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November 4th, 2021

Life Happens…

Facebook helpfully provides a daily Things That You Posted On This Date Through The Years link…

This is about the premiere of Morgan Jon Fox’s documentary This Is What Love In Action Looks Like. It’s about the protests over teenagers being forced into ex-gay conversion therapy at a place in Memphis Tennessee. I contributed both photography for it and some money, so I got screen credits for Photography and as an Associate Producer.

I’m sixty-eight years old now, and on the cusp of retirement, and I see this and I’m thinking, wow…it’s been a life hasn’t it Bruce Garrett…

Cartoonist, photographer, software engineer, woodworker, roadie for a local blues band, architectural model maker, burger flipper, stock clerk in a psychiatric hospital, JWST ground systems test conductor, associate producer…

I can remember looking out across the Washington DC rail yards and seeing steam engines. I remember when most of the passenger airplanes I saw overhead were propeller driven. I saw the beginnings of the jet age, then the space age. I listened to short wave radio so I could get the news from abroad. I remember the weird sounds of the Soviet Union jammers trying to keep Radio Free Europe out. I remember the transition to color TV. I watched the first satellite TV broadcast from overseas. I watched live as Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon. I remember the transition to wireless telephones, then to cell phones. I was among the first generation of 18 year olds to cast a vote in a presidential election. I registered for the draft when I turned 18, went for my pre-induction physical when I got the notice, stood in a line with a bunch of other 18 year olds in our underwear as we were poked and prodded by military doctors for suitability as Vietnam war canon fodder. I did my own maintenance on my first car, changing spark plugs, adjusting the distributor points, and checking the timing with a timing light. I remember the first gasoline drought and why it mattered if your license tag ended in an even or odd number. I built my first computer from parts I got at a HAM fest and taught myself how to program it. I walked in the first national Gay Rights march. I walked grieving and terrified among the Names Project quilt panels. I have stood in a protest line across from a camp that forced gay teenagers into ex-gay therapy, talked with the survivors young and old. I have spoken test instructions across the NASA deep space network, talked to astronauts that serviced the Hubble Space Telescope. I have a piece of it they brought back on my den wall.

It’s a small thing I suppose, but my handwritten signature has been into space three times, carried on an Institute banner during Hubble servicing missions. A little piece of me made it into space.

Yeah. It’s been a life.

Someone who joined a Zoom happy hour I hit every now and then said I should write a memoir, but it would be exhausting to do and probably very confusing for anyone to read. What is your point Mr. Garrett?? I dunno…shit happens I guess…

by Bruce | Link | React!

November 3rd, 2021

1971

From a memories group I follow…

Ah yes…1971…a year to remember. Even more so than the following year when I graduated.

In 1971 Canon of Japan began making the Canon F-1. Up to then it was the Nikon F that was the iconic pro 35mm SLR camera. But it was a late 1950s design that was only by virtue of the camera body’s bombproof build quality and the ability to stay current with new attachments, like a Kirby vacuum, that enable it to stay on top. I was dissatisfied, too much of it seemed to be retrofitted and not organic to its design. Nowadays I’d call it a kludge camera, but I have more respect for it because it really was (apart from the photomic metering prisms) a workhorse, and I even own one myself now. When I saw the first ads for the Canon F-1 in the photography magazines they hit me like a lightning bolt. Everything about it was state of the art and completely organic to its design. And it was a beautiful camera. I knew instantly, that was My Camera. But it was expensive, and hard to find in the states for a long long time. That summer break I worked my first W2 job in the kitchen of a fast food joint making a tad over that minimum wage. That, plus selling my Miranda Sensorex allowed me to buy an F-1 in time for my senior year of high school.

 

 

When I got it home and unboxed it and held it in my hands for the first time I knew I had My Camera. I still have it.  

In 1971 my cartoons would see print for the first time in the student newspaper. Later I would also become its photographer. For the first time in my life my artistic talents were being appreciated and nurtured (my first grade teacher wrote in my school record that I took “excessive interest in personal art projects”). The bullying and low expectations of my early childhood began to slough away. I began to really believe in myself. It was different from believing that I believed in myself. I could see a future for a kid like me. Maybe.

The summer of 1971 was when I got my driver’s license. Mom would let me drive her car, a basic 1968 Plymouth Valiant, and I began my love affair with the open road. But another love affair was percolating in my teenage hormones.

The year would end with me finally coming out to myself December 15. First love. It was wonderful, I was completely twitterpated. It changed everything.

And couldn’t tell anyone. 1971 was not the time for a gay teenager to be out about it.

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 20th, 2021

Solidarity

I had a full day today in the JWST Mission Operations Center, working on an automated performance testing program (‘program’, not as in software but as in “a set of related measures or activities with a particular long-term aim.” It’s very tedious because it’s running through the same set of operations over and over and over and over and…so on… But this is necessary to insure the MOC systems can handle the stress of launch and commissioning, and also to make sure that the small fixes and updates to the systems haven’t broken anything that Was working previously.

As I said…tedious. And I have other things on my plate at work that I need to attend to. But for various reasons I won’t go into here, these tests needed to be done this week. It is Important to do these tests at this time. So I stay on it. Everything we do now is critical to moving us toward launch, and after that, commissioning. Then we have a space telescope that will show us amazing things about the early universe, and maybe even find life on nearby planets. I was in on Monday…I’ll be working this through Thursday at least. I want to see this thing through to launch (still scheduled for the end of October), but I am counting down the weeks until I retire. I have other things I want to do with my life, before I run out of life.

I come home, tired…very tired. I’m feeling my age more now. There’s a Hemingway quote about going broke that maps very well to getting old: gradually, and then suddenly. Yeah. That. I make some dinner…a frozen package thing from the chest freezer because I am too tired even to think now. I just want to sleep. It’s the routine repetitive work that drags me down.

I turn on the TV. Smithsonian channel is running stuff about the Apollo moon landing. Oh yeah…that was today. 52 years ago. I remember watching it raptly on the black and white vacuum tube TV in our 1969 garden apartment living room. I even took a few snapshots of the TV screen while it was happening. There were no home video recorders in 1969.

