A freebie from the feds

Savannah Morning News

July 30, 2017

Face it. We’re living in an age of dwindling perks, when bonuses are passe, when most people have never heard of “fringe benefits” (or the plus side of unions), when only folks from New Orleans or southern Louisiana know the value and have experienced the surprise of a lagniappe (an unexpected tip, i.e., a free 13th donut when you buy a dozen).

A free ride in the 21st century? Fuhgetaboutit. Pull your old bad self up by your bootstraps (if you have any boots).

But wait. While the government giveth and the government taketh (something like that), this time it’s a “giveth” and it’s forever as in forevermore. As in perpetuity.  Right now the feds are offering a one-time-only pass to all 2,000 federal recreation areas in the US of A for $10. For life. But only until Aug. 27. Then it goes up to $80, the first increase since 1994.

Except here’s the deal. Heh heh heh. There’s always a deal, right? You have to be 62 and over. Depending on your starting age, your luck, your genes, your karma, your family history this could save you a wad of cash.


I can’t imagine who thought of this but I’m going with it. So are a lot of other people. The passes are selling like the proverbial hotcake. You can pay $10 more and mail in your request or, if you’re in or about Savannah, you can drive to Ft. Pulaski (you know, that beautiful open space you always pass in your haste to get to Tybee Island). That’s what I did. I came away with a laminated credit-card-size pass featuring a photo of a red cactus flower from the 1.8-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, established by President Clinton in 1996. But be warned. You need proper ID, of course. It’s not like at the movie theaters when it’s easy to slide past the ticket-takers who have two categories – young and old.

After that humongous $10 expenditure there’s no excuse: you have to start going to some of our parks. I started with Ft. Pulaski, the day I got my pass. The last time I was there it wasn’t even my idea. Some friends and I were entertaining Constanza Ceruti, a world-famous high-altitude archaeologist and anthropologist from Argentina. She was in town to lecture at the Jepson Center and Armstrong State University on her discovery of several incredibly preserved mummies (let’s just say the hair on their arms were still visible), two young boys and one young girl, buried 500 years earlier in a volcano site 22,000 feet high in the Andes Mountains during an elaborate Inca ceremony.

When asked where she wanted to visit during her stay in Savannah, this mountain climbing explorer chose Ft. Pulaski. It wouldn’t have been my first choice but it was her call. It’s a beautiful spot, no doubt. The undulating mounds of grass leading to the fort. The moat with the occasional lounging alligator. The wide open parade ground within the fort. The humongous fig tree, surely the largest I’ve ever seen. The remaining 100-year-old pecan tree (its pair downed by the winds of Hurricane Matthew). The millions of bricks in the walls – most of them original, dating back to 1847 when work on the fort was completed.

So there we are, weaving through the tunnels, considering the low-tech cannon as a major weapon of war, hearing about the explosives in the cavernous magazines (which, a guide told us, is Arabic for warehouse), seeing where the wall was breached – when all of a sudden we spot someone with blood dripping from his face seeping through dirty, raggedy bandages, hands gripping his slashed neck, followed by other deathly white characters with even worse lacerations. We start to rush forward to ask if they’re OK when – right before our eyes – we see Abraham Lincoln – yes! Old Abe! – in the parade ground. We were flabbergasted and confused. Then we saw the cameras, the techies, the lighting people. Then we learned they were making one of two movies that came out that year about Lincoln. This one, an 1860s period piece called “Abraham Lincoln vs. the Zombies,” was the B-rated version.

Ceruti, this risk-taking, adrenalin-seeking, accomplished scientist, was fascinated. She couldn’t leave without a photo of her with some of the film’s bloody characters, the zombies. “Take my picture,” she said. “So I can show my students and tell them this is what happens if you don’t pay attention.”

But that’s about it for me and national parks. Except for some early in-my-twenties cross-country visits to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Grand Tetons, and several visits to our own Cumberland Island, also a national treasure, I can’t say I’ve been to that many parks. That has got to change, starting with the highly touted Congaree National Park in Hopkins, S.C., a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive from Savannah.

The next big question is where to go to see the two-and-a-half minute Aug. 21 solar eclipse. Where would Constanza go?










