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Reflections on Not Having A Mom for Half of My Life

A crazy little milestone happened recently that will never come around again. I have lived half my life without my mom. She died of metastatic lung cancer when I was nineteen years old. Now, I am rounding the corner to having gone through both my twenties and thirties without her. It goes without saying, but she’s missed out on a lot.

And now that I’m on the cusp of my forties, I’ve come to realize just how young she was when she died. I mean, I knew that fifty-two was too young to die, but now I have friends and family of my generation who are her age and/or older, and I don’t consider any of these people old, not by a long shot. I mean, I could’ve met my mother now and considered her a friend, an equal.

But I’m not throwing some pity party here. In fact, I’ve come to realize that her death, in a lot of ways, probably shaped my life for the better as it has forced me to reflect on what it has meant to have her as a mother. Sure, that might sound all sorts of fucked up to say for some. But, I’m not saying I actually am glad my mom died; I’m saying that I’m doing well with the cards I’ve been dealt. It’s useless to see it any other way. I’d like to think she’d agree wholeheartedly if she could read this.

There’s no doubt I love(d) my mom. She was incomparable. I could go on and on about all the great things she’s done and how she was a unique bird, but that’s not what I’m doing here. This writing is going to be about me coming to terms with a post-mom world.

I’ve seen a lot of people die. I’ve lost both parents. My wife lost both of her parents. I’ve lost a great friend. But I’ve also held a lot of strangers hands as they passed away. Working in ICU, ER, and hospice will grant these opportunities regularly. My mom was the first person I actually saw die. I stood at her bedside next to my dad and sister as she left this plane of existence, and there was no mistaking the moment. After all the sobbing and awfulness immediately following her death, I went home. And I picked up my guitar and wrote a song for her in one of those magic songwriting moments when the whole thing just tumbles out in one sitting.

It’s still one of the best songs I’ve ever written, and that song is arguably the best thing I’ve ever done artistically. I have recordings of it, but none will ever recreate or match when I performed it at her funeral. I’ve performed in front of a lot of people over the years, but I’ve never had an experience like that, of course. But what stands out to me about that time I sang and played was that I truly reached inward and pulled out the emotion that was there.

I wasn’t doing it for anyone else, not even her. I didn’t even feel nervous. I just waited my turn, walked up, and laid bare my soul in that moment of her funeral. I tucked my scribbled lyrics into her hands and she was buried with them. I barely remember anything before or after. I don’t even necessarily remember playing the song. But I remember the feeling of being up there. In a strange sense of the word, it was perfect.

That song is called “I Hope You Are Still Listening,” and the lyrics are as follows:

This won't change, but it changes everything
I feel like I left you, but I know you're the one who's gone
I miss you
We all miss you
I saw you leave right before my eyes
What finally pulled you toward the sky?
Of this pain, you are undeserving
I never felt it but I could see it in your eyes
It's so hard to let you go 
I am who I am all because of you
I hope you are still listening
I saw you leave right before my eyes
What finally pulled you toward the sky?
I love you as my mother 
I need you as my friend
I will forever hold you
This will not be the end
I'll tell my kids about you
If you watch them, you will find
I'll love them as you loved me
This is not our last goodbye

Not bad for a nineteen year-old kid who literally just lost his mom, right?

And what’s more amazing to me is the fact that, double the lifetime later, the lyrics still hold up. I’m a dad now. I have two glorious little children and I am giving them the love and care that I was raised with. Honestly, I’m doing better than my mom did for me. Don’t worry; she’d agree with that statement. No need to go into details; all of our parents fuck up, and my mom was perhaps too eager to point out her own faults.

I remember doing the calculation, mostly because I was curious. I’m turning forty soon, and so I knew the “Half-My-Life-Without-A-Mom-iversary” was coming up soon, and my math brain wanted an exact date. So, I visited one of the many websites that is willing to calculate years on the calendar for you, and voila! I got my date.

Now, I’m not openly stating that date for two reasons. First, simply, that would tie up enough information to calculate my birthday, which isn’t the wisest thing to post all over the internet. It’s not the end of the world, but still, best not to put that all over the place. Second, and more importantly, as soon as I got the exact date, I gave it a good old shrug of the shoulders, because the date doesn’t mean shit. It really doesn’t.

Grieving sucks. It just sucks. We like to compartmentalize it into stages for the sake of comfort, but really the stages of grief are just a way of saying, “What you’re going through is okay.” And while that sounds like a good plan, it’s not, really. Validation of self-destructive actions while grieving is just awful and disrespectful of the person lost, and validation comes in many forms. In America, validation of poor behavior in the name of grief typically comes in the form of “Let’s just not talk about it and see what happens.” Grief easily turns the corner to self-destruction if not checked by those who are still alive and love the person grieving. That includes self-love. Everyone is responsible.

And that’s why it sucks so goddamn much that Americans are so uncomfortable talking about death. Luckily, and strangely, and much to the chagrin of the easily horrified nearby, by sister and I share a great love for gallows humor. One of our favorite back and forth jokes (that I started, being the bastard little brother I am), is to comment on any social media post that mentions something emotional regarding the death of our mother (or father, for that matter). My favorite thing to do is to wait until a few friends of my sister have commented with the typical “Hugs” or “Thinking about you,” and then disrupt the entire thing with a resounding, “WAIT, MOM’S DEAD?!”

While this might sound to be a joke in poor taste (because it is), I find it to be one of the more important parts of actual grieving. You see, my mom had a sharp sense of humor and she would make people laugh left and right. When she died, I felt enormously alone and lost. I used her death and my grief to do a lot of shit I really shouldn’t have done, like fail out of college and establish a regular drinking habit, both of which she would never have wanted to see me suffer through.

If she was/is able to watch me, as implied by the lyrics of my song, then she would have been so sad and disappointed. However, I know she would’ve cackled at the “Wait, mom’s dead” joke, because she was unrestricted in her humor, and she wanted her kids to be happy, no matter what. It was beyond her. That’s what both she and dad told us over and over. “We don’t care if you kids turn out to be gas station attendants, just as long as you’re happy.”

And man, I wasn’t happy in my twenties. Not to say that I didn’t do a lot of great things and experience a lot of happiness, but I just missed the mark too often because I wasn’t focusing my aim. I was ignoring the shit I needed to deal with. I could easily file my actions into a stage of grief, feel justified, and continue to ignore it all. But I was mostly miserable.

But then, with the careful aid of a happy marriage to a truly wonderful woman and a lot of the foundational tools given to me by both of my parents, I set to work. I used my brain, heart, and soul to start pulling myself up. I took responsibility and no longer wallowed. In fact, I thrived. And really, most of this good work finally started happening in the last seven years after my wife became pregnant with our daughter.

In my early twenties, I’d shrug off marriage and parenthood, claiming that it wasn’t particularly essential. But honestly, I was shrugging it off because I didn’t think I’d be very good at either. My relationship with my wife went through a lot of ups and downs during our long dating phase. But we stuck with things, rolled with the punches, got back up when we were knocked flat, and truly enjoyed and worked at the love underlying everything in our relationship, both good and bad.

Going through all the tough conversations with her in order to bring our relationship to the strong point it now enjoys was essential to my perspective as a father and as a human being. It’s not the easy street that makes life enjoyable. It’s carving through all the tough parts to sculpt something worthwhile—something you can’t experience without work. And man, that’s definitely a large part of parenthood. If you’re expecting anything less than one of the hardest things you’ve ever been through, then you’re not thinking about the fact that you’re going to be raising human beings and giving a great part of yourself to them always.

It’s no mistake that I’m becoming a better person because I’m a dad. I give fatherhood the appropriate credit for my best shifts in perspective. If you’re doing it right, parenthood is a systemic dose of empathy and celebration of others. I mean, you get to help little humans get up on their own feet, both literally and figuratively. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Parenthood is an amazing and awe-inspiring opportunity and honor.

And reflecting on this is what makes it such an awkward shock that I haven’t had my mom around for half my life. But what’s amazing about this is that her lessons and life are still with me. They’ve come through in my parenting to this day. My mom hasn’t really died as a mother; that’s something that has definitely lived on in both her children. It would have been damned fine to have her meet her grandchildren, though. But as the song she requested to be played at her funeral goes, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

…but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.”

It’s that second line that brings it home. Easily one of my favorite songs of all time, and it’s thanks to my mom’s (perhaps morbid to some) request. I remember not listening to the Rolling Stones much and avoiding the song entirely when she mentioned the request. But I vividly recall driving around alone the day after her death and putting that song on.

As soon as the choir started singing in the song’s opening, I wept. I ugly sobbed, somehow still controlling the car. Then I breathed. I even smiled. Then, by the fourth time the chorus rolled around I was belting the lyrics out right along with Mick Jagger. I was suddenly thankful to have had the mom I did, even though it was for such a short time. I lost that feeling somewhere in my twenties but I did get it back, and it has stayed with me. I’ll never let it go again.

Celebrating my mom is essential. Grieving the morbid anniversaries is not. I don’t feel particularly grief-stricken each year when the day of her death rolls around, as that day has nothing to do with her value as a person. I calculated the day that began these reflections, the “half my life without a mom” day, simply to satisfy a curiosity. That date rolled around and I told my wife about it. “Is there anything you need to do for it?” she asked. I shrugged, totally unsure. I knew that the day would’ve passed without any acknowledgment if I hadn’t done the calculations, so I just dove in as a father and a husband and tried my best to have a good day.

And it definitely turned out to be an amazing day. I took the lead when it came to initiating an epic squirt gun fight in the backyard. My wife took the lead when it came to taking our kids out to a park specifically so my daughter could try her hand again at riding a bike without training wheels.

She was putting her feet on the pedals that evening, but something wasn’t quite clicking. The bike was staying up and coasting, which was awesome. But as soon as those feet started pushing the pedals, she’d second guess herself and plant both feet back on the ground.

“Put your hand on her back and run alongside her,” suggested my wife.

I was more than happy to. And that was all it took. That one hand, that vote of confidence. A hand on the back that was doing nothing but saying, “Your dad is right here,” and she was off. Her face glowed with pride. She could barely be removed from her bike for the rest of the evening. SHE GOT IT. Six years old, and my daughter is off and riding a bike on two wheels. I’m a proud papa.

And that’s what the day became. Not another day of mourning for a mom lost, but a day to celebrate my daughter learning to ride a bike. That, and a reminder of how far I’ve come with my mom’s hand still on my back, even though she’s not around.

I hope you are still listening, Mom. You are missed. I tell my kids about you and I love them like you loved me.

I love you, too.

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My Son is From the Chicken Star

What is a chicken star? Ask my four-year-old son. Well, he was three when he spilled the beans about his place of origin, actually. It was a strange and magical moment that continues well into the present day.

Here’s what I know about preschoolers: They are imaginative in the most fluid way possible. Watching both of my kids play during their respective preschool ages has been nothing short of mythical. They can/could both bounce in, around, through, and out of any subject, character, situation, or story without missing a beat. The imagination just streams out of children that age almost too fast. They often lose track of their own storylines which forces them to improvise new ones. This, of course, doesn’t slow the action in any way whatsoever. But if you ask them about the game they were playing earlier in the day, the details get sketchy, but understandably so.

This is why my wife and I believe our son is from The Chicken Star. It’s a story he began telling one evening and he hasn’t changed a detail since that night, flowing along with the tale whenever asked about it, as well as at random intervals.

He was probably about three and a half at the time. It was winter, and we had just left a restaurant we frequent. I was carrying him to the car in one arm and it was nice and dark out. The winter always brings the loveliest view of the stars, and maybe someone commented on the particularly clear evening, maybe not, but one thing was for sure: My son noticed.

A little, chubby finger shot up toward the night sky and locked in on a bright star to the west. His face soared and brightened. The words rocketed out of his mouth.

“THAT’S MY CHICKEN STAR!”

Naturally, some questions followed, but we didn’t need to ask any because he suddenly went on a garrulous roll. Strapped into his car seat and kicking, smiling, and looking out the window, our son who typically shouts to be heard captivated us all with his origin story. Here are the basics:

He lived on the Chicken Star before he came to Earth to be born from his mama. His sister was there, too, but he let her go first when it was time to go and that is why she is his older sister. The Chicken Star is filled with chicken people who only speak in “bawks,” but he understands them, he can speak Bawk. He also provided some bawks from the backseat as form of proof.

On the Chicken Star he has a best friend named Baby Winky who still lives there and Baby Winky lives in an egg but can come out whenever he wants so he can play and dance. Baby Winky can still talk to him while he’s here on Earth, but no one else can hear him. He misses his Chicken Star, but it’s nice to see it and we will all go there some day as a family and he can introduce us all to his friends.

This doesn’t cover half of it. He added so much detail and world-building that he talked about it for the entire twenty-minute car ride home, the whole time we were getting ready for bed, and had to be stopped when it was time to say goodnight.

My wife and I thought it was hilarious and really quite cool. Storytelling is a beautiful art, no matter how silly. Seeing our son just dive headlong into a story simply after seeing a bright star in the sky was fun and charming. We figured that would be the end of it when we said goodnight, and we were happy our son felt happy about his space yarn.

But it kept marching on the next day. We kept hearing about the Chicken Star. We kept hearing about Baby Winky. The details remained consistent, which is unusual for made up preschool tales. He wanted to talk more about it, and we wanted to listen. The story raged on over playtime and dinner conversations. The world became richer and more in-depth, and he told the tale with a bright, sweet enthusiasm.

To say my son is a physical kid is a little bit of an understatement. He will dive into anything and give it a good shot at the very least, often times leading to minor injuries. He wants to do things often and he wants to be strong and tough and be good at sports. And he often wouldn’t stop for stories. He has always had a love for books and listening to tales, but outwardly, he’s typically a wild man who doesn’t focus long enough to engage in dramatic play. But a lot of that changed after that night.

He’s still physical and wild, but Baby Winky has stayed with us, as has the Chicken Star. He will bring it all up randomly, as well as with other shorter tales, jokes, and ideas he comes up with. It’s funny, because we know it’s a part of him that has always been there, we just thought it was less so until that Chicken Star story exploded out of his brain that night. Since then, since seeing our enthusiasm for listening to him, he has accelerated in the storytelling department. It’s wonderful to watch.

When he was a little less than two, we were a bit concerned that he wasn’t quite on schedule for talking. He communicated and could follow any direction given to him, but he wouldn’t really get on with the words. His sister, on the other hand, has always been a big time talker. She basically came out of the womb greeting everyone with a warm hello. She would help her little brother make the connections all the time and say what he needed to say. And he was more than happy to have the help.

Well, one day she got croup, which led to laryngitis. She couldn’t even really speak above a whisper. And on that same day, her little brother who barely could muster out one word at a time suddenly busted out with complete ideas, sentences, and questions. Silence struck down his representative, so he spoke up. It was hilarious. And we cheered him on. Ever since, he has had no trouble expressing his mind.

And up until the evening of the Chicken Star, he’d keep it simple with wants and needs for the most part. His sister was the one to take the charge with the imaginative storylines and dramatic lead. But then, after we all cheered him on because of how great his Chicken Star story was/is, he’s lost any reservations for making up any little thing he can, all in the name of fun. It’s to the point where he’s difficult to stop at times. I love it.

We will always remember this about our son. Both of our children, really, but especially our son. As we watch him grow up and face challenges, we will help by giving encouragement, enthusiasm and our listening ears. He can do anything he wants to put his mind to, really.

I mean, he made it across the galaxy to be here, after all.

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An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg

Hi Mark, how’s it going? How’s that Facebook thing turning out? Good? Well, there’s something we have to talk about.

A lot of people are mad at you right now, and I suppose that’s somewhat justified. You’ve established the most widely accessed information exchange on the fucking planet, and you’ve essentially said that people should be allowed to post whatever they want on it, even if it’s a detrimental lie. The main argument in your favor is that old battle cry of “FREE SPEECH,” and that’s not exactly a great argument when it comes to private businesses. Both you and I know that. You can essentially do what you want as long as it doesn’t violate any laws or cross any ethical lines egregiously. That being said, both you and I know that you’re rich enough to have anyone killed and permanently erased from history, so the decision to be an ethical human being is truly up to you.

And that’s where people have gotten pissed in recent days. You control the greatest river of information exchange, and you’re essentially throwing your hands in the air, screaming (well, not screaming…you’re saying it in that uncomfortably robotic tone of yours) that it’s a free market of information, and you don’t see any reason to regulate it. The argument against this is simple and funny, and it’s summarized in the following meme I’ve shared on all my social media accounts.

Feel free to save and share this picture. It’s the truth* after all.

You’ve washed your hands, Pontius Pilate. It’s a free-for-all on Facebook now. And that’s the way it shall be. It’s your company, after all, and if that’s how it’s gonna run, then dag gummit, that’s how it’s gonna run. A ton of people are pissed at you right now, and perhaps rightfully so, at least, as far as their current line of thinking goes. But I have another take on it.

Here’s the deal: I’m on your side.

You probably didn’t get into Facebook thinking you wanted to regulate information, create a fact-checking conglomerate, and generally become the main hub responsible for people’s opinions on, well, anything in life at all. You wanted to make money from ads. You wanted to give people reason after reason after reason to use your website so you could watch the dollars roll in. It was and still is a good plan, as, well, holy shit you have a ton of money. Like, you have enough money that it would take at least 27 people over 94 years of life without a moment’s break counting one dollar per second to actually tally the amount you’re currently worth. I mean, that’s a truly fucked up amount of money.

You could essentially shut down Facebook today and multiple generations of your family would be set for life without having to work a single day. Yet, you don’t. Why? I assume it’s because you still have a passion for your company, and that passion does not include fact-checking information, no matter how obviously detrimental the lies are at times.

I mean, I understand why people don’t like you. But you and me, we’re cool.

Why? Because if people are looking for the truth, the simplest form is always the best. It’s not an easy task to take every single article and website shared by every single political figure and celebrity and fact-check them in order to establish some “lie-free” environment that won’t sway any elections, opinions, or political movements in the wrong direction. When we ask you to fact check, we’re asking you to be the beacon of honesty. We’re pointing the finger at you and saying, “If only HE would do his job, the world would be more fair!”

That’s complicated as hell. Let’s simplify. Here’s the truth, whether we like it or not…

It’s us, the users of Facebook, who are the problem. We are the awful ones. It is us who actually believes stricter regulations and checks on facts through Facebook will make a difference right now.

There’s been a handful of days when Facebook has struggled for a few minutes, or even an hour. No Facebook! Panic set in almost immediately each time.

FACEBOOK IS DOWN! suddenly streams across the news stations. There is panic. There is confusion. There is worry. And in these situations, there are basically two types of people: 1) People who are freaking out about it, and 2) People excited that the whole thing might be over…finally. My argument is that we all should be in group 2, whether we continue to use Facebook or not.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, there will be tons of people who, if they read this, will say, “BUT FACEBOOK HAS BROUGHT US TOGETHER! I HAVE THIS SPECIFIC INSTANCE/COMPANY/CAUSE/FAMILY MEMBER THAT WOULDN’T BE THE SAME WITHOUT IT!” And sure, they’d be right. But truly, what these people are saying is that their specific instance/company/cause/family relationship is truly fragile and relies upon a lack of work to, well, work.

Because Facebook is laziness. It is social laziness. It is laziness in information collection. It is laziness in relationships. It is laziness in opinions. There isn’t any work in Facebook; it’s an excuse not to work. And demanding that Facebook checks facts for all its users is just another step toward even more laziness. Do you have access to facts that the rest of us do not? Nope. Not at all. And most of your users are so saturated in their points of view (i.e., intellectually lazy) that they wouldn’t care if you presented a mountain of evidence that contradicted their world views. We don’t want to be challenged; we want to be stimulated.

And oh boy oh boy is Facebook stimulation. Actually, that’s all it is. But you knew that.

Stimulation is what gets users. Users get interaction. Interaction gets ad revenue. Rinse, repeat. You are an engine for getting people to come to your website, and nothing more. You don’t want to cross the line into a grand regulator of fact. Why would you? Who wants that job, anyhow? We all don’t, I know that. We would rather read and regurgitate things that support our worldview. Nothing more, nothing less. Hell, we enjoy our rage against those who disagree with us. We love the fight. And those who are for you fact-checking actually believe your taking this action will end the fights. No way. It will not.

People want facts, though. They want fair elections. They want peace. They want the world to be the way they see it functioning best. And somehow, they believe that all these things, in some way or another, rely upon the actions of your company.

So, if your company isn’t supposed to fact check, then what is the public in general to do about all the lies and crap circulating around your website with reckless abandon?

Well, once again, the solution is simple: they should either stop taking Facebook seriously and/or leave it altogether.

I’ve taken some personal inventory as of late, and I’ve realized that I don’t get facts from Facebook anyway. I get feelings. When an article shared by a friend supports my beliefs, I feel good. When an article shared by a friend goes against my beliefs, I feel bad. Hell, I even question the friendship. I share things from my life, not so much to simply share, if I’m being honest. I share stuff to feel good about the stuff I’m sharing. I want to be supported and encouraged. I want to have my “friends” reinforce what I already do, think, feel, say, and know. Rarely do I want to be challenged, if I’m also being honest, because who really does want to be challenged by their friends? It used to be a good, general rule not to talk religion or politics at the table, yet we bring it into the room on Facebook like that one asshole in the group who just wants to see people squirm.

