Friday, July 15, 2016

Chicago vs. DC: Similar Neighborhoods Names

After living in Chicago for more than 10 years, I still get tripped up on the names of some of the neighborhoods here.  My confusion stems from the fact that I also lived in DC for 10 years and some of the neighborhood names there are similar to some of the ones in Chicago.

Lincoln Park, DC                  Lincoln Park, Chicago
When I first moved to DC, I lived on Capitol Hill in a hood called Lincoln Park. The largest park on The Hill, Pierre L'Enfant included it in his original 1791 plan for DC, intending it for public use and planning it to be the point from which all distances in North America would be measured, although it was not ultimately utilized for this purpose.  It's also been historically known as Lincoln Square.  It is the first pubic site to bear the former President's name.  When I lived there, the hood consisted mostly of young white couples who were parents to children and/or dogs, and some empty-nesters.  It was primarily residential with not much by way of shopping and restaurants

Chicago has both a Lincoln Park and a Lincoln Square.  We currently live in Lincoln Square and it took me the first year of living here to stop calling it Lincoln Park.  Lincoln Square is a cozy northside hood whose population mirrors that of Lincoln Park/Square in DC, but offers much more to do than just live in your home.  Row houses, single-family homes and some condos share space with bars, restaurants and shopping.  On the other hand, Lincoln Park in Chicago is one of the more affluent neighborhoods filled with established mature couples and families, and where a recent college grad will share a small, expensive apartment with 3 other people just so he/she can be in a predominantly white neighborhood that's loaded with bars.

In DC, I also lived in Logan Circle.  When I first moved to DC in 1995, Logan Circle was mostly a place for hookers and drug addicts.  The neighborhood was peppered with run down townhouses and abandoned garages and warehouses.  During my 10 years in that city (as well as since), Logan Circle has become was Lincoln Park in Chicago is.  As is usually the case, the gays moved into the blighted area and revitalized it.  Soon, straight women follow, then straight men, then couples, then families.  You can set your calendar by it.  Contrarily, Chicago has Logan Square even though the park from which the neighborhood gets its name is actually ovular and not square.  I lived in Logan Circle in DC and now I work in Logan Square in Chicago.

Logan Circle, DC                                                                               Logan Square, Chicago

I finally have the Lincoln Park/Square thing under control, but it's going to take a while to get the Logan Circle/Square thing managed.  But I'm getting there.

My brain's a mess.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Littering

Something that continues to surprise me when I see it happening: someone littering.  It always shocks me.  I guess I think of it as something children do that we eventually stop doing as adults because we know better.  And that's why it's so shocking - adults are the ones doing it.

When I see littering happen, I always audibly gasp.  I can't help it.  I feel like that 70's Keep America Beautiful commercial that showed the Native American chief on a hill strewn with litter and as he slowly turns to face the camera during a smog-ridden sunset, one solitary tear is streaming down his face.  Man, that was a good commercial!  Forty years later and I still remember it.  The interesting thing about that commercial was that the Native American was actually a Sicilian-born actor who changed his name to Iron Eyes Cody.   I guess he was a kind of a latter-day Rachel Dolezal.  Yet another wide-eyed childhood belief shattered to pieces.

I've always thought of tossing a lit cigarette as littering (and worse!) and even THAT surprises me when I see someone do it.  But hurling trash out of a car window is inexcusable.  I can be driving down the highway or a city street or a country road and then suddenly trash will fly from the windows of the automobile in front of me.  Or I could be walking down the street and someone ahead of me will just drop a gum wrapper or throw a receipt on the ground and just keep walking without missing a beat.  What gets me is that the act is so blatant.  It's as if the litterer believes that what he or she is doing is actually okay.

If I am driving and I see it, I blow my horn.  This serves the dual purpose of allowing me to vent my frustration as well as signal to the driver that, "yeah, that's right - I saw what you did."  And if I am walking and see it, I'll sometimes call after the person, "Excuse me you dropped something."  Sometimes they take it back but most of the time they ignore me.

When I see things like this occur, my mind immediately plays that scene in Steel Magnolias:
Truvy: Well, these thighs haven't gone out of the house without lycra on them since I was 14.
Clairee: You were brought up right.

And then I wonder if it really is just that simple?  Does it all just come down to the fact that my parents corrected that behavior in me as a child or at least taught me some responsibility, not to mention what it is to respect yourself and those around you?  Because that's all littering is - a complete disrespect of yourself and those around you.

Littering is a completely selfish act.  And in a time when the world is already full of selfies, overblown egos, and an entitled generation, the last thing we need is discarded trash piling up on top of it all.


Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Summer of 1976

The summer of 1976 was a big deal for everyone, including my family and me.

Big for everyone because of the Bicentennial.  America was celebrating 200 years of independence from British rule.  You couldn't swing a cat without hitting the American flag.  It seemed to be a year-long celebration of everything that meant anything to Americans.

Big for my family because of events that took place that summer.  My mom's sister, Aunt Kay, and her family were back in Maryland visiting from California.  Back then, traveling across the country was a very big deal - not like today where you can fly to L.A. for the weekend.  Aunt Kay, Uncle Bill and cousin Jeff, who was just a month younger than I, only came back to the east coast every 4 or 5 years.  The last time they were home was in 1972.  Jeff and I were both 6 years old.  But in 1976, we were 10 and were able to develop a real friendship and connection.

Aunt Kay being back also meant that all of Mom's siblings were in one location at the same time.  Her father, Pop, had died 6 years earlier, but the family took advantage of geography and posed for some family pictures in Granny's back yard.  I love this picture of them.  It's a time capsule.  This is the image I have of them in my head all the time, and will be how I remember them forever.  Mom is in the back row on the left.

I can guess how precious these photos are to them.  Three years later, Aunt Jeannie would die from complications with her heart.

Aunt Kay and her family would return to California the end of that summer, but would move back to Maryland within the next year.  Jeff and I became good friends through our teen years.  I was even Best Man in his first wedding.  But we'd eventually drift apart as he entered the navy and I went on to college.  And In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, Jeff and I would be the only ones of our generation to inherit the bad heart gene.  We'd both end up having heart attacks when we got older.

And sometime during the summer of 1976, Dad was honored by being selected as the Allegany & Garrett Counties Volunteer Firefighter of the Year for the state of Maryland.  Dad had joined the Clarysville Volunteer Fire Department a few years earlier and had held several positions within the department, including being Chief for several years.  That's Dad in the picture below in his stylish dark blue leisure suit.

Against her wishes, Dad signed Mom up to join the Ladies Auxiliary.  Mom (being Mom) cried the night before she had to go to the first meeting.  Dad forced her to get out of the house and do something - anything - other than being a wife and mother, which was all Mom ever wanted to be in life.  But over time, she blossomed.  They developed friends and a real sense of community among the other "firemen families".  Both Dad and Mom were dedicated to the success of the organization.  We'd attend socials, picnics, conventions, fundraisers, chicken dinners, holiday parties...   I even sang at one or two of those functions.

And my sister Kim was crowned Clarysville Volunteer Fire Queen the same year Dad won his award.  I think they both actually rode in local parades together that whole summer.

