This is where 'everything else' goes.

What Do You Say?

Filed under: Baseball,Hockey,Life,Social Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 7:14 am April 18, 2009

The phone call ended a bit strangely: “I’m still short, I wear about a size 12, I am kinda blond now, and I’ll be wearing a white Nationals shirt and a blue jacket.”

This is strange because it was uttered by a friend I had known all my life. There was just the matter of the intervening nineteen years since I last saw her.

The nexus of the Facebook era and a trip to my family home brought about this strange interaction. Making it all the stranger was that our appointed meeting place was a subway platform. Oh, and one other thing. I was confronting one of my greatest personal shortcomings.

This past spring I rediscovered Facebook. I had been a member for quite a while, but my contact list remained very short. Someone cajoled me into poking around with it again, and in one short week, I had rediscovered dozens of childhood friends. My plans for a spring trip were certain to include a number of reunions. I arrived in town with a fistful of email addresses and phone numbers of people I hadn’t seen in ten or twenty or even thirty years.

And so it was with my friend with whom I would be reunited for the first time in nineteen years. When I arrived in town, I dialed my friend’s phone number. As I was dialing, my mind was flooded with thoughts of my friend’s mother. Her name was repeated over and over in my head. When my friend answered the phone, we exchanged the usual pleasantries, but immediately following that, my friend gave me the news: her mother had passed away a few weeks before. That I had been thinking of her mother as I dialed the phone was a very strange feeling. I would have called it coincidence, except that a very similar thing happened to me once before in my life; the first time even more spectacularly than this one.

We made plans to get together for lunch, but we changed them. We decided to go to the baseball game together. I would take the Metro down to her stop, and wait for her on the platform. As much as I was looking forward to our reunion, I was dreading it, too. I have no idea what to say to someone who has lost her mother. There are some things I don’t do particularly well. There are some things that I don’t do at all. This was one of them.

Back when I lived in the Washington, DC area, I played hockey on a men’s team. One of my teammates was a good friend – not only did we play hockey together, but I also hunted and fished with him and his father, and his mother was one of the people in my season ticket group for the Washington Capitals.

Shortly after I moved to Alaska, my hockey buddy’s father passed away. As I remember it now, it was very sudden and unexpected, and it happened during the holidays. I happened to return to Washington to visit my family for Christmas, and my parents told me of my friend’s loss. My mother suggested I call.

I was paralyzed. I had no idea what to say. I thought about what I would say. I thought about how awkward it would be. I wasn’t ready. I put it off for a day… and then two. Maybe tomorrow I will have some inspiration. Or courage.

Inspiration and courage never came, and I returned back to Alaska having abdicated my responsibility. I never called my hockey buddy. It wasn’t that I couldn’t have called from Alaska, either.  I let weeks become months, and months become years.

Essentially, I lost a friend because I was… a coward.

There was no turning back here. Not that I would want to; the benefit of twenty years of life experience is that you gain some maturity and coping skills. I knew I wasn’t going to be the utter idiot I had been with my hockey buddy… but the skill set hadn’t been tested in quite a while.

The day of the game, there was a bit of phone tag played. My insecurities about the situation played games with me as we traded voice mails. I imagined my friend finding the idea of going out so soon after her mother’s passing to be too much, and that I would get a message telling me that she was going to cancel. If she had, I would have totally understood. If I had been thinking, I would have known that this was the last thing she would do. Once she made a commitment to do something, there was little that one could do to distract her from that commitment.

She’s just weird that way.

Having a reunion and hugging someone that you haven’t seen in nineteen years – on a subway platform – isn’t nearly as strange as I imagined it to be. I think there are some friends that you just know so well and have such an affinity for that allows the years to melt away as if it had been nineteen days or even nineteen hours. We were so caught up in catching up that we actually got on the wrong train. We were going the right direction, but took the scenic route. It hardly mattered, and in fact, I had to make a concerted effort to pay attention to exactly where we were so we didn’t miss our stop.

We talked about everyone and everything we’d ever done. We laughed a lot. I was amazed at the details I remembered from way back. One Fourth of July she and I went to the National Mall to watch the fireworks. It was a pretty spectacular evening – there had been thunderstorms earlier, and we were soaked to the skin. As it started to get dark, the skies were filled with spectacular lightning, which brought cheers from the crowd as if it were part of the fireworks show. Finally the skies cleared and the fireworks started. They were spectacular, as they always are, and of course, the backdrop of our national monuments makes the celebration all the more amazing.

After the fireworks, we wandered back to the Metro, where thousands of us boarded the trains to head home. Every free inch of space on those cars was packed with people. Everyone was nose-to-nose with their friends and butt-to-butt with strangers. Nobody cared, it was just a part of the annual July Fourth ritual.

