Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year's Resolution

Happy New Year's to all of you. My only resolution this year is to post more often!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Recommendation: "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman"

In 2002, I read Jon Krakauer's excellent book "Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster." It's a fascinating book: Krakauer originally set out to go to Everest to gather information for a magazine article about the commercialization of the mountain-- that people who had no business climbing a mountain, let alone the world's tallest mountain, were being led to the summit by profiteering mountain guides, and that this was causing the accomplishment to lose it's luster, let alone endangering people. Nature, as if to punctuate Krakauer's point, blew in an unexpected storm, resulting in the deaths of a bunch of climbers. It was one of a small handful of books I've read in the last ten years or so that I seriously could not put down until I finished.

With "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman," he's done it again. I'd wanted to read the book since I read the first reviews. This Christmas, my lovely wife got me a Kindle, and the first book I downloaded was this one.

Most of you are probably familiar with Pat Tillman. He was a player on the Arizona Cardinals who walked away from a multimillion dollar contract to join the elite Army Rangers after 9/11. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. At first it was reported that he'd died at the hands of the Taliban. Within a few months it was revealed that he had been, along with an Afghan soldier helping his platoon out, killed by fire from his own squad.

I think many people, like I, thought that Tillman was a patriotic jock-- well-intentioned, but not intellectually complex. As Krakauer makes clear, this was farthest from the case. Tillman was a bright, curious, well-read man. In fact, from boot camp on, he began to have doubts about his mission-- particularly when he was diverted from Afghanistan right out of boot camp to go to Iraq.

Krakauer had, fortunately, access to Tillman's journal and many letters to his wife and friends. They reveal a guy went into the war with noble motives, but feared that the Bush administration, which he held in contempt, would use him for propaganda purposes. Tillman is revealed as a highly principled guy-- to a fault. He rejected an opportunity to leave the service and return to football, even after he'd become disenchanted with both wars.

Krakauer charts Tillman's intellectual development-- he began reading Noam Chomsky, and in fact was trying to arrange to meet Chomsky, who was friends with a college friend of his. He believed the war in Iraq to be not only unnecessary, but illegal and working counter to United States interests.

In the course of the story, Krakauer points to two incidents that occurred at the beginning of the Iraq war-- the stage-managed rescue of Private Jessica Lynch and a bad fratricide ("friendly fire") in Nasiriyah, the same town Lynch had been captured in, in which 17 US soldiers were killed. Tillman was peripherally involved in the rescue, but Krakauer points to the real significance: a Bush White House functionary named Jim Wilkinson, who'd been the brainchild behind a lot of the dirty tricks Bush' team had pulled (including their hatchet job on Republican primary opponent John McCain in 2000 and promoting the myth that Al Gore had claimed to have invented the internet). Wilkinson was, as Krakauer pointed out, Bush' primary "perception manager." He was stationed in the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar, and was responsible for the false stories that Lynch, who had not fired a single shot (or had been shot for that matter-- her injuries were from when her vehicle ran into the vehicle in front of her in the convoy) had fought doggedly until she was captured. The story was propagated in order to hide the fact that the war was already off to a bad start-- that the US troops were not, as the Bush administration flunkies had claimed would happen, being welcomed as liberators.

In the end, it's also clear that the Lynch story was created to draw attention from the diasasterous incident at Nasiriyah.

Later, these same people would try to hide the facts behind Tillman's death, and use him as a poster boy for the two wars.

The coverup of the true circumstances began immediately upon his death, and without a doubt included Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. It also began unravelling immediately. Tillman's clothes and body armor-- and a notebook diary he'd been keeping in Iraq and Afghanistan-- were taken away and destroyed. The pathologists at the Dover forensics facility were so suspicious at the missing evidence that they refused to sign off on his autopsy.

Krakauer makes no bones about what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan-- that Afghanistan was always a sideshow for the Bush administration from the beginning-- that the invasion of Iraq was being planned even before 9/11. He also points out that the United States wasted valuable time and resources in Iraq and allowed the Taliban to regroup and gain while they got bogged down in a pointless war that had nothing to do with our national interests. He points out that Tillman questioned everything in his life, including his participation in both wars. Krakauer quotes Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring:

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter Germany. That is understood. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether its a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger. It works the same way in any country.

When I and many others questioned the war in Iraq, we got shouted down as "unpatriotic." After reading "Where Men Win Glory," my guess is that Tillman, a guy given to reading things like Plato's "Republic" in his free time, would, were he still alive, be the first to point out that it's a patriot's duty to question his government and leaders. I highly recommend this book.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas From the Casa De Yen!

Usually this time of year, a lot of the bloggers post one of my favorite dystopian Christmas songs, "Fairytale of New York," by the Pogues and the late Kirsty MacColl. I thought I'd post another of my favorite woeful Christmas tales, Cracker's "Merry Christmas, Emily." It's about a rocker who's reminiscing about a booze-soaked dysfunctional relationship with a "poor little rich girl." Though the song is set in Tuscon, Arizona, the video was shot in Germany. Those zany Cracker guys!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Remembering Joe

Almost exactly 30 years ago, I began hearing the Clash' "London Calling" album on WXRT, the local "prog rock" station. They rotated the title track, "Train In Vain," "Lost In the Supermarket," and a few other tracks into their mix. I was hooked for life.

Over time, different tracks would grow on me and become, for a while, my favorite-- "Hateful," their song about drug addiction, "Spanish Bombs," about the Spanish Civil War, "Death or Glory," "The Card Cheat," even their song about the ill-fated actor Montgomery Clift, "The Right Profile."

Eventually I started exploring their earlier stuff, just as they were branching out with the Sandinista! album-- the album was a crazy hodge-podge, where the group explored all kinds of genres-- I was checking out their earlier material. You could see the maturation in their political thinking. And then the impossible happened-- with Combat Rock, they had a top ten album and a couple of huge hits ("Rock The Casbah" and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go"). The fact that my favorite band had hit it big sank in to me the summer of 1983 when I took a cross country Greyhound bus trip to see my parents, who were living in San Jose, Calfornia at the time. We had a layover in San Antonio, Texas. I left the bus station to walk around downtown San Antonio and came across a group of teenagers hanging out near a car, the Combat Rock album blasting.

And then suddenly it was all over. Personality conflicts split the band up. Mick Jones had some big hits with Big Audio Dynamite, but Strummer lay low. Then, he formed the Mescaleroes and began touring. He and Jones reconciled and even did some work together.

In the 2000 documentary "The Clash: Westway To The World," Strummer expressed regrets that stupid personality conflicts wrecked the band. He realized, in retrospect, that something magical and important had gone on.

In the summer of 2002, my friend Viktor Zeitgeist was at a festival in Northern California, enjoying X, the Blasters-- and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes, among other bands. After the Mescaleroes' set, Viktor came across Strummer hanging out with some fans, drinking a beer and chatting with them. He bought Strummer a beer and joined him. Viktor told Strummer about this friend of his in Chicago who had "kept the faith--" that his friend taught kids in the ghetto and still fought the good fight. He bought a Mescaleroes poster and asked Strummer to sign it for him.

He was talking about me. When he gave me the poster a few weeks later and told me the circumstances, I was really moved that one of my heroes thought that what I had done was heroic.

Just a few months later, on December 22, 2002, I got the news that Strummer had died of an undiagnosed heart ailment. He was only 50 years old. I was grief-stricken, particularly since another of my heroes, Joey Ramone, had died only a year before.

I try to keep a little of Strummer alive in my heart. I try to keep fighting the good fight. I keep trying to help people. I remember a review of a Clash album in the early eighties. The review said something to the effect that while the album was not going to cause the revolution, it would be a damned good soundtrack to the revolution. I'm glad for what Strummer and the others did. When it seemed like a tide of cynicism, self-interest and apathy was sweeping the United States, it heartened me to know that others were seeing the state of things the way I was. Strummer's music gave my tribe a voice and still does. I miss Joe Strummer, and guess I always will.

