Friday, April 25, 2008


The father stood up and spoke to the college health class about his son. He told them how he was a child born later in his marriage, how when the boy was starting kindergarten, the eldest child was starting college, on the same day no less. He spoke at times with his voice nearly breaking, of how his son had been a curious child, always getting into things and running off. He recounted the story of how the boy had wandered off after mom turned away from him for 30 seconds. The whole neighborhood was out in force looking for this missing child. He was found after a short search, asleep in a cardboard box in their garage. He just crawled into it and took a nap.

As the boy got older, he became more involved in sports, with soccer and basketball being his favorite. His father spoke with a glean in his eye about how the boy was not one to take the glory, although he had the talent to do so. In soccer, he was the one who passed the ball to the one who would eventually score. The same held true for basketball. Dad recounted the story of how in one basketball game, the boy kept passing the ball to another kid who kept missing lay-ups, even though he himself could have easily scored. It was an example of the kind of giving person he was on and off the court.

The boy had his wild side too, which made its appearance at puberty. Not all that unusual. He started hanging around with other boys that did not necessarily make the best choices. Dad caught him smoking weed on one occasion. Underage drinking reared its head. His son then made a choice that would cost him his life. He chose to get into a car with a drunk friend, drive down a stretch of road at 70 mph, and they hit a curve that would hit them back. The boy was dealt a severe blow to the head from a stereo speaker, and ended up with a skull fracture, in the ICU and on a ventilator.

It was every parent's nightmare, to see your child helpless on a hospital bed, multiple tubes in just about every body orifice, machines keeping him alive. His head was swollen as a balloon is from the devastating injury. Mom is a nurse, with too much knowledge. She knows what is happening, and is powerless to do anything about it. Knowledge may be power, but in this case it was merely overpowering.

It may have been a parental instinct, it may have been from the mother's long years of experience in nursing, it may have been both, but they both knew that they were not going to get their son back. The injury was far too devastating. They approached the ICU neurologist, and told them that if they were not able to save him that they wanted to donate his organs. The doctor was a bit stunned. "Wait a minute," he stopped them. "We need to think about getting him through this." he said. They reassured him that they indeed wanted him to do everything possible, but that they wanted to make it clear that if all failed, they wanted his organs donated.

It would not be long before the boy was declared brain dead. The call was made to the organ procurement organization, the agency that determines whether or not brain dead individuals are suitable candidates for organ donation. (They work with the organ transplant teams - doctors taking care of the patient do NOT make that determination!)

I was sitting on the side of the classroom listening to this story. I had accompanied the father as an organ recipient to tell of my experience to this class. My own experience happened 3 years prior to his. As I was listening, the bells, lights and whistles started exploding in my head. Why was this story familiar? I never met this man before, but I could not shake the feeling that I knew his son. Once he told the class when the accident was, only then did things fall into place.

I was one of the two organ procurement coordinators that worked on his son' s case. I was in the operating room, working the placement of his organs, and my partner at the time was working in the ICU, and evaluating his case. This was my first job here in Rochester, as an organ procurement coordinator. I did that for a year.

I am a rarity; a transplant recipient that has seen both sides of the coin. It is a bit like being the President of the Hair Club for men; I'm the president and a client. There are not too many of us around.

When his story slipped into place for me, and after he had finished speaking, I got up to address the class. At the right moment, I stopped, and told him that I think I was the other coordinator on his son's case. We both were kinda stunned for a minute, but we exchanged thanks, and I continued on.

I thought of my own donor, a 17 year-old boy that was shot to death in the same Brooklyn neighborhood that I worked in for so many years. I have never been contacted by his family, though I have written letters. This is of course, that family's choice. It can be a little disheartening at times.

As I was listening to this father's story, it made me hope that the father, mother, or whoever cared for that 17 year-old child was passing on their story, somewhere.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Four of the coolest dudes on the planet.

A little musical interlude while I compose a new post.......

"Cantaloupe Island" by Herbie Hancock.

Herbie Hancock - piano
Pat Metheny - guitar
Dave Holland - bass
Jack DeJohnette - drums

From "Parallel Realities" in 1990

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I am a killer diller.........

Back in the day, which would be BP, (Before Pong - the first video game) kids actually had to go outside in the fresh air, and play games that emanated from the 3 lb. hard drive called their brain. Growing up in NYC, there were a variety of street games to choose from: Johnny on the Pony, freeze tag, stickball, paddleball, and a whole host of others. Some of these games were entirely unique to NYC. You wouldn't find them outside of the confines of the 5 boroughs, and even then, not necessarily in all quarters of the city.

