Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Enjoy yourself; it's later than you think" (thereby avoiding the REO Speedwagon reference that everyone else is using)

We don't get a lot of hurricanes around the Philly area. Every now and then one comes by in the slightly used-up form of a tropical storm. There is a bunch of wind and rain, and we go about our business.

Irene seems a little different. First of all, it's hitting the NJ coast at still-hurricane force. Plus, we've had a metric ass-ton of rain in the last few weeks. The ground is saturated even before we get the extra foot of rain that is predicted. So I am a little concerned.

From a purely selfish perspective, I am principally concerned about two things: losing power (we have a well, so no power means no water) and getting water in the basement. Either or (shudder) both would be a monumental pain in the ass.

But you know what? It's a tired old cliche, but there is absolutely nothing we can do about either of those calamities.

And I guess that is the meager point of this meager post.

These storms reduce things to the basics. You can't go anywhere, so get to know your spouse again, or a little better. Have a drink. Hell, have a lot of drinks, just not so many that you can't leap into action if you need to get stuff done in the hurricane department. Eat stuff you wouldn't normally. My food obsession of the day is Ben and Jerry's Bonnaroo Buzz, which, somehow, the supermarket still had in stock just two hours ago when I decided I couldn't live without it, and my drink of choice at the moment is a ten-year-old Ardbeg that is a damn work of art.

This is kind of cool.

And, yeah, I am well aware that it is likely to turn a whole lot less than cool very soon.

A wise man once said, "Buy the ticket; take the ride." I didn't order this particular ticket, and the ride is coming whether I want it or not. Might as well try to enjoy it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rick Perry? Really?

Back in November, I offered the opinion that while a number of the GOP presidential candidates -- or what were then the *potential* GOP field -- were worthy of your scorn, one in particular deserved your outright fear and condemnation: Rick Santorum.

Well, that race has taken some interesting twists that I didn't foresee back then. Mitch Daniels never jumped in. Jon Huntsman became the (unlikely-to-be-nominated) adult in the race -- imagine... a GOP presidential candidate who boldly accepts evolution *and* climate change as fact. And the Rick Santorum moralizer wing of the race had to make space for both Michele Bachmann (and her husband) "praying away the gay" and Rick Perry running a campaign, so far, that is long on bluster, prayer rallies and generalities and really short on specifics.

Bachmann and Santorum are two peas in a pod -- religiously-fueled zealots so far on the fringes of the mainstream that I like to think, based on their performances so far, that they couldn't possibly win a general election.

But I am a little worried about Rick Perry. 

And then I began to think about *why* I am a little worried about Rick Perry.

It's because social conservatives freak me out, and science-ignorant social conservatives really freak me out.

I've never done The Big Politics Post that I've contemplated a number of times, but let's just say that my instincts run generally toward the libertarian without lapsing into either a man-crush on Hayek (although Salma's just peachy with me) or silly taxation-is-theft sloganeering. I dig my freedom in many forms and resist assaults on it from the right *and* the left -- and so it repels me when liberals want to control the content of the airwaves in the name of some sort of government-sanctioned "fairness" (look here if you want to see me raise a middle finger to Jay Rockefeller regarding that sort of thing) *and* when social conservatives want to tell us what adults we can marry. But lately, there seems to be a particular resurgence of the social-conservative moralizer as GOP presidential candidate, and when that gets paired with a science-ignorant stance that dismisses evolution as a "theory," it's downright frightening. The Rick Perrys of the world want to tell me what to do in my personal life *and* keep our kids in the dark about scientific fact by distracting them with non-science talk of "intelligent design" in a science classroom.

And don't think I'm not aware that the left often wants to tell me what to do too. It's why, while I am a registered Democrat, I am always willing to consider voting for any smart, reasonable person regardless of party. If Jon Huntsman were the GOP nominee, I'd have some thinking to do as the November 2012 election came closer. But I don't think Huntsman is going to get that nod. Instead, it is looking more and more like it'll go to Perry, one of a number of GOP presidential candidates who want to moralize at me from a social-conservative stance while laughing in the face of established science.

