Friday, July 29, 2011

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Pirate's Life for me!

Can’t believe it’s been a week since I contributed, but it is. It’s been a busy week starting with a trip to Tampa on Monday morning. We got there about 9:30 for check-in and blood-work and got in to see the Doc about 11:30. She’s really pleased with my progress so far and dropped the dosage of the anti-rejection drug another half milligram. We’re looking to stir some trouble and get the new stem cells working on the cancer hot spots that still remain. Other than that, the blood work was OK and finally got out of the hospital at 12:30. We were supposed to meet our good friends, George and Harriett for lunch, but George took sick in the morning and they canceled out.

I’m at Day +112 right now, almost three weeks out of “jail” out there in Tampa. The next goal is Day +180… six months out from transplant. It’s at that point that we may be able to entertain a sip or two of vino and perhaps get back to a regular diet. Until then I’ll continue to exercise, hope the neuropathy improves, and pray the hot spots are gone when the next scan results are in.

We had dinner on Monday night with Howard and Gladys B. Howard is the president of the local Alfa Romeo club and Gladys is in charge of the social goings on of the club. We had a great evening, telling stories about cars and car shows. The highlight of the evening was Howard showing me his ’86 Spider and his GTV6 Balocco, both impeccably kept. I still pine for my ’58 Spider Veloce…

Another landmark occurred on Wednesday… I got to eat in a real restaurant for the first time since the transplant. We went to the Cheesecake Factory with the Summer Lakes posse. I ordered water with no ice and it came with a lemon wedge… that had to go back. Then my buffalo chicken sandwich came with lettuce and tomato on the side, which Ruth Ann quickly whisked away. I had told the waiter (all the while wearing my attractive duck-bill mask) I did not want anything else on the plate. How they listen, huh?

Reminded me of the day we went to Wellesley to see Becky and she wanted to go for Italian food at the “Great” Italian restaurant in town. I ordered a calzone and the silly thing was served on a lettuce leaf! Not only did they disgrace the calzone… it was awful… but they added insult to injury with the lettuce. That’s that last time I’ll order Italian in a yuppified restaurant. Another great restaurant miscue was back in ’04 when Bob L., Larry R. and Gary D. went to the Alfa convention in Manchester, NH. We were given directions to the “Best Italian Restaurant in the World”… UGH… we gotta stop taking the lead from anyone that far away from “civilization”… hey, Lee and Larry H., no offense intended, your Italian cooking is way up there!

So last night the Miller’s came for dinner (I told you it was a busy week), and I embarrassed myself by serving them the same meal that we had LAST YEAR when they came to Florida. Am I losin’ it or what?

Today is a “Free Day” for me. Ruth Ann went to the Magic Kingdom with Maureen and Megan Miller. She needed a fix of “Pixie Dust”. And, quite honestly, I think she needed a day away from me! In either case, I don’t do the Magic Kingdom for a couple of reasons: 1) Too many kids. 2) No alcohol is sold there. 3) Too many kids.  4)  Double wide strollers. 5) Ears. 6) Screaming kids. 7) Screaming adults. 8) Parents who don’t watch their kids. 9) Kids who don’t watch their parents and 10) the number on reason I don’t do the Magic Kingdom… Too many kids.

Unfortunately, there are two restaurants there that I like… Casey’s on Main Street, where they serve the greatest Hot Dogs this side of Frankie’s or Blackie’s, and Columbia Harbour House, where they serve the absolute best tuna salad sandwich… you gotta try it to believe it! We try for a quick entrance and exit, however one time while in a wheel chair, I allowed Ruth Ann to push me all over the MK… Hey, she offered!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Things We Did Last Summer

I met with the PA at MD Anderson this morning after getting some more blood work done; I think I’ve given about a quart already this week! Everything is up-to-snuff so far; there was one more test that was going to take a while. All of that info will be transmitted to Moffitt… appointment there on Monday morning; ROAD TRIP!!!

