Thursday, July 31, 2008

Signposting a life.

It is somewhat incredible as to how certain events in a life signpost that life. August 1st is an enormous signpost in my life. You know the kind. You round a corner and it hits you in the face, demanding attention. You need to pull the car over, and take stock of what it is saying.

I still remember the early hours of Aug. 1st, 1997, lying in my hospital bed at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, dying of liver disease. I had been locked in a battle with an autoimmune disease for 12 years, and at that point it was winning. I reached the point about a week prior where they needed to admit me. My lab work was becoming worse and worse, and I could feel myself dying by degrees. My hope was hanging on the possibility of getting a liver transplant, and after 6 months on the waiting list, each day became harder to keep that hope intact.

I remember about the third or fourth day, having a bad bout of pain and nausea, going into the bathroom in my hospital room, looking at my emaciated frame. I'm 6'2", 175 pounds, normally. I was at 120 pounds at this point, my muscles being wasted away, 1/4 of my hair gone, and most body movements being painful in one way or another.

I was sick of being sick.

I just looked in the mirror, and pounded my fist on the smooth tile that framed it. I just wanted someone to make a decision. Transplant me or let me die.

I began to empathize with so many of the patients I treated that, for one reason or another, were in the same boat. I was always taught not to encourage such thoughts, but the only thing I could think of was that I could no longer remember a time that I was not sick.

Then, 12:15 am a woman walks into my room, waking me up from the sleep that I was desperately trying to get. Hospital beds are not comfortable enough as it is, even worse when your limbs and joints are so thin skinned. I was a little pissed that someone was waking me. "More blood work at this hour?" I thought. The words that came out of her mouth next however, did not seem real at first. I thought I had hallucinated them.

"We believe we found a liver for you." This woman would turn out to be my transplant surgeon.

I found myself flooded with a wave of emotion that I was not prepared for. I had been waiting for this moment, and it was here. I still didn't know quite how to react. Her next words however slapped a little reality into the situation.

"This still may not go forward. We are running our tests on the donor now, but everything looks good so far." This is not unusual. Transplants can be scuttled at the last minute because something goes wrong with the donor, a test comes back with something that prevents it, or a myriad of other reasons. I knew she was getting me ready for the best, but preparing me for the worst.

I immediately picked up the phone, called Mrs. N. Her voice was controlled, but I knew she was scared and excited at the same time. I then called my brother, told him to call mom, and then called my assistant from work, one of my best friends. (I was director of EMS at my hospital at the time.) I told him to call the boss, as she wanted to know when I was going to go in, my boss being the Executive Director of my hospital.

The surgery was scheduled for 7 am. The wife, my brother, and my mother arrived around 2 am. My brother had his hands full, as his wife gave birth 36 hours prior to my niece. Nurses, techs docs revolved in and out of my room. More blood work, bowel prep, (my first, and only meeting with an enema.) and a host of other things.

I then remembered that I wanted to have some fun with the surgeon and OR staff, so I got a hold of two loose-leaf size pieces of paper and a felt tip pen. On one piece of paper, I wrote: "THIS LIVER'S FRESHNESS DATE EXPIRES 8/1/97" and taped it to the right side of my belly, over my liver. On the left side, I had another piece of paper that said "OPEN OTHER END," with arrows pointing towards my liver. Too bad I wasn't going to be awake to see the reaction of the operating room staff, not to mention my surgeon.

6:30 am, and the stretcher comes for me. I kiss mom and brother good-bye. Mrs. N accompanies me down to the outer area of the OR, where she can wait with me until they are ready to wheel me in. A very pregnant anesthesiologist comes to ask me some questions. After she is done, I motion to her so I can tell her something. Surgery doesn't scare me; anesthesia does . "Don't fuck up." I tell her. (She knows I am a paramedic and hospital department director, so she just smiles. She knows what I mean.)

7:05 am. I kiss the wife good-bye, as they have come for me.

9 hours later, I wake up in ICU on a ventilator, (normal for this) and my life has been saved.

11 years later, I have been given time that, all other things being equal should not have been. I wonder what will happen tomorrow? I'll keep an eye on those signposts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Preparing for the in(vasion)-laws.

Well, it is that time of the year. Summer is in full swing. Barbecues are flaming. The woodchucks are tearing up the backyard, and here come the in-laws. I have come to the conclusion that they are a migratory species, wintering in the warmer climates of Florida, and searching for not-as-sticky environs here in western NY. They're a bit like salmon, coming back to their spawning ground, not to reproduce, not to die, but to see the kids, grandkids, etc.

All this also means that Mrs. N will be happy to see her folks, and we'll get a free dinner out of it one of these nights. My FIL will probably also help out with a project or two here, as he likes that stuff, and the wife has a way of persuading him to help out. They'll stay probably through the beginning of next week, though I still have to maintain my own schedule as far as work, and working on my business is concerned.

