Jim Morgan- Alzheimer’s, Shortwave Radio and the Meaning of Life…

Most of my friends will probably have a very good time laughing at me because of this post. I admit that I do not know exactly how to classify this post. Part of it would reside in the category of nostalgia. Other parts would fall under philosophy or sheer terror. All I can tell you is that it is the truth, for whatever that may be worth.

A little while back The Boss handed me a plan. This plan was drawn by me. It has my distinctive scrawl all over it and the undeniable style that my hand-drawn plans have.

The problem is that I have absolutely no memory of ever drawing this plan. I’m not talking having fuzzy memories of it. I have no memory of drawing this plan whatsoever. After talking to The Boss about it a little my memory was jogged about us talking about me needing to draw it because we needed to get a change order from the architect. But to this very minute I do not remember actually drawing it.

Now I realize that I am getting older and that memory gets a little hazy as one gets older. If this had been a singular event in my life I would probably just shrug it off and go about my business. But this is not a singular event in my life.

I have forgotten appointments, forgotten conversations with The Boss, forgotten to pick-up people when I was their ride. I had a long conversation with a man, who asked me pertinent and particular questions about my life and family members which betrayed that he actually knew me and obviously by the tenor of the conversation had worked with me for a fairly long time. I have no idea who this guy is! I am not talking that I recognize him but can’t remember his name. I am talking that I don’t remember ever having seen this guy before in my life.

For several days after The Boss gave me that plan I was scared to death. I honestly felt as if I was losing my mind. I read or heard somewhere that Alzheimer’s can begin to rear it’s awful head in folks my age. Of course, my imagination was getting carried away with me. I immediately set up another blog that is private and I would just text notes about my day to it so that maybe I would remember what has happened in my life.

A few days later I read an article in a ham radio magazine about hams using amplitude modulation (am) in their hobby and where to find them on the air. I went to The Manhut turned up the radio and listened to the old guys talking about their rigs and antenna set-ups. They sounded better than most of the folks I’ve heard who were using shiny new technologically advanced radios. To add to the lustre some of these guys were using rigs which are older than my parents! They sounded great. It doesn’t matter to me that these guys were eating up half the band for their transmissions, they sounded incredible.

Now while I was listening to these guys I remembered that the guy who loaned me the rig I am using told me that this particular radio was “all-mode, all-band.” Now I am not entirely sure what that means. I am still new enough to HF radio that there are still fun little mysteries. Anyway, I got to wondering if it would receive shortwave broadcast stations.

I fiddled around with a couple of the 57,513 buttons on this radio and spun the dial around and much to my glee I found Radio Ukraine. I was transported to the early eighties when a man that I used to preach with gave me an old vacuum tube shortwave radio.

This radio was a relic from a bygone era even when I had it. They call radios of this size a “boatanchor.” I really have no clue how much the thing weighed but it felt like twenty pounds to me. It had no speaker just a jack for a set of headphones. It didn’t even have an antenna like every other radio I had ever seen. The man who gave it to me told me I had to hook up a really long wire to a post on the back of the radio and that would work as an antenna.

So I took the radio home, blew out as much dust from it as I could and hooked up a really long chunk of speaker wire which I stole from my folks. I strung the wire up in a tree in our yard and along our chain link fence. Then I plugged the radio into the wall and watched the lights dim in the house as I turned the power switch on.

After waiting for what seemed like a geologic age for the tubes to warm up so that they could do whatever it is that they do (I think their job was to make the bedroom smell like an electrical fire) the radio crackled to life and the mesmerizing sounds of a far off world filled the headphones. I heard the strange sounds of foreign languages and the otherworldly music of far off lands. In a matter of a few seconds I was addicted to the world.

I heard stations like Radio Hanoi, Radio Peking, and Radio Moscow. The fact that the communist world was pouring into those headphones seemed somehow bad and I was a teenager so bad was always good. I also heard the BBC, Canada Radio International and the Voice of America. I even heard something called the AFRN. When I asked my folks what that was they informed me that this was the Armed Forces Radio Network. Cool!

That radio was consumed by the passage of time. I have no idea what happened to that old vacuum tube radio. During the nineties I bought a small, portable receiver that had a digital display. I thought that I was in tall cotton. I listened to such notable stations as the Swiss Radio International as well as several others. One’s understanding of the news becomes very different when one hears news form other sources.

So there I was the other night listening to shortwave radio. Believe me I recognize the irony of using a $2000 radio to listen to the same broadcasts that I used to listen to with a $50 radio that would fit in my pocket. But I was having more fun than I can remember having in quites some time. I listened to the results of a recent election in the Ukraine, I listened to the Top-40 hits from VietNam, I had about 15 radio preachers who were willing to lighten my wallet for some salvation and I heard one kook explaining how some aliens from some UFOs were bent on taking over the world. In a word I was having a blast!

Somewhere in the course of my evening of eavesdropping some things kind of fell into place in my mind. I am not losing my mind. My mind is still sound, in spite of what my friends will tell you. I have just gotten too busy. There is always something to do. There is always somewhere to be. There is always something that I need to write. In short my life has gotten complicated and for some strange reason I feel compelled to keep up with it.

And then there is the expense and complication of messing with all those gadgets. I pay through the nose every month to keep my household in internet. Why? We have a library for the books. I don’t want to own the books I just want to read them. We have a TV in the front room which gives us more than we can possibly watch I don’t need the internet for that. Then when you think you have it all together a computer blows up over something incredibly stupid and you are back to the Stone Age all over again.

Most of the emails I receive have no real importance, they are of little value. Mostly the serve to remind me that I don’t have the money for an event or can’t afford to get away from work for a day or two. Thus they make me feel bad. During the Christmas season a person whom I know more by reputation than by actual conversation sent me a Christmas card. I had forgotten how totally cool it was to receive something real in the mail that some other real live person had touched and written. Some of my far flung friends in the past have done a post card exchange of sorts. Whenever one of us is traveling to some new and exotic locale we send the others in our little clique post cards from that locale. It is always a charge to get stuff in the mail. Frankly, email sucks in comparison.

I have been doing a lot of my drafting and other work related business on the computer here lately. Truthfully told, I can draw the plans by hand faster and create more accurate cutlists to boot. Sure the computer may make a prettier picture but the I am the only one really using them, how pretty do they need to be?

The shame of life these days is that I know about the daily life of people I haven’t laid an eyeball on in thirty years than I ever did when I saw them everyday of the week. There is something really sad about this. What is even sadder is that some of these folks I would really like to get to know again but the only way I know to contact them is through the clunky medium of the internet. It is impossible to build a relationship online when both parties to the relationship are relegated to the position of being mere blip and bytes on a computer screen.

The other day when I was listening to shortwave I noticed after about an hour that I didn’t even have a computer on. I was playing in the “real” world. I had my hands on a real radio in a real room and I was listening to real noise coming out of the box.

It was relaxing. It was refreshing. It was fun and it was free. No fees. No taxes. No payroll. Nothing but the simple joy of discovery and exploration of a real, non-theoretical, non-philosophical, world. I think I am going to stay there for a while.