I have been exercising… either the treadmill or the Bowflex. I can do 30 minutes on the treadmill or about 30 minutes on the Bowflex. Ruth Ann and I have been able to coordinate their usage without any marital distress (thank goodness we each have a computer… otherwise we’d be at each other’s throats!). Above all, my walking is better and I feel good. Ruth Ann’s Uncle Carl called today and couldn’t believe how good I sounded on the phone.

When I was thinking of the road trip, I thought of a trip Ruth Ann and I took many years ago… just us and my roommate from college, Dave C., or as he was affectionately known, The Shooter. Now here was one of your truly unforgettable characters! I met Shooter at the Waterbury Branch of UConn in my freshman year. He was about 100 pounds, soakn’ wet, with a quick wit and a great laugh. We met again when I was assigned to a bed in his fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi. We ended up being roommates and got to be pretty good friends, and fraternity brothers. Viet Nam was raging and the draft was in full swing. Shooter got a notice to go for a draft physical and went on a diet… they kicked him out of the exam center and told him to come back when he put on some weight. Fat chance of that happening.

So here’s the road trip: his folks had a boat on the Mystic River and he asked if we would like to spend a Sunday afternoon cruising Long Island Sound. So off we went in the Baby Blue Whale (Shooter’s ’59 Oldsmobile…the front and rear bumpers were in different zip codes!) on to Mystic. The boat was a 15 foot fishing boat with about a 20 HP motor… not the 42 foot Hatteras we had expected (“Gin and bitters, Sir?), but a boat none-the-less.

We cruised the Mystic River for a bit and ended in some estuary on the Thames River where it got awfully shallow. The motor was useless in shallow water and although the boat had oarlocks, it had only one oar. So Shooter decided that he being the host, would get into the water and drag the boat along until we got to deeper water. See if you can visualize this picture: here’s the 100 lb. Shooter, cigarette between his lips, the useless oar in his right hand as a staff, and the tow rope slung over his left shoulder, wading through this murky water and towing us to safety. To add insult to injury, a seagull flew by and deposited a “load” in the exact center of his T-Shirt. If we were moving any faster, he would have gotten a face-full! I almost fell out of the boat, I was laughing so hard.

We lost touch after we left UConn; me to the military, him to California to seek his fortune. He never moved back to Connecticut as so many East-to-West migrators did, but worked in Sacramento. We briefly connected again in 1998 and in early 1999, I got an email from his roommate… Shooter had died from pneumonia… he was only 43. Tommy Williams and I went to his memorial service at Saint Anthony’s church in Prospect and then went out to quaff a few beers to celebrate his life. We lifted our glasses to a great guy and remembered the good times at Alpha Sig: “To The F*#king Shooter!!!”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day +100; How tiime flies when you're having fun!

I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since I visited with you… been busy getting acclimated to my “new” surroundings.

But today is a special day… it is Day +100… the day I should have left the confines of that little space in Tampa. I have to go to the Doc here in Orlando tomorrow… he’s not around so I’ll see the PA. I need to go for some blood work before I get there.

I’ve been pretty mobile and trying to work out as much as my body will let me. I overdid it on the bowflex the other day and I paid for it on Friday. My legs were just burning with pain from the lower body stuff I did. They’re feeling good now.  Ruth Ann and I went out earlier and I was able to navigate around OK. Back to the treadmill tomorrow.

We fed the Posse last night… grilled pizzas. They have been telling us that the first meal back has to be the pizzas. I think they’re spoiled. It took me most of the day (with a lot of breaks) to get everything done… making the pizza shells, sautéing all the veggies, etc. Thankfully I didn’t have to make my own dough… there was a moment of panic when we couldn’t find the brand we usually use. But the brand that the store replaced it with was really nice and easy to work with. Lots of wine was drunk and also some Molson’s Golden… for me, iced tea!

