Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy thoughts

The bottom line is that we got really lucky.

The power's out, but last year, post-Hurricane-Irene, we made an executive decision of sorts and splurged on a full-house generator. It's something that I, literally, didn't realize existed until, just after Irene, I saw a genius ad by the Generac company. I knew you could go to your local hardware center and buy a portable, gasoline-powered, generator to run certain things, but I had no idea that there was a more permanent solution available to power most of the house. This thing is huge and is permanently hooked up to a natural-gas supply line. The electricity cuts out, and, within 30 seconds or so, the generator kicks on. It's important stuff because we live in an area with well water, and electric well pumps require, er, electricity. And not having water really sucks.

So, while I am hoping that the electric company does much better than their current estimate of restoring power to us six days from now (six days?!?!?), in theory anyway this generator will do us fine until then -- just with a significantly higher gas bill than usual.

Anyway, I apologize for not having any tales of Bear Grylls-style survivalist routines, but it just wasn't a *huge* deal right here in terms of actual damage, and, mind you, we were right on the northern side of the hurricane's eyewall where the wind was ripping. It was, on the other hand, a little tense to say the least in terms of thoughts like, "Holy shit. It's windy. It sounds like the siding is peeling off the house and a freight train is passing by within five feet of the window even though there aren't any train tracks in the area," and the like. All those thoughts are greatly enhanced at 2 a.m., two feet from a second-floor window.

But that doesn't mean I am completely absent of thoughts about this storm. So here, in no particular order, are a few of them:

-- First of all, even though we got lucky, a whole lot of folks didn't. Keep them in your thoughts, and, most importantly, send the appropriate charitable organizations some money to help them through this mess.

-- It never ceases to amaze me how one's focus can instantly narrow to the essentials when necessary. We used to always run into this phenomenon up in a friend's cabin in Maine on one of our early winter trips up there to play music and hang out. There was no heat source beyond the fireplace, and it wasn't rare to have it be 15 degrees F when we would arrive. *Everything* would center around staying warm. All the other thoughts and worries that you might have brought with you to the cabin? Gone in a flash. This hurricane was a lot like that. There are a thousand potential things to think about and focus one's energy on in a given day. Not so much when Mother Nature is beating down the door. It's like forced meditation.

-- What a lousy piece of timing it was for me to decide on Saturday that I have been drinking both alcohol and coffee too often lately. "Too much alcohol" equals just a daily drink the last couple weeks, but, dammit, it messes with my sleep when I indulge even that much. So does any caffeine after noon, unless I am going to be awake a lot later than usual for some reason. As a result, I resolved Saturday to knock out the booze entirely for a little bit, and limit myself to one cup of coffee each morning. God, it worked like a charm. Sleep was well on the way to being fixed within a day or two, but reading all my friends' Facebook posts about their epic hurricane alcohol stockpiling just made me want to pour a delicious whisky or two. I didn't. My willpower is pretty strong, especially when I know there will be an immediate negative effect, but, yeah.... The timing could have been better in the fun department.

-- I realized that sometimes -- in some sort of vain effort to avoid putting on my reading glasses, I guess? -- I shop by color. So there I was, buying a little extra dark chocolate for the ensuing storm. Lots of dark-brown packages. Yup. Half of it turned out to be milk chocolate, Shit. I ate it anyway, mind you, but shit. Not only is dark chocolate so much healthier, but I really like it much better. The offending item was chocolate with cherries in it. The dark version of that sounds unbelievable. The reality of the milk-chocolate version was a disappointment. But I still ate it. Let's not be silly....

-- Dogs are a riot when it comes to intuition. Our three (two older, one younger) are great almost all the time. But the youngest -- a hound named Ruby -- needs her exercise. Fail to walk her at least once a day for a decent couple of miles at a good clip, and she will torture you, the other dogs, everyone for that matter, with hyped-up energy levels. But somehow -- and really, I don't know how -- she figured out that the weather was so bad that she wasn't getting walked. She has been sleeping almost all the time for over two days now. Amazing.

-- The election is only a week away and, although Romney is nipping at the president's heels, I have to think the hurricane -- and both of their responses -- is a net political benefit to the president. Romney looks like a jackass. I just saw him at a political rally first urge everyone to put politics aside and think of the hurricane victims and then, a short time later, urge everyone to get out and vote early -- for him. So much for "apolitical." In contrast, the president looks, well, presidential. I have told you elsewhere that I am not a huge fan of either one, so don't view this as an endorsement, but the contrast has been striking.

-- But, much like last year, during Irene, the award for Awesome Governance in the Middle of a Natural Disaster goes to NJ Governor Chris Christie. The man is utterly above politics during this type of event, and, instead, just gets the job done. Hell, he even went out of his way to praise the president's response, despite the fact that he is an ardent Romney supporter. Well played, governor. Well played. I don't always agree with you, but this was, and continues to be, your finest hour.

-- Finally, it is almost impossible at this point to imagine this type of disaster without social media. You are stuck in the house, roads closed, etc., but somehow it is comforting as hell to get on Facebook or even Twitter just to see what your peeps are up to. Utterly ridiculous and fluffy most of the time too, but there ain't nothing wrong with a little fluff in the midst of the madness.

