Monday, January 29, 2007

Mr. Stiltman scores again

More often than one might think, my last name gets mangled when people try to pronounce or spell it. It's amazing how many variations I've encountered for a basically simple name, i.e., Silt - man. Once a guy looked at my name and spelled it out, "S i l t m a n - Stiltman, right?"

It's especially disheartening to get an article published, only to have it ruined because my name was misspelled. Some decades ago I mentioned this problem to an acquaintance who was an editor for the Washington Star and handled the letters they received. He suggested I write a piece about my propensity for writing letters to the editor because he had an idea for an inside joke.

My copy of the letter published in the Washington Star is so old that it is almost illegible (see link). I will reproduce it here and reveal the inside joke at the end. I have left out perhaps 25% of the letter for the sake of brevity and to minimize boredom.

Mr. Stiltman scores again.

At last count, over a hundred of my letters to the editor have been published in the communities in which I've lived. This seems a good time to reflect on some of the highlights of this unusual (some might say dubious) achievement, and perhaps even to ponder why a person would pursue such an endeavor.
There was, at least initially, a lot of righteous indignation, coupled with a conspicuous lack of courage. My first published letter, for example, appeared in the El Paso Times in the early 1950's above a pseudonym. While living in Montgomery, Alabama in the late 1950's, I finally mustered the nerve to use my own name.
Years later, in the Washington, D.C. area, the element of apprehension (which nut is going to call me this time?) was largely replaced by other feelings. As each letter appeared in print, I experienced a kind of instant ego-gratification (there's bit of a kick in seeing one's letter next to, say, Henry Kissinger's) as well as a feeling of participation in the political and social issues of the day.
There was even an occasional congratulatory call. Ironically, this often tended to make me drop my guard and get badly zinged. A case in point was the fellow who began, "It's wonderful we live in a country where everyone is free to express their opinions..." But he added, "No matter how perverted." It took a while to recover from that one.
In those days,I attempted to make my point, not in a deadly serious way, but with humor (although I sometimes slipped, none to subtly, into sarcasm). Being somewhat enamored of the better political cartoonists, I suppose I saw myself doing for the Letters to the Editor column what those guys were doing with their cartoons. My intent was, I'm sure, to slay the dragons of intolerance and ignorance, not with the heavy sword of preachments, but rather with the sharp rapier of humor and wit.
Shedding the more extravagant of my illusions of grandeur, I then introduced new wrinkles into what had become a hobby or diversion as much as anything else. For example, I had the same letter published in two and then three papers on the same day. Near the end of this orgy of self-indulgence, two of my letters appeared in the same paper on the same day.
Looking back, I feel I was motivated by several things: idealism, vanity, anger and perhaps just a desire to communicate. At least I'd like to think I've risen above the childish motive of simply wanting to get my name into print.
By the way, if you print this, be sure to spell my name correctly.

David Siltman

Note to reader: I find it amusing to look at the last sentence and then back at the headline. Even funnier is that the editor took pains to insure that the misspelling actually made the final version. Unfortunately,someone kept trying to correct it, but they finally got it wrong.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Marriage # 1: the Texan and the New Yorker

While in the army, I attended an eight week course in Fort Slocum, N.Y. My army buddy Howie, native New Yorker and lawyer in real life, took leave to coincide with my arrival in the Big Apple. He and his wife invited me to stay with them and gave me a tour of the city shorty before I reported for duty. For one born and raised in a small town, this was heady stuff, indeed.

Since the course only met on weekdays, I vowed to spend the rest of my time in the City. This was made possible by the Times Square USO, which provided inexpensive hotel rooms and free entertainment to servicemen. Ever the sophisticate, my first Friday night's choice was a movie.

The next day I was back at the USO hoping to land another free movie. This time, however, a young lady volunteer named Claudette responded to my request by asking if I liked plays. Since I had never even seen a play, I muttered, "Oh, they're OK." or something equally dumb. She persuaded me to see my first Broadway Musical, gratis. I was mightily impressed and decided this was how I was going spend the rest of my time in NYC.

The next weekend I was back at the USO, hoping to enjoy another play and perhaps another chat with Claudette. Well, she was there and had a plan. If I was agreeable, she would slip me an extra ticket. I would hang around until she could leave, we'd grab a bite to eat, and see a play. I remember thinking, "These New Yorkers really know how to get things done!"

The next day we did the "get two tickets, grab a bite and see a play" thing again. This time I added a new wrinkle. I asked where she lived. New Jersey, she replied. Mr. Cool offhandedly inquired, "How far is New Jersey from here?" She replied, "Oh, about 12 minutes on the bus." I could hardly contain my glee at learning I would not have to spend hours taking her home, in case we ever had a real date. So we did the "get two tickets, grab a bite and see a play" thing, with the "Then I'll take you home" thing thrown in for good measure.

Weekend followed weekend as I racked up ten (yes, 10) Broadway plays in eight weeks. I also met Claudette's folks. I remember they were amazed at how much milk I could put away at one setting. I, in turn, was fascinated by the way they enhanced their communication by varying the volume of their voices and using their hands for emphasis.

By the time I returned to Texas, we were planning a future together. Claudette and her mom flew down to meet my folks. This was a bit of culture shock for all concerned. As you may have guessed, this small town was not exactly a hotbed of modern ideas and current fashion. So when Claudette appeared in town one day wearing short shorts, it caused a minor uproar (did I mention the shorts were short?) But overall, the trip went well and included a drive to a Florida beach. I remember thinking that our little group represented quite a diversity of mores and manners. The highlight of the trip was the marriage proposal and the presentation of the ring which my old army buddy Bill had helped me pick it out at the PX.

