Simple Ideas

Not Enough Time

Blogging | December 14, 2012

Part I

I'm on the train from Washington DC to NYC. I have slept more during the days than during the nights over the past three days. Though I've never slept in cars before, I found myself waking up in the car coming back from the funeral on Monday. Then again coming back from a movie the day after the funeral.

But at night, sleep isn't happening. The night before the funeral I thought I could explain it away with the "pre race jitters" that I used to get the night before an important run. Since I was giving the eulogy, I thought I could explain it away that way. But the same thing happened, or didn't, the next two nights. So much for comprehending the cause. I'm not sleeping is the bottom line. I'm up 22 hours a day and still feel I don't have enough time.

As I did my last minute planning for this trip, I left the middle of this trip soft. I didn't know what would happen and I wanted to be open to what ever may occur. The plans were rough hewn and I'm Ok with that. Just needed to be ready to flex. Didn't know if folks would get together after the services or not. Turned out the answer was "or not".

I was concerned about reading my eulogy, so there was that anxiety. There was also talk of their being a family time before the service where some of us could sign up and say a few words about Mom. But that sign up process seemed to evaporate. My brother George and I both wrote pieces for this event and had them ready, but...

It was just people milling about with no structure. That was OK, except it wasn't. There was one person who my Mom specifically asked to speak. In fact her comment was "Mom wanted Matt to speak because he is so eloquent". That was the lead to my piece, the idea that I would be ineloquent and set the bar low for him. But my brother read my piece and suggested that that might be taken the wrong way and I should drop it from my reading. I created a work around intro paragraph. But it didn't matter as I never read it aloud.

As soon as I shook hands with Matt, I knew it was wrong. Not only is he eloquent, he is also gentle and self-effacing. It was not the kind of lead in that would inspire him via a challenge or calm him with the wink that was intended. It was just wrong and I knew it. Just as it would have been wrong to let the time slip away without giving him time to speak. So I tried to get people to stop talking and listen. I made slight headway when my sister jumped and made an announcement loud enough to get people focused.

Matt's two pages of words were spot on. Much like the young writer in Finding Forrester, his words hit the mark. He was mildly choked up, but made it through. It is wrong to clap at a funeral and that was the only reason I didn't. But it was the right answer. His talk stood alone and could not have been improved by anything I did. He just needed the stage.

Before we left on the drive, I read my brother's piece. I couldn't say anything, I just gave him a thumbs up, because words were not going to get past my throat. This piece was on target also. My relatives can write, that is all I can say.

I knew at that point that the hardest part wasn't going to be saying the words of the eulogy. It would be listening to the words of the others who showed.

The people started coming. Honestly, I hardly recognized anyone. In many cases it had been 20-30 years since I saw these folks. A white haired man approached with "Hi, I'm Ted!" It took a second, it was my Uncle Ted, husband of my Mom's sister, Lucy, who we can no longer call Booty, even though that is what we always called her.

I did recognize my Uncle Phil who still looks like a Peanuts character. I don't mean that in a bad way, he is the only one who I could ID on sight. Everyone else had to talk. He had changed the least is all I'm trying to say.

My High School cross country coach, Greg Baum, Popped in for a few minutes. He was working, not staying for the service, but it was great to see him. I'd hoped he would drop by.

I don't really "work the room" at events, but I did get around to a lot of people. I also popped in to the chapel to sync up with the priest and figure out how the speaking part would work. I was going to be mic'ed up and that is not how I usually speak, so I was counseled to go slow...painfully slow. I asked my brother to give me I visual if I was talking to too fast and that was my plan to avoid blitzing through my piece.

The service went very well. The priest gave a great welcome. It wasn't the Catholic Church I remembered. I recalled it being an exclusive place and his words were very inclusive. That was another world turned upside down moment to go with losing Mom.

The service moved along. I got up to do my thing. I looked up twice and saw nothing from my brother so thought I was OK. He had been waving "slow down" but not while I was looking up, so the priest cut in to slow me down. It was appreciated. I usually work among the people when I talk and get eyeball feedback from 5 feet away, so this talking into a mic from a podium was new territory for me.

I got through it without choking up. When I had practiced the reading of the eulogy, possessive pronouns were the choke points, i.e. my Mom...but I got over those points and got the words out. I think. It was mostly a blur thinking back.

Afterwards I had a few words with the priest, thanking him for doing such a great job. There were hugs for Aunt's. I told Matt that he did a great job with his talk beforehand. My brother Geoff had to catch a flight back to Atlanta. The room emptied quickly, almost too quickly.

And we were on our way back to Virginia. My thought before drifting off to sleep in the car being "That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be..."

The train has stopped in Philadelphia now.

