hospital entrance where, God bless them, they were waiting for us! They rushed him away. A few minutes later a doctor came out to tell me that he had been stabilized and sedated and would probably be OK. They let me see him before they took him into the OR.

Here he is sprawled out with an IV in his right front leg, still panting for breath. His eyes are distant and he didn't seem to recognize me. I kissed him anyway.

I went home and it was several hours before they called us. He was out of Gastropexy surgery. They had opened his chest, rotated his stomach back into place, and sewed it there so this couldn't happen again. And he lost his spleen. But the wonderful team at the hospital, led by his surgeon, Dr. Ariel Kravitz, saved my boy's life!

Unbelievably, I picked him up the next day and brought him home. He had to wear a cone for a few weeks so that he couldn't lick the long surgical scar, and infect it.

They had to shave his other front leg too for more IVs, and of course they shaved his chest.

He was pretty lethargic for the first few days and we gave him a lot of pain killers because he was obviously hurting. After four days he began to perk up and we stopped those.

Pretty soon he got used to the dreaded cone and started spending time outdoors again.

We had to add a shirt because as the scar healed he was trying so hard to get to it that the cone itself started abrading the scar. After about two weeks we were able to take off the cone and just leave the shirt on him. And, of course, he now sleeps in our bed all night, which makes him very happy. I think he is actually smiling here:

A little mountain air was all that was needed for the final phase of his recovery. Here he is relaxing near Wolf Lake at our friends the Kallin's new mountain resort and dog spa!

"In a Determined Way"

Recently I met an interesting man while I was doing my Introduction speech for tourists about to board the USS Growler at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space museum, where I volunteer.

One of the main reasons that I volunteer is to meet the fascinating people who literally come from all over the world to visit this museum. At the end of my speech about the submarine, most tourists just proceed on to explore it. But if I'm lucky, some will hang back to ask me questions. And I will answer them gladly, and then ask my own.

So on this one lucky day a tall, elderly, well-dressed, silver-haired gentleman walking with the aid of a cane stopped to ask me insightful questions in a light British accent. When he was done I asked him if he had served. He replied that he had been a U.S. Army Green Beret (now called Special Forces) officer during the Vietnam war. He answered a lot of questions from me about his duty training ARVN soldiers at forward bases in the jungle. I asked him if he had been under hostile fire often. He replied in a very understated, British manner that he'd only been attacked one time "in a determined way." He described a night when his base was overrun by North Vietnamese troops. It was a night of close combat. The only weapon he had that night was a shotgun.

Well, the reason for the British manner was that after the war he left the service, became an attorney and moved to London where he's resided for the last 40 years.

This is the kind of fascinating people who are walking among all of us every day. Next time you want to honk at a slow-moving silver-haired driver, or get impatient at how long he's taking at the checkout counter, remember that.

Roscoe Brown, David Dinkins & Me

Hmmmm, how can these three people be connected?

Well, I was working on the USS Intrepid this morning, as I do once a week as a volunteer. Today the museum partially closed at the end of my shift to stage a celebration of the life of Roscoe Brown.

Dr. Brown was one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. He flew 68 combat missions in his P-51 Mustang fighter - Bunnie. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor in air combat. After the war he got his doctorate, and last year he died at 94. Another one of our WW II vets gone, and also one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen.

 Captain Roscoe Brown, Squadron Commander, 1944

Captain Roscoe Brown, Squadron Commander, 1944

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum held a private presentation, jazz concert and reception in his honor today. Many dignitaries came and near the end of the events, four F-16 Fighting Falcons from Captain Brown's 100th Fighter Squadron flew down the Hudson and over our aircraft carrier in his honor, performing the missing man formation.

His Honor, the former Mayor of NYC, David Dinkins was one of the invited guests. Mayor Dinkins, who was succeeded by Rudy Giuliani, is almost 90 himself.

I was leaving the carrier this afternoon as my shift ended. Guests of the memorial were pouring in. As I got to the bottom of the stairs on Pier 86, a long black limousine pulled up right in front of me. The door opened, and to my surprise, out stepped Mayor Dinkins looking very dapper in a white suit, with a wooden cane.

