Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Resolutions? I don't need no steenkin resolutions!

I seem to remember last year posting that I was resolute on not making any resolutions. I'll quote again from Mark Twain, as I did last year:

"New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual."


While I believe we make our own hell here on earth, to not have to worry about the possibility of another one after we die and at the risk of starting my own path to it, I resolve two things for this year.

1. I will get the fuck out of this mind numbing job, no if and's or but's, and become a successful full-time freelance writer. I am hoping that the recent good news of landing a national publication (finally!) is the first step down this yellow brick road.

2. I will learn to play guitar. I did try once a couple of years ago through the local continuing education at our local high school, but it became evident that learning in a group setting like that is not for me. I need 1-on-1 instruction for something like this.

Normally, I don't like making resolutions, especially at this time of year, but something feels different. I can' quite put my finger on it, but I think that I am finally going to make some headway with my own personal goals. So, maybe instead of calling them "resolutions," I'll refer to them as "personal bests." It has an Olympic-like quality to it, bit it gives me something to focus on; a target to aim towards.

It sure beats something that often carries the words "non-binding" before it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Catching up.

So, where to start this post? It has been so long since I last blogged that I wondered whether or not I had simply lost the urge to blog, or to write, for that matter. I have come to discover that I need not be concerned. Sometimes, stepping back from a task, even something that I might love, creates new opportunities not yet realized. I can say that it has been a difficult month and a half, starting with Nelson's death, and continuing through to the start of the holiday season here, and trying to pull out some sense of joy amongst all the senseless things I see around me.

Nelson's funeral was as expected, an extremely difficult and sorrowful event. To die at 45 is never an easy thing to deal with for those left behind. It's worse when looking at the legacy he left behind (his family, friends, colleagues and students) makes all realize what a loss this world has suffered. He was an only child, which made it even worse for his mother. It was however, not without its lighter moments, of which Nelson would have approved.

During the wake the night before, a priest that knew Nelson well commented during his eulogy that Nelson had a habit of being late - for everything - something that was not lost upon my brother, his best friend of 38 years. My brother then commented to me as to how they used to tell Nelson to be somewhere half an hour before he actually needed to be there because of his preponderance to to be late.

The next day at the funeral, which was actually in a chapel on the grounds of a Greek Orthodox seminary (Nelson converted to Greek Orthodox from Roman Catholicism some years ago), we were standing and waiting for the coffin to be brought in, and I took note that the time was 10:10 am. About a minute later, his coffin was brought in and I chuckled to myself. The funeral was due to start at 10 am. Leaning over to my brother, and his friend Marc (the third member of the trio of childhood best friends), I said, "You do realize he's late to his own funeral, don't you?" I suspect that it took all of my brother and Marc's strength not to burst out in hysterics, but we all knew Nelson would be laughing right along with us.

After the funeral, we went to Nelson's aunt's home in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx, and gathered with his family and shared memories. The wound of his loss is still very fresh for my brother, but he is doing better these days.

Now, the rest of the month and into this month was relatively uneventful, save for one event from last week.

I FINALLY BROKE INTO A NATIONAL PUBLICATION AS A FREELANCE WRITER!

Yep, it finally happened. I pitched a story to this magazine:

http://udsakron.org/services/kaleidoscope/

about this theatre company here in Rochester:

http://www.rocartistsunlimited.com/

I knew about the theatre group through my own connections in the theatre community here, albeit with not a lot of details. One of its officers however also sits on the board of directors with me at my theatre, so I began to ask him some questions about Artist's Unlimited and found that there was a great story in the making. I have time to write it, as the magazine only publishes in January and July, but will be starting on the preliminary interviews after the first of the year.

I am hoping that this is the break I have been waiting for, and that it will lead to other national publications, if not just more work in general. I would like to be full-time freelancing by this time next year, as I already missed this years' goal due to, well, due to me not putting in the effort I should have.

I have also gotten myself on to Skype, and have been talking with the ever so lovely Zoe over at MBIAT. We've had some great conversations, and I have resolved to visit Belgium to meet her and Peter over at Antwerp Calling as well within the next year or two.

So I now resolve to get back into the swing of things and try to blog a minimm of 2-3 times per week. Here's hoping.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Parting Glass

Of all the money e'er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm I've ever done,
Alas! it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
To mem'ry now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all


Oh, all the comrades e'er I had,
They're sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts e'er I had,
They'd wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should go and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be with you all.

Please keep my bother's best friend Nelson in your thoughts, as he died yesterday at the age of 45 after suffering a massive heart attack. Nelson was a professional violinist, and a pubic school music teacher. My brother and Nelson have known each other since they were 6 years old, and this has been a devastating loss for him. I have known Nelson as long as my brother, although we were never close friends, we got a along very well, an I respected him greatly.

Farewell Nelson, and may we be forever in your debt.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The white patch.

"I'm going to wear my old pair of scrubs." said the artistic director of my improv troupe. He was referring to the presentation that we were going to make to the transplant team of the money (that was raised through a special performance) for the patient's Special Needs fund by the improv troupe a little over a month prior. Being an improv troupe, we were thinking of doing something a little different rather than a straightforward, formal presentation of the $1,400 that was raised. We hit on the idea of presenting this donation in an organ transport box, which I was able to obtain from my old place of employment, the organ donor network here in Rochester. We were going to run in to their weekly meeting as if delivering an organ.

What he asked next however, was wholly unexpected.

"Do you still have your old paramedic uniform?"

I had not been asked that question in a long while, and I felt the blood drain from my face at the question.

"Yeah, I do." I knew where he was headed, and while I silently smirked at the thought, as it was rather funny, but it still scared me. "Great." he said. "I think you should wear that."

Every instinct inside of me was screaming "NO!" Somehow, the word "Okay" came out of my mouth. I don't know why it did, but it did. It has been 12 years since I wore that uniform, 12 years since I was part of a profession and a world that I never envisioned leaving, as I did 10 years ago. Why the number discrepancy? Well, for the better part of the last three years as a paramedic, I was in management, and wore a suit more often than a uniform, and didn't touch a patient.

I tried to convince myself that it was really nothing, that I would put in on, wear it for a couple of hours, and then take it off. It wouldn't mean anything. It was simply a costume for this purpose. I was going to be acting, and why should my old uniform be nothing other than any other stage device that I have used in the past.

The answer, of course, was far more complicated.

So, the morning came for me to prepare for the presentation. Going through the morning ritual of showering, brushing my teeth, taking my transplant medications, and all the other mundane tasks carried an air of tension. I then went down into the basement of my house, and found the box where I keep all my memories of my EMS life, and found my shield and collar bars. Shield #6241. Collar bars with my unit, 35V. The black shield holder and securing pin. I remember this being part of my mrning ritual for so many years.

I went upstairs and found the long sleeve uniform, as this had the perforations above the left breast pocket sewn into the fabric where the securing pin would pass through, pinning the shield to the shirt. The shield holder also had the small metal plaque with my name, and then below it, "PARAMEDIC."

The shirt has two patches. The left sleeve at the shoulder had my hospital's blue and white patch. The right had the one that has been earned by only a comparatively few, the one that said 'EMS-PARAMEDIC - CITY OF NEW YORK." White, with an orange border, orange and blue lettering, and the blue star of life in the middle, it was simply known to us that rode the ambulance as 'the white patch." It was coveted by anyone that worked in EMS, in any capacity, in NYC. There were, and still are, far more EMT's than paramedics. We were an elite group, and we knew it.

I attached the collar bars, pinned the badge on, and slipped the shirt on. As I buttoned it, I was first pleasantly surprised to find that it still fit, and like a glove too. I then went and looked in the mirror, and a wave of emotion overcame me.

I cried. I cried, and cried, and cried. It went on for about 10 minutes.

