The whole idea of language has fascinated me for years. I’m not very good at learning them. I joke that I took four years of French in high school: two years of first-year French and two years of second-year French. It didn’t do me much good when I got a job that landed me on the French Riviera back in February 1989. I could count to 100 in the language and tell people that my aunt’s pen was on my uncle’s desk (la plume de ma tante est sur la bureau de mon oncle) but I found that doesn’t come up often in everyday conversation.
What happens when you land in a situation like that, where you’re thrust into a situation where the language surrounding you isn’t yours? Essentially you become a functional illiterate. For instance: At the supermarket you see a can and the label has a picture of a tomato. There’s a good chance you’ll find tomatoes inside when you open it. You buy laundry detergent because the box or bottle look similar to those you used to buy where you came from. But while you can pretty much figure out the detergent you don’t have a clue that “javel” is French for “bleach.”
I love hamburger stroganoff. It requires sour cream. But I couldn’t find any at the supermarket. There was something called “creme fraise” but that work “fraise” seemed a lot like “fresh” to me so I never bought it and let my tastebuds yearn for the stroganoff until I learned, after a year, that “creme fraise” IS sour cream. DOH!
There were several “Of COURSE” moments in which certain words were revealed. Take vinegar, for example. Most of us know that the French word for wine is “Vin.” After a few visits to local Chinese restaurants in Antibes, I learned that the French word for “sour” is “aigre” pronounced āgra. Put French words for “wine” and “sour” together and you get, Of COURSE, “vinagre,” and wine that ages past it’s drinking life turns sour and becomes vinegar!
This one is more involved and took a couple of years to figure out. Antibes, located between Cannes and Nice on the French Riviera, is a big tourist destination. At the height of the tourist season large buses would crowd the narrow streets of the old town. On the sides of most of them was the cryptic message “K7.” I had no idea what that meant. As I began to learn more of the French language I came to know that the letter “K” is pronounced “Kah” or “Cah.”
The boat I was running was put on the hard in the town of Golfe Juan just west of Antibes, and when put back in the water we remained there. Daily my girlfriend Florence and I drove from Golfe Juan to Antibes in the afternoons for “sundowners” with our friends at Le Bar du Port. To get there we drove down Route National 7 or, phonetically, “Ere En Set.” Then one day as I was walking past a music store I noticed a sign in the window “K7” and like a thunderclap I realized it meant “CASSETTE.” Of COURSE!
Spanish was a much kinder, gentler language to cope with. For ME at least. Now, everyone who moved from the states to Panama did so with the intentions of learning to speak Spanish. Too many, though, never did. I’d hear them enter a store of business and the first words out of their mouths were the cringe-inducing “Does anybody here speak English?” I just wanted to effin’ slap them! So these people, many of the 3,500 or so expats living in and around Boquete above David (dahVEED) clique together and babble away at each other in English and then embarrass themselves when they have to deal with the natives.
When I’d meet a gringo in David I’d almost always asked them, “How’s your Spanish?” Mainly they shrugged it off saying they were “Too old to learn,” it was “Too hard.” All male bovine excrement!
My main rant to people like those was, “At our age we’re never going to become FLUENT in Spanish. Not going to happen. But you need to become PROFICIENT in Spanish. You need to be able to go, say, to Cable Onda and set up an account without dragging along translator. You need to be able to go to IDAAN, the water company and change your address without needing a translator. It’s NOT THAT DIFFICULT!!! At the VERY LEAST learn to say, ‘Lo siento, yo no hablo español.’ It will change how you are treated. If I was a Panamanian with a PhD in English translation and the first words out of your mouth were ‘Do you speak, English’ ASKED in English I’d look you square in the eye and say, ‘NO!'”
Everybody has one or two vehicles in their lives that have some special meaning. The first car they owned. Mine was a 1956 Chevy Bel Aire. Or the first car they drove over 100 mph in. Mine was my folk’s 1957 Plymouth wagon out on the Mid Cape Highway driving back to Orleans from Hyannis. That was the only make of car other than a Ford wagon my folks owned while I was living at home, and that was only the one time for about three years.
For me one of the most memorable vehicle in my life was an old, beat up Willys Jeep station wagon. Not like the ones you see on M.A.S.H.. but an early version of the Wrangler.
