Trump or Clinton

July 30th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

Lots of people have made up their minds about the candidate that they are going to select come November.  Well, sometimes, the only way to calm down my 20-month-old grandson is to play a video featuring a dozen versions of the children’s song, “The Wheels on the Bus.”

Truthfully, between the conventions and ongoing international carnage, we need to make sure that we check the lug nuts on the wheels of our own buses before we make our final decisions. Consequently, the topic that I would like to pursue here is hopefulness, and the art and science of rational thinking.

I’m not going to write about Dallas, Baton Rouge, Paris, Brussels, Nice, Munich, Orlando, or Minnesota. I have no desire to readdress the wars in Syrian or Afghanistan.  There will be no playing of the blame game on either party because, from my perspective, the wheels of both parties’ buses have been off more than once in this campaign. It’s been disagreeable, disgusting, and disconcerting.

My theme here is about something that one of my college professors spent an entire semester professing.  We, as human beings, are no longer being taught to actually think anymore.  Let me clarify this a little.  We are not given the tools or the classes in rational, scientific method analytics to allow us to make sense of life. We spend our days consuming Pablum.

For the vast majority of us, the primary extent of our day-to-day existence is based almost purely on emotions.  Logic hardly ever enters the equation. We are stimulus-response creatures that are mostly driven by the amygdala in our brain, and that almost always leads us into places that are not good for anyone.

We tend to focus on the mundane, the negative, the petty, the hideous, and the horrible, and that little thumb-sized amygdala gleefully sends fear, hatred, anger and paranoia throughout our brains. We mentally manipulate ourselves every day.

Much of the trouble that we are experiencing is coming from a worldwide lack of education. That, and our continued wars over whose God is better, contribute to producing a lack of rational hope. We end up living in a “whack a mole” continuum of crisis, anger, worry and warfare.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just pushing IQ here, I’m talking about EQ (emotional intelligence) as well. We all know very smart people who have the emotional capacity of a third-grade schoolyard bully, and some not-so-smart folks who have beautiful insights into the meaning of life.

As a capitalistic society, we tend to elevate and sometimes worship people who have worked their way to the top of the food chain.  Even through many have done it through ruthless exploitation, their wealth seems to elevate them to a God-like status of perceived genius among the masses.

When we look at the Bronze Age, the era where today’s terrorists live emotionally and intellectually, we can easily see how stupid mankind is capable of being. So, the question becomes “How do we protect ourselves from stupid?”

The anger that we see in today’s culture may be well deserved, but the solutions are not simply one person solutions. Unwinding corrupt practices can only occur if we can get to the root of the WIFM equation (What’s in it for me?) It requires finding out who the puppeteer is, and what indeed is in it for him?

If this seemed slanted toward one candidate or the other, I apologize. It is my sincere desire to encourage all of us to try to make a positive difference in our own and other peoples’ lives.   I’m just asking that we think about it and not vote with our amygdala. I’m hoping that our better selves take a few minutes to really contemplate the words that are being thrown around because some of them are deadly.


Scared of Being Scared

July 7th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

Several members of my family are not fond of snakes. Let me clarify by saying that several members of my family are terrified of snakes. If a snake is within a mile of them, they completely fall apart. They make distress sounds reminiscent of scenes from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Although they realize that this anxiety is over the top, they are still frozen in trembling, irrational panic over something that, for the most part, can’t hurt them.

Of course I’m not talking about killer snakes. They frighten me, too, and I certainly understand the fear of something that could end your life prematurely. It’s the other brand of snakes, black and garter, or garden, or gardener snakes.

These critters are good for balancing nature, and they eat deer ticks, or almost any other living thing that they are capable of consuming: slugs, earthworms, leeches, lizards, amphibians (including frog eggs), ants, crickets, rodents and minnows.

When I Googled phobia, I found nearly 500 phobias listed. For example, we’ve all heard of fear of spiders, Arachnophobia, and some members of my immediate family are concerned with heights, but how about Acerophobia, the fear of sourness?

That one took me back to some of my middle school teachers who had very sour dispositions. “Francis, did you finish your report on Medieval European Confrontations?” “No, ma’am, not yet,” I’d reply. “Well, if you don’t finish it by tomorrow, you will never graduate from middle school, never get out of high school, and you will be a failure for your entire life,” she’d say. Boom. Acerophobia.