I missed it. I missed it all. The good, the bad, the silly, the insane, the danger, all of it. I missed my friends, my colleagues, the two partners I had that I worked so closely with for so long, that they became second and third spouses in a way. I was in grief. I was in grief for a life that I left behind so long ago, that I was never able to grieve for, and that I was never able to fully accept that I left behind. I think it was just then that I honestly faced that emotion, as I faced myself in the mirror, in that uniform.

I was grieving for myself.

After I stopped, wiped my tears, and pulled myself together, I went to the presentation. I went into character, and along with my artistic director, made everyone laugh. We presented the money, had some nosh, pressed the flesh with the transplant staff, and then left. I got home, took off the uniform, hung it in my closet, but left the shield and collar bars on. I have yet to remove them and put them away.

I went to my therapist earlier this week, and related this story to him. He just let me talk, not offering any advice, but rather smiling and nodding with each major point that I brought across. We're going to discuss it further next time around.

As I unburdened myself of this grief, I began to realize that this was one of the biggest obstacles, if not the biggest, that has stood in my way all this time. While I was not living in the past, it was always close behind, and impeding my progress in life. I think now however, that I can move forward with more confidence.

The white patch will always be with me. It is part of who I am, a source of pride, and always the greatest title I will ever have, that of NYC Paramedic. From now on however, it won't stand in my way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tis' grand...


"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived it all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." - The opening to "Angela's Ashes."

When I read those opening passages to Angela's Ashes, I knew that I was in for something different. I had been desiring to read Frank McCourt's memoir of life growing up in Limerick for some time. I kept hearing as to how wonderful the book was, how haunting and yet how funny at the same time. I just never seemed to be able to find the time, or to remember to buy the book. Then, as these things happen, something came up that made me realize that I should go and read it.

Frank McCourt upped and died. The nerve he had.

Once that happened, I knew I had to get the book, and received it before I could go buy it as a 50th birthday present from Mrs. Nighttime. By the time I finished the first page, even then, I knew that this was a style of writing that I had never encountered before. His prose for the most part, in the first person, takes us through his journey first from the streets of Brooklyn, where he was born, to his eventual return to his parents homeland of Ireland.

As I got further and further into the story, I marveled at McCourt's ability to first of all, recall so many incidents in his childhood, especially from such a young age, as well as his ability to paint a picture of poverty that is unknown to many Americans, save for perhaps some segments of Appalachia. Even in the ghettos of Brooklyn where I worked, people were far better off then the horrific conditions that McCourt describes.

"People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying school masters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years. Above all -- we were wet."

But, what was most telling, in that very Irish way, was his ability to weave in humor amongst the most tragic elements of his life. Even when there is so much vitriol lobbed against his relatives, his school teachers, the priests and the Catholic church in general, there are moments that simply make you cry out with laughter. It is the salve for the words that are like wounds.

"Grandma's next door neighbor, Mrs. Purcell has the only wireless in the lane. The government gave it to her because she's old and blind. I want a radio. My grandmother's old but she's not blind and what's the use of having a grandmother who won't go blind and get a government radio?"

There was, as one might expect, a backlash against McCourt's description of life during this time, which was from the 1930's, through the late 1940's. As bad as the depression was here in the U.S., it seems to have hit Ireland even harder. There are those however, that said McCourt's descriptions are far from the truth, and accused him of blatantly misrepresenting the Irish, and at worst, playing into the usual stereotypes of the drunken, slovenly, lazy Irish family, especially the husband/father type.

I would have to agree with those that go against those that doth protest too much. This is one man's account of life as he experienced it. It is not an autobiography, but a memoir. Most of the criticism I have read about were from those who were either not in Ireland at the time portrayed in the book, and were relying on second hand information from relatives, or from those who were from Ireland, but not alive at that time. McCourt has been accused of simply inventing or embellishing his story for the sake of money. McCourt was in his mid-60's when he wrote and published Angela's Ashes. If he wanted to make make his fortune, I would suspect he would have done it a lot earlier. As he has stated in interviews, it took him a long time to come to terms with his childhood, and perhaps this explains why it took him so many years to be able to express these things as he did.

I finished the book a few days ago, and have now started on the sequel, "Tis'." I cannot wait to see what wonders McCourt will paint with words in this follow-up.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Max Cherry makes good.

Ordell Robbie: This you and me talking, is this like a lawyer-client thing, and you can't repeat nothing I tell you?
Max Cherry: You're not my client until you get busted and I bond you out.
Ordell Robbie: Well, if we ain't got no - what's that shit called? - confidentiality, why should I tell you a thing?
Max Cherry: Because you want me to know what a slick guy you are. You got stewardesses bringing you fifty grand.
Ordell Robbie: Now why would a stewardess be bringing me fifty grand?
Max Cherry: Now you want me to speculate on what you do. My guess is you're in the drug business, except the money's moving the wrong way. Whatever you're into, you seem to be getting away with it, so more power to you.

Those of you that follow this blog with any regularity know that I often talk about the deep amount of artistic talent that is in Rochester. It still never ceases to amaze that for a city of about 210,00 people, it has as much to do artistically in proportion to its size as NYC does. We have a saying here that if you're bored, it's your own fault.

In addition to the great artistic groups, especially the theatre groups, the individual talent is striking. Many have gone on to very successful careers as actors, or in the technical theatre arena. Some have even hit the big time, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Taye Diggs, and Kristin Wigg.

Enter Robert Forster. Does the name ring a bell? If you're a fan of Quentin Tarantino, in particular of "Jackie Brown," then you'll know that Forster played bail bondsman Max Cherry, who runs afoul of Samuel L. Jackson while trying to help out Pam Grier. The role got Forster nominated for an Academy Award, and while he didn't win it, it revitalized his career. You may have seen him recently on "Heroes," in a recurring role as one of the main character's father.

Forster is also a Rochester native, and was back in town last week to help celebrate the 80th anniversary of The Little Theatre. Known locally as simply "the Little," it is the art house movie theatre here in Rochester, and known for getting many independent films prior to their distribution to the bigger movie conglomerates. It is also a place where Forster spent a lot of his time as a youth, when he wasn't acting on stage around town.

His first film role was with Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, and if that wasn't enough, he was directed by John Huston, "Reflections In A Golden Eye." More on that later.

Forster received an award from The Little Theatre board of directors for his contributions to film and his support of the Little over the years. The Little also had a special screening of Jackie Brown one evening that was preceded with a talk by Forster, interviewed by noted movie critic Jack Garner.

Forster still has many old friends in the area, many of whom I am friendly with, and one of whom directed me in a play last year. He had breakfast with Forster the day before the Jackie Brown screening, and he mentioned that Blackfriars had built a new theatre, and Forster seemed very interested, as he had attended plays at Blackfriars, though he never acted with us. I began to wonder if he would like a tour of the new theatre, if he had time in his schedule.

I'm friendly with the head of the Little, and asked him if he could arrange an introduction to Forster, after explaining why. He said "Sure, no problem, I think Robert would like that!" I came to the Jackie Brown screening, early enough to catch the interview, and was introduced to Forster. He was, as I had heard about, the nicest guy you could imagine. For all his fame, he has retained a down to earth quality that some lose after gaining a lot of recognition.

He remembered Blackfriars well, and was excited to learn about the new theatre. He peppered me with questions about where we moved from, and what the current seating capacity of the new theatre is. He was pleased to learn that it was smaller, at 126 seats. This seems to be the trend in NYC and LA, to go smaller, not bigger. I asked him about a tour, and while he really wanted to do it, he didn't think he would have the time on this trip. I was expecting as much, as I kind of figured he would be booked up, but he then asked for my contact information so that he could arrange a visit next time he's in town. He comes back fairly often, as two of his daughters still reside here in Rochester, as well as his grandkids.