So there we were face to face, just a few feet apart, and I said, "Hello, Mr. Dinkins. May I tell you something?" His entourage, bodyguard and staff were quickly surrounding us as he said, "yes."

"In 1976, when you were the Manhattan County Clerk, you signed my Wedding License" I said.

He looked worried at first, but then he looked at my Intrepid Name Tag, smiled and said, "How's the bride, Tom?"

Well, I smiled back and told him she was great and we had just celebrated our 40th Anniversary. I told him it was an honor to meet him and he stuck out his hand. We shook.

Then I took out my iPhone and started to ask if we could take a selfie. At that point his staff could take no more of me, and whisked him away.

Depression Compassion

Three months ago I suffered a trauma. While the physical effects were manageable, the emotional ones were something else all together. This was something I had coped with many times in my life, but now at age 63, it was different. My fear and obsession over what had happened became all-encompassing. I slept poorly and the exhaustion made things worse. I started thinking a lot about death. I stopped wanting to do things and became uncomfortable leaving the house. Then it started to get harder to get out of bed. I stopped enjoying my hobbies, food and even my family. Every day I felt sad and desperate.

Then one day one of my daughters told me that I had to get professional help. She said I was past the point where I could just "pull myself together." She showed me how there were things going on in my brain that were basically a disease, and that it was treatable.

I followed her advice, and three months later my life has turned around. I started taking a prescription medication which changed the out-of-balance chemistry in my head. It didn't go smoothly at first, and I had a lot of doubts. But little by little, things started changing in my head.

The fear began to subside. I gradually stopped obsessing about the trauma. I began to really enjoy time with my family as I once did. Then I became interested in my surroundings, my work, my play. I regained the weight I had lost and resumed exercising. Thoughts of death have all but vanished. I began looking forward to going to bed, and also to waking up. I actually feel positive and content about several things in my life that troubled me even before the trauma. My FOMO ("fear of missing out," for you non-millenials) is much less. I'm not afraid to leave the house and travel any more. And I'm much closer to my lifelong goal of "living in the moment."

But the main reason I am writing this is something else that I have learned from all of this: I have learned to be compassionate of people who find their day-to-day lives hard to cope with, who find it hard to get out of bed in the morning and smell the fresh air of a new day, who find even simple tasks daunting and complex ones paralyzing - people who are depressed. I used to have a mild contempt for these people who could not appreciate their short lives - who could not "pull themselves together."

Now I understand. No one wants to be this way. And if they are, it may be out of their control. And if that's the case, they should and must seek professional help as soon as possible. Because life is so short, and every new day should be treasured. If you know someone like this, encourage them to get help - and show them compassion!

Memories at Barnes & Noble

My wife and I stopped at our local Barnes & Noble last night to look for some workbooks for our three-year-old grandsons. It was the first time I had been in there in a decade. It hadn't changed too much, although there was a toy section and a lot of emphasis on digital e-reading. But I wasn't prepared for the powerful, jarring memories that assaulted me in there.

We used to take our three little girls to dinner at a restaurant next-door, and then afterwards what a treat it was to watch our girls roaming the aisles and exploring all the wonders. All of a sudden (my youngest used to say "all of the sudden") I could see my beautiful young women as the little girls they used to be, filled with wonder at what the bookstore held. Their gangly pre-adolescent legs tucked under them as they curled up with a book in one of the stuffed chairs. Sitting on the floor with them in the children's section reading some beautifully-illustrated story out loud. "Daddy, can we get this book, or this beautiful notebook, or this cool bookmark, or a hot chocolate at the drink bar." Yes of course we can.

What a joy it was to watch their wonder, to see which books caught their interest, to bring home an armload of new books for them to devour until our next visit. They were amazing little girls who brought me such joy and still do as the amazing women they are now.

I had a lot of trouble holding it together last night and even now as I write this. As a father you treasure every minute that you remember of them growing up. You wish you would have made even more memories, or could just remember more of them. It's hard to look back sometimes. But you focus on the new memories  those magnificent girls are making for you now and everyday. And you try to the live in the present!

Thank you Barnes & Noble for the great memories. How wonderful it was to have a bookstore!