Skelly, (or skully, depending on what neighborhood you grew up in) was one such game. It required equal parts skill, luck, and just a modicum of ruthlessness. It also required a bit of skulduggery. The basic game was usually drawn on the sidewalk, or in the street in chalk as follows:

(There is usually a border drawn around the edges as well. Also, on some boards, the "2, 4, 6,8" around the "13" in the middle is not there, but the boxes surrounding it are, just not numbered.)

To learn how to play the game would take a bit of explaining. Fortunately, the web has provided a valuable resource, that will tell you all you need to know about the game but were afraid to ask.

However, there was one aspect of the game that made for fierce competition amongst the kids on the block. Skelly caps were bottle caps, the kind you got from Coke (the metal ones, as the plastic ones did not yet exist.) or beer bottles, and you melted crayons into them. This not only was a source of pride with regards to what your skelly cap collection looked like, but it also served a practical purpose. The melted crayon weighted down the cap, causing it to move more smoothly across the pavement.

For true skelly afficianados, the best skelly cap was the bottom of your school chair. It was a heavier metal than the bottle cap, and its naturally polished surface made it glide nicely. It also made for some killer moves, as its weight could blow other players right off the board. The skulduggery part came in when trying to pry the bottom off the chair; teachers normally took an ill view of such things. Destruction of school property aside, it left a lot of chairs with a discernible list to either the right or left. One chair was one thing; a whole classroom full of them was quite another.

I first learned to play the game while living in Rockaway, Queens, prior to moving to the Bronx. In the projects where I lived, management was kind enough to actually paint a skelly board on the floor of the small park behind my building. My fondest memories were hordes of kids lined up to play, either against one another or in teams. Over the course of an entire day, you would hear shouts of "whoa," and "yeah, yeah." There was, however, one shout that everyone hoped to be able to do: "I am a killer diller!" The response from the rest of players was, in unison, "Yes you are!"

Ah youth...........

Kids up here in Rochester have no conception of this game. This year however, I am going to draw out a skelly board on my driveway, and get some skelly caps, and teach my neighbors what real fun is..........

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yo, Benny! Stay off da freakin' lawn!

(This post was inspired by Julia, who first broached the the subject. She is saving me a space at Starbucks in hell.)

Pope Benedict has come to the US on his first official visit as head of the Catholic church. If you are a follower of Catholicism, this is either a cause for celebration, or protest, or possibly both. It is no secret that the church in Rome has been getting a major headache from its American division. It seems that American independence and rebelliousness does not always sit well with the Holy See, and Benedict has come to mend some fences. (Or, possibly slap some of the faithful upside the head.) He is visiting the most famous house in the nation, but unlike most visiting dignitaries, he will need to keep off the grass.

Oh, the most famous house in the nation? Yankee Stadium, of course. The House That Ruth Built. (And that Steinbrenner is tearing down! Bastard!) He'll be at that other white house too, but who cares about that.....Besides, the hot dogs there probably aren't as good, and more expensive, though most likely not by much these days.

One has to wonder about this guy. He is, by all accounts, as strict as they come when it comes to Catholic doctrine, (as far as this defunct Jew understands the situation.) but, when it comes to the recent failings of the church in America, (pedophile scandal, etc.) he has not seemed, or given the appearance of, acting with a strong hand in response to these horrors perpetrated by his priests. Yes, he has expressed his "profound pain" as to these events, and one would like to believe him, but, as with the rest of the Catholic church, he is a political animal and will act as such.

Popes are like baseball team owners: The cardinals come in the form of managers, coaches are the bishops, players are the priests. (We won't discuss what the batboys are.) The flock? The fans. Now, if we use Steinbrenner (Another German? Hmm......) as an example, he is a decisive kinda guy. Maybe not likable, but decisive nonetheless. He makes a decision, and that is the end of it. (Though admittedly, the hiring, firing, and re-hiring of Billy Martin was a weak moment.) He expects results, and does not suffer fools gladly. He is also vocal, publicly, about what he expects from his managers, coaches, and players. Whether you agree with this approach or not, it does get results. (Mostly)

Benedict would do well to learn from this example regarding his priests. He should be out in the forefront of this scandal and denounce those priests who have perpetrated these acts on these kids. He should strip them of their abilities, and above all, he should turn them out of their orders and let the civil authorities deal with them as needed. He should be meeting with the victims of these crimes perpetrated by those he is in charge of, and show them directly how concerned he is for their suffering. (Breaking News: Benedict DID have an impromptu meeting with abuse victims today. Bully for him. This was the right thing to do.)