When the time came for the interview, he gave a great talk, and did a dead on impression of John Huston, recounting the story of his audition. He had never done a movie at that point, and it was his straightforward honesty with Huston that got him the role.

I'm looking forward to the possibility of showing Forster the new Blackfriars when he's in town next. Until then, I'll just remember Max's best line:

I'm 56 years old. I can't blame anybody else for something I did.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pulling back the curtain.

Phew! I can finally come up for air after spending the better part of the last month and a half being a construction worker, upholsterer, light rigging specialist, and media relations guru. All this as part of the effort to get our new theatre up and running. In the two weeks leading up to opening night, it got scary. Too many things still left to be done, and we had to delay the opening of the theatre by a week. When all was said and done however, it all came together, just like Stephen Sondheim says it does, bit by bit, putting it together.

At the end of the day, we needed to push off the opening day by one week. There were simply too many thigns that still needed to completed in order to get a COO - a Certificate Of Occupancy - which is required from the city of Rochester in order to open to the public. fortunately, those who bought tickets to the original opening night date understood, and we added on an extra weekend of performances to compensate.

The result has been nothing short of spectacular, with most shows so far, save one, being sold out. We had a gala opening on sept. 26th, with prominent film critic Jack Garner acting as master of ceremonies and official ribbon cutter. Garner, a critic for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, was also the chief movie critic for the Ganett News Service, of which the D&C is a part of. I only learned a few years ago that he is a big theatre goer as well, and was duly impressed with what we have created at Blackfriars. You can see the pics here:

http://www.blackfriars.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=271&Itemid=38

But wait, there's more! (Construction, that is...)

Because of the time frame involved, the decision was made to forego completing construction on the second floor, which will house the dressing room and prop storage areas. it was not deemed vital to opening theatre, as there is a bacstage "quick change" dressing area that can serve as a dressing room temporarily while construction is completed. It also gives us some breathing room while we continue to campaign for more money to complete the project.

We've submitted prospectuses to several businesses in the area for naming rights to the actual performance area, to the tune of $700,000. This works out to $70,000 a year for 10 years - the duration of our lease - in order to not only complete construction but to initiate an endowment fund. This will help secure the theatre's financial future, but so far, we've had no takers.

Pretty disheartening for a theatre that is now it its 60th season. It seems as though the economy is still putting a damper on these things, but we keep prodding along.


Next entry: Max Cherry comes home, and I finally get to meet him. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Craziness....

No, I'm not dead yet. The theatre I act with and do PR for moved to our newly rehabbed digs, and we open this coming Friday. I am up to my neck in getting media coverage, amongst other things, so I'm a bit insane. I'll try to post something for the weekend, but in the meantime, you can take a look at our efforts by going to:

http://www.blackfriars.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=264&Itemid=54

It's been an all out effort, but will be worth it...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Because I was there.

I was in NYC 8 years ago on that Tuesday morning. I was in for the wedding of my former paramedic partner the Saturday beforehand, and it was the morning Mrs. N. and I were due to leave. I remember the confusion at first, as no one was quite sure what exactly happened when the first plane hit, but then watching the second plane hit, I knew right away this was no accident. We were staying with my mother in my old neighborhood in the Bronx. Immediately, and with a sense of dread, we tried to get hold of my brother, also a NYC paramedic. He works the overnight shift, and we were afraid that he might be on overtime, or was called back on duty and sent down there.

It turned out to be the latter, but fortunately, they kept him in the Bronx, and did not send him down to Ground Zero. Next, we tried to get hold of my cousin, who worked at Federal Plaza, which is a stone's throw away from the WTC. That took longer, as all the cell phone lines were jammed, but we did eventually find out that she did make it out of there and was headed back to her home in New Jersey.

I grew up in the northernmost end of the Bronx, so getting out of there was easier than in other parts of the city. We tried to go give blood at one of the local hospitals, but the line was so long for that, and we had a 6 1/2 hour trip ahead of us. We decided that we would give blood once we returned to Rochester. On the way to that hospital in the Bronx however, I encountered an eerie sight, as 2 F-15's screeched overhead of us, part of the aerial the patrol that wound up encircling the city for that day, and several more afterward.

We kept the radio tuned to whatever news stations we could find on the way, even trying to get whatever information we could going through the mountains and constantly picking up and losing stations. There was no music playing that day. Wherever you tuned to, there was only one story. We made it home, stunned, shocked, but relived.

We also realized how close it could have come to being victims, as we were not far from the WTC the day before, taking a day trip into Manhattan to revisit some old haunts.

So when you stop to think about today, think about the lives that were lost, both civilian and rescuers. Keep one rescuer in mind: EMS paramedic Ricardo Quinn, a former colleague. He died when Tower 1 collapsed. You can read about him here:

http://nosheepleshere.blogspot.com/2009/09/project-2996-remembering-ricardo-quinn.html


Because I was there, I cannot help but remember...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A rock and a hard place.

"Life is not a spectacle or a feast; it is a predicament." - George Satanyana.

Here' s my predicament: One step up and two steps back seems to be where my life is headed at this point. As much as I have wanted to move forward with both career and life goals, it seems as though I am stuck in neutral, with no clear way to shift forward - at least until last week.

It's no secret that I struggled with depression about seven years ago. A laundry list of reasons, from 22 years of riding on an ambulance, to my illness and transplant, to the loss of a very dear friend, all these things built up to the point of crushing my psyche. It also had the effect of stripping away the best part of me, the Mr. Nighttime that was evident during my long years as a paramedic.

This was driven home to me recently when I was reconnected with an old medic buddy of mine, who recounted the story of what I did in the emergency department of a particular hospital in Brooklyn. I remember the incident well. It was my buddy's first week as a paramedic, so new that the sheen was still bright on his license that he carried in his wallet.

We brought a patient into this hospital that was having some mild trouble breathing, and before we left, I wound up shoving a doctor out of the way while he was trying to intubate the patient, (he was doing it wrong) for he was killing the poor man. I intubated the patient on the first shot, and just growled at the doc to do what I told him when I told him to do it. My buddy told me how awed he was by this that he never saw anyone do that to a doctor before, and to this day he tells that story from time-to-time.

I remembered everything about that incident, save for the part at the end. My buddy told me, "Yeah, but when you told him (the doc) he was about as useless as tits on a bull, that's when I almost lost it."

I said that?

This was the part that got to me. I began to recognize that the Mr. Nighttime that could have the brass cojones to say and do what he did in that emergency department all those years ago, that Mr. Nighttime is what is missing today. Well, not missing, but buried somewhere. It was that Mr. Nighttime that drove himself to being a writer, a speaker, an actor, and it is that Mr. Nighttime that got himself promoted twice within the medical center where he worked.

The person who I was back then was aggressive, and focused. I lost a lot of that along the way, and have been struggling to get it back for the past 10 years or so. I need to get that person back completely, if I am ever goign to gey myself out of this suck-ass job, and where I want to be as a person, and as a writer, amongst other things.

I put myself back into therapy recently, and through an exercise we did, the one thing that stood out was that the most important thing that I saw in myself was my desire to help people. I can't do that as a paramedic anymore, and I have not been able to find that one thing that allows me to have that with the regularity that I was used to: the day-to-day stimulation from riding on that ambulance provided. I get it piecemeal now, through writing, acting, improv and some other ways, but it isn't the same. This is what I think, has been the greatest impediment to my being able to move forward.

My predicament? Getting back to where I once belonged.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Returning the favor.

"A friend is a friend
Nothing can change that
Arguments, squabbles
Can't break the contract
That each of you makes
To the death, to the end
Deliver your future
Into the hands of your friend"
- Pete Townshend

There are moments in life when things hit you in the face and make you pause, just for a moment, to consider where you are going and what you expect out of the journey. Sometimes, it's better not to have any expectations and just go with the flow. Sometimes, you just have to fight against it. Sometimes, it's odd being on the outside looking in, when usually, it's the other way around.