I remember how it felt, I remember how amazing it all was. There really was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day back then. Everything was possible. I watched them put human footprints on the moon.

And then I realize I spent the day today working in the JWST MOC and I hadn’t even remembered today was the anniversary the entire time I was in there. I was busy. I had a job to do. Solidarity reaches across the decades and taps me on the shoulder. I’m really here now. I’m really part of all this. It’s about time I started believing it. I don’t think 15 year old me would have figured there was where I would be in 52 years. Certainly certain maternal family members would never have believed it. I should really stop carrying that weight around with me. I did my job, and I’ll get back to it tomorrow.

And I will feel a little less old and tired…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Solidarity

June 19th, 2021

When Which Day Of The Week It Is Stops Mattering

Since I was a schoolboy the days of the week always meant something. There is as significance in the name of the day. Monday-Friday are work days. Monday is the dreary start of the work week. Friday is the end of it. Then comes the weekend. Woo Hoo! Friday happy hour!!! What happens when none of it matters for anything in particular? There is no work week. Every day is the weekend. How does that even work?

Could be nice to find out. But I have a hunch it’ll take years before I get comfortable with it. I’ll be going to meetings in my dreams, and missing deadlines for the rest of my life. Some nights I’m still in my awful junior high school. I haven’t studied for the test and I forgot to put my clothes on. Retirement is going to be like that isn’t it.

I’m retiring at the end of this year. It’s a big step but I am really beginning to feel my age now. There’s a Hemingway quote about going broke that maps pretty well to how it is to get old: gradually, and then suddenly. I can feel it now. The heart attack happened a couple years ago, and a year after that I had another heart “event” but that’s not it. It’s the fatigue I’m feeling now practically all the time. Don Juan was absolutely right about the forth foe. So I decided to take the next step and sometime before years end apply for my social security benefit, and then take leave of the Institute after 23 years working there. The plan is to spend the last years of my life working more on my artwork and photography, maybe finish a couple stories I’ve worked on. Maybe even get some of it published.

I hope not to get dragged back into computer work…I actually enjoy programming but it’s not as close to my heart and soul as the artwork. I’m going to get shed of a ton of computer books when I retire. I kept so many books because it’s a resource I might need and because it was my profession for the last 35 years. I won’t need my computers for work anymore, but I use them heavily for my artwork these days so there is no getting rid of those. The money software engineering made me is why I can retire pretty comfortably now, if not fabulously. But it’s time to move on. For a variety of reasons I never pursued my artistic interests professionally, and so I never had enough time to spend on it.  It’s going to feel wonderful to finally have all the time I want.

And…yeah…I’ll probably still have to keep paying attention to which day of the week it is, because that’s how the world works. I need to go to the store…is today a rush hour day…maybe I should wait a while…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When Which Day Of The Week It Is Stops Mattering

June 9th, 2021

The Wrecking Ball That Breaks Your Heart One Day, Lifts Your Spirits The Next

Time passes…the universe expands…I’ve lived long enough to see so many of my kidhood haunts coming down. Rockville it seems, is a city that just wants to eat itself all the time. Shortly after mom and I moved there, they tore down the old city center and built a doomed shopping mall they eventually tore down just a decade or so later, and then tore down what they’d built on top of that. A classmate posted that you can’t go home again, and I replied that’s especially true if home was Rockville, because you’ll get lost they’ve re-routed so many of the roads we used to drive down. I’m still stunned that Randolph Road now goes under Rockville Pike. My beloved high school got torn down recently and I’m still miserable over it, but I got a keepsake brick so there’s that. So much of my past is vanishing under the wrecking ball. But it’s not all bad. In fact, sometimes it’s wonderful.

Just heard on another page that this place is going under the wrecking ball next week. I couldn’t be more delighted. It was originally called Fritzbe’s. I have a particularly bad memory…a really Bad Memory…that place played a supporting role in. I have wanted to see it razed for decades.

What Happened:

It was a lovely summer night in 1981. I was in my middle twenties and on the downside of my second disastrous crush. We were close, or so I thought. I sent him love letters from the road while on a road trip with friends in the southwest. On my return it seemed we became even closer. But he was straight. What I learned from it is that straight guys can fall in love with other guys too, but for them it’s a purely platonic thing. For the gay guy who gets that deeply involved with a straight guy it’s a heart wrenching mess.

That night in 1981 he suggested we go to this new place that opened. It would have been at one time an easy walk, nearly a straight line from the apartment I grew up in to Congressional Plaza or the Radio Shack across the street from it. But the new Metro subway system was under construction and my path across the railroad tracks was now forever blocked, so my friend picked me up at the apartment and we went to Fritzbe’s. At Fritzbe’s I learned another lesson.

I was having a night out at a new place with the guy I was still crushing on madly. So I put on my best blue jeans and favorite shirt, got my long hair all washed and blow dried, put on my new Nike’s. But let’s face it, I was a scrawny ugly faced twenty-something no matter how well I dressed, and the summer humidity probably didn’t do wonders for my hair either. We got to the door to Fritzbe’s and there were two doormen standing there. One of them said my friend could go inside, but I couldn’t.

I was stunned. My friend told me he wanted to go in and just look around for a bit. So he did and I waited while the doormen made sure I stayed outside. When he returned it was clear to me that he wanted to spend the evening with the other cool people inside but first he had to figure out a way to dump me without making it look like he was dumping me. My memory of the rest of that night is a bit fuzzy, but I clearly recall saying something on the order of what’s wrong with me that I can’t come in I look okay, and under his breath he said “actually no you don’t”. So that was that. I politely excused myself from the evening and walked back home.

I got put in my place…which, of course I was. What was I thinking when I went out that night? Me? Really? The weird kid from the other side of the tracks. Clothes he bought at Sears or JC Penney…hair’s a mess…crooked teeth…no social skills at all…queer… Oh I know… Falling in love feels so wonderful, until the moment you hit the ground. It was impossible anyway, he was straight after all, but had the positions been reversed I’d have walked away from that place rather than go inside without my friend. I’ve actually done that a time or two. But that night I saw I was disposable. And that’s never just a circumstantial thing. It is what you are. Always.

