Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why I Love My Moto 360 Smart Watch

My darling wife recently bought me a Moto 360 smart watch because, well, because she's an amazing woman.

I gotta tell ya, I love this thing, and here's why.

I love that:

  • I don't have to worry whether I'll hear the phone ring when it's in my pocket, because the watch vibrates to alert me.
  • I'm digging my phone out of my pocket less and less.
  • After using it all day I've still got 40% percent battery life left.
  • I can change watch faces as often as I feel like it. I'm currently using one that looks remarkably like a Rolex. Cooool.
  • The band feels great on my wrist.
  • When I'm navigating the watch vibrates when I'm supposed to turn, a safeguard in case I don't hear the phone's speaker.
  • People ask about it and always think it's cool.
  • I can voice-text while driving, and my hands stay on the wheel.
  • I can find out my heart rate anytime I want without taking my own pulse.
  • Figure out a tip without taking out my phone

I mean, seriously, what's not to love?


Monday, September 29, 2014

Why I Love Golf: Reasons 1 through 7

Funny thing, golf. Four hours or so of ecstasy and agony interspersed with exclamations along the lines of:

  • Dammit!
  • Ooh, that'll play.
  • What the —?
  • Now that felt good.
  • Oh, come on!

Gotta love the game.

Here are some of my reasons why I'm a golf-adorer.


That feeling when you "pure" it off the tee.


The sound of a long putt clinking into the bottom of the cup.


The process of successfully figuring out why you just pulled the bejeebers out of the ball when you've been pushing it all day.


Driving the cart.


Riding in the cart with a friend.


Changing your mind in the woods, when you decide that rather than trying to fly the ball over a wall of oak trees it makes more sense to drill it out under the branches.


The feel of a new cap.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Snap That Brings My Mother Back

She has been dead a long time, my mother, more than a quarter century, and I still think of her often. Certain sights, songs, and sounds tend to bring her back, like the explosion that comes from snapping a freshly laundered towel.

I'll bring up a basket of towels from the laundry room, not thinking about my mother at all, and plunk the basket on the bed, ready to fold. I'll pick up a bath towel, grab two corners, and whip the towel like a headbanger at a Metallica concert.


And there she is, my mother, next to me. I see her holed up in that tiny laundry room in my childhood home, a room right off the kitchen, with pine-slatted saloon doors and walls a bilious green. Sounds of one towel after another, and T shirts too, thundered from that room about every day (there were six kids, after all), and we knew Ma was doing what she loved best, taking care of us kids.

Better yet were the days she dried the towels in the summer sun. The crispness of those snaps, the pureness of them, stays with you long after the sun sets and the years have moved on.

Eventually Ma would push through the doors, two stacks of towels folded in her arms just so, the doors fluhfluhfluhflupping behind her. A smile and a wink to her children and she is gone, much too soon.

So there I'll stand now, snapping one towel after another, and I'll fold the towels the way the mother of this home likes them, stack them neatly, and carry them upstairs for our own family to use. By that time my mother's memory has faded, temporarily, awaiting another load of wash.

Monday, July 14, 2014

R.I.P, Wolfgang, You Were a Great Companion

Oh, how Wolfie loved an open briefcase.
We had to put a pet down recently, a horrible event under the best of circumstances. Wolfgang, or Wolfie, was a ridiculously handsome cat, black, shiny, strong, with a sphinxlike face and a loving personality.

Earlier in life than he should have, he developed acute and then chronic kidney failure. The vet prescribed subcutaneous fluid infusion three times a week, a procedure called hypodermoclysis. I had given tens of thousands of cc's of fluid intravenously over my years as a nurse, so I took on that task at home.

We gave him several rounds of subcu fluid, but he reacted more and more violently as time went on, and why wouldn't he? Hypodermoclysis is a painful, drawn out procedure that effectively blows up the fatty area on a cat's neck to three or four times its natural size.


There was no other valid option for therapy, though we did try a low-protein diet for a while, but in the end we decided that we weren't going to torture this poor guy three times a week for the rest of his life only to have him slowly waste away and die anyway. We would give him all the love we could, while we could, and let nature take its course.

