An Ode to the Springtime of My Discontent

How could something so small and which looks like a dog’s toy cause such discomfort?

This time of year, I often find myself longing for the salad days of my youth when I lived in a state of total freedom from the effects of allergies.  Hay fever was a condition that I often heard others complaining about, but as far as I was concerned, it was little more than the subject of television commercials and the occasional drug store product display.  Furthermore, the idea that animals of any species could cause discomfort merely by their being in close proximity to me seemed positively implausible.

Youthful naivete kept me from realizing how lucky I was.  I was oblivious to the reality that I was effectively living in some sort of hypoallergenic bubble which, much to my chagrin, was soon to burst.  I never saw it coming.  It’s a cruel reality that so often in life, you fail to realize your good fortune until you no longer possess it.
During my sophomore year of college, a friend came over to my dorm room one afternoon accompanied by his newly acquired pet kitten.  Now I’d never been a cat person, so it was inconceivable to me why any self-respecting college man would want to be seen in public with a kitten.  I could see myself walking around campus with a Germany Shepherd or even a Bassett Hound, but not in the company of a calico kitten.  It simply wasn’t a good look, neither then nor now.

Soon enough, friend and kitten moved on to other venues, but not before I realized that my right eye had begun to itch.  This wasn’t just a pleasant little itch which could be quickly relieved with a bit of gentle phalangic persuasion.  This one was rapidly escalating into the Mother of All Itches.

What was called for was some serious digging and scratching.  Before I knew it, my right eye was swollen and bloodshot to such an extent that it appeared as if I’d just gone a couple of very long rounds with Muhammad Ali ….. and he with bare knuckles.

Having never experienced anything like this, I was slow to recognize that the source of my distress was a long dormant, but now awakened, allergy to felines.  I’d always been suspicious of those beasts, but now I found that I did not care for them in any way, shape, or form.

Perhaps triggered by this new reaction to cats, within a few years I also developed chronic hay fever and seasonal allergies.  Springtime was no longer that wonderful season of rebirth and renewal, pleasant temperatures, and abundant sunshine.  It had morphed into a time of itching, sneezing, watery eyes, nasal congestion, contact lenses which impersonated small circular pieces of sand paper, and a generalized overall gunky feeling.

A grain of Peony pollen

A grain of Peony pollen

And to think that this is all due to rampant reproductive rites occurring within the plant world and the microscopic irritants which that bacchanalia releases into the otherwise congenial springtime air.

I’ve never been able to isolate just which species of weed or flowering plant serves as the source of my affliction.  Inexplicably, my reactions to inflated pollen counts seem to occur on an every other year basis.  It’s as if Mother Nature is toying with me, leading me believe that my condition has gone into remission, which only serves to make my suffering all the more acute the following spring.

Yet I press on, sure in the knowledge that there is always better living to be had through chemistry.  Armed with Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra, I am more than a match for even the most belligerent clump of ragweed.

Ah the grass is greener, swaying lightly in the breeze,
The air is sweet and friendly, excuse me while l sneeze.
Watching the grasses grow atchoo, leaves me with a smile,
I just wish this wretched sneezing, would leave me alone for a while!

–  Hay Fever Blues by Colin Skilton


Photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu / / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: wellcome images CC BY-NC-ND


Big Gulp Wins Reprieve in Big Apple

I was extremely pleased when I learned that there is still at least one judge presiding on the bench who had enough innate common sense to overturn New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s, about to be implemented, ban on soft drinks which happen to be larger than 16 ounces.  Yes, Big Gulp has received a stay of execution; at least in the Big Apple!

New York Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling gets two big thumbs up from me for his finding that the proposed regulations, are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences.

Well who didn’t know that?  And why didn’t the good mayor recognize that to begin with?

Justice Tingling went on to say that the regulation is “laden with exceptions based on economic and political concerns.” Who would have ever imagined that a politician would be likely to offer up regulations which would grant exceptions to favored economic and political interests?  Wonder of wonders!