So it's looking more and more like the president is going to be my candidate for 2012. It'll be a vote cast more from the standpoint of repelling the dumb and preserving gridlock (rather than heading down a right-wing road) than it will be some sort of "I love Obama" statement. But if Rick Perry is the GOP nominee, I may not have much choice. Pun intended.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light

So, you may recall that a relatively short time ago, I said something about letting my then-kinda-crazy 85-year-old dad make his own choices in life, like to live alone even under circumstances that would constitute elder abuse if they were imposed upon him by others. I swore I wouldn't override his will even if he was acting against his best interest. I also used a qualifier that amounted to something like: "as long as he is competent to make that call."

How quickly things can change.

I was away two weekends ago on a king-hell fantastic hiking weekend with one of my sons in New Hampshire. I even blogged about it here. I also gave my dad a call just to check in on him, and things weren't right. I mean they *really* weren't right.

He was telling stories about having fallen (not terribly novel for him) but the explanation was different than the usual routine of just having misstepped. Instead, a phantom "he," later identified as his handyman, Rich, had boobytrapped the house and even stood over my dad laughing as he struggled to get off the floor. The same "he" was a frequent visitor. "You hear him in the early morning hours. Tap tap tap on the walls. Trying to drive me crazy." Oh boy. Then he said Rich had stolen his shoes, his keys, a pair of sneakers and his wallet. I had a feeling I might find them pretty easily.

So when I got back to the Philly area, I took a day off from work and headed over there to see just how far gone he was. I don't think was quite prepared for what I found. First, when I walked in, he said, "Rich, is that you?" When I told him Rich had quit days earlier (true story), he said, "Oh, he will be back. He always comes back at night." And then I started surveying the place. Furniture overturned in the living room. A broken fluorescent bulb in another room on the floor. Then, I started looking for a few of the missing items. Within minutes, I found them all. (OK, in the interest of accuracy, I should admit that there's still one shoe strangely unaccounted-for). So I said, "Hey, dad, you feel like there's anything wrong?" and his answer made me jump -- a wild, crazy cackling laugh followed by a denial that anything was amiss. My father doesn't cackle. Jesus.

And then I went into the kitchen. A wash of heat hit me from the stove. It was like a textbook on dementia come to life. There was a kettle, empty of water, blackened on the bottom, resting atop a red-hot burner on the (thankfully) electric stovetop. Double Jesus.

From that moment on, I went into what a friend calls "TCB" mode. Taking care of business. It was the melting kettle that did it, for sure. I went upstairs and called 911, and I was initially a hair apologetic: "Um, I am calling with what I *think* constitutes an emergency, but you tell me...." I told the operator what I had found, and she said, "Oh sir, I am calling you an ambulance."

I met the cops and EMTs outside and we put together a story to tell my dad, about how they were under orders to take him into hospital for an evaluation, etc. He balked, but ultimately gave in.

He isn't ever going to go home.

The battery of tests showed a prior stroke that we knew about, in theory, but, apparently, its effects may be spreading. Plus, they suspect another more recent one that couldn't be confirmed because he moved during the MRI.

The old guy fought *everything* in the hospital. He didn't eat for the first day or more. Despite the fact that he couldn't stand up, even with his walker, he physically attacked staff both of the first two nights and they started him on anti-psychotic meds to control his behavior. Later they added anti-dementia meds to the stew, after a diagnosis of "progressive dementia." He tried to lie his way out the door multiple times. But his ability to deceive others effectively had passed him by. My favorite attempted piece of misinformation involved a claim that "Dr. Doolittle" had authorized his discharge and could we please get going? How the nurse didn't laugh, I have no idea. Instead, she just calmly said, "Oh, you know, there really isn't a Doolittle on our staff of doctors. I know them all and none of them is named Doolittle." Katie, you are Nurse of the Year, if not the whole damn decade.

Ultimately, after a few days, a zillion tests, multiple meetings between me and various docs, nurses and social workers -- all of whom were several degrees greater than merely awesome -- my father was moved, against his will under a power of attorney that has me in control of his affairs, to a local nursing home in a locked dementia unit.