People who look like that, want people who look like that…

Fritzbe’s eventually folded…I can’t imagine why. Well yes I can. Turn the uncool away as a matter of policy, to cultivate the shallow beautiful people, and eventually they’ll flit away to the Next Big Thing and what’s left are all the customers you might have had if you hadn’t pissed them off. So the name on the door changed but I never set foot in there. I was told not to go in and I don’t need telling twice. And now it’s going under the wrecking ball.

In its place, so I’m told, will be a massive new development of some sort that will occupy the entire block. Until that eventually gets torn down. Rockville just does that to itself. But eventually so does everywhere. The only thing that endures is the reputation you made for yourself. Whoever owned that chain and set its policies and created its theming probably made a lot of beautiful people very happy for a little while, and broke a lot of hearts for much, much longer. And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.

I probably shouldn’t blame the poor building. Like Hill House in Shirley Jackson’s novel, some places cannot help but take the shape of their builders souls. And the people who occasionally occupy them. But I am definitely taking one of my cameras down to the old neighborhood and snapping a few shots of the destruction. I’m toying with the idea of taking a few c notes with me and asking the wrecking crew if I can pay them to let me take a few whacks at it myself. But probably I’ll just go watch for a while, snap a few photos, and applaud at inappropriate moments.

I could hope they sow the ground with salt afterward. But concrete and asphalt will do.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Wrecking Ball That Breaks Your Heart One Day, Lifts Your Spirits The Next

December 31st, 2020

Happy Same Old New Year!

Tom Tomorrow (aka Dan Perkins) is a cartoonist I’ve followed avidly since I first saw his cartoons in the local alternative weeklies (many of which have gone belly up in the print news devastation). I love his strip This Modern World, and when I needed a new host for my own personal website I did an nslookup to see who his was, thinking that if they were cool with his cartoons they’d be cool with mine and my blog.

He suffered a divorce a few years ago and he’s occasionally bled about it on twitter. Apparently it was sudden and unexpected. This thread he posted today this New Year’s Eve speaks to me so much…

“Three years ago today I was crawling out of the wreckage of a previous life, moving into my new apartment in New York on the coldest day of the year, absolutely no clue what lay ahead…”

“Some of it was very good and some of it not so much … and then we got to March, 2020 and everything sort of flatlined…”

“I wasn’t expecting to live the life I have now, but … it’s definitely been interesting. And sometimes, really good!”

That is so much me in many ways. And yet, my situation could not be more different. I reckon that speaks to the universal human condition. I didn’t suffer a divorce, but that’s because I never had the lover. The breakups in my life did not happen after years and years of peace and joy and happiness. So they would not have been as wounding. I suppose. Instead the wound was a never ending cloudy drizzly sky I somehow became accustomed to. A constant ache from a place within that should not have been so empty for so long. There was nothing in my romantic life to loose. But I lost everything. And now I’m 67, and given my own set of recent events, health-wise, I’m not sure I have a lot of life left.

Loosing both parents changes you. Old age changes you. The first heart attack, or whatever that first serious brush with death due to an aging body is, changes you. In some ways for the better. You kinda stop giving a flying fuck about things you probably never should have anyway. The regrets you’ve carried with you all this time get shuffled and re-arranged, and maybe some of them weren’t all that worth carrying around anyway. Baggage is dropped. But then fresh baggage is picked up along the way. It always is.

It’s odd in a way for me the elder man to be watching how the younger ones deal with their life’s knife wounds in a way that teaches me how to live with mine…at least a tad. I wasn’t expecting to live the life I have now, but…it’s definitely been interesting. And sometimes, really good! Yeah…I can relate. And especially to a previous tweet he put out there about how nobody wants to hear about getting kneecapped by love…probably because they’ve all been kneecapped too at some point and nobody knows how to deal with it. Yeah…I can relate. Absolutely. Somewhat.

And here’s the thing…all those times in my life when I’ve been asked/challenged/preached to, in the context of a discussion relating to my sexual orientation, if I had it to do over would I still want to be a homosexual…in the expectation that of course I would choose to be a heterosexual…all those times I may have stared back at them like they were from another planet…what’s going through my mind just then is You’re heterosexual and you’ve lived your entire life in that world and you’re trying to tell me that the grass is greener on Your side of the fence?? What have you been smoking all this time?

I’m sorry for what happened to you Mr. Perkins. I’m sorry for what happens to all of us. Somehow we manage. What I learned in 2020 is romantic alienation did not prepare me at all for imposed alienation. This is worse. In a world full of broken hearts at least we had each other…

“…but man I miss the possibility of a weekly hangout in that dive bar.”

…and our favorite local bar.

Here’s to the new year. May the day come quickly when we can at last all be brokenhearted together once more.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Happy Same Old New Year!

December 6th, 2020

The Lover Is A Monotheist…

The lover is a monotheist who knows that other people worship different gods but cannot himself imagine that there could be other gods. -Theodor Reik

I’m working diligently on the next two episodes of A Coming Out Story, and I’ve taken to listening to the Spotify playlist that Beth David and Esteban Bravo put up as their background music while working on their animated film about a schoolboy’s first crush, In A Heartbeat. It’s surprisingly appropriate, but at some point I might make my own playlist for A Coming Out Story. (It should probably be all 60s/early 70s songs)

Those days are long gone, and yet so much of the adult I eventually became was because of that period in my life. I survived admitting to myself that I am a homosexual, possibly the most awful thing you could be back in 1971, apart maybe from being a communist or a hippy, because I was was in love, completely and utterly twitterpated. When the realization finally broke through it was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I swear it really was like something out of a Walt Disney movie…the birds sang a little more sweetly, the stars shone a little more brightly, I walked with a lighter step…everything was beautiful. It saved my life. I never doubted afterward that there was nothing wrong with me, or with any of us. But it did not end well. It often doesn’t for teenage lovers, and gay kids especially back then, and even now, have their own excruciating battle to fight for their hearts and their dreams. But if you never had that thrilling first love experience in your teen years, I am sorry for you.

