The Mask

Warning: scary pictures included, view at your own risk!

The Lone Ranger had his mask, Zorro wore one. Batman and Robin did, as well. Even the monstrous Hannibal Lecter had a face covering, of sorts, not so much to hide his identity but more to protect his prey, other humans, from a nasty consumption habit.

Now, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, I have a mask, one that’s a nighttime fixture on my face.

However, whereas the aforementioned fictional characters were crime fighters hiding their real persona, except for Hannibal, I’m just an ordinary man trying to get a good night’s sleep.

Recently, I was diagnosed with ‘sleep apnea’, the ‘temporary cessation of breathing’ (apnea), especially while sleeping. Strong emphasis on ‘temporary’.

Apparently, sleep apnea is a common problem among men and women and the appointment backlog at the local sleep clinic reflects it.

A recent sleep test showed my REM sleep was grossly inadequate, and the Rx for it was a CPAP device, the mask. And herein lies the problem. I’m sleeping better but the physiology of my face appears to be changing.

The symptoms are easily recognizable, fatigue, drowsiness, low energy, especially during times of idle moments. I’m a Senior and whatever idle moments I have left are not to be wasted on fatigue.

Prior to my diagnosis, I wore the customary marks of a maturing gentleman; small creases on my cheeks, slight baggies under the eyes, some redness, nothing too dramatic.

But, alas, now I’m getting furrows on the cheeks, puffiness under the eyes like a prizefighter, and redness like frostbite. What a mess! And it’s daunting to think that the Rx was written for life!

The data shows that the mask is working. So, I’ve accepted it, albeit begrudgingly, facial marks and all.

Odd thing about medical devices, while helpful on the one hand, they can add a whole new persona to one’s character. The massive bandages following shoulder surgery give one the appearance of the fictional ‘hunchback of Notre Dame’. A line of staples on a shaved head remind onlookers of the Frankenstein monster.

I’ve had them all and now, at night, with my mask, I’ve become the irascible Hannibal Lecter. My wife must sleep with one eye open. I wonder if she would mind if I took just a nibble? I wonder…

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: The ‘Ubiquitous’ QWERTY…

This could be a story about innovation, imagination and invention. Or, it could be an historical footnote about manufacturing and engineering. Maybe it’s about words and vocabulary. Actually, it’s all that and a little bit more. Here’s what happened one week at the ‘Curbside Classroom’*

Monday, while waiting for the crossing signal, I asked the kids, “Do you type?”

Silly question, of course they type, in one manner or another; these kids grew up with keyboards. They’re everywhere, keyboards, that is.

Tuesday, I asked, what is QWERTY?’. That’s right, the top left row of letters on the keyboard. Generally, the kids knew that. But it’s also on the typewriter, that dinosaur of office equipment which most kids have only seen in pictures. Of course, QWERTY is on smartphones, too, everyone knows that, certainly kids do. It’s everywhere there’s a keyboard, QWERTY, that is.

QWERTY is the name of the standard layout of keyboard letters developed by the inventors of the typewriter and refined by the engineering staff of the typewriter manufacturer, the Remington Company. What was developed and improved in the late 1800s is the same keyboard layout we use today. It’s everywhere.

When Wednesday came about, we talked more about the Remington Company, still a major employer in the Mohawk Valley small town of Ilion, NY. While Remington didn’t invent the typewriter, it bought the rights to manufacture it and still operates in the same location today, manufacturing long guns for hunters and recreational shooting.

Finally, Thursday arrived and we put a bow on the week’s topic with the word UBIQUITOUS. How nicely it tied in with the discussion of the typewriter, because unlike that monstrous machine which was last manufactured in the US in 2004, the QWERTY layout still exists and its UBIQUITOUS, it’s everywhere.

We started with a simple question and one thing lead to another. That’s how it works with kids who are interested, at least for the one minute I have their attention. It was almost as though I had planned it.