During the past several years, I’ve developed another disquieting concern, Aeronausiphobia – the fear of vomiting secondary to airsickness. That one evolved from a flight in a private plane. As we flew through the clouds, I sat in the back of my then chairman’s beautiful airplane throwing up things that I’d eaten in first grade. This wasn’t a short run sickness either. It went on for hours. As we landed, he came through the cabin to exit, looked at me and said, “Fly home commercial.”

A former business acquaintance once told me that one of the primary reasons that prisons are built in rural areas is that the vast majority of the prisoners are from urban areas, and that they suffer from Agrizoophobia – the fear of wild animals. It seemed funny to me that these hardened gang bangers were terrified of being confronted by an angry opossum or a rabid squirrel, but, hey, I’m afraid of barfing in a plane.

Several of us have developed a new phobia, Anglophobia – fear of England. After the Brexit vote, it became clear that some of the things that encouraged 52 percent of British citizens to vote to exit the European Union may also be driving the elections in the United States. If there’s one thing that we older folks have learned, it’s to be afraid. Be very afraid.

Recently, one of my children decided to raise chickens. The rooster is a very aggressive attack animal, and from that perspective, at least a few of the kids have developed Alektorophobia – the fear of chickens, or at least the fear of one big chicken.

We had a dog once that developed Arachibutyrophobia – the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth. My Italian grandmother had Astrapophobia, the fear of thunder and lightning. She’d make me sit on the cellar steps with her and pray the rosary during storms.

I’ve personally understood Automatonophobia – fear of ventriloquist’s dummies, but only because I’ve known so many of them personally. In my case they were actually human dummies, and clearly someone with their hand in their back (or somewhere) was making their mouths move. Actually, that phobia might better have fit under the category of Proctophobia, the fear of buttheads.

My very favorite phobia, however, is Phobophobia – fear of phobias. I’m sooo scared of being scared.


Breast Cancer Research, Meditation, and Social Support

June 30th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

Because I’m not a scientist, I’m always concerned when I attempt to describe scientific terms in my articles and speeches that scientists all over the world will wrap their heads in sterile bandages in order to keep their brains from exploding. As a trained musician, it’s probably similar to my watching some famous actor who doesn’t know the basics of directing an orchestra pretending to direct by waving their arms in bizarre circles.(Actually, Richard Dreyfuss, did a great job in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” but he was one of the only stars who seemed to bother to learn to actually conduct.)

Well, today’s scientific word is telomere. My first exposure to this term was back in 2007 when Dr. Dean Ornish began quizzing one of the scientists atthe Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine in Windber (then the Windber Research Institute). He talked to him about telomeres and their potential relationship to heart disease. In 2009, scientists from UCSF, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard shared the Nobel Prize for their findings in telomere research. In 2013, Dr. Ornish and his colleagues at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California San Francisco published an article in The Lancet, the British Journal of Medicine, that discussed their findings. “Comprehensive lifestyle changes may increase the length of telomeres which can be an indication of biological age over time.” (ht tps:// news/2013/09/108886/lifestylechanges-may-lengthen-telomeres-measure-cell-aging) Stay with me, please!

Telomeres are found at the ends of human chromosomes and are described by Dr. Ornish as similar to the plastic ends of shoe laces that keep those shoe laces from unraveling. Similarly, the telomeres help to keep our DNA and chromosomes from unraveling. As our telomeres get shorter, our lives tend to get shorter. “So what?” you may be asking.

Well, here’s whereIstart looking like Jimmy Stewart in “The Glenn Miller Story,” waving my arms all over the place. The bottom line is that researchers have found that telomeres may very well contribute to a kind of anti-aging and lengthening of our lives. They’re not exactly the Fountain of Youth, but they certainly seem to be heading us toward that water source.

Simply put, if we can lengthen our telomeres, we can potentially extend our existence here on Earth. Why am I writing about this? Well, a few columns ago I wrote about Tranquility Gardens located immediately off Rockwood Lane in Upper Yoder Township, and a few days later, a friend sent me a news story from the Alberta Health Services from 2014 outlining the fact that, for the first time, researchers have shown that practicing mindfulness meditation or being involved in a support group has a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors.

What is that positive physical impact you might ask? The article from the University of Calgary went on to explain that the group working out of Alberta Health Services’ Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the University of Calgary Department of Oncology has demonstrated that telomeres maintain their length in breast cancer survivors who practice meditation or are involved in support groups, while these same telomeres shorten in a comparison group without any intervention.

