Category Archives: Pontifications

image

Frenchy….

Denton, the town we choose to live in, is a cool place. Cool because of its history, cool because of its unsurpassed music, cool because of its unique demographics, cool because of our Square and surrounding areas, but especially cool because of the people who live here.

Andre Rheault, “Frenchy” is one of those people. Frenchy’s orange vans have been an iconic part of Denton for decades. Frenchy does a lot for the City of Denton……and when I say “a lot” that is an understatement. Frenchy is selfless when it comes to loaning anything he has to the numerous events that help define Denton.

Frenchy “adopts” parts of Denton to help keep it the beautiful town we all so love.

Frenchy is a Denton ambassador, helping keep Denton in the limelight…….which translates to a better economy.

Frenchy is dedicated to US Veterans………the people who have given so much to allow us the privilege of living in such a great country and city.

Frenchy is now being targeted by the City of Denton over code violations, primarily due to the constant and petty complaints of ONE individual. Frenchy is an asset to Denton. Should the complaints of one Denton citizen overrule the fondness for Frenchy of the majority of Dentonites? Should one person cause the City of Denton to harass a man who does so much for Denton?

Frenchy has 15 AMERICAN flags flying proudly on his lot…….in a commercial area.

The City wants that reduced to one.

Codes are in place for a reason. But codes are handled with discretion on a regular basis. I know of numerous people who say they know they are “home” when they see Frenchy’s flags on Dallas Drive.

I also find it unusually coincidental that a member of Denton’s Planning and Zoning Commission (who is married to a Denton Code Enforcement official) was out-voted on a sign variance by the rest of the Commission (which used discretion and approved a larger sign at a certain location)….and within days Frenchy is targeted by Code Enforcement. Was a message being sent?

Frenchy is a part of what makes Denton…..Denton.

Frenchy is eccentric…..as is Denton.

Now is the time to show support for Frenchy who has worked from the same place on Dallas Drive for 29 years……..why is this harassment happening now?

His AMERICAN flags are a constant reminder of the greatness of our country, our town, our way of life.

Denton has a reputation for being “different”. Let’s keep it that way.

“North of Ordinary” is not just a slogan……

Shame on the City of Denton for putting this man who has done so much for Denton in this position.

FEMA logo

Dentoning….bunker on the edge of town

Denton underground…..nope, not the rumored tunnels under the Square, but the giant hole on the east side of town. Dentonites frequently drive by the Cold War relic on the hill. It is unassuming,…..not insisting upon itself. The only give-away that the building might be more than a small office is the manned guard shack. The building has been on Loop 288 for 50 years……the guard a “new” addition courteous of Arab terrorists.

FEMA logo

The underground Federal Center was opened in early 1964. It was the first of 6 fortified federal buildings dug out of the ground and built to withstand a 1 megaton nuclear detonation as close as a mile away. The reasoning behind the center revolved around the real possibility, at the time, of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. Denton was chosen as the site due to its relative distance from the more vulnerable cities of Dallas and Ft. Worth and because of the NIKE missile base, in operation at the time, just north of Denton.

The building visible from Loop 288 houses a small meeting room, a reception desk and two entry ways…..a stairway and an elevator to the two floors lying unseen beneath. The surface building is nondescript and wouldn’t survive a run away car, much less a nearby nuclear blast, but in it are two massive doors, each weighing 25 tons which would quickly seal access to the subterranean office and command center if required.

FEMA Center

One of two above ground turrets. The only physical access to the surface if building sealed.

FEMA building

Ladder to surface turret.

The two floors below are massive, each over 25,00 sq ft. The building was designed to be completely self contained……able to allow 500 people to live and work for 30 days with no contact with the outside world……whatever might have been left of it. Food was stockpiled, a filtration system kept the air breathable, it has it’s own well and three massive diesel generators kept the lights on. The generators, overhead lights, even the toilets were on springs. Had the worst happened, the conditions would not have been ideal, but would certainly have kept that part of our government housed, alive, and safe.

Then there is this.....

Then there is this…..

Toilet

Fortified toilet

For the first couple of decades after opening, the Federal Center was maintained and consistently upgraded to perform it’s intended purpose. As time wore on and our world changed with the end of the Cold War, the facility began to downgrade not through neglect, but through conscious decisions not to maintain and/or replace systems which made the building self sufficient. With the Soviet Union no longer an eminent threat, the powers that be rethought the need for a stand alone bunker on the outskirts of Denton.

Two of three massive diesel generators

Two of three massive diesel generators

The Federal Center took on a new role with the global changes of the 1980s. The building is still well maintained, but is now dependent on surface utilities, water etc, to function. The two story underground office building primarily houses the Federal Emergency Management Agency which was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Above ground warehouses now store a variety of vehicles used in any type of national emergency. Mobile command centers, communication vehicles……… even support vehicles capable of accessing underground fuel sources are maintained and ready to go at a moments notice.

