Personal Stuff Archive

Finally

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Now that October is here, I think we can say that summer is well and truly overde facto as well as de jure. Personally, this has been the worst summer I can remember — and if it had gone on any longer, I'm not sure I'd have survived.

Worse than 2007? When my health was declining precipitously? Well, perhaps. In 2007, there was hope of a solution, and I was looking forward to improvement. This summer, though, I've been having more problems with my legs, and I'm losing control of my feet. I've been to the ER once, seen I don't know how many doctors, been X-rayed, ultrasounded, poked, prodded and tazed, all to no effect, other than the sure empirical knowledge that the nerve response in my legs has degraded. I have more tests coming up in the next few weeks.

Maybe something will point to a cause and a treatment, but I'm having a hard time remaining optimistic.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself shopping around for a walker, and for hand controls for my pickup. Not just looking around online, but seriously investigating.

I'm 48 years old.

I've tried to remain upbeat about all this. I have accepted the new status quo, and can function pretty well — well enough to handle living on my own. The renewed decline, however, is beginning to wear on my morale.


On the "plus" side for this summer, my lawn died early, so the neighborhood lad I hire to water the lawn has not had a lot to do. OK, that's not much of a plus.

On the other hand, when I have the lawn aerated and reseeded next week it will give me the opportunity to perhaps replace the fescue grass with something more likely to survive a North Carolina summer.

Oh, who am I kidding...? I'll just have fescue put down. Again. So I can kvetch about it dying again next summer. At least that'd be something tangible for me to complain about.

On This Date in History

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This lady? It's her birthday.

Love you, Mom.

Wish list update

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Since my birthday is Sunday, I thought I would mention that if anyone is thinking about getting me anything but doesn't know what, well, I'd like one of these.

Pride

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I have two nieces and a nephew, and reason to be proud of all three of them. They are exceptional kids, and will soon be fine, upstanding adults.

Here's one reason I'm proud of my nephew: he composed the piece performed here.

[That is the Santa Barbara High School Madrigal Choir at their annual Spring concert.]

He's a talented young man, and I could not be prouder.

Mothers Day

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I've said it before and I'll say it again: I do have the best Mom in the world.

Break out the nano-violin

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Between work, feeling like crap, and not sleeping particularly well (or anywhere close to enough), I've not had the energy to write anything.

Maybe I'll be better next week.

RIP, Bob Heavner

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One of the most decent, finest, best of men I've ever had the privilege of knowing died suddenly and unexpectedly yesterday. "Devastated" is an understatement.

Close shave

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The first thing I did when I woke up today was listen to a voicemail left by an old roommate from college and early career days, who was concerned about the fire in Santa Barbara, and was asking about my mom.

I called my mom for an update on the fire situation. Apparently, the winds took the fire away from her house; it didn't get within a mile.

My brother's home was a bit closer. As I understand it, the fire was within a few hundred yards, but my sister-in-law drove by the house this morning, and there's no damage there. I heard on the radio last night that the fire department had staged a bunch of equipment on their street.

My sister-in-law (with my niece and nephew) relocated to her mother's house; my brother is in Michigan on a business trip. He must be freaking out.

If you see a story on the news about the fire, you will hear references to celebrities and "multi-million dollar homes." Sure, there are some of those, but I don't quite think my brother's place would count. There are plenty of folks of more modest circumstance who are losing their homes in this catastrophe.

The important thing, though, is that (as far as I know) no one has been killed, and very few people have been hurt.

Egads

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Just found out there's a fire in Santa Barbara that is forcing my Mom, sister, and brother all to evacuate their homes. I just called my sister — she couldn't talk, they're busy packing what they can as fast as they can.

Westmont College, roughly midway between my Mom's and my brother's houses, has been evacuated, as well.

Winds up to 70 MPH have been reported.

This bodes not well. Prayer, if you're so inclined, would be most welcome.


0500 EST update: 1500+ acres, 70+ homes destroyed. My brother's house is near one of the hot spots.

I've been listening live via the net to radio station KTYD. Better coverage than TV has provided so far.

Moving on

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I haven't said anything about it, but as of a week ago, I have a new job.

Well, OK, it's the same job I've been doing for the last three years. The "new" part of it is that I've been converted from "contractor" status to "regular" at Major Telecommunications Company Which Shall Remain Nameless.

Technically, I'm a manager now, and not even an first-level manager, but my duties are essentially the same. They can assign subordinates to me now, I guess, but I can't imagine why they'd need to do so. I'm pretty sure I'd rather manage networks than people, anyway.

My first day as a regular was Friday the 15th, so in the mail today — for the first time in over 10 years — I received an actual physical paycheck... for one day's work. The 15th was the last day of the MTCWSRN pay period.

I've done direct deposit for so long, I'm not sure I remember what to do with one of these things.

Occasion

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Today is my little brother's birthday.

Happy Birthday, Brad. Have a steak or something, will ya?

Mothers Day

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A year ago, I was losing the ability to walk, and had resigned myself to having — at the minimum — an incurable disease (MS), and was trying to come to terms with possibly having one that would have been terminal (ALS).

I was rapidly becoming unable to take care of my home, my cat, and of myself. I could not drive, I couldn't do simple household chores, I could barely prepare meals for myself. I was on a medication regime that was having only the slightest positive effect, while the side effects were making life fairly miserable. (Maybe you've seen that asthma medication ad where the guy says "I couldn't take the steroids any more." Preach it, brother.)

I was facing the probable loss of home, career... everything. Into this breach stepped Mom.

Though my diagnosis ultimately shifted to something rather less severe than originally expected, I was nonetheless in a steep decline. But where I was unable to take care of myself, she gamely managed it all.

She drove me to doctor appointments.

She did the cooking. I've never in my life eaten so healthily.

She did the household chores.

She fed the cat.

She kept up with the neighborhood friends with whom I was unable to go out to chat.

When I was cranky and crabby after tests and surgery (just try not being a grouch after a spinal tap or having a hole drilled in your head) (on second thought, just take my word for it) she was understanding and patient.

When I fell, she was there to help me up.

In every sense including the literal, Mom was a life saver. No 45-year-old adult wants to be "taken care of by Mommy," but without her I probably wouldn't be able to tell the tale, or any tale.

Words are inadequate to tell how thankful I am for her.

Love ya, Mom.

Naming conventions

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My brother's wife's brother's son is a Marine, newly stationed only an hour or so away from where I am. I'll be seeing him tomorrow as he comes up to relieve me of the burden of having one vehicle too many. He's getting the Blazer.

What does one call one's brother's wife's brother's son?

I'm opting for "nephew in law, once removed."

Either that, or "Lance Corporal."

D Minus 6

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I think I've mentioned before that one of the things I've been inspired to do lately is to dispose of much of the accumulated cruft taking up space in my attic. Having been on the verge of being diagnosed with a fatal disease tends to put things in perspective.

Much of what I'm disposing of might be considered prime eBay fodder. So, yes, I'm selling things that some people would look at as collectible, some things it pains me a little bit to part with. Books, old hobby materials, and my huge collection of board-style wargames from the heyday of Avalon Hill and SPI.

Too bad. It's outta here. I'm de-complicating my life, and that means it all goes.

What no one ever said, though, was how much of a pain it is to list things on eBay. I mean, everything listed needs some sort of reasonably accurate description, and most of what I'm selling has to be minutely inventoried, to make sure the myriad small bits are present. So all day, I've been counting and counting and counting. Egads.

One really ought not to advertise something as being 100% complete if it really isn't.

Being tagged a fraud would be a very bad thing.

Unless one really is a fraud.

Which I'm not.

What's All This Then?

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You might have noticed the button I've put up on the site.

And surely you're asking yourself, "why, in this day and age, would a person not have medical insurance to cover those costs?"

Long, convoluted story. Or maybe not so convoluted.

I'm a contract employee with no benefits; in the tech industry, this isn't altogether unusual. When my current medical crisis began, though, we all thought it was related to an old Army back injury, which would be covered by the Veterans Administration. Then last autumn, I was informed by my management that my employment status would be upgraded and converted to regular (benefitted) at the start of 2007.

In short, I had no need to buy insurance. I was covered for this. Then, two things happened.

First, the doctors changed their assessment of the cause of my medical problems. No longer could it be attributed to my VA-coverable injury, so naturally the VA will not cover my medical care. I don't begrudge them this at all; that's just the way things are. I checked this every which way; the only way I could receive treatment from the VA would be if I were unemployed and homeless, which isn't about to happen.

Second — and this is the irksome bit — someone at the VP level at my place of employment decided that the best way to make his budget numbers look good to his boss was to freeze all personnel actions. I'm not the only person who has been waiting since January to receive an overdue promotion or even conversion to "regular" status.

This, mind you, in an organization and at a company that professes to believe that its people are its most important asset. They sure have a funny way of showing it.

Me and a dozen of my coworkers have had our careers put on hold, just so a VP can maximize his annual bonus. I hope he chokes on it.

I'd have walked out the door to a new employer months ago, except for the inconvenient fact that I can't actually walk. As soon as I can walk, though, I will walk. But not before I visit the VP and leave him my crutches as a reminder that "personnel actions" have a human cost.

So that's where things stand. I'm at a job I can't afford to leave and at which I cannot afford to stay, and I can't get new employment until I can actually walk into a job interview.

Of course, I can't now get insurance to cover this now-preexisting condition. This is what is known as "slipping through the cracks." Or "bad luck." So be it. As I have noted before, if we had a Hillarycare-style system, I'd still be waiting to see a neurologist; indeed, it probably would have been illegal for me to get this far by paying cash.

In the meantime, I've run up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, all paid out of pocket. The total is likely to double before all this is over, however — especially if they're going to do this to me. My pockets only go so deep... and I've already reached the lint.

And that is why I've put the tipjar/begging bowl front and center, and right here:

If you can contribute a few bucks, I will surely appreciate it. Baby needs a new pair of shoes. Or brain surgery.

Probably the brain surgery.

Golden Day

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50 years ago today, my parents were married.

For the time being, celebrations are being kept to a minimum. We'll have a big shin-dig once all of us can gather at the homestead in Santa Barbara.

Still, it's a good day. The only thing that could make it better would be if Dad was still here to celebrate the occasion with us.

The Worst Day of My Life

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Ten years ago today, my Dad passed away.

It no longer seems like it was yesterday, but I remember it like it was.

I have the tape recording of his memorial service, which I've copied to mp3 format. I'll be listening to it again tonight.

