Thursday, September 21, 2017

Bowel obstruction: eight slow, long days in a hospital

     Some advice: If you can avoid a small bowel obstruction, do so. I did not.
     Bottom line, on Tuesday morning, after six days of waiting and worrying, I had internal surgery, the removal of adhesions (old scar tissue) that had blocked the entry point for my bowels.
      First, I am fine. Home, as of Thursday evening. Ready to go for my daily walk. Ready to eat -- low-residue diet for a while, which is more calories than I want or need. Ready for more games, more life.
      With only the second hospital stay of my adult life -- 46 years apart (an early August 1971 appendectomy, and keep that in mind) -- behind me. 
      Eight days at Texas Health Harris Methodist, in the Fort Worth Medical District. And you were wondering why you hadn't heard from me.
      This began with a 2:30 a.m. wakeup Wednesday, Sept. 13, with severe stomach pain. It turned into a late-afternoon doctor's visit, who noting on paper that I "looked very ill," suggested the emergency room.
      And that became a 12-hour ordeal before I was admitted to the hospital. Yes, another 2:30 a.m.
      I acquired a new experience, a new "buddy" -- six full days with a foot-long NG (nasogastric) tube attachment. It went up the right nostril, down through the throat into the stomach to pump out the fluid and, well, crap, into an attached flask.
      One nurse jokingly called it my "elephant nose." Talk about getting hooked, and a very sore throat. But it only worked to an extent.
Dr. John Birbari
      On our first meeting, Dr. John L. Birbari Jr. -- my new superstar hero, a young, bright, friendly encouraging guy -- had evaluated my situation and said that by using the NG tube to pump the stomach clean, these conditions clear themselves 85 percent of the time. It is a conservative approach.
       Slow, ugly treatment. Not painful, just uncomfortable. To get up and around -- bathroom or a walk in the halls -- the tube had to undone from the flask tubing. The NG "trunk" went everywhere I went, and of course, so did the omnipresent IV pole.
       Stupidly, I thought it would be a 24-hour deal. But, no, it was 120 hours (five days). And then ... hello, 15 percent range. Surgery was a must.
       So, Tuesday at about 10:30 a.m, Dr. Birbari did a (medical term) laparoscopic lysis of abdominal adhesions. That's right.
       A single band of adhesions -- a "souvenir" from the appendectomy -- had stuck to my abdomen, layered in some fatty tissue (hey, 46 years), and thus the blockage. Dr. Birbari clipped the adhesions, put the bowel back in place -- all by scope.
       (If you really want to see, I can send you a photo or two. Not posting it here. Not pretty.)
      Done in about 25 minutes. I never knew; I was out of it.
      Fortunate, with quick recovery time and not a lot of discomfort.
      Importantly, what Dr. Birbari did not have to do was an "enterectomy," make an incision and go inside. The old way. All I have is some lower chest hair gone and three small scope entry marks. And an open small intestine.
      Dr. Birbari also provided the line of the week.
      On the weekend, his partner -- Dr. Doug Lorimer, a distinguished-looking white-haired veteran who had been my personal-care physician's recommendation (his schedule was busy), did the hospital-room visits and explained what was going to happen. He said, assuredly, "John is a magician with the scope."
      The next day, as Dr. Birbari confirmed that surgery would be needed, I relayed the "magician" remark, and he laughed, then cracked, "Glad he didn't say mortician."
      Yeah, me, too.    
      Look, this was a temporary setback. Not cancer, a stroke, heart problems -- those are issues that have taken friends from us in recent years, and limited other friends' everyday life. Thought much about those people this week, and about how my parents would have been so concerned.
Top-notch selfless care for us at this facility
     Only told a few friends and some of our family in advance -- no Facebook/e-mail promos. Received concern and tremendous support, and -- no surprise -- Beatrice was a rock. She has been through so many of her own physical challenges.
      Jason (son) was there twice, including the surgery time, and it is not a short drive for him. Rachel (daughter) and Elsa (sister) asked if they should come, too, from long distances.
      Speaking of supportive and caring, the Richardson Tower sixth-floor personnel here at Harris Methodist -- this is the main floor for surgical patients at this hospital complex -- was outstanding. To a person -- doctors, nurses, patient-care technicians -- they could not have been more patient and selfless (that's the word which keeps coming to me). It is all about the patient.
       So thankful, especially to the nurses and techs who made such great efforts, at any moment's call.
        Grateful, period.   

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The officials who made the long run