I guess there was enough time after all to get these words down.

Part II

I get off the train in New York at Penn Station, right below Madison Square Garden where the 12/12/12 benefit concert was slated to start in roughly 8 hours. I wasn’t going to the concert. I was taking my Mom’s DNA to see New York. I lingered a few minutes in the station. I wasn’t sure what to do. I had a hotel on the upper east side, but it was probably too early to check in. I wanted to at least drop off my gym bag full of clothes and my PC before taking off into the city.

I saw the signs for the subway, but something said walk. It was absolutely the right thing to do. I walked down 33rd street and it appeared to be a street I’d never seen before. I ended up at a Starbucks across from Papaya Dog and sat for about 20 minutes drinking coffee and watching people. People doing nothing in particular. Walking, talking, just being alive. It was a good 20 minutes. I know Mom would have sat there happily too, just watching the people. I flashed back to one trip to NYC where she saw Donald Trump on the street and shook hands with him. It was those random moments that she liked, the “you never know what you will see next” aspect of this city.

Heading to the train, there was a loose dog being chased by a doorman, I helped corral that animal then found my subway train. My hotel was in a section of Manhattan that I had very little experience with. Upper East side near the East River. When I found it I saw it was directly opposite a housing project. I had to smile as we all had lived in a project for a year or two after Dad left. Then I walked in the hotel and there was a menorah on the counter. I was checked in by an Asian guy. Ah the multiculturalism of NYC was in full bloom! Another smile for the Mom half of my DNA.

I was surprised to be checked in early, but happily so. I was able to turn around quickly and head to the park. I ran down a couple path’s in Central Park. Temperatures were in the mid 40’s so the run was a nice warm up. I love Central Park after a snow, what with the lakes frozen and all, however weather was too warm for that. But this was a good day also. Clear and crisp. And with the leaves off the trees you can get better views of the skyscrapers than in the other three seasons. There really isn’t a bad time to be in Central Park. Mom was doing well, she was keeping up with me on the run. That would have been impossible if she still had her own body. But flying along as an angel next to me, she was doing fine.

We popped into the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I avoided the military section, but hit a few area’s that were light. Did more of the religious paintings that I usually would. Hung out extra long with a few of the masters. I had a knit hat that my brother had made. Stopped a second to take a picture of me in the hat next to an Egyptian statue that was sporting some spiffy headgear. Sent that back to George just so he would know his hat was in good company and doing the job it was designed to do.

After the museum we ran across the park to the Upper West Side. Found the Amsterdam Ale house and I ordered a pint of Mad River IPA. The angel wasn’t drinking, so I’m seeing more upsides to this as the day goes on.

Back to the hotel to charge up the iPhone and grab a short rest. Thought about a power nap to offset the lack of sleep, but opted for a quick bath instead. The angel took off and did angel stuff while I hit the tub. With the phone recharged, we were off to dinner. Headed to Traif over in Brooklyn. When I pop out of the subway there is a gentleman asking the exiting passengers if they are Jewish. When he gets to me I say “No, I’m Scottish”. If anyone in earshot had been to Scotland, they would have got the joke there. The questioner just smiled and said Happy Hanukah Scotsman!

With the angel doing the timing, we arrive at Traif one minute after they open. I check the menu and see the beet salad. The cockles are not on the menu, but they have mussels. Hrmm. One more, oh, the foi gras! But when the waiter comes back I forget the third item. In a panic, I see the duck confit and order that.

Turns out the winter version of the salad is a notch below the fall version. Still a very good dish, but down from a 10 to a 9. Same on the mussels as compared to the cockles. But the duck? Far and away the best. I realized that it wasn’t just chance that made me forget the foi gras and order the duck. The angel was making the calls, or would make them, if I just stayed out of the way.

I head over to the play that is set to start at 8. That play is in the Village, but once again as soon as I pop out of the subway, I run into a little more of the New York diversity. This time it is a black man on a bicycle. He is looking for directions back to Brooklyn. I pull out my Ipad and check the map. I pull out my iPhone and check the compass. This was so much a Mom moment as she typically had her Iphone in one hand and the Kindle in the other…well, you know, it is how these things go. This gent headed off in the direction I pointed him and thanked me by saying “you know this is a tough place to get around when people who live here can’t find their way home.” He mustn’t have had an angel yet.

Mine got me to the play three minutes before the curtain. The play was called Falling Down and it was about autism. The main character was an Autistic 18 year old who was physically imposing and had some aggression issues. Basically this was the other side of the spectrum from me, the guy who was hard corps autistic and likely mentally retarded, to use the medically if not politically correct term. Even though this was a fictional character, you could argue the same about the guy who is opposite me on the IQ spectrum. The guy who I use as my rationale to never retire. The guy who has no skills and no ability to get out in the workforce. That guy. Yeah, the play wasn’t doing very well in terms of box office. I doubt a play about me would do very well either. But the couples on either side of me were very engaged in the play adding the right comment at the right time, I mean what I thought would be the right comment if you were neurotypical. Overall I enjoyed the play and thought 3 of the 5 actors were flawless in their depictions.