Yesterday was the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel…July 16th. This is the church where Ruth Ann and I grew up; where I was an altar boy, where she went to grade school.  The celebration goes back about 70+ years, to the early days of the new parish, an offshoot of another church. My cousin Ginny (NOT my cousin Vinnie!!!) has been working at the church hall for the past week… also Ruth Ann’s cousin Patty. They’re stepping in for the folks who worked the festival in the past… Uncle Pat and Zizi, my folks, and before them there was my Grandmother and Ruth Ann’s too.

With the neighborhood virtually all Italian and working class, the beginning of the parish in the 1920’s and 30’s must have been very difficult.  The first part of the church was just the basement, dedicated in 1924, and for quite a few years was the only part of the church completed. It wasn’t until 1940 that the main part of the church was completed. Funny, the first pastor was Irish, and the pastor that I grew up with was Irish also… Monsignor Flynn. He said the 7AM mass on Sunday’s and it was all in Latin and Italian… he learned very quickly!

So today was the procession around the neighborhoods of Town Plot (so named because this is the place of the original settlement of Waterbury, in 1674 ), then a special service (the Bishop usually shows for the food), then it all winds down later this evening… four days of food, music and a little reflection on roots.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day + 96 "Give Me a Kiss to Build a Dream On"

I’m still getting used to having so much room around me… Ruth Ann and I have actually “lost” each other a couple of times! A lot of walking getting done IN the house!

We have a guest writer today. Jack Giacomi and I have known each other since college days and this story is best told by Jack… I couldn’t do it justice. Here comes…

For most of your 3+ months in exile, my morning coffee(s) were made all the more enjoyable because of your almost-daily musings. Since a great many of your stories dealt with your days as a lieutenant in Vietnam, I thought it might be of interest to many of your avid “viewers” to relive one more.

As you will recall, you were one year ahead of me at UConn.  Both of us, being the patriotic souls we are, graduated from the ROTC program as 2nd Lieutenants. From there, we were both assigned to the US Army Signal Corps and subsequently received officer basic training at Ft. Gordon, GA, although one year apart.  Our paths thereafter diverged and we went our separate Army ways, so to speak.

One crisp September day in 1970, I excitedly (?) arrived at Tan Son Nhut Airbase in Saigon, having achieved my lifelong dream of being assigned to combat duty (yeah right!). As luck would have it, I received orders assigning me to the 21st Signal Brigade HQ in Nha Trang. One of my first acts after acclimating myself to my new surroundings, was to get in a jeep and drive around the compound (21st HQ was initially stationed at the airbase complete with air-conditioned rooms --- ahh, those Air Force guys knew how to live!).  I was cautioned by the unit clerk, however, that I would first have to get a military driver’s license and that the proper place for HQ’s personnel to obtain one was at the motor pool of the 459th Signal Battalion, one of our subordinate units. The 459th was headquartered down the road at bit at Camp McDermott (aptly nicknamed, Camp Swampy!). So I commandeered a young PFC and jeep and off we went into the “wild blue yonder” (OK, that was a flimsy tribute to our AF buddies) that was 459th HQ.  I located the motor pool and promptly went in to “apply” for my license. The specialist at the desk was very helpful and after I finished with the paperwork, he told me all that was left to do was get his lieutenant’s signature of approval.  He disappeared into the rear room whereupon I heard in a not-so-pleasant voice, “Approve this? ----- for some guinea (or Guido – the multitude of years betray me!) from Waterbury, CT?  Not on your life”!

The Spec4 reappeared shortly thereafter, looking somewhat stunned and sheepishly said to me, “There seems to be a slight problem with your application.  We’ll have to get it cleared up and then we’ll contact you in the next day or so”.  Having just heard the exchange with my own two ears, I told the Spec4 that I would like to have a private word with “his lieutenant” myself, whereupon I pushed past him and went into the back room with “fire in my eyes, and venom on my tongue” (boy, I can still wax poetically, can’t I Donny?). I believe I said, “Excuse me Lieutenant, but I’m the guinea from Waterbury”. His back was to me, but he turned and said, “How are you Jackie”.  That brash lieutenant was none other than our own Donny Sforza!  A sight for sore eyes to say the least.  Of course this brash young officer then asked me how long I’d been in-country, and then began bragging about how “short” he was ----- but that’s another story for another day.