      Not sure if the referee's name was spoken during the telecast of last Saturday's Mississippi State-at-Louisiana Tech football game, but it was flashed on the screen once.
Ken Antee conducting the pregame coin toss for the Mississippi State
at Louisiana Tech game Sept. 9. (photo by Kelly Price, Miss. State)
      Probably he's fine with not much attention. That is the way it is with most game officials, any sport.
      Ken Antee, though, is a familiar face in Conference USA football, and to people in Shreveport-Bossier. And with the traveling he does each fall, calling a game as close to home as Ruston is a plus.
        Like most of us, he saw a once-in-a-lifetime play Saturday -- Tech's astounding 87-yard loss, from second-and-goal at the Mississippi State 6 to third-and-goal (93 yards to go) from the Tech 7.
        He got a close-up view: He had to chase after the bouncing, bouncing, bouncing ball and the players trying to scoop it up or fall on it.
        "One of the strangest things I've seen in 18 years [of college football officiating]," he said a couple of days later.
        It was one of several length-of-the-field plays for the teams -- and the officials -- in a strange game. But Antee, at age 55, was in good enough shape to make those runs, although he admitted his legs are still sore.
         And he still loves being in the game. It is as good as being an attorney, which he's been for 27 years. It might be  better than being Shreveport's chief administrative officer, which he was for eight years (1998-2006) under mayor Keith Hightower.
         "Was is the key word," he said, laughing. Because that job had as much you-can't-please-everyone or you-can't-please-anyone aspect as, well, officiating.
         The object here is not to discuss Antee's abilities or judgment as a football official -- we'll leave that to the various Internet soundoff boards -- but to point out that he is just one  the prominent college/pro game officials, past and present,  with Shreveport-Bossier ties.
         Let's start with baseball. 
         -- The late Alaric Smith of Bossier City called pro ball for some 15 years, the last five in the majors, and worked two All-Star Games (1961, 1963) and one World Series (1964, Yankees-Cardinals). 
         -- His longtime officiating pal in area basketball and more so in the Texas League in the late 1940s through most of the 1950s was Kurcy Paul Arceneaux, big "Frenchy," a TL legend who became a Shreveport resident and died much too soon (at age 48 in 1971). 
         College basketball:
        --  Robert "Tony" Rhodes, head football coach at Huntington High School for 18 years (from the school's opening in 1973 to 1990), officiated for 32 years and was one of the officials in the 1980 NCAA men's Final Four in Indianapolis.
        -- Mike Thibodeaux recently retired as an official after 36 years, 27 in the SEC, and 14 NCAA Tournaments. He remains involved in athletics as assigning secretary for high school football and baseball in Northwest Louisiana.
        In college football, Bobby Aillet was among the most respected longtime referees in the SEC and called some of the biggest games nationally. So did the late Paul Sprayberry as a field judge.
        More recently, Bobby Aillet Jr. (now living in Monroe) was involved in football officiating for 43 years (19 as a field judge in the SEC), Paul Labenne had 42 years in the game and David Lovell had 16.
        More details in a moment. There are others, and we'll get to some of them. 
         Aillet is a name with a deep Louisiana Tech association, the football stadium and original football complex named for the longtime athletic director/head coach. Joe Aillet was known to some as "The Smooth Man," and Bobby -- the son and his mid-1940s quarterback -- is much like his father.
Bob Aillet directing traffic at the 1986 Orange Bowl coin toss.
(photo taken from a YouTube video) 
         As a football referee, and in life, he was (and is at age 89) known for his calm, soft-spoken demeanor, and keen intellect. Few had better knowledge of the game's rules and a gentle manner with those who coached and played it.
         In business, he was a civil engineer, a partner in a long-standing, successful company in Shreveport. But during the fall for 36 years, he was Mr. Referee.
         In the first decade (1956-65), he worked high school football -- including four state championship games -- and in the all-Louisiana Gulf States Conference. He was an SEC official from 1962 through 1986, the chief of officials in 1978-82, and an observer for three more years after leaving the field. 
         The sum was 450 total games, 276 in the SEC, and eight bowl games -- and the highlight was the 1986 Orange Bowl, a national-championship victory for the 1985 Oklahoma Sooners over Penn State.
Bob Aillet in Shreveport a year ago
with a significant player who was on the field
in some games he refereed: 1982 Heisman
Trophy winner Herschel Walker (Georgia)
(The Shreveport Times photo)
         The other bottom line was a great deal of respect -- by him for the game, by those in the game for him as the referee.
        Paul Sprayberry, who died in October 1992, was an All-SEC end for Georgia Tech in 1939 and graduated two years later. He officiated, mostly as a line judge, is 250 SEC games and 16 bowl games. 
        Significantly, he was on the crew for one of the most memorable -- and painful -- losses in LSU football history: the 14-13 game at Tennessee in 1959, ending the Tigers' hopes for a second consecutive national championship. It was the week after the Billy Cannon Halloween-night punt return against Ole Miss, and it was Cannon coming up short on the critical late-game try for the winning PAT run.
        Sprayberry, who kept officiating after the loss of one arm in an accident, also helped call the Sugar Bowl game (Alabama-Nebraska) at the end of the 1966 season, one of the national championship years for Alabama and coach Bear Bryant. The Bama QB: Ken Stabler; the All-America wide receiver: Ray Perkins.
        In Shreveport, he was a division personnel manager for Southern Bell, retiring in 1981.
        Paul Labenne was a three-sport athlete at Fair Park High in the late 1950s and a standout football running back/defensive back/kick returner and baseball shortstop at Louisiana Tech. 
        He began officiating high school games in Shreveport in the early 1970s, then moved into college football in the Southland Conference and later the Mountain West and Western Athletic Conferences -- first as a back judge, one year as a line judge, then as a referee, and he finished his involvement as a replay official (including a memorable, mixed-up 20-25 minutes one day in a 2011 game at Louisiana Tech). Don't have enough space or time or desire to go into that.
        He refereed one NFL game -- season opener 2001, Tampa Bay at Dallas -- as a replacement, with the regular officials on strike.
        David Lovell, as a back judge and then line judge, was part of Labenne's crew for years and was in six bowl games. Together they worked an NCAA Division I-AA national championship game in the early 1990s, Marshall vs. Youngstown State. The opposing coaches, Jim Donnan and Jim Tressel, would become well-known after moving on to bigger jobs.
        Labenne worked as an insurance agent, as did Lovell, who later became involved in the oil and gas business.       
        Bobby Aillet Jr. also was in the crew for the Marshall-Youngstown State title game. A high school official for 20 years (through 1991), he was a college official from 1983 to 2011, plus four years as a replay booth official. 
        His postseason resume' is impressive, too: 13 games, including three SEC Championships, two Rose Bowls and two Fiesta Bowls.
        Retired from 38 years as a supervisor at a Monroe papermill, he is in his seventh year as the assigning secretary for high school games in Northeast Louisiana.
        Before integration in athletics in North Louisiana and even afterward, several Shreveport- and Bossier-based officials -- some of them coaches and school administrators -- worked in the all-black Southwestern Athletic Conference: among them, Nolan Thomas and Riley Stewart, Gerald Kimble, John Crockett, Carl Pierson and Henry Pinkney. 
        Thomas, a veteran referee, also was a steady presence in Northwest Louisiana high school games.
        Here is a current name to note: Adam Savoie grew up in Shreveport -- the Cajun restaurant/catering business on East 70th Street is his family's -- and he's an umpire in the American Athletic Conference. What's more, he is among 30 officials taking part in the NFL Officials Development Program this year.        
        Ken Antee, who is from Buckeye, La. -- 15 1/2 miles east of Alexandria -- and graduated from then-Northeast Louisiana University, was into his law career when he came to Shreveport in 1988. 
         Seeing an ad in the newspaper for prospective high school football officials, he reported for a meeting in Bossier City -- and he was on the field for much of the 1989 season, after a brief time in the usual starting role of clock operator. 
         He worked high school games for 11 years, Arena II games for a long spell, 11 years in Conference USA as a line judge and the last seven as a referee. 
         Plus, he served the city in an official role and the Independence Bowl in a variety of ways, including game chairman one year. 
          As an attorney, he has no problem explaining (debating) game situations with coaches. As an official, he knows better than to pay attention to fans' complaints, in person or online. 
          If his schedule has no postponements -- and a game in south Florida this weekend is iffy -- he will reach his 200th Division I game at the end of this season.
          And we know this: If he has to run 70-80-90 yards once or twice or more per game, he can do it. We've seen it. 
         (Next: Basketball's striped shirts)