Sure, there’s funny stuff, kindness, old connections made, and other benefits to Facebook, but what are the costs exchanged for those benefits? And why do we think we can’t receive these benefits elsewhere?

The younger generations have already caught on, and this pains you, I’m sure. They can duck and weave with the new platforms and closing ones, and you try to as well. You buy things that are emerging as competitors, challenging monopoly laws. You laugh as people say, “Fuck Facebook! Instagram is better anyhow!” Because you know damn well you own Instagram, too. Hell, most of the people saying this know it; they just don’t care. But the youth, who older people have enjoyed picking on since the dawn of time, can see the online platforms as temporary and invest accordingly. Hell, Snapchat was born from things not being permanent. Vine died, then TikTok was born. It will continue and wax and wane. And let’s face it; Facebook is dying, too.

If the younger generations don’t use Facebook, then it’s a resource that isn’t sustainable. It will go away. And then your focus will undoubtedly shift to the other companies you own that are doing better. And since Facebook is a sinking ship, who really cares about fact checking? Let Twitter be those heroes.

So, what is a person to do when they see Facebook ignoring ethical decisions and allowing false information to proliferate? What should they do if they see that Facebook’s influence and reach is actually making a difference in the real world? Should they truly rely upon you and/or demand that you run your company differently? That would be crazy, right? If they thought you were an ethical platform, they’d be more concerned about how much personal information you sell, not which news stories you tag as false.

If this were the real world, and if Facebook were a brick and mortar business, people who are complaining would simply stop using your business. But since the users are the product, people find it difficult to leave. Yet, they can. And if they leave, Facebook will go away faster than you already see it sinking. Right now, you’re relying upon that first group, the group that panics on the rare occasion when Facebook goes down, to keep you around for ages to come. If only they hung on, you’d still be a multi-billionaire. Hell, we both know you’ll die a multi-billionaire no matter what happens. So, why would you care to be ethical? That’s too much work. That’s too much to do. And it wouldn’t have much of an impact anyhow.

The solution is staring us all in the face when we look in the mirror. We need to stop allowing Facebook to be the arteries of facts and news if there is any hope for truth. It’s on us. There are ethical companies that provide a social network experience, fact check, and don’t sell our information out there, but we reject them because we don’t want to start over. We’ve invested in Facebook emotionally. You know this and exploit it. This is also why the younger generations don’t care about Facebook. They have no investment and can see it for the bullshit it is.

So, I support your inaction, Mark. I don’t see why you should do anything differently. It’s not like you’ll see any reward from changing how things operate. It’s us, the users, who would see rewards from taking closer looks at ourselves and making greater efforts to connect with each other, like using our phones to actually make calls. It’s us who can seek out the news we need. It’s us who can fact check at any time.

There’s a great quote attributed to one of America’s favorite presidents of all time that is apropos here:

Those are strong words that should be compelling to you, Mark. Mostly because there’s no solid proof Lincoln ever said them. Yet, CNN published the quote. CNN, a news organization, totally fucked that one up. And it’s not the first time. Hell, all news organizations screw up all the time, either intentionally or unintentionally. I have no problem with news outlets, just so you know. But it’s kind of their business to check facts. They aren’t social media giants; they’re gathering their own stories and reporting on them, and even they can’t check all the facts.

Facebook is an opinion factory. You know this. It’s a popularity machine. It’s a place for everyone to put themselves out there in a strictly filtered way. I mean, I know I only post the pictures that I like of myself. And I’ll delete things when I find out I was mistaken. If I were being factual with all my posts, I wouldn’t filter them. Hell, people put the hashtag #NoFilter on their own pictures even when there was an obvious filter in place. All of your users lie on a regular basis, typically by exaggeration or omission.

So what do we want from you, really?

You know that the answer to this questions is a constantly moving target, so why start shooting now? The answer is the same as it always was. If we don’t like Facebook, we should leave. We think we can sway you to change because that’s easier than changing ourselves. Plus, we’re hooked. You did one hell of a job sinking that hook into us. We honestly believe that if we exit Facebook that we will miss out on everyone’s lives. That we are not going to care about each other as much. You did this intentionally. You got us here. You created the algorithms. You sold the information. You got us the perfect ads. And now we can’t leave. And it’s all up to you, we claim, to set the world right. To check our facts for us. To only allow the good in and to put the bad in Facebook jail. Because life without Facebook is a punishment now.

Well done.

When we are spending so much time on your platform that we can’t even be bothered to leave it to check our own facts, you know you have us. Bravo. Don’t change a thing, Mark.

Me? Well, I guess I’m taking a break, though. Another alternative to fact-checking is changing your source of information. And it’s laughably easy for all of us to agree that Facebook isn’t a great source of information. So, off I go. Where? Well, probably outside, mostly. I’m going to play with my kids, write some of my own thoughts down, play some music…hell, maybe use my phone to call people directly. Who knows? All I know is that this whole thing is getting a bit out of hand, this Facebook business. And if there’s one amazing historical figure I can count on to have been attributed with saying something apropos that he did not, in fact, say, it’s Einstein. He put it best when he never said:

Well, that’s all for now. And I hope that “for now” is perhaps a long while. Take care, Mark. And I wish you the best in doing nothing for anyone other than yourself.

Love and kisses,

Michael

PS — You’re a piece of shit.

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An Announcement About the Sauce

I remember the first time I entered a grocery store when this pandemic situation began, way back in March. The air was electric with anxiety. It was a human pheromone wonderland. As soon as I walked in, a wave of shared anxiety ripped through my chest. It was so incredibly strange. Before I entered the building, I was strangely excited, perhaps riding a wave of “this hasn’t ever happened before, I wonder what the outside world is like.” But as soon as that grocery store air hit me, all of my primal “fight or flight” instincts kicked in. My behavior didn’t change, but my mood certainly did. I understood suddenly why people were buying in bulk. People felt a primal need to gather supplies to survive, and I was a part of that.

I didn’t go on any shopping spree or anything that day; I mainly made sure there was enough food for my kids. Hell, I even scoffed at all the other people with shopping carts overflowing with toilet paper. I still don’t get that, either. Here we are, over two months in, and I still can’t find toilet paper at the grocery store. This pandemic is all a hoax put on by Big Poop to sell toilet paper, I swear.

The one thing I didn’t understand was the alcohol aisle. When I approached it, I figured it would be stripped. People kept posting over and over about how much they planned on drinking during their own quarantine, and my wife and I certainly planned on partaking plenty. It was a stressful time, after all. We had to drink, right?

So, I did my part. I bought a bunch of beer and wine at the grocery store and then visited the liquor store (which was still an essential business that was allowed to stay open) to stock up on rum, mostly. I brought it all home like some prize. “Honey, I brought alcohol home! Oh, and some food!”

I was far from alone. People were doing plenty of bragging about their alcohol consumption on all the social media forums. Why not drink? We had to cope, right? Hell, we still do have to cope, so let’s keep drinking, right?

And that’s actually understandable. The United States is a drinking culture. Hell, booze is mentioned in the constitution twice because we were once so committed to quitting that we put it right there, a “permanent” amendment for all to follow. But, we were so drenched in alcohol that we became criminals in order to keep making it and drinking it. And then the Great Depression hit, and what everyone agreed upon was that we totally needed a drink. So, we put in another amendment to correct the previous amendment. Nope, just kidding. America really needs the sauce.

We’ve never looked back. Though, the relationship with alcohol has been weird in this country. In many places, whether you can buy it or not still depends on what day it is, what time it is, and what county you live in. I went to a small college for a few weeks way back in 1999, and that school was in a dry town. No alcohol was to be purchased or consumed anywhere. This dry town was located next to Ohio State University, which, a quick internet search of “OSU football DUI” will tell you, is no stranger to booze. Peppered around just outside the border of this dry town were plenty of stores that would sell booze to anyone who didn’t look like they were in middle school. And damn, I don’t think I’ve ever drank so much in such a short time in my entire life. Dry towns and other restrictions on alcohol almost seem like a challenge for Americans to overcome. And we do.

I’ve come to be identified as a beer guy, I think. And why not? Beer is a man’s drink. A man has to earn his beer, somehow. I got into the whole craft brew craze that took over Northeast Ohio several years ago and never looked back. Why drink beer that tastes vaguely of urine that requires ten cans to get drunk when you can drink beer that is expensive and has a new-found “connoisseur-ish” label attached to drinking it? I became one of those people who self-labeled an “IPA guy” because I “liked the bitter, yet citrusy” flavors of those beers.

Nah. It was good and all, but let’s face it. IPA drinkers want a faster buzz. IPA’s are generally higher alcohol content, and they even come in “double” and “triple” forms, that are, respectively, higher and higher alcohol content. I’d drink IPAs that were nine percent alcohol, not because of the flavor and “complexity,” but because they were nine percent alcohol. I mean, man…my head enjoyed a nice, cool buzz after just one.

And I know I wasn’t alone. Not by a long stretch. The demand for IPAs has only risen over the past few years and the varieties of high percentage beer have become virtually uncountable. People want to go to the grocery store and buy some high-octane beer whenever they damn well please, thank you very much. And why not? Locally, you still need a special license to sell wine on Sundays, which cracks me up. The local Target can’t sell wine on Sundays, for example, yet they can sell beer. The wine, which is typically between ten and fifteen percent alcohol, isn’t allowed one day of the week. However, beer, which is available at the store up to thirteen percent alcohol (though that stuff is really expensive), is available at all times and is sold in unlimited quantities. Huh.

Anyhow, I digress, as is typical. This post is, as they all are, really about me. Back to the subject at hand.

I’ve used alcohol as a crutch and a coping mechanism for a long time. It started out as the fun, adventurous, forbidden thing back in my teen years as it does for tons of American teens. We’d water down friends’ parents’ liquor, snag beers, have older siblings and friends buy us stuff, and attend parties with older kids just to have a fun time. And it would have been cool if my relationship with it stayed fun. But it certainly didn’t.

When my mom and my best friend’s stepdad died in the same year, when I was only nineteen, I was introduced to the art of “drinking to cope.” Since these tragedies were unprecedented and the adults around us were fully aware that I wasn’t a stranger to alcohol, I was given permission to drink. I had to cope, after all, and America isn’t a country that deals with death well, if at all, so our mainstay coping mechanism is loads of alcohol. I could’ve done a keg stand at my mom’s wake and no one would’ve stopped me. They would’ve simply looked on, sighed, and perhaps commented about how they felt bad for me. And probably even commented that I earned that keg stand.

And perhaps for many people, the drinking to cope thing stops a little while after the funeral. It didn’t for me. I was still grieving, and still college age. I tried going back to college, but of course ran into a lot of enabling with drinking, and I was so lost I neglected to even withdraw from school. I just stopped going to class and was dismissed for failing everything. I still have that report card on my official college record and had to submit it with my graduate school application this year. I played music and put all of my energy into making music, which led me to audio engineering school in Orlando, where gallons of rum at the time were only sixteen bucks. I gained a lot of weight during that time.

The permissive/encouraged relationship with booze continued throughout my twenties. My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Time to drink! One of my good friends died. Time to drink! Friends and family were getting married. Time to drink! I got married. Time to drink! It was a day of the week that ended in “day.” Time to drink!

But I knew a certain limit. I never became that guy people would stop from drinking at parties. I never got violent. But I would always go for a certain threshold of drunk to hit at minimum. Part of this was inspired by the fact that I ended up thinking I’d be happy as an ER/trauma/ICU nurse. I was good at it, I’d say. I’m good at plenty of things when I focus my mind on them. But, what I didn’t realize about this line of work was that I’d be traumatized by it.

I’d go through shifts thinking that my only issues were fatigue, but I had been exposed to a lot of bullshit. Some things that were physically traumatic, but a ton of things that were reminiscent of how I lost friends and family. The images of events kept creeping up in my brain. The nightmares came in waves. I’d get visions of horrible things happening to my family at random intervals. I started staying up late to keep from sleeping and having the nightmares, and when I’d stay up late, I’d drink. Not just to cope with my emotional shit, but also to make sure that I could sleep.

The amount of alcohol I began drinking was not healthy. A six-pack of nine percent beer knocks me on my ass, and that’s what I would strive for. Soon enough, my wife was telling me that I was buying beer too often or that I was drinking too many in an evening. She was aware that things were getting to be a bit of an issue, and she was trying to help in the only way she could. Naturally, I was defensive of my natural, American way to cope.

I still heard her message that I had a problem I needed to work on, so I got into therapy eventually and was diagnosed with PTSD. I was surprised and skeptical of this diagnosis at first. I mean, soldiers on the front lines of war get that, right? Not ER nurses. Right? What didn’t help my skepticism was the fact that my therapist wasn’t concerned about my drinking. Four to six beers after a shift wasn’t considered excessive; I was a normal, American man. No problem there. Also not helping was the complete and total lack of emotional support for healthcare workers going through trauma. My first brush with this incompetence was the first time I had a young child die under my care. Our ER team worked our asses off to save that kid, that young baby, but we just couldn’t. The images, the sight of the child’s body, the screaming of the parents…it all came back to haunt me time and time again. What did our hospital do to help us cope? They put a sign-up sheet in the break room, for all to see, for anyone to request an appointment with a therapist. Other than that, you know what else I was offered in terms of comfort after that event? My manager put a hand on my back as I was clocking out and said, “Go home and have a few beers. You deserve them.”

For fuck’s sake.

But I followed that advice, because that’s what alcohol became: medicine. But the doses I needed only increased. Nothing that was “excessive” by American standards, to be honest. I usually would have three beers minimum (higher percentage, mind you), six beers maximum. But my wife, in all her good love and friendship, would call me out when she noticed I was buying them too often. I’d get defensive. I’d try and hide a few extra beers around the house. I’d get caught. We’d fight about it. But then we’d be okay after I promised not to hide beer anymore. This happened a few times. I never did anything more, anything that typically comes with the story of what most people picture to be an alcoholic.

I went to therapy again at the start of this year and was confirmed two things: I have PTSD, and no, I don’t drink to excess. I even tried convincing my therapist that no, I do drink to excess. I told him about the percentage of the beers and how often I drank them. I even got into the times I would hide them. I wasn’t advised to quit. I was advised to keep it under control. If I could manage my PTSD symptoms in other ways, I could still drink “in a healthy way.”

And I think my wife was on a similar page. She’s not much of a drinker at all; she’ll maybe drink wine occasionally, but we would drink on our dates, and we would enjoy some wine together sometimes after the kids went to bed. Like so many other couples, alcohol was still very much present in our romantic life. So, even during the times when she caught me storing extra beers somewhere, she never said that I should quit. It was the lying that hurt her, after all. But she still loved me and wanted dates and stuff, which inevitably meant we should still have the option to drink.

Which brings us back to the present, basically. The start of the pandemic brought with it a highly socially-acceptable relationship with drinking excessively for basically everyone posting anything to any social media account. We had plenty of alcohol in the house, and it seemed like a good idea. Culturally speaking, having drinks every night during a pandemic was one of the more American things we could do. Then, my wife found two beers I had hidden under the kitchen sink a while back. These were beers I had thought I’d lost. At the time when I hid them, I was too clouded with alcohol to remember where I put them the next day. By the time she discovered them, I had actually forgotten about them altogether. That shocked me. It gave me some major perspective.

I had that “moment of clarity,” I suppose. It all seemed suddenly simple, yet kind of complicated in many ways. But the decision was easy. It was time to quit drinking.

I wasn’t afraid of it, finally. Six years ago this month, I quit smoking, and I remember all the times I tried to quit smoking and failed. And each time I failed, I was still scared of what my life would be like without cigarettes. I was afraid of the withdrawal, the headaches, the need to use cigarettes to cope. Most bad habits come from shitty attempts to cope, and alcohol was no different than cigarettes.

But quitting alcohol feels much different than quitting smoking. With smoking, at least, it’s becoming unacceptable by most. There’s been a cultural shift in the past couple of decades. People think cigarettes are disgusting (they are), and immediately understand when someone wants to quit. Alcohol is far, far different.

People tend to think that some major event causes someone to quit drinking, like a car accident, spousal abuse, or the emptying of a savings account. I’ve performed this level of judgment myself. I’ve heard people refuse alcohol and say, “No thanks, I don’t drink,” and I’ve assumed that they are either religious or have some awful event in their past they don’t want to talk about. Let’s face it, it’s almost un-American not to drink. As someone who wasn’t actually physically addicted to alcohol, it almost seems illogical for me to quit. I could easily go for a long time without drinking, physically speaking. But socially and psychologically, I’ve been tethered to booze in one way or another since my teens. The hiding was bad, and definitely not a sign of a good relationship with the stuff, but oddly enough it wasn’t bad enough for anyone to ever suggest that I quit drinking altogether; not even two separate therapists thought so.

My drinking was, from the limited survey results from my wife, friends, family, and therapists, not a problem. So why did I quit?

Because it was a problem. It was getting in the way. It was preventing me from sleeping normally. It was preventing me from addressing my PTSD directly. It was keeping me from focusing on things that I actually care about. It was making me eat extra food and gain extra weight. It was keeping me from being a runner. It was keeping me from feeling healthy. It was holding me back and holding me back and holding me back.

I can’t even tell you in words what happened in my brain when the decision to stop altogether locked in. It just fit together like that one puzzle piece stuck under the couch, but finally found. The picture was complete, and there was no going back without disrupting the puzzle and/or ignoring how good it felt to complete the damn thing, finally. Luckily, despite the influence, cultural pressure, and the fact that I “didn’t have a problem,” I stopped.

That was two months ago today. I know it doesn’t seem like a long time, but it is. And there’s no reason for me to even consider that I will end up starting to drink again. In the two months without drinking, this has happened:

-I’ve lost 28 pounds

-I started running again and can do a 5K in 27 minutes

-I’ve become a morning person (who knew?). I get up at 5:30 every morning and get busy working/creating/running

-I’ve almost completed all the demo work on my first album in a decade and reconnected musically with my best friend

-I restarted all my important writing projects, including this website

-I am within a couple of months of releasing my first novel as well as my first children’s book

-I’ve felt consistent emotionally, despite all the world’s stress

-I’ve played with my kids more than ever

-I’ve been more available to my wife and family

-My sleep is so much better

-I haven’t had any flashbacks or nightmares or any other PTSD symptoms. I know I will get them sometime, but I genuinely feel better equipped to handle them now

And the list goes on and on.

I’m no longer a drinker. I’m much better off without it, and I know that even if I have a little, it will put me off the track I’m now on. I’m not even going to play with the stuff anymore. I’m just too much better off without it, and this is only two months sober. I’ve spent my life with it since my teens, and I turn 40 this year. That’s long enough, booze. We had a run, didn’t we?

This isn’t to say that I’m turning into some vegan-like militant anti-alcohol person. Everyone should do what’s right for them, and that’s for everyone to discover on their own. I’m not so weak as to not tolerate anyone drinking around me, either. Drink away, enjoy it. I will not judge nor will I stop you. I’m still the same guy; we just aren’t going to drink together anymore. That’s all.

I’m free. I needed to bust out. I’ve done that. This changes nothing but the liquid I sip on.

But if you are stuck with the booze and need someone positive to support your decision, I’ll always be happy to talk about it and support you. I went through the cultural criticism in this post because it is a serious obstacle. This country is not an easy place to simply consider being sober without some major event or problem attached, but that is an actual option, believe it or not. So if you just want someone to talk with about it, I’m here. Hell, email me at info@themindofmichael.com if you need to. I’ll do my best to get back to you, I really will.

Mainly, the reason I’m writing this here is for it to be not only an official declaration but also to be a mile marker. I’m not going to be talking about alcohol much from here on out unless it has to do with some story from my past that’s worth sharing. But after this post here, I want to see all the writing, art, music, and happiness I create. I’m going to stay more productive, more myself. I’m going to see a change. Perhaps you will, too. So this is my official mile marker.

Thanks for reading this far. This is an important subject to me. It’s not anti-alcohol as much as it is pro-me. I’ve done something major for myself, and I’m proud of it. In turn, I’m thankful for any and all support.

Take care of yourselves, everybody. It’s well worth the trouble.

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The Tale Of Why My Kids Are Safer With A Babysitter

My wife, Margie, and I repeat some permutation of the same conversation upon each rare occasion we can spring for a babysitter and enjoy a night out together:

(She’s staring out the car window at our house as we drive away.)

Margie: “Do you think they’ll be okay?”

Me: “I think so.”

Margie: “I can’t help but worry.”

Me: “Yeah, but you know that our kids have only been injured when we’ve been the ones watching them. Technically, they’re safer with the sitter.”

My wife is genuinely wonderful and loving, and she is in no way a helicopter mom, but whenever we get a sitter, she spends at least thirty minutes with the poor girl explaining everything from how the light switches and door locks work to what part of the refrigerator provides ice. Part of the reason for this display is some normal parental anxiety, but this is also blended with the fact that we don’t go on dates very often as we have no family members to abuse for free sitting. I get the same sort of anxiety, to be honest, but what comforts me is that I know the teenager we just put in charge will be so worried about any little thing going wrong that she will be too afraid to take risks with our kids. There is no chance for injury or other problems when we have someone not forcing our kids to eat and being right next to them when they play.

And I’ll just say it: our kids are really, really good kids.

And, as history has taught us, they are 100% more likely to be injured when my wife and I are watching them.

It’s true. Technically, they’re safer with a sitter.

They know it, too.

That’s not to say that my wife and I are negligent. If you know us, then you know we take brilliant care of our kids. If you don’t know us and you’re getting judgy reading this, then you probably should stop reading right now so you can go check and make sure your child isn’t going to get a papercut reading a board book.

