I had occasion recently to go to the beach and watch fireworks with my daughter and her family. It wasn’t a holiday… No special events or anything like that… it was in the middle of the week and we just went for no other reason than because we could. And, as anyone that knows me would tell you, I happen to possess and almost intolerable affinity for the ocean. I will seize any opportunity to spend time there in any weather, under any circumstances, for as long as anyone can stand taking me there and waiting for me to be ready to leave.
I don’t fancy myself an astrologer or anything like that, and I certainly don’t make book on my life’s plans based on any horoscope I might come across here and there around the interwebs, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit here that descriptions of me, according to my birthday, are creepy scary accurate in far too many ways to count. As such, it is easy to blame my early March birthday (Pisces) for my otherwise-inexplicable attraction to water. Long before I knew anything about such matters as astrology, I have always known that being at the ocean… or near any large body of water… is where I have been the happiest and the calmest and most relaxed. It’s as if listening to the waves kissing the sand and smelling the heavily salted air recharges my batteries somehow, and reboots my soul. My thoughts are free to wander aimlessly, untethered by the daily monotony of life, and I am somehow made whole again.
And so it was that we arrived at the beach a couple hours before sunset and settled into our spot from which we would View the show once it got dark. We did what most people do, and trundle down to the water’s edge in our bare feet looking for seashells and marveling at the beautiful view and stupid cold water temperatures. The North Atlantic, if you’ve never been, is quite chilly… even in the warmest months of the year… With temperatures that rarely rise above 60 degrees. Kids say they love it as they come back for their towel with blue skin and chattering teeth. Grown-ups that know better just simply call it stupid cold.
I felt as if I was where I was born to be, doing what I was born to do.
Looking up and down the beach it was easy to see that everyone there had come for the same reason; find a good spot and wait for it to get dark. The bikini and Speedo-clad crowd had already left for the day, and only the fireworks revelers were there now, waiting for the show to get started.
Everyone was calm and relaxed and engaged in small talk about any number of topics that you might imagine. There was laughter in some areas and quiet reflection in others interspersed with children of all ages digging and building sand castles and bickering with their siblings.
In other words, it was a gathering of people doing what gathered people do.
It occurred to me, as I sat there soaking in the conversations going on all around me and observed the folks in their own silent reflection… perhaps we charging their own souls… That maybe there was something to this hole Pisces thing after all. That maybe, just maybe, each of us – as unique spiritual beings – are drawn to our respective astrological element from time to time so that we can put ourselves back together again after long enough periods of time spent being torn into little pieces by the demands of the world around us.
It’s hard to say for sure what goes on in other people’s quiet minds, but the one thing I have come to understand about humans- fundamentally social creatures by nature – is that, every so often, we need to gather together and share common experiences – even if only for a short while – so that we might recharge our batteries before heading back into our own respective internal wildernesses.
As a hermit, I was quite anxious to return to mine… happy to leave the crowds behind… but a better, more whole hermit for having taken the time to reboot and put myself all back together again.
I video taped the fireworks show and put it up on YouTube. You might enjoy the family banter while that recording was taking place. Note the background sounds as the tide was coming in 🙂
My birthday came and went a few weeks ago, quietly and with little fanfare as birthdays should be once you have fallen headlong into your twilight years. And, the older I get the more I appreciate the value of quiet contemplation during our annual naked day celebrations over the failure to recall, the morning after, much of what happened or who it happened with.
This year, on the other hand, I found myself having been given an opportunity to embark on a rather tricky tricycle caper that would lead me to play private investigator and amateur cop.
To properly set this story up, and before we go too far, I refer you back to a story I wrote not long after I started this website about a random stranger I met while out riding a bicycle I really didn’t have any business riding for health and safety reasons. I explained that, with my particular set of challenges, a two-wheeled bicycle is a terrible idea. I bought it anyway and discovered almost immediately why wiser wisdom should be heeded.
And despite what you have heard… you really can forget how to ride one under the right set of circumstances.
And so it was that my brother and his lovely bride decided it was time to set me up with a red adult tricycle… complete with the bonnie wire basket typically found on such devices and used to carry groceries or supplies. They hoped, as did I, that my chances of being splattered whilst weaving in and out of City traffic would be greatly reduced by outfitting me with a means of transportation that would provide me better balance and stability and improve my chances of staying in one piece.
To many, the image of a pudgy old guy tooling around on a tricycle might elicit uncontrollable laughter, but all I felt when I first sat on it and pedaled 50 yards up the sidewalk was the exhilaration a fat kid feels when he’s made off with the rest of his Big Brother’s Easter candy.
I was giggling… and noticed, almost right away, that the only thing missing was one of those little bells you ring on your handlebars and decided it would be the very first thing I needed to acquire.
My brother said as much when I pedaled myself back to the house.
