The Fortress of Solitude

Many years ago my Manager, in what may have been the most unprofessional incident by a manager towards me in my career, attacked me about my Facebook content. Our company did not use FB, he himself did not have it but his son was on it one day and my boss asked him to pull up mine. The following Monday he went up one side of me and down the other because I belonged to some Conservative (no I am not a Nazi) sites and I posted some political stuff. He thought that it was inappropriate and tried to link it to my professional life, which was an unfair and inaccurate assessment. We argued heavily, he was way out of line. When I got home that night, I took a moment to peruse some of my FB activity. While I still didn’t agree that I had a toxic presence online, I realized that it certainly wasn’t a positive one. I chimed in on questionable posts, I made a lot of bad jokes, I argued with a few hard-headed idiots that were better left non-engaged. I could do better. I decided at that moment that my online presence from that point on would be positive or nonexistent. No more negativity.

This principle applies to my blog as well. From the beginning, I have posted some very personal and graphic details about my life but I never did it in a negative, whiny, or complaining manner. I will tell anyone anything about me but the LAST thing I want is for someone to feel bad for me. Therefore, my posts are never done to elicit sympathy and when they read like a Sylvia Plath poem then it is time to re-evaluate my mindset.

That’s why I have been away for over 2 weeks. I have been way South of a positive place.

Here is a matter-of-fact breakdown of what has been going on.

Superman has been hiding out in his fortress of solitude. It is an unfortunate pattern I follows when life gets too much. I close myself off from the world. It’s not hiding, it’s preparing for the next step.

I have been sick for the better part of July. Not necessarily “praying to the Porcelain Goddess” sick but as far as Renal disease symptoms are concerned I hit the fucking jackpot. Massive muscle cramping, nausea, fatigue and brain fog. I spent the better part of 2 weeks on the sofa, napping intermittently during the day, restless and sleepless at night. I lacked the energy to set even one meaningful goal per day. To make matters worse, I had scheduled surgery on the 17th to install a new fistula (a vascular port on my arm) in preparation for my upcoming dialysis. They also surgically closed off my old, failed fistula. It was day surgery but very painful. So painful that I couldn’t type for about ten days.

I had the house to myself for the week immediately following my surgery and I can only describe it as a sofa-bound blur. I had visits from my oldest son and his best friend and my oldest daughter over the course of the week and I was so happy to see them but too sick to show it. I could barely get off the sofa to say goodbye when they left. It saddened me that I was unable to maintain my usual cheerful. albeit false demeanor. Of course nothing saddened me more than the scared look my kids had on their faces. They tried to conceal it, but they were shocked at my sudden deterioration. I had now had enough, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I called my Nephrologist and asked to be evaluated.

Friday I got the call. I am in need of dialysis. Immediately. This week will be a week of information gathering and planning. I am not looking forward to it. I’m anxious and a bit nervous. But it is my future and it is time that I face it.

On the positive side, maybe I’ll feel better.

See, I ended on a positive. I don’t even know how I did that.


My favorite place

FB memories, the well-intentioned feature that shows you posts from years ago “on this day”, has been my Lex Luthor of late. They have been a source of great anxiety and annoyance as they remind me of the dreaded “used-to’s“. All of the memories that pop up are of better, healthier days. Days that I miss so badly.  Today, one popped up that I wrote in 2015 about my beloved hobby of Mountain Biking.

Post-Transplant in 2011, I needed a means to get my body healthy and I chose biking. Initially, I bought a street bike. I was a newbie so I rode mostly alone. Once I was able to ride 20 miles or more I began to ride with organized groups. I became strong enough to ride 55 miles in one day, while never the fastest, I took great pride in just being part of it. It was my recovery. But it created a new problem, immunosuppressant medications increase your odds of skin cancer and after 2 years of riding, I had 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma’s removed from my face. I was told to stay out of the sun.

