On opinion-giving: what, why, when?

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Opinion on Red Keyboard Button.

by Ken Klingenmeier

I am not sure what triggered this question/comment by a friend of mine, who is about my age. He left it in the comment section of my previous review, which celebrated my 250th entry on this blog. He wrote this: I haven’t read all of the reviews listed but I have a question. Is there one which is a pan? And then he followed with this question: Do you ever pan a play?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “pan” in this respect – it means to heavily criticize, especially a performance. The question got me to thinking how I would answer, and as a result I took rather a long form approach to it, to express a justification, I guess. Here is what I have to say:

Hi Paul: That is a fair enough question. And the answer is – no, I think not. Some may argue that I did not like THEIR show, and they felt bad about it – but that is just the nature of opinion giving, I think.

I, like you, have been in a lot of plays and even directed quite a few. Some have been better than others – all of them have been a lot of work. Every single person in every play I have been involved with – well, I actually can think of one, just one bad apple, who actually got removed from a cast for trying to undermine the production to his liking. (Not sure what his problem was, but he was a rare bird) – all but this one person worked their tail off to do their best in a show.

As I said, the resulting shows weren’t all stellar. Most were good, some were really very good – but some, a few at least, could have been a lot better – but not for any other reason than there was an uneven set of talent, or the cast was not directed with a good enough amount of experience or insight, or the script itself was lacking.

I consider myself to have a pretty good eye for what is right on stage and what could be better in a production. I can see when there is a struggle on someone’s or something’s account – it could be the tech is going wrong, or an actor has a brain fart, or what was planned had a flaw in blocking or intensity or pacing. None of these events happening would require me to pan (or write a negative review about) a show. Even if all these things happened in the same show, I wouldn’t feel like that was necessary.

This is not the big city, NYC – but, the area where we live is an extraordinary one, full of talented directors, actors, and designers – both professional and on the community theatre level. (These days I find it quite amazing that when I look at a community theatre cast list when it is announced, I see far more names of people I don’t know than members of “the old gang”! Where are all these people coming from?)

But, back to the matter at hand. Basically, I don’t feel it necessary – or productive – to pan any show I have seen. I have seen one show since I have been doing this review blog – one show that was very, very bad. The piece was a jumble of flawed decisions by the director, miscast actors, and a damn silly script. After watching it, I decided I could not find ANYTHING good about it – so I skipped writing a review. It was not my place to destroy the production so that whoever read such a review would tend to not buy a ticket (which would support the theatre) or give the show a chance for its own sake. The fact is, many other people might enjoy the show as an entertainment, and would likely overlook what I saw as problems.

That is not to say, I never write any negatives. I have disagreements with choices in shows and I address them. I find mistakes or lack of understanding in choices and I point those out – sometimes instructing the director or actor, directly or indirectly, on what I believe could be done to make it better. There are no perfect shows – or if there are, they are as rare as 5 carat diamonds. Also rare is the show that is all bad.

And that leads me to explaining the essence of my job as I see it – my mission, if you will, as a reviewer of Indianapolis area theatre. First of all, boost the wonderful theatre community we are SO LUCKY to be amidst. They are more often than not – astounding. Second, point out what might be a problem and if possible, give my opinion on what could make it better, in my perception. Third, do no harm.

I have actually lost a friend over a review. They failed to understand that I was giving them a critique of how their work might be better. I failed to do a good enough job expressing that idea. Luckily such a reaction is rare, but I learned the importance of clarity in this work. And if something is absolutely god-awful, it is better to concentrate on what is right in the matter than to destroy someone’s hard work and intentions just to prove a point.

So, bottom line: I craft my reviews to try to promote live theatre in Indianapolis. None the less, I give my opinion about things, but I never want to be so opinionated that I will wound someone’s impression of themselves or of their work. I praise loudly when I am wowed, and I am OFTEN wowed by this theatre community. Finally, I criticize carefully because, hell, it is just MY opinion, after all.

The Miracle at Thistledown – a true story

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miracle-at-tdn-2

This story is all true – essentially, at least. It happened many years ago, and so I cannot be sure of every detail – but I am sure of the miracle. It happened, beyond any doubt. I saw it with my own eyes.

