Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thin skinned

The prednisone has thinned my skin, causing dark reddish blotches to appear on the lower end of my arms. As soon as one fades, another comes. I try my best to apply sunscreen, and, if it is not too hot, to wear a lightweight long-sleeved shirt.

I googled it and discovered that these spots are a common side effect of long-term prednisone use, also afflicting older people as their skin thins with age.

Melissa and a dermatologist I saw said they would go away when I am off the prednisone.

I realized the spots are not bruises but rather blood pooled under the skin. One spot on the underside of my right arm grew darker and kind of scary looking. The other night I noticed that it had popped like a blister, revealing blood underneath. Katie bandaged it for me.

I know these spots are to be expected, but still, when a group vanishes only to be replaced by more, I feel somewhat like Sisyphus trying to roll that boulder uphill. I know it's beyond my control, but still, it's part of a desire to look and be normal again.

I remembered that my father developed these spots at the end of his life. My mother gently bandaged them when they bled. Several years after his death, and shortly before hers, the same thing happened to her. Until she needed caregivers, she bandaged them herself.

"I remember not too long ago doing the same thing for him," she said sadly.

And now my daughter is doing it for me.


Adding to the unsightly mess on my right arm is a bruise and horizontal cut close to my wrist. I got it the other day while walking around the lake with two friends and their dog, Cassie. I had Maddie with me. A jogger approached from behind with his dog on a retractable leash. The dog wanted to stop; the jogger didn't. The leash got wrapped around my wrist, digging into my skin. The jogger untangled it on the run, shouted "sorry" and kept going.

This was not the biggest accident that ever happened. But even on the Tours de France, they are expected to stop. I was angry. I'm sure I would have stopped and asked if the person was OK. If he had circled around again, I might have said something. But I didn't see him again. Made me wonder what happened to joggers' etiquette.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The ball bounces on

Bounce, hit. Bounce hit.

Occasionally, I hit the sweet spot. What a rush. My goal of course is just to get them over. I do better than last time. My serve even goes in (sometimes).

Chip and I are hitting at Mount Holyoke College, on courts that abut the lake where I walk Maddie. The only sounds are of the wind rustling through the trees, the waterfall flowing, and, since this is not serious tennis, of us chatting and alternating cries of "Oy!"

That was this morning. We didn't hit for long, but it felt great. The humidity has dropped, making me perk up considerably. I had to leave Maddie behind, so I will take her for a walk soon.

I have one more session left in physical therapy. Rob, my therapist, re-evaluated me yesterday. I've made good progress with balance and strengthening my legs, but I still can't go up a big step unattended. If I get down on the floor, I can only get up by turning onto my hands and knees, putting my hands down and rear-end up (like downward facing dog), and then walking my hands and feet together.

He put in for a few more sessions so I can work on that weakness. Also there is the small matter of falling twice within about three months. He gave me exercises to do at home, but most everyone knows we're more likely to follow through if we actually go someplace.

Meanwhile I will try to set up a doubles game with some of my old teammates. We've done this before when I'm getting back into it (sigh...again) and they are very patient. My partner knows to do the running. Today even though there were only two of us, I practiced keeping my returns away from the spot where Chip's partner would be.

I wasn't always successful, but at least I'm at the point where I can think about strategy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Smooth sailing

Yesterday's two appointments in Boston were a breeze. First came the clinic visit, then a bone density test at another location. I didn't get tired at all, except for my usual spot halfway back. Maybe it's because I had a driver (thanks, Barry!) On the way home, I was able to take a little nap.

The day started off well. Sometimes I rummage through my closet, avoiding my own advice to set aside clothes the night before. Yesterday I went closet shopping and put my hand right on a dress that I had forgotten about.

It was a J Jill black T-shirt dress in a smooth fabric with a bit of stretch. Diane had the dress first, and when I heard about it I raced out to get one, which I found on sale. It makes you feel dressed up without any effort. In my closet, I also found a lime-green lightweight sweater to go with it.

Of course my idea of getting "gussied up," in my mother's words, involves simply shedding my shorts or running pants for something a level up. Really dressed up I am not. But under the "look good feel good" philosophy, I like to look decent when I go to the clinic. Put on sandals and nice jewelry and I'm ready to go.

