Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Season's Cheers

A few days ago, one of my classmates posted on Facebook that she was ready to see 2010 go. Putting aside how funny it is that she "friended" me a few weeks ago-- this was the same classmate I'd had issues with in clinicals all semester-- I had to agree with her. It was an exhausting and sometimes trying year. But it did have its moments.

We had a number of deaths in the family this year. In August, my son's cousin (my ex's nephew), who was more like an older brother to him, died of a heart attack. He was only 28. We also had three deaths recently in my wife's family. The most awful was the death of her cousin's four-year-old daughter, who died of complications from the bone marrow transplant she received two years ago to treat the leukemia she'd been diagnosed with before she was a year old. Her Uncle Paul, her father's brother, died a couple of months ago, and we just learned that her aunt Nancy, her mother's sister, died a few days ago.

All through the year we struggled with money problems. My wife's job is advertising related, and this is, of course, the first thing cut when the economy tanks. She had three different jobs this year. Finally, it seems that she's in a job that is in no danger of going away. Through a couple of loans from my parents and dipping into my retirement account, it appears that I'll have the financial resources to finish nursing school.

One other little blessing was that the restaurant I work at, which was put on the market over a year ago, has not been sold, and will probably not be sold before I finish school. It would be a pain to be looking for a job while I'm trying to finish school.

Thanks to some planning ahead on my part, and some good Black Friday deals, we were able to cobble together a nice Christmas for the kids. My son seemed to really enjoy the Kindle I got him. Thanks to a gift card from my in-laws and my wife, he was able to start downloading some books right away. His selections were interesting: Marx's "Communist Manifesto" and "Das Kapital," the key works on communism, and Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations," the key work on capitalism. Not surprisingly, he's thinking of studying business and economics. Oh, and he downloaded Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I was feeling a little too exhausted to feel super Christmasy myself until I saw the sight that is pictured at the top of the post. It happened a few days before Christmas. One of the two owners was hosting at the restaurant. Of the two owners, Dan is the most gregarious and friendly. You'd never know he's survived two bouts of cancer, a coronary bypass and the death of his wife. He takes every day of his life with cheer and gusto. A few nights ago, a young couple had a baby who would not stop crying. After a while, Dan asked to take the baby. Within seconds the baby stopped crying. I had to grab my Blackberry and snap a picture of this-- a guy who never had kids who is great with kids. Later, Dan told me that this always happened; that whenever there's a baby at a family event who won't stop crying, they say "Give it to Dan!" and it never fails; the baby stops crying.

When my son was a baby, I observed that he seemed to have a sense for who was a good person and who was bad; there were people he warmed up to immediately, and those he couldn't get away from quickly enough. And nearly 100% of the time, he was right about their character. And in this case, the baby Dan held was right. If there's a nicer guy on this planet than Dan, I have yet to find him or her. Even the Grinch's heart would have warmed up.

So as this year closes, my wife and I are getting ready to once again celebrate our anniversary apart; it's tomorrow, and she's taking off to Minneapolis to see her family as she usually does for the New Year. I may be going out tomorrow night with my buddy Joe, whose anniversary is also tomorrow (I was actually out with him on New Year's Eve 17 years ago when he met his wife). It's all just as well-- I'm working New Year's Eve and New Year's Day-- hopefully my last ones as a waiter.

So, to all, we made it through this year! Have a Happy New Year's!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Tale of "The Inner Light"

I'm a little over a week into my holiday break and have threatened promised to blog more often; I've even been carrying around a little notebook to write down ideas when they pop in my head.

One of the things I made time for was to have brunch yesterday morning with my best friend Jim, who I met nearly 30 years ago when we attended Eastern Illinois University together. As always, we had a great and far-ranging talk. And of course, being the big Trekkie dorks that we are, we talked about Star Trek, including Jim's favorite episode, "The Inner Light." It reminded me of something that happened about 7 or 8 years ago.

When I was still a teacher, and not a nursing student, I took advantage of the 1/2 price teacher rate on the New York Times (for now, I have to settle for reading it online). One day, I read of a huge auction of props from Star Trek-- a couple of the movies, but mostly from the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." And included in the auction, according to the article, was a specific prop from "The Inner Light;" the flute that is the "Macguffin" of the episode.

Spoiler Warning!
In the episode, the Enterprise comes upon a small object, obviously built by someone, in the middle of nowhere in space. The object has only electronics and a single item: a flute.

The object is beamed aboard for examination, and suddenly the commander, Captain Piccard is striken unconcious. He awakes-- or so he thinks-- on a planet called "Kataan." The people around him think that he is Kamin, a fellow inhabitant. At first, he is confused, but as time goes on, he begins living his life as Kamin, living with his wife Eline, and eventually their children.

As Picard settles into his life and work as Kamin, he begins to accept the life among the inhabitants, who are peaceful, intelligent and resourceful. He even pursues a hobby, playing a flute, composing a song as he becomes more and more proficient.

Over the decades, a sad fact becomes clear, something he is the first to discover; the star that is Kataan's sun is growing, and will eventually make life uninhabitable on the planet. As it becomes apparent that the people of Kataan do not have the resources or knowledge to save the planet, they do the next best thing-- create a spacecraft that will save, for some future space traveller, the knowledge of the enlightened life that the soon-to-be-extinct beautiful people led. As the probe is launched, Kamin is very, very old. The people in his life reveal what this has been. PIccard awakes and discovers that he's only been unconcious for less than an hour. He has lived this lifetime in moments. He also discovers that the flute he has been playing in his fugue state was in the probe-- and that he can now play the tune he learned in his dream. He realizes that he has become the receptacle of the knowledge, sweat and dreams-- and end-- of an entire doomed civilization.

When I read the New York Times article, and discovered that the flute prop used in the episode was one of the things that was being auctioned-- and expected to sell for about $400-- I began furiously trying to figure out how I was going to get to the auction. I had figured out how I was going to come up with the dough-- picking up a couple of extra shifts at my second job as a waiter. But in the end, I couldn't work out a way to get to the auction. I felt bad-- it would have made the best Christmas or birthday present ever for Jim.

I didn't feel as bad a few years ago when I saw a television program on that auction. It turned out that the prop flute-- which Patrick Stewart, the actor who portrayed Piccard/Kamin pointed out, was not even a functional flute, but a prop-- was one of the most sought-after props in the auction; "The Inner Light" is the favorite episode of many of the show's fans. It had sold for about $40,000. There would have been no way I could have gotten the prop. It may be just as well-- the story has become one more story in a friendship that is playing out in real life and real time, a friendship that, as it approaches thirty years, is better than ever. And that is something that even $40,000 can't buy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The "One Week In" Friday Random Ten

One week into my five-week holiday break. I've haven't actually been standing still much; I'm trying to use the break to catch up on some stuff, including reviewing some of last semester's school content-- I did well on some of it, not so well on other stuff. I will see it again in June or so when I take the nursing boards, so I need to know it.

In the meantime, I've gotten a couple of things out of the way-- big one was cleaning out my closet. I had a lot of stuff I didn't need, or at least didn't need to be there. I had a big housecleaning, in preparation for my in-laws visiting from Minnesota. I'm going to try to tackle the basement a little and the pantry a lot. Big plans.

I'm also going to try to get some reading done. I've got two books out from the library, one fun and one serious. The fun book is Dan Epstein's "Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70's." I've mentioned this one before-- my son and I went to a reading Mr. Epstein did this summer at the Book Cellar, our local indy bookstore. I bought two copies of the book-- one for my son and one for my buddy Jamie. I had to get a library copy out so I could read it myself. The serious book is one I've wanted to read for some time, Dan T. Carter's "The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics." The book was published in 1995, and was amazingly prescient, predicting the bizarre politics of hate and fear that is bringing imbeciles like Sarah Palin political sway.

Oh, yeah-- I plan on blogging some too. I mean it this time.

Today I was running around trying to get my last few things done, but took some time to run to my daughter's school and see her perform with her class. They did a nice rendition of Paul McCartney's "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime." (she's the one on the far right in the picture at the top) It's hard to believe that this is her last year at her grade school; she's been there since Kindergarten. On to high school next year.