And speaking of Queens, the summer of 1976 would be the year Granny chartered a bus and the entire family went to DC for the day, where I would see a visiting Queen Elizabeth II.  It would be my first time in DC, and I certainly didn't know I would live there for 10 years during my 30's.  Our huge entourage hit all the big sites: Capitol, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Washington Monument.  But I especially remember the actual bus ride down and back.  Back then, it took about 3.5 to 4 hours to ride from Frostburg to DC.  So there was lots of singing, lots of laughing, lots of snacks moving around the bus.  I remember Mom being sad because Dad couldn't get the day off work to go with us; he was the only person in the whole family who wasn't on the bus.  I'm sure that was hard on both my folks.

The summer of 1976 was also the last summer of Camp, but certainly not the last summer of big family get-togethers.  Those would thankfully continue for years to come.

The Summer of 1976.  It was a big deal for everyone and somewhat of a turning point in my life.  I remember it being a really fun summer, and carefree as all summers were for kids back then.



Monday, July 04, 2016

Happy 240th, America!

July 4, 2016 marks the official 240th birthday of the United States of America.

I am old enough to remember its 200th birthday, being 10 years old in 1976 during the Bicentennial.  It was a year full of fireworks, U.S. history, and a sense of renewed hope, faith, and pride in America:  Watergate was behind us, there was a huge train that everyone needed to see, and I had my first experience visiting Washington, DC - a city in which I would unknowingly live another 20 years into the future.

Life may not have necessarily been simpler in 1976, but it certainly was cheaper:
  • Gas per gallon:  $0.59
  • First class postage stamp:  $0.13
  • New house:  $48,000 (national average)
  • Income per year: $16,000 (national average)
  • Monthly rent: $220 (national average)
And from the Millennial "What the hell is that?" Department:
  • Polaroid camera:  $28
  • Zenith 25" Color TV:  $599
  • CB Radio:  $147
And in other news:
  • Unemployment Rate: 8.5%
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computers
  • The first laser printer was created by IBM
  • VHS is introduced to compete with Betamax
  • In New York City, the "Son of Sam" pulls a gun and begins a series of attacks that terrorized the city for the next year
  • The first $2.00 bill is issues
  • Viking 1 and Viking 2 landed on Mars
  • Bruce Jenner won the decathlon in The Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada
  • The Winter Olympic Games are held in Innsbruck, Austria
  • Fidel Castro became the President of Cuba
Popular Films
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • All The President's Men
  • The Omen
  • Taxi Driver
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Rocky
Popular Musicians
  • Bay City Rollers
  • Elton John
  • Barry Manilow
  • Diana Ross
  • Paul Simon
  • The Four Seasons
  • Queen
  • ABBA





Thursday, June 30, 2016

Immigration

With Independence Day just around the corner, I am pausing to think about what it is to be an American today.  When the time came in 12th grade English class for me and my classmates to register to vote, I needed to chose a political party in which to throw my support.

At the time, I remember asking Mom which one I should choose.  She told me which party she and Dad belonged to, but told me to find my own path.  So since 1984 and for the past 32 years, I have been a solid-footed Democrat and have never once voted outside my party of choice.

Why did I choose - and for that matter remain - Democrat, one might ask?
  • Obviously, I believe in civil rights and equality for every tax paying citizen in this country, including the rights to life, liberty and the ability to pursue and live your happiness as you see fit as long as it reasonably does not physically or mentally cause pain to someone else; 
  • I believe in pay equality, increasing the minimum wage slightly, reforming our criminal justice system, and gun safety and regulation (despite what Fox News reports, Democrats DO NOT WANT TO TAKE GUNS AWAY, we simply want to create some rules around how they are purchased); 
  • I support public education, abolishing the death penalty, and Wall Street reform; 
  • I believe in universal healthcare, expanding Social Security, and fighting climate change; 
  • I believe in congressional term limits, decriminalizing marijuana and a woman's right to choose. 
  • And while I'm at it, I'll even toss in two of my own ideas: 1) that if people can rent their houses and their cars, they should be able to rent their bodies, so I also believe in decriminalizing prostitution, too, and 2) I think the Presidency should be just one 6-year term with no chance for re-election so that the administration can focus on issues and not waste time and money on what amounts to a popularity contest.
But the one thing, the ONLY thing on the Democratic agenda that I simply cannot support is immigration reform.  I cannot defend the idea that we should reward citizenship to people who have entered this country illegally and perhaps chose to create families under the pretense that their American-born children would solidify their places as American citizens.  I can't hold up the idea that it's then okay for those people to then demand that this country treat them better, that is demanding not to be exploited while being hypocritical in taking advantage of what this country as to offer.

Of course I understand the desire, the need, the desperation of leaving a horrible living situation in hopes of something better.  And I applaud out loud for the millions of people who have come to this country without knowing for sure what lay ahead, not to mention the treacherous and most-often perilous methods used to get here from there.  If you read my blog then you know that I, myself, am not too far removed from immigrant relatives - all of whom came to this country as documented immigrants and who worked hard in order to gain their U.S. citizenship.  I mean, hell, we are a nation created by immigration.  And while I do believe we should never close our borders to people who are seeking a new and hopefully better life in America, I whole-heartedly believe that those who do come to the U.S. go through the proper procedures and channels in order to become citizens of our country.

When it boils down to it, I guess I simply do not believe we should reward people - any people - who blatantly break the law.  This is not a U.S. custom and I am just too much of a rule-follower to support the idea of granting something to someone who doesn't deserve it or who hasn't taken the proper steps needed in order to gain what they want.  Especially considering that the steps are not simple yet tough.  They take time, dedication and a deep desire to want to be legally included in our country.

Otherwise, I remain a die-hard Democrat and that is how I will be voting this November.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Global Online Enrollment System

The GOES Logo
Let's file this one under "Things That Don't Work The Way They Are Supposed To".

When the security lines in airports were starting to turn into 2- and 3-hour waiting lines, Kevin and I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and sign up for TSA precheck with the U.S. Customs and Borders Protection ("USCBP") by using their Global Online Enrollment System ("GOES").  It seemed easy enough:  pay a non-refundable $100 and complete a fairly easy online application.  The website states that the process will take 4-6 weeks.  Notice the organization's logo.  I think you will eventually agree that it's - at the very least - amusing.

At almost exactly the same time, Kevin and I submitted our online applications on April 21, 2016.  Within 10 days, Kevin had received notification that his application had been accepted and he would need to apply in-person at the nearest center, which happened to be at O'Hare Airport in Chicago.  We waited a few more days for me to receive the same notification, but since Kevin had a small window of time, he scheduled his interview and was accepted into the program.  No more long security lines for him.

We figured that mine would come within a few more days, since we had applied at the same time.  Four weeks passed.  Then five.  Then six.  My account was still showing "Pending Review".   Kevin's parents both thought that signing up through USCBP was a good idea, so after Kevin was accepted, they both applied.  And they both got interviews and they both got accepted.  Meanwhile, my account was still showing "Pending Review".

I tried calling any number I could find online.  There is no contact information on the GOES website.  I found what I thought was a customer service phone number, but when dialed, the phone number would connect, not ring, and then disconnect.  While Kevin's parents were at Dulles Airport for their interviews, they inquired on my behalf for a phone number to call.  USCBP gave them the same number I had been calling to no avail.  But it at least confirmed that I was calling the correct number.

