Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Lobotomy, anyone? My wild weekend at the Lunatic’s Asylum, and other wonderful places

Have you ever had one of those weekends where everything just seemed to go right?  This past Friday my brother-in-law Jim picked me up and brought me home with him after work, where I spent the night at my sister Shawn’s house and enjoyed some of the best mushroom & green pepper pizza I’ve ever eaten. 

The next morning, my friend and former classmate Diana (who lives an hour south of my sister, near Fairmont WV) picked me up for an outing in “Wild n’ Wonderful West Virginia”.

That’s their state slogan and they did not disappoint!

Our plans were to tour an insane asylum in Weston WV that’s been closed for decades, but to stop along the way first in a little town named Buckhannon for lunch.

I fell in love with Buckhannon the moment we got out of Diana’s car.  On a scale of 1 to 10 for picturesque small towns, Buckhannon rates an 11.  It’s town center was filled with a couple thousand people, and when we asked what was going on, were told it was their Annual ‘High School Bands from Around the World’ parade. In a little town in West Virginia?  Yep—we went to a sandwich shop, got lunch and proceeded to watch marching bands from Germany, Spain, Canada, France, Ecuador & Kenya (among others) play music and march down Main Street.  Unreal!

We then got in Diana’s car and headed to the Lunatic’s Asylum. 

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatics Asylum was built in the 1860s during the Civil War; intended for 200 patients, it wound up housing 2,000 instead.

Built of sandstone, the asylum is considered the largest of its type in the world, 4 stories high with over 10,000 windows and a quarter-mile wide.  

In operation for over 100 years, it not only kept “lunatics”, but had separate buildings for the criminally insane, an orphanage for children born there or taken from patients, and people with tuberculosis.

It had it’s own morgue (and graveyard with numbered tombstones—no names), and the top floor contained doctor’s apartments and nurse’s quarters.

Why just work there, when you could live there too with the wife & kids?  Ironically, the fourth floor also housed some of the asylums most frightening patients.  “Goodnight and sweet dreams kids, and whatever you do don’t open that door!” 

On the ground floor completed in 1864 housed the asylum’s first 9 patients (all women).  If you click on the photo below, you can see why they were admitted.  Dementia, dropsy and “Mad Hatters Syndrome”.  Women hatmakers were often committed after getting mercury poisoning used to construct ladies wide brimmed hats.

“Miss, are you okay?  Oops, nevermind…”  In the second photo, violent patients were chained like this over large drains (without pants or skirts) with black sacks over their heads.
My lovely friend Diana in a 1950s “common room” (the interiors were painted in pastel colors, to calm the patients) and one of the patient’s rooms from 1900.
The top floor contained offices and the medical staff’s private quarters.  I wish I’d taken more pictures up here, some of these doctor’s apartments were quite opulent.
The patients were invited to construct face masks, showing how they believed the world saw them.  There’s Diana posing behind one and the resemblance is uncanny!
But on the mask’s inside, they painted how they saw themselves.  (Some saw their selves as worthless, while others saw themselves as supermen or godlike.)
Well, I took around 50 photos (not including Diana’s parade pics which deserve their own blog) but this should give you an idea of the inside.

I neglected to take pictures of the asylum’s ballroom, a pretty grand affair on the top floor where the local high school held their proms until 1971! 

We’re planning on visiting the asylum again; besides the “4 Floor Tour” we went on, they also have “Tours of the Criminally Insane” and a couple of VERY interesting Paranormal Tours.  Until then…


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

So… where were you on January 4, 1978? (Just a little 70’s flashback, that’s all)

DISCLAIMER:  This will probably be the most unnecessary, least significant thing you read all week; proceed at your own peril

Recently I started watching Eight is Enough on Tubi, and I’m going to be honest here and admit I’m not a big fan of the show.  In fact, in the 1970s I hated it.  I loved the Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie on Monday nights, the Lawrence Family on ABC’s Family on Tuesday nights, The Waltons on Thursdays.

But on Wednesday nights the Bradfords on Eight is Enough did little for me.  Those brothers & sisters didn’t feel like brothers and sisters for a minute.  And why were they all adults to boot?  In one episode, Abby (the stepmom, married to Tom Bradford) wants Tom to accompany her on a weekend trip.  He says “We can’t leave Nicholas alone for 2 days, he’s only 10 years old!’ 