FEMA

Mobile Emergency Response vehicles

I can't read underground

I can’t read underground

The Federal Center on the edge of town has been repurposed in response to major changes in our world. It’s not the “bunker” it once was, but the unique building, built for the problems of another time, still stands ready to address the problems of today……

Dentoning….life

I am coming up on an anniversary. It is one that I celebrate for a couple of reasons. One, the experience changed my life and gave me a completely different outlook on it. Second, I am extremely glad to be alive, living in Denton and having the family and friends that I do.

Life is good.

I’m going to write about this not to be a showboat or to draw attention to myself. I had nothing to do with the final outcome. I have found through the years though that sharing my experience has been helpful to others either going through what I did or to those taking care of someone who is. I know that talking to someone at the time sure helped me with questions and expectations. People DO survive even nasty forms of cancer…. The recent scare with my brother’s health also re-enforced my appreciation for the fragility of life……

Thirty-three years ago, on December 12, 1980, I had surgery to remove a small knot under my right arm. When my primary care physician Dr. Croissant, recommended having surgeon and friend, Dr. Gill Adami remove it, I had no thoughts of it being anything serious….I mean, I was 23 years old, people that age don’t get cancer. Well, I was wrong.

When I woke up in the hospital room after the surgery, I was surprised to see the room filled with family and friends. In a post-anesthesia haze, it almost seemed as if I was going “toward the light”. After all, I’d just come in for a knotectomy……why were they all there?

It turns out that I hadn’t gotten all the information they had.

I went home to my duplex on Carroll Boulevard after a day or so and waited for the pathology reports. I could tell people were acting a little strange around me, including my girlfriend at the time, Mindy Rue. Mindy was in nursing school and she knew “they” were thinking I could have cancer, but not what kind. I began to suspect, but said nothing, probably in hopes that it would just to go away.

The pathology report took about 3 days to come back, as I remember, and I called Dr. Adami’s office and asked them to let ME know first when the results came back. On the morning of the 3rd or 4th day, I was sitting in my living room, watching the news. John Lennon had been murdered just a few days before, and there was still a lot about his death on TV. As I was watching, I heard two car doors slam shut outside. I went to the window, pulled back the drapes and looked outside. What I saw sucked the soul of my body for a few seconds.

Walking up to my front door were my parents, arms around each other and both crying. That was when I KNEW. Having sons of my own now, I can’t imagine the anguish they were feeling. I let them in and they told me that they had just gotten a call from Dr. Adami (pre-HIPPA days) and that the tests showed that I had a malignancy. We talked, cried and planned. I told them that I didn’t want anyone to know because I didn’t want to be treated differently. They told me that they had requested prayers from friends at church and that my situation was already well known in Denton.

I remember feeling numb….literally numb. It took another day or so to get the final pathology tests back which would identify the type of malignancy I had. When the tests were in, Dr. Adami himself called and asked me to come to his office. Dr. Adami was/is a good friend. He and his family had lived down the street as I was growing up (?) and I was great friends with his kids. Dr. Adami’s personal call gave me the first gut-punch that this was not a run of the mill cancer. (If I do something, I do it right!).

Mindy went with me to Dr. Adami’s office and there I saw for the first time, a certain look in the faces of his office staff, a look that I would be seeing for the next several years. It was a look of hesitancy, of pity and of the fear of what to say. I got used to it. Dr. Adami guided Mindy and I to his office and thoughtfully, but without delay, told us that I had a malignancy that was probably related to a mole I had had removed three years before. Mindy asked if it was melanoma, the good doctor said “yes” and Mindy began to cry.

With Mindy having a medical background, I realized that this was REALLY not a “good” type of cancer to have. Dr. Adami went on to explain that what I had was metastatic malignant melanoma. “Metastatic”, for those of you lucky enough not to know, means that cancer has spread from a primary site to an outlying part of the body. With most metastisis, the odds of survival go down precipitously. I was soon told that I had 15% chance of living another 2 years.

After leaving the office, Mindy and I drove quietly to my folks house. We arrived to a house full of family and we all had a good cry after Mindy explained the diagnosis and prognosis. Dr. Adami is not an oncologist and had told us what he had quickly researched about my cancer and what his colleagues had told him. He said that basically, chemotherapy was not effective with this stage of melanoma and nor were any other forms of treatment. Thankfully, I soon found that Dr. Adami was misinformed.

By this time, I was really feeling numb….out of fear, the unknown, shock, the “why me” and from the looks on the faces of my loved ones. After we had been sitting at the house for a while, the doorbell rang. I answered the door and there stood Father Joseph Schumacher, the priest from the Emaculate Conception Catholic Church in Denton. I had grown up Baptist, yet the first person to come visit after “the news” was a Catholic priest. I have always had great admiration for “Papa Joe”, and his being there really meant a lot to me. (I had been the president of the Catholic youth group, “Shalom Sharers”, in high school, and thus my connection with Father Schumacher)..

