Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Occasional Forgotten Video, Huey Lewis and the News, "Heart and Soul"

I've really begun to realize that they weren't kidding when they said that my nursing program is accelerated. We are moving at a furious pace. I'm good with it, but it's leaving me less time for things I'd like to do, like posting on my blog. Therefore, today's is a quick one, an "Occasional Forgotten Video."

I was talking to an old friend on the phone the other day and was reminded of this one.

In 1971, Huey Lewis joined the San Francisco Bay area band "Clover." Clover-- without Huey-- backed up Elvis Costello on his debut album "My Aim Is True." Eventually, the band mutated into Huey Lewis and the News, and had a hit on their second album, "Do You Believe In Love" in 1982,

It was 1983's "Sports" that broke them big though. They had a number of hits from that album, The first hit was "Heart and Soul." The video is classic eighties-- weird imagery, silliness and romance. It's one of my favorites, especially since I found out that Huey Lewis is the biggest man in the music business.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The "Buried In Schoolwork" Friday Random Ten

Had my first nursing test on Monday. Got an 86%, a solid B. Had more clinicals yesterday-- finally got to work with a patient. It's all good. Got a ton of reading to do this weekend.

1. The Man In Me- Bob Dylan
2. It Was A Very Good Year- Frank Sinatra
3. Meet Me In The Morning- Bob Dylan
4. Santa Domingo- Phil Ochs
5. Party Girl- Elvis Costello
6. Every Day Is Like Sunday- The Smiths
7. Thousands Are Sailing- The Pogues
8. Idiot Wind- Bob Dylan
9. Stormy Monday- The Allman Brothers Band
10. Every Breath You Take- The Police

1. This was in "The Big Lebowski."
2. I love me some Sinatra, and this is one of my favorites of his.
3. A sweet little song from "Blood On The Tracks."
4. A powerful protest song about the United States' 1965 invasion of the Domican Republic.
5. From the phenomenal "Armed Forces" album. Can you believe it's 30 year old?
6. Morrissey can be a little whiny at tiimes, but I still like the Smiths.
7. My favorite Pogues song, but "Fairytale of New York" is a close second.
8. A Bob Dylan Hat Trick! This one's also from "Blood On The Tracks."
9. "They call it Stormy Monday/But Tuesday's just as bad..." Great live track from the "Filmore East" album.
10. Those of us in college in the early and mid eighties remember this song getting near-continuous play on MTV and radio. I'm just getting over the trauma.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nursing School, One Month In

Today I had my first test in nursing school, about a month after I started. I also had my first "clinical" last week-- an experience in a hospital, working with patients. Here are my observations and comments so far.

I have come to really like my teacher, Mrs. Murphy. Her enthusiasm for both nursing and teaching shows. She really appreciates the diversity of our class and the consequent range of experiences we are able to bring to our classroom discussions.

My classmates are an amazingly diverse-- and increasingly closeknit-- group. There's Raj, who is from India. He must be in his mid-thirties. Karen, who, like me, is a parent, is my "buddy"-- the person I've buddied up with to make sure that if one is absent, the other makes sure to get any handouts, etc. that were passed out and let the other person look over notes. Eric must be about 20-- he graduated from Lane Tech, the high school nearest my home. Jackie is a high-strung, but likeable former dancer who's married to a Chicago cop/reserve soldier. Cyd is the person closest to me in age, and in fact my daughter goes to school with her son. Nicole, who we've all been looking out for, helping as we can, started divorce proceedings a week before starting nursing school. One guy I've hit it off with is Bisrat, a friendly, supersmart guy from Eritrea (it's near Ethiopia).

There are people of every ethnicity and walk of life. We range in age from about 20 to nearly 50. For some, this will be a first career, others a second career, and for some of us, even, third careers.