Abby says “You have a houseful of 8 children and 7 of them are adults.”   THANK YOU ABBY.

“Well Doug, if you’re not a fan of the show then why are you even watching it.” 

It’s a real time capsule of middle class America in the 1970s, and a reminder of my own teenaged years then.  And the Bradford house had it all--the hot curlers and high waisted bell bottoms on the girls, the shag green carpeting, the big glass ashtrays in the living room—even though no one in their house smoked.

A 1975 Fleetwood Cadillac sat in the driveway (along with oldest son David’s Volkswagen bus and stepmom Abby’s vintage roadster) and the entire house shared one bathroom and one phone.  Can you imagine?  

So I’m watching Season 2 Episode 15 “A Hair of the Dog” where the new kid in Tommy’s junior class is after Tommy to get his older brother David’s apartment so they can have a beer party.

Right away I notice the new kid is an older Danny Bonaduce, from The Partridge Family.

My friend Danielle is a fan of The Partridge Family, so I call her up to tell her what I’m watching.

DANIELLE:  Eight is Enough is crap!  Why are you watching it, turn it off!

ME:  I’m not a fan of the show, it just takes me back.  Anyway, the reason I’m—

DANIELLE:  Josh says it’s the worst show in the history of television!

ME:  I’m not arguing with you!  I’m just trying to tell you Danny Bonaduce is guest-starring on one episode as the new kid in school, and—

DANIELLE:  He’s probably up to no good!  He was just as bad in real life too!

I can see I’m not exactly winning her over.  Anyway, I finish the show (it wasn’t so bad) and look at the air-date that Tubi includes with each episode.  It originally aired January 4, 1978.

Why does that year & date sound so familiar to me?  This will eat at me for the next couple weeks.

So, a couple nights ago I’m looking through online folders of pictures I scanned from my mom’s photo albums (that were sadly taken apart after her passing) and I found it.  The photo with that date, I mean.

As my brothers & sisters can attest, our mom liked to include details on the backs of her photos.  The date, what’s going on, etc.;  and on this picture, she writes:

January 4, 1978.  Doug returns to school after Christmas vacation wearing the painter pants and Earth shoes he received as gifts. His rust sweater is a gift too.

Doug is in the 11th grade.           

I remember asking for those painter pants and orange Earth-shoes for Christmas, and getting some nice compliments from a couple of my female classmates at school.

(It just occurred to me I never wore white pants again.  That’s probably a good thing.)

I can even remember what we had for lunch in the cafeteria that day!  Well, almost.  Wednesdays were “Gravy Day”, we either had meatloaf with whipped potatoes and brown gravy, or a hot chicken sandwich with potatoes & gravy.  (The meatloaf was my favorite, the chicken was my sister Shawn’s.)

And I am willing to bet $1,000 I know what my family watched on television that night.  Well, us kids anyway.  Danny Bonaduce on Eight is Enough, up to no good.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

A friend in need is a friend indeed, and I finally get what that means


I never understood the phrase ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’; what were they trying to say?  That a needy friend is a real friend?  We all want real friends in our lives, but do they have to be needy ones?

After doing some research, it turns out the phrase, versed in a bit of Old English means a friend that comes around in times of need (yours not theirs) is a real one, duh.  And I am feeling very fortunate, as I do have one like that, my dear friend Susie.

I wrote about her before, she accompanied me to my colonoscopy this past January.  She’s loud, boisterous with a heart of gold.  And thanks to her, I am a little less sick.

Last Saturday I awoke with a tickle in my throat--by evening I was coughing nonstop.  This went on all day Sunday, Monday… I was getting no sleep.

(My last blog, about the average guy and social security?  I got out of bed Monday night and started that at 1:30am, hoping it would help me doze off… nope, I wound up working on it thru the night and posted it Tuesday morning.) 

Finally, on Wednesday I called my friend Susie and asked if I could get some advice.  She said “Omigod, what’s wrong with your voice??”  I told her I’d been dealing with a bad cough since Saturday, and should I consider going to the ER or find an Urgent Care. 

