Saturday, November 8, 2014

You've got To Have Friends...

I've never been one of those people who can make batches of new friends easily. I've always admired those people who can go into a new situation and genuinely and with deep affection come away with several new friends. I'm not shy, but I'm quiet and a little guarded and it takes me a bit of time to make friends. The difference has always been that when I do make friends they stay with me, in my heart or in real life, forever.

I was an awkward kid growing up with a very affable dad who was one of those people who could make friends at the drop of a hat; still does. Unfortunately I also had the influence of my my mom who is deeply skeptical of new people and maybe a little paranoid about their intentions. There was also the matter of her being an alcoholic with an erratic and unpredictable personality and I was always embarrassed and a little scared to bring friends over because I didn't know if they'd get the Dr. Jekyll or Dr. Hyde; .As I've grown older I've begun to think that the parents of some of my friends may have been worried about having their kids at my house for those same reasons.

All of this made me guarded and reserved. But what I did have going for me was my dad's genuine interest in getting to know people. I share a bit of his reporter's nature and I love letting people tell me about themselves. But there's also that other side too,  so while I'm really loyal and genuinely interested I also don't reach out to new people quickly. Living in Seattle hasn't helped. It's a reserved place and it's hard to get to know people in the best of circumstances.

I've gotten better over the years. Between meditation and aging and a need to connect I've gotten better at reaching out. I used to have intense "social anxiety" which the meditation and trying to work though it have softened. I think the friendships that I do have are good ones based on a bedrock of genuine affection, respect and loyalty.

As I look back over my life and places like Facebook, or Linked In I see just how many people I haven't had much contact with over the years. There are so many that I've sort of let slip away. The Hersh brothers with whom I spent some of the best years of my life running a summer camp, my high school friend Jack who was by my side for years. My friend Michelle whose hunkered down and started a whole new wonderful family; though I've managed to keep marginally in touch with her via Facebook over the years. And then there's my strange, amazingly talented friend Roger who through Facebook I've learned is an improv comedy and bi-lingual theater actor in Tokyo.

Then there are those I've had no contact with like Julie, my fiercely feminist friend whose couch I spent many a night sleeping on at UC Santa Cruz. I haven't spoken to her in 20 years but I've looked her up over the years and she seems to be happy with a young child and husband.

I don't quite know how I've drifted from those people. It's probably a combination of time and distance not to mention age. When you get up past 50 years go like weeks and you suddenly look at a calendar you realize that it's been 15 years since you said hi to someone rather than 15 days.

I have more recent friends for whom I make an effort keep close. Some have moved on geographically but  with all of them I try to keep in touch either IRL or via Facebook or texts. I don't mind looking at the calendar and seeing a few days have passed without contact but I don't want to see another 15 years having passed me buy.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sometimes Life is like a Sitcom

My dog decided to give me a small heart attack today. We're temporarily living in a fairly rural area right now. We live in a  neighborhood with cul-de-sacs and lots of houses, but it sits hard against acres and acres of woods. To add to this there are many loopy streets, and virtually no street lights. It can be confusing and dark.

I get up really early and let Harry, our dog, out to do his business. I usually close the door for a minute or two and he comes running in to get his breakfast as soon as I open it. Today is a Friday and I don't work so my wife did this routine before she left this morning. He was acting like he need to pee when I got up so I let him out. When I opened the door a few minutes later he didn't come running. In fact I called him and he didn't come running. A little odd, but not totally strange. I left the door open for a few more minutes and still no Harry.

 Now I start to get a little worried. I'm wearing sweats and I throw on a coat, no shirt, put on some sandals and grab a flashlight. I walk down the driveway and stand on the corner and call him; still no dog. Then I walk to one of the spots I take him for his walk which is a little woody area with a wooden school bus shelter. I stand there and call him and still nothing. Meanwhile I can hear the occasional car on the outer streets and visions of Harry getting hit come to mind. After walking in several directions I still have no sign of him and I'm getting really scared. It's dark, it's foggy, the streets are confusing and there's precedent for Harry wandering off in the past.

Several years ago, in the neighborhood we usually live in we left the front door open and Harry wandered off. Once we realized this, I went out looking for him. And just like one of those old Benji movies I met a string of people who had "just seen him going that direction." There was the gardening guy, the older couple, the meter reader and finally, 6 blocks later, a mom who smiled at me and told me that her kids had found him and were trying to find his home. Sure enough a block or two later I saw two little kids walking Harry with a makeshift rope leash. They walked up like out of a movie and said "hey mister. Is Harry your dog". They handed him over and cooed over him just like the last seen of a Disney movie . Byyyeee Harrrry!