That course finally ended when our favorite vet, Jim, gently, professionally, and compassionately euthanized Wolfie, just as he had euthanized three other beloved pets in the past. He came into the exam room, took one look at the waiflike cat on the table and said, "Poor little guy. He's had enough."

It was difficult, but we knew in our hearts that Jim was right, that Wolfie had indeed had enough. He died silently, calmly. I thanked Jim for his help, loaded the cat into the car, and drove him home for burial in our back yard, right next to Katie, Max, and Lucy.

We're down to one four-legged friend, Princess Sadie, Ruler of All Who Enter, Table Beggar Par Excellence, Holy Devotee to Queen Gay and Most Unholy Archenemy of Yours Truly.

Hoo, boy.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ask Not What Love Is, This Is It

You can see the Pittsburgh skyline from Ollie's room. It's quite lovely in the evening, your eyes scanning the row home rooftops of the working-class neighborhood below and then shifting to the lights on the horizon, a horizon that should signal hope and renewal.

This vantage point, though, is the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, and the room is for Ollie Halligan, a nearly 6-month-old infant with a host of problems that have proved to be, at the last, insurmountable.

He had suffered surgeries, strokes, cardiac arrests, infections, and a rare condition in which his blood cells literally ate other blood cells. He survived all but the last, his swollen little face unaware of the mortiforous path ahead.

His eyes, though. My God, his eyes.

Darting this way and that, looking at a strange visitor and wondering, possibly, what on earth he's doing here, and where is my mom?

Dark, persistent eyes, intent on seeing whatever he can, while he can.

A visitor watches as Ollie's mom, Ollie's unspeakably patient, tenacious, and devoutedly parental mom, speaks a poem in hushed tones, just hushed enough for a visitor and Ollie to hear, tones so soft they seem otherwordly.

I wanted you more
than you ever will know
so I sent love to follow
wherever you go.
It's high as you wish it. It's quick as an elf.
You'll never outgrow it...it stretches itself!

So climb any mountain...
climb up to the sky!
My love will find you.
My love can fly!

Ollie's eyes slide to the outside, where the words come from a voice he knows and craves. The eyes remain fixed, listening to this bedtime ritual.

My love is so high, and so wide and 
so deep, it's always right there, even 
when you're asleep.

His heart rate slows, his breathing steadies, his eyes slowly, slowly close. The pureness of love only a mother can give lessens Ollie's pain, comforts his mind, soothes his soul.

It won't last, but it's enough. It is heartrendingly enough.

You are my angel, my darling, 
my star...and my love will find you, 
wherever you are.

You are loved.

The visitor tries to wipe tears from his eyes, but he fails. They seep past his tissues and defenses. He has witnessed true devotion, life in its shatteringly short span and profound tenderness, and he is forever changed.

So it has been with everyone who has known this little √©lan vital, this stoic being who nearly overcame the odds.


Adieu, little Ollie, adieu. Your wee time here will leave an imperishable design upon my heart.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I'm not an idiot, I said

I cannot tell you how many times over the years I've called myself an idiot. Gotta be in the gazillions, fer sure.

I open the wrong folder in Word, and it's "Idiot!"

Misspell preference, and it's "Dumbass!"

E-mail someone and forget the attachment, and it's "What a duh!"

I probably shouldn't do that.

No, I definitely shouldn't do that. I'm trying to learn that putting myself down like that is just as powerful as someone else saying it to me. I wouldn't put up with that, so why do I do it myself?

No clue, but I'm going to start stopping it. I'm going to start trying to recognize the things I do well and not pay so much attention to those little annoyances.

That's the plan, and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saying a Gradual Goodbye to Our Wolfgang

Wolfgang "Wolfie" McPhee
Our poor kitty is on his last legs, I believe. Only 8, he has chronic renal failure for reasons unknown.

They could be known, I'm told, if we just get an ultrasound. Worse-case scenario, I suppose, would be that the ultrasound shows either a carcinoma or amyloidosis, a condition of protein buildup in the kidneys. Not good either way.

His renal failure is progressive and incurable.