She said she heard something was going around, and witnessed someone with a pretty deep cough just yesterday.  She asked if I was taking anything, I said I was drinking Chamomile tea with clover honey and sucking on YumEarth (organic) lemon drops.

Susie said “Who told ya to do that, Martha Stewart?!  Dougie, I gotta call Sears about my fridge warranty before 5pm—can I call you back with a list of stuff you should get from the drugstore?”   I said yes please and hung up.

Thirty minutes later, someone was buzzing me outside.  I went downstairs, and my friend Susie was there, holding two bags (with the items seen at the top of this post). 

When I thanked her and asked her to wait so I could run upstairs and fetch my wallet, she said “I DON’T WANT YOUR MONEY!!”  I said I couldn’t just take this stuff for free, and she said “OH TRUST ME, YOU’LL PAY FOR IT SOONER OR LATER!”

Three days later and here I am, still with a deep chest cough.  I may still see a doctor if things aren’t better by Monday, but thanks to Susie, the second half of the week has been a lot better than the first.  She’s a friend indeed.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Just your average guy, and according to Social Security…

Recently I learned that the Social Security Administration considers 78.5 or 78 ½ years old as the life expectancy for the average American male in 2023.  For women it’s a couple years more.

If I should be so fortunate to live that long, that means I now have a little over 16 1/2 years remaining on this planet. 

That doesn't seem like a long time, but certainly more than my parents had. 

My dad died at age 63, my mom at 64.  After I hit my sixties, I feel like every day I’m here is a blessing.

Anyway, it's gotten me to thinking again about when to take social security.  I'm currently eligible to apply in 3 months.  Should I wait?  Financial dinosaurs like Suzie Orman or Dave Ramsey will tell you the amount you receive will increase by 7-8% every year so you should try to hold off until FRA (full retirement age) or better yet, age 70.

Not so fast, says the Social Security Administration.  You’re not penalized for taking it early or rewarded for taking it late.  We just try to average it out so you get the same amount in the end.

(Unless you make it to your mid-80s, that is.  That’s when you beat the odds and waiting to collect pays off.)

Well, thanks to the Social Security website, I can see at a glance what that monthly amount will be depending on the age I start.

Forsaking cost of living increases and such, and going with the current 2023 estimates above, if I know I'm going to be departing at age 78.5, does it pay to wait?

If I take Social Security at 62... that's $1581.00 a month.

1581 x (12 months x 16.5 years or 198 months) =  $313,038.00 total paid to me by the time I croak at 78 1/2 years old.

If I wait and take Social Security at 64... that's $1796.00 a month.

1796 x (12 months x 14.5 years or 174 months) =  $312,504.00 total paid to me by the age of 78 1/2, hardly any difference at all.

If I wait and take Social Security at 67... that's $2246.00 a month.

2246 x (12 months x 11.5 years or 138 months) =  $309,948.00 total paid to me by the age of 78.5.

If I take Social Security at 70... that's $2785.00 a month.

2785 x (12 months x 08.5 years or 102 months) =  $284,070.00 total paid to me by the age of 78.5.  

Whoops, I shouldn’t have waited to age 70 to collect.  But what if I live to age 80?

From age 62 to age 80 = 1581 x  216 months = $341,496.00

From age 64 to age 80 = 1796 x  192 months = $344,832.00

From age 67 to age 80 = 2246 x  156 months = $350,376.00

From age 70 to age 80 = 2785 x  120 months = $334,200.00

Hmm… it STILL doesn’t make that big a difference.  But what if I live to age 85?

From age 62 to age 85 = 1581 x  276 months = $436,356.00

From age 64 to age 85 = 1796 x  252 months = $452,292.00

From age 67 to age 85 = 2246 x  216 months = $485,136.00

From age 70 to age 85 = 2785 x  180 months = $501,300.00

So if you live to 85 or more…. it DOES pay to wait to start.  Well, as long as you don’t need to spend down your assets so Medicaid will kick in and cover your long-term care because you neglected to buy LTC insurance 20 years earlier.