Reality has a strange way of being a harsh taskmaster.

I have two friends, one from college, and one that I know from my organ donation/liver disease circle of friends. One is dealing with the sudden appearance of strange symptoms that have left him numb in all his extremities, and exhausts him when he climbs a flight of stairs. The other is in a hospital in Hawaii, and is battling for her life while she awaits a liver transplant. It's a bit of role reversal, as usually I was the one that was either sick or in the hospital.

Scott and I go way back. We met my sophomore year at SUNY Buffalo. We were both on the campus volunteer ambulance, both from the Bronx, (excuse me, he was from Riverdale. They don't consider themselves as being from the Bronx. yeah, right.) I knew almost from the beginning that we would be friends, especially when he made a snippy remark at me, and I responded, rather in a crass manner with a remark about the health of his dog, which I didn't know whether or not he even owned. Let's just say that his comeback stopped me in my tracks.

We've been friends ever since. He's a notorious practical joker, of which he takes great delight in inflicting on me as often as possible. We found that we shared a love of many things, from music to movies, and we hung around in a group of closely knit friends back then. As often happens however, people's lives diverge. He stayed in Buffalo after we graduated, got married a year before I did (I was in his wedding party), had a son, got divorced, and then remarried.

We would go through long stretches of not talking to one another, not because something was wrong, but because life was just getting in the way as well as the distance. We did try to get together when we could when Mrs. N. and I would visit Buffalo to see her family, which was at least twice a year, most years.

Now that we live only an hour apart from each other, we have probably seen each other less in the 10 years I've been here in Rochester than at any other time. Go figure. Still, I was unprepared for the phone call I got from him earlier this week. He told about some odd symptoms he was having, numbness in both extremities, and his extreme fatigue after climbing even one flight of steps. These symptoms started slowly, and after a few weeks of not getting any better, he went to the doc for a series of blood tests and other procedures.

All came up negative. My own former paramedic brain went into overdrive, and and the first thing that came to mind was multiple sclerosis. The docs had pretty much ruled that out he said, but they were going to do a CAT scan anyway to check for the lesions that are typically found with them. His symptoms were atypical for MS, but they were going to explore that avenue anyway. Today however, I got a text message from him that was a little unsettling.

At 6:30 this morning, he had a spinal tap done. It seems that his doc began to put some things together, and suspected that it might be Guillain-Barre Syndrome. I needed a slight refresher on this syndrome, but it all started coming back. It's an autoimmune condition, and there is no real cure, though symptoms can be manged, if it is caught in time. The spinal tap will more or less confirm the diagnosis, as there is no specific test for it, other than the presence of proteins in spinal fluid.

This was a shock, especially knowing Scott as I do. He's a big guy, a little shorter than me, but big, barrel chested and very strong, so to think of him as being debilitated by anything, much less something like this was unthinkable. it has affected his ability to work regularly, but his current place of employment seems to be working with him and supporting him. (He's a nurse for an outpatient program that services people with developmental disabilities, amongst other things.)

We're going to try to get together next week. I'm going to go out to Buffalo and we'll have lunch at his home, on me. I'll bring him some Chinese or Thai food. We've been through a lot together, and he is still one of my best friends. There is actually more going on with him, that has made this situation even worse than it already is, but I'm not at liberty to bring it up here, until he gives me the OK.

Then there's Tammy. Tammy and I met through through a support group for people with liver disease back in 1996. Along with my friend Susan, who died in 2001 while waiting for a second liver transplant after her old liver disease returned unexpectedly, we split away from the original group due to the fact that it was too big, too out of control, and formed a smaller, more intimate and private group. The three of us were the 3 Musketeers in many respects, Tammy from Long Island (at that time), Susan from New Jersey, and me from the Bronx. Susan and I were transplanted within two weeks of one another, while Tammy was newly diagnosed with her autoimmune liver disease and was still pretty healthy at the time. We finally all met face-to-face in November of 1997, a few months after Susan and I were transplanted. We all stayed close, even after I moved to Rochester, and Tammy and her family moved to Austin, Texas.

Tammy had a multitude of issues stemming from the medications she was taking to slow the spread of her particular liver disease. In particular, prednisone was the demon that haunted her an literally made her crazy. Things got to the point a few years ago when she simply stopped taking her meds, unbeknown to her docs at first. This caused a great deal of consternation on the part of the first transplant service she was registered with, and she was labeled "non-compliant," which really wasn't the case. The reality was that the transplant team she was with was not addressing her issue seriously.

She finally wound up getting registered at a major transplant center in Texas, and they did not put her back on prednisone. somewhere about 6-8 months ago, she moved to Hawaii to be closer to her daughter and new granddaughter. She was estranged from her son (long, long story there), and also close with her other daughter, who was still living back in Texas. Along the way she got divorced from a husband that could not deal with her illness, and wound up treating her like garbage, along with the rest of the family.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago. It's now been about 13 years since her original diagnosis, and she is in end stage liver disease. She called me from a hospital in Honolulu, where she almost died from a ruptured esophageal varice. She was stabilized, but it was clear that she needed a TIPS procedure to reduce the varices, and buy her more time to get transplanted.

I was fortunate, in that I never had to go through that procedure, even as sick as I was. For Tammy however, this is the last option. She will die without a transplant, and she almost didn't want it. I had to convince her to go through with it. Why? Because after a transplant, she would be on prednisone for a time, and that just scared the hell out of her. She did not want to go through steroid psychosis again. I reassured her that more than likely, her time on prednisone would be short, as they try to wean transplanted patients off of it as soon as is feasible. I am on small doses of it for life, due to the nature of the liver disease that I had. It helps keep my old disease away, which is fine with me.

She had the procedure this past Monday, and it seemed to go well. Now, it's all up to the wheel of fortune for her, and her own will to hang on until she can get transplanted.

It's strange being on the outside looking in. They both were there for me, so now it's my turn to return the favor.

UPDATE: Scott's spinal tap came up positive, so now they're deciding on the best course of treatment for him Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Partying like it's 1959...

Time to play catch-up. I've been partly lazy, partly just too busy to sit down and blog, though I really wanted to. So, I will try to encapsulate the last week or so without boring you to tears with innocuous details.

Mrs. N. threw me the party to celebrate my coming of (old) age. We had to do it about 10 days after my real birthday, due to conflicts with my family being able to travel to Rochester sooner. My brother and his family were moving to a new apartment earlier that week, so he was knee deep in packing around the time of my actual birthday. My mom was traveling with them to here, so she had to wait to come up as well.

They arrived later than was expected on Friday, so unfortunately my time with them wound up being limited, as they had to leave on Sunday morning. My in-laws arrived earlier in the week from Florida, and were staying with us. Now, I like my in-laws; no, really I do. Seriously. It's just that having them there for a week, things get a little claustrophobic for me. However, since Mrs. N. only gets to see them twice a year, I would never ask for their visits to be shorter. It does take a little mental adjustment on my part to deal with four people in a house instead of two - all using one bathroom.

What was especially nice was seeing my niece, my brother's daughter, as it had been a bit since I saw her last. She just turned 12, and our birthday's are two days apart, and she was born 36 hours prior to my liver transplant, so we celebrate those milestones together when we can. She is also now up to my shoulders, and that is a little frightening.

So, we come to the party. Yes, it was what I expected. I was a walking target, and was not disappointed at the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune thrown at me. Turning 50 is different than turning 40. Turning 40 for me was somewhat subdued in the abuse department, as just two years earlier it was doubtful as to whether or not I was going to make it to 40. I think that this was making up for lost time.

My brother came armed with a box full of things that every 50 year old sure have: a bottle of Ensure, Depends, and other goodies designed to drive home the fact that I am now AARP material. He also made me choke up with a speech on how 12 years ago, "we almost lost him."