My dad bought it in Provincetown, the very tip of Cape Cod. It gave him a criminal record. The Jeep was unregistered so he took the license plate off our Plymouth and put it on the Jeep to drive it home to Orleans. For some reason or other he got stopped by the police in Eastham and because he’d swapped plates he ended up with a misdemeanor conviction, paid a fine ,and was placed on probation for about 6 months.
Unlike the one in the picture ours was coral pink and white. I think my dad did that with a paint brush though I didn’t see him do it. This wasn’t a new vehicle, remember.
After he had a lumbar laminectomy he couldn’t go back to work as a carpenter that winter, but one thing about my dad was his ability to spot a business opportunity. He got what was called a “Peddler’s License,” built a plywood thing-a-mah-jigger with several shelves and compartments and slid it into the back of the Jeep. We had a shed up in the woods behind the house where he’d stored a lot of equipment from the former catering business. He dug out a 5-gallon thermos for coffee. He contacted several of the suppliers he used for the Snack Shack in the summer and stocked up with candy and stuff like that. He and my mom would get up early and make dozens of sandwiches and my dad introduced the first roach coach to Orleans, Mass. The genius in this was that there was a window for this operation of only that one winter. There were, of course, the usual summer cottage constructions going on in the town as well as nearby Eastham and Brewster. But there were extra laborers working on extending the Mid Cape Highway through Orleans and up to the Eastham town line, and they were building Nauset Regional High School. He’d take off in the morning, hit all the construction sites and schmooze with his pals. He sure didn’t get rich doing this but it paid the bills and kept five hungry boys fed.
The primary function of the Jeep was to tow a trailer full of the Snack Shack’s daily trash to the dump. It wasn’t good for much more than that. The damned thing burned oil like you wouldn’t believe. It pretty much drank a quart of the stuff just to drive the eight mile round trip from our house to the beach on the other side of town and back.
One of the downsides to being the boss’s son is you rarely catch a break compared to the regular grunts that work at the place. It was in the middle of July ’59 and there’d been several continuous days of rain. First day everybody worked doing a deep cleaning. Second day half of the crew went home and the cleaning continued. Third day the other half got the day off. Repeat of the day before. Did the boss’s son? NOOOOOOO!!! Not until the fourth day. Finally my friend Fran Higgins and I got the day off.
I asked my dad if we could use the Jeep. There was a movie over in Hyannis we wanted to see. My dad said, “No. The Jeep won’t make it that far.” Fran and I really wanted to see that movie so we bought a case of motor oil and headed over to Hyannis, 30 miles away. We stopped a half dozen times or so on the way over to pour oil into the engine. I don’t remember what the movie was, but it didn’t matter in light of what was to come.
We went through the same drill on the way home, stopping to give the Jeep more oil. That is until the damned engine froze solid in Dennis, two towns away from Orleans.
I called Leo Cummings, who owned the Sunoco service station we patronized to come and tow me home. THEN I had to call my dad…
“Uh, the Jeep is a Leo’s. The engine froze.”
“Where did that happen?” my dad’s disembodied voice asked.
“On the Mid Cape.”
“Really? Which direction was it headed?”
“Okay, walk home and we’ll talk this evening.”
There were no histrionics in the conversation. It was all very civilized. My dad explained that he WASN’T going to pay to have the engine rebuilt or to have a new engine installed. But the trash HAD to go to the dump every day. So that evening I phoned “Bushy” Freeman, the only trash collector in town and made arrangements for him to take over hauling the trash for us. I PAID every week out of my pay check. It came to about 75% of what I earned. My dad was very big on object lessons.
It’s rather strange, but there are four boulders that have a special place in my lfe. They were dropped on the sands of Cape Cod as the last huge ice sheets slowly receded ten thousand years ago. Three of them reside in Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Mass, where I spent my summers before we moved to next door Orleans.
The first of these boulders we kids simply referred to as “The Big Rock.”
This thing stood close to five feet high and probably had a diameter of around ten. The road leading to Area Five where we, camped passed by it.