Friday? Well, I gave them a minute off from thinking…

What’s next, maybe Velcro…

*The sidewalk spot where kids wait to cross a 4 lane highway on their way bto school. I am the crossing guard.

The Sled

‘It was a simpler life, then’. At least it seemed to be. My contemporaries generally agree. “Life was so much simpler, then’ is a common refrain.

Take our recent midwinter storm, more than a foot of snow blanketing the area, more along Ontario’s lakeshore communities. Area wide schools closed and thousands of kids are home.

Oh, my, what to do? No school and big snow.

In today’s frenetic world with many dual income households, ‘what to do’ (with a weekday full of kids) can be a challenge. But, back in the day, ‘life was simpler’. In my blue collar, working class neighborhood, one parent was always home, the mom, so supervision and care was not an issue. Thus, a ‘snow day’ likely meant hours of outdoor physical activity for us kids, work followed by play. Limited options. ‘Life was simpler, then’.

A shovel was the tool for work and a sled, the gear for play. The big name in sleds, then, was the ‘Flexible Flyer’, a top tier piece of equipment. I never rode one, too expensive for my dad’s seasonal wallet.

But my sled had a name that made it sound fast, ‘Arrow’. Narrow boards with a simple steering mechanism atop steel runners, and a rope to pull it up hills, time after time, hour after hour of fun. ‘Life was simpler, then!’

Lying on our bellies, head first and looking up, we felt like we’d been shot from a cannon after a running start, sliding over bumps, humps and jumps, aiming at them for more thrills and spills. Steering allowed for slight movement left or right, helpful when heading for trees, or parked cars as the fun often took place on neighborhood streets.

I’m seeing every action packed moment now as I look back through my rose colored glasses. On hard packed snow, the rides were long, fast and exhilarating.

We’d take turns posting at intersections to watch for cross traffic, then fly to the bottom after the all clear signal, whooping and hollering along the way. Our young legs were never too tired to trudge up the hill for run after run after run.

No school, no problem. There was plenty to do, especially with a big snow, a dose of enthusiasm and a sled.

The wooden sleds eventually gave way to lighter, faster and more durable plastic models. Things change. But one constant will always be the same, the memories made playing outside on cold, snowy days when school was canceled and ‘life was simpler’

Steve (Feb 2020)

Find more stories on my blog, ‘S’amusing‘ at ‘srbottch.com’

Shhhhhh…

Listen, do you hear it? The proverbial pin drop that always describes ‘absolute quiet’?

Close your eyes and sniff! Do you smell it, the familiar scent of a room full of books?

It’s the library!

The branch library on Main Street had a special attraction for me, in my hometown of Worcester. If I close my eyes and conjure up that time in my life, I can easily picture it. And, yes, smell it, too!

From the large storefront windows that displayed books, to the sprawling checkout counter, I can see myself there now, kneeling on the carpeted floor, head angled forty-five degrees to the right, reading book spines in the hunt for exciting titles, in the ‘young readers’ section.

The bespectacled librarian, with her laser-like stare that could burn a hole right through you, and a well developed ‘Shhhhhhhh’ that blew through the room like a nor’easter, kept the library orderly and mum. She’s gone, of course, and I doubt the library is still there, more likely a nail salon now, with last year’s magazines. They’re everywhere, salons that is.

The Battle of Britain, Custer’s Last Stand, Ghengis Kahn and The Mongol Horde, as well as other Landmark titles were among my favorite books. I’d walk home with more than I could read in the allotted check-out time. Nevertheless, it was easy to pick one, settle down and get lost in adventure after adventure. Books can do that.

Sure, I have a Kindle and other electronic devices to download stories. And, yes, I can get books on tape, but there’s something special about patronizing a library. You’re among other readers for some quiet socializing, you’re moving for exercise and looking so sophisticated when walking about with your L.L.Bean ‘save the earth’ recyclable tote.

Of course, as a preteen, the library was a place to rendezvous with that ‘special love of your life’ where it was actually okay to say sweet nothings to each other, as long as they were whispered. You got to practice being a gentleman by carrying your love’s books home.

