Monday, February 16, 2015

It Was a Happy Valentine's Day at the Aloha Dancesport Center

Rolando Sanchez and the Brown Sound Orchestra performing at the
Aloha Dancesport Center with guest singer.

Damn, they were good!
Yanna and birthday boy Lucas.  How old did you say you were, Lucas?
I woke up at 2:30 this morning with aching feet and hobbled to the bathroom to do what most old men do at least once in the middle of the night, thanks to that enlarging prostate gland.  There was more than just pain in my feet; also in my legs and hips, shocking me since I have been so pain free these last few months.  Nevertheless, I returned back to bed contented that the pain I was experiencing was worth it.  Indeed I had a great time two nights before at the Divino Ritmo Dance Studio’s Valentine and Lucas Jaime Birthday Dance party.   I danced almost non-stop for three+ hours after practicing at Honolulu Club for two. But before I hit the bed, I popped a Celebrex realizing that the pain I was experiencing would otherwise linger for days and sabotage my dance practice and lesson schedule.

It was truly a wonderful evening held at arguably the best dance studio in Hawaii, a live band (Rolando Sanchez) – see below, just enough but not too many people there to dance with and to fill but not crowd the ballroom, a pot luck food amalgamation that was very good and plentiful, a little unexpected entertainment from what was advertised as a belly dance (who am I to know; I’m only Middle Eastern), and lots of happy faces enjoying the evening sipping on wine (some of us were gulping) and other refreshments.

What blows my mind (as this stupid saying goes) and baffles me beyond reason is how nonchalant the Hawaii dance community is about dance venues at a time when there is VIRTUALLY nothing to compare to the Divino Ritmo Aloha Dancesport Center (ADC).  In fact, to me there is really nowhere to go to dance that is anywhere close to providing the proper atmosphere as the ADC. 

The Elks Club? – open humidity runs through your clothes and underwear drowning your flesh and filtering sweat and salt into your veins as you travel the unforgiving grooved tiled dance floor.  And I’m told we can’t even get in any more if you are not a member unless you go through many more hoops…all of which is totally not worth it.

The palladium? – Speaking of unforgiving floor…hardwood on concrete….How can anyone dance weekend after weekend in that train station sized ballroom or whatever you want to call it? – it was not designed as a dance venue!…..metal chairs on the perimeter, cliquish groups fortified in protective zones, substandard sound system not made to command this huge open expanse with meaningful sound and melody, and generally not the comfortable environment that is relaxed and friendly - that you would find in a smaller, more intimate venue.  

Hotels? Like at Ala Moana Hotel – Rumors – I have spent some years of my life dancing salsa during the hey day of Rumors Thursday night venue.  In fact, I was usually the first one there, practicing with my former dance partner Joan.  But now its on again, off again, and the dance floor, while suited for salsa and the salsa crowd or the rowdy Friday night dance crowd more interested in chatting and gawking than dancing, it cannot claim itself as a full service dance venue, at least it doesn’t work for ballroom. 

And I refuse to say too much about the Pacific Beach Hotel because of the near impossible situation with parking that seems to greet me like a migraine every time I attempt an outing. Even when successful, having to contend with an overworked and musty ballroom wreaking from overuse is no joy. With exception, other hotels are better but not much better.  And to get better, you have to spend a lot more than a few bucks to gain entrance.  There is no free lunch!

Restaurants?  Like Sistina – again, sort of good for Salsa but nothing else.  And you have to wait until late for the restaurant food eating folks to end their part of the evening before you get a chance to show off your dance moves.

So what’s so special about the ADC.  Well, I must admit a lack of equipoise on the subject.  After all, I am a student of one of the owners so take my statements in any way you like.  Consider my opinion tainted and biased. To me, it is the unmitigated truth.

The studio is huge, new, and newly floored with beautiful Danish wood that is cushioned to the point that you can see the wood give way as you navigate the dance floor – just look in the mirror – the bending of the wood beneath your feet is plainly visible even for an old poorly sighted guy like me.  Is this important?  Maybe not to 20 year olds, but you can’t continue to dance on a hardwood dance floor that feels like concrete without consequences.  It’s the same principle as running.  Pretty soon the treads on your tires… hip, knee, ankle and feet joints get a beating and from there, it’s down hill.  Braces and ice, ibuprofen and swollen joints, reduced mobility and knee replacement and your days are numbered.  My advice; keep dancing on immovable floors at your own risk.  For me it’s not worth it!  The dance floor at the ADC is spectacular; that’s where you should be dancing!