So at six weeks + one day, I sat down and dialed the number only to receive the same disconnect.  This time, I decided to just guerrilla the line and keep calling until something different happened or someone answered.  It took 45 minutes of me robo-dialing but the number finally connected.  A recording came on welcoming to the USCBP and placing my call in queue.  I was caller number 15.  I then proceeded to listen to the more horrible hold music imaginable for the next 90 minutes, with the music being occasionally interrupted to let me know where I was in the queue.  Eventually, a real live breathing person came on the line.

Granted he was friendly enough.  I told him my situation, he looked over my record, and admitted to me that there was nothing flagging my application and it looked to him that I "had been forgotten about."  Lovely.  He said he would send my application over for review as well as flag it for expedited service.  He then instructed me that if I didn't hear anything within the next two weeks, to reach out to him.  He emailed me those instructions as well.


So guess what happens?  Two more weeks passed and my online account still reflected "Pending Review".  So as instructed, I sent a return email informing the USCBP that it had now been over 8 weeks (almost 9) and my account status had not changed and very nicely sought assistance.  Not one to trust just one form of communication, I again sat and robo-called the customer service number I had called before.  This time, it only took about 15 minutes, and I was caller number 8.  So I'm getting better at this.

After about 30 minutes, a representative comes on the line - a different man than before.  Once again, I recounted my story to him and told him what I had done up to this point.  He told me I shouldn't have done that - that being sent an inquiring email.  By doing this, he said, I removed myself from the researcher's queue.  Despite telling him that I had been INSTRUCTED by USCBP to do this very thing, he said I had been instructed poorly.

Picture it:  me, at my desk at work, phone on speaker, trying to stay calm, face red, blood pressure elevating...

Dealing with incompetence has never been my strong suit.  But I remained amazingly calm and asked the representative to understand my frustration.  His response was that I must have just gotten a researcher who is putting me through the grind and checking my background.  I asked what kind of background checks could possibly take 9 weeks to complete?

Let me say to you, dear reader, what I said to the representative:  
There is absolutely nothing in my background that would hint or suggest 
that I am any kind of threat to national and/or international security.  
The last driving citation I received was in 1986 
for driving 70 in a 55 zone.  I argued the ticket because 
my Honda would begin to shake and rattle when I hit 60.  
Ergo, I never drove above 60.  

So for the sake of comparison let's say, I can walk into any gun shop  in 'Murica and be cleared instantly to purchase a gun.  Any gun.  Any gun at all.  But even if I am not cleared instantly and the FBI has to perform the background check, the results take only 72 hours.  That means I can be approved to buy a gun 21 times faster than it takes - so far - to be processed for TSA pre-check.  Here's another comparison:  it took me exactly 10 days to obtain my U.S. Passport, the Federal document that proves I am a U.S. citizen.

The representative said he would resend my application over and, again, flag it for expedited service, which I honestly have no idea what that means.  Our original plan was that both Kevin and I would have clearance and try it out for a wedding we flew to Virginia for over Memorial Day weekend.  At this point, we hope that I will have clearance by the time we fly to Virginia for July 4th Weekend.  But by all means, we REALLY want me to have clearance by the time of our next international flight the end of August.

But it's not looking good.  "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?', indeed.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Alzheimer's Everywhere

Today, an employee came to my office to talk. I closed the door, she sat down, and told me her husband has Alzheimer's.  She's 70; he's 82.  He still lives at home with her and she is his primary caregiver.  She has someone come to the house to sit with him so she can work a few days a week "just for the break", as she put it.  But it is getting to a point where she feels she will need to take the inevitable next step because he's becoming more than she can handle.  Her guilt, she said, is mostly what is preventing her from doing what she said she knows she has to do.  And yet she has no idea why she feels guilty.

She caught him the other night, standing on a chair in the kitchen trying to turn off the ceiling fan while the blade was spinning.  She yelled at him to get down.  He yelled back at her to leave him alone because he needed to fix it.  She said there was nothing broken and for him to get down before he fell down.  They struggled with the chair.  He hit her.  She cried.  And she knew this was no longer her husband.

Mom and Dad, May 2016
Initially she came to me to ask about potential leave options for when she would need to make the dreaded next step.  After we worked all that out, I decided to share with her my parents' story.

I told her about Dad who developed this same disease 5 or so years ago and how my mother had to eventually make those same dreaded decisions.  I told her about Mom's commitment to Dad, and I told her what I have said to Mom many times:
The vows you took were to 'love, honor and cherish' your husband 'in sickness and in health'.  You did not vow to take care of him; you vowed to stick by him, be his advocate, see him through the ordeal, support him, but certainly not to do it all yourself.  There will come a time when you will realize that someone must be able to do a better job than you.  Accept that it's not your failure.  It's being realistic, fair, brave, and devoted to his care.
I told her that she needed to take care of herself first.  And that for selfish reasons, it's not fair to her kids for both she and her husband to be in failing health.  As I spoke to her, she would smile and nod.  She cried a few times and said that everything I was saying to her was exactly what her daughter has been saying to her as well.  And I could only understand how conflicted and troubled she felt because I see Mom continue to go through it.  Realizing that something is beyond your control, regardless of what that something is, takes incredible self-realization, confidence, and acceptance.

Talking with her made me miss being with my parents - both of whom have birthdays this month.  So when our meeting ended and the woman asked me if it was okay to hug me before she left my office, I was grateful for the opportunity.

When she left, I closed my door and cried for a few minutes.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

We Will Always Rise

I was driving home from work today, listening to All Things Considered on NPR - you know, like I do - and I was listening to Ari Shapiro interviewing Eddie Meltzer in Orlando.  Eddie had been in PULSE that night, but left early to get some food, then went home.  He awoke to the news.

Eddie had spent the last few days acting as an ad hoc translator for families who had lost a child, but did not speak English.  The majority of the victims were Puerto Rican: children born in the U.S. to Spanish-speaking parents.  The stories Eddie told about the grieving families, the disbelief, the shock, were heart-wrenching.

But it was what Eddie said at the end of the interview.  He talked about calling up a friend who had also been at PULSE and asking him when they would go out for martinis again.  Ari jokingly questioned his sanity, and Eddie responded with this, which I think is the best and most eloquent encapsulation of who we are as gay men, and how despite the world's efforts to take us down time and time and time again, we will always rise:
“I’m just not going to subscribe to fear.  We are a strong community.  (You know) we’re gay men; we live in a world where we get a lot of hate, we take a lot of hate. And we know how the world feels about us.  And we’re strong people because we live in a world that was not made for us. And if tomorrow somebody took over this country and said, ‘we’re going to kill all the gays’, I will be the first one in that square saying, ‘shoot me’ with my big flag all over the place.  I would rather die for what I stand for.  You can’t kill me; I’m an idea.  I’m timeless.” 
We will always rise.  



