Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tenth Life

I write this partly out of great joy, and partly as a warning to readers who may come as close as I did to making a very serious mistake.
Like many of us, I am owned by a cat. Her name is Skids, derived from the way she takes fast turns on bare wood floors. Or the way she used to take fast turns, back before she gave up the nasty habit of doing things that involve getting up once in a while. She's a tiny little thing - about five and a half pounds - and gets more milage out of being cute than Anna Nicole Smith and Sanjaya combined ever could have.
Skids is about 15 years old and has enjoyed good health throughout her life. It is only recently that she began to experience problems. (The problems involved her bladder and digestive systems; I'll spare you the details.) A couple of courses of antibiotics and some intravenous rehydrations later, there was no improvement. The vet took a urine specimen for some super-detailed testing, and told us if this didn't do anything to help it might be time to put her (Skids, not the vet) to sleep. (I detest that expression, by the way.)
In the meantime, my wife - whom I gratefully admit is smarter than I am - decided on her own to try something. Skids had been on a prescription diet for her dry food and, more recently, her wet food. (I know what you're thinking; her food was not among the ones affected by the recent contamination.) She (my wife, not Skids) decided to stop the prescription wet food and replace it with tuna fish. Skids, for her part, agreed to the experiment. In a matter of days, the symptoms that had been present for weeks cleared up, and testing indicated her levels of various cat things were within normal ranges. It turns out that Dr. Mom is not only a pediatrician, but a vet as well. (Makes a great meatloaf too.)
Today, the member of our family we refer to as the little furry person wet the sofa again. She's done it dozens of times over the years. And do you know what? This time, unlike any time before, I smiled. 

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jack, Lee Harvey, and Me

Tonight I was having some trouble sleeping and went downstairs to watch television. My kids having misplaced the remote (or taken it up to their room after misplacing theirs, I'm not sure which), I actually had to suffer the indignity of getting up from the chair and changing channels by hand.
On the History Channel I found a program about the JFK assassination. There have been dozens of programs on the subject, of course, and most address various conspiracy theories. This program mentioned those things as a kind of side issue. Mostly it attempted to explore Oswald's motivations. Jack Ruby's too.
What appeared to put Oswald over the top was not his communism-obsessed belief system. Rather, it was his obsessive desire to be a big shot - pun not intended - within that belief system. To make his mark, and get respect in the process. He posed for iconic photos with his firearms, and offered himself to the Cuban and Soviet embassies. (Both turned him away.) Oswald's fatal flaw was not that he was a communist. It was that he felt a need to be a star, and became overwhelmed by frustration when the world - even the communist world - didn't raise him above the rest.
And then there was Jack Ruby, the Dallas strip club owner who associated with penny-ante hoods and liked to hang out at the police station. Loved JFK. Wanted to feel important. No, more than important: he wanted to be elevated to the status of hero.
Are we noticing a pattern here? I am, especially when I added the third data point: stresses and frustrations I've felt building lately - one friend accurately called it being very prickly - when I point out to the world that it's not conforming to my vision for it, and the world glares back and says, "Who the hell asked you?"
It was quite a revelation, this business of recognizing some part of me, some part of a lot of us I suppose, in vilified historical figures whom we've always felt safely separated from. That their cases are much more extreme is just a detail, and doesn't excuse the more basic form of the problem others of us have inside us.
There's a book I quite literally keep right next to my Bible. It's an AA book called, "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," known to AA's as the "12 and 12." (Although I'm not a drinker, and some of what AA presents is specific to substance abuse, I've found the majority can be thought of as "take out drinking and fill in your favorite self-destructive behavior.") This has, for me, been a life-changing book and if someone out there is feeling a little lost you might find it so too. But I digress...
Part of the chapter on Step Four - "We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves" - reads as follows: "It is from our twisted relations with family, friends and society at large that many of us have suffered the most...The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being...Either we insist upon dominating the people we know, or we depend on them far too much...We have not once sought to be one in a family, to be a friend among friends, to be a worker among workers, to be a useful member of society. Always we tried to struggle to the top of the heap, or to hide underneath it. This self-centered behavior blocked a partnership relation with any one of those about us." 
A few hours from now, when on the train commuting to work, I think I know what I'm going to get back into reading.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Long and Whining Road...

Ok. Enough nice guy. Time for a rant.

The nearby and normally quiet city of Bayonne, NJ - well, quiet by Hudson County standards anyway - has been shaken in recent months by growing social unrest no one seems to be able to resolve. State and federal lawsuits, civil protests and inflammatory speeches normally reserved for hot-button issues like gun control and abortion are now addressing something even bigger: school uniforms.