In other words, if you meditate, you may lengthen your life. With this in mind, think about those meditation gardens. No, you don’t have to go to a garden to meditate; you can meditate anywhere. But why not take advantage of the rippling brooks, the beautiful flowers, the butterflies, and labyrinth? Why not at least try to lengthen your own telomeres. You don’t have to wait until you’re sick to attempt to help yourself.

Diet, exercise, stress management, and group support is not rocket science. Anyone can learn to conduct a march, and anyone can learn to meditate, to do a little self-healing, self-nurturing, and selfcare. It’s just over the river and through the woods.


Self-discovery, Spiritual growth

June 15th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

I’ve known Steve Purich for a decade and a half, but I never really knew him until last Friday afternoon. Steve’s Father, an Orthodox priest, was forced to flee the Eastern Block in the mid-40s when the Communists took over. Consequently, Steve and his sister spent the next 12 years living first in tiny shacks and finally in a one-bedroom house that was home to about a dozen other family members. Every one of these kids ended up as successful professionals: physicians, attorneys, dentists, and business people. And that’s where this story begins.

Steve, too, was a successful businessman who, although Johnstown-based, was an international traveler. As it turns out, he was a student of world philosophies and ideologies, too. During his travels, he became exceptionally curious about ruins and, more importantly, their back stories. He wanted to know what worked in each civilization. He was inquisitive about the beliefs that helped these societies forge their way through each level of intellectual development and growth. This journey led him to create Tranquility Gardens.

It’s a retreat center unlike any other: a center for self-discovery, spiritual growth, and character building that, once experienced, provides a very clear message. That message is HOPE–hope for mankind and hope for the future.

In order to visualize this special place, just think of a location where there are butterfly and dragonfly habitats, a labyrinth, meandering walking trails filled with both authentic and replicated ruins from ancient civilizations, and a collection of life-altering learning and educational opportunities all tucked into nearly 10 acres of beauty, boulders, and bountiful Nature. And that’s just the beginning.

You’ll also find the philosophies and beliefs of many of the greatest thinkers in world history presented to you in succinct carvings on understated stone tablets or on breathtaking, multi-colored mosaics in various meditation areas. The street to this hidden yet very public treasure requires you to turn left off Rockwood Lane in Upper Yoder Township onto a short gravel and dirt road. Returning to pavement you’ll see the water running freely through the streams filling small reflecting ponds and creating little waterfalls. Less than 100 yards away are inexplicably large rock formations to be appreciated in their magnificent splendor.

Now, add a glimpse into the similarities subtly displayed among the practices and beliefs of people from all cultures–India, Asia, the Roman Empire, Africa, Western Europe, the United States, the Middle East, the Native Americans–and you quickly see unifying threads of sanity spoken by all civilizations that have helped us survive to date.

You will see that it’s a non-violent, education-based journey into peaceful places to explore the words of Socrates, Martin Luther King, Aristotle, Confucius, and a myriad of other brilliant people who said things like, “Enlightenment, happiness, peace, and beauty come from within.” It’s not a message of narcissism, but one of strength through knowledge, through perseverance, through education, and through practices of mind-calming and focus.

Steve doesn’t restrict access to his personal garden because he truly wants to donate it to an organization that “gets it,” an organization that will embrace the transformational opportunities presented to each person who walks these grounds. I’m anxious to see who actually does get it because it’s difficult to be recognized as a genius in your home area, but Steve is a genius who has planted plenty of those proverbial diamonds in his own backyard.

When you wrap all of this in a rags to riches story that ends in extreme generosity and caring for the future of mankind, it’s critical to realize that Steve’s primary messages at this self-constructed slice of Pennsylvania paradise is simple … if I did it, so can you.


What a WEEK! It’s All About Customer Service

June 9th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

What a week and a half it’s been. My family and I have been subjected to a level of callousness that seems to be more the norm than the exception now. While preparing for a business trip to Seattle, my son and I attempted to find an alternate flight that did not take nine hours and fly us through storms in Texas. He reached an agent who abruptly told us there were no good alternatives, and if we did take a flight that would save us a few minutes, it would cost us an additional combined $778. We are both top tier frequent fliers. He’s logged the most flights and I’m not far behind, but that just didn’t matter. My son hung up, looked at me and said, “Customer service?” No legroom, no arm room, and little butt room in middle seats, between two fat guys. I had an unbelievable urge to move the entire trip.