On my way home, I was trying to get a few things done. It seemed like every idiot who couldn't drive was in front of me, and I was steadily getting more and more pissy. I stopped by the library to drop off two dvd's I'd forgotten to return yesterday, and expected to pay a $4 fine. I got to the desk, told the lady they were late, and had the money in hand. She checked them in, smiled and said "Don't worry-- no fine." My little holiday gift from the Chicago Public Library system. I grabbed a couple of cd's and a book, checked them out and walked outside. A guy pulled over, opened his car window and asked for directions to a location a couple of miles away. I was able to help him out and he went on his way with a thank you.

As I walked to my car I reflected how a kindness received and a kindness given had quickly improved my disposition. Maybe something to think about this season, or any season, for that matter.

1. Give My Love To Rose- Johnny Cash
2. Tall Cool One- The Wailers
3. Shine A Light- The Rolling Stones
4. Fallout- The Police
5. Domino- The Uptown Rulers
6. People Get Ready- Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions
7. Hickory Wind- Joan Baez
8. Looking For Lewis and Clark- The Long Ryders
9. The Goodbye Look- Donald Fagen
10. Elusive Butterfly- Bob Lind

1. The perfect country song-- a guy finds a guy dying who just got out of prison by the railroad tracks and the dying guy makes the guy promise to bring his money to his wife and kid.
2. Little-known fact-- the Wailers recorded "Louie, Louie" before fellow Pacific Northwestern bar bands the Kingsmen or the Sonics. But I love all three versions.
3. A lot of people argue that this song, the second-to-last on "Exile On Main Street," should have been the closing track, but I love "Soul Survivor" as a closing track.
4. A great, obscure early Police single.
5. The Uptown Rulers were a great ska band from my college town in the early to mid eighties. Me and my old friend Dan digitized both of their EP's from vinyl years ago. This is a great ska version of the great Van Morrison song.
7. Mr. Mayfield grew up in the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects, where I taught my first year. They were in the news lately when the last highrise in the "Greens" was vacated, in order for it to be demolished.
8. You've got to love a song that namechecks Tim Hardin.
9. From "The NIghtfly," one of my favorite albums of the eighties. The first post-Steely Dan record for Mr. Fagen.
10. A lovely little one-hit-wonder.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Christmas Break Friday Random Ten

I went today to Wrigley Field to pay my respects to Ron Santo, who was my favorite Cubs player when I was a kid. I'll post about that soon.

I finished my semester. I was a bit pissed that I missed a B-- the last rotation was brutal. But when I discovered that more friends had dropped out, and that a few more were only barely able to stay in the program, barely squeaking out a C, because of the final and the standardized test we took, I stopped my bitching. I'm sad for the ones who dropped out, and glad for the ones who stayed in. And I'm glad that I'm heading into my last semester.

On the good side-- my folks called today and offered me the money to finish school. They discovered that they needed to start drawing from their 401k, since my dad turned 72 this year, or they would start paying penalties. I agreed to accept the money as a loan.

I had a wonderful evening with my kids, who have been troopers about the time they've missed with me for the last two years. My wife didn't seem to quite understand why it's important to do the annual gingerbread house with them. But we did it, and the Christmas tree as well. I've come to realize that for a guy who was dead set on not having kids as a young guy, I've thoroughly enjoyed being a parent.

So I have five weeks off of school. I need to start hitting the books to get ready for the NCLEX, the nursing boards. I need to spend some time with some old friends who I've missed time with. I need to spend some time with my kids. And I need to blog. To that end, I've started using a little present I got from my med-surg clinical instructor, Ms. B. (the crazy French lady who is a great teacher, and who I was able to get again for this semester's med-surg rotation)-- she handed out little presents like these for good critical thinking, getting good scores on quizzes, etc. I carry this little notebook around with me all the time and now write down topics for blog posts when they pop in my head. And god willing and the creek don't rise, I'll make time to post, because I've sure missed it.

1. He Can't Love You- The Michael Stanley Band
2. Madame George- Van Morrison
3. You'll Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)- Bob Dylan
4. My Conviction- The Soundtrack From Hair
5. Simple Twist of Fate- Bob Dylan
6. Both Sides Now- Judy Collins
7. Hail! Hail!- Ike Reilly
8. Use Me- Bill Withers
9. A Pirate Looks At Forty- Jimmy Buffett
10. New Gun In Town- The dB's

1. I never noticed this one-hit wonder back in the eighties, but heard it on satellite radio a couple of months ago and loved it.
2. There's a story about Phil Ochs drunkenly tearing a sink out of the wall of the Troubador in LA when Van Morrison didn't play this song, a favorite of his.
3. In the Dylan "Biograph" box set, Dylan is quoted about this song something along the lines of "About a relationship where you're lucky to come out without a broken nose."
4. I finally treated myself to the cd of the Broadway soundtrack to Hair, an album I grew up listening to (my dad's copy) on vinyl. I love this song, rationalizing the gaudy stylings of male hippies, pointing out that the males of most species are more flamboyant than the females.
5. A haunting song from Dylan's post-marriage-breakup album, "Blood On the Tracks."
6. This one repeated from last week-- not that it's a bad thing. One of my favorites.
7. A great song from some hometown guys who namecheck some other hometown heroes.
8. One of those songs that reminds me of an old lover.
9. Jimmy Buffett gets written off as a party guy, but this song is bittersweet and introspective. And as this pirate looks at fifty (the same week as I finish nursing school), I think about this song a lot.
10. From "Like This," one of the great albums of the eighties.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The "Finish Line" Friday Random Ten

I woke this morning to discover that Ron Santo, the Cubs third baseman who was my favorite player as a kid, had passed away. I'll do a post on him soon, but for now, RIP Mr. Santo, and thanks for the memories.

This picture is probably the most famous of him. It was taken at The Mets' Shea Stadium in 1969. The black cat turned out to be an omen of the season. The Cubs dropped from a 14 game lead in first in August to falling behind the Mets by 13 games by the end of the season. The Mets went on to win the World Series.

I've got a busy next few days coming up. I need to wrap up a couple of care plans for school, to turn in on my last day of clinicals on Sunday. Happily, the teacher is cutting the day short, knowing we have a final on Monday. On Wednesday, I take the HESI, a standardized exam for nursing students. On Thursday, I register for my last semester of school. The good news about this is that I drew number 8 in the lottery, meaning I will be the eighth person choosing my schedule. This virtually assures that I'll get my first choice for instructors and clinical times.

And then, beginning next Friday, five fabulous weeks of break. Of course, since I will be taking the nursing boards in late May or early June, I'll probably be hitting the books getting ready for that. Can't believe the finish line is in sight.

One other bit of sadness-- I found out this week that my friend Bisrat, who I met when we had Nursing 101 together (he's the guy lower right, right next to me in this picture) has dropped out of the program. I have to talk to him to return his Maternity Nursing textbook, which he allowed me to borrow (he'd already finished that rotation, and was in the difficult Med-Surg rotation that I struggled with too), so I'll find out if he's planning to try again next year. I certainly hope so.

1. Galveston- Glenn Campbell
2. Old John Robertson- The Byrds
3. Feel the Benefit- 10cc
4. Rumble- Link Wray and His Raymen
5. Ruby Room- The Foxboro Hottubs
6. Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds- The Beatles
7. The Peter Gunn Theme- Henry Mancini
8. Walt Whitman's Niece- Billy Bragg and Wilco
9. Get Off Of My Cloud- The Rolling Stones
10. Both Sides Now- Judy Collins

1. One of many fine songs Jimmy Webb wrote and Glenn Campbell performed.
2. The Byrds' Roger McGuinn, a Chicago native, cut his teeth at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which moved from Lincoln Park to my neighborhood a few years back.
3. From "Deceptive Bends," a favorite of mine from the seventies.
4. This wonderful old instrumental was on the jukebox at Danny's tavern, on Damen and Dickens here in Chicago back in the day, and I never, ever got tired of playing it.
5. The Foxboro Hottubs are a side project of Berkeley's Green Day. The Ruby Room is next door to Berkeley, in Oakland, and one of my favorite places in the world. I posted some time ago about the song and about nearly being thrown out of the Ruby Room.
6. One of my great delights in life is that my kids love the Beatles nearly as much as I do.
7. This one came up on my shuffle about a week ago, and my son, hearing it, identified it with the Blues Brothers. It was indeed played, in one of the scenes where Carrie Fisher is trying to kill Jake Elwood (John Belushi).
8. This album, "Mermaid Avenue," keeps coming up on shuffle. Not that it's a bad thing...
9. I've read and heard nothing but good reviews about the new Keith Richards autobiography. I'll wait until after I'm finished with school. Hopefully it'll be on Kindle by then.
10. Miss Collins' version of the wonderful Joni Mitchell song.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks, 2010

I finally got a picture of myself in scrubs, which I get to wear this rotation instead of my hideous nursing school uniform. Took the picture in the mirror of the men's locker room at Mercy Hospital in Chicago.