TDF Act III Scene I

I just returned from an adventure. I tried to hike to the highest point in the continental US - Mt Whitney in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Southern California, and then follow it up with a drive to the lowest point on land in the Western Hemisphere: Death Valley.

I saw this journey as sort of dividing point in my life. Act I was the youthful time of growing up, learning about life, going to school, figuring out who I was. Act II was career, marriage, children, mortgages and IRAs. Now I am retiring and going back to that time of discovery, learning about life again, but from a more experienced perspective. Act III is the final act and this trip was, in a way, the first scene.

 Taxing at O'Hare on the way to LAX

Taxing at O'Hare on the way to LAX

I flew from Newark to NJ to Los Angeles CA with a stop in Chicago. I rented a car in LA and drove north out of the city. As I drove the towns got sparser and the landscape was oh so dry. I stopped in a wind-blown, dry tiny town to get a snack and stretch and shot this:

At Lone Pine, CA, elevation 4000 feet, I turned west and started climbing in the rental car to the Whitney Portal Campground at 8000 feet. I arrived late in the afternoon at our designated campsite, nestled in a Sequoia grove beneath towering cliffs on three sides. Here are my camp-mates and hiking companions. The photo was taken by Karen Cookson, Jeff's wife:

 From left: Glynn Wyatt, Nolan Wyatt, Jeff Cookson and me

From left: Glynn Wyatt, Nolan Wyatt, Jeff Cookson and me

Although I've been hiking for years, this was my first camping experience. I hope that camping will be a regular part of Act III, so the experience of camping was an important part of this adventure for me. We went to sleep as soon as the sun set because we set our alarms for 2:45 am to get an early start on the next day's 22 mile round trip one-day hike!

We set out at 3:30 am in the dark, following the trail with the help of our headlamps. The stars overhead were magnificently abundant. After a couple of hours of hiking the eastern sky over Lone Pine down below started lighting up and the sunrise was breath-taking. Sunrises are not a forte of the iPhone camera I had, so here's a shot to the west of the first rays of sun striking some of the cliffs we were yet to climb, as we passed by a campsite along the trail:

We climbed steadily upward all morning. Occasionally the trail would level out at a beautiful alpine meadow, sometimes with a lake or stream. Jeff stopped to add some water to his pack at one and took this picture of me:

After this we hiked separately for the rest of the day, each of us at our own speeds. Jeff, the youngest, went up ahead. Nolan and his uncle Glynn trailed and I was between. At about 10 am I reached Trail Camp, (point 4 on the East Side Trail Map below). I was tired and feeling a little altitude sickness at 12000 feet. What I didn't know then was that I had only drank 1 of the 3 liters of water in my bladder pack - a bad mistake. This is the view ahead at that point:

If you zoom in on the picture above, you will see six hikers 2/3 of the way up traversing the many switchbacks on this steep slope. It was a pretty daunting sight to me. I started up and my legs quickly became shaky as my head became less clear. Somewhere between 12500 and 13000 feet I sat down on the trail and realized I couldn't go on. A strong young hiker coming down told me that there was 2-3 hours of hiking to go and that the last 500 feet would be very difficult. It was a sad and hard decision to make, but I turned around at this point afraid that if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to make it all the back (I know: excuses, excuses, excuses). I was pretty despondent for awhile after coming 3000 miles to open Act III of my life. But ultimately the beauty of the whole experience lifted me back up.

On the six hour trek back down, I learned how to refill my pack's water bladder from a mountain stream, adding Iodine, I met some really nice people along the trail, did a lot of introspection and saw so much beauty. At one bend in the trail I saw what I thought was a man sitting in a tree, watching me. As I finally reached him he turned into a gnarled uprooted tree trunk:

I finally made it back to camp in the late afternoon after a 17 mile round-trip, almost 5000 feet of elevation change, and 12 straight hours of hiking. I didn't accomplish all I came for, but it was a personal best. Here is a map of the full hike (the East Side route). It shows the starting point at our campsite (1) and my limit about half way between points 4 and 5).

Nolan grilled steaks for us over an open fire that evening. Not something I usually crave, but I devoured mine that night. Then I slept 11 hours in my cozy tent. Getting up during the night to pee meant putting on my shoes and headlamp and finding a tree. How incredible it was to look up at the blanket of stars while I took care of business, hoping there were no bears watching.

