Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mike Nichols

As I read some of the commentary following the recent demise of Mike Nichols, I was struck with two somewhat related facts: the wide variety of his prolific, productive life, spanning more than fifty years and how many of his projects were meaningful in Mary’s and my lives.  I also learned a few things about him that I had not previously known.

That when he arrived in this country at age seven, he only knew two English sentences: “I do not speak English” and “Please, do not kiss me.”  I also learned that he lost his hair at age four from side effects of a Whooping Cough vaccine and consequently wore wigs until he died at age 83.

His first real success came when he founded the Compass Players and teamed up with Elaine May. The improv group, which included a group of young comedians including Shelley Berman, eventually morphed into The Second City, which basically staffed Saturday Night Live when Lorne Michaels started it in 1971.  Our first contact with Nichols was the debut record he and May did and I still have the original vinyl.  When I was searching for images for this Post I found that my record is available on Amazon for $60. I couldn’t sell it because The Dentist routine remains a favorite.

Although he won awards for film, TV, and a Grammy for records made with Elaine May, he greatest love and passion was for the theater.  The first play he directed won him a Tony.  It was Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park.  Coincidently that was the first play I was cast in as a principle, playing Victor Velasco, the rather strange neighbor.  Of course my production was not on Broadway, but rather a group of local players who performed on a school stage.

The last play Nichols directed was last year, Betrayal, which opened to mixed reviews and quickly closed.  The play before that though won another Tony.  It was a brilliantly cast Death of a Salesman, which played a limited run because of cast project conflicts. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and two other actors were nominated for Tony Awards, as was the stage and lighting Director.

Although his most famous film was The Graduate the one he directed the year before got him that job.  It was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? adapted from a play he was familiar with because he once was cast as the lead played in the film by Richard Burton.  One can only imagine how Nichols directed Burton, particularly at that time in Burton's career.  Nichol's Direction earned him an Oscar nomination, which would be repeated the next year.

He had a reputation as a strong, committed director.  The story is told of his directing Walter Matthau in the The Odd Couple that eventually would play 964 performances on Broadway and spawn a television series, a movie and a revival in 1988 with two females as the couple.  Presumably, Matthau at one point said, “You’re emasculating me.  Give me back my balls!”  To which Nichols replied, “Certainly.  Props!”  He won a directorial Tony for Spamalot, a production Mary and I saw when on our annual NYC visit for the Greater New York Dental Meeting.

Mary and I saw The Graduate and the music from the film is played regularly at dinner.  Nichols is all over the film with choices of the music and the artists who penned the score, the cast, which catapulted a young Dustin Hoffman to stardom, to the cinematography, which remains unique in its composition.  Hoffman remains in awe of Nichols for the opportunity to be in the film.  Perhaps Nichols felt a kindred spirit, remembering his attempt to break into theater in New York at about the same age by studying Method Acting.  In any event Nichols earned another Oscar.

About the only project we did not follow closely was the television Miniseries that won him one of his two Emmys: Angels in America.  As Netflix is now allowing stream-watching, I may revisit the project.

It is not surprising that, being one of a few select persons who have won an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy, he would be honored for life achievement. Two of these that I recently watched in YouTube were the AFI Award, with a great tribute by Elaine May, and the KennedyCenter Award with about a 25-minute show featuring many of the actors and performers who felt his genius.

Genius may in fact be the operative word.  He was, after all, a second cousin, on his mother’s side, some ways removed, to Albert Einstein.

In my next Post, I will share with you how I have joined the legions who have a handicap placard.  You might find it interesting.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Natrional Watch and Clock Museum
When we last set our clocks back, NPR did an interview with the curator of the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania.  The gist of the feature was how did they manage to set all their clocks, who did it, and how long did it take?  While I never learned the answer to those questions, I did find the concept interesting enough to reflect on clocks in my home and life, as well as to do a little research into the National Watch and Clock Museum, its counterpart, the American Clock and Watch Museum in Bristol, Ct. and the demised Clock Museum in Rockford, IL.

I also learned a new word: horology, the study of clocks and timepieces.

In a previous Post I covered the process of Daylight Savings, its history and arguments pro and con.  I also covered how I had been celebrating DST even after I retired from the corporate world.  The highlight of my celebration came about three years before I retired from WellPoint when my staff, numbering then about 16, surprised me by decorating my cubicle the Monday after the change, with posters, banners, celebratory cards and such.  Pictures from that day are still among my favorites.

I noticed this year that in another feature, Scott Simon was suggesting worthwhile things to do with the extra hour we gained.  That was also my pattern when I celebrated the occasion.  It was easier to suggest the Fall back, but the Spring forward gave an opportunity to give up all your bad habits in the one minute before you lost the hour.

I did an inventory of the timepieces I have in my house:  thirty-seven, counting both cars and the cordless telephones.  Some of these are quite interesting.  Others are more mundane.