The next few days are a blur. Dr. Croissant and Dr. Adami contacted a mutual oncologist friend, Dr. Merrick Reese, to decide on the best plan for my treatment. They eventually agreed that my best option was to go to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It was several days before I could get an appointment in Houston, so I stayed at the folk’s house and waited.

Many of my friends came to visit and some really good ones did not. I’ve heard of the same thing happening from other cancer survivors, especially those who were young at the time. My friends and I were in our very early 20s and some were just not prepared to face mortality in the form of a friend having cancer….they just could not face me. I wasn’t, and I’m not bitter about this. I completely understand. It is what it is….

We had a great Christmas with a sad, underlying feel of foreboding. For the 2-3 weeks between the surgery and my first appointment in Houston, I think most people thought I was going to die….including me. My folks, Mindy and I drove to Houston a couple of days after Christmas. I remember as I walked in the front door of M.D. Anderson for the first time, a very young girl in a wheelchair was coming out. She was bald, had a leg missing and had tubes running in and out. I immediately wondered if that was my future.

After hours of paper work that first day, I met the man who was to be my doctor for the next 25 years, Dr. Carl Plager. Dr. Plager had looked at slides from a mole I had removed 3 years before and told us that I had melanoma back then. This news hacked me off of course, but my new outlook on life was beginning to take form and I decided again…it was that it was….The next several days were FULL of every bodily diagnostic test you have ever heard of and several you haven’t.

Once all the tests were in, Dr. Plager told us that the information would be taken before a board of physicians (Tumor Board) who would analyze the info and decide what actions to take. The Board is a form of triage. He told us that one possible option was to do nothing. We waited for their recommendation at the home of my dear great-aunt and great-uncle, Joyce and Bill. It was very nice to have a place to stay other than a hotel during those first weeks in Houston.

During the first couple of days of January 1981, we met with Dr. Plager and he gave us the decision of the Tumor Board. They had decided that even though the statistics were against it, they were going to have me do chemotherapy and immuno-therapy for two years….and 10 days of radiation. At the time, the French were using extremely heavy doses of radiation in cases like mine, and the Tumor Board thought that since I was young and strong, they would try it on me.

On Jan. 5, 1981, I began a 5-consecutive-day-a-month regimen of chemo and 10 days of twice-a-day radiation treatments. I think it was on that day I relaxed, the fear left me and I decided that I was doing everything I could and that fear and worry would be a waste of time. It was what it was….

My outlook on life had changed. I did the first round of chemo in Houston, but was able to do the rest of it at Baylor Hospital in Dallas in order to avoid monthly trips to M.D. Anderson. As it turned out, I completed 18 months of chemo and immunotherapy. One of the drugs I took was cardio-toxic and the people at Baylor said after 18 months that they would not continue the chemo for fear of damaging my heart. Dr. Plager agreed.

The months of chemo were hellacious. I was sicker than I’d ever been before or since….for three weeks out of every month. Thankfully for those facing cancer now, things have improved and chemo is much easier to handle.

The only long term side effects I’ve had are 33 additional years of life (so far) and both my sons were born naked…….

The surgery performed on Dec. 12, 1980 was the last sign of cancer in my body. It’s a somewhat arbitrary anniversary, but it’s as good as any to celebrate survival. I am thankful for each and every day of life. Since that day, through good times and bad, I have realized that life is a blessing no matter what.

No matter what….

Enjoy life and enjoy Denton!!!

Dentoning….the death house

I told you that I’ve had many unusual experiences in my life……….I’m going to write about one of them. I moved with my family to Anchorage, Alaska from Colorado in late Oct. 1995. Right around Thanksgiving that year, a 15 year old boy shot and killed his father and stepmother in their home on “the Hillside” in Anchorage. This was horrible, but I really didn’t pay too much attention to the story because I was looking for a house, learning the town and flying around the State with my job as a pharmaceutical rep.

As it turned out, this disturbed kid had a detailed plan to solve a temporary problem (whatever it was) with a permanent solution. The house they lived in was a split level with the parents and one brother upstairs and the perp’s room downstairs. On the night before what the kid had designated death day, he set his bedside alarm for 1:30am and turned out the light. His plan was to wake up, kill his folks, and drive “Outside” (what Alaskans call anywhere but Alaska).

The kid (I’ll call him Lee) couldn’t sleep (go figure) and at about 11:30pm took a .22 rifle upstairs to commit the unimaginable. When he opened his parent’s bedroom door, he saw his father asleep, but his stepmother awake, reading a book on “troubled teens”. Realizing his dad to be his strongest opposition, he shot him a couple of times before discovering that he had not fully loaded the pump-action rifle.