Friday, August 25, 2017

It's true: I am a tired old sports fan

      Stress has become a huge part of my sports life.
      It always was there, and people who know much about me know nervous energy -- not peace and calm -- is part of the explosive package.
      Now it has come to this. I never imagined that some day I would write: I am a tired old sports fan.
      That might surprise some because passion for athletics has defined me. Other than the love for my wife, kids and grandkids -- and, yes, friends -- sports has driven me every day in every year.
      But I'm fed up. I addressed this in a blog almost five years ago --, and now it's worse.
      In most of my blogs, I try to stay upbeat, although that is difficult when writing about Nazis and the Holocaust. I have taken my shots in some sports blogs -- hello, Jerry Jones, and goodbye forever, George M. Steinbrenner -- but mostly the focus has been positive.
      This blog isn't going to be positive.
      I can hardly stand to watch sports anymore -- in person,  on television or on computer.

      Stories are more difficult to read, to digest. I hardly ever look at a newspaper these days, and I can do only so much reading sports news on the screen in front of me right now.
      When I see breaking sports news, I cringe. When I watch games or events, I mostly can't stand the athletes' behavior, and I don't like their looks. I am repulsed -- really -- by most  college and pro coaches.
       I strongly believe there is so much hypocrisy in college athletics. For instance: recruiting. So overdone, overblown; kids' egos far out of control. The media and recruiting services/web sites' obsession with "verbal commitments" is part of the problem.

       Colleges "offering" scholarships before kids even qualify academically for school should be prohibited, nor should kids be allowed to sign before their senior seasons in a sport are completed. Yes, I have some radical ideas.
       College athletes are spoiled, pampered -- and no way like "normal" students. Pay them for playing? My view: A free education is pretty darned good pay.  
       Far too much money involved in all college athletics, and that's even more true in pro sports. It's so out of whack with the rest of society, it's not right.      
       Salaries, for players and coaches, are outrageous. Ticket prices? It galls me to even look at them. Public financing for stadiums, ridiculous (that's you, Arlington, Texas).
       I see people who are excited about the NFL preseason games. People, read this: biggest ripoff in sports today, period.
       For the first time, I am not looking forward to football season. Nope, not even college football.
       I used to count down the weeks until opening kickoff. Not even nervous this year. Maybe next week, I will feel the anxiety of another LSU season, another Louisiana Tech season. 
      Really, I try to avoid anything NFL. The Cowboys are just a soap opera; so many sideshows; so much Jerry Jones in our face. So much boring Jason Garrett. If QB Dakota Prescott -- with his Bossier Parish ties -- wasn't there, it would be a total wash for me. I can root for Dak.
      The violence of the game never has been appealing. And it's a violent game, no way around it. So many people relish the "big hits," but celebrating them -- as if often done -- is a poor message.
      The injuries -- concussions, threat (and reality) of paralysis, multiple surgeries for so many -- are awful. Worse: the more frequent deaths/suicides related to CTE (brain damage).
      If they never played another football game, my life would be OK. Feels strange because the sport has been so important to me for so, so long.
      No longer watch the NBA. Just as in the NFL (and college sports), it would be a lot better if the athletes did not celebrate after almost every good play they make.
      Stopped following tennis years ago, about the same time as boxing (after Ali, I did not care). Do like track and field, especially in OIympic years; same for swimming. Olympics,  as a whole, are far too commercial. 
      Never much of a car-racing fan or horse racing, but I watched and read about those sports when I was working because I needed to know enough to edit stories.
      Still like watching golf, but limit it to the majors and the tournaments I love most, on courses with which I am familiar (Colonial, right here by the apartments, and The Players Championship). And it usually takes one of the great young players on tour now to be in contention and draw my attention.
      First love, soccer, boring as it is. Love it lots more when The Netherlands' men's team is playing well. But that was one World Cup ago.
The Texas Rangers pour it on after a victory (Getty Images photo)
      Bored even by baseball, a sport I have been passionate about for 60-plus years. The games are just too darned long, the players act out too much (but not quite as much as in the NBA or NFL).
      Really can't stand the walkoff victory celebrations -- the team-jumping exercise, the pouring of Gatorade (see this week's Sports Illustrated cover -- the Dodgers), water, powder on the "hero," even if the other team made an error that allows the winning run to score. Especially don't like the pileup and the ripping off of the game shirt.
        Throwing pitches at batters or behind them, on-field skirmishes (as in Yankees-at-Tigers on Thursday): dumb and dangerous. Play the game the right way.  
      So stupid all of it. Young men acting like kids? A whole bunch of spoiled, overpaid brats.
      You really want me to go on a rant, let's go back to college football coaches. Ah, never mind. I don't have enough time or space or energy. But I am so, so tired of them especially -- our great role models.
      Just a sample, consider the scandals. Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss, North Carolina and academics, Art Briles and a rape culture, Bobby Petrino and the motorcycle mistress, (unfortunately) the late Joe Paterno. I could list dozens.
      Our son-in-law, who is host for a radio sports talk show, tweeted this a couple of weeks ago:
      "I'm so over these coaches. Butch [Jones], [Ed] Orgeron, [Brian] Kelly, [Tom] Herman ... all paranoid, self-obsessed dullards."
      I agree totally. Let me add sanctimonious and obsessive (Nick Saban), control freak (Gary Patterson), brash (Jim Harbaugh), whiner (Urban Meyer), cocky (Jim McFlorida), zany (the out-of-work but well-paid Les Miles), slightly berserk (Dabo Swinney) and unintelligible (Orgeron). 
      And at Louisville, angry-man Petrino. It is a scandal double-play when you add basketball -- Rick Pitino (a friend says that when he goes to a restaurant he orders "a table that will hold two") and his staff runs an escort service, but of course he had nothing to do with that.
      I never was much of a sports-talk show fan, be it radio or television. But I know several radio show hosts -- son-in-law and some friends -- who I respect and who know their stuff, and I am glad they're on the air.
      And I am happy for my friends and former co-workers still making a good living in the newspaper or online sportswriting business.
      When I do watch games, I seldom have the sound turned on. I will listen only to a few announcers. Mute is good. I usually can figure out what's going on.
      I have a friend who, went I told him how I'm feeling, said, "There is nothing like walking into a full college football stadium." True, if that's what you like. To me, it's a pain being in a big crowd and waiting out massive traffic jams.
      Millions of fans in all sports do like what they pay big prices to see. Good for them. I'm out.
       But, but, but ... two qualifiers.
       (1) It's not that I do not care about my teams; I am just as intense a fan as ever. When they win, great (but better when they play well). When they lose, it still feels bad. It always will.
       I must remind myself: It's a game; the results are fleeting.
       (2) Because I am addicted to LSU football, and addictions are hard to break, and because I am interested in Louisiana Tech athletics, I will pay attention. I might even watch the games live on TV (when available).  
       Might watch. But I might just follow on computer. Or, as I did with LSU's early kickoff bowl game last season, I will  record the game on U-Verse and watch it later. I did that all last season with the Cowboys' games, and the Super Bowl.
       Cuts down on the stress level, and don't have to sit through the commercials.
       I don't intend to watch games in person, not for the time being. I did attend three college football games and one basketball game last season, more because I enjoyed being with friends who invited me. Hey, I even paid for one ticket.
       So, for my friends, don't even ask. And don't call to talk to me about athletics. I'll let you know when I'm ready. Until then, I am stressed and I am tired of it all.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Blog reactions and this: "Some very fine people on both sides"

