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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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You know, it could always be worse
By HOWARD TROXLER
Published November 12, 2006
It is clear now the first clue was the soggy pistachios.
They had never been soggy before, in all the time we had kept them in the cupboard. Yet four days before the election I reached for a handful, plucked one from its shell and bit into it, only to discover a disappointing mush.
The second clue came a little later when we discovered the door to the garage stuck in its frame. A Sherlock Holmes could have instantly solved the nut-riddle: The place was as humid as a greenhouse. Yet that implied a source of moisture far beyond the norm.
We didn't know what it was until walking across the floor in the family room, hearing a squish and looking down to see water gushing up between the boards. A pipe had burst beneath the house. Alarm ensued. Here are two words you do not want to hear in the same sentence: Slab. Leak.
But this is not the point. Two days into the aftermath of plumbers and floor-moisture guys and insurance claims, Harry the Dog was diagnosed with inoperable spots on his lungs, one month before his 11th birthday.
This is inconceivable to us. He wags. He barks. He eats his own food and tries to sneak the cats' too. Only his cough fits and labored breathing tell us, and him, something is wrong. As he lies on the floor, each of the three cats, in rotation, sits beside him and occasionally licks his ears.
But this is not the point. At the risk of crossing a line of taste, it is relevant to the narrative that I myself have acquired, prematurely, certain old-guy ailments that have provoked vigorous inquiry by cheerful doctors. The word "benign" is involved, but it is bothersome nonetheless.
So in the middle of home destruction and dog-related trauma, I was trundled off to the doctor for certain tests. Perhaps the less said about the specifics the better, although I can report that many tubes seemed to be involved. Also, I advise you, if possible, to avoid medical inquiries that involve the word "balloon." It all was entirely depressing.
But this is not the point. On Friday morning we discovered my 16-year-old maroon clownfish (name: Clowny) lying on his side in the front of his tank, clearly on the way to the Great Reef in the Sky. As we discussed where to bury him in our garden - in the middle of a week of house, and dog, and tubes - for some reason the fish got to me, and I stood there in great, racking sobs.
"You are lucky," we have heard several times this week, and it is true. Our pipe burst in a known place, not deep down in the middle of the slab. We lost only a couple of rooms, and we can get new stuff. Not to mention that we have a house in the first place.
We have been lucky to have Harry in our lives, and if it is not presumptuous to speak for his half of the deal, he has been lucky to have us. As for my one-day test, some people go through medical tortures every day just to live.
And for the 16-year-old fish - good grief! He was neither eaten as a fry, nor consigned to a bad tank, but outlived several anemones, and innumerable companions. He was a patriarch among fish.
"We are very, very lucky," we told a consoling neighbor as we stood in the driveway with Harry. And we try hard to know it. All of us have friends and families who even at this moment are undergoing grief and suffering beyond anything we can imagine.
That is the point, and I give humble thanks for the chance to remember it.