Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter: Be Careful With Your Children

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March 31, 2013 · 6:00 am

Grumpy Old Man

I hate to admit it, but I have a Facebook page. The reason I’m there is because my brother, Mark, sent me a “friend” request a few years ago. Now, what was I supposed to do? Say, “NO, I don’t want to be your friend?” He is my brother, after all. I don’t have all that many “Friends” on Facebook. Most are people I knew in high school and college and a handful that I’ve never met but who are friends of friends. Today there was a good post by an old high school pal that I want to share…

When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
Later, when the nurses were going through his meagre possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
One nurse took her copy to Melbourne .. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.
And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.

Cranky Old Man…..
What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you’re looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . … . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .’I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . … lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don’t mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. …Babies play ’round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future … . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It’s jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I’m loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. …. . ME!!

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within … . . .
we will all, one day, be there, too!
The best and most beautiful things of this world can’t be seen or touched.
They must be felt by the heart.


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Things I Just Don’t Understand

As we get older, past our sixties and into our seventies, (our dotage?) I guess it’s only natural that we think more and more about our mortality. The fact that we aren’t going to be around forever. At least I know I do. And there are some things I just don’t understand. Mostly peoples abject fear of the inevitable conclusion of life.

In the morning when I wake up and put the coffee on to brew, I log into the computer, bring up the iTunes web site and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition. It gives me news and interesting stories. This morning there was a story about a new drug called Zaltrap that was approved as a kind of last-chance therapy for patients with colorectal cancer. Studies suggested Zaltrap worked almost exactly as well as an existing drug called Avastin. In fact, the main difference between the two drugs seemed to be the price. Zaltrap costs about $11,000 per month (emphasis mine) — about twice as much as Avastin. The story goes on about how Sloan-Kettering decided not to buy Zaltrap and how the manufacturer cut the price in half to try and get them to buy it. But here’s the thing about this story that bothers me.

The two drugs seemed to worked equally well. Both extended life by 1.4 months. But what if Zaltrap had worked slightly better than Avastin? What if it had extended life by, say, an extra week?

Now, extending life by 1.4 months or possibly an extra week? What the hell for? What will the patient do in that extra six weeks? Is the quality of their life going to be improved? Are they going to be pain free during that time, or are they going to puke all over themselves from the side effects of the drugs? Would you take either one to get another month and a half of life?

The answer for myself is no. If I was told right now that I had cancer or some other terminal disease (and isn’t life ultimately a terminal affair?) the only thing I would do would be to find the best source of heavy-duty narcotics to see me through to the end, even if that source was a street vendor of high-grade black tar heroin. At that point in my life I’m really not going to be too concerned about getting addicted to the stuff.

I’ll be 71 in a couple of months. I’ve had a longer life than my mother by nearly 20 years. I’ve lived longer than three of my six brothers and a much loved sister-in-law. During my life I got to live out a lot of the dreams of my youth. My brother Gary, my sister-in-law Jude and my friend Frank Hilson all suffered from cancer that eventually killed them in about a year of being diagnosed despite undergoing chemo and radiation therapies with side effects that, in my mind, anyway, intensified the suffering it was intended to relieve. For me it’s all about the quality of life, not the quantity. So I just don’t understand why people would opt for a month and a half of prolonged suffering. Not me.




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Driving School – Day 3

This was the final day of classroom instruction at the driving school, and am I glad. It means I don’t have to set the alarm to wake up any more. I usually wake up around the time the classes started: 8:30 a.m.

I didn’t do too bad today. Enough of the first and second day’s Spanish must have leaked out during the night because I was able to follow most of what was going on today. We talked about road conditions, signs, road markings, stopping distances and speed limits. That sort of thing. I’ve always said my big problem with Spanish comes in “hearing” it, and today was no exception. Aldo, the instructor, kept saying a word that sounded like “casada” which means “married” in Spanish. It made no sense in the context of the subject we were talking about at the time. What could married possibly have to do with road conditions? Perhaps the Spanish language uses “married” as something to do with where the rubber meets the road? Then he wrote down the word, “La calzada” which means, “the road.” Calzada, not calle or avenida, or routa. And perhaps it’s a Chiricano (those who live in Chiriqui province) accent thing where the “L” is glossed over so it pretty much sounds like Casada.

