ANESTHESIA

In one of my favorite movies, Andy Griffith as Airman Will Stockdale tells his commanding officer that the latrine he’s cleaned is as clean
“As the operatin’ room where they’re fixin’ntfs to cut out your heart.”
And for the past month or so that’s all I can think of, how clean the operating room will be.
Of course, I’m not having my heart cut out, just a part of me cored out like an apple.

Apple_Corer

That’s a TV reference from somewhere, I can’t think of where right now but if you get it drop me a line.
About 5 weeks ago I went to the VA hospital urologist, I haven’t been to one since mine retired and then I lost my medical insurance, and it was getting harder and harder to sleep through the night so I felt it was time.
The clock in the waiting room was permanently stuck at 9:17. I wondered if they took the battery out so you wouldn’t wonder how long you’d been in the waiting room.
I wasn’t there too much past 8AM before the doctor saw me. After a quick sonogram and peeing into the “flow-meter” the doctor told me she was disappointed with my flow and the amount of urine in my bladder.
“You’re not emptying your bladder completely,” she scolded. I’ve heard this before, and it made me wonder if scolding 101 is in the med student’s curriculum. It wasn’t so much the words, but the pouty face she made, just like my first urologist, the small and dapper Dr. Yuvienco when he told me I wasn’t empting my bladder.
“You have a half liter of urine in your bladder, I can’t let you go home like that…”
Now I really felt like a naughty boy, headed for detention. I was glad I had a crossword with me.
The Doctor’s solution was to send me to another room where a nurse taught me to use a catheter. I’ll spare you the details.
She also scheduled me for a cystoscopy, a kidney sonogram, chest x-ray and blood and urine work.

amsure-red-rubber-male-urethral-catheters-16-565186-MEDIUM_0

I went home with my new supply of catheters, a big brown box marked plainly
CATHETERS and a tube of Surgilube. If anyone on the subway noticed, they didn’t say.

fougera-surgilube-flip-top-tube-4-25-oz-5

I’ll also spare you my new adventures with that new device, if I decide to write a blog dedicated to medical procedure I’ll be sure to let you all know.
Those are quite popular, I have a friend who when I urged her to read my blog said, “I only read cancer blogs…” She has kidney problems.
Four weeks ago I went for the cyscoptopy.
After sitting in the 9:17 clock waiting room for a half hour a nurse handed me two hospital gowns, hospital footwear (those half socks with rubber dots on the soles for traction) and a towel. I was instructed to don these things (one gown open in the back, the other one in front) and put my clothing in a locker. Then I sat back down to wait on the cold hard plastic waiting room chair. You don’t know how cold something is until you’ve sat on it sans pants.
I was taken into a sterile room where the nurse asked me to lay down on a bed and then proceeded to bathe most of my privates with a generous dose of iodine, it felt like a whole bottle of iodine and then I realized why I was toting around a towel.
The clock on this wall was stuck at 12:03. On this one there was movement, the second hand kept bouncing off the 12, never getting past it. I was beginning to wonder if this was hospital policy.
The Doctor came in, this time a different one, a man. I’d already talked to him when he’d explained the procedure.
He donned scrubs, washed his hands and the assisting nurse put his mask, gloves and goggles on for him. My wife Danusia calls them gargles, by the way. Very cute.
I’ve had a colonoscopy before, so I was prepared with what the doctor was going to share with me on the monitor.
It was a pretty painful experience, and again I’ll spare the details, but I’ll have to say looking at your own bladder and enlarged prostate is quite an experience. I didn’t believe the amount of “stuff” floating around in my insides.
The prognosis was that I should have an operation. The suggestion was to remove the prostate altogether, but memories of my dad’s results made me balk.
The other option is the coring option, and the doctor assured me I would not end up incontinent or impotent. Very important to me.
The other option was to use catheters four times a day for the rest of my life.
He gave me a week to think about it.
Three weeks ago I consented, and this Monday the 22nd it will happen. So wish me luck.
I’ve never been anesthetized, except by my own hand and that doesn’t count; so this is a little scary.
I had a sinus operation when I was 17, which was an experience with two young residents pounding away with a chisel through my maxilla. I was awake because as a Medicaid patient I didn’t rate anesthesia.
I’m glad that as a veteran I do.

