A day at the dog park

My days are pretty free and unscheduled.  Having retired, I can choose what I want to do and when to do it.  But, not entirely.  You see, Jan and I own two dogs, Tucker (white) and Tulip (red).  Both are labradoodles, and they are inseparable.  They love to be right underfoot, and they spend their mornings and early afternoons napping, or eating, or asking to be let out to stretch their legs in the back yard.  Tulip loves to chase squirrels, and we love it when she does.  Tucker not so much – he seems content to sit on the back patio and watch Tulip do all the work.  For the most part, they are easy dogs to live with, and neither Jan nor I would have it any other way.  We love their companionship.

tulipandtucker

But, starting about 2PM every day, the energy in the house starts to escalate.  The dogs begin to stir.  They start pacing back and forth and they insist on putting a paw up in my lap or nuzzling up against my leg to let me know that something is up.  Not a word is spoken.  But, the communication is very clear – “Get up and moving, Jack, and take us to the dog park!”  I try to explain to them that they need to be patient, but patience is not easy for labradoodles.  I try logic, and when logic fails, I try a stern voice.  When that fails, I resort to diverting their attention by offering them an assortment of dog treats, including peanut butter right off the spoon.

I am not just dragging my feet for the sake of making it hard on Tucker and Tulip.  I simply cannot take them to the dog park off-leash before 4PM, because that is the hour established by the Boise City Park and Recreation department for legal off-leash use of selected City parks here in Boise.  I explain that to the dogs daily, but they seem not to be persuaded.  Civil disobedience is OK with them.  To hell with the rules, they seem to say, as they both stare at me incessantly.  But, the process continues the same way every day, and both dogs know that sooner or later, I will accede to their demands.  At about 3:50PM, I begin by telling Jan that I am taking “…the D.O.G.s to the D.O.G. P.A.R.K.”  Apparently, both Tucker and Tulip can spell – they begin wagging their tales crazily when I utter those words.  I then go to the closet where I fetch a handful of plastic bags – another dead giveaway!  Now, they start barking.  I then grab my hat, and when I put it on, all hell breaks loose!  The dogs run crazily from the front door to the back door, not knowing which door I will use to take them to the car for the ride to the park.  Usually, we go out the back door, and both dogs scramble out the door and engage in a wild, and somewhat dangerous, game of “chase” in our back yard.  Or, they run full speed at me, and stop only when their forward progress is impeded by my two 73 year-old legs.  It is a process fraught with excitement for them, and danger for me.

So finally, we are in the car, where the dogs are permitted only in the back seat.  But, Tulip cheats.  Whenever I stop at a stop sign or stop light, Tulip steps onto the armrest of the driver’s seat and puts her chin on my shoulder.  She then starts licking my ear while she inches her entire body forward – “Back!”, I say.  But, my command is ignored unless and until I start the car moving again, when I must physically push Tulip back into the back seat.  This dance goes on day after day.  Tucker is mostly an observer, but from time to time, he joins in the action.  The drive to the park takes about 10 minutes, and the dogs know every stop, light, and turn along the way.  Their joy is palpable!  Soon, they will be free to run, sniff, pee, and poop with reckless abandon.  Life, for them, does not get any better than this.

As for me, I am preparing for the next phase of the daily dog park dance.  First, I note the time.  I must not arrive before 4PM.  The City decided that dogs in city parks must be on a leash before 4PM.  Moreover, dogs must be on a leash for the first 50 yards or so (the buffer-zone) after exiting the car into the park.  And, the rules do not stop there.  All dogs must be licensed, there must be a leash for every dog, and each dog owner/handler must have plastic poop bags in their possession while in the park.  There are probably more rules, but these are the ones that come to mind.  You might ask, who cares?  Why even be bothered with these stupid rules?  The answer is simple.  The dog park is visited periodically by a City dog policeman/Nazi.  dogcopThis guy is something else!  He loves writing citations ($75 per infraction, per dog, per day).  He often hides his City-owned truck around the corner and he then hides himself in the bushes adjoining the designated leash-free dog area of the park.  If someone shows up with a dog off leash at, say, 3:55PM, bingo!  The dog Nazi pops up, ticket-book in hand!  And, while he is citing you for an illegal early off-leash dog violation, he then checks to make sure that your dog is currently licensed, that the license is on the collar of the dog, that you have a leash for the dog, and that you have poop-bags at the ready.  Heaven forbid if you allowed your dogs to run into the park directly from the car, in violation of the 50-yard buffer zone rule.  If any of these are not in up to snuff, then the ticket book comes out again.  He loves his job, and he could care less whether the infraction is trivial or not.  He goes strictly “by the book.”