With the calzada/casada mystery cleared up it felt pretty good to actually be able to contribute to the class for the first time. Aldo, knowing of my language deficiency avoided asking me direct questions yesterday, which I appreciated. At the end of class we were given two short tests which were sort of “open book.” The second one which was about first aid was read to us by Aldo and he told us what the correct multiple guess answers were. These tests, along with the diplomas the school made up for us with our pictures on them, will be sent to the ATTT (Autoridad de Transito y Transporte Terrestre) office in Panama City to be duly okie-dokied. It takes 15 working days to do this. So that gives me three weeks to study for the test. You have to present the diploma in order to be able to take the test.

I have one more day of school left, though. It’s the practical part where I get to ride around on a scooter for 5 hours. I have to be at the school at 2 p.m. They also will provide a scooter, for a fee, for me to take my test on.

I do want to say this about Aldo whose school it is. He is grossly overweight. Sweats through the class while the students shiver because of the air conditioning. My guess is he’s in his mid to late 30s. And he’s a good teacher, too. His lectures are four hours long, non-stop without notes. Of course he told me he’s been doing this for 13 years so that has given him plenty of time to get it together. He keeps constant eye-contact with each of the students throughout the four hours and addresses parts of his lecture as though he’s talking to just that student and no one else if you’re on the receiving end. He has good skills.

I’ll keep you informed of the progress.

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Driving School – Day 2

Slept much better last night and woke up refreshed and ready to go. The Boquerón bus was packed like a sardine can this morning and even after the crowd headed west to Bugaba, La Concepcion and the border got off there were still no empty seats. I wasn’t about to stand up all the way in to David, especially considering that the driver of this bus is one of the well known kamikaze breed you often find here. So I paid my 35 cents and crossed the Interamericana to the bus shelter there. After six or seven buses stopped, all containing standees, this being, after all, commuting time for workers, a Frontera bus stopped with empty seats and I headed on my way. Now, the buses here aren’t silent buses. There is always something blaring over their loud speakers. It’s whatever the driver wants to listen to. Most of the time it’s music but occasionally you get one filled with religious fervor and he had someone preaching:


So I plugged into the iPod and continued the story Dissolution.

I mentioned that I’d filled my head to the saturation point with Spanish during yesterday’s four-hour class. It seems that enough didn’t leak out over night because today, with Aldo teaching the class I was lost. He’s a typical Panamanian who speaks with machine gun rapidity. By the time I’d figure out what he was talking about he’d have finished with that topic and moved on to the next. I pretty much zoned out for most of today’s class though I know we covered the various categories of Panamanian driver licenses, penalties for various driving infractions, causes of accidents, both from substance abuse and physical forces such as gravity, centrifugal forces, etc.

Tomorrow is supposed to be the final day of the classes to be followed Saturday and Sunday by hands-on practice on a motor scooter. I’ll update the progress.

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Escuela de Manejo – Day 1

Well, I’ve accepted the challenge of taking a driving course in Spanish and today, Monday, March 25, 2013 was the first day.

I got a horrible night’s sleep. Besides the usual need for an old man to get up sometime during the night to whiz the electricity went off three times. What’s the big deal, you might ask? After all, you’re sleeping and it’s dark. Well, it’s not bad when the electricity goes off except that the fan that sweeps over my bed keeping me cool stops and I start to warm up. And then when the power goes on three different appliances beep and blink until I get up and shut them off. I’d set the alarm for 6:15 but the nasty appliances beeped and blinked me awake at 5:45. Might as well get up, right?

I was a little concerned about how the buses would be running. I’ve never tried to catch one early in the morning figuring they’d be standing room only with people going to work, so the earliest I’ve tried to get a bus has been after 9. I made it to the bus stop at 7:15 and at 7:25 the bus arrived. As I’d thought it was standing room only but only as far as El Cruce, 2 kilometers down the hill. People going to Bugaba and La Concepcion get off there and I was able to grab a seat although several people were forced to stand all the way into David, about 25 minutes away.

Traffic into town was pretty light and I got to the school a few minutes after 8. The doors were locked. I didn’t mind waiting because I just started listening to a really good book on the iPod: Dissolution by C. J. Sansom. It’s a murder mystery of Tudor England, the protagonist being a hunchbacked lawyer named Matthew Shardlake.  Steven Crossley is a pretty good narrator so I wasn’t put out by the fact I had to wait until Aldo showed up to open the school.

There are 7 students in this class. A widow named Vilma, an attractive young mother of two whose name is unpronounceable even the Panamanian instructor, a real hottie named Elizabeth. Besides myself there are three other guys and I haven’t the slightest idea what their names are because I really don’t pay attention to guys in the first place. One, though, is a lawyer who sports a mouthful of metal and the other two are 18 year-olds going for low-grade commercial licenses.