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MAN BUN WITH BEARD

walky

I love my new neighborhood. Well, maybe not so new, in September we’ll be signing our second lease; but it still feels new and different.
It’s very green. The other day I was walking to the subway to go to work in a light rain and walked by the Convent garden in the 152nd Street/ St. Nicholas / Covent Avenue triangle. The trees from the garden meet the trees planted along the curb on St. Nick and form a small covered arch over the sidewalk. Nice.
I wrote a blog when we moved up here two years ago about all the hills and churches. There is also a proliferation of hair salons/barbershops.
I’ll get into that in another post, but it’s worth a mention since I’m writing about hair, hairstyles, and grooming.
I work with a bunch of young men who ALL wear some form of facial hair or another. Only one has what would be considered a full beard, I like to think of him as little Rasputin, since he has smoldering eyes as well as a full beard.
Maybe he should be Svengali?

svengali
Anyway, I once mentioned to a friend about the varying lengths of beard, ranging from a two-day growth to an almost-there look and I wondered aloud how they did that.
“Oh, you can get an electric razor with a “stubble trimmer,” so you can have a two day to a ten day stubble look.”
Oh is right, I thought.

best-stubble-trimmer1-237x300
I wore a mustache for most of my young life, deciding when I was 47 to get rid of it, and I don’t miss it. Made me look like some 70s undercover NYPD cop. I’ve been clean-shaven for some 15 years now, and I like it.
One of the reasons I don’t want facial hair is that I am going grey from the bottom up. So even though my head of hair is still black, from my temples down the hair is mostly grey.
Since no one at work shaves, I’ve taken to shaving every other day, and sometimes I’ll let it go for three days. But by day three I start to look like someone on the verge of developing delirium tremens and shave it off.
It feels good, I am blessed with some pretty smooth and youthful looking skin, and I look younger shaved.
The kids I work with look pretty cool with all their facial hair. Most of them get regular haircuts, no hippies here. The hair is of varying lengths, but nobody wears it down to their shoulders.
The last time I got a haircut I got almost sidewalls with a little hair on the top. It was too extreme for Jack, the most senior of the young men at 33.
“You look like you’re going to war.” He said. He doesn’t know the half of it.
What I am grateful for is that despite the fact that they all live in the latest hipster enclaves, (Red Hook, Bushwick, Crown Heights) none of them has a MAN BUN.

Dude-with-man-bun-and-beard

Dude!

I would have a hard time keeping a straight face talking to a guy with a man bun and beard. If you want to be a Samurai, go to Japan.
I guess it’s appealing to younger women, the whole almost wild look. I may look like a wild man, but I’m actually a commodities trader.
Anyway, to me it’s one of the comical manifestations of youth, right up there with pants falling down past your ass. That was a style born of jailhouse veterans, where you are not allowed a belt and get clothes that don’t fit properly.
But this about hair, not about clothing! I’ll write about weird clothing proclivities some other time.
I actually go to a barber; at least that’s what the proprietor calls it, a barbershop.
I get a hot eucalyptus-infused towel over my face after they cut my hair, and it feels good. One day I will treat myself to a shave with a straight razor.
Every time I go there I think about the barbershop my dad used to hang out in when I was a kid growing up on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. My dad would take me there to get his weekly trim and chat with the guys who were always there.
I often wondered about that, why were these guys always there? Did they get their haircut every day, like John Gotti? Other reasons, I suspect, one of them being loneliness.
One day one of the men brought a grey wooden shine box with him, and gave it to me.

