Monthly Archives: July 2016

Present To Myself

It’s been almost three weeks since my birthday and I finally bought myself a present. Probably shouldn’t have because my pocketbook took a huge hit this month. Eight hundred for the new set of choppers. Three hundred twenty five for three months of the faux insurance at Hospital Chiriquí (but it’s better than having nothing). And, of course getting out the rent money. But today I broke down and did it anyway.

So, what did I get? Well, let me build up to it….

Music runs deep in my family. All the way back into my grandparents. This is a photo from those days at what was known as “The Music House.”

The music house copy

That’s my paternal grandfather on the cello. In the back is William Dean on the flute. My mom also played cello when she was in school and her brother, Howard, played clarinet. He was good enough to play in bands that spent the summer on ocean liners plying the Atlantic between the U.S. and England.

My brother, David, is the flautist in the family. It was always embarrassing growing up to have to do the annual music teacher’s recital. David is seven years younger than me but was always light years ahead on the flute. All of us kids had to take music lessons. David, Jeff and I took the flute and Gary and Mark played clarinet. Jeff also became a very good self-taught guitar and banjo player. Jeff’s wife, Jan, taught piano for years and years on Cape Cod and then in Chapel Hill, NC. Their son, Tom, from what I’ve been told is kind of a musical prodigy can pick up and play just about any instrument he can lay his hands on. Their daughter, Kelsey is a violin instructor at Appalachian State University – Community Music School, and a violinist at Western Piedmont Symphony.

Brothers David and Gary BOTH played in the Chatham (Cape Cod) Town Band which is quite an honor because many of the members of that band back then also played with the Boston Pops!!! (Pretty good musical company to keep, don’t ya think?) David, though, became a professional jazz musician.


And then, there’s ME! I played flute and piccolo in the Orleans/Nauset Regional High School Band as well as the Orleans Town Band. (That was no where near as prestigious as the Chatham Band by a long shot, but it got me out of the house once a week for rehearsals.

I stopped playing when I went away to college though and only took it up again a couple of years later when I joined the Navy. I signed up with an old school buddy, John Hinckley (NO, NOT THAT ONE!!). The first full day we were in boot camp and waiting to get our shots a first-class petty officer, a machinist’s mate oddly enough, came in and said he was looking for volunteers for the boot camp band, drum and bugle corps and chorus. John had been an excellent sax player and suggested we volunteer. I said I hadn’t played in over two years. “Well, you might get out of some of the awful stuff ahead for a while if you sign on. And band members DID get out of a lot of stuff, mainly physical training.

So, I did. The first four weeks of what was then a 16-week training regimen was exactly like everyone else’s at Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Then we were marched down to a  huge Quonset hut drill hall for try outs. This was it! I knew I was screwed and unimaginable quantities of shit were about to be dumped on my head.

I sat, waiting for my turn. Doomed! I’d never been great at sight reading music and they were auditioning with marches used when Hannibal marched his legion of elephants over the Alps. Doubly doomed!! Finally my turn came around. The petty officer said, “What do YOU play?”

“Flute and piccolo, sir,” I replied.

“Good! If you can hold it right you’re in. Stand over there…”

“What?” I said, incredulously.

“Stand over THERE!”

I was in without even having to play a note. It seems that everyone who played flute was either graduating from boot camp or would be graduating in a couple of weeks and I was the first person to say the magic words: “Flute and piccolo.”

As the newbies our first week in the band company was spent not playing music, but in keeping the drill hall spic and span. Then we were marched to the dentists. I had a couple of wisdom teeth pulled and a drain put in. It got infected. The left side of my face looked like I had partially swallowed a softball. It was that big. Obviously I can’t play. So I’m put in charge of the newest bunch of musicians and directing them in the cleanup operations. I’m not ashamed to say I milked that disability for all it was worth. And as the weeks passed several guys came in who played flute and piccolo and were destined to go to the Navy’s music school after boot camp so I had them sit in for me.

