Thursday, January 28, 2010

At Night At St. Luke's

The other night...for a few moments...I was in my favorite place...doing one of my favorite things. Then I was abruptly woken up. I had dozed off to my happy place. It took me a few moments to figure out where I clothes were on a chair next to me, I was flat on my back with leads attached to my chest and side. The emergency room is certainly not my favorite place and being attached to a heart monitor and taking oxygen are not my favorite things.

It was late evening or early morning. The people in the next room, the backwash of a domestic violence incident which had taken place earlier in the evening, had awoken me. Across from me was someone strapped to a gurney...apparently someone on a bad trip. As for myself...I drove myself to the ER after feeling really lousy for the last few days, the deal breaker being a mind numbing headache and a nose bleed that would not stop. As it turned blood pressure was about to cause me to blow a gasket. We, my fellow patients and I, had little in common, except perhaps for a varying amounts self neglect and that surely none of us wanted to be there.

However, I did feel well enough to chat up one of the nurses who had been looking in on it turned out we have a few acquaintances in common and we talked for a while. I asked her about her job and she told me a few stories...I asked if she knew how long it took for a potato to bake at 98.6 degrees...she did....(I know well the sort of nurse of whom you could not only safely ask such a question but who would also know the answer). I also asked her what it was like to work in a place where almost all of the people with whom she dealt did not want to be.

What she told me really did not surprise me. She said that she does a lot of compartmentalization...that she does not think of us as Mrs. So and So, or Mr. Such and Such, or as Mr. Pierce for that matter. Instead she thought of us as the facial contusion and cracked ribs, the heroin overdose, and the cardiac case. To think of us as individuals, each with our own stories, would be too much and too draining. She told me that a degree of detachment was needed for her to effectively do her job...I found myself wondering if this approach spilled over to the rest of her life....

In speaking nurse....I found that while hers was a particular profession requiring particular skills....we all need to know when to be detached and when to be engaged as we all have to deal with people who are in places where they would rather not be. After all....we cannot always be in our favorite places doing our favorite things....

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Made With Real Sugar"

We are obsessed with food. There I said it. We are obsessed with food. I could get all Freudian with you and come up with my own explanation as to why this is the case for many of us...but I won't. But for a variety of reasons we Americans are obsessed with what we put into out bodies....but for some reason we are far less concerned with what goes into our food that goes into our bodies.

Over the last year I have had three "come to Jesus" moments when it comes to the food I eat and what I feed my kids. A bit more than a year I ago I was standing in my erstwhile girlfriend's kitchen puzzling over a carton of eggs. On the packaging there was the claim that the eggs I was about to turn into a omelet were from chickens fed a vegitarean diet. This got me thinking about what we feed chickens. Now I raised poultry when I was a kid and will tell you that chickens will eat whatever they can find...including each other...however...I made the mistake by doing a little research into what we feed chickens and cattle....well......does the phrase Soilent Green mean anything to you? In addition to feeding them feed that includes loads of antibiotics and corn....their feed also includes rendered chicken and sheep and other animal byproducts....nice.

I have friend who works in Cambridge, this leaves her exposed to all sorts of crazy is one of them; that deforestation and global warming will accelerate due to increased acreage devoted to corn production to meet increased global demand for beef. Now...I do believe that I have a God given right to my Saturday night steak...but I also know that cows eat grass...not corn...or other cows for that matter. I have rolled this idea in my head for a while...that our demand for beef is destroying the environment. Its not as crazy as it seems as Brazil is becoming a world leader in the cattle and poultry industries. You figure it out...cattle are fed corn and both require land...lots and lots of land...and what covers most of the land in Brazil? You got it...the Amazon Rainforest. What is the motivation for deforestation in got derived from raising and feeding cattle...and here we are talking about cattle ranching on an industrial scale. Maybe not all ideas coming out of Cambridge are crazy.

The other day I stood in the soda aisle at Stop and Shop and bought a two liter bottle of Pepsi Throwback. The bottle has the old school Pepsi labeling and in bold letters proclaims that its made with "real sugar." Over the last twenty to thirty years food manufacturers have replaced basic ingredients like sugar with corn syrup or worse still...combinations of chemicals and food byproducts to mimic the tastes and flavors we have come to expect in our food.