To vertigo and back


Jane Fishman

July 23, 2017



“Props,” said the young pharmacist on DeRenne Avenue who couldn’t have been older than 12 as she started to wrap up the cuff, the monitor, the squeeze ball after she gave me my blood pressure numbers.

She didn’t look concerned so I had to ask, “Props. Is that a good thing?”

“It’s good,” she said. “You know, like short for respect, proper respect. Your numbers look good.” And then she was back at her post behind the counter.

“But wait. Do you think we should take it again?” I asked. “Just to be sure.”

“Nope,” she said with certainly, with pride. “I don’t let anyone else use this equipment. It’s mine. It’s accurate.”

Well, OK then, Ms. Pharmacist-at-your-local corner drugstore. Props. And thanks for being there when I needed you. I’m serious.  Much easier than going to the emergency room.

Time for a Dilly Bar.

But what about the dizziness? Do I get props for that? She didn’t know but she was quite certain I wasn’t going to have a stroke right then and there, that I would live to see another day, to pull another weed, to read another chapter in Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel.” Which was good. The book is a tome. Which meant I could ignore the dizziness for yet another day. Which is how I like to treat anomalies. Ignore them and they will go away. I know about dizziness – like when you are foolish enough to go on a roller coaster. Which I no longer do. I know about dizziness from walking up and down a train car, too. Which I do with care (if not grace), bouncing from one seat to another to another, like that pinball game where the moving thingey pings off cushion after cushion, for which you get points. Props.

But this lightheadedness was different. This was a little scarier. It happened a little more often, especially when it involved getting up from bed in the middle of the night or in the morning, from a chair in the afternoon, or from a yoga mat after downward dog. The room, previously still and very much anchored, was spinning. The ceiling too. Round and round she goes. There was no roller-coaster to blame it on this time, no train either. That’s when I hustled to the drug store for the blood pressure check. That’s when I went to see the doctor. He didn’t seem worried. “This happens in old people,” he said. “Older,” I corrected him. “Older,” he said, to placate me, to appease me.” Then he had a diagnosis: “BPV, benign positional vertigo. I’m probably 95 percent certain.”

I liked the word “benign.” I loved the word “benign.” I asked him to repeat it. Then I asked him to write it down. He placated me. Again. It’s when stuff gets stuck in your middle ear, he said, although I’m sure he didn’t use the word stuff or stuck. When doctors mumble that language, it’s so hard to follow. This vertigo thing starts when free-floating pieces of calcium lodge in a little ear canal and start to interfere with your balance, he said.  Kind of like free- floating anxiety, I thought. He sent me to get a test to confirm his theory, then to see a physical therapist. Oh, and to use hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide? I said. That’s so retro. I liked that.

The test that hooked me up to the computer and measured my eye movement took 10 minutes. I looked at a red dot on the wall and turned my head one way, then the other, faster and faster. What’s this for, I asked the technician. To see if you’re dizzy, she said. I already know I’m dizzy, I answered.

Next step. The physical therapist. You lie down, turn your head quickly one way, then the other. Something like that. It’s called the epley maneuver. I was following directions, not memorizing the movements. The therapist looked deeply into my eyes and told me to repeat the maneuver. Bingo. No dizziness. You’re cured, he said in so many words. I liked those words too. Come back if it happens again. Again, so retro. They just had to jiggle the calcium pieces.

Still on the medical-appointment treadmill, I was sent to see someone else to get the results from the test. That’s when I learned about otoliths. Sounds very Russian, I said to the doctor. Very timely, wouldn’t you say? Oligarch, KGB, USSR.  No comment. Your otoliths have fallen out of alignment, he announced. Otoliths are calcium particles, kind of like little beads that balance on your finger. When they fall out of position you lose your balance. Wikipedia says counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths is a common technique for estimating the age of fish. What? First, a Russian conspiracy. Then a fish story. There’s a reason I’m not a medical person.

If it happens again I should lie down, assume a fetal position and thrust my head rapidly in the other direction. The doctor in a purple shirt plopped down on the examining table and demonstrated. Then he got up, made some notes and said, “It’s been a pleasure.”

I returned the compliment. “Props.” By then he was out the room and on to the next patient.