So I explored Mountain Biking. I bought a bike, researched trails and hit the woods. I was immediately hooked. It was challenging, the rough terrain and obstacles required skill and technique, yet I was compelled to rise to the challenge. The atmosphere was amazing, miles into the woods you weren’t observing nature, you were immersed in it. I began to take my camera to photograph the Deer, Bears and even Fisher Cats that I would encounter (from a safe distance of course). I would head out early in the AM in the hopes of seeing my favorite sights, crashing through a clearing to see a pond, the mist coming off it in the early morning heat; the owls that would buzz me as it headed to its tree to sleep the day off after a busy night of hunting; and of course the wonderful sight of nothing but me and trees. It was my Nirvana. And I was out of direct sunlight so no skin cancer.

Through FB I found a group to ride with and I made an instant group of wonderful friends. Riding with them made me happier than I had been in years. They weren’t just riding buddies, they were real friends. By 2015, I was a regular part of the group. Crazy Bill they called me. I took risks, I fell a lot, but I gave it hell and went home every day feeling accomplished and euphoric. Then I got sick in the spring of 2016 and I suppose you know the rest.

Why am I telling you this? Because despite how much today’s FB “Reminder” saddened me, I was reminded of my Buddy Tom of Tom Being Tom Fame had written a post about his favorite place and challenged his readers to write of theirs. So I turned a negative into a positive because I’m sick of being down.

Here is the FB post from 2015 that started all of this if you would care to read it:
This past fall I made a decision that I was only about 80% sure of. My new activity for the last few years is biking. It was my chosen rehab tool after my surgery to get into some semblance of shape. I got 2 bikes, a street, and a mountain bike. I upgraded once on both but I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. But last fall I traded in both bikes on a new, nicer full suspension Mtn bike. I picked one and went with it. Well, I am now 100% sure that I made the right decision. Many of my family and friends have questioned both the commitment and the hazards I have put upon myself and to be fair I have hurt myself badly a couple of times. People have questioned the wisdom of a person my age with my medical history taking such risks. They don’t understand it, and a lot of the risks I can avoid but I want to push myself, to experience adrenaline and accomplishment and I don’t give a shit about goes away a lot faster than regret over doing nothing. I love the trails, the woods, mother nature and the comradery of the new friends I have made. But it is even more than that now. Mtn biking has become a metaphor for my life. Let me explain.
When we first start the ride it is easy, you are fresh like when you wake in the morning. But you know the hills and the obstacles are coming, you either prepare for them or let them blindside you. 
When the trails are smooth and flowing it is the equivalent of your life going smoothly. Enjoy it but be in the right gear when you round that corner and see the hill.
The hill is adversity and the obstacles; exposed roots, jagged rocks, and logs are the people telling you that you can’t do it. 
When you make the decision to try that hill, to power over that rock, to push yourself you have made the decision to at least try to prove them wrong. And make it or not, at least you tried. 
Then you come to a downhill. But it’s not a smooth path it’s a steep, rocky and rooty obstacle that can send you over the handlebars if you are not careful. This is the downward spiral that we can fall into. We can plummet and crash, we can stand there and look at it, or you can carefully navigate it to safely reach the bottom with as little damage as possible. 
And if you are able to climb the next hill, stand upon it and look down at all of the obstacles that didn’t stop you. And if you do it once, you can do it again. And sometimes it is the climb that you never made, until today.
Nothing pleases me more than getting up a hill that I never thought I could; to make it through a rock garden that sent me flying a week before; to race through an opening to find the parking lot waiting for you. Knowing that the end of the ride is like the end of the day. I got through this one and I am not afraid of the next one.

I wish I still had that attitude…but at least I took a shot at retrieving it today.


Song Lyric Sunday

Today, on a day when I crave positivity as a flower does water, I give you Michael Franti and Spearhead, whose music absolutely oozes positivity, empathy, acceptance and understanding.

This song in particular is named Good to be alive today, which I have adopted as my blog URL…that’s how much this song means to me.

Franti can be seen traveling the world, dancing with children, coaxing shy people out of their corners to dance, spreading hope and optimism like a bee does pollen in the spring. His love for life is nothing short of inspi-fucking-rational.