Am I missing something?  Unless you’re still working, or are pretty certain you’re living into your mid-eighties and beyond, it makes little difference to wait.  So why do these so-called experts encourage you to delay? 

If you’re on Social Security, did you wait to collect yours?  I have yet to meet an early retiree who regretted taking it at 62.

I suppose I’m fortunate I don’t need the money yet.  Still, when it’s sitting there on a table, waiting for you to claim it… it’s tempting!

Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, oh what might’ve been

A couple weeks ago, I was sailing around the Library and happened upon a wonderful book titled Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, and I thought I’d share my discovery with the civilized world! 

What’s that?  The book’s been known for decades already as it was published in 1997?  Doesn’t matter—let history show that I discovered it.  No one would’ve known of it’s existence until I came along & wrote about it here, aside from a couple hundred thousand science fiction readers, but what do they know? 

They’re not like us, they don’t count.  In fact, let’s enslave those damn nerds and ship them off to Parts Unknown! 

Okay you can see where I’m going here, and I’m not alone in my feelings about the man who is responsible for the extinction of the Taino Indians and a slave trade that lasted for centuries—ask any Native American what he thinks of Christopher Columbus. 

But I have to admit that because of this remarkable ‘what-if’ story, I’m able to see things a bit more in their historical perspective.

Set sometime in the near future, the story goes back & forth from the 15th century (where we learn of Columbus’ origins) to the present, where there is an academic organization known as ‘Pastwatch’.  Computer monitors called Tru-Sites are used to look back through time, for the study of past civilizations.  

There are people who devote their entire lives to studying one ancient society, or even one historical figure.  (A Muslim named Kemal is a celebrity Pastwatcher, an expert of ancient weather patterns who ascertained not only the origin & sinking of Atlantis, but that Noah--known by his people as Noag, and his ark of animals actually existed.) 

But this book focuses on a Pastwatcher named Tagiri, an African woman who has made it her life’s work to understand the beginnings of slavery.  Years of careful study have led her to one man:  Christopher Columbus, who was ultimately responsible for the African & American continents colonization by Europe, and the death and enslavement of millions of their native peoples for several centuries.

So when it’s discovered that scientists may be able to do more than just observe past events, and actually travel backwards in time, Tagiri wants to devise a way to prevent Columbus “discovery of America”. 

Her colleagues are shocked; aren’t you afraid of how it will alter our present?

Tagiri says “History is not our prelude; we can’t justify the pain & suffering of people in the past because everything turned out well by the time we came along.  When we believed we could not go back in time & make changes, we could be excused for shedding a tear for them & going on with our happy lives.  But once we know we can go back & help, if we let their suffering go on, this is no golden age we live in.”  

Wow!  She makes a good argument.  And as the story progresses, Tagiri wonders two things: what really compelled Columbus to make that historical voyage in the first place, and why is Pastwatch allowing her to proceed with her plans to stop him?  The answers to both are startling.

I don’t know what they teach about Christopher Columbus in classrooms today.  I’m from the generation that learned he was a great explorer, looking only for a faster route to the Far East for gold & spices when he discovered the New World instead. 

In fact, when he arrived & the Tainos Indians befriended him, Columbus wrote this about them in his report to Queen Isabella:  "So peaceable, are these people, that I swear to your Majesties there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, their manners are decorous and praiseworthy."

Columbus then declared them the property of Spain, ordered their enslavement & began shipping them back to Europe.  The ones who were allowed to remain were forced to mine for gold—and tortured & murdered if they resisted. 

In 4 years, a hundred thousand Tainos were dead.

Where was I going with this?  I was planning to say something in this so-called explorer’s defense, but it’s lost on me.


Saturday, July 1, 2023

The Senior Center and the not-quite-senior Doug: is there a problem?

Recently a couple other bloggers mentioned their respective senior centers, so I thought I’d share the one in my own neighborhood I joined a month ago.

It’s exactly 0.6 miles from my apartment building.  There’s a couple residents in my building who are members and go almost daily, and ride the bus there.  They’re over 65, so PAT Transit is free for them.

I still have to pay, so I walk to save the $2.75 bus fare.  I don’t mind, I need the exercise anyway!