At the end they had a “talk back” session. I can’t imagine that anyone who was “on the spectrum” would stay for that. So I bolted. But it got me thinking about the main problem with trying to put on this type of play. The issue with autistic folks is that they, uh we, live most of our lives deep inside our heads. Which means that the internal conversations are the focus of the day to day…so trying to portray that with physical actions, be they the organizing rituals or the physical confrontations makes this a very limited insight into that character. So yes, I know that “voice over” is a cheesy technique in the arts community. But that in my mind was the missing aspect of this play. And I’d have mentioned that at the talk back, except I was on the other side of NYU heading north by the time that insight landed.

Heading back to the hotel, I noticed that I had wasn’t feeling any of the alcohol I’d consumed. Two beers and a scotch had left no mark. The three days at my brothers I didn’t have a drink. And that didn’t bother me either. Seems I can drink or not drink and the effect is pretty much the same.

Saying goodbye to my Mom and Dad likewise had opposing answers. My Dad was very much the small town guy. He was born in a 1,000 person town and lived in 30,000 person town. He hated NYC. So when he passed, I went to the small town where he was born to reconnect. With my Mom it was different. She was born to the small town life and also lived in that 30,000 person town all her days, but she found NYC late in life and loved it. She would have travelled more had she the resources earlier in life. But instead she did most of her travel vicariously through books, movies, plays…

So in the end, that is how I’m making my peace with this event. Mom was a big city girl who lived vicariously in big cities. I live and work in big cities. Half my DNA is hers. So that is my answer. I angel the half of her that still lives in me. I take that DNA wherever I go. When I do that, Mom goes too.

It might be cheesy sure, but it’s my peace

Part III

(this is the piece I wrote for the family time, but didn’t deliver.)

The Lives of Others

Mom asked me to speak today. She didn’t actually ask me directly. What she did was, she asked Teddy to ask Matt to talk because he is so eloquent. When I heard that, I knew she wanted me to talk. It was obvious that if I spoke before Matt , he would sound even more eloquent by comparison. In short, I am here to set the bar low.

Mom, like me, was a first born. Life tends to set the bar high for first born’s. They rarely live up to the expectations. Mom may have been an exception. She made it through nursing school and spent her life helping others. In many cases, the people she helped were terminal cases. Seniors in nursing homes and burn patients.

I know I never could have done her job. I always wondered how she could do the job, how she could go to work and know that that she was there with a burn patient who wasn’t going to make it. And knowing that when the person passed away, she would be out of a job until another patient showed up. For me that would have been too much. I tend to take my work home with me and not in a good way. But I think my Mom took it home in a good way.

In my visits back to York over the years, I have frequent memories of her updating me on the status of family members. Rarely would she speak ill of them. Everyone does good and bad and most people feel empowered to criticize their fellow man. Mom rarely ever felt that empowerment and even less so regarding family members. Even after my Dad left us, I don’t recall her speaking badly of him. She just kept going and worked to keep the family together.

Now I have to admit, it is possible that the only person that my Mom spoke badly about was me. If that is the case you are all looking at me like I’m nuts. That may be the case, but this isn’t about me, it’s about Mom. And I think this is what Mom took home from her work.

I don’t think it really mattered what her kid’s did, with one exception. I think her dealing with patients passing away at work left her with one wish for her kids. That they outlive her. The sense I got was that if her kids were still alive, that was all she needed to know. The bar was that low.

And even with that low bar, we have tested it over the Years. Neil used to catch putty knives with his head. Geoff and Joe both tried to stop cars with their bodies. George and I jumped out of air planes for fun. Whatever it was we were doing, we were still around and she would find something positive to pass on to others, to the best of my knowledge.

I admit, I have a theory for everything. Most of them are pretty nutty. This one may be too. But it is the one I’m taking with me from Mom. So I’d like to thank all my brothers and sisters for surviving Mom. And I’d like to encourage everyone in the room who still has parents to do the same for their parents.

Thanks, Mom. That is all I have. I hope I set the bar where you wanted it.

Her place in the World

Blogging | December 12, 2012

Her place in the World

My Mother, Marie started us all at St. Mary’s, and today we gather at St. Joe’s, Joe being the name of her Father. Her place was was between myself and my Grandparents and so I’d like to talk about what passed through her in this life from the prior generation.

