Daily Miracle


Let me start by describing how a typical day for me begins:

I wake up, stiff and rigid and most mornings sore, but not too bad. I move slowly, and that has nothing to do with being or not being a morning or a night person or how much sleep I did or didn’t get, it’s just the speed I move at.

I’m usually up between 6:30 and 7:00.  I shuffle downstairs, take my morning Parkinson’s meds and my heart meds and my acid reflux pill – it borders on the ridiculous, the desktop in my office looks like a pharmacy – and grab a cup of coffee and see my wife off to work.  Then I go in my office and log on to the computer, checking out e-mail and Facebook and reviewing any writing I may have done the night before.  The point here is to kill enough time, thirty to sixty minutes, to allow my Carbidopa / Levodopa pills to kick in.  Until they do, the rigidity is pretty bad, and I feel pretty crappy, and a little bit nauseous until I eat something.  I’ve found that waiting a half hour to an hour after taking my morning blends of pills and caffeine before eating seems to work best, and I usually have something very light, like a cereal bar or a clementine and a glass of juice.

Then the “dopas” kick in and most of my rigidity goes away, and I’m loose, too loose.  I flop around the house, my head bent over my torso like Groucho Marx, and my legs try to keep up with my head and the more they try to keep up the more they fall behind and the more out of control I become, my momentum finally stopped by  crashing into walls and doorways.  I overshoot targets and narrowly dodge furniture.

Then, at about nine or ten o’clock, I get up and get in my car and drive myself the seven miles to the hospital in Kenosha where, just about a year ago now, I underwent triple bypass surgery.  As a result of being a Cardiac Kid, a member of the heart disease fraternity, I am eligible (for a reduced annual fee) to use the rehab center at Kenosha Memorial Hospital. I go every day and work out for an hour to an hour and a half, and almost every morning, when I get up, I don’t feel like going. But I drag myself up and out of the house five or six days a week, reminding myself how out of shape I was in when my heart issues hit last year, and how much I want to avoid a repeat of that whole experience.

So I get there and I work out.  I still start by loosening up with the same basic stretches and hand weights I learned when I was still recovering from the surgery. I know from a cardio pulmonary standpoint they aren’t required anymore, but they loosen me up and shake off some of the residual Parkinson’s rigidity, and while I can’t quantify it, I believe they’ve helped me increase my range of motion.

Then I do thirty minutes on a treadmill, every now and then graduating to an increased incline and speed. I’ve kind of reached a limit on these settings due to my floppiness – often tines, the first ten minutes or so are dominated by my stooped posture and impaired balance, and it can be a struggle to keep up.

Then, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I hit the weights.  There are seven machines I do twenty reps of differing weights. I only do these every other day to give my muscles a day to rest.  I find my strength has increased since last summer when I started – recently, less dramatically and slower than at first, but still increasing nonetheless.

Then I do one last activity, experimenting on different equipment, recently settling on a rowing machine, which I currently do five minutes on every day, counting in my head the number of strokes I pull.  At first, the five minutes was wiping me out, but now, I set a personal best on the number of strokes almost every day, and even though I’m doing more faster, I’m not nearly as fatigued as I was at first, and soon I will up the number of minutes,

Then I cool down by walking a few laps on the corridor surrounding the facility when it happens.  Every day, at some point, I notice that I’m walking in a straight line, with my arms swinging, my head erect.  None of the stooped posture and flopping around like a fish on the end of a line. For at least an hour, on good days up to two or even three hours after exercising, I move about normally, and while Parkinson’s still annoys me with constant salivation and impaired speech and incomprehensible handwriting, its primary symptom, the impact on moving, is gone.

The really great thing is that every day, at some point, usually while still walking my laps, I become aware of this phenomenon, this daily miracle, and every day, I am truly appreciative and thankful for its occurrence.  I don’t know how long this will continue, if eventually it won’t occur anymore, but for now I could care less.  All I know is that when it does occur, I feel amazed and blessed, and for that moment, I take nothing for granted.

                Don’t it always seem as though /  You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone

–  Joni Mitchell

Parkinson’s disease sucks and I wish I didn’t have it.  I have to confess I ask myself, more often than I should, why me?  Pure bad luck is the best answer I’ve come up with so far.

But then I ask myself, how many other people are made aware of how beautiful and wonderful the ability to simply move freely is, and I realize that luck, good or bad, is a double edged sword, and that curses and blessings are often wrapped in the same package.