I hope you get something out of this song…

It’s a long road, oh
Everyday I wake up and turn my phone on
I read the news of the day, just as it’s coming down
I do my best not to let it get me down
I try to keep my head up, but is Babylon
This world’s in crisis, we try to fight it, this changing climate
With scientists and politicians divided by it
So many ways we could solve it but they would never sign it
This mountains tumbling down, but still we try to climb it
It’s in the Torah, Quran and in the Bible
Love is the message for some how we turn to rivals
It’s come to people always picking up their rifles
Another school getting shot up homicidal
Some people tryna look fly, some people tryna get high
Some people losing their mind, some people tryna get by
And when you look in my eyes, you see the sign of the times
We all looking for the same thing
But what if this song’s number one
Would it mean that love had won?
Would it mean that the world was saved?
And no guns are being drawn today?
What if everybody had a job?
And nobody had to break a law?
What if everyone could say
That it’s good to be alive today (oh, oh, oh, oh)
Is it good to be alive today (oh, oh, oh, oh)
Is it good to be alive today (oh, oh, oh, oh)
Is it good to be alive today (oh, oh, oh, oh)
No matter what nobody say
People used to feel safer when they would hear a siren
Like help is on its way but now they only think of violence
Another youth in the streets and police is in a conflict
And now they hear the guns click, yo
Ebola crisis and ISIS is taking heads off
A drone is bombing a village and now the kids all
Signing up to be soldiers, but they all willing now
To do the killing now, now are you willing now?
Some politicians out there making up some problems
And tryna tell the people that they can solve them
With TV shows and soundbites and quotes
But everybody knows that it’s all about the cash flow
They telling you and me, they’re making progress
But tell it to the millions of jobless
It’s like a players club with billions of dollars
To get the votes you got to make it rain in congress
Some people tryna look fly, some people tryna get high
Some people losing their mind, some people tryna get by
And when you look in my eyes, you see the sign of the times
We all looking for the same thing
But what if this song’s number one
Would it mean that love had won?
Would it mean that the world was saved?
And no guns are being drawn today?
What if everybody had a job?
And nobody had to break a law?
What if everyone could say
That it’s good to be alive today (oh, oh, oh, oh)
Is it good to be alive today (oh, oh, oh, oh)
Is it good to be alive today (oh, oh, oh, oh)
Is it good to be alive today (oh, oh, oh, oh)
And we all say
One day, one day
One day, one day
One day, we all will say
That it’s good to be alive today
One day, one day
One day, one day
One day, we all will say
That it’s good to be alive today

long days, longer days

Yesterday didn’t start well. As soon as I put one foot on the floor I knew that it was going to be a feel-like -shit day. I call it such because there is no name or medical explanation for it. It’s a wonderful feeling that I can only describe as I slept but I’m more tired than when I went to bed; I feel like I’m coming down with the flu but I’m not; my legs feel like they have sandbags tied to them and I walk like I’m 80 years old; I can’t wait for my first nap today. Feel-like-shit is much shorter and still covers it nicely.

Regardless, I had to get out of bed. I had somewhere to go.

On Sunday, when I made my rare church appearance to see if the plaster ceiling would crack when I walked in, I was greeted by Dean. Dean is a townie, like most, that retired up here and now lives here full time. He was a good friend of my father’s and has been a good friend to me since the day I moved up here. He has helped me find odd jobs to make a few bucks and on this day he had a job for me. He needed a coat of wax put on his 5th wheel trailer. Not one to turn down a buck, I told him I would do it Wednesday.

Wednesday was here, and as I hung my head, fighting my morning nausea I could think of 276,000 things I would rather do than wax a trailer. But I promised. I was out of the house by 9:30.

I pulled into Dean’s driveway and surveyed the day’s work. He wasn’t there, he was already out volunteering at the community center. There was a ladder on the ground and I could see that the trailer was freshly washed. I knew what I had to do and got right to it.

A 5th wheel trailer is a camper that is designed to be towed from the actual bed of a pickup truck. The nose of the trailer essentially takes over the entire bed. They are very long and can be as tall as 13 feet 6 inches, which is close to the bridge clearance of a tractor-trailer. This one was maximum height and 35 feet long.  I had my work cut out for me.

Did I mention that I hate ladders? Well, to be clear I really hate falling. This job required me to climb a ladder, on soft unstable soil, and to reach the very top of the trailer with a small applicator pad in my right hand, an open can of TurtleWax balancing precariously on the top step of the ladder and a rag in the left. To ease my fear of falling I repeated “wax on, wax off” as I reached high, left and right applying and buffing. It was mindless but difficult work.