We, along with the Bolducs, Larivees, Cullums, Brenners, Taylors, Morrises, and my Uncle Bill and his family spent six or seven years in a row there. In my case our stay started the day school let out and ran until the day after Labor Day. Hard to believe, but even after three quarters of a century I’m STILL in contact with Suzanne Bolduc though she swapped that last name for another of French Canadian extraction.
Every once in a while an unknown family would set up in an empty spot for a spell, but the ones I’ve mentioned were ALWAYS there. That’s just one of the many reasons I loved the place. Always the same people. You see, I went to five different schools in the first seven years. I was always the “new kid.” At Nickerson I was with friends and didn’t have to fight anyone.
Back in those days my dad had a green, Chevy panel truck he used in the catering business during the winter months in Watertown and Woburn, outside Boston. In the summers back then he ran the very first Philbrick’s Snack Shack at Skaket Beach on the Bay side of Orleans, a half mile from the house we would eventually live in. In fact, the first summer he had the place Skaket Road, properly Namskaket, was DIRT. The truck had a big, exterior grill in the front made from steel strapping. We kids would go to The Big Rock many evenings and wait for him to come back from work. He’d let us sit on the fenders and hood behind the grill and we’d delight in the short ride to the campsite with the wind blowing through our sun-bleached hair.
(Note: Namskaket has a Nauset Indian derivation. The Nausets were a small Algonquian tribe, allies of the Wampanoag and speakers of a dialect of theWampanoag language.)
The summer I was 10 a family from California took the site on the other side of the dirt track from the Bolducs and ourselves. They had a pretty, precocious, girl, Sandra. She, Frannie Cullum and I would go to the Big Rock and satisfy our curiosity of the reproductive anatomy of the opposite sex. It’s a wonder we never got caught because when I passed the rock years later, and took this photo, I was surprise at how little cover there was to have kept ourselves concealed.
DEPTH GAUGE BOULDER
The state of Flax Pond in Nickerson State Park was different each summer depending on the kind of winter that had blanketed Brewster a few months earlier. If there had been a lot of snow the 54 acre pond would be high. A dry winter and the waters receded and more of the handkerchief-sized sand beach for our area would be exposed. If you visualize a clock face, our campsite was at about 5:30. The “Depth Gauge” Boulder, as I would come to think of it, but not name until just this moment, would have been at about 7:30. It was perhaps 40 feet from shore.
Arriving at the camp site a nanosecond’s glance at the pond in the direction of the boulder would tell you the water level. If the boulder was invisible the water was VERY high. Half of it basking in the sunlight meant it had been a relatively mild winter. The best time was when the pond was fairly high and only the tiny peak of the rock stood high and dry. That created a wonderful platform for small, 8, 9, and 10 year-old bodies to dive from. The rock was oblong shaped so when only the diving spike was exposed those waiting their turn could laze around on the submerged section;
Sitting at the 12 o’clock position on our imaginary clock was an impressive boulder that served as a landmark over the years. Even though it was on the other side of the pond, nearly half a mile away, it was easy to pick out against the dark green of the forest.
Sometimes, my back against a tall pitch pine at the edge of the pond, listening to the breeze sighing through the park’s pines and scrub oaks, I wondered if a Nauset Indian my age had ever sat in the same spot and stared across the water at that huge chunk of stone before Europeans ever set foot on the sands of Cape Cod.
All of us kids, boys and girls, were required to take swimming lessons over at what we called the “Public Beach.” It was located at the 9 o’clock spot on our imaginary clock face. People from all over Brewster, and some from neighboring Harwich and Orleans would come to use the nice, white sand beach under the watchful eye of a life guard.
Every morning the whole troop of us, four boys and five girls, carrying towels, would hike barefoot down a trail through the trees alongside the pond’s edge for our lessons. It wasn’t until years later that I realized why we were required to go. I mean I passed the Junior Life Saving course TWICE before we moved to Orleans. The time we were gone, and counting the hiking time to and from, was about two hours. That was the mom’s “kid-free” time. Well, except for my mom who was raising two infants.