It was a typical summer day – humid and warm, as things often are in northeast Ohio in the summertime. We had just stopped for a couple of hours – we being myself, my wife Donna, and my two kids, Olivia and Jon – on our car trip home from visiting family in Buffalo NY. It was my idea to stop at the racetrack. Donna and I are big horse-racing fans and we had never been to Thistledown Racetrack, a kind of minor-league track where famous horses are rarely seen. That didn’t matter to Donna and I. We liked the game, picking horses to bet on and watching to see if what we predicted (hoped) would happen in fact did happen.

The kids were just as glad to be out of the car for a while. Olivia was probably 14 and Jon must have been around 12. They enjoyed traveling with us, but often wanted to know if we were “there” yet – so it was good to find a “there” to be at – for their sake.

Anyway – since we planned on being there awhile, I got a table for us all inside the clubhouse and the kids got something to eat and drink while Donna and I poured over the Daily Racing Form for clues about who might be the best horse in the race that was about to run.

Over the course of the afternoon, we bet on a bunch of races and had our usual up and down luck. We never do bet a lot of money on any one race – but a day’s worth of varied luck usually leaves us short at least a few dollars. It was the end of the day, we were down 20 bucks or so as I recall – and there was just one more race to be run before we took off down the road toward Indianapolis and home.

I handicapped the last race, looking over the horse’s past performance figures, and decided to play a trifecta bet, which involves picking the first place, second place and third place horses in the race in the correct order. It’s a difficult bet to win, but it usually pays well if you hit it. I no longer remember if I picked just 3 horses or if I may have arranged 4 horses in one of those bets where 2 horses are picked to be first or second, and two horses are picked to fill in the third place slot. But I made the wager, put the ticket from the bet in my shirt pocket where I always kept my tickets and asked the kids if they wanted to watch the race outside, since it was the final race and we had been stuck inside all day.

miracle-at-tdn

The first thing I noticed after stepping outside was the brisk breeze – it had made the hot, sunny day a lot more manageable, and it made a couple hundred losing tickets flutter and float across the asphalt apron between the grandstand and the racing oval. The sun was bright and I took my sunglasses out of my shirt pocket and put them on. We walked to the rail, right up to the edge of the track where we could get a good look at the horses as they went by in the post parade. Seeing these beautiful creatures go trotting by, carrying their miniature riders, festooned in the colorful silks of their owners, is an awesome thing. They are majestic animals and somehow you can see the tightly wound springs of their potential speed as they go by. Soon the outriders brought them around to the starting gate and they were inserted into their places for the start of the race.

I do not remember the race, I do not remember if it was a sprint or a mile long distance that they ran that day. What I do remember is that my horses came in as I had bet them – first, second and third – all picked out and wagered on. It was a thrill – and my wife and kids were plenty thrilled about it too. Of course, when you win a wager on a race, the next thing you do is to take the winning ticket in to the cashier and turn it in for your winnings.

I reached into my shirt pocket where I keep my tickets – and felt nothing but air! I spread the pocket open and looked down inside – nothing there! My ticket! I didn’t have my winning ticket! Right about then the payoffs for the winning bets were displayed on the infield tote board – my trifecta was worth $125! Oh, no! Oh, damn! Where was my ticket?!? How could I have lost it? Hoping against hope, I sent the kids inside to look around the table we had been sitting at. Donna looked at me with a “so sorry, honey” look on her face. How could this have happened?

Then it occurred to me. When I took my sunglasses out of my pocket, I must have pulled the ticket out with it! The ticket was out here – on the grandstand apron – blowing around with the hundreds of losing tickets that lay everywhere now.

Stupidly, I started turning over tickets that lay around me on the ground. No, not that one! – No, not this one!… I was desperate, grabbing handfuls of tickets off the ground and filing through them looking for the right race number, the correct type of bet, the right horse numbers! Donna even started looking – she had a handful of losing tickets, pouring over them. My kids were probably inside, doing the same thing with tickets on the floor. It was insane!

But of course, we were never going to find that ticket by shoveling through all the hundreds that, even as we were searching through them, were floating through the air as the stiff breeze carried them to the east end of the track.