I’m glad he kept the language at a “G” rating… our language overseas was, well, spicy, to say the least. Keep the prayers and good thoughts coming my way… they’re going the other way, too.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day + 94 " 'S Wonderful"

I woke up …. AND I AM HOME!!!!!!

I guess some of you can relate to what I went through today… someone who had to work out of town for a while, or whatever. But the experience of walking through my front door after 3+ months away was spectacular. The only thing that could rival it was landing at Oxford Airport in a little 12 place Pilgrim Airlines plane  in a driving rain storm and finding Ruth Ann, my Mom and a bunch of other people waiting for me.

We drove down the street, only to find a sign on the front lawn that said “Welcome Home Don” (with a small Italian flag in the corner!). Ruth Ann beeped the horn to alert Art and Mike next door and we parked. Then we saw a planter with Basil, Rosemary and Parsley near the front door. Ruth Ann unlocked the front door and commented “Gee, the alarm isn’t on”. We walked in to find the ENTIRE posse (less the Clark’s, who are in Colorado). What a surprise!!!! It was so good to see them all together again. Lee had done her magic with the “Italian Mac and Cheese”, Mike did a salad Caprese, and Lee also did her wonderful popovers. But before we could eat, the entire bunch helped Ruth Ann and I (mostly RA) unload the Blazer… it was full to the gunwales!  I can’t believe how much stuff we had accumulated in three months… all to make our little (and I mean LITTLE) apartment a little more like home.

These people… these 8 great friends (along with Becky and Sean) were the lifesavers during my stay in Tampa. Everybody pitched in to do stuff, whether it was taking care of the cats, riding heard on the house painter, or just being a companion to Ruth Ann. We couldn’t have done it without them… no way, no how.

The other people we could have not done without are YOU… yes, YOU. For your prayers and good thoughts, for your e-mails and Facebook comments and “Likes”. You know Ruth Ann and I could NOT have done this if wasn’t for you. I value all of you as real friends… some of you for 40 years or more… we LOVE YOU!!!

As to the results of the tests: Blood work was spot on… all as expected, no surprises and really quite good. Both the CT and P.E.T. were as expected, too. Not what the Doc wanted, but what she expected. There are still a couple of spots, but with an adjustment in the meds, we’re going to give the new cells a chance of attacking those spots… giving them a little “elbow” room to do their thing. The good part is that there was an oh-so-little decrease in size and no increase at all. I’ll have to be a little more careful with infection with the med change (the stupid looking duck bill mask is still “my friend”). Doc said we can change to another mask, and we will go to Home Depot tomorrow to look for it.

It’s late and I’m beat… Ciao to all. Buon Notte!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day +92… One and a Wakeup!

Well, with the exception of the blood work scheduled for tomorrow AM, I am done with the week’s testing. The P.E.T. scan went OK and the Pulmonary Function test was OK, too. You have to work hard on that one… I didn’t think I could blow out any more air and son-of-a-gun, I found the strength to squeeze some more out… whew… what a workout.

My TR friends are not going to believe this: While Ruth Ann and I were waiting for the PFT, who comes strolling in with his wife, none other than Charlie Brown! I first met Charlie when I was president of the Connecticut Triumph Register… he and Carmie had driven from Goldens Bridge, NY to Manchester, CT for the annual CTR picnic and concours at Wickam Park. He had (and still has) a TR3A that he massaged from ratty to nice over the years that he has owned it. For all those who think that British sports cars are too small for them, consider this: Charlie is about 6’6” and fits into the TR3 just fine.