Those who didn't come to the Valentine party should be RED with envy
The ADC is new, with a great lighting arrangement, a warm combination of wall colors that feels happy and light, the bathrooms and kitchen you would be proud to have at your home, clean and neat, and the most important things is the studio ballroom size.  Size matters!!!  You can really dance ballroom in the ADC with over 4,000 square feet in the larger of the ballroom, realizing that the second ballroom (which itself is quite large) can act as a buffer for many combined activities, as for example to serve food, so that you are not reducing the usable dance floor space for anything other than the essentials.  The sound system is also quite wonderful.  It fills the air with a perfect balance of base and treble, magically commanding those sitting to get up, find a partner and dance. 

The event last Saturday was also special because there was a live band…..Rolando Sanchez & the Brown Sound Orchestra – 6 in all. Now I can’t say I was looking forward to Rolando.  He is after all getting on in age and I’ve heard him before a million times as I started my nighttime avocation dancing salsa at venues he starred in.  And the “nightclub” at the Kahala Mall was the greatest part of it; I loved going there on weekends, it was still my favorite place until the ADC.

But instead of the playing dead old songs of past, the musical selection was mostly new, brilliantly play, overall simply outstanding.  Not all what I expected, not all salsa or merengue but lots of varied music that was quite lovely.  I remember once in the evening when I thought they were on break because the music sounded so atypical - thinking it was the DJ playing some cd, when I turned my head, I was shocked to see Rolando’s band at the helm!

Its tough, but someone's got to do it!
Well, you can imagine I had a great night, and it wasn’t just the wine.  I brought Emi to share the evening with, and she was kind enough to free me up to fill the void of not having enough men there to satisfy the dance hunger of some of the ladies who were present. To be sure, there were just too many lovely and friendly women to dance with.  I tried my best but I can’t do it by myself.  I need help, please please come to the next dance party, and relieve me of this serious burden.  And if you come to the one on March 21st, you will be able to witness the music of Rolando Sanchez & the Brown Sound Orchestra at the ADC who I’m told has accepted the invitation for a repeat performance.  Would not miss that one for the world!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Prostate Cancer: it’s Greek to me!

Horizontal axis: 0 refers to year 2000; the graph represents 15 years of my PSA
levels. At 5.24, biopsy was done which was negative.  Since then, there have
been two small peaks with the most recent decline over the past four
values spanning the most recent 13 months.

From 2000 to the present, I have had 27 PSA determinations spanning 15 years from age 53 to 68.  While I started this controversial laboratory-screening test with relatively low levels measured on an annual basis, the frequency of the testing has increased to more closely follow my rising PSA level to 6.34.  This prompted a biopsy that was thankfully negative and two seesaw fluctuations in PSA levels that currently is on the downswing.  My latest value of 3.61 just arriving on my doorstep as a welcomed gift from God - the lowest value in 5 years….following a sequence of three other declining values!

Indeed, if I had only stopped following my PSA level so closely, I could have possibly avoided all of the medical hoopla…..the biopsy, the MR scans, the PCA3 level, my pitiful interactions with my kind and wonderful local urologist, Charles Kim,  the disastrous consult at Mt Sinai (New York), the consult at Sloan Kettering (New York), the consult at UCSD (San Diego), and the sleepless nights agonizing over cancer, my health, my life and my death.

And it isn’t by any means that I believe that I’m now home free and don’t have to worry about prostate cancer (PC) in the future.  I’m not delusional (at least in this instance) and I realize full well that this current period of declining PSA (over the last 4 determinations) maybe part of the precancerous period of waning and waxing prostate tissue oncogenesis.  The aging process doesn’t help this a bit!

Indeed, I have read TOO many accounts of men experiencing these types of fluctuations over years and even decades with large swings in their PSA’s leading to more testing, multiple biopsies, MR scans, diagnoses of prostatitis, antibiotic courses, and eventually to the diagnosis of PC.  I can only imagine how much MORE suffering that these folks have experienced as compared to myself, although I’m quite an expert, maybe the world’s expert at paining myself with worry that is wildly out of proportion to the reality of the situation. 