My clinical group completely lucked out. Not only did we get a clinical instructor who is one of the finest teachers I've had the privelege to work with, but we are actually getting to do a lot of stuff. The other clinical groups, who are in other hospitals have been complaining-- justifiably-- that they're not getting to do anything. One group is in a hospital that is getting recertified, so they're hiding the students. They're watching movies, listening to lectures-- but not even going on the floor. My group each helped deliver a baby-- or two, in the case of me and one of my classmates-- on the very first shift we worked.

We've continued to rock on our rotation. I have finally mastered a bunch of skills I'd been struggling with, including taking a blood pressure. I can even get the pulse on a baby-- no mean feat, since their heartrates run between 110 to 160 beats per minute.

There was, though, one skill that terrified me, and I hadn't done it yet-- taking a blood draw.

A couple of Sundays ago, I watched up close while the person I was partnered up with, Denise, did one. She did a marvelous job, particularly considering that the patient had very small veins.

Last Sunday, as we prepared to hit the floor, my instructor rattled off room numbers and what we would do that day. And when she said "Johnny-- you've got a blood draw for a CBC (Complete Blood Count) at 10 am," I was at once excited and nervous.

My partner and I went and checked on our patient, a Chinese woman (our hospital is near Chicago's Chinatown) who'd given birth just after midnight. We split the assessments; I took the vitals on the mom, while my partner took the vitals on the baby. I told my patient that we'd do a blood draw in a couple of hours.

The mother and baby were both doing well, so my partner and I took a caffeine break. My partner that day was a woman I'd had run-in's with before. We'd not always gotten along well. Earlier that morning, I'd done her a favor that saved her from being late to the shift. I think it was the moment that she realized two things: that you've got to choose your battles, and that you never know who's going to help you out at some point. We had a good day together.

As 10 am arrived and passed, I reminded my instructor of the blood draw. She let me know she'd be there soon (she was showing a couple of other students how to give a newborn its shots, something I've already done).

About 10:15, she arrived. I'd already gathered up what I needed, with the help of David and Denise, who helped me scour the floor for the supplies I needed. I practiced tying a tourniquet on an arm on my instructor and two classmates-- not as easy as it seems. And then I grabbed my supplies and entered the room.

I struggled a little with the tourniquet, and my instructor quietly guided me through it. We looked at-- and palpated-- the two "good" veins on my patient's arm. The vein that was most visible was not the most palpable. She asked me which vein I thought was better; I told her the one less visible that you could feel more. "Okay, then, go ahead." I checked that the bevel was up and quickly guided the needle into my patient's arm. I saw the blood rise up slightly into the tube, I attached the vial and the blood quickly filled it. (Unlike the person in the picture I have here, I wore gloves-- Mediums, a size smaller than what I usually wear, so that I could get a good grip on the needle, tube, etc.) I remembered to take the tourniquet off before I withdrew the needle-- you could get a spurt of blood otherwise. I put a piece of gauze where the needle was, clicked on the little button and the needle withdrew, safely covered. My partner grabbed the needle for me and put it in the "sharps" container. I held down the gauze and put a bandage over it.

And it was done.

My instructor told me I'd done a good job, and helped me clean up the bits and pieces of paper and debris left over.

It was the thing I'd had the most anxiety, a fear, even, of doing. I'd done it quickly and flawlessly, with minimal pain to my patient. I put a label on the vial, put it in a "biohazard" bag, put it in the tube and sent it on to the lab.

Afterward, I talked to my instructor. I told her that it was like that old Peggy Lee song, "Is That All There Is." I'd had months of anxiety bordering on fear about that moment. And in the end, I'd quickly and quietly added it to my skill set. After all that anxiety, my thought was "Is that all there is? Is that all there is to a blood draw?"

I know that they're not all going to be that easy, but I know that I'll be able to do them.

Yesterday, while I was on campus taking care of some odds and ends, I ran into my 102 instructor, who was yet another great instructor I've had. And mentally, I began counting my blessings. I've had mostly great instructors, beginning with my wonderful 101 instructor, who's in this picture. I thought of the great friends I've made-- people I know I'll stay in touch with. People I've worked with, sweated tests with, people who have been there while I've crossed milestones in the program. and I realized how thankful I am not only for what finishing this program will give me regarding finances, but how it's changed me.

I thought back to the worst week of my life, over four years ago. In a single week, I got laid off a teaching job I loved, discovered my dad had a potentially terminal cancer and Mark, one of my oldest and closest friends, was murdered. I compared where I was that week, how low I was, and I reflected on this semester. This semester, we'd heard, was the "make or break" semester; most of the people who dropped out of the program would drop out this semester. They were entirely correct. Class this semester has been like "Ten Little Indians." Every day we come to class and another person or two has dropped out. My current clinical group, pictured here, has thinned out; two have dropped and rumor has one or two might drop too after this last test, which was a tough one. I didn't do as well as I wanted, but I didn't flunk it. And I'm still clinging to my "B" in the class overall. When I run into people I know from various classes, and they ask how I'm doing, I tell them: "I'm still in the program." And I'm feeling pretty damned good about it.

So on this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for many things. I am thankful that I got into this nursing program. I'm hearing that hospitals employ students from this school over some bigger "name" schools because we tend to have more skills walking onto the job than the other programs, and have a better work ethic. I'm thankful that I had the financial resources, thanks to a decision I made years ago (to start a retirement account, which I was able to tap into), to finish the program.

I'm thankful for two happy, healthy, wonderful kids who have moved into teenagehood and are still a blast to be around. They're approaching adulthood frightenly fast. I'm thankful that my son, who has missed the most time with me because of the decision to go back to school has been terrific about this. He understands how important it is to me-- particularly that it's important to me have the financial resources to make sure he doesn't have to worry about the money for college.

I'm thankful that my wife and I are employed. I'm thankful that we have an intelligent, wise and compassionate person as President. I'm thankful for the magnificent group of friends I've managed to acquire over the years. Best wishes to all of you for Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The "Leap of Faith" Friday Random Ten

Big week. I'm studying for one of the hardest tests I'll take this year-- test is on Monday. I've got care plans to do-- want to turn those in Sunday. And I took a bunch of money out of my 403b retirement account to pay some back bills and for the rest of school. Now I definitely have to finish school. I've taken a big financial leap of faith.

Had a good, if not long enough talk tonight with old friend Jamie. Made plans to get together with him over my very long holiday break (from about Dec 10 or 11th to around January 19th or so). Looking forward to both the break and to hanging out with him.

