the name’s Humbug…Bah Humbug

Another Christmas is upon me. Thus begins the annual battle with my love/hate relationship with Christmas. I love what it represents, but I hate what it has become. It’s exhausting to smile with the exuberant lovers of the holiday when, deep inside, I really don’t give a shit.

Please don’t think me cold or uncaring. Unlike most, I don’t feel compelled to share misery like a cold. I keep it to myself. I am as moved as anyone by the excitement of a child tearing open a present. I am as inspired as anyone by the generosity of the season. I am not above respect for the kindness shown from the day after Thanksgiving until midnight on December 25th, at which time I warmly welcome the world returning to its joyless, materialistic and selfish self.

I’m not a Grinch. I’m just realistic and call it like I see it. Christmas is a truce in the war on humanity.

I didn’t always feel this way. As a child I bought into the whole experience. I enjoyed the bustle of the stores. I liked the music. I liked the gentle ringing of the Salvation Army volunteer standing in the cold outside of the stores. And of course I loved getting presents. As I got a little older I developed a contradictory set of emotions that would later morph into disdain.

My father was raised very poor. Through hard work and pure piss and vinegar he proudly elevated us to lower middle-class. We didn’t have a lot, but we always had enough. My father, in a admirable attempt to compensate for his shitty childhood, worked his narrow ass into the ground to shower us with gifts, especially my mother. He worked excessive overtime and side jobs to pay for Christmas. He started early in the season and didn’t stop until the mall padlocked the doors on Christmas Eve. He couldn’t afford it, he paid for it all year, but he did it anyways. He was so intent on pleasing us, his expression of anticipation glued to his face as we opened gifts. I learned early that even if you didn’t like the gift you had better pretend that you did. This was especially true with my mother. He loved her so. He would repeatedly ask her if she was pleased with her gifts. She always was, fortunately, because his fragile ego depended on it. He loved us, he loved the holiday. He sacrificed so much.

As much as I appreciated that, it bothered me tremendously. I knew at an early age that my father put too much emphasis on stuff. He was overcompensating for the abject poverty of his youth. He wanted better for me. What he didn’t understand was that he was the gift, not the stuff. I just wanted to spend time with him, for him to come home from work while I was awake. So many nights he was called into work, many of them Christmas Eve’s, because someone ran out of oil or lost their heat. I respected the shit out of it, but I wished he was home instead. He worked himself to the bone and I began to feel guilty. A Wonderful Life is a lot better when you watch it with your Dad.

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When I became a parent, we did the best we could to give our children an amazing experience. My wife did all of the shopping and wrapping. God bless her, I couldn’t do it. I was in charge of assembly, working late into the night after struggling to get 4 excited kids to sleep. We would be woken at 3:30 or 4 to the sound of them rustling under the tree, barely able to contain themselves. We ignored them until 6, my wife being very clear that we would not get up before. At 5:59 they were jumping on the bed. Exhausted but resigned to our fate, we got up. Despite our best efforts to make the opening of presents organized and last for a while, they tore through them like a Oklahoma Tornado through a trailer park. Over before we knew it. As Rodney Dangerfield famously joked about sex, “the hours of bullshit weren’t worth the 30 seconds of pleasure”. My wife would then help the kids move their presents to their rooms and clean up. By 10 AM you would never know that a holiday had occurred…all of the evidence was gone. As Grinch-ish as I could be, I hated the quick clean. For the sake of the kids I wanted it to last. The excitement, the gratitude, the beautiful smiles made me happy. I enjoyed the day vicariously as a parent. Truly a fond memory.

As a husband, Christmas became one more day to dread. My wife ruined it for me. I will never know how someone capable of all of that preparation, organization, and detail with gifts couldn’t handle my mother and father coming over. After a few years of consistent shit storms, her being uptight, anxious and rude to my parents, I began to dislike the holiday. The drama and fallout became more than I could handle and Seasonal excitement became a feeling of impending doom.

