Monday, May 30, 2011

Bubs and Johnny Go to Taqueria El Asadero

A few weeks ago, I was riding my bike home from my final test of nursing school, and I thought to snap a picture of this little taqueria by my home, and thought back to a moment just about three years ago.

Back then, I was still planning on getting a pharmacy degree-- my friend Leslie had just started working on me to consider nursing. If I had known that I would switch to nursing, I might have taken the easier 100 level Chemistry class. Instead, I was taking the much-more-difficult Chemistry 201, with, as I discovered, a notoriously tough teacher.

I walked out of the final knowing that I'd done well (I thought I had a "B" for the class, but it turned out I'd earned a rare "A" from this instructor). As I walked out the door of my school to where my bicycle was locked up, my cell phone buzzed. It was my friend Bubs. He and I had become friends in the previous couple of years; we'd been reading one another's blogs and realized that we had lots in common. We'd run in a lot of the same circles when we were younger (old Chicago punk rock scene) and were now settling happily into our middle age roles as husbands and fathers.

It turns out that Bubs, who is a policeman in a town near Chicago, had been at a law enforcement seminar in downtown Chicago, and had gotten out of the seminar early. He figured that since he was down here already, maybe he and I could grab lunch together and catch up, a rare treat for two very busy guys. I told him to meet me at my home, and we could walk to one of the many good restaurants near my home.

Less than hour later, we walked over to the Taqueria El Asadero, a terrific little taqueria near my home, across the street from Welles Park, where my son played little league. In the hour or so we had lunch, we caught up with what was going on in our personal and professional lives and delved into the sociological insights his and my jobs as cop and teacher, respectively, had given us.

When we parted ways later, I thought about the previous couple of years. Back then, my grief for my friend Mark, who had been murdered about two years before, was still very fresh. I'd started this blog in part to deal with that grief. In the end, though, this blog had done more than provide a means to channel my grief and frustration-- it had also provided with me a friend who I realized, as he took a moment out of his day to grab lunch with me, was going to be a lifelong friend. I was very, very happy, then, when he and his wife were able to make it to my recent "50th Birthday/Graduated From Nursing School" celebration. The bottle of Eagle Rare single barrel bourbon he got me was a big bonus too-- that and the fact that he's blogging again after about a year layoff. Welcome back Bubs!

Friday, May 27, 2011

"The Waiting Is the Hardest Part" Friday Random Ten

So I've got all my ducks in a row for taking the nursing boards. I'm just waiting to hear from the state that I'm okay. There may be one wrinkle, but some unexpected resources may take care of that. More on that later.

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, as I've mentioned before, we discovered we have to move by August 1. Having just finished nursing school (while my wife was unemployed for six months of that), we were not really in a good financial position to be putting down a security deposit and having our credit checked. Fortunately, my parents lent us the money for the security deposit for the place pictured at top. It's a building built in 1914, in the next neighborhood over from us, Lincoln Square. It's completely updated, with lots of big pluses. For starters, we'll have the second floor AND the attic, which is finished. The place is enormous-- 2,500 square feet. And there's two bathrooms. There's a nice backyard and plenty of street parking. The Lincoln Avenue bus has a stop right around the corner and there's an el stop a couple of blocks away-- my daughter will be able to take either one of them when she starts high school next year. The attic space will be just great-- we're putting the big LCD tv I got the family for Christmas up there, along with the Wii, Nintendo, etc. And I will be able to take my books out of storage and onto a shelf finally. It's almost perfect. The only thing we're missing is a washer and dryer hookup; there's a pay washer and dryer downstairs. I'll have to figure out what I'm doing with my ten year old washer/dryer set that still works perfectly. I'll probably try to sell them. I have until July 1 to figure it all out.

When I moved into this place, it was me, my four year old son and a girlfriend. 13 years later, it's me, another woman (my current wife), a 17 year old son and a 14 year old stepdaughter. As nice as this place is, we're ready for more space. This new place will deliver that in spades. It's all coming together, but sometimes the waiting is the hardest part.