1. Flake- Jack Johnson
2. Cool Metro- David Johansen
3. All The Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts)- The Clash
4. More Than A Name On A Wall- The Statler Brothers
5. I'm Only Sleeping- The Beatles
6. Coyote- Joni Mitchell
7. Long Train Runnin'- The Doobie Brothers
8. Just Like A Woman- Bob Dylan
9. Will To Love- Neil Young
10. She Came Along to Me- Billy Bragg and Wilco

1. When this song was a hit in 2002, I had just separated from wife #2, and had fallen in a relationship with an ex-girlfriend that this song pretty much summed up. I love the line "It seems to me that maybe/Pretty much always means 'no.'" Still one of my favorite songs.
2. From David Johansen's first post-New York Dolls solo album. And a good one it was.
3. From their second album, a rip on the "punk" posers emerging from the London Scene.
4. A really powerful song from the guys who did one of my favorites, "The Class of '57"
5. From the great "Revolver" album.
6. From "Hejira," one of my "Desert Island" albums. I just read "Girls Like Us" a few months ago; it's about songstresses Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon. The author revealed that the song is about Joni's ex-boyfriend Sam Sheppard, the playwright and actor.
7. Managed to see the Doobie Brothers on their last tour, in 1982.
8. From another of my "Desert Island" albums. The song is supposedly about Warhol hanger-on Edie Sedgewick, but Dylan's denied it.
9. From "American Stars and Bars," which is, IMHO, an underrated and underappreciated album.
10. From "Mermaid Avenue," an album Billy and Wilco did of unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs. My old friend Dan had a heads-up about this album when the airline he works for shipped Wilco's equipment from Chicago to Dublin for recording sessions.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: My Cast-Iron Cookware

I've been mulling beginning this feature for some time. In Tom Robbins' book "Still Life With Woodpecker," (which will be a future "My Favorite Thing"), Robbins discusses objects. He points out that a dime-store philosopher would say that your stuff owns you-- that you orient your life toward keeping stuff-- but our stuff has the magic we impart to it. For example, the piece of the Berlin Wall that I have safely stashed away has value to me not only because it's a piece of history, but the fact that my friend Mark, who was murdered four years ago, broke the piece off for me during a back-packing trip through Europe in 1990, only months after the wall came down. It's cool to have a piece of history, and it's a keepsake of one of the best and most important friendships I've had in my life.

This new feature is also based on a conceit: that people who read this blog give a shit about my life. I think that this is pretty much an assumption between the bloggers who read one anothers' blogs.

One of the things I've thought about for my future is the possibility of purchasing an Airstream, maybe renovating and updating an old one, vacationing in it, and maybe even living in it as I get older. This would, of course, entail condensing my life, my stuff in particular, down to a minimum. I've frequently thought of how I would do this. If you had to essentially reduce your belongings to one or one and a half rooms, what would you do?

A computer, with a large hard drive would enable one to bring along tons of movies. An internet connection would increase it further. A Kindle would knock the number of books down considerably-- maybe 30 or so physical books (I'd have to have a copy of "Still Life," being as much as a totem or talisman as a book to me).

What about cookware? In "Kitchen Confidential," Anthony Bourdain correctly points out that a cook really only needs a couple of good knives. A decent set of pans, and of course plates, bowls and flatware. But one of the things I will not do without, despite it's weight and bulk, is my cast-iron cookware.

Cast-iron cookware is one of those things in life that is rare: it actually improves with increased use. You "season" it-- basically burning oil onto it in order to fill the spaces between the iron molecules with carbon molecules-- and with each time you use it, being careful to clean it with little or no soap, in order to keep from washing the seasoning off-- it becomes better. Each layer of carbon you cook onto it makes it stick less. The cast iron spreads the heat, making anything you cook on it cook evenly-- the heat is not concentrated right over the flame like in lesser cookware (aluminum-- I'm talking to you!).

The pan that is right and front has a history. I remember seeing the three-pan set for only ten bucks in the Ace Hardware on Lincoln and Diversey (despite the gentrification that overran it, it's still there, right by Delilah's, one of Chicago's only remaining punk clubs). It had to be right around 1992. I had no car, so I had it on the bus, along with a couple of picture frames-- the kind with the clips on it. I remember oiling and heating the pan, along with the other two pans in the set, which were smaller. I had to open the window in my kitchen, since the burning oil was billowing out of the stove.

That pan is one of my favorites; it has a nice thick handle that doesn't heat up too much. It's also large, making it perfect for cooking up a couple of turkey burgers, making hash browns or cooking up turkey bacon, all without burning the food.

The set is a Wagner set. The company went out of business since I bought the set, but another company has begun manufacturing it again. I plan on buying a set for my son after I finish nursing school; this will let us get it reasonably seasoned before he takes them off to college.

The pan to the right and back was from a co-worker, who'd bought a set a while back. I seasoned the set and have used the big pan a lot. I'm not crazy about it though; the handle is thin, and heats up a lot. I don't think this one will make it to the Airstream.

The big griddle probably will. I had another one that my mother had sent me, but it's been missing since our kitchen renovation a couple of years ago. It's possible it went to Goodwill by mistake. It's also possible it's in a box, buried in my basement. In any event, a while back, Aldi's had them on sale for only $14.99. They're awesome-- a flat griddle on one side, for pancakes, burgers, etc. The other side has ridges, so you can cook a steak to perfection. I bought two of them, and alternate using them. This way, when my son goes off to college, I'll have a one perfectly seasoned griddle for me, and one for him, along with the Revereware pans I grew up cooking with-- given to me by my mother and like all well-made stuff still in perfect condition.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The "Dash For The Finish" Friday Random Ten

More schoolwork today. Clinical all day Sunday, but at the end of the day, I'll be half way done with the clinicals. In three weeks I'll be done with the semester, and one semester later I'll be done with nursing school-- or at least this leg of it. I'll have to start work on my bachelor's in nursing, probably online, almost immediately after I finish. But for now, the finish line is in sight.

Looking forward to my son being here, and to a visit from our friends Robin and Phil on Saturday night. And looking forward, in a little over three weeks, to five weeks off school.

1. Hallelujah- Jeff Buckley
2. Flowers of Evil- Mountain
3. Amarillo By Morning- George Strait
4. Country Pie- Bob Dylan
5. Long Tall Sally- Little Richard
6. Isn't It a Pity- George Harrison
7. My Best Friend's Girl- The Cars
8. Pretty Boy Floyd- Bob Dylan
9. Door Number Three- Steve Goodman
10. My Sister- Juliana Hatfield

1. This song did more to spread the gospel of Leonard Cohen, it's author, than anything. And as a long-time Cohen fan, I'm delighted by that.
2. Mountain was best-known for the "classic-rock" song "Mississippi Queen," but I love this one, about a guy who comes back from Vietnam as a heroin addict, but re-enlists to go back to feed his habit.
3. A lovely song about a struggling rodeo rider.
4. From "Nashville Skyline," essentially Bob Dylan's country album.
5. I love the scene in "Predator" where they play this song in the helicopter.
6. This one was the b-side of "My Sweet Lord" in the US release.
7. From the first Cars album, which came out in 1978, 32 years ago.
8. Great cover of the Woody Guthrie classic, seems really appropriate lately: "And it's through this world of ramble/I seen lots of funny men/Some will rob you with a six-gun/And some with a fountain pen/And it's through this world you'll ramble, it's through this world you'll roam/You won't never see an outlaw drive a family from its home"
9. The late, great Steve Goodman taking a comic country turn, about an appearance on "Let's Make A Deal." Co-written with Jimmy Buffett.
10. One of my favorite songs of the '90's, by Blake Babies alum Juliana Hatfield.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflections On An Autumn Night

It's one of those perfect autumn nights here in Chicago-- they kind that makes us put up with the summers that are too hot and winters that are too cold.

The last two days I've plowed through a staggering amount of school work. Tomorrow I'll plow through some more. It was quite a week. It began Sunday with the first day of my new clinical rotation, OB. The teacher had tried to moderate our expectations; the last rotation, fewer than half the clinical students got to participate in a birth. Furthermore, she told us, because it was a Sunday (7 am to 7 pm), there was less chance-- the hospital typically didn't schedule induced births on Sundays.

It was, therefore, pretty humorous when all seven of us (two more of my clinical group have dropped out of the program) assisted in births. I assisted in two. The second one, I got to do just about everything but cut the cord. I helped with the mother during contractions and birth, did the "Apgar" assessment-- the one and five minute assessments of the newborn's well-being-- dried the baby off, checked her vital signs, weighed her, then took her to the nursery, gave her her hepatitis b and Vitamin K shots, put the erythomycin gel in her eyes, cleaning her and brought her to her parents.

Because of various circumstances, I was not at my son's birth; these were the first births I've been at. I don't know how one can see a human being draw its first breath and not be awed and humbled. It was life-changing.

In the meantime, various things have brought me some peace of mind. One of the biggest ones was a few weeks ago when Larry, one of my closest and oldest friends, finally found a journalism job, after over a year of hustling to make a living since being laid off by a major east-coast newspaper (along with most of the rest of the staff). I was also relieved to know another friend, who is prone to negativity, has a more positive outlook than he'd had recently and a plan. I was also relieved to find out that my son is addressing a major health issue that he'd ignored for a long time.