But the reason for this essay is not for me, but rather for those at risk men who might read this writing for the POSSIBILITY that there might be some valuable insight and suggested course of action that is worthy of adapting.  Its really not that I believe that folks take to good advice…. assuming I’m giving any… following suit. I remember that I preached colonoscopies for a time to anyone that would listen when my gastroenterologist found a few adenomas in my colon that were threatening to grow out of control.  Few if any heeded my advice; the one person who I saved from cancer never even thanked me for pushing him to get the test done.  No, I have no delusions about giving advice, but I will do so anyway, just in case there are one or two folks out somewhere in cyberspace that are listening intently. 

Who knows whether PSA, or any other blood or urine tests are worthy of doing screening for PC.  So much controversy exits for such a test that lacks sensitivity and specificity.  But we do it anyway, having started testing; it’s hard to stop.  And there is probably some worth in following serial measurements of PSA looking for alarming or reassuring trends.

Reading about what can reduce your chances of PC it is clear that what is healthy for your heart and brain, and every other organ in your body is also healthy for your prostate gland.  Exercise, weight control, avoiding fat, red meat, not smoking, avoiding too much alcohol, etc is all good. 

But there are specific foods that are more likely to reduce your risk of PC by as much as 20%.  Broccoli, cauliflower, peanuts, tofu, green tea, tomatoes and tomato sauce, are high on the list.  And the more I read, the more convinced I am that dietary modifications are a worthwhile low risk maneuver that MIGHT reduce my chances of PC.  To be sure, I wanted to avoid the use of drugs, since at least some of them decrease the risk of PC but for those who finally succumb, the PC is more aggressive.

For the last two years, I have reduced my coffee intake to a trickle, substituting green tea for my morning coffee and trying to add one more cup in the afternoon.  Some of the research says that to get the maximum effect, you need four or five cups of green tea, but I have not reached this level of consumption as of yet.  The suggestion to drink some chilled green tea may add another opportunity to drink more during the day as a refreshing liquid filler.  To me, SUGAR should not be added to the green tea, otherwise, you are just adding to your risk of Type II diabetes, especially if you end up drinking more than a few cups.  There are many green teas that I cannot stomach, but there are several that I tolerate and even like.  The one I am currently using comes under the Tazo brand, which is flavored with a little spearmint to liven it up.

Tomatoes are the second food item I have chosen to exploit.  I probably eat on average three tomatoes a day, usually raw, during lunch, in conjunction with a little feta cheese and Mediterranean olives which constitutes my lunch.  Research suggests that its better to consume cooked tomatoes for they release their lycopenes more efficiently…… I do eat a considerable amount of tomato sauced Italian pastas when possible. But the daily routine of consuming at least three moderate size tomatoes for lunch each day also serves to reduce intake by avoiding high caloric fatty lunches. 

Parenthetically, the combination of tomato, feta cheese and olives reminds me that these are three components of most Greek salads.  The REAL Greek salad also included cucumber, but modern day renditions substitute lettuce.   The Greeks eat a lot of salads and so I wondered whether their incidence of PC was lower than in other European countries and or the US. My suspicion was confirmed at least in one handy study that showed a lower autopsy prevalence of PC in Greece, which for example was 2 ½ times less than in the US.  Mortality rates in Greece in men with PC were also lower.  Other medical articles suggest that the Mediterranean diet may indeed reduce the risk of PC.

I eat other PC averting foods like peanuts, broccoli, and cauliflower but those items are consumed haphazardly.   I need to do better to increase my consumption of these foods, since there are other health benefits that they offer as well.

Time will tell whether my newfound approach will continue to pay dividends.  Even if I’m destined to develop PC…which I dearly hope I’m not,……..protecting my prostate gland with green tea and tomatoes may delay the cancer from appearing, limit its aggressiveness, and improve my chances of survival.

Again, time will tell…..who knows what tomorrow brings…..the objects of our many obsessions may not be what causes us harm… is the unknown, the unexpected, the serendipitous that is waiting for us to let our guard down….

Friday, January 9, 2015

Hawaii Owns the Most Inattentive & Complacent Pedestrians on the Planet

Waiting for the next pedestrian to cross.......

Hawaii is such a wonderful place to live; beautiful weather, friendly people with the majority expecting longevity while exhibiting a healthy life style, a relaxed non-intrusive culture of acceptance of its multicultural heritage, and a Democratic run infrastructure protective of the masses. Why does such a livable state have one of the highest pedestrian death rates in the nation and the highest one for seniors like me over the age of 65?  While the answer is multifactorial and not that simple or straight forward, I will nevertheless impart my theory on at least one major contributor to this tragic problem after I have had a chance to pontificate a bit on what pedestrians have to face in other communities. 