1. Something In The Night- Bruce Springsteen
2. Your Saving Grace- The Steve Miller Band
3. Heroes- David Bowie
4. Wooden Ships- Crosby, Stills and Nash
5. It's Not Easy- The Rolling Stones
6. Self Control- Raf
7. I'm a Believer- The Monkees
8. Too Much Information- The Police
9. What's On My Mind- Kansas
10. Give Me An Inch- Robert Palmer

1. "When we found the things we loved, they were crushed and dying in the dirt."
2. The title track from a 1970 album
3. Co-written by Brian Eno
4. A tale of the post-apocalypse
5. From the great "Aftermath" album.
6. The dark, brooding original-- not the white-bread Laura Brannigan cover that was a hit in the US
7. Written by Neil Diamond
8. Even more appropriate in these internet days
9. A big hunk o' seventies cheese-- not that that's a bad thing...
10. From the late, great Robert Palmer

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bringing It All Back Home Friday Random Ten

So it turned out that the surprise that my wife had for me at my "Turned 50/Graduated nursing school on the same day" party last Saturday was that my friend Viktor Zeitgeist, who was my partner-in-crime in the infamous "It's all fun and games until someone gets their eye put out" story, flew in on the redeye from Seattle and was sitting on my couch when I woke up-- my wife had run to O'Hare to pick him up, using some excuse about going to a farmer's market as cover. He's the middle guy in the picture. The other guy is my friend Jamie, who I found a couple of years ago, after having lost touch with him for about ten years.

Most of the people I wanted to be there were there. My friend Larry had planned to attend photography seminar in New Mexico, so couldn't be there. Dobie, another old friend, just moved to Singapore and couldn't be there. And my friend Tasneem, who lives only a few blocks from me had to beg off at the last minute because her two-year-old son was sick. Other than that, just about everybody who is important to me, including Bubs and his bride (pictured here talking to my wife).

It occurred to me that the picture at the top was the 20 year reunion of the "Olympic Beer-Drinking Team." We were dubbed that by Dobie. One night in 1991, we-- Jamie, Andreas, Dobie and I-- were in our favorite tavern, the Gingerman. Dobie was my roommate at the time. We were drinking pitchers of Guinness when Dobie suddenly called it a night. Later he explained: "When you guys ordered the fourth pitcher of Guinness, I suddenly realized that I was with the Gold, Silver and Bronze medalists of the Olympic Beer-Drinking team, and I was but a San Diego Padre."

So now that the fun stuff is done, there's a lot on my plate in the next few months. First, I have to take and pass the NCLEX, the state nursing board. Yesterday I set that in motion. I'm hoping to take the test within the next couple of weeks. Then, on May 31st, the ownership of the restaurant I work at changes. The new guys seem like good guys, and most of the changes they are making seem to be good ones. Then the big one: we have to move by August 1. My landlord is moving his elderly mother-in-law into this apartment-- the apartment I've lived in for 13 years. Kim and I looked at an apartment yesterday that is damned near perfect-- much bigger than what we have, not far from where we are now, in our price range and available a few days before August 1st. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

1. Sexy Sadie- The Beatles
2. Tulsa Time- Don Williams
3. Down To The Waterline- Dire Straits
4. Sunshine- Jonathan Edwards
5. Please Come To Boston- Dave Loggins
6. Color My World- Chicago
7. Subterranean Homesick Blues- Bob Dylan
8. Ain't Got No- Hair
9. You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory- Johnny Thunders
10. Hey Joe- The Leaves

1. From "The Beatles," aka "The White Album." I'm reading David Quantick's "Revolution: The Making of the Beatles' White Album" right now.
2. Eric Clapton had the hit with this, but I love Don Williams' original.
3. Might be tied with "The Man's Too Strong" for my favorite Dire Straits song.
4. Seventies one-hit wonder.
5. Another seventies one-hit wonder. I remember hearing a radio interview with Kenny Loggins, who said that he was frequently mistaken for Dave Loggins after he split from Loggins and Messina, and that people would request this song.
6. One of the guys from Chicago went to my son's high school.
7. Was just talking to a friend about INXS' homage to the card scene in the documentary "Don't Look Back" done to this song.
8. Finally got the CD of Hair, though I still have the vinyl copy I grew up listening to.
9. From the late, great Johnny Thunders.
10. One of many versions of this song-- the Byrds, Love, Jimi Hendrix among them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Finally Finished Friday Random Ten

About a year ago, I bought a set of postcards at Uncle Fun's, the coolest shop in the world. The postcards were a hodgepodge of goofy images: Yassir Arafat eating noodles; Leonard Bernstein in casual clothes directing an orchestra, looking over at the camera; Nelson Mandela with the Spice Girls and Prince Charles. And of course the postcard pictured here of Kurt Vonnegut.

My co-best friend Andreas (a job he shares with my friend Jim) had been telling me how much he missed me, and asking me to come out to visit him in Seattle. The fact of the matter was that I hadn't seen my parents or in-laws for two years-- I'd been to busy or broke to travel to see them, and my priority was finishing nursing school. Achieving that goal was going to open up a lot of doors and ease my money woes. So I told him that I'd mail him one of these postcards every couple of months with an update-- and that the last postcard I'd hand deliver. I mailed the Vonnegut postcard-- the second to last one-- on Wednesday, the day I finished nursing school and turned fifty.