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Now, the children are grown. The notion of a fat man in a red suit has been put away for their someday children. We no longer have a house to put up a tree and we are far apart. We will get together for dinner and a modest exchange of gifts. The hard lesson of rampant consumerism is firmly ingrained in my chidren. They witnessed a Bankruptcy and a Foreclosure as a result of their parents living beyond their means and buying gifts they couldn’t afford. I suppose it taught them an appreciation. For me, the lesson affirmed what I always sensed. That memories of time spent together with family are so infinitely more memorable than stuff.

My dad and I sat down over a beer and a burger when I was in my late thirties. He asked me if I resented him for being at work so much. I patted him on the arm and told him that I respected him for it. I then told him that what I had wished most for was moments like the one we were having. His greatest gift was a work ethic and a spirit of generosity. An appreciation of good thoughts and intentions. What I hated was the toll it took on his body.

I have yet to reconcile myself with the joy of the Holiday. Religious fervor over the birth of the Messiah aside, I see much more fake than just the trees. To paraphrase The Sixth Sense, “I see fake people.” People that wish you a Happy Holiday and then flip you off in the parking lot. People who act religious but only go to Church once a year. Everyone tries to be so nice, why can’t that last all year?

The Consumerism kills me as well. I wish that people cared as much about the time to be spent together with family as they do about saving 100 bucks on a Flat Screen TV. There is nothing quite like the sound of people stampeding and rioting in the electronics section of Wal-Mart as Joy to the World/Peace on Earth blares over the sound system in a futile and pathetic attempt to drown them out.

The false Charity bothers me to my core. While some people indeed do magnificent gestures such as paying off Layaways and Toys for Tots, many choose to be charitable only at Christmas. Once it is over they go back to their comfy lives. Food pantries and homeless shelters have a need year round, that is of course if it doesn’t interfere with your weekend in Aspen. No matter, the homeless and hungry will wait.

Maybe my attitude will change someday but I don’t suspect that it will. I don’t have a problem with people being happy. I will smile at their joy and feign my own. I will continue to be generous of spirit despite being light on funds. I will have love in my heart and a true desire to help anyone if within my means. I want peace on earth year round and forever going forward and I have goodwill towards my fellow man. It’s all I have and it will have to do. Just don’t ask me to buy into the rampant consumerism and fake joy.

I’m just not buying it.

a distinct and profound lack of motivation

To blog or not to blog…that is the question.

This is not one of those “I have nothing to write about so I’ll write about it” posts. I’ve just found it increasingly difficult to post lately. Health issues, daily life and a general lack of desire have consumed me. I have ideas, I have created many drafts waiting for some TLC and I have no intention of stopping. But I’m in a motivational rut.

I feel ok, not great. Dialysis kicks my ass to a certain degree. Despite all of the benefits, fatigue and washout are common the day of and often the next day as well. I may wake up eager to post but then I find I’m just too tired.

Dialysis is as time-consuming as a part-time job. My dialysis days have made it very difficult to find the time and energy to post. My time slot is 11:30 AM. I get up at 7. I watch the news and have my morning coffee. I take care of minor business like light housework or pay some bills and then I have to be out of the house by 10:40. I have a 30 minute drive, I need to report 20 minutes early, I’m in the chair for 4 hours on the machine and another 20 to make sure the bleeding has stopped and I am able to drive (dizziness and nausea are common after dialysis). Another 30 minute drive home and by then it’s almost dinner time. After dinner, I’m usually too tired to even think about writing. When I started dialysis I found a positive in sitting in a comfortable chair for 4 hours. I decided that I would have some great blogging time. What I found is that having to have my left arm perfectly still makes typing, or balancing a laptop near impossible. If I move my arm too much, the needles can move and cause an infiltrate. I did it once, it hurt to the point of keeping me up all night for 2 weeks. I’m relegated to reading a book with one hand (not as easy as it sounds) or watching TV. Such a waste of time on so many levels.