As a native New Yorker who has lived in Hawaii more than half his life, I have been fortunate to travel to many countries particularly over the last few years while enjoying my part time retirement.  Drawing from my early days, New Yorker pedestrians’ fear of New Yorker drivers is legendary.  It seems like many cars speed up to terrorize you should you dare cross the street violating their path of transit.  By definition, if you have survived such an encounter, your approach to crossing the street was done with extreme caution.

I can say this is generally my experience in most of the foreign countries I have travelled to of late, except Denmark…….that survival from one side of the street to the other is a great feat of accomplishment.  Countries like Egypt, India, Viet Nam, and China are extremely dangerous for pedestrians and nobody who casually navigates cross walks in Hawaii could possibly fathom how stressful this can be or how to easily survive such aggressive traffic.

My most recent experience in a foreign land is Lima, Peru.  Not unlike the tropical climate of Hawaii with sun drenched streets and warm weather, traffic and pedestrians movement contrasts sharply with that of Hawaii.  Everyone there drives fast and fearless, totally oblivious to the movement of pedestrians.  As in New York, it seems like cars speed up to terrorize you while you attempt to navigate the crosswalks or jay walk or even think of crossing the street. You risk your life every time you cross.  Once in the intersection, you rush to the other side, never believing that you are safe just because there are no cars in sight.  Nobody…..yes, No ONE in Lima would ever believe that a protective shield renders them immune from automobile’s competing for the same road space.  You don’t have to guess who would be the winner in that situation.

I did a little study over the last few months in downtown Honolulu. With a log that I carried in my car, at stoplights and pedestrian crossings that I arrived at while driving my normal weekly routine, I observed pedestrians making a full crossing.  I logged just under 100 pedestrian crossings looking for a number of factors, the most important for the study was whether there was any attempt on the part of the pedestrian to look toward the traffic in any way…..even a quick glance.   I was not surprised to find that two thirds of the pedestrians crossed the street without bothering to look in either or both directions.  Some did heed the pedestrian crossing signal and the timer, many crossed very slowly with their heads hanging down as if wishing to be invisible (or maybe somehow hallucinating that what they can’t see will not hurt them), some were texting or talking on their phones, crossing oblivious to the on coming traffic and cars stopped waiting to re-claim their command of the road.  And in some situations, it seemed like pedestrians slowed down their pace if they noticed or sensed that a car was waiting to make a legal turn and traverse their path.  It gave me the uncomfortable sense that certain pedestrians felt empowered at that moment in time to take as much time as they “wanted” without regard to the overall traffic situation, and they were a priori to be insured a safe crossing.

What makes Hawaii pedestrians so complacent?  I believe it is the Hawaii drivers…mostly polite, mostly understanding, and mostly patient, which together embodies our driving culture that has existed for decades.  Need to cut into traffic; it’s easy, and “shaka” your thanks is all you need to do to show appreciation.  Cross the street between legal intersections, drivers gladly yield to your movement. Needless to say, talking about the plight of the person behind the wheel will require more than a fleeting comment.  I do not have the stomach for reaching beyond my focus of the day, which is what the pedestrian in Hawaii can do to optimize his/her chances of surviving the crossing.

Pedestrians may feel that the crosswalk signal that allows them access to cross the street somehow magically controls the behavior of drivers.  But while these signals are indeed synchronized to their respective traffic lights, Hawaii drivers have increasingly witnessed more and more vehicles plowing through intersections ignoring yellow and red lights in a slippery slope of trying to avoid stopping at one more stop light. Indeed, crossing the street must be more dangerous now than ever as roads have become more congested with traffic and with Hawaii drivers becoming more and more frustrated and impatient with long transit times.  How long the Aloha spirit of driving will last in Hawaii remains to be seen?  In the meantime, it seems that Hawaii pedestrians continue to fantasize the possession of an invisible shield protecting them from the unpredictable and uncontrollable (at least by them) movement of a several thousand pound glob of moving metal that could dispassionately mow them down intentionally or unintentionally in an instant.

The point I want to make is that Hawaii pedestrians expect that Hawaii drivers are friendly and will yield to pedestrians…at red lights, at crosswalks and even when illegally jay walking.  And in fact they DO most of the time, which gives pedestrians a false sense of security that it is a given 100% of the time.  The only problem is that pedestrians do NOT routinely possess a protective coat of armor for the times when drivers are lapsing into a dream world, lacking the peripheral vision to see them approaching, distracted by a pretty girl or boy on the street, drunk like a skunk, responding to their smart phone’s omnipresent beckoning call, or experiencing a transient ischemic attach with the disappearance of brain function during that moment of collision. 