Politics as usual aside, and of much more concern to me, is the impact which regulations of this sort have on our ever diminishing personal freedoms and the sustenance of our ability to exercise individual responsibility.

I’m proud to say that I’m the father of two sons.  My wife and I raised them into adulthood and quite frankly, they both have turned out nicely.  Thank you for asking.

When it came time to teach them the fundamentals of exercising and accepting responsibility for themselves and their actions, we were wise enough to recognize that meant that the boys would have to learn to make decisions for themselves.  If we had continued to make all of the decisions for them they would have learned to accept dependency, while learning nothing of personal responsibility.
Back to Mayor Bloomberg and his dreams for a better world through soft drink prohibition.  For his part,  Bloomberg pledges to fight on.  He believes that “We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other.

Unfortunately, the “We” to which Mayor Bloomberg is referring does not include people like your neighbors, close friends, or family members.  No, in my most humble opinion, the “We” to which Bloomberg and Company refer to is Government; and that’s the one with a great big capital G.

This really isn’t rocket science, nor is it Political Science 101.  It comes down to a simple principle which we all know to be true.  If you don’t use it,  you lose it.

Each and every time that Government with a capital G mandates new regulations which usurp the responsibility which each of us have for making decisions regarding our personal behavior, our freedom and ability to maintain the responsibility for making our own decisions is slowly, but most assuredly eroded away.
Imagine yourself on a playground.  Personal Responsibility and Dependency are sitting on opposite sides of the see-saw.  Bloomberg and like-minded advocates of Big Government are sitting over there with Dependency.

Fortunately for all of us, yesterday Justice Tingling stepped up and decided to sit along side of Personal Responsibility.


Image courtesy of
hotos from and

“To Sleep, Perchance to Dream”

“Ay, There’s the Rub”

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  I’m of the opinion that Poor Richard, aka Benjamin  Franklin, was on to something when he published this proverb way back in 1735.
I’ve always been a big fan of catching my fair share of the recommended daily allotment of 40 winks per night.  Likewise, I’m a big believer in hitting the sack when I find my eyelids getting heavy, regardless of the hour.  No social convention is going to inhibit me from surrendering to the sheets simply because it happens to be 8:30 p.m. or earlier.  I often refer to this practice as “sleep with honor.

I have to admit that I’m still waiting to acquire Poor Richard’s stipulated wealth and wisdom, but one out of three isn’t all bad and I still have a few years left to continue with the experiment.

Recently, I came across an interesting article in the January/February issue of Discover magazine regarding sleep.  It piqued my interest not just because I’m so fond of the practice of snoozing, but because for many years, I worked in manufacturing management.

What, you might be thinking, does manufacturing have to do with sleep?  Quite a lot it turns out, if the schedule that you require your employees to work has an impact on their ability to get enough of it.
shift work
The 24 hour/7 day per week manufacturing operations which I managed over the years, utilized a number of different shift schedules.  One feature common to all of them was the use of rotating shifts.

The most common schedule involved 12 hour shifts with a 3 day on, 4 day off cycle followed by a 4 day on, 3 day off cycle.  This schedule required those working on it to rotate between days and nights, as well.

The most bizarre schedule I ever managed involved three traditional 8 hour shifts with the addition of a fourth crew which, over a seven day period, was required to rotate through the regular 1st, 2nd, and 3rd shifts in order to allow those crews to have 2 days off.  That schedule was both bizarre and brutal.  It was a scheme worthy of Tomas de Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.

So back to the Discover article.  It highlighted recent research which indicates that work and/or lifestyle schedules which disrupt the more typical night time sleep cycle may be hazardous to one’s health.   An increased incidence of diabetes, obesity, some forms of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease have been shown to occur when normal sleep patterns are consistently disrupted.

Thankfully, it’s been a while since I’ve been involved with rotating work schedules, but I’m confident that they are still commonplace in manufacturing operations.
I wonder if employers are still able to engage consultants who can be called upon to proselytize to their employees regarding the benefits of working on those schedules?