Monday, June 13, 2016

My Lovely Sinus Infection

For the past 8 or 9 years, I've been developing sinus infections from air travel. With literally billions of people traveling by air every year now, researchers are finally starting to gather and publish more data about the health risks associated with airplane travel. In terms of the common cold, it is now well-accepted that acute respiratory infections are frequently experienced after air travel. Studies have found a high prevalence and wide array of respiratory viruses in people who have recently traveled. 

My sinus problems have ranged from slight dripping in the back of my throat to clogged ears to perforated eardrums.  Trust me, it's no fun when your ear drums burst while your plane is descending.  Sometimes these infections and problems have healed on their own, but most often times I've needed to see my doctor for an antibiotic.  For awhile, I used a nasal rinse to help me avoid sinus problems and it seemed to work.  But then I got lazy and stopped using it.

I recently caught what is undoubtedly the worst sinus infection of my life.  On May 26th, we had flown from Chicago to DC to attend a friend's wedding.  Flew on Thursday night, and by Sunday morning, I was starting to feel the familiar problems:  sniffles, sore throat, dripping sinuses.  Knowing we were flying back to Chicago the following day, I stopped into CVS to get a decongestant to hopefully ward off the congestion.  No such luck.  By the time our plan landed in Chicago on Monday night, both of my ears were completely clogged.  But I decided to tough it out.

I kept taking the decongestant and added a nasal spray to the mix.  By the end of the week, my face was swollen from the sinus infection, my nose was clogged and only one ear had "popped" since landing 5 days prior.  I now needed professional intervention.  

I visited a doctor in my usual physician's practice who prescribed me Azithromycin, or Zpak.  I was given a 5-day Rx, but after Day 3, there were no changes plus my face was in great pain.  I couldn't even touch the skin, it was too sensitive.  So I emailed my doctor who then prescribed a steroid for the pain.  So for about a week or so, I was on Zpak, a Prednisone, an OTC decongestant, Flonase, a nasal rinse, and sat over top of a steaming pot of water with my head covered in a towel every night.  

But this wasn't the worst of it.

The absolute worst part of this whole thing was the fact that I could smell the infection inside my body.  Perhaps because it's in my sinuses, I could actually smell inside myself.  And the smell ain't good - I could only equate the smell to sewer gas.  The smell was constant, but when I sniffled, the smell intensified.  It was unbelievable to me that others could not smell it or that it was not coming out through my breath, but I'd been assured that the odor was completely contained inside my head.

THIS IS THE MOST GROSSEST THING EVER!

I can handle the drippy nose and the clogged ears.  I can deal with the sore throat and headache.  I'll live with the feeling of nausea from the dripping and the acid reflux from swallowing bile.  I'll work around the sensitive skin and general overall malaise.  And I'll figure out how to handle the chronic constipation caused by taking a combination of antibiotics and steroids.  But constantly smelling the equivalent of an open sewer line is simply unacceptable.  And there's no escaping it.  It's always there - at least until the infection is gone.  Out of the many, many sinus infections I have ever had, this is the first time I can smell it.  And it's way stank.

So today is Day 16 of this endeavor and I am no longer on any medications.  Perhaps the sinus infection is still in there, perhaps it's gone and I now just have allergies, perhaps I'm losing my mind.  Whatever the case, papa ain't happy and I am no fun to live with.  Kevin has been his usual supportive, loving, wonderful self.  And I admit I am not the world's best patient.  So hopefully something clears up before we fly again over the July 4th holiday.

Now accepting suggestions for home remedies...


Monday, June 06, 2016

Grandmothers

When I was young, I spent most Friday nights (and many Saturday nights) at my Granny's house.  I loved going to her house.  Mostly just the two of us, our nights would be spent with me watching TV while she read or crocheted in her huge rocking chair.  Friday night TV in the late 70s/early 80s consisted of Donny and Marie, The Incredible Hulk, The Rockford Files, The Dukes of Hazzard, and later, the original Dallas and Falcon Crest.  A real treat would be when Granny would send me to the local store to get a large vanilla ice cream cone for her and a small plain pizza for me.  Together, they would cost a little less than $5.  We mostly would do this just in the summer, though.  But without fail, she always drank a Diet 7UP and I got to drink a whole bottle of Pepsi by myself. It was, in short, my nirvana.

This was our typical Friday night unless my Aunt Linda and Aunt Mary Lou would pop in to visit.  When that happened, the 4 of us would play either Chinese Checkers, which Aunt Mary Lou nicknamed Ping-Ping, or Aggravation, which Aunt Mary Lou nicknamed Peck-Peck.  When it came to choose which to play, Aunt Linda would ask me if I wanted to play with my Pinger or my Pecker.  They also taught me how to play craps with dice.  I credit my aunts with teaching me the art of the double entendre, as well helping to cultivate my dirty mind.

On Friday nights, I would fall asleep on the couch, usually before "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" ended (Granny never missed an episode).  I'd wake up early Saturday morning and turn on the TV to Channel 9 to watch the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, then flip to Channel 7 to watch the Krofft Supershow.  Granny would eventually roll out of bed and we would eat breakfast together.
We'd talk a lot about her childhood; she'd told me the same story about her dog Beans riding on the footboard of the car and popping up in church about a million times.  We enjoyed each other's company.  She liked having someone around and I liked being anywhere but home, where I got lost among my brothers and sister.  At Granny's, I mostly just watched TV or colored.  I'd walk to the post office for her or pick up stuff from the local store.  I'd also water her plants, and dust and vacuum her living room.  Every Saturday.  But mostly, I was just company for her.

In those days, Granny was in her late 60's to early 70's, about the same age as my Mom is today.  Granny was an old woman in my eyes back then, and I wonder if my nieces and nephews view my Mom like that today.  The relationship they have with my Mom - whom they called Meemaw when they were younger but have since shortened it to just "Meems" now that they are in their late teens and early 20s - is very different than my relationship with Granny.  They tease and cajole with Mom, which I never would have done with Granny.  They treat Mom's house as if it's theirs, getting into the fridge or opening up snacks; whereas I felt like I needed to ask for permission or wait to be invited before I could do anything like that. Their relationship with Mom is much more casual - and I'm sure she prefers it that way.

The three youngest of our nieces and nephews stop in to see "Meems" almost regularly.  The kids mostly sit at the dining room table and talk with Mom and each other, or make themselves something to eat, or go down in the living room and hang out, play video games or watch TV.  Mom  - like Granny - likes the company, and she likes the fact that the kids have someplace they feel they can go to just hangout.  She always has food and snacks and sodas at the house for them.

My hope is that they cherish this time with my Mom.  I knew back then that the time I was spending with Granny was special, so I hope the kids today understand what it means to spend time with their grandmother.  They clearly get a kick out of her.  And she provides a safe place for them where they also bring friends and dates to hang out.  It was no secret that I was Granny's "favorite", but I think it's only because I voluntarily spent time with her.  Of her 15 grandchildren, I was the only one who would stay at her house over night, and I always insisted that she be included in as much as possible when we did things as a family.  The one thing I hate is that I drifted away from her a bit once I graduated high school and developed a social life.  But gladly, that has not seemed to happen with my nieces and nephews - in fact, quite the opposite.  I love that they have not outgrown my Mom, that it's cool for them to hang with her and stay at her house, even though some of them have graduated high school and college by now.