Apropos of Nothing

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Today is my 45th birthday.

Ha! That that, you verkakte actuarial tables!

Fridays, My Ass

They haven't got anything on this Tuesday the 13th.

Experiment

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So today, on a lark, I decided to see how I would do without anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, or painkillers.

Bad, really bad idea.

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow.

Ouch.

Down for Maintenance

More physical therapy coming up shortly. I promise not to cry like a little girl.

When I get home I'll be taking apart the PC for some much-needed maintenance — installing a new video card (the original just fried) and a major memory boost. The darn thing is pretty tightly wired into "the lab," so it'll be a nuisance to extract.

With luck, I'll be back online before midnight. That is, I will be if I don't have to crawl straight into bed after the PT.

In the meantime, go read this piece on multiculturalism from the always excellent (though occasionally surreal) Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom.

Update: Aaaaaand... we're back.

OK, I could in theory, be doing this from my linux box (as I did when originally posting this) or even from my work laptop, but you'll just have to trust me on this one.

"Is that what they call a 'bad touch'? 'Cause, it sure doesn't feel good."

So, What's All This About Physical Therapy?

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As some of you, my miniscule audience of regular readers, already know, I have something of a history of back problems.

Some of you might recall that this past summer I broke a bone in my foot. At the time, I was having a bit of knee difficulties, and the usual periodic bout of sciatic pain. Not too long after I broke the bone, I tripped — over my own feet, I think — while walking through the lobby at my workplace. Something in my back went pop...

The regular sciatic pain went away, for which I was grateful. But then, going down the stairs at the office later that day, I noticed something unusual: I couldn't feel my heels contacting the steps.

As time went by, I noticed that I had lost some control, and the feeling in my legs. Mycah took advantage of this lack of control at one point, in an effort to eliminate me.

Humor aside, it was clear to me that there was a serious problem. I was falling down a couple times a week as my legs gave out from underneath me, and I could tell that certain muscles simply weren't responding. It was getting harder and harder to walk up the stairs at the office or at home. Particularly bothersome was the loss of the muscle responses that contribute to balance; I could no longer just walk, I had to think about every step, or I would fall over.

The balance problem has gotten worse since then. I don't fall down so much, mainly because I'm careful not to take chances, and I usually maintain a third-point-of-contact, with (for instance) my hand on a wall when I walk. Some leg muscles have developed to take over for those that aren't responsive, but walking and climbing stairs is still problematic. I still have motor control, but I can't always feel what's happening below the hips.

Some days are better, some days are worse.

The short version of this tale is that it's pretty clear that I've damaged the nerves that handle the legs, but the only pain I feel is in my back. At this point, I think I'd rather have the sciatic pain, if for no other reason than to be sure that there is something alive down there.

It's pretty clear to me that this is my old Army injury writ large. Convincing the Veterans Administration of that is something else altogether, but I'm trying. I suspect surgery will ultimately be involved; I face the prospect of being categorized as a "disabled veteran."

In the meantime, I'm on a regimen of muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories and painkillers, and I'm seeing a physical therapist. I spend rather more time in bed than I am used to. As it's become harder to get around, I've been working from home more and more. I'm just glad I chose a career field in which telecommuting is a sign of professional capability.

Ever since my Dad passed away almost ten years ago, I've kept as a memento the cane he used when he had the problems that resulted in knee and hip replacements. I never expected to use it myself... but I'm tempted. So tempted.

"Mo-o-o-ommy! The mean man hurt me!"


More later.

Departures

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One of the things the media always does at the end of a year is to remind us of the people — celebrities of one sort or another, usually — who passed away during the year.

This year is no different, really. Gerald Ford, Steve Irwin, Don Knotts, Milton Friedman, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, Kenneth Lay, Coretta Scott King, Red Auerbach, James Brown. And plenty more.

Here's a name you won't know: Dick Williams.

Dick was a charter member of the "greatest generation." Having flown with a squadron of B-29s in the Pacific theater in World War 2, he reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. When he bought a new car in the mid 1990s, a Mitsubishi, he joked that fifty years earlier he'd been dropping bombs on the factory that had made it.

After the war, he went into the insurance business in Santa Barbara, CA, and was an active member of the community. There, probably over a rubber of bridge at the University Club, he met my Dad, and they became very close friends. Despite an age difference of 45 years, he was my friend, too.

Dick passed away a couple of weeks ago, aged 89. He was not famous, he wasn't a big name. What he was, was a decent and kind man who did his part to make the world and his community better.

He was a good man. I'll miss him.

The Wrath of . . .

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Today, Monday, my new (new to me — it's an '03 Dodge Ram quad cab) truck arrives here from California, driven by my ever-so-wonderful sister-in-law. My ever-so-wonderful lead-footed drive-across-a-continent-in-three-days sister-in-law, accompanied by my multi-talented nephew.

But I think my old '93 Chevy Blazer (the full size model renamed "Tahoe" in '94), which I've driven since '96, may have figured out that it is about to be replaced.

I got off work tonight a little after midnight, as usual, and on the way home stopped, as sort-of-usual, at the 24x7 grocery store to pick up a couple of things. Kitty treats, mainly, to appease Mycah.

Finished with the shopping, I got into the truck, turned the key... and nothing. The dash lights came on, but there was no cranking. The starter was dead. Obviously, the Blazer has decided not to go without a fight.

After an hour of phoning tow truck companies in an unsuccessful quest to find a 24x7 mechanic, in desperation I called the local police admin number, where an exceptionally helpful and friendly young lady named Alicia gave me the number of the tow company they use. The tow truck eventually arrived, and five minutes after that I was on my way, and got home a mere two hours later than I had hoped.

The starter will probably have to be replaced before I can sell the Blazer. I was really hoping after last week that I had taken it for its last repair.

I've never named any vehicle I've owned, but it's not too late for the Blazer. Inspired by Herman Melville's Moby Dick,

"To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell's heart, I stab at thee; For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee,"
the Blazer is now "Khan."

But I still blame the cat for the brake failure.


I wonder what time Alicia gets off of work?

One of These Days, She'll Succeed

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On the way to work this afternoon, my brakes failed. Suddenly, the stain on the driveway near the truck's left rear tire made sense — it must have been brake fluid — and there was only one logical conclusion.

The cat did it.

I was, thankfully, not far from my mechanic's shop, so I nursed the truck there and left it. The funny thing is, I'm getting a new truck next week, so even if I'd wrecked the old Blazer, I wouldn't have been wheelless for long.

Still, I have to bear in mind that Mycah cut my brake lines. Which, you have to admit, is a pretty clever thing for a cat to be able to do. I mean, she can't even reach the doorknobs to let herself out. But given her history, can there be any doubt it's her doing?

Now I know how Clouseau felt about Cato.

Fried

What with an ongoing regular shortage of sleep and feeling generally worn out, as well as the "coming down" period after having visitors and the stress of Mycah's surgical ordeal, I've needed to turn my brain (and my PCs) off for a while.

I think it actually started at work, around 8pm Sunday. Good thing it was a slow night at the office.

With luck (and perhaps some chemical assistance) I'll manage to get a full night's sleep tonight before I start my work week tomorrow. I'll need it — I suspect it's going to be a busy week at work, and I have a side project I need to work on for a friend.

Maybe I'll take a nap before I go to bed.

Holiday Hustle & Bustle

It's been a busy week here at the homestead — too busy to post, I'm afraid. Were it not a quiet night at work right now, I wouldn't be writing this. Having a Mom come for a visit is one thing, but having sister and niece come to stay as well, and an uncle and aunt come for a quick visit, all while maintaining my weird-hours work schedule, has really kept me hopping.*

T-day was overall a great success. Lesson 1: always brine your turkey.

Lesson 2: don't brush the turkey with butter if it's going into a 500° oven; wait until the oven is down to 350° or thereabouts. 'Twas a little smoky here for a few minutes, but fortunately we didn't have to feed the fire department.

Lesson 3: there's a use for every bit of the bird. What doesn't end up as sandwiches or soup, the cat will surely be happy to take care of. As it happens, Mycah loves turkey.

I'd have got a picture of her snarfing down giblets, liver, etc., but those bits lasted less than a second. She absolutely hoovered them up.

My sister & growing-like-a-weed niece left for home this morning. Dang. I don't get to see them anything like often enough.

Mycah goes for her tail amputation on Wednesday, and Mom leaves for her California home on Thursday. Busy times continue.

* In a metaphorical sense — my knee and back problems don't let me literally hop.

Buzzkill

Ever get really good news, and then not 5 minutes later, on an unrelated matter, get really exceptionally bad news?

That's the kind of day I'm having.

Ick

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The cyst above my shoulder blade sat there for two months, out of my reach, doing nothing. Except, no doubt, waiting for its moment, plotting and planning. The evil swine.

I got no real warning — just a tingle, no pain, not even an actual itch. Then: Vesuvius.

I'm at the office tonight, of course.

Good thing I chose to wear a black shirt tonight; the blood hardly shows.

Also good that I wasn't on the phone with a customer, as the language following such a surprise might not really be considered professional. Entertaining, maybe, but not professional.

Except perhaps when a router crashes and burns. Then it's completely understandable.

[OK, yes, that was completely disgusting. Sorry.]

[Sunday addition: No, really. I am truly truly sorry for that. At the time, it was uncommonly quiet here at the office, and I had nothing better to do.]

Work, Sleep, Work, Sleep

So, the header says it all, pretty much. Well, not quite all. I've been busy working on other people's blogs quite a bit the past few days.

Which makes complete sense, since my writing here is so current and prolific.

I did one new installation and three major upgrades... only one of which went bad. Seriously bad. Bad, as in, there are database issues [handy hint, kids: always have a backup] and commenting just won't work. I'm going to be scratching my head over that for a while.

So until I get to be more productive right here — maybe tomorrow, maybe not — mull over this.

$2.00/gallon? In 2001, less than three months after 9/11, I tanked up in Atlanta and paid the [freakishly] low price of $0.79/gallon.

Get Me Out Of Here

It's not often that I wish my night at the office was over with as much intensity as I do tonight.

Actually, that's not true. Almost every night, I wish it was over. Just, I don't usually start thinking about it until 11:45 or so.

Tonight? 5:15.

Seems Like Yesterday

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My Dad passed away nine years ago today. I look back, and cannot believe it's been so long.

In memory of him, Mom had some flowers done up for display at her church today.

Yep — they're red white and blue. Dad was a serious patriot.

No, No, I'm OK - Really.