Reading was such a pleasure at that age but changes were about to happen. I hit middle school, then high school and reading books became a requirement for book reports, sometimes orally. The stress caused by a ‘requirement’ put the brakes on reading for pleasure. Landmark became ‘badmarks’ because once reading was required, I lost interest.

Fortunately, as an adult, I recaptured the pleasure of reading. My favorite genre is historical fiction and biographies. My town has a beautiful public library of its own where they have a great selection to satisfy anyone’s reading taste.

Do you enjoy reading? What is your favorite material to read and is there a book that stands out as your most enjoyable ever?

Mark Twain is credited with the following:

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.’

My books are like trophies, they collect dust, but take me wherever I want to go and I proudly display them.

To Jennie and book lovers everywhere, and to Sheila and all librarians who have mastered the ‘Shhhhhh’…

Steve (srbottch.com)

January 2020

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: The ‘One Minute Teacher’

If you had one minute a day to spend with kids, what would you do with it, the one minute?

It’s not much time to make a positive impact, is it? Or, is it? Certainly, you’d start with some ‘greetings and salutations’*. That’s a positive. But what would you do with the other fifty-five seconds, or so?

Would you draw attention to the dawning of a new day with all its trimmings: a late full December moon hiding behind tall pines; the ‘morning star’, planet Venus, sparkling like a diamond until it surrenders to daylight; birds signaling réveille with chirping and tweeting? There is much to enjoy and learn by looking and listening, and we do that at the ‘Curbside Classroom’, even for just a minute

Maybe you’d tell them about a day in history, or a famous person? Try the remarkable story of Teddy Roosevelt’s brush with a would-be assassin in 1912. We did. Kids were amazed. Could you pique their interest in science with a story about a scientist? Or technology, if you talked about inventions?

Would you feel confident enough, yourself, to sing to teenagers about the beautiful morning, and mention Oklahoma and Broadway in the same breath? How about telling a joke? A brain teaser? Something to get them thinking and wondering.

A minute a day isn’t much time to discuss homonyms, homographs and homophones. But you’d try, wouldn’t you, because you have a snippet of time to do it. And one, or two, or ten youngsters are expecting something from you because you have KLOT, ‘knowledge learned over time’, and a lifetime of wisdom to share.

Could you make them laugh before the minute passes? Imagine the challenge and the fun that you could have with just one minute a day with a pack of kids.

As a school crossing guard, I have that one minute every day while we wait for the signal light that stops traffic before crossing, a pied piper, of sorts, in bright yellow with a precious minute to share something positive.

We cover a lot. The kids listen and respond. Affable would be a good adjective to describe them. Oh, yes, we mention adjectives and adverbs, synonyms and antonyms.

We unabashedly take a poll on who can whistle, and then we whistle. Braces can impede whistling, we learn. But they don’t impede smiling.

A minute is not much time but over time, it adds up and at the end of a school year, the kids have had a positive experience at the ‘Curbside Classroom’. You can do a lot with a minute!

But you start by learning their names!

Steve. (srbottch.com)

January 2020

ps. tomorrow’s topic, ‘take’ vs ‘bring’

*Charlotte’s Web (E.B.White)

All my stories, including more ‘Crossing Guard Chronicles’ are available on my blog site, ‘S’amusing’ on WordPress.com

Today, I Smell Gingerbread, A Holiday Story

The following story is one of my personal favorites. I originally wrote it a few years ago and reblog it now for your reading (and sensory) pleasure…

It’s not just the calendar that puts celebrators in the Christmas and Hannuka spirit. It’s a host of sights and sounds that makes these holidays special: the change to wintry weather; the hustle n’ bustle of gift shoppers; colorful decorations and lights illuminating neighborhoods, windows and shops; the gaiety of passersby offering holiday wishes; quiet moments spent in reflection and prayer. All help create a festive mood.