My favorite Clash album is still "London Calling," but over the years my favorite Clash song has come to be one from their self-titled first album: "White Man In Hammersmith Palais." I've included a live clip of the Clash doing that song.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reunion Friday Random Ten

My old friend Dobie has had quite the life's journey. He grew up on the South side of Chicago. We met in college in 1981, and lost touch for a while when he joined the Air Force Reserve. As luck would have it, we ended up in a class together when he came back to school, and we resumed our friendship. We roomed together on and off during and after college, and then about 13 years ago, we lost touch again when he moved to Arizona to take a job. About four years ago, I tracked him down. Turns out that he left that job and ended up in Singapore working as an English teacher. About a year ago, he moved to Indonesia, and yesterday came back to Chicago to visit family and friends.

I gave him a call this morning, and it turned out that he was staying with his brother about a ten minute drive from my place. I drove by to pick him up so he could run some errands he needed while we caught up. For one, he needed a converter so he could use his Powerbook, which had a 220v converter. And he also needed gloves-- having been living in tropical countries for over a decade, he hadn't owned a pair of gloves in years.

It was great hanging out with him and catching up with him. Since I'd last seen him, I've been married three times. He nearly got married once. He made a lot of friends overseas, had a lot of great experiences, and I think both of us realized we'd both grown up a lot and both of us had certainly come to realize what a good friendship we had. It was a funny realization, though-- we're a couple of guys who have been friends since we were 18 and 20 years old, and now we're looking around the corner at 50. And looking forward to a lot more years of friendship.

The best news today, though, was when he revealed that he wasn't just here for a visit-- he's back here for good. It's the best Christmas present I could have gotten this year.

1. Tales of Brave Ulysses- Cream
2. Shake Your Money Maker- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
3. Get Over You- The Undertones
4. Black Dog- Led Zeppelin
5. Drug-Stabbing Time- The Clash
6. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (Reprise)- The Beatles
7. Let's Dance- Chris Montez
8. Do You Believe In Magic?- The Lovin' Spoonful
9. Rainy Night In Georgia- Brooke Benton
10. After the Gold Rush- Neil Young

1. Eric Clapton and the boys rocking the Odyssean legend.
2. From the incredible debut album-- an Elmore James cover.
3. Read recently that Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey works in the business end of the music business.
4. From Zeppelin's fabulous fourth album.
5. December 22 will be the seventh anniversary of Joe Strummer's untimely death. Still miss him greatly.
6. My kids both love the Beatles. Where did I go right?
7. This song is played not once but twice in Animal House.
8. Can't hear this song without singing along.
9. For years I thought this was a Ray Charles song.
10. Neil Young does science fiction.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The View

I pulled a bunch of pictures off of my phone yesterday and came across a picture I forgot I'd taken. It's the view from the conference room of the seventh floor of Illinois Masonic Hospital. It's the room where we would sit and go over both paper and electronic charts before seeing our patients during clinicals. It's also got a breathtaking view of downtown Chicago. I think the picture was taken in October of this year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Giving Thanks

If you're familiar with Arlo Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant," you might remember that Arlo and his garbage-hauling accomplice are treated to a second "Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat." This echoed the situation in our home; in the custody agreement with my ex-girlfriend, my son is always at her family's place for Thanksgiving. Therefore, I like to have a second Thanksgiving here at our home when he's here. We had one a couple of days after Thanksgiving.

Before we started eating, we went around the table and said what we were thankful for. One of the things that struck me was that my son expressed thanks for the fact that we still lived in this apartment. When he was younger, his mother lived in Humboldt Park, a drug and gang filled neighborhood. It was not out of economic necessity-- I don't know if she was trying to prove something. But she moved from apartment to apartment in that same bad neighborhood. All the while, I've stayed in this place, in North Center, a safe, stable neighborhood. I sacrificed a lot to stay here, and am glad to know that it was worth it.

This year was a rough one for us. Kim was unemployed for nearly six months. I got in what could have been a pretty bad car wreck, with my son in the car, in May. In the end, though, the safety nets held; my son and I walked away from the wreck, despite the fact that the car was totalled, and the other guy's insurance company issued me a check to buy another car with. Kim's unemployment benefits lasted long enough for her to get a job. A bonus is that she loves the job. And thanks to the COBRA insurance program the federal government had, which heavily subsidized the normallly very-expensive continuation of health insurance, we were able to keep our coverage. I have to have medical insurance to be in the nursing program.

With my semester ending this week, I was able to ponder the thanks I have to give. I'm thankful that my wife and 2 children are healthy and happy. I'm thankful that my kids are doing well in school. I'm thankful that after a financially-tough year, we'll still be able to have a nice Christmas for the kids.

Personally, I'm thankful that I'm in the nursing program at Truman College. I'm discovering, as I talk to people in the field, that it a well-respected program. I'm thankful that I'm doing well in it and actually enjoying it immensely. I enjoy every aspect of it-- great teachers and great friendships with fellow students.

Also, I'm thankful that in August, the animal who murdered my friend Mark Evans in 2006 was locked up for the rest of his life. He'll spend the rest of his life in fear, surrounded by predators who are as stupid and violent as he is. That is justice, in my eyes.

Last night, my kids, with two of their friends, continued a tradition we started a long time ago-- making a gingerbread house. After they finished it-- and devoured much of it-- my son and I watched the great 1993 D.A. Pennebaker documentary "The War Room," which was about Bill Clinton's 1992 Presidential campaign. Somehow, despite the fact that I'm a complete political animal, I'd never watched it. As I sat watching it with my son, who's as big a political junkie as I am, I realized that he was born the year after the movie came out.

It made me think to those days, around the time he was born, when I was in my early thirties. I was a profoundly unhappy person back then. I felt like I was spinning my wheels. The Replacements song "Hold My Life" could have summed up my life ("Hold my life/'Til I'm ready to use it...") As I sat there finally watching the movie, sipping a glass of malbec, talking to my son about the movie, with a house of kids, I realized that I'm a lot happier guy these days. I'm exactly where I should be. And for that I give thanks.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Better Late Than Never Friday/Saturday Random Ten

Friday got away from me-- was busy tying off the last of my Christmas shopping. I also switched shifts with a friend at work and so I worked last night. The good part of that is that I get a rare Saturday night home with my kids. We're going to continue an old tradition-- making a gingerbread house.

1. Heard It On the X- ZZ Top
2. Domino- The Uptown Rulers
3. Forgotten Years- Midnight Oil
4. The Leader- The Clash
5. Wicked Gravity- Jim Carroll Band
6. Something Stupid- Nancy and Frank Sinatra
7. We're Having A Party- Sam Cooke
8. The Model- Kraftwerk
9. Watermelon Man- Mongo Santamaria
10. Amelia- Joni Mitchell

1. ZZ Top's homage to a border radio station.
2. A ska version of the Van Morrison classic-- digitized from vinyl.
3. The always-political Midnight Oil
4. The Clash' take on a political sex scandal.
5. The late Jim Carroll, from "Catholic Boy," the same album his classic "People Who Died" was on.
6. Today is Frank Sinatra's birthday!
7. Sam Cooke has really grown on me over the years.
8. The hardcore band Big Black did a cover of this one.
9. A one-hit wonder from a the Cuban-born jazz great.
10. Ms. Mitchell's tribute to aviation pioneer Amelia Aerhart

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Coda, Act I

These days I frequently throw my little Canon digital camera in my pocket when I leave the house. I find that many days, I come across something that's beautiful, funny or memorable.