So now I get into a car and just like an old episode of the Brady Bunch, I'm driving around at 5 miles an hour and yelling his name. After doing that for 10 minutes I finally give up and decide I'm going to call my wife. I'm standing on the porch and I give one last call which I'm sure won't lead to anything but I hear a distant jingle like maybe a dog collar and I yell again, the jingle gets louder and on my third call I see a blur of activity from the bushes down the street. It's Harry!!!!! He comes running in the house  and I'm so relieved I give him a second breakfast. I'm standing there with tears in my eyes telling him I'm glad he's okay and in his usually calm detached manner he stares at me like I'm nuts.



Friday, September 26, 2014

Yikes. I broke my kidneys

I've joked a bunch of times since I had my grand hospital drama 3 years ago that I broke myself by not seeing a doctor for so many years.  Having to have 7 teeth removed was a sign of that. But I've been very good with my health for the last 3 years and I hadn't thought much about being broken in a specific way until this week.

When I was in the hospital they saw signs of reduced kidney function which they've had me keeping an eye on for a while. My doctor hasn't really talked much about it so I haven't worried too much. My GFR(Glomular Filtration Rate) has been on the low side for several tests, but generally within the acceptable range. GFR is a test of how well the kidneys filter the blood. The normal range is 60-100. This last one was 56. So what that means is that my score is about half of the best score in the range

My last blood test 3 months ago was a little lower than that so I took another one last week. This one was also low which made the the lab automatically flag it.
I got a note from my doctor's PA basically saying don't freak out. This is NOT kidney failure and you can live a long time with this condition.The official diagnosis is Chronic Kidney Disease(CKD) I actually was initially not too worried, after all I've been in this range for at least 3 years. Since I hadn't seen a doctor for so many years I don't know how long my kidneys have been functioning like this. I don't really feel any symptoms with the exception of a little fatigue which I've been attributing to age until this point. But I don't have any kidney pain, issues with having to pee a lot at night(which I actually did have before my hospital visit)

But there's this thing called the Internet and it has a way of scaring a guy. Mostly what I read is encouraging. It's generally considered a chronic condition at this point. It's not kidney failure until the GFR reaches 30. Men in their 60's often have some level of CKD etc. But on the the other side  there's a heightened risk of Heart disease and diabetes.  I'm supposed to watch my diet and Blood Pressure which I've been doing for several years and they are fine. It didn't really hit me until one of the websites pointed out that a GFR under 60 shows about half of normal kidney function. That does freak me a little. That makes it very concrete. I had good kidneys once and now they're not; not by half.

I'm going to talk to my doctor in a couple of weeks about what to do and expect.  But for now I continue to exercise, watch my diet, take my BP meds, be careful and not freak out. I look at someone like my mom who is on oxygen 24/7 and I'm not even near that ballpark yet. I think if I'm careful I won't be there any time soon.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Attack of the Killer Squirrels

My wife Lisa's family lives in a very rural area of New Hampshire. The nearest big town is Keene, most famous for the location of the Robin Williams movie Jumanji. Her brother, aunt and mother all live on family property about a mile from each other and the nearest neighbors are about that far as well. The aunt and brother in-law live in fairly new houses that they built, but my mother in-law, Nancy, lives in a couple hundred year old farm that is mostly wood with a stone foundation. It's a huge rambler house with rickety old wooden stairs and several fireplaces and a wood stove that heat the place. There are a million little cracks and holes in the walls; in some cases you can actually see through to the outside.

We were there visiting for Christmas. We stayed at Nancy's(she goes by Pook) and then going up the hill for Christmas. Like I said the house is large and rustic. My mother in-law had some health problems a few years earlier and she isn't the tidiest person in the world. So there are usually books everywhere, dishes in the sink and writing projects on the table. This year there was a huge cage like thing on the kitchen table. It was a Have A Heart animal trap. When I asked what it was for I was told squirrels. I laughed because I assumed it was really for rats or mice. But Pook assured me it was for squirrels.

We had a really nice Christmas Eve up at my brother in-laws house. A winter storm was dumping a lot of snow and when got home we all rushed into the house. I heard the clawing and clicking before I even went to the dining table and saw a huge squirrel trapped in the cage. I assumed we were going to take it out and let it go but Pook wanted to wait until the next day to drive to another town. She said that they had to be relased more than a mile away or they'd come back. I didn't know if that was true, but I'm from California where we don't often trap squirrels so I kept my mouth shut.

I went into the living room and tried to  read but I kept hearing the squirrel trying to break out of it's cage. I went to bed but even up there I could hear Steve(I nicknamed the squirrel Steve McQueen who played a POW in the Great Escape). I also was certain I heard scratching in our room, so I slept with the covers up to my chin for protection;like I said I grew up in the suburbs in California.