Walnut_Shoe_Shine_Box.483722_std

“Here kid, learn to make some money.”
So I had something to do at the barbershop, I was ten years old or so; I couldn’t shine shoes to save my life. My dad showed me how to do it, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Some of the men just gave me a quarter and used the shine box and shined their own shoes.
I had that shine box for years; it sat in the hallway closet of our apartment for years. I used it a bit when I started High School at Brooklyn Tech and wanted to look sharp. That lasted for a year until we had a dungaree strike at Tech and sneakers were the order of the day till I graduated.

manhair6_465_623_int

That 70s beard…

Sneakers and hair past my shoulders, and oh yeah, that 70s mustache. But never a man bun.

All pictures were downloaded from the Internet except for the top one, which I took in my neighborhood.

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SWIMMING IN THE RAIN

us – Version 2

Yesterday Danusia and I went out to Rockaway beach to take care of some business. It was something personal, so I won’t get into specifics, but here idea was to go out to the ocean for a swim and unwind from the process. That’s what I love about Danusia, the way she can take something mundane and make it a symbolic ritual.
We are lucky enough to have friends who own a house on Beach 98th street, and we were allowed to spend the night there after our ritual.
Getting out to Rockaway beach in the mid afternoon, the first order of business was to get some stuff to eat, so after dropping our stuff off we headed to the local shopping area ten or so blocks away to do so. As we were preparing to do this we noticed it was getting dark, and wondered if the sun had gone down behind the adjacent house when we heard the first rumble of thunder…

beach
Lighting storms and the flat expanse of a beach don’t mix, but hopefully it would pass quickly. We set off for the store in a fairly steady rain.
The beach crowd streamed to the subway stop down the block from us or queued up for the buses on Rockaway Beach Blvd. Others started filling up the local watering holes early. Sudden rain must mean really good business for those guys.
I had a little pink umbrella we’d found in the closet, and Danusia had a pink plastic poncho. We both wore flip-flops, not a great choice in rain. The wetness is no big deal, but the grit from the street mixes with the water and gets between your toes and under your soles, a distinctly unpleasant feeling; at least for me.
We made it to the Key Food on Beach 90th and got our supplies.
When we got back to the house there was a group of people setting up a birthday party right in front of our front door. My heart automatically sank. My friend had forgotten to mention he gave one of his employees use the space between the houses for his daughter’s birthday.
But we weren’t going to let this spoil our mission. After all, there were the “louts” as Jenny calls them from the other house next door, a house divided into rooms for rent occupied by SURFERS, white 20-somethings bent on drinking as much as possible and then talking and dancing as much as possible after a day of surfing…
The rain had abated somewhat, and a quick check of my weather app said the rain would pass soon, so we put on our swim outfits and headed to the beach.
The wonderful thing about the sudden downpour was that it cleared the beach of all but the stalwarts. It was still raining lightly, and there was an ominous stretch of dark somewhere over New Jersey just where the sky met the earth. But at least we could see it coming.
It wasn’t quite 5 PM and still plenty light so we could see where it was raining and where the sun was fighting to peek out in the distance. That’s the beautiful thing about the beach, you can see for miles and miles…
We found a fairly empty spot near a lifeguard as far away from the live band on the boardwalk as possible.
I’ve always hated the beach, I hate the sand on my feet and the cold water and I especially hate being knocked down by a wave and getting pulled under. But this was important, and I bravely waded into the rough seaweed filled water without hesitation hand in hand with Danusia.
After the initial shock the water was quite warm. The waves were pretty rough, so we waded out past the break line, or at least where most of the waves were breaking. We wave “hopped,” as Danusia likes to call it.
The rain continued, a little heavy at times, but hey, when you are wet you are wet, no? So what’s the difference? The good thing about staying three blocks from the bridge is you don’t need to bring much, so whatever we had, a couple of towels and our tops were fairly dry in the bag we had.