      Don't often follow a blog piece with reactions to a previous one. This will be an exception.
      One reason: I failed to include President Trump's "some very fine people on both sides" remark regarding the white supremacists vs. anti-protesters aftermath of Charlottesville last week.
      Please. I have never seen "fine people" among the present-day Nazis, KKK, white supremacists, alt-right.
      If you watched the behind-the-scenes VICE News video of the Friday night march in Charlottesville -- the torch-bearing, chanting and, frankly, Jew-baiting crowd -- and heard the rhetoric from David Duke and all his pathetic buddies, there is nothing and no one "fine" about it.
      Every interview we have seen with "leaders" of these groups ... and they are disgustingly racist/anti-Semitic, and darned happy about it -- and the President's statements.
      No "both sides" to it, period.   
      Sure, one side has some who could be violent, and might be ready for physical attack. The other side is totally prepared for violence. All you have to do is listen to the trash talk.      
      Cannot defend the President, and Vice-President, and our U.S. representative, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Texas, and others who give these people an "out" or put them on an equal basis. That is an unforgivable error.
      It is, as I said previously, above politics. It is about decency and morality. (Not trying to preach; I have my faults.)
      No way to blame this on the "alt left" or the media. Too much of a throwback to Nazi Germany and the hooded, KKK night riders.
      Now, about the reactions ...
      One is from the daughter of a man I regarded as one of the top two sportswriters ever to work in Louisiana. The other is from a superior athlete of his time. I thought both reactions were strong enough and detailed enough to share.
        John Walter "Jack" Fiser was sports editor/lead sports columnist for The Shreveport Times for a decade (1951-61); I described him in a blog a couple of years as a "erudite, brilliant writer." He was years ahead of his time, and my opinion, the only one in Louisiana in his sportswriting class was Peter Finney (in New Orleans). Ego and self-promotion were not part of their personalities.
      Fiser's columns and game stories -- especially on LSU football and the Shreveport Sports, but really on any subject he chose -- were gems, pieces of craftwork. He made a reader think; he could be critical, yes, but with a deft touch.
      Jack Fiser's column was a "must-read" in a time when The Times circulation was wide, through north and central Louisiana, into east Texas and southern Arkansas.
      Too young for the Fiser writing era, the hours I spent researching sports history of those years were made much longer because I always stopped to read, and appreciate,  what he wrote.
      Full disclosure: Mr. Fiser was sports information director at Louisiana Tech in 1966-67; I was his student assistant, my sophomore year at Tech. He moved to Baton Rouge after that year and wound up at LSU's Alumni House as a writer/researcher (my sister, as a student, worked for him there).
Mr. and Mrs. Fiser
        He was calm and soft-spoken, measured, highly intelligent, well-read, respected and respectful. In so many ways, he was like Tech legendary athletic director-football coach Joe Aillet; he and Mrs. Fiser were close friends with the Aillets. He also was very friendly with Pete Dosher -- his predecessor as Tech SID and my first mentor there -- and Mary Dosher.
      Mr. Fiser's daughter Joan, who in 1966-67 was a cute high school junior (Byrd, in Shreveport), now lives in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, married and a mother -- and a Facebook friend.
      Here is the note she sent me after the previous blog:
      "What's been happening in our country is alarming and those of us who are appalled by it must speak out. This year I've often thought of my dad, who as you were probably aware, Nico, was politically conservative. I doubt seriously that he ever considered voting for a Democrat, but I know he would not have liked or voted for our current president because of Trump's ignorance, ineptitude, dishonesty, boastfulness and so many other qualities that Jack Fiser abhorred.
      "As a former Marine who dropped out of LSU to fight fascism (later returning to graduate), he would have been upset by the current rise of anti-Semitism and white nationalism. My father would have found Trump's admiration for Putin unthinkable.
      "What we are witnessing is shocking and, at times, frightening, and we can't remain quiet about it. Hopefully, at some point not too far in the future, we will return to the kind of society that most of us grew up in and value -- one in which people can have differing political views and values but still coexist amicably and work together. We should never make the mistake of taking our democracy and way of life for granted."
      Joan adds, "One point I wanted to make was that as far apart as Dad and I were politically on certain issues (like foreign policy), I always respected him as a principled, intelligent person. I knew that we shared very clear values about what's really important in life and how people should be treated.
      "What became obvious in the presidential campaign and since the election is that something has happened to the shared value system that so many of us took for granted. During the campaign it was acceptable to insult other candidates in a vulgar way, which would have been unthinkable before.
       "Now, some people don't seem to have a problem with neo-Nazis marching in the streets shouting, 'Jews will not replace us' or running over counter protestors. This is not the society I grew up in or want for my daughter and her future children."
       I am not going to name the person who offered the second reaction I am sharing. But I will say that it surprised me to an extent. Here it is ...
       "[I] did not intend to go deep into the Trump issue but rather wanted to thank you for making me stop and think and reflect and do some soul-searching. When this latest Trump issue came about, I thought 'here we go again,' and then tried not to get emotionally tied to it as I have too many issues in my own life to deal with. But it wouldn't go away ... and it won't.
       "I think this is the beginning of the end for Mr. Trump -- resign or get impeached, but either way for the good of this country he must go. That is how I truly feel.
       "Your assessment of Trump and the trainwreck his presidency is 100 percent correct. I agree totally with what you said in your blog. Thank you."
       One more personal remembrance from Joan Fiser, dating to early 1968:
        "I remember your parents, whom I met at a Tech basketball game. As you know, your mother was one of those people who touched people's lives. I still remember her face as she explained the number on her arm. That is a story I shared with hundreds of students over the years when the subject of the Holocaust came up. Hopefully that story will never be forgotten."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Here is my red line ...

