Another anniversary

Six years ago, at this very hour, I was undergoing Kidney transplant surgery. My family and my donor’s family waited nervously in the waiting room and friends and co-workers at home anxiously waited to see how we were doing.

I woke many hours later. I woke to bustling nurses, the beep of numerous machines, flashing lights and tubes and wires coming out of everything. The incision area was very painful, but I quickly realized that I already felt better than I had in years. Kidney disease patients often complain about a “fuzzy head”, feeling “off”. My head was clear.

The next day my donor and I were flooded with visitors. She was in a lot of pain but mobile, I was not, so she hung out in my room. Because we were co-workers many came to see the both of us it worked out great. I was still really sore and heavily medicated but the company was welcome. We were all celebrating a truly amazing thing, a co-worker donating a vital organ to another is such a selfless act, I felt like I was witnessing a historic moment.

As my recovery progressed, I committed myself to be better than before. I wanted to get back the strength I had lost, to truly commit to good health and get the maximum out of the estimated 15-20 years that I could expect from this kidney.

While I did enjoy some physical milestones in hiking, basketball, mountain biking and weight training, a mere 4 years later  I hit a wall. I got sick again, and by the symptoms, I knew what it was. After several biopsies, it was determined that the original disease that had destroyed my original kidneys over the course of 30 years had come back and done a ton of damage in just one year.

I’ve struggled to reconcile this for the last 2 years. I feel angry that I wasn’t told of this possibility. I feel sad that I can’t do the physical activities that came easily to me a mere 2 years ago. I even feel bad that my donor’s generous gift wouldn’t last as long as she and I had hoped. But I do not feel bad for myself and I do not ask “why me?’ I got a shit hand, it happens.

Six years ago today my Facebook page virtually exploded with encouragement and positive messages. I have truly never experienced anything like that. Some people may never experience such an outpouring of support. Some people may never experience a second chance at anything. I did, and for that, I am grateful, regardless of what the future holds.

the Apple has a worm

I made myself get an iPhone this year when my upgrade was ready with Sprint. I did it reluctantly, my entire family and the rest of the known universe has one so I had to see what the big deal is. I am not impressed. As a guy who doesn’t play games, use a ton of apps and spend all day glued to it my phone needs are not a high priority. I use the internet, emails, social media, the camera and make calls. That’s it. I lose a lot of calls, the blue tooth is not working right and every time it updates it messes everything up. Part of this may be that I’m not tech-savvy. I know my way around a computer but I don’t care much otherwise. I’m old-fashioned like that, when I graduated HS the internet was barely a thing. Because I’m old-fashioned, I also like talking to a person when I have a problem. After my experiences with Apple and Itunes customer support’s phone system and customer service, I officially hate Apple. I may be the only person in the world to say this but it’s true.

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Voice-activated computerized menus suck. Theirs is the worst. None of the options given by the computer have ever been what I was calling about and getting the option to speak to a representative isn’t offered. I find myself screaming “CUSTOMER SERVICE REP” into the phone before I finally get someone. With the exception of maybe twice I have been connected with a gum-snapping, Starbuck’s Venti triple-swirl, cinnamon-laced-wheatgrass-infused with tiger semen sipping person who puts me on hold for twenty minutes only to give me a different number to call.

Resetting my password was an act of Congress because they couldn’t tell the difference between my son’s account and my own. But I dealt with them. I had to.

Today, while shoveling snow in white-out conditions my phone apparently fell out of my pocket. I looked everywhere, under mountains of snow as if someone had sneezed the coke off of the coffee table at Robert Downey’s house. It’s gone. So I called my carrier for my options. Sprint told me that I can get a new phone for $473.99 (in other words pay off my current plan). I said, “what about my protection plan?”

“Oh, you have AppleCare?”

They gave me the number to AppleCare. Surprise, surprise they don’t cover lost phones. Ugggghhhhh. Either way, I have to pay $473.99.

My mother called her provider and asked about adding me to hers. Good news, they can add me on cheaper, their protection plan covers lost phones and they will pay $375 towards paying off my other plan. I asked them what the deals were. They offered me a great deal on a Samsung 8 Note. I love that phone. I said “Great, let’s do that. How do I get the $375 to pay off Sprint.?”