I stopped, I looked over at my dear wife, continuing to look at scraps of paper on the now deserted apron of the track, that couldn’t possibly be the correct scrap. I saw my kids come out of the clubhouse door and my son giving me the “no luck” sign, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. I felt at a loss. Oh, well. Easy come, easy go – as they say. We could have used the $125, could have bought a nice dinner for everybody and still had some left for a treat. But it was gone. No ticket could be found in this mess of discards.

I looked around at all the tickets blowing in the air. I looked down at my feet, in despair, I guess. And as I looked down – there between my feet, between the toes of my shoes, squared to the proximity that was my stance – lay a ticket. And this part I remember, as well as anything I remember from all my days. I reached down and picked the ticket up…and it was my ticket. It was for the final race…a trifecta wager…on the horses I had picked…and somehow it was back in my hand. I remember I shouted out to Donna and the kids, “I found it!!” And Donna replied – with a disbelieving “What!?”

What I saw...

What I saw…

I really cannot imagine how this possibly happened. I know that I never will be able to figure it out. I had never seen a true miracle happen before with my own eyes. But, The Miracle at Thistledown did happen. I swear to you! Just ask Donna.

Eye surgery: the journey continues

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Ken clay eyepatch
I guess some of you remember that in 2013 I was diagnosed with an ocular melanoma in my left eye. (See https://asota.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/eye-surgery-did-that/). I had a rather complicated surgery on that eye on April 9 of that year, which bombarded the tumor with a lot of radiation. I was told at that time that I would be losing all or most of my vision in that eye. Since then I have visited my eye surgeon, Dr. Minturn, in August and November, and I am scheduled to see him again in May.

All has progressed as expected. The tumor inside my eye has been shrinking. And in late February, I started losing my left eye’s vision. I really was not too sure what to expect with regard to losing my sight. It started as a blanking out of the lower peripheral vision, then it went all hay-wire – with a finger of blankness running across my eye and now I have lost most of that eye’s focus, I’ve started seeing a yellow circle in the center of it all and I’m just generally having a mess to look through in that dying eye.

My right eye is just fine and has picked up on all of the focused, clear sight duties. It becomes rather tiresome if I am watching TV or playing the PS3 or reading off my Kindle or tablet. Sometimes it’s better to just wink my left eye out and just have clear vision. Most of the time, though, my brain seems to be able to disregard what is going on in the left side of my perception – it seems to depend a lot on what kind of light I am in or the brightness of what I am looking at.

So what now? I guess what I want to do is lose the glasses eventually and go with a right eye contact. If my left eye keeps corroding my total vision – I may have to get an eye patch or something. I realize I may look a little odd – but I fantasize that it will make me look more like an old Hathaway shirt ad from the 1950’s.
HathawayEyePatch
Regardless, there is nothing much I can do but to accept this new turn in my life. So, I am losing sight in my left eye…as I like to joke to my friends and family: hey, at least I am not losing my hair!

On Turning 65…

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My 65th birthday is coming up on the 9th and it has set me to pondering.

Even just writing the title to this blog set me to pondering. On turning 65 could have been on reaching 65, on becoming, on being, on accomplishing. Granted 65 isn’t the old-age landmark it once was. I remember both my grandfather and my father having their 65th birthdays – my grand-dad’s was when I was 11 years old and he seemed ancient to me. He was tired, I’m sure. His worklife had been a lot more difficult than mine, much more physical. It aged him. My dad’s 65th was when I was in my 30’s and I can remember he was so happy to finally be headed into retirement. It was a state of glee! Sadly he died two years later from arterial sclerosis.

My 65th doesn’t have the same importance at all, compared to his. I have been retired for 10 years. I am mostly pretty healthy, although we have to keep a watch on cholesterol and blood pressure and cancer. One of the reasons I took an early retirement was that my dad’s demise had occurred so soon into his. And my 65th means I get to start using Medicare, with it’s related startup headaches.

What my 65th birthday most means to me is that I know I am lucky – lucky to have the family I have, especially my loving wife, Donna; lucky to have the friends I have, many of those being old friends; lucky to be able to continue working in theatre, to continue being picked to play interesting roles (and with that, lucky to still be able to memorize parts); lucky to be able to take naps whenever the need strikes – which is at least once a day!; and lucky to be loved and to love.