That all I have for now. Hope you and yours are safe.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Striking the balance, and questioning (your own) authority

I got into an interesting conversation recently about exercise. It had begun with a friend complaining that her heart and lungs felt great after a long run, but that her body was taking a beating. I suggested maybe shortening those runs, and picking up the pace. You know....The bang for the buck without the ouch. Then the subject of weight training came up and I said that it seems indisputable at this point that everyone should be doing *some* kind of resistance/weight-based training along with whatever else you're doing to get your heartrate up. No one really disagreed, but I remember the following line, uttered by someone else, really standing out:

"Everyone's different. In the end, the best form of exercise for you is the one that you enjoy doing the most."

And it got me to thinking. (Uh oh).

I just can't sign onto that theory.

I mean, OK, if what we are talking about is moving versus not moving -- exercising *somehow* versus not exercising at all -- I suppose that the statement is true. But, when life is (appropriately, I think) viewed as a neverending work in progress in which one is constantly trying to tweak and improve the good stuff and shed the bad and/or counterproductive, that sort of thinking strikes me as a sort of copout once you have already embarked upon the path of exercise.

Before you accuse me of being Captain Bringdown on this subject, please.... Exercise any way you want. Hell, for that matter, eat any way you want. I don't care. However, don't conflate what you enjoy doing or eating with what's "best" for you. You could very well be fooling yourself.

And I think that all is pretty easy to see when it comes to food. That double-chocolate-bomb milk shake? Delicious. Eminently enjoyable. Live it up. But no one thinks that is the "best" choice for you. Even if you take a less preposterous example, you can envision maybe something like 60/40 paleo (or primal) being a balance that you like and enjoy and which reaps a few benefits for you, but let's not confuse it with what is "best." If you dialed down the 40 part, you would likely be doing a lot better for your health.

Somehow, though, that thinking seems more unclear when it comes to exercise. People are doing all sorts of things that they enjoy, and which are often hard to do, but is it really the "best" for them? Maybe not, but somehow that gets lost at some point where enjoyment and pain/effort intersect, and people end up thinking that if they are working hard, sweating a lot and mostly enjoying it, it *must* be a very good thing. And it just isn't always. There are a lot of folks grinding themselves to bits, thinking that they are doing themselves an enormous favor, when, in fact, only their orthopedist is reaping maximum benefits from their exercise-related pursuits.

So I don't seem like I am picking on long-distance runners or other endurance athletes, I should mention that I would feel the same way about heavy powerlifting every single day, or CrossFit seven days a week. You may love it -- and, undoubtedly, there is extreme Zen value in doing fun things that you love -- but you also would be doing yourself a huge favor if you honestly evaluate whether what whatever pounding you are inflicting on yourself is really "best" for you, or whether you need to tweak that programming a bit (or dial it back).

Or maybe you say, "Eff it," and plow full speed ahead because you love whatever it is you are doing -- in exactly the volume and intensity that you are doing it -- so much that the cost/benefit analysis pays off for you in the end despite increased injury, wear and tear. I understand that approach, as long as it's done with a full awareness that you have elected "fun" over "smart." Hell, I do it myself to some degree with drumming -- an activity which brings me so much enjoyment that I try to ignore the damage it inflicts on me, but I also try to do it with some measure of restraint that I once didn't have. Maybe playing only a couple times a week, and not always at the speed of sound any longer. It's a big balancing act, but I would never think that drumming is, physiologically speaking, some sort of net positive for me at this point. I just love to do it and I have made a cost/benefit analysis that I am sure to revisit often.

So.... Just don't fool yourself. *That's* the point of today's little spiel. Honest reevaluation of, well, *everything* is healthy, and often that gets lost in the grind of the gym, the road, the trail, and, yeah, the drum kit.

Figure it out, and then never stop figuring.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

A corner, turned

This blog is a little like "Seinfeld"; it's not really "about" anything. Yeah, it has the paleo/primal/CrossFit angle going for it, or maybe I'll tell you about a gig or an album that blew my mind. Other times it's just about the weird twists and turns of life. File this one under that last category.

A long time ago, I told you about my dad's descent into dementia. At that time -- August 2011 -- when he went into nursing care, things were pretty chaotic, for him and me. He was, literally, physically attacking staff at the hospital, and was put on an anti-psychotic drug so strong that I could find *one* facility in the area -- short of a full-on psychiatric hospital (and for the love of Jebus, we don't need him in one of those places in constant physical danger) -- that would take him in upon his discharge from the regular hospital. So I had him sent to that one place, a locked-down, not-terribly-nice-but-better-than-a psych-hospital home for (mostly, but not all) elderly folks with mental issues of one sort or another. It wasn't great, not entirely safe, but it was the only option at the time.