I don’t know whose idea it was, but from when I was nine until I turned eleven, the bunch of us would swim clear across the pond from our little sandy beach to where the landmark rock sat. My mom would row the little 8-foot pram my dad built in the basement of our house one winter, to make sure none of us sank and drowned. There were turtles in the pond. Those black-shelled “sun turtles.” We’d sneak up on them as quietly as possible in our boats as they sat warming themselves on a rock and when they finally became aware of us and skidded off their perch into the water we’d dive in after them and catch them. Once in a while we’d drill a hole at the edge of their shell and thread a piece of cord through it and keep the hapless critter as a pet for a couple of days before releasing it back into the wild again. It was always fun to recapture one of the holed turtles days or weeks later. There were also snapping turtles in the pond and on our swims across the pond I always imagined one swimming up from the depths and biting me. Never happened, of course, but it COULD have. We wouldn’t have won any competitions for speed but a nearly half-mile swim is an accomplishment for a nine year-old.
What was so special about THIS boulder, out of all the boulders strewn around the park was that it guided us to one of the deepest spots in the pond. The place my mom and I would go at night to catch fish to be fried up for breakfast the next morning.
Of the several ponds in the park, Flax was the only one that didn’t have its native fish killed off and then been restocked with trout. They left Flax alone. It was filled with yellow perch and small catfish we called “hornpout.” We kids would catch minnows in the shallows and use them as bait for the perch. When we’d catch a mess of those we’d beach our boats, gather some twigs, start a fire and after gutting and scaling the fish on a rock we’d roast them over the flames on the sharpened ends of thin branches we’d cut off of nearby bushes. There was no adult supervision. We were free range kids ages 8 to 11. We carried sharp knives, matches and boundless imaginations. Most days I had a huge sheath knife strapped to my tanned waist. It was my dad’s Navy knife and on the back were carved the names of the islands in the Pacific where his ship had anchored during WWII…Tinian, Saipan, Guadalcanal, Eniwetok, Kwajelain, Leyte… we were allowed to be wild and free. Imagine that these days.
My mom loved fishing. Many nights we’d mount a little, green, horse-and-a-half, Sears and Roebuck outboard to the stern of the pram and sputter off across the pond to that fishing hole in the dark of night. Hornpout bite best at night.The light color of the boulder against the darkness of the shore was like a lighthouse for us.
That little outboard was a demon. You after opening a petcock on the fuel tank you set a little sliding whatchamacallit to “start,” pull on the choke and wind a rope around the little thing-a-ma-jigger on top and give it a yank. It would go putt, putt, spfttt. If you were lucky it would catch on the fifth or sixth pull and the boat would take off. There wasn’t any sort of transmission.
One memorable night we went over to our fishing hole, my mom cut the motor and I dropped the mushroom anchor over the side to hold us in place. We were catching them pretty good when, suddenly, my mom got a strong strike.
“Oh, I think I’ve got a bass,” she cried as her rod bent as neither of us had ever seen before. Unlike the hornpout that you essentially just reeled into the boat whatever was at the end of her line was actually putting up a struggle. Finally the head of the fish broke the surface of the pond and the body followed. And followed, and followed. She’d tied into a large eel. It was WAY too much like a snake for her tastes. She grabbed the starter rope, screamed “pull up the anchor” as she wound the rope around the little thing-a-ma-jigger on top and, without setting the slider to “start” gave one mighty pull on the rope. The engine started on that single pull, the first and only time that ever happened. The throttle was set wide open and when the motor caught it nearly ran the boat out from under my mom’s feet as it took off for home. She thumped back down on the thwart and we dragged that poor eel all the way across the pond and, essentially drowned it. She’d have nothing to do with it. Left it on the hook, left the rod and reel in the boat and high tailed it back to the camp site, went in the trailer, closed the door, and didn’t come out ’til morning.
In the morning we skinned the hornpout, rolled them in cornmeal and fried them up nice and crispy. Served them alongside blueberry pancakes that were filled with blueberries picked off bushes that grew between the campsite and the pond. THOSE are the breakfasts I can get around.
THE SENTINEL BOULDER
The house where I spent my teenage years was a half mile from Skaket Beach on Cape Cod Bay. A huge boulder stands silent sentinel in an otherwise rock-free environment.