The center is a former Lutheran Church, run by three women—Courtney, Bridget, and my old friend & former coworker Elisa who I’ve known since the ‘80s.

Courtney is surprisingly young and can’t be a day over 30, but she’s pretty wonderful.  I felt like we were old friends after my first day there.  Bridget is 10 years older, with crinkly eyes and a wide smile.  So much kindness.   

As for Elisa, it’s a funny dynamic—we both used to work for the Department of Aging in the late 80’s thru the 1990s. I always considered us around the same age; I was born the last day of October, 1961.  Elisa was born the first week of February, 1964.  There’s only 2 years, 3 months age difference there.  But at the center I’m considered one of Allegheny County’s Aging (you’re required to be 60+ to join) and she works there.

At least Elisa doesn’t treat me like an older person—yesterday I walked up there just to have lunch and chat, and teased Geri (one of the other members) I was following her in the market a couple days prior and what was with all the bottled water in her cart?  Some of us like to drink water too, y’know.  Elisa said “Geri if you hold him down I’ll kick him.”  

The old Lutheran Church, now the Prime Time Activity Center

So from what I’ve seen, there’s around 4 women to every man.  The men tend to be a couple years younger and don’t socialize as much.  There’s one guy I like, but I think I blew it.  His name is Mike, he’s 5-6 years older than me and is probably a foot taller as well.  Seriously, he’s a lanky 6 1/2 feet tall.

After I’d gone there a couple times for lunch (sitting alone at a table in the back) he introduced himself one day.  Like me, he has no kids and never married.  But after we finished eating, he offered to take my tray back for me and I declined and I think it offended him. 

A couple days later on “Movie Day”, we all gathered to watch A Man Called Otto with Tom Hanks.  Mike sat beside me, but 15 minutes into the movie asked if I wanted to join him and a couple others in the exercise room for a board game and I said I was enjoying the film, no thanks. 

And then just yesterday, he approached me and asked if I wanted to join his Bible Study group.  Sorry, Mike I’m not interested.  Doggone it.

The center has 3-4 outings a month, shopping, museums and restaurants where you’re expected to pay your own way but the transportation there & back is provided.  In June it was the Heinz History Center, Bartram Bakery and the Three Rivers Casino. 

I didn’t go on the casino trip.  In July it’s the Dive Bar & Grille (a pretty upscale bar and restaurant) and lunch on the Gateway Clipper.  I’ve signed up for both.

The two most popular things at the center are Bingo on Monday & Friday, and an “Exercise Dance class” on Tuesdays & Thursdays.  That Bingo crowd is intense—they show up at noon, sit silently and wait until 12:30 when lunch is done.  IF YOU’RE NOT GOING TO PLAY, FIND SOMEWHERE ELSE IN THE CENTER TO GO.  Those players mean business!

There’s also Bible Study (cough), an Art Club, weekly meets with various reps to discuss the latest in Medicare and a nurse who does weekly blood pressure readings—followed by an “Ice Cream Social”.  Isn’t that quaint?  

Oh and there’s a weekly “Tech Tutoring” that I’ve never attended, I just roll my eyes at.  Meanwhile, at home I’m on Windows 7 and the rest of the world is on—I don’t know what the rest of the world is on, I’m stuck in the year 2011.

When I first signed up with the Center, I was told they served lunch 5 days a week.  There is officially no charge, but you’re invited to contribute $3.00.  You just have to give them 2 days notice as the exact number of lunches are ordered in advance.

I told them I wouldn’t be participating in the lunch program, I was only interested in the monthly outings.  They said that was no problem, but I soon found myself going to lunch there around twice a week.

Here’s the July lunch menu.

So a few days ago, I saw Teriyaki meatballs with scalloped potatoes and broccoli on the menu and called ahead as required.  When I went up for lunch and was standing in line, I told my friend Elisa I didn’t feel quite right.  She asked why, I said “Because I’m not poor, far from it.  I have a kitchen in my apartment full of food.”

She said “But here you’re with others and don’t have to eat alone.  That must get old.”  I said that was true, but at the same time…  I wasn’t REALLY an “old person” yet.

The woman setting out the trays smiled at me and said “Half the people in here don’t see themselves as old people either.”