      My mother spent 25 years talking publicly -- and privately -- about the Holocaust, and warning how anti-Semitism and bigotry is still out there and can rise again.
       And here we are.
       Thinking of my mother and father, who were Holocaust survivors and who lost practically their entire families at the hands, guns and gas chambers of the Nazis ...
       Miss them, but glad they are not here for these times and this President.
       I have written about my parents' lives and about their Holocaust experiences, and about some of their friends ... because it is part of my history, my family's history.
       I cannot, and will not, be silent on Charlottesville and the aftermath. The President's at-first weak and then defiant response is unacceptable.
       You don't agree, you can "unfriend" on Facebook or "unfollow" me, or tell me to you want off my e-mail list. Fine. I don't care.
       I have waited to express that, even with criticism from old (and not-so-old) friends after my two political-type posts last year. One of those posts was a defense of the media, and my view that "fake news" references are propaganda from a candidate/President who relies almost daily on targeting someone or some entity.
       But if you can find a defense for this, for his "many sides" BS, for any kind of "out" for the white supremacy, Nazi-KKK-alt right creeps -- and I could use much more colorful descriptions, I don't need you. 
       That goes for anyone, friends from 60 years ago, whatever. This is my parting shot.
       Don't want to get too deep into politics and social issues because it hisses off so many people. I understand the difference between conservative viewpoints and liberal ones, and most of you know where I lean. But I don't lean as much as some of my friends and family.
       But this issue, the current uprising of these Nazis and KKK hoodlums, and their "leaders" whose faces and voices we see and hear too much, the torches burning in the night, the violence erupting (and the prospect of much more), no thanks.
       Just as so many of you were critical of the previous President and the losing Presidential candidate, this President can be criticized every minute of every day. I don't have time or space, except to say I trust the media people we watch a helluva lot more. They are articulate -- and he's not.
       They are articulate -- and he's not. (Just repeating, as he does with almost every sentence he likes.)
       That statement he read Saturday was a joke. Obviously someone wrote for him, as they write almost everything for him these days -- and when he goes off-script, that's when he begins hammering anyone he thinks he needs to hammer (including his Cabinet members and his Republican "friends" in Congress).
       Guarantee you he's never said the word "egregious" before in his life.
       He read that statement Saturday, and the one Tuesday, without any real meaning, without conviction, without empathy. But with plenty of fire and fury when admonishing the media and interrupting -- "excuse me, excuse me ... I'm not finished."
       His rudeness, just as in the debates and the campaign, is overwhelming. His supporters love it; he's "being tough." That is a bunch of bull. His indecency is well-publicized, and it matters not to so many. 
       I much prefer a President who shows class -- whether you agree with him or not -- and can empathize and sympathize. This hate- and fear-mongering bully has none.
       I had a friend tell me several weeks ago, "Anyone who criticizes the President is a bad person."
       Unbelievable. Yes, the office of the President should be respected. But the person in the office should earn that respect. So many refused to give that to the last President.
       You could disagree with his policies and the tone of the country, again I understand. But he was -- my opinion -- not abusive. Nor were Presidents Reagan, Bush and Bush.
       As for the statues honoring the South's Civil War heroes, I don't have a strong opinion. They honor a history, but if they are offensive to African-Americans -- whose  ancestors were the slaves of so many, including our Presidents and the South's war heroes -- you should understand. 
       Same for the Confederate flag.
       Same for KKK hoods and torches.  
       Same for us, the Nazi flag and Nazi gear and Nazi propaganda, and -- heaven forbid -- Nazi statues. Same for KKK hoods and torches.  
       Much of the past should be the past, not the present.
       So, as I posted on Facebook, here are links to re-posts by a couple of journalist friends I respect. 
       From Bob Mann, former Shreveport Journal writer political analyst/teacher in Baton Rouge, on the synagogue in Charlottesville:
       From Evan Grant -- Jewish, a late 1980s Shreveport Times sportswriter en route to covering the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Morning News:
       So there you have it. We are always aware of the Nazi/KKK/alt-right/white supremacists history and the Nazi/KKK/alt-right/white supremacists ways. My mother knew, and she spoke.
       During the Presidential campaign, Mr. Trump was slow to disavow David Duke's "endorsement" and -- again -- finally did disavow, after prodding, without much conviction. He's hired alt-right, Nazi sympathizers for his White House staff.
       It was predictable, to me, during the Presidential campaign and the white supremacists' obvious delight with this candidacy -- and again now, with their gleeful response to his Tuesday outburst and blame on the "alt-left," that their protests and violence was not far away. I'm surprised it took six months.
       They now have been emboldened and empowered, and what about those neo-Nazis in Europe seeing this?
       We don't accept the "many sides" drivel, we do not accept the "we want to take our country back" crap, we do not accept so much of what this President stands for and, even more, what he says.
       This is beyond politics. It's bigotry and hatred. You don't like what I'm saying, good-bye.       

