About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Walking a Battlefield

Walking in the path of Pickett at Gettysburg
 
Copyright © 2013 by Ralph F. Couey
Except quoted portions.,
 
"It was here.
The battlefield was here.
The Carthaginians defending the city were attacked
by three Roman legions.
The Carthaginians were proud and brave, but they couldn't hold.
They were massacred.
Arab women stripped them of their tunics, and their swords and lances.
The soldiers lay naked in the sun.
Two thousand years ago.
I was here."
--From the movie "Patton"
 
In what was one of the spookier moments from the classic biopic of General George S. Patton, Jr., the General stands on what was an ancient battlefield and describes what happened from the perspective of an eyewitness.  Whether such a battle ever really happened, or this was another one of the theatrical performances Patton had a penchant for, or even if the entire scene was a Hollywood creation isn't really clear.  What is clear, however, is the effect the spectre of battle had on him.
 
I've always been a kind of amateur historian.  I enjoy looking back into the past in the attempt to learn more about the events that shaped their future, which became my present.  In that research, I've tried to not only glean the dry facts of dates, names, places, and events, but to somehow use my admittedly overactive imagination to try to place myself in the shoes, boots, or sandals of the participants.  Previous visits to places like Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki, and other historical sites have made that effort easier by becoming familiar with the actual landscape where such events took place.  One of my favorite scenes from the movie "National Treasure" is when the protagonists bring the purloined Declaration of Independence to Philadelphia, unrolling the ancient document inside Independence Hall.  At one point, Nicholas Cage's character takes a breath and says, "The last time this document was here, it was being signed." 
 
Moving to Virginia has brought many of our nation's significant historical sites to within a day's drive of our home.  In recent years, my interest in the Civil War has inspired trips to battlefield sights in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.  The first trip was a day-long visit to Gettysburg.  I hadn't really studied the battle, so the tour didn't have much of an impact.  However, by the second trip, I had read several books and articles and had reached the level of knowledge where I could stand on Little Round Top and pretty much recount the entire three days of the battle.
 
One can read about the action on the third day, commonly called Pickett's Charge, how Lee ordered a mass assault on the center of the Union line, hoping that the previous days battles on either flank had weakened the Union forces.  In actuality, the Union lines along Cemetary ridge had been reinforced with troops, and fortified with a lot of artillery.  So when Pickett led his men out of the trees along Seminary ridge and up that long slope, they were subjected to massive cannonades and the concentrated fire of the Union troops safely ensconced behind a protective stone wall.  The amazing thing is that the charge was nearly successful.  Despite massive casualties, the Southerners broke the line in the center.  But the Union commander, Hancock, had reserves to contain and reject the breakthrough. Lee, having committed all of his available troops, had no reserves to exploit the break.  The Southern units were decimated, and Lee, having lost the battle, pulled out that night and fled for the safety of Virginia.
 

Monday, April 15, 2013

That Drug Called "Running"

From Navyrunning.com
Copyright 2013 © by Ralph Couey
Written content only
One morning last June, I awoke from my slumbers somehow imbued with a particularly striking sense of motivation bordering on compulsion.  Somehow during the nighttime hours, my brain had been rewired.  I knew it was time to start moving.

The night before had been fairly typical.  I returned home from work just after midnight, removed and hung up my motorcycle gear, and went upstairs.  After my customary bowl of fat-free sugar-free pudding (Yeah, yeah I know.  Why bother?), I went to bed.  Maybe there was something in that particular batch of pudding, or perhaps it was a culmination of the latent restlessness I had been feeling.  I had just finished six months of hard physical therapy, relieving some unbelievably sharp and relentless pain.  Coinciding with that event was a visit with my cardiologist who, after my last heart incident, had pronounced me ready to undertake physical exercise.

Whatever it was hit me like a linebacker on that warm and muggy morning.  I packed some workout clothes and went to work early, hitting the gym on my arrival.
That first few weeks was fairly simple, walking on a treadmill.  I started with one mile, then increased to two, then three.  Once there, I began to drop in periods of running, beginning with one minute, then 3, then 5, and so on until I was able to go non-stop for 20 minutes.  This was all done inside, of course, since the summer of 2012 was singularly hot.  But in September the temperatures finally broke, the humidity dropped off, and I took my show to the open road.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Baseball and My Childhood Memories

Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Couey
Written content only.
Pictures culled from the Internet, mostly MLB, Topps, and various media outlets.

My memories of childhood, now five decades in the rear-view mirror, have become a jumble of disjointed snippets; moments of one day or another that for some reason stubbornly remain locked in some seldom-used cluster of neurons.  Looking back, I catch glimpses of the American west going by outside the windows of a 1964 Ford Falcon.  At some point, we must have had a picnic or two, although I don't think I could tell you where they happened.  It's frustrating that so many of those good memories seem to exist only in partial images, the edges heavily pixilated, while others seem to have disappeared for good.