My wife and I let our kids explore, climb, and learn of what kinda stuff they are capable. We keep them clean and cared for. They are hardly ever sick. My son hasn’t even ever needed antibiotics. So, we’re good as far as maintaining a state of general good health goes.

But…there are injuries.

I still admire the little scar right on the outside of my daughter Penny’s left eyebrow. She got that when she was a little less than a year old. I was playing with her on the floor and she decided to use a bookcase to help her up to standing. This, of course, was encouraged, as standing is kind of a big deal. Unfortunately, she slipped, and her little head (not really; it’s a big head – I should know because she got it from me – Margie should know because my daughter’s head size required a c-section, as did my son’s) bopped against the bottom shelf. Penny cried instantly, and I thought it was to be another bump on the forehead, but when I flipped her over, there was a nice little gash. Nothing to rush to an ER for, but a tiny bit too big to just let go. Luckily, I had steri-strips on hand and slapped one on that cut right away…gently and precisely, of course. The scar is tiny and hardly noticeable, but it’s likely to be there for her life, gently reminding me of that time I felt like I broke my baby. In reality, Penny was only a tiny bit upset and easily consolable. She was also so calm and sweet as I fixed her up, as is her way.

“Silly dad…letting me fall on my head!”

Penny gave us another scare when Margie was with her. She and Margie were washing dishes together when Penny was about twenty months old. She was standing on a railed step stool I built so she could see above the kitchen counter. She loved helping with the dishes because that meant playing in a bucket of soapy water in the sink and knowing what the big people were up to. Margie went to put a glass away in an upper cabinet and the glass slipped from her hand, shattering against the counter. Naturally, our two dogs came running to see what was happening, so my caring wife went to head them off at the doorway to prevent shards of glass being stuck in doggie paws. In this goal, she was successful. But when she turned back a couple of seconds later, my daughter was clutching a jagged piece of glass in her bleeding toddler hand.

I was working in the ER that day, and I still remember the call. Poor Margie – so panicked, so upset, and understandably so. She brought our awesome neighbor with her to help hold pressure on my daughter’s hand. The staff shifted nursing assignments for me so I could be Penny’s nurse. When I unwrapped her hand, I could see that it was a deep injury on her left pinky, definitely requiring stitches. It was a bad cut. I’ve seen grown men pass out with smaller injuries. The glass pushed through all layers of skin in her pinky and nicked one of the tendons – enough so that they called in a plastic surgeon to do the bedside suturing. I assisted the doctor in applying eleven stitches to Penny’s teeny finger, and she took it all better than most grown adults take a flu swab. When the doctor was all finished, my sweet girl even shook the good doctor’s hand.

Poor Margie. She felt so guilty, and needlessly so. Accidents happen.

Other than that, Penny’s had a lot of scraped knees and hands, all from playing outside. She gets a little upset when she gets hurt, but she always recovers.

My son, on the other hand, is a monster. He’s two and a half and I can’t tell you how many times he’s hit his big ass head on things. Once again, I can say my kids have big ass heads because they got it from me. In fact, when my daughter was one, our pediatrician referred her to a pediatric neurologist per protocol because her head circumference was off the charts. She had nothing wrong with her at all…just a disturbingly large head. When we saw the neurologist, she examined my daughter and then looked at me. Then she measured my head and compared it to that of American men in my age group. Turns out that my head circumference is in the 99th percentile. The neurologist simply said to my daughter “It’s your dad’s fault. Everything is fine, but you have his big head.”

They didn’t even bother sending my son. It’s just a familial “problem” is all. My lineage wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the c-section. It’s not a bad thing, really. Though, I wonder if it hasn’t thrown off my son’s center of gravity.

Dude has had more little head injuries than I could count.

My son’s little arms only started being capable of holding back that head when he falls about four months ago. Before that, if he was going down, some part of his forehead was going to hit the ground, and we play in the driveway a lot.

Just the other week we were out getting the mail and he biffed the exchange between the grass and the driveway and came crashing down. I was walking away from him, so I didn’t see the hit directly, but that tell-tale THUNK was all I needed to know what had happened. There was some immediate swelling and a small abrasion to the left side of his enormous forehead. He was upset, but only cried for about thirty seconds. Then he let me clean it and ice it for a tiny bit. Then he carried on with his life.

And that’s how it’s always gone. He gets bumps, bruises, scrapes, and cuts, and they all upset him for a few seconds. Then…poof! It’s all over. He’ll even tell anyone about it who’s willing to listen.

“Bump my head! Right here!” he’ll say, pointing at both his head and the place on the driveway where he clocked himself. It’s so damned cute, too.

Then he’s off again to get into more shit.

I was there both times he fell off the playground from about three or four feet up. I was watching and nearby each time, and I immediately scooped him into my arms to make sure he was okay. And he was. With the kind of crap they put down on playground floors paired with the rubber material of which my son’s bones seems to be composed, he was no doubt fine. Both times he fell, he cried, I checked him out, I held him, and I asked if he was okay. Each time he’d sniff, say “I okay,” and then get right back on that damned playground like it never happened.

Like a boss.

And that’s the point. My kids are certainly more likely to be injured when they’re with their own parents, but it’s because we care enough to let them take risks so they can learn what they’re capable of, how to recover when they overdo it, and learn from their mistakes instead of preventing them. We care about and love them enough that we’ve been able to take these bumps, bruises, head lumps, lacerations, and tiny scars, and use them to make some truly resilient children.

Sure, they probably will never get hurt when they’re with a babysitter, but that’s because it’s their job to make sure they are safe and watched closely for a short period of time. They are going to be on our kids like hawks. They’ve never even come close to being hurt or in danger when my wife and I have gone on the occasional date.

But does that mean that the babysitters are better at raising our kids? Of course not.

My wife and I raise our kids to know what to do when they get hurt, because they obviously have been, and they will be again. This approach has paid off, because we have wonderful, resilient children who have recovered from all their injuries better equipped to deal with the next ones. And there will be more injuries. It’s not our job to keep them from getting hurt. If that were true, then we’d be no better than babysitters.

But please don’t misunderstand: no disrespect intended toward our babysitters. We love you, and you’ve all been amazing and perfect. And our kids love you to pieces.

Actually, are you available again anytime soon? Because I’d love another date with my wife.

And our kids wouldn’t mind knowing that they’ll be injury-free for a few hours.

Pretty please?

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The Tale of How My Dog Finally Earned Us Some Money

I have two dogs. They’re lovely old ladies named Maizie and Molly. Maizie is a sweetheart, but she has a bit of German Shepherd in her. To me, this is a good thing, but to our homeowner’s insurance company, it meant that they had to flex their canine racism. We got this really odd message in the mail:

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What was especially weird was that we hadn’t changed our homeowner’s insurance for nearly six years. So to get a sudden breakup letter regarding my dog’s breed seemed especially strange. She hadn’t bit anyone or done anything nefarious aside from the horrid stench she emits from her hind end every so often. I wondered how in the hell it came to pass, after nearly six years of not doing much with my insurance aside from throwing money at it, that my 12 year-old dog, who just spent half the winter snoopy dancing in the snow like a blissful fool, became a liability.

Turns out that insurance companies can just do whatever they want. Go figure.

Our home insurance is through Progressive, so I called them. The woman I spoke with was cheery, bright, informative, and helpful. She told me that the actual home insurance company they were using as an underwriter changed last year. The company that was insuring us was taken over, essentially. The woman asked me about Maizie, as she was also a little confused as to why I would suddenly get a breakup letter.

Maizie is a sweetheart. She’s intelligent and a wonderful dog. She’s kind with most things in this world with the exception of puppies, brown trucks (she doesn’t bark at the FedEx, DHL, or USPS trucks…but the UPS trucks get at her for some reason), and people walking toward the house. This is a great benefit, because she is our watchdog. She’s a mix of a few breeds, but outwardly, she looks mostly like an 85-pound German shepherd.

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And she looks like a good girl…

So when this new homeowner’s insurance company took over our coverage, they sent an adjuster out to our house to just snoop around the outside and take pictures. Yes, they do this, apparently. No scheduled time, no phone call for warning…these people just show up and snap pictures of your home. I get why they have to do it, but the unannounced thing seems a bit creepy as hell.

The nice woman on the phone chuckled when she found the picture of Maizie. The adjuster who came out put in their report that they showed up, walked toward the house, and a large dog started barking at them. They attached a picture of Maizie in the front window barking her face off. The adjuster labeled her a German shepherd, and this insurance company apparently has a zero tolerance policy against all dogs with even a tiny bit of German shepherd in their blood.

Seems misguided, as my German shepherd mix did what she does best: she barked at a stranger approaching the house until the stranger left. Good dog, I say. But instead of scaring off a burglar or something, Maizie scared a person to the point of them cancelling our insurance. I had no idea this kind of thing could even happen.

The woman on the phone was really apologetic about the situation and immediately started searching for a new company to underwrite our homeowner’s insurance…a company that’s okay with good dogs, of course. The helpful woman asked me a ton of questions about the interior and exterior of my house as well as its use and who lives here. After all the questions were answered, she found me a new insurer. And she chuckled when she found the replacement.

The new insurance company provides our home with greater coverage and it costs a little over $200 less per year. She switched our policy over immediately, and we are expecting a refund check for the difference in balance in the mail any day now.

My dog adjusted my insurance policy and earned us a little extra money just by barking at a stranger approaching the house. I had no idea she could make us some money with just a few barks. Hopefully she doesn’t screw up our new policy when their adjuster comes out to snap photos.

I told Molly to get her shit together and make us some money. I’m doubting her motivation for some reason.

Molly

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The Tale of Stranger Danger While Shopping with Children (Complete with Morals!)

I have two little kids, and they’re objectively cute. I married up, and it worked out for all of us. They’re also really good kids, not the kind who start screaming and running around whenever we get inside of a grocery store or restaurant. Not that they came that way…we just parent them and let them know that that shit isn’t ever tolerated.

What is also not tolerated is a lot of stranger attention. As I’ve said, my kids are cute…beautiful, really (yes, I’m biased). And it’s actually mostly nice that they get complimented nearly everywhere. I’ve taken them out to dinner with just me when they were both under five, and they sat nicely and ate. We got complimented for that by at least three different tables. And if it’s not their good behavior they’re getting compliments about, it’s the fact that they are a blonde and a redhead. The redhead thing is of a particular sorcery to strangers, as it seems most people have no idea how red hair happens. They’ll look at my salt-and-pepper mop of hair and beard and say, “Mom’s gotta be a redhead.” And then they’ll giggle like I’m in a relationship with a mermaid or something. No, mom’s a German/Swede. She’s blonde. And it takes recessive genes from both parents to make a redhead.

And, NO YOU CAN’T TOUCH HIS HAIR.

People try to touch my kids’ hair waaay too often. Especially the redhead because he grows pure magic from his scalp, I guess. Some days I’ll decide not to put my daughter’s blonde hair up in cute twisty buns because I don’t want to deal with some old lady in the grocery store reaching out her nasty yellow-nailed fingers toward my daughter’s head while marveling at how well her mother must’ve done her hair.

People can be really damned creepy about children in public. It’s like cute kids are a community object, not individuals. We have a cashier at Target for whom I’ve constructed and rehearsed a “no, you can’t hug my kids” speech for the next time she tries that shit. I’ve turned to grab a box of cereal off the shelf and turned back to find some old man blowing raspberries at my kids within spitting range (this is why it’s good to have a pack of Wet Ones wipes in one of your dadderiffic cargo pant pockets at all times). And the list goes on and on, from head patting through cheek stroking. Some strangers even blow kisses, which makes me nauseated every time. I’m not saying my kids need to be in little bubbles or anything, but the usual social exchanges for adults shouldn’t automatically get tossed out the window with kids. If it’s creepy to do to an adult in public, then it’s quadruply creepy when you do it to kids. (Picture being in the cereal aisle and some old man blows you a kiss. Yeah…gross.)

I’m actually quite fine with most interactions. My kids are rather social and they like talking to people out in public. I am happy to be there and help facilitate conversations with strangers. Hell, I think we all need to talk more, but hands off. If anything, I just don’t know how well people wash their hands. I work in an ER. I see a lot of sick kids. My kids don’t get sick that often, so I’m going to keep smacking nasty stranger hands away from their heads, because it seems to be paying off as a strategy.

Now, it’s time for some tangental information that will soon be apropos. My son had mild lactose intolerance for a while, and he outgrew it. But for several months in a row, any cheese or dairy would result in a REAAAALLY full and heavy diaper. His older sister was well aware of this, and has always been protective of his needs. She’s a great sister.

I know. That was random. But you’ll see why I told you this in a moment.

Several months ago, I took my two kids with me to shop at Aldi. It was nice because the store converted to double-seat carts, which the kids usually like because they love each other, and I like because it helps me stave off the creepers. On this particular trip, we had a good, uneventful time.

Or so I thought.

We checked out, tossed all our loose groceries in the cart (because I always forget to bring bags), and got to our car.

Now here’s the PSA for parents: ALWAYS put your kids in the car first. Never slip the groceries in and then get your kids in the car as an afterthought. Get those babies buckled in and then load the car. I’ve always done this, and on this particular day it paid off.

I secured both kids in their seats, piled the groceries into the trunk, returned the cart, and was halfway to my car when some dude comes charging out of the doors of Aldi and starts shouting at me from across the parking lot.

“HEY! BEAUTIFUL KIDS YOU’VE GOT THERE!”

I turned and analyzed the threat. The dude looked to be in his fifties or so and had no cart with him. He was cupping his hands to shout at me over the parking lot noise, about fifty feet away. He’s complimenting my children’s beauty about five minutes after I got them in the car. This means he had been watching us, and I had no idea. He waved quickly at me before cupping his hands back around his mouth to shout again. I double-timed it to my car and flung open my door. I decided I will run over this dude if I need to.

Papa Bear mode engaged.

As I’m putting a leg in my car he shouts, “YOUR KIDS ARE JUST BEAUTIFUL! GIVE THEM LOTS OF JESUS!”

“What’s he saying, daddy?” asks my daughter as I sit.

“GIVE THEM LOTS OF JESUS!!!” we hear again just as I get my door closed.

I start the car and pull out of my spot. The man is still standing there. He’s waving and smiling like a manic crazy person.

“What did he say, Daddy?” my daughter asks again.

I take a moment to come up with something to ease my tension and try not to look as amped up and flustered as I am in front of my kids.

“He said that I should give you guys lots of cheeses.”

It was one of my better saves. I chuckled to myself, even. We were driving away from the religious solicitor. I felt better.

My daughter was concerned, though.

“But…Andy can’t have cheeses.”

What a good sister. Even with all the creepers and religious nuts out there, I know these two will always have each other’s back. And their parents will always be looking out for them.

Morals of the story:

  1. Always buckle your kids in first after shopping. I know I had already gotten everything in the car when this man approached, but better safe than sorry. If your kids are buckled in the car, you can close the doors and lock them if someone comes by trying to hug them, pet them, or give them some Jesus.
  2. It’s okay to tell people not to touch your kids. People are dirty until proven clean. Plus, you’re showing your kids that it’s okay to tell people not to touch them. That’s a good thing.
  3. Never let a stranger offer your brother cheeses when you know it would give him the screaming shits.

So glad he grew out of that…

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The Tale of That One Time I Gave a Book Report in a Beer Store

At the opening of this story, I was at the corner convenience store to get myself some beer. I had been to this store many times, but was on my usual edge, as the store had been ran into by cars and been held up at gunpoint (though both incidents occurred before I moved here, and everything has been hunky dory since).

I think I feel a good, healthy level of anxiety at most convenience stores, to be honest. Though admittedly convenient, I don’t quite know what it takes to enter such a store carefree. There’s just something about a store with multiple cameras ready to capture the inevitable robbery while doling out lottery tickets, cigarettes, and alcohol by the bucketful that makes me not quite able to achieve a state of restful ease. It’s not a phobia I bring into these stores, it’s a simple heightened awareness.

The only reason I mention my basic convenience store state of mind is because I’ve never had an incident at one before this particular night. I shopped through their admittedly amazing beer section looking for something new when I caught a man a couple of aisles over staring at me. I made brief eye contact, and he kind of lit up. I immediately switched aisles and considered my options.

The man did not look particularly well, mentally speaking. Sure, his missing tooth in the front among the others sitting at various states of yellow and jaggedness did not appear healthful, nor did his generally disheveled appearance, slightly pink eyes, and skin that somehow blended gray and yellow together peacefully. The short stare I caught did not help my anxiety, either. He seemed to have been watching me, waiting for acknowledgment. Though my glance was brief and I immediately walked in the opposite direction, the fact that I had seen him seemed to provide all the validation his mild convenience store stalking required.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m actually too nice in many instances. I am polite and have a strange fear of hurting feelings when people engage with me, so I let awkward conversations carry on for far longer than necessary when such a situation presents itself. Luckily, fatherhood has cured me of this, but only when my children are with me. Just a few weeks ago, a strange crazy-eyed woman approached my son and me in a Target and started to tell me how dangerous it was for my son to be hanging off the side of the cart. In this scenario, I had no difficulty, even though I was on FaceTime with my wife and daughter so we could pick out the best night light to help my daughter feel comfortable in her dark room at night, telling this freaky lady to “mind her own damned business.” She huffed off and avoided me after that, which was perfect. Unfortunately, when a man with the crazy eye approaches me in a convenience store, I’m out of my element.

When he walked up to me, I prepared myself to let him know I had no cash on me. I accurately assumed that he wanted something from me, and since he didn’t seem to be a solicitor of religion in his stinky, disheveled state, the natural conclusion was that he wanted money. But when he got to me, the unthinkable happened.

He pulled out a book from the back of his pants and shoved it at my chest. Not knowing at first that it was going to be a book he was pulling from his ass, I jumped back, my heart racing. He seemed unfazed by my obvious leap out of the way of what I thought was going to be a gun. Instead, he asked me the strangest thing.

“You look like you read! I found this book! Tell me about this book! It’s a good book, isn’t it?”

He then thrusted the book at me and showed me the inside cover. It was a paperback copy of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Inside was a handwritten note congratulating the person for finding the book and encouraging them to enjoy reading it before hiding the book again for someone else to find and read. I’ve heard of things like this, but this was my first encounter with one of the actual books involved.

The state of my mind was quite odd at this point. I had expected a gun and/or some form of assault just seconds prior to discovering the reality of the situation. The convenience store was fairly busy at the time, which means there were maybe five to ten other people in the store. Not a big population, but still, this man surveyed all the customers and pegged me as the reader in the group. I read and write a ton (obviously), so this was a compliment. And as an unknown author, being pegged as a reader who would be able to understand and interpret one of the classics was the closest I would get to being asked for an autograph.

I’m not being mugged, I’m being acknowledged!

His eyes searched me for some insight. And I certainly had plenty to give. I had most certainly read The Great Gatsby and I had a lot to offer this man.

I went to town about the book. I spent what felt like five minutes explaining how the plot started, what the characters’ motivations were, how the book was viewed as one of the most important works of American literature in the twentieth century…I laid it on thick.

Why?

Because this man found what he seemed to believe was a gift. And it was a gift. Discovering this book excited him to no end. He found it only a block away and wandered around until he could find someone to validate how great his find was. I even casually mentioned that the copy he held wasn’t really worth much as it was a worn paperback with writing in it, but that didn’t faze him at all. Finding the book excited him, and he honestly wanted to read it. The fact that the book in his hand wasn’t just some trash piece of literature was enough to get him excited, and his excitement was contagious. I stood there in that convenience store and threw every bit of validation I ever heard about the importance of The Great Gatsby at this stinky man, and his jagged smile couldn’t have been wider by the time I finished my report on the book.

He shook my hand. He promised me he’d start reading it that night. If there were room among all the stacks of beer cases, I swear he would’ve skipped out of the store with his copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic. I felt happy and satisfied. This man had pegged me as a reader who would understand the treasure he found and be able to get him excited to enjoy it. He was validated, I was validated…it was a nice exchange, especially for something that initially started as a mugging in my twisted mind.

I bought my beer and left the store. As I walked to my car, I looked for the man and saw him jogging across the street with the book still tucked under his arm. I loved that sight.

And here’s the thing: I’m a reader and a writer. I think storytelling is one of the most important arts in all of humankind. We’re all drawn to it, even if we don’t like reading. Humans are natural storytellers to the point of finding nearly infinite ways to share stories. From literature to performance, storytelling will never die. I think that story is important to happiness. I think the world would be a better place if we all felt 100% comfortable sharing stories. This is part of my drive to write these blog posts, publish books, and make a writer-centric website. Life is story, and to me, the farther we all wander away from the art of storytelling, the less happy we become.

So when this random stranger approached me with the intention of asking me to help him get excited about reading, I couldn’t have been happier to give a full book report. I sold The Great Gatsby to this stranger as though I had written the book myself. Seeing him skip off into the distance excited for a story made my month, at least.

I felt on top of the world as I got back into my car with my beer. But I couldn’t help but chuckle at myself.

Because there’s a bigger truth here:

I FUCKING HATE THE GREAT GATSBY.

That’s a big pile of Gatsby’s.

Oh man, of all the “classics” of literature…what a piece of shit.