Mom and Granny are very different grandmothers, and I think it's their grandchildren who helped shape them into their eventual roles.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Eckhart Square Circle

When I was little, I attended a few events in a small, wooden cabin back home.  The unassuming cabin was painted white, inside and out, and decorated with stuffed heads of wildlife and black and white photos of current and former members.

My grandfather, Charles Gilbert "Gib" Rase (we called him "Pop") was a member, as was my dad and many uncles; their faces appearing now and then in those photographs.  Pop is in the photo at right - back row, far left - about to be kissed on the head by a deer.  I used to know the names of the other men, but I don't recall them anymore.
On a side note, one of my two middle names is Charles, named after Pop.  I sometimes wish my parents' would have nicknamed me after him.  I think Gib is a cool name.  And he and I apparently share dispositions.  I mean, look at him in that photo.  He just can't even.
The little white cabin was the home of the Eckhart Square Circle Club, an outdoor and rifleman's club which was part of the larger Western Maryland Outdoor Life Federation Sportsmen Association in the Cumberland, MD area, which spawned several "units" or chapters throughout Washington, Allegany and Garrett Counties.  The Eckhart Chapter was founded by George Walters in 1937.

George and Pop were lifelong friends.  When Pop was at home, dying of cancer, George visited him every day - every day - and would sit and talk to him.  Sometimes, Pop wouldn't even look at him, but George came every day, sat with him, talked to him, and sometimes prayed with and for him.  George and  his wife, Elizabeth, remained close with Granny long after Pop's death in 1971.  George would pick Granny up every Saturday night and take her to church.  Likewise, George, Elizabeth, and Annie Groeter (Granny's aunt - married to her mother's brother John), would get together most Friday nights and play pinochle.  They mostly came to Granny's house; I would sit in the living room and watch TV.  Occasionally I would go out to the kitchen and George always tried to explain the game to me.  He was one of the kindest, friendliest men I've ever known.  I remember him always with a smile on his face.

The Square Circle club members held regular quarterly meetings beginning Sunday, October 2, 1938 at McMurdo's Garage in Clarysville, MD.  It was relocated to a small building on Frog Hollow (now Piney Mountain Road) in 1939.  Each meeting was opened with the recital of the club's creed:
I give my pledge as an American to save and faithfully to defend from waste the natural resources of my country - its soil and minerals, its forests, waters and wildlife.
The club's first slate of officers was elected on January 14, 1939.  Not happy with meeting in a garage, work began on building the new clubhouse the week of June 3, 1939 (three weeks before my dad was born).  The clubhouse was built by its members and stood about 500 feet from the entrance to Piney Mountain Road from US Route 40.  The new clubhouse was completed before the end of the calendar year.  An indoor rifle shooting contest was one of its first events, held December 6-7, 1939.

The club's 3rd Anniversary banquet was held on January 29, 1940.  The newspaper article about this event is shown at right.  I was struck by the evening's planned entertainment:  a German band, a boxing match, and not just A black-face artist but THE black-face artist in the area.

The club was active in conservation and ecology projects.  Objectives of the club were to protect the interests of sportsmen in legislation of licenses, seasons, limits, etc.  They planted thousands of trees and shrubs to provide feed and cover for game and to protect against soil erosion.  I could have, quite possibly, been a member myself as I support what the organization was all about: gun safety and fairness to hunters.  This club was, for all intents and purposes, very popular and necessary in its day, which lasted about 40 years.  By March 1975, it was the last club of its kind in the United States. per Charles Garner, Inland Division of the National Resources Police, who spoke at the club's 1975 induction of officers, which would be its last.  I'm not sure when the club formally disbanded, but I would expect that it's demise coincided with George Walters' death in 1977.

The clubhouse building is still standing, but in an almost-unrecognizable form.  It was sold to someone who renovated it and turned it into a private residence.  If you remember the building, you'll see traces of the old clubhouse.  But otherwise, you might drive right passed it.

So why am I writing about this?  Because I couldn't find ANYTHING on the internet - the whole wide internet - about this club and the building I remember so well; no articles and no images.  To share the information that I have, I needed to join a newspaper archive website and research old newspapers to piece together the Square Circle's history.  And of course, I relied on my fuzzy memory.  This place and its members were an important part of my family history.  My family attended parties at the cabin.  At the age of 7, I attended Uncle Bill and Aunt Susie's 25th wedding anniversary party there in 1973.

And as savvy and informed as we think we all are, it raises the question that despite everything we think we know and how easy it is to access information, how many small organizations just like the Square Circle are completely unaccounted for in the world's virtual encyclopedia.  Once my generation dies out, which is not in the far too distant future, this club and its clubhouse will cease to exist, even in a living person's memory.  So I wanted to put something out there on the internet and encourage others to do the same.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Troutman Vineyards and Winery

So I'm just driving down Route 30 across Ohio - you know, like you do - minding my own business and listening to NPR talk about who should be using which public restroom, when I come across a sign along the side of the road that states "Troutman Vineyards - 3 Miles" with an arrow pointing to take the next right turn.  Naturally, I slammed on the brakes.

First of all, it's rare to see my last name printed on anything other than my checks and utility bills.  Second, the mere thought that my last name is associated with a vineyard is just too good to be true.  And C) the actual fact that such a place exists and that it is within meet yards from where I am,  traveling on an unplanned route across one of the most non-scenic states in the country was . . . well, just short of a miracle.

So I made the next right turn and drove down some back country roads to Route 3, hung a left, and lo and behold a few miles down on the left sat Troutman Vineyards and Winery.  And they closed 15 minutes ago.  So I continued on my journey, but chose to drive the same route back to Chicago for the sole purpose of stopping at the Winery when it was open - which I did and it was exactly one week later.

You can review their website for all the information, but suffice is to say that it's an interesting place with a colorful past.  The store of the Winery is located in the farms old chicken coop, which I thought was pretty fun.  Their website doesn't have a store, but they do sell items.  I bought a bottle of wine, a tee shirt, and 4 glasses.  And they gave me a bag of corks, perhaps because of my surname.  I kept a glass and shipped one to my 3 siblings, along with a few corks to give to their kids.  I probably should have purchased at least two bottles of wine because I'm not sure if I want to open the one that I did buy.  And since the Winery does not ship out of state, its hard to say when I will acquire another bottle, if ever.

And now for the big question:  Are the Troutmans from the Vineyard any relation to me?  The short answer is Probably Yes, but very distantly.  I didn't actually get to meet any Troutmans during my visit, but I looked on their website for some history and the only information they provide is about a "Johannes Trautmann who immigrated to the colonies in 1748" from Schriesheim, Germany.