Yesterday morning, we got our first significant snow of the year here in Chicago, so I decided to drive to school. I usually take my bike, but I wasn't sure how icy the roads were. I keep in mind that while I may be an avid bicyclist, I'm also a middle-aged avid bicyclist, and that I need four unbroken limbs in order to complete nursing school.

When I drive, I am usually able to find parking on Montrose Avenue, right next to Graceland Cemetery, which is filled with many of Chicago's and Illinois' historic figures-- Governor John Peter Altgeld, architect and planner Daniel Burnham ("Make no small plans"), George Pullman, Marshall Field, Jack Johnson (the first black heavyweight champion), Mayors Carter Harrison and Carter Harrison, Jr., and even "Bauhaus" architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, with his mimimalist "less is more" tombstone.

Walking from my car to class, I had a moment of bliss and had to stop and take a picture-- there's a certain way the Chicago sky gets on a winter day. To see this sky over this beautiful old cemetery, with Chicago's skyline in the background just took my breath away.

I also had the realization that I was walking into a final exam completely confident; I knew I had a grasp on the material and was not in any way nervous.

I thought back to my first days in the nursing program-- how nervous and expectant I was. I realized that I've come to really enjoy this all. I look forward to class. I look forward to the clinicals. I love opening an electronic chart, poring over the data and putting together a big picture based on what I see and what I've learned.

Looking at my main textbook from the program, Craven's "Fundamentals of Nursing"-- I'm astounded at how many pages of a 1000+ page textbook I put Post-It's on to refer back to later. I also remember how, when I previewed it at the beginning of the semester, it was a little terrifying; it was filled with terms and numbers that I was going to be expected to know. And yet, here I am at the end of the first semester not only knowing all this stuff, but able to have lively discussions about those things, what they mean and applying them to the nursing process.

As part of our exit from the first semester, we were assigned to make a list of 20 things we learned in Nursing 101. When I sat down to do my list, I was floored-- which 20? I had learned so much.

So what did I learn? Here's my list of 20. I could have listed 200 without batting an eye.

1. Before administering Digoxin (digitalis), check potassium level and check apical heart rate for 60 seconds.
2. Never give IV potassium as a bolus—give as a drip over at least an hour.
3. Due to changes in peristalsis, metabolism, muscle tone and other factors, older adults stool less often than younger adults. It is important to educate them on this.
4. Use at least three means of identification for a patient before administering meds.
5. Oxygenation is the highest priority.
6. In case of a fire, RACE: Rescue, Alarm, Contain, Extinguish.
7. Older adults are frequently at high risk for falls.
8. With contact precautions, one uses gloves and gown.
9. Older adults have lessened taste sensation, lessened thirst sensation and reduced respiratory capacity.
10. That listening is one of the best tools a nurse has at his or her service.
11. One of the first signs of hypoxia in an older adult is restlessness and confusion.
12. First level behavior is behavior that is observed directly by the nurse.
13. Patients with renal failure frequently have anemia because the hormone that triggers hemopoeisis is produced by the kidneys.
14. The five rights—Right Patient, Right Medication, Right Time, Right Dosage and Right Route. There is also a sixth right: right of a patient to refuse medication.
15. A normal, non-fasting glucose level is 80-110 mg/dL.
16. Albumin level should be approximately the same as K+, 3.5-5.0, and is an indicator of protein deficiency. Prealbumin is a better, more immediate indicator. That should be 16-35.
17. The dignity of a patient should always be a primary consideration.
18. About 1500 mL of water consumption a day are the minimum to maintain kidney function, 2500-3000 mL is the optimal consumption.
19. A patient with vomiting and/or diarrhea should be monitored for low electrolytes.
20. Monitoring daily weight is the best way to check for fluid build-up or loss.

Tonight, I'll sit down with a glass of red wine and I'll unwrap Lewis' "Medical-Surgical Nursing," which will be my main textbook next semester, and preview it. I have a feeling that I'll find it less intimidating than I found Craven's "Fundamentals of Nursing" at the beginning of the semester. And then tomorrow, I'll run over to my school, get my final grade for the semester, register for next semester's class, Nursing 102 and while doing so, I'll get to hang out for a while with the people I'm sharing this adventure with. I can't wait.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Johnny Yen's One Hit Wonders: "Deep Purple," by April Stevens and Nino Tempo

Steve Van Zandt once observed that it's harder to create "Louie, Louie" than "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band"-- it's harder to produce a memorable three-minute pop masterpiece than it is to write an entire classic album. One-hit wonders have always had a special place in my heart. They frequently have interesting stories-- for instance, the fact that the singer on "Louie, Louie" was not the singer toured with subsequent to "Louie, Louie" charting. More on that another time. I'll occasionally feature One-Hit Wonders and their stories.

My first One-Hit Wonder is April Stevens and Nino Tempo's "Deep Purple." April Stevens and Nino Tempo were actually brother and sister Carol and Antonio LoTempio, who hailed from Niagara Falls, New York. They took an old big band standard that had been popularized in the 1930's, and covered in a doo-wop style in the '50's, and added their lovely melodies. In the demo tape of the song, Stevens forgot the lyrics to the second verse and recited the lyrics as her brother sang. The producer thought that her spoken interludes were "cute" (I'd probably say "sexy" is a better description) and kept it in the song, over brother Nino's objections-- he didn't like the idea of someone talking over his singing. The harmonica was reportedly awful on the demo, and was kept in (rerecorded) over the producer's objections. Happily, both made the final cut, and are key parts of the song.

Though both Stevens and Tempo continued to work in the music business, "Deep Purple" was their only big hit, hitting #1 in the Billboard "Adult Contemporary" chart in late 1963, the week before John Kennedy's death, despite being tagged, amusingly, as "rock and roll." The song was awarded the 1963 "Best Rock and Roll Song" Grammy the next year.

After nearly 50 years, the songs still stands as a great little piece of pop candy.

There are three bits of interesting trivia about the song. The song was originally the B-Side of the single. The original A-Side was "I've Been Carrying A Torch For You So Long That I Burned A Great Big Hole In My Heart," and is the longest-titled flip-side to a number 1 single ever. The group "Deep Purple" was later to get their name from the song because Ritchie Blackmore's grandmother, who loved the song, repeatedly asked if his band was going to perform the song. Also, the song would later become a hit for one more brother and sister duo-- Donny and Marie Osmond had a top twenty hit with their cover of it in 1976.

Friday, December 04, 2009

First Winter Day Friday Random Ten

I took out the recycling this morning-- in shorts, t-shirt and sandals-- and realized winter has arrived here in Chicago, though the official beginning is not until December 20th or so. There's a sprinkling of snow on the ground and it's 20 degrees.

I had my last class, other than the final on Monday, yesterday. It was basically a big study hall while the teacher took us one by one and gave us our exit conferences.

I heard some nice things in my conference. I think my teacher enjoyed having me as a student as much as I enjoyed having her as a teacher. I've really come to realize I'm doing the right thing.

This weekend, I'll do a little studying for my final. But today, I'll do a little cooking and a little reading and indulge myself a little.