Over the next several days I took it out for a joyride up and down a few side streets, around the park a couple of times, and even up to the local convenience store once or twice. It was wonderful; there is a noticeable difference between having to stay upright by pedaling faster and just sitting on your butt rolling down the road and just enjoying the ride.
I quickly realized how much more relaxed I was while riding than I had been on the mountain bike even though I really enjoy riding that as well.
The only real downside to a tricycle for grown-ups is that it is bulky and heavy and difficult to carry up and down stairs. I live on a busy street and, although it is a fairly safe neighborhood, it’s generally poor practice to leave your bicycle out in the yard unattended for extended periods of time. As such, I was forced to put it up on my porch and wrap a plastic coated steel combination bicycle lock around it and one of the posts that hold up the porch roof.
It’s not a bad scenario for a normal person but presents a number of challenges for people like me who really shouldn’t be carrying such things up and down stairs.
On Wednesday of the first week that I had the as yet unnamed tricycle, my oldest grandson came to visit and drop off one of my daughter’s famous naughty treats… some frosted gluten-free banana nut thing (which was gloriously delicious by the way)… and left about 20 minutes later. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he had gone outside to leave and discovered that his bicycle had been stolen from my front yard where it had been sitting – literally – 6 feet away from the tricycle that was tethered to the post up on my porch.
He ran home and gathered up his mother and sister and they drove around the neighborhood looking for his bicycle.
It was my granddaughter who saw it first… just inside an open garage door… around the corner about a block away from my house, in the other direction.
I knew about none of this until much later in the day but, as the story goes, my grandson – 6 months shy of his black belt – jumped out of the car and approached the punk ass teenagers, demanding that they return his bicycle.
A few words were exchanged… the thieves insisting it was an honest mistake and that they thought it was their friend’s bicycle – and gave the bike back without further incident.
I call bullshit.
Two days later, my new tricycle… tucked under some low-hanging branches and tethered to a chain link fence all the way up in my backyard and as far away from the road as it could be… was stolen. This time the little bastards had cut through the steel cable (which means they had to have had some type of bolt cutter or incredibly heavy duty wire cutters).
[hand raised] Who the fuck steals an old guy’s tricycle?
The police were called and – like we had just done two days prior – a ride was taken around the neighborhood that let us back to the now-infamous garage door of stolen bicycle fame. The door was closed of course, and there were no signs of life naturally, but we know they were watching us through a blind and a slightly opened curtain.
In part two I will take you through what happened next.
As I have said many times on these pages, one of the greatest of my few simple pleasures, in this lifestyle I am trying to perfect, is pretending I am oblivious (while listening more intently than the KGB) to the conversations that go on around me when I am out amongst the human riff-raff. And, as much as you might think the best stories can be eaves-dropped in an eating establishment or a doctor’s office waiting room, it is the bus ride banter that is far more deliciously rich than any other public gathering venue.
And so it was that, on this particular day last week, I found myself needing to make a quick run to the low-end grocery store for a few items to hold me over until the next check. Little did I know that I was headed straight toward a front-row view of a time long past in our culture.
The inbound #10 was empty on the trip down and the walk up and down the aisles was uneventful. Once through checkout, the backpack filled with the goods, I headed out the door and across the driveway to the bus stop.
A lady was sitting in the middle of the three-seat bench so, as I approached, I put my bag down on the cement and prepared to stand and wait for the bus.
But she would have none of it.
You know, the older I get the more my grandmother’s wisdom and her instruction about life and how good and decent people should go about living it makes sense to me. And the more these things come back to visit me when I sit quietly enough and let the lives of random strangers play out before me. Such was the case with that sweet lady as she started scolding me for trying to be a gentleman and yield the seat to her.
She stood up and moved over one seat, patting the seat she had just vacated, and insisted that I come sit down next to her. She said it was too cold outside and that we should sit close together and share our body heat to keep warm, the whole time going on about how we were equal and that I should not give her special treatment just because she was a lady.
I’m not good with foreign language or fashion but if I had to I would say she was from an African culture judging by how she was dressed and her heavy accent. Not able to get a word in edgewise, I quietly obeyed her smiling face and contagious disposition and sat down next to her as she continued to do all the talking… prattling on about how this was the modern age and everybody was equal, all the while lamenting the great disservice that had been done to women by all this “burning of bras and equal rights nonsense”.
And how much she would like to punch Gloria Steinem in the face.
I shit you not: “PUNCH GLORIA STEINEM IN THE FACE!”
It took every fiber of my being to keep a straight face and nod sympathetically in the hope that – now that she was on a roll – she might elaborate, from a woman’s perspective, on an opinion I happened to quite strongly share. But before she got the chance, the outbound #10 rolled up and we had to collect ourselves and our quarters so we could board and be on our way. As the bus door opened, and before I could stop it from coming out of my mouth, I stepped back and said with a big smile – “ladies first”.