So two things here:
1)  No Trautmanns came to America in 1748.  Trust me when I say this.  I have spent the past 16 years researching the Trautmann/Troutman lineage in America and I know exactly when they all came over.  There was a Johannes Trautmann born in 1713 is Schriesheim who came to America in 1738 aboard the ship Robert and Oliver (Alice) (see the ship's passenger list).  Five years later, his brother, Hyronimus, came to America aboard the St. Andrew.  This is according to research done on this family and presented in The Trautman/Troutman Family History, Volume II, by editor Steve E. Troutman who mostly concludes that all Troutmans in the United States today are related, however distantly.
Fifteen years Johannes arrived, 4 more Trautmanns came from Reichelsheim to America. Wilhelm Trautmann - my ancestor - was among them.  Based on ages, we could surmise that Johannes and Hyronimus were perhaps uncles or older cousins of the 4.  All 6 of these men started out in America as farmers. 
2)  Schriesheim is only about 20 miles from Reichelsheim so its very probable that the Trautmanns from those two small towns were related.
 So in any event, this was a fun bit of happenstance.  This is the kind of roadside attraction that we love to come upon; the wonderful stuff you find when you choose to not drive on the interstates.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Case Against Recruiting And Staffing Agencies

Perhaps I just don't get it.

Let me start off by stating that I this blog is a reaction to the culmination of the past 10 months in which I remained unemployed (until recently, thank the universe) as well as the year we lived in Miami.  I've been noticing a trend during that almost-2-year period that I truly feel hindered my job search efforts and, I suspect, the efforts of millions of others.  And that trend is this:  it seems these days that one cannot get a job interview without first going through a recruiter in a staffing agency - a 3rd party person who does not work for the company, but is tasked with finding candidates for open positions. Let me be clear here, I'm not talking about corporate recruiters who actually hire for the companies at which they work.  They are a completely different sub-sect.  I'm talking about those people, recruiters, who work for staffing agencies - agencies like Ajilon and Manpower and Robert Half.

Make no mistakes, my job-seeking friends, despite what they tell you, these recruiters are not on your side. Most recruiters are neither educated in HR disciplines nor do they have the breadth of experience of an HR professional.  They know nothing about employee relations, engagement, or even diversity and inclusion; they do not handle performance issues, coach managers or tackle the many other day-to-day nightmare matters surrounding workplace regulations like the ACA, FMLA, ADA and FLSA.  Recruiting and staffing are inherently not functions of human resources.  However, in many companies, the job of talent acquisition falls to the HR department because it seems to make sense.

Ultimately, recruiting talent is a sales job, not an HR function.  Recruiters are motivated by the sale; the first person to make the sale wins.  Recruiters spend six seconds evaluating online resumes/CV's.  That's it: 6 SECONDS.  They report that they spend approximately 4 to 5 minutes, but reality has disproved that statement with eye-tracking techniques.  So to sum up so far, your future is being decided upon in a 6-second timeframe by someone who most likely has no experience or background in human resources.

So what are they looking for on your resume (and very quickly, I might add)?  Boxes to check in order to put you in front of the actual hiring team.  They serve their client - the one who is paying.  And despite their reassurances to the job-seeker that you have great experience and are a marketable candidate, you may never hear from them again after your initial (and most times, only) visit with them to get started.  They might like you, but will you make them guaranteed bank?

To combat this, recruiters request that job-seekers take control of their own destiny by being a "pro-active partner" to the recruiter in their endeavor.  This means, recruiters have created a double language, RecruiterSpeak if you will, so that they can say what they want while still telling you what you want to hear.  Example:
"Visit our website often and let us know about the jobs that interest you.  And also, let us know about any other jobs out there that you might be interested in. You never know, we might have a relationship there"
 which in RecruiterSpeak means
 "Stay in touch with me to remind me that you still exist and tell me about other jobs that are listed because I don't have time to just sit and scour job boards all day long like you do."
Until recently, I spent 10 months constantly job-searching and speaking to at least 50 recruiters along the way.  At the end of that time, I was at a loss as to what I was supposed to do to strengthen those "partnerships":

  • I'd redesigned my resume at least 7 times based on their different requests. 
  • I'd registered with 11 recruiting and staffing agencies - 2 of which I heard from now and then; the other 9 I'd never heard from beyond our initial meeting. 
  • They'd tell me to go through them first before applying for jobs I'd find because they might have an "inside connection" to help me out.  I'd see jobs that interest me and send emails to the recruiters, most of which were neither acknowledged nor answered.  The few times my communication was acknowledged (no less that 5 DAYS LATER), I learned that the recruiter didn't know anyone at that company.  So then I ended up applying for the job 5 days after everyone else.  I'm sure my resume wasn't even seen. 

I realized that the 10 jobs I might see on LinkedIn or Indeed were most likely the same job registered with as many staffing agencies.  So what might have looked like a booming job market was actually just a few jobs multiplied by however many staffing agencies were working on it.  That is, IF the job exists at all.  Many agencies list bogus jobs just to build their "stable" of eligible talent.  So that job that sounds perfect that you found online?  Might not even be real.

What REALLY baffles me is that recruiters aren't bending over backwards to help any HR professional in his/her job search.  The HR connection in any company will be the one who reaches back out to the recruiters in order to help find future staff.  So why the recruiting agencies have not picked up on the "You scratch my back/I'll scratch yours" mantra, I can guarantee that job-seeking HR professionals are remembering the recruiting and staffing agencies who have helped them along the way.

I've already talked about how recruiters are extremely poor at communicating and building relationships ... at least with job hunters ... at least in my experience.  My overall concern is the trend of relying on someone we most often don't even know to help us with the biggest decision of our lives.  And research has shows that recruiters are disinterested and mostly uneducated when it comes to the actual world of human resources.  If companies continue to go the route of 3rd party acquisition, they will run the risk of missing out on candidates who have more to offer than a few buzzwords in their resumes that may or may not capture the attention of the software that's scanning it.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Total Resumes Sent: 307

As you may be aware, I was laid off from my last job on July 17, 2015.  It's been a humbling experience, to say the least.  Back in 2013 when we moved to Miami, I blamed that city for my inability to get a job, screaming loudly to anyone within ear shot that the city is inefficient and unable to function as anything other than a tourist destination.

I was unemployed the entire year we lived in Miami. I sent out 130 resumes - a number I thought was astronomical - and from those received just 2 interviews.  To give you some frame of reference, there are exactly 130 colored balls in the picture at right, each one representing 1 resume that was sent from April 2013 to February 2014.

I vowed that this would NEVER happen to me if we were still living in Chicago.  I was confident that my vast professional connections would help me find employment easily.  And while I stand by my original observations that Miami is wholly a disaster of a city, I can no longer fully place the blame of my unemployment on the way that city and its inhabitants operate.  When I was laid off in July, I remember thinking that I will most likely have a job within two weeks.  All I needed was to update my LinkedIn profile and spread the word to my network that I was back on the market.

Or so I thought.

It's been a long, arduous journey to get here that involved sending out a total of 307 resumes since July 2015.  Read that number again:  THREE HUNDRED AND SEVEN.  For reference and comparison, the image to the right contains exactly 307 balls.  If that still doesn't seem like a ridiculous number, consider that each ball is more than just sending out a resume: it's filling in the required data on the application despite uploading the parsed resume that already contains all the data being requested; it's rewriting the cover letter to tailor it to the job requirements and the specific organization; it's doing research to learn the name of the appropriate individual at each company to whom the cover letter will be addressed; it's scouring many websites daily, even several times a day, to find those jobs that are appropriate; it's comparing job postings to each other to ensure I am not simply applying for the same job multiple times through different agencies; it's sending out the resume with the fervent hope that this is "the one" and that this entire process can end just so I can get back to doing what I love and what I've trained my entire career to do.