Thursday afternoon, a group of ten of us began our "clinical" experiences. We all gathered in the lobby of Illinois Masonic Hospital to meet Mrs. Murphy. I chuckled, remembering the last time I'd been in that hospital, 21 years ago, after the stupidest thing I ever did. We went over some school material, signed a form that we understood that we needed to protect the privacy of patients and records that we worked with, and went upstairs to the geriatric ward.

We were shown around the ward and then were paired off with another student to start working with the electronic charts. I was paired off with Bisrat, and we spent about 45 minutes looking through our patient's chart. We tried out the various features-- there are incredible advantages over the old paper charts. For instance, while looking at a value for something like white blood count or blood sugar, we can check what the normal value would be. If a med is listed, we can click on it and look up a dossier on the drug-- what it's for, dosages, side effects, etc.

One of the things that both Bisrut and I started working on was the "big picture;" what do all of the things we're seeing add up to?

At the end of the day, we had a meeting. We were all exhausted, but had learned a ton.

I spent portions of Friday, Saturday and Sunday preparing for my first test. One of the things I'm enjoying about nursing is that it is not overly based on memorization (though there's some of that) but on knowledge of concepts. In short, we're learning how to think like nurses.

I could tell this morning that we all nervous. There would be 50 questions, and there was a month's worth of material for those 50 questions to come from.

One of the things I've learned after several rounds of college (this will be my fourth college degree) is that you learn about the teacher during that first test. I've been teaching my kids this. As we finished the test, one by one, we gathered in groups out in the hall, discussing the test. The consensus-- we had kicked ass on it. We had figured out what the important information was out of the ocean of information we'd received in the last four weeks. We discussed the merits of different answers: e.g. in order to reorient a confused older patient, do you post a calender of weekly activities or speak in clear, calm, short sentences? The order in which to bathe a client (head, arms, chest, etc.). What not to do for a diabetic client (trim nails-- it risks a cut, and diabetics typically have trouble healing. You file the nails instead).

We talked about the various answers that we'd gotten wrong or right, and realized that we'd all done pretty well. I began to realize that this group had walked into the classroom a month ago as a bunch of separate strangers. Today, we walked out into the hallway as an increasingly tightknit and confident group of friends, fellow students, and future colleagues. I walked out of the building with the feeling that I'd really made the right decision early this year when I applied to nursing school.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The "Nose To The Grindstone" Friday Random Ten

Between work and school, it's been a busy week. I started my "clincials"-- work in a hospital-- yesterday. I've started a post with my reflections on the first month of school. If I have a chance, I'll finish it and post it tonight. Until then, I've got a bunch of studying to do.

1. The Bells of Rhymney- The Byrds
2. Killing An Arab- The Cure
3. Video Killed the Radio Star- The Buggles
4. Open Your Eyes- The Nazz
5. Stealin' At 7-11-- Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
6. Wanted Man- Johnny Cash
7. Harry Rag- The Kinks
8. She Loves To Be In Love- Charlie
9. Black Diamond- YOSHIKI
10. Ooh La La- The Faces

1. The Byrds were one of the only groups that really successfully pulled off "folk rock." This song was a prime example.
2. The Cure's first hit single, based on an Albert Camus short story, still sounds great.
3. My daughter loves eighties music, and this is one of her favorites.
4. Todd Rundgren's early Philly group made the "Nuggets" cut with this one. Lots of Beatles influence here.
5. "After that beer, we were feelin' fine/Let's go back to the store and steal some wine!"
6. Great cover of a Bob Dylan song from the "Live At San Quentin" album.
7. It seems like I discover a couple more great Kinks songs every year. This was one of this year's.
8. These guys had a great album called "Lines" in the late seventies. This is my favorite song from that one.
9. From the fabulous "Kiss My Ass" cd of inspired and original KISS covers.
10. First heard this one in "Rushmore," a movie I'm pretty ambivalent about. I've been delving into old Faces and Small Faces these days.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

RIP Jim Carroll

Just saw in the New York Times that poet/hustler/rocker Jim Carroll died at the age of 60 of an apparent heart attack.