Plus it's one of the only places I go where I can put on "real" clothes. And, for good measure, I have this idea that if I look good, they won't find anything bad. Bit of magical thinking, but I know that. This does not go for when I'm feeling sick, of course. Then I wobble in without caring how I look.

Anyway, I "only" had to wait an hour to see Melissa. I had left a large gap between my clinic appointment (11 a.m.) and the bone density test (3 p.m.). As it turned out, we had a little time to kill, so we went to nearby Brookline, one of my old stomping grounds, for lunch. We drove down the pleasant tree-lined street where I lived, during graduate school, with five other grad students in a dilapidated Victorian.

Quick trip down memory lane: We ate dinner on a converted pool table and shared a kitchen, living room and two bathrooms that nobody wanted to clean. My parents were appalled. We studied and sunbathed on a porch roof that had no railing. I loved it...until I didn't.

Yesterday we saw that the house had been renovated, with structural shoring up, a new paint job, a railing on the porch roof and other improvements. It looked quite respectable.

Next we walked along Harvard Street in what is known as the Coolidge Corner area, stopping at a Jewish deli called Zoftigs, where my search for the perfect Reuben led to a delicious sandwich.

Onward for the bone density test, which took less than five minutes. I joked to the technician that I had put it off because I'm sure my bones are crumbling, but she wasn't amused. Results to come.

I'm putting my counts at the end; in case anyone is tired of hearing about them, you can stop reading here.

White blood cells: 8.0 (normal=3.8-9.2)
Hematocrit: 26.2 (normal=34.8-43.6); low, but up a little since last week
Platelets: 84 (normal=155-410); decent for me
Sodium: 126 (normal=135-145); still low, but up a little
Potassium: 4.6 (normal=3.5l-5.0)

My liver function was slightly better, and the result of a fasting glucose test was 63 (normal is 65-105). This is the number that had been so high – 400 – that they called me in the next day. Melissa said the low was probably because I was fasting.

A couple of weeks ago they decreased my tacrolimus from .5 milligrams twice a day to once a day. I realized about a week later that I had stopped shaking. What a relief.

Small victories, big help.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Standing (and playing) on two feet

I hit a few with Donna at the Field Club in Longmeadow yesterday. It was really too hot, but we planned it for 12:30-ish, so we went anyway. There aren't too many clay courts around here, and I like the idea of playing on a softer surface just in case I fall.

My left rib and arm still hurt from my driveway fall, but it didn't bother me too much, except a little on my backhand, which I can give myself as an excuse for why my backhand was so bad. We didn't stay too long, (well, about an hour), but I felt so energized being out there that it hardly bothered me. I made sure to drink plenty of water.

I hit quite a few forehands into the net until I remembered, "If you follow through, it will go over." Sure enough, it worked. And hey, I stood on two feet the whole time.

I've been making progress at physical therapy, too. It shows. I can walk in a straight line now (woo-hoo, no bumping into my walking companions), but I wish the work would still show better results at home, i.e. falling in my driveway, although it's not like I pull those stunts all the time.

My big triumph last session was balancing on one foot on a trampoline for 20 seconds. My worst exercise was having trouble walking heel to toe on a line. I'm working on that at home. Funniest moment: Rob, my therapist, said he was going to give me a new exercise consisting of walking sideways with one foot in front of the other alternating with one in back. "The hora," I shouted, dancing down the line while singing Hava Nagila. "Well, I guess we don't have to do that one," he said. I told him it might be genetic. (So maybe to keep from wobbling I should dance the hora all over town?)

I have an appointment at Dana-Farber tomorrow, followed by a bone density scan. Did I say that I had an appointment for the scan a couple of weeks ago and canceled it? Dr. Alyea asked why, and I had one good reason and one bad reason. The good one was that I had scheduled it on a day that was had gotten too busy. The bad one was that I knew the results wouldn't be good and didn't want to hear about it. WRONG! He said I might as well find out so that it can be treated. Yeah, yeah, I was going to reschedule it anyway.

Barry is kind enough to drive me tomorrow. I went last time by myself and it was fine, but it's better at this stage if I get a ride. Joe and Katie are both working. I go on a little guilt trip about asking him (or anyone) to spend what amounts to an entire day, but he has the time and seems happy to do it.

I'm going to give him a blueberry pie.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Back in business

Know your limits...

...and you're off!