He's a good kid brother, let me tell you. My 12 year-old niece Donna Rose gave me a handmade card that she was very proud of and that I was very touched by.

Mrs. N. took it a step further and used her painting abilities to make me an over sized AARP membership card. Think about the "big checks" that they give people and organizations at special events and you'll get the idea. I knew I should have never let her take painting lessons.

However, I have to hand it to both my sister-in-laws, and my niece Michelle for they topped both of them. My one SIL went so far as to write a poem for me, which was hilarious, and coincided with the presentation of a cane with a rear view mirror and a bell. Very ingenious. Michelle gave me a card that I have to say, was nothing short of genius. It was made up of pennies from each year from 1959-2009, arranged in rows, with certain ones marked off with events that happened that year. 1977, when I graduated high school, 1987, when I started working in Brooklyn, 1985, when I graduated college, 1997, when I got transplanted, 1989, when I got married, etc. I was totally floored by that.

I also got some very nice actual gifts, including the second season of Saturday Night Live, as well as Battlestar Galactica - Season 4.5. All in all, it was a very nice party.

Now, I also did my first improv show last Saturday, and it went well. Michelle and her boyfriend came in from Buffalo to see it. I have to say that I have not been that nervous for a show in quite some time. it was only after I got my first big laugh (thankfully, right at the beginning of the first routine) that I was able to settle down. The way this show worked was that we were paired off in 3 teams of 3 improvisers, and each team had 23 minutes over the course of the evening to perform 4 different routines, hence the name of the show, "Catch-23." We came in second, but the points don't really matter anyway. It was good to get that first show under my belt, and all in all, I was pretty happy with it.

More to blog about later, especially the big benefit show for the organ tranplant program we're doing over the next 2 weekends.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille...

It's official: On August 15th, a week from this Saturday, I will be performing in my first show with the Village Idiots Improv company. I've been rehearsing with them for a few months, and the artistic director feels I'm ready to go. I feel good about what I have learned so far, and have been able to use my experience as an actor to move forward at a faster pace than someone without any stage experience at all.

It is a very small space they perform in, holding maybe 35 people at maximum. This translates into being very up close and personal with your audience, but in the world of improv, that's not a bad thing. The rehearsals double as an improv class, where one is taught the mechanics of improv, and if you're already an actor as I am, learning more tools to add to your artistic tool box. If you're interested, this is their website, though I have posted it before: www.improvvip.com


On the flip side, I auditioned last Monday for a play and sadly, was not cast. It was something I wanted very badly, as it was "Speed-the-Plow" by David Mamet, my favorite playwright.http://emsworth.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/david-mamet.jpg
I acted in one of his earlier works once before, 'The Water Engine," and Speed-the-Plow, along with "Glenngarry, Glen Ross," and "American Buffalo," are considered three of his masterworks. His style of dialog, known as "Mamet-speak," is very different from other standard play constructions - and very hard to get down right. Why? Because he writes dialog the way people speak, with a lot of stattico (sp?) delivery, and overlapping conversations. Many of his plays are also known for his liberal use of four-letter words, and for his examination of men's themes. He has been criticized for not developing his female characters very well, tending to stereotype them. His works however, are undeniably powerful.

While not being cast, I have to say that there was a great deal of competition. The play is a three person piece, two men, one woman. There was a large turnout for this, as was expected. I know I did well, as I was kept to the very end, and was not sent home early. I also know I did well by the compliments I got from the artistic director of the theatre, (which is not the one I work with, and do PR for) and the director, and the stage manager, all of whom I know well. The stage manager (who is an actor as well, and with whom I have acted on stage with) sent me a very nice note:

"Always good to see you, and congratulations on a very strong read. We were all impressed by how well you worked with the Mamet-speak."

Directors however have a tough job. They have to go with their gut when they cast a show, and see what they think the best fit is. Having directed in the past, I understand this all too well. I'm just glad I made a good showing of things, and oh well, on the to the next theatrical conquest.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Just like a car wreck, I can't avert my eyes.

The Hermit Kingdom. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Persian Empire. Respectively, they are North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. What do they all have in common? A fascination for me, as these societies are so very insular, and in the case of North Korea, completely closed off to much of the world. I can't say exactly where, when or how this fascination with these societies began, but I can trace its roots.

In 1980, my grandmother's brother, his wife, their daughter and her husband and their children immigrated to the U.S. from what is now the independent state of Moldova. Moldova has been traditionally part of Romania, and like many places in what was the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, it would often trade hands as to who actually laid claim to them from time-to-time. They came here during the outpouring of Jews from Soviet Union, and they provided me with a first hand account of life in a country that up until then, was only something I read about in books or in the newspaper.

Listening to my relatives' accounts of lines for just about everything from food, to shoes, to toilet paper, to how private property was unknown, and how fear of the KGB or even your neighbor was a daily fact of life there opened up my eyes to just how lucky I was to be living here in the U.S.. Despite whatever failings we have as a nation, we still had far more opportunity and better living conditions than what they faced there.

When I stop to think about it, this is probably where the seeds of my interest in societies that are far less open than our own began. At the top of the list is North Korea. The nickname "The Hermit Kingdom" is as accurate as it gets by all accounts. I won't bore you with a history lesson, as there are many places on the web for you to look up the basic facts about North Korea. Of course, it has been in the news of late; nuclear tests, misslie tests, two American journalists being arrested, tried and sentenced for "espionage."

It's people live with single minded devotion to the "Dear Leader," the wine loving, movie obsessed, all powerful Kim Jong Il. Inheriting his post from his father, Kim Il Sung, he has continued the cult of personality that has effectively kept its people in a form of mental slavery, and has cut them off from all outside influences that, in his view, would taint the spirit of the revolution he father began back in the 1940's. As Hitler did, he uses propaganda in such a way that the cult of personality he has developed invades every aspect of a typical North Korean's everyday life.

As a Westerner, and perhaps even more so as an American, it is difficult, if not downright impossible to grasp living under the rule of such a totalitarian regime. They have substituted a godhead for God in the form of both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and have effectively turned worshiping the state and its leaders into their form of a church. Their idea of what constitutes cultures is limited to music, plays, and other art forms that solely cover anything and anyone related to the "revolution."

Now, it is true that this is my own take on things, and I glean this information more from things I have read or viewed, rather than personal experience. That said, I present two videos that I think can back me up quite well:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VzDqbMUlrU


http://www.youtube.com/user/gasaholic47#play/favorites/19/4RwN2NDqKkM

These are two favorites, but they offer a far greater glimpse into life there than you will find on an American media outlet.

I sometimes wonder how interesting it would be to see and experience the reaction of the average North Korean citizen to coming here for the first time. They have been spoon fed a pablum of propaganda without the ability to question it, and I wonder how they could cope with learning how much of what has been shoved down their throats are lies. Yes, we have our own varieties of propaganda here in the U.S., as all countries do. Here however, we have the freedom to disbelieve it, question it, and debunk it. Try that over in the DPRK, and you end up in a labor camp or dead. The tales I have read from those who have escaped from north of the 38th parallel only seem to drive home that fact. I still however, find myself gulping down any and all information that comes my way. If nothing else, it drives home the message tp be thankful for what you have, especially the ability to question why and how you have it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Re-birthday.

12 years ago today, a family made an incredibly brave decision and donated their 17 year-old's organs so that 5 other people could live. I was one of those 5 people, receiving that boy's liver. While I've never met them, I am, and will be forever grateful for their incredible generosity in a time of unimaginable grief.

Donate Life: "Don't Take You Organs To Heaven: Heaven Knows We Need Them Here."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Halfway to 100

In cricket, a half-century is considered to be a very good achievement. In life, hitting the half-century mark as I do today is definitely a good achievement, considering that I almost didn't make it to 40. Still, it is a number that is somewhat hard to fathom.