Last summer, the Bayonne Board of Education instituted a requirement for students in their public grammar schools to wear uniforms. In December, the State Education Commission upheld the requirement over the objections of a group of local parents, and gave the parents a 90-day deadline to file an appeal with the State Board of Education. Showing the same sense of responsibility that they're teaching their children, the parents filed an appeal after the 90-day deadline expired, and it was rejected on that basis.

Understand please, dear reader, that this rant is not about school uniforms per se. Though I'm the father of two teenage sons, both of whom wore school uniforms in a public grammar school and who now adhere to a strict dress code at a public high school, I'm not against uniforms or dress codes. I'm also not against people who are against uniforms or dress codes. I'm against - Bayonne parents, please listen carefully - WHINEY PARENTS and their AREN'T-WE-PRECIOUS CHILDREN!

So what are the parents saying?

One described the uniform requirement as "very non-democratic, highly punitive dictation from a political government group." First, requiring students to do homework is non-democratic. I don't know what school this mom went to, but I've never seen a classroom that's a democracy. Second, I'm not sure the jailed political dissidents in Russia, Cuba, and a whole bunch of other places would agree with their sister-in-arms in Bayonne, NJ about uniforms being highly punitive dictation. But what would they know of the oppressive regime of the Bayonne Board of Education, what with being in jail so long and all that?

This same woman has filed a federal lawsuit against the board for prohibiting her son from wearing an anti-uniform emblem depicting Hitler Youth. (Charming young man, don't you think?) I just hope, when all the fuss about school uniforms is over, that this woman and her spoiled son never really have to find out what the Hitler Youth movement was about. (Here's a hint, honey. It had nothing to do with school uniforms.)

Another parent, this one a father, was also concerned. "The school board doesn't have the right to tell me how to raise my kid..." No dude, but they do have the responsibility to hold him to a set of reasonably high standards at school. It's kind of what they're there for, like, you know? Otherwise, the child is liable to grow up into the kind of irresponsible adult who, oh, I don't know, let's say, waits till the deadline has passed before filing an appeal and then blames everyone but themselves when it's turned away.

I'd love to be there when junior's boss tell him the office has a dress code he's expected to follow. Who's mommy going to sue then?

Society has - as it should -certain expectations about following rules you may not always like. The question for me is not whether students should wear school uniforms. I really don't care if they do or they don't. The question in my mind is this: what are any of these people - the whiney adults and the spoiled kids they're serving as examples for - going to do if they're ever faced with a real problem?

So as not to end this on a negative note, let me tell you a joke. How many Bayonne public school students does it take to change a light bulb?

It takes one to hold the bulb still, and nine parents to stand around expecting the world to revolve around him.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Middle Age - Dat Be Whack, Yo*

* In some urban areas, "dat be whack" is an expression of deep concern, and possibly dissatisfaction, over something. "Yo" may be roughly translated as, "and I really mean it." For example, "The Dow Industrial Average decreased by nearly 100 points on reports of a downturn in petroleum futures and concerns over inflation? Dat be whack, yo."

The good thing about early Sunday morning hours is that they're quiet, and I get to sit and think. The bad thing about them is that they're quiet, and I get to sit and think. This morning, the thoughts are of having "life experience." You know...middle age.

Yes, I know. It's bad enough I've added one more blog to the world. Now I'm using that blog to give the world one more entry about middle age. But you see, this one is different from all those other people writing about reaching middle age. This one is about ME reaching middle age. I don't know about you, but for me, this is a key difference.
While not every effect nature's process has had will be discussed here <ahem>, there
are a few examples I'll share.
My hair is longer in back, down to about the base of my neck. The mid-life crisis period is, if nothing else, a call to action. When you can't afford a canary yellow corvette, when no 20 year-old co-ed will give you a second look, and when - crisis or not - you're still not crazy enough to sky-dive or bungee-jump, there aren't a lot of options left. Hence, the hair. My family appears to be ok with this, though my sons did advise me to grow it longer on the sides too, lest it start looking like a mullet. This, I've been led to believe, would be considered the ultimate step in the embarrassing-your-kids process.
I'm ok with the fact that I'm an older man to the women in my class of fourth year college students. What's harder to accept is realizing that a man half my age is an older man to them.
Even my cel phone has gotten involved. I wear it on my belt, and keep it on vibrate. I cannot tell you, dear reader, how many times I've reached down to answer a call, only to find out it was just some internal body part rumbling.
Still, we are here, and happy, and that is something. And you know, now that the sun is up I'm remembering  corvettes are ok, but the really cool guys cruise in a Saturn station wagon. As long as it's freshly washed. And driven by a guy with life experience.