Now, this is not to take the hipster route and say that this book has no merit because of my opinion. Quite the opposite, if you’ve been paying attention. I could relay to a perfect stranger all the merits of The Great Gatsby on the fly if you’d like. I can regurgitate any good reason this book is forced upon high schoolers all across America time and time again for years to come. I can even accept reasons why this book is considered “great” to many. And you know what? The fact that this book is considered a classic is just fine with me.

But, on a personal level, I think that The Great Gatsby is an uninteresting story written by an uninteresting man about characters who are complete and total assholes from the start of the book to the finish. The narrator doesn’t matter, the characters don’t matter, and Daisy’s husband should have shot everyone.

But WOW what an analysis of the jazz age and the foolishness of wealth and extravagance…

Here’s the thing, though: we are all entitled to our opinions. And this is the beauty of art. The Great Gatsby invoked strong enough opinions to carry it through the ages long enough to piss me off as required reading in high school as well as inspire someone to hide it in my city and inspire a random person to get a stranger who looks like they read to help them get amped up to read it.

The man could’ve thrusted a copy of almost anything at my chest and I would’ve done my best to sell it to him. I wish everyone read more often. I don’t think there’s a book out there that should be banned. If we kept books more holy our lives would be much improved. So if anyone ever approaches me with a book and asks me to convince them to read it, I will do everything in my power to get that person as excited as I am every time I crack open a new book…

…even if that book is presented to me in a seedy convenience store, and that book is the crappy, fucked up classic known to others as The Great Gatsby.

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The Tale of My Wife and I Going on a Date to a Rage Room

“Best date ever.”

-Margie, my wife of nearly twelve years whom I’ve known for over half my life.

I have no idea of when I first heard of rage rooms, but the premise is simple: pay someone for access to a room and some tools. Beat the shit out of everything. End scene. Why would anyone do this? Oh man, SO MANY REASONS. And honestly, if you’re hesitant about the concept, I especially recommend it. For real.

I think the first time I ever found catharsis from breaking shit was when I worked at a winery. We would deal with drunk idiots all day and then end the night with a bunch of wine bottles to take out to the dumpster. I worked there with Margie, and one of us (probably her) had the idea to take the bottles and chuck them into the dumpster one at a time as hard as possible. The resulting smash and tinkle of the obliterated bottles helped let off some steam from what was usually a long and annoying night.

Now, I realize that this might sound unhealthy to some of you. You might think that there are healthier ways to deal with anger and emotion. Okay, fine. But if you’ve ever lost someone really close to you and dealt with the entire ordeal with yoga and positive thoughts, then good for you. Also, I don’t think I’d be your friend, but that’s beside the point. The truth is that you shouldn’t judge. Anger is natural, and if you don’t let it out, it just gets pent up inside. I’ve dealt with great losses and huge stressors, as so many of us have. Me, I need to cry sometimes. I need to scream and yell occasionally. And, as I found out, I need to break shit in a controlled environment more often.

Can I get some backup on this, Fred Rogers?

Mr. Rogers' advice
Thank you, Fred.

That’s a direct quote from our “quote a day” Mr. Rogers calendar from last year, and we’ve saved it on our fridge. Yes, we are a family that both praises the word of Fred and smashes shit occasionally. We might be outliers, but we happen.

Sometime after Margie’s rake smash was when we first heard of Rage Rooms. This is a thing that is gaining momentum around the country. I won’t explain it too in depth, as I’m sure you all get it by now. Someone owns a company that sets up crap other people have chosen to discard and sets this otherwise useless trash in a room, provides safety equipment and smashing tools, and lets you just destroy a bunch of stuff. If that doesn’t sound cool to you, or if you equate being attracted to such a thing with deviancy, then I have no idea why you’ve read this far.

For the rest of us still in attendance, DOESN’T THAT SOUND AWESOME?!?

Margie and I liked the idea so much, we even spent a couple of nights talking about the possibility of opening one ourselves. Like so many things, these plans fell apart as soon as we realized how much it would take to make it happen. So we just decided to wait to see if someone else would open one near Cleveland, as the closest one at the time was somewhere in Michigan, I think.

Well, in January, SOMEONE OPENED A RAGE ROOM NEAR CLEVELAND. And as soon as I found out, I told Margie. We booked our room for the very next night. They had a couples deal that would put us in a room together, and 10 minutes was within our budget. That might not seem like a long time, but taking a baseball bat and/or crowbar and/or shovel and/or sledgehammer to things is actually quite the workout.

When we got there, it was apparent that my wife was in her element. I mean, she had literally just gone axe throwing for the first time ever about a week earlier and BEAT THE ENTIRE ROOM. If I was apprehensive, it was that I was about to enter the ring with a champion. But you could tell by her smile that she was ready, and I was ready to feed off her excitement.

building excitement
The pre-destruction couple on a date night away from the kids. 

The place is called Enraged, and the dude running it is awesome. He understands the need for what he is selling, obviously. His business is already making runs on local news stations with subsequent warnings from psychologists that this kind of behavior could lead to more behavior like it, and yadda, yadda, yadda…but the reality is that some of us DO need a release, and sometimes that release is best served in a physical way. And if someone is offering that release in a controlled, safe space, then goddamnit sign me up. I work in a stressful field, my hobbies are constantly critiqued and criticized, I have lost family members and friends, and life is just hard sometimes. Can’t I break something every once in a while without judgement? The fellow who owns the place compared breaking things in one of his rooms to “letting a little air out of the balloon,” which is a nice little analogy. It doesn’t get rid of the stress, but it helps free up some room to take the inevitable additional stress to come.

But enough of all this talk. Let’s get to actually breaking shit.

The setup was decent. Simple rules:

Rules
Having fun is a rule.

We were the only ones there at the time, and there were three open rooms going down the hall. Ours was the last on the right. I called them “patient rooms.”

hallway
There were actually a lot of broken bats.

When we arrived at our room, we were able to link a phone to a bluetooth speaker. Naturally, we put on some Rage Against the Machine. After picking out some gloves and goggles, we were able to choose a variety of tools to do the smashing with:

choice of weapons
Yes, that’s a sword. But it’s actually the lamest tool there. And yes, that’s a decorative terra cotta display ready to smash like something out of Link from the Zelda games’ wet dream.

Much to my delight, the guy set up the room with “ten minutes worth of stuff to smash,” and didn’t actually impose a time limit. He just said that if we rounded past 25 minutes he’d probably have to come check on us. He set up everything to smash, but there was also a bunch of items in the corner that hadn’t been cleared out yet from previous sessions, and all of it was fair game.

before destruction
We had a windshield and bottles over tires, along with random glassware and all the junk along the back…

line them up
…terra cotta tiles and tv screens…

terra cotta
…and a fresh TV with the decorative piece, of course.

Honestly, when the guy left and we were ready to go, I was nervous. I thought about all the injuries I’ve seen in the ER, I thought about how this isn’t safe, I thought about how maybe this wasn’t a good idea, I thought about nothing at all…it was just odd, standing there with all of this stuff to smash, having permission to do so, and not really knowing where to start. I was oddly anxious.

Luckily, I had a date with no apprehensions whatsoever:

Bat smile
Quite the opposite, actually.

And like that, she was off to the races, showing me how to let loose:

(That laugh…OMG.)

…and it was all downhill from there.

busted windshield
Windshields are resilient things, you’ll be happy to know. Not easy to break and quite difficult to extract a sledgehammer from.

toss a tv
My lovely wife preparing to throw a television…or what remained of a television.

preparing to strike
Taking a wind up with a shovel and a big tear in the ass of my jeans.

quick toss
Using her favorite weapon in a classic way.

That particular strike was SO SATISFYING. I remember blinking as I brought the crowbar down and then finding that everything I was swinging at had disappeared. I was so glad Margie had taken the slo-mo video.

broken windshield
Ultimately, the windshield didn’t stand a chance.

end result
We beat the shit out of everything…

All of it went down. Except for that damned wreath. The slow cooker was when I finally really let loose. I hit it with the bat on the side and some of the insulation popped out. Next thing I knew, I was slamming on the thing until I literally beat the stuffing out of it. I felt amazing afterward.

When we surveyed the damage and decided we were done, my wife and I were all hugs and smiles, and that elation carried through the rest of the night.

Post destruction smile
I mean, I’m a little afraid of her, but that’s just healthy and wise.

I had to get a little footage of the other rooms. In one, you’ll notice a mangled hunk of metal leaning against a wall beyond an office chair. That was once a filing cabinet.

And from all of that, the owner is disposing of things responsibly. He recycles what he can and the rest was heading to a dump anyhow. His customers just help with the compaction part.

All in all, you either get it or you don’t. If you don’t get it, then move on. If you worry that this is harmful somehow, then you fall into the “don’t get it” category and should move on.

For the rest of you, I want to say that this was an amazing experience. I’d highly recommend it. I’d definitely recommend doing it in a controlled atmosphere like a rage room, and obviously not under other circumstances. But the end result was all happiness and relaxation.

Margie and I drove home chatting about how we felt, what we experienced, the tension that had now disappeared, and how we would definitely do it again.

I can see why these things are catching on.

Best. Date. Ever.

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The Tale of Why I Don't Do Cruise Ships

I get it. I really do. A cruise ship seems like a convenient vacation. It’s basically a resort going to special, exotic places, all the while entertaining you with an enormous complex of lights and flashing and music. It’s big, bold, in your face, relaxing (to many), and usually affordable for what all you get. The allure of an enormous ship is difficult to deny. I myself went on a cruise, and I can’t say it wasn’t fun at times. But it kind of wasn’t fun a lot.
I have no regrets about our family cruise, as it was affordable, convenient, and a way for all of us to get together in one spot. It wasn’t likely my father would be able to travel on another big trip anytime soon for health reasons, so when he announced that we should all cruise, I was gung-ho.
Walking up to the ship and seeing it was amazing. It felt like waiting in line for an incredible amusement park ride. The fact that a hotel, casino, water park, movie theater, and multi-bar/restaurant/snack joint mega complex can exist in one spot, let alone float on the fucking ocean, is incredible. And I ate it up. Totally. Completely excited when I first got there. And I dove in head first.
I could not believe how huge the damn thing was. And it was one of Carnival’s medium sized ships, methinks. All was well and happy, the drinks started flowing, the towels were folded into weird animal shapes…I was sold. And I think I spent most of the time drunk. Pretty sure I did. That would explain a lot.

Because what else could I do? I really couldn’t possibly see myself, knowing who I am, facing a cruise sober. I’m kind of an introverted extrovert. I like getting out and doing things, but people can just stay in their own bubbles. My experience on the cruise was that it was just a large boat party. Personal space is your cabin, which is nice, but small and rocking. This cruise was over a decade ago. I had not as much confidence then as I do now, and my need to relax was often met with heavy drink.
On the first night, we all went to one of the bars. I got silly drunk and thought it would be funny to sign up for karaoke. My song of choice was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. But the reason I chose the song was to do the Dan Band version featured in Old School by Will Ferrell.

But…that’s only funny because it’s just part of the song. Me, I trudged through putting swear words wherever I felt reasonable, which was twice per line. The karaoke dude cut me off and kicked me off the stage where I met my sober father asking me sincerely, “Why would you do something like that?” Yeesh. I hardly ever disappointed the man. Felt awful. Which meant I needed more drinks to ease that pain, of course.
As you might have guessed, it didn’t get much less sloppy from there. We had a few stops, including one in Nassau where a prostitute immediately solicited my wife. Another one of the stops was at one of the Cays owned by Carnival. We got a cabana compliments of one of my family members who won big at a slot machine before drunkenly revealing to me that my parents divorced because my mom cheated on my dad, a secret my dad had kept for over fifteen years because he didn’t want his kids to have that impression of their mother. Oh well. At least the cabana was fun. We ended up in the water a lot, with my sister’s husband at the time getting the drunken idea that we should all throw an orange at each other as hard as possible. At some point in that game, I lost my wedding ring in the water. Somehow, we found it. Thank God for clear, sandy beaches.
By the time the cruise was over, I felt completely sick, as could be easily expected. At one point, while going out to get another drink in the evening, I slipped on the deck and cracked the back of my head. I had a goose egg that stuck around for a week. On top of this, I couldn’t ditch my sea legs for at least 10 days. There were plenty of fun times, I assure you, but I can also assure you that I don’t remember them all that well because…alcohol.
So, I spent five days on a cruise ship whooping it up and making a total fool of myself in front of my family, and then spent the following week and a half trying to quell the nausea, diarrhea, headaches, injuries, and the fact that the entire world around me swayed back and forth with alarming regularity.
I realize that I had the option to do the cruise sober, as I would now if someone dragged me aboard one. But I can’t say I would/could/should. It wasn’t a bad idea to ride a Carnival cruise completely intoxicated, as it kept my mind off of all the things that could’ve gone wrong. Despite all of my terrible self-inflicted suffering from my Carnival cruise, the following years would provide regular details as to how truly harrowing a Carnival cruise could have been. 

The following are true stories of cruises, with links provided.

The Carnival Triumph, or better known as “THE POOP CRUISE”:

Oh man. This one earned its name, for sure. In 2013, an engine problem of which Carnival was aware beforehand caused the ship to lose power and drift off into the Gulf of Mexico without a working septic system. In fact, the septic system backed up and the cruise employees had to put biowaste into bags that they lined the halls of the guest rooms with. People had to deal with this nightmare for eight days until they were brought to shore. Until then, some guests found it easier to just poop and pee off the side of the boat, hence, “Poop Cruise.” And there was no way to get these people off the boat. Not enough resources, they say. Hmm…

The Carnival Ecstasy, or as I call it: “The Shining Cruise”:

Fair warning, this one is shocking and not the least bit funny. I work ER and have seen some shit, but I never thought a scene like the Shining elevator scene could be possible. Yet, in 2015, an electrician working on top of an elevator aboard the Ecstasy was crushed to death when he was pinned between the moving elevator and the wall. The resulting tragedy caused a wall of blood to drip from the eighth floor down through the seventh. Witnesses said it sounded like a rush of water. There’s video of the incident out there if you aren’t squeamish.
But that’s enough of that, let’s get to my favorite Carnival disaster, something a lot more lighthearted:

The Carnival Dream, or as I call it: “The Jon Secada Solution”:

This one was also in 2013, which was a particularly bad year for Carnival. But a similar situation to the Triumph occurred in that the ship lost power, resulting in air conditioning, elevators, and toilets either malfunctioning or not working altogether. What’s also fun to learn as you go digging into these disasters is that when power goes out, perishable food is unavailable, probably to help prevent all the norovirus outbreaks and other GI distress that has happens on cruises. What this means is that the crews only serve shelf-stable food, which often times is Spam. For real. And this was the situation on the Dream, but in this case they tried to ease the burden of overflowing toilets, Spam feasts, and the inability to return home by offering two key solutions: free booze and Jon Secada. Do you remember Jon Secada? Need a refresher?

Yes. The best jam. It’s in your head now. Maybe not. Try some free booze and watch the video again. See? That’s better.
So that was it. Booze and Jon Secada. Let’s try and look at this from another angle. The ship had NO POWER and it said it couldn’t GET THE PASSENGERS HOME, the passengers are relieving themselves OFF THE SIDE OF THE SHIP in between doses of SPAM, and they fly in Jon Secada in a helicopter, let him perform, and then fly him away.
“That Jon Secada performance was pretty good. But where’s he going?” 
“Oh, he’s leaving. Going home.” 
“Why can’t I go–” 
“You bought the ticket, so ride the ride! Now grab some Spam and a daiquiri. You’re on vacation, after all!” 

This is in no way an exhaustive list of cruise ship disasters, nor is it a complete list of Carnival cruise ship disasters. I honestly have no idea how they’re in business. I must be doing cruises wrong, because people obviously love them enough to forgive and forget.
Yes, I realize that there are plenty of safe cruises every year, and they are the bees knees for some people. And I also realize that bad things can happen on any vacation. But I just can’t fathom a problem happening with my hotel and suddenly I’m pooping off the balcony in between Jon Secada sets. These are exclusively cruise ship risks.
My wife and I went to an all inclusive resort in Cancun for our anniversary and we had a ton of margaritas with ice…a big no-no. I think we were sick for a week afterward, but we still were able to go home when we wanted. I’ll take that over Jon Secada, though just barely. That song is still in my head. So catchy.
But I will also add the detail I should disclose…I sunburn so damned easily. If I spend too long getting the mail, I’m pink for three days afterward (I might be embellishing, but hopefully you caught on to that). Most cruise ships go hot places, so if my cruise ship got stuck, I would die a Spam-stuffed, free-booze-soaked death to a Yacht Rock soundtrack. That’s just not the way I want to go. I’m allowed to live my life how I want, okay?
And I have my own preferences that cruise people don’t. For instance, I know that a lot of people hate camping, but I love it. And I’ve begged disaster when camping. But that’s another story for another time…but it has something to do with bottle rockets and various places to launch them from.

Until next time, it’s just another daaaaaaaay…

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The Tale of Why I Don’t Do Cruise Ships

I get it. I really do. A cruise ship seems like a convenient vacation. It’s basically a resort going to special, exotic places, all the while entertaining you with an enormous complex of lights and flashing and music. It’s big, bold, in your face, relaxing (to many), and usually affordable for what all you get. The allure of an enormous ship is difficult to deny. I myself went on a cruise, and I can’t say it wasn’t fun at times. But it kind of wasn’t fun a lot.

I have no regrets about our family cruise, as it was affordable, convenient, and a way for all of us to get together in one spot. It wasn’t likely my father would be able to travel on another big trip anytime soon for health reasons, so when he announced that we should all cruise, I was gung-ho.

Walking up to the ship and seeing it was amazing. It felt like waiting in line for an incredible amusement park ride. The fact that a hotel, casino, water park, movie theater, and multi-bar/restaurant/snack joint mega complex can exist in one spot, let alone float on the fucking ocean, is incredible. And I ate it up. Totally. Completely excited when I first got there. And I dove in head first.

I could not believe how huge the damn thing was. And it was one of Carnival’s medium sized ships, methinks. All was well and happy, the drinks started flowing, the towels were folded into weird animal shapes…I was sold. And I think I spent most of the time drunk. Pretty sure I did. That would explain a lot.

Because what else could I do? I really couldn’t possibly see myself, knowing who I am, facing a cruise sober. I’m kind of an introverted extrovert. I like getting out and doing things, but people can just stay in their own bubbles. My experience on the cruise was that it was just a large boat party. Personal space is your cabin, which is nice, but small and rocking. This cruise was over a decade ago. I had not as much confidence then as I do now, and my need to relax was often met with heavy drink.

On the first night, we all went to one of the bars. I got silly drunk and thought it would be funny to sign up for karaoke. My song of choice was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. But the reason I chose the song was to do the Dan Band version featured in Old School by Will Ferrell.

But…that’s only funny because it’s just part of the song. Me, I trudged through putting swear words wherever I felt reasonable, which was twice per line. The karaoke dude cut me off and kicked me off the stage where I met my sober father asking me sincerely, “Why would you do something like that?” Yeesh. I hardly ever disappointed the man. Felt awful. Which meant I needed more drinks to ease that pain, of course.

As you might have guessed, it didn’t get much less sloppy from there. We had a few stops, including one in Nassau where a prostitute immediately solicited my wife. Another one of the stops was at one of the Cays owned by Carnival. We got a cabana compliments of one of my family members who won big at a slot machine before drunkenly revealing to me that my parents divorced because my mom cheated on my dad, a secret my dad had kept for over fifteen years because he didn’t want his kids to have that impression of their mother. Oh well. At least the cabana was fun. We ended up in the water a lot, with my sister’s husband at the time getting the drunken idea that we should all throw an orange at each other as hard as possible. At some point in that game, I lost my wedding ring in the water. Somehow, we found it. Thank God for clear, sandy beaches.

By the time the cruise was over, I felt completely sick, as could be easily expected. At one point, while going out to get another drink in the evening, I slipped on the deck and cracked the back of my head. I had a goose egg that stuck around for a week. On top of this, I couldn’t ditch my sea legs for at least 10 days. There were plenty of fun times, I assure you, but I can also assure you that I don’t remember them all that well because…alcohol.

So, I spent five days on a cruise ship whooping it up and making a total fool of myself in front of my family, and then spent the following week and a half trying to quell the nausea, diarrhea, headaches, injuries, and the fact that the entire world around me swayed back and forth with alarming regularity.

I realize that I had the option to do the cruise sober, as I would now if someone dragged me aboard one. But I can’t say I would/could/should. It wasn’t a bad idea to ride a Carnival cruise completely intoxicated, as it kept my mind off of all the things that could’ve gone wrong. Despite all of my terrible self-inflicted suffering from my Carnival cruise, the following years would provide regular details as to how truly harrowing a Carnival cruise could have been. 

The following are true stories of cruises, with links provided.

The Carnival Triumph, or better known as “THE POOP CRUISE”:

Oh man. This one earned its name, for sure. In 2013, an engine problem of which Carnival was aware beforehand caused the ship to lose power and drift off into the Gulf of Mexico without a working septic system. In fact, the septic system backed up and the cruise employees had to put biowaste into bags that they lined the halls of the guest rooms with. People had to deal with this nightmare for eight days until they were brought to shore. Until then, some guests found it easier to just poop and pee off the side of the boat, hence, “Poop Cruise.” And there was no way to get these people off the boat. Not enough resources, they say. Hmm…

The Carnival Ecstasy, or as I call it: “The Shining Cruise”:

Fair warning, this one is shocking and not the least bit funny. I work ER and have seen some shit, but I never thought a scene like the Shining elevator scene could be possible. Yet, in 2015, an electrician working on top of an elevator aboard the Ecstasy was crushed to death when he was pinned between the moving elevator and the wall. The resulting tragedy caused a wall of blood to drip from the eighth floor down through the seventh. Witnesses said it sounded like a rush of water. There’s video of the incident out there if you aren’t squeamish.