And, somewhat amazingly, when I visited him yesterday -- my first time seeing him at this place -- he was calmly sitting in a room full of similarly situated patients, enjoying a sandwich and watching the Phillies game with great interest. Mind you, when he gave me an update on the game, he had every single detail wrong, except for the inning, but trust me....reality isn't what we are looking for here. Safety and contentedness are all we can hope for and he seemed to be almost basking in both. Yeah, he still thinks he is going home. He even dictated a grocery-shopping list to me to fill in anticipation of his return home. But, again, I am not interested in attempting to correct him into understanding his plight at this point. I pretended to make the shopping list, and he seemed satisfied. I am also not stupid enough to think that every visit will go so smoothly. It's a work in progress, but at least now the artist's canvas sits in a safe place instead of dangling off a cliff as the work goes on.

So what can you learn from all this? Hell, in general, I don't know. I guess mostly hope your parents aren't as stubborn as my dad. But there are a few things that made this easier than it might have been. First of all, have a plan. Don't go into this stuff like a deer in the headlights or an ostrich hiding in the sand. When I first got to the hospital this time, I knew he was not going home again and I made sure docs, nurses and social workers were all on board for that approach. It required acting massively Type A and taking the bull by the horns and all that, but it paid off in spades. In fact, that was a multi-day project, but it was worth every second of effort. Secondly, have a power of attorney ready to go. If you have elderly parents and they haven't signed a document to give you control of their affairs if they falter mentally, you need to get that shit done. Now. Better yet, when you get the thing, read it and make sure it is detailed and gives you power over everything if necessary. The less you have to go into court (hope that isn't at all), the easier/smoother things will be. Finally, think about long-term-care insurance. My dad has it and it means that he will have fewer financial issues over this nursing home.

I was driving home from work today, and I *know* I was driving fast, and I *know* it was a sunny day, and I *know* the first Squirrel Bait album was soothing my cerebral cortex like only its Huskers/Mats hybrid roar can do, but there was something else along for the ride today that made me feel just a little better than all that wind and sun and beautiful volume could on their own -- the realization that maybe, just maybe, a very stressful chapter of my life was coming to a less-stressful close.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, August 15, 2011

"He said, 'Steve it's because people leave, and no highway can bring them back.'"

Three years ago, my friend Robert Wisdom died. No one can be sure of the exact date because he lived alone, and they didn't discover his body until the 18th. Best estimates from the coroner were that he had been dead about three days. Robert was 45.

I wish I had something more profound to say about the whole thing than that I miss my friend. I miss the guy who would go see a zillion bands with me based on nothing but my recommendation. He said to me once: "You have to understand. I trust your musical taste, and, specifically, your understanding of *my* musical taste, implicitly. I am a tempo junkie, and you get that. If you ask me to go, I know it's gonna be loud, fast, powerful and maybe or maybe not melodic. But I will like it."

He was kind to never bring up the two resounding failures that stuck out like sore thumbs out of all those shows I took him to: Son Volt and Phish. Robert was neither a twangy guy nor a jam-band devotee, but he suffered through both (hell, I suffered through Phish too...not sure what planet I was on when I bought those tickets) in good spirits, with the knowledge that, from his perspective, my batting average was still pretty damn high.

Robert is also the guy who, in 2002 or so, looked at my yard, all 2.5 acres of it, and said, "it'd be a serious fucking crime if you don't start having volleyball games out here." Say no more, buddy. We're still playing.

The last band Robert and I saw was Mission of Burma at the First Unitarian Church in Philly in the summer of '08. They were mindblowingly great -- a powerful reminder of how to age with grace and still keep your edge. Sadly, around the same time, Robert was sliding, health-wise. He had told me about a year earlier that he had diabetes and needed "to stop treating it with Coca Cola." By summer '08, he had been fighting leg sores, one of which nearly cost him his leg. I assume it was a diabetic complication that got him in the end. It doesn't fucking matter. My almost always funny, sometimes caustic, very smart friend is gone. Really gone.