Here's the scene I woke to the next morning, looking at my feet in my red LL Bean sleeping bag as the sun rose on the left:

We said goodbye to Karen and Jeff Cookson and their dog Blue. I am so grateful to them both for making the camping and the trek so great for us all. Nolan, Glynn and I drove back down from the Whitney Portal to Lone Pine for breakfast. We stopped for photo ops on the way down and Nolan took this shot of me with Lone Pine in the Owens River Valley down below:

Now for the second part of my trip. Instead of driving the four hours straight back to LA, I took a five hour detour to drive through Death Valley:

The romance of driving on arrow-straight two-lane blacktops through vast deserts has always had a strong allure for me. The signs said to turn off your A/C to avoid overheating. It was amazing to descend from 4000 feet on a cool morning, sticking my hand out the window every few miles to feel the air change into a furnace blast. 

In the midst of the valley was a gas station and residence behind it. I went in to buy a gallon of water because I could feel the fluids being sucked out of me. The young girl behind the counter was a recent immigrant from Russia. She told me that she traveled to many places before deciding to settle down in this desolate place because she loved it here so much. Good thing I didn't have to fill up the gas tank here:

I drove for many hours from the north end of the valley to south and the landscape was constantly amazing.

But to me the most beautiful place in the valley was Zabriskie Point. There was a famous movie with the same name filmed there in 1970. Cast included a young Harrison Ford. I took dozens of pictures, but none of them can capture what I saw. Here's a panorama I shot with my iPhone. Keep in mind that what you're seeing spans several dozen miles:

So after getting out of my rental car a dozen times to take in all the desert wonders, from here I drove straight back to LA for the flight home.

I didn't succeed in everything I had hoped for, but it was still a good opening scene to Act III.

Meniere's Disease Cure

For 18 long years of my life I suffered horribly from Meniere's Disease in both my ears. The attacks came randomly and unpredictably, creating a constant state of terror. When they came they were agonizing vertigo, nausea, endless vomiting, sometimes lasting over 8 hours. Their effect on my life was pervasive. They made me afraid of travel, loud environments, bright sunlight, stress and all sorts of foods, drinks and spices. Worst of all they turned me into someone afraid of life - I wasn't the father, husband or friend I wanted to be.

Then one day, desperately searching the Internet for the thousandth time, I came across a study by a Japanese doctor named Mitsuo Shichinohe. His research was about to change my life. Basically, Dr. Schichinohe hypothesized that people with Meniere's were also carrying a common virus called Herpes Simplex. Not an unreasonable assumption since the majority of people carry this virus. But he guessed that there is an interaction between the virus and the problem in the inner ear associated with Meniere's. He treated 301 Meniere's sufferers with an anti-viral drug called Acyclovir and found that 86% of them found improvement in their Meniere's symptoms (1)!

Pursuing this line, I searched further on the Internet and found another study by an American doctor named Richard Gacek. Dr. Gacek examined cadavers of people who had suffered from Meniere's Disease. In studies of their inner ear tissues he found the Herpes Simplex virus in all cases. He reported that in clinical studies of patients with Meniere's, their vertigo symptoms were relieved in over 85% of  the cases by treatment with anti-viral drugs (2).

I started taking an anti-viral drug six years ago. After a few days I had a thunderous, terrible Meniere's episode - one of the worst of my life. But it also felt unlike any other I'd ever had over the preceding 18 years. And when it was over I felt a clarity in my head I hadn't felt before. That was six years ago as I write this and I never had another Meniere's attack again.

I've taken a low dose of the anti-viral drug every day since. It has had no side effects that I am aware of. I get regular check-ups and all my vital signs are normal. It took me almost two years to stop being afraid. The terror of waiting for the next attack has finally subsided. I truly believe they are over thanks to this miracle. I can't find anyone in the medical community who is interested in what I have related here. They all find these findings unscientific and anecdotal.

So I've put it all here in my blog. Hopefully it will reach some of the millions of people who suffer from this horrible disease.