One of my favorites is the aroma of freshly baked desserts and treats filling our home and signaling the start of this special season. Yesterday, it was almond crescent cookies. The day before, I sniffed roasted walnuts and candied bark, white chocolate with craisins. Tomorrow will bring something new that tickles my senses and rewards my taste buds. But, today, I smell gingerbread.

What a pleasure to be awakened on a brisk winter morning with the smell of ‘just from the oven’ cranberry bread or molasses cookies wafting down the hall and finding me stubbornly stirring beneath the cover of a cozy quilt. My wife, an early riser, is eagerly preparing delicate desserts to be shared with friends and enjoyed with our meals. Yes, I know, I’m spoiled.

Later, the chilly air on a new December day welcomes those escaping kitchen aromas that intoxicate me with spices and sugars, as I finish some outside chores. My work can wait, I decide, and hurriedly make my way inside for some hot coffee and a sampling of today’s treats. Ahhh, I smell gingerbread.

These holidays have a ‘baking season’ like no other, where the kitchen is the arena and the clashing of the cookie sheets, muffin tins, bread pans and mixing bowls tells us that it’s ‘game on’, while the cook builds up to the highly anticipated call, ‘Bon Appetit’. It’s a race to blend, stir, beat and mix ahead of the beginning of the Hannukah and Christmas Day deadlines. The desserts and special dinners seemingly roll out of the kitchen and onto the dining table in a tsunami of meats and greens, biscuits and breads, truffles and spritz.

When the calendar turns to January, the cooking slows, the menus change, and the emphasis is on dietary needs to help our bodies recover and prepare for spring. Is that possible? Yet, through the dark, cold winter months, I still yearn for the smell of gingerbread.

Spring rains roll into summer heat, and a warm kitchen loses its appeal. Quite unnoticed, the oven begins a period of involuntary hibernation. Delicacies are not a priority and a cold beer on a hot day will suffice. But nature is a wonderful thing. In a matter of time, the baking season will return in all its glory, and, once more, I will savor the smell of gingerbread in our home…

srbottch (11/23/2015)

Dedicated to my wife, who keeps our shelves filled with wonderful desserts during the Christmas holiday, and to cooks in their kitchens, everywhere.

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: A Solemn Week

On Thanksgiving eve, our town mourned the passing of two residents, a nanny and her 9 year old ward, a student in the local elementary school. In a horrific auto/pedestrian accident, the lives of three families were changed, forever.

As often happens following a tragedy, towns people came together to mourn the losses. Some gathered in houses of worship, neighbors lined their streets with candles, and others likely took a moment in personal prayer and reflection in a demonstration of collective grieving.

Counselors were available in the school to comfort and support young children dealing with the challenge of reconciling the sudden loss of a friend.

A simple wooden cross was erected along the roadside, site of the tragedy, to serve as a solemn place for people to share their grief by leaving flowers and tokens of remembrance for the deceased.

The local school district coordinated with town police to post a crossing guard at the memorial sight, to assure the safety of children who might be want to cross the busy street and visit the memorial. As one of the town’s school crossing guards, I was assigned to this post.

This would be a different duty, very different.

With quiet respect, I stood stationary at the spot, my bright yellow uniform jacket drawing attention of passers-by to the memorial, by now flush with a potpourri of colorful flowers and trinkets laying against a dusting of fresh snow. Vehicles slowed, some waved, but many stared, mournfully and solemnly.

The near total absence of foot traffic gave me time to focus on the memorial, myself, offering a brief prayer for the deceased and their families. As the weekdays passed, I seemed to transition from a crossing guard to an honor guard.

A few neighbors stopped to express appreciation to the school district and police department for posting a crossing guard. By week’s end, there seemed to be a general sigh of relief on the faces of the same drivers who passed daily. People were beginning to accept what happened, as sad as it was.

Life moves on, doesn’t it?

An Eskimo Proverb

“Perhaps they are not stars,
but rather openings in heaven
where the love of our lost ones
pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they’re happy.”

Steve (srbottch.com)

December 2019