All in all, I can't complain. I got lucky as far as in-laws are concerned, and I get along well with them, save when it comes to politics and my FIL. He is very much the conservative, though more in a Libertarian as opposed to a Republican sort of way. I am hardly a full-blown liberal, do have some conservative leanings, but they mostly center around finances as opposed to social issues. He also tends to be something of a conspiracy theorist in some ways. We do get into some pretty heated discussions from time-to-time, with neither of us budging.

Ah well, off to play B&B manager and entertainer for the next few days.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Get me my binoculars...

...the AARP buzzards are circling. I turn 49 today. It's off to a Korean restaurant for dinner tonight, and then to contemplate the many ways in which I will be roundly abused in one-year's time when the half century mark hits.

I don't even want to think of what my kid brother has planned for me next year.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

To tell the truth.

There are two things in my life that keep my sanity intact: Writing and acting. I got bit by the acting bug while in college in 1984. I had wondered for a long time what it would be like to get up on a stage and perform, but almost as soon as the thought would enter my head, the scary things such as "What if they hate me?," and "I'll collapse into a bubbling mass of crap." would always stop me. "Sensible," I would always think. Why should I put myself out there and let people know I am incapable of this skill.

All that changed when I was passing by the multi-use theatre in my dorm complex. There was a poster up for auditions for a production of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." Having seen the movie some years before and loving it, I was intrigued. I just stopped in front of it and read it over and over for what seemed to be an eternity.

As fate would have it, my friend John happened to be passing by, and he inquired as to what I was doing. "Oh, just fantasizing." I told him

"Why don't you go for it?" came the reply in a snarky tone and evil grin which he was famous for.

"Oh yeah, right." came my less than enthusiastic reply. Who was I trying to kid. I was in no real hurry to be laughed at by a bunch of people I didn't know.

"Tell you what. You get in that play, and there is a good bottle of Scotch on me waiting for you." he dared.

He knew me too well. Never dare me. I just looked at him, asked him if he was serious, which he said he was. "I have seen you teach in EMT's classes." he said. "You're pretty comfortable doing that, why can't you do this."

"Not the same thing." I told him. Besides, he had no idea how much getting up in front of a class and teaching made me sweat, though I did enjoy it.

"Yeah it is. Same thing, bigger classroom." he prodded on.

"I don't know, I gotta think about it."

"Don't think too hard." he challenged me again.

Later that week, I made the decision to go for it. There I was in a room full of other hopefuls, some were theatre majors, others were schmucks like me who had no idea what we were doing. I suspected that we would read from the play, and that would be that. No such luck.

The director paired us off, and one pair at a time, had us improv a situation. The guy that I was partnered with played father and son, (I was the father.) and he had to tell me that he had smashed up the car. Well, that was easy enough, I mean I know how my dad would have reacted to that. We started the scene, and kept going, and going, and going....

Most other people's scenes lasted two-to-three minutes max. Ours, as I would find out, went for seven. They posted the callback list the next day. My name was on it. We read from the script that night, and I got the part of the psychiatrist. Dr. Spivey. A good part for a beginner.

I was excited, elated, and scared shit-less. This was definitely one of those "Be careful what you wish for" moments. Fortunately, our director knew how to work with experienced actors, and people like me that didn't know what the hell we were doing.

Now twenty years later, acting for me is like breathing, a necessary part of life. I graduated from college in 1985, did some theatre in the Bronx for a few years, but then had to give it up as work, grad school, and life got in the way. Of course, when I got sick, everything in my life just stopped, but I did make a promise to myself. If I survived the transplant, I would get back into acting somehow. After moving to Rochester I kept that promise, as Rochester has a large theatrical and artistic community. This is the same town that has produced folks like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Taye Diggs, and Robert Forster, just to name a few. I got lucky in 2000, auditioned for a show at Blackfriars Theatre, got the lead, and have been acting around town ever since.

This Sunday, I'm auditioning for a production of "The Pillowman," also at Blackfriars. John made good on his promise, and as I do every time I leave the house for an audition, I'll pat that bottle of Scotch for luck.

"Find your mark, look the other fellow in the eye, and tell the truth." - James Cagney on acting.

*Update: Didn't make it into the show. Oh well, on to the next one. :-(

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This feline needs a cattitude adjustment.

This is what happens when you let your cat watch "Goodfellas" (I don't have one, but if I did, I would I would put a parental control on the TV.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bad brain day.

It is one of those crushing black days, when I can't put my finger on why. When I can't look to a reason for it and yell "Fuck you, leave me alone."

When the remnants of the black rabbit hole stalk me, and my vigilance falters. I am trying to keep focused, but not even good conversation with a ray of light can brighten my mood.