Maddie the miracle dog is fully healed.

She increased her mileage slowly for a couple of weeks and is now back to the mile walk around the lake plus the distance from our house, probably 3/4 of a mile. Since she was hit by a car, I haven't let her off the leash. But yesterday at the lake I relented. She ran right into the water, splashed around gleefully, then ran in circles around me.

Of course that meant I had to leave her off the leash for most of the rest of the walk. Sometimes she runs a short distance ahead or makes loops through the woods, but I'm confident she'll come when called. I think she did this before the accident, but I just noticed it more: When she gets ahead of me, she stops, looks back and waits. I put her back on the leash at a point on the path that is close to the road. She comes and sits down, knowing it is "leash time."

And at home, instead of running into the back yard when someone is grilling, she sits in the kitchen at the open slider and looks out. I wonder if she has some memory that last time she ran out that door and into the yard, she got hit shortly after.

Anyway, I always loved her, but I appreciate her more. I still look at her and think, "Wow, she's alive."

With loving help and care, she did what anyone who gets hit by that proverbial Mac truck needs to do: She took her medicine, endured her pain, and then, one step at a time, got back on her paws.

Monday, July 19, 2010

'Shakespeare in the Park,' revisited

Katie in Central Park with our hard-earned
free tickets to "The Winter's Tale."

It's been ages since I saw Shakespeare in the Park with some friends. Every summer since 1954 the Public Theater has presented free Shakespeare at the Delacorte Theater in a tradition begun by the Public's founder, Joseph Papp.

I'm not sure why I didn't go more often. My parents were patrons, meaning they got their tickets in advance and got the best seats. Their goal was to see as many of the plays as possible, and I think they came pretty close. I can't remember them inviting me. Maybe they didn't. They certainly took Diane and me, and later us and our children, to many Broadway shows.

Anyway, Katie and I finally went Saturday. We saw "The Winter's Tale," which is in repertory with "The Merchant of Venice."

The catch is that you have to wait in a long line to get your tickets, which they give out starting at 1 p.m. You get two tickets per person. Park gates open at 6 a.m., and people are already in line near the park entrance in the wee hours. I asked the first person in line when he got there, and he said 3:30 a.m.

This I could not do. We got there at 8.m., and the line was already pretty long, but people came after us too. The line started moving at 1, and we got our tickets at 1:30. It felt like a big accomplishment.

The woman next to us said that she arrived at 6:30 a.m. to see the season's big draw, "The Merchant of Venice" starring Al Pacino, and a staff member told her to go home because she was too late.

Our time in line was actually quite pleasant. We sat in what we call our baseball chairs, dating to the days when we set up these seats-in-a-bag at baseball and softball games. We brought books, water and snacks. Katie walked up to the front of the line, where the cafe is, and came back with good coffee and muffins. Both of us went a couple of times. Later we ordered lunch from a nearby deli whose number the staffers gave out, and our sandwiches arrived by bicycle shortly afterwards.

Waiting in line was a show in itself. Protected from the sun by trees lining that path, we watched a parade of people with their dogs in all shapes and sizes. A flautist entertained, walking up and down the line. Our friend Pam joined us for a while. It felt like five minutes, not five hours.

We walked back to my cousin Jeanne's nearby apartment, where we were staying. We regrouped and did a few errands and then, before we knew it, it was time to head back. We stopped for sandwiches which we ate on the way, and, as instructed, arrived at the Delacorte at 7:45.

The setting makes for half the experience. The sky grows darker as it finishes its descent, casting shadows on the stage. The lights flicker on in the buildings around the park. It's like turning the lights down in an indoor theater. The stage becomes brighter and brighter.

We thoroughly enjoyed the play. It didn't have the buzz of "Merchant," but it was beautifully done. We knew the play, so the ending was not a surprise, but it was so magical that we could have been seeing it for the first time.

Afterwards, we walked back to the apartment and collapsed. It was a hot day with a lot of walking. I was so worried about staying hydrated that I drank so much I could have floated away, but I guess it did the trick.

On Sunday we sqeezed in bagels and coffee with our cousin, Joanne, then met up with Ben and his girlfriend, Meg. Joanne left, and the four of us went down to the United Nations area to have lunch with my Aunt Marge and Uncle Bill, who live nearby.