While everyone else was cleaning stuff or practicing I studied our handbook The Bluejacket Manual. I learned that sucker from cover to cover and actually ended up being the academic standout in the entire brigade for my graduating week and got a letter of commendation handed to me by the Admiral in charge of the entire training center at the graduation ceremony. BUT, a week before that happened, the petty officer came over to me and said, “You know, you graduate next week and you have to march in the ceremony.”


Well, it wasn’t so bad. I grabbed one of the flutes, positioned myself with other flautists on either side of me and marched around and moved my fingers like I was actually playing. And that was my Naval musical experience.

My first college roommate was an excellent classical guitar player and I was in awe of his talent. When I was attending (but doing little actual studying) at the University of Miami I bought a guitar and learned to play it. Sort of. I did okay as a rhythm guitarist and loved the blues but my singing elevates Bob Dylan to something like Pavarotti status in comparison. But I had fun with it for a couple of years when I went back to college in the mid 60s but haven’t touched a guitar since. I did try learning piano, though, and had an electric keyboard on the boat over in France. Learned how to do a walking bass with my left hand but never got too good at it.

SO, that brings us up to now…

As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m going to be repatriating to the U.S. (though I may be back in Panama if Donald Chump gets elected. I WON’T live there with him as president. I’d rather die destitute at Regional Hospital in David (dah VEED) Panama. Well, since I’m going to be on the move most of the time on the boat I intend to live on, and only have sporadic internet access, I’ve been wondering what to do to pass the time when I’m at anchor somewhere.

I thought I’d like to take up the guitar again but the things are rather large, you know, and would take up quite a bit of space on a boat only 23 or 25 feet long. I started thinking about a ukelele. Small, fun, musical. And then I went to the biggest music store in David this morning and bought one of these:

There were several different models, and the Yamaha was the most expensive. I bought it because it’s a known name. Now I’ve got something to while away the hours….

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Reason For Repatriation

There are some people who don’t quite understand why I’m getting ready to leave Panama, a country and its people what I truly love, and repatriate to the United States. I’ve stated that I have developed health issues, severe COPD, and Medicare doesn’t cover you once you step foot outside the borders of the U.S.

Health care here is, generally, excellent. IF you can pay for it up front. But just try getting health insurance if you’re a 74-year-old man with COPD and three arterial stents. Ain’t happening. I have been enrolled in Hospital Chiriqui’s “Insurance” program which really isn’t insurance at all. It is, rather, a program that will reimburse you for up to 75% of covered costs up to something like $30K. The alternative, if you can’t cough up $3 or $4K to get into Hospital Chiriqui or Mae Lewis, is to go to Regional.

Don Ray Williams, who writes a blog called “Chiriqui Chatter” which I have followed for years, is the U.S. Embassy Warden for this area. He acts as a liaison and first contact between U.S. expats and the Embassy. Today he had a great post that goes a long way to explain what I’d be facing if something horrible happened to me requiring hospitalization here…

“I had one person that was in the hospital because he was hit by a car crossing a street in David. The social worker called me one morning asking if I could come to the hospital and tell the patient that he needed to leave because the hospital needed the bed.

“I went to the hospital and the patient could barely talk. He was still in pain. I had the Embassy talk to the social worker and she was asked what their plan was. The social worker told the Embassy that if he didn’t leave, they might be forced to put him by the side of the road. The Embassy staff person asked if that was the same thing that would happen to a Panamanian. I didn’t hear the answer.

“I left thinking he was going to be transferred to Mae Lewis, a private hospital. He had the funds to pay for private care, but was taken to the Regional, because most accidents are taken there. I got a call at 6PM by his landlord saying he had been brought home and he couldn’t talk. Lilliam and I went to his house and called 911. He died while the 911 attendants were trying to stabilize him to return to the hospital.

“In my mind, he died because of the doctor that instructed the social worker to have him released and the social worker following her instructions. I am confident he would not have died in Mae Lewis.

“There were two more patients I met in the Regional Hospital who had been transferred from Hospital Chiriquí after they had run up bills of $40,000 and had run out of funds. Both died after a couple weeks stay in the Regional Hospital.