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another Holocaust/book update: Mom's friend Hilde

         Hilde Kratzenstein Meier, a Holocaust survivor who we knew as Hilde Cohen, rarely talked about her days in World War II.
       Too painful, too sad.
       In the photo of my mother and her "camp sisters" -- the group of Auschwitz and other concentration-camp survivors -- the woman behind Mom (bottom left) is Hilde.
      She has her right hand on my mother's right shoulder. For the next 60 years, they were connected.
      She soon would become Hilde Cohen, marrying Jacob "Jaap" Cohen, a man with two sons. They all somehow survived those early 1940s World War II years, each with their own story.
      They are stories of family losses, separation, intrigue (hidden survivors), imprisonment, reunion ... and a new start with a new family.
      Hilde and Jaap each lost their first spouses and much of their families in the war years. Each was a native of Germany, and separately, left that country in 1933 to move to The Netherlands and escape Hitler's early reign of terror.
      Rob Cohen, the son born in 1949 to Hilde and Jaap, provided much of the information for this blog piece. He lives, as he always has, in The Netherlands.
      As Rob wrote to me and my sister Elsa a few months ago after reading the book about my parents and our family -- Survivors: 62511, 70726 -- Hilde was unlike my mother in this way: She preferred not to talk about the Holocaust experience. 
      "It took me some time to read the book," Rob wrote. "For obvious reasons. ... Especially the part of your mother during the war. It is, of course, also the story of my mother.
      "But contrary to your mother, my mother was not able to speak (much) about her experiences, mainly because of the loss of her mother, father, sister, brother and husband.
      "And because of her own character. So, for those reasons, she was not able to have much contact with your mother, but I can assure you that she loved her dearly."
      Rob did note one major correction:
      "My mother is mentioned in the book as Hilda Meier Kretsenstein. But her exact name is Hilde Kratzenstein."
      (Let's say that my mother's memory and notes were a bit faulty, and so was my lack of research.)
      The "camp sisters" photo likely was made in summer 1945, some months after the end of their imprisonment at Auschwitz, in the infamous women's Block 10 (and the gruesome medical experiments by the Nazis), and after their weeks-long "Death March" through Poland in the brutal winter cold of January 1945.
      By the time of the photo, they had recovered some health, had been given the hand-me-down uniforms they are wearing, and were waiting to find a way to return to The Netherlands.
      When Hilde returned, she soon reunited with Jaap Cohen. And Jaap had reunited with his two sons.
      Jaap was born in Ochtrup, Germany, on May 16, 1907;  Hilde was born in Schüttorf, Germany, on Feb. 5, 1919. So, Jaap was 12 years older than my father, Louis Van Thyn, and Hilde was five months older than Dad. Mom (Rose Van Thyn) was two years younger than Hilde and Dad.
      In 1940, Hilde married Otto Meier, who lived in Enschede, The Netherlands. It was in Enschede where she and Jaap first met, as working companions -- as Rob notes -- "at Meijer Clothing Shop. My father was a window dresser, my mother a saleswoman."
      Hilde, like my mother, was "picked up" by the Nazis in 1943 and eventually transported by cattle-car train to Auschwitz. Otto died in a concentration camp.
      Jaap Cohen, Rob said, "was a survivor, but not from the camps. He was hidden in Utrecht with the Van de Dorpe family (mother and two daughters, all three teachers) together with his wife Sophia (Fietje, she was called) de Lange.