On off days, when I feel good I get out and do things. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday can be busy. I try to visit friends. I go down to MA as often as I can to stay involved with my Masonic Lodge. I see my kids whenever possible. I volunteer at 2 food pantries. These activities of course require me to feel well, and that is not always the case. Some days I can’t get off of the sofa. Therefore, for every one of those days that I do nothing, the next off day becomes even busier.

Blogging had become part of my daily routine. I always made time for it. This has created a conflict for me. It now becomes one more thing that I get mad at myself about when I don’t do it. Self-guilt is a powerful thing.

Blogging has been a wonderful experience for me. I have enjoyed catharsis I never dreamed of. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve enjoyed sharing my story. I enjoyed the growth of my blog and the wonderful feedback of my followers. I’m very thankful for the people I’ve gotten to know on this site. Some of you I proudly call friends. That being said, I’m not impressed with the lack of traffic to my blog lately. Despite my decline in regular posting, when I do post I do my best to put something of quality out there. I try to be relatable, thought-provoking and interesting. Lately I get a few comments and a few likes and that’s it. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.

I am a blogger who “gets it”. I don’t click follow just to be followed. I follow you because I find you interesting. I read your posts, I don’t scroll and drop a uninspired “like”. I comment as often as I can. I offer feedback, anecdotes and I always try to be complimentary. I try to get to know you. I follow almost 170 blogs and I try to take time to catch up with all of them.

I have less than 400 followers. Some of you have thousands. It doesn’t bother me. I am grateful for all of them. The amount of followers means less to me than overall readership. I have some very regular readers who comment with great feedback. You know who you are and I appreciate you. But not even 5% seem to actually read me. The question begs to be asked. Who am I doing this for?

I’ve always subscribed to the notion, “the longer you stop doing something the harder it is to get back into it”. It’s definitely a real thing. Many days I have looked over at my laptop, hearing its call. It has been so difficult to answer. But I’m working on it and I look forward to returning to original form.

I’m still here.

Badge of honor

One of my favorite things about Christmas shopping is buying the occasional trinket for myself. I can’t help it. I only go in stores once a year so it makes sense that I would find things that I like, right?

This year is special. With the successful Disability claim I finally have an income. It’s a meager one but it’s something. It killed me last year to go into birthdays and holidays with no means to give gifts. I am a generous person by nature and I never go anywhere empty handed. My family understood, but it didn’t make me feel any better. This year I hit the stores.

I live 45 minutes from the nearest shopping center. I try to limit my visits to days that I do dialysis which is nearby. But this week I have gone in every day. I have been working closely with the Social Worker at the dialysis center on my ongoing Insurance issues. She is very knowledgeable and incredibly helpful but is only there on my off days. Therefore it’s taken all of this week to get to get it right.

Yesterday after Dialysis I went to get something for my mother. As I was walked by the Jewelry section a shiny object caught my eye. A Superman pendant. I wanted it. Now, if you know the name of my blog then you can see why this caught my attention. If you know the back story of why I named my blog as I did then you will further understand. I looked for an attendant but none were available. Alas, I was tired, wanting to get home so I left, knowing that I would be back today.

This morning I showed up at the dialysis center to find that the Social Worker wasn’t in and wouldn’t be for several hours. I decided that I would stay in the area and come back later. It was too much of a drive to go home and then come back. I went to get an oil change on my truck, did some food shopping and went back to the center. She was still not there.

I went back to the store. This time there was an attendant at the Jewelry counter. I asked the lovely red-head (my favorite…Grrrrrrrr)
named Ginger of all things to take the pendant out so that I could look at it. The price caused me to spin on my heels until she mentioned the word “discount”. Discount indeed, by the time she was done I bought if for 1/3 of the asking price.