But that’s enough of that, let’s get to my favorite Carnival disaster, something a lot more lighthearted:

The Carnival Dream, or as I call it: “The Jon Secada Solution”:

This one was also in 2013, which was a particularly bad year for Carnival. But a similar situation to the Triumph occurred in that the ship lost power, resulting in air conditioning, elevators, and toilets either malfunctioning or not working altogether. What’s also fun to learn as you go digging into these disasters is that when power goes out, perishable food is unavailable, probably to help prevent all the norovirus outbreaks and other GI distress that has happens on cruises. What this means is that the crews only serve shelf-stable food, which often times is Spam. For real. And this was the situation on the Dream, but in this case they tried to ease the burden of overflowing toilets, Spam feasts, and the inability to return home by offering two key solutions: free booze and Jon Secada. Do you remember Jon Secada? Need a refresher?

Yes. The best jam. It’s in your head now. Maybe not. Try some free booze and watch the video again. See? That’s better.

So that was it. Booze and Jon Secada. Let’s try and look at this from another angle. The ship had NO POWER and it said it couldn’t GET THE PASSENGERS HOME, the passengers are relieving themselves OFF THE SIDE OF THE SHIP in between doses of SPAM, and they fly in Jon Secada in a helicopter, let him perform, and then fly him away.

“That Jon Secada performance was pretty good. But where’s he going?” 

“Oh, he’s leaving. Going home.” 

“Why can’t I go–” 

“You bought the ticket, so ride the ride! Now grab some Spam and a daiquiri. You’re on vacation, after all!” 

This is in no way an exhaustive list of cruise ship disasters, nor is it a complete list of Carnival cruise ship disasters. I honestly have no idea how they’re in business. I must be doing cruises wrong, because people obviously love them enough to forgive and forget.

Yes, I realize that there are plenty of safe cruises every year, and they are the bees knees for some people. And I also realize that bad things can happen on any vacation. But I just can’t fathom a problem happening with my hotel and suddenly I’m pooping off the balcony in between Jon Secada sets. These are exclusively cruise ship risks.

My wife and I went to an all inclusive resort in Cancun for our anniversary and we had a ton of margaritas with ice…a big no-no. I think we were sick for a week afterward, but we still were able to go home when we wanted. I’ll take that over Jon Secada, though just barely. That song is still in my head. So catchy.

But I will also add the detail I should disclose…I sunburn so damned easily. If I spend too long getting the mail, I’m pink for three days afterward (I might be embellishing, but hopefully you caught on to that). Most cruise ships go hot places, so if my cruise ship got stuck, I would die a Spam-stuffed, free-booze-soaked death to a Yacht Rock soundtrack. That’s just not the way I want to go. I’m allowed to live my life how I want, okay?

And I have my own preferences that cruise people don’t. For instance, I know that a lot of people hate camping, but I love it. And I’ve begged disaster when camping. But that’s another story for another time…but it has something to do with bottle rockets and various places to launch them from.

Until next time, it’s just another daaaaaaaay…

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The Tale of Leaving Inkshares

On February ninth, I made the decision to pull a book I had been planning on publishing with Inkshares from the platform altogether. It is the right decision for me, and I feel as though a great weight has been lifted from my writing career. Below is my official letter of explanation for leaving. All correspondence will now be managed through my newsletter, which you can request to sign up for by emailing me at michael.haase@writingbloc.com. If you followed or preordered my book, please make sure to read the letter below in full.

InksharesVideoGames

IMPORTANT LAST UPDATE REGARDING INKSHARES

Hello again everyone,

I wanted to write to you to let you know some important news. First, thank you to all who took the time to fill out the survey. It is still open for a while if you wish to provide any answers, but the decision has been made at this point. I’m officially pulling Mr. Butler/The Man Who Stole the World from Inkshares. Refunds should come to your accounts within 7-10 days. If you need to update your account, please do so as soon as possible. And if you have any difficulties with receiving a refund, then please email Inkshares at hello@inkshares.com.
The survey did not make the decision for me. This decision was all mine. I’m sorry if the survey came across as though I were down on myself–the opposite is true. The important part was to try and gauge how you all, my supporters, felt about this singular work in my writing career. My intention was not to leave a poor impression of Inkshares or anyone working there. But at this time, Inkshares is not the right place for my work, no hard feelings.
With all things considered, this project was a weight on what will be a long and prolific writing career. I have other novels and stories moving forward, including a couple of illustrated children’s books. I even have two completely different manuscripts created from my work here that I will still develop into novels in the near future. But the truth is that I need to move forward with my best work, The Man Who Stole the World is far off from being my best work, and that drives 100% of my decision here. I no longer wanted to tie up any of your money or keep any of you waiting for a project that, if given all of my focus, might not be out for another couple of years. I have better things to offer sooner. I had to trim the fat, so to speak.
Some of you expressed that this seems like quitting, which you are entitled to think, of course. I assure you the opposite is true. I’m on the rise. I’ve developed my own writing community and so much more with Writing Bloc (writingbloc.comWriting Bloc on FacebookWriting Bloc on Twitter), and we have already released an anthology, are about to take submissions for another, and will start releasing novels within the year. Feel free to join us if you’d like.
I will be converting everything over to a newsletter soon, so please look out for that, but in the meantime if you need anything or have any questions, please feel free to email me at michael.haase@writingbloc.com.
I remember the feeling, the overwhelming joy I felt at winning the contest on Inkshares in March of 2016. I won thanks to your overwhelming support. I still carry that gratitude and joy with me as I keep pressing forward in my writing career. I wish to keep your support and I maintain that I am a quality writer to watch. I plan on producing more stories, creating more ways to help Indie Authors succeed, and generally being a source of support to the writing community in general.
Because of Inkshares I have made amazing friendships with authors from all over the world. I have pushed myself as a storyteller and creative, and I have had experiences I would not have had elsewhere. I have no regrets about my time with Inkshares whatsoever. Now is just the time to leave is all.
Please stay in touch. I wish you all the best.
And as always, I love you all.
-Michael
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The Tale of the Time I Fought the Law

Today was a big day. I had been preparing for this day for six months.

Today was the day I fought the law.

It all started in August, on my birthday, as a matter of fact. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I decided to take my kids to a place called Memphis Kiddie Park. This park is a great place with small rides and the oldest operating steel roller coaster in North America. It’s a manageable size and you can just walk in and buy tickets for rides like a fair. It’s the perfect place to take preschoolers, and it’s really affordable. I highly recommend it, as long as you can get past the creepy clown sign.

memphis kiddie park
Yes, it’s safe. I swear.

Anyhow, after letting my kids spin themselves dizzy and filling them up with sugar, I decided that it was a great day to take the long way home, take our time, and see what there was to see.

Long story short, there wasn’t much to see at all. The neighborhoods between our house and Memphis Kiddie Park feature many liquor stores, food marts, gas stations, and peeling paint. But it was still a beautiful enough day to let the windows down and just take it slow.

Which is why I was surprised when, two weeks later, I received a speeding citation in the mail asking for $100. A nice, blurry, black and white picture of my car served as proof of my mistake. The citation stated I drove 36 mph in a 25 zone. The ticket demanded immediate payment, unless I wanted to schedule a hearing to contest the charges. The city citing me was Linndale, Ohio.

My first thought was “Where in the hell is Linndale?” I decided to look it up, and this is how I fell down the rabbit hole.

Linndale is a town of notoriety to the west of, yet still inside, Cleveland. It’s technically a village, and it barely registers on a map. Its population is estimated at 179 people living in 37 houses, with the most modern home being built in 1968. It’s barely anything at all, and they barely have any businesses in the village to speak of.

linndale
See that tiny beige area in the middle?

So how does such a non-city exist without much of a commercial district? It turns out that everyone in Cleveland knows to stay away from Linndale because they will nail you for speeding.

The story goes back for decades. The original battleground was on the 422 yards of Interstate 71 that moves through Linndale. Police would camp out there and nail driver after driver for exceeding the ridiculously low 60mph speed limit. Linndale police would nail so many drivers on that stretch of road that Linndale ended up with the busiest Mayor’s Court in the entire state of Ohio. On top of this, these speeding fines amounted to 80% of the city’s million dollar annual revenue.

Linndale and Ohio’s state government fought back and forth for decades about the stretch of highway and Linndale’s right to issue citations on it. The difficulty was that Linndale, though it had 422 yards of I-71 in its village limits, had no points of entry or exit from 71, meaning that the Linndale Police department had to leave their own city limits in order to issue citations. Eventually, the fight ended up with the governor passing legislation moving Linndale’s mayor’s court to the nearby city of Parma, where the cases were consistently thrown out. Linndale’s main source of income took quite a hit.

To compensate for this, Linndale installed traffic cameras. The main one that causes controversy is on a short stretch of Memphis Blvd, which happened to be the route I took home on my birthday. This camera monitors traffic speeds for a section of road that has a sudden change of speed limit to 25mph while before and after it are all 35mph limits. I was tagged for going 36mph. And as you can imagine, I entered and left Linndale without even noticing.

I brought my grievances to Facebook, and everyone agreed with me. Some even just laughed at the fact that I didn’t know about the camera beforehand. I was raised in Akron, so I had no idea. But these cameras have taken the income lost by the police not monitoring a tiny stretch of 71, and increased it to well over a million dollars annually. Think about it: the cameras just tag people and send fines. If twenty cars all go through the 25mph zone at 36mph with the flow of traffic, then that is two thousand dollars worth of fines issued in just a couple of minutes.

The problem with speeding tickets in Linndale has gotten so bad, the city had its own feature on NPR’s internationally syndicated show, This American Life: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/629/expect-delays.

Needless to say, I wasn’t going to stand for this shit.

I got right on the village’s automated system and looked up my citation. I found the button to schedule a hearing, and I clicked it with authority. I immediately received a scheduled date, which was today, February 7th, 2019…six months later. That’s how long the line is to contest a ticket in Linndale. But I would wait. Oh yes, and when the time came, I would let them have it.

I had my case all worked up. The lawyer genes I inherited from my father kicked into high gear. I planned my entire defense out…

  1. The cameras only trigger when 36mph is reached, so I could have been within a tenth of a mile per hour of not receiving a ticket. So, with this in mind, who monitors these cameras? When was the last time they were calibrated? How do they know the traffic conditions at the time? Could I have been speeding up to achieve a safe place to get out of the way of a passing ambulance? I didn’t get to speak with an officer, so how could any of this be determined?
  2. At 36mph, I was obviously not in a hurry. And seeing the appropriate routes on a map, I was not taking the fastest way home by far. If I were in a hurry, I wouldn’t have taken that route in the first place. And, with the surrounding speed limits being 35mph, I obviously was driving safely and carefully.
  3. How can they justify a fine of $100 for a one mile per hour infraction? Am I being charged with the same amount as someone caught going 40? 50? How is the fine in this case appropriate at all?
  4. The citation was on my birthday…can’t they just give a guy a break? (I planned on giving a great big smile after this desperate defense, kinda like the one on my driver’s license.)

Photo on 2-7-19 at 2.10 PM.jpg
People are hesitant to sell me alcohol, but it’s my favorite driver’s license, ever.

I prepared my case and tacked my hearing date on the wall in the kitchen. I saw through their strategy. If I didn’t show up, that would be considered a guilty plea. So I had six months to forget about my hearing date and miss it. But not this guy. I was ready to wait and pounce when the time came.

When February rolled around, I realized trouble was coming. My hearing was scheduled on a Thursday at 1pm, and I had planned on having someone watch the kids briefly while I stuck it to the man. Unfortunately, the rest of my entire house came down with some serious upper respiratory infections. My two and four year old are still sick. My day came for the trial of the century, and I had two sick kids with nowhere to keep them.

I tried calling the number to reschedule. I wondered if they’d give me a new date in 2020. I had to leave a message, and they didn’t call me back until 12:30pm…my appointment was in 30 minutes. They said it was too late to reschedule. Surprise, surprise. So I did what any loving father with two sick kids would do…

I piled them into the car and took them with me. If the Village of Linndale was going to charge me $100, then I was going to throw a respiratory virus their way. Take that!

The kids really weren’t that sick. Plenty of energy at this point, just the occasional burst of coughing. And I have trained them to cough into their arms because I’m a good person. And good people shouldn’t get bullshit speeding fines from Big Brother.

As we drove to Linndale, I used the time in the car to make the situation into a lesson for my daughter. I told her that police are there to protect us, and when we break the rules on the road, we should pay the amount of money that the police tell us to. But, if we don’t think we broke any rules, or if we think we aren’t being treated fair, we can go to the court and STICK IT TO THE MAN! I think she understood at least part of it. I spent the rest of the car ride rehearsing my defense strategy as stated above.

Today was my first time going to Linndale intentionally. Oh man, it is tiny but creepy. If you’re paying attention, you can tell where the village begins because there are stoplight and traffic cameras everywhere. Seriously. Every single stoplight had a traffic camera attached with a blinking blue light. And the city is just older houses and the occasional weird business or temple of some sort.

IMG_2396
Actual photo of something in Linndale.

Despite the tininess of the village, it was difficult to find the town hall, as it wasn’t much larger than the houses on either side of it. It was on a side street and there were no signs directing anyone to it. If it weren’t for the line of cars vying for spots out front, I might have passed it on the first round.

IMG_2394
That’s Barb’s house next door, about ten feet away. There’s only room for one Barb in Linndale.

As I pulled in, I realized that there were a lot of people lining up to get inside, and all of them were no doubt there for the same reason. I rushed the kids in, signed in, and we waited.

As we sat there, my kids were actually quite good and sweet. My daughter kept asking how long we would be, but she did so in a nice, quiet way. The mood was odd in there, and both of my kids could sense it. We sat in three folding chairs as a woman in the front called people up one at a time to go off into another room and plead their case. One man started yelling for a moment until the officer stepped into the doorway. I did my best to keep calm, make my kids feel at ease, and rehearse my case. I wasn’t about to raise my voice, but I sure as shit wasn’t going to pay $100!

I had never been in a court before. I’ve never even had a jury summons before. I didn’t really know what to expect, but all I knew was that I had planned and planned and planned for this day for half of my 39th year of life, and I was going to nail my defense, damnit! I even had a number in mind…$20. I wasn’t going to accept a fine over $20. Things moved fairly quickly, much to my surprise. Finally, they called my name.

I walked up to the front of the courtroom and the woman pointed to my right. My heart rate increased. I tensed up. I was thrilled to express my rights as a citizen and go to my own defense. Every bit of planning and anticipation built up to that moment. I turned right and entered a room with a large man sitting at a desk with a stern, serious face. He had the kind of no bullshit look I worried could break me.

“Mr. Haase?” the man said the same way a curmudgeonly neighbor might ask some pesky kids “Is this your frisbee in my yard?”

“Yes sir,” I said. And to ease the tension, I introduced my two kids as my lawyers. He laughed. I felt better instantly. A little humor always helps the words come out. I took a deep breath in as I prepared to regurgitate the defense I had spent the last six months building up.

“Is this their first case?” the man asked, playing along.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, they did a great job. We determined shortly after your infraction that it was inconsequential, so we dismissed it but failed to send you a notice. Your case is dismissed.”

“No charge?” I asked.

“No. Have a good day.”

After six months of build up and research and preparation, they had already dismissed my charge back in September. But maybe they were just seeing if I would show up and then send me a bill if I didn’t. So I’m still taking credit for the victory.

I fought the law today, and I WON.

Eat your heart out, Joe Strummer.

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The Tale of the Night My Family Nearly Froze to Death

It’s really damn cold today. The Polar Vortex™ has elbowed its way into Northeast Ohio, and we are all huddled together in our houses. Schools called off for the next two days just based off of the projected cold. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Naturally, we have bought all the milk and bread in the area.

I’ve never understood that. Why do humans buy bread and milk when storms and harsh weather approach? Is there a recipe for milk sandwiches I need to know about?

Anyway, it’s a high of -2 degrees Fahrenheit today. This kind of cold naturally reminds me of the last time I remember it being anywhere near this freezing, and that would be in January of 2014.

I was working day shift in the ICU at the time. Winter is strangely busy in hospitals. It seems like the cold brings on more serious cardiac events than any other weather, which has never made much sense to me. But the winter of 2014 was no different. The ICU was packed and I finished a shift dead exhausted.

I rarely pay attention to forecasts as they seem like they are only cause for anxiety, and I have enough of that without outside influence, thank you very much. So when I left the hospital to get to my car, the absolute chill punched me straight in the gut. Little ice crystals formed in my beard. Shivering, I hoofed it to my car while the voice of my mother nagged in my brain, “How many times have I told you to wear a coat?!?” I leapt into my car and blasted the heat. As I watched my breath puff out in clouds while I drove, I thought to myself that everything would be fine once I got home.

Sure, at first everything was great. My shift was over, my wife was ready to cuddle, and soon enough we were tucked in bed with my two dogs inside the home we had just purchased the previous May. Things were great and about to get better, as my wife was about seven and a half months pregnant with my daughter. There was nothing to complain about.

And I love sleeping in winter. The cold puts me in a comatose state and I can usually attain a deep sleep unavailable during any other season. I love wrapping myself in warm covers and tucking in with just one foot out to remind my body that if it has any inkling of waking up early, just remember: it’s not worth it.

My wife and I fell asleep in our little piece of winter heaven, ready to greet another day, even though the forecast (of which I was unaware at the time) called for the temperature to drop significantly during the night.

It was about one in the morning when my wife shook me awake.

“Are you cold?” she asked.

I remember being momentarily irritated. The reason is that my wife loves to wake me up to ask me things I would have no way of experiencing while asleep. She has woken me up to ask weird things such as “Did you hear that?”, “Can you get the dog to move?”, and my personal favorite, “Are you asleep?” I thought we were adding to the collection with the “Are you cold” question, as I was obviously fine with the state of affairs since I was passed out.

But I soon noticed that she was onto something. I was cold. Really cold. Too cold for someone with a new house and a paid balance on the heating bill. Something was wrong. I trotted downstairs and checked the thermostat like the man in charge I was. It read fifty-nine degrees. It was set for seventy. I tapped it for encouragement, because that’s what men do. I fiddled with the buttons. The heat turned on. I felt accomplished. Then it immediately shut off. This was discouraging, for sure.

Taking the next obvious step in being the man of the house, I went down to the basement to look at the furnace. It turned on again and then immediately turned off. I stared at the furnace for a few more moments and then came up with the manliest of conclusions…

I had no idea of how a furnace worked.

Luckily, the internet wasn’t too cold, so I searched for a solution. Satisfied, I marched back upstairs to let my extremely pregnant wife know the good news.

“Pack a bag. The furnace is broken. We’re going to stay at the La Quinta tonight!”

The La Quinta Inn was the only hotel in the area that took dogs. It was literally the only option. No one was going to come out and fix our furnace in negative figures at one in the morning, and even if they would, we couldn’t wait around in a steadily cooling house. So, we packed ourselves up and shuffled back out into the cold to move out of our new house. This time, I remembered to wear a damn coat. My mother would have been satisfied. Not proud so much.

My wife was not happy with the situation, as being pregnant is hard enough without having to spontaneously evacuate your house into sub-zero temperatures. She moved at a waddle in the best weather at this point, and now she needed to move on a half-inch layer of ice while dead tired. I worried about her falling, for sure. I couldn’t breathe without forming crystals; I couldn’t imagine what would happen if her water broke.

Slowly but surely, we made our way to the La Quinta. The people there were extremely nice and accommodating. It wasn’t a bad set up, especially since we could crank the heat with reckless abandon. I settled my amazing, highly pregnant wife into bed and then took the dogs outside to make sure they wouldn’t have to pee for a while.

Walking the dogs was another adventure altogether. Everything was covered in a layer of ice, even the hand railings. And now I had basically tethered myself to two animals walking in different directions. It was so cold that their paws would stick to the ground if they stood in one spot for longer than a few seconds. Because of this, both dogs were in constant motion. It took only one trip outside and one slip and fall on my ass to realize that I could only manage one dog at a time.

By the time I made it to bed, it was past three in the morning. I don’t think I fell asleep until after four.

In the morning, we enjoyed the continental breakfast (does that mean cereal bar? Because at most hotels it just seems to mean “we’ll set out some cereal and shit for you.”) and then I left my wife to enjoy the spoils of a mid-range hotel while I went to get some supplies and check on the house.

This was how I learned a lot more about homes in the cold. I remember going to the bathroom and then flushing the toilet. The water went down, but the toilet didn’t refill at all. I tried the sink. Then the tub. Then every other faucet in the house. They were all frozen.

Lucky for me, we have the best neighbors on the planet. Dave from next door came over and helped me expose the pipes and aim space heaters at them all. He also knew a guy he trusted to come out and look at our furnace. Every other furnace guy in the city I had called was busy for hours. When Dave called his guy, the man was at my house in under an hour. I don’t know if Dave has mafia connections, and I don’t care. I’m just going to stay on his good side, as he does “know a guy” for a lot of things.

Within two hours the heat was back on. It turned out that there was a clog in my furnace that didn’t allow for the first stage to get enough air to light. Once the guy unclogged it, we had heat again. It was a simple and cheap fix. Thanks for the hook up, Mafia Dave!