One of my early memories of my Grandfather was an hour long phone call when I was 8. That was a long call for both of us, what with one of us being very rational and stern and the other being whiny and emotional. The purpose of that call was to get me to try out for a football team. As the call wore on, the whiny emotional half of the call refused to give in and finally started crying. I couldn’t take hearing my grandfather cry, so I caved in and let my Aunt Jean take me out the football try outs.

That refusal to give in was there with my Mom also over the past few years as she was in and out of the hospital with one close call after another. She kept fighting. As my daughter Amanda noted “Grandma really is one tough old bird, isn’t she?” She was tough internally, but she wasn’t tough on others.

If she had nothing good to say about a person, she said nothing. But more often than not she did have something good to say. As such she was the hub that kept us updated on what was going on with far flung family members. I don’t know who will take her place there.

Since I mentioned her father, it is only fair that I mention her mother. Her mother may have been the only family member who spoke less than me. My most enduring memory of my grandmother was her Oyster Pie. After she passed. I spent years trying to find anyone on earth who could make an Oyster Pie like Grandma McClain’s. I eventually learned that when people leave there should be something that goes with them, something unique they brought to the world.

With my Mom and I, it was Salmon Cakes. Back when she was ambulatory, she would pop up every time I visited and start making Salmon Cakes. When she knew you liked something, well, you were going to get it. And then some. She was always generous, no matter how little she had.

She often took me out to the old Tremont for a seafood dinner. Looking back, it was Sports and Seafood that that passed through the McClain side of the family to me. Uncle Phil taking me out for Turtle Soup. Him and Uncle Mike teaching me how to catch footballs in the back yard at Leeds Road. These were the things that passed to my through my Mom’s family to me.

Near the end my Brother George and I saw her at the hospital in October, they brought her lunch. It was not Oyster Pie nor Salmon Cakes nor Turtle Soup, but it was Seafood, a Tuna sandwich on wheat. She dug into that with her usual appetite, but was quickly full. The two weeks on the ventilator was hard to bounce back from. She said she wasn’t intentionally not eating, she was just full.

But the weekend before she passed, I heard she was refusing food. That was when I knew that the end was near. I heard the crying on that phone call again, I felt the giving in.

So I’m just about done talking here, partly I’m saying my goodbye to my Mom. But I’m also trying to say goodbye from my Mom to her family. I think what she understood was how to enjoy life and pass that joy to others. I think part of the way she did that sharing her enjoyment of a good meal.

Life is indeed short, the pleasures and pains temporary. The pleasures should be savored when they pass your way. So I’ll end this with a phrase uttered by the songwriter Warren Zevon as he was near the end of his fight.

Enjoy every Sandwich.

Auditory Acuity

Blogging | November 14, 2012

One of the things I mention in my math class is that I’ve gotten older, the time between when a woman says “hey handsome” and when they start screaming at me has reduced over time. It went from years to months to weeks over the past few decades. I use this example to teach regression. The idea behind regression is two things change, i.e. in this case as age goes up, time before screaming goes down. I point out that regression does NOT denote causality. That is to say you can not deduce from my example that age is causing the time to decrease. It could be any number of things. My personality defects could be getting worse. Women could be getting smarter. I could be getting uglier and so there is less patience. You get the idea. However, even though I can’t prove causality, I’ve added another possible reason for the screaming.

I may be going deaf.

I have a couple of example from the recent holiday weekend that may give credence to that theory. While I generally avoid talking to people, they sometimes talk to me. Saturday night for instance, I was talking to a guy at the local pub. Actually, we were screaming at each other. He had spent the afternoon riding his bike into a headwindof nearly 25 mph inland. I was getting sandblasted by 30 MPH gusts at the beach while trying to surf. I was the only person at the beach and he may well have been the only guy out riding in that weather. Over the din it became clear that our shared deafness and seeming defiance of mother nature may have had a common root. We were both engineers. He had just driven 30 miles into this pub to get a Flemish Sour on tap. I thought that was deranged too. Until I ordered one and then compared it to a bottled version. He wasn’t so crazy after all. But we were both still struggling on the audio reception.

Next morning I walk to the farmer’s market and an older fellow points at my surfing sweatshirt and asks (I think) “did you s--- there?” I wasn’t sure so he repeats it. I think I hear “surf”. I nod that yes I surfed there. Turns out this sweatshirt has a logo of group that fought in Viet Nam and he shakes my hand, what withthis being Veteran’s Day weekend. While I am a Vet, I’m now unknowingly an imposter Viet Nam Vet. This is not getting any better.