Supposedly Kurt Vonnegut once told his daughter that you are allowed to fall deeply in love three times in your life. I think about that quote often when I look back. I’ve had my three strikes. But the quote above expresses how it was for me perfectly. It was always like that for me. Always.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Lover Is A Monotheist…

May 24th, 2020

Well Since I Can’t Go Anywhere This Holiday Weekend…

…I might as well do some lawn work. Especially since the rainy spring has made it hard to get it done previously. Gets the grass and weeds growing though…

So I took care of my tiny backyard in lieu of going to Ocean City NJ or somewhere…like Walt Disney World which is closed now except for maybe Disney Springs. But Florida is a hot spot I don’t want to get into for the foreseeable future. Still don’t think I’m putting any flowers or garden lights out this season because going to the lawn and garden stores just for that seems a frivolous reason to catch the virus So the best I can do for the outside of my house this year is just basic maintenance which I can do without going to the store. I sharpened the lawn mower blades a couple weeks ago, and did some repairs to the Ryobi weed whacker. At least I can keep things from looking like an abandoned house.

Standing on my deck, exhausted but pleased with the results, I had a sudden strong urge for a cigar. First really strong urge I’ve had since just before the heart attack. I’ve actually been surprised I haven’t been periodically getting those urges, but I reckon cigars just aren’t as addictive as cigarettes. No I didn’t.

Haven’t smoked one since the first week of October last year. I am well aware of the stress they put on my cardiovascular system…at least the smooth strong ones I’ve always enjoyed. It was a package deal with the pleasant nicotine buzz I got. I could feel my veins constricting. So I knew perfectly well what I was doing to myself. But I needed that nicotine buzz from time to time in my stressed out life. I’m actually surprised my psyche hasn’t demanded more of that since the heart attack. But just now it did and I didn’t. My psyche demands a lot of things of me that I either can’t or won’t give it, or infinitely defer it. Another trip to California for instance, right this minute for instance.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Well Since I Can’t Go Anywhere This Holiday Weekend…

April 24th, 2020

Hubble 25 Flashback

Today is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. Here’s a picture the birthday boy took

Thirty years ago today (April 24), Hubble launched into space on a mission to open humanity’s eyes to the wonders of the cosmos. In a new Hubble image released today, the telescope captured two neighboring clouds of cosmic dust and gas: the giant red nebula NGC 2014 and a smaller blue nebula nearby called NGC 2020.

…and here’s a shot from Hubble’s 25th, taken in front of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore Maryland. (click for larger view)

The astronauts participating in the last servicing mission are front and center. Institute crew and some of their lucky kids surround them. Steve Hawley, in the red tie in the center, lifted HST out of the shuttle on the robot arm. Next to him is commander Scott Altman. The guy in the red shirt off to the right with the camera is expecting to wake up from a dream at any moment…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Hubble 25 Flashback

October 30th, 2019

Throwback Thursday Only Wednesday

Facebook tossed this memory back at me earlier today…

This is the winter of 1971. I’m 17. The artist at work. 

I love this one, unruly hair, oversized canvas jacket that I thought was oh so stylish, and mismatched shirt collar though it is. It was taken by a friend with my camera for possible inclusion into the yearbook. In my senior year I was staff cartoonist for the student newspaper (The Advocate…really) and was also made staff photographer after the previous one had a tiff with the editors and quit. What I like about this shot is my friend actually managed a snap when, for an instant, I got into the drawing I was working on and was actually concentrating on it there for a moment. It’s not often I get to see my concentration face.

I’m posing at one of the art room desks, not pretending to draw but actually drawing one of my newspaper cartoons. Even though the shot had to be posed I insisted I would be working on something for real, not faking it. That has always been my photographic style. In this shot you can’t see my hand with the pen in it, but that’s the drawing on the board and paper in front of me. The tackle box also in front of me is typical. The artist’s tool boxes they sold in art stores were Expensive and I noticed they looked a lot like the tackle boxes they sold in the sporting goods section of most department stores, which were a lot cheaper. To this day I have a tackle box full of drawing stuff on my drafting table.

And this by the way is why to this day I draw on a horizontal surface and not with the drafting table top tilted at an angle like I see a lot of other artists do. All my grade school art rooms had tables like these and I just got used to drawing that way. And see the board I have the paper on. I still cut Masonite boards to use for drawing and tape the paper on them. Then I have the paper on a nice smooth solid surface I can turn this way and that while I’m working on it and even tilt if I really need to.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Throwback Thursday Only Wednesday

October 18th, 2019

My Little Heart Attack Diary

As they were wheeling me into the elevator to take me to the room where they put the heart stents in, the doctor told me I looked very calm for someone who’d just been told they’re having a heart attack. But until the moment I got the diagnosis I was full of all kinds of dire imaginings over what was happening. It just didn’t feel like I was told a heart attack was supposed to feel. It felt more like a massive heartburn, or damage to my throat because of all the wheezing and coughing I did after the flu I’d just had, or worse…damage from throat cancer maybe, from the cigars I like to smoke. But now I knew…I was having a heart attack. It wasn’t the fearful unknown anymore. And I was in the ER, surrounded by one of the best hospitals to be having a heart attack in on the east coast. I felt myself to be in good hands. And I was.

It sorta started on my Walt Disney World vacation last month. I’d taken two weeks this time because it was a milestone birthday. I would be old enough now to draw full Social Security benefits if I wanted to. Which I didn’t…my plan is to keep working at Space Telescope at least through launch of James Webb. If I can keep working until age 70 I’ll have a very good retirement package, and since my job isn’t very physical I reckoned that was possible. But in the second week of it I came down with a flu. After that I started feeling my age more than I’d expected. I had a really bad cough for weeks afterward, and I was fatigued beyond anything I had known before. In retrospect, that fatigue was probably a symptom of what was to come.

Back home, I checked in twice to a local walk-in clinic for the cough, which just wasn’t going away. They diagnosed me as having bronchitis, which so I’m told is basically you have a cough. They gave me some meds which took care of the cough, but then I started feeling heartburn, every night, in the middle of the night.