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Broken foot, no cast. No prescription painkillers, just large doses of ibuprofen. My foot still hurts like the devil. And I'm at the office, working, like any normal Saturday.

This could seriously increase my Team Player and Tough Guy attributes in the eyes of my colleagues. I figure it'd be a 2d12 increase for each.

But I'll have to make saving throws, or take damage for Perceived As Idiot and, even worse, Known Attention-Whore.

Walking Wounded

Saw the doctor yesterday and got the results of the x-rays today. Yep, that sucker is broken. "Not the toe itself, but the bone right behind it," they said. I wish they'd used the technical jargon with me; I may not be a doctor, but I'm not stupid.

It's good to know I've not been imagining things. Even so, there isn't much that can be done about it.

Something Evil is Afoot

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I've had knee problems for the past several months. I blame my "jumping out of helicopter" years.

My sciatica, a result of the old Army back injury, has been unrelenting of late, as well.

Plus there was a gout attack last week — smoked meat can bring it on, and, well, my barbecue will not be denied. The pain was the price I paid for forgetting to get my Allopurinol prescription refilled.

And now... I broke a #^$%@*! toe last night.

I consider it a miracle of near-biblical proportions that I can walk at all, these days.

All Work and No Play Makes Russ a Dull Boy

I showed up for the first day of my work week as usual last week on Wednesday* (that would be May 31st) to discover that I had been selected to attend a technical training course that began on Monday the 5th, and which runs Mon-Fri for two weeks. We're halfway done with the training.

But someone still has to keep the network running on the weekends. The hamsters running in their little wheels won't flog themselves, you know.

So here I sit on Saturday afternoon, my 11th consecutive workday. I won't have a day off until the 19th which, coincidentally, is the day my brother arrives with his family for a visit.

It's not really a huge deal, not having a day off. What kills me is working the weekends until midnight or later, then having to be in the office at 8am Monday. I don't ordinarily even think about going to bed until 4am or later.

Someone's going to owe me, big time.

* bearing in mind that I work Wed-Sun rather than Mon-Fri.

44

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Today I'm celebrating my birthday by having cake and opening presents.

Er, no, that's what I'm not doing today. Rather, I'm doing what I do every Wednesday: getting groused at by customers with broken networks, and fixing said networks. I might, however, treat myself by cooking a nice dinner when I get home sometime after midnight.

Some pretty smart guy whose name I cannot recall once said that there is an age beyond which one's birthday should cease to be a big deal, and that age is twelve.

I'd make exceptions, though, for 16, 18, 21, and any birthday after 72.

2nd Shift

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I have noticed a few good and bad things to being on the second/swing shift.


     Bad: Driving home at zero-drunk-thirty every morning.

     Good: No traffic.

     Bad: . . . except for all the deer crossing the road.
 
 
     Bad: Being called into the office for meetings before 3pm.

     Good: The boss isn't around to catch you sleeping under your desk.

     Bad: Being vacuumed by the janitorial staff.
 
 
     Bad: Never seeing the sun.

     Good: Pasty white skin was popular among ancient Chinese royalty.

     Bad: I'm not ancient Chinese royalty.


I'm sure there's more.

Mother's Day

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My mom, with two of her three grandchildren.

Best. Mom. Ever.

Tartan Day: Why Me?

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[This is the second of my 2006 Tartan Day posts. The first can be seen here. It's probably more interesting than this one.]

How, one might be tempted to ask, does a guy without a drop of Scots blood in him (or, if there's a drop, it's diluted to the point of requiring measurement in parts-per-million) have the brass to participate in an event like Tartan Day?

It's easy. Just arrange to be related to someone who served as Prime Minister of Canada.

Simple, really.


Born in 1821 in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Charles Tupper attended the University of Edinburgh and became a physician, serving from 1867 to 1870 as President of the Canadian Medical Association.

He entered into Canadian politics in 1855, winning a seat in the Canadian Parliament. By 1864 he had risen to become the Premier of Nova Scotia. For his efforts to bring Nova Scotia into the Canadian union (previously, Canada had been a motley collection of colonies) he became known as one of the Fathers of Confederation. Thereafter, he served in a variety of ministerial positions: Inland Revenue, Customs, Public Works, Railways & Canals.

Knighted (and tartaned) by Queen Victoria in 1879, he went on to serve as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Minister of Finance, and as Secretary of State.

In May of 1896, after the resignation of the previous officeholder, he became Prime Minister. Two month later, the elections mandated by his predecessor's resignation turned his party out of power and Sir Charles out of office. He thus became the shortest-serving Prime Minister in Canadian history.


If you've stuck with the story this far, you might at this point be saying to yourself, "so how does a guy named Emerson claim family ties to some old dead guy named Tupper?" What, you never heard of people changing their names? Were it not for an anonymity-seeking ancestor, my name would be Tupper. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

No, I'm not a direct descendant. "Cousin" would be more accurate. Nonetheless, tartans belong to families, not individuals, so remote though the relationship may be, I'm claiming it and the tartan that goes with it.

For more in Tartan Day bloggery, visit the fine blogs participating in the Gathering of the Blogs 2006:

70

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Were he still with us, my Dad would be turning 70 years old today.

I miss him an awful lot.

Neat-o

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It's been many many years since I've received a Valentine card from anyone other than a relative. So long, in fact, that the day has long since lost any meaning for me.

So, thanks, Ith. And right back at you.

Retirement

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When I was a somewhat younger man — pretty much still a kid, really — I decided on a military career.

There was no single reason for that decision; rather, it was the product of the cumulative influences on my life up to that point.

That my grandfather had been a soldier played no small part in my decision, but other factors encouraged the idea.

I enrolled in JROTC in high school — a move guaranteed to make me unpopular in the years following Vietnam. I went off to college to continue with ROTC, but dropped out due to my extreme dislike of going to school.

After a couple of years of working hum-drum jobs and trying (unsuccessfully) to get re-enthused about the idea of college, I finally did what I ought to have done in the first place: I enlisted in the Army. I did so with the full intent to make a career of it, to stay in uniform as long as Uncle Sam would have me.

Naturally, after basic training I was sent off to school. This, however, was language school, for which I seem to have had some real talent. After a year of Basic Korean (graduating with honors, thankyouverymuch) and nine more months of Military Intelligence training, I finally ended up at my first permanent duty station, the 102nd MI Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, at Camp Hovey in Korea.

Duty in the 2nd ID was considered a hardship tour; unlike duty in Germany, soldiers couldn't bring their families, or cars, or indeed much of anything. Consequently, assignments were for only one year. I found that I enjoyed the duty there, though, and extended my tour by a year, and then by an additional six months. While in Korea, I reenlisted for an additional six years. I knew my decision to be a "lifer" was the right one. I could imagine no other life. I earned my Sergeant's stripes in Korea, as well.

Eventually, though, I wanted to come back stateside for a bit of a "civilization break" — not that Korea was uncivilized, but it just wasn't America. As I was making my plans to return, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Transfers were frozen... but my timing was good — the freeze began two weeks after I left the 102nd.

Being a Korean linguist in a unit (107th MI Bn, 7th ID) tasked for rapid deployment to Korea meant there was no chance I'd be sent to the Gulf. Indeed, when there was a call for volunteers with security clearances, we "Koreans" were expressly ordered not to volunteer. It's an odd thing, wanting to go to a war, but I think the motivation was the desire to put years of training to use in a real live mission. As it happened, though, only non-linguists (analysts and the like) were allowed to volunteer for Gulf War duty, and perhaps half a dozen of my friends went and returned.

Shortly after the ceasefire in Iraq, in the Spring of '91, our unit had what we referred to as a "Mandatory Fun" day — no motor pool duty, no training, just a day for troops to bring their families onto the post, to have a cookout, and to play a little softball.

I was pitching. I don't remember for sure, but I couldn't have been doing too well in the position. One batter got a big piece of one of my pitches, sending a line drive low and to my right. As I twisted and lunged to try to spear the ball with my gloved left hand, there was a small *-pop-*... and my Army career was over.

I had torn some ligaments and herniated a disk in my lower back, an injury which still plagues me with an occasional week in bed and with more frequent sciatic pain. It took a year and a half to figure it out, but from that day on I was no longer capable of fully functioning as a soldier. In a profession that demands physical fitness, I could no longer keep up. In September of '92, I was a civilian again.

Maybe if something had gone differently, maybe if I'd been held over in Korea for a few more months, maybe if I hadn't volunteered to pitch that day, maybe if I'd been a better pitcher, I'd have remained in the Army for the full 20 years.

Today would have been my retirement day.

I miss being in the Army; I think about it every day. I often wonder where I would be and what I'd be doing if I was still in the service. Some of the finest people I've ever been privileged to know were those with whom I served, and if I have one regret it's that I've kept in touch with so few of them.

Neat Summary

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Life as a shift worker, aptly described on Sunday's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent":

Detective Barek: I've never worked a graveyard shift. It must leave you a lot of time during the day to get things done.

Creepy Suspect: Oh, during the day I just sleep.

Detective Logan: Oh, sleep all day work all night. Aren't you afraid you're missing out?

Creepy Suspect: On what?

Yep. That's about it for me. "On what," indeed.

On the plus side, I'm on swings, not mids, I do get Mondays and Tuesdays off, and there are benefits arising therefrom. Last night, for instance, at about the time I would normally be thinking of having "lunch," I went to go see the Carolina Hurricanes deliver an impressive 7-2 ass-whuppin' to the Montreal Canadiens.

It's not a social life per se, but it's a reasonable substitute.

Zombie Time

After a rather late night at the office, I suspect that two and a half hours of sleep is not going to be enough to get me through the day.

Effects

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As I get older, there are side effects of age with which I am not particularly thrilled. My knees and back, much abused in my younger days [the "jumping out of helicopters" years], continue to give me grief. I'm only 43, but some days my knees feel like they're 90.

On the other hand, there are things for which I am very, very glad. Much of my hair, for instance, has migrated from my scalp to other regions... but I consider it to be my great good fortune not to be in competition with this guy.

Not yet, anyway.

*Yawn*

I work evenings/nights. I go to bed around 4 or 5 a.m.

I really wish people would stop phoning me at 8 or 9 a.m.

Fatigue

I've been covering the midnight-to-8am shift of one of my co-workers, who took a few days to fly out to San Diego to see a football game.

If I were to fly to California, it wouldn't be for so petty a reason as an athletic event.