When Lee went downstairs to reload, his father, who was not mortally wounded, went to the kitchen and dialed 911. As the father told the 911 operator what was happening, Lee came back up the stairs and shot his father to death. He then turned back to the master bedroom and his stepmother. During Lee’s trip downstairs, she had gone into the bathroom located in the master bedroom and locked the door. Lee shot through the door several times before forcing his way in and shooting her to death in the bathtub.

With his plans dashed due to his father alerting 911, Lee dressed, wandered around the surrounding woods, went to his girlfriend’s house for breakfast, went to school and was subsequently arrested there.

A couple of weeks after the murders, I drove up the snow/ice covered roads of the Hillside, still looking for a house to buy. As I ventured up, I began to notice “Estate Sale” signs on the side of the road and immediately knew that I was close to the death house. I decided to check out the sale since most of our things were still on the way from Colorado. I pulled into the driveway, not knowing what to expect. I went in the house and ended up buying several things. The father was about my size, so I bought his skate-skis, a wetsuit, and a few other things.

I looked around the house and of course was curious, but it didn’t bother me that two people had died there just two weeks before. I really liked the house. It backed up to the Chugach National Forest and had an incredible view of Cook Inlet and Anchorage from the front.

11481 Doggie Ave Anchorage, Alaska

11481 Doggie Ave
Anchorage, Alaska

The adult children of Lee’s stepmother were running the sale and I asked what they intended to do with the house. They told me that they were meeting with a realtor the next day and that if I was interested, to come by while the realtor was there. I left and later that night brought my family up to see the house. They loved it.

The next day was a typical, sunny, frigid…… icy day at the top of the Hillside. I arrived at the house on Doggie Ave and was greeted by the brother and sister, along with their realtor. We took another tour of the house, this time with damage caused during the murders brought to my attention. There really wasn’t much to see…….a stain on the kitchen floor, a hole in the carpet taken as evidence and several tiny holes in the door of the bathroom in the master bedroom.

According to Alaska State law, anytime a violent death occurs in a house, it has to be disclosed before the time of sale. With that law in mind, the four of us sat on the empty living room floor and started haggling. After talking to my wife the night before, we knew that we wanted the house, so the agreement happened very quickly.

The brother/sister/realtor knew they had a house that was “damaged” and might be difficult to sell. I knew and didn’t care. It was the perfect house for my family and in one of the most beautiful areas of Anchorage. We reached an agreement contingent on my house in Colorado selling and moved in about a week later.

All the physical damage was repaired before we moved in, other than the bathroom door holes. I repaired those and you couldn’t tell anything unusual had happened. My sons were very young at the time and were not told about the history of the house until years later when we moved to a larger home. My wife and I had no problem with what had occured there, I guess we’re just not the “spooky” type.

One reminder of the murder did occur on New Year’s Eve that year. As I sat in the living room, halfway watching the news on TV, 8 feet from where the father had died, I was startled as I saw two body bags removed from my house. The local TV station was doing a recap of all the major news of that year, and the double murder was the top story…..

Lee was convicted of the senseless killings and is now in a prison overlooking Resurrection Bay outside of Seward, Alaska. I’m not sure if he has a cell with a view, but if he does, it’s probably the most beautiful view of any prisoner in the US, and I’m sure, a constant reminder of three wasted lives.

No matter what your views on gun control, it is my opinion that mental health is a huge part of the whole picture.

Enjoy life and enjoy Dentoning……………no matter what.

Dentoning….DAYS

Thanksgiving…… It’s a DAY. A DAY which happens once every year. It’s a DAY on which most of us don’t work. It’s a DAY we eat ourselves silly. It’s a DAY we spend with family and friends. It’s a DAY we hopefully reflect on our lives and are thankful for them. A DAY. It’s so easy to celebrate the DAY and then move on.

For me, every DAY for the past almost seven weeks has been a thanksgiving DAY. On October 11 my younger brother Kevin, had a stroke. A brainstem stroke……. the worse kind you can have. It happened as he woke up and thankfully, my dear sister in law Kim was there and he was immediately taken to Regional Hospital and then airlifted to Plano. Initially that DAY, we were not given much hope. The doctors worked miracles though, and my dear brother is alive and in great shape. I am truly thankful for every DAY, but I am especially thankful this year that my brother is here to celebrate Thanksgiving DAY.

That is a personal, dramatic story of reason for me to give thanks, but we all have so much to be thankful for……family, friends, jobs, homes, a free country…..and we live in Denton!

But more importantly……..we LIVE….

Life is good…….no matter what.

I hope each and every one of you has a truly Happy Thanksgiving DAY, and that every DAY gives you reason to be thankful……

Enjoy Denton and enjoy every DAY of life!!