People say it is only a number, you are only as old as you feel, that growing older is better than the alternative – all true. But facing each birthday really is a little different. I know I have a lot more years behind than before me, and that is a striking thought. I also realize that I will never be as able to do many things as well as I once could, I will never weigh less than 200 lbs again (unless from extreme illness), and I am actually getting shorter – having shrunk down to a “still-considered-tall” 6 feet 3 and 1/2 inches.

True, the changes are gradual. And many of the changes are blessings – changes like more grandchildren, more leisure, more time to just read or think or nap. I am very happy to be turning 65. It suits my plan – my plan to keep going. I have been telling friends that I no longer strive as much as I did a few years ago. It means less to me now to seek out opportunities, although some still come my way.

But not striving doesn’t mean not trying. I will try to keep going forward – if only so I do not fall backward.

Life observed: Neighbors

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bad-neighborToday’s blog entry is about neighbors.

Not a subject for a theatre blog, you say? Well, you certainly must not have experienced the drama that is our neighbors. Well, let me specify – I am talking about our next door neighbors in the rental house to our north. Our neighbors to our south, the Wrights, are the best kind of neighbors. Friendly, social, invite you over to their backyard…go out to dinner together…stop and chat in the front yard, kind of neighbors.

It so happens that Mrs. Wright is my wife’s cousin, and they have been the best of friends for many decades – and neighbors here for 44 years! So this is a neighborly connection that works – on a host of levels.

No – this blog entry is about the stream of characters who have occupied the rented house to our north. The theatrical qualities are all there with these folks – drama, comedy, conflict, conflict resolution, everything but tragedy, I guess. We haven’t had that yet, somehow.

The reason I chose to write on this topic is this: the best neighbors we have EVER had to the north of us moved out yesterday. They were two 20 somethings – he going to college, she working, with two or three dogs, plenty of friends over and somehow, SOMEHOW, these folks made not a sound – no music sounds – no television sounds – no party sounds – no life style noises at all. This is nothing short of an aural miracle! Because, believe me we have heard any and all prior residents of that house – loud and often.

Let me give you a rundown on who has lived next door in the past: just prior to our miracle neighbors we had a family with normal, noisy kids, featuring a married couple who thought nothing of profanely arguing loudly – indoors or out – and who eventually got kicked out for not paying their rent. Add to this 3 barking dogs – the man was raising pitbulls, of course.

Before that we had a single man, kind of rough looking, who had a deluge of items in his yard, including a huge boat he never used, and who heated his home with propane because his gas was turned off. This was supplied by canisters that he never returned empty, but rather piled outside his house – on our side, of course. His biggest disturbance was that he owned a state of the art television sound system which he cranked up watching action-adventure movies late at night. He also had a barking dog, of course.

Before that we had a group of young men, college aged – who had a rock band. That’s right, a rock band lived next door and practiced 3 or 4 times a week, after dinner. (In this case, I actually had to go over to their front door in my pajamas one night and request that they stop at a decent hour – me having to get up at 5:45 am for my USPS job – which they eventually did, stopping at 9:30 pm – on the dot – instead of their usual 11:30 or 12 midnight.) These were young guys who thought nothing of pulling into their drive with the radio blaring or going outside to have “private” late night phone conversations that we could hear every word of inside our bedroom. On the upside, they did not have a barking dog.

Before that, we had a man and his two or three young kids, I forget how many. His thing was that he kept goats in the backyard and also about 4 roosters! He kind of collected unusual roosters, and of course they crowed at dawn, so there was very little chance of late sleeping, especially during the summer months. I remember one night he had an under-aged party for his oldest son. It got so noisy, so late, I went to his door to complain. He came to the door with his beer in his hand and I spied quite a few other young drinkers behind him. The party did breakup soon afterward and that night someone stole two lanterns I had in our front yard. My penalty for wanting to sleep, I suppose.

Before that, we had a very rough looking family with two boys in their young 20s in residence. There was quite a bit of car traffic in and out of the house. I figured they were dealing drugs and was proved correct one afternoon when 4 cop cars arrived and approached the house, with guns drawn.