In 1981, when I was a 19/20 year old pup, I heard the Jim Carroll Band's song "People Who Died" on WXRT, Chicago's "Prog Rock" station and was hooked. Later, I heard "Wicked Gravity" from the same album and when I went away to college the same year, borrowed my soon-to-be-lifetime friend Matt's copy of "The Basketball Diaries" and was even more hooked.

My favorite poem ever is Alan Ginsberg's "Howl." Jim Carroll was my generation's Alan Ginsberg and "People Who Died" is my gereration's "Howl."

About a year and a half ago, I picked my daughter up from school and we made a stop at a store. I had, as I tend to, my Sirius Radio playing, and as I am prone to, had "Little Steven's Underground Garage" playing. The Jim Carroll Band's "People Who Died" came up and I cranked it up a little.

My daughter, who was 11 or so then, was fascinated with the song. We started singing along with it, reminding me of a couple of times before when music brought us together, and we went from being stepdad and stepdaughter to dad and daughter. She, like my son, is a punk rocker at heart. This song was, in a way, the most punk of punk songs. RIP Jim.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's A Beautiful Day Friday Random Ten

I spent the day reading for school, so I'm getting a late start on my Friday Random Ten. I'm sitting out on the back porch with a cup of black coffee on a perfect Chicago evening. And my Itunes shuffle is adding to it with one of the best random shuffles ever.

Our Beatles Rock Band for our Wii arrived today, so I have a feeling my daughter and her friends will rope me into playing. Twist my arm.

1. Too Shy- Kajagoogoo
2. Tape From California- Phil Ochs
3. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away- The Beatles
4. A Million Miles Away- The Plimsouls
5. 1969- Iggy and the Stooges
6. I Am, I Said- Neil Diamond
7. Up On The Roof- The Drifters
8. Count On Me- The Jefferson Starship
9. Walk This Way- Run-DMC w/ Aerosmith
10. I'm A Bitch- Meredith Brooks

1. One of my favorite '80's one-hit wonders
2. Phil Ochs' take on the wonderful madness of the late sixties.
3. Recently discovered a lovely cover of this song by a group called Sylkie.
4. From the terrific soundtrack to "Valley Girl."
5. "Another year for me and you/Another year with nothin' to do.."
6. Love this song. I also have a great cover by Killdozer.
7. Funny, I was singing Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem" earlier today.
8. Downloaded this one after hearing in "The Family Stone." It's in the bar scene.
9. Love the original and this inspired cover, which of course included Aerosmith playing along.
10. I'm working on a list of my top favorite "Un-PC songs" for this blog. I think this one's going on the list.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spanish Pipedream

"We blew up our T.V. threw away our paper
"Went to the country, built us a home
Had a lot of children, fed 'em on peaches
They all found Jesus on their own"

-- John Prine, "Spanish Pipedream"

When I was a teenager in the late seventies, I discovered the music of John Prine. Over the years, various songs have stood out as favorites-- "Hello In There," "Sam Stone," "Paradise," Angel From Montgomery," "Dear Abby," "There She Goes" and others have been favorites. I have always been in amazement that the same guy could write songs as heartwrenching as "Sam Stone," about a veteran who returns from the war with a heroin habit, or "Angel From Montgomery," about a marriage breaking down, and then do a song as unbelievably funny as "Dear Abby."