1. Fire- The Ohio Players
2. Just The Two Of Us- Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers
3. Carefree Highway- Gordon Lightfoot
4. Who'll Stop The Rain- Creedence Clearwater Revival
5. Singing Winds, Crying Beasts- Santana
6. Lorelei- Styx
7. Miracle Man- Elvis Costello
8. Machine Gun- Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies
9. Avalon Hideaway- ZZ Top
10. Killing An Arab- The Cure

1. This song got lumped in with disco, but it's actually really a friggin' great R and B song.
2. One of the great seduction songs ever written
3. Lightfoot was part of the early sixties folk scene
4. CCR's commentary on the Vietnam War
5. A great instrumental on the terrific "Abraxas" album that seques into "Black Magic Woman."
6. Styx when they didn't suck.
7. I should list the artist "Elvis Costello and the News;" Costello's backup band on his angry first album was Clover, Huey Lewis' backup band.
8. Hendrix with his army buddy Billy Cox and R and B great Buddy Miles.
9. From their 1976 "Tejas" album, still one of my favorites.
10. The Cure's first hit, based on an Albert Camus "The Stranger," still sounds good 30 years later.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"It's A Beginning"

These last few months have been productive, but stressful. I've gotten the hang of nursing school-- my test grades have increased with the last three tests, and I'm feeling good heading into the final. On the other hand, our financial road has been rocky. We hadn't counted on Kim being unemployed for nearly six months.

There were definitely some breaks we got, with no small thanks to President Obama: were it not for the health insurance COBRA subsidy that the federal government provided, that expired today, we would not have been able to continue the insurance we got from Kim's last job. As the end of that loomed-- and the end of Kim's unemployment benefits-- we were getting nervous, and trying to figure out a way for me to stay in nursing school. Fortunately, Kim got a new job, with good salary and great medical benefits, a couple of weeks ago.

We're still not out of the woods. I'd hoped to keep working my waitering job for another year and a half while I was in school. The money is generally good and the hours work out so that I can work around my school schedule and still spend time with my kids. Last week, we discovered that the owners have put the business and building up for sale.

In this economy, it might be a while before they sell. Still, I'm going to begin looking for a new job immediately; I don't want to be in a position of having to find a new job with a week's notice. I'm barely holding my head over the financial water as it is.

Today, I realized that the stress was getting to me. And I decided to fall back on an old stress-reliever-- running. A couple of my favorite bloggers (Skyler's Dad and Churlita) and also one of my study partners, who are all in my general age demographic, have inspired me.

So tonight, after finishing some schoolwork, I put off my nightly couple of glasses of red wine and dug the sweats and pair of Reeboks that had been gathering dust in my closet, put on my Ipod shuffle and got out and ran nearly two miles. When I got back, my daughter mentioned that I hadn't been gone that long. I told her that I ran a little over a mile and a half. It wasn't much, I pointed out. But it's a beginning.

And now I'm enjoying that glass of red wine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Non-Black Friday Random Ten

My wife braved the Black Friday crowds today. Not me. I start scouting deals from about August on, on-line. By Mid-December or so, I'm sitting there in the catbird seat, Christmas shopping done, no sweat.

We had the proverbial "Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat" with our friends Guido and Wendy, a tradition that is now two years old. I actually love to cook and look forward to when school is done and I can do a Thanksgiving dinner here at our place. Until then, enjoy the randomness of my Itunes random shuffle.

1. Gary Gilmore's Eyes- The Adverts
2. Hands Off, She's Mine- The English Beat
3. Into The Mystic- Van Morrison
4. Anytime At All- The Beatles
5. The Rumor- The Band
6. Lord Grenville- Al Stewart
7. Because The Night- Patti Smith Group
8. I Left My Heart In San Francisco- Tony Bennett
9. Independence Day- Bruce Springsteen
10. It's Too Late To Turn Back Now- The Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nursing School Update, Thanksgiving Time

I have class tomorrow for a couple of hours, and no clinical this week because of Thanksgiving. After that, a few more classes, then a cumulative final.

We had a test yesterday. A couple of my fellow students I talked to didn't feel good about it. Happily, I was not in that category. I knew I'd done well on it.

As my first semester of nursing comes to a close, I had some reflections.

At the beginning of the semester, I was a nervous wreck. Before tests and clinicals, I was nearly at the point of hyperventilating. The last two tests I was calm. The last two clinicals-- particularly my last one-- I've been good.

My clinical group is, except for one classmate, who missed it because her husband is being deployed to Afghanistan, in the picture at the top of the post. The instructor is the lady in the center. They are, as you can see, quite a diverse group. Eric, the guy at the left, top just graduated from high school a few years ago. I'm at the top right. At 48, I'm the oldest person in the clinical group (and the class).

I've ended up working with Karen, the woman at the top, second from the left, several times in clinical. She's a great partner-- we learned a lot from one another working together-- learning to read charts, doing "head to toe" assessments of patients, etc. She reminded me several times of something important: listen. I have a tendency to fill in silences. Sometimes with a patient, patience with a long silence ends up yielding valuble information.

In our last day of clinical we had a patient who was a 65 year old woman who was in for severe vomiting. We'd looked over her charts and seen the things we'd expect-- parentaral (IV) fluids, anti-nausea drugs and pain meds. After checking in with our instructor and talking to our patient, who was doing much better, we discussed clinical concerns. With vomiting and diahrrea, loss of electrolytes, particularly potassium, is an issue. We'd noticed before seeing her that her potassium was low. After talking to her, it wasn't clear to us that a potassium supplement had been given. We asked the instructor to open up the patients chart again so that we could check for the missing potassium supplement.

The instructor had a little smile when she opened up the chart for us. Later, I realized what was going on; we'd shown the ability to think critically. We knew what to look for in the situation. I realized later that when we went to ask her if we could go back and check on the potassium supplement, we'd passed our clinicals. Our instructor was confident in us.

And we did find the potassium supplement when we checked back on the MAR.

In a couple of weeks, we register for next semester's classes. It's done by lottery-- you get your choice of class assignment (and instructor) by your lottery number. I have number 59 out of about 115. I would prefer to have my current instructor, but may have to take my second choice.

Whatever class I end up in, I've had a good time with this group. As far as study partners, I've gravitated toward the two who share my general demographics, my clinical partner Karen and Cyd, bottom left in the picture. We're all married, in our forties and have kids. But the class, with 20 people in it, became a very tight group. We helped one another with studying, emergencies, missed classwork, etc. I've come to realize that over the years, as we finish school and head into the profession, we'll run into one another. There will be a special place in our hearts for the people who shared the very first steps of this journey with us.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Day John Kennedy Died

I was only two when John Kennedy was assassinated. I obviously have no recollection of it happening or the time around it. I do know though that it deeply affected my parents and most other people who were around then.

In 1983, I was a senior at Eastern Illinois finishing up my Bachelor's Degree in Political Science. My parents were still living here in Illinois, so I drove up to have Thanksgiving dinner with them.

One of the things I remember about the 180 mile drive back to Chicago from my school was that around Kankakee, about 50 miles south of Chicago, we could start picking up WXRT, the FM "progressive rock" station I'd grown up listening to. On that trip, not long after 'XRT came up on the car radio of my green Volkswagon Beetle, Lou Reed's song "The Day John Kennedy Died" was played. I realized that it was November 22, the twentieth anniversary of President Kennedy's death.

I've never forgotten that moment and that song. Reed's recollections of hearing of Kennedy's death while in college are sad and moving.

Later, when I discovered the music of Phil Ochs, I heard a couple more great songs about it, "That Was The President," and "Crucifixion." I found the Lou Reed song on Youtube. I was able to find someone doing a nice cover of "That Was The President," and a clip of Phil Ochs himself doing part of "Crucifixion" in Stockholm in 1969. I think that part of the despair that drove Ochs to suicide was seeing so many of his heroes-- Medgar Evers, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy-- murdered.