We have strayed from eating basic know...the food pyramid stuff we were all taught in school. Instead our food is processed, preserved, packaged, and premade. You don't want to read the ingredients on a can of soup or a box of crackers...let alone for a tub of butter substitute. I would actually think this to be true...that we need to pay less attention to the food that goes into us...and more to what goes into our food. Give me real sugar and real butter and vegetarian cows every time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Going Home

I have a friend who lives in a town adjacent to New Bedford who cannot understand my allegiance to my former home city. In the past, I have struggled to explain to her why I feel as I do. As reasons to like and appreciate New Bedford I point to its rich history, its great restaurants, to its interesting neighborhoods, and to the people I know who are committed to rescuing New Bedford from the fate suffered by so many other former mill towns. What I should have told her is that I the reason I feel about New Bedford the way I do is because it feels like home.

Two days ago I made a special trip to New Bedford to vote in Tuesday's special election. Yes...I am something of a procrastinator and yes...I should have changed my registration a year ago when I moved to Abington. However...Abington...despite my best where I live...its not home.

As I turned up Pearl Street, driving along Klasky Common I did not experience so much nostalgia for a certain time in my life but rather something more useful and more tangible. I felt safe and at rest. There is no other way to put it...I felt at home. Why or how this happened is a story for another day....this important thing is that it did happen.

Home does not need to be a place...I no longer reside in New can be a feeling that a certain place evokes. Sitting by the fire in a coffee shop in the historic district I realized that feeling at home is something I can carry with me wherever I go...or at least try to. This may be one more gift New Bedford has given me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

At The Klondike Derby

Up at 5:30 in the morning. Five layers of clothes. Size 36 jeans out of the closet worn to accommodate the sweatpants I am wearing underneath. One pot of coffee downed before 7:00. Standing at the local Boy Scout Camp at 8:10 in the morning. Yup....its Klondike Derby time.

Klondike Derby is an annual Scouting event that I have attended with my oldest boy for the last four years. This year's event was Aidan's first Klondike. At this event, Packs of Cub Scouts and Troops of Boy Scouts compete against each other in a several events; among them are shelter building, knot tying, and fire starting. My boys excel at fire starting...I wonder what that means? The day culminates in a sled race where the boys pull sleds (in sled dog fashion) across a field. Think sled dog race meets NASCAR meets the chariot scene from Ben Hur.

While I am not a Scouting fundamentalist, I am impressed by the dedication and devotion of Scout leaders. These overgrown kids, and I have gotten to know several of them over the years, have enriched the lives of my sons and hundreds of other boys. For many boys, their Scout leader is the only positive male role model they know.

In certain circles Scouting has a bad name. The title "Boy Scout" connotates a certain naivete and lack of sophistication and the institution is viewed by many as a relic from a bygone age best left behind us. Admittedly, the values our culture promotes; laziness, irreverence, selfishness, and cynicism, run counter to Scouting's core values. Scouting provides boys (and their parents), with another example to follow, where reverence, patriotism, loyalty, honesty, and hard work are espoused, taught, and reinforced. For my part, Scouting has helped me and my boys' mom immeasurably in our efforts to successfully raise our sons into responsible young men. boys and I are sufficiently thawed out. Their snow pants have dried out, and my size 36 jeans are back in the closet. While we enjoy the Klondike Derby, I think the three of us are happy to spend the day inside...although Aidan is making noises about building a fire. Fortunately the house has a fire extinguisher. Be Prepared.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dinner Time

I like spaghetti and meatballs for many of the same reasons I like stews and roasts; because it is a communal meal with everyone sharing in the same food and enjoying (presumably) the same meal. I had made the meatballs and sauce the night before in anticipation of severing them up last night for myself and my kids. I had hoped on Sunday, that Monday was going to be a long and productive day so I tried to have Monday's dinner ready in advance....

As it turned out...Monday was indeed a long and productive day. Abington, Arlington, Barnstable, Bridgewater, Cambridge, and Plymouth were the cities and towns I hit yesterday. While it took a crowbar to pry me out of bed yesterday I looked forward to the day ahead despite having to cover much of eastern Massachusetts. While olives, coffee, and danish made for a great breakfast (don't worry...I had the olives at least 45 minutes before the coffee and danish...) I was looking forward to dinner with my kids.