It would wake me up, and I would sit it out. At first it all seemed pretty routine. Sometimes I’d take a Tums for it, and it would go away. Daytimes I felt fine. But at night the heartburn kept coming back. And it was getting worse. I began to worry there was damage to my throat from all the coughing I’d done. Then I began to worry about something else. I am an occasional cigar smoker. And by “occasional” I mean I can go for months without smoking one, or I can get on a jag about it…usually because of some life stress…and smoke one every day for a while, usually at night after dinner. First week of my Walt Disney World vacation I was smoking them every night a the Sosa Cigar Company in Disney Springs. They have a nice little cigar lounge were you can smoke a nice one and watch the people go by. But while cigars aren’t likely to give you lung cancer (you don’t inhale the smoke), they can give you cancer of the esophagus. They also stress the heart and blood vessels, but I was more worried now about cancer.

For several days the night heartburn just kept getting worse and worse. Daytime was fine…except now I was getting severely out of breath walking to and from work. I figured it was an after effect of the bronchitis. Maybe I’d damaged my lungs in some way. Maybe the cigars Had given me a lung cancer. One of my coworkers recently died of it. Suddenly. She was a pretty heavy cigarette smoker, but I was stunned at how fast it took her from us. I’d run into her on The Avenue just the previous week and she looked fine. Then she was gone. I was starting to get a bit scared, but not of my heart. The stabbing chest pains I’d been told to expect in every Hollywood movie or TV show when somebody had a heart attack weren’t happening. It just felt like heartburn. Really really bad heartburn, and slightly above my heart, and just below my throat, in the center of my chest. But there was another factor, that caused me not to rule out the heart attack entirely: When the pain came on, I got noticeably numb at the tips of my fingers. In retrospect I should have paid closer attention to that.

Last Monday morning, in the wee hours. It woke me up again and it was really bad. I think I might have snarfed down half a bottle of Tums. It came and went…something else I didn’t think a heart attack did. When it was gone I felt fine. Great even. Then it would come on me again, a bit worse than before. What I failed to fully appreciate then was there is a stage before the actual heart attack comes on, when the blockage in one or more blood vessels is starting to cut off the flow of blood in a significant way and a patch of your heart stops getting enough blood. That’s when you need to take action to prevent the damage from happening. But I was 4/5ths certain it was damage to my throat I was feeling.

By the time morning came, I’d decided I needed to go to the ER to get it looked at. The pain was getting scary. I figured I’d get a ride to Union Memorial, which is nearby, in my network, and one of the best. I was trying to avoid the ambulance ride because of the possible expense. It’s the abysmal way we have healthcare set up in this country. Is the provider “in network” or not? How can I tell? It’s not like they wear their insurance company credentials on their lab coats or the ambulance doors like race cars wear their advertisers. I was sitting down composing an email to my coworkers and manager, telling them I was taking a sick day, when the pain came back pretty forcefully. It was now officially scary enough that I called 911.

When the EMT truck came the pain had gone away again. The EMTs gave me an EKG and saw nothing. But I’d told them about the numbness and they strongly suggested I go to the hospital. I agreed…I was going there anyway…and they strapped me in and away we went, sans lights since this didn’t seem to be an emergency.

By the time they wheeled me into the ER the pain was coming back. The ER techs took another EKG. The doctor sent back a request for another, but by then the pain had gone away way. He asked for a third and the pain was back. He came into the room and told me I was having a heart attack. Not had…having. And that I was going right away to get it taken care of. Stents, not a bypass, though I wouldn’t have been surprised about a bypass: two of my high school classmates have already had major bypass surgery. 

But for me it was the stents. Union Memorial is state of the art…I was to get them inserted through a major artery in my right arm, not the groin. The procedure was completely painless. I was laid out on a table, drugged up, oxygenated, my right arm strapped to a board flat and straight out, some sort of device hovering over me that I assume was a scanner that could see into my chest. It moved about here and there over me like a curious large bird, while the doctor and the technicians and nurses chatted. Occasionally they’d call out numbers which might have been related to the position of the device they were moving up my artery, or heart and blood data points. I felt very calm. That might have been the sedatives. And curious. But I played rag doll the entire time so they could do their jobs. It was over in just a few minutes. Or seemed to be anyway…that might also have been the sedatives. The chest pain was gone.

They moved me to the Cardio Unit, and kept me overnight for observation. Two stents had been put in, and a third was staged for insert, but determined to be unnecessary. I was wired up to an EKG machine and an automatic blood pressure tester. Eventually they hooked the wires up to a portable EKG device that talked wirelessly to the big one in my room, so I could take short walks around the unit, so they could see how my heart behaved. The next morning they gave my heart a sonogram. It was…interesting…to see it beating there on the screen. Sixty-six years and a few weeks it’s been beating without stop. It’s the one muscle in the body that never rests. Now mine had damage, because I’d let the chest pain go and tried to tough it out and maybe it’ll go away and it wasn’t what I thought it was. It was my heart telling me to take action.

But I was unreasonably, fantastically lucky all the same. I’d had the actual heart attack in the hospital, where I was surrounded by a first rate cardio care facility. Within minutes I’d had the blockage causing the attack cleared. When the head cardiologist talked to me before I was discharged, he was almost bubbling over with satisfaction at how little actual damage to my heart there was, because they were able to get me into care so quickly. He had a small group of intern trainees there with him, and I was his case study for them, probing me with his stethoscope, telling them here’s where you look for this sort of damage…but he doesn’t have it…and here’s where you look for this other sort of damage…but he doesn’t have it…

But I have damage. It’s the minimum amount of possible damage that could have happened, given the sort of heart attack I had. But now my heart has damage. I have heart disease. Now I have to deal with that fact.

But here’s one amazing thing about all of this. I have better blood flow now, because the blockage is gone. The fatigue is gone. Mostly. I’m feeling the after effects of the heart attack and that’s to be expected. For the next several weeks I will be on strict orders to take it easy. I won’t be allowed to walk to work like I normally do, possibly for months. No road trips for months probably, although I’ll be able to drive locally, and in fact driving is what they would prefer I do. I will have to be careful and not stress my body and heart. But I can see that if I follow doctor’s orders and get into a regular exercise routine I will end up feeling Much more energetic than before I had the heart attack. Much more. This is wonderful! And I think, one reason why so many people don’t follow instructions and stick to the plan after a heart attack. You have better blood flow, and the effect of it is really Really noticable. Hey…I’m feeling great…and that eggs Benedict is looking so very nice… But energy is the least amazing part of what I am now experiencing.