Don’t blame me… blame my grandmother.
Once settled in my seat, I drifted off into my own quiet thoughts about Gloria Steinem and the women’s liberation movement and pictured in my mind – as I have done more than once – punching her in the face myself. Don’t get me wrong… I’m a huge fan of the “burning bras” part, but that part about how “men suck and women would be better off without them” business, or how much the movement focused on tearing down men and the role they play- as both a father and a husband – broke a lot of otherwise well-working parts in our culture and Society.
But before I got too far with those thoughts, I heard my bus stop compadre striking up a conversation with the lady bus driver… right where she had left off with me a few minutes earlier.
I fully appreciate that times have changed, and I admit to struggling, sometimes, to keep up with the pace of change(s) in our modern culture. Mind you, my greatest difficulty lies in understanding many of the reasons why it is so important to “kids these days” that we put aside old traditions such as respecting your elders, opening the door for a lady, holding her chair while she sits down in a restaurant, etc. But I do accept – however begrudgingly – that these sorts of behaviors are now considered “outdated” and no longer in keeping with our allegedly “enlightened society”.
Had you been with me when the bus driver and my new bus stop buddy tore off into a rant about the harm that had been done to women because of Gloria Steinem and others you would have been as surprised as I was to learn that – at least these two women- much preferred to be treated the way my grandmother always taught me to treat women.
You would have heard them firing off example after example of how disrespectful this new and more enlightened generation had become when it came to women. You would have heard the driver long for the days when she could afford to stay home and raise her children. And you would have heard my bus stop partner complain about what had happened to her children… products of a school system that had been so busy teaching her daughters how important it was for them to be angry and vocal about the things they were being deprived of that they never got around to teaching them how important it was to put their children and their spouses first… above all other things in life.
As of the publish date of this entry, Google tells me dear Gloria is still alive although she is 84 years old now. Given what I heard on the bus, taking into account how enlightened our society is now, I’d say it’s a damn good thing ‘ol Gloria does it ride the #10.
I have always been a big believer in the idea of Karma and the role I have prayed to God countless times that it might play in the evening the score with people beyond my reach to pay back for crimes against me or the people I love. But it never occurred to me to look at Karma as a way in which people can be repaid for the love or kindness or generosity that they might have selflessly bestowed upon others.
That was, at least, until I witnessed – and participated in – a moment in which Karma & My Doctor came face-to-face in an examining room.
For some backdrop, I should point out that I am blind in a little more than half of the right side of each eye and grapple with some really “interesting” cognitive deficiencies as a result of having had three strokes. I only mention it here to set the stage for this story by pointing out that the doctor in question is my Neurologist.
For the record, I am a life-long hater of doctors and hospitals. There has always been something different about this guy, though, and looking back on it now, I’d have to guess that some of our random encounters in life might not really be quite so random after all. My last stroke brought with it a whole new horde of doctors and nurses into my life and it caused me to cross paths with this new Neurologist and, later, an Occupational Therapist that would effectively change my life. These two, in particular, forced me to ultimately put aside my preconceived notions about the medical industry and fully embrace the care these two would give me in spite of myself.
And so it was that, after a year and a half of monthly post – stroke visits and roughly six bi-monthly visits, the Neurologist and I had come down to our last visit before transitioning to annual ones. It was like graduation day minus the champagne and the cap and tassel. He was very proud of himself and very proud of me and announced that – now that I had been put all back together – I had a good 20 or 30 years left in me to live out a good long life.
In all honesty, I’d have to say the man was beaming.
I looked up at him, feeling a little frantic and distraught, and said:
“What the fuck am I supposed to do with myself for the next 20 or 30 years in this condition? I can’t work, I can’t drive, I can barely read or write, and I am barely allowed by you guys to even live alone unsupervised.”
Without even a hint of hesitation, and coming from a man half my age, the response was both incredibly complex and terrifyingly simple all at the same time:
“Find something that gives meaning and purpose to your life”.
I remember wanting to argue and disagree and give the speech all over again about what I couldn’t ever do again or would struggle with for the rest of my life. I wanted to reject the advice and insist such wisdom might work for others but couldn’t possibly apply to me.
But I didn’t.
We fist-bumped our goodbyes (that was our thing instead of shaking hands and spreading germs) and I walked the two miles back home with plenty of time to navel gaze and internalize and process our conversation.
A year later, when our appointment was due again, I was informed that he was not seeing patients but that he was still on staff. The more I asked the less, they assured me, they could tell me beyond reiterating that he was still on staff and that I was welcome to make an appointment but with one of the other specialists. I reluctantly did and then blew it off when the appointment day came, telling them I was too sick and asking if I could reschedule.