The Temple of Air


One of my favorite books is The Temple of Air, a collection of interwoven short stories by the Chicago writer, Patricia Ann McNair.  The book continues to have an impact on me because of its profoundly rich and deep sense of place.  I’m finding that as I grow older my relationship to places, whether it’s where I come from, where I am, or where I might be going, is for some reason becoming more and more important to me. The stories in The Temple of Air all take place in the fictional and isolated small town of New Hope, Illinois, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the town I grew up in, Union Grove, Wisconsin

But it’s not the greatness of the book or Ms. McNair’s evocative prose or the nuanced and substantive characters she draws that has me thinking about her book tonight, although that’s where these things normally end up. Instead it is quite literally that last word in her title.

Air.

This is where things get a little bit weird, and where I’m going to reveal what a real flake I am.  But I swear, this is true and real, even though I know I can’t adequately describe it, and I have no idea what if anything it means.

About a year ago, I had triple bypass heart surgery.  Although I was 99% blocked in one artery, and about 90% in a couple of others, it’d be disingenuous to call it a near-death experience. But while it may not have been in the room with me, I think it’s safe to say that death was in the neighborhood, and was on his way, in his big, blue 1969 Impala, stuck at a light with his left turn signal on, waiting for the arrow to turn green.  He was close enough for me to feel his presence more acutely than at any other time in my life.  Fortunately, everything went well, and now the old ticker is just plugging along, and having missed his exit, ol’ death is back on the outbound interstate.

But here’s the weird part, and I swear it’s true.  Ever since the operation, I’ve had brief moments, about two or three times a month, where I feel the air in a way I’ve never felt it before. Usually it happens when I step outside. I feel its coldness or warmth, I smell it, I taste it, just like everybody does, just like I always have, only stronger and deeper. It becomes overpowering.

But it’s more than that. It’s very strange. When these moments occur, they establish a connection to something and sometime in my past.  Most of the time I can’t name when or where it is, but I get the sense that it’s connecting me to some point in the past, usually in my childhood, unlocking  a  brief moment where the air felt exactly like it does at that precise time in the present. Usually the flashbacks triggered in these moments are vague and shapeless, and impossible to make out the connection, but I feel it, and I know it’s just beyond my grasp.  A couple of times, they’ve been vivid enough to present to me, like a movie playing in my head, complete scenes.

The most vivid of these flashbacks occurred just a couple of days ago, on a warm March day when I stepped outside to let the dogs out.

Suddenly I saw myself, six or seven years old, on the front porch of our house in Union Grove, on a warm spring day. And I more than just saw myself, I saw the world, through my young child eyes and body, and everything felt different, except for the air, the air felt the same, it was my portal into the past. And I walked through the screen door into the living room of my childhood down the hallway into the bedroom my brother Don and I shared.  Don wasn’t there, our bunk beds along the near wall were empty. The plastic model of the Japanese Zero plane that Don had assembled hung from the light shade, suspended by a thread tied to its front and back that was looped over the shade. It was late afternoon, the pre-dusk shadows advancing across the room.  My little bones ached, so I lay down on the bottom bunk and stared at the mattress springs of the top bunk above me.

And then I was back, fifty years later, in the present.

The title and final story in The Temple of Air is about an adolescent girl who is painfully neglected by her divorced and hopelessly shallow parents, and how she is finally able, for at least a brief moment, to literally rise above her circumstance.  I was lucky enough to have no such hardships.  My childhood was nothing if not idyllic. It never occurred to me that there were other people who suffered tremendous pain and anguish. I took my good fortune for granted, and thought no more about it than I thought about the air I breathed.

Tonight I’m thinking that when my last story is told, when air is no longer available to me, I’ll kneel before  the aggregate of all the air I ever breathed in, and I’ll rise above but not too high, tethered to this world like a model airplane suspended from a ceiling light.

 

Problem Child


The Republican establishment is beside itself, trying desperately to figure out a way to deny Donald Trump the presidential nomination. Truly mystified, they ask themselves, “How did this happen?”

Are you kidding me?  Even the Republicans can’t be that stupid.

Donald Trump is the love child of the Republican Party and the toxic wack-a-doodles known as the tea party. Having given up what was left of their virtue in return for easy votes, the extremism and radical rhetoric spawned by their unholy union has taken the form of the orange-headed fascist mutant. It’s disingenuous for the Republican leadership to come out now and blast Trump for being too extreme, for inciting violence and hatred, when their entire agenda for the past seven and a half years has been to obstruct and destroy the elected president rather than govern. Even in this past week, as they decry Trump’s unfitness to govern, Mitch McConnell announced that he will not allow a vote on President Obama’s nominee for the supreme court, despite there being no historical precedent for denying a vote in an election year, despite polls showing that by a two to one margin the public thinks a vote should occur, and despite the responsibility spelled out by the constitution of the Legislative branch to advise and consent.  But, hey, not doing his job is nothing new for McConnell.  This is, after all, the same man who said, in 2010, that his “top priority was to make sure Barack Obama is a one term president.” Given his failure in this regard, one has to wonder why he still has a job.