Knowing this, I arrive at the park, scanning the streets near the park for the dog Nazi’s pickup truck as I approach.  Seeing no sign of his truck is no guarantee that he is not there, but it helps relieve much of the anxiety.  I have explained all of this to Tulip and Tucker, and they nod their heads in agreement.  But, they have no intention of complying with the rules.  So, the minute that I open the car door with leashes in hand, both dogs jump out and race into the park at breakneck speed, breaking the 50-yard buffer zone on-leash rule.  Immediately, I think to myself, if the dog Nazi is here somewhere, I have just incurred a $150 fine, at a minimum.  But, the dogs usually cover that 50 yards in about 3 seconds, so I figure, what are the odds that we are going to get caught, right?!  So far, and for many months now, I have dodged this bullet.  But I do not want to brag.  Tomorrow could be the day of reckoning with the dog Nazi.

Next, Tucker somehow has set his body clock to ring his poop alarm the minute he is released into the park.  So, while I walk into the park and am greeted by other dog owners standing there throwing balls to their dogs with their “Chuck-it” devices, Tucker goes immediately and squats, often in the middle of the assembled humans.  These folks are dog people, so they are understanding, but in most social circles, Tucker’s behavior would be a source of some embarrassment.  Tulip, whom I have almost never seen poop, is delighted to search out the nearest squirrel or to sniff butts with the assemblage of other dogs at the park.  This is just normal dog behavior, as far as I can tell.  But it gets a little awkward for me, for the following reason.  When Tulip begins to show interest in another dog, or worse yet, when another dog begins to show interest in Tulip, Tucker makes his entrance.  He does not just poke his nose into the fray, he claims Tulip as his own by mounting and humping her incessantly until she runs to me and hides between my legs for protection.  The other “regulars” at the dog park know Tucker by this behavior – and they know him as “Humper”, not Tucker.  Jan is so mortified by Tucker’s actions that she refuses to go with us to the dog park.  One lady at the park told Jan some time ago that Tucker needed to go to some specialist she knew of to fix this once and for all.  When we explained that both Tucker and Tulip have been snipped, tied, fixed, or whatever you call it, this lady seemed unimpressed.  humpingdogsShe apparently found the dog’s behavior to be disgusting.  So, Jan said to me, “That’s it….I am done taking the dogs to this park.”  I have gotten so used to this routine that I just ignore it.  People there may think I am a bit odd, but I cannot control what they think.

Our routine then shifts into “taking a lap” around the perimeter of the area in the park designated to be off-leash by the City.  For me, this is a relatively short walk, and not worth mention, really.  For Tucker and Tulip, however, this lap can be full of fun and adventure.  First, there is the dog that lives across the chain link fence adjacent to the park.  This dog loves to taunt Tucker and Tulip by running back and forth along the fence line, barking ferociously and stimulating Tucker and Tulip into a frenzy of barking, running back and forth, and growling.  This goes on for as long as the owner of the dog on the other side of the fence allows his dog this freedom, or until I intervene to distract my dogs.  Usually, it is up to me to bring an end to this fun.  I sometimes wonder how my dogs would behave if somehow this fence was removed.  Would they still want to play with the other dog?  Would they still act like they are so tough?  Or, would Tucker just start humping Tulip, who would then run to me for protection?