We've put him on a special low-protein food, which he hates. We've tried clysis, an infusion of fluid in the subcutaneous tissues in his back. He hates it. Hates it.

Who wouldn't? Clysis is painful, quite painful. Imagine the last time you had a "shot" in your arm. It was probably all of 0.5ml, a teensy amount. Did it hurt? Probably at least stung.

Now imagine someone gives you a shot with 100 times that amount. It hurts.

My wife and I decided that we were not going to put him through the agony of clysis three or four times a week. It seems inhumane.

He is losing weight and drinking water like it's going out of style. But he remains as loving now as he has been all his life. He's a great cat, and I will miss him terribly.

This is the part of pet ownership I hate the most. I can clean poop all day, if I have to, and pick up after his spittles. But this.

This is awful.

So we will give him the best life we can for the time he has left, and we will love him as we always have. We will not get an ultrasound or more blood work to tell us what we already know. We will pet him and hug him and give him long, slow pulls on his tail, which he loves, and when it's time, we will say goodbye.

God, I hope we're doing the right thing.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Truth in Old Photos, Thanks to Siobhan Finneran of Downton Abbey

There's a photo going around Facebook that shows Downton Abbey actor Siobhan Finneran as her character, Sarah O'Brien, on one side and Siobhan all "dolled up" on the other. I suspect that most people look at it and think, Gee, she's much prettier when she has makeup on and her own hair.

Frederick Douglass
But I saw it differently. I reflected on those old black-and-white and sepia-toned photographs from the 1840s through the 1960s, when color photography really gained steam. I thought about those old photos of Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover, of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, and of all the nameless faces in daguerreotype images hanging on museum walls.

Those people came in living color too, I remind myself, and it's only when you try to imagine what they might have looked like in the flesh that they truly come to life.

Siobhan Finneran
When you look at Siobhan's character in black and white, she has harsh features and a terribly old-style hairstyle. Her look is stern, and she's wearing a less than flattering black dress.

But when you look at Siobhan herself, in color and as she appears "normally," you see the subtle shades in her skin. Her face softens, her eyes look more intriguing than piercing. She becomes, to us, real.

How many of us have looked at old photos in museums and passed them by because they weren't relevant? Because the photos were so old, who cares?

I know I did. But I try not to anymore.

Reading books like David McCullough's The Greater Journey and Matthew Algeo's The President is a Sick Man has helped me visualize people from long ago as they actually were. Not as blank-faced, sepia-toned photographs, but as living, breathing individuals, just like us today. There but for the grace of God....

That's a nice lesson to learn.

So, to whomever put those two photos of Ms. Finneran together, thank you for the lesson.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The 'Large Uterus' Or What Not to Say on a Crowded Train

You have a large what?
Getting off a rush-hour train the other day I overheard a woman behind me say into her cell phone, quite clearly and rather loudly, "My doctor said I have a large uterus. Never heard that before."

Slap my butt and call me Bobby, I never have either. And I hope to never again.

First, what the bejeebers is a large uterus? Does she have fibroids? A thick uterine wall? I mean, the doctor actually used the words "large uterus"?

Oh, come on.

Mostly, though, why the bejeebers is the woman talking about her wonky womb in public anyway? Has she no boundaries at all? At long last, has she no sense of decency?

Well, that does it.

The next time I'm on the train I'm going to say into my phone, whether anyone is on the other end or not, and at the busiest time of day, "My doctor says I have the testicles of a 92-year-old man sitting in a sauna naked."

So there.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

When the 'Party Line' Crumbles

"If you're poor, stop being poor."

Aasif Mandvi closing in a crumble
Just so were the words of Todd Wilemon, Managing Director of NYSE Euronext, speaking with The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi March 6, 2014. Aasif, in his brilliantly nonconfrontational way, had just returned from a visit to the "third world" of Knoxville, Kentucky, and was interviewing Wilemon, whose point was that the Affordable Care Act — well, he termed it "Obamacare" — would destroy humanity as we know it. Or something.

Mandvi was pointing out that poor people can't afford health care, which is what Obamacare is designed to correct, and that's when it happened.

Wilemon starting spouting the party line, that people who can't afford health care "have made that choice" and that they "like a free lunch."