“Oh, I’m sorry sir. That deal only applies if you get the iPhone.”

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Let me tell you about my children

Are you running yet? That is the typical response when someone talks about their kids.

I was never “that guy” who had a stack of pics to roll out like playing cards if someone asked if I had a family (this is before cell phones and uploaded photos of course). I would be happy to talk about them to someone really interested but I have always believed that people are really not interested, it’s just something to say, like “how are you today? “Trust me they don’t really want to know.

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My children are older now and I don’t have to deal with that anymore. But now I want to talk about them to anyone who will listen.

If this past year has taught me anything, it is that life’s meaning is not in the size of your house, your stock portfolio or how nice your car is. After being reduced to an unemployed, sick man with too much time on his hands I have come to value accomplishments as the measure of a man. To do this I had to contemplate the meaning of a real accomplishment. Here is what I came up with.

I worked at a restaurant for a long time. A family business where I met my wife. I rose to the top of the food chain in the kitchen to a manager, where I was responsible for thousands of meals. To be real, however, my only real accomplishment was establishing high standards that led to a reputation as a hard-working perfectionist.

I sold cars for many years. Aside from consistently meeting or exceeding goals for sales and satisfaction, my only real accomplishment was the testimonials of customers that left with a different, better impression of my much-maligned industry after they met me. They used words like nice, accessible, professional and my favorite “has integrity.”

I worked as a Collections and Liquidations (repo) manager for many years. I developed systems, reduced overall losses, and increased profitability for the entire ten years that I was there. I was considered the best in my industry. Despite that, my only real accomplishment was that I helped a lot of people. People who were struggling, confused how things worked and needed someone to talk to who would really listen. I was the person that worked with them and I know that at the end of the day I made a difference in someone’s life.

Nothing else I have done matters…except my children. I really accomplished something there.

My children are awesome. At 21, 20, 18 and 15 I have four decent, sarcastic, hardworking and nice kids. They are good citizens. Charitable, kind-hearted, polite to all, respectful of the elderly and authority figures and did I say nice? I am a truly blessed man. While I wasn’t able to afford a massive house, a car for each of them on their 18th birthday and a trust fund, I was able to give them a decent childhood despite constant financial hardship. We went to Disney, we went camping, they played sports and I spent every minute of daylight and energy that I had to throw the football, fling the frisbee or wrestle on the lawn. Fighting the clock, all the while knowing that they were going to grow up too fast.

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I was able to walk the line between parent and friend, being accessible while still in position to leverage the “Dad card” when necessary. They weren’t afraid to tell me things. I never shielded them from life, instead, I told them how the world really is. My girls dressed as Disney princesses once, but today they aren’t the types to wait around for a man to solve their problems. My boys aren’t fighters, but they knew enough to punch the school bully back and he would leave you alone. And if someone messed with their sisters, well watch out is all I can say. The other lessons they learned from me were unfortunate. They learned the value of saving money by seeing their family home auctioned off. They learned the value of hard work when I lost 6 months of work to illness and the older 2 had to get jobs in High School. They learned about sacrifice when they realized that I had tried to leave a terrible marriage ten years previous, but stayed because they deserved to have their father around. And finally, they learned that life is not all sunshine and rainbows when their mother and I finally split up after 21 years of marriage. Amazingly, they are all thriving. Strong, resilient, versatile and not expecting a damn thing from anyone.

That is truly an accomplishment.

So let me tell you about my kids. Despite all of my shortcomings, they were able to retain all of the good things, rise above the bad and cause person after person to tell me how great my kids are. Thank you, I say. If I were to die tomorrow, they are indeed my real contribution to the world. My legacy.

I just see trees

I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the entire day with my youngest daughter on Saturday. Since the separation, the physical distance between us has been a real barrier. When we do see each other, it tends to be rushed because of time constraints. Saturday, we had 2 hours in the car and a day of binge-watching Netflix ahead of us.