The trip home was a lot worse. We sat for 50 minutes past our designated departure time with no access to restrooms and no explanations as to why life had been placed on hold. Mechanical difficulties?

That departure interruption put us practically in the eye of a major tornado heading from Iowa to Chicago. We flew in circles for another hour. We had been seat bound for an equivalent flight to Istanbul, Turkey. When we finally landed, we were told that our next flight, the last flight to Pittsburgh, had been cancelled.

As we deplaned, we were given a pink slip and told that we would get a deal on a room if, in fact, there were any rooms left anywhere. No one answered that number, ever, and the airline service lines looked like admission queues to the Beyoncé concert. Because it was 11:30 p.m., and we had to be back at the airport at  5a.m., and the TSA lines were averaging three hours, it made no sense to leave, sleep for a few hours, and return to stand in line. So, we sat on hard seats under sunshine bright artificial lights with arbitrary TSA announcements from the overhead speakers blaring all night long.

Then over the holiday weekend we were all scheduled to take a family boat ride. The weather was predicted to be 70 percent good, and all of the weather apps showed clear skies ahead. We checked with the appropriate authorities too, and then headed out onto the Ohio River. Five minutes later with six children and five adults on board, we were in the middle of “The Perfect Storm.” There was violent lightning, blinding rain, floating trees, and high waves rocking us like a cork in a bathtub. So much for dependable weather predicting from the authorities.

In a parallel world, another family member was placed in that circle of medical care hell that I wrote about in my book, “Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare,” where a week and a half of waiting for a diagnosis turned into an eternity. When the definitive, long-awaited appointment arrived, the receptionist said, “Your appointment was earlier today, and we can’t take you now.” There was no explanation, no apology, no excuses, no flexibility, and no attempt to ease any of the stress caused from waiting for what might have been a life-defining diagnosis. (Things eventually turned out okay.)

Too big to fail? Too dumb to care? Too insensitive to at least make an attempt to be helpful? Too arrogant to explain? Too stressed to realize that their jobs were directly tied to our collective experiences?

This seems to be the norm in a service-reliant country that is no longer service-oriented. These inconveniences may seem minuscule, and as my old business partner used to say, “No one died today,” but once we stop delivering service, we will be replaced with E-Z Passes, ATMs and automated everything as we sit at home and cry in our too-big-to-fail tasteless beer.

We’re people who need people . . . or not?

Where’s my driverless Google cab?


The End of And Era – Error?

June 6th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

I’m sure that you’ve all heard the news about the latest killer bug that was discovered in Pennsylvania last week, but I’m not sure if everyone completely understands the potential ramifications of this obtuse announcement.

My life began just about the time that antibiotics started to catch on in this country. Yes, penicillin was discovered back in 1928, but just like everything science related in medicine, it took about 20 years for its use to become widely accepted.

As a kid my earaches, my bronchitis, and just about everything else that was infection related resulted in either a visit from or a visit to Dr. Colvin. He would perform his medical diagnostics, pick up what, as a small child, looked like a horse-sized hypodermic with its reusable needle, wipe it with a little alcohol, plunge it into the rubber topped medicine bottle, and draw the white antibiotic into the body of the instrument.  He would squirt out any air and then plunge the dull needle into either my butt or my little arm.

I cried the first 50 or so times that this ritual took place, but by the time I was 10, the shots happened less often, and I had begun to toughen up a little.  The injection pain was the same, but the reaction was limited because of the knowledge that I’d be feeling better soon from whatever was making me sick.  It was magic.

Remember, I’m not a scientist or a physician, but close your eyes and imagine that it’s 1927.  Imagine that your earache cannot be touched by Dr. Colvin’s magic needle.  Worse than that, imagine that there are no antis that can touch your biotics.  That, my friends, is no simple problem.

So, if there are now certifiably untouchable infections, we are potentially beginning a new reality of humankind where the actual thinning of the herd could begin. Doomsday can come in many forms: having government leaders who believe that the nuclear alternative is a viable option; total ignorance and denial of global warming leading to the lack of potable water and a limited food supply and starvation; or an asteroid.  What, however, if the most common day-to-day paper cut or respiratory infection might put us or our loved ones in real peril?