In truth, though, he flew out there to see his Dad AND to see a football game, and I was glad to help him out by adjusting my schedule. However, the temporary change in my work schedule is playing merry havoc with my sleep cycle.

Last night on the way into the office, I stopped for gas. As I got out of my truck, I heard the "keys in the ignition" warning tone... and promptly locked the truck door and shut it. With the keys inside.

If you have to lock your keys in the vehicle, I suppose a gas station is the ideal place to do it.

I was only a little bit late for work. And I didn't doze off even once.

No Kidding

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You know that motto for Altoids Mints? "Curiously Strong?"

Well, they mean it. I just broke a tooth on one.

Hours and Days

My work schedule has firmed up. I'm now a dedicated swing-shift guy. 3pm to midnight, Tuesdays through Saturdays. Good thing I'm a night owl.

Hey, someone has to mind the store while all the bigwigs are out golfing in the afternoons and carousing at night.

But I find it amusing that while my employer is the corporate scion of a highly organized communications entity, I still can't get a phone installed at my desk.

Date Observed

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Today is the 48th anniversary of my parents' wedding. Would that Dad were still here to enjoy the day.

Love ya, Mom.

Geek Heaven

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Day One at the new employer... wow. If first appearances are any indication, this is going to be quite exciting, with a lot of hands-on work with advanced technologies in important environments.

I do believe I have entered Nerdvana.

Moves

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Due to some real-world career matters, posting may be a bit light for a while.

I've decided to accept a reasonably lucrative offer that came pretty much out of the blue from a Very Large Provider Of Network Services Which Shall Remain Unnamed. I'll be in training all week next week, and thereafter I'll be working some unusual hours. I have no idea what effect this might have on my already-sparse posting.

This new position takes my career in a slightly different direction, but I'm eager to make all of it that I can.

But, dang... now I have stock my wardrobe with chinos and polo shirts.

It could have been worse — it could have been suits and ties.

Wanted Man

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Most people, when contacted "out of the blue" by the FBI, might be a bit curious as to why. I certainly was, when I had an e-mail from them this morning. They had apparently heard about me....

They know I'm a linguist, have a military intelligence background, and experience in internetworking.

But I'm afraid that, despite my intrigue at the possibility of being helpful, I'm just too old to become a rookie FBI special agent. They have their standards, and the maximum cutoff age is 36. I sent a polite reply to the recruiter.

Man, it hurts to say "too old" — I must be the world's youngest old codger.

Does Not (Cannot) Compute

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I've been struck with some sort of upper back, neck and shoulder pain that makes sitting at a desk, typing and mousing uncomfortable (to put it mildly.)

Which pretty much sucks, what with me being the geek that I am.

Age

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I hate getting older.

I was going to refrain from commenting on the fact that today is the anniversary of my birth, but I figure that at the very least, I can take the opportunity this day affords to thank my Mom for bringing me into the world. I wish my Dad was still around so I could thank him, too.

Thanks, Mom, for everything.

I hate getting older, but it's better than the alternative.

Real Man

In my life, I have been privileged to know or to meet a number of men I would without reservation call Real Men. Only one was famous, but all had qualities that made them admirable. They all set examples that other men could profit from. More to the point, they were men I respected and admired.

First, of course, was my dad. I have known people who had exceptionally bad fathers, and it makes me all the more grateful that my own father was a good man. More than good — he was the kind of man that other men often want to be like. I never really realized how well-liked he was until he died and I heard from so many of the people who had known and respected him.

I have written briefly about two other men, LTC Whitham and COL Shine, here (contrasting them with a certain politician.) I admired both men greatly, and I hope I learned a thing or two from them. I even met Joe Foss once. He was a "man's man" in every way, and wasn't too self-important to take a few minutes to speak with a young fellow such as I was.

There have been other men I've known who were and are real men, men who, though not famous, leave their marks on the people they meet. One such man was Steve "Airboss" Herod.

Over the course of the last couple of years, I had heard of Steve in a "friend of a friend" sort of way, but had never met or spoken with him. Last November, however, I had the good fortune to meet him and his dear wife Elaine at a social event one evening. At the gathering, it was obvious to me that everyone present admired and respected him, and though I was in large part an outsider at the event and there almost by accident, he made the effort to engage me and make me feel part of the group. That was exactly the kind of thing my dad had always done.

Saturday, I learned that Steve "Airboss" Herod had been felled by a sudden heart attack.

I knew him only briefly, but he was instantly identifiable as a man among men, larger than life, a man who'd seen and done it all; he was one of those men that other men want to be like. I wish I'd gotten to know him better.

Others who did know him better have written more and better than I can do:

Obey the Sticker

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I give blood regularly. I've done so since I was 18.

Because of my size commitment to helping the community, I do double red-cell donations. For such donations, the Red Cross folks hook the donor up to a machine which then extracts twice as much blood as a usual donation (no, not all at once), sorts out the red cells which are kept for medical use, and then returns the plasma to the donor via the same needle through which it was extracted.

It's a pretty spiffy way to donate blood. You are basically doing two donations in one visit, which means that instead of going in to donate every eight weeks, you go every sixteen weeks, and still get "credit" for the same number of donations... not that credit matters. And they use a smaller needle (if that's important to you.) Plus, you get a spiffy sticker plastered on your shirt:

Blood Donor Sticker

The downside is that you're missing twice as many of the oxygen-carrying red cells, and it can take a while to recover full capacity.

Also, it feels like the machine refrigerates the plasma before returning it to the body — I think that's merely because the blood spends enough time outside the body to drop in temperature before the plasma is returned. The Red Cross folks keep blankets handy, because most double-donors get chills during the process.

And of course, it takes longer. With a regular donation, I can squeeze out a unit of blood in under ten minutes. The double donation process takes a good deal longer; I think I was hooked up to the machine for about half an hour today.

Not everyone can do double donations. You have to be above a certain height and weight, and your blood iron has to be above a certain level. (Here's a fact sheet.) They also usually prefer donors with blood type O, though other blood types might periodically be in demand. If you meet those criteria, I recommend it.

Even if you can't do double donations, I think anyone who can should give blood regularly.

Uncle Russ

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For the past few days I've had three, count 'em, three generations of Emerson women visiting here — my niece, sister and mother.

Apparently, since I am the designated bachelor in the family, they see it as their mission to take care of me whenever they visit. Invariably, this means cleaning and redecorating my house and feeding me more/better than I normally feed myself... and I should note, as regards feeding: I'm a darn good cook, even if I do say so myself. But Mom is far and away better.

I do appreciate their concern. But it's a bit overwhelming — they whoosh in, and in an estrogen-induced flurry of activity begin moving pictures from one wall to another, moving furniture and [fake] houseplants around, cleaning things that I am perfectly capable of cleaning, and making the occasional broad hint that having what might be euphemistically referred to as a "legally-united permanent live-in decorator, chef and heir provider" might be better than me remaining the designated bachelor in the family.

On the plus side, I did get to spend a good deal of "uncle time" with my 11-year-old niece. We made it through the entire extended version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy over the course of the visit. Explaining the concept of Tolkien's conception of elves to an 11-year-old can be a challenge, not to mention teaching the difference between orcs and Uruk-Hai... but time spent with any of the kids is all good.

I have two nieces and a nephew, and they're all great, but I rarely ever get to see them. It's a pity, really... any time spent with them feels like time not deducted from my lifespan. They really are great kids. Smart and talented, and... well, apply all the superlatives you might usually associate with a proud parent's description of his kids, and you get the idea.

They're getting older, though — soon all three will be snotty teenagers with whom I, as a matter of principle, must refuse to associate [though more likely, they will not want to be seen with their middle-aged uncle, lest I do something to cause them to die of embarrassment.] The lad is already thirteen, but the snottiness hasn't hit him yet. And though I know it's inevitable, I also know that by the time they hit their mid or late 20s, they'll likely grow out of it and I can go back to being Good Uncle Russ.

I think I could use more visits. Maybe the next time the womenfolk come, I can get them to paint.

Happy Birthday, Dad

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Tonight I'll be thinking about my Dad, who passed away almost eight years ago. He'd have been 69 today.

Here's last year's post.

If you happen to be one of the folks out there who knew him, I hope you'll join me in raising a glass to his memory.

Nightmare

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For the last few years, I've had a recurring dream. Not every night, but once every two or three or four weeks, I suppose.

It's never exactly the same dream, as far as I can recall. But the end of the story is always the same: I get killed in a car accident.

Sometimes in the dream, it's my fault. Sometimes it's another driver's fault. I rear-end someone at 50 MPH, someone t-bones me in an intersection, someone crosses the center divider. And sometimes, it's no one's fault at all. Falling trees on a windy day, earthquakes while I'm on a bridge... once it was an airplane crashing on the freeway. Deus ex machina, I suppose.

But I always wake up in the nick of time — usually a small fraction of a second before the crash. That's bad enough, but sometimes I wake up after. After the broken bones, the burns, the maiming. Those are the worst.

When I wake up, it is with the certain knowledge that if it had been real, I'd not be here to tell you about it.

I really seriously wish I would stop having that dream.

Things About Russ - 1960s Edition

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I was almost born in a VW Beetle. My folks were on the way to the hospital to have me when their car car ran out of gas. Beetles made before 1962 had no gas gauge... but fortunately, they also had a one-gallon fuel reserve.

I had the chicken pox twice.

I was only 18 months old, so I didn't know at the time what was happening, but I remember the hubbub surrounding the JFK assassination.

My first stitches, at age 5, were the result of unintentionally intercepting a rock with my head during a rock fight between some other kids in the neighborhood. I still have the scar.

The first movie I was ever taken to was The Sound of Music, at the Century theaters just up the street from the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Thirty years later, I saw Men in Black in the same theater.

When I was 5, I used the word "ain't" in my father's presence for the first and last time.

The second movie I remember ever seeing was Planet of the Apes at a drive-in theater. Like the rock-catching incident, it scarred me for life.

As a child, I used to hold my breath until I passed out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don't quite remember doing that.

The first nightmare I ever had was about my Mom mysteriously falling out of our car while driving us kids somewhere.

The house our family moved into in 1968 in Cerritos, CA was only a block or two from a pick-them-yourself strawberry field. The L.A. area was much less built-up back then. I still love strawberries.

Many of my friends' parents spoke Dutch.

In the narthex in our church were photos of the young men in our congregation who had gone off to Vietnam. They seemed like giants to me... and still do.

The Apollo 11 moon landing was — and remains — the greatest event I ever saw on TV. I'm still a fanatic about the space program.