Then, load the car, stop for Starbucks and hit the road.

If I do say so myself, not bad for someone with a hematocrit of 25 when last checked and a painful left side due to stupid latest fall.

Katie helped a lot, lugging the heavy stuff. She was a delightful, insightful companion.

A+ mother-daughter weekend.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Waiting for the dermatologist

People aware of my comings and goings know about my ongoing effort to see the dermatologist.

About a year ago, she checked several spots on my face. They were not cancerous, but they were either red and flaky or discolored. She froze some spots off and gave me some cream, scheduling a recheck for six months. I seriously wanted this recheck, both because some of the spots remained and I wanted to rule out serious problems, and also because I thought that clearing up my skin would help me feel more like a normal person. (Not as important as getting my hair back, but still, a consideration.)

Due to cancellations for a variety of reasons, it looked like this visit was never going to happen.

You might wonder if this dermatologist even existed.

On June 21, I was sure it would work. One of her offices is on Route 9, the road I take to get to Dana-Farber. I scheduled a 10:15 a.m. appoinment, followed by my Dana-Farber appointment at 1. I got there 15 minutes late, having missed the medical building and then having to circle back along crowed Route 9. When I called, the receptionist said my appointment had been canceled.

I rescheduled for today at 3:30, following my clinic appointment at 11. Dr. Alyea had said it would be interesting to see if they made me wait. When I checked in, I told the receptionist I had been canceled for being 15 minutes late last time, and I hoped that they wouldn't keep me waiting any longer than that themselves.

Speaking up makes my children glare at me in restaurants. (As in telling the waitress, "Please take this burger back, it's undercooked.") They usually hiss at me, "Now she's going to spit in your food." Hey, I tell them, you're a valued consumer, and you have every right to point out problems politely.

At least today I didn't have to worry about the food.

I waited only 20 minutes and was put in a room. There, I waited another 45 minutes. It was getting late, and I faced the drive home, the hardest part of my day. I finished the New York Times and then started fuming. Next came the inner talk: Nobody died. Nobody is dropping bombs on me. Still, how about showing a little courtesy for the patient?

Wearing an exam gown, and squished in a chair next to my purse and my clothes, I leaned my head against the wall, poked by a piece of equipment on the wall behind me. I fell asleep. Finally, an aide poked her head in. She looked at me curiously, as if wondering why I was in there at all. She went to get the doctor, who came in saying she was very very sorry, someone had forgotten to put my folder out.

I told her my saga, and she said she was angry with the staff. She never would want anyone turned away for being 15 minutes late, since she knows that patients come from all over and often get stuck in traffic. She apologized for the last visit and for today, saying I seemed calmer than she felt about it.

Most importantly, she said she saw no signs of skin cancer. Although my graft vs. host disease has been in my gut, she said some of the redness could also be related to GVHD. She froze some of the spots off and gave me a different cream RX than last time. She also said that the redness and small blisters at the end of my nose could only be fixed by laser, which is not usually covered by insurance. I said I would make some phone calls.

Earlier in the day, I had an unexpectedly short visit at Dana-Farber. I thought Dr. Alyea would order an X-ray of my painful rib from this week's fall, but he said that even if an X-ray did show it was broken, you just let it heal on its own anyway. He thought that it was just bruised. Even though I was tearing my hair out over the incident, he said it was a common thing to do, and not to worry.

My counts remained about the same, good for me but not necessarily for "normal" people. My hematocrit, at 25.3, is still low. I'm apparently chewing up the cells that I am making. He said that this process should just go away by itself. Sodium was up one big whopping degree, to 126 (normal starts at 135) and potassium was hovering just about normal, at 5.3. (Normal is 3.5-5.0).

He lowered my prograf from .5 mg. twice a day to once a day, saying he thought this could help many of my problems. Glucose was the high end of normal, 105.

In two weeks I will get my cholesterol checked. Tonight I switched to no-cholesterol frozen yogurt (vanilla with fudge swirl).

It did not hit the spot.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Trying to stand on my own two feet

About a week ago, I fell during physical therapy.

This is not supposed to happen, and my therapist was rattled. He usually circles around me and makes a quick correction if I start to lean. I was in a kind of slalom position on a balance board, trying to do mini-lunges with my back foot in a strap. When I was done, I put my left foot down, but I think my right foot got caught in the strap. Rob was on my right side while I fell to the left.