We don't live in a perfect society, but it's a hell of a lot better than it was in 1963. In 1960, John Kennedy's Catholicism was a big deal. 20 years later, in 1983, if someone had told me that we'd have a black president in my lifetime, I wouldn't have believed it. A lot of people paid the price to get to a place where a black President, a female Secretary of State, a latino governor, or an openly gay Chicago Alderman could happen. Today is as good a day as any to remember that.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Day Late Wi-Fi Cafe Saturday Random Ten

As my semester ends, my schedule's been crushing. Had my last clinical on Thursday, have a test on Monday, and then have to start getting ready for a cumulative final in a couple of weeks. I'm taking shelter from the preparations for a birthday party (my daughter's 13th) in a cafe with Wi-Fi, while I study and post this. I've got a bunch of posts running around my head, including some thoughts about school, and some current events as well. I'll try to post here and there until my holiday break returns my life to normal-- for a few weeks.

1. In My Life- Jose Feliciano
2. Hey Mister, That's Me Up On the Jukebox- James Taylor
3. Fifteen Minutes Too Late- The Caesars
4. Baby Should Have Known Better- Palmayra Delran
5. I Do- Lisa Loeb
6. I Wanna Be Your Lover- Bob Dylan
7. Goin' Back- The Byrds
8. Ruby Tuesday- The Rolling Stones
9. Streets of Fire- Bruce Springsteen
10. All The Voices- INXS

1. A lovely rendition of a song that was one of the most lovely ever to begin with.
2. Grew to love this song as a kid listening to my father's copy of "Mudslide Slim and the New Horizon."
3. A "Little Steven's Underground Garage" discovery.
4. This was "Song of the Year" last year on Little Steven's Underground Garage. It got my vote for sure.
5. Great nineties heartbreak song.
6. A Dylan outtake from the terrific "Biograph" collection.
7. One of many great songs Carole King has written, performed by others. A short list: "I'm Into Something Good," by Herman's Hermits, "Up On the Roof," by the Drifters and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by the Monkees.
8. A song about a groupie.
9. This song is actually not in the movie "Streets of Fire," which is probably a good thing. The movie looked like a real stinker.
10. From "The Swing," which is, along with Prince's "Purple Rain" and Springsteen's "Born In The USA," one of my favorite albums of 1984.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another Lucky Friday the 13th Random Ten

I've always laughed at the "13" superstition. I remember back in 1985, at the late great punk bar "Over Easy" at 63rd and Pulaski, on a Friday the 13-- they set up a ladder you had to walk under to get in the place. Of course, six months later, the landlord refused to renew their lease and the place closed. But for me, 13 has been lucky. My son had #13 last year, which was his last year in little league, and ended up not only playing the position he'd always wanted-- pitcher-- but pitching in the league championship.

Had a great Friday the 13th--I had no work, no school today. My father and I both finally figured out how to use Skype and webcams and had a nice long video chat today. My wife, who was laid off her old job in June, is starting her new job on Monday. And to top it off, Netflix sent me "You Weren't There: A HIstory of Chicago Punk, 1977-1984" today. It had been listed as being on a "Long Wait." I watched the first ten minutes and saw a dozen people I knew in it, including my old drinking buddy Johnny Mo, who worked at Le Mere Vipere, Chicago's first punk club. Can't wait to watch it tonight.

1. Vicious- Lou Reed
2. Glass Onion- The Beatles
3. Gary's Got a Boner- The Replacements
4. Money Changes Everything- The Brains
5. For The Good Times- Jim Reeves
6. A Boy Named Sue- Johnny Cash
7. It's All Over Now- The Rolling Stones
8. Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)- Concrete Blonde
9. I've Been Working- Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
10. Birds of Paradise- The Pretenders

...and one more-- "Hell In a Bucket"- The Grateful Dead

1. This one was actually on the jukebox at Over Easy, the bar I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
2. From the fabulous "White Album."
3. When I was in college, we used to annoy my friend Gary by playing this song.
4. Cyndi Lauper did a nice cover of this, but the original is still my favorite.
5. "We have both kinds of music here-- Country AND Western!"
6. A huge hit for Johnny Cash. Written by Shel Silverstein. One of my favorite childhood memories was walking my 3rd grade friend Cathy home and singing this song with her.
7. I love the Rolling Stones' cover, and recently discovered the Valentinos' original-- Bobby Womack and his brothers.
8. Concrete Blonde, as always, good for some angst.
9. I would argue that the "Live Bullet" album, which this is from, is the best live album ever. Just my opinion.
10. From The Pretenders' second album. One of their lesser-known songs, but one of my favorites. "This is the life they say/That dreams are made of..." more-- "I may be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoying the ride."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Freedom isn't free. Someone always pays for it. Thanks to all who have served, including Skyler's Dad. He has a powerful piece he has posted the last couple of Veteran's Days about a friend he lost in the service that says more than I could ever say. Read it here:

Sunday, November 08, 2009

My Favorite World Series Moment

As the baseball season comes to an end with (yawn) a New York Yankees win, I thought I'd reflect on my favorite-ever World Series moment.

Since I'm a Cubs fan, and have been waiting for a Championship for 48 years, I've at times adopted other teams and cheered for them. I rooted for the Red Sox-- in vain, in the 1975 and 1986 World Series, but finally winning in 2004. Probably not a coincidence that I met Kim around the same time. I cheered for the Minnesota Twins in 1987 and 1991, partly because hometown hero Kirby Puckett was one of their stars. This proved prescient-- I married a Minnesota girl. My cheering for the Twins sure doesn't hurt my relationship with my father-in-law either.

Another team I started rooting for was the Toronto Blue Jays. It was partly because of the friendly manner my old friend Dan and I been treated by the residents of Toronto during our fabled road trip to Toronto in 1987. It was also because the Blue Jays believed in the abilities of one of my favorite-ever ex-Cubs, Joe Carter.

In 1993, the Blue Jays were playing the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. It was a weird time in my life. I'd been told, unexpectedly, a few months before, that I was going to become a father. I had just been getting ready to go back to school to get my teaching certification, and wondered how this was going to affect those plans. In the meantime, I worked and waited-- literally. I was working as a waiter at NN Smokehouse, which served up some of the best barbecue in the city.

On October 23, 1993, I was working. It was a not-too-busy Saturday night, so I was able to watch the game. The Jays were up 3-2 in the series. As the game reached the bottom of the ninth, Philadelphia was up 6-5. Philadelphia brought in their "ace" reliever, Mitch Williams-- my least-favorite ex-Cub ever. When Williams was with the Cubs, he was called "The Wild Thing" for his wild and often erratic delivery. His pitching style was such that he'd nearly end up on the ground after each pitch. It prevented him from fielding the baseball-- a key job for a pitcher or any other infielder. Whenever the Cubs brought in Williams, I'd have to leave the room.

But now Williams, my least-favorite ex-Cub was up against my favorite ex-Cub. Williams had walked lead-off hitter Rickey Henderson. Devon White flew out, and then Paul Molitor hit a single that sent Henderson to second.

Williams got Carter behind in the count, 2-2. Carter took Williams' next pitch and cranked it out for a 3-run home run, winning the World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays. I felt vindicated-- I'd been furious when the Cubs traded Carter in 1983 (thought they did get Rick Sutcliffe in the trade).

Joe Carter's 1993 World Series Game 6 Walkoff Homerun

D.Bork | MySpace Video

As the game ended, I realized that it was, once again, the inevitable-- the end of the baseball season for half a year. It was, also, the end of one of the distractions to an event I was terrified of-- the upcoming birth of my child.

In March of the next year, just a little over a month before the beginning of the baseball season, my son was born. Ironically, a strike ended the 1994 season in August, and there was no World Series that year. That didn't stop my son, though. Despite his mother's insistence that he was going to play soccer, he was a baseball fan from the first moment he laid eyes on a game.

Looking back to that game, to that moment, I wondered if fate was trying to tell me something. I was very happy with the ending of that game in October of 1993. And despite the horrendous difficulties I had with his mother, my son's birth was the best thing that ever happened to me.