Then we have comments like this, which were reported today:

"He also reminded the prelates that religion cannot only be considered a "private matter'' without any bearing on public behavior.

The pontiff questioned how Catholics could ignore church teaching on sex, exploit or ignore the poor, or adopt positions contradiciting "the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death.''

"Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted,'' he said."
(From 1010 WINS news, NYC)

Au contraire ye of the overflowing vestments. Religion is indeed a very private matter, especially when it involves civil matters. It is not the business of any religion to involve itself in matters of deep personal interest such as sex and control over one's body. Religion and faith involve matters of the spirit. He would do well to tend to his flock on these matters and leave the rest to civil authorities and individual conscience.

Perhaps, as I was not raised Catholic, I do not have as astute a view on these things as someone who was raised in that faith. Then again, at least Jews don't cut off men and women from that most basic of human needs, that being sex. I doubt you will see many celibate rabbis, even in the most orthodox of Jewish sects. It is one thing to make a personal decision to remain celibate as a personal act of faith. It is another to have it institutionalized as part of a religious order, to have it forced upon a person.

The Catholic church has lost many believers to other Christian denominations over the recent years, as well as other religions on the whole. Perhaps it is time for the church to do a little self-examination. You want to win the world Series? Sometimes, you need to change your strategy in order to get there..........

Found today: Benedict, in his speech at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium remarked that; ""Americans have always been a people of hope," he said. "Your ancestors came to this country with the experience of finding new freedom and opportunity."

Yes, but what he forgets is that they also came here to escape religious intolerance, something for which the Catholic Church does not exactly have a stellar track record.

Monday, April 14, 2008

.....and all that jazz.........

I can recall the year, though not the precise moment, when I discovered something outside of rock. Don't get me wrong, as I still love the music that I grew up with; The Who, Pink Floyd, The Band, The Ramones, Talking Heads, and various other groups. In 1977 however, my senior year in high school, things changed. Two albums came out that year that made me do a double-take on my musical outlook.

The first was Steely Dan's "Aja." Now, I always liked their stuff....a lot, actually. But, for some odd reason, I never made the connection between their rock roots, and their jazz roots. All that changed when Aja came on by. The second album, Weather Report's "Heavy Weather," started me down the path of exploring a musical form that, beforehand, was nothing more than something an obscure outcropping of some PBS show. I really never experienced jazz before, and these two albums became my "gateway drug" into the form.

I discovered not only jazz, but blues as well, and while in college, I had a roommate with a huge album collection of jazz and blues, as well as rock. I began to revel in such things as "Bitches Brew," "Black Market," and other recordings by Bird, Trane, Ella, and others. Also, in the early 80's, along came Stevie Ray Vaughn, and blues again was turned on its ear. He played SUNY Buffalo in 1984, and I, not knowing who he was at the time, wondered what planet this guy dropped off of. I got the feeling that this is what it was like for the generation just before mine that experienced Hendrix for the first time.

I eventually got taken in by Pat Metheny, who is regarded as one of the finest (some would say the finest) jazz guitarists on the planet. The guy just blows me away. Take a look below, and you'll see why. His drummer, Antonio Sanchez, is no slouch either. He has been playing with Metheny since 2000, when Paul Wertico left the Pat Metheny Group after 18 years.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Parts is parts........

"It's too bad she won't live.....but then again, who does?" - Gaff.

I have a few links on this blog to organ donor organizations that I support. I support them with good reason, as 10 years ago, my life was saved due to the generosity of one family. There were actually 5 of us that benefited as a result, and while I am not sure of the status of the other 4 recipients, I'd like to believe that they are all as alive as I am right now.

I will try to encapsulate the story of my liver transplant into one, easy to use pill. (Sorry, but when you are on the daily doses of medication I am, you tend to think in pharmacological terms.)

In 1985, at the age of 26, I was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a degenerative disease of the bile duct system of the liver. I lived with this disease for 12 years, and began to see the signs of advanced liver disease somewhere around late 1995, early 1996. I was placed on the transplant waiting list in February of 1997, and at that point, had about a year, to a year and a half to live.