It didn't bother me as much as it bothered him. I got up and continued my exercises. The next day I noticed I had a huge black and blue mark on my shoulder.

Physical therapy has helped a lot. I actually really like it there. I passed my evaluation by showing progress but also some weaknesses, earning me the right to put in for six sessions after my first round ended.

So yesterday I was taking a bag of papers to the garage for our recycling bin. Two little steps lead to the garage and driveway. I've been up and down those steps countless times. Somehow I managed to trip over the last step and fall in the driveway.

The papers flew, and I found myself lying on my back. I looked at the trees for a while, hoping that someone would see me from the street and help me get up. Nobody stopped. Joe and Katie were both out.

My left wrist, elbow and ribs hurt the most. Finally I got up the only way I know how – rolling over onto hands and knees and pushing up from there. I had a bad gash in my elbow and sharp pain in my ribs. Joe came home first and helped me bandage the elbow. Once I collected myself, I felt it wasn't serious enough to call my doctor. I could breathe normally, although it hurt to take a deep breath and to cough, and I'm back to coughing quite a bit lately.

I did call Melissa today, and she said it sounded like it could wait until my appointment tomorrow.

In my mind now, a trip cannot just be a trip. The tears came when I got back into the house, now with blood dripping down my arm. I had to get an ice pack, but I could barely open the freezer; in fact, my left arm and hand are pretty useless now. Totally frustrated, I wondered: How can I be making progress if I trip on one step in my own driveway? And, in crazy mode, Maybe I had a little stroke.

I ruled out the stroke because I felt OK afterwords. And I realized that my problem might result from a medication issue. I guess I will find out tomorrow.

I have experienced some disconnect between my head and my feet before. I wasn't falling all over the place, but Once as a young mother I went for jog near our parents' house in Atlantic Beach (L.I.), happily sending my kids off to the beach with my mother. I was having a great run. Then I tripped on a crack and fell. I hit my left shoulder hard. (I have a big scar to prove it.) I happened to be in front of their friends' house. The friends brought me in, fixed me up, and called my parents. I'm sure they offered me a ride, but I said I'd run back, which I did, trying to keep the leaky bandage in place.

You might call me stubborn. Or clutzy.

Years later, I playied doubles the day before I was to return to the hospital for one of my many incarcerations. I felt good, and I decided I had to play. I had come home with my Hickman, which I just tucked into my bra.

I lunged for a shot and fell hard on my right shoulder, ending up in the ER. The shoulder was separated. They put a sling on and sent me on my way. During that hospitalization in Boston, my shoulder hurt more than any other pain I felt during that round of chemo. It healed oddly, and I now have a bump on my right shoulder.


Hmmmmm. Maybe nothing, because sometimes a trip is just a trip; it's something a lot of people do without giving it a thought.

Nonetheless, let's try this:

Pick your feet up and pay attention.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Photos from Cape Cod weekend

View of the bay from the beach
where Diane and I walked over the weekend.
I took this photo
with my cell phone and could
hardly see a thing.

My hosts for the weekend, Diane, Sam
and David, in front of their house
in Wellfleet.
Diane I on the road to Uncle Tim's
Bridge in Wellfleet. After crossing the bridge,
(in background), a path meanders
along the marshes and harbor.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Downhill uphill

Thursday I woke to find dog poop and vomit all over the dining room rug and even streaked across the wood floor. Joe and I cleaned it up. The rug is already ruined because Maddie chewed the edges, but it was usable; now it will need some heavy-duty cleaning.

I had to head to Dana-Farber, so Joe took Maddie to the vet. She got a shot and pills to slow her digestive system, and she came home with easier-to-digest dog food. She never got a diagnosis, because her stool sample showed no sign of worms and she checked out normal for everything else. Maybe she ate something. She seems fine now.

I knew I'd be late for my appointment, but I was even later than I thought. The traffic on Route 9 into Boston was bumper-to-bumper, and the "Boston drivers" seemed to be out in full force. I called Melissa to say I'd be late. By the time I got there, I was exhausted.

My hematocrit had fallen to 25.7, which seemed odd to me because I felt so energetic a couple of days earlier walking around Newport with Ben, and I still felt OK. White count was normal at 9.1 and pokey platelets were 72. (Better than single digits, but I keep wondering what happened to 100?)