50 years old as of today.

I look back on these years, and have to smile somewhat. I'm laughing while thinking of the words of a song by Crash Test Dummies:

"Someday I'll wear, pyjamas in the daytime
Someday I'll have, a disappearing hairline
Oh, oh, oh, afternoons, will be measured out
Measured out, measured with, coffee spoons
And T.S. Eliot."

When I was born, there were no computers, or not at least as we know them today. Phones were big, bulky, black, and operators worked switchboards with a myriad of plug-in cables. I was living in Brooklyn for those first few years, where everyone knew their neighbor, and the local coffee shop was where my addiction for the finest caffeinated beverage on the planet got its start. It's said that I was weaned from the bottle to the coffee cup. My mom, the child of Romanian immigrants. Dad, second generation whose father, was a first generation Hungarian (or at least I'm pretty sure that's where they're from), who was lucky enough to be working in the Post Office during the Depression, and was able to survive better than many other families.

We moved into the projects (council housing for my Brit friends) in Queens for a time. This is when living in the projects did not carry the stigma that it does today. They were designed to be a sort of way station until a family could improve their financial station in life, and hopefully move on to buying a home somewhere, which back in the 60's usually meant out into the suburbs. It appeared as though that was going to be my destiny, as we were looking at a house in New Jersey, when the unthinkable happened; my dad lost his job. We had to abandon the idea of the house, and looked north towards the Bronx, where a brand new private housing behemoth was being built.

October 19th, 1970. We moved up into the Bronx, and this is where I would spent the next 19 years of my life, in the place that would have the most impact on me while growing up. I had my own room, in what seemed like a huge apartment compared to the one we had in the projects, and an unlimited view from the 29th floor. The building was as tall as a Saturn V moon rocket, and the development held 60,000 people from all corners of NYC. It was a "cooperative housing" complex, meaning that one did not pay rent per se, and actually purchased equity, or "shares" as they were euphemistically called.

At the end of the day, it was rent.

It was here that I learned the way the world worked, from having and losing friends, to hanging out in the stairways and running from the local security force that tried to chase us away; to getting my first kiss, and smoking my first joint. Being mugged and fighting back. Learning to drive my dad's 1976 Chevy Nova, and using the back seat for learning about those things that my parents never bothered talking to me about. Going away to college and coming back on vacations and breaks. Hurrying back in 1984 to stay with my mom after my dad had his heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery.

Bringing my then girlfriend Mrs. N. to NYC for the first time. As we drove towards where I lived, she looked at the massive sprawling development and remarked, "You live in that mess???" Ah yes, this was the girl of my dreams.

Coming home after graduating. Getting hired in Brooklyn as a paramedic, where I would stay employed for 11 years. Getting diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease. Learning that my dad, who was getting sick with symptoms I should have recognized, had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion he had during his bypass surgery 4 years earlier. Waking up in my room on that Valentine's Day, 1988 to the my mom crying. Dad died during the night. He was brain dead on a ventilator after going into cardiac arrest a few days before following a bronchoscopy. I should have stayed in the hospital, and was kicking myself for many years afterwards for feeling as though I let him die alone. He was 62.

Getting married a year and a half later, and moving to Westchester County. I was now officially a suburbanite, though still an apartment dweller. Ten years there. Going to England and Scotland for the first time. Going on a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. Getting sicker from my ever progressing liver disease, getting promoted at work, getting my transplant, recovering, having the chance to see my niece, who was born 36 hours before my transplant. Another promotion, and then moving to Rochester.

Working on the organ transplant team for a year, then leaving health care behind altogether, and left with "What do I want to do with my life now?" syndrome. Picking up acting again, and falling in love with it all over again. Starting to write again, teaching myself how to do public relations. Losing Susan, my best friend in the world and fellow transplant recipient. Depression, medication, therapy. Buying a house, dealing with marriage issues, trying to find out who I am now.

A lot to cover in 50 years. As with most people, it is a balance of good, bad, and sometimes horrific life events. I almost didn't make 40, but am glad that I can see 50.

A cricket team or batsman can score 50 runs in an afternoon. I scored my runs one birthday at a time. Here's to another half-century.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Willy Wonka be damned!


Jay, over at thedeppeffect posted this the other day: a chocolate themed post, including Mr. Depp, of course. My mind immediately shot to the last piece of Cote d'Or that was sitting in my fridge. It was an anniversary gift from a dear friend of Mrs N.'s who had just returned from Belgium. I still marvel at the differences between American and chocolate from Europe, especially Belgian and Swiss chocolates. I truly have come to prefer the European variety, as ours seems to be just too sugary. I mean, sugar in chocolate is fine, but overdoing it just destroys the taste of the chocolate. I think I got my first taste of this type of chocolate when I was in England for the first time in 1989, and snacked on a Cadbury over there. I then came home, and really tasted the difference between the Cadbury that we would have here, and what I tasted over in England. Big difference.

So, what is your favorite chocolate indulgence, and what do you prefer? Very sweet, not so sweet, or bittersweet?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lions and tigers? No, just bears...oh my!

As those of you could tell from my last two posts, I was not in the best of health for the last two weeks or so, but fortunately the right antibiotic came along and I am back in good shape. I still have a slight cough, but this is not unusual to have something like this linger around for a while. I have talked with several other friends that seemed to have been battling the same thing over the past month or so, and they all commented to me that their cough hung around for several weeks after all their other symptoms went away. At least I'm not hacking up a lung like I was earlier.

There was a small hitch though: The antibiotic that my doctor prescribed, Avelox, caused an allergic reaction consisting of hives and itching so bad that I wanted to take a razor blade and peel the outer layer of my skin off just so it would stop. I stopped after one dose, and he gave me azithromycin (commonly referred to as a "Z-pack") instead. I was on this once before back in 2001 for bronchitis, and did very well on it. I just finished it last night, and it worked its magic again.

The really weird thing is that I have never, ever been allergic to any antibiotic in my life, so this was definitely a first for me.

I did get well enough for Mrs. Nighttime and I to go away to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. This was something we had planned for a while, and we chose to go to a cottage near Canandaigua Lake. It is part of a grouping of cottages called "The Quiet Place," which you can check out here. It is in the area of the Finger Lakes known as South Bristol, and has some of the most gorgeous scenery in the state. It is also very secluded, and smack in the middle of the woods.

We got there Thursday afternoon after having lunch at an orchard we like to go to normally for apple picking in the fall. They were having a luncheon with an all cherries theme. This is a family owned orchard that had been in the same family for about 150 years, and you can check them out here.

We got to the cottage at around 6, and basically just relaxed for the rest of the night. Friday, we went to two places in particular, The Wizard Of Clay Pottery, and the New York Wine And Culinary Center. The pottery shop was incredible, with all handmade objects of various sizes and designs. We picked up a round mirror with a glazed frame as a housewarming gift for my niece. It was pricey, but as all the selections there are handcrafted in their pottery shop, (for which wew got a tour of) it was well worth the investment. I can't show it to you, as it already has been gift wrapped.

For dinner, the owner of the cottage recommended The Brown Hound Bistro, which was in nearby Bristol Springs, and I (both of us, actually) had the best restaurant meal in a very long time. From the grilled seafood bisque, to my steak, (which was as good as anything I have ever eaten at some of the best steakhouses in NYC) and all the side dishes that came with both our entrees. The chef is French, trained in France, and the care that goes into his dishes is evident. We got to meet him, and complimented him copiously.

Driving back to the cottage, we pulled into the driveway, and as you can see here, there is a stone pathway that leads to the entrance above and ot the rear of it. As we pulled up, we saw a large adult black bear standing on the steps, his rump facing us. Now, as I grew up in the Bronx, the only bears I ever saw were either the Yogi Bear cartoon, or those kept at the Bronx Zoo. This was a close encounter I wanted no part of, and I told Mrs. Nighttime (whose car we were in) to, quite bluntly, GET US THE FUCK OUT OF HERE NOW!!!!