As I've gotten older, and become a parent, the song "Spanish Pipedream" has become a favorite. Here are the full lyrics:

She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol
And I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal
Well she pressed her chest against me
About the time the juke box broke
Yeah, she gave me a peck on the back of the neck
And these are the words she spoke

Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own

Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naive
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve
Well, she danced around the bar room and she did the hoochy-coo
Yeah she sang her song all night long, tellin' me what to do

Repeat chorus:

Well, I was young and hungry and about to leave that place
When just as I was leavin', well she looked me in the face
I said "You must know the answer."
"She said, "No but I'll give it a try."
And to this very day we've been livin' our way
And here is the reason why

We blew up our T.V. threw away our paper
Went to the country, built us a home
Had a lot of children, fed 'em on peaches
They all found Jesus on their own

As parents, we think we mold our kids. But I think that the parents who read this will agree-- from the beginning, they start forming themselves. This weekend, as my son and I watched the very funny movie "Quick Change," and I saw my son laughing out loud, I realized that he laughs exactly the same way, with the same facial expression as he did when he was a baby.

One of the delicate balances that we, as parents, have to navigate is between providing the guidance we need to give as parents, while still giving them the autonomy they need to develop as people.

This started at the beginning of my son's life. Attempting to spare him the lifetime of despair I've felt as a Cub fan, I whispered to him, "Remember son: the Cubs are bums."

Unfortunately he didn't listen. He was a Cubs fan just as soon as he was old enough to pick up a baseball. He was about seven when he uttered those infamous words "Dad-- I think we're going to have to wait until next year."

When he was about eight or so, my ex and I were talking about music; both she and I love music, and he showed no interest in it. Soon, though, within a year, he started rabidly consuming music, plowing through the "classic rock" that both my ex and I love-- the Byrds, Beatles, Stones, Deep Purple and many others. I discovered that he was emailing Dick Biondi, a deejay my father had listened to in the early sixties to make requests on our local "oldies" station. I'm sure that he heard other music with his friends, but this was what he grew to love.

By the same token, my wife and I have always let my stepdaughter explore music. We've never tried to force the music we like on her. Nonetheless, we've seen her rapidly move from Kidzbop and Hannah Montana to the Ramones, the Replacements, the Kinks-- and the Beatles.

A few months back, she started listening to the soundtrack to "Across the Universe." While there are some nice covers of Beatles songs on the record, I felt like she needed to hear the originals. Despite being on a tight school budget, I got the cd sets for the red and blue Beatles "best-of" records for her. I'd grown up listening to the vinyl versions of those records. You've got to "let 'em find Jesus on their own," but sometimes you need to guide a little.

Of course, she added them to her itunes, and she and her friends listen to them and sing along to them. And now we're all eagerly awaiting the arrival of our Beatles Rock Band.

One of the other things my ex and I made a concious decision not to push on my son besides our music and athiesm-- we agreed to support him in any religious belief he developed, despite our lack of religious convictions (he identifies himself as an athiest, despite going to a Catholic high school) was politics. We'd been introduced by a mutual friend who knew that we were both involved in liberal Democratic politics. That was, of course, the only thing we had in common, as it turns out. I was a hard-partying Irish/German guy, she was a tee-tolling Chinese-American. I'd had a pretty busy romantic past, she'd only had one serious relationship. I was a punk-rocking madman, she was into more mainstream music. But we did love politics, particularly left-leaning politics. Despite this, we swore not to push our politics on our son.

I imagine that she, then, is as pleased as I am that he found his own way to enlightenment. I discovered that he's reading Paul Krugman's "Conscience of a Liberal" and his 1999 book "The Return of Depression Economics," where Krugman essentially predicted the economic crash that happened the last couple of years. We had a number of excellent discussions about both books this weekend.

Might I remind you that he's fifteen.

My father and I had a conversation years ago about parenting. He has expressed, at times, regrets about mistakes he made as a parent. He pointed out, though, that when your kids are born, you're not issued a manual. You do the best that you can, learning as you go.

In a few years, I'll be done being the parent of dependent children, and move into the world of having adult children. True, you never stop being a parent. But when you turn them loose in the world, you hope that you've given them enough guidance, balanced with enough leeway to have set them off on a lifetime of exploration, adventure, love and following their bliss. As I look into the future, into these last few years of this part of parenting, I'd like to think that if I did anything right, I taught them to follow their bliss. It's nice when some of that bliss overlaps some of your own. But it's important that they find it on their own.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Backyard Bounty

My friends and landlords Patrick and Jane did huge renovations on the building in the last couple of years, including the backyard. The backyard has gone from a barren and soggy place to a beautiful bountiful place. Here are some pictures of things that are growing in the backyard.