And the earliest family that I remember was a fairly normal group of four, who started the ordeal of bad neighbors out in a comparatively gentle fashion. They had the typical barking dog nuisance, which I tolerated okay until one night when the dog barked until 1 am. I went next door to complain – the first time in this long nightmarish series – and the rather drunken couple had no idea that their dog was even outside, let alone barking his head off to get back in. The noise stopped soon after – but the theme for annoying neighbors was set into motion that very night.

Believe me, I have just outlined the highlights of these mostly year long renters from hell. Everyday and night had the possibility for troubles. It isn’t that I feel like I have to have a perfect environment – and I believe people have a right to live active and personally satisfying lives, but these people with noisy dogs, who have to have band practice, while raising livestock in their backyard, and arguing loudly in the front yard are really tough to be around.

You can now see why I am a bit distraught that our quiet neighbors moved. They were a treasure! And now we must wait to see who, of all people, moves in next door, and what their habit, hobby, lifestyle, noisemaking levels and pet-type is.

Soon the “For Rent” sign will go in the front yard. I am tempted sometimes to steal it and hide it. Certainly such a crime is justifiable.

Pray for us…

Eye surgery: been there, done that!

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Ken clay eyepatch
For the past few weeks I have been waiting to have an eye surgery that was necessary for my continued well-being. I have had it now and am recovering, so I thought I would blog a few thoughts on the process. I really have not told many people about having to have the procedure – I just did not want to.

The whole thing actually started about 3 1/2 years ago when I had my very first eye exam, other than what they did in the military, at age 61. The doc found what he called “a freckle” inside my left eye. When I returned a year later, he felt the freckle needed to be looked into a bit so he sent me to an eye specialist. This second doctor referred me to another, an eye surgeon, and so the watching of the freckle began. My surgeon, Dr. Minturn, said that this was a suspicious nevus (nee-vus) and that it could be cancerous. Every 6 months for 2 1/2 years, I went to Dr. Minturn’s office and he photographed, ultra-sounded and measured the nevus. He said that if it stayed stable and did not grow, it was just a benign nevus, but in his experience it was important to continue to watch the thing, just in case it changed. Well, the bi-yearly vigil paid off. This last visit in late March showed that it had spread laterally by 1 mm (to about 12 mm) and had grown in height as well. We were scheduled for surgery on the eye as soon as possible. Tuesday April 9th was the date.

My nevus looks a lot like this ultra-sound image

My nevus looks a lot like this ultra-sound image

About 20 years ago, if I was diagnosed with this problem, a malignant choroidal melanoma, they would have simply removed my eye. No alternatives were available. But a procedure had since been developed where a “plaque” containing radiation pellets is sewn outside the spot where the nevus sits. This is worn 4-5 days and then removed in a second procedure. The therapy hopefully shrinks the nevus and kills the cancerous cells. Another effect is some loss of vision.

The plaque was placed behind the nevus.

The plaque was placed behind the nevus.

So on Tuesday morning, I went into Methodist/IU Health and had the plaque inserted behind my eye and sewn into place. A lead patch was taped in place to cover the eye and prevent spreading of radiation. My nevus is very close to my optic nerve and therefore I can expect some sight loss to happen gradually over the next 2-3 years. After the procedure, I was required to stay overnight at the hospital and then was released to go home the next morning. I could not go out of the house or be around any children or pregnant women. I was lucky in that aspect as most patients must spend the entire time between procedures in the hospital. Many are from out of Marion County here in Indiana; or they may have children or pregnant women at home. I met all criteria to be released until the second procedure on Saturday morning.

I must say that there was no discomfort to having the plaque in my eye. The biggest problem was not being able to sleep on my left side due to the bulky lead patch; that and Mrs. K having to sleep in a separate room so that she was not exposed to radiation.

A bit about the radiation I was exposed to. During my short hospital stay, a technician with a radiation measuring device took some readings in my room. We got to talking about the possible spread and the intensity of the radiation which is measured in rads. He said that my exposure over the period I wore the plaque would be about 95 rads. He also said that a sudden full body dose of 5-10 rads could kill a person. It was something to ponder, for sure.

Relaxing at home from Wednesday to Saturday was certainly no problem. I set my computers up to watch the Masters golf tourney as it is being streamed over Masters.com. I napped (a normal, retired guy activity) and felt no discomfort. The worst part was getting up at 5am to go in for morning surgery on Saturday. This second procedure took only about 15 minutes and I was home again by 10:30 am.