Hippies? Never liked them. Still don't.

Update, 3/9/05: Prompted by my own dear mother, I am forced to recall an incident which I had almost completely forgotten....

But It's A Good Kind Of Tired

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Brain: fried.

Stomach: acidic.

"Dogs": barking.

Eyelids: drooping.

I'm just pooped. Maybe I'll have something tomorrow.

Don't Ask

Q: How was my day?

A: I wore a suit today, fer cryin' out loud.

That's never a good sign, unless you're a CEO of something. Which I'm not.

Loser

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I lost something valuable. Not monetarily valuable, but it had loads and loads of sentimental value. I've retraced my steps over and over trying to figure out how and where I lost it, all to no avail. I have no clue to what happened to it.

It was something unique and irreplaceable. At least, I don't think I'll ever be able to find another one even slightly like it.

Maybe it'll turn up later. Such things have an almost magical way of reappearing when you least expect them. I really would like to find it — I may end up burning down my house and sifting through the ashes to find it.

There's no other word for it: sometimes I'm such a loser.

[Update, 12/5: Found it.]

Promises

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About a year ago, I made a promise to a friend.


Late last year, I had begun considering getting a cat or two. After all, it's a big house for me to live in all alone — I've lived alone for most of my adult life — and at times I'm bloody sick and tired of being lonely. I was unsure, however, if I would be suited to a cat or if cats would suit me, and I just wasn't sure I'd want the responsibility.

At about the same time, a good friend had a need for temporary quarters for two of her cats, Xaxu and Mycah. She convinced me that a "trial run" with her two cats would be better than adopting one only to find that I was not suited to tending animals. My friend is a very devoted lover of animals, and the fact that she considered me trustworthy enough to tend her animals is something I will always regard as a significant honor. I had never been entrusted with a charge quite like that before.

So I promised that I would look after her beloved cats and return them to her in good condition when she was ready for them.

The little furballs arrived in Raleigh as air cargo on a cold blustery January day. I had re-injured my back a week or so earlier, and was barely capable of walking, but I had made a promise to a friend, and come hell or high water, I was going to keep it. I drove to the airport to pick up the cats.

The flight was hours late; the clerk at the cargo terminal told me the flight had experienced bad weather along the route and had been delayed in Dallas. I knew the cats were having a tough and rough trip. Rather than drive home and return, I waited in my truck (SUV) at the airport — leaned the seat back and tried to relax while keeping my eyes open for the arrival of the cats' flight. Eventually — about two hours late, as I recall — the flight arrived and the cats were cleared through the cargo terminal.

Being barely able to walk, I had to carry their carrier cages one at a time through the cold to my truck. Mycah made a lot of noise, meowing constantly; I thought she'd taken the travel badly, even worse than Xaxu, who made no sound at all. I looked in to see if he was alright — he was backed into the corner, looking out at me. Not a happy cat, I thought to myself. They had had a very long, very difficult day.

I got them home and out of their cages in the bathroom where I had set up litterboxes for them. Mycah fairly danced with glee at the opportunity to use a litterbox. She settled in right away.

Xaxu was a good deal more reluctant, but he finally came out of the carrier, used the litterbox, and as I opened the door to let them both out to explore the rest of the house, he immediately hightailed it out of the bathroom.

It took me hours to find him — he had found a couch he could fit under, and hid there for the next week, coming out only to eat and use the litterbox. Every time he saw me, he dashed back to his place of refuge. After a week, he would come out from under the couch while I was in the room, but for the better part of a month it was where he spent most of his time.

Mycah had taken the travel pretty well, and had warmed up to me within hours. Xaxu, on the other hand, had obviously been traumatized by everything associated with his relocation — the awful flight, hours upon hours of confinement to a small carrier cage, having a new person looking after him. But I had made a promise to take good care of these cats, and I meant to keep it. I talked to him, I fed him treats from time to time, I petted him whenever he demanded it. In what seems now to have been a short time, he became my little buddy. He was, of course, very cattish — would only allow me to pet him for a minute or so before dashing off to play with a stuffed mouse toy, or lay in the sun shining in through a window. But at least he allowed me to get near him, and he would come to me.

Then he had a problem.

In June, I noticed what felt like a small growth, maybe a wart, on Xaxu's ribcage. It didn't get bigger, but when I took both cats in for worming, I asked the vet about the growth, just in case. She wasn't sure what it was, but considered it a possibility that it was a skin cancer, a "mast cell tumor." We scheduled a date and time for it to be surgically removed.

I had, after all, made a promise to take care of him.

On the appointed date, Xaxu was reluctant to be put into his cage, as he had been for his first trip to the vet — a perfectly natural reaction, given his previous cage experiences. He knew that the cage meant he was going to be put through trauma of some kind. His terror was evident as I drove him to the vet for the procedure, and his piteous meows were enough to break my heart. I get misty even now remembering it. I did my best to keep him calm on the trip to the vet, but he remained terrified. I dropped him off — it was early morning — and was told to pick him up that afternoon, after the anaesthetics had worn off.

As I left the vet office to go about my business for the day, I was in a funk. What if it really was a cancer and had metastasized? What if it was inoperable? These scenarios went through my head, and all I could think was what would I tell my friend if her cat was terminally ill, on my watch? It would not have been my fault, but it would have been my responsibility. I would have failed to keep my promise to a friend. And, I realized, I would have failed my new furry little friend. I don't think I could have borne either failure lightly.

After the procedure had finished and the drugs had worn off, I was called to pick Xaxu up and take him home. The ride home — indeed, any ride — terrified him. But again, who could blame him? Every time he was stuffed into the cage, he was going to be bounced around for hours on end, or stuck with needles, or have pills forced down his throat. You would be reluctant, too.

For the return trip from the vet's office, I bought Xaxu a "comfort carrier" — a wicker basket with a cushion, and a dome-shaped cage that fit on top. Much more open than the usual carrier, and indeed I think he was more comfortable. He tried to squeeze out through the bars, but as I drove him home, I reached a finger through the bars and rubbed him, talking to him constantly, trying to offer a measure of comfort to him. He seemed to do better, but when I got him home, he disappeared under the couch for a day or two. He returned to normal quickly enough.

I was relieved to tell my friend that her cat was not going to decline and die. I had made a promise, and it looked like I might be able to keep it.

Then Xaxu got sick.

Very sick.

Perhaps two weeks after the growth was removed, he became lethargic. Almost overnight, he stopped eating, would barely drink anything at all, turned his nose up at his favorite treats. He had severe diarrhea. I was frantic. I rushed him to the vet; he complained — cried, even — all the way. It was heartbreaking. But how do you tell a cat "this is for your own good?" He was having another very bad travel experience. I think the new carrier helped — I was able to scratch him a little as I drove to the vet, talking in soothing tones the entire way.

I had the vet run every test imaginable on his blood and stool samples. I was worried that the tumor had metastasized, that he was on a terminal downward slope, but no cause was ever found for his illness. The vet gave him an IV — he was severely dehydrated [having had dysentery, I know the feeling] and I was given pills with which to medicate him and a lesson in how to give him the pills. To him, it must have seemed like torture, but how can you make a cat understand that it's for his own good? You can't, you can only try to make him comfortable.

I had to force feed him baby food and plain yogurt with a big blunt syringe, and had to give him his pills every day. I watched over him at night, not wanting to go to bed for fear I would wake to find a lifeless little body. Over the next week, he accepted my ministrations, and he slowly began to recover. He had truly been close to death, and I lavished attention on him. My mom, visiting at the time, noticed. I hope she was pleased that I treated the little guy so well.

And the whole time, every minute, I was afraid I would have to tell my friend that Xaxu had gotten sick on my watch, that he had died, and that I had failed to keep my promise to return him safe to her. To do so would have been devastating to us both. She loves the cat, and I found that in the brief time he had been with me, I had come to love him too. When he got up from his little sickbed, walked over to his dish and ate his regular food, I could have wept for joy. I think my "happy dance" scared the neighbors.

Living alone as I do, Xaxu and Mycah had become my companions. I had never before been solely responsible for the life of another creature. Sure, we had a dog when I was a kid, and we loved him dearly, but I was not the only one responsible for his health and well-being. It was different with Xaxu. It was completely and solely up to me to make sure he was healthy and happy. And after he recovered, I think he realized who had taken care of him, who had spent hours and sleepless nights watching over him; he began to truly warm up to me. He would lay on my chest when I went to bed at night while I did my customary reading; he would sometimes sleep next to me at night; he would spend time every day perched on my mousepad as I worked at the computer, getting his chin scratched. He was my little buddy, and he was happy and healthy.

I had made a promise. But I didn't count on learning anything substantial from it.

In the course of my custodianship, I learned something about myself: that I could unconditionally care about and for someone or something other than myself.

And then the time came for Xaxu to be reunited with my friend. Mycah will be staying with me for the foreseeable future, but Xaxu's time to go home had come. I think he could tell something was in the wind — he seemed to spend his every waking minute within arm's reach of me, and became insistently affectionate.

After the trip the cats had taken to get to me, I had promised that I would not put either cat on an airplane ever again. Never again would they be traumatized by being confined in a cage for hours on end with no friendly humans to comfort them. So I packed my truck, put food, water and litterbox in the back for Xaxu, and loaded up his favorite things — the blanket he likes to curl up on, the stuffed mouse toys he likes to run around with, his scratching post.

He got into his new carrier almost without resistance. As I drove west, he cried, thinking no doubt he was going to the vet again. But as the miles and hours passed, I think he realized that it wasn't the vet to whom he was going, but he of course didn't know where he was going, and that scared him. I talked soothingly to him, and let him out of his carrier, being certain that he would not interfere with my driving. We made frequent stops at rest areas. Eventually, he perched on the console between the front seats of the truck, and I petted and scratched him, and talked to him in an effort to keep him calm and comforted. As darkness fell, he lay on the center console, put his front paws on my lap, and dozed off.

I arrived at my sister's house after the first day's drive, and he retreated underneath the rear seat — he knew he would have to get out of the truck, but his past experiences had taught him well, and he was reluctant to do so. But I got him out, and brought him (and his food, water, and litter) into the room in which I would be staying. He made himself right at home, but he made absolutely certain to sleep right next to me that night.

The next morning, we again loaded up the truck and began driving. The first day had been about six hours on the road; day two was going to be 14 hours — a long stretch for a person, but an interminable hell for a small cat who doesn't like to travel.