Ahem.

She turned the car around, and we headed to the main house, where the cottage owner lived. Making sure the bear was staying where he was, (he seemed entranced by the bird feeder on the tree adjacent to the steps) I hopped out and ran to the house. Taking some deep breaths, I knocked on door, and calmly (with my pulse racing) told the owner of our unwanted guest. She calmly called her 19 year-old son over, explained what was going on to him, and then he grabbed a baseball bat and started over towards the beast.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Mogul, the owner's 12 year-old white Great Pyrenees dog had run over to the bear, and got promptly booted down the steps. He didn't appear the worse for wear, and I'm sure that it could have been worse. He earned the treats we gave him from the treat jar that was located in the cottage.

The bear got spooked by something however, and ran off into the woods. I was told that the bears in this neck of the woods (pun intended) were still afraid of humans, unlike in other areas of the state, particularly in the Adirondacks. We were instructed to keep the porch light on just for good measure, but more than likely, it wouldn't come back, especially since she took down the bird feeder.

We settled in for the night, and got up early Saturday to go to Letchworth State Park, to see the Lower Falls. Mrs. N. started taking painting classes a few years ago, and recently completed a painting of the Lower Falls from a photograph. This is a photo I took while there:

and this is Mrs. N.'s painting.
(The original photo that she used to paint this view from was shot with a telephoto lens, hence this view.)

These are some more pics from the park, including the Upper and Middle Falls.

(Lower Falls, closer view.)

(Upper and Middle Falls)



Prior to going to the park, we had breakfast in Naples, one of the major wine producing towns in the Finger Lakes. A lovely local diner, Bob and Ruth's served up a great breakfast with enormous pancakes that we delicious.

After going through the park, we headed back north for home, and crashed with a good movie for the rest of the day. Oh, I would be remiss however to recommend yet another good Malbec. Luigi Bosca Reserva, 2006.

All in all, a nice way to spend our 20th anniversary.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Diagnosis....

It's not the liver. The respiratory infection I had simply did not go away completely, which is what I was leaning towards in the first place. The first antibiotic didn't get everything, so I'm on a more powerful one now.

I still feel like garbage, and will be taking it easy tonight. No work for me...

Round 2.

Whatever I had is back, only this time, my fever is spiking at 102.5, and the left side of my chest is hurting again. Tylenol is controlling the fever, but I am off to the doc tomorrow morning, and hopefully my transplant team won't stick my ass into the hospital.

I'll keep you posted as I can, if possible. I don't know if my transplant hospital has wifi, if that is where I end up.

This really, really sucks. I went through something similar two years ago, and had such a bad infection, it almost killed me.

Cross your fingers that this is something that some better antibiotics can help.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Evil spirits come OUT!

I've finally been able to mostly exorcise myself of the demon virus that so willfully and mercilessly attacked me on the shores of Robert Moses State Park beach about 10 days ago. I mean, there I was, enjoying my time with my old paramedic cohorts, recalling past days, and marveling at how much some of us have aged (in a good way). It seemed to creep up on me at first, a little tickle in the throat, some sneezing and coughing, and then the next thing I knew, my voice had bailed on me. It wound up staying away more or less for about four days, causing me to miss some work, and making me feel generally miserable. I finally broke down and went to the doc, though I had actually started feeling better at that point. The problem was a productive cough that would not go away, and phlegm that was looking a little suspicious in my book.

As it turns out, I probably had a small, underlying bacterial infection so some antibiotics were prescribed, and I'm doing far better.

Now, as for the NYC trip: It was a grand time. We got down there on Thursday, and spent most of that day with my mom. She made dinner for myself and Mrs. N., and we just chilled a bit, especially after a 7 hour drive. We left a little later than planned, and ran smack into NYC rush hour traffic. Oddly enough, I was okay with it, took it in stride, and didn't lean on my horn. The only thing I had to adjust to, as is always the case when I drive down there, is that I become more aggressive in my driving. It's like riding a bike. You don't forget how to cut the other guy off with aplomb, and give the finger to the asshole that cut you off, all at the same time.

Friday was a great day. We met two friends, Ben and Susan, that moved to NYC about two years ago from Rochester. They live in Brooklyn, in an area I'm familiar with, in a brownstone building. Susan is a web developer with a small company near the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, and Ben is an audio/video exhibit designer at the American Museum Of Natural History on Central Park West. We met Susan for Lunch at Yatagan, the small but wonderful Turkish kebab house in Greenwich Village. I have been going there since about 1978, a little hole in the wall with wonderful food. As Susan is a vegetarian, there was something for all of us there. She was head over heels with the food, and as we left to go meet Ben at the museum, I showed her some of the other eateries that line MacDougal Street between Bleecker and West 3rd St.

We hopped on the subway at the West 4th St. station, right under what was the old Waverly Theatre, home to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, when it first came out as a movie in the mid-70's. We rode uptown to the museum, where Ben secured us tickets to see a show at the Hayden Planetarium/Rose Science Center, which is part of the museum. It was all about cosmic collisions, and it was the first time I have been to a show at the Hayden in quite a while. I have very vivid memories of going down there on Friday nights back in the late 70's with my friend Cliff, smoking a few joints in the park next to the museum, and then going to the Hayden for the Pink Floyd laser show. (Wait, I can remember those times? Obviously I didn't smoke enough!)

After the show was over, we met Ben, and he gave us a guided tour of some of the new exhibits in the museum, especially those he was involved with designing. As it was about quitting time for Ben, the four of us hopped over to a wine bar that was nearby, Riposo72. Not a big place, but lots of atmosphere, and an incredible wine selection. We shared a bottle of Septima Malbec, and a large plate of assorted fruits, cheeses and bread. We stayed for close to 2 hours, talking and then started walking back downtown towards 32nd and Broadway, where Mrs. N. and I were going to meet my cousin and his wife for dinner at a Korean restaurant that Mrs. N's hairdresser recommended.

We strolled down Broadway from the 70's on down, and for a brief moment, I began to wonder why I why I ever moved away from here. I sheepishly admitted to myself that I missed the energy and drive that New York generates. As we walked closer to Times square, the mass of people seemed to double, then triple within just a few minutes. For a time, I felt right at home again, but then I realized that while I was enjoying the moment, it was not something I craved as the everyday anymore. I just soaked in the energy and the moment for what it was. Just at Times Square, Ben caught this great pic of 42nd Street, looking west at sunset. It had been raining just a short time before, a torrential rain, and the sky was left as you see it here:
Rather recently, within the last few weeks, a portion of Times Square on Broadway was made into a pedestrian walkway. No cars coursing through the vein-like, snaking thoroughfare, that is one of the oldest in the city, if not the oldest. There is only a small break where 7th Avenue crosses Times Square, then the pedestrian mall starts up again, down to at least 40th Street. It is an eerie sight, with folding chairs that the city has provided there for the pedestrians to allow for relaxation if needed. It is an interesting idea, but we'll see how long it lasts, based on what effect it has on the traffic flow.

We get to 32nd, and make the left turn off Broadway, and right there is our restaurant. it's strange how you can live in a city your whole life, and not know that there are pockets of ethnic fare and businesses in a particular area. As it turns out, the area of 32nd St. between 5th and Broadway is known as "Korea Way." Who knew? Certainly not me, and I grew up in NYC. It's all Korean businesses and shops and restaurants.

The restaurant that was recommended to us was Kum Gang San. I have to say, that it was without a doubt the best Korean food I have ever tasted. The portions were plentiful everything was very fresh, and the staff were terrific. It's also open 24 hours, so if you have a craving for kimchee, Bul Go Ki, or marinated beef short ribs, (which are to die for ) then this is the place for you. It is also incredibly reasonably priced for a Manhattan restaurant.