Later in the afternoon I find I’ve gone from partially deaf to stone deaf. This was immediately after being hit by a car on my bike ride. I’m certain I was using my outside voice after the car hit me. And I recall a number of comments about the mental capacity of the driver of the vehicle forming in my head. The comments I think should have been filtered through my Catholic upbringing and my 20 years of Naval Service to produce a barrage of foul mouthed fuming. I know that is what should have happened, but I can’t recall any of the words that may or may not have exited my mouth. I do however recall making it to the sidewalk andapologizing profusely to a group of minors who may have heard some compound words that were heretofore unbeknownst to them. I mean if they actually escaped my head, a fact of which I can neither confirm nor deny.

After the bike ride I returned home and set to work on scabbing. I had failed to scab properly when I crashed 200 yards from that exact spot about 4 weeks prior. So a week after that accident there was this whole pus-filled thing happening on my left leg. I was trying to prevent that from happening on the right leg, so I did all the anti-pus stuff that I should have done before. It is possible that prior infection migrated to my earing canal and made me hard of earing.

So Monday I have dinner at the local Pizza Place. Another rather scruffy patron approaches and asks “so what is the name of this place?” I answer “Luigi’s”. He exits the door, checks the sign and pop’s back in and says “Huh, I always thought it was Loogie’s.” Loogie… as in “Hock a Loogie?” Maybe its not just me. This could be a burgeoning epidemic in Southern California.

I had at this point accepted the state of the universe as I walked into the local dive bar for a pint. The bartender poured the pint and then started to relate a tale about a customer that came in the night before. Now I should mention that even if I wasn’t deaf already, this bar has a juke box set to 11 andI usually playing some hip-hop reggae death metal fusion tune that makes hearingnear impossible for those unafflicted. So he describes the customer by saying that she referred to her vagina as a” ha- wallet” Huh, I missed the end of that first word. Was that the consonant "m" or the diphthong "nd" that followed the ha I ask.

“Oh, Ham. I think thinly sliced. Not the whole ham. Oh that would be nasty!”

He pauses and glances to the end of the bar where I suppose she sat “There is a girl you wanna take home to Mama.”

Mentally, my landscape changes.

About two weeks prior to this I was swimming at North Island and a fellow fifty something swimmer was explaining to a life guard “It’s like you have been up partying for 20-24 hours without any sleep. You mind never gets clear. And its like that all the time, even when you get up the morning.” He of course was describing middle age. This is middle age without deafness, that just adds another layer to the whole experience.

But still, much like my Mom, I’m happy to be alive even in this reduced capacity. After I left the dive bar I walked the streets passing the mentally deficient derelicts who appeared to be muttering to themselves. I passed the cheerful young folks heading to the night life on 30th street. And then I passed a restaurant where I saw couples through the glass windows of a restaurant. Sitting there facing each other. Their mouths moving, but of course no sound coming through the glass to the street outside. I nearly cried.

I’m loving this stage of life.

On Being Pressed

Blogging | October 20, 2012

Pressed, as in "being pressed into service" the old British Navy term for someone who was serving on board a ship against their will. This is something that social human beings seem to do, or attempt to do to one one another with varying degrees of success. I'll argue that over time people should be pressed less and less.

There is an element to growing up in a modern version of society that demands a certain amount of pressing. To wit, a child doesn't know what it takes to survive and they are pressed into doing things that are some variation on "eat your peas". Or in my case Brussels Sprouts. Something I find unfathomably useless and something someone sees of value.

I do recall, quite clearly, being pressed into trying out for a football team in my youth. it was a long teary phone call where I the autistic scared of people pressee was getting jammed into playing football by my persistent maternal grandfather. And was in turn driven to the field by an aunt and presented to the coach as some sort of volunteer who wanted to play the game. Turned out I was very good at the game. In fact it turned out I was among the best as a kid. But eventually the game outgrew me, or more rightly the players outgrew me and I started collecting the kind of injuries you get when guys 50% heavier than you run over you. But along the way I probably learned a few things about competition and teamwork. Learned to operate on signals called by a quarterback. Learned to stay busy, the basic rule being that if you knocked someone down, find someone else and knock them down. If you get knocked down, get back up and get back in the game. There were lessons in addition to the injuries. But thinking back, the main things I remember are that I was pressed into service and got injured.

There is the appreciation aspect, I'll give it that. Flying across country I saw a college football game between two unranked teams. One was much better than other. It was Syracuse that was pounding UConn. But I was nonetheless impressed with both teams. Great play calling on the Syracuse side led to some huge plays. But Uconn never gave up. There were a couple of plays where they could have given up touchdowns and they ran down the offensive player inside the 5 yard line. Even late in the game, they were not about to quit. Not even a little. So I got that too, the appreciation for a game that I hadn't played in 40 years and couldn't play now on a bet.