I also made a tough decision, but one that I think is right. I was faced with not having enough money to finish school, with only a little over a semester to go. I decided to pull some money out of a retirement account I'd set up about five years ago. I had long hesitated to do it, but realized that it was an investment in my future-- I can't tell you how many people, including my clinical instructor last rotation, who, like me, got into nursing later in life-- told me that I was making one of the best moves I could have made in getting this nursing degree. It means my kids not having to worry about where college money is coming from. It means not being able to retire at a reasonable age. It means being able to take vacations again. It means not living in fear every day that a car breakdown is going to throw my finances all to hell. It means being able to go out for dinner once in a while. In the end, the sum I took out is going to be trivial compared to the benefits of finishing school. And I'll be able to replenish the money pretty fast once I am working.

One other decision I made was to stop drinking entirely until I'm done with school. I had come to the realization that what I considered "normal" drinking was pretty excessive. The crowd I went to school with and hung out with when I was done drank a lot. I'd come to realize that what I considered moderate was not all that moderate, and that it was interfering with the grueling pace I've got to keep for the next six months. When I'm done with it all (god willing and the creek don't rise), I'll have a glass of champagne or red wine to celebrate and assess whether I can drink moderately.

So tonight, I'm here on the back porch on this chilly November sipping grape juice out of a wine glass. It's begun to rain a little bit. I'm feeling pretty exhausted after studying most of the day. But I'm also feeling pretty satisfied.

Friday, November 05, 2010


I started reading Garry Trudeau's "Doonebury" in 1972, when I was 11 years old. Nearly 40 years later, as I approach 50 (Mr. Trudeau is now 62), I'm still reading and enjoying the comic. Doonesbury is still smart, relevant and funny. Yesterday's cartoon was no exception (click on the comic to make it bigger).

It is astonishing to me that when I started reading Doonesbury, the comic centered around the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. Here we are nearly 40 years later, and we're involved in two wars in Asia. So many of the bad guys from that time-- Cheney, Rumsfeld and such are still around. The more things change...

The Bad News/Good News Friday Random Ten

Interesting week. Monday was a total bad news/good news day-- and that was just the beginning of the day. As I mentioned before, on the way to a very important test, a guy opened a car door in front of me and my bicycle. I was bruised and cut up a little, but otherwise okay. I got an A on the test. Anything that you can walk away from...

I was mildly annoyed by the election results, but being a student of history, I'm reminded of this: the Dems lost seats in both houses in the 1962 elections (though though they kept control of both houses). The Republicans got hammered in the 1982 midterms, when Reagan was President. And the Dems got taken to the cleaners in the 1994 election-- the "Contract With America" nonsense with Newt Gingrich. The American voting public mostly has a short memory. The GOP now owns the economic disaster they created. And there are a bunch of out-and-out nuts in that party. It's one thing to get elected, another to produce for your constituents. 2012 will be interesting indeed. Like I said, anything you can walk away from...

1. Long Train Runnin'- The Doobie Brothers
2. Back In The USA- Chuck Berry
3. Working Girl- The Members
4. Eli's Coming- Laura Nyro
5. I'm Straight- Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
6. Nobody But Me- The Human Beinz
7. Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme)- Rodriguez
8. I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)- Aretha Franklin
9. Candy Man- Roy Orbison
10. SWLABR- Cream

1. "The Best of the Doobie Brothers" was one of the first albums I ever bought.
2. I've loved some Linda Rondstadt songs, but her cover of this one wasn't one of them.
3. Loved this vid back in the eighties.
4. One of many great songs Laura Nyro wrote; I'm working on a post just about her.
5. From Richman's first and best album; many people consider it to be the first New Wave album.
6. Dave Marsh' "Rock Book of Lists" actually lists how many "no's" are in this song-- around 100, I think.
7. Discovered this guy within the last year; imagine if Donovan, Santana and Dylan had written Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues." This album, "Cold Fact" is a classic.
8. Read yesterday the Ms. Franklin had to cancel part of her tour for health reasons. Hope she gets better; she's a national treasure.
9. I love me some Roy Orbison. One of my great regrets is that I didn't see him perform while he was still alive.
10. The title is an acronym for one of the lines in the song-- "She walks like a bearded rainbow."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Close Calls

I had a test this morning, my second and last in the Med-Surg (Medical/Surgical) rotation for this semester. I needed to do well on the second one, because I tanked the first one-- barely eking out a C in our ridiculous grading scale (you can get a 76% and get a "D"). I hit the books and notes all week and into the weekend. I was fortunate that my son had a debate tournament on Saturday, so I didn't feel like I took too much time away from him. I found it humorous that I rode my bike to The Book Cellar to study, while he drove.

The extra studying paid off. I got a 47/50 on the test this morning, a solid "A," even by the inflated grade scale. It was not without a detour, though. On the way to school, a guy opened a car door in front of me. He saw it coming and so did I; I swerved, he tried to get the door closed, but the right pedal of my bike still caught his door. I was swung around and ended up coming down on my right side. Oddly, my two concerns were my bike and getting to the test. I stood up and did a quick self-assessment. The guy ran over to check on me-- he was profusely apologetic; he's a bicyclist too. He'd been watching for cars, not bikes, though. For my part, I'm usually more observant on that stretch. I was thinking more about the test and about the fact that there'd been a murder Halloween night about 100 feet from where I was riding. I realized that but for a couple of bruises and scrapes, I was all right. The bike was fine. I talked for another minute with the guy, hopped on my bike and went to school.

This last week has been a flurry of putting out fires. I'd had to run to the University of Illinois-Chicago student medical center to get a titer to check to see if the mumps part of my second MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccination had taken. It had apparently not the first time. Fortunately, this time the vaccination worked. Had it not, there was the possibility of me not being able to start my next clinical, my OB leg, on time. Oddly, the blood draw, last Thursday, left a far bigger mark on me than bashing into a car door. This happens every time I have an IV or a blood draw. It looks horrible, but it doesn't hurt at all.

Perhaps the closest calls in the last week were financial. I got a nasty email from my ex- about a medical bill for my son that I didn't know about. Because it was unpaid, she couldn't book a doctor's appointment for him. I didn't bother to remind her that she's supposed to have been paying half of all the parts of the bills that insurance didn't cover. A quick phone call, while observing under my breath what an asshole she is, took care of that. That day I also got a notice that our electricity was going to be cut off by today if a past-due bill wasn't paid. On top of all this, my last auto-pay for this semester's tuition is coming due. Fortunately, between a loan from my best friend Jim and a very good Saturday night at work, I was able to pay the electric bill and should have enough left over for the tuition payment.

Today in class, I noted that two more people, both of them young, were not there for the test; in all likelihood, it meant that they're dropping out of the program. It saddened me a little; I liked both of them. As of November 11th or 12th, I'll have exactly six months left in this program. I've had some close calls-- academically, physically, medically, financially, and may have a couple of more (hopefully no more physically, though!), but I've come this far. I'm too close to the cheese to not finish.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The "Eyes On the Prize" Friday Random Ten

Had yet another exhausting week. Have a bunch of stuff to do for school and otherwise today. Keeping my eyes on the prize-- and on the five week Christmas vacation.

1. End of the Night- The Doors
2. Baby That's Me- The Cake
3. Here Comes My Girl- Tom Petty
4. A Sort of Homecoming- U2
5. Your Love Is Lifting Me Higher- Jackie Wilson
6. Radar Love- Golden Earring
7. Thunder On The Mountain- Bob Dylan
8. Mister Malcontent- Lloyd Cole
9. The Ballad of Spider John- Jimmy Buffett
10. Can't Live- Harry Nillsson

1. That first Doors album still sounds great to me. I'm excited to hear that their music is going to be available on the Rock Band game soon.
2. This group was a great anachronism-- a girl group that formed in the sixties when psychedelia, the Beatles and Stones were all the rage.
3. Tom Petty once described his music as "disposible pop crap." Maybe, but it's indispensible to me.
4. From "The Unforgettable Fire," one of my favorite eighties albums.
5. R and B great Wilson has been kind of forgotten these days-- but not by me.
6. One of the greatest driving songs ever.
7. From the great "Modern Times" album.
8. Lloyd Cole without his Commotions
9. Mr. Buffett's cover of Wesley Allan Willis' heartbreaking tale of a bad man who reforms too late to save love. I like this song so much that I can almost forgive Willis for also having written "Muskrat Love." Almost.
10. One of a handful of hits Nillsson, one of John Lennon's drinking buddies, had.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone, Part 2

As I've mentioned before, this year, my second and final year of nursing school, the pedal is to the metal. Lots of work and lots of new things.