me at the beach
Normally I’m the one who punks out first, I start whining about leaving. But I realize now that it’s the sun that kills me on the beach, and there was no sun, just a steady drizzle on my head. I have to admit it felt a little strange. So this time it was Danusia that asked when I wanted to leave.
We spent almost an hour in the water, and though I was knocked down a couple of times I finally developed a technique where when I saw I was going to be swamped by a big wave I simply closed my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and floated into the wave, letting it buoy me wherever for a few seconds. For a bad swimmer like me that’s afraid of the water, that was an accomplishment.
We walked back to the house wrapped in our towels, and waded through the crowd gathered for the birthday party.
With both air conditioners running at full blast and the TV on loud, we managed to shower and eat dinner without too much distraction. We dressed afterwards and headed back to the beach to watch the sunset.
The rain had stopped and the beach was now mostly empty. The sand was wet so not so uncomfortable under my feet. We found our favorite lifeguard chair, the same one we sat on last summer when we’d spent ten days here watching Ezra and Jenny’s cats.
Form our vantage point on the chair I noticed a bunch of ATVs roaring up and down the beach. A Sanitation truck was emptying the garbage cans on the perimeter of the beach.
A helmeted woman on an ATV in a parks department uniform stopped in front of our beach chair. With a grand sweep of an arm, she invited us to get the hell down from up there, thank you.

atv
We climbed down and Danusia borrowed a fresh trash bag from the closest trashcan and we sat on the edge of the high water line. We watched until the lights of the tree ATVs disappeared into the deepening darkness, then returned to our perch.

chair
We sat, we talked, and we watched the distant lightning over New Jersey. Somewhere on the horizon there were fireworks, and of course here and there the sun bled through thinner sections of clouds. At nine we went back to the house.
Since the rain stopped the parties on two sides of the house went on. The bedroom is upstairs, where the windows face the sides, so we took the TV up with us and knocked out 70% of the sound.
I left early Sunday; I had a prior commitment and felt I had to fulfill it. Thanks to my subway app I caught the 7:04 shuttle to Broad Channel. I crossed the bay in a mostly empty train and looked at Kennedy Airport. I hoped to see a plane taking off and wasn’t disappointed. A jet reached hard for the sky as we crossed the bay, and at that moment I felt really clean, a lot cleaner than I’ve felt in some time.

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6 MILES, 3 BUSSES, 75 MINUTES

m 101

It says on Google maps that it should take 40 minutes on the M 101 bus to travel the six miles from the corner of East 79th Street to the bus stop on the corner of our block on West 152nd Street and Amsterdam.

We’d been to an event on East 76th Street and the plan was to catch the M 79 across to CPW and get the C train home, but we’d just missed the bus. Then we spotted an M 101 across the street heading uptown, and the 101 would leave us jut feet from our door rather than 5 or 7 blocks like the c train would, depending on what stop we’d choose to get off. We missed the 101 as well, but a quick check of my BUSTIME App said there was another 101 minutes away. We waited.

As we saw the bus approaching Danusia wondered if it was a good idea to get on this particular 101, as it was stopped on 78th Street for an inordinate amount of time. But when it pulled up to the stop, we got on. After all, we were in no big rush, and the fact that we didn’t have to transfer (and wait for) to a train or walk as far was pretty appealing.

The beginning of the trip was pleasant, the bus winding its way up Third Avenue, which grew darker and dirtier with each succeeding block. By the time we got to Spanish Harlem, I didn’t need to look at the street signs to know I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Part of the discussion about which bus to take, (walk to Madison and catch an M 3 or just wait for the 101) was that 125th Street is a real drag of a street to go across, and last night did not disappoint. After we made the left turn onto 125th the bus slowed to a virtual crawl in the traffic, and more and more people boarded the bus.

m 3
There was something wrong with the bus’s coin/metro card machine, people had to insert their card four or five times before we heard the proper beep. As we waited at stop after stop for all of this card business to play out not one but TWO M 101s passed us, briskly making their way uptown.
By the time we’d made the turn onto Amsterdam Avenue some 20 minutes behind schedule the driver had had enough. He stopped the bus, got out of his little cage and announced:

bus 1
“There’s another bus right behind me, and you’ll all have to get on that one. This bus is out of service.” We were just shy of 129th street when this happened.
So there we stood, probably twenty or so unfortunate new Yorkers resigned to the whims of NYC Transit.
After a few minutes the next bus pulled up and opened the door. We all got on, us, the chubby interracial couple with beach chairs, the tall African American woman regal in a long white dress and white turban, and the rest of the less memorable passengers. At least it was one of the newest articulated busses with three doors.