I had recently seen my mom. That was a surprise to me on many level. Given her recent health issues, I had thought that two weeks prior she had less than a 10% of survival. Either I was wrong or less than 10% is still more than 0% and that we enough. When she went into the hospital and we thought the end was near, my brother suggested that my sister didn't want my Mom off the ventilator for fear of what she might say when she got her voice back. To some degree he was right. Here was the story.

My sister pressed my Mom into going the bathroom. Mom repeatedly refused, but went. She broke her ankle in the process and that led to the whole near death experience with respiratory failure, kidney failure and pneumonia. In retrospect, the argument for going to teh bathroom was not entirely specious. If she didn't go, she risked a bladder infection. Which, it turned out, she had by the time the docs got all her blood work done. But the point was that when a 77 year old nurse who weighs in at over 15 stones says she ain't going to the bathroom, well, perhaps that is not the time to press. I know I'm the west coast guy who wasn't there, but I'm just talking big picture about pressing people against their will. Wills are put into people for a reason. Pushing against that will may make you feel like to won something, but quite often the person that got pushed is somehow broken after the experience. In my Mom's case it was literal, that bad ankle break that they still haven't fully repaired. All because she was pressed.

Seeing her and my Brother George at the same time was a good deal. George was there for the critical decision to remove the ventilator. That was a tough day emotionally for everyone. Those in the room and those thousands of miles away. We all thought the same thing, unplugging the ventilator was a death sentence. But Mom clearly indicated, three different times in fact, that she wanted the ventilator out. So with her being a smart lady, a nurse, someone who knew the score, no one pressed her this time. It was her call.

Next day George came back in just hoping she would be alive. She was. She was breathing on her own. And she was now able to talk. She insisted that she be released that very minute because she had tickets to the Musical Chicago. In Chicago. Huh, George thought, but he and my brother Neil did a chorus line number in the room to cheer her up. She was still insisting she be let go. She picked up the TV remote and starting trying to place phone calls. Then she started talking into the remote.

At this point my brother was re-evaluating his position on not pressing mom. Specifically, "get the docs! Put that ventilator back in! She is clearly out of her mind and in no condition to be making life of death decisions!"

Well turns out she was. The complications involved with being on the ventilator over 14 days also could have killed her. She knew that. And she knew how she was feeling and felt strong enough to breath on her own. Which she is now doing. She also lost about 40 pounds over the 4 weeks, which will also help when she gets ambulatory again. Part of the problem had to be the shear weight that was being placed on her ankle joints.

My brother told me the "day after the ventilator removal" story while we we walking to his car. Now that every thing seemed to be working out, it was a laugh out loud moment. It could have gone the other way, but it didn't. In fact this whole trip to visit Mom did go well. My brother picked my up at a local train station, gave me a ride over, knew what time we had to leave to make the return train and I made that fine. All in all, it was a seamless experience.

I often wonder if my brother realizes how unfucked up he has become over the years. Back in the days when he was the other way, things routinely went sideways. We would do a 90 minute round trip drive to a golf course only to find the course not only didn't have a tee time, it was no longer a golf course. I'd suggested but not pressed that he call ahead. He never did. So virtually every interaction had one event that went this way. Now things more often than not work out. And if not it is because I miss a detail like exactly what slot to park in so my car won't get towed.

I'm back home now. Spent a good portion of the day thinking about this issue of pressing. And thinking back to those years of playing football a sport I never really wanted to play and one that I thought only left me with memories of injuries. And how I could make sense of how that applied to the situation with my family over the years. I didn't have it all figured, but I had things to do, so I went out for my daily bike ride. Roads were a little wet after an early rain. but not some much that they were a problem. I was nearing the end of the ride when I ran into a traffic jam. One of those oversized hogs of a pick up truck was halfway into an intersection and blocking my bike lane. I slowed and waited for him to move, but he was snoozing and blocked the lane. I put out my hand to balance on the truck and then he shot forward leaving me to hammer into the asphalt pretty hard. I get up and start peddling to the next light when a car approaches from behind "Hey mister, something fell out of your pocket when you crashed" I though oops, there went the iPhone. "something yellow". Hrmm I'm puzzled then I see a guy running up the sidewalk with my tire irons in his hands as I thank him he says

"I tried to get them back to you, but you got up so fast..."


Life & Death | September 22, 2012

I heard from my brother that he was going to get a clear indication from my Mom this morning on just what she wanted to do. There was one more procedure that could maybe give her another couple weeks, but she had indicated that she didn't want that. Indicated it rather strongly three different times to the nurses this week.

But you know how these life and death decisions go. You don't want to be cavalier about them. So George was going to get the answer in person. He got it, same answer "No".

He took a breath and retreated and tried to screw up the courage to ask the follow up. Do you know that you probably are going to die if you refuse this.