A lot of parents, I suspect, are like me, resorting to the easiest and fastest ways to feed our kids. Takeout, premade, and instant foods have become staples. A lot of nights I resort to eggs or pancakes or pasta or tacos...something fast and easy to make...But I have also noticed that I talk less and less to my kids at mealtime and that all four of us had forgotten that meal time, especially dinner time, is not merely an occasion to ingest food; its also an opportunity to share about our respective days, to converse, to talk.

I enjoyed last night's dinner not because I like spaghetti and meatballs...but because during our meal we talked, and shared, and along the way reminded ourselves that we are not four people bound together by genetics and circumstance but that we are something greater than our individual parts; we are a family.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Economic Downturns (with apologies to H.G.)

I spend a lot of time on the road nowadays. I drive past closed businesses and boarded up homes. Everyday I speak with people who live with diminished expectations and reduced hope. My visits to people's homes have confirmed what I have long suspected, that people are living in fear.

A few weeks ago I drove past a barbershop to which I used to take my boys. This particular barber had been in business for more than twenty five years and had carved out a particular niche for himself. While liked the guy, his personality has some sharp edges and was, I had decided, ideally suited for self employment. So I was surprised to see a sign on his shop window announcing that he was forced to close his business and that he was now working for another barber located in another part of town.

Curious, I visited him at his new shop and had a cut and a shave...I had some time to kill and there is something civilized about having a shave...anyway...he had told me that business had dropped off dramatically, in part, he told me, that people were getting hair cuts less frequently in order to save money. I know that in my little universe, my grocer and pizza guy see me a lot less...and my butcher almost never.

I spent yesterday on the Cape, training a new salesman, someone for whom I had worked for several years. For twenty five years he had his owned business and reveled in being his own boss. The economy and an overzealous bureaucrat undid decades of work and now he is training for a sales job.

As we drove down to Osterville, I could not help but think about how things change and how roles can be reversed. I owe this man a lot. He trained me, gave me a new profession, allowed me to do loans for my sister and for a loved one at significantly reduced cost. Yesterday he did me another invaluable service.

While chatting he reminded me that life is about adjustments and that hopes and expectations are not tied to businesses or to bank accounts or to professional attainment. Instead, hope is tied to what we wish to become and the only expectations we should have are of ourselves and of what sort of men we want to be.

Hopes and expectations of this sort can weather any downturn.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Boy, My Teenager

My apartment is quiet, the kids and their mom have left .The cake is half gone, the dishes are in the dishwasher, and the rubbish is stuffed full of used wrapping paper. We just finished celebrating my oldest son's birthday today. He is thirteen.

For some reason this feels like a landmark birthday...that something has ended and something else is about to begin. I remember him this time last year. Then I had a big boy. Now I have a young man. Watching him navigate through the school yard at pick up time or through a maze of friends and teammates at his basketball games I am impressed by is poise and his confidence. While only occasionally does he feels entitled, I cannot blame him for feeling that the world is his oyster.

After he was born I remember taking him to the window and showing him the early morning Boston skyline and introducing him to the world. It feels like yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time when he would follow me around the yard as I did yard work and we would go for rides in the old Subaru on Saturday mornings. I miss the little boy he was, I enjoy the teenager before me, and I look forward to knowing the man that he will someday become.

Friday, January 1, 2010

On New Years

Yesterday, while stranded on Route 3, I found myself thinking of the damnedest things...standing in a snow squall next to a broken down car will do that....

We are the sum total of of memories and experiences. More than almost anything else, even more than our genes, our memories and experiences define who we are. They shape us, mold us, bend us, and they inform and shape our decisions.

As creatures of free will we have the power to make choices about ourselves, how we live our lives, and who we choose to be our friends. At best...our experiences help us make worst...we reflexively follow our experiences and fall into patterns of behavior that condemn us to falling into the same traps and snares time after time. The past can be prologue if we are not careful.

On New Years its natural for people to reassess and reconsider, to look back and look forward. This is what we seem to do. We are the sum total of our memories and experiences...the trick is...I have to avoid becoming ensnared by them.