Every Season Has An End-- And A Beginning

"Spring brings the rain,
With winter comes pain,
Every season has an end"

-- There Is An End, by The Greenhornes, w/ Holly Golightly

On Tuesday night, I got together with a group of old friends to celebrate the recent sentencing of the guy who killed our friend Mark "Atwood" Evans in 2006. The perpetrator also killed one of his own accomplices about a month afterward because he was afraid he was going to "roll" on him-- turn him in. He was sentenced to 70 years for that killing. Seventy years without the possibility of parole.

Before the sentencing, the prosecutor had a discussion with several of us-- friends who were there at the various phases of the trial. We talked about the next phase-- the trial for Mark's murder. He told us that in the event that the sentence was high, they would consider ending the proceedings.

On Tuesday night, my friends told me that they had gotten a call from the prosecutor. They had decided to discontinue proceedings on Mark's case, for various reasons. One reason is that the sentence for the other killing was essentially a life sentence. With time credited for the two years he has been in jail awaiting trial, there were 68 more years on his sentence. He is 22 now. It is unlikely that he will live to be 89 years old in a prison. The other reason is to spare Mark's parents-- and us-- from another trial. I was only able to make it to a couple of days of the trial, but it was one of the most emotionally draining things I've ever done. Mark's trial would have been even more so.

I was, at first, unhappy about the decision. The next day, after some thought, I realized that it was the right one. The guy who took our friend away from us is off the streets forever. He will now spend his days and nights living in fear of the predators and violent felons around him. Every day of his life, he'll live with the fear my friend felt in his last moments of his life. I can't think of anything more just than that for his fate.

In the three years since his death, a lot has gone on. I have been in school in order to change careers. After prepping for it for two years, I started nursing school last week. My kids have grown. My oldest one is now a teenager, a sophmore in high school, and my younger one will be a teenager in November.

I also managed to contact my old friend Jamie, who was also one of Mark's closest friends. We had lost touch over ten years ago. It turned out that both of us had been trying to find one another. I had ramped up my efforts after Mark had died; I knew Jamie would want to know. When I managed to contact him this summer, I told him. It was devastating for him-- I'd had three years to process Mark's death. It was a fresh wound to him.

Still, it has been good to be back in touch with a guy I consider one of my closest friends. With kids now, we're not the wild boys we used to be, which is probably a good thing. But other than that, we're the same. Same old in-jokes, same politics, same fierce loyalty to one another.

When I took Psychology I in college over twenty years ago, I learned about the ideas of Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross. In 1969, she published a book called "On Death And Dying." It was about how terminally ill people deal in stages with their imminent deaths. Over time, it has been recognized that her ideas apply to grief, as well. It's been helpful in understanding how I've been feeling over the last three years. Knowing that I would be feeling denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance has helped. But knowing you are going to feel them doesn't keep you from feeling them.

I realized this week that I have finally reached the acceptance part of this.

Three years ago, I sat down and poured my pain out in this post. In fact, I had started this blog partly in response to Mark's death, in combination with an article about the death of someone I'd never met-- one of the victims of 9/11. The article was about a young woman who'd worked in one of the towers. Her parents, who were farmers, went to her apartment and gathered her belongings, including a laptop.

They waited several years before they mustered up the courage to turn on the computer and see what was on it. One of the things they found was a list of life goals. Some were mundane-- things like "Gossip less." Others were more adventurous and lofty, such as "Hike the Andes."

I was really struck by this, and began my own list of life goals. A few months later, Mark died, and I found myself falling back to that list, and feeling an urgency in accomplishing the things I listed.