We had a nice time with my cousins, and they graciously offered to drive us back up to the Bronx, especially since it was on their way home. They parked more towards the east side, so we took a leisurely stroll down 32nd St, and found their car near 2nd Ave, and made the 30 minute trip back up to the Bronx.

Tomorrow, the tale of the reunion, and demon that made me speak in whispers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I'm not ignoring you...

...I'm just taking it easy. I want to tell all of you about my great time in NYC, but it will have to wait another day or so. Seems as though I picked up something while down there. I first thought it was allergies, but it is becoming apparent that I picked up some sort of upper respiratory infection. I lost my voice for 3 days, and it is still wobbly. I am hacking up a lung, and was feeling better today, but it seems to have turned back and sucker punched me again.

My mom called today and told me that she now has what I have, so that sort of confirms that this was not from allergies.

Off to the doc tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The past is calling.

Tomorrow morning at 9 am, we're leaving for NYC on a trip to see family, but for me, it is a long awaited event that I'm looking forward to.

Ten years ago this month, we made our move up here to Rochester, leaving friends, family, and a way of life behind. It was also the end of my career in emergency medical services. It was one of the hardest, if not the hardest decision I ever had to make, leaving a life and a career that I loved so very much. The problem was that the job was simply no longer any fun, and it was obvious to me that I needed to get away from it. I spent 22 years in that field, with a lot of amazing memories, many good ones, many bad ones, and a few that were flat out horrific. All-in-all, I would never have traded it for anything in the world. The greatest title I will ever have will have been that of New York City Paramedic. The subtitle of this blog, "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe," is not only a line from Blade Runner, but it perfectly sums up the job. There is also another quote from the movie "Bringing Out The Dead," that also summarizes that job. the original novel was written by NYC paramedic Joe Connelly, who I remember, though I suspect he may not remember me.

I have never seen the movie, or read the book, and I'm I'm not sure I ever will. I lived too close to it, and don't need certain memories revisited. I did however, find this quote from the movie that made me shiver, as it was so frighteningly accurate:

"I realized that my training was useful in less than ten percent of the calls, and saving lives was rarer than that. After a while, I grew to understand that my role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness. I was a grief mop. It was enough that I simply turned up."

Now, that said, what made the job so worthwhile were the people I worked with, and none more so than at the place I spent 11 years at, St. Mary's Hospital in Brooklyn. The people that I worked with there became my extended family, were there for me at all times, especially when I was sick and waiting for my transplant. While we have all gone our separate ways, especially since they closed the hospital 3 years ago, many of us still keep in contact through Facebook. We called ourselves "Mary's Mercenaries," as we were paid to work in what was ostensibly a combat zone. Such was Brooklyn, and indeed NYC as a whole back in the mid-80's t0 mid-90's. I wore a level III-A Kevlar vest under my uniform shirt, and was shot at on occasion. We were proud of being the busiest ambulance garage in all the 9-1-1 system in NYC at that time, so much so that we had these off-duty shirts made:

(Front - I don't know why Blogger is rotating this pic this way.)
Rear:
Now for the best part: In addition to seeing family, I am going to a St. Mary's Mercenary reunion out on Long Island at Robert Moses State Park and beach. There are many people I have not seen in almost 10 years, some a little longer, so this is going to be a lot of fun. I also have not seen the ocean in a long, long time as well. It will be great to be together again with people that mean the world to me, and a little sad remembering some of them that are no longer with us. We lost a few people over the years from my dept., either to accidents or disease.

Time for a lot of laughs, a lot of memories, and reconnecting with old friends.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mama took our Kodachrome away.

"Kodachrome/ They give us those nice bright colors/ They give us the greens of summers/ Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah/ I got a Nikon camera/ I love to take a photograph/ So mama don't take my Kodachrome away"

Paul Simon - "Kodachrome"

(photo from Democrat and Chronicle - Gannett News Service)

An American institution has bit the dust, a victim of technology and the laws of supply and demand.

When I first learned how to shoot 35mm in high school, Kodachrome was what I learned on, in addition to Kodak Tri-X black and white. It's hard to imagine that Kodachrome will be no more, but today's article in our local paper confirms it. While time marches on, it is also another reflection of the hard times Kodak faces. Modern Rochester was more or less built around Kodak, and it has been downsizing steadily over the past 15-20 years. Once the number one employer, it is now number three, behind the University of Rochester, and Wegman's.

I have not shot 35mm for a while, and my revered Olympus OM-10 has sat unused for sometime, but I am thinking that it might be time to resurrect it. I have thought about saving and getting a good digital 35, but there is something about loading a film roll into a camera, hearing the click of the shutter and mirror that is, well, nostalgic and magic at the same time.

I know there are several photographers that follow my blog, and I'd like you to chime in on this. There is this argument that, as far as I can tell, still persists amongst pro photographers:

Which is better - digital media or film?

Digital media has come a long way in the past 10 years, but I have met photographers that still insists that it doesn't have the color saturation or crispness of a Kodachrome, or other professional film.

Let the argument begin! No throwing of film canisters please.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing. Doo wah, doo wah, doo wah.

For the first time in some years, Mrs. N and I went to see some of the acts at the Rochester International Jazz Festival. This is only the 8th year of the festival, still young by the standards of say, Monterrey, Montreaux, or other, more well established venues. This doesn't mean it's not a big deal. In fact it has gained a reputation on the festival circuit as being one of the best run in the country, and this is from the artists themselves.

It all starts here, at the Eastman Theatre...
Built in 1922 by George Eastman of Kodak fame, it is home to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and serves as the principal venue for all the headliners at the jazz festival. It is also connected with the Eastman School of Music, the most prestigious music school in North America, even surpassing Julliard in many of its programs. Students come here from all over the world to study.

What is even more impressive is that in the face of economic hardship, when many other festivals have been canceled, (including the NYC jazz festival, of all places) Rochester's has expanded and is actually doing better and better every year. Like many other jazz festivals however, they have needed to book acts outside of what would be considered jazz, especially by purists of the art. Still, it makes for a fine music festival, with both international, national, and local musicians plying their trade in the music halls and streets of the East End of downtown Rochester.

We strolled down Gibbs St. after being on East Ave. to hear both Tower Of Power, and Robert Randolph and The Family Band, that were playing on opposite ends of East Ave. Mrs. N. is not a fan of funk, so we wound up listening to the Po' Boys, a band that does covers of everything from jazz to rock.

Of course there were the requisite vendor stands, with everything from hot dogs, to ice cream to t-shirts to what-have-you. To say that the streets were packed is an understatement


To get an idea of who was playing here, you simply came to the bill plastered on the side of the Eastman, and you get a pretty good feel for the scope of the concert:
There are some acts that have been here before, especially one guy, who some of you might know. He is, in no uncertain terms, a legend:
The man is 90 years old and still tours. He is the epitome of the jazz musician who will probably die doing what he loves.

There are other regulars too:
Yep, Rochester is a huge music town, and this festival is just one example. If you're in the area, there's still one night left, so, "Grab your flat hat and your axe/For tomorrow at ten, we'll be working again." (Steely Dan - "Teahouse On The Tracks.")

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blogger annonymity in the UK is dead.

I just read this story this morning, and almost spewed my morning cup of java all over the monitor:

http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article6509677.ece

Now I'm forced to wonder two things: First, how long will it be before something like this is tried here, and second, what about my UK blogger friends who choose to blog anonymously? How about it folks? Time to chime up with an opinion. Is this a restriction on free speech? Will this become a first amendment challenge here in the U.S.? What does this mean now for all you UK bloggers?

Let's hear it. Personally, I think it sucks.