Our wedding was scheduled for the following February, a few weeks after my scheduled discharge. Unfortunately, I ended up in the hospital with an ailment (never diagnosed) and the wedding was postponed. Howie the lawyer not only sprung me from the hospital and the army, he was my Best Man. The honeymoon, if memory serves, consisted of a seeing a few plays and looking for a job (Claudette already had one).

We ended up with jobs we weren't thrilled with, so when a position involving a series of moves around the country presented itself, we were ready to go. I remember telling Claudette I'd be working with computers. "What's that?" she asked. "I think they're some kinda big, smart, fast adding machines," I opined.

It was a fun job in many ways. Although we were transferred every year or so, we always had friends because we moved as a team. We lived in Massachusetts, New Jersey (Claude was born there), Michigan and Alabama. But this lifestyle got old and I ended up with IBM in the Virginia suburbs. Claudette began a career in retailing, and managed a number of shops in the Washington area.

But somehow, someway, our marriage developed serious problems. It's hard to pinpoint what went wrong; unmet expectations, growing apart, who knows? The last few years were especially rough, leaving scars on us all. We tried hard, and we probably broke the record for reconciliation attempts. But although no one should end a marriage frivolously, it's imperative to know when to fold. We started strong but couldn't finish. We came close, but no cigar.

PD: Coming to grips with my condition

This is an update to my 12/10/06 post. Unable to get a recommendation from my doctors for the chronic pain in my lower back and right knee, I did the following: Since at least part of the problem is non-parkinsonian, I made an appointment for an MRI of my back and XRAYs of my knee. The MRI should enable the surgeon to determine if surgery would likely improve the situation. The Xrays will provide the same information concerning my knee. The rotator cuffs remain in limbo, awaiting their turn. I feel at ease with this plan, so we'll shuffle the cards and see what falls out (a rather poor analogy, under the circumstances).

My current PD medications are working as well as could be expected. The theory is that if I take the proper amount of Sinemet (augmented by Comtan) at more or less equal intervals during the day, the effects (more dopamine produced) should last until the next dose. Otherwise, a period of OFF time occurs until the next dose takes effect.The good time before and after OFF periods is called ON time.

Early on, I asked my doctor if he thought I experienced OFF times. He replied, "If you have to ask, you probably haven't experienced it." Like most aspects of PD, people experience OFF time in different ways. I usually feel anxious, a little confused and begin sweating (even stranger, I often get a chill, as well). This is an excellent hint from my body to my brain that I need more medication. I don't know about you, but all this OFF and ON stuff is making me feel like a light switch. Suffice to say, if I take each and every one of my 16 daily PD pills at the exact times specified, my condition should remain fairly stable. If this sounds a little grim, well, everything is relative.

Surprisingly,I now appreciate life as much or more than ever. As I told Nancy today, "I can endure a lot during the day if I'm getting a reasonable amount of sleep at night. For example, for a week or so, I've slept very well, getting 8 or more hours a night. I can't tell you how wonderful that is. But I try not to get too optimistic, especially when I notice that I'm writing this at approximately 3AM.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Velasco, Texas - My Home Town

When I arrived on the scene, July 30, 1931, the population of Velasco, Texas stood at 499. I made it an even 500. OK, that's probably not true in terms of verifiable fact. On the other hand, I've found that a slavish adherence to absolute truth has ruined many a good story.
Indeed, much of this account will rely on the memory of a 75 year old who often has trouble remembering what happened yesterday. So, cut me (and yourself) a little slack. I'll try to stay in the same ballpark as The Truth, and you enjoy yourself. If the spirit moves you, leave a comment. On the off chance someone reads this who has actually lived in, or even heard of, Velasco, I'd especially like to hear from you (and yes, I do tend to use a lot of commas and parenthesis).

As it turns out, Velasco was founded in 1831 on the Texas Gulf Coast, some 35 miles southwest of Galveston. click on map. In 1836, it became the temporary capital of the Republic of Texas. WOW! The Treaty of Velasco was signed there the same year, with General Santa Anna representing Mexico. Rumor has it the Texans got the best of that deal. At this point, pause, take a deep breath, and plow ahead for even more thrills.

During the next half century, Velasco's fortunes rose and fell. The Hurricane of 1875 destroyed most of the town. Indeed, by 1884, there was only a general store and a boat builder's shop left; its residents numbered only fifty. But by 1892, it had 136 business establishments and 137 residences, an electric light plant and a planing mill. By the end of the century, it had added a deep water port, railway service, schools, a bank, several churches, and two weekly newspapers. The population had risen to 3000. Go, Velascans? Velascoites? Velastonians!

At this point, stuff really started hitting hitting the fan. The 1900 hurricane destroyed the town. But Velasco slowly rebuilt itself and experienced economic peaks and valleys during the next four decades. Its population had grown to 5000 by 1950 and it was incorporated into that thriving metropolis Freeport in 1957. By that time I had finished college and my military obligation. No one consulted me about the incorporation, and I'm not sure how I would have voted if they had.

Last night as I was finishing this post, I googled a map of the part of Freeport which used to be Velasco. Although the satellite pictures were impressive, I was unable to positively identify the house I grew up in. A real downer! Especially since it was still there several years ago when I attended my 50th high school graduation celebration. Perhaps it is smaller than I remember or my eyes weaker than I will admit. In any event, I have this almost irresistible urge to go back one last time and walk the streets of my old home town. Hopefully, I won't have graduated to a wheelchair by that time.

Coming soon: My Home Town, Part 2 (growing up there)