Another person I met had been transferred from the Interior of Panama to the Regional Hospital after falling. He didn’t have insurance and this was the only trauma hospital that could take him, even though it would have been closer to Panama City’s Santo Tomás. He also didn’t leave the hospital alive.

“I believe the Regional Hospital does the best they can with what they have and there is a tremendous amount of construction going on at the Regional Hospital to serve more people. There are a lot of good people working there, but the staff is stretched to its limit, from what I have seen. I will still say that I would want to go to a private hospital as my first choice.

“I feel fairly confident that Marion, my friend that was shot and left for dead in Potrerillos, would not have survived had she not been fortunate enough to be admitted into Mae Lewis.

“On another occasion, there was a U.S. citizen that was in need of surgery and his son came to Panama to see him. The Embassy asked if I could assist, as the son did not speak Spanish. After being here a few days the son needed to return to the U.S. and I took him to the hospital to say goodbye.

“When we got to the hospital, I was told he could not be seen. I said it was important for the son to talk to him because he was returning to the U.S. and it might be his last time t see him.
“The nurses started making calls, because they are usually helpful when I hand the, my Embassy introduction letter. They finally came out and gave the son and me masks, gowns and gloves to put on.

“We visited the father and after I left, I learned that the ward had a bacterial resistant virus and it was not safe to be there. Sometimes my not willing to take “no” for an answer puts me in places I shouldn’t be. It was good that he got to see his father because he only lived a few days after having surgery.

“Because of volunteering for the Embassy, I have had the occasion to meet a doctor in one of the local clinics that always complains about freeloading and indigent U.S. Citizens that expect free healthcare from Panama. He always says he can’t understand why the Panama government allows these type of people to come here. He always says this in Spanish assuming I don’t understand.

“Now this is not a criticism of the healthcare system, but it is a criticism of this particular doctor. In both cases he implied that he would treat the patient if they made an appointment at Hospital Chiriquí (I assume this is preferable because he wanted more pay).

“Still, I agree with him in that no U.S. citizen should plan on coming here and taking advantage of a public healthcare that is intended for caring for the people of Panama. None the less, his attitude was not one of a doctor I would want in control of my life.”

So there it is. The possibility scares me, especially when I realize that I felt fine right up to the instant I started having my heart attack several years ago. Or when I was walking down the sidewalk outside of Bethesda Naval Hospital and a car got forced off the road and hit me while it was doing almost 30 mph. SHIT HAPPENS. I JUST HATE IT WHEN IT HAPPENS TO ME!!!


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Hammock Stand Update #2

Well, THAT didn’t work out as planned.

Yesterday the damned thing collapsed again. The 4″ hinges were just too flimsy.


And when it went over it took out two panes of the nearby jalousie window…


So now I’ve got to go find a place that sells these things. RATS!!!

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Follow Up

The other day I wrote about building a Turtle Dog Hammock Stand because my air bed keeps leaking, and I promised to report on how it all worked out my first night of sleeping in it.

Well, I misread the instructions of a post I thought was the best, but it didn’t work out at all. I tried it out in the afternoon and it held up, but when I got in it that night it collapsed. Fortunately none of the parts landed on me. Since it was around midnight I simply picked up my pillow, went into the bedroom (the stand is out in the huge living room), pumped up the bed and slept there.

Yesterday, Monday, I looked at more photos from different sites, figured out what I’d done wrong, dismantled what I’d done, lowered the hinges and refastened everything. Now the stand is solid and doesn’t move around when I get in the hammock.

So, how did it work out? Mixed review. I normally sleep either on my stomach or on my left side. You can’t sleep on your stomach in a Yucatan-style hammock. Doesn’t work. It’s not real easy to even sleep on your side in it. But I finally got settled in but it took a long time to finally actually fall asleep. The strings aren’t very comfortable on bare skin. But when I did finally drop off things went fairly well. Naturally, being an old fart I had to get up sometime in the middle of the night, and when I’d finished that chore it took a little bit of time to get readjusted to the hammock but I fell asleep faster than the initial attempt.