The tidal range at Skaket, the difference between the depth of the water between high and low tide, is around ten feet. At low tide the water’s edge is nearly a mile from its high tide mark. Because the Earth rotates through two tidal “bulges” every lunar day, coastal areas experience two high and two low tides every 24 hours and 50 minutes. High tides occur 12 hours and 25 minutes apart. This disparity in time means that every other week the water level at Skaket is different. Let’s take one o’clock as an example. This week high tides will occur around one o’clock and the water’s edge will be close to the parking lot. The next week at one, the water’s edge will be a mile away.What makes Skaket so attractive to families with young children is that the water’s depth for a considerable distance from the high tide mark is relatively shallow. Unlike Nauset Beach only four and a half miles away on the Atlantic there are no large waves to contend with. More like wavelets you’d find in a pond or lake.
When the tide is out there are dozens of tidal pools that are havens for tiny critters like hermit crabs and small fish. Wonderful places for kids to get in touch with nature up close. But you’ve got to be attentive when you’re out walking the flats. If you pay attention you can actually see the tide moving towards the dry, sandy stretch of beach and before you know it you may find yourself standing on a bar with thirty or forty yards of water between you and the next dry spot.
One of the good things about having the flats exposed during the morning to early afternoon is that the sun heats the sand and the sand, in its turn, heats the incoming water so it’s almost like a bathtub at high tide. Water temperature will be in the mid 80F range. Over at Nauset on the other side of town 62F is considered “warm.”
You can’t climb around on this rock. As you can see in the photo much of it is covered with barnacles that will slice and dice you faster than a Ginsu knife on an infomercial. When I was young it used to be festooned with mussels, too. But back then no one ate mussels. Especially not Cape Coddahs. “Yah, cahn’t eat them. They’ll kill yah. Yah evah look at ’em? Why, theyz ORANGE. Yah cahn’t eat orange shellfish. Stick with things like cohawgs an soff shell piss clams.” When I ate my first mussel decades later I was SO pissed that it had taken that long to taste one. You won’t find mussels growing off that rock any more now that people realize they won’t “kill ya.”
Since returning to The Swamp off the Saint Johns River in Central Florida after my birthday trip to Chicago I have started, slowly, to begin a daily exercise regimen. A physical therapist gave me a two page list of low aerobic exercises to do. And sometimes I actually do most of them.
After purchasing my portable oxygen concentrator I have begun a walking program. I’m not pushing it too hard. I do, after all, carry three stents in my heart. Because of my COPD my lung capacity is only 21% of what it should be. Over the last week I’ve been walking every morning and afternoon on top of walking from my boat to the air conditioned “Escape Pod.” Ive been walking in small “laps” to supplement the longer pod walk. Yesterday I walked a half mile all together in bits and pieces.
Last night I opened Google Earth and measured the length of the road I take from the lane out of where my boat is moored to where it makes a 90 degree bend. It’s .3 of a mile. I’m going to give that a shot this morning. Not going to try and do it all in one shot. That’s the goal, however.
The first goal is smaller, yet. In Chicago I had a bad time navigating one city block in particular. I had to stop three times to catch my breath. I didn’t have the concentrator then, just the albuterol inhaler. The last time I stopped I was actually down on one knee! People passing by inquired if I was “all right?” Yah, sure, I just do this all the time to elicit sympathy from strangers.
This is where I walked for a half mile today.
Quarter mile up and quarter mile back to where I’d parked the SUV. Plenty of shady spots along the way in which to rest and catch my breath because I couldn’t do this all in one shot. The oxygen concentrator doesn’t prevent me from becoming short of breath, but it DOES HELP with the rebound time to a healthier blood/oxygen level.
Now, at the end of the day and ensconced on my boat with a fan on me and the concentrator plugged in for charging, I checked my pedometer readings. Including the trek to and from the “Pod” I managed to walk .6 of a mile today. Best day yet.
Not a big deal for most people, but for this 80 year-old geezer it’s progress. Baby steps.
This was a request for donations to help me purchase a portable oxygen concentrator. I received a goodly number of contributions which, when added to my meager savings allowed me to purchase an Inogen g3 unit. Therefor have closed the Go Fund Me account. Thanks to everyone that helped.