The class was led by Carlos Guerra, a clinical psychologist, and what the four hours had to do with driving in Panama leaves me a bit stumped. I guess it would have something to do with conflict resolution if you were in an accident, though that was never discussed. One of the themes of the class, though, had to do with not being distracted by things while driving and to always be aware of your responsibilities, I guess. He had three things with which he would interrupt his lecture with from time to time. One was we had to remember four things: A fruit/an apple, a country/Colombia, a color/red and an animal/dog. Then there were four things we had to do physically: when he would say a key phrase everyone would have to, stand up and wave their hands in the air, stamp their feet, clap their hands or ululate. Finally he had four soft rubber balls: red, yellow, green and orange, each corresponding to either a traffic light color or a sign color. In the middle of a sentence he would throw one of the balls at someone. They’d have to catch it and toss it back to him telling him it was “alto” (stop) for the red ball, “precaucion” (you can figure that one out for yourselves), “avance” (go) for the green ball, and “informacion” for the orange ball.

There were two written exercises during the session. You were supposed to first draw a man, give him a name, an age and an occupation and then list five good features they possessed and five bad features, and then do the same with a female. The girls, I noticed, did fairly good drawings of their characters. I drew stick figures with smiley faces. Nothing was ever done with these exercises after we finished them. They were never mentioned again.

I held up pretty well for almost three hours. I couldn’t tell you percentage wise how much I was actually understanding but I followed things pretty well. I did take my cues for standing up, clapping and that bit by letting my fellow students take the lead but the balls and the color/country/animal/fruit thing was okay. But as we got into the third hour I shut down. I found that used to happen in France, too. It’s like you get to a saturation point and then you can’t absorb any more so I pretty much zoned out through the next hour and a half.

We were given a 12-page, booklet which is, essentially, all of the questions that you can be asked on the test at the license bureau with the answers. Sort of the ultimate cheat sheet. I’ll be spending a couple of hours a day the next few days going over and over it until I feel confident with it.

So that’s the first day. We have Tuesday and Wednesday to go.

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A Diversion

While taking a break from reading through the driver’s manual for Panama I came across this video of a North Korean kindergarten student on

This lead me to another mind-blowing guitar player. She’s from Botswana.

And if that’s not a non-traditional method of playing the guitar, then try THIS on for size…



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Back To School

As I wrote last week, in order to get a motorcycle endorsement added to my Panamanian driver’s license I have to attend a driving school and pass a written and hands-on test. Coughing up $40 to the ATTT isn’t an option. And as I wrote last week the closest driving school, which is literally only a couple of door away from the licensing bureau, doesn’t handle motorcycle (or as they say here in Panama, simply “moto”) instruction I had to go check out another place that does.

This morning I went to a place called Centro de Capacitación de Conductors Aldo. Fortunately it is only a block off the route my bus takes on its way to the terminal so access isn’t a problem. When I got to the school class was in session. The two students were watching a film. The instructor, Aldo, must have been the inspiration for Jaba the Hut. He was that big. Naturally, I had to do everything in Spanish, and I only had to consult my dictionary once when I wanted to say that I thought having to do everything in Spanish was going to be a :challenge” (desáfio). Again, I was told that I would do all right. Of course both people that told me that were looking for me to sign up for the classes and give them some money.

The “theoretical” part of the school is three half-days long. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with classes starting at 8:30 in the morning. Then there is a five hour hands-on practice on a scooter Saturday and Sunday afternoons at four. After you take the written exam, which you have to repeat at the licensing bureau, there is a 15 day while your certificate is processed by some office in Panama City. During that time I’ll go get my physical exam which is required because I’m over 70 years old. The exam has to be done by either a gerontologist or an internist. Fortunately my primary care doctor at the Hospital Chiriqui program I’ve been enrolled in for the last three years is an internist so I’ll use him. Nice guy and he sort of speaks English in the same way I sort of speak Spanish so we get along. Actually it’s a good thing because it’s been three years since I’ve had a physical.