The nose of the trailer was the most difficult to reach but it came out awesome. It took quite a while because it was covered in dead, dried bugs. Between buffing and my fingernails I got it spotless. The left side also took a while because the ground was so unstable the ladder proved to be a real challenge. The rear and other side proved to be easier. All in all, I spent 3 1/2 hours with no breaks doing an old school wax job. No gimmicks, no power tools, no shortcuts. It looked amazing but I was done, with the job and physically.

Dean still hadn’t returned but I wasn’t worried about payment, I knew we could connect at some point so I packed up my stuff and got in my truck. As I was driving through the center of town we crossed paths and he asked me to come back to the house so that he could pay me. I really wanted to go home but money is money. I followed him back to his house.

He was very pleased with the work. He couldn’t believe my attention to detail. No surprises there, I am a stickler for detail and I do good work. He asked how much I wanted. I really didn’t know, I told him whatever he thought was fair. He offered me $150.00.
I said No.
Too much.
Amazed, he asked if $100.00 would work. I gladly accepted. (who does that?)
He told me he had never seen anyone counter lower before. What he didn’t understand is that I was grateful for the opportunity for something to do that pays. And I will never take advantage of the good nature of the elderly in town. Besides, if I was reasonable, it increased my chances of being referred for more work. As it would turn out, I left with offers to paint his porch and detail both of his cars. I took his check and went home.

As I pulled into my driveway I realized that I was tired beyond the usual levels. My blood pressure was pounding in my ears, I had a headache and I could have napped standing up. I went inside and sat down. An hour later, I was still in that chair. I would spend the day so tired that I could barely walk. If that wasn’t enough, the cramps set in. My hands formed painful, locked claws that were so painful I was nearly in tears. I would feel like that until I went to bed at 9:30. I had finished the trailer at 1:30.

Something has got to give here. I am having fewer and fewer good days in which I can be productive. On the days that I am able to be productive, I need 2 days to recover from it. Today, I am so tired I can barely do anything and typing this blog is killing me because my hands are still crippled claws.

I sure hope this is a phase. Because it’s no way to live.

legal troubles

Today marks a sad day in my marital history.

My wife and I had been arguing something awful and it was getting pretty tough to keep it together. We had already stopped sleeping in the same room, sleeping in the same house was even getting difficult.

One morning when I was in the shower after a particularly awful argument. I was trying to wash it off me but there wasn’t water hot enough. Suddenly my wife crashed through the curtain with a kitchen knife and made a swipe at my John Thomas. I managed to subdue her but she came close. I called the police.

They came, it was a big mess. Everyone calmed down. The police asked if I wanted to press charges. I asked them what charges applied.

“Right now”, the officer said, “We’re only looking at a Misda-weiner.”

Sorry, I had to.

Civilization and Its Ironies — A Light Circle

I wrote a piece recently on prejudice, bias, racism and acceptance recently. I did my best to cover a lot of material in a medium that rewards short and concise. It came out ok. When I read this piece, I was floored. M.P. Baecker, with the usual inimitable writing style, completely and totally nails the issue. 

I feel compelled to share. If you are not following this blog, I recommend you start.

Racism. Xenophobia. Prejudice. Discrimination. It seems every word written against these forms of hatred will be ignored nonetheless. People feel targeted, shamed, belittled when hate is addressed. After all, hate is an emotion we all feel. Whenever these topics are brought up, whether privately or publicly, reality tends to shift a bit towards the severe, […]

via Civilization and Its Ironies — A Light Circle

The Garden Party…cont’d

If you would like to catch up you can find the first installment here.

When I sat down in the makeshift circle of lawn chairs at the BBQ the first person I recognized was Mark’s sister Susan. I saw her with her dog Brady (who I knew from FB) and we exchanged pleasantries. I haven’t seen her in over 30 years. I used to have the hot patooties for her. She looked great. Next, I saw Mark’s mother and father. They are really nice people. They needed a refresher on who I was, I haven’t seen them in forever. I watched a million football games at their house but I’m not sure they knew about it. After some small talk, Scott and I settled in to catch up over a cold beer.