Sweet dreams.

There’s Never a Good Time for a Spasm

It was 1:43 a.m.  I know because as I was jolted into an unwanted state of wakefulness, the first thing I observed were the red numerals glowing insistently from my alarm clock.  I lay there for a few seconds wondering what had happened, when that which had first caused me to awaken, convulsed me second time.  A hiccup!

In all of my many years, I can’t remember ever having a case of the hiccups in the middle of the night, but I did last night and it was a world class case of them I might add.
My normal procedure for treating the hiccups is to wait for one to strike, then to quickly take a deep breath and hold it while focusing all of my mental powers on not allowing my diaphragm to move.  It’s as if I were pearl diving while attempting a Vulcan mind meld.

Truth be known, I’m not sure I could voluntarily make my diaphragm move on a good day, so why do I think I can keep it from moving involuntarily?  Beats me too, but it seems to work more often than not.

While I was laying there in the dark attempting self-asphyxiation, I was struck by how little I knew about hiccups and decided then and there to learn more; but to do so no earlier than the next day.

Somewhere back in my grade school days, I had learned that hiccups, or hiccoughs if you prefer the more eloquent European spelling, are simply involuntary spasms of the diaphragm, the membrane which keeps your lungs separated from the rest of the equipment in your body cavity.  Medically speaking, a hiccup is a myoclonic jerk.  Trust me, I’ve known a few of those in my day and I’d rank a good case of hiccups right up there with the worst of them.

In full blown medical jargon, hiccups are known as Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutters or SDFs.

The next time you’re stricken, go up to someone you know and say, “I’m having a synchronous diaphragmatic flutter! Can you help me?” and see what kind of response you receive.  It might be interesting, but be careful of whom and where you ask for such aid.
It came as no surprise to me that medical science really doesn’t know what causes hiccups.  Neither do they know the cause of the brain freeze that you get when you eat ice cream or a slushie too quickly. You’d think that after hundreds of years of poking and probing around inside of cadavers, as well as real live people, they could come up with a few answers.

One proposition is that hiccups are one of those evolutionary left-overs or remnants which are no longer required to allow our bodies to function normally, but which nature has left by the biological roadside in order to stump future generations of doctors and scientists.
It is suggested that hiccuping is akin to the manner in which amphibians, tadpoles and salamanders for example, gulp air in order to push it across their gills thus allowing them to breathe.  Having observed some of my relatives in the act of hiccuping, I must admit that there may be something to that hypothesis.

In any event, I was able to quell my nocturnal bout of synchronous diaphragmatic flutters and after completing my research am a better man for it.

Live long and prosper!

The New and Improved Grid Lock is Here!

Those of us who live within the confines of greater metropolitan Atlanta know, as do all residents of large cities, that traffic is a royal pain in the betoot!

Metro-Atlanta is somewhat unique among the U.S.’s large areas of urban sprawl in that there are no geographical features which confine or restrict its growth. There are no rivers, oceans, lakes, or mountain ranges to box it in; even if only in one direction. Atlanta simply keeps growing in all directions, much like a gallon of milk inadvertently spilled on the kitchen floor.

Look out Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee! Florida is still relatively safe.

Anyway, back to the topic of traffic. Atlanta traffic isn’t the worst I’ve ever driven in, I still maintain that Boston holds that honor, but metro-Atlanta traffic has got to be in the “Bottom 10” of locales in which to enjoy a casual afternoon drive.

This evening on my way home from work, I witnessed a traffic phenomena which I had never observed before. I was cruising along one of our many major three-lane arteries during the early rush hour when I was halted by a traffic light which had just turned red.
No one stomped on their gas pedals to rush through the intersection in that anything goes five second period immediately after the light has turned red. That in itself was a remarkably rare event, but it’s not the phenomena to which I’m referring.

Sitting at the red light, I was the second car in line in the middle lane. When the lights turned green, none of the the cars in any of the three lanes began to progress through the intersection. It was as if time, and traffic along with it, had frozen.