I love riding in the car with the kids, one at a time or all at once. I have a ritual with each one. With my oldest, it’s radio off and let’s talk. With my second oldest it’s sports talk and name the car. With my youngest son, it’s all music, comparing Spotify playlists and playing for each other our favorite new artists. With my youngest, we only have one ritual. It’s called put the damn phone down. She kills me with how she cannot pull herself away from the endless snapchats, facetimes, and texts. She doesn’t mean to be rude, she’s just addicted. She is one of the millions I suppose. I am probably being selfish, I want as much quality time with her as I can get, and I want her to see what I see.

The ride to my place in NH from hers is an increasingly scenic one. As the odometer increases the number of houses dwindles. Four-lane highways become 2 lane roads. Imported, high-end cars are soon outnumbered by domestically produced vehicles. I can actually feel the stress wash off my body as I reach the halfway point of the 100-mile commute. At mile 57 comes my favorite part. There is a long stretch of climbing road, the type that has a slow lane for trucks and heavy equipment. Once the peak of this stretch is reached and you top the hill you are immediately hit with a vast, panoramic view of the White Mountains. You can see for 50 miles on a clear day from that spot. Layer after layer of hills, snowcapped in spots, fading in clarity as you strain to see the end of it. It takes my breath away every time. As can be expected, I prepped her ahead of time that I wanted her to put the phone down when we reached it because it diminishes fast once you are down the hill. My daughter took a look, said “nice” and went back to her phone.

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It’s not her fault, her generation was raised on screens. All of my kids are like that. My mother with her new dating app is too. Smartphones and staying inside are here to stay whether I like it or not. That’s extraordinarily difficult for me because I love the outdoors. One of my favorite movie scenes is from the Great Outdoors with John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. They are in Canada on vacation, sitting on a deck overlooking a lake. Dan Aykroyd goes off on a tear about what he sees when he looks out. Future Industrialization, urban sprawl, forestry, medical waste dumps. John Candy’s character, when asked what he sees, says “I just see trees.” Then he is summarily insulted for being short-sighted and simple. Sorry to say, but that’s me, I just see trees.

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I want my kids to see trees. I want them to appreciate the power and beauty of nature. I want them to see crashing waves during hurricanes, starlit nights and sunsets, windy days and mountain views as I do; as a reminder of just how small we really are. To recognize the beauty, power, age and resilience of the tall mountain, the rushing river and the mighty Oak is to recognize our relative size and overall significance. No man is a match for the tide, despite his wealth, power and Instagram followers. It is a call to humility, a damper of ego and hubris, a wake-up call to recognize your smallness.

My children continue to marvel, and I suspect privately mock my newfound Spirituality. That’s fine with me, I was a pretty vocal agnostic for a long time so I have it coming. When I told them about my change of heart, it was a result of deciding between being honest, or not sharing something valuable for fear of being accused of flip-flopping. They are cautiously happy for me while still confused about my change of heart. I could explain it so easily if they let me.

Walk outdoors and look up. That’s all. Look to the top of the treeline, gaze up from the base of a mountain, stare at the stars on a cold winter night and you will see how small, not insignificant just small, we really are. When I did this, I offered myself up as a role player, a piece in the great puzzle. I made myself smaller so that my life could be bigger. I found the power to let down my guard and ask for help and guidance.

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Sure, I like screens. I’m working on one now. They serve their purpose. But given the choice…I still just see trees.

Ego, Omelette’s and getting along

I had the pleasure of doing a charity breakfast Saturday morning. It is one of the commitments I always make sure to keep each year. It is a combined effort between a local church and my Masonic lodge. It is a Santa Breakfast where families come for a nice breakfast and a picture with Santa Clause. I have worked the Omelette station for the last 3 years.

I have fun cooking, joking with the kids, messing with the parents and I meet new people every year. I really enjoy it, and I was asked back after the first year due to my entertainment value. Omelette stations are like fireworks. For some reason, people can’t get enough of watching someone make one. People “ooooh” and “aaaaahhh” as it develops. They want to talk about it with you, tell you how they “could never do it” and “would end up with scrambled eggs.” Some even ask if they can watch, as if I would send them away until it’s ready. It is so incredibly easy for me, I have over 20 years of cooking experience. A saute’ pan is like an extension of my right arm. Which enables me to “bring it” on the big finale…the flip. It is so easy to do but people love it.