The five bedroom alarm clocks would fall into that latter concept with one exception: the Bose that was a Christmas present from Leonard Shaffer to the Officers of WellPoint.  It has a gradually increasing radio wakeup and dual alarms, both features Mary and I have come to appreciate.

The four computers, the iPad and the two cell phones all have time functions but since they require no maintenance, I rarely use them for tracking time.  Similarly, the three TVs use as clocks is generally discounted.

 I have two mantel clocks that are my favorite, for different reasons.  One sits on a shelf of my wall unit and keeps remarkably accurate time, considering it is likely more than two-hundred years old.  I inherited it from my Mother, when she and my father moved from Iowa to California.  They in turn, inherited it from my grandmother shortly after they married in 1927  It once fell from a mantel and was declared terminal, until I got the works operational and a Navy friend repaired the casing.  About fifteen years ago I made friends with a retired clock man, who I met in a theater production.  Michael is now in his mid-nineties and as recently as a few months ago, while reminding me that he has built 12 grandfather clocks, was able to get one of my clocks working correctly again. 

That would be a clock I inherited from my mother and gifted to my younger son. So he could learn to tell Ship’s time.  It rings bells from 1 to 8 for the Watch Shifts every four hours.  I have another Ship’s Clock in my study and find it’s sound comforting if I wake in the night.  The mantle clock mentioned above chimes the Westminster chimes every fifteen minutes, a sound I tune out unless I am listening for it.  I wind it once a week and it rarely needs setting.

I have another mantel clock that has a world time function.  That comes in handy when we are following Wimbledon.  It and several others are electric.  When IO was commuting the 100+ miles for WellPoint, I had a residence in Westlake Village and missed my Westminster chimes so much that Mary bought a battery clock for the condo.  Tim now has that clock too, as it was sitting in our guest room and never had the chime turned on.

I also have a functioning gold-filled Gruen pocket watch on display.  Since it needs winding daily, I no longer set it, but I did today and find that, while it still runs, it loses about ten minutes an hour.  I think it must have belonged to my grandfather since its inscription is to the employees of a Stock firm in 1923.  I have another pocket watch in a safe deposit box from another grandfather who worked the railroad.  I have another mantel clock also in my loft.  It was made electric and doesn’t make an interesting noise so it is of little interest.

The only other clock I have is a wall clock I got for Mary for when she doing laundry.  It is in the garage with the washing machine and dryer.

As time marches on, I’ll end this here with the truism that even a stopped watch is correct twice a day.

In my next Post I will reflect on the recent death of mike Nichols, who Mary and I felt was a friend even though we never met him.  I hope you will join me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Through a weird set of circumstances I have found myself with twelve physician appointments in the last ten weeks.  At each and every one there was an initial pattern of treatment:

1.      Review my insurance information

2.      Measure my weight

3.      Measure my temperature

4.       Measure my blood pressure

What seemed strange to me was that all of these physicians are linked into some sort of group practice and further strange they all purport that they have a shared electronic record.  A fifth piec e of information that was requested by each of the eight different practitioners was a copy of the medications I take.  I have a three page written copy, which breaks out the individual medications and dosages of any multiple vitamins or supplements.  Some of these requests came within 24 hours of each other.

This experience, plus all the news regarding quarantine of suspected Ebola patients got me thinking of how thermometers have evolved over my lifetime.

I can’t remember much about thermometers until after the end of WWII, when my father returned from the Pacific and we returned back to Mason City, Iowa where he had left his dental practice.  Thermometers at that time were based on expansion of a material by heat and, depending on the portal they used to evaluate, had a small or medium-sized bulb of mercury, a material I used to use to make dimes shiny when I visited my father's dental office.

Once I was old enough to safely hold one under my tongue I was trusted to use the smaller bulb variety.  I may still have had a twenty year-old sample in my medicine cabinet when, the environmental agencies declared all of these were hazardous and should discarded for safer models.

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Thermometers are nothing new.  The Greeks and Egyptians had some method of measuring temperatures, more for scientific reasons than for health, and Galileo built a model that measures ambient air effectively and accurately.  I have a Galileo thermometer on my mantle, more as a work of art than a utilitarian piece.

I also have two combination barometer-thermometer devises, one mounted on a wheel as a parallel piece to a chiming Ship’s Clock and the other a remnant from when our rented house in Virginia was kept at a frigid 66 degrees to save on heating costs..  I have an indoor-outdoor model that tells me when to open our California home and an outdoor one to see if the combination one is accurate.

Contact Thermometer
All of these thermometers, and those presently in my medicine cabinet depend on liquid expansion as a measuring mechanism.  But there is new technology.  Some current models depend on contact with the skin to digitally read the temperature.  More than one of the offices I visited use that model.  One would guess it would have appeal to practices that treat small children.  IO find it ironic that my mother used a similar technique by feeling my forehead, presumably with about the same degree of accuracy.