Total cost for the program is $130 plus the physical, but through the hospital insurance plan I get reimbursed 75% of the cost and another 15% because I’m a “jubilado.” (Spanish word for old fart.) Even though it will seriously cut into the time I have to surf internet porn each day, I’ll be starting the school next Monday. Stay tuned.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day


Actually, I like the Irish a lot. The ones from the auld sod, I mean, and I’ve known a lot of them. They get a bad rap, especially about fighting. I lived in Antibes, France, for nearly three years. There are a lot of Irish, Brits and Scots there. In all that time I NEVER saw an Irishman in a fight. On the other hand, for the Brits and the Scots it was nearly an every day occurrence. The best boat delivery I ever made in a 20 year career as a Coast Guard-licensed captain was one from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, to Hyannis, Mass., with Jerry from Kerry and Anne from Limerick. We hit every happy hour between those two ports and met many wonderful people who became intrigued when they heard the girls accents and invited us into their homes and took us out to hear local bands and party. And when I sailed across the pond in ’91, Martin, from Dublin, kept us in stitches with his stories every night at dinner. God bless ’em all.

However, it’s mainly the Irish in the States who practice this…

irish yoga

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Wait! That’s It?!

In order for me to get a motorcycle endorsement put on my Panamanian driver’s license there are several hoops I have to jump through. 1) I have to complete a course at a driving school 2) I have to pass a written examination (in Spanish) 3) I have to have a letter from a doctor, either a gerontologist or an internist saying I’m physically and mentally fit to drive (of course being nearly 71 one has to question the mental state of anyone that old wanting to ride a motorcycle) 4) I have to pass a practical hands-on test on the motorcycle. There are a couple of other things like a hearing and eye test that you can’t study for and shell out $40.

I’ve been going out and practicing on my bike down the road a ways at a new, and mostly vacant, housing development. Doing a lot of stopping and starting and making right hand turns and staying in the proper lane without going over the center line. I’ve watched dozens of YouTube videos about practical motorcycle exams that are given in the United States. They include weaving between cones in a sort of slalom course, driving figure eights, making slow-speed U turns, making fast stops, etc. It all looks rather daunting.

Last week I stopped by the driving school located at the Chiriqui Mall where the driving license office is also located. I wanted to ask them some more questions about the practical driving test. It turns out that they don’t offer the motorcycle study course at that school. The instructor, though, took me outside and we met with a gentleman who was grading the aspirants for licensing today. He spoke English and told me that I had to go to a different school and filled me in on where it’s located. I then asked him what I needed to know in order to take the practical, “driving” portion of the test.

“Have you ever ridden a motorcycle before?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “but it’s been about 30 years.”

“Do you have a motorcycle?”

“Yes,” I told him.

“Then it shouldn’t be any problem. Don’t worry about it.”

I asked him about doing the weaving and U turns and all that stuff. “Oh, yes,” he said. “We need to know about your equilibrium.”

“Okay,” says I to myself. “I’m going to need to do a lot more practicing.”

But I stuck around for a bit while two people took their automobile tests which, when compared with tests in the States, was a joke. Then a young lad put on a helmet and was going to do his motorcycle test. Great! I’ll get to see what they put him through and then I’ll know what I need to work on.

Below is a photo of what his test consisted of:

Chiriqui Mall Test

This is no joke. This is what he had to do. You can see he started out in the top right corner. Went in a straight line and made a left hand turn, another straight line to the next road, then a left hand turn into one of the parking sections where he rode down to a cone and made one circle then went back, in a straight line to the road, another left turn and ended up where he’d started from.

Wait a minute!

“That’s it? That’s his test?” I asked the examiner.

“Yes, that’s it,” he said.

No slalom weaving. No tight right turns, which is far more important, I think, than being able to make a sweeping left turn. I guess you could consider circling a cone to be a test of one’s ability to make a U turn, though. And no fast stopping test.

It sort of reminded me of the practical driving test I took in Fort Lauderdale when I returned to the States after having been gone for nearly four years, during which time my driver’s license had expired. At that time I’d been driving for 35 years. I drove up to where the examiner was standing at the curb outside of the DMV office. He got in to the passenger’s seat with his clip board and said,

“See that empty spot by the curb up ahead?”

“Yes,” I said, noticing a spot some 40 feet or so from where we sat idling.

“Pull in there.”

So, I checked if any cars were coming up behind me. It was clear. I engaged the turn signal as the book says you’re supposed to do and pulled out into the lane. I drove the 40 or so feet and parallel parked the car in the empty slot. The examiner put down a few check marks on his clip board, handed me the sheet, put his hand on the door handle and said, “go park the car wherever there’s a spot,” gesturing to the parking lot over on the left, “and take this inside.” The whole test took under three minutes.

That’s what it looks like the practical motorcycle test is going to be like here. We’ll see. I’m going to go to the school next week.


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