After he died, in the punk-rock spirit of trying to make something good out of the bad, I redoubled my usual "life is short, motherfucker; do something!" outlook, joined a new band within days and had a great time with them for a few years. My biggest regret from my days in Mondo Topless was almost immediate: I remember coming home from our first Philly gig and saying to Jamie, "Damn, Robert would *love* this band." I thought that *every single time* we played Philly thereafter. And I suspect that he would like the Mud Falcons and our SST vibe even more.

So it's somewhere between poetic and odd that a couple days after I have a king-hell life-affirming great day on a mountain with my son -- an experience that was bookended by great conversation with an old friend, Kevin, who shares my "life is short" attitude -- the anniversary of Robert's death arrives. And simultaneously, there's an old man out there (my dad...see a couple posts back if you're unclear) who ruins his life and the lives of many around him by refusing to accept the aging process at all. We're all muddling through, folks, but it strikes me that there's a pretty clear path out there if you choose to take it. Take care of yourself as best you can. Spend quality time with the people you dig. Be nice. Have fun. Life is short. Do something.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"You were under the impression that when you were walking forwards you'd end up further onward. But things ain't quite that simple."

This is my first attempt at blogging from a brand-spanking new iPad that my wife gave me for my birthday. Excuse the typos that I am absolutely certain are going to happen, and that I am even more certain that I won't notice.

Anyway, yesterday was just about perfect -- an ode to the simple, the difficult, the outdoorsy and the vacation-y. So i thought I would tell you about it, while simultaneously learning to type on this contraption.

My 17-year-old son and I decided to make a quick trip to New Hampshire for a long weekend of hiking. We have it easy in terms of accommodations. My brother lives near the White Mountains and he was cool enough to let us crash at his place even though he and his family are out of town on their own vacation.

I'm a least in my head I am a hiker. In fact, I don't hike all that often anymore but I have done some great trails over the years -- Whites, Adirondacks, Greens, Catskills, Katahdin (more times than i can remember) and even (twice) an epic one-day stomp up Mount Whitney in CA, tallest peak in the Lower 48. So I know my way up and down a mountain, but, shit, life gets in the way, and sometimes you go longer between treks than you intend.

Over the years, a particularly gnarly and daunting challenge has been Mt Adams, second-tallest peak in the northeast and the tallest without a road to the top. (A digression: what's more annoying than hiking up Mount Washington and sharing space at the summit with a fat guy smoking a cigarette who drove up in a fraction of the time it took you to walk it?)

First time I went to Adams was about 15 years ago and my brother and I never got out the front door because the rain was so heavy. Next time, my wife and I headed up the Air Line -- 4500 feet of vertical rise in just 4.3 miles -- full of determination, but we gave up about a mile from the summit on the rocky ledges of Durand Ridge; an ice storm was pelting us in fog so thick that visibility was down to about 10 feet. Fuck summit views. We could barely see the trail. We bailed out at something called the Air Line Cutoff and hightailed it over to Madison Hut where nice people let us refill our water bottles amidst the sadness of another weather-driven cancellation. We walked down the not-as-steep but annoyingly dull Valley Way trail to our car. Adams had defeated us again.

A few years later, a group of us tried it up the Air Line again. In the group was my son Sean, who was about 12 or 13 at the time. He had a rough day, complete with intestinal distress that had him crouched behind a pile of wind-whipped rocks at 4000 feet taking a dump. Oof. But we made it. Temps were a little rough up top (for July) and the descent, down the Valley Way again because the guidebook told us that was easier than heading back down the Air Line, seemed unduly long and punishing on the feet. We were happy to have summitted, and that was about the extent of our happiness that day. We were sore and beaten up by the end of the 10 miles.

A few years later, Sean is 17 and here we are, back to take another, maybe more joyful, crack at that bastard of a second president of a mountain. The early plan was to try the even-tougher path up the King Ravine trail, but a wacky home accident a few days before we left had me sporting four stitches in my forearm and a little extra stiffness, and good sense took over and told me to give the Air Line another try. But this time there would be no Valley Way. Unless we spotted some nightmarish aspect of the ascent that we wouldn't want to descend, we would go up and down the Air Line. Emphasis on simplicity.