We had a test yesterday on pancreatitis, hepatitis and several other subjects. I got news from my friend Ricky that he had not gotten a good grade. I was surprised; I know he'd been struggling, but he'd really been working hard. I went online and checked my grade; I'd gotten the same grade as he did. I was a little shocked-- I thought I'd done well. Tomorrow, we'll go over the test and I'll see what happened.

Today, I had clinical-- the picture at the top of this post is the view from the lobby of the tenth floor, where I work. That's Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. In any event, I had a patient with pancreatitis, which is one of the things we're studying. He had a huge incision in his abdomen from a recent surgery and tubes coming out of everywhere. He's on total parenteral nutrition, has an iv for fluids (he's "NPO"-- nothing per oral-- because of his surgery). He also had two drainage tubes in his abdomen.

I was paired with a classmate I've known since the beginning of the program-- we had 101 together. She had a reputation as being a little prickly, though I'd always been able to get along with her. She demonstrated why she had her reputation; she had a chip on her shoulder big-time. I had a lot to do, so I left her to do her stuff-- nursing assistant stuff-- and I did my stuff. I don't have time to deal with her bullshit, for it is, after all, her bullshit. In the long run, she'll have to deal with it as she discovers that she has to work with other people.

One of the things I've mentioned frequently in this blog is my love of the mini-series "From The Earth To The Moon," about the American Space program. There was an episode called "Spider," about the difficulties in developing the lunar lander. In it, there's a scene in which three astronauts discussed their upcoming mission, in which they were to launch the massive Apollo spacecraft and practice separating the command module and lunar lander, fly the lunar lander around, then dock back together. There was a laundry list of things that were firsts for the space program. I felt that way today. I'd never dealt with iv drug administration, mixing a drug with water, flushing a saline lock or a heparin shot (I'd given a bunch of flu shots, which are intra-muscular, a couple of weeks ago; heparin shots are "subq"-- subcutaneous).

My patient was in a lot of pain from a huge incision, and was quickly coming due for a PRN ("as needed") pain shot, so I had to hurry. I was aggravated when I made a dumb mistake-- I injected water into a vial of mixable med, then tossed the whole rig into the "sharps" container, rather than just the needle. My instructor was okay-- she realized I was nervous and that I had, because of various circumstances, not done any of this before. I grabbed another hypo and needle and filled it up.

I wanted to get my patient's pain meds running so he'd get some relief, so we hurried. In the process, I managed to spill the cup of liquid antibiotic. I got the pain med in, flushed the lock, and got the other meds going. We went back and got another dose of the antibiotic.

I came away liking my clinical instructor a lot. She rides our asses like we're ten dollar burros, but knows when we're scared to death and to back off a little. She understands what it takes to make us good nurses, but is also generous with her praise. I know that she's one of those teachers who I'll always remember. At the end of the day, as we were leaving, she stopped me and told me I did a good job. It was much appreciated.

As I went home, I thought about it all and realized that there was a family history that greatly increased my anxiety when doing something new. Getting past that anxiety was liberating not just academically, but personally.

I came home from clinical, ate a nice lunch and took a badly-needed nap. I woke up feeling really good, looking forward to the next challenge that this program will bring me. I keep thinking about that saying about doing something that scares you to death every day. I did about four of them today. I've come to realize that in order to make the big changes in my life I desire-- a new career, and it's consequent financial security, being able to pay for my kids' college, being able to pursue some other dreams, and maybe someday being able to retire comfortably, I've got to keep stepping outside of my comfort zone. I've got so many things, so many skills to develop ahead of me-- putting in an iv, putting in a catheter, suctioning an airway-- but each time I do it and succeed, I feel a little more alive, a little more happy that I went this route. And I also keep coming back to a line in one of my favorite songs, Bob Dylan's "It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding"):

"He who is not busy being born is busy dying."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Transitions Friday Random Ten

I'm actually writing this on Saturday morning; after running my random ten on my Itunes last night, my old friend Jamie called me. His job is probably going to go away, and he wants to be ready for it. He had an idea for the future, and wanted to run the idea by me. My experience in the front-of-the-house in restaurants, including management, would allow me to consult on his project. That's all I can say for now. His idea is, like all great ideas, brilliant and simple.

In the meantime, I've got the place to myself this morning; my son is busy taking the PSAT (I'm running to pick him up at his school in a while) and my daughter is with my wife at a high school open house. Next year at this time, I'll have two kids in high school, one a freshman, the other a senior, I'll hopefully be a nurse-- and I'll be 50 years old. Lots of transitions.

1. The Rain, The Park and Other Things- The Cowsills
2. Traces- Classics IV
3. Walking Slow- Jackson Browne
4. Hey Mr. Tamborine Man- Bob Dylan
5. I'm In A Phone Booth, Baby- Robert Cray
6. Cry Like A Baby- The Boxtops
7. Hey Lord, Don't Ask Me Questions- Graham Parker and Rumor
8. She Is Beyond Good and Evil- The Pop Group
9. Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Steve Goodman, David Blue and Me- John Wesley Harding
10. Here Comes the Parade- Phil Ochs


1. I always thought the Cowsills was an invented name; there really was a Cowsill family.
2. These soft-rock guys had a bunch of hits. The singer died just a couple of years ago.
3. From Browne's great, introspective "Late For the Sky" album.
4. The late, great Hunter S. Thompson dedicated his classic "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in part to Dylan for having written this song.
5. Next time you watch Animal House, see if you can spot Robert Cray; he's the bass player in "Otis Day and the Knights."
6. The singer for the Boxtops was Alex Chilton, who we lost earlier this year.
7. Graham Parker at his best-- and angriest.
8. From the great "No Thanks" collection of '70's punk and new wave.
9. Gotta love a song that mentions two of my favorite singer-songwriters: Steve Goodman and John Prine.
10. IMHO the best anti-war song ever written-- and there have been many good ones. I've thought about this one a lot recently-- it has the line "A few years ago, their guns were only toys..." There are 18 and 19 year olds dying in Afghanistan who were 9 and 10 when that war began.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Johnny Yen's One-Hit Wonders: "Closing Time," by Semisonic

Remember in the movie "The Shining," when Shelley Duvall's character realizes that her husband's fervid typing, hundreds of pages long, consisted solely of him writing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?" Well, I came to the realization that I was feeling that way lately. In an attempt to get caught up financially, I worked 2 doubles this weekend, picked up an extra shift on Friday and of course have been plowing through schoolwork. After coming home from a great, rigorous and productive nursing clincal-- I had 2 patients rather than one for the first time today-- I took a short nap, then spent a couple of hours doing online case studies in the content area for the next test-- pancreatitis, hepatitis, etc., and cooked dinner for my family. Done. I'm sitting down on my back porch on this beautiful October night with a glass of Malbec and blogging, something I really enjoy.

In any event, most of my "one-hit wonders" were older-- sixties and seventies. I thought I'd do one from the last couple of decades, Semisonic's 1998 hit "Closing Time."

Semisonic was formed out of the ashes of the fabled Minneapolis band Trip Shakespeare in 1993. After an indie label release, they put out a record on major label MCA. They found chart success with "Closing Time, from their second major label release, "Feeling Strangely Fine."

I can't tell you how much I love this song. While I was never into picking up people at bars, I did love the social life I had-- great times, great conversations. And I did meet a couple of the great loves of my life in bars. This song brings me back to those times and places-- places that are mostly gone, and some people who are gone. Also, this song holds a special place in my heart for bringing me a moment of much-needed levity the summer of 1998.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Marathon Friday Random Ten

Another grueling week. I'm not complaining. Had a good talk tonight with my old friend Jamie, my friend who I got back in touch with last year after losing track of him for over ten years. He reminded me that going to nursing school was one of the best things I've ever done, and that when it's all done, it'll be pretty satisfying.