(1) Effectiveness of Acyclovir on Meniere's Syndrome III Observation of Clinical Symptoms in 301 Cases. Mitsuo Schichinohe, MD, PhD

(2) Meniere's Disease is a Viral Neuropathy. Richard R. Gacek MD

How to Have More Fun on Your Bicycle

I am inspired to write this for my daughter Jennifer, who has just acquired an apartment that includes an uphill bicycle commute.

Here are my tips to get the most performance and fun from whatever bike you are riding:

Set Up Your Bike Properly

Be sure the seat and handlebars are properly located:

1. When the pedal crank is horizontal and pointing forward and your toes are on it, your knee should be over your toes. If not, the seat is too far forward or back.

2. When your heel is on the pedal and you extend your leg fully, there should be almost no bend in your knee. If not, the seat is too high or low.

To adjust #1, loosen the bolt under the seat that grabs the two seat rails. Then pull the seat forward or back and tighten. To adjust #2, loosen the bolt at the bottom of the seat post and pull the seat up or down. After you adjust one, you may have to readjust the other. Get this right to get the most out of your leg muscles. It may be higher than you are used to, or comfortable with, but get used to it. You may have to jump out of your saddle when you stop. Nothing wrong with that!

Lower the Friction

There are three sources of energy-robbing friction which you should regularly check:

1. Find the maximum tire pressure (MAX PSI) stamped on the sides of your tires and use it! Unless you are riding in extremely hot climates or you are very overweight, there is no reason not to use the maximum. Your tires may look and feel full when you are off the bike, but the "contact patch" (amount of rubber on the road) when you sit on your bike greatly increases when you are not fully inflated, and this will really drag you down. Get a bicycle pump with a built in gauge and use it often.

2. The brake shoes get out of center easily when you lock up or transport your bike. If one is rubbing the rim when you ride, it will rob you of power. Look down, spin the wheels, and make sure the pads are not touching the rim. If they are, just grab the brake assembly and twist it to one side to re-center it over the wheel.

3. Lube your chain. Buy a dry lube that doesn't attract more dirt. After you lightly spray it on, wait a minute for it to seep into the bearings and then wipe the chain dry by holding it in a rag while you spin the pedals. You don't need lube on the outside of the chain, only on the inside. You don't have to do this often unless you get caught in the rain or ride in dusty or dirty situations.

Get the Most Out of Your Stroke

Clip-ins or pedal straps are great, but if you don't use them, improve your stroke this way:

Don't push straight down with both feet. That's the natural tendency, but very inefficient as the foot moving up will actually work against the one moving down. Instead try to push the pedals forward a bit. So if the pedal circle is like a clock, instead of pushing to 6 o'clock, push to 7 or 8 o'clock with the foot moving down, and try to take most of the pressure off the foot moving up. Sit further back on your seat and try to imagine the down-moving foot pushing you back into your seat.

Try to learn to stand up on your pedals as you near the top of a hill and are running out of steam. You may not be able to do it for long, but it is a great way to bring a new muscle group in for a short time when the usual ones are exhausted from the climb.


Rush Hour Fury

So i'm lined up in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Hudson Street the other day waiting my turn to get into the Holland Tunnel and out of the City. Of course the traffic cop controlling the flow of the intersection with Canal Street in front of me is favoring Canal Street, so we are waiting and waiting and waiting. For each light change he lets maybe thirty cars from Canal go and two from Hudson.

The through lanes on Hudson are separated from us poor souls who want to get into the tunnel from Hudson by closely spaced orange traffic cones on my left side. Those cars zip past us as we wait and wait for our chance to move forward a few feet every few minutes.

Except for one guy! As the car in front of me moves up a space, from my left this black car-for-hire comes and crashes right through the cones and into the lane in front of me that I have slowly and patiently worked my way up on for at least half an hour! HE JUST BARRELS RIGHT THROUGH THE CONES!! And now I can't move forward because the damn cones are lying in the lane in front of me!!! I have to put my car in neutral, set the parking brake and get out of the car in the middle of Hudson Street and PUT THE F___ING CONES BACK that this A__HOLE knocked over, before I can go forward again!!!! And of course while I am cleaning up his mess, another car goes through the same hole he created and gets in front of me too!!!!!

Of course the traffic cop sees none of this. He's too busy waving through the cars coming from Canal Street.