But he did well during the trip, mostly. He curled up on the back seat and dozed on his favorite blanket, he used his litterbox, he curled up on the center console. And again, I spent most of the day talking to him and petting him when he was close enough. Frequent stops for bathroom breaks (for me) and petting (for him) probably didn't hurt, either

As the sun set, I still had hours to go, and I was getting tired. But even more than that, I knew the hour was rapidly approaching when I would return my little friend to his home. It was hard. And as it got dark, Xaxu wrapped himself around my forearm, refusing to let go, tucked his head into the crook of my elbow, and dozed. It was as if he had placed his complete trust in me.

34 hours and 1300 miles after leaving home I handed Xaxu — tired, scared and confused by the whole ordeal — to my friend.

Promise kept.


Why did I do it? Why did I spend the last ten or so months caring for a cat, taking him to the vet, making sure he was well, and then driving halfway across the country to bring him home again? Because I made a promise to a friend, a friend for whom I care. I was never before sure that I could unhesitatingly give or do as much for another person's happiness.

"Let her meet you halfway," some said. No. I made a promise.

"Just put him on an airplane — it'll be cheaper and faster." No. I made a promise.

"Just keep the cat." No. I made a promise.


A few days later, as I rolled down the highway on the way home and darkness fell, I reached down to pet Xaxu. He wasn't there....

My little furry friend has gone home, and I miss him. And yet I'm sure the loss I feel is only the smallest fraction of what my friend had felt over the past year, being without the creature she loves so much. I love the little guy too, and miss him terribly already, but I take comfort in the knowledge that he is with the only person on the planet who cares for him more than I do.


Some people make promises with no intent of keeping them. Others make promises conditionally, keeping them only if it is convenient to do so. I have, at times in the past, been that way.

No more. A promise is an oath, a contract, a covenant: not to be made lightly. If you don't intend to keep the promise, say so up front. If there are foreseeable conditions under which you might not be able to keep the promise, say so at the outset. Or don't make the promise.

It's important to consider not only the promise one makes, but to whom the promise is made. In this case, I gave my word to a good friend. There is no condition short of my incapacitation which would have kept me from keeping my word. Had it been a promise to someone else, I might have attached conditions. But to this friend, my promise was unconditional. Period. That is why I drove 1300 miles there, and then back, over the course of a week.

I discovered something else along the way. I had made a promise to my friend, but by the time I kept it, I found that I had made that same promise to a little black cat, too — that I would take care of him to the best of my ability.

Promise kept.

I'd do it all again for my friend. And since I still have Mycah — perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently — I may someday be called upon to do it again. Until that day comes, I'll be doing my utmost to keep her healthy and happy.

I promise.

Monday, Bloody Monday

A road trip looms on my horizon, and I have a ton of things to get done before I go.

Naturally, I'm sick today. I'd suspect it to be something I ate, if I'd eaten anything substantial in the last 24 hours.

As long as I stay within five seconds of a commode, bucket, or trash can I should be just fine. Too bad some of the things I have to do today involve leaving the house.

Is puke good winter lawn fertilizer?

Sorry... that was just gross.

Men in Skirts II

[The following is NOT a paid presentation.]

Once in a while during my daily browsing I just start clicking other peoples' blogads to see where they lead. Not that I'm actually doing any shopping, but I find myself interested and, alternately, amused or appalled by the things people will sell.

Today's find, via Powerline, has a tagline that caught my eye: "Still Bloggin' in your PJ's?"

The advertiser was Sport Kilt. Interesting enough on its own; I think kilts are pretty darn comfortable, and I keep expecting them to "catch on" here in the US. I'd wear one [not commando style.]

It would be much more acceptable nowadays for a fellow to wear a kilt in the course of a normal day than it would have been, say, twenty or thirty years ago... but I bet a guy would still get some funny looks.

As I looked around the Sport Kilt site, something in their "Wall of Fame" really caught my eye: photos of US servicemen, some in Iraq, in kilts.

The only fiddly little objection I have is that many people wear tartans of clans or other groups of which they aren't members. I'd never wear a Campbell tartan, for instance; I'm not a Campbell.

Fortunately, there is a tartan I'm entitled to wear. Otherwise, I might have to settle for Woodland Camo. Maybe I'll do something about it in time for next year's Tartan Day.

Blah

Headache. Fever.

Can't be the flu. You have to have human contact to get the flu... don't you?

Road Trip

The real world is interfering with my blogging today.

Plenty of good reading material in the links over to the left, though. Click the buttons to expand the blogrolls, and read some of the great blogs I read.

[If you're new to this business, the little asterisk in front of a link in the blogrolls means that the blog in question has been recently updated.]

Self Reliance

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I live in a pretty decent neighborhood. Solidly "upper middle-class," maybe "lower upper-class"... lots of professionals live in my neighborhood. If we all banded together, we could start a high-tech company all our own.

We're somewhat out in the sticks, too — our little subdivision in the woods west of Raleigh is the last one you get to before you're in genuinely rural territory. Cows, horses, ostriches, that sort of thing. Livestock. Crime here is virtually non-existent, if not actually non-existent.

A couple nights ago, while I was lying in bed reading prior to turning out the light, I heard a noise downstairs.

It was not the usual cat-generated noise — the cat was lying on my chest getting a one-handed chin-scratch while I held my book in the other hand. Nor was it the common "wind-blown twig hitting the side of the house" noise.

This sounded like someone trying to get in the sliding glass door off my back deck. I've never actually had anyone get into my house before, but that's what it sounded like to me.

There's a phone next to my bed. A police visit would have been a mere 911 call away.

The thought of calling the police never crossed my mind.

What first crossed my mind was get a firearm.

The thought of calling the police never crossed my mind.

What first crossed my mind was get a firearm.

Not call a cop, but get a gun.

Five minutes of investigation determined that it was no mere twig that had blown up against the house, but rather a length of branch about 1" in diameter knocking up against the sliding glass door. No big deal after all.

I delight in imagining, however, the look of utter surprise a burglar might wear on his face when confronted by a giant (me: 6'8", 300+ lbs.) in jockey shorts wielding a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun. The sound of that slide racking is probably enough to cause severe and immediate bowel hyperactivity.

Epilogue: I returned upstairs to my room, to be greeted by a slightly miffed feline. He looked at me from the foot of my bed, no doubt indignant that his chin-scratch had been so rudely interrupted. I'm sure he thought I was an idiot cowboy. That's OK — I think he's French. I know which I'd rather be.

SSDD

See previous entry.

The Blahs

I'm sidelined with some kind of eye infection. It's not painful or anything, but let's just say that I can think of better things to do with my eye than look at a computer monitor today.

Nightmare

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The last 24 hours have sucked. Side effects from the gout medication were awful. I think I spent 16 of the last 24 hours in the bathroom. (But it's still better than the gout.)

Then, I ran a fever all afternoon and evening; I finally broke it about half an hour ago with the assistance of sweatshirt, sweatpants, slipper-socks, and four heavy blankets. I'm still drenched with sweat.

I think I might just survive.

I'm pretty sure I haven't slept more than 6 of the last 48 hours. I did drift off this evening, though, and had the weirdest dream.

It was the last night of the GOP Convention, and as all the delegates were preparing to return to their hometowns, a bio-weapon with a long incubation time was released by terrorists.

How my dream-self knew this was the case is beyond me; dreams are weird.

I don't remember the middle of the dream, except that it involved force fields subdividing the continent to contain the plague; dreams are weird.

My fever broke, and the dream ended with the cities of Teheran and Damascus incinerated; dreams are weird.

And scary.

Colchicine

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Some of the side effects of the gout remedy colchicine:

Vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea may occur with colchicine therapy, especially when maximal doses are necessary for a therapeutic effect.

Or, in other words:

Everybody out! Two exits! No waiting!

I feel like I've been through a wringer. But it's still better than the gout pain.

It figures

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I'm not quite ready to remove my foot...

... yet.

I knew it would happen again. Naturally, I have no medication. Good thing my doc can see me on short notice.

Update: Yes, I'm talking about gout. No, I'm not 80 years old... it just feels that way some days.

Regret

Once upon a time....

I was out of the Army, in college, and I met a girl... no, a young woman. Her name was Bertha Barrera. She was just a few years younger than I. We went out on a few dates, and in no time at all, I was in love. I lived just to see her every day at school. I thought about her constantly.

We went on a few more dates, but I was a clod. "Introverted" was the understatement of the year. "Socially awkward" doesn't even begin to describe my condition. "Tongue-tied" was my usual state. I just didn't know how to carry the relationship forward. I never figured out how to tell her exactly how I felt about her. Being a poor college student didn't exactly help, either.

The last time I saw her was during graduation week. She had taken time off from school, so she wasn't graduating with our class, but she was welcome at the cookout we threw to celebrate the occasion. She made a brief appearance and, as she left, she hugged me, I stammered... and she was gone.

I never saw her again.

I imagine she's never known how I really felt. I imagine her life has gone on as most peoples' lives do. I bet she has two kids and a dog now.

I've moved on, but I will always regret not being able to tell her I loved her. I will always regret that I will never be able to tell her that, to this day, part of me still loves her.

I truly hope she is happy and well in whatever she is doing now; I pray her life is good.

I can still see her face, smell her perfume. I'd give anything to see her just one more time, just to know that she's well.

<Sigh.>

Good Times

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Some of the best years of my life were those that would seem to have been the toughest. I'll bet that's true for a lot of people.

In April of 1988, after two years of Army training, I arrived at my first permanent station — Alpha Company, 102nd MI Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Hovey Korea.

As all assignments to 2nd ID were at the time, it was a one-year assignment, considered a "hardship tour" by the Army. Most places the Army sends you, they will let you take your family and household with you - but not 2nd ID.

Many called us the "tripwire division" (in case the North Koreans decided to come south to unite the peninsula once and for all), but we ha-ha-only-seriously referred to ourselves as the "speedbump division." We were under no illusions that we might survive intact if the Norks came south. We just had to slow them down long enough to allow stateside units to deploy to the Korean peninsula to put pain and destruction on the enemy.

The living conditions in garrison were uncomfortable but not unbearably so — but for the first several months I was in Korea, it seemed we were rarely in garrison. We lived in tents and bunkers overlooking the DMZ, performing our mission. After a stand-down for the '88 Seoul Olympics, we returned to a slightly less active field operational cycle: a bit more time in garrison and a bit less time in the field. But make no mistake: we lived "under canvas" much more than any stateside unit might.