I’m not sure I’d call this a “Good Adventure” but I entered a new stage of my life Last Wednesday: living with supplemental oxygen. Breathing has gotten much more difficult over the last year. A couple of weeks ago I went to the pulmonologist received a prescription for supplemental oxygen. Since I live on a small sailboat on a canal off the Saint Johns River in Central Florida the use of oxygen tanks was out of the question. The solution had to be a portable oxygen concentrator. I spent hours on line looking at various makes and models. I decided that either the Inogen G3 or the G5 would be what I wanted. The Inogen G3 is one of the concentrators most often mentioned as a top unit in dependability and durability. Trying to find out what the damned things actually cost, and I mean this about ALL the manufacturers, not just Inogen, is worse than trying to get an auto insurance quote online. Everyone requires you to give them an email address so they can clutter up your email inbox with spam for the rest of your life. I finally broke down and gave my info to a couple of companies that seemed to offer the best info, less prices. A brand new unit runs a bit over $3K.
Doesn’t Medicare cover the expense? Well, sometimes, but not often and it’s really convoluted. What it boils down to is you have to require oxygen 24/7. I don’t. Even if you do, then Medicare will ONLY cover the costs of RENTING a unit from an oxygen supplier. I was sorta stuck, so I have to go ahead an buy one.
I talked to someone who had a G3 for sale on Facebook Market Place for $800, but after sleeping on it for a night decided I didn’t want to take the chance on a used unit with no warranty. But I did find a refurbished Imogen G3 with a one year warranty for a grand less than a brand new one with a three year warranty. Hell, I might not even be around in three years what with three stents in my heart as is so the single year is okay by me.
So Wednesday the unit arrived. We’ll see if it actually changes my life.
There are two lithium ion batteries. Of course it’s shipped with the smaller one but that’s supposed to give four hours running time alone at the second setting. They claim the “double” battery, at $350+ will give up to 10 hours running time.
It’s not very big. Nine inches high, eight and three-quarters wide, and three inches thick. It weighs in at a bit over five pounds. Came with a carrying case with a shoulder strap, a 110 volt power supply that charges the battery while also operating the unit, and a car cigarette lighter plug thingy to charge it while you’re driving.
I was a copywriter for an ad agency once so I know how all that stuff works. In all the literature about the various portable oxygen concentrators there are pictures of people with these things stuck up their noses doing stuff like running marathons, playing rugby and white water rafting. Not that I’d be doing any of that crap if I didn’t have COPD and I did exaggerate a tad about what people are doing in that promotional literature, but they all have cat that ate the canary grins on their faces. Me? I’ll be happy if I can walk a city block without collapsing as I did in Chicago in July. Well, not total collapse, but I had to stop three times in one block and the last time I was down on a knee because I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs.
When I got back to The Swamp with the unit it only took a couple of minutes to set it up and hit the power-on button. I’d watched several YouTube vids in advance. So, after going on my boat for my computer in a backpack and my oxymeter on its cord over my neck I sat at the picnic table a little winded. as usual. The oxymeter gave me a blood/oxygen reading of 91%. I put the cannula on and within a couple of minutes the reading was up to 97%. I kept a log of my blood oxygen levels through the month of August and rarely saw it hit above 92%. Generally it was hovering in the upper 80s and lower 90s.
I gathered my stuff and headed to the air conditioned “pod” a couple of hundred feet away. I know that’s not far for almost everyone who might be reading this, but often I would have to stop at the half to three quarters mark until I could breathe well enough to continue, and when I’d get to the table outside the pod I was usually done in and need to take a couple of hits off my inhaler.
The G3 is NOT a miracle. But I was able to make it all the way to the table in one go and, while winded, I didn’t feel the need to use the inhaler. Honest I didn’t.
My 02 reading said 91% but it was back up to 97% in under a minute and I was breathing like the rest of the world shortly after that.
All the literature about COPD and the doctors I’ve consulted all say that exercise, while seemingly counter intuitive, is necessary for patients to do. I have some exercises I’m supposed to be doing and now I’m going to start walking again to build up strength in my lungs once more.
Next will be going out in public with this thing stuck under my nose. But I’m sure I’ll get over the embarrassment, Took me a little while to get over the embarrassment of holding a stupid sign at the airports when I was doing pick ups for a limo service pre-9/11. And if anyone it going to offer me sympathy because of my condition I’m going to milk it to the max!