The positive side is, while I usually am wide awake around 5 a.m., which is the normal get up time for Panamanians it seems, this morning I didn’t wake up until 7:15. Don’t know if that will continue. I didn’t seem to shift around in my sleep like I normally seem to do in a regular bed. Perhaps it’s because sleeping in a hammock you’re not lying on something non-yielding so you need to move around to free yourself up.

That was only the first night. We’ll see how things go. One of the reasons I’m trying to do this is I don’t want to spend the money on a new mattress. I want to save that money for things I will need on whatever boat I’ll be moving on to when I return to the States.

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Overcoming Inertia

One of the things I brought with me from Fort Lauderdale when I moved to Panama was myYucatan hammock. Hammocks are everywhere here in Panama. There’s hardly a house or a yard that doesn’t have at least one. Nearly every store down at the bus terminal in David (dah VEED) has hammocks for sale. They are not the net style like the hammocks of the Yucatan but are a solid piece of heavy fabric instead. While I see hammocks everywhere here I don’t know if people actually use them to sleep in instead of on a mattress. When I was walking around Isla Mujeres years ago and peeking into people’s houses through their open front doors I saw quite a few hammocks strung between walls and it was obvious that people, mainly Mayans, used them as their beds. I’m pretty sure the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé, Panama’s largest indigenous tribe and who live primarily here in Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro provinces, don’t sleep in them. I constantly see them loading really cheap foam mattresses onto buses at the terminal.

The wonderful house I house-sat in Potrerillos Arriba when I first came to Panama had widely spaced columns supporting the overhanging roof and they were perfectly spaced for hammocks. In fact, they had three or four of them; the fabric kind that are sold around here. They were okay but not nearly as comfortable as my Yucatan so I swapped out one of theirs for mine for the two six-month stints I lived there.

Since then I haven’t lived anywhere where I could sling my hammock, and I didn’t want to go drilling holes into somebody else’s concrete walls to install hooks to hang it. I had seen some free-standing hammock stands at a couple of stores in David,  but, as is normally the case here, when I went to buy one they were all gone and nobody knew if they were ever going to get any more. So I went online to see if there were any plans for building a stand of my own. Silly me, of course there were.

I could buy some 2X4s and build something like this:


Or get a little fancier and build one like this:


If I wanted to get really fancy I could try to make something like this:


Uhmmmmm….probably a little bit beyond my capabilities…I’ll pass, but it WOULD be cool to have one like it, don’t ya think?

I saw a couple of plans for stands made out of galvanized pipe that wouldn’t be too hard to put together:


MEH! Lacks some kind of esthetic appeal.

And then I stumbled across what is called a Turtle Dog Stand. Again, not so esthetically pleasing, but certainly something well within my capabilities to make.

It’s fairly light weight since it’s made with 2X2s, easily portable, and can be used outdoors:

outdoor dog

Or set up indoors. No holes in the walls:

indoor dog

So, about a year ago, I went out and bought everything I needed to build one except for the connecting pole.

Then inertia set in and in the last year I’ve moved twice.

I’ve been sleeping on the air mattress I bought when the old landlords thought their sister was going to come down with them from Texas. She never did, and they never offered to pay me for it, so I figured it was mine! It’s been comfortable, but last week I heard a “POP“. when I was putting a little more air in it. It didn’t instantly deflate but while I put air in it before retiring for the night, by the time morning rolls around it’s probably lost half of the air.

Yesterday I went to the Panamanian equivalent of Lowe’s over in nearby Bugaba and bought a 10′ length of metal conduit. I wanted twelve feet, but they only sell it in 10 and 20 foot lengths. We’ll see if I can get away with the 10 footer. I didn’t want to have to throw away 8 feet of conduit if I didn’t have to.

Today I put it together. Took me a couple of hours because my COPD bothered me being bent over so much. But anyway, here it is.


I had to shorten it up a bit tying the ends to make it fit the 10 foot length but it’s fine. I’ll let you know how well I slept in it tomorrow.

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