Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Half Empty: How do you measure greatness?

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

How do you measure greatness?

It seems like such a subjective thing, but we have formulated a foolproof fact-based accounting method that can take the guesswork out of the equation.

According to our calculations, today (September 12, 2007) we will both officially surpass the talented actor/comedian John Candy.

That’s no small feat, but we’ve been surpassing some of the all-time greats over the last few decades, so we’ve really gotten used to it.

In 1981, we surpassed King Tut.

In 1987, we put James Dean in our rear-view mirror.

In the 1990s, we dusted guitarist Jimi Hendrix (’90), composer Stephen Foster (’94), actor John Belushi (’96), and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (’98).

We really got serious about moving beyond the all-time greats at the turn of the century.

According to our calculations, we have bested Lou Gehrig (2001), King Louis XVI of France (2002), Martin Luther King Jr. (2003), John Lennon (2004), and last year we even moved past the King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley.

Some would have been content to stop there, but the great ones are never satisfied.

Next year, God willing, authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Louis Stevenson will have to admit that they are no Rick and Dave. The statistics don’t lie.

The following year Walter Payton will have to do the same. Before this decade ends, John F. Kennedy and Alexander Hamilton will also wish they were us.

Sorry to gloat. But it’s all we have.*

*Statistics are measured by number of years surviving on Planet Earth. Today, September 12, 2007, Dave turns 44, joining Rick in the “older than John Candy ever got” club.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Suburban Man: The Nursing Home

By Rick Kaempfer

My middle son Johnny had just left for school, when I noticed the expression on his little brother Sean’s face. My four-year-old pre-schooler was sitting on the couch, gazing out the window at the sight of his nine year old brother disappearing from view. Sean’s hands were cupping his sad little cheeks.

“He’ll be back this afternoon,” I said.

“I know,” he answered.

I wasn’t used to seeing Sean sad. I knew I had to do something to snap him out of it.

“Want to go on a field trip?” I asked. “Just the two of us?”

He eyed me suspiciously. “Where?”

“Anywhere you want,” I offered.

“Really? Anywhere?”


“OK,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “Let’s go visit Uri-Oma.”

Uri-Oma is my grandmother, and Sean’s great-grandmother (“Uri-Oma” is German for “Great Grandmother”). She is 93 years old, has dementia and Alzheimer’s, doesn’t speak a word of English, and thinks she is living in the old country. The last five or six times I visited her in the nursing home, she had no idea who I was. I was depressed every time I left.

I figured I didn’t hear Sean correctly. I knew my mom dragged Sean along to the nursing home occasionally, but I didn’t know he liked it.

“You want to go to the nursing home?”

“Yes!” he said. He was totally excited about the possibility.

I hadn’t been to visit my grandmother in a few weeks, so I figured what the heck. I packed Sean in the car and drove over there. When we walked in the front door, the security guard smiled at my little boy.

“How many stickers do you want today?” he asked.

“Just two. One for me and one for Dad.”

Sean ran ahead as I signed the visitor’s log.

“C’mon Dad.”

I hurried to catch up to him. He ran to the elevator and pressed the button for the third floor like he owned the place. The elevator door opened on my grandmother’s floor and he ran ahead again.

“C’mon Dad.”

When we got to the dementia wing and Sean opened the door, it was like Norm arriving at Cheers bar. The nurses all said it at the same time.


He waved at them happily, and then waved at the other residents there, nearly all of whom looked like they were receiving a puppy on Christmas morning.

When he found my grandmother, she was the most excited person on the floor. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Even before the Alzheimer’s kicked in, my grandmother was not exactly famous for her cheerful disposition. She was a tough old German woman, worn down by a lifetime of hardship. The only thing “warm and fuzzy” about her was her sweater.

And yet, there she was, leaning against a walker, smiling broadly at Sean.

“Look Uri-Oma,” he said. He stomped his feet on the ground, and his shoes lit up.

“Oooooh. Lichtie,” she said. That’s a cutesy German way of saying “light.” It would be like saying “Oh look—a little lightee.” I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears--my grandmother was talking baby-talk to my son.

“Do you know what she said?” I asked Sean.

He nodded. “She loves the shoes.”

Close enough. “Hi, Oma,” I said.

“Wer bischt du?” she asked me in her German dialect. It means “Who are you?”

I was just about to explain who I was, when Sean interrupted. “Look Uri-Oma,” he said. He pulled a little car out of his pocket.

“Oooooh,” she said.

“C’mon, Uri-Oma, let’s play,” he said, and ran ahead to a table. She shuffled after him with her walker about as fast as I’ve seen her move in five years.

“This should be good,” I thought to myself.

My grandmother sat at the table across from Sean and for the next fifteen minutes or so, they pushed the little car back and forth. Sean was talking to her the whole time, explaining the name of the car, telling her how fast it could go, and why it was so special to him. She was nodding and smiling the whole time. After the car game, Sean started doing somersaults on the floor in front of her. She clapped after each one.

For thirty minutes or so, I got a glimpse of what kind of a grandmother she might have been if her life hadn’t had been so hard, and difficult, and cruel. Those difficult years have melted away with her disease. I could tell with every smile.

And this time when we left the nursing home, for the first time ever, I wasn’t depressed.

A sad footnote: I wrote this column a few weeks ago. Last Wednesday my grandmother had a bad fall at the nursing home probably caused by a massive stroke. The doctors thought she wouldn't make it through the weekend, but as I write this now, she is still clinging to life.