Dealing with death as I did all throughout my EMS career, it took on an entirely different approach when it is the possibility of your own death that was staring back at you. The wall that helps you to deal with the death of patients crumbles easily. Your emotions run so wildly, that any of the scariest roller coasters in the country are nothing in comparison. I don't think I necessarily went through a Kubler-Ross type of event, but at the same time, you do find yourself looking in the mirror and wondering why all this is happening.

As the disease progressed, I began to exhibit all the hallmark signs of liver disease; jaundice, weight loss, loss of hair, etc. Things finally got bad enough in late July of 1997, and I was admitted to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to wait for my shot at a liver. (Being put in the hospital is one criteria for being moved up on the transplant waiting list.) I still understood that it could be months before I received a transplant, but at least I had a shot. One week after admission, it happened, and on August 1st, I received my gift of life.

There is certainly more to this story, as it has been 10 years, getting closer to 11 now, since that momentous day. There have been bumps along the road: a rejection episode in 2002, an infection last June that almost did me in, but all-in-all, I really have no cause for complaint. I have 10 years that I might not have had otherwise. I have been able to see my niece, who was born 36 hours prior to the transplant, growing up faster than I care to think about, and I have been able to accomplish things I never would have had the opportunity to do.

More transplant stories later. For now, just remember, "Don't take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows, we need them here."

Now, the procedure is not quite like this, but, laughing a lot helps one get through such an ordeal....Fortunately for me, they did use anesthesia.....(Warning: Really not suitable for kids, but tame compared to other things.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Aligators, and iguanas, and geckos, oh my!

As a rule, I generally dislike the state of Florida. I fail to see why thousands of people have migrated there over the years, especially from the north, even if the weather is warmer year round. The summers are incredibly humid, and unless you enjoy living all your life inside of an air conditioned environment, I don't see the attraction.

Then of course, there is the fact that a vast tract of the state is pure swamp. This does have its natural wonders in terms of wildlife, and certain vistas, but on the whole, the state is incredibly flat and uninteresting. (Sorry, my opinion only, other may vehemently disagree.)

This being said, I must admit that this trip down to visit the in-laws, plus and an old and dear friend of mine was by far one of the better ones. Case in point: Solomon's Castle

When my MIL first described this place, quite literally in the middle of nowhere, my first thought was, "You've got to be kidding?" But since the wife was very interested in going, my options were limited at best. So, off we went, into the hinterlands, and to my great surprise, I was quite taken by this artist and his self-contained habitat, built by himself, with no apprentices. It is one thing for a person to build his own home. It is another to build his own home, a restaurant built like a pirate ship, and other buildings by himself. His artwork, though eclectic, (which is really too weak a word to describe it) is undeniably fascinating, and brilliant all at the same time. He is also quite a paragon to self-reliance.

Adding to my surprise, was learning that he was originally from Rochester. The amount of talent that springs forth from this place still never ceases to amaze me.

Now, on the grounds of his castle abode live various creatures. One must steer clear of the fire ants, that if one gets too close, will give you some really nasty bites. I did however watch a fascinating battle for survival, as a honeybee that got too close to the ant hill was swarmed by this army of miniature Terminators. The bee was rolling around on the ground, desperately trying to get his attackers away from him, but as we left, I suspect that it probably was to no avail. The ants wanted lunch, and he was on the menu.......

Now, Zoe is rather fond of newts, as they populate her garden in Brussels. She treats us who visit her blog to pictures of them every now and then, so I thought she might appreciate some of their cousins that inhabit Florida:

Now this little gecko, seen in between the two posts, did not speak with a Cockney accent, nor did it try to sell me car insurance, but it did remind me of dear Zoe.

On the larger end of the scale, we had this big boy on the castle grounds:

He was a 22-year old iguana, that is very protective of his food. Probably a kissin' cousin of the newt, but prefers being out of the water.

No alligators seen on this trip, though there were plenty "Beware of Alligators!" signs wherever you went. If you want to catch some, you could always make a stop for some bait at your local Wal-Mart:

.........and I thought I had seen everything, until that.............

Addendum: I just realized that one might have seen such a thing as "Live Bait" growing up in NYC, but, it usually referred to the Mafia victims that were thrown into Jamaica Bay....

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Of humidity and mosquitoes.......

Am in FL soaking up some much needed sun and rest, as well as dodging these mosquitoes that are the size of B-52's. Hopefully, I will have something to post before I return next week........