A phone call from someone in worse shoes than me leavens the burden somewhat.

I just need to make it to bedtime, and start over tomorrow.

I will try not to breathe.
I can hold my head still with my hands at my knees.
These eyes are the eyes of the old, shiver and fold.

I will try not to breathe.
This decision is mine. I have lived a full life
and these are the eyes that I want you to remember. Oh.

I need something to fly over my grave again.
I need something to breathe.

I will try not to burden you.
I can hold these inside. I will hold my breath
until all these shivers subside,
just look in my eyes.

I will try not to worry you.
I have seen things that you will never see.
Leave it to memory me. I shudder to breathe.

I want you to remember. Oh. (you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
over my grave again. (you will never see)
I need something to breathe. (something to breathe)
Baby, don't shiver now.
Why do you shiver now? (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
over my grave again. (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to breathe. Oh. Oh. Oh.

I will try not to worry you.
I have seen things that you will never see.
Leave it to memory me. Don't dare me to breathe.

I want you to remember. Oh. (you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
over my grave again. (you will never see)
I need something to breathe. (something to breathe)
Baby, don't shiver now.
Why do you shiver now? (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to breathe. (something to breathe - I have seen things
you will never see)
I want you to remember.
- REM "Try Not To Breathe"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gimme that ole' time music.......

Today was BopFest2, a bluegrass/roots music fest here in Rochester at Village Gate Square. My friend Ryan plays upright bass with "The Varnish Cooks," an "old time music" band, and below are a pic and a (very) short vid. (Sorry about the video quality.)
Check them out when you have a chance!

Friday, July 18, 2008


Two nights ago, Mrs. Nighttime and I celebrated 19 years being married. It has been a long road, and while we still have things to overcome, we are working together on this. Going through the medical crisis that I did puts particular strains on a marriage. Almost dying twice is not an easy thing to deal with for both the person going through it, and the person who is caring for them. Such is the case with me.

Nietzsche remarked that "Whatever does not kill us, makes us stronger." There is a great deal of truth to that, though when it comes to marriage, it can have the opposite effect. The trick is learning to crawl your way back. Joseph Campbell remarked that "Marriage is an ordeal." It is a shared one, to be sure.

The other night however, was a time to put those things aside, and just enjoy things for what they are. We were looking for a good restaurant to go to, some place we have never been before. A friend of the wife suggested Esperanza Mansion, on the east side of Keuka Lake. It was a great suggestion. The food was terrific, we had a great bottle of Pinot Noir from Ravines Wineries, a Keuka Lake winery. The view from the northeast end of the lake was wonderful as well. (As you can see here.)

Some other shots from the restaurant:

This is the view to the west side of the lake.

View from the restaurant veranda, looking southeast. This is smack in the middle of farm country, as well as wine country.

Petunias on the veranda.

Inside one of the guest dining rooms. The mansion is also a hotel/B&B.

Rear view of the mansion. I was not able to get a view of the front veranda, as the grass was soaked from a rainstorm that we rode into on the way there. Lots of lightning and downed trees on the road. It was a 90 minute drive there, but well worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Giving a good friend a boost!

Hey there in blogland. To those of you that have been kind enough to visit here on a somewhat regular basis, I am asking a favor.

My very good friend Brandie, an actress trying to make it in Hollywood, is currently attending graduate school, and has applied for a scholarship to help her defray her costs. She has made what amounts to a PSA for "teausa," an organization that promotes tea consumption here in the US. (Yes, we have an organization for just about everything here.) The scholarship is actually being offered by teausa, and the more hits that she gets on the video that is now on YouTube, the better her chances at getting the scholarship. (She directed, produced, and acted in it.)

This is the video below, but even if you see it here, if you could go to it at:

and please also vote on it (a positive rating would be nice) it would go a long way in helping her.

She is a good friend, smart as hell, and has been working her butt off out there.

P.S. - Brandie is the woman on the right, curly hair.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Beer of Flanders

So it appears that the InBev takeover of Anheuser-Busch is going to go through as planned. You do know what this means, don't you? I will immediately have to rename my Belgian waffle mix "Freedom Waffle Mix" in protest.

The Belgian chocolates will remain untouched.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

SLAP, SLAP, SLAP!!! Snap out of it!!

Me: Thank you for calling, I can help you.
Customer: (crickets chirping.)
Me: Hello?
Customer: (quieter than a graveyard)
Me: Hello?
Customer: Hello?
Me: (Realizing this is not going to be good) Yes, hello, how can I help you?
Customer: Oh, This is John, I don't have a picture.
Me: (thinking of several comebacks, but holding my tongue.) Does your cable box still have the time on it?
Customer: My what?
Me: Your cable box.
Customer: What are you talking about?
Me: Your cable box. Your digital cable box.
Customer: Do I have one of those?
Me: (Wishing I had a little red button on the computer to send a shock to the customer at this point.) Are you in front of your TV now sir?
Customer: Huh?
Me: Are you in front of your TV?
Customer: No. Do I have to be?