We went two stops when the driver announced, “I’m gonna have to be here for the next four minutes. Sorry.”
One of the stupidest rules of the NYC buss system is that you can’t be ahead of schedule. You can be late all you want, but you will be written up and eventually suspended if you come in ahead of schedule. That’s why when you’re in a hurry and think you lucked out on catching the bus you suddenly wonder why the driver is sitting at a corner letting the light change from red to green a few times before proceeding.
At least this guy let us know what was happening.
“There’s another bus coming, if you can all get on that one if you don’t want to wait,” he announced. I liked this guy.
There was another collective groan from the passengers, but Danusia laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation, and that made me relax a bit. She also exchanged looks with the regal woman in the white dress who was sort of smiling and said to her “this is beginning to get a little ridiculous.” The woman chuckled.

bus2

We finally reached our destination, and Danusia observed that people uptown are a little more relaxed, not as entitled as people downtown, nobody yelled at the driver.

A few weeks ago I made a bad decision based on my BUSTIME App and got an M 14 bus on Avenue A after a twenty-minute wait. As we boarded one of the women I’d been waiting with said to the driver: “You’re late!” The driver shook his head and replied, “I’m late. Yeah, well you could always take a cab, lady.”

So yeah, I can see that. I don’t yell at drivers, they are doing their jobs with busses that sometimes don’t work right and traffic they have no control over.
But I sure do wish I could yell at whomever decided busses can’t be early.

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GOODBYE TO EDEN

Garden

It’s summer again, and I was called (emailed, actually) by my old people to come and clean up the garden one last time. My old people are Elly and Eddie, the sweetest people you’d every want to know. This is the third year I would be doing the garden; and as it turns out, the last year.
I was introduced to the Sharpe’s three years ago by my friend Larry who lives upstairs from them on the Upper East Side. He told me he’d done the garden in previous years, mostly as a favor to the Sharpe’s who are getting on in age and not able to do the gardening work anymore. He also did it to assuage his own aesthetic ideals.
“I have to look out there everyday,” he’d confided in me.
The first time I saw the garden three years ago it was a wildly overgrown, but wonderful place to me. The first time was quite a lot of work, as it hadn’t really seen much

After.jpg

maintenance in a while. I cut vines and shaped the shrubbery along the fence and cleaned and power-washed the brick and concrete path around the central square of Astro-turf.
Last year I actually changed the Astro-turf, and leveled off a few depressions with gravel and sand. I looked up how to do that on YouTube.

Eden
The one constant was that I spent some very pleasant quiet time in their garden, enjoying the green and the smell of rich loam underneath my fingernails. I’d never done any gardening before and it’s always great to know how to do one more thing.
For the brief hours I spent there I imagined it was mine, my own private Eden in the middle of the brick and mortar of Manhattan.
Not that there’s no green in the city, it is just that for those moments I didn’t have to share this particular bit of green with barking dogs, crying children or people smoking. Just the sun, the foliage, and me.
I loved the wisteria vine that runs the whole length of the back fence; I didn’t want to touch it, but Elly wanted it trimmed down. I would love to live in a building where the walls are covered in ivy.
Last summer there was lots to do for them besides the garden, they had hired a firm that made apartments “elderly friendly,” and Elly insisted that I be the one to carry out the work. I painted, removed saddles from the floor, and hung lights, whatever needed to be done.
In the garden I changed the Astro-turf and assembled the new teak garden furniture. I was still out of work last summer and doing this work for them was a lifesaver, and I really appreciate their kindness and generosity.
Elly wanted me to clean up the yard and do some things around the apartment last month, and that was also when she informed me that they would be leaving for an assisted living facility outside of D.C. this summer.
“It’s become too much for us,” she said. Even tough they are on the first floor, there is a stoop and she has a hard time managing it with her walker.
Eddie is more ambulatory, but his handicap is the slow creep of dementia. You can’t win against aging; only learn to cope as best as you can.