As Ginger was ringing it up, she looked up and asked “any significance to the pendant?”
“Do you mean to say ‘why is a grown-ass man buying a Superhero pendant’?”
She turned a little red (pun intended), “No, I was just wondering if there is a story behind it.”
“There is, actually, but I don’t want to bore you.”
“Bore away”, she said, “It’s a slow day.”
I explained that I had a blog. About how my wife had derogatorily nicknamed me Superman because she thought I was so stubborn and hard-headed and invincible. I explained that being chronically ill, it helps me to wear the badge to remind me to be strong. She hung on every word.
“What’s your illness?” she asked.
I told her. She had a cousin that was on dialysis. I told her that I was as well. She told me that he was about my age, 46 or47. I told her that I was 53. She didn’t believe me and also told me that I look pretty damn good for a guy on dialysis. I told her that she just made my day.

She offered to box it up. I told her I would wear it out. She laughed. I walked out feeling like a man of steel.

Later, at the center, I resolved my insurance issues. As I stood up my pendant fell out of my shirt. The Social Worker commented.
“Nice pendant. Like your blog,right?”
Apparently the one Nurse that I showed it to spread the word. Not a bad thing I suppose.

I may find myself working my way back to the store to see Ginger again. After all, I do so love a redhead.

7 years

 Seven years ago today at this time I awoke from Anesthesia in a tented room. The first thing I noticed was the plethora of wires and tubes sticking out of my neck and arm. A doctor soon entered the room, followed by a team of nurses. They took my vitals and the doctor then asked me a few questions to test my mental acuity

“Sir, do you know what day it is?”
“Tuesday I think, unless I slept longer than I think” I replied foggily.
“Correct. When did you work last?”
“Yesterday.”

“And your last dialysis treatment?”
“Never did it.”

“Sir, we have a number that we use to determine how due someone is for Dialysis. 10 is average. Do you know what yours was?”
I nodded my head. His snarky attitude was pissing me off.
“110. You made it, but you were foolish and took a big risk.” He then walked out of the room condescendingly shaking his head.

Of course I avoided Dialysis. I would have lost my job. Then I would have lost my house and my family. I fought it with everything in my being for the longest time. And it worked, my Angel eventually came along and I got the gift of a new Kidney. It was an amazing gesture from a remarkably down to earth, humble young woman.

She was a co-worker. The daughter of my Assistant. I knew her pretty well but not well enough to think that she would do such an amazing thing.But it turns out that it is just the way she was.

I was hospitalized one day with a kidney-related infection, My boss came to visit me. He dropped it on me that Deb was willing to be tested. I was floored. When I returned to work the next week I first gave her a giant hug and then carefully explained to her the process.I thought for sure she would flinch. She didn’t.

Within a month her testing was done. She was a perfect match. It was scheduled soon after for Dec 13th.

Word soon got out among our customer base about the situation. It was big news. A local CBS affiliate came to our office to interview us. We were on the 6 O’clock news. The interview was priceless. When Deb was asked on film why she was doing this she curtly replied “I have 2,he needs one. I don’t want him to be on dialysis and lose his job so here we are. Short and sweet. For weeks after wherever I went people came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re that transplant guy I saw on the news!”

December 13 th arrived and we met at Tufts Hospital at 6 AM. My mother and father took me in, Deb was already there with hers. Our families had never met, so they exchanged pleasantries. We were all nervous but I was the only one to show it. At 6:30 the doctors called for us. I gave Deb a hug and told her that I would see her on the other side.

As you know I made it to the other side. I had a quick recovery, 33 days from surgery to return to work. Beyond my physical recovery I was tasked with reconciling with the overwhelming gratitude I felt towards Deb.

We became great friends. We made jokes. People at work were afraid to mess with either of us for fear of retribution from the other. She was tough, her famous joke was “Take care of that kidney or I’lltake it back.”
I believed her.

It’s somewhat painful to reminisce on this, given that her gift has failed and I am back to square one. I had the hardest time telling her because I was so torn that her gift hadn’t lasted longer. As if I hadn’t done my best to make it last. When I did tell her, she didn’t flinch but instead said “I hope it gave you what you were looking for, no matter how long it lasted.” A more grounded person have I never met.