Checking my list, I have knocked off a number of the goals. Among the ones I can check off:
#3-- plan for retirement-- I started a Roth IRA
#6-- start a blog
#8-- finish teaching my daughter Mel to ride a bike
#13-- get a laptop for my son Adam. I did that and then got one for Mel, too.
#20-- read a Tony Hillerman book (I'd promised an acquaintance I do that a long time ago)
#26-- eat more dark chocolate

There are others on the list that I still need to do. Among them:

#2-- buy an Airstream trailer
#11-- write at least three books
#17-- buy more art (okay, I did buy a painting for Kim for Christmas a couple of years ago, but more art purchases will have to wait until I'm done with school)
#21-- spend more time in Oakland-- again, will have to wait until I'm done with school. But I'm missing my many friends there.
#29-- end hatred and hunger
#35-- see Tom Jones perform

#1, to have enough money to pay for my kids' college, is in the works. It's one of the main reasons I'm in nursing school.

One I added later, #38, was accomplished, with the help of others-- set up a scholarship in Mark's name. This was set up last year, and this year it will be awarded for the first time.

The Mark "Atwood" Evans Scholarship

It's for an art student from central Illinois who has a GPA of at least 2.8. Hey, none of us were "A" students.

When Mark was killed, a group of his friends mobilized to help his parents deal with everything, including clearing out the building he owned so that it could be sold. His parents told us to take anything in there that had any kind of sentimental value to us. One of the things I took was the skull ash tray pictured at the top of this post. Mark had made it in a class at Eastern, and it was always sitting in his art workspace wherever he lived, including his workspace in the apartment he, our friend Dan and I shared in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighorhood in the late 1980's. I've got it next to me as I write this, a candle inside making the eyes glow, as Mark intended when he made it.

We also divided up Atwood's liquor cabinet. Social drinking was always a central part of the gatherings of the group of people that Atwood had gathered around himself. We knew he'd be appalled if the hooch was just thrown away. I left the cheap scotch for someone else to take-- but took the partial bottles of Bombay gin and Bombay Sapphire gin.

I made the decision to save them for when Mark's killer was caught and sent to prison. In college, while rooming with my now-old-friend Larry, we would drink gin and tonics in the summer. He's the one second from the right in this picture. Mark is in the center-- appropriate, because he was always at the center of the group of friends that has lasted decades. His death was devastating to us, but in the end, our group emerged closer. This group that met in the summer of our lives-- we were all between 18 and 22 when we all met-- have grown closer.

It is funny that Mark, who predicted the rise of the internet in our daily lives, has been validated. This group kept in close touch through email-- in fact, I first found out about Mark's death via email-- and then through a newsgroup we created on Yahoo. This group of friends keeps in daily touch through Facebook.

But tonight, it's a mix of the old and the new. I post this coda to the story of my beloved friend's death on my Ibook, via our household Wifi-- technology that didn't exist even when I moved into this house 11 years ago-- along with things that are as old as the hills-- by a fire, with a drink.

As I sip the last of this little bit of a bottle I knew my friend drank from, I'm reminded of a poem I first read when I was in eighth grade, in the mid seventies, Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity.

I didn't really understand the poem when I read it when I was 13 or 14 years old, but have come to understand and love it over the years. The "Macguffin" of the poem is a jar of pickled watermelon rind, which was "put up" one summer. That summer was filled with the things that friends fill the summer with-- things that are, at the time, unremarkable. The thing that we have in that summer-- infinite possibilities-- is something we take for granted then, but recognize, appreciate-- and sometimes rue-- later.

In the poem, when the writer wants to remember that summer "when unicorns were still possible," he takes out a small slice of the watermelon pickle and is transported back to that time and place.