Elly and Eddie
I was surprised when I got a pang of emotion when Elly delivered the news, I realized that they, especially Elly were more than just clients, they were kind loving people that I had developed an emotional bond with. Maybe it has a lot to do with my mother dying young, who knows… All I know is that I was deeply saddened to hear II wouldn’t be seeing them anymore.
That in itself is a good thing, that I can care for people I barely know, that I’ve learned a thing or two about empathy. Even better is that in doing so, I’ve learned to have a little more empathy for myself; something I only recently realized I was missing.
I will miss the garden, but I will miss chatting with Elly and Eddie more. Elly always greeted me warmly with her Texas charm, and Eddie always declared, “there he is,” in his best Paulie Gautieri imitation.
I am very lucky to have met Elly and Eddie, and to have spent a time in Eden. Thank you Janet and Larry, friends and upstairs neighbors to the Sharpes.

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THE HAIR WE LOST IN THE SHOWER

Drain

I was going to write about the many hair salons and barbershops in my neighborhood, Hamilton Heights. There are more hair salons and barbershops in this neighborhood than there are bars on Avenue A.
But speaking of hair, when I took a shower this morning I took special note of how much hair I lost, and that’s more important. So the haircut places are going to have to wait.
This is how much hair I lost this morning:

hair

Doesn’t look like a lot, I guess that’s average, but at my age I mourn every follicle that falls dormant forever. At least I’ve got more hair than my younger brother. Sorry, bro.
The reason I can see how much hair I’ve lost each time I shower is because of my nifty new shower drain cover:

Drain

I had to buy it after I burned the chrome plating off of the last one by pouring sulfuric acid down the drain without removing the cover first.
But that’s a good thing- this cover actually catches the hair BEFORE it goes down the drain where it will hook on any little protrusion in a pipe turn and start collecting more hairs. Hairs like to stick together for some reason.
That eventually leads to a nice little plug in your drain, and the water goes down really, really slow until it completely stops going down and you have to shower with your feet in five inches of dirty water.
I’ve had a lot of experience with clearing drains, as I’m sure we all have. Well, maybe most people just call their building super or a plumber to do it, but I’m stubborn and I don’t need any help and I like doing things by myself.

I used to live in a studio apartment on 47th Street in Hell’s kitchen, a real dump. One day I flushed the toilet and it backed up into the tub, not a good sign. After I cleaned out what was in the tub into a bucket, I removed the drain cover and got a wire hanger. Every time I pick up a wire hanger I think of Joan Crawford.
I took the wire hanger and untwisted the ends that hold it together with a pair of pliers and bent a little hook onto one end with the pliers.
I proceeded to feed the hanger into the clogged drain. This was a little trick I learned working a doorman in a building where the super is too lazy to go up to an apartment and sends the doorman instead. At least he told me what to do when I got there.
It’s not easy twisting a bendable but hard piece of metal into the twists and turns of drain plumbing. But with a lot of effort I managed to hook onto the culprit, hair. I pulled and pulled, extracting literally yards of gunky, smelly hair. Blond hair by the looks of it. I don’t have blond hair, and mine isn’t yards long, so whose hair was it?
My neighbors! They were a couple, filmmakers judging by all of the filmmaking crap they lugged up and down the stairs, and the both had long blond hair. It was hard to tell the boy from the girl apart from behind.
So, here’s the deal- in most buildings with studios they are built in a mirror image, front to back. The bathrooms abut each other, and the kitchen is next to the bathroom. And both apartments drainpipes share one common 4-inch drainpipe that runs the height of the building. Yes, it all goes down one pipe, just like George Costanza claimed on the Seinfeld show. You can be as clean as you like, but if your neighbors aren’t, you can have a problem.
I’ve got a ton of drain cleaning stories, because I’m good at doing stuff like this is how I became the handyman at that building. But those will have to wait.
Just for right now all I want to say is, if you have a hair problem in your shower, get one of the covers pictured above. They really work. The one I had before, this one:

plumbing_unclog-a-shower-drain

Lets a lot of hair down the drain. And if that happens, you can get out the old wire hanger, or go to Home Depot (or Lowe’s) and pick up some Drain Clean. The sulfuric acid one works best, but if you keep using it you’ll burn a hole in the pipes. I have only to think of the burned drain cover to know that.
The lye stuff works pretty good, just slower (overnight). Drano is the worst; it’s a waste of money. You might as well call a plumber. Or get out the vinyl gloves and the wire hanger.