Despite the physical viability being gone, her gift changed me profoundly in so many ways. Beyond giving me a new lease on life, it also transformed my attitude towards everything. It helped me to exemplify the traits that I had always wanted to dominate my life…gratitude, empathy, charity and humility. I was given the ultimate gift, that of life. I owe such a debt to Deb, her selflessness and generosity will never be forgotten.

I may have been wrong to dread Dialysis as much as I did. It’s no fun but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. And it beats the alternative. The gifted kidney may have failed but the lessons of the transplant remain intact and healthy. I am still grateful. I am stillhumble. I am still appreciative of all that I have. If attitude were currency I’d be a truly wealthy man.


Don’t let people tell you that people suck. There are some wonderful people in the world. I know because I am surrounded by them.

If you don’t know one… be one.

I see trees

 

Sometime in the near future NASA is going to reveal that they have found the center of the Universe.

A lot of people are going to be crushed to find that it’s not them.

I am growing so incredibly frustrated with the materialistic, self-centered, selfie society we are becoming.
Rampant consumerism has a firm choke hold on the throat of moderation.
Savings have dwindled, debts have soared, and landfills are heaping with the scraps of our throwaway mentality.
Self-obsession and promotion has become the new normal. We’d rather film a person beating someone up than stop to help them.
We are becoming too power obsessed, fighting for our little scraps and destroying everything in our path in the process.

I fear that we are losing our humanity.

 While I always tried to avoid participating in such a life, I was forced to live along side it. Fortunately, in the downsizing of my existence I was finally able to walk away from it completely. Once free from the pursuit of a larger everything I have embraced normalcy. I have welcomed my average. I celebrate and surround myself with the regular. And I have never been happier.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from The Great Outdoors, starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. They are in Canada on vacation, sitting on a deck overlooking a lake. Dan Aykroyd, a materialistic businessman, goes off on a tirade about what he sees when he looks out over the water. He describes a vision of future Industrialization, urban sprawl, forestry, and medical waste dumps. John Candy’scharacter is a simple man, and when asked what he sees, replies
“I just see trees.”
He is then summarily berated for being short-sighted and simple. Sorry to say, but that’s me, I just see trees.

In order to appreciate the world we have to take our eyes off of the screens and look up and around. We need to appreciate the power and beauty of nature. The beauty is everywhere, the power rearing its mighty head unpredictably. Both manifest in subtle sights and awe-inspiring displays. The flight of the bird, starlit nights and sunsets, the reflection of foliage on the still waters of a pond on a late fall afternoon. Such sights fill me with wonder and give me cause me to question my place in the world and to seek a spiritual connection to the Universe.

The looming mountaintop, the endless horizon seen from the beach, the mighty Oak, the rushing river, wind tearing through trees, waves crashing and receding with a massive riptide serve another purpose entirely. They remind me of how small I really am in the grand scheme of things. Instead of being intimidated, I embrace it.

I recognize my relative size and overall significance in comparison to the Universe. I know my place. No man is a match for the mighty tide, despite his wealth, power and amount of Instagram followers. Man is only a force in, not of, Nature when he embraces his fellow man. But instead of coming together as an advanced society we have drifted apart and we are regressing. Our humanity is whatmakes us great, the increasing lack of it is destroying us.

Thisis a call for humility,
A wake-up call to recognize and embrace our smallness.
A damper of ego and hubris.
For less stuff andmore quality.

To just see Trees…

Missed opportunities

 I posted recently about my 35th High School Reunion. It was a honest piece in which I spoke directly to the healing that I have experienced in the years since I graduated.

I spent a lot of years blaming others for my own lack of visibility and satisfaction. Consequently, I developed an aversion to all things HS related, in particular Reunions. Fortunately, I grew up and eventually I went to a couple. What I came up with is that it was as much my fault as anyone else. That realization led to growth. So in my post I was honest to myself and issued a statement to my classmates. It was fairly well received on WP. But WP wasn’t the desired audience. As supportive as the community was, I felt that my former classmates needed to hear it. So I posted the link to the FB page of my HS class. I was nervous. I felt like I was in HS again, so afraid of being judged or ostracized by my classmates. But I knew that it didn’t matter in the big picture what they thought of me. I had put that monkey behind me. And I was further fortified by the possibility that I wouldn’t even be alive for the next one. I hit the “share” button. There was no turning back.