I haven’t had this level of mental alertness since I was a young man. It’s hard to describe it, and I never really noticed much how fuzzy the world around me was getting because it happened so gradually. When I did notice I just put it down to getting old. But when I take my brief morning walks around my block now, and moving about inside Casa del Garrett, the world around me just seems so much more…there…than before the heart attack. It’s a really striking difference. Like the difference between watching something on an old analog TV set and a new 4k digital. Really. Seriously. It is like that.

I Never want that to go away again if I can help it. Plus…I got lucky. Unreasonably, fantastically lucky, having the attack in the hospital where I could get immediate and high quality care. It would be churlish, disrespectful, not just tempting of fate, but laughing in its face, to just go on as before. It’s hilarious, but while I was waiting at the drugstore for my meds, the in house music system was playing Second Chance by 38 Special…

This heart needs a second chance…

Okay…I get the message. Really. I take pride in my common sense. 

One other thing. I was hearing that song in that drugstore because a coworker graciously picked me up from the hospital and took me straight to the drugstore to get my meds, and then to home. She also organized an email chain at work to get a group of my coworkers together to help me out with groceries and moving things while I was confined to quarters during recovery. That, and all the expressions of care and support I got this week from family and friends, online and off, really touched me deeply. I have never felt so loved.

 

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

July 29th, 2019

My Hellhole City…

Morning in my hell hole city…

I get up early these days, make some sandwiches for lunch, put food and fresh water out for the calico. Many street cats here in Baltimore like her have one ear tipped. It’s a sign that she’s been fixed and given at least an initial round of shots. The city would like it very much if you don’t bother the tipped ear cats. They keep the rodent population down, and also the street cat population since they can no longer breed.

I live where I can walk to work when the weather is nice. This morning I’m out the door just after 5am. I was up at 4. It’s my insomnia. I try to make it work for me. When it gets me up early enough, but not too early, I just stay up. Flex time means I get to go home early too, and maybe do some work at the drafting table before bed. The early morning summer dawn lights my way, but the street lights are still on. I go out the back door because I don’t want the calico following me.

The alley behind my little Baltimore rowhouse is still and quiet. Everyone here has done their backyard up a little differently. Some have big expansive gardens, others have put in parking pads or big outdoor decks with barbecues and deck furniture. Trees, probably planted decades ago, have grown taller than the utility wires strung down the alley, and have to be regularly trimmed. A couple dogs wander close to their fences as I pass by, but do not bark at me. I’m a familiar human. They will rise a hellacious din when an unknown human walks down the alley. Or a known human walking their dogs.

Or a squirrel. In the years I’ve lived here I’ve seen maybe a few hundred squirrels for every rat. Or maybe it’s just a couple squirrels and they just get around. Tree branches and utility wires are all the same to them. The street cats do their job keeping the rat population down. Also the city. You have to make a really big mess of your property for the city to complain about it, but a single rat sighting will get animal control knocking on your door faster than the speed of sound. But it’s not all just squirrels and rats and pigeons. I’ve seen deer and foxes, which probably come down the Jones Falls river (creek trickle stream) from the ‘burbs. Last winter I looked out my front bedroom window one night and saw a deer feasting on the ivy buried under some freshly fallen snow.

Deer in fact, were a frequent sight in my neighborhood, which is just a couple miles from the urban core. I’ve seen foxes too. One night I opened the front door to see if the Calico needed feeding and found a raccoon by the empty food dish giving me a look as if to say, well, where’s the food buddy!? You got a food dish here and it’s empty! What’s up with that!? Hawks, owls and falcons are regular visitors, especially around Wyman Park and Jones Falls. Snakes too, alas, but so far I have seen no venomous ones. But the empty lot at the end of my street where the wildlife used to gather has been turned into expensive luxury townhomes. Starting price was 350k and most of them sold for over 400k. The development was completed just last spring, and now the model home is the only one left unsold. A storage container factory that used to be located not far away was closed and the building demolished and they are building even more expensive townhomes on the site as I write this. Another empty lot behind the Giant Food grocery store a couple blocks away was turned into a luxury townhome development that was completed last fall.

On my way to work this morning I walk past the Giant. There are places in this city that are food deserts, but my neighborhood isn’t one of them. I live within a short walk of the Giant, and there is one of those trendy organic food stores in “The Rotunda”, a largish old building that was once the headquarters of some big insurance company, and is now a small city mall with stores and offices in it. What was the big parking lot behind it has been turned into a 400+ luxury apartment complex, with rents ranging from just under a thousand bucks a month to just over 3,800 for a space that’s still fewer square feet than my little Baltimore rowhouse. I have no idea who is paying that kind of money for those units or where they work, but they seem to be nearly all rented out now.

There is a Starbucks among the Rotunda shops that opens at 5:30am. I stop in for an ice coffee and danish to take with me as I walk to work. The Rotunda is a halfway point in my walk. A few delivery trucks are parked at the loading docks, but the morning is still very quiet. The day shift is just getting started. There is the Mom’s (that trendy organic grocery store…), the Starbucks, a drugstore, a barber shop, a UPS store, a couple restaurants and a dine-in movie theater here. The folks who live in the apartments above them probably have it even better than me when it comes to walkability, especially if they work in the Rotunda, as some of my coworkers do.

I go on my way, down 40th street to University Parkway. Now I am walking through what is probably Baltimore’s most upscale neighborhood: Roland Park. My path just gives it a glancing blow but even here the homes are big and lovely. There are large English style rowhomes, with slate shingle roofs and large patches of lawn and garages behind them, accessible through the alley. Even at the money I am making in my current job I could never afford one of these. They’re all old, solid, and beautiful. And they adjoin Wyman park, which itself adjoins the Johns Hopkins University, which is where I work. Not for Hopkins, but for AURA, the Association of Universities conducting Research in Astronomy.