Slowly our little family moved back in to our house. The space heaters did their thing and the pipes all came unfrozen without incident. We were lucky. Soon, we were back in bed and safe with the only problem being that when I let the dogs outside to pee I had to follow them and carry them back in because their paws still stuck to the ground. Poor things.

And poor me. My dogs are each sixty and eighty-five pounds. I remember carrying Maizie, the larger of the two, back inside. I waddled my way across the driveway all top heavy, hauling a giant dog with a thick layer of ice under my shoes.

I thought to myself, “If only someone would start punching my bladder and lungs right now, I might have an idea of what it’s like to be pregnant.”

Okay, probably not. Sorry.

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The Tale of When I Sutured My Daughter's Hand

Now slow down if you don’t know that I’m an ER nurse…I didn’t just go on some strange adventure hike in the deep forest and end up putting my daughter in danger before closing a wound of hers using the heads of dead ants. (Yes, that’s a thing. Kinda.) This was all an accident, and thankfully the stars aligned to create a scenario where everything turned out a-ok. Better than a-ok, actually.
It was a nice early autumn day in 2015. I was working my usual noon-to-midnight shift in the ER, and of course, we were busy as shit. Noon-to-midnight is one of those staggered twelve-hour shifts they have in ER’s to cover the periods of higher patient loads, and, go figure, most emergencies happen when people are at their most conscious. I was running tail through the ER like usual, bouncing from room to room, when I suddenly got paged that my wife, Margie, was on the phone.
This was my first indication of big trouble. Marige never calls me at work unless something is wrong. Any non-emergent stuff goes through my phone via text, and I can get back to her when I can. Not this time. She had me paged.
Gulp.

Rut-roah, Raggy…

Margie’s near hysterical, yet holding her last thread beautifully. She tells me that Penny, who was about nineteen months old at the time, cut her hand, and that Margie had to bring her in. Normally, Margie would ask my advice. In this case, no need. She just wanted to make sure that we weren’t too busy.
Here’s the thing: we were. Not terribly so, but busy enough. But there’s an unwritten code about ER’s that should offend no one: We bend over backward to help our own. That’s not to say that we reject anyone or treat anyone differently. The truth is that we fold our backs in half, squash our emotions, and put ourselves through the wringer for each and every patient. ER staff is an amazing breed of people. This is not to toot my own horn, as I am hardly the best ER nurse out there. I love my job, but I have worked with so many people who have left me flabbergasted with their awesomeness and commitment, I can hardly compare. That being said, I’m a solid and reliable ER nurse. And I’m part of an ER nurse family. And as soon as I told my ER family that my daughter was in trouble, the ER parted to make way for her.
It wasn’t inappropriate, though. It’s not like she came in with cold symptoms or took a bed that could’ve been used for a cardiac arrest. She had a laceration to her hand, and lacerations aren’t urgent emergencies as long as they get repaired within six hours. (Do you hear that? If you have a laceration, go to an ER within six hours! Otherwise they might not be able to fix it! Seriously. This isn’t a 100% rule, but it’s best to get it checked out as soon as possible. Here’s more detailed information.) So, the room we held was a typical laceration room. There were no other patients for which that room was appropriate, and honestly, getting a bleeding nineteen month-old into a room to stop the bleeding would normally be a priority for an adult-centered ER, so it was all good.
You gonna say sumthin’ anyhow?

My ER family rearranged assignments to make sure that I was my daughter’s nurse. I would’ve been too distracted for another assignment anyhow, so that made sense, too.
By the time my wife arrived, I was all set to receive my daughter in my new patient assignment. The matriarch of my next-door neighbors, an amazing woman named Toni whom I’ve adopted as my new mother, was en tow. She rode in the back with my daughter, holding pressure on the wound. I met my wife and daughter with Toni in the parking lot, and all I could see for a moment was a blood-soaked kitchen towel wrapped around Penny’s tiny hand. My little daughter was surprisingly stoic about the whole thing. She lit up when she saw me and greeted me with a cheerful “Dada!” I was relieved she wasn’t upset. She’s still that way. Unless the girl is tired or hungry, she’s typically not easily rattled.
We got Penny back immediately and poor Margie was all apologies. It wasn’t her fault at all, it was a simple accident, but there’s no way to take away a mother’s guilt when her child is injured on her watch. I supported her as I listened to the story of the injury.
It all started with a step stool. I built this railed step stool from a hack of an Ikea foot stool and painted it red. The end result still lives in our house:
step stool
It’s actually an amazing little piece of furniture. You see, toddlers always want to know what their parents are doing. This results in a lot of tugging on legs while doing kitchen work, so this step stool has let our children peek up over the counter and get involved. They’ve cooked and cleaned with us using this step stool, and at the time of Penny’s injury, she was “helping” Margie do dishes, which mostly consisted of her playing in a bucket of soapy water in the sink while Margie did the actual washing.
At the end of the dish chore, Margie went to put a glass away in an upper counter and it slipped from her hand and came crashing onto the counter. Shards of glass spread out across the kitchen floor, and the sound brought both of our big dogs charging toward the kitchen to investigate. As Margie didn’t want either of our dogs to end up with glass stuck in their paws, she headed them off at the kitchen doorway and put up the child gate to keep them out. Crisis averted. Unfortunately, in the few seconds it took to prevent the dogs being injured, Margie turned back to find, much to her horror, little Penny clutching a big shard of glass in her left hand, blood dripping down.

Penny wasn’t upset, but I can only imagine how upset Margie was. The shard was a rather big chunk, and it came out as soon as Penny opened her hand. Margie immediately charged into action, wrapping Penny’s hand in a kitchen towel and calling Toni and me to get this horrible situation handled. If I remember correctly, Dave, the patriarch next door and my adopted father, cleaned up all the glass from the kitchen after Margie, Toni, and Penny left. We have amazing neighbors. Truly.
When the physician’s assistant and I unwrapped Penny’s itty bitty hand, I realized things were worse than I thought. I could see the little bones in her pinky poking out in between the minimal subcutaneous fat below the layers of skin. The glass nicked Penny’s tendon. It was time to call in a plastic surgeon.
That might surprise you. Plastics doctors do much more than “enhancements.” They are the people helping reconstruct skin and bodies after horrible traumas. Theirs is a precise practice that requires a lot of time and skill. That being said, there are a lot of plastics doctors who choose to specialize in boobs and such. It’s all lower risk and higher payout, so who can blame them?  But just know that the next time you meet a plastic surgeon, he or she might be more involved in life-saving issues. And, in my limited experience, those plastics doctors who choose to involve themselves in the traumas and serious issues are a little more humble.
And luckily, one of those more humble doctors was on for Penny’s trauma. His name was Dr. Novotny. We put out a call for him, and he said he’d be there in about an hour. So, we had some downtime, and it was not stress free by any stretch of the imagination.
More info about lacerations that require stitching: if an artery isn’t involved, then it’s not as big of an emergency as you might think. Luckily, Penny hit no arteries, so her bleeding was slowing with pressure. And, as I’ve said, she’s a calm kid. She took in the entire scene while everyone else around her looked and acted much more anxious. And rightly so. Depending upon the level of injury to the tendon, there was a chance that Dr. Novotny would want to take our little girl to surgery. The wait was horrible.
Adding to that, Amber, the nurse who was so kind to take over my old assignment so I could be with my daughter, approached me quietly and pulled me aside. She seemed worryingly serious. I excused myself from my daughter’s bedside and walked away with Amber toward the back of the ER as she gave me the great news: one of the patients I was taking care of brought bedbugs with them.
Suddenly, I felt uncontrollably itchy.

Bedbugs means that we have to sequester the patient and those who were in direct contact need to change their clothes immediately and inspect their skin. ERs are full of beds, don’t ya know.
Flash forward about fifteen or twenty minutes. Margie had been sitting patiently and anxiously for my return, and I finally busted through the curtain in an all new set of scrubs and freshly combed hair. I couldn’t pretend nothing was different, so, I told her. It wasn’t too big of a deal, since Penny was small and she was holding her the whole time. A quick check of her and the bed put our minds at ease, but still…that was another hectic couple of minutes to add to everyone’s distress.
At last, Dr. Novotny came in. He was a calm, cool, collected fellow. He approached Penny and she let him see the whole wound. He assured us immediately that no surgery was required. SIGH…such a relief. Then, he got to work and I assisted the entire time. We got everything together and made Penny as comfortable as possible with her little left arm outstretched toward me. Margie held her body while I held her arm while I assisted Dr. Novotny.
Penny only really stirred and got upset one time, and it was at the most painful part of any suturing: the injection of the lidocaine. The little stabs and initial burning of numbing an area for suturing is the worst. After that, it’s just pressure and getting over the mental hump that someone is sewing your skin together. Luckily, Penny had her mom and dad right there, reassuring her that everything was just fine and that she was the bravest little girl in the world.
Truly Wonder Woman…but in toddler form.

ELEVEN sutures later, she was all done. I cleaned and dressed her wound. She took it all so well. Dr. Novotny did an excellent job. When he came back in to check on the dressing, Margie and I shook his hand. Then, much to our surprise and delight, little Penny stuck out her healthy right hand for him to shake. It was the first time a child shook his hand in gratitude, he said.
Crisis averted, all that was left was for a couple of weeks of wound cleaning and dressing changes. I got to be Penny’s at home nurse as well as her father. To this day she says that I “fix boo-boos” for a living, and I’m not going to correct her anytime soon.
She’s a tough little kid. Always has been. And my wife is awesome and amazing. She handled the situation perfectly. My neighbors are irreplaceable. They are incredible people. And all of my ER family…I will never stop admiring them. Dr. Novotny is a wonderful man as well. In fact, I found out that he has a stipulation on his consults: no pediatrics. We tried calling him for a pediatric case a couple of weeks after my daughter’s injury, and he referred us to another doctor, which happens. When he was reminded of how he fixed my daughter’s hand, he said “That was a special scenario.”
I’m not trying to underplay the seriousness of the situation. Penny’s finger bones were exposed and her tendon was nearly severed. Things could have been much worse, and it was all because of a simple accident. But, accidents happen. In debriefing after this crisis, Margie and I realized that we have done well surrounding ourselves with amazing and quality people. Also, we felt confident that we could handle sudden, intense situations well. Sure, it’s nice to try and keep your kids from being hurt, but the odds of your children getting through childhood unscathed are next to nil, unless you keep them in a bubble, in which case the trauma can have deeper wounds that are much harder to suture.

Instead, my daughter willingly shows children and adults alike her little tiny scar along the inside of her left pinky. She does this to help people feel better when she sees them get hurt, because she can say “I got hurt bad once, and I did okay. So will you!” In fact, the entire reason I felt like telling this tale was because her teacher just had hand surgery, and when Penny saw the teacher’s bandage, she had to tell her the tale of her finger. The teacher told me that when Penny was done telling this very tale, she said “We were all very brave.” And by “we” she was referring to herself as well as Margie, Toni, and me. She remembers that day, and what she has taken from it is that she is surrounded by helpers, she herself is a helper, and we are all brave.
That lesson wouldn’t be there in her mind if it weren’t for a simple accident with a broken glass. I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I could.
I love my little family.

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The Tale of When I Sutured My Daughter’s Hand

Now slow down if you don’t know that I’m an ER nurse…I didn’t just go on some strange adventure hike in the deep forest and end up putting my daughter in danger before closing a wound of hers using the heads of dead ants. (Yes, that’s a thing. Kinda.) This was all an accident, and thankfully the stars aligned to create a scenario where everything turned out a-ok. Better than a-ok, actually.

It was a nice early autumn day in 2015. I was working my usual noon-to-midnight shift in the ER, and of course, we were busy as shit. Noon-to-midnight is one of those staggered twelve-hour shifts they have in ER’s to cover the periods of higher patient loads, and, go figure, most emergencies happen when people are at their most conscious. I was running tail through the ER like usual, bouncing from room to room, when I suddenly got paged that my wife, Margie, was on the phone.

This was my first indication of big trouble. Marige never calls me at work unless something is wrong. Any non-emergent stuff goes through my phone via text, and I can get back to her when I can. Not this time. She had me paged.

Gulp.

Rut-roah, Raggy…

Margie’s near hysterical, yet holding her last thread beautifully. She tells me that Penny, who was about nineteen months old at the time, cut her hand, and that Margie had to bring her in. Normally, Margie would ask my advice. In this case, no need. She just wanted to make sure that we weren’t too busy.

Here’s the thing: we were. Not terribly so, but busy enough. But there’s an unwritten code about ER’s that should offend no one: We bend over backward to help our own. That’s not to say that we reject anyone or treat anyone differently. The truth is that we fold our backs in half, squash our emotions, and put ourselves through the wringer for each and every patient. ER staff is an amazing breed of people. This is not to toot my own horn, as I am hardly the best ER nurse out there. I love my job, but I have worked with so many people who have left me flabbergasted with their awesomeness and commitment, I can hardly compare. That being said, I’m a solid and reliable ER nurse. And I’m part of an ER nurse family. And as soon as I told my ER family that my daughter was in trouble, the ER parted to make way for her.

It wasn’t inappropriate, though. It’s not like she came in with cold symptoms or took a bed that could’ve been used for a cardiac arrest. She had a laceration to her hand, and lacerations aren’t urgent emergencies as long as they get repaired within six hours. (Do you hear that? If you have a laceration, go to an ER within six hours! Otherwise they might not be able to fix it! Seriously. This isn’t a 100% rule, but it’s best to get it checked out as soon as possible. Here’s more detailed information.) So, the room we held was a typical laceration room. There were no other patients for which that room was appropriate, and honestly, getting a bleeding nineteen month-old into a room to stop the bleeding would normally be a priority for an adult-centered ER, so it was all good.

You gonna say sumthin’ anyhow?

My ER family rearranged assignments to make sure that I was my daughter’s nurse. I would’ve been too distracted for another assignment anyhow, so that made sense, too.

By the time my wife arrived, I was all set to receive my daughter in my new patient assignment. The matriarch of my next-door neighbors, an amazing woman named Toni whom I’ve adopted as my new mother, was en tow. She rode in the back with my daughter, holding pressure on the wound. I met my wife and daughter with Toni in the parking lot, and all I could see for a moment was a blood-soaked kitchen towel wrapped around Penny’s tiny hand. My little daughter was surprisingly stoic about the whole thing. She lit up when she saw me and greeted me with a cheerful “Dada!” I was relieved she wasn’t upset. She’s still that way. Unless the girl is tired or hungry, she’s typically not easily rattled.

We got Penny back immediately and poor Margie was all apologies. It wasn’t her fault at all, it was a simple accident, but there’s no way to take away a mother’s guilt when her child is injured on her watch. I supported her as I listened to the story of the injury.

It all started with a step stool. I built this railed step stool from a hack of an Ikea foot stool and painted it red. The end result still lives in our house:

step stool

It’s actually an amazing little piece of furniture. You see, toddlers always want to know what their parents are doing. This results in a lot of tugging on legs while doing kitchen work, so this step stool has let our children peek up over the counter and get involved. They’ve cooked and cleaned with us using this step stool, and at the time of Penny’s injury, she was “helping” Margie do dishes, which mostly consisted of her playing in a bucket of soapy water in the sink while Margie did the actual washing.

At the end of the dish chore, Margie went to put a glass away in an upper counter and it slipped from her hand and came crashing onto the counter. Shards of glass spread out across the kitchen floor, and the sound brought both of our big dogs charging toward the kitchen to investigate. As Margie didn’t want either of our dogs to end up with glass stuck in their paws, she headed them off at the kitchen doorway and put up the child gate to keep them out. Crisis averted. Unfortunately, in the few seconds it took to prevent the dogs being injured, Margie turned back to find, much to her horror, little Penny clutching a big shard of glass in her left hand, blood dripping down.

Penny wasn’t upset, but I can only imagine how upset Margie was. The shard was a rather big chunk, and it came out as soon as Penny opened her hand. Margie immediately charged into action, wrapping Penny’s hand in a kitchen towel and calling Toni and me to get this horrible situation handled. If I remember correctly, Dave, the patriarch next door and my adopted father, cleaned up all the glass from the kitchen after Margie, Toni, and Penny left. We have amazing neighbors. Truly.

When the physician’s assistant and I unwrapped Penny’s itty bitty hand, I realized things were worse than I thought. I could see the little bones in her pinky poking out in between the minimal subcutaneous fat below the layers of skin. The glass nicked Penny’s tendon. It was time to call in a plastic surgeon.

That might surprise you. Plastics doctors do much more than “enhancements.” They are the people helping reconstruct skin and bodies after horrible traumas. Theirs is a precise practice that requires a lot of time and skill. That being said, there are a lot of plastics doctors who choose to specialize in boobs and such. It’s all lower risk and higher payout, so who can blame them?  But just know that the next time you meet a plastic surgeon, he or she might be more involved in life-saving issues. And, in my limited experience, those plastics doctors who choose to involve themselves in the traumas and serious issues are a little more humble.

And luckily, one of those more humble doctors was on for Penny’s trauma. His name was Dr. Novotny. We put out a call for him, and he said he’d be there in about an hour. So, we had some downtime, and it was not stress free by any stretch of the imagination.

More info about lacerations that require stitching: if an artery isn’t involved, then it’s not as big of an emergency as you might think. Luckily, Penny hit no arteries, so her bleeding was slowing with pressure. And, as I’ve said, she’s a calm kid. She took in the entire scene while everyone else around her looked and acted much more anxious. And rightly so. Depending upon the level of injury to the tendon, there was a chance that Dr. Novotny would want to take our little girl to surgery. The wait was horrible.

Adding to that, Amber, the nurse who was so kind to take over my old assignment so I could be with my daughter, approached me quietly and pulled me aside. She seemed worryingly serious. I excused myself from my daughter’s bedside and walked away with Amber toward the back of the ER as she gave me the great news: one of the patients I was taking care of brought bedbugs with them.

Suddenly, I felt uncontrollably itchy.

Bedbugs means that we have to sequester the patient and those who were in direct contact need to change their clothes immediately and inspect their skin. ERs are full of beds, don’t ya know.

Flash forward about fifteen or twenty minutes. Margie had been sitting patiently and anxiously for my return, and I finally busted through the curtain in an all new set of scrubs and freshly combed hair. I couldn’t pretend nothing was different, so, I told her. It wasn’t too big of a deal, since Penny was small and she was holding her the whole time. A quick check of her and the bed put our minds at ease, but still…that was another hectic couple of minutes to add to everyone’s distress.

At last, Dr. Novotny came in. He was a calm, cool, collected fellow. He approached Penny and she let him see the whole wound. He assured us immediately that no surgery was required. SIGH…such a relief. Then, he got to work and I assisted the entire time. We got everything together and made Penny as comfortable as possible with her little left arm outstretched toward me. Margie held her body while I held her arm while I assisted Dr. Novotny.

Penny only really stirred and got upset one time, and it was at the most painful part of any suturing: the injection of the lidocaine. The little stabs and initial burning of numbing an area for suturing is the worst. After that, it’s just pressure and getting over the mental hump that someone is sewing your skin together. Luckily, Penny had her mom and dad right there, reassuring her that everything was just fine and that she was the bravest little girl in the world.

Truly Wonder Woman…but in toddler form.

ELEVEN sutures later, she was all done. I cleaned and dressed her wound. She took it all so well. Dr. Novotny did an excellent job. When he came back in to check on the dressing, Margie and I shook his hand. Then, much to our surprise and delight, little Penny stuck out her healthy right hand for him to shake. It was the first time a child shook his hand in gratitude, he said.

Crisis averted, all that was left was for a couple of weeks of wound cleaning and dressing changes. I got to be Penny’s at home nurse as well as her father. To this day she says that I “fix boo-boos” for a living, and I’m not going to correct her anytime soon.

She’s a tough little kid. Always has been. And my wife is awesome and amazing. She handled the situation perfectly. My neighbors are irreplaceable. They are incredible people. And all of my ER family…I will never stop admiring them. Dr. Novotny is a wonderful man as well. In fact, I found out that he has a stipulation on his consults: no pediatrics. We tried calling him for a pediatric case a couple of weeks after my daughter’s injury, and he referred us to another doctor, which happens. When he was reminded of how he fixed my daughter’s hand, he said “That was a special scenario.”

I’m not trying to underplay the seriousness of the situation. Penny’s finger bones were exposed and her tendon was nearly severed. Things could have been much worse, and it was all because of a simple accident. But, accidents happen. In debriefing after this crisis, Margie and I realized that we have done well surrounding ourselves with amazing and quality people. Also, we felt confident that we could handle sudden, intense situations well. Sure, it’s nice to try and keep your kids from being hurt, but the odds of your children getting through childhood unscathed are next to nil, unless you keep them in a bubble, in which case the trauma can have deeper wounds that are much harder to suture.

Instead, my daughter willingly shows children and adults alike her little tiny scar along the inside of her left pinky. She does this to help people feel better when she sees them get hurt, because she can say “I got hurt bad once, and I did okay. So will you!” In fact, the entire reason I felt like telling this tale was because her teacher just had hand surgery, and when Penny saw the teacher’s bandage, she had to tell her the tale of her finger. The teacher told me that when Penny was done telling this very tale, she said “We were all very brave.” And by “we” she was referring to herself as well as Margie, Toni, and me. She remembers that day, and what she has taken from it is that she is surrounded by helpers, she herself is a helper, and we are all brave.