And there is a model that uses measurement of infra-red waves.  This is the one you see screening West African travelers, since it keeps a safe distance from the person you are testing.
Infra-red Thermometer

I am unsure what model is suggested for monitoring exposed medical staff and contact persons twice a day for the twenty-one day incubation period.

Treatment of what one does to a patient with an elevated temperature varies greatly.  Aspirin was the only thing we had when I was growing up.  Now there must be a dozen drugs in use.  The movies (before they were called film) had a scene where Jane Russell lay next to the fevered cowboy, presumable transferring some of his heat to her.  My older son, with a temperature of 103° was advised by our flight surgeon that we should bathe him in ice water and if the fever didn’t break on half an hour should take him to the emergency room with the windows down to let in the cold Rhode Island air.  His suggestion to hold him out said window was ignored by Mary.

One of the more interesting things I learned in my medical training is that a fever is not a bad thing until it gets too high.  It provides a better opportunity to incubate antibodies and is nature’s natural reaction to a problem in our system.

Possibly inspired by my mention of my thermometers, and possibly because we recently set our clocks back, I thin k my next Post will be on clocks and how the ones I have, came into my life.  I hope you will join me.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Half of Click and Clack Dies

Tom Magliozzi died today from a long bout with Alzheimer's.  That prompted me to repost  what I wrote almost exactly two years ago.  I hope you will enjoy it.
I am Chairman of the American Institute of Wine and Food for Orange County, California.  As such I am in contact with National Officers and Chapter Chairs and others working with this group in their efforts to provide funds for Scholarships in the Food and Wine industry and Days of Taste; the program that brings good food knowledge to Title 1 fourth and fifth graders.  The other day I received such a call and, knowing it required my undivided attention I excused myself to turn off the radio.

“Radio!  You still listen to the radio?” asked an incredulous Daniel: chef, entrepreneur, and culinary school contributor from South Miami Beach.  I confessed my addiction to NPR, which Daniel admitted he listens to on Sirius XM as it streams from his car’s 12 speaker system.  When we finished our conversation I began to reflect of what part radio has played in my life.

Click and Clack
A fitting topic as this month marks the end of one of radio’s most popular shows, Car Talk.

The show had humble beginnings.  Tom Magliozzi was encouraged by his younger brother Ray to appear on a local radio station as part of a panel of local (Boston) mechanics to answer listeners’ questions.  No one else showed up, but Tom’s easy manner and breadth of knowledge impressed the show’s host enough to invite him back the next week with Ray.

After ten years of weekly appearances, for the most part unpaid, the Brothers were picked up by NPR as a commercial project.  The show is by any measure a success, with 3.3 million weekly listeners on 660 stations, according to NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher, making it NPR’s top-rated weekend program.  NPR intends to continue broadcasting repeat shows for the foreseeable future.

This is somewhat ironic in that during the twenty-five year evolution of the show, an ongoing feature is blending some past shows with the current one in a seamless and unaccredited manner. Other features of note include who has called in for advice; for example several celebrities, including John Grunsfeld, who called in from the Space Shuttle.  In fact NASA has called more than once, including one session where an anonymous caller was asking about problems surrounding a car kit, which eventually was identified as the Mars Rovers.

For many years I listened to one or more of the 660 stations broadcasting Car Talk and thoroughly enjoyed the humor and caller involvement.  There is something about a blonde trying to mimic the engine sounds of her 1998 Volvo as it goes through its gears that is unique.

Even before Click and Clack my generation had a love affair with radio.  When my wife Mary would come home from school she would listen to The Lone Ranger before going out to play “Hide and Seek” or ‘I’ll Draw the Frying Pan”. We grew up to follow the Masked Man into television, film and even personal appearances.  The voice and one of the most famous of those appearing belonged to Brace Beemer, a six-foot five personality who actually could ride and shoot, but whose greatest claim to fame was his deep voice which announced at the start of each show, “Hi-Yo Silver — A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver … the Lone Ranger!”

There are many who have memories of the personal appearances.  The most popular of which is on You Tube as Jay Thomas’ memory of the Masked Man on the David Letterman Show.

Another classic from the Golden Age of Radio was The Shadow, which as I remember it was one of the Sunday Evening's must-hear.  There are few of us around anymore who “Know what evil lurks in the hearts of men”. I also remember the tremendous variety of the radio shows: the drama of the Lux Radio Hour, the humor of Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and so many others, the suspense of the Serials, and the mystery and terror of the creaking door from Inner Sanctum or Orson Welles War of the Worlds adaptation, whose anniversary we celebrate this month.  And of course there were the educational elements of Let's Pretend.

As my friend reminds me, we still can have those shows, streaming to us as we commute, but it isn’t quite the same as hunkering down, close to the radio, often as a family, sharing the experience.  I can’t help but feel we may have lost something, especially now that Click and Clack are leaving us.  What do you think?

Next Wednesday I will be sharing a little about my book, Harnessing a Heritage and offering contact with some interesting fellow authors who blog.  Please