My blood pressure was way high, and my sodium, at 124, was still low. (Normal = 135-145.)
Glucose was lower (164) but still high (normal is 65-105), and liver function was slightly elevated again. They put me back on Glipizide to lower the glucose, increased my bp medicine, Atenelol, from 50 mgs. a day to 75, and increased my salt tabs from two to three a day.

Arrrrrggggghhhhhh! Too much to keep track of. I've been demoted from going every other week to going weekly, so I have another appointment Thursday.

It was far from a terrible visit, but still frustrating.

Things went uphill from there, luckily. I had a lovely "al fresco" dinner at my friend Margaret and her husband Nick's house, where we had delicious crusty salmon on the grill. From Needham, Margaret drove me to Diane's in nearby Newton. I left my car at Margaret's, necessitating a car swap the next day, but Margaret said I looked too tired to drive. It's nice to be looked after.

I spent the night in Newton, and the next day, Diane drove her son, Sam, and me to the house they just bought on Cape Cod. It's in Wellfleet on what they call the Outer Cape. David caught up with us later.

There was a celebratory air, since it was my first visit to the house. The plan called for me to stay until tonight, drive back with them to Newton, then drive home. It was a longish driving day – two hours to Newton and an hour-and-a-half to South Hadley – but there was very little traffic, and it worked out perfectly. The house was beautiful, and we managed a good sampling of our Wellfleet favorites: pond, bay, ocean, town and ice cream, as well as walking alongside the beautiful marshes and enjoying dinner in and dinner out.

More on the Wellfleet weekend tomorrow.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tennis trip big success

I vowed to get out and about more, and Tuesday was a perfect example of how to do it. For Hannukah, Ben had given me tickets to the Tennis Hall of Fame's annual tournament, played on grass in an intimate setting in Newport, R.I.

We'd go to see the tennis and then spend the day in Newport. I was happy to do it, but I didn't understand how interesting it would be.

The day finally came, and off we went. Combined with seeing two matches and following a tour guide through the Tennis Hall of Fame, I learned a feast of tennis facts. For example, the first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championship was held in 1881 on the grounds of the
current Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum.
It is the
only pro
on grass in

In photo
above, Ben and I stopped at the outside court
before entering the main grounds where we
we would see two matches on Court One.
Making it especially interesting, Frenchman Nicholas Mahut, now a
kind of cult hero, played in the second match, close enough that we
could see his every expression. Mahut shot to fame by competing
in a record-breaking 11-hour, 15-minute match against American John
Isner at Wimbledon. Mahut lost, but that seemed beside the point.
In Newport, Mahut won his match, defeating Columbian Alejandro
Falla 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.

In photo at right, Mahut gives a little hand pump after a good shot, and below, Ben stopped (with me) along the
Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile path along the
Newport shoreline, with The Breakers,
one of the guilded age mansions in the
city, gracing the hillside facing the water.

We traveled two miles, chatting along the
way. I wasn't even tired. We turned around
and completed our 4-mile walk, then got in
the car to go home.

Earlier, after the tennis, we had stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant at the wharf. We got our coffee and took it down
to the Cliff Walk. Everyone was happy.

It turns out he had had a great idea. I loved spending the time day with him.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth, Dad

Simon, a huskie-collie-shepherd mix
(or something like that), shares Al's
patriotism after my father put up the
flag one 4th of July at Atlantic Beach,
Long Island.

One of my father's favorite rituals was hanging the flag outside the beach house on July 4. Later I will post a photo of tall skinny dad holding a big flag. There is another of Simon the dog looking up at it. Simon was a husky-collie and maybe shepherd mix and my first doggie love, unless you count Sam Gordon, our family dog who was an affenpincher -poodle mix, an adorable but kind of crazy little thing. It was a good day. They both look very patriotic.

My father, a good New York Jewish liberal, hated the forces he believed were wreaking havoc in our country. But he always said that despite everything, it was the best country in the world, and he was proud to be an American. His words became known as the "Al Gordon speech," and Ben uses some of them when he delivers his Thanksgiving speech.

It seems the country is in more trouble than when he died in early 2001, and the world is a mess. But I think of him fondly on this day (every other day too), think of his big smile, and try to remember that a little optimism never hurt.