At the baseball game we talked about everything. As the night wore on, my friend’s voice got squeakier and more hoarse. As difficult as it was to hear her it was strangely familiar. I hadn’t remembered it at first, but it seems that whenever she and I did one of these outings, whether to a ballgame, or the fireworks, or the Preakness, she would lose her voice. I hadn’t remembered that detail until we were walking back to the Metro after the game.

As we walked down Half street there were some awkward pauses. I told her, we should get together again when I come to town in September. She said she’s really like that, and she’d like to get together with my parents, too. I told her they’d really like that.

We filed into the subway station, only to find ourselves on the wrong side of a temporary barrier. Our college-years sensibilities came to us as swimming comes to fish: we moved them and walked to the side of the platform we were supposed to be on. Moments after we did that, I heard one of the station police chastising others for doing the same thing.

Our train came, and the crowd poured onto the car. Every inch was occupied. Friends were nose-to-nose, and strangers were butt-to-butt. I said to her, “I’ve seen this movie before.” She laughed. We only had two stops on the train before she’d change trains and head off towards her home, and I would head back to Maryland and my parent’s place.

We didn’t say much during those few minutes on the train. She was looking off at nothing in particular. I looked at her face, and she had that look that you see right before someone starts to cry.

The train pulled into the station. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. She said, “I’ll see you soon, sweetie” and walked off the train.

I said nothing.

What do you say?

Wake-up Call

Filed under: Health and Conditioning,Life — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 9:11 pm April 14, 2009

The other night I was getting ready to go to bed. My going-to-bed ritual is a bit more complex than most other people, because I use a CPAP. For the uninitiated, a CPAP is a device that combines a gentle air pump and a mask to pressurize your airway. This prevents your soft palate from sagging shut while you sleep… and it is this sagging that is the cause of many types of snoring and sleep apnea, where one actually stops breathing while they sleep.

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea about ten years ago, and the treatment is one of these machines. Many people have trouble adjusting to them – when you first get one, you are often confronted with the sensation of suffocating, even though you’re getting plenty of air. Add to that the discomfort of wearing a mask on your nose, the hose that attaches to the CPAP, and the general unattractiveness of it all, and you can see why most people who are diagnosed just skip the treatment altogether, preferring the disturbed sleep and other symptoms to the adjustment period.

As for me, I adjusted quite readily, and for people like me who are able to use the CPAP device, it makes a dramatic improvement in the quality of your life. For me, the symptoms that lead the doctors to look for it were my chronic sleepiness in the daytime, and some acid reflux while I slept. Adding the CPAP stopped both of those problems dead in their tracks.

So every night for the last ten years, I’ve put on my mask, turned on the machine and drifted off to sleep. The white noise generated by the machine is soothing, and you get conditioned to the pressure… it is almost as if it is a sleeping pill – putting the mask on puts you to sleep very quickly.

I have had this particular CPAP machine for quite a while, and because the machines are quite expensive and I no longer have health insurance, I have nursed this one along for about seven years. The only real problem it has is that the on/off switch has gotten increasingly tricky over time, and I (correctly) guessed that it was just a matter of time before it failed altogether. Instead, I have taken to unplugging the machine in the morning and plugging it in at night – the machine is designed to come back on if the power is interrupted.

The other night, as I was getting ready for bed, I plugged the machine in, and rather than starting up as it usually does, the lights blinked on and off, indicating that something was wrong. I have taken the CPAP apart in the past, trying to repair the faulty switch… and I did it again the other night, hoping that I would be able to clean some contacts or work some magic, and somehow get the old machine to start.

No luck.

I dreaded the idea of trying to sleep without the CPAP, but I really had no choice. I would doze off… only to be awakened by my own snoring. After a while, I would settle  into sleep, only to wake up again, gasping for breath. After three or four hours of fitful sleep – and by fitful, I mean being awakened once  a minute by any one of the three or four symptoms that come with sleep apnea, I felt like crap, and wondered why I even bothered trying to  go to sleep in the first place.

Since I had decided that the old machine was beyond repair, I searched the Internet and found a site where you can buy machines relatively inexpensively… So I purchased a new machine, but not before having to spend yet another night without my CPAP.

If you know anything about sleep apnea, you know that whatever sleep you get is very inefficient, because while you may only be aware of waking up a few times in a night, your body actually wakes up (at least partially) as often as two times a minute. You never get that deep, restful sleep without the assistance of the machine. So four hours of half-sleep, followed by another night of half-sleep, and I was quickly falling into a hole.