So tonight as I sip a Bombay and tonic by the fire pit, blogging and listening to the "Atwood" Itunes mix I made yesterday, I realize that one of the reasons I loved Mark was that he, like me, looked to this day. Since that summer night in 1983 when he and I became friends, we pursued life and friendship with reckless abandon. We'd both come from difficult circumstances, as had most of the group that coalesced around him. Most of us had spent a lot of our childhoods feeling unfulfilled. At Eastern Illinois University in the early to mid eighties, we found a bunch of people who we shared the summer of our lives with and lived them with gusto. And most of us continue to let "The summer which maybe never was" be our guide.

Today, I ran into a neighbor at the grocery store; she expressed amazement that I, at my age (48) had the courage to switch careers. I've heard that a lot lately. I had to chuckle. I can't not do that. You see, I'm not ready to give up on that summer of infinite possibilities. Yes, the season has ended. Our summer has ended. But as I look around, I see that we've just moved into another season.

Earlier today, as I left the house to run a bunch of errands, I had to run back into the house and get my digital camera and take a picture of the top of my neighbor's tree. The beautiful red leaves are the first sign of autumn approaching. It's funny how trees become their most beautiful in autumn.

The reason trees "change colors" is that the chlorophyll, the pigment in the trees that is responsible for photosynthesis, shuts down, the tree starts living on the sugars it spent all summer making and the other pigments that were in the trees all along, but covered up by the green chlorophyll, become visible. It's just like us. As we enter into the autumn of our lives, the stuff we spent the prime of our lives working at starts becoming the background and the shit we worried about all the time fades. Our true colors start showing.

When I look at the list of people I assumed, besides my family, that I'd grow old with, Atwood was at the top of the list, along with a handful of others. They know who they are. I've made sure the last couple of years to let them know. This last couple of years, as I grieve him, I'm thankful for the others on the list who are still around to share the autumn of my life with.

As I accept the loss of my friend, I realize that the reason I-- and we, the whole group of us-- miss him so much is that he was always full of life and interests. Since the moment I met him, he was always full of fascination for what was possible. As much as my ass has been kicked by his death, I have not lost that. The future, as the Clash, a band that was a favorite of both he and I, and, for that matter, most of the group we ran with, is unwritten. As long as that lives within me and the rest of us, Mark will never really pass. That is the gift he gave us, and as long as we live that, so shall he live.

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity
During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer--
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was--
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

John Tobias

Friday, September 04, 2009

The New And Improved Friday Random Ten

A couple of months ago I was admiring a little Altec Lansing Orbit speaker that my wife got for her Mac. The thing is just a little bigger than a hockey puck, but cranks out the sound. I've forsworn most discretionary purchases until I'm done with school, but there is one exception: whatever change I bring home each night from my waitering job gets saved. Eventually, I bring it to the Coinstar machine in my local Jewel's grocery store. If you take payment in gift certificates for Amazon, Borders and a number of other companies, they don't charge for the coin-counting. I brought my last batch of coins in and had just enough to tack the speaker on to my last Amazon textbook purchase. My Friday Random Ten is much louder now. Rock on, Garth.

1. Up, Up and Away (In My Beautiful Balloon)-- The Fifth Dimension
2. Next Time Round- Elvis Costello
3. For What It's Worth- Buffalo Springfield
4. Road To Hell- Chris Rea
5. Corrina, Corrina- Bob Dylan
6. We Are The Normal- The Goo Goo Dolls
7. Fire On The Mountain- The Marshall Tucker Band
8. The Big Hurt- Miss Toni Fisher
9. She's A Rainbow- The Rolling Stones
10. Blake's Jeruselum- Billy Bragg