My Mom is a lot of things, but she is no dummy. 145 IQ. Trained as a nurse. Has seen dozens, maybe hundreds of people die over the years professionally. She knows the drill better than anyone else in the room. She was adamant, do not do the procedure.

I react to this as you might expect. Calmly and cooly accepting that she is an adult and that her life and her will are in her hands. Intellectually, I'm happy with this. This is not a team of docs and family members wringing there hands over what she might want. Yo, she is there and lucid and expressing her will.

And off course I start crying and burbling like a 2 year old, because this is it, no more Mom. No more texts about tennis players. No more cooing over how cute my grand daughter is. No more Mom.

I'm not there in hospital. I'm 2500 miles away. I just saw her three weeks ago while she was fine and I was fine. I've seen her after a triple bypass and a kidney failure and a few more things. I don't need more hospital memories.

George says she seems to be trying to make her peace with every person that walks in the room.

I half avoid my cell phone because of what news might be there. I do my morning yoga. I get done and see I missed a call and have 5 texts. He was trying to give me a chance to abort the removal of life support, but Mom was so adamant that there was no need for input from her number 1 son. But appreciate George trying to reach out. Cause when this is done, I'm it. I go to the head of the line that I'd rather not be in. I'm the oldest living member of this line of humanity.

The thought that comes to mind is that I should surf. Odd right, not rush back to see Mom. Surf. Yep, that is how I am assembled. I text George "Tell mom I love her"...then follow that with "Even though that seems so inadequate a way to say thank you to the person who gave you life."

And that is what the surfing is about. I'd have never done any of this if I wasn't given the chance. I could have been aborted, abandoned, abolished along the way. But nope, I'm here and still on this ride. So the thought was, say thanks by making the day a celebration of what is good in this life. I know that is how I'd like my kids to say goodbye to me.

But the waves are ankle high. Not a surf day. No problem, we are flexible people. I go for a bike ride. I go for a swim.

After the swim, I remember the fight before I left home. I wanted to take over the family finances because I was sure I could stretch the money so we could eat every day. So I wasn't the guy stuck there looking at 5 hungry faces and feeling like a failure because I couldn't make food appear without money.

Mom's response to that exemplified the problem. On her next payday she went out and bought me new clothes. Probably spent half her paycheck on that. Clearly she didn't get it. I didn't want for me, I wanted for my brothers and sisters. I wasn't complaining that I was working and not able to spend my money, I was complaining that I was working and the kids were still going without food 3-4 days a week.

Granted, at the time I didn't get it either. I knew she didn't have the skills to manage money or do most of the Mom things that Mom's on TV seemed to know how to do automatically. But she did everything she could to keep the family together. Through the social services and everyone else that could have busted us up, she held it together. And this was her effort to hold it together, to keep me in the fold. She was, I'm sure, trying to say "I love you" in the way she knew. Maybe the way I'd have understood if I was a daughter. Instead that was the moment that I knew that if I stayed there it would be more of the same, near starvation for as long as I was there. So I left and George followed. Now there was the same amount of money for 5 people instead of 7. I thought I was doing good. This was back when I thought I was smarter than I am.

The net result of this memory is that I go clothes shopping after my swim. I then shift my thought to my brother.

When he was driving up to PA from Virginia he he was jammed in traffic caused by a traffic control guy who had no idea how to control traffic. He texts me "how do they get this guy to do this job?" I answer that its because "Guys like us, guys who could do this job right, are doing our jobs."

He goes on and listens to the radio and hear the DJ announcing all the traffic inn Red Lion. We both lived there a while. 3 cars in front of you at a traffic light is a legitimate news story.

Driving to the hospital this morning he looks over at the light. The driver next to him has curlers in her hair. Curlers! 1960 technology alive and well in our home town in 2012. He asks

"Bro, how is there are no Epic Poems written about our escape from this?" On that one, I have to admit he has me stumped.

I'm brewing beer now. The hops just went in. Normally the hops flll my nose and lift my spirits. They are doing that somewhat. But with all the stuff flowing out of my head today, well, the hops are having a tough battle.

It's been 8 hours since they unplugged her from life support.

You know how this end right? You don't need to keep reading do you?

Yeah, she has an oxygen mask on. She is breathing Ok on her own. She seems to be happy. She may not be here much longer, but she is here now. And she is going out on her own terms. Like I said before, she's no dummy.

Fictional Characters in Nonfictional Buildings

Blogging | September 20, 2012

It has recently come to my attention that fictional characters are inhabiting real buildings. I don’t know about you, but I find this objectionable. I mean they have to exist, these characters. And I’m ok with them passing through public buildings. Put them in the Madison Square Garden and have them watch a game. Send them through a tour of the National Gallery. This is fine. Millions of real people have been through these venue and shared them with equanamity. No blood, no foul, is what I’m saying here.