That lesson wouldn’t be there in her mind if it weren’t for a simple accident with a broken glass. I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I could.

I love my little family.

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The Tale of My First Published Work

ESCAPE! Anthology Book Cover

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

2018 was a big year for me. Lots of ups and downs. It started out mostly with downs, as January brought gall bladder attacks that brought me to tears and then surgery to remove the dying organ. After surgery, one of my wounds dehisced, and I found myself having to do extensive daily wound care for about two months while going back to work while both in pain and leaking fluid from my abdomen. What was supposed to be a positive bit at the start of the year was when I turned in my manuscript for the novel I’ve been working on for nearly three years, but my editor basically panned the entire thing, sending me to rewrites without finishing a complete edit. For a little bit, I teetered on the edge of giving up on the writing deal. I was depressed. I had just come from a place where I had control over my health and was ready to deal with grieving a big loss in our family, and BAM! my own health and personal aspirations took a dive.

But I am a resilient fellow at my core. While a restart on my novel was a big blow, the criticism from my editor wasn’t uncalled for; I definitely can write a better book, and I need to. I am.

I’ve pushed myself quite far as a writer over the course of the last four years, and I’m always improving. A great part of the process of improving has been surrounding myself with an awesome group of writer friends from all over the world. In my dark time of self doubt, I turned to these friends for help in April of last year.

I had no idea how amazing of a response I’d get.

At first, I just assembled a simple group. I created a Slack group, a Facebook page, and I sent out invitations for everyone to join a place for all of us writer folks to get together and support one another. Within the first few weeks of May, we created a website, made plans for publishing a short story anthology, and called the group Writing Bloc. We sent out invitations to submit short stories to be featured in the anthology, and the response was incredible.

By June, we had a great collection of stories, and we began a large, ambitious, collaborative, cooperative editing project. By August, we had all the stories completed with an initial edit and we had a cover design for the book. By October, we all joined in to collaboratively edit the stories and provide feedback. By Thanksgiving, we were taking preorders.

By December, Writing Bloc had become an enormous creative force. The anthology was finished and ready to be published, the website was getting good traffic with regular contributions and articles, the Facebook page was getting a steady increase in traffic, and our plans kept getting bigger and better.

And now, here we are. Publication day. My preorders already downloaded to my phone and my Kindle, and the end result is beautiful. Twenty authors all collaborated and worked hard to get a published work together. And it’s damn good. The stories stretch across genres, but all are united by the same theme: escape.

Escape. How apropos. 2018 started with me in a terrible state of mind overflowing with depression and self doubt, and I reached out to my writer friends to help. Now here I am, proud as hell of what we’ve all accomplished, knowing that those involved in it helped me to escape from a dark place.

Naturally, I must ask that you consider picking up a copy of this anthology for yourself. The best place to do so is on Amazon. It’s $2.99 today (New Year’s Day), and it goes up to $5.99 after that, so please consider getting your copy right now by clicking here. If you have another kind of e-reader, you can get your copy by clicking here. This anthology has a special place in my heart, and I’ll admit that I teared up a little after I opened it up on my Kindle.

56801224933__7DEE88AE-0B37-461C-BEA2-4D51767A9C2D.JPG
So beautiful.

It’s not just about being published. It’s several things. I’m proud of my story. I’m proud of everyone’s story in the book. I’m proud of all the tremendous effort that went into producing the book. I’m astonished at how far a motivated group of writers took my simple question: “How about we make a group and support one another?” Every writer in that collection is a great person and quite talented. I owe every person involved in that work an enormous amount of gratitude, whether they realize it or not.

Moving into 2019, we are working on a print version of our anthology. We are preparing to announce the next anthology and open up for submissions. We are gathering our resources to start a small press publishing company. We have been featured on podcasts and radio stations in both North Carolina and Tasmania (the audio expired on the Tasmanian radio link, but I swear we were featured there). We have so many big dreams, and we have every reason to believe we can attain them all. It’s been only a little less than eight months, and we’ve already accomplished a ton.

I had the honor of writing the foreword for the anthology. I was encouraged to, as I have been credited with being the “founder” of Writing Bloc. This title is an honor. Writing Bloc was definitely a central part of my 2018. I wanted to give up on so many projects at the start of the year, but here I am now, reading my own published work alongside a fantastic team of writers. I expect even better things to come as well.

GO TEAM!!!

For those of you who invested in my novel, The Man Who Stole The World (formerly “The Madness of Mr. Butler”) just know that I’m sincerely sorry the wait has been long, and your continued support and patience means everything to me. I nearly gave up on the whole thing altogether last March. Now, nearly a year later, I’m in a much better place mentally, and I’m already reworking a ton of it to make it the greatest story it can be. I thank you for your support, kindness, and patience.

I am ready to move forward with all my creative endeavors with confidence. Writing and creating bring me tremendous joy. I thank you for following me along for the ride.

2019 is looking up already…stay tuned.

ESCAPE

 

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The Tale of Words I Say Dummer

I’m commonly mistaken for a Grammar Nazi, but the opposite is true. While I am drawn to the poetic nature of language and I love learning all the parts of speech and the attempts at rules to govern them, I honestly love watching language develop. I’m not insecure about my mistakes, and I definitely make no attempt to speak like some sort of English purist (which is kind of an impossible thing to be). My favorite books tend to bend the rules. Intentional misspellings. Sentence fragments. Swear words. Prepositions at the ends of sentences. I mean, you don’t need rules if they can’t be broken. If what you say or write makes sense and conveys the message you wish to convey, then you’ve successfully communicated.

And while you can assume that I’m trying to silently tell you that I’m in danger/kidnapped/unable to talk if I send you a message with the improper use of “your,” I still don’t go around correcting people. Language evolves. What we call English today would shock and disgust many who spoke the language even just a century ago. Shit changes all the time, so you either ride the wave or get someone else’s surfboard lodged up your ass.

Or your own smashed into your crotch.

That being said, this wasn’t how I was raised.

My mother, God rest her soul, is still the only person I’ve ever heard of who received a Master’s Degree in Victorian Literature. And if that weren’t enough, she got the damned thing from Duke University. Our house was always filled with books, and she would keep shoving them in my hands to the point of me refusing to read any of them (a decision I now regret, but I’m working on making up for it). I always loved books, mind you, but I wasn’t allowed the same relationship with them as I had with music. In my house, music was to enjoy, books were to appreciate. And I get it now, especially since I have kids. Books need to be appreciated. But not forcibly so.

Don’t get me wrong. My mother was a loving woman with a carefully honed sharp sense of humor. She was an incredible person to talk to and know, and I’m lucky to have had such a mom.

But goddamn if I don’t think of her every time someone says “I’m going to go lay down.”

My mother’s voice slides up from the back of my brain and conducts my voice like a puppet master.

“What are you laying down?” My mother’s words slide from my lips.

I get a look of confusion as I sneak in the old beat-into-my-brain lesson. “Oh! You’re going to go lie down. Have a good rest.”

Middle fingers abound.

Even from good old Fred.

It’s shit like that that’s been beaten into my head. But language has undergone considerable changes since my mom died. I’m sure she rolled over in her grave when “irregardless” made it into the dictionary. But that’s how language do.

Another example is when someone says they’re nauseous. When this happens, my mom’s voice pops up in my head, begging me to ask that person to take a shower since their scent is making others nauseated. That’s right: when something is nauseous, they are *technically causing others nausea, most likely from a stench. To be nauseated means that you might just yarf at any moment. BUT! I looked this up in the great Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and it now also includes the newer second definition for nauseous: “affected with nausea or disgust.”

We should’ve buried mom at the top of a hill to help her with all the rolling she must be doing.

This is the look on her face as she reads the internet in the afterlife.

Now, what does this mean? What does this have to do with words I say dummer?

Well, in quick summary, I’m just a kid brow-beaten into speaking the King’s English by a woman with the above stated degree, so obviously my upbringing leaned toward the purist and/or British manner of pronunciation. However! I’m not trying to say that I am the definition of correct. I feel I’ve stated my case well enough to be considered understanding and lenient even with the most heinous of grammatical crimes, save for straight up murder of the language. I make mistakes all the damn time, so who am I to judge?

If only my wife’s side of the family felt the same way.

I have no idea which word fired the first shot, but the difference in pronunciation for some fairly frequently used words has caused a bit of a war between my wife’s family and, well, just me. It’s gotten to the point where every Christmas, for at least the past six Christmases, they have included a category in the annual Family Jeopardy! game called:

Words Mike Says Dummer

And everyone jumps all over it, out for my blood.

I’ll admit it, it’s a pretty fun game. What’s adorable and hilarious is that, inevitably, whenever a member of my wife’s family pronounces a word the way I do, they do so in a mocking British accent, not realizing that the polar opposite would be me pronouncing the same word the way they do with a jangly redneck accent. But what’s great is that they disagree. More often than they’d admit, many members of her family pronounce a word exactly as I do. Confusion and anger sweep across their faces as they realize they match up with this “language purist.” I say nothing much when this happens. They inevitably fight among themselves when someone sides with me. All I have to do is sit back, sip on my tea, take a bite out of my crumpet, and enjoy the action.

So here’s the challenge. I want you to take the same test. Look at the list of “Words Mike Says Dummer” below and decide how you say each and every one of them. You might not even realize you say some of these words differently than anyone else. It’s a fun game, and there are no wrong answers. Let me know in the comments whose side you are on when it comes to pronunciation.

How do you pronounce the following words?

Orange

Me: Two syllables: Or-anj

Margie: One syllable: ornj

Plaza

Me: Plah-zah

Margie: Plaa-zuh

Envelope

Me: on-vel-ope

Margie: en-vel-ope

Pajamas

Me: pa-jahm-uhs

Margie: pa-jam-uhs

Either/neither

Me: (n)eye-ther

Margie: (n)ee-ther

Nevada

Me: Nev-ah-duh

Margie: Nev-aa-duh

Dilate

Me: Two syllables: di-late

Margie: Three syllables: di-uh-late

Mayonnaise

Me: may-oh-nays

Margie: man-ays

Colorado

Me: Col-oh-rah-doh

Margie: Col-oh-raa-doh

Mirror

Me: Two syllables: mir-ror

Margie: One syllable: mear

Dwarf

Me: dwarf

Margie: dorf

Mayor

Me: Two syllables: may-or

Margie: One syllable: mare

Exit

Me: ex-it

Margie: eggs-it

Picture

Me: pick-ture

Margie: pitcher

Poem

Me: po-em

Margie: pome

Caterpillar

Me: cat-er-pill-er

Margie: cat-ta-pill-er

Kielbasa

Me: Kill-boss-uh

Margie: cob-boss-ee

Catch

Me: catch

Margie: ketch

Youngstown (This is where Margie’s accent is from)

Me: Youngs-town

Margie: Yunks-town

Temperature

Me: tem-purr-ah-chure

Margie: temp-rah-chure

Wolves

Me: wolves

Margie: woofs

Crayon

Me: cray-on

Margie: cran

Pumpkin

Me: pump-kin

 Margie: punk-in

Often

Me: of-ten

Margie: offen

Mittens

Me: mit-tins

Margie: mih-ins

Address

Me: uh-DRESS (stress on second syllable)

Margie: AA-dress (stress on first syllable)

Comfortable

Me: come-fort-uh-bull

Margie: comf-ter-bull

Whipped Cream

Me: whipped cream

Margie: whip cream

Leaves

Me: leaves

Margie: leafs

Peanut

Me: pee-nut

Margie: pee-nit

Jury Rigged

Me: jury rigged

Margie: Jerry rigged

Error

Me: err-rurr

Margie: err

Roofs

Me: roofs

Margie: ruhfs

Halves

Me: haves

Margie: haffs

Data

Me: day-tuh

Margie: daa-tuh

Porcupine

Me: poor-cue-pine

Margie: porky pine

Hamster

Me: ham-stir

Margie: hamp-ster

Grocery

Me: gross-er-ee

Margie: grosh-er-ee

I’m sure there are plenty of others, but we will stop there for today. What do you all say? Do you have any other words you think I might say dummer?

This dog wants to know.

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The Tale of the Time I Saved My Son's Life

My son is a risk-taker.

My son is only two, and he’s a ridiculously physical kid. He likes hanging from the chin-up bar in our house, climbs every ladder he sees, and tries to jump off from whatever is the tallest thing around. He will climb up the back of a chair and jump into your lap without warning. He will go for every hot beverage and electrical outlet he can find. At this point, he’s had so many bumps to his head he no longer cries. He’ll just tap his head where he just clomped it against a doorway and say “Uh-oh! Bonk!”
And it’s the cutest thing, ever.
With his physical nature seems to come an extremely voracious appetite. The kid can eat. He’s been that way since he was in the womb. He convinced my vegetarian wife to eat steak during her pregnancy, his first nursing session was over an hour, and when he had bottles, he would drink 40 ounces a day…when he was two months old.

As he is now a slim thirty pounds and in the 93rd percentile for height, the appetite hasn’t calmed down. I’ve sat through a breakfast where he will eat two eggs with cheese, an entire banana, a piece of toast, and one of the dogs. Well, maybe not one of the dogs, but he has tried to bite them before. That habit did not last long, thankfully.
His eating has been a bit of an interesting issue, as he also wants to eat everything at once. He’s not the only toddler to want to eat this way, I’m sure, but it’s something that is a bit troubling at times.

Here comes trouble.

As a nurse who works in critical care and emergency medicine, I’ve been kind of overtrained and exposed to a lot of troubling situations. I’ve spoken with many parents who have thought their children were choking when the kids were, in fact, coughing and gagging as they are learning to eat. My son has pulled this faux choking over and over again.
Hell, I’ve learned that when he has a full belly of food and makes himself gag by, say, trying to fit an entire half of a banana down his throat, I can catch his entire stomach contents in my hands cupped together. It’s a valuable talent, especially if you ask the dining room carpet.

And he’s coughed and gagged time and time again. We are teaching him to learn his limits, and that’s the best we can do. making his food into little chunks only serves to make him want to fit more in his mouth at once. And what is he going to learn from us restricting his food? Trust me, nothing.
So, we carry on. He gags occasionally, gets it up, and carries on to eat more and more and more. And he’s a really healthy kid, so what’s there to complain about.

The day I’ll never forget.

One of the only fast food places he’s ever eaten at is Chipotle. He gets a chicken quesadilla with rice and beans, and if his sister still has any left after he’s done eating it all, he will eat her food as well. It’s one of his favorite places to eat.
Last week, I picked up some Chipotle and brought it home. It was just the kids and I, and I was about to work night shift all weekend, so it seemed like a good time to have a “treat.” We sat down at the table and I scooped up a piece of chicken with a little rice and beans into a spoon for him like usual. And as per usual, he put the spoon right into his mouth.
The difference here is that he laughed because he was happy to have food in front of him. He does that. He loves food so much he can’t even be serious during a meal.

So, he laughed, and then he recoiled. The sharp reaction and the look on his face matched just about every time he’s taken a spoonful of food that’s too hot. So, that’s what I said to him.
“Oh! Too hot? Want some juice?”
I held his cup up to his mouth and he still looked affronted. His cheeks were pink. His mouth was open. No sound.
That was when I realized that his airway was closed off. My son was choking.
I patted his back a couple of times, but he only started turning dark blue. Still no sound.
I have no recollection of exactly what happened between the dining room table and the sink, but the next thing I knew I had my son bent over the kitchen sink and I was thrusting up against his abdomen. Once, twice, three times, four times…
On the fifth time, he gagged out and a chunk of chicken popped out of his mouth and into the sink. I spun him around and looked him in the face. The blue/purple was receding. The bright pink stayed in his cheeks because he started crying. Hard.
And damn, was that a beautiful sound. I hugged him both desperately and gently, because the dude needed to breathe. Getting a tight hug after choking isn’t necessarily the best course of action. Ironically, I wanted to squeeze him to death.
He wailed for his usual thirty seconds or so when he gets upset about anything. I swayed back and forth with him in my arms, assuring him that everything was okay. I was also assuring myself that everything was okay. His sister was still at the table eating, oblivious as any four-year-old might be. I think she asked if he was okay. I can’t really remember.

The happy ending.

What I do remember is that, after I swayed my son in the direction of the dining room so his sister could see him, he looked at the table and saw his uneaten food. He shifted back so he could look me in the eye. He pointed to the table and with the sweetest little look on his face, he asked “Mor? Mor?”

Yes, his food nearly killed him, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still hungry. The little shit.
We finished the rest of the meal with me studying his every bite. Adrenaline kept me alert and aware. The reality of what had just happened didn’t kick in until after I cleaned up lunch.
My son could have died. Without brisk and exact intervention, he would’ve choked to death. And it was a simple thing.
I’m not writing this to say that I’m now a more cautious parent, nor am I saying that I deserve any sort of recognition for performing appropriate abdominal thrusts. I am trained to do these things by my trade, and I have to keep my education up to date regularly. What I did for my son was thankfully procedural for me. Even with his previous adventures with gagging on food, I had never been close to doing abdominal thrusts on him.
Or on anyone, for that matter.

The moral to the story.

I’ve done CPR more times than I care to recall. I’ve never had to save someone from choking. But since I had practiced it and been certified in it, I could remain calm and do what had to be done. And it worked.
And like CPR, it was nothing like they show you on television or in the movies.

So, this is my first post that perhaps has a serious moral or message.
You are surrounded by people everyday. Family, friends, loved ones, strangers…anyone could laugh during their first bite of food. Anyone could suffer a cardiac event that good, effective CPR could help increase their odds of survival. Too many of us think that someone else will be there to save someone when shit goes down, and it’s simply not true. Outside of a hospital, nearly 90 percent of CPR recipients die, and part of the reason for that is ineffective CPR or too much time passing while people wait for “a doctor” or someone who can and is willing to perform CPR. People die from choking at restaurants even when someone intervenes, and sometimes that’s because they aren’t actually trained in appropriate abdominal thrusts. There’s different techniques for different age groups and conditions (such as pregnancy) for both CPR and abdominal thrusts, and they aren’t difficult to learn.
So, surprise! This is my PSA. If you haven’t been trained, go enroll in a class to learn basic lifesaving techniques. The classes don’t take too long, and the information is invaluable. You could be the difference in a stranger’s life, a friend’s life, or even your child’s. Don’t assume you know what to do, especially if you think they’re doing it even close to correctly on your favorite TV show. (Spoiler: they are not. Not even close.)
As for my son, he’s fine. He’s happy. And he’s still eating us out of house and home. I’m not suddenly a helicopter parent or anything. Life continues as usual. I was shaken to my core for a good 24 hours, but now that all of the adrenaline has worn off and the trauma has passed, I don’t think of how bad it could have gone, because it didn’t go badly. It was an accident that was prevented, thanks to my training.
Imagine how many accidents like his could also have happy endings if more people were trained.
Are you trained in basic life saving techniques?
https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr

(Hint-hint.)
 

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The Tale of the Time I Saved My Son’s Life

My son is a risk-taker.

My son is only two, and he’s a ridiculously physical kid. He likes hanging from the chin-up bar in our house, climbs every ladder he sees, and tries to jump off from whatever is the tallest thing around. He will climb up the back of a chair and jump into your lap without warning. He will go for every hot beverage and electrical outlet he can find. At this point, he’s had so many bumps to his head he no longer cries. He’ll just tap his head where he just clomped it against a doorway and say “Uh-oh! Bonk!”

And it’s the cutest thing, ever.

With his physical nature seems to come an extremely voracious appetite. The kid can eat. He’s been that way since he was in the womb. He convinced my vegetarian wife to eat steak during her pregnancy, his first nursing session was over an hour, and when he had bottles, he would drink 40 ounces a day…when he was two months old.

As he is now a slim thirty pounds and in the 93rd percentile for height, the appetite hasn’t calmed down. I’ve sat through a breakfast where he will eat two eggs with cheese, an entire banana, a piece of toast, and one of the dogs. Well, maybe not one of the dogs, but he has tried to bite them before. That habit did not last long, thankfully.

His eating has been a bit of an interesting issue, as he also wants to eat everything at once. He’s not the only toddler to want to eat this way, I’m sure, but it’s something that is a bit troubling at times.

Here comes trouble.

As a nurse who works in critical care and emergency medicine, I’ve been kind of overtrained and exposed to a lot of troubling situations. I’ve spoken with many parents who have thought their children were choking when the kids were, in fact, coughing and gagging as they are learning to eat. My son has pulled this faux choking over and over again.

Hell, I’ve learned that when he has a full belly of food and makes himself gag by, say, trying to fit an entire half of a banana down his throat, I can catch his entire stomach contents in my hands cupped together. It’s a valuable talent, especially if you ask the dining room carpet.

And he’s coughed and gagged time and time again. We are teaching him to learn his limits, and that’s the best we can do. making his food into little chunks only serves to make him want to fit more in his mouth at once. And what is he going to learn from us restricting his food? Trust me, nothing.

So, we carry on. He gags occasionally, gets it up, and carries on to eat more and more and more. And he’s a really healthy kid, so what’s there to complain about.

The day I’ll never forget.

One of the only fast food places he’s ever eaten at is Chipotle. He gets a chicken quesadilla with rice and beans, and if his sister still has any left after he’s done eating it all, he will eat her food as well. It’s one of his favorite places to eat.