The only remedy for the pedestrian is to treat any intersection with the utmost caution when crossing, perhaps think of it as a war zone.  At any time, expect the unexpected. Look for snipers and land mines to your right and left, continue to rotate your glance to compensate for the limits of your peripheral vision.  Attempt to make eye-to-eye contact with the driver to confirm that he/she sees you as you see him/her.  Avoid changing directions, walk briskly when possible, and try to move at a predicable constant speed so that the driver will be able to process your trajectory of movement when navigating their cars. 

Aye Yai Yai, Eye to eye, or say bye bye!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Honolulu Pedestrian Deaths - A Tragic Loss of Life

I am almost finished a blog that I will post shortly on my theory of why so many pedestrians meet their maker while crossing the street in Honolulu.  In the meantime, I thought that I wanted to propose a smart catchy phrase that might say it all regarding the approach one should take when crossing the street legally or illegally.


or to make it more readable, consider.....

EYE 2 EYE, or BYE BYE.............  or......

2 EYE, or 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Every Moment is a Gift: Christmas Eve, 2014

Church service on Christmas Eve - Episcopal Church

Sinus congestion aggravating a European acquired yucky bronchitis filled my head and lungs with virulent sludge, coloring my mood on this Christmas eve, 2014.  Here in San Francisco with daughter and family, with some university work related burden looming in the background, I am relatively free to rest and enjoy the day with my three granddaughters who are now at the age that is truly fun.  Things are happy overall and I have nothing that I long for, at least for the moment, that is not mine for the asking.   

Yet, I am stricken with shards of melancholy, not for myself, but in spite of myself.  Perhaps it’s my 68 years of life or my relative isolation from the real world of the living and oppressed, overindulged by luxury, living in a big house, eating out any time and any place, going anywhere anytime, living minutes from town not having to fend off traffic like the rest of humanity, and feeling safe and protected.  Yet things are not well in the world, and for some reason, this makes me sad on this Christmas eve.

I feel sad for the Syrians, having displaced half of their country’s population into refugee camps in neighboring countries, cities leveled to rubble and thousands shot or poisoned as the toll of war.  And we don’t even know who is the real enemy.

I feel frightened with the reality of ISIS, its cruelty and disregard for human existence.  I feel sad for what has happened to Iraq and Afghanistan at the hands of their own leaders and other foreign powers including the US.

I feel frightened by the impulsiveness of North Korea and the possibility that a satirical movie could be the catalyst for World War 3.

I feel frightened by the unpredictability and fickleness of the weather, cold when it should be warm, warm when it should be cold, from no rain to deluge, snowing relentlessly in parts unlikely to experience such excesses, and not snowing in ski resorts that should produce big dumps.  Happy I live in Hawaii!

I feel defeated by those who think guns don’t kill people, by teenagers (which I define as 13 to 33y/o) who fanaticize their life a revenge flick, plotting months in advance to kill their fellow students (or co-workers) at their schools (place of employment) and then doing so with guns readily available to them.

I am tired of lying and self-serving politicians, of irresponsible leaders of our country who continue to spend more than we make driving us on a collision path to bankruptcy.

I am tired of those who defend people based solely on their color rather than their deeds.

I am disgusted by how much stuff is made in China, and disappointed that not more is made in the US.

I’m shocked at how much everything cost and whether living a long life means taking a voyage to poverty.

I am saddened by those who have all that I have in life but choose to waste their existence ruminating over the minutia of their lives, and the lives of others around them.

I’m amazed that, no matter how intelligent or talented people are, they choose to risk it by some dangerous and aberrant behavior.

And yet I’m inspired by the concept of “changing set points”, where those humans most able to cope with a changing world as well as changes in their world is to adapt to those changes.

Happiness and contentment are not a given.  One has to work for them.  One has to be lucky in life to have a safe home.  One has to be magnanimous in life to be loved. One has to be introspective in life to ignore and avoid that which cannot be changed rather than to ingest it whole. One has to have the self-awareness of life’s fleeting moment to focus on beauty and dignity, to shun darkness and the devil, and to treat every moment as a gift.   

At 93, treating every moment as a gift!