Sending them to college is where the problem starts. Just going to visit is fine, but are you going to give them a degree? What does that do to the people who got a real degree from that school? Four or more years of hard work on one hand. Does that balance a paragraph or two in a novel? I don’t think so.

I’ve built billions of dollars of buildings over my career. I build these building for real people. Now I’m hearing about this invasion of fictional characters just showing up and gallivanting through the building willy nilly! This does not the cockles of my heart warm. Oh, a chill it sends, I assure you.

Right now I’m in Alabama teaching my class for a week. What, I ask, just what is going on in my house while I’m gone. How many of these characters are running amok in my house? I paid half a million for that place. I pay a monthly security fee to an alarm company. But that protect me? Where are my property rights?

I can only think of one answer to this. I got to go put some smack down on some fiction writers.

Class Prep

Blogging | September 20, 2012

Other professors talk about “class prep” and we have it on our timecards. So I list it as something I do during work hours. But my work life is this. I teach. I travel, like I am now, to a class. That takes hundreds of hours a year. Then, thanks to our messed up travel system, I spend hundreds more writing travel orders and filing travel claims. There isn’t any time left for class prep per se. It all the kind of production experience that can turn one into a burn out. So that is why I need to do other things to prep. In my case, it is watching movies as much as anything. Without trying, I found three movies this weekend that involved professors. That was in no way the intended theme, it just worked out that way.

The first film up was an oldie that I do so love. Little Miss Sunshine. As kid characters go, I do enjoy Olive Hoover. She is the backwoods lass from New Mexico who gets in over her head in a beauty contest, but pulls through in the end. Not to win, but to make a statement about herself and her family.

The Professor in that one is a renowned Proust Scholar who attempts suicide. As failures go, failed suicide attempters are a cut above the rest. Then there is the teen age brother. His line early on “I hate everyone” is written as he now longer speaks by choice. When pressed on this, he underlines “everyone”. As a personal role model goes, this guy has a lot to offer.

As far as prepping for class goes, this was of value for frame of mind and dealing with adversity. One the road trip, nothing goes right, and the family just keeps going and rolling with the problems. Going into class thinking everything will be fine is nuts. A number of things will go wrong and I’ll have to roll with them as they pop up. Probably the key scene on that was the one where Greg Kinear was stopped by the cop with his dead father in the trunk of the van. He holds it together just long enough for his dad’s and his brother in laws porn magazines to fall out. The cop sees those and doesn’t check what is under the sheet. It is a well-played scene and a reminder that caving is not your only option. Play the scenes out and see if you have an out you didn’t see at the start.

Next up was the film “Luther”. I have to admit to only partially watching this, but what I did see was solid. The Fiennes guy who played Martin Luther did a fine job of selling the character. Sure the film over all was a “kill the Catholics” effort and that was as much as anything the thrust of man’s life as we know it. He ran across some of the same busts in the religion that I found. Basically the church running the indulgence Ponzi scheme and arguing that only followers of the Roman Pope make it to heaven.

The film was heavily biased and that is my teaching lesson here. It was a yellow film. I don’t need to do yellow teaching, even if I think that the subject matter is best treated by a few gallons of urine. Need to let the students figure that out. Those who are sharp will. Those who are ideologues in favor of the garbage in question will never be swayed. So there is no other rational approach. In spite of how good it feels to unload one’s bladder on a topic that could use that.

The third film also involved education, this time more explicitly. That film was “Back to School” and it featured Rodney Dangerfield. Not one that I thought I would have liked, but it was recommended by Hakeem Olajuwon. If it is good enough for an NBA center, it might be good enough for me. Turned out it was. Not a lot of depth to the film, but it had enough to stay with me.

The lesson on this one had to do with watching your people’s back and not throwing them under a bus. The main characters that stick together come out ahead and the back stabbers end up on the sidelines. Yes, it’s a cheesy moral tale, but I can see how it applies to an NBA player as that dynamic has to be huge on a big league team. With the money and the ego’s involved, the team player message is one I like to see Hakeem get behind via this film. He wasn’t pumping that aspect of it, but I suspect that is part of the attraction to the film.

And in my case that is exactly what I’m doing now. My coteacher is unprepared for class today and making a mess of the proceedings. I’m doing my darndest to keep my mouth shut and not “fix” all the errors real time. Sure the students are getting the short end of this stick, but on the upside, the coteach is coming at this from a populist point of view that will get him “points” on the end of class rating. And since that is what I put out as my personal goal for this year.

But good lord, this is a test for me.

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