I realized that I had come to depend on this machine just to have a semblance of a normal life during my waking hours. Sleeping without a CPAP has now become a virtual impossibility, because even if you can get to bed early, the sleep quality is poor, and the other symptoms, such as acid reflux are particularly uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that people with untreated sleep apnea tend to be more susceptible to a number of ailments, mostly relating to the heart, and there is very little that is good about the condition.

Fortunately, the occurrence of sleep apnea is correlated to obesity, so to the extent that one can control his or her weight, you have some control over the apnea. I have been good in the past about keeping my weight under control,  but I have been slacking as of late. The failure of the CPAP pointed out my dependence on the machine… and that I had created a lot of that dependence myself by letting the weight get out of control. By experiencing the sleep apnea symptoms, I was in essence giving myself a wake-up call… every thirty seconds, as I stopped breathing while I slept.

With all of my paperwork in hand and a freshly-refilled credit card, I ordered a new CPAP today, and as of a few hours ago, it was safely in some UPS cargo container, on its way to my increasingly sleep-deprived hands.

Once I had the order placed, I decided to take one last crack at getting the old CPAP working again. I had researched the idea of renting one for a few days, and the cost was $155, whether I kept it a day or a week. I thought that was a bit high, and if someone suggested that they’d give me $155 to sleep for a night without a CPAP, I figured I could do that… for $155. It would suck… and I would complain about it. But I would have $155.

I opened the old machine up once again, and took all of the business parts off the machine… and with a simple shorting of the switch, I was able to make it come back on. So, for tonight, I have the old CPAP, and I know the new one is on the way. My nights of terrible sleep are over… but not before I resolved to do something about it and get myself back into shape.

So while my day started with the idea of dreading the idea of retiring to sleep, I know that I now have not only a working machine, but what has (up until now) been a reliable backup.

So tonight when I go to bed, I am sure when I feel that familiar puff of gently compressed air against my flippy-floppy soft palate, I will drift right off into a mechanically-assisted slumber…

… like the Borg.

I *AM* the Easter Bunny

Filed under: Life — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 9:22 am April 12, 2009

Of the pop culture holidays, Easter has become one of my favorites. Retailers haven’t been able to find that hook that turns Lent into the consumer feeding frenzy that some of our other religious-turned-consumer holidays have. And while the religious pageantry is now lost on me, a nice dinner with family, a steady supply of (mostly chocolate) candy, and the celebration of spring… I can get behind that!

I have created some interesting Easter traditions over the years, mostly having to do with some non-traditional Easter baskets that we’ve created for the kids in the past. This year, I find myself visiting my parents in Washington, DC, and I will spend Easter with them, and my brother and sister and their families.

One of their traditions is to have an Easter Egg hunt for the nieces. When I was a kid, such an event required considerable effort and planning. A couple dozen eggs, hard-boiling, dyeing, cooling… and all of that on the days before Easter… followed by wandering the yard and hiding the eggs here and there in the yard. Today, a trip to Costco (in January, because that is when the retailers put out the Easter stuff) scores you a plastic bucket of three dozen plastic eggs, stuffed with candy. Twenty minutes in the yard, and voila… Easter Egg Hunt.

I’ll admit, some of the artistry that comes with hand-dyed eggs is lost when you substitute candy-filled orbs of plastic. But this is about the kids, and if you think back to your youth, if given the choice between a hard boiled egg that was going to be blue on the inside when you peeled it, and a plastic egg full of jelly beans, which would you choose?

So this morning, I took my little plastic bucket of eggs and wandered the back yard, putting eggs here and there. About half of them are lying in the open on the lawn, but the remaining half are actually pretty well hidden. My parents have a hedge of forsythia bushes, which still sport a fairly full load of yellow flowers. This was the perfect place to hide the yellow eggs. In fact, some of the yellow eggs have a brown-striped pattern to them – it was almost as if they made forsythia-specific camo for them. They’re hidden at eye-level for a six year old, but they’ll never find them unless they’re right on top of them.


Egg in Forsythia

I always hide a few for the adults, too. Not that the adults will search for them, necessarily… but they are so far out of reach for the kids that only daddy can grab them. One is in the crook of a maple tree, about nine feet off the ground.

Egg in a tree

Egg in a tree

Another is in the branches of a sprawling peach tree.

Egg in peach tree

Egg in peach tree

This will be fun… watching the kids search the yard in their Easter dresses looking for candy eggs.

I have only one regret – I didn’t notice the extension ladder in the yard until after I had hidden all the eggs.

Next year…

UPDATE: I got the extension ladder out after all!