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This year my usual partner in eggs didn’t make it. I was asked to work with the Minister’s son. Eli is a tall, smart, good-looking kid who claimed to know how to make an omelette. He made the first one for a lovely old woman and she was delighted. He was very pleased with himself. I thought it was awful. Not in a mean way but he could do so much better. Then came my turn to make one. When I was done, flip and all, I realized that I was being watched by a whole bunch of people. Eli looked at me and said: “I want mine to look like that”. I showed him by walking him through the next 2 that he made. They were better but not good. Finally, he said, “I like making them my way.” I assured him that it was fine. It’s a church breakfast, who cares. Then I saw a chance for a teachable moment.

“Eli, at 21 have you learned everything you are going to learn? Or are you going to be open to new ideas? Because every day that you are not learning something from someone is a wasted day.” He smiled and silently acknowledged that I was right.

The next few were a collaboration and he picked it up fast. We also had fun doing it. By the end of the breakfast he was putting out some nice looking and tasty food, and he was smiling. He even pulled off “the flip” a few times. At the end of the breakfast, his Dad Kevin came over and told Eli how well he did. Eli punched me in the arm and said: “I owe it to the master here”. After Kevin left I said: “you had a little ego at first didn’t you?”

“Yup.”

“But when you put it aside you learned something right?”

“I sure did, and I’m glad that I met you today.”

“Eli, the pleasure was all mine.”

Ego is in all of us. I maintain that it is as ugly and destructive, and green, as envy. Most of us keep it largely in check, only allowing it to rear its ugly head when our fragility is truly challenged. It comes out at small moments and places as well, like an omelette station. My ego wanted me to make every omelette, to not share the job, to have all of the accolades to myself. But I didn’t, I told the ugly side of me to stay inside and let me handle it.

Ego is not the same as pride. Flashback twenty years. I was driving around town in my convertible mustang with some friends and some jerk I didn’t know pulled up next to me and started making fun of my car. Not me personally, just my car. My friends started jawing with his friends and at the next light, we pulled into the parking lot of a local watering hole.

The way that the kid got out of his car suggested that a fight was pending. He took off his shirt and removed all doubt. Then, comically, he took off his shoes. The door to the bar opened and the people spilled out into the parking lot. I removed my shirt, to his apparent shock I was in a hell of a lot better shape than he was and a lot bigger. I left my shoes on. I saw the look on his face and he quickly caught himself and put his tough guy face on again. My friends were ready but didn’t engage and I became aware that I was to be the one to fight this kid. I didn’t want to but there was a lot of pressure and a lot of eyes on me. I knew that if it got bad I would have back up so I walked, shirtless and determined, towards my nameless foe.

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We squared off. He was talking some kind of smack, I still didn’t even know why he wanted to fight me, but here we were. I circled in a defensive posture, sizing him up for how many skills he might possess. He looked scared and a little drunk. Finally, he made the mistake of telling me in a loud voice, for the crowd’s benefit, that he was going to “kick my ass.”

Again, I didn’t want to fight this kid. I hated fighting. But my ego, or my pride, sure wanted a piece of this kid. Then I heard my dad’s voice in my ear, his familiar saying resonating if you punch an asshole in the mouth he’s still an asshole. I dropped my fists and said “I have a better idea. Why don’t you put your fists down, your shoes on and let’s have a beer instead.”

“You don’t want to fight?” he asked. Looking around for a reaction from the crowd.

“I can, but do I have to?” He shook his head. I watched him put his clothes back on, I buttoned my shirt and nodded towards the door of the pub. We, and our thankful friends parted a sea of disappointed bar patrons and drank for 2 hours. I didn’t make a friend that night but I avoided making an enemy.

I went home that night with my ego in check, and my pride intact.

Dreams and the Easter kiss

I am a very fitful sleeper. I rarely sleep for more than three hours, I never wake up in the position that I fell asleep in and I have very vivid and realistic dreams. I truly wish that I could remember them and write them down because there are some very telling things going on. I dream of people I actually know, sometimes interacting with people I don’t, celebrities and people I barely know from a long time ago. I retain certain details but not enough. Too bad because there is some great blogging material there.