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GOODNIGHT TO THE GREATEST

the champMuhammed Ali was magical, riveting, hard to ignore.I read George Vecsey’s piece in the Times this morning and it made me cry. I wanted to call this post Goodnight, Sweet prince; but then I thought people would think I was writing about Prince.

Prince was a wonderful and influential artist, but I did not have that kind of emotional connection to him that I have with Muhammad Ali. I did not cry when I heard of Prince’s death (nor David Bowie’s for that matter) but there was a flutter in my heart the second I heard the Greatest had passed.
I guess it has to do with age; he was a man I grew up with, a man that figured in my young life however tangentially. He was a hero to me when I was a kid, and became even more of a hero as he battled Parkinson’s disease with such dignity.
When I was a child there was still regular boxing on TV, and my dad was a big fan. My dad claimed he’d been a boxer when he was young in Mexico, and I have to take him at his word. I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching boxing on TV with him, as he explained the finer points of pugilism. It was one of the last things we shared for a long time. My dad always talked about Ali, calling him “El Ali. El campion.” The Champ.
I wasn’t crazy about boxing, especially when one day when I was 13 my father came home with two pair of red Everlast boxing gloves in a brown paper bag. He called me and my younger brother into the living room.

gloves..jpg
“I’m gonna teach you boys how to defend yourselves,” he declared. My 8-year old fifty-plus pound little brother was excited, he was a lot more physical than I ever was. After we donned the gloves and our dad showed us a few basic moves he sat down on the couch in his underwear and sipped his whiskey as he directed us to “box.”
It was easy, I being taller and having a longer reach I could hold my little brother at arm’s length while he flailed away at the air between us.
Occasionally I would deliver a light tap to the side of his head or let him hit my arms or stomach, but I never took it very seriously. I would laugh at his frustration and taunt him.
One day very shortly after the gloves arrived we were doing our requisite sparring for Papa, I pushing little Luis away and he flailing when he caught me off guard. He was very, very angry, I knew by how hard he was hitting, he was serious about it. And in one quick second he swung up at my face, put his whole body into it, his fifty-something pounds behind that punch that caught me square in the mouth.
“Yes!” My dad chortled.
“That’s it son, that’s the way to do it!”
Stunned, I staggered backwards, but at least didn’t fall down. I was too stunned to be angry and hit him back, but I never forgot about it. I don’t think I ever put those gloves back on.
That was in 1968.
Those were the years Ali was not fighting, due to his suspension from boxing and the loss of his title because of his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War.

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He was larger than life, and for a kid growing up in predominantly black housing projects in Brooklyn he was part of everyday life. Everybody followed what Ali did in the newspapers and on the evening news.
I was never enamored of the Black Muslims and the Nation of Islam, I remember getting free copies of Muhammad Speaks and seeing the cartoons of the white people with devil’s tails and the whole thing was just full of hatred. And to me that wasn’t the Champ.
He did later break with The Nation of Islam and became a Sunni Muslim in 1975, following Malcolm X’s lead.
I always found him a magnetic, beautiful man, and never tired of seeing him on TV either putting down an opponent, criticizing the government, or horsing around with Howard Cosell. He always warmed my heart. I never watched any of his fights, save for clips I saw on the news or the fleeting documentary. But I still loved him.
I loved him even more when I saw the quiet dignity he displayed after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s and hearing about what he was doing to help others with the disease. To me he was an example of what a real man should be.
So when I read Mr. Vecsey’s article today I did cry, especially when he called Ali America’s broken Prince. So yes, “Good-night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” I will miss you.

All photos were downloaded from the internet.

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