1. Okay, I know these guys were pure pop pablum. But they worked with great material-- songs from the "Hair" musical, and the great songwriter Jimmy Webb, including this one.
2. I love Elvis Costello's early angry stuff, but sometimes he cranks out a sweet little song like this one, from "Blood and Chocolate."
3. One of the best songs from the sixties about what was going on then.
4. One of two hits for Rea-- the other was "Fool If You Think It's Over" from the seventies.
5. Bob Dylan covering Bob Wills.
6. Written by the Replacements' Paul Westerberg
7. I was in my forties before I finally figured out that there's no one named Marshall Tucker in the band.
8. A hit from 1959. The phasing effects in the instruments are reputed to be the first time this was done on a recording.
9. From "Her Satanic Majesty's Request," the Stones' 1967 attempt at psychedelia.
10. "The Internationale," the EP this is from, is one of my favorite records.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

It Begins

A little over three years ago, I was laid off from a teaching job I loved. I've mentioned this before in this blog, and the fact that the same week, two other awful things happened-- my father was diagnosed with cancer and one of my closest friends was murdered in a robbery. It was, without a doubt, the worst week of my life.

After staying in a holding pattern for a year, working at a teaching job in an "alternative" high school-- a high school of last resort, for young adults who'd dropped out, been thrown out, or were going back to high school as an alternative to prison time-- I made the decision to change careers. At first, my plan was to do Pharmacy School. I started taking the prerequisites for that at a community college not far from my home.

My friend and co-worker Leslie was also taking classes at the same school, Truman College, as prerequisites for Nursing school. She had a degree in Journalism and realized the futility of getting a job in a field that, for the time being, is struggling. Since the prerequisites for Nursing heavily overlapped those for Pharmacy, we signed up for some of the same classes, so that we would be assured of having a study partner we knew. All through it, Leslie kept urging me to consider the Nursing program at our school: it would take only two years, as opposed to the six years it would take me to do Pharmacy school (two years of prerequisites and four years of Pharmacy school); nurses were in as much demand as pharmacists; and I would actually have an advantage as a male-- they were trying to even up the females and males in the program.

As it turned out, she was right on all counts and more. I discovered, after I applied for and was accepted into the program, that my being male helped me-- as did the fact that I was (at the time) nearly finished with all the other courses I needed, such as English 101, Microbiology, Anatomy I, etc. In April, I was accepted into the program.

I started last week. I have a few observations.

There were a couple of problems at first. The first day, we were informed that the clinical time (we do one day of clinicals at a hospital one day a week) was changed; it was supposed to be from 7 am to 1 pm on Thursday, but was changed to 1 pm to 7 pm. Since I work Thursday night, this posed a problem. Fortunately my friend Susan agreed to switch her Monday night shift for my Thursday night shift for the duration of the class. The second problem was a medical one. We were given a slew of medical tests and inoculations to take care of when we had orientation in early June. One of those was a "titer" for Hepatitis B. If the titer showed that you had no immunity for Hep B, you had to get an inoculations for this. The Hep B inoculation is actually a series of three shots over a six month period. The hospital has suddenly decided that we need to show immunity to Hep B. You do the math; even if you started the series of shots the next day, you wouldn't finish until the end of clinicals in December. They're working out something in this regard.

I really like my teacher, Mrs. Murphy. And I like my classmates, who are an amazingly diverse bunch: black, white, male, female, Asian, Latino, gay, straight. Six of the twenty of us are guys. Six of us are white. I am the only white male in the group. I'm pretty sure I'm also the oldest, though there is one woman who is probably pretty close. She also turns out to be the mother of the classroom bully in my daughter's class.

I can see that there is a real air of help and cooperation. We are starting to plan study groups. On Monday, we had to take slots for work in the computer lab. People were really helpful to one another, changing slots so that someone who had kids or some other commitment could take a slot that worked out better for them. These people will, I think make good colleagues and, eventually, good nurses.

I'm realizing how much my experiences as a teacher, in addition to, believe or not, working as a law clerk, waiter and restaurant manager are going to be really helpful in my up an coming new career. I'm also seeing that my experiences working with very diverse groups of people are going to help me. While the amount of work ahead of me is a little daunting, I'm really getting the feeling that this was a really good decision.