With all of the changes going on in my life of late, it’s no surprise that my mind is racing. Health issues, financial problems and now a pending divorce are always at the forefront of my mind.

Last night was a particularly memorable one on the dream front. I know that I had several bad ones, details escape me, but I woke up with a headache at 2 AM so I know I was squinting and tossing and turning a lot. I drank some water, popped a tylenol and went back to sleep. I then dreamt of the “Easter kiss”.

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Most of the details of the dream escape me but I vividly remember that at the end I found myself in a car with my wife, driving somewhere unimportant, and we began discussing the pending divorce. I asked her why she initiated the process, jokingly asking her if she had been cheating on me. Her answer was a nonchalant “I have.” She began to list all of the men that she had affairs with and how she met them. One of the liaisons occurred at a place I do remember, a gym that I used to go to about 20 years ago. She then told me that I shouldn’t be surprised after the “Easter Kiss.” I asked her if I was supposed to remember this incident and she said: “I’m sure I told you.” I remember being beside myself with anger and frustration. And then I was woken by a text alert on my phone. It was my wife telling me when our first hearing for the divorce was.

It took me a while to collect my thoughts before I responded to her. That dream was real close to home. In reality, I have wondered why she suddenly decided to divorce after letting things stay the way they were for so long. I wondered if she had met someone. I would actually welcome it, I would like her to be happy. But I have never, ever suspected her of infidelity. She is a very honest person and despite all of our differences I always trusted her. I was rattled.

I told her about it this morning. She laughed it off. She told me that she’s not like that. To her credit, she’s not. But I can’t get it out of my head, where did I get the “Easter Kiss” from.

Strange days indeed

great idea…someone else can do it

Leopards have spots, Zebras have stripes, people will always be a disappointment. Some things never change.

I am not usually one to promote such fatalistic, gloomy stuff but I’m entitled. I am a big believer in people. I believe in their basic goodness, that most people are decent and charitable beings and are worth investing in. Some people are a bit more difficult but I try to assume is good until proven otherwise. I was raised that way.

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Some are held to a higher standard. When I joined Freemasonry, the oldest fraternity in the world, I joined in hopes of being around men of the character of its most famous members, founding fathers, presidents and civic leaders. The appeal of Freemasonry was to follow in the footsteps and surround myself with good men. Men of character, with a strong moral compass who dedicate their time and resources to improving their family, their community and themselves. Freemasonry was a natural draw for me, they are low-key in their labors for the community and seek no accolades or praise. The best giving is anonymous giving.

I joined and immediately became an enthusiastic, active member. I volunteered at charity events like blood drives, medical equipment loaner programs, and other such activities. I spent time with some great men, many much older than me, and I learned a lot from them.

Our lodge, or meeting place is a special place. Within our walls, there is a strong sense of fraternity and friendship. Participation is encouraged, selflessness is required. Members are asked to step forward, not wait to be asked, to offer ways to improve our fraternity and our lodge. I eagerly stepped forward. Dare I say I jumped into the pool. I joined committees and local organizations as an envoy or ambassador. I enjoyed it immensely, it was good for my character. Unfortunately, I noticed too late that I was one of the only ones. Everyone else was stepping back and letting me do all the work.

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I tried not to get annoyed, but after 3 years of it, I noticed that if I didn’t step up things weren’t happening. I began to feel taken advantage of. So I slowly weaned myself off. I was still active in meetings but I started asking for help, for others to step up and join me, or actually do it without me. I talked of good things; coat drives for veterans, food drives for the local food bank, money for the school kids that needed things outside of traditional programs. Crickets in the room.

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Freemasons take upon themselves an obligation. Part of that is to be selfless, support our brethren and be charitable within your means. I began to realize that my brothers weren’t living up to their obligations.

This year I ran into some life-changing events. I told my brothers that I would not be available for much this year, that my usual assignments would have to be delegated. I am very sorry, but not surprised to report that as of today they have not replaced me, that activity is at an all-time low, that our charities are suffering and our attendance is a joke. I should feel bad. But I don’t.

I learned something. Even though an organization has a long history of above-average people, “better men” to their credit they are, at the end of the day regular people. And regular people can be a disappointment. Some things will never change.