Last week, I picked up some Chipotle and brought it home. It was just the kids and I, and I was about to work night shift all weekend, so it seemed like a good time to have a “treat.” We sat down at the table and I scooped up a piece of chicken with a little rice and beans into a spoon for him like usual. And as per usual, he put the spoon right into his mouth.

The difference here is that he laughed because he was happy to have food in front of him. He does that. He loves food so much he can’t even be serious during a meal.

So, he laughed, and then he recoiled. The sharp reaction and the look on his face matched just about every time he’s taken a spoonful of food that’s too hot. So, that’s what I said to him.

“Oh! Too hot? Want some juice?”

I held his cup up to his mouth and he still looked affronted. His cheeks were pink. His mouth was open. No sound.

That was when I realized that his airway was closed off. My son was choking.

I patted his back a couple of times, but he only started turning dark blue. Still no sound.

I have no recollection of exactly what happened between the dining room table and the sink, but the next thing I knew I had my son bent over the kitchen sink and I was thrusting up against his abdomen. Once, twice, three times, four times…

On the fifth time, he gagged out and a chunk of chicken popped out of his mouth and into the sink. I spun him around and looked him in the face. The blue/purple was receding. The bright pink stayed in his cheeks because he started crying. Hard.

And damn, was that a beautiful sound. I hugged him both desperately and gently, because the dude needed to breathe. Getting a tight hug after choking isn’t necessarily the best course of action. Ironically, I wanted to squeeze him to death.

He wailed for his usual thirty seconds or so when he gets upset about anything. I swayed back and forth with him in my arms, assuring him that everything was okay. I was also assuring myself that everything was okay. His sister was still at the table eating, oblivious as any four-year-old might be. I think she asked if he was okay. I can’t really remember.

The happy ending.

What I do remember is that, after I swayed my son in the direction of the dining room so his sister could see him, he looked at the table and saw his uneaten food. He shifted back so he could look me in the eye. He pointed to the table and with the sweetest little look on his face, he asked “Mor? Mor?”

Yes, his food nearly killed him, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still hungry. The little shit.

We finished the rest of the meal with me studying his every bite. Adrenaline kept me alert and aware. The reality of what had just happened didn’t kick in until after I cleaned up lunch.

My son could have died. Without brisk and exact intervention, he would’ve choked to death. And it was a simple thing.

I’m not writing this to say that I’m now a more cautious parent, nor am I saying that I deserve any sort of recognition for performing appropriate abdominal thrusts. I am trained to do these things by my trade, and I have to keep my education up to date regularly. What I did for my son was thankfully procedural for me. Even with his previous adventures with gagging on food, I had never been close to doing abdominal thrusts on him.

Or on anyone, for that matter.

The moral to the story.

I’ve done CPR more times than I care to recall. I’ve never had to save someone from choking. But since I had practiced it and been certified in it, I could remain calm and do what had to be done. And it worked.

And like CPR, it was nothing like they show you on television or in the movies.

So, this is my first post that perhaps has a serious moral or message.

You are surrounded by people everyday. Family, friends, loved ones, strangers…anyone could laugh during their first bite of food. Anyone could suffer a cardiac event that good, effective CPR could help increase their odds of survival. Too many of us think that someone else will be there to save someone when shit goes down, and it’s simply not true. Outside of a hospital, nearly 90 percent of CPR recipients die, and part of the reason for that is ineffective CPR or too much time passing while people wait for “a doctor” or someone who can and is willing to perform CPR. People die from choking at restaurants even when someone intervenes, and sometimes that’s because they aren’t actually trained in appropriate abdominal thrusts. There’s different techniques for different age groups and conditions (such as pregnancy) for both CPR and abdominal thrusts, and they aren’t difficult to learn.

So, surprise! This is my PSA. If you haven’t been trained, go enroll in a class to learn basic lifesaving techniques. The classes don’t take too long, and the information is invaluable. You could be the difference in a stranger’s life, a friend’s life, or even your child’s. Don’t assume you know what to do, especially if you think they’re doing it even close to correctly on your favorite TV show. (Spoiler: they are not. Not even close.)

As for my son, he’s fine. He’s happy. And he’s still eating us out of house and home. I’m not suddenly a helicopter parent or anything. Life continues as usual. I was shaken to my core for a good 24 hours, but now that all of the adrenaline has worn off and the trauma has passed, I don’t think of how bad it could have gone, because it didn’t go badly. It was an accident that was prevented, thanks to my training.

Imagine how many accidents like his could also have happy endings if more people were trained.

Are you trained in basic life saving techniques?

https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr

(Hint-hint.)

 

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The Tale of the Weirdest Way I've Ever Made a Friend

Here I sit in my hospital bed, finally feeling good for the first time in a few weeks because of a drug called dilaudid. Dilaudid, for those of you who don’t know, is a strong narcotic painkiller, stronger than morphine. I’m getting it because my stupid fucking gallbladder won’t stop nagging me about the fact that it doesn’t function properly, so they’re going to yank it tomorrow. Until then, dilaudid.

I’m not used to being the patient. I’m an ICU/ER nurse, and sitting here in a hospital gown with an IV, fluids, drugs, and vulnerability in not my typical perspective. It makes me appreciate a lot. I have a ton of friends and support, and I can’t thank you enough for that. I am particularly reminded of this because I’m getting my gallbladder yanked in the hospital where I’ve worked for the past seven years. Naturally, as I’m being admitted, I’m going to run into a few people I know.
One of these people is a good friend of mine named Nick. Nick and I met under the weirdest circumstances, and I’m just in the perfect narcotic-laced mood to divulge the details, perhaps at Nick’s embarrassment. Ah well, it’s a good story, so…sorry, Nick.
It all started out about four years ago. My wife was severely pregnant with our first child, and part of the first pregnancy is sorting through all of the different classes the obstetrician wants the parents-to-be to attend. One of these was breastfeeding class.
Breastfeeding class, for those of you who have never attended one, is about as awkward as it sounds. Not for immature reasons having to do with talking about boobies, but because you’re in a room full of couples all handling fake plastic babies and pretending to feed these babies through clothing. It’s all incredibly thorough, and every couple is just trying to pretend that the other couples aren’t there, and that they’re having a great time.

Especially my wife and I. We love making each other laugh, and we tried our best to wear our “this is serious” hats throughout the two-hour class, but we ended up making each other giggle over and over. It didn’t help that every other couple seemed to be trying their best to listen. How could we pay attention at all when we’re learning such valuable things as “you shouldn’t use crack cocaine if you’re breastfeeding”? I had no idea that crack was fine otherwise, but you just shouldn’t if you’re giving a newborn essential nutrition.
My wife and I didn’t make any friends during the class, as no one spoke to each other. I probably wouldn’t have recognized a single person in the class ever again, except there was this one dude there with his wife, and I admired his mustache.
He had a nice, full, proud, handlebar mustache. The thing was no shit, and I envied it. I mean, I can grow a full beard, but I have almost no chin, so I can’t pull off that kind of mustache. I know, because any time I decide to shave my beard, I do it in stages, trying out everything from mutton chops through the final Hitler mustache for about a minute a piece before I’m finished. I simply have not enough chin for a handlebar; it makes me look like I should be introducing myself door-to-door to everyone in my neighborhood because it’s a requirement of my parole.

So, in case I haven’t stated myself clearly, which you can blame dilaudid for if I haven’t, this guy’s mustache was awesome, and it was unforgettable. Alas, breastfeeding class came to a close, and all of us couples had to retreat to our homes. And I had to go get some crack, since I wasn’t breastfeeding.
A few weeks later, our beautiful baby girl was born. She was a c-section, so my wife was pretty damned sore. In order to give my wife some peace to rest, and just because it was fun to do, I would put my newborn daughter into a wheeled bassinet of sorts and walk her around the hallways. It was sweet. She’d just be lying there, arms up by her ears, looking all around with her tiny hat on her head. On one of these nights while I bonded with my child on a walk, I turned a corner and passed another dad out for a walk with his daughter.
It was the mustache guy! I got a little excited, to be honest. But both of our babies were sleeping, and he looked tired, and seeing as how I didn’t have any real distinguishing features like he did, I just smiled and nodded to myself, perhaps whispering “congrats, mustache dude!” Not within his earshot, of course. I was excited enough to tell my wife about how he was here and his baby was born, too. Considering how sore and sleep-deprived she was, I wouldn’t say she matched my excitement.

A couple of months pass, and I decide to change departments at my hospital. I was working day shift (7am-7pm) in the ICU, and the ER had an evening shift (noon-midnight) that was better for spending more time with my daughter, seeing as how 7am-7pm was the only time she was awake for. I got started in the ER, spent more time with my daughter, life was good, and then…it got a little better.
Mustache dude worked in the ER! He was a pharmacist tech, so he was in and out and running around like the rest of us, but our paths only really crossed when we were in the medication room at the same time. I wanted to introduce myself right away, and it seemed only appropriate, seeing as how we were coworkers, so we went through the normal shaking of hands and exchanging of names, but he obviously did not remember me. Perhaps he would have if I started giggling while talking about crack cocaine and breastfeeding.
The difficulty in meeting anyone new is striking up conversation. Naturally, all of us clamber for something in common. I wondered what I could have come up with that I had in common with mustache dude, but there was literally only one, inescapable event we shared. I decided just to go for it.
And why not? This might have been a once-in-anyone’s-lifetime event. I mean, when have two grown men had the opportunity to either ask or be asked:
“This is going to sound really weird, but don’t I know you from breastfeeding class?”

Seeing the array of facial expressions Nick went through after I asked was worth it alone. Especially with that awesome damned mustache. Of course, it all ended in laughter and discussions of fatherhood and how our wives and babies were doing. We’ve been friends ever since.
But! The strangeness of the story does not end there, ladies and gentlemen! After this initial meeting, our families ended up getting together a few times and the details of each of our child’s birth was discussed. And if sharing the same breastfeeding class wasn’t enough, here are the other crazy stats:
-We both had daughters
-Our daughters were born on the same day
-Our daughters were born in the same hospital
-Our daughters were both c-sections
-Our daughters were the exact same birthweight
-Our daughters were delivered by the same physician, with his wife’s c-section being the one just before ours
And now, here I am, drugged up before surgery, and Nick walks in to get my medication history.
It seems that the universe wants Nick and I to do either something spectacularly great or tremendously evil, as it keeps putting us together in random, inescapable ways.
Either way, I love this story. You might have great friends as I do. And I love all of my friends.
But I will only have one breastfeeding class friend.
You can be jealous.

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The Tale of the Weirdest Way I’ve Ever Made a Friend

Here I sit in my hospital bed, finally feeling good for the first time in a few weeks because of a drug called dilaudid. Dilaudid, for those of you who don’t know, is a strong narcotic painkiller, stronger than morphine. I’m getting it because my stupid fucking gallbladder won’t stop nagging me about the fact that it doesn’t function properly, so they’re going to yank it tomorrow. Until then, dilaudid.

I’m not used to being the patient. I’m an ICU/ER nurse, and sitting here in a hospital gown with an IV, fluids, drugs, and vulnerability in not my typical perspective. It makes me appreciate a lot. I have a ton of friends and support, and I can’t thank you enough for that. I am particularly reminded of this because I’m getting my gallbladder yanked in the hospital where I’ve worked for the past seven years. Naturally, as I’m being admitted, I’m going to run into a few people I know.

One of these people is a good friend of mine named Nick. Nick and I met under the weirdest circumstances, and I’m just in the perfect narcotic-laced mood to divulge the details, perhaps at Nick’s embarrassment. Ah well, it’s a good story, so…sorry, Nick.

It all started out about four years ago. My wife was severely pregnant with our first child, and part of the first pregnancy is sorting through all of the different classes the obstetrician wants the parents-to-be to attend. One of these was breastfeeding class.

Breastfeeding class, for those of you who have never attended one, is about as awkward as it sounds. Not for immature reasons having to do with talking about boobies, but because you’re in a room full of couples all handling fake plastic babies and pretending to feed these babies through clothing. It’s all incredibly thorough, and every couple is just trying to pretend that the other couples aren’t there, and that they’re having a great time.

Especially my wife and I. We love making each other laugh, and we tried our best to wear our “this is serious” hats throughout the two-hour class, but we ended up making each other giggle over and over. It didn’t help that every other couple seemed to be trying their best to listen. How could we pay attention at all when we’re learning such valuable things as “you shouldn’t use crack cocaine if you’re breastfeeding”? I had no idea that crack was fine otherwise, but you just shouldn’t if you’re giving a newborn essential nutrition.

My wife and I didn’t make any friends during the class, as no one spoke to each other. I probably wouldn’t have recognized a single person in the class ever again, except there was this one dude there with his wife, and I admired his mustache.

He had a nice, full, proud, handlebar mustache. The thing was no shit, and I envied it. I mean, I can grow a full beard, but I have almost no chin, so I can’t pull off that kind of mustache. I know, because any time I decide to shave my beard, I do it in stages, trying out everything from mutton chops through the final Hitler mustache for about a minute a piece before I’m finished. I simply have not enough chin for a handlebar; it makes me look like I should be introducing myself door-to-door to everyone in my neighborhood because it’s a requirement of my parole.

So, in case I haven’t stated myself clearly, which you can blame dilaudid for if I haven’t, this guy’s mustache was awesome, and it was unforgettable. Alas, breastfeeding class came to a close, and all of us couples had to retreat to our homes. And I had to go get some crack, since I wasn’t breastfeeding.

A few weeks later, our beautiful baby girl was born. She was a c-section, so my wife was pretty damned sore. In order to give my wife some peace to rest, and just because it was fun to do, I would put my newborn daughter into a wheeled bassinet of sorts and walk her around the hallways. It was sweet. She’d just be lying there, arms up by her ears, looking all around with her tiny hat on her head. On one of these nights while I bonded with my child on a walk, I turned a corner and passed another dad out for a walk with his daughter.

It was the mustache guy! I got a little excited, to be honest. But both of our babies were sleeping, and he looked tired, and seeing as how I didn’t have any real distinguishing features like he did, I just smiled and nodded to myself, perhaps whispering “congrats, mustache dude!” Not within his earshot, of course. I was excited enough to tell my wife about how he was here and his baby was born, too. Considering how sore and sleep-deprived she was, I wouldn’t say she matched my excitement.

A couple of months pass, and I decide to change departments at my hospital. I was working day shift (7am-7pm) in the ICU, and the ER had an evening shift (noon-midnight) that was better for spending more time with my daughter, seeing as how 7am-7pm was the only time she was awake for. I got started in the ER, spent more time with my daughter, life was good, and then…it got a little better.

Mustache dude worked in the ER! He was a pharmacist tech, so he was in and out and running around like the rest of us, but our paths only really crossed when we were in the medication room at the same time. I wanted to introduce myself right away, and it seemed only appropriate, seeing as how we were coworkers, so we went through the normal shaking of hands and exchanging of names, but he obviously did not remember me. Perhaps he would have if I started giggling while talking about crack cocaine and breastfeeding.

The difficulty in meeting anyone new is striking up conversation. Naturally, all of us clamber for something in common. I wondered what I could have come up with that I had in common with mustache dude, but there was literally only one, inescapable event we shared. I decided just to go for it.

And why not? This might have been a once-in-anyone’s-lifetime event. I mean, when have two grown men had the opportunity to either ask or be asked:

“This is going to sound really weird, but don’t I know you from breastfeeding class?”

Seeing the array of facial expressions Nick went through after I asked was worth it alone. Especially with that awesome damned mustache. Of course, it all ended in laughter and discussions of fatherhood and how our wives and babies were doing. We’ve been friends ever since.

But! The strangeness of the story does not end there, ladies and gentlemen! After this initial meeting, our families ended up getting together a few times and the details of each of our child’s birth was discussed. And if sharing the same breastfeeding class wasn’t enough, here are the other crazy stats:

-We both had daughters

-Our daughters were born on the same day

-Our daughters were born in the same hospital

-Our daughters were both c-sections

-Our daughters were the exact same birthweight

-Our daughters were delivered by the same physician, with his wife’s c-section being the one just before ours

And now, here I am, drugged up before surgery, and Nick walks in to get my medication history.

It seems that the universe wants Nick and I to do either something spectacularly great or tremendously evil, as it keeps putting us together in random, inescapable ways.

Either way, I love this story. You might have great friends as I do. And I love all of my friends.

But I will only have one breastfeeding class friend.

You can be jealous.

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The Tale of the Holy Underwear

I have a young daughter and son. They are both tiny; the girl is a preschooler and the boy is a toddler. What is happening right now that has me absolutely glowing is they are becoming fast friends. Sure, they bicker and fight from time to time, and they certainly can’t share worth a shit when they are either tired or hungry (AKA: 50% of the day), but they are still awesome together. I’m going to enjoy watching this relationship grow.
Today is New Year’s Day. This also means that it’s been five years since my dad died. In July, it will have been eighteen years since my mom died. Obviously, neither one of them got a chance to meet their little grandbabies. I’m not saying this to be a downer or milk any sympathy, I’m saying it because I still seek their advice in parenting. Death, though suckier than a Dyson, still has its good aspects. And reflection is among those benefits. If either of my parents were alive and well, I’d be on the phone with them, begging for advice and perspective, as they also raised a daughter and a son in that order. I would, of course, give anything to hear about what a little shit I was to my sister when I was a toddler, to have one of them comment on how one of my children is doing something or smiling like I used to. But instead, I get the benefit of reflection. I’ve been pushed from the nest, I am flying, and every time I reflect upon how I am doing as a parent, I feel happy and satisfied, and I blame that partially on not being able to constantly run to the phone to beg for advice. I’ve figured it out for the most part. It’s worth mentioning, however, that I married a kick-ass wife. She taught me not to be afraid of kids. Now, I swing them around upside-down, much to their delight or dismay, depending upon how tired or hungry they are.
I still crave the insight, though. I would love to talk to my mom and dad and just get a quick answer to the question: “What was it like raising a daughter and a son two years apart?” But, every time I want to have that question answered, when I’m at my lowest in my grieving over the non-opportunity to be grandparents my mom and dad had, it always seems that something great happens. Some sign of their presence. My most recent sign came just before this past Christmas…you know, the most wonderful time of the year to reflect upon parental loss.
Bleh.
But this Christmas was different. With a 3-year-old and a 19-month-old in the house, there was a new magic to Christmas. I joyfully pulled down the attic stairs, ready to get down some decorations and plaster the goddamned house with as much jolliness as I could muster. But the Christmas decorations invariably bring up old memories. I looked at the Christmas ornaments that used to hang on the tree when I was a kid, the “Baby’s First Christmas 1980” one gets me the most, every year. The nostalgia and closeness with my parents always stings each time I look at that ornament. I could go on and on as to how each ornament and decoration made me feel, but I’ll spare you, of course. We try to keep things light around here.
And then, I spotted one of the “Keepsakes” boxes that my mom put together when she was still alive. She would gather up all sorts of random things from my sister and I and place them in plastic boxes to the point of overflowing. We kept these boxes after she died, taking the ones most relevant to ourselves. I have three full boxes of childhood souvenirs in my attic. I decided to crack one open, kind of as a way to say hi to my mom.
As I’ve covered in previous entries, my mom wasn’t your typical mom. She had a quick and uninhibited humor, and if something struck her as particularly hilarious, she would never let that joke go. This is why, a couple of weeks before Christmas, I sat in my attic holding up a pair of my old boxers.
I was a fairly relaxed teenager. I tried not to let things bother me, and that included the fact that one of my favorite pairs of boxers was wearing a hole in its crotch. Those boxers just felt nice. It was soft material, and they fit well in all of my pants and shorts. I wasn’t letting those boxers go without a fight. I remember fishing them out of the trash on more than one occasion. Who doesn’t protect a favorite pair of underwear?
Admittedly, the hole in the boxers reached fairly epic proportions, as is always confirmed when I retrieve them from the “Keepsakes Box.” I can fit my fist through the hole, actually. No, I’m not embarrassed. I’m writing a blog about it, aren’t I?
On the day that earned these boxers their place in the “Keepsakes Box,” I felt particularly relaxed in my teenager skin. I wandered out from my bedroom with just a T-shift and the notorious boxers, grabbed myself some coffee, and sat out on the back porch to watch TV with my feet up on an ottoman, knees bent. I believe I either underestimated the diameter of the hole or I did not care (or both), but I soon found out how a hole in the underwear can be damaging to others.
A scream of “AAAAH! BALLS!!!” echoed through the house enough to startle me. It was my big sister. She had innocently entered the porch to join me for some television, only to get a full view of the results of my recently-completed puberty.
Naturally, my mom responded to the scream, only to hear my sister’s account of her trauma and try to comfort her while unsuccessfully holding back laughter. I was perhaps embarrassed, too, but the comedy of the situation drained away all sense of humility. My mother was shocked that I had, once more, fished the boxers out of the trash. I was given a small lecture on how it was inappropriate to continue to wear those boxers, seeing as how I had permanently scarred my sister. Reluctantly, I handed over the boxers, assuming they were being incinerated.
It was only after Mom died that I discovered the boxers had earned their place amongst old toys, trophies, and drawings in the “Keepsakes Box.” I assume this was her way of showing me what to expect in the future when raising a son and a daughter.
I lovingly tucked the boxers back in their home, ready to bring them back out whenever I need a quick laugh at my sister’s expense. I then brought out the Christmas decorations and had a great holiday.
I hope everyone’s Christmas or whatever you celebrated was amazing as well. Here’s to a great New Year. May your favorite underwear stay intact, and may your sibling’s genitals remain hidden from view.