So off we went yesterday, Sean and my friend Kevin. He is a NH resident, and an old pal from long-ago Philly days. He and I haven't hiked together in 20 years. It seemed like more reason than ever to give it a shot. Life is short. Cue the Minutemen: "Dreams are free, motherfucker."

Weather was perfect. Perfect. That never happens in the Whites. The parking lot at the trailhead was so packed that cars were out on the side of the road...oh, except for that one open spot right at the trailhead sign. Thank you, Thing. That's ours.

The first mile flew by. I heard Kevin grunting a little behind me. Then he mentioned that an old knee injury was raising hell with him in the pain department. Within another half mile, he had to bail. It was a sensible decision. The trail was about to go whammo in the steepness category and he was in some substantial pain. I gave him my car keys and told him we'd see him in 8 hours or so. I waited until I had the keys back in my hand at the end of the day before I referred to his turnaround spot as "Pussy Junction." That's one reason I love Kevin: he laughed.

Sean and I soldiered on. And man, does the trail go up and up from there. For me, the hiking line between steep and really effing steep is 1000 feet of elevation gain per mile. Basically from Kevin's turnaround spot onward, it was all really effing steep. But it's an interestingly scenic brand of torture -- first heavy woods, then at about the 2.8-mile mark, the trees get small and then disappear, leaving you on the rocky backbone of Durand Ridge, where you can look just to your right, and then way way down, to see those poor bastards coming up that trail from King Ravine that you are now oh-so-glad you didn't take. You can also look way up over rocky promontories and try to guess which of those still-godawful-faraway peaks is the goal, because it's been just long enough since you were last here that you don't remember.

So up we went, weather still beautiful, rain gear and cold gear stashed away in our packs never to be brought out. We met a self-described "fat boilermaker from south of Boston," whose incessant LOUD chatter with us would have been annoying anywhere or anytime else, but not that day. No, his tales of business trips to the Jersey shore, work on nuclear reactors and his explanation of "how those fuckers could have easily prevented that Japanese disaster if only they weren't watching their wallets" kept us entertained all the way up the many (sharp! scary if you were to fall!) rocks to the summit.

And the summit, like all summits, was a place to eat a ton of food, gaze mouth agape at the majesty of 360 degrees of awesome, and thousands of feet of sheer drops, and begin to fret about the decidedly unmajestic prospect of the descent.

We checked our water supplies. We both had more than half of what we had carried up still remaining, so we decided to forego the (annoying) detour down to the Madison Hut to refill, and instead opted to head for the Air Line. Same way up as down. OK, technically not quite. The first 0.3 off the summit were on the not-as-steep Lowe's Path, then over the Gulfside back to the Air Line and then down down down.

And let me digress to say that I despise hiking descents. My wife, who encourages any minor Zen-like tendencies I might occasionally have, always suggests that I ought to figure out a way, meditative or otherwise, to enjoy the decent. But it wears me out. Gravity pounds my quads into jelly and it just fucking hurts.

But for some reason...CrossFit? Being 30 pounds lighter than I was two years ago? The fact that I kept a pact with myself that day to hydrate well and eat Gu packs every half hour all the way up and down the mountain in order to refuel energy levels? All of the above? just didn't suck. It took us 4.25 hours to ascend and 4.0 to descend. That is a mighty slow descent. It's rough, but... it wasn't awful. Good conversation with the boy, and a repeated silent mantra to myself of:"Just keep walking, jackass, and it'll all be good," somehow did the trick. At 4:30 pm we got back to the parking lot to find a surprisingly ebullient Kevin, who had spent his day poking around side trails at the base of the mountain and then crashing at a nearby lake for a while.

So what's the point of all this? Oh hell, I don't know. It's a whole ton of words to tell you that I had one of the best days ever yesterday. And sometimes that alone will get you through a whole lot of days that aren't.