We operate the Hubble Space Telescope here, and are working on the ground systems for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Hopkins graduate programs in Biological, Biomedical Sciences, Engineering (Biomedical, Electrical & Environmental), Human Development and Family Studies, Health Sciences, Humanities, Physical and Mathematical Sciences and International Affairs and Development, all rank among the top 10 of their respective disciplines. Students come here from all over the world. It’s a lovely campus to work at, and taking my lunchtime strolls I hear languages of the world spoken among the kids. But this is not an inexpensive university to attend. These kids, unless they got grant money, come from money. But it’s a different kind of atmosphere here, than one I suppose I might find at a Yale or a Harvard. These kids are here mostly to become scientists, researchers, astronomers, or engineers. Some days I walk among the carefully maintained greens between the campus buildings, or along the walkways of San Martin Drive with Wyman Park on one side and the University on the other, and I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Now I walk through Roland Park to University Parkway, and from there across a bridge over Wyman Park to San Martin Drive, which winds and bends between the university and the park. Tall trees and forest on one side of the road, I could imagine myself in one of the national parks, perhaps somewhere along Skyline Drive. I go past the Lacrosse field on the other, and the ROTC. Soon I am at my workplace. I have to use my key card to open the door as it is very early, and sign in at the security desk. Security is tighter here now, than when I first started working here, since we began building the Mission Operations Center for James Webb here. One of my key cards grants me access to the building, and I have access to several computer rooms configured on it. Two other cards on my strap grant me access to the James Webb MOC and to Goddard in Greenbelt Maryland.

I am but a mere integration and testing person, not a flight engineer, and I also write business software for progress tracking and reporting. So when my phase of the work is completed they’ll probably take away my MOC access. But I can say I was there, and was a part of it all. I have participated in testing James Webb’s optical and science instrument assembly (OTIS), and watched it speaking its first words on my telemetry screen as I helped capture data for later replaying and testing of the ground systems we’re developing here.

Here. In my hell hole rat infested city. Except it isn’t. It’s one of America’s vibrant, busy, energetic cities and there is lots more going on here than you might think if all you ever watched was The Wire or read Donald Trump’s and his peanut gallery’s tweets. I feel as though I lucked out unreasonably getting the job here I did, and the little Baltimore rowhouse I have within walking distance of that job, and the grocery stores, and the lovely bars and restaurants and shops that compass everything I might need on a day to day basis. The nightlife hub locally is called “The Avenue” and it’s become so popular most of the bigger places have valet parking now. But I can walk to it so that’s another perk of where I live.

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC. I thought I’d live in the ‘burbs all my life. Then I discovered what it’s like to have everything you need in walking distance. My city neighborhood is as safe as any suburban development I’ve ever lived in, and since we are all more tightly packed together here than in the ‘burbs we know each other perhaps a little better, and we can keep an eye on our neighborhood a little better. Diversity. It works. My neighborhood is largely white, but has a growing mix of black, Asian and Hispanic leavening it. But that’s just one part to diversity. My neighborhood also has a nice mix of older retired folk and younger professionals, and that means there is always someone here during the day keeping an eye on things, and at night not everyone keeps the same bedtime schedule. The neighborhood never really sleeps, it just gets quiet. Which is a relative term here in the city. The entire neighborhood doesn’t just empty out during business hours like some of the suburban apartment developments I’ve lived in. And older rowhouse neighborhoods like those here in the city, have Front Porches! This is something the new “luxury” townhouses are sadly leaving out. Front porches are places where people sit when the weather is nice, and chat with each other, and passing neighbors out for an evening stroll. People like me.

City life is Wonderful. Baltimore is wonderful. Yes, it has its problem zones, like all big cities do. And if Donald Trump and his constipated voter base think otherwise they can certainly help improve the livability of this and other American cities by staying out.

My thanks in advance!

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on My Hellhole City…

April 21st, 2019

When I Was Between Grass And Hay

I could gaze into this photo for hours…

 

 

It takes me back. I’m a kid again, and the world is big again. I can breathe the air of those days, feel its wind in my hair. Just looking at this photo I can walk all those paths again. I’ve been gazing at it off and on now for days. At some point I’m going to make a print of it and stick it on the wall behind the bar in my art room.

This photo was posted on a Facebook page I follow about growing up in Montgomery County Maryland. Most of us posting there are oldsters like me. Some of us were kids back in the 1960s. Photos like this are often shared, but none have ever struck so deep a chord in me as this one. Why? Well, just try driving that road today. It’s true, you can’t go home again.

But, in some sense, you can. Always. If there are photographs. Alas for me, this time period was before I really got heavily into photography, so I don’t have many shots of this period of my life. This particular photo was taken sometime in the early 1960s. The person who posted it to the Facebook group couldn’t say exactly when, but I lived there and I can see the timeframe in the details. It’s Rockville Pike, then called East Montgomery Avenue, looking toward southwest from just south of Rockville. One tell of the timeframe is the bus coming toward us on the left side of the road. By it’s colors it’s an old DC Transit bus. DC Transit was the private bus company owned by O. Roy Chalk until 1974. But that’s one of the old buses. They were replaced in the late 60s with the new GM “New Look” bus which had bigger windows and a modern look.

The other tell is the cars. That’s (I think) a ’64 Ford Galaxy on the left coming toward us. It looks like there’s a touch of frost in the shadows on the right, so it’s late autumn. This explains the rolled up windows on the car. Most cars didn’t have AC back then…it was an Expensive luxury. But central Maryland is brutally humid and hot in the summer months.

Also, the large field on the right…that was a working farm. Now it’s just another ugly shopping center. Back then corn grew there. The field is empty in this photo, because the corn has been harvested, and the stalks gathered into bundles, and the earth plowed and ready for next spring. That was the cycle of life on that field I came to know all the years I lived there…

…there…in the apartments to the right of the large building in the distance on the right of the Pike. That building is the Tenley Building, which must have just been recently completed. I don’t know the name of the other building a bit further on across the Pike, but when mom moved us into the apartments, then called Courthouse Square, it was also just being finished and the top two floors of the Tenley Building were in the process of having their rooms and offices built out. The Tenley Building was built for doctors and dentists. Mom dragged me crying miserably over to it for my shots. The needle terrified me, and memories of diseases that killed many when she was a girl terrified mom. So I got my shots.