Within a couple of months, he had calmed down and stopped physically acting out, and they were able to decrease/change his meds to the extent that I was able to get him transferred to a wonderful, safe little place where he has been since. Mind you, he doesn't think it is wonderful, but it is, relatively speaking, and he is safe, which is the important part. He has been in the new facility for a year now, and he is in increasingly declining shape, as you would expect for an 87-year-old. He has been placed on technical "hospice" care because at one point he stopped eating, and, apparently, if you aren't a hospice patient (who can basically do what they want), the facility would have to tube-feed you if you stop eating. The lawyer in me understands fully the legalities at work here; the human being wonders what the fuck we have gotten ourselves into when we are sticking tubes down the throats of 87-year-old mentally-ill people unless all the right forms have been signed to avoid a lawsuit. We wouldn't do that to a dog, but I digress....

So he muddles through the day -- endlessly listening to the radio, choosing never to leave his bed and screaming bloody murder if anyone tries to take him anywhere. And he has invented quite a tale. Someday, if I am organized enough, I will -- mostly for my sake, just to remember it, but you will be, no doubt, fascinated, perhaps even pretty amused, by it -- set forth for you the multilayered chapters of this fantasy. The core of it is that my dad thinks that he died back in March, was cremated and his ashes are interred next to my mom's. The guy in the bed, according to the story, is a victim of amnesia who was brought in the day my dad died, and who looks just like him, suffers from many of the same ailments -- but with little variations -- and is visited by many people, including some woman he apparently had a crush on years ago, a Delaware state trooper who was there to fix the washing machine and dryer in the facility but ended up pulling strings to an extent that the FBI fingerprinted the amnesia victim and determined his "real" identity (the same name as my father's but for one initial), and not one, but two, talking monkeys -- from Gabon. (The level of detail is amazing). But he still wants me to visit him even though he begins every visit with: "Now, you remember, of course, that, even though you call me 'Dad,' I'm not your father," after which the tale re-ignites with new layers, twists and turns, and the pronouns he uses become increasingly confusing. ("Dad, when you say 'I,' which 'I' are you talking about? My father, or this new guy?") It is a hell of a story, and I really need to write it all down before it goes away entirely -- which I suspect it is going to do soon because the doc just had to increase his meds, a step which, in the past, has always produced rather dramatic changes in the direction of the catatonic.

But this isn't about all *that*. This is about his house.

That fucking house.

Up until the time that he was carried out of his home by paramedics in August 2011, my father lived in the same three-story/five-bedroom house where I grew up. It was ludicrous that he stayed there that long, but there was no budging him. But once he was moved, it wasn't a simple matter of selling the place. First, the vagaries of tax/estate law being what they are, it makes significantly more financial sense to wait until he dies, have the place transfer to my brother and me, and *then* sell the house. But that isn't the *real* issue.

Haven't I told you before? My dad didn't throw very much away.

Yeah, he threw away *real* trash -- you know, garbage, the stuff that otherwise would attract rodents. But anything else you might expect someone to get rid of, like, oh, toys from when my brother and I were, respectively two and six years old? Half-full cans of paint from 100 different touch-up painting jobs over the years? 300 jars of various nails and screws? No, that shit -- and believe me, I have listed only a few of tens of thousands of things -- never got tossed out. It was put in the attic, the basement, various of the five bedrooms. Everywhere.

And clearing this out mostly falls on me. Yeah, my wife and my kids have helped when they could, but my brother lives 450 miles away. And we all have lives and responsibilities that have nothing to do with cleaning out the house of a crazy man who happens to be my dad. Plus I pay all the old man's bills (with his money, not mine), organize his taxes and other finances and generally keep the ship of his wrecked life as afloat as I can, interrupted by handling fantastic little digressions like dealing with the bank when, a couple weeks ago, someone *somehow* charged something to one of his credit cards that hasn't been used in over three years. (But now *I* am wandering again....)

So I have been chipping away at The Big Dig Out from his house. Since last December, when I finally got down to beginning this project, I have filled *six* dumpsters with trash. Not those little tiny square/cube ones you see behind a local restaurant, mind you. Six full-on giant rectangular dumpsters. When I haven't been filling dumpsters, or otherwise attending to things in my own life, I have been sorting papers.

Think about it: if a man has six dumpsters of trash in his house, guess how much *paper* there is to sort through? And I have to sort it, because there is, amidst a whole lot of nonsense, some important stuff in there.

Which brings us, finally, after a gazillion paragraphs of prelude, to the point of this post: yesterday, I sorted what was, I believe, finally (FINALLY!) , the last scrap of paper. Everything that remains in his house is now sorted into two categories -- trash for the seventh (and final) dumpster, or a donation to charity. The dumpster will be ordered soon, the house finally (FINALLY!) emptied and a bunch of cosmetic work done inside to purge the place of its current stylistic rut that we will call "1972."

This may not strike you as a big deal, but, trust me, if you were in the middle of the multi-month/mostly-solo spectacular that this has been you would have joined me in the butt-shaking touchdown dance that I did yesterday. Exile on Main Street was on the boom box that I always bring over there to stave off boredom and panic, and I joined Mick and Keef in the muted, but intense, celebration that is my very favorite Stones song. Dig.

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