And then there's the waiting.  Throughout this most recent process, I was struck by the number of times I was NOT considered for a job.  Of course, my vanity forces me to think I am the perfect candidate for every job, but it wasn't as if I was applying for jobs that were outside of my experience.  I was extremely realistic in my search.  Out of the 307 resumes I submitted, I heard back from exactly 80 of them.  That's a paltry 26% response rate.  How do I know this?  I kept a spreadsheet!


Mostly so that I wouldn't keep applying to the same jobs over and over, I started keeping track.  The spreadsheet listed the name of the company, the title, any contact information, the date I applied, and any updates after that (phone interviews, in person interviews, responses or passes).  In Chicago, I didn't expect a response on every resume I sent, especially from the smaller companies.  But I was surprised by those companies with high profiles that provided no type of confirmation of receipt or other type of follow-up; companies that I expect to have advanced technology to help recruiters stay in touch with applicants.  Companies like Groupon, Aetna, Expedia, Heinz, Potbelly, United Airlines,  and Canon,

Moreover, I was shocked by the number of recruiting and staffing agencies that didn't respond at all.  I mean, that's the gig!  These people are supposed to be expert relationship builders, yet there were MANY high-level recruiting agencies that either didn't respond to my resume, or return a communication (phone call or email) or both.  Agencies like Ajilon, Office Team, Robert Half, and Manpower.

Companies need to do better.  Recruiting agencies must do better.  I don't understand why the people in my profession seem to forget the human part of human resources.  That's why we all get into this business in the first place.

The good news here is that it's all over, at least for me.  I am no longer "off the market" and am excited about some new opportunities.  The bad news is that there are still about 8 million people who are unemployed in the U.S., most of whom are experiencing exactly what I've gone through.  Imagine the frustration this is causing across the country?


Monday, May 02, 2016

Caricature

Most friends who know me these days don't necessarily know that I am a fairly good artist.  In my teens and early 20's, I was constantly drawing portraits and caricatures of family and friends.  A tribute to my teachers won a blue ribbon in my high school annual art show, as did an acrylic painting that my mom still has hanging in her house.

Kevin is always urging me to get back to it, to buy paint supplies or colored pencils.  But the truth is, being artistic has always been something I take for granted.  It's handy to have the ability in life, but creating art has never been something I've wanted to pursue, much to my parents' exasperation.  To be honest, I am rarely confident enough in my style or taste to know if I am truly any good or not.  So it's just something that I like having in my back pocket.

After high school, I dabbled in projects - doing things like creating pieces for my friend, Judy's class room bulletin boards  She brought me a doll that she asked me to draw for her and it turned out pretty good when you figure I did it all with crayola markers on posterboard:


and painting Santa Claus faces on my parents' front door every Christmas:


and after moving from home and not being able to paint the door every year, painting a wooden Santa Claus that Mom still hangs outside her front door at Christmastime:


In college, I created caricatures of all my friends, some who used them for different reasons:


So you can imagine how appalled I was when Kevin and I went to an art show in Ft. Lauderdale the year we lived in Miami and allowed a local artist to create our caricatures.  Below is what the artist drew of Kevin:



(I'll spare you the Baby Huey portrait he drew of me.)

Now, I understand that we all see things differently, but the idea behind creating a caricature is to take a person's most noticeable features and accentuate them.  On Kevin, it would be his eyes and smile which, ironically, are the two features that are played down on the caricature.  So one night sitting in a restaurant a few days later, I took a crayon at the table and quickly drew Kevin's caricature on the brown paper tablecloth.  I'll admit it's not perfect, but I ask you to compare them:




Monday, April 25, 2016

The Lincoln Bed

For many people, whether or not said people are fans of Abraham Lincoln, the term "the Lincoln Bed" refers to the bed that has taken up residence in what is now called The Lincoln Bedroom in The White House.  Two things one should know:

First, Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bed.  It is a rosewood bed nearly 8 feet long and 6 feet wide, with an enormous headboard and large footboard decorated with carved grapes, grapevines, and birds.  It was purchased by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln during her extensive redecorating efforts around 1861.  It was originally put in the Prince of Wales Guest Room, which is now the First Families' Private Dining Room.  Young Willie Lincoln died in the White House at age 11 in the bed on February 20, 1862.  But Lincoln himself never used it.

And second, Abraham Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.  It is a room on the second floor of the Executive Mansion that Lincoln used as an office (it is the most often seen room in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln).

The Lincoln (Death) Bed
Chicago History Museum
With that said, the term "the Lincoln Bed" means something completely different to me: it is the bed in which Abraham Lincoln died on April 15, 1865 inside the Petersen House on 10th Street in NW Washington, DC.  If you visit The Petersen House, across from Ford's Theater, you will see a well-made replica of the bed in the back bedroom where Lincoln drew his last breath at 7:22AM.  But it's not the actual bed in which he died.  THAT bed is currently on display at The Chicago History Museum.

And I recently just stood and stared at it for a long time!

The bed is part of the museum's "Lincoln's Undying Words" exhibit.  I had seen the bed once before when it was on display at Chicago History Museum many years ago.  Back then, Kevin and I were still a new couple and we were visiting the Museum when we came across the bed.  The display at that time was fairly rudimentary and I could have easily reached out to touch the bed.  But Kevin was nervous about me trying it, so I didn't do it (I was still trying to make a good impression).  I totally blame him for that missed opportunity and I have carried a heavy grudge about it ever since.  I almost didn't marry him because of it.  And I am totally lying.

The Chicago History Museum (one of my faves in the city) is also in possession of the sheets and bloody pillowcases (they had to be changed every time Mary visited her husband's bedside so that she wouldn't freak out any further due to Lincoln's substantial blood loss).  Someday I will get to see those, I'm sure of it.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Can I Get A Witness?

On a recent trip back home to visit my folks, I was working out in the yard raking up leaves from last fall when I heard a car door in my parents' driveway.  I walked around the house to see two very well-dressed women getting out of a minivan and walking to the front door.  I yelled a hello and one of the women responded with, "Is she home?"

They seemed to know my Mother and her daily routine of visiting Dad at the nursing facility.  The more talkative of the two women introduced herself as Rose and wanted to leave literature for Mom.  I wasn't sure if Mom actually knew these women or if perhaps she had met them just once during a visit with Dad.  In any event, I knew they were peddling something about God and Jesus and wouldn't have let them near Mom in the first place, even if she actually had been home at the time.

But again, Rose seemed to know Mom.  She talked about how impressed she was with the amount of time Mom spends visiting Dad.  The second woman asked how long my parents have been married and I told them that it would be 55 years in August.  I went on to say that Mom took her marriage vows very seriously and is sticking by him through this ordeal.

And then something interesting happened...

Lady #2 smiled at me and said, "So I can see by your hand that you are married too!"  I replied simply, "yes I am."  Rose went on to elaborate about how important the ring is as a symbol of marriage and how people out in the world need to learn to respect the ring more as a promise of devotion - which is why she doesn't do things like have lunch with male co-workers or go out with male friends because it could make her husband uncomfortable.  Seems a bit strict, but whatever works for Rose and her insecure husband.