To be fair, Wilemon's exact quote, at this most illuminating of moments, was, "I'll be honest. If, if you're poor, stop being poor. You know, get a GED, have a job for over a year."

That was the moment, the exact moment, when the party line disintegrated, when it became abundantly clear that party lines, whether they're from the left, right, or center, can't stand up to accuracy, to actual truth (as opposed to "truthiness"), when those lines are just plain wrong.

The look of a crumbling party line
When you look objectively at party lines without a moral high ground, when you poke them the right way, they crumble. And the person holding to that line, holding fast to it, like a rusty guardrail on a sinking ship, finds that the rail can't support him, that it collapses, throwing the poor lunk into a clarity he knew all along but was afraid to acknowledge.

At least when Wilemon crumbled at one point, he recognized it. Mandvi had asked,"What if everybody got really great health care?"

Wilemon paused, trying on the one hand to agree that everyone should get great health care (the moral high ground), while on the other holding tight to the party line that says giving great health care to the poor (read: Obamacare) will lead to chaos.

You could just see Wilemon crumble, like a Vegas hotel imploding on a summer day. Mandvi let him crumble a bit before saving him with, "I'm just kidding. We have to keep things competitive, right?"

Then Wilemon smiled, they high-fived, and moved on.

Gotta love a good crumble.

Aasif Mandvi interview with Todd Wilemon

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What Do You Believe In?

The keynote speaker at a recent conference I attended was Adam L. Saenz, a compelling speaker and author of The Power of a Teacher: Restoring Hope and Well-Being to Change Lives. At one point, the climax of the speech, he told a story about a talk he once had with his newly-adopted daughter and how her job was to follow the rules he set down.

He then asked her what she thought his job was. She said, "To make sure I follow the rules."

He replied, "No, my darling girl, my job is to lay down my life for you."

He went on to tell her all the things he believed in about parenting, and it was a heartwarming list indeed.

That discussion got me to thinking about what I believe in. And that thinking got me to writing this post.

I believe in...

  • Love
  • Competence
  • Fairness in all things
  • The healing power of a hug
  • God, but not religion
  • Science and its unanswered questions
  • Traditional medicine
  • The fight against prejudice
  • Teachers who always seek learning
  • Reading what and who you want to read
  • Google over Apple, Chevy over Ford, and gin over vodka
  • Comfort over style
  • Function over form
  • Learning from history
  • Evolution
  • Revolution
  • Absolution
  • Right against might, and
  • The power of words

What about you? What do you believe in?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What Would Your Last Meal Be?

Photographer Henry Hargreaves recently put together a series of photos of last meals by famous and infamous murderers, and it got me thinking.

If I knew what day I was going to die, what would I want for my last meal?

Because I'm not in prison, and because I'm assuming that I won't be in prison on that day, I've put this meal together with the understanding that I could have any part of the meal come from any kitchen or restaurant anywhere in the world. That's fair, right?

That said, here's what I would want:
Mount Vesuvius from the middle of the
Cantina del Vesuvio Winery
  • Sliced turkey, gravy, and stuffing from my wife's transcendent Thanksgiving Day dinner
  • Black tea-glazed spare ribs and the truffle and smoke potato chips from Honey, a marvelous restaurant in Doylestown
  • Side of Setaro spaghetti and homemade spaghetti sauce, with a glass of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio wine, all from the Cantina del Vesuvio Winery at the base of Mount Vesuvius
  • Slice of my wife's magnificent apple pie for dessert, warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream from oWowcow Creamery
And I would have this all, if I could, at a table on a stunning Sacramento patio with my wife, children, grandchild(ren), and our dear friends, Greg and Robert, if they would have us. Then I could die a happy — and satisfied — man.

So, what would your last meal be?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Old Farts Farting

Would you please tell me what the dinky heck is with all the farting after 60?

I've always farted, and so have you. We all fart.

But since I turned 60, man, the farts just come out no matter what. I used to be able to pretty much control them, to hold them back and then let loose when the time and place was more amenable to such activities.

But now, it's like if I even think about farting, bbbbwwwaaaappp!