Yesterday in clinicals, my patient was a 92 year old woman who had survived the holocaust. She was hard of hearing, and initially not very cooperative. After a little coaxing, she warmed up to my partner and I, and we were able to care for her. I came away from it really realizing I'd made the right decision in going to nursing school. It sure is a good feeling to know that I can help people and make a living with it.

In the meantime, I'm working two doubles this weekend. Since I added a shift a week onto my schedule, I'm hoping that by the end of this month I can be somewhat caught up financially. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

1. Flower Lady- Phil Ochs
2. Burn On- Randy Newman
3. I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night- Billy Bragg
4. You Drive Me Ape- The Dickies
5. I'm Not Angry- Elvis Costello
6. Links On The Chain- Phil Ochs
7. Can't Buy Me Love- The Beatles
8. Tossin' and Turnin'- Bobby Lewis
9. Pusher Man- Pete Shelley
10. La Vie En Rose- Edith Piaf

1. Phil Ochs came out of the early sixties Greenwich Village scene, and stood out among peers who included Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Peter, Paul and Mary, Jose Feliciano and many others.
2. A song about Cleveland's Cuyahoga River burning in the late sixties due to pollution. A true story.
3. Wow-- Billy Bragg's lovely tribute to Phil Ochs, from his great "Internationale" EP. A rewrite of "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night."
4. Saw the Dickies in 1988, with Iggy Pop and the Ramones. The Dickies were awesome.
5. From Elvis' first album-- a really angry album. Little known fact: Costello's backup band on this album was Clover-- now known as Huey Lewis' "News."
6. Okay, seriously-- I really did set my Itunes to shuffle. Two songs by Phil Ochs and one about him. Is Itunes trying to tell me something?
7. Tomorrow would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday. Can't believe it was nearly 30 years ago that we lost him. Still miss him.
8. Love the scene in "Animal House" where this song is playing-- when they're making the "Deathmobile."
9. From Buzzcocks singer Pete Shelley's first solo album, in 1981.
10. An old girlfriend turned me on to Edith Piaf about 20 years ago. Nice to see a renewed interesting in Piaf's work in the last few years.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Long Haul

Once in a blue moon, my best friend Jim likes to tell the story not of when we first met, but his first memory of me. He hated me.

He swears it was the summer of 1983, and I think it was the summer of 1984. Regardless, I do remember the incident. It was at a party thrown by a couple of friends of ours, Kevin and Jim (another Jim, not my best friend Jim), who were both journalism students and were renting a house together. They had a party on a Thursday night; since there were no classes on Fridays in summer school, the party was well-attended.

Now to fully explain what happened, I have to put things in context. In 1984, it seems like just about every third celebrity was "coming out" as gay, whether they were actually gay or not.

In any event, I got up on a chair, made Kevin and Jim shut the music off and told everybody that I had an announcement: that I was straight!

I discovered later that my future best friend Jim turned to his friend Dan, who like Jim is gay, and is also still a close friend now, and said "Who is THAT asshole?"

Not long after that, I met Jim through Dan, who was already a friend, and we've been close friends since then. Jim later realized, when he told me about his memory, that he'd assumed I was making a homophobic statement.

After that, Jim and I were inseparable. We'd go out together, each others' "wingmen;" if there was a woman I wanted to chat up, he'd be the icebreaker, and I did the same with guys he wanted to meet. We roomed together the next summer while I was finishing up my graduate work.

We stayed in touch after college. He lived in Champaign, Illinois for years, and when he decided to move to Chicago, he took me up on my standing offer to stay with me and my now-ex while he was finding a job and an apartment. He witnessed my ex's abuse-- there's a long-standing joke we have about him not having heard her frequent bouts of screaming at me because he slept through it. He's babysat my son, and was the best man at my wedding to Kim. We've counseled one another through relationships, breakups, job losses and just about any other crisis a guy can have.

This last week was slow at work. I went to bed last night worried; I had a tuition autopay that was due to hit Tuesday morning. I was going to come up about $80 short. I'm working tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday, but by then, the autopay would hit and cost me money either through an overdraft or a penalty for having the autopay turned away. We are so broke now that even the $28 overdraft fee will cause problems.

Right before I left for class, I texted Jim this morning, asking me to call me. Despite the fact that he works nights, he was up already and called immediately (he likes to run to the gym and work out in the mornings.) I told him my situation and he stopped me; "A hundred dollars? Is that all you're worried about? For you to finish nursing school and you to be able to pay for your kids' college? That's no problem."

Since I had to run off to class and he was going to the gym and then to work, he got my checking account number and put the money into my account.

I thanked him profusely and he pointed out that he hates my ex after having witnessed how abusive she was to me, and how she still never misses a chance to be an asshole. He considered his aid to me to be a big "F*ck You" to her.

But for my part, I feel blessed that I've found some people who are in my life for the long haul. I keep coming back to a line from Elton John's song "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters:"

And I thank the Lord for the people I have found,
I thank the Lord for the people I have found.

Friday, October 01, 2010

A Quick Breather Friday Random Ten

I've mentioned before a woman I know who was a year ahead of me in the program. Right before I started, she was finishing her first year, and was able to give some good advice as far as instructors and which books to get. It was very helpful.

As my first year wore on, I would run into her. She told me that as much work as the first year was, the second year was even more grueling. I took mental note. It was good advice. The workload is much bigger than last year's. We're moving into specific content area, and it's assumed that you know your stuff from last year.

This week was exhausting, but both productive and full of good news. First, the first exam we had in psychiatric nursing had a change. When we finally had a chance to go over the first test with the instructor, the last question on the exam had the wrong answer. We had talked the entire rotation about therapeutic communication skills, and it was obviously the correct answer to the question of "What is the most important skill a psychiatric nurse can have." It turned out that all but one person had chosen "Therapeutic communication skills" as the answer. The instructor called the textbook publisher and they agreed that we were right. She dropped the question, giving me a 42 out of 49 rather than 50, and I squeaked out a B on that exam.

We had an exam on Monday, the second and last for our psychiatric nursing rotation. I got a 45 out of 50, a high B on our grading scale. On Wednesday, we took the HESI (Health Education Systems, Inc.) for psychiatric nursing. I needed to get an 850 to get all my class points that went along with it. I got an 1120.

My clinical was a lot of work, but good. My instructor is a French lady who is very funny, very thorough and very rigorous. She's the kind of teacher who expects a lot of you, but will help me become a better nurse. It was all good this week.

Tonight, my son is here. I'm whipping up a dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes, and then, I imagine, a game of "Settlers of Cataan" with my kids, and then we're watching "Pirate Radio." My kind of Friday night.

1. Song of the American Consul/Quartermaster Son- Jamie O'Reilly and Michael Smith
2. Brown-Eyed Girl- Van Morrison
3. Early Morning Rain- Peter, Paul and Mary
4. Dead Set On Destruction- Husker Du
5. It's All Right- J.J. Jackson
6. One After 909- The Beatles
7. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys- Willie Nelson
8. I'm Shakin'- The Blasters
9. I Found Out About You- The Gin Blossoms
10. I Zimbra- The Talking Heads

1. I know both of the musicians. Michael wrote one of my favorite songs, "The Dutchman," which Steve Goodman covered wonderfully.
2. I remember hearing this song as a young kid in 1967. I never, ever get tired of it.
3. A Gordon Lightfoot classic covered by the Monkees of the folk world-- a band that was manufactured, but was still great.
4. From "Candy Apple Grey," my favorite Husker Du record.
5. I always wondered if this guy was the same J.J. Jackson who was a VJ on MTV in its first years-- same name and sound a lot alike. He wasn't.
6. From the "Let It Be Naked" record-- the "Let It Be" album with Phil Spector's schlocky orchestration and choruses removed.
7. I love me some Willie Nelson.
8. From the great self-titled first Blasters album that came out 29 years ago.
9. These guys were so awesome-- New Miserable Experience was a great record. Then they threw out the guy who wrote all their best songs because he was a drunk (gee-- a guy in the Gin Blossoms was a drunk?) and he killed himself. They reformed a few years ago, but have never matched their early stuff-- this song, Mrs. Rita, etc.
10. From the great "Fear Of Music" album. All nonsense lyrics.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Perfect Autumn Night Friday Random Ten

I know I've been scarce; I picked up an extra shift a week at the restaurant-- a financial godsend-- and my school schedule has remained grueling. I've got another exam coming up Monday on all kinds of fun subjects-- alcohol and drug abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, etc. I've been hitting the books and online quizzes like a fiend all week.