What takes me back the most, something almost completely unbelievable now about this photo, is all the wide open space in it. You’d think this was somewhere out in the sticks. And I suppose it was when we moved there from Hyattsville. My earliest memories are of the apartment we had in NE Washington DC. Mom moved us to Hyattsville when I was 5 and in Hyattsville I could still believe I was in the city. We moved to Rockville when I was 8 and into a Much nicer garden apartment with a big glass window with a door that opened onto a private balcony. And it had AC! You will never appreciate AC like I do if you didn’t grow up in Washington DC and Maryland without it in the summer. There was a swimming pool, and playgrounds and barbecues for the tenants. I thought we’d hit the big time.

And there was so much open space, I felt like a changed bird suddenly set free. The sky above was huge. The stars at night were vivid. A massive private country club abutted the apartment complex, and evenings I could walk out to a hill in a field behind the apartments and look out across it and see the lights from the WMAL radio towers in the distance. One afternoon shortly after we moved in I was standing on our balcony marveling at how far up in the world we had come, and looking across the Pike glimpsed a train go by. Huh!? I had no idea there were railroad tracks so close by and I immediately had to go see. I walked across the Pike and a small parking lot and clambered down onto tracks that I later learned were the main B&O Railroad line west out of Washington DC. The tracks ran straight as arrows toward Rockville, and back the other way to Washington, and I remember gazing into the distance while some deep and powerful urge developed within me to go see what was there, to explore those horizons.

It was all so wonderful. I was between grass and hay as they say, just old enough to be allowed to wander on my own, but not so old that I didn’t have to be back home by supper. I went to an elementary school in Hungerford, close in to Rockville for a year, then the school boundaries changed and went to Congressional elementary. It was my first experience riding a bus to school. It felt like we were living in the country. Every spring the farm behind the apartments would plant for corn. Every summer I’d watch the corn growing until it was taller than me. Every July 4th mom and I would walk to a hill next to the farm and watch the fireworks light the sky from the Richard Montgomery High School play field. Every autumn would come the harvest, and the smell of cut stalks. Then came the Rockville Fireman’s Carnival.

Summer days I’d walk down the Pike to Congressional Plaza, stopping first at the newly built Talbot Center (It was but a dug out hole in the earth the day we moved in to the apartments next to it) and the Minute Mart there for a soda to drink whilst walking. Then I’d stop at Children’s Supermarket, later to be renamed “Toys R Us”, and inventory their model car shelves for anything new. Then I’d hit the People’s Drug Store in Congressional for any new magazines and comic books (Mad was a favorite), and then check the model cars at the Kresge five and ten, and the Murphy’s. On the way home with my loot, if any, I’d hit the McDonald’s for a burger and shake.

Just re-reading this now it strikes me how much a single divorced mother could provide to her kid, including even an allowance that made it possible for him to indulge in his model car hobby, back in a time when women made maybe 60 cents for every dollar a man doing the exact same job made. But those were the Kennedy days. Things started coming apart for the working class when Reagan promised everyone a shining city on a hill if only the chains of government were taken off big business and finance. But…I don’t want to remember what came later now. We’re all living it anyway.

This photo takes me back into a different world. Classrooms smelled of mimeograph paper and chalk. Telephones had wires connecting them to the wall, and long distance was anything beyond the city limits and horribly expensive. TV came like radio over the airwaves, not a cable, and there were only four local channels, and if the conditions were right and you got the rabbit’s ears tweaked just right maybe you could get the three Baltimore stations with only a little static. There was a legendary Harrisburg station that you could sometimes see the ghost images of amidst the static. There was three daily newspapers, the Post, the Star and the News. And there was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day…

And I wandered. Lots. Mom felt safe letting me do that there. To this day I have to end my days with a walk, though sometimes I take a drive. But I still love to just wander. In many ways the world was so much smaller then, not nearly as interconnected as it is now. And I have my driver’s license and I’ve taken my cars from this side of the country to the other. Were I to transport many of you reading this back to those days you might get a case of claustrophobia from the sense of isolation. To me it brings back memories of a world just beginning to open up to me. I discovered the horizon here, and all its mysteries, because for the first time I could actually see it.

Just there in the photo, to the right of the Tenley Building, is the row of apartments we lived in. I can almost see my bedroom window. I used to gaze out at this stretch of road often and to the city and the horizon beyond. I can half close my eyes just now, and do that still.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When I Was Between Grass And Hay

March 6th, 2019

No Pain, No Gain


Life goes on…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on No Pain, No Gain

March 2nd, 2019

Look What I Did Ma!

Got back home from Greenbelt yesterday at around 2PM. I’d rented a room for the night at the same Holiday Inn I usually use when I need to be at Goddard first thing in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. For the past two days I’ve been participating in tests of the JWST ground control network…first in the Mission Operations Center at Hopkins, and then Friday at the backup MOC at Goddard. My job was Test Conductor, calling out steps in a test procedure over one of the NASA voice loops with Goddard and White Sands, and jotting down the results. We were linking the MOCs up with the spacecraft over a Deep Space Network link from White Sands, and sending what they call NoOp commands (Here’s a command, but don’t do anything just tell us you got it and then drop it on the floor). It’s just to test the network connectivity, not the spacecraft. Those tests are also in progress, but so far I haven’t been directly involved in any of them.

I’m also involved in other aspects of this mission and I can’t discuss details, but I cannot begin to tell you how cool it is to see myself, a kid who watched the first Mercury astronauts being launched into space, talking over a NASA voice loop, helping to birth a spacecraft, and watching it speak its first words. Mom lived to see me get this job, and it made her proud. I wasn’t expected to amount to much in some quarters of that side of the family. But there are times I really wish she could see what her boy has gotten himself into now.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Look What I Did Ma!

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