But the memories that remain most vivid are those which revolved around baseball.

I left the game for a number of years for various reasons.  My favorite team, the Royals, haven't been competitive in almost 30 years.  Players around the league jumped teams so often that it was hard to keep rosters straight in my mind.  Baseball became, at least in my mind, a business instead of a game.
In the last couple of years, however, I find that more and more, I'm coming back.  I'm much more apt to look for a game on TV and watch, even if only for a few innings.

But the game has changed, of that there can be no denying.  The basics are still there, as "Nuke" LaLoosh from "Bull Durham" once opined, "It's a simple game,  You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  Sometimes, it rains."

The change I see the most is the uniforms, at least how they're worn.  In the 1960's the players wore flannel, instead of cool, ventilated double-knits.  I don't care how tough the modern ballplayer thinks he is, but if you trotted out onto the field under a blazing sun and in oppressive humidity in St. Louis in July and played a double header wearing those flannel suits, you were the man.  The other thing I miss is the old white socks and stirrups.  Today, of course, players mostly wear the pants long and baggy, with the back of the cuff hooked on one of the heel spikes.  I'm sorry, call me an old fud, but that looks way too...well...sloppy to me.

But what I remember the most are the teams, and the players who called those cities home for nearly their entire careers.  There was stability on those teams. You could turn on the game, or go to the stadium knowing who was going to be on the field.  Of course it was the oppressive nature of the infamous Reserve Clause that created that stability -- and also vastly limited the same professional mobility for players that anybody else in private industry had.  Salaries were much lower.  I remember being surprised at the number of players who had to take part-time jobs in the off-season just to make ends meet.  So with the good, there was also some (invisible to me) bad.

In the early to mid-'60's, we lived in the Kansas City area, which meant suffering through season after miserable season with the Athletics.  Dressed vividly in Kelly green and gold uniforms, they consistantly finished at the bottom of the American League pile (no divisions back then).  Still, the team had players I enjoyed watching, like Dick Green, the marvelously smooth and wide-ranging second basemen.  Third basemen Ed Charles, centerfielder Rocky Colavito (at least for the one season he was there), first basemen Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, my favorite nickname, and Mike Hershberger, the right fielder with a cannon-like right arm. 
        The Rock...     
     
   ...and The Hawk

Monday, April 08, 2013

Lap Band Update - 15 Months Down a Rocky Road


                                            Old Me                                          Current Me


Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Couey
First off, I want to apologize to those readers who visited this blog to read about my experience with the Lap Band, post-surgery.  I went through some months of upheaval and change, which not only affected what had been regular reporting on this issue, but my ability to produce any essays.

I had the surgery in January of 2011.  My recovery and subsequent new life was uneventful, at least from a medical stand point.  Of course, I lost weight, as the stark difference between the two pictures above attests.  For the raw numbers, at my worst point prior to surgery, I had ballooned up to in excess of 390 pounds.  After yet another heart incident, I dropped about 35 pounds pretty much on my own, but gained back 10, then lost another 40.  Prior to the surgery, I was put on a "prove you want to really lose weight" diet which got me down to 320  Once I had the surgery, the weight fell off rapidly for the first 60 pounds or so.  Then, my world turned upside down.

My day job, an intelligence analyst with a small Justice Department unit went away when the agency was closed for budgetary reasons.  Fortunately, the Department stepped up big time and eventually I signed on with another DOJ organization which neccesitated a move from Pennsylvania to the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC.   In the process, we sold our home in PA, taking a huge monetary bath in the transaction which pretty much wiped out our savings.  We moved into an extended stay motel in Virginia for a few months while we searched for a permanent place to live. 

That search involved looking at (by actual count) 73 properties, which were either too expensive, too old, or in need of way too much work.  We were shell-shocked by the prices of some of these places which could only have been described as dumps. 

So, we decided to buy into a new neighborhood of townhomes.  It was a good decision because (once we had adjusted our financial glasses) it was within our budget, we could get the features we wanted, and it was in an area that was experiencing significant growth.  That process, though, was fraught with tensions and stresses, as we learned quickly that we had to keep a close eye on what was going on at the site because the builders were "forgetting" to install and build things we had ordered. 

My new job was turning out to be a difficult one to digest and execute, and while they have been more than patient, dealing with the less-than-perfect results of my work in an arena where errors can be measured in human lives gave me many a sleepless night.

We had some family crises during this trial, with which I won't burden you here. 

This sequence of events left both of us stressed to the point of exhaustion.  I found that I was unconsciously going back to my old habits of stress eating.  Now, I didn't gain any weight back, mind you, I just wasn't losing it any more.  I got stuck bouncing between 245 and 250 pounds.  It was during this period that I developed an exquisitely painful pinched nerve in my back which left me unable to do much other than lay down.  I started taking liquid ibuprophen, but developed a sore spot in my "new" stomach. I underwent six months of difficult physical therapy before the pain eased to the point where I could begin to function again.