So on Wednesday, I passed through two milestones. I turned 50 and finished nursing school. There were significant obstacles involved with both. With nursing school, it was a variety of things: my wife getting laid off when I was in my first semester; a recession that affected my own income; the unexpected rigor of the program-- my associate's degree in nursing was way harder to get than my Master's degree in Political Science. And of course, I was going to nursing school in a gang-ridden neighborhood; the corner I took this picture from has seen five gang-related shootings in the last year, several of them fatal, some of them during school hours.

And of course, my journey to fifty was filled with hazards that were mostly self-inflicted. I was an angry wild-ass and smartass when I was younger. At my thirtieth birthday 20 years ago, my friend Larry got up and announced that the turnout was so good because most of the people there (including two ex-girlfriends) didn't really think I'd make it to 30.

It's funny then that my lowest degree-- an Associate's degree-- is my most valued and hardest-earned. That middle shelf of books-- that's been my life for the past two years. Well, not completely. The friends I made in the classroom and in clinicals were too. They will be lifetime friends. We will be following one another's career progress, and sometimes contacting one another when there's a good job opportunity. These people who I studied with, commiserated with, sweated test scores with, people who came from every background, every age, even different countries sometimes-- we were bonded by this experience.

Nearly two years ago, on the first day of nursing school, my beloved Nursing 101 teacher, Mrs. Murphy, suggested we do something: to make a little nameplate that had our name, with the title "RN" on it, to help us keep out eyes on the prize. I took her suggestion that night. And through it all, sometimes it seemed like if it was going to happen, it would be a hundred years in the future. I put my little "RN" nameplate away for a while, but as the end of nursing school approached, as it became clear that I was going to succeed in this journey, I brought it back out and put it near my little work area in the kitchen. I am one test (the state nursing board) from the sign becoming a reality.

I worried a lot about working full time and going to school full time-- that I would miss out on time with my kids. I realize now that they were totally ready for whatever sacrifices they had to make. They wanted to see me in a job and career I liked. And as they approach college age, it wasn't the worst thing in the world for them to see me getting a college degree, and to see that sometimes you have to persevere even when things don't go perfectly.

In the end, it was almost all good. There was one casualty-- albeit a temporary one. My beat-up old Schwinn that got me to class for the last few years finally became inoperable this week, when a spoke broke. Of course, it broke next to the spoke that was already broken, making a wheel that was already wobbly wobble to the point that the bike couldn't be ridden. I plan on getting the wheel fixed. But next week. This weekend, on Saturday, my wife and kids are throwing me a "turned 50 the day he graduated from nursing school" party.

They keep hinting around about some kind of surprise. I'm curious. Already, most of my favorite people in the world will be there-- my mother, my kids, my wife and most of my closest friends. And I'm curious about the gift my old friend Matt sent-- apparently he collaborated with my son on it via Facebook. I'm not sure entirely what will go on tomorrow. I do have one thing I've planned, though. One of the traditions in nursing is for a new nurse to be "pinned" with a nursing pin by another nurse. I talked to my friend and neighbor Jane who is a nurse. I've asked that she participate in the pinning ceremony at the party. But I'm going to have my mother, who came to town for the celebration, to do the pinning. You see, between her three sons, we have seven college degrees. The mother (and father) who bought her kids a set of encyclopedias before they could read, set the stage to value education. My mother never got to go to college. She was busy raising three boys and working. This accomplishment is as much of hers (and my father's) as mine, and I want her to do the pinning.

1. Eleanor Rigby- Joe Jackson
2. Birdland- Patti Smith
3. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head- B.J. Thomas
4. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues- Bob Dylan
5. Crystal Ship- The Doors
6. Mother Of The Bride- Billy Bragg
7. Color My World- Chicago
8. Hold Back The Tears- Neil Young
9. Beep, Beep- The Playmates
10. Tracy- The Cufflinks

1. One of my favorite covers of a song.
2. Patti Smith is on my "bucket list"-- favorite artists I have to see in my lifetime.
3. Guilty pleasure
4. From "Highway 61 Revisted," a tri-generational album in my family-- loved by my 72 year old father, 50 year old me and my 17 year old son. Yeah, it's that good.
5. My son was recently telling me how he just discovered that the Doors' eponymous first album was not, as he first believed, a "Best-Of" album. It's great bumper to bumper.
6. Love this song. I'm no longer bitter about the woman it reminds me of.
7. One of the guys from Chicago went to my son's high school
8. From "American Stars and Bars," an underrated album.
9. My brothers and I thought this was the greatest and funniest song ever when we were kids.
10. Seventies one-hit wonder.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The "Wrapping It Up" Friday Random Ten

I had one of my last tests of nursing school today-- one of three HESI's (standardized nursing tests) that I have to take to finish up. It was my Gerontology specialty exam. I had to get an 850 to get the full 2.5 percent of the grade it would add. I got a 1047.