Last Sunday, my son and I took a walk through Graceland Cemetery, a cemetery many historical figures are buried in. I'll post about that soon.

Like I mentioned, I have an exam on Monday on Psychiatric Nursing and then on Tuesday I start my new rotation, Med-Surg-- basic overall medical stuff. I'm nervous and excited. In the meantime, I'm out on the back porch sipping some Malbec, good tunes playing on my Itunes and enjoying this picture-perfect autumn night.

1. Cuts You Up- Peter Murphy
2. Yesterday's Not Here- Peter Shelley
3. The New Frontier- Donald Fagen
4. No More, No More- Aerosmith
5. Lose This Skin- The Clash
6. Wild Horses- The Flying Burrito Brothers
7. Rock'n Me- Steve Miller
8. Montego Bay- Bobby Bloom
9. Femme Fatale- The Velvet Underground
10. She Belongs To Me- Rick Nelson

1. It's funny how certain songs can bring you right back to a time in your life. This hit from Bauhaus alum Peter Murphy brings me back to a time I can hardly believe was 20 years ago.
2. The first solo album by Buzzcocks singer Peter Shelley, "Homosapien." I just got ahold of three songs that were on the vinyl edition, but not the cd-- thanks Itunes, and thanks Ron (my friend who is the biggest Bauhaus fan I know).
3. I sense a theme going here-- solo songs from members of famous bands. Steely Dan alum Donald Fagen's first solo album "Nightfly" was brilliant, and this song bore one of my favorite videos of the eighties.
4. Hands down my favorite Aerosmith song.
5. From the great "Sandinista" album.
6. I think I have five versions of this song. Was there ever a bad version? This one is sung by the late, great Gram Parsons.
7. Remember how huge the "Fly Like An Eagle" album was in 1976?
8. Great 1970 one-hit wonder, though I discovered when looking him up that he co-wrote Tommy James' hit single "Mony Mony."
9. Brian Eno, who produced the first VU album said "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band"
10. Great country-tinged cover of a very funny (and deliberately ironic) Bob Dylan song sung by former teen idol Rick Nelson.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm Still Here!

This last couple of weeks have been busy beyond belief. We had our first exam in my nursing class. Since I had just gotten my textbook a couple of Fridays ago, I had a huge amount of reading to do to prep for the exam and had to get online and do a bunch of case studies. It all paid off; I got an 84% on the exam. Under the grading scale we have, it missed a B by one point. Turns out, though, that it was one of the highest grades in the class; nearly the whole nursing class-- by that, I mean every second year nursing student. Nearly the whole sophmore class tanked the exam. The average was 78%. I'm not concerned about the C; generally, my first exam of the semester is my lowest. As I get to know the teacher and the material better, my grades tend to improve.

In the meantime, I have a bunch of work to do in the next couple of days for my first clinical rotation, psychiatric nursing, which is almost over. Somewhere in there, I had some work to do to prepare for my wife's birthday, which is today. A few weeks ago, she dropped her Iphone and cracked the faceplate. Since she couldn't afford to have the faceplate fixed, she talked ATT into giving her a Blackberry to replace it. However, she was very, very unhappy with the Blackberry. Fortunately, I was able to find a place to fix the faceplate for a reasonable cost, and I seripticiously had it fixed. We gave it to her this morning, and she was delighted. The bonus is that she's going to give me the Blackberry, which I think I'll find very handy-- I frequently have to send long text-messages to classmates. We're going to switch the phones over tomorrow.

Friday, I'm hoping to have a real post. In the meantime, I'm just posting a picture of the Green Mill, a tavern just a couple of blocks from my school, in the Uptown neighborhood. It was was once owned by Al Capone, who also hung out there; if you peek inside, you'll see the booth he held court in. It's the only booth that faces toward the door.

The Green Mill has been in at least two movies. In Michael Mann's 1981 movie "Thief," it is the tavern that the lead character, portrayed by James Caan, hangs out at. In Stephen Frears' 2000 movie "High Fidelity," there's a scene where John Cusack's character Rob has a drink with his sister, portrayed by his real-life sister Joan.

And in my real life, it was where I had my first date with Cynthia, in 1992, who eventually became my second wife.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Anxieties and Goals

This weekend, things slowly returned to normal around here. My mother-in-law returned to Minneapolis, to a husband with a new knee.

The week preceding it had been a little stressful. My son's insurance autopay hits at the beginning of the month-- as does my tuition payment and rent. Somehow I pulled more than a thousand bucks out of my ass-- some good shifts, and a couple of picked-up shifts helped a great deal. As the final week of my mother-in-law's stay coincided with my second week back to school, I felt the grind.

Kim and Mel drove my mother-in-law back to Minneapolis, leaving Adam and I to have a guy's weekend here. I switched shifts with a friend of mine, so I worked Friday instead of Saturday, so that we had a rare Saturday night together. Adam had mentioned how it was in the old days, when it was just he and I; I'd buy cheese pizzas at Aldi's and we'd make our own pizzas, custom-topping it with our chosen ingredients. I got him a cheese pizza, and got myself the gluten-free pizza crusts that the Jewel's grocery store near our home now sells, and we went to town, topping our pizzas with turkey italian sausage, turkey pepperoni, veggies and a bunch of other healthy goodies; we've made an agreement to both lose weight, and I have to get my blood pressure down, before my doctor carries out her threat to put me on blood pressure meds. We ate our dinner and then streamed a Netflix movie we'd chosen.

He went back to his mother's house on Sunday, and on Monday I had something I hadn't had in ages: a day to myself.

I knew I should have been studying-- my textbook finally arrived on Friday, but I took a little time to kick back, get some stuff done around here and indulge a little in watching "Pawn Stars" (or, as my son calls it, "White Trash Antiques Road Show") on the History Channel.

As I got ready to finally sit down and study last night, I recognized the I had a pretty high level of anxiety. I took a half-hour walk in the lovely, cool Chicago evening, musing about the changes in the neighborhood in the last 24 years I've mostly lived here, and in the changes in my life. Fatherhood, unexpected career paths, old friendships that have grown stronger, new friendships, relationships, marriages. As I count down the months to my 50th birthday, which will coincide with finishing nursing school-- the same damned week, can you believe it?-- I'm alternately amazed and amused at the path my life has taken. I've quoted my old friend Michael before on this, and it bears repeating: "You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans."

When I got home, I cracked my textbook, looking in the syllabus to see what I needed to read for Wednesday's class. I had to laugh out loud; it was the chapter on anxiety and anxiety meds.

A couple of years ago, when Cubs great Ryne Sandberg was inducted to the hall of fame, he was interviewed. He talked about a period of a couple of years when he left the game because of marital problems. He talked about how through his whole career, he would get butterflies in his stomach before each game. When that stopped, he knew his passion for the game had left. He took the time off, straightened out his situation and came back. The butterflies returned.

After I read and synthesized the material, I realized that I felt this way at the start of every class, and when cracking open every textbook. I have the irrational fear that I'm going to read it and not get it. And of course I always get the material in the end. And I know that it'll keep happening through the end of school.

Today, I had clinicals. I worked with a severely mentally ill patient, who I'll be working with for the next few weeks. On the way home, I talked to a classmate whom I catch a ride with every day about it all. We talked about the financial stresses this has caused each of us, what we sacrificed in time with our respective spouses and our kids, and sleep and everything else. And we both realized that we had no regrets whatsoever. In every regard, we had made the right decision to do this, from the standpoint of job satisfaction, economic future, job security, passion for what we do.

This journey, this path I've chosen, this decision I made over three years ago to get into the medical field is now within sight. A little over 29 weeks of school; 9 months of time. There are going to be some more months of pulling off financial miracles, some more time lost with my family, more lost sleep, more anxiety. But in the end, I"m confident I'll pull it off. In the end, there's a career in a field that not only fascinates me, but will give me the financial resources to fulfill the life goals that will require financial resources, and give me the peace of mind to pursue the ones that don't. And in the end, I realize that the sacrifices I made to do it will make it mean that much more to me.