Rose asked me how long I've been married.  I said that we got married a year and a half ago.  There was a pause, I think because they expected me to have been married longer based on my age.  Or perhaps they were silently surmising that I was probably on my 2nd or 3rd marriage.  I went on to explain that we had been together for almost 11 years but decided to actually get married a year and a half ago.

And then Lady #2 asked the question I'd been giddily waiting for...   "And what's your wife's name?"  My immediate response was, "Well, I'm married to a man and his name is Kevin."

{insert sound of crickets chirping}

I'm confident they were not expecting that response - not only what I said but the ease with which I said it.  It took a few seconds for them to process the information, after which, Rose asked, "And how does your mother feel about that?"  Again, I was unsure of their relationship to Mom so I didn't want to be, well, ME.  In any other circumstance, I would have retorted back with something like, "well, how should she feel?"  Instead, I simply replied, "My family loves Kevin.  I actually think they love him more than they love me."

And then the REALLY interesting thing happened...

Rose simply invited me to go on their website, www.jw.org, to read all the advice they have for married couples, things like how to discuss problems with each other, how to compromise, how to deal with the "silent treatment".  To their credit, whatever these two women might have been thinking, they chose to accept me right there and then as just another married person, and preached to me just as they would any other married person.  In a rural place like Frostburg where exposure to a married gay person is about as rare as seeing an albino penguin, I give Rose and her cohort a lot of credit for choosing to accept me and not preach THEIR beliefs to me.  I wasn't impressed enough to convert, but was still pleasantly surprised.

The conversation ended somewhat quickly after that and they politely excused themselves, asking me to be sure Mom received the literature they were leaving and to tell her they stopped by.  They pleasantly said their goodbyes and climbed back into the minivan and drove away.  I chuckled to myself as I walked back to the yard, "I bet they weren't expecting THAT today."

And I picked up the rake and went back to my boring yard work.




Thursday, April 14, 2016

Alzheimer's + Pneumonia = Heavy Toll

For those who are following the story of my parents and my dad's Alzheimer's, I wanted to provide an update.

As you know, Dad's been living in a nursing facility for the past 18 months or so.  During that time, it seems that he has come to accept that it is now his home.  The staff is very kind to Dad and he has his obvious favorites.  They treat him well for two reasons:  1) Everyone has always liked my Dad.  He was always friendly, gregarious, and ready for a party.  He mellowed some as he aged, but for the most part, Dad was the person you could easily share a beer with, who would yell to you when he saw you, who people recognized throughout our part of the state partly because of who he is and partly because of the job he had.  And 2) because when we cannot advocate for ourselves, we all hope that we have someone to fight for us, just like the way my Mom does for him every day.  The staff at the nursing facility know that if they slip up just once, Mom is there to call them on it.  Nothing slips by her.  She continues to be (as she always has been) Dad's wife/mother/best friend in sickness and in health.

And Dad's health continues to steadily decline.  Three weeks ago, Dad contracted double pneumonia, an illness from which even the healthiest people have difficulty recovering.  As the paramedics were placing Dad in the ambulance to transport him to the hospital, the nursing staff prepared Mom for the probability that Dad would not recover from it.

But recover he did.  The scrappiest man I've ever known defeated double pneumonia for the 2nd time within a year, both times with greatly reduced faculties.  His tenacity to survive continues to amaze me on a daily basis.  It's not without a paid price, however.  Last week, I traveled home to see Mom and Dad and he is quite different now than when I saw him at Christmas.  His verbal communication has almost ceased.  He now will either fuss with something small in his hands or simply just sit and stare.  Mom continues to talk to him as she always has, but her words may be falling on deaf ears, or at least ears that are run by a brain that refuses to allow Dad's mouth to engage in the conversation.

Mom continues to visit Dad twice a day, every day.  She feeds him both lunch and dinner.  When we counsel Mom that she doesn't need to spend that much time with him, she simply replies that she "just can't see him sitting (up there) all by himself all day".  That's an amazingly supportive and loving thought.  However we aren't completely sure if Dad understands the passing of time.  During a recent evening visit, Mom got up from the chair in which she had been sitting for a few hours and walked to Dad's closet to organize his clothes.  When she came back to the chair, Dad reacted with a weak, "Oh hi" as if he was seeing her for the first time that day.

At this point, Mom visits Dad for her sake, not his.  And until she decides that it's okay for her to spend less time living his life and more time living her own, there's nothing her family can do to change her pattern.  Still, this continued regimen of just sitting for 4-hour increments not communicating with anyone is aging Mom at a rapid rate.  It's not fair to her and not fair to us as, in many ways, my siblings and I have two parents essentially living in a nursing facility.  She KNOWS she needs to take better care of herself and she KNOWS that things should change for her, but until she accepts those ideas as OK, she will continue living his life, not hers.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Happy 11 Year Blog-iversary!

Me in 2005 -
The night before I started this blog
Today, April 11th, marks the 11th Anniversary of this blog.  

Interestingly (to some I guess), April 11, 2005 was also on a Monday  I was still living in DC with my roommate, Ashley, and was in a rather confused place in my life.  And much like when I had previously found myself without a sense of direction, or at least in a situation under which I felt or believed I had no control, I chose to put my feelings and emotions in writing, with the hopes of providing myself with some clarity.

That day, Monday, April 11, 2005, I had taken the day off from work (extending my birthday-weekend celebration) and spent it sitting outside in the sun at Lauriol Plaza consuming what ended up becoming many pitchers of margaritas with Kelly, Eric, Ryan, and Carlos.  And it was there, then, and they who encouraged me to create this outlet.  came home from that amazing day, sat down at my laptop (albeit it heavily buzzed) and decided to give this thing a whirl.   My first post was all about trying something new which, even today, is often difficult for me to do.

At the time, I had no idea about what I would be writing.  Initially, I was "followed" by a small handful of people, mostly friends also in DC; some of them also had blogs and supported other writers, some were just supportive friends.  It wasn't until my posts about my heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery that my following jumped to a few thousand people per post, thanks to a then-popular blog linking to mine.  After that, my blog was pretty successful.  And then it wasn't.  And now it's modest.

Since the start, I've posted 679 blog entries (this makes 680), which averages to a little over one post per week for 11 years.  It's both surprising and not-that-shocking that I have had that much to say.  And there is no end in sight.

My big hope was that someday, some editor would find my blog and ask me to come write for his/her magazine, whether print or online.  But that's never happened.  Still, this is something that not many people have - a fairly deep account of one's life and thoughts for more than a decade.  Even I can look back and see how I've grown as a person and how my opinions may have changed, if at all.  I certainly haven't posted EVERYTHING I've thought about.  I still have about 100 drafts that I have either not completed or feel that I just cannot or should not post for various reasons.  But probably someday.

Ten years ago, I celebrated the 1-Year Anniversary of this blog with eyes-wide wonder of what would happen in the coming years.  I never would have thought that my life would have turned out as complete and wonderful as it has.  I'd call myself lucky, but Kevin always says "you make your own luck".  Somehow in some way, I guess I just managed to do everything exactly right in order for my life to have turned out this well.  And you reap the benefit of reading about it, at least on a weekly basis.

More to come, and thanks for reading...