It was a tough routine — not as tough as our lads have it in Iraq and Afghanistan have it — but it was important and satisfying work. Those of us there became just about as close as it is possible to become in a peacetime Army. We lived together, deployed together, partied together... you might think we'd have been utterly sick of the sight of each other, but you'd be wrong.

As a Korean linguist, I figured that Korea was the best place for me to do my job, so rather than automatically rotate back stateside when my year was up, I extended for another year. Several of my colleagues and friends did the same. More field time, more hard work, more 100° monsoon weather, more bitterly cold winter — but it was worth it. At the end of the second year, I extended for a further six months, figuring I might like to return stateside after 2½ years.

In August of 1990, Saddam Hussein sent his army into Kuwait. I figured I was going to be stuck in Korea for longer than I had anticipated, but fortune smiled on me, and two weeks before a freeze was put on all transfers, I departed Korea.

Those 2½ years in Korea were among the best in my life. We worked harder (and played harder) there than I have anywhere before or since. Those are days, good and bad, that I'll never forget. The people I served with were the best I've ever known.

One phenomenon new to me at the time of my assignment to Korea was that of "unit coins." Individual units often had coins minted, typically with a logo or the unit crest and a motto; the coins were presented to soldiers who had earned the right to be called "one of us." I still keep mine, just in case I ever run into another veteran of A/102nd MI.

a102coin.gif

Diameter: 1¾".
Obverse: Tasmanian Devil ("Taz") holding lightning bolt and magic wand, wearing headphones, rucksack and boots, standing above Korean word for "Victory".
Reverse: mottos. (And now you know where I got the tagline for this site.)

Better

Yes, I'm better now — it must have been something I ate.

Imagination, however, is still lacking.

Lack of Imagination

Say what you will, call me a Negative Nelly, but for the life of me I can't think of any way to possibly construe throwing up at 4 in the morning as a good thing.

Friday the Thirteenth

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Oh, lucky day....

This morning, while munching on what qualifies in this house as "breakfast," off popped the crown from my lower left molar.

Fortunately, I didn't swallow the darn thing. So I called my dentist for an appointment to get it cemented back in. An answering machine picked up the phone.

They're closed on Friday? Since when do dentists only work four days a week?

OK, OK, it's not exactly an emergency — I'm not in any pain whatsoever — but still... it's going to be a long weekend.

Maybe I need a new dentist.

Chores

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Saturday... Mom is visiting... so I have to at least appear to be doing useful stuff on the weekend.

This morning: paint the ceiling in guest bathroom. Thankfully, it's only an 8-foot-high ceiling. Yes, I'm extraordinarily tall, but painting involves pushing a roller up against the ceiling for half an hour - it gets tiresome.

I gave it a coat yesterday, and ran into that age-old problem: being able to tell where you've already put fresh white paint on top of older white paint. Oh, bother. So after dinner last night I ran out to the home improvement store and bought a gallon of that "color changing" ceiling paint.

I'll admit to a bit of trepidation this morning as I rolled a coat of lavender/pink paint onto the ceiling, but sure enough, it's already fading to white.

Very cool. Sometimes I just love technology.

And my deltoids have had a nice workout.

Gone, but...

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My Dad died seven years ago today.

I still miss him.

Burn, Baby, Burn

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Since the flamethrower incident last week, I've worn a bandage on my hand, putting on a fresh batch of antibiotic & gauze each day. I could tell it was healing nicely, so yesterday I left the bandage off. The scars of the scorching were still there (they aren't really too awful), and the skin was still a bit tender, but the blistering appeared to have gone away. That antibiotic ointment had really done the trick.

I went out to give the lawn a much-overdue mowing. It was a beautiful sunny day, temperature around 85°. Took maybe 45 minutes or so.

Apparently, however, it's not a good idea to expose recently-scorched skin to the sun. Big ugly blisters had sprung back up, so it's back to the bandage for me.

Sigh.

Well, at least I can still cook a fresh batch of barbecue. It's a bigger piece of pig than I usually cook, in the brine since last night. I'll start the fire shortly and let it smoke for a couple hours longer than usual.

Steve is cooking today, too. I have got to meet the man sometime; even though he uses an electric smoker, I imagine we could trade ideas on good barbecue.

Time to go get the fire lit....

Ronald W. Reagan, 1911-2004

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I grew up in California; Ronald Reagan was the first governor I remember.

governor.gif
Welfare's purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence. (January 7, 1970)
Heaven help us if government ever gets into the business of protecting us from ourselves. (April 12, 1973)
All who have led California since are but pale shadows of his greatness.

My formative years were years when America seemed to be on the decline. While I was in elementary school, the Vietnam War raged. As I began junior high school, a president was forced from office, and his successor had to deal with crisis after crisis. During my high school years, Carter was in the White House, the economy was in shambles, the military was falling apart, and there seemed to be no hope of improvement. The Soviet empire was expanding unchecked.

There was little good news about anything, from anywhere.

Then came Ronald Reagan, and all that changed. All of it.


I caught my first hint of optimism as a freshman at Wheaton College. The campaign leading up to the 1980 presidential election, the first in which I was eligible to vote, had caught my attention because of my former governor's candidacy.

Then he made a campaign stop and speech at my small midwestern college.

What is it that Americans truly want, for themselves and for their country? . . . All we want is to live in freedom and in peace, to see to it that our nation's legitimate interests are protected and promoted. We want to see our children have at least the opportunities we had for advancement or maybe even better.

We want to worship God in our own way, lead our own lives, take care of our families and live in our own style, in our own community, without hurting anyone or anyone hurting us. We want the kind of personal security human beings can reasonably expect in a system of economic freedom and democratic self-government. And, yes, we want to bring the blessings of peace and progress and freedom to others. (October 8, 1980)

I was hooked.

On the occasion of his birthday this year, I recalled my encounter with Mr. Reagan on that day he came to our college. I deeply regret that I have no photo of that moment. My parents met him a decade later, and did get a photo.

I recall Mr. Reagan's election and inauguration as a time of ever increasing optimism. We had a man in the White House who was clearly determined to shake off the malaise of the previous years and to stiffen the spine of American resolve in the face of the greatest threat we had ever faced.

We cannot escape our destiny nor should we try to do so. The leadership of the free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia. (Jan 25, 1974)
No weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. (First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981)
The other day, someone told me the difference between a democracy and a people's democracy. It is the same difference between a jacket and a straight-jacket. (December 10, 1986)
Our cause is still, as it was then, the cause of human freedom. (Jan 30, 1986)
Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! (June, 1987)

It wasn't only in matters of defense and foreign relations that Ronald Reagan encouraged Americans. When he took office, the economy was in tatters. I well remember working part time in a bank when I was in high school, and seeing interest rates in the teens and even low twenties. Unemployment was in the double-digits. Gold was selling for over $800 an ounce.

Reagan took office and, with the help of a rightward-shifted congress that followed on his coattails, began his program of economic reforms.

The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing. (October 27, 1964)
Have we the courage and the will to face up to the immorality and discrimination of the progressive tax, and demand a return to traditional proportionate taxation? Today in our country the tax collector's share is 37 cents of every dollar earned. Freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp. (October 27, 1964)
We believe that liberty can be measured by how much freedom Americans have to make their own decisions - even their own mistakes. (Feb 7, 1977)
The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much. (Frequent saying.)
For many years now we have preached 'the gospel,' in opposition to the philosophy of so-called liberalism which was, in truth, a call to collectivism. (March 1, 1975)
Every dollar spent by government is a dollar earned by individuals. Government must always ask: Are your dollars being wisely spent? Can we afford it? Is it not better for the country to leave your dollars in your pocket? (Feb 7, 1977)
campaigning.gif

Always, always, always his theme -- and his dream -- was Freedom.

We should never forget that, and always try to live up to his ideal of an America that stands as "a shining city on a hill," a beacon of freedom to people around the world.


When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.
cowboy.gif
We have every right to dream heroic dreams.

Farewell, Ronald Reagan

Mocking My Pain

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After the "flamethrower incident" Tuesday, I expected a bit of sympathy from my family.

Mom was sympathetic, but I thought I detected an "I raised an idiot" undertone when I spoke to her on the phone.

Then yesterday, I opened my front door to discover that a package from my brother & sister-in-law had been delivered. Omaha Steaks. The sort of thing that must be grilled.

My own brother mocks me.

The little brother who should respect and admire me for too many reasons to mention here. Young whelp. No respect for his elders, none at all....

I'll show him, though. I'm not giving up my love affair with charcoal-fueled cooking... and as I chow down on those steaks, I'll have the last laugh! Muhwahahaha!

[Thanks for the nice gift, Brad & Holly.]

Playing With Fire

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Yesterday I fired up my smoker. The pork shoulder was brined and seasoned/rubbed, the weather was perfect, and I had a real hankerin' for barbecue.

About an hour into the cooking, I noticed that smoke was not issuing forth as it ought to have done. A glance at the thermometer showed the temperature was falling. So naturally, I grabbed a handful of hardwood charcoal chunks and opened the hatch.

Ever see the movie "Backdraft"?

The charcoal and wood-chunk fire had apparently been starved of oxygen (I later realized that I had not opened the vents. Dumb mistake.) Meanwhile, flammable fumes had apparently built up in the smoker... helped, I would imagine, by alcohol from the bourbon added (for flavor, of course) to the water pan inside.

I opened the hatch... letting in the aforementioned oxygen.

For just a fraction of a second, flame shot out of the opening. Even as brief as it was, it resembled the exhaust of an F-14's jet engine on afterburner. Fire like that could have done some damage if it had been directed at something flammable.

Fortunately, my hand was in the right place to keep the flame from escaping into the wild.

Result: almost no hair left on my arm. Oh, and there's also the little matter of first and second degree burns on my hand and wrist.

Everything I know, I learned in the Army[1]. My old drill sergeant would have been proud of me as I applied my first-aid training. Either that, or he'd have been berating me as an idiot, I'm not sure which... but I probably deserved both.

So now I'm keeping my hand smeared in antibiotics and bandaged up. What a nuisance. This post took nearly an hour to type.

But the barbecue was amazing.

[1] Yes, everything.

Men in skirts

Ith, who brings us Absinthe & Cookies, is masterminding a Gathering of the Blogs for Tartan Day:

Tartan Day

Go over to Ith's and let her know you want to participate.

Now, my family heritage may not be terribly Scottish. Or not Scottish at all -- the ancestry on my Dad's side traces back to Thomas Tupper, one of the founders of Sandwich, Mass. [actually, rather a lot farther back than that... 12th or 13th century Germany would appear to be where the family originated, but that's another story], and on Mom's side to the Netherlands. But I do nonetheless have an "in" for Tartan Day....