Why am I writing this very disturbing column? I’m writing it because we truly have created a perilous and uncertain scenario for ourselves.  Some of this has been because of what my friend Tony refers to as savage capitalism, in which the companies that produce soap products preyed on our ignorance and fears and made everything antibacterial thus creating more resistance in pathogens.

Then there were our kind-hearted or over-stressed medical professionals who simply said yes to every worried patient or parent’s request for antibiotics, even when an antibiotic was clearly not called for.

And finally, there were political decisions that have been made in the last several decades that have led to lost opportunity costs in not only education and infrastructure, but also in science and medicine.  When we make decisions to be at war continuously, we immediately give up opportunities to direct more funds into future health and science cures.

Are there new antibiotics to be discovered out there in the rainforests, in the deep seas, and in remote caves? No doubt there are.  But when we continue to dedicate more and more money to war or other forms of corporate greed, we limit our opportunities in other areas.  We’ve seen serious cuts in research funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Center for Disease Control, and even military health defense. Creating war without funding war means that our bridges will fail, our schools will underperform, and we won’t have antibiotics. Every action has a reaction.

Please cover your mouth when you sneeze.


Touch a TRUCK

May 26th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs 1 comment »


Last weekend a friend sent me a text from the Heinz Museum, and we met to discuss the day that she and her husband had just experienced. You see, their daughter-in-law was in charge of a major event that, had I been more observant, would quite possibly have been the most awesome experience of my youngest grandson’s life.  Yeah, he’s only 19 months old, but Pete’s primary obsession can only be described as all encompassing. He is completely obsessed with vehicles: buses, cars, lawn mowers, ambulances, but most of all trucks.  Let’s face it, he’s probably not unique in his love of these things, but, compared to the other five kids, he’s the most attached, the most enthralled, the most enamored by them.

If you give him a choice of fifteen different types of toys, he makes a beeline directly to the cars and trucks. He insists that I let him sit on my lap in the car so that he can pretend to drive and then he proceeds to jack up every dial and control in the entire car.  He hears a vehicle and screams tru or ka-r.  He runs to the window every time a vehicle comes near, and when he’s strapped in his child seat, a.k.a. restraint cage, he tries to rip out the seat belts if he sees a school bus or a big truck. This kid should be in someone’s automobile ads. I guarantee you he’d sell more vehicles than any 12 screaming old men or sexy young ladies.

So, back to the event that I missed.  It was called something like “Touch a Truck.”  The Junior League of Pittsburgh sponsors activities like American Girl Fashion Shows and Touch a Truck.  They should describe them as Heaven on Earth for little kids.  Seriously, Pete would have had to have two diapers if I had known about this earlier and taken him there.

These wonderful folks bring every type of vehicle they can get their hands on to Smallman Street in Pittsburgh, and then they let the kids literally have at it. There were ambulances, fire trucks, cement trucks, dump trucks, front loaders, you name it. All I could think about was “Why should the kids in Pittsburgh be the only ones to enjoy American Girl fashion shows and Touch a Truck events?”

I don’t want to wait until next year for Pete and all of my American Girl-owning granddaughters to get to experience the joys of childhood in such a great way.

It’s funny, however, when you suggest something like this as a fundraiser.  Even at $15 a person, this would seem to be a serious money maker, but everyone I’ve mentioned it to has scattered like roaches when the Orkin guy enters the room.  I expected to see every nonprofit in need of funds to look like dogs waiting at the door with their ears perked up every time they hear a sound.  This lack of enthusiasm is probably because they have been burned too many times by too many ideas that the presenter thinks is the greatest idea in the world.  Can a friend raiser really be a good fundraiser?

We all know that when our kids and grandkids are concerned, there are no barriers to entry. People practically mortgage their homes to take their kids to Disneyworld, why not a truck touching, doll fashion show day? Every little boy wants to drive a truck and every girl between the ages of five and 10 would gladly dress up their prize dolls for an event like this.

Come on.  Twenty phone calls and a volunteer group of 15 people could pull either or both of these events off with ease.  It only takes some creativity, a little donated space, a heck of a lot of liability insurance and, of course, some alcohol.  (Hopefully, the alcohol would be for after the event.)