Each contributes a small portion to my grades in one of my two classes. At this point, though, it doesn't matter-- no matter how well or poorly I do on the HESI's, I have enough points to pass. I'm going to graduate nursing school this coming Wednesday, the day I also turn 50. Hot damn.

The picture at the top is of my last clinical group-- my last of the program. As I said when I posted it on my Facebook page, "Yes, they are as fun as they look. And yes, I am as tired as I look." I had driven my daughter and her friend to the airport at 3:30 a.m. for their 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C., then run home, changed and run to my 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. clinical. This last one was phenomenal. My teacher, Mrs. Johnson (back, far left) was great and I was trusted to give meds, including hanging IV bags, without my instructor looking over my shoulder. My last patient, an 81 year old Polish lady who'd lost a leg in World War II as a child, was very sweet and on two dozen different medicines. As I gave her nearly 20 between her eight and nine o'clock meds, I realized that I was completely confident in it, despite the fact that she spoke almost no English.

The picture is, though, tinged with a little sadness for me. One of that group, Hannah, a very nice girl from the Ukraine, dropped out just a few days before. Her grade was right on the edge, and she wanted to drop before the grade would count on her GPA. The good news is that she plans on taking summer school and completing the program.

I'll have a post on that group soon. Remarkable group.

After the test, we all hung out and talked. I was happy to see my friend Bisrat, who I became friends with when we took Nursing 101 together. He passed the first year with me, but dropped out at the end of the first semester this year. Students who drop out are guaranteed a slot back in the next year, one of the many great things about the program. He was there to make arrangements for that. I double-checked that he had my cell phone number and reminded him that he was welcome to any of my books he needed.

I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Recently, I finished a book I'd wanted to read for a long time, Andrew Chaikin's "A Man On the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts." The Apollo program, landing human beings on the moon, inspired and awed me. Chaikin's book tells the personal odysseys of the dozen men who walked the moons surface, and the stories of those who served with them and who supported them. One story that really moved me was that of Al Bean. He had given up hope of going to the moon-- he'd been relegated to the Skylab program, a program that would not come to fruition until years later. Bean did not know that Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad had been lobbying for him. Conrad and Command Module pilot trained for Apollo 12, the second mission to the moon, with C.C. Williams, a Marine pilot. In 1967, Williams was killed in an air crash, and Conrad lobbied NASA again-- this time successfully-- to bring Bean on board. Bean had been one of Conrad's students in flight school in 1960, and had impressed Conrad with the tenacity with which he approached problems, refusing to give up until the problem was solved.

While Dick Gordon circled the moon in the Command Module, Pete Conrad and Al Bean became the third and fourth people to walk the moon's surface. Later, Bean would remember that on the way home, he had a sense of accomplishment, but that a feeling of camaraderie and friendship with Conrad and Gordon-- friendships that lasted a lifetime-- was the strongest feeling.

These people whom I've accomplished this over the last few years-- sweated test results, overcome our fears to do things we never thought we were capable of, surviving personal, professional and financial crises together-- I know that I've bonded with them. I know that years after I start my nursing career, I'll still be friends with some, and always think fondly of all of them.

1. Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go- Soft Cell
2. Ring Of Fire- Johnny Cash
3. Texas Pulka- Jon Wayne Texas Funeral
4. Rats In the Cellar- Aerosmith
5. Carol- Chuck Berry
6. Flying Sorcery- Al Stewart
7. Hey Nineteen- Steely Dan
8. Dance Hall Days- Wang Chung
9. Blltzkreig Bop- The Ramones
10. We're An American Band- Grand Funk Railroad

1. Can you believe this one is 30 years old?
2.I saw a "Johnny Cash: Live At San Quentin" t-shirt at Target yesterday. Just a reminder that I have a birthday and graduation coming up, and that I wear size "large."
3. From the funniest album that came out in the eighties.
4. Love me some old Aerosmith
5. Still wonder how Chuck Berry felt about "Back To The Future;" Chuck learns all his licks from a suburban white boy.
6. From the wonderful "Year of the Cat" album.
7. This song's really grown on me over the years. I was 19 when it was a hit.
8. When this was first a hit in the mid-eighties, I thought the line "we was cool on craze" was "we was cool on Christ."
9. This song was used in "Detroit Rock City," one of my favorite movies.
10. A big hunk 'o seventies cheese-- and I like it.