I looked up to re-confirm that the lights were green. They were, but due to the fact that no car in any of the three lanes was moving, there was a moment of mental confusion reinforced by the fact that none of the drivers in any of the lines were sitting on their car’s horns in a “polite” attempt to stir the lead cars into belated action.

Finally, after a good eight to ten second delay, one lane began to move out followed quickly by the other two.

It was in that moment that insight flashed through my mind and I realized I had just observed, what may have been, the first ever case of “Text-Lock“; a gridlock-like condition which I will define as:

The inability of traffic to flow freely due to the drivers of multiple immobile vehicles being simultaneously engrossed in the act of sending text messages on their cell phones.

TextingBriefly, I and my car had been completely encircled by drivers totally absorbed in the act of sending messages of highly questionable merit to equally uninterested friends and/or family members.

At least they weren’t attempting to do so while we were all in motion. I always try to find the good in every situation.

Please Sir, May I Have Some More Status Quo?

Heraclitus of Ephesus

Way back around 470 B.C., the Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, “Nothing endures but change.”  Ever since then, other writers, thinkers, and just plain ordinary folk have been attempting to pen other words which express that same sentiment, but I’m not sure anyone has ever really improved on ol’ Heraclitus’ original pronouncement on the subject.

By the way, is it just me or does that bust of Heraclitus remind you of “The Most Interesting Man in the World?” – “I may not alway react to change, but when I do, I find it enduring.

I’ve never been particularly resistent to change.  In fact, on the whole, I’ve welcomed the changes that have impacted my life more often than not.  But there does come a point where you just feel like crying “Uncle!” and asking for a respite from the incessant onslaught of revisions, transitions, and vicissitudes which seem to be intent on inundating your peace of mind.

That’s where I find myself at the moment.

Sometimes the sheer number of “opportunities” which change so graciously presents to us can come very close to overwhelming our ability to adequately manage them all.  In recent months, my wife and I have both been dealing with serious illnesses which are effecting both of our fathers.  If you haven’t found yourself in that situation yet, let me tell you that, as any psychologist worth his salt will confirm, it’s a chart topper on the Stress-o-Matic scale.

I’ve always read that relocations, as in moving from one city to another, are heavy duty stress producers as well.  Speaking as a parent, I can tell you that it’s no less stressful when it’s your own child, rather than yourself, who’s doing the relocating.  My youngest son, one of many recent college graduates who have been unable to find work, is leaving home to relocate to Massachusetts to live with his brother in the hope of finding greener employment pastures there.

Not to be outdone by my offspring, I find myself in the middle of transitioning into a new job with a new company.  The process of finding employment in the current economic environment has been a Homeric odyssey of uncertainty all by itself.  Now on top adapting to a new company culture, I’m having to deal with learning my new responsibilities while dusting off old, out-of-practice skills to achieve them.

In spite of it all, I’m confident that there will come a day in the not so distant future when I’ll be able to take a deep breath and say, if to no one other than myself, “Phew!  Got through that, I wonder what’s next?

Sharing The Road vs Reasonable Compromise

I have a question that I’d like to pose regarding runners. In particular, a question regarding the criteria which they apply when it comes to planning their training routes.

Put simply, why is it that some runners apparently feel compelled to run in the road? Especially on thoroughfares which commonly experience heavy automobile and truck traffic?

Now before anyone accuses me of being a short-sighted curmudgeon (or even worse), let me explain that for many years, I was a runner myself. A combination of a hip-injury and a blown-out Achilles tendon forced me to find other ways to exercise.

Just this morning, I again encountered a jogger running into the face of on-coming traffic on a heavily traveled, somewhat narrow, two lane road which is paralleled on both sides by perfectly good, well maintained sidewalks.

By the way, the roads to which I’m referring, do not have bike lanes. I wish that they did, but unfortunately those innovations have not yet captured the attention of the traffic engineers who design the roads in my neck of the woods.