And one other thing that changed was that Carter's home-run became my second favorite-ever World Series moment. My favorite became, and always will be, watching the guy whose imminent arrival so terrified me that night, pitching in his baseball league's championship fifteen years later.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Movie Recommendation: "Protagonist"

Last night I didn't have to work and felt I could take a break from schoolwork long enough to watch a movie or two. I'd been promising my daughter I'd watch "My Bodyguard" with her. I was able to check it out at the local library, and we enjoyed it. I hadn't seen it since it was released in 1980, when I was a freshman in college. I chuckled when I realized that my first apartment of my own after college was right down the street from Lakeview High School in Chicago, where much of the movie was filmed.

Afterward, I watched a movie I'd Netflixed and saved to a hard drive to watch when I had time, Protagonist. This documentary, filmed by Jessica Wu, is about how four men, who follow wildly different life paths, each live out a Euripedean drama in their lives. Each of the four men are fascinating on their own:

  • Mark Pierpoint, a former minister who claimed at one time that evangelical Christianity "saved" him from his homosexuality

  • Joe Loya, a guy from middle class background who was physically abused by his father, and becomes a bank robber.

  • Mark Salzman (the husband of Jessica Wu, the director) who finds temporary salvation in martial arts

  • Hans Joachim-Klein, a German who becomes a terrorist

Each of these men find themselves playing out a role, and each of them are ultimately faced with truths about themselves and that role. Watching this movie, I couldn't help but look inward and think about the roles I play and have played in life, and the transitions I've made. I suspect that most people who watch this will do the same. I highly recommend this documentary.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Race To The Finish Line Friday Random Ten

Had a hectic, but productive week. I had a test first thing Monday morning, which I got an A on-- a first in nursing school for me. Work, household stuff, and then clinicals yesterday. I hadn't yet worked with a patient on "contact precautions," so I requested to work with one. I got it-- had to don gloves and gown to work with the patient, Also got to help dispensing meds, another first. I've got just over a month left to the semester. Can't believe how fast it's gone.

1. Bungalow Bill- The Beatles
2. Nothing To Me- Tinted Windows
3. Amarillo By Morning- George Strait
4. Children of the Revolution- The Violent Femmes
5. Valarie- The Monkees
6. New Kind of Kick- The Cramps
7. The Old Man Down the Road- John Fogarty
8. She's a Heartbreaker- ZZ Top
9. Maggie Mae- Rod Stewart
10. The Bottom Line- Big Audio Dynamite

1. From the Beatles' superb "White Album."
2. An Itunes purchase-- heard this one on Little Steven's Underground Garage.
3. George Strait is one of the last of the old-school country artists. "All My Ex's Live In Texas" is one of my favorite-ever songs.
4. Great cover of the old T-Rex song.
5. The Monkees were the "Prefab Four," but they had some terrific hits.
6. The Cramps' "Best-of" album had the greatest title ever for such a collection-- "Bad Music For Bad People."
7. From "Centerfield," John Fogarty's 1985 come-back album.
8. The 1976 "Tejas" album was one of the first records I ever bought, and I still love it.
9. Remember when Rod Stewart was a rocker? Here's a reminder of that time.
10. Mick Jones' post-Clash project. Heard this song in the clubs a lot in the mid '80's.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween Pictures, 2009

I was fortunate to get Saturday night off of work, and we went to a Halloween party our friends Guido and Wendy threw. We had quite the great time with they and other friends of ours.

Both of the kids chose costumes that were clever, funny and topical; Adam was our former governor Blagojevich and Mel was uber-spokesman Billy Mays. Mel and Kim got a head start on us, and went trick or treating in the West Graceland neighborhood, one of their traditions. I had to pick up Adam from my ex's because he'd been at a debate tournament. We dressed him up in my old tux, and ran a copy of Blago's book off of the internet, and stuffed his pockets with toy money.

On the way to the party, we ran by Blagojevich's house, which is only a few blocks from ours, with the idea of snapping a picture of him in front of the house. When we got there, there was a crowd in front of it-- we weren't sure if it was gawkers or they were just handing out really good candy (or maybe Senate seats), so we just went on to the party.

Here's the full family picture. Kim is a sexy vampire, and I was Christopher Walken as producer Bruce Dickinson-- yes, THE Bruce Dickinson. Easy guys-- I put my pants on, just like the rest of you, one leg at a time-- except once my pants are on, I make gold records.

Our friends Traci and Christina had great costumes too. Traci was Holly Golightly from "Breakfast At Tiffany's" and Christina was Hermione Granger from "Harry Potter."

Anybody else dress up for Halloween?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

It's Halloween!

I managed to get someone to work for me tonight, so I have a rarity-- a Saturday night off, and both of my kids are here. We're going to our friends' Halloween party tonight. My son is going as disgraced former Illinois governor Blagojevich, my daughter will be Billy Mays, and my wife will be a "sexy vampire." I was originally going to go as People's Temple leader Jim Jones, but decided instead to go as Bruce Dickinson-- yes, THE Bruce Dickinson. And in his honor, I'd like you to explore the space of the room with the cowbell. I'll post pictures tomorrow.

And in the meantime, here's a vid of the Dead Kennedys doing my favorite Halloween song. It was filmed in 1980 at Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco, which I read recently was the first club they ever played.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wet End Of October Friday Random Ten

I did some running around this morning; I had to get some groceries and get the stuff for Adam's Halloween costume. He's forgoing his three-years-running Dick Cheney-shooting-a-rich-Republican-hunting-partner costume (Dick Cheney mask, flannel shirt and toy rifle) and is going as our disgraced former governor (and neighbor), Rod Blagojevich. I ran by my favorite resale store and found a nice black suit that I think will fit him, for 15 bucks. At a dollar store, I also found toy money for him to stuff into his pockets. Since his hair is blonde, I needed some of that washable hairspray dye, in black (which I also need for my Jim Jones costume). I checked in the Jewel's on Western for it, but they were out of black. There is a Party City across the street, so I ran over there and was fortunate to find it still in stock there.

The PA was playing Halloween-themed songs. As I waited in line, Steve Goodman's classic "Lincoln Park Pirates" came on. I'm a huge Steve Goodman fan (his mother is also a regular at the restaurant) so I enjoyed it.

For you non-Chicagoans, the song is about the Lincoln Park Towing Service, a notoriously not-nice towing company that is based not out of the Lincoln Park neighborhood, but the edgy Uptown neighborhood.

As I left the store and walked back across Western Avenue to the Jewel's Parking lot, I noticed something: a tow truck skulking in a corner. You guessed it-- a Lincoln Park Towing truck, waiting to pounce on someone doing exactly what I was doing, or for a student from Chicago's biggest high school, Lane Tech, which is next door, to try to sneak in there.

Fortunately, he hadn't caught on to me. I walked into the store in one entrance and walked out another entrance. He was none the wiser.

I promised some Chicago Autumn pictures. We've had the wettest October in Chicago's history. We did, however, have a few sunny days. These pictures were all taken on my block. You'd never know from the looks of it that the busiest street in Chicago, Western Avenue, is at the end of our block.