In 1896, for a period of a few months, Sir Charles Tupper was Prime Minister of Canada. He (along with the Tupper family) was granted a tartan by the monarch at the time, Queen Victoria.

OK, so the connection is tenuous... but I'm claiming it nonetheless.

I do have another association with Scotland, of course. That alone should qualify me to participate.

(Thanks to Blackfive for the pointer.)

Happy Birthday, Dad

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Dad was born into the Great Depression, lost his father when he was only three years old, and grew up in poverty, in what passed for slums in the San Francisco of the '40s and '50s. What kind of chance could he have to succeed in life?

He went to college due to athletics - basketball and football. Even in the '50s, college athletes weren't presented many academic challenges. He loved to tell us about a class he actually took -- "Square Dance Calling." But he was a bit more studious than that.

He was educated to be an English teacher, and retained a love of literature all his life. I have a lot of books, but Dad had a lot of good books. But when he graduated from college, there was a glut of English teachers; his career path veered away from academia.

He took a job for a small finance company, starting at the bottom as a collector and repo man. Back then, finance companies often sent their collectors door-to-door with a ledger book and a cashbox to collect peoples' monthly loan payments. Dad got the "hard cases" -- he used to tell us of the butcher who always answered the door wearing a blood-spattered apron, meat-cleaver in hand. He wouldn't ever pay the other collectors, but Dad collected where others had failed.

He quickly worked his way up in the business. At age 37, he became president of a finance company at the edge of disaster, turned it around, and took it to the peak of success. He stayed at the helm for over 20 years.

He was a respected leader in the business community and in the church.

He (and Mom, of course) raised three of us kids, none of whom are in jail, on drugs, or otherwise screwed up. (OK, we may be a bit screwy, but not screwed up.)

He and Mom did it all on their own. No handouts, no Welfare, no wealthy great-great-uncles.

At age 60, he retired from the bank and began working on a startup. Then, just six months later, he died.

Today would have been his 68th birthday.

I think about him every single day.

Dad and Bounce

I still miss him terribly.

If I were a horse, they'd have shot me

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Sorry for the lack of bloggery. I have a note from my doctor.

Gout.

Gout?!? That's something out of a Charles Dickens novel, right? No one gets that in the 21st Century, right?

Right? Right? Right?!?

Right. Well, I got it.

I already knew of one other guy who has it... but to my surprise, I discovered in conversation that a couple of the guys on my street have it, too. I'm just a year or so over 40, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that my body is beginning to show signs of wear, but these guys are as much as 10 years younger than me.

Now, I've talked in the past about pain. Back pain of the kind I occasionally experience - due to a herniated disc - can be debilitating because of the widespread effects it can cause. When I have an "incident," I feel it from my back all the way down the legs. The slightest movement is painful, as are standing or even sitting still. But I can lie down and the pain subsides. Bed rest is good.

Gout, though... this is different. Different bad, not or different unusual.

Last Monday morning I woke up feeling some discomfort in my foot. Not pain, just a sense that there was something wrong. During the day, the discomfort turned to an ache, and then to distracting pain in the ball of the foot. Monday being a telecommute day for me, I was able to elevate it and keep ice on it. No luck. Aspirin wasn't helping much, if at all. The whole day sucked, but a good night's sleep would take care of it, I hoped.

Not quite.

Tuesday dawned, and the pain was still there. And I had a meeting to be at. A three-hour meeting. No telecommute for Russ. It was bearable, but getting worse. As soon as the meeting was over, I went home to ice my foot down. On the way, I called my doctor for an appointment - but nothing was available until late Wednesday afternoon. Dang. More ice, more aspirin. I didn't get much work done at all. Come bedtime, Unisom was needed. It didn't help much.

Wednesday... I said then:

given the opportunity, I'd have cheerfully removed my own foot with a hacksaw.
That is not an exaggeration. The only thing that kept me out of the Emergency Room that day was my inability to negotiate the steps down into the garage to get a power tool. I know, I know, it sounds silly - but the pain was truly mind-altering.

My foot had swollen and started to bruise, and the pain was pounding, almost pulsing up my leg. I knew I hadn't broken anything - I'd have remembered that. I was more concerned than ever.

The previous statement, by the way, is my official submission for The Understatement Of The Year competition.

I'd have done almost anything to be rid of the pain. And, unlike a back injury, there was no "comfortable position" I could get into that would make the pain stop. Elevating the foot seemed to take some of the pressure off, but the difference was inconsequential.

I called my doctor, to try to get an earlier appointment. "Hahahahahaha! Get lost," the receptionist said.

"Bite me. I'm in serious agony here," I replied, nonplussed.

"Suffer, foolish mortal," she quipped gleefully.

"Get bent. Need I remind you of my gold-plated insurance?" quoth I.

"Uh... OK, we can bump you up to 1:30," she relented.

After exchanging cheerful expletives, I rang off and got ready to go to work.

I had a little difficulty putting on a shoe. A lot of difficulty, actually. A lot of gasping-in-pain eye-watering cursing-out-loud difficulty. But I managed it, mainly because I can wear sneakers to work, and laces are un-laceable. And because going to the office barefoot is frowned upon.

I had a 10:00 a.m. meeting - a big important meeting with my manager. To miss it would be a severe CLM. And another meeting immediately thereafter. No telecommuting for this guy that day. So, I made it to my manager's office.

My manager, on the other hand, didn't. Dang.

Praying for sweet, sweet unconsciousness, I hobbled to the next meeting. I don't remember a minute of it. My foot was on fire. After 40 minutes, I could take no more, made my manners, and left for home and an icepack. I implied earlier that getting a shoe on was tough. It was nothing compared to getting it off a couple hours later.

Nothing, but nothing, relieved the pain. I considered using some of my leftover Vicodin, but I was thinking clearly enough to know I didn't want to do that. Knowing that my appointment was soon helped me avoid the painkillers, I think.

  • 1:30 p.m. - I hobble into the doctor's office.

  • 1:31 p.m. - Doctor: "That's gout."

  • 1:40 p.m. - I finally believe he's serious.
Sure, sure, he gave himself a way out by suggesting it might possibly be tendonitis or arthritis. But the first thing he said was gout. And the whole time he's explaining the whys and wherefores, I'm thinking he could be actually doing something about it. Finally, I was given some kind of injection, a prescription for Colchicine (which has been used for over 100 years for gout), and a lab slip for a blood test to make sure of the diagnosis.

The doc's injection (a kind of steroid, I think - I wasn't paying particular attention at the time) and the Colchicine had their effects moderately quickly - the swelling began to subside and the pain eased that afternoon.

A word about Colchicine, or more specifically about the side effects: ouch. The nausea knocked me onto my butt for three or four days, which was a convenient place to have been knocked onto, since the other side effect had me in the littlest room in the house most of Wednesday night, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. All things considered, though, I'll take the side effects over the gout symptoms, any day.

It's Monday - and I can walk almost normally for the first time in a week. And I have a meeting I have to be in the office for later this afternoon.

Normality is resuming... but I'll have to keep an eye on my foot for the rest of my life. I hate getting older... but it beats the alternative.

OK, I said I was sorry for the lack of blogging. I guess this post makes up for it.

UPDATE: Aspirin and ice are exactly the wrong things to use for a gouty foot. It just figures, doesn't it?

Severe pain

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Since Monday I've been in pain, rapidly escalating to seriously mind-altering amounts of pain. This morning, given the opportunity, I'd have cheerfully removed my own foot with a hacksaw.

The doc says he'll have a definitive answer tomorrow or Friday - but the options are tendonitis, arthritis, or gout.

Gout? Gout?!?!

Blogging will resume when I can put my feet on the floor for more than 5 minutes at a time.

Missing

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California, my native state, used to be a great place; it really was "The Golden State."

The schools were among the best in the country. Every cop was Joe Friday. Two cars in every garage and a swimming pool in every backyard. We gave Ronald Reagan two terms as governor, then gave him to the nation.

California was where everyone wanted to be; indeed, the population has nearly tripled in my lifetime. It's almost as if someone had picked up the entire country at the east coast and shook it - but only the debris slid down to the west coast.

By the time I kicked the California dust from my shoes in 2000, the state had gone completely and, I fear, irrevocably down the toilet.

Still, when I left California to relocate to North Carolina I knew there would be things I'd rather not have left behind, despite all the things I don't miss one iota.

I don't miss the explosive growth of ill-governed big cities. I don't miss the crowding or the crime. I don't miss paying more for rent than most Americans pay for their mortgages. I especially do not miss the moronic PC crowd running the state into the ground, the exceedingly moronic city governments doing even worse to what used to be such great cities, and the criminally stupid bureaucrats driving the schools at top speed on a highway to educational oblivion. I don't miss the corrupt politicians like Willie Brown and Grey Davis. I don't miss paying taxes so lawbreakers can get freebies from the state.

Now, I have come to love North Carolina; there is nothing I can think of [family crises excepted] that could persuade me to move back to the People's Republic. I love the fact that there are four discernible seasons here every year. Even as late as November, the landscape here is just so green - a novelty for one such as I raised in perpetually drought-stricken California, where brown hills are the norm from April to January.

The culture here is far more polite, far more respectful. Children raised here typically address their elders (when permitted to speak at all) as "Sir" or "Ma'am," not by their first names (a habit I consider to be particularly rude.) Neighborhood block parties happen every year, and you know all your neighbors' names - and they all know yours.

Mmmm.... Pig pickin' and other barbecue.

Still, there are particular things I miss about California. Yes, I miss having the beach within a stone's throw and the mountains half a day's drive away. I miss the really amazingly excellent Mexican food - and even the not-quite-so-good Mexican food. I miss having a computer store within ten minute's travel from any place in the state. But I can live with the loss of all those.

What I miss most - unquestionably, unalterably, undeniably - is being close to my family. I miss seeing my nieces and nephew growing up - too, too fast. I even, on occasion, miss my brother and sister (but I suspect that's a symptom of temporary insanity on my part.) I feel badly that they are all stuck there, and I almost feel bad that I have been lucky enough to escape.

With Mother's Day coming up any minute now, I am reminded of how much I miss seeing Mom as often as I used to. Steve over at Little Tiny Lies misses his Mom, too. (Read all about it.) But I am lucky - I have a mother to miss, to try to be a good son to.

If I could only get her to leave California.

Love ya, Mom.

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