So now we wait. I must take a week or so to heal my eye and I go in to see Dr. Minturn again in about two weeks. He expects there to be no problems as I came through everything in such good shape. But the telling moment will be when he photographs and ultra-sounds my left eye, and we see what the effect of the treatment is. Prayers are requested…

More problems with Facebook…

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Ken clay rev

I am sorry to be in such a state that I must write again about my Facebook woes. The more I investigate this problem and the associated problems of others in the FB community, the more I do not understand how and why this huge, billion dollar company treats it’s subscribers in such a poor manner.

Yesterday I gave up trying to save my old FB page. The main reason was that this giant company does not offer any customer service avenues where one can deal with a real person and resolve problems. I am thinking that all the online responses that one gets from FB are computer program generated – an “if, then” response mechanism. That could be the only way to explain how I, and countless others, have gotten the shoddy treatment we have gotten.

I Goggled some of the phrases that were incorporated into the responses I received, such as “to confirm your identity, please login from one of the browsers you have used before”. I found out I was lucky, I only lost my social network page. Through the Google results, I found that there are worse results than mine being suffered out there. A company named SiteSell had an occasion where FB took down it’s business page for a perceived violation that was unwarranted. (You can read about that problem at http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=190993354282387 )

The cyber community’s response to SiteSell’s problem shows us that FB has caused mayhem again and again – closing down company pages including some where the company has invested thousands into their FB ad program. The main problem when a shutdown happens is that there is no clear path of recourse, no customer service person to discuss the problem with and no response to the computer generated prompts that one is given to make amends with.

As I say, I gave up on trying to rescue my page. I wound up attempting to open another, actually I tried twice. I went through the process of getting the new pages and started inviting old FB friends back into the fold, when suddenly there came an FB window telling me my new account had be secured as they “had received information” that I was not who I was saying I was. For both page attempts…

So, what is one supposed to do about this? As I said, there is no recourse. The system is broken. I am unable to communicate with anyone about the problem in such a way that a dialogue is opened and ideas are exchanged. I find it very frustrating and beyond quizzical that a company this gigantic in it’s scope and effect can have such a poor attitude about handling the situations that their tight security policing programs cause.

FB user beware! As for me, I’ll hope to someday be back in the FB loop as it really is a great way to exchange info with family and friends. But I remain unsure that anything can or will be done.
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Addendum
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Well, through diligence, staying on the case and a bit of Klingenmeier luck, I was able to finally, after 11 days, open a new FB account. When I first tried a second and third account, I was turned back because the FB computer (I am convinced that is who the true culprit is) thought I was the same “hacker” who had supposedly gotten into my original account.

One of the verification processes offers to send you a code through a phone message. Most of the time they only offered a text option and when I put my cell phone number into the response box it was supposed to send me a text with a confirmation code to put into the computer and free up the account. I never got any text messages after any number of tries. Last night, out of the blue, I came across this option again with a chance for a vocal message with a code. When I took that option with my land-line number and clicked on a “continue” button, my house phone rang IMMEDIATELY. You really have to imagine immediately and a kindly voice gave me the code I needed. When entered into the FB code box, I was free from the lockup that had been holding down what was my final try at a subsequent account.

So now we are DonnaKen Klingenmeier on Facebook.

The saddest thing about losing the old account is my collection of photo albums from trips, personal history or – especially – my twin grandsons. I can reload much of this – and in time I may – but the comments and notices will be gone. I must say, I missed FB and seeing what was going on in all the lives of our friends and family and it is good to have it back.

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Added Addendum
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So, it seems that knowing someone who knows someone is the only way sometimes to get something fixed. As of Tuesday night (4/16) I actually got my original FB account up, running and under my control. A dear niece came to my rescue after reading my plight on these pages. She happened to know a techie on the FB staff who worked in the very department I was dealing with (actually, TRYING to deal with, but failing). The crux of the matter is that FB is flooded with hapless attempts to get accounts back in order and there was such a backlog – my lucky connection resulted in my “case” being pushed up through the bottleneck and into the front of the line. Hallelujah!

It’s good to have the old account – and all my picture albums and friends – back. And it’s good to be lucky!

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