      At first, their oldest son (Harry, born in 1940) was with them. But for safekeeping, he then was hidden in several places in Friesland, up north in The Netherlands, then and now the most sparsely populated, most rural -- mostly farms with cattle and crops -- province in the country.
      Harry was never betrayed, never discovered in hiding by the Nazis. He was too young to remember where he was hidden. 
      The younger son, Jaques/called Jack, was born in a Utrecht hospital in 1943. Details are sparse, but the mother -- as the boys were told -- died in that time frame, perhaps in childbirth. Jaap remained in hiding.
       This is for certain: The occupying Nazis immediately took the baby and he was sent to the Theresienstadt camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia.
      Here, from the encyclopedia on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum web site and other sources, is information on what is described as a "model" camp -- a stopoff for many Jewish prisoners, but also one where the arts were emphasized and were children of age attended an unofficial school.
       Some 140,000 Jews from all over Europe were sent to Theresienstadt; some 90,000 were transported onto Auschwitz and other death camps; some 30,000 died there from starvation or illness; and the number of children was estimated at 15,000.
       Only 10 percent of those children -- an estimated 1,500 -- survived the war. One of those was Jack Cohen.
       Maybe he was among the 1,200 Dutch Jews which a group in Switzerland -- the neutral country untouched (almost unbelievably) by the Nazis -- ransomed from the SS in exchange for millions of dollars. But maybe Jack and others were in the camp when the Russian Red Army liberated it and the International Red Cross moved in to care for the survivors.  
       What Rob Cohen and his brothers knew was that Harry and Jack wound up together -- and Jaap found them.
       "After the war all children (without relatives) were brought to the Berg Stichting Foundation in Laren (a town in North Holland)," Rob wrote, "where my father found them again and brought them with him to Enschede."
        That foundation, begun in 1909, was a shelter for Jewish children, many of them orphans. But the Cohen brothers, by now 5 and 2, were not orphans. They were survivors.
       By then Hilde was in Enschede, too. She and Jaap met again, and married on March 27, 1947. Rose and Louis had been married five months earlier.
       The Cohens soon moved.
        "A brother of my father had a clothing shop in Hilversum," Rob wrote, "but as he also didn't return after the war, my father got the chance to take over this shop in 1947."
        Hilversum is where Rob was born some 2 1/2 years later.
The Cohen family, 1950, in Hilversum, The Netherlands
     And Hilversum -- 16 miles southeast of Amsterdam and longtime base of the Dutch national radio and television networks -- is where I remember the Cohen family from visits there with my parents in the early 1950s. Rose went to see Hilde, Louis became friends with Jaap, and Elsa and I were along for the trips.
      Elsa, too young then to remember our visits, recalled her 1963 trip to The Netherlands with Mom -- their first time back after we left late in 1955 -- and told Rob, "I have such a clear memory of Jackie and his motorcycle. ... Remember how nice he was and actually took me for a ride. As a 12-year-old girl, I remember him being so handsome ."
     Elsa returned for visits with our parents in 1972 and 1975 and also told Rob that we had a home movie of him diving into the water near their lakehouse in Loosdrecht.
      "I have such wonderful memories of your family," Elsa wrote.
Frouke van Eijk and Rob Cohen
      Rob now lives in Almere, which is 14 miles almost straight east from Amsterdam -- although that straight line goes across the Ijmeer lake.
     For many years, Rob was a tax advisor ("still working a bit") and an active soldier in the Dutch National Guard. He retired in 2009 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
      Married in 1970 to Gisela Bässler (a German native, not Jewish), they have two children -- Claudia (1972), who is married and lives in Jerusalem (where she became an Orthodox Jew) and Peter (1975), a divorced father with two sons who has another son with a new partner and lives in Woerden, The Netherlands.
     Gisela died of a stroke on Dec. 31, 2006, at age 60.
     Since September 2009, Rob has lived with Froukje van Eijk in Almere.
     Brother Jack died of cancer on May 6, 2003. Harry lives alone in Sweden and, says Rob, "is doing well."

Jaap and Hilde, 1973
     Jaap Cohen died of cancer on July 23 1979, and soon after that, Hilde -- now alone -- moved to  Benidorm,  Spain, where she lived the last 25 years of her life.
     She died on March 11,  2006 -- so some 2 1/2 years before Dad and four years after Mom.
     She left Rob a memorable keepsake.
     It is a symbol of the great care the United States soldiers gave to Mom, Hilde and the other concentration-camp survivors in Poland in the spring of 1945.
      "Attached I send you," Rob wrote in an e-mail, "the emblem of the 69th Infantry Division, which my mother got for her memory from the American captain and which she always kept in her wallet.
      "I am proud to have it now  because it symbolizes the great gratitude we feel to our brave liberators."
       Rob's lasting memory of his mother and her Holocaust experience is "she did not want to talk about the history. It made her sick. So that is the reason she did not stay in touch with your parents and anyone else from her past."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Part II: names, nicknames, more names

      The name game continues, second day ...
      The response on the nicknames blog was a good one, and so we go on. Because overnight dozens more came to mind, and also there are two other "name" categories.
      How about people whose first names are just initials (usually, but not always, abbreviations for their full names)? How about those two-tone first names?
      Stay tuned.
      First, back to nicknames. My friend Ross Montelbano, who wrote "... that was amazing. That might be my favorite article you've written. If I might add ..."
      Ross' list (I added first names and comments):
      John "Blue Moon" Odom; Jim "Mudcat" Grant; Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown; "Spaceman" Bill Lee
      "The Grey Ghost" (the character Gavin Grey, played by Dennis Quaid in the movie Everybody's All-American, adapted from a novel written by the late, great Frank Deford)
      "Bucketfoot" Al Simmons (Baseball Hall of Famer who once played for Shreveport)
      Old Aches and Pain" Luke Appling; Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd; "Dr. Strangleglove" Dick Stuart; "Sweet Swinging" Billy Williams; "The Schnoze" Ernie Lombardi; "Smokey Joe" Wood; "The Walking Man" Eddie Yost
      "Scrap Iron" Clint Courtney (the majors' first bespectacled catcher from Hall Summit, La., 40 miles from Shreveport) and Phil Garner (from Knoxville, Tenn.)
      Archibald "Moonlight" Graham (played in one major-league game, then became a doctor and was portrayed in the movie Field of Dreams by Burt Lancaster)
      Hazen "Kiki" Cuyler; Leon "Goose" Goslin; Lynwood "Schoolboy" Rowe; "The Reading Rifle" Carl Furillo; "Wild Thing" Mitch Williams
      "[Warren] Spahn and [Johnny] Sain and Pray for Rain"