Anyway, he and Carmie moved from Goldens Bridge to Danbury several years ago, and had a place in Clearwater Beach. They sold the place in Danbury about 6 months ago and are now living permanently here in Florida. I had talked to him several weeks ago and it looked like we could meet up at Moffitt Cancer Center one day. It didn’t work out that day, so it was a real surprise when he walked in… with Carmie in tow. So we had a nice chat and caught up on his travel… Bermuda, Hamptons, etc.  Life is good for Charlie… except for the freekin’ cancer.

I sure miss those CTR shows and all the other shows that we had in CT. There was the MG show in New London in early Spring on the water (they used to have it at Gillette Castle), and their other show in Bethlehem at the fairgrounds in later September. Who can forget British on the Green up in Granby… 300 British cars! We even did the Norwich show at least once, and I went to the Lions Club show in Southbury once (1200 cars!!!!). Ours was still the best… we had the best trophys (Armetal plates and cups) and in the early years, we even gave out free food for the participants. Later we gave the food concession to a Boy Scout Troop from the area and we let them keep the profits… they made a ton! Gary LaRue used to come and help with the food, too.

The last time I went to a CTR show was probably ’06 and I showed up with my ’58 Alfa Spider Veloce. I think it was that same year that Bob L., Larry R. and  Gary D. went to the Alfa show in Manchester NH… me with the TR6. So in one year, I went to an Alfa show with a British car and a British show with an Italian car… go figure, huh?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day + 90 "Orlando Daydreamin' "


I can’t believe what I’m typing (not that you can call my 2 or 3 fingered disaster typing)… three days, then I get the word. I’m as nervous as a new bride. I’m praying my little buns off that all goes well.

I have my P.E.T. scan tomorrow… that will take up from 11:30 till 3 PM, and then the pulmonary function test is at 4. I’m going to have to get up at 5 AM to get some breakfast and I can’t have any carbs. So it’ll be a couple of eggs and some bacon, without toast.

I mentioned Ernie a few weeks ago; Ernie is a guy who has been a friend for a very long time… since 1964! We first met in a summer math course at the UConn Waterbury branch before we started engineering classes. We struggled through engineering together, and both changed our direction at the end of our first year… he to the business school, me to liberal arts. We also went through ROTC together and in our second year, I was a platoon leader and Ernie was my platoon sergeant. “Eric the Terrible” was our cadre leader, and Ernie and I shared many a story about him.

When I got to the Storrs main campus for my third year, I walked into my room… Ernie was my roommate! We lived together for one semester… he moved to another fraternity house and pledged there, I stayed where I was and pledged there. When I went through hell week, Ernie provided a bed for some uninterrupted sleep… that is, until another “friend” from Waterbury ratted me out to our pledge master (they were friends). Through all of this was the ROTC connection and when we got our branch assignments we had both gotten assigned to the Signal Corps.

Larry Schriffres (still another Waterbury friend) and I made arrangements to travel together to Fort Gordon for our first assignment in November 1968 and we arrived in Augusta, GA a couple of days ahead of time… bought some fatigues and got the lay of the land. We walked into the orderly room of the training brigade and who’s standing there… you guessed it, Ernie!!! So we did Fort Gordon together, and then moved on to Fort Sill for the next school. I left school early, but Ernie and I stayed in touch.

When I got my orders for Viet Nam, I called him (he was at Ft. Meade, I at Ft. Dix). Sure enough, he had his orders too. We were manifested on the same flight from Travis AFB, AND assigned to the same unit in Viet Nam! While he ended up in Quy Nhon, and I ended up in Nha Trang, we were still with the 21st Signal Group. We did get together a few times while there and went to Hong Kong on R&R together.

All these years, we’ve stayed friends (even in the same business for part of our careers). He’s living in Danbury and of course, through the miracle of the Internet, we keep in even closer touch than ever.

I left out the juicy parts of our relationship (Lawton, Storrs, San Francisco, Hong Kong etc.). That would take up much more space than I care to take up here, and I worry about the censors.