The response was amazing.

People that I thought never even knew my name responded. Friends who I had lost touch with for years told me how proud they were to be my friend. Comment after comment posted about how well I captured the experience of High School. Of how they could relate. Of how they remembered me. One of my classmates went so far as to say that my prose had inspired him to attend the next one.I received multiple FB inbox messages telling me how much my post meant to them. Friend requests followed. My blog received a record 151 views in one day. I was deeply humbled.

 I am a guy who walked out of  The Breakfast Club saying “I call Bullshit”. I never believed that the scars caused by the cliques of HS could be overcome by one 8 hour session of detention. When RUSH released the song Subdivisions,I immediately adopted it as the story of my High School experience.To say that I was jaded is an understatement.  

I carried this resentment for too many years. It was uncomfortable, cumbersome and it went on for too long. Based on the feedback, and in some cases support, of my classmates I now know that I had it all wrong. So many years living in my own head.

Sunday I am driving to MA to have lunch with a guy I went to HS with. He was the most recent of FB inbox messages related to my FB posting. He really wants to get together and get to know each other. Here’s the kicker. I never knew him in HS as a friend. I actually thought he disliked me. Apparently I was wrong. I look forward to making a new friend, even if it’s an old one I wasn’t aware of. 

So many missed opportunities. I wonder how many I can recover before it’s too late.

talking to Granite

I never thought I would be the guy to sit in a cemetery and talk to a piece of granite. I have lost many, too many, friends and family and I always make my visits to their places of rest. But I don’t sit and talk. That changed when I lost my Dad.

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of his death. I wasn’t in the mood to write yesterday, it’s a tough day for me. Living in a house that he built doesn’t help. I see his touch everywhere in the woodworking, design, and collectibles. As I write this I’m sitting in his favorite chair with his beloved dog sleeping at my feet.

5 years later I still tear up when I think of him and when I attempt to talk about him I invariably choke up. I have been fortunate to have been asked to speak at some events I am a part of and have foolishly attempted to speak of my father and consequently blubbered in front of packed rooms. Historically, I am not a crier. But when it comes to Dad I can’t control it.

As a guy with a long family tradition of “sucking it up and moving on” I am puzzled why it is not getting easier as the years pass. Time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t fill all voids. His loss occurred at a time in my life I probably needed him the most. I was finally coming around to understanding the things he said. Things that I rejected in my youth that I later learned he was dead on about. I had just started to appreciate his simplistic approach to life; be nice to people, tell the truth and work hard and the rest will come. I had just started to recognize that people with his value system and work ethic were slowly vanishing and his presence was a treasure. I was at a point when I needed his eternal optimism to fuel me as I entered the worst chapter of my life. He was minimalism at its finest…less is more. Less showboating, less ego, less drama, and aggravation.

I miss him. The world was a better place with him in it. He deserved better. He worked so hard for so many years to provide for his family and build a retirement. He retired early because his co-workers were all dying young. He enjoyed about 3 years before Parkinson’s reared its ugly head. It reduced a strong, proud man to a mere shell in a long 8 years. Those years took more than his mobility, they took his pride and his independence. Death was a relief for him, I saw his face when he took his last breath.

My life has been especially challenging lately. I am trying to maintain the family optimism and positivity. It’s getting harder. I wish I still had him telling me that everything is going to work out. I suppose while I’m wishing for things I wish that he could have enjoyed his retirement. I wish that he could have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. I wish I could tell him how many things he was right about.

I wish that I didn’t have to tell a granite slab things that I wanted to tell him to his face.

Tell the people in your life how you feel about them today, don’t wait. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. You may find yourself sitting in a cemetery talking to granite also. If you’re reading this it’s because I chose to share it with you. Because I care about you and I won’t wait until it’s too late to tell you. Regret is as eternal as granite.