      "Sweet Lou" Piniella and "Sweet Lou" Dunbar (basketball, from Minden, La., and the Harlem Globetrotters)
      "The Flying Scotsman" Bobby Thomson (he hit "The Shot Heard 'Round the World)
      "Nails" Lenny Dykstra; "Wahoo Sam" Crawford; "Sudden Sam" McDowell; "The Yankee Killer" Frank Lary; John "Tito" Francona; Terry "Tito" Francona (son of the father); "The Big Donkey" Adam Dunn
      Laurence "Dutch" Rennert (National League umpire known for his exaggerated strike calls, he umpired in the Southern Association during Shreveport's time in that league, 1959-61)
      "The Big Cat" -- baseball's Andres Galarraga, football's Rayfield Wright (Cowboys' Hall of Fame offensive tackle) and Ernie Ladd (from Grambling State)  
      Adding to the list (and confessing that it took a little research for some -- but not all) ...
      Butch: The late Brian Smart (also known as "Maxwell").
      Buddy: Early 1960s Fair Park High baseball teammates Buddy Nelson and Buddy Chester. Veteran sports editor/columnist/author/sports talk show host Buddy Martin, now based in Ocala, Fla.
      Reviving two Shreveport umpire/referee nicknames from a recent blog: Clyde Oliver "T-Willie" Moore and Lloyd "Sarge" Boyce.
A young Bert Blyleven (born in Holland):
"Be Home by Eleven"
      Louisiana Tech/minor-league baseball announcer of 4,000-plus games: "Freeway" Dave Nitz.
      Baseball: "Mick The Quick" Mickey Rivers, Bert "Be Home by Eleven" Blyleven (thank you, Chris Berman), "The Gambler" Kenny Rogers, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni, "Crime Dog" Fred McGriff, "The Penguin" Ron Cey, "Joey Bats" Jose Bautista.
      Here is a special one: Harry "Stinky" Davis. He was the Detroit Tigers' first baseman in 1935 when he lost the job to Hank Greenberg (future Hall of Famer). Except for his baseball days, Harry Davis lived his whole life in Shreveport.
      Co-workers at newspapers: Bill "Bull" Rutkin, "Tolo" Tobias Xavier Lopez, R.C. "Cotton" McCoy, the nitpicker "Laz" Allan Lazarus.
      Coaches, LSU: "Biff" Jones, Gaynell "Gus" Tinsley, "Pepsodent Paul" Dietzel, "Cholly Mac" Charlie McClendon,  tragic "Bo" Rein, "Curley" Hallman, "Les-tacles" Les Miles, "Coach O" Ed Orgeron, "Press" Maravich, "Daddy" Dale Brown, "Skip" Bertman.
Pistol Pete Maravich: The PMAC honors his legend
        How could I have forgotten one great basketball name: "Pistol Pete" Maravich?
         Another one, a star in basketball and baseball at Lake Charles High and the University of Kentucky, and a two-sport pro athlete: Charles "Cotton" Nash.
         Personal basketball friends: Mike "Opie" McConathy, Malcolm "Mouse" Smith. Tech basketball trips roommate/legend: Lynn "Ikey" Sanderson.
         Football coaches of note: Paul "Bear" Bryant, Ralph "Shug" Jordan, "JoPa" Joe Paterno, Hugh "Duffy" Daugherty, Nick Satan, Steve Superior ("The Head Ball Coach"), John James "Jimbo" Fisher, William "Dabo" Sweeney. The man the late Frank Deford made famous in Sports Illustrated: Robert "Bull" "Cyclone" Sullivan of East Mississippi JC.
        North Louisiana football coaches: Shreveport's "Old Lou" Lowell Morrison and Roy "Bull" Wilson. Northwestern State's Harry "Rags" Turpin. Oil City's Earl "Blue Boy" Nolan. Louisiana Tech's Milton "Mickey" Slaughter.
        Ruston, La., High School gave us L.J. "Hoss" Garrett and Jimmy "Chick" Childress. In basketball, it was Denmon "Lefty" Garner. In Jacksonville, Fla., Charles "Corky" Rogers is the alltime winningest football coach.
        Another "Hoss" was Jim Brock, former Cotton Bowl exec. The longtime Cotton Bowl chairman was Field Scovell, but Field was his given name.
        An old friend from Sunset Acres, a high school football/track All-State star: Ross "The Hoss" Oglesby.
        Ross was a running back. So, too, a decade earlier were consecutive Heisman Trophy winners -- Alan "The Horse" Ameche and Howard "Hopalong" Cassady.
        Football stadium names: "Death Valley" (LSU and Clemson), "The Big House" (Michigan), "The Swamp" (Florida), "The Granddaddy of Them All" (Rose Bowl). (There are dozen others.)
        A couple of NFL-related names: "Dirty Birds" and "Cheeseheads." A quarterback: "The Gunslinger" Brett Favre. The best-known placekicker of the 1950s: Lou "The Toe" Groza.
        My favorite Shreveport Sports player (and 10-year major leaguer): "Baby Lou" Klimchock. (He was 19 when he starred for the Sports in 1959.)
         Now, how about those initial names. Here are some people I've known and some I've seen (starting with Shreveport connections, branching out):

          A.L. Williams, W.B. Calvert, C.O. Brocato, J.D. Cox, D.C. Machen, J.L. Wilson, J.B. Harville (my junior high, Oak Terrace, was renamed in his honor), V.T. Smith, J.W. Slack, C.J. Lottinger, T.K. Henry (but call him Tommy), H.L. Prather Sr., J.D. Garrett, J.D. Barnett, J.R. Richard, J.R. Ewing, T.R. Sullivan, J.D. Drew, J.D. Martinez, R.C. Slocum, R.B. Summitt, U.L. Washington, H.O. West.  
        Two-tone names (it's probably, mostly, a Southern thing):
        John James Marshall, Jon Pat Stephenson, Joe Raymond Peace, Billy Don Maples, Bobby Ray McHalffey, Billy Don McHalffey, Billy Ray Stokes, John Andrew Prime, Bob Ray Sanders, Billy Rex Lockwood, Jimmy Joe Hildebrand, Billy Bob Thornton.
         I'm out of names for this week.