And the walking farts. Seriously? I've blown over parking meters, which is fine because I don't like them anyway, but still.

I can feel a fart coming on as I'm nearing a door to the outside, and I can almost make it. Almost. But nope, just as the door is swinging shut, just as I'm about to escape without being heard, out it comes — blloommfft — leaving a 37-foot stank trail and people inside wondering whether I might need new pants.

It's just abominable.

Then again, I'm "old." I fart. So what?

Now, that's what aging's all about, baby!

Monday, February 17, 2014

My Proustian Questionnaire

If ever I was on The Actor's Studio, here's how I might answer Mr. Lipton's questions. Based, as he says, on Bernard Pivot's version of Marcel Proust's questionnaire.

What is your favorite word?


What is your least favorite word?

The N word. I hate even to say "the N word."

What turns you on?


What turns you off?


What sound do you love?

The sound my wife makes when we hug after an argument

What sound do you hate?

My daughter crying

What is your favorite curse word?

What the fucking fuck.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?


What profession would you not like to do?

Pediatric nurse

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

"Care for a ceegar?"

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Jefferson's Memorial Set Apart for Good Reason

The Jefferson Memorial stands in quiet grandeur on the south side of the Tidal Basin, well away from Lincoln's and Washington's memorials.

That distance, 0.896 miles from Jefferson to Lincoln and 0.563 miles from Jefferson to Washington, seems more than appropriate given Jefferson's complex and exceedingly frustrating personality.

The more I read about this particular president, the more I dislike him and the less I respect him. That goes against the common wisdom, I know, but he was really quite an unusual character. It seems that for every brilliant thing he did, he also did something despicable.

He was the individual's shining light, putting forth views on freedom that guide the nation to this day. He also was a snobbish slave owner who had the clear opportunity to free not only his dutiful mistress, Sally Hemings, but also her brother, James, when they were with Jefferson in Paris. But he didn't. His massive ego and clearly conflicted feelings about slavery prevented that most humane of actions.

He was an innovative farmer who helped bring crop rotation and other modern agricultural techniques to our early agrarian society. He also forced his slaves to gouge out of the Monticello hillside, shovel by shovel, a 1,000-foot terraced garden so he could play in the dirt. Yes, his garden provided his slaves with fruits and vegetables, but each slave's allotment was meager and insufficient to survive on by itself.

He was a brilliant writer, a genuine statesman, and a visionary of the first order. But he was also a pompous egoist and a calculating and sometimes deceitful politician. If he liked you he was magnanimous in his philanthropy, but heaven help you if he didn't.

Don't get me wrong, I think Jefferson did tremendous things for the country, but I think they all came at a price to history. He had not the perseverance of Lincoln, nor the unfettered vision of Washington. He was, and remains, a conundrum, a commingling of contradictions that either he never saw or saw but refused to acknowledge and that historians of all kinds continue to grapple with.

Give me the lifelong devotion to equality of a Lincoln over that of a Jefferson. Give me the honesty and dedication of a Washington over that of a Jefferson. Give me even the clarity of a John Adams — stubborn grouch that he was — over that of a Jefferson, I'd much prefer it.

So yes, the placement of the Jefferson Memorial, for all its beauty, seems to me rather perfect.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lucky Man

I'm a lucky man. A lucky, lucky man.

I discovered history before it was too late.

When I was younger — much, much younger — I hated history. Hated it. Thought that history was just a bunch of old guys who didn't know any better and that we people of the now are just so much more knowledgable.

What a duh I was.

I've since learned that history is made by people exactly like us.

I read John Lewis's Wallking with the Wind, and I loved it. It moved me terribly. I fell completely in love with David McCullough's Truman. Also his The Great Bridge.

People like David McCullough, Ron Chernow, and Annette Gordon-Reed bring those old folks to life, and in doing so you realize that they were like us, that we deal today with the same kinds of problems we've always dealt with and that our leaders have the same strengths and weaknesses as did Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and the rest of our founding fathers.

And when you realize that, these old folks become alive and become your friends.
I'm so terribly glad I "discovered" history. I hope one day everyone does.