Do runners have a right to run in the road? Absolutely. Unfortunately, some of them also demonstrate their right to practice, what seems to me to be, an inexplicable lack of common sense when it comes to ensuring their personal safety.

So what is it? Do they take the description “road runner” too literally? Do runners find the undulations on sidewalks necessitated by driveways and crosswalks unacceptable? Or is it a determined insistence to exercise their right to share the road?

Having known a co-worker who was tragically struck by a car and killed while riding his bike has perhaps made me overly sensitive to the risks taken by runners, as well as cyclists, when it comes to sharing some roads with cars and trucks.

Avoiding areas experiencing heavy traffic, utilizing available sidewalks, and remaining healthy and fit to run another day just seems to me to be a very reasonable practice for those who enjoy a good run.

Don’t challenge cars to a race. They almost always win!

Be safe out there.

It’s Just a Floater in the Vitreous Gel

So I’m working on my computer this past Saturday morning when I notice that there is, what appears to be, an aerial view of a Pacific atoll hovering in front of the screen. After blinking my eyes a couple of times, I discover that the atoll is still there. So I begin to investigate further.

I closed one eye and then the other and discovered that the anomaly was visible only when I was using my right eye. Aha! There must be a smudge or foreign object on my contact lens. A quick cleaning of the offending lens ensued, but much to my surprise, the atoll remained in place.

After popping the lens out of my right eye again, I discovered that the source of the problem was not external to my eye, but internal to it. I realized that I had a large circular “floater” in my eye. Now I’ve had floaters in my eyes for most of my life, in fact most people have them, but I’d never seen one this large nor one that was as prominent in my field of vision.

About this time, I made a second observation that really began to concern me. In the process of removing and replacing my contacts, I’d noticed that my eye movements were generating flashes of light and that I could see these flashes when my eyes were open, as well as when they were closed.

This, I realized, might not be such a good thing.

Immediately, I did what any thinking person would do under the circumstances; I Googled “Circular Floater in Eye”. It’ll come as no surprise that there is a wealth of information (some of it actually pretty good) to be had out there in cyberspace on the subject of eye floaters.

I had already started to wonder if I might be experiencing the initial stages of a detached retina. The information I read online indicated that while that might be the case, there was also the possibility that the source of my hovering Pacific atoll and flashing lights might be nothing more that a strand of vitreous gel pulling on the retina of my right eye.

When my condition did not change for the better over the remainder of the weekend, I made an appointment with a local ophthalmologist.

Upon arriving for my appointment at 6:30 a.m. (yes, 6:30 a.m., but that’s another story), the nurse immediately dilated both of my eyes with heavy duty, triple octane dilating fluid. I still had Bambi Eyes when I called it a day and went to bed later that night.

The doctor then came into the examination room. After shaking my hand, he asked, “How old are you?” “60“, I replied. He paused then gave an insightful nod of his head worthy of Sherlock Holmes after the final clue of his current mystery had fallen into place.

The good doctor then attached what looked and felt like the eye-piece from Galileo’s astronomical telescope to my right eye. After several repetitions of moving my eye up, down, right, and left while he illuminated the inside of my eye with a light source brighter than the Sun; the doctor announced that there was no evidence of retinal detachment or tearing. Fantastic, best news I’d received all day! Of course, it was still not yet 7:00 a.m.

He went on to explain that at “my age“, the vitreous gel inside of our eyes begins to shrink and that strands of the material can pull on the retina causing the perception of flashing light; confirming my own Google based diagnosis.

These strands can also be perceived to be Kwajalein and other obscure Pacific atolls. He told me that both the floater and the flashing lights would probably dissipate on their own within a few weeks!

It’s probably also an “age” related thing that as I was leaving the doctor’s office, I couldn’t seem to stop humming the phrase, “It’s Just a Floater in the Vitreous Gel . . . . ” to the tune of the old Moody Blues hit, “I’m Just a Singer (in a rock and roll band) . . . . .

Life is good.