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.