Obama’s approval rating is currently at a three year high.  Therein lies the main problem for both parties.  For the Republicans, it shows that all of their hate filled vendetta against Obama isn’t working, and people who don’t belong to the tea party are tiring of their antics.  This has been the one same shrill note they’ve been sounding for years now – Obama bad.  They’ve even intentionally sabotaged key legislation and then brazenly blamed Obama for is failure. One example of this:  I heard Ted Cruz, one of the most extreme obstructionists, blame Obama for cutting the military, when the cuts were actually mandated by sequesters that were part of the Cruz engineered government shutdown.

Obama’s approval rating also points to the main problem that Trump presents for the Democrats, and that is he’s not running. If he were, I have no doubt he’d sweep the floor with the puffy haired petulant little brat.  It would be the clear contrast between mature adult and spoiled child.  Obama has weathered seven and half  years of vile hatred and lies with grace, dignity and good humor, while Trump has blown his stack over a couple of soft ball questions lobbed at him from a Fox News reporter, resorting to sophomoric and ugly personal attacks.

The problem for the Democrats is they are running two politically flawed candidates, both of whom will be easy targets for attacks from the right. Fair or not, Hillary Clinton is going to have to fend off attacks against her character, as she’s already been branded as “untrustworthy.” For Bernie Sanders it will be how he’s embraced the term “socialism.”  And trust me, I know, there’s nothing really to fear in the term; that “democratic socialism” really refers to a return to a fairer economic model, where the distribution of wealth isn’t tipped to the top one percent to the degree it is today. That doesn’t matter. Any kind of nuanced discussion always loses out to the Pavlovian fear-inducing emotional responses triggered by the sound bite definitions assigned to such words.  Just as “liberal” has come to mean “weak,” “socialism” is code for “communism” and “untrustworthy” means, well, “untrustworthy.”  These one word character assassinations are extremely effective and easy, especially when relentlessly hammered into our brains.

A friend of mine posted “If voting really mattered, they’d make it illegal” on Facebook yesterday. If ever there were a year to prove that sentiment wrong, this is it. The stakes were high enough with an on-going health care crisis, global unrest, environmental disasters, assaults on individual rights to privacy, and the potential for another economic collapse hanging in the balance.  Throw in the front running candidacy of Trump and his growing fascist following, the racism and misogyny of his rhetoric, and his advocacy for violence and his followers’ willingness to engage, you have the greatest threat to American democracy in my lifetime.

Above all, Trump must be stopped.

So it turns out I agree with Republicans on something.

 

 

 

Vindication


(I’ve recently taken the first draft of my second novel, “I Don’t Know Why,” off of the shelf and started working on re-writing the second half.  Thanks to my wife for the idea that might just save the whole thing from the trash can. What follows is a brief excerpt:)

Vindication had been a long time coming.. It’d been something I dreamed of for so long that at some time, I stopped believing it’d ever occur, and  in the lowest depths of my despair I’d even joined in with the chorus of the non-believers in questioning the veracity of my recollection.

Now that it was here, in the form of the fading and weathered image of the rail thin kid with the wavy black hair and the bright blue eyes, the same eyes that were missing, that had been taken from him on that first day we met, the moment I’d so eagerly anticipated for so long filled me with an overwhelmingly heavy sense of sorrow.

Sorrow for the kid, for Sam Richter, for my parents, for Kathy Harris and Tom Musgrave and the people we all would have, should have become. Nine years came to a head and culminated in that moment on the entrance to the Orchard Depot Public Library.

I tried to speak to answer Angela, but I couldn’t. Instead I started choking on the tears that were forming in my eyes and throat. I looked at Angela, and I knew from the expression on her face that even though I hadn’t said a word I’d answered her question, and I knew this was the end of a long journey for her, too, and while the moment may have represented vindication for me, for her it was the realization of her deepest fears, and the destruction of her last and fragile frayed threads of hope.

I looked at the photo again and I looked at her, and I recognized the same high cheekbones, the same nose and chin, and the same color hair.

‘Your brother?” I asked.

She was wiping tears away from her eyes with the back of her hand, “Yeah,” she said,

“I’m sorry,” I said.