Changing Tides

May 13th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

As I sat in a circle with my six grand kids and listened to them talk about their lives, their friends, their toys, their challenges and their joys, I couldn’t help but contemplate what their futures might hold. They could easily live to be 100 or more years old, and what will the quality of their lives be for the next nine or more decades?

Hopefully, they will all have an opportunity to get an education, and they’ll probably have a lot more intelligent advice along the way than was available to me in the 60s. But what about the rest? What else will be resolved, improved, repaired, destroyed, invented, or resurrected?

Will the climate continue to deteriorate? Will food become less plentiful as the world population zooms to 10 billion people? As I dug deeply into the past decades of my life, the single most dramatic technological change that has occurred (to the point of seemingly attaching itself to our bodies) is the smartphone. It’s still a little difficult to comprehend the power of this device and the impact that it’s had on our lives already, but there’s no more dramatic technological advance to pedestal-ize than that minicomputer.

“What percent of fat, proteins, or carbs should I consume, Siri?” “Let me check on that,” she politely answers. “How many angels can fit on the head of a pin, Siri?” “An infinite number of angels can fit on a pin, Nick,” she replies.

We have our clocks, our schedules, our email accounts, our message systems, our phone directories and contact lists, our weather reports, our bank and credit card accounts, our word processors, and that’s truly just the beginning because everything that has ever been recorded in human history can be searched via the web on our smartphones.

But these amazing devices have also both increased and simultaneously marginalized our ability to communicate directly with each other. Supposedly, 85 percent of what we do in face-to-face communication is lost in emails and texts.

Any time there are teenagers at a family gathering, they are, for the most part, non-communicative. It’s as if they are lost in space, and unless you accost them directly by standing in front of them and peppering them with questions, they can be completely removed from the room. On the other side of that coin, however, is FaceTime and Zoom and a half a dozen other face-to-face software programs. Wow, what a difference that can make toalonely grandfather staying in some remote part of the world without his family.

We’re already seeing the use of nano particles and chips implanted in our pets to identify them and nano healing delivery systems, space travel, driverless cars, and talk of a colony on Mars. Will my grandkids enjoy the amazing products of science and engineering in a Brave New World of wonder and beauty, or will they be subjected to the continuation of the tribal mentality that is currently sweeping the world?

Will we eventually eliminate prejudice? Will we ever control our greed enough for them to know world peace for even a decade or two? Will we ever embrace a philosophy that cares enough for our fellow man to ensure that we can all have a decent life?

I’m hoping that we find new antibiotics through the discovery of the benefits of microbes, that we continue to make discoveries in mental health, cancer and heart disease, and that we restore our overall commitment to education and the arts in this country.

The good news is that I’ll be a memory. The rest of the news is, while I’m here, I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that every one of these good things at least has a chance to become reality. Purpose Driven Lives…learn those words. Let’s focus on making things better.


Intrigued by Secret Stuff

May 5th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

Let me be the first to admit that I have an obsession. It’s not a secret obsession,
its trap doors and stealthy rooms, and sliding panels. It all started when I was very little.
My dad’s father took me into an underground tunnel that connected the servants’ quarters
to the mansion of a coal baron’s house, and from that day forward, I was hooked.

We lived with my mom’s mom, and her house, like so many houses built in the early 1900s, had accompanying sheds that were constructed at the same time, from the same materials, with the similar siding, and paint jobs. There was a tool shed by the one-acre garden, a play house that had once stored coal, and a wash house. The play house had a front door and a wooden side window. This was the place where my brother and I could, as little kids, go
hang out and play for hours at a time.

In this one story 250-squarefoot house, my 9-year-old self decided that it would be mportant to have secret compartments. The sad truth was that neither my brother nor I had anything to hide. We were incredibly transparent kids, and we felt no need to keep anything from our parents. Nevertheless, I had installed an old Pennsylvania license
plate with concealed hinges that lifted up to reveal a hiding place in the wall. In this
playhouse I also meticulously sawed through the floorboards and created a trap door that
literally went nowhere, but if I ever needed to, I could hide a strong box.

Later, my brother and I graduated from the little kid playhouse to the much bigger wash
house. This wash house had been built to accommodate the tubs and indoor clothes lines
that helped keep the laundry clean for the eight children and two adults who had lived there
when my mom was a kid. The secret in this place was the second floor. Dad helped us
build a trap door that he connected to pulleys at the top of a ladder leading to the attic.
When you pulled on the rope two times with just the exact rhythm and swing to it, the secret trap door would fall open. That was the only clandestine device in that building, and,
for that matter, it was my last secret place until I became an adult.