The next day the roads were impassable and we were more or less snowed in. We ate breakfast in the drawing room with the squirrel scratching away. I went upstairs to the guestroom to read. When I opened the door I saw a bag of coffee that someone had given us as a gift laying on the floor with a huge hole in it and coffee all over the floor. Before I had time to do any detective work I heard a noise and looked up and saw another squirrel careening around the wooden ceiling beams, leaping from beam to beam, jumping to the wall and then coming toward me. It was hopped up on Caffeine and heading for me. In terror I  slammed the door and ran to get Lisa; I'm not equipped for fighting off deadly squirrels.

Lisa went around the outside and slid up one of the windows that could be reached from the side of the hill. After an hour we went in and the squirrel. was gone, presumably through the window. We shut the window and made sure there was no more food in our room.

After eating both lunch and dinner with Steve scratching away at his cage, Pook finally decided it was time to let Steve go. She went to her secret squirrel disembarkation place and came back resetting the trap. 

The next morning I woke up and didn't hear any noise from the trap. But as I went to get coffee I noticed something laying in the trap. There on the bottom of the cage was a dead squirrel. According to my brother in-law this was very unusual. We decided that this was the squirrel from the bedroom and the cause of death was caffeine overdose. 

I'm told that someone has finally squirrel proofed that house. Maybe I won't have to stay in a hotel the next time I visit.




Sunday, September 7, 2014

Earl's Monster

When my brother used to live in LA and I still lived in the Bay Area, I would usually take a road trip a couple of times a year to see him. It was about a 6 hour drive and generally a boring one so I occasionally I would get ride shares. This was before Craigslist so I'd either use San Francisco State's ride share board or the SF Bay Guardian(I tried the SF weekly once but I only got replies from people who wanted to know if they could pay for gas with drugs or sex).

It was a little harder to get to know someone back then without email,  maybe a phone call or two so it was always a crap shoot. There was the woman who refused to talk and winced any time I brought up any topic. There was the jolly stoner who would spend 20 minutes in the bathroom at rest stops and then got us lost in Compton trying to find his girlfriends apartment.

One trip I got a young woman in her early twenties. She seemed nice enough on the phone, but about an hour before the trip she called me and asked if she could bring her 3 year old son along. She had some story about her babysitter cancelling at the last minute, but I had the feeling this had been plan all along. The kid seemed okay, if a little hyper.

We were in a Honda Civic which had a nice big back seat. The boy, Earl, was strapped in in back, If there were any car seat rules at that time I was unaware of them, We'd been driving along for about an hour when Earl screamed. It was a loud, sort of jarring yell. The mom, Shelly, turned around to ask what was wrong. Earl was huddled in the corner, he wouldn't say what was wrong. She gave him a cookie and he calmed down.

Two hours later, I'd just bought them some hamburgers at a rest stop and Earl was sleeping away in the back seat. Earl suddenly woke up screaming again. This time he said, "There's a monster. There's a monster." He wouldn't stop so I pulled over somewhere on I5 in the middle of nowhere and Shelly and I made a big show out of looking at the back seat. Finally Shelly convinced him he'd been dreaming and he calmed down.

Five minutes before reaching Shelly's destination in West Wood Earl started screaming again. This time he wouldn't stop and they  arrived at their stop with Earl crying and Shelly feeling kind of embarrassed.

After a nice week of visiting my brother I left LA around Midnight and headed up I5. By 4 AM I was getting White Line Fever and decided to pull over at a rest stop and take a nap. The back seat was fairly big so I laid down and took a nap. I was in a deep sleep, but I suddenly started dreaming about something crawling on me. I startled awake and had the feeling that something had really been crawling on me. But then I convinced myself that I was just imagining that. I'd been reading Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas and probably had Hunter S Thompson's desert hallucinations in my mind.

3 days later I was washing and cleaning out the car. I'd pulled everything out, and was vacuuming the back seat, when I suddenly noticed something wedged in the seat. I thought it was one of Earl's toys, As I reached toward it, it suddenly moved. There, running across the seat was small green lizard. There were plenty of Lizards where I lived and this one must have burrowed in the car at some point; Earl Monster.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Quentin's Big Adventure

After a year of waiting I'm finally at the oral surgeon's office. I've battled 15 years of a dental and medical phobia, undergone two sinus surgeries advised by a previous oral surgeon, waited 7 weeks for this appointment and then an additonal 5 days because the doctor was sick for the first time in 13years on the originally scheduled day. We've scrambled through early morning rush hour traffic only to be told that there's a back up and I need to wait.

I'm here to get 6  teeth pulled because of the crippling phobia that I had previously had. I'm much better now and have seen many doctors and dentists in the last two years, but I still get very nervous, particularly before surgery. We're sitting in the empty waiting room. I'm holding it together but I'm nervous; my doctor calls it White Coat Syndrome. I get a burst of adrenaline in medical offices that jacks up my heart rate and blood pressure.