This was a typical exchange, one that occurred last night. The level of common sense of some people just makes me wonder where the human race is actually headed these days. If you are calling about a problem with your cable, computer, refrigerator, what-have-you, don't you think it would be a good idea to actually be in front of the device that is causing you the problem? Why the hell did you call me in the first place.

Also, PAY ATTENTION WHEN I AM TALKING TO YOU! If there is anything I hate more than the type of conversation above, it is when people call you, and then are taking care of 16 other things at the same time. If you called me, then talk to me, not someone else that is there, not your neighbor, and don't you dare put me on hold to answer your call waiting because I will drop you like 3rd period French. If you want my help, I'll be more than happy to help you, but just don't work against me.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The "y" word.

It is nice to know that the British are, if nothing else, the world's radar when it comes to spotting racist attitudes, especially in children. As if it wasn't ludicrous enough when British Airways announced it would remove meat dishes from its meal selections, (at least in coach) for fear of offending Hindus, now comes the startling revelation that even the littlest of tots may harbor racism in their dear little hearts. How might that happen, you ask? Perhaps
they were raised in a white supremacist cult? Perhaps they had parents or other relatives that would speak derogatorily of other cultures? No, nothing so blatantly obvious.

Yes, you see parents of the world, your little ones may one day grow up to wear a white hood or throw a "Sig Heil," all because you gave them something to eat that was just a little different from their normal fare.

According to the London-based National Children's Bureau, it "says to be aware of children who "react negatively to a culinary tradition other than their own by saying 'yuck'." Let me get this straight: Little Johnny or little Jane, who may be no more than say, 3 or 4 years old, whose taste buds are not yet the same as an adult, and who may not like certain textures and tastes, are to be labeled as having "racist tendencies" when they don't even have an inkling of what a racist or racism is? Hmm? What if they don't like certain foods that are associated with their own ethnic group? Should we then label them as "anti-social" because they exhibit tendencies that are different from the norm within their ethnic grouping?

What if they don't like broccoli? Are they prejudiced against vegetarians, and disrespectful of their lifestyle?

Political correctness has run wild in this world, and this is only the latest in a long series of examples. I would never, ever deny that one should be respectful of another person's culture, belief system, sexual orientation, etc. However, taken to the extreme (as this is an example of) it can only serve to have the opposite effect of what one is intending to do.

Now, the article states that,
""Racist incidents among children in early years settings tend to be around name-calling, casual thoughtless comments and peer group relationships," the guide says." Ok, I can understand the premise behind that statement, but it is so broad as to be meaningless. What separates racism from plain old bullying? It would seem that is a step up, from just your garden variety thing that kids do and say to each other.

The bottom line in my mind is this; it is one thing to spot racist tendencies in children early, but to my reckoning, you need a far better parameter than a child turning up his nose at ethnic foods, or foods they are not used to. If that were the case, then I should have been branded a racist long ago for saying "yuck" to oxtail and collared greens, and that was as an adult. Most children's tastes change with age, and they find that they will like foods as an adult that they could not stand as a child. It is a normal part of development.

I don't want to even think about what a child would be labeled if they used the word "bleech."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A wish for words that work.

Falling, falling, falling. Looking deep into the past 11 years, still wondering why? Why they never answered my letters? Why they chose not to know how their selfless act breathed life back into a dying man? Why I can't have the opportunity to thank them myself, while others have enjoyed that privilege?

Did I ever write something wrong, or was their pain simply too deep? Five times I tried to reach out to them, and each time I was answered with silence. I am aware that I need to respect their decision, but it is still frustrating to not know something, to not be able to share my feelings about what they gave to myself, and the four others that received transplants from their child.

So much is unknown. Was this child living with parents? Grandparents? Uncles and aunts? What did he want to be? What caused him to lose his life in such a violent way?

My brain debates the wisdom of trying one more time, to reach out again. Will they even be able to be contacted after all this time? Are they still living in the same place? Do I even have the words that can persuade them to connect with me, when nothing has in the past?

Will it even matter to them after all this time?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

His eyes were much bigger than his stomach.

Der Spiegel has the full story on this gluttonous catfish that met his doom while feasting on a soccer ball. Then again, as Germany just lost to Spain in the Euro cup, I can't help but wonder if this is the catfish equivalent of sepukku, and he is atoning for Germany's disgrace.

Hmm...Perhaps an hours d'oeuvre of a golf ball would have been a better choice? It just shows that mother was right when she told me to take small bites and chew thoroughly.