1. Turn Me Loose- Loverboy
2. Willie and The Poor Boys- Creedence Clearwater Revival
3. Heroes- Joe Jackson
4. Pride and Joy- Marvin Gaye
5. Bigshot- Billy Joel
6. Joe Stalin's Cadillac- Camper Van Beethoven
7. Baby, Now That I've Found You- The Foundations
8. Midnight Rider- The Allman Brothers Band
9. Goodbye to You- Scandal
10. Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)- The Chocolate Watchband

1. A big hunk o' eighties cheese.
2. "Creedence! I LOVE Creedence!"
3. A great cover of the great Bowie song.
4. Marvin Gaye was hugely talented. His early decline and early demise were tragic.
5. I know/It's only Billy Joel/But I like it.
6. I heard Camper's version of the Status Quo classic "Pictures of Matchstick Men" in the grocery store the other day. File that under "Things I never thought I'd ever see or hear in my lifetime."
7. Looked up this sixties one-hit wonder and discovered two interesting things: The Foundations were British (I'd alway thought that they were American) and secondly that part of the song was written in the same Soho, London tavern that Karl Marx wrote much of "Das Kapital" in.
8. Love this smoky little song.
9. I did Scandal's "Love Is Gonna Get You" in my "Occasional Forgotten Videos" a while back, and this one will be following soon.
10. Great Garage Rock/Psychedelia band from San Jose, California. This is on the fabulous Nuggets collection.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Last Good Day of the Year

It's a perfect October day here in Chicago-- leaves falling, a little chilly, a little wet. I took some pictures on my block that I'll post tomorrow. For now, here's the vid for Cousteau's "Last Good Day of the Year." The song perfectly captures the mood today.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Death In the Family

One of the reasons I started this blog a little over three years ago was to try to process the grief in dealing with the death of Mark Evans, one of my closest friends. It was, I'd have to say, successful. This blog gave me an outlet for dealing with my feelings of loss. Even better, it helped me connect with kindred spirits-- people whose creativity, intelligence and gentleness reminded me of Mark's. Even as my commitments to family, school and work have reduced the amount of time I can devote to reading other blogs and posting on my own, I still relish the time I can steal a moment and check on the blogs I enjoy.

One of the things that I enjoy about reading other peoples' blogs, and one of the reasons that blogs will still be around after peoples' infatuation with Facebook and Twitter dies down, is the remarkable diversity of the people whose blogs I've come to enjoy. With the massive reading requirements of school reducing my "reading for pleasure" book-reading essentially to zero, I've come to depend on my blog-reading to keep me sane and in touch. I love Erik's wonderful mix of art, history, politics and the personal; Barbara's always witty posts about music, family and occasionally politics; Bubs' observations on the weird and the wonderful; Churlita's thoughts on life as an intelligent and arty fish in a small Iowa pond; Mob's always pithily funny, sometimes caustic commentary on life and horror movies.

One of the bloggers I got to know through reading Mob's blog was Macguffin. Not only did he have the best "blog name" I've ever heard-- a Macguffin is an object in a movie that drives the plot (think "The Maltese Falcon" in the movie of the same name or the Ark of Covenant in "Indiana Jones"), but he had the best blog premise ever. He simply posted pictures of old movie posters and had a little history on the poster-- the style, the influences, etc.

Macguffin didn't post very often, but when he did, it was a treat. I have zero artistic talent and not much more knowledge about art-- but a consuming love of it. Macguffin's posts gave me an eye where I had none.

A couple of nights ago, I checked his blog and discovered that Macguffin recently took his own life. Mob was kind enough to contact me and tell me a little bit about what went on. Macguffin was, I'm pretty sure, his closest friend.

This morning, I dragged out my dog-eared copy of Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" and re-read the last couple of chapters. Like every other person in America, I read the book in eighth grade and didn't really comprehend it until I re-read it as an adult. If you remember, the title comes from Atticus Finch's admonishment not to kill a mockingbird-- that mockingbirds give joy to people with their song; it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

At the end of the book, when Boo Radley saves Atticus' children's lives, Atticus understands the need to go along with the Sheriff's lie that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife. Scout, the book's main character, also realizes the necessity of going along with that lie-- in order to protect her protector. "Well," she says, "it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" As she says this, she is completely oblivous to the fact that for years, she and her brother Jem had been the mockingbirds to a sad, lonely man. It's one of the most powerful endings to a book ever.

I never met Macguffin, but I'll miss him. I feel sad that a person who brought a little beauty into my life once in a while couldn't find the joy he needed to continue. I hope he finds the peace in sleep that he couldn't find in life. My condolences to Mob and to Macguffin's other friends and family.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The "Take a Breather" Friday Random Ten

My day started out early again-- I had to drop Kim off at the el to head off to the airport. An old friend of hers is flying her out to the Bay for the weekend. Came back, made breakfast for my daughter, who had a day off of school. A friend of hers was dropped off and they spent part of the day working on schoolwork and part of the day doing fun stuff, including walking over to a neighborhood sandwich place for lunch. It's funny how you let go of the apronstrings a little at a time.

I went back to bed for a while and woke up with enough energy to run around and do some errands. Tonight, Mel and I will hang out-- dinner (chicken and homemade mashed potatoes), probably a movie and then some Rock Band. I haven't had much chance yet to do the Beatles Rock Band. Looking forward to it.

1. The Bells- Phil Ochs
2. Baby, Let Me Follow You Down- Bob Dylan
3. The Promised Land- Dave Edmunds
4. Mojo Pin- Jeff Buckley
5. Sweet Cherry Wine- Tommy James and the Shondells
6. Neighborhood Bully- Bob Dylan
7. Common Man- The Blasters
8. You Were On My Mind- We Five
9. The Highwayman- Phil Ochs
10. Beginning- Bubble Puppy

...and one more: The Warmest Room- Billy Bragg

1. This is based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem. Been listening to a lot of Phil Ochs lately.
2. Dylan name-checks his late friend Eric Von Schmidt, who taught him this Rev. Gary Davis song.
3. Dave Edmunds covering Chuck Berry.
4. From Jeff Buckley's incredible album "Grace." I've always wondered if this song is about his father.
5. I know that Tommy James is pop tripe, but I love his music.
6. From the underrated "Infidels" album. The song is assumed to be about Israel.
7. A blatant rip on Reagan from the great "Hard Line" album.
8. Bay area band We Five entered the pantheon of one-hit wonders with their arrangement of the Ian and Sylvia Tyson song. Notably, they omitted the part about getting drunk from the original.
9. Weird-- Phil Ochs did two songs based on poems, and both showed up in my Friday Random Ten. His musical rendition of Alfred Noyes' poem is beautiful.
10. Heard this song on Little Steven's Underground Garage and couldn't get it out of my head.

One More: I love this song about mixing love and politics. Hands down my favorite Billy Bragg song.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Today, instead of going to clinicals at the hospital at 1 PM, my class met at the school to spend the day working on medications-- contraindications, prepping, dosages, etc. A few days ago, my teacher had taken a vote and asked if the class wanted to meet at the regular 1 PM to 7 PM or to start early and meet at 7:30 am and get out about 1 PM. I was out-voted, and we met early.

I was groggy, since I had closed the restaurant last night-- I managed to squeeze in about five and a half hours of sleep. I dropped my daughter off at a breakfast place down the street from her school, since I had to be at school before her normal drop-off time.

We plowed through the material, practicing dosage calculations with a couple of my classmates. At the end of class, the teacher announced that she would spend the last half hour or so meeting with us individually for our mid-term reviews-- a checklist of how we're doing.

When it was my turn to meet, my teacher asked me how I felt I was doing. I was not coy. I told her that I felt great about how I was doing, and that to be honest, I had no idea that I'd enjoy the material so much. She had some very nice things to say-- I'll leave it at that. I got 100% "Satisifactory" ratings-- the best I could have done. This is in addition to a B average for the classwork.

I ran out to have lunch with two of my classmates, picked up my daughter and her friend at school, headed home and took a much-needed nap. Needless to say, I'm feeling pretty satisfied right now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Long View, Part 2

On Sunday, I took a couple of my textbooks, my notes and my little Powerbook and headed to a local cafe. I ordered up a big cup of house blend and plowed through several chapters. In addition to a couple of chapters on pharmacology, I had to read a chapter on sleep and rest. It was more than a little ironic.