Half of the second year came and went and my guy was still on staff and still not seeing patients. Now fully back in “I hate doctors” mode, but out of excuses to avoid setting up an appointment, I relented and let them schedule me for some new random doctor. The next available appointment wasn’t for 3 months out so I happily cast it into the short-term memory bin, which has more holes in it than the Titanic thanks to my medical history.
When the appointment reminder call with the new guy came… as fate would have it… the forecasted high temperature for that day was 18 below with the wind chill. Given that this is not the sort of weather a half blind person should challenge on icy sidewalks, I rescheduled. Again.
And I got a 90-day reprieve for my troubles because that was the next available opening with the new doctor.
When appointment day finally came, and I went through the check-in process that included filling out a questionnaire for the new doctor, I asked for assistance because of my visual issues and someone happily took my answers and wrote them down for me. During that banter I went on and on about my old doctor and how much I missed him and how little anyone would tell me about what happened to him. I still got no answers and sat in a chair waiting for intake.
The intake nurse was nice enough, the blood pressure was fantastic, and I continued babbling about my old doctor, and how much I missed him, but I still got no leaks. She excused herself, telling me “the doctor will be with you shortly”, and left me there for about 10 minutes with no other sound beyond the incessant ticking of one of those cheap clocks you see in examination rooms.
And I waited.
About the time that I had decided those clocks were designed to serve as some form of subliminal torture, along the lines of Poe’s ruminations on the matter of Tell Tale Hearts, a different nurse walked in and asked if I would like to see my original doctor instead of the one I was scheduled to see.
I was gobsmacked.
I said I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do and before I could gush anymore, she was out the door again. And within a couple of minutes there he was, standing in the doorway… grinning as if he had just found out what that evening’s winning lottery numbers were going to be.
He looked completely unchanged and displayed no outer signs of trauma or malady. We exchanged more grins, and then he spoke and I was instantly in sensory overload.
Something was terribly wrong with his speech and it was initially quite difficult to understand his words.
I should point out here that one of my more interesting cognitive issues now, as a result of the strokes, is what has happened to my hearing. It has naturally improved as my eyesight has waned… but now, wherever I go, I literally hear everything. If I’m in a crowded restaurant I can hear every voice from every table and I can hear every word each of them says to the other despite the fact that I cannot see who is saying what to whom at which table. It’s almost like I have a “Spidey sense” about voices and sounds and frequencies but a complete loss of any sense of direction or origin. It’s kind of cool when you want to be nosy but it’s horrifying when it comes over you like a wave yet is horribly distorted. My brain struggles to process it and translate it with any comprehensible clarity.
And so it was that, when he started talking, it sounded as if there was something wrong with his jaw, or his tongue, or maybe even his voice box or all of the above. My head was swimming and I was struggling to make sense of it all while working overtime not to show any facial expressions or act as if anything was the least bit out of the ordinary.
When he sat down, to his credit, the first thing he said was “before we talk about what’s going on with you these days, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.” That set both of us at ease, I think because I laughed and then he laughed and then he set about telling me everything that had happened… including some personal stuff about some of the ways his life had changed, both professionally and personally, since we had last seen each other roughly two years earlier.
And then we sat in silence for a minute or two, each of us trying to take it all in.
Half a year after our last appointment together he had suffered some type of coronary embolism event that ultimately led to his having had strokes on both sides of his body. They affected the left side a little more than the right and had caused his speech to become heavy and slurred and he, like me, struggled with something they call “word finding” … a thing we stroke survivors often have to deal with… where we know what we want to say but can’t pull the word out of our brain and push it through our mouths.
As he finished his story about the events of the previous two years and told me about all the Occupational therapy he had endured… and his fight to get back to work as a Neurologist… and all of the personal cost he had incurred during that journey, my head was swimming in my own personal flashbacks.
What kept playing over and over in my mind was the very advice he had once given me… at our last appointment two years earlier. And it came out of me before I even realized I was thinking about saying it out loud.
I told him how proud of him I was, and how deeply I admired and respected his determination to stand up, dust himself off, and get back in the saddle after everything he had lost and everything he had been through. And I told him that I was as sure as I could be that it was Karma that had kept me away from his office all that time… waiting until he was ready to come back to work and continue my care and take back the meaning and purpose in his own life that he had chosen to pursue all those years ago when he chose med school.
As Karma would have it, he had only just returned to work the day before my appointment and I think I was the first actual patient he had seen since getting back.
And for his efforts… for everything he had been through as he clawed his way back to his own meaningful and purposeful life… I want to believe that I gave him back some of the courage he had so freely given away to me and that he was reminded of all the reasons he never gave up. And he reminded me, at the same time, that all any of us can do in this life is either lay down and die or fight every day to make the most out of whatever hand we are dealt.
[Images via Wikipedia & Viral Novelty]