When my son was about 12, I had a revolving bookcase built in his room. It was like
the Young Frankenstein bookcase, but that was not enough. I also had a secret room built in
the adjacent chamber. He would invite his friends into his bedroom, turn off the lights and
disappear completely. They’d go crazy trying to find him, but he had escaped through the bookcase and was secretly tucked away in his safe room.

Move the clock ahead about 25 years, and my son showed me the secret room that he had had built under the steps for his two daughters. Yes, the tradition continues. Shortly after that I had hush hush compartments built in my apartment, and someday, I’m sure that my grandkids will be building secret places and they’ll be wondering why. It’s funny how family traditions come about and get passed on from generation to generation.

I’ve never built my own home, but if I ever had, you better believe that there would have been undisclosed staircases, rooms, bookcases that revolved, and hiding places for my grandfather’s watch, or for whatever else I could think of to hide. I’d have hollow books, special, desks with invisible doors, hollow broom sticks for hiding money, and vodka.
I’m pretty sure I’d have a safe room, too. You know, like that room where Jodie Foster hid.

So, if I disappear, don’t worry. I’m probably under the trap door connected to the coffee table.


The Elections

April 28th, 2016 by Nick Jacobs 1 comment »

Onward to the general election The fall election is getting closer and closer, but for many of us, this pain cannot end soon enough. In fact, it would be more comfortable walking barefoot on hot ingots than listening to one more broadcaster pontificate about the flaws of each candidate. I’m concerned that the recently reported increase in suicides may not actually be suicides but instead may be the result of people’s heads exploding from all of the campaign ads about Lying Ted, Donald Drumpf Trump, Hillary – emails, Bernie’s Socialism, Kasich’s Zzzzzzzzz, and locally “The man who should separate his romantic life from his political life.” (Like that’s ever happened in American history.)

This election cycle has been even more mind numbing than usual on several levels. The most disconcerting part of all of this is, after having had more than 20 people from whom to choose in both parties, we’ve ended up with five candidates that are unacceptable to droves of us in different camps for myriad reasons. That fact is a little more worrisome than usual. So far, not one of the candidates has ripped off his or her glasses and shirt and to reveal an S on their chest. No super human has emerged to save the free world. There are plenty of flaws to go around, and on most days, those flaws seem to outweigh the total combined talent of this flock of politicos.

To me, the trust factor is the funniest measurement in this election. When you hear the talking heads proclaim that the front runners are battling each other for the lowest trust ratings ever recorded in human history, you have to wonder what kind of ratification of their candidacy that discloses. It has been interesting to see the split between the states on the Cruz-Trump journey and how much further from center Hillary has had to slide in order to appeal to the droves of Bernie supporters.

In some ways it was refreshing to hear a few of the candidates speak the honest to goodness truth about the dysfunctionality of our system, but in other ways, it makes us wonder if things may truly be hopeless. Taking apart the big banks, changing the campaign funding rules, altering the disparities that exist between the wealthy and everyone else, and stopping Putin, ISIS, and North Korea from screwing up the world all seem like pretty big challenges. Add to that the challenge of who gets to go through the day inacloud of doobie smoke and where you can pee if you’re Kaitlyn Jenner, and you’ve got an even higher stack of trials.

As things got more and more complicated over the years, some of the truly cerebral folks who may have had super powers decided to stay at home, crack a beer, and say, “Who needs this?” When folks like Elizabeth Warren, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Joe Biden, decided not to run, it just seemed like, the more realistic they were, the more they realized it wasn’t worth the exacerbation, aggravation, or pain.

Don’t take this wrong. I’m a patriot, and I do believe that these people are potentially doing a disservice to our country by not sacrificing their lives to run, but, having had the modest by comparison job of being a hospital CEO, I can tell you that my hair turned gray and fell out, and my heart clogged up like George W.’s and Bill Clinton’s, and I was just dealing with the day to day pressures of a little gig in comparison. Can you imagine going through everything that it takes to become president to change the world and then finding out that you really don’t have much power.

The cynical part of me believes that the money people are the puppeteers and the presidential candidates know they’ll end up wealthier when they’re done than they were when they started. Hope you voted.