One of the first casualties of starting nursing school has been sleep and rest. As I read the chapter, it described how a patient may have problems in a hospital because firmly established sleep schedules are being disrupted. I had to chuckle at that. I haven't been to bed or up at the same time any two days for months.

When I started nursing school, they kept emphasizing that you should work no more than 20 hours a week. I knew from the start that this wasn't going to happen. Kim fell victim to the tough economy and was laid off in June, right around the time I had orientation for nursing school. She's training now for a new career selling life insurance and annuities, so there's a light at the end of the tunnel. For now, though, I have to keep working full time.

This week was particularly hectic. Since Kim has to be in a suburb about 35 miles from our home here in Chicago early for her training, she needs to be out of the house early. This means I'm dropping my daughter off at school and picking her up in the afternoon. In between, there is class, schoolwork and work. My meal schedule is chaotic. Dinnertime is a crapshoot-- sometimes it's a bowl of soup at work.

It has been rewarding, though. Today during the break in the middle of our two hour class, two classmates I've become friends with were talking about it all. We talked about how tired we were-- they, like me, are parents. I reminded them, though, of how far we come in just a couple of months. It was a little astounding, the list of knowledge and skills, right off the tops of our heads, that we could come up with, including:

  • How to take a pulse, and the difference between and apical pulse and a radial pulse, and when you would want to take both at the same time

  • How to read a medical chart

  • The difference between hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, and their relationship (hematocrit should be about three times the hemoglobin

  • How to take a blood pressure and what to do when you can't take a BP from either arm

  • What to do before administering digoxin, a med for increasing heart strength (check potassium levels and take an apical pulse for one minute)

  • Why not to put all four rails up on a paitients bed (it can be considered a restraint)

  • What normal heart rate and respiration rates are for various patients

  • How to measure oxygenation

  • How to handle a "hand-off"-- to take over a patient during a shift change

We are, right now, 1/8 through the nursing program. As much as we've learned, we've only learned a fraction of what we will learn. We realized that the "things" we are learning are only part of it-- we're learning to think like nurses.

Several times, I've told my kids that the friends you make in college are generally the friends you have for life. Going through one more round of school, I'm reminded why: when you go through an intense experience with a group of people, you depend on them for encouragement and support. The time away from family, the lack of sleep-- you lean on your school friends a little.

Tomorrow-- actually, today in about 6 1/2 hours, I have to be at school with my classmates to go to the computer lab and spend the day learning about doing meds. We'll talk about a lot of things-- our kids, our classmate who keeps missing class and we're now officially worried will have to drop from the program, how tired we are and when we'll get together for a study session. But I know that we will have one thing from this all-- not just a nursing degree, but the knowledge that we earned this. We have come from these different places to do this thing and bring in such different skill sets to move toward reaching this goal. I spend my days feeling like a zombie sometimes, but I love what I'm doing. I realize now that as exhausted, broke and anxious as I am now, I will look back to this time in my life with fondness.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Long View

Yesterday, I got a call from my ex while I was working with a patient in my clinical. When I was done working with my patient, I called her and got her voicemail. We phoned back and forth, missing one another sevearal times, and finally she left a message that told me that due to commitments to school (marching band and debate team), my son was booked all weekend. I.E. he would not be here at all this weekend.

Illinois' child custody practice is right out of the stone ages. Unless there are extremely extenuating circumstances, the mother gets physical custody. What this meant to me was that after spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer (and eventually bankrupting myself in the process), I ended up getting him every other weekend, on my birthday and some holidays, despite the fact that my ex was (and is) a screaming, abusive shrew.

Now that he's in high school, and has a busy schedule (as do I, having gone back to school and having to work full time), I'm missing some of the weekend days too.

A few weeks ago, my son and I were talking. We were talking about his mother-- how she seems to feel she was born with a right to be an ass to everyone around her. He talked about how she yells about everything, no matter how trivial. He told me that he's just started tuning her out.

I told him that she did the same thing to me when I lived with her. It was the reason I left her when he was two. I realized that one, it was not going to do him any good seeing it, and two, he needed another household that was stable-- and peaceful.

I agonized over the decision to leave her. I felt a lot better a few weeks ago when he told me that I'd made the right decision-- that one of the ways he's able to deal with her is knowing that he gets time at my house.

We talked about the future-- specifically, when he turns eighteen in a little over two years. He's already making plans to move out that day and move into my home-- his real home, I suspect he thinks of it as.

My wife and I have been talking up an idea we had-- only half-kiddingly-- of an "Advent Calender" for when he turns eighteen.

One day, about 7 or 8 years ago, I picked him up at my ex's home. He was obviously agitated. We began talking and he told me that he was "never gonna visit Mom when I get older. She makes me mad." I tried to tell him that he would probably feel differently when he was older. He replied that he didn't think he would.

As he's entered teenagehood, he's become remarkably proficient at dealing with her. One of my serious concerns was that he was going to develop an deep-seated anger-- one like I had for years due to my troubled relationship with my father. I had a horrible temper that erupted at the worst times. My son's birth was the major reason I worked hard to get it under control. Happily, he doesn't seem to have gone the route I did. He's still cheerful, friendly and gregarious. I get compliments on his demeanor and maturity all the time.

My father and I made our peace a long time ago now. He's been a great source of advice in this all. He's reminded me, since my son was little and the whole battle royale with my ex started, that I had to keep my eye on the long view. After dealing with this for over a decade, I'm exhausted; the end is so close, yet so far.

So as I sit here tonight missing him, I take solace in knowing that in the Spring of 2012, he'll turn 18, and he'll be free to spend as much time here as he wants. I'll be done with nursing school and he'll have a driver's license and a car (the one I'll give him). And undoubtedly his mother will be sitting there wondering why he's gone.

Hold on, son-- it's coming.

Plowing Through the Semester Friday Random Ten

Got a B on my test this week and had a really good and interesting clinical experience. I can't believe that we're half way through the semester already!

The ward was abuzz with news of the boy in the balloon. I don't know whether it was a hoax or not, but I felt sick when they got to the balloon and he wasn't in there. Hoax or not, I'm glad he's okay.

1. Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town-- Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
2. Most Likely You'll Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine- Bob Dylan
3. White Rabbit- The Jefferson Airplane
4. Red Barchetta- Rush
5. Holding Back the Years- Simply Red
6. Tommy Gun- The Clash
7. Baby, I'm A Star- Prince
8. Mother- The Police
9. My Baby Gives It Away- Pete Townsend and Ronnie Lane
10. Love Will Find a Way- Pablo Cruise

and one more: "It's Hard To Be a Saint In the City- Bruce Springsteen

1. Fresh out of the New Christy Minstrels, Kenny Rogers took another folky turn with The First Edition.
2. This is the live version from the great "Biograph" collection. I loved Dylan's comments on this one-- "I guess it's about one of those relationships where, you know, you're lucky to get out without a broken nose."
3. My son and I just watched Terry Gilliam's great film version of "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas." One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when "Raoul Duke's" attorney is trying to get Duke to electrocute him in the bathtub right when "White Rabbit" peaks.
4. This is the only Rush song I like besides the title track to "2112." I generally can't stand their fatuous Ayn Randesque philosphizing.
5. It's funny how a song can bring you back to a place in your life. In this case, right out of college in the mid '80's.
6. From the Clash's great first albuml.
7. The "Purple Rain" album just about got worn out on the turntable in the apartment I shared with old friends Larry and Dobie the summer of 1984.
8. Guitarist Andy Summers sings and screams this Oedipal tale.
9. From "Rough Mix," an album that the Who's Pete Townsend did with Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane in 1977.
10. A big hunk o' Seventies Cheese, but I like it.

one more: Love this song's opening line: "I had skin like leather and the diamond-hard luck of a cobra/I was born blowing weather and I burst just like a supernova...."