I'm sitting there trying to relax and we hear sobbing coming from down the hall. My first thought is it's like one of those old time comedy sketches where the patient hears screaming from down the hall but it's something like a cat's tail being squished. My second thought is that this is intense crying and something bad has happened to someone. Like maybe someone just found out they have oral cancer or something.

The receptionist turns to me and Lisa and says "Sorry. We've had a very dramatic morning here." She turns to the inner reception window as though she's about to try to head off the crying person coming down the hall, but the waiting room door bursts open and there's a sobbing woman.

This woman in her late 30's has a handful of tissue, her eyes are red and she's half sobbing half talking. "That's hard to watch." In my head I'm thinking what's hard to watch did someone just die or something?"He's only 10. This is awful."

I'm trying not to engage her. I'm the kind of person people just talk to and I'm really trying to put up my "The Doctor is Out" sign. I really don't want to hear any drama before I'm about to go under the knife myself. But she plunders on."They couldn't find a vein, they stabbed him 4 times and my son Quentin started screaming," more sobbing.

Lisa says "That's hard to watch. I'm sorry."

And the woman is off. She starts telling us the details of his surgery, how her 10 year old has an extra tooth in his palate and how they had already tried to take out the tooth but they took the wrong one...My brain latches onto that. At first I think she's talking about another doctor, but no, it's this one. My brain is about to overload here. I'm about to have 7 teeth pulled by a surgeon whose pulled out wrong teeth before and can't find deep veins, which I have. This must be some kind of demented cosmic joke. Put the hysterical lady in the same room with the recovering medical phobic.

She goes on and on. She starts to tell us how she has shallow roots and her dentist told her that her teeth could fall out at any moment. I think to myself please don't let that happen now because I'll never be able to come back to a dentist again.

She goes on and on until, mercifully, the nurse brings me in back. They're giving me gas and the doctor comes in and I'm pretty loose. I ask "How'd that kid Quentin do?" In my haze I think he gives me a strange look but he says "Aah he did good." Then I tell him about how hard it is for doctors to get a line in my arm and he seems  a little nervous. As I'm fading with the gas I count 3 tries before he gets a line in and says "Phew. I'm glad we got that in." My mind fades thinking of sore arms and screaming kids.

When I wake up in recovery the very first thing I remember seeing is a little old man in a wheel chair.  Wheeling out backwards in front of me. But a I focus I see it's not a little old man it's a kid; it's Quentin. I try to say something but my mouth is completely numb and my brain for words hasn't come back online yet. I'm thinking "Good job little buddy. You made it." Groggily I put my thumb up and smile. It was probably a pretty ghastly, bloody smile. At first the groggy kid looks confused. Who is the old guy smiling at him with bloody gauze pointing a thumb in the air. But as he gets wheeled out he perks up, smiles his bloody smile back at me and gives me a thumb up; brothers in arms(literally).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kids are hard.

Between being brand new with kids and having to work with the very wild Russian immigrants my first summer as camp counselor was wild. But nothing compared to some people. I noticed that there was one counselor, Tom, whose entire schedule seemed to consist of tree climbing. I thought this was just general laziness but during our first staff meeting he was called out on it by the assistant director, Flora who never got ruffled about anything.

"Hey man." He said sounding stoned, he always sounded stoned. "Trees are life and they're getting they're sharing life energy by climbing on trees."

Flora who was always patient replied "Well I get that but maybe you can limit the tree climbing to a few minutes when you have free time."

Tom closed his eyes "Hey man. I have to go where the energy tells me. I can't be a slave to schedules and rules." Flora's eyes went wide but she didn't say anything. I don't think it was a surprise to anyone when the Tom didn't show up the next Monday and there was a brand new counselor in charge of his group.

As exasperated as I was my group of Wild Russians, I didn't lose my composure. I can't say that of everyone. I was in the kitchen, taking a short break from my group to bake some cookies we'd mixed. There was a multi purpose room next to the kitchen and there was a little serving counter that let you look into the. I saw the group led by a guy named Dan whose co-counselor was Shelly. Like me she'd never worked with kids before, but she always seemed angry and intense. Their group was sitting in a small circle and being a little rowdy. Dan was off to the side helping tie a girl's shoes. Shelly was serving snack time. She'd given out crackers and cheese and was having the kids pass cups and she started to pour milk from carton. One of the kids kept taking the cups and throwing them around the circle.

. One of the crackers hit another kid in the forehead and she started to cry. I could see Shelly was visibly upset. I was about to help her but the timer went off on my cookies and I grabbed them out of the oven. I could hear Shelling telling this kid to stop and the kid just laughing. I put the cookies down and rounded the corner to help out. As I was doing this I heard a combination of gasps and laughter from the group. When I got into the room I saw the noisy kid covered with dripping white milk and Shelly holding an upside down carton; nobody was surprised when she didn't come back the next day.