We talked about the kids for a while. He knows about the divorce and the rest of my “situation” but wanted to know what they were up to. I was proud to tell him how great they are. His kids are college-age and doing great. Knowing he and Dana I wasn’t surprised. Then the conversation turned to my health. Scott is like me in one respect, he would rather ask than not and come across as not caring. I told him the truth, that there is very little good news. He absorbed it and we left it at that. He knows I would rather give him better news if I could.

At one point, Susan leaned in and asked what was up with my kidneys, she said she saw something on FB. I gave her the lowdown, carefully phrasing my words to not elicit a sympathetic response. This was the part I was dreading, although I did appreciate her asking.

At one point, Mark’s father, who is a little hard of hearing, started down the line asking all of us what we’ve been up to. I was 6th in line so I agonizingly waited for my turn. Sure enough, my turn came and I decided to be funny. He asked “What have you been up to Bill?”
“Well, Mr. Riley, I’m officially a burden to society.” Everyone laughed, he asked me to elaborate. Before I could Mark saved the day and said “Bill has been fighting some health issues, Dad. He lives up here now.” I sighed with relief, it sounded so much better than, Well, I’m on the verge of Dialysis, I’m out of work and broke, I live with my mother and I’m not supporting my family. Did I mention that I have one nut and haven’t been laid in about 8 years? Either way, it was over with. The conversation shifted away and I shrunk back into relative obscurity.

Scott, Mark and I talked for a while. I was starting to relax a bit. We talked politics, current events, rehashed some fun times at the market, talked about cars and of course our families. I made a few off-color but witty (not my words) cracks that gave them a good laugh. At one point, Scott remarked that it was refreshing that some things don’t change. He meant me of course, I was well-known in the day to do anything for a laugh. I appreciated the comment despite the feeling that nothing about me, with the exception of my warped humor, was the same.

At 7:30, I decided that it was time to leave. I was starting to get tired and my mind was racing. I was getting into one of those thinking zones that never ends well. I get quiet, morose and I am generally not good company. I made it a point to give Scott and Dana a proper goodbye, sought out the people that I knew and made sure I said goodbye to them as well. I ended by finding Mark and his wife to thank them. By the time I got to my truck my mind was in full-blown thinking mode and it wasn’t happy thoughts. I was bombarded by some harsh realizations that I came to that day and they needed to be processed. I  was about to, in the words of Jim Carrey in Liar Liar “kick my own ass.”

I drove home without the radio on, all I had was the hum of my tires on the winding back roads to keep me company. I was in a mood. I tried to summarize what I was feeling, to break it down into manageable parts. In short, what’s my fucking problem?
That would prove to be a question not easily answered. I had a lot of problems.

My first problem was that I was overwhelmed by the stark contrast in situations between Mark, Scott and myself. Disclaimer…I am NOT speaking out of jealousy. I am VERY happy for them. They made good choices and decisions and worked hard and they deserve everything they have. Mark is a brilliant mechanic and owns his own business. He works 6 sometimes 7 days a week. His amazing house is a monument to his work ethic. Scott works for a major investment company and has for 22 years. His wife has a great job as well and he is at a place now where he can pay for his kids college without loans, have a real nice car and look for a summer home. Not that is was ever equal when we were younger, they were doing well then also, but the disparity now in our places in life is staggering.

It would be easy to blame it on illness; my disease did take me out of the working world. But it’s so much more than that. Even when I was working, despite the size of the checks I was pulling in I never managed to save anything. I often joked that my wife could spend money like a drunk sailor with a fist full of Viagra, and in reality I can point to several financial decisions that she took the lead on that felt wrong to me but I kept quiet in the interest of “happy wife, happy life” but it’s not all on her. We simply didn’t plan for the future and we made some poor decisions. To put a Seinfeldian spin on it, yadda yadda yadda we were foreclosed upon and were forced to declare bankruptcy. I never bounced back from that. A proud moment indeed.

OK, so they’re doing great and I have approximately enough money in my checking account to drive to the end of my driveway. Yes, that’s a problem. But as I continued to navigate the back roads of Maine, radio off and mind working overtime I realized that my checkered financial history was the least of what was bothering me.

The real problem was clear, I was disgusted that I had become such a stranger to a group of people that were once my world. Where did the time go?

To be continued…