Anyway, we progress around the perimeter of the park until we reach the creek which runs alongside the park on one side.  Both Tucker and Tulip are labradoodles, and Labradors are supposed to love water, right?  Well, not Tucker.  He will have nothing to do with the water.  Tulip, on the other hand, is curious about the water, but will only walk in the water if it is really shallow – she does not want her tummy to get wet.  The other dogs in the park jump into the water, frolic in the water, lie down in the water, and love the cool-down.  Tucker and Tulip cool down only by drinking from the water dishes of other dog owners who brought them intending to serve their own dogs, not mine.  But, this has been going on so long now that these other dog owners are pretty understanding – they just bring along a little bigger jug of water, knowing that Tucker and Tulip will be there.

There is one final area, however, where Tucker and Tulip truly excel.  When it comes time to leave the park, I need to leash them up to cross the 50-yard buffer zone.  Leashes also facilitate getting them to the car and inside without incident.  Other dog owners play hell trying to get their dogs to come and submit to a leash.  Our dogs are different.  All I need to do is say to Tucker and Tulip, “Come get your leashes”, and they break into an amazing grin and run like the wind to my feet, where they sit and smile at me with tails wagging like crazy.  Go figure!  I have no idea why they like this part of our daily routine so much, but they do.  Other dog owners stare in disbelief.  I just smile and say to them, “Have a nice day”.  He who laughs best, laughs last….

And, then on the way to the car, I drop the plastic poop bag into the trash barrel.  The dogs settle into the back seat where Tucker gives Tulip one more little hump, and then we all relax until we reach the first stop light – when the front seat encroachment begins anew.  Whew, I’m exhausted…..think I will go re-sort the socks by color in my sock drawer.

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“I’m mad as hell and can’t take it anymore!” (The movie “Network”, Paddy Chayefsky, 1976)

Today, Jan (wife) attempted to place a reservation with AirBnB – her first time with that particular vendor.  After considerable searching, she found an attractive room in the right location at what seemed to be an affordable price — $120 per night.  She then spent additional time trying to pinpoint this place on a map and beginning the registration process, only to find that the price had increased to $123 per night while she worked on finalizing the reservation.  Fifteen minutes later, as she continued the AirBnB reservation process, the price shown had grown to $125 per night!  I guess the deal is that it is cheaper if you just look – if you actually want to stay somewhere, all bets are off!  Similarly, yesterday, she received an unsolicited email from an airline offering a special rate on a route that we frequently fly.  She attempted to secure that rate, but yes, you guessed it, when it finally came time to confirm the reservation, the rate was more than double the advertised rate.  How many times has this happened to you?  How many times have you been surprised at checkout of a hotel to find the total charges significantly higher than the nightly rate you were quoted?  Oh, sure, there is always a reason.  You know, the original rate did not include hotel taxes, or perhaps you did not understand that mandatory resort fees and/or gratuities would be added to the bill.

Why doesn’t it ever go the other way?  I am still waiting to hear those magic words – “Sir….I am pleased to inform you that we overstated the cost of your room, flight, or whatever.  We will charge you the lower price, and of course, we will ‘comp’ you another $100 for the inconvenience!”  If one looks for protection from misleading or predatory vendor practices, lawyers will always advise to get everything in writing and to read the fine print, just so that there are no misunderstandings.  If you look at the fine print that accompanies an airline ticket, or the booklet of fine print that accompanies your cruise boarding packet, you will instantly recognize the impact that lawyers have had on these documents.  I quit trying to read this stuff years ago, concluding that there is virtually nothing that the vendor could do to me, my wife, children, or my pets for which they would accept legal responsibility.  “Oh, so you say you suffered a broken neck and total body paralysis as a result of a really bad landing, or when the ship ran at full speed into the dock?”  Or, “…your rental car would not start when it came time to get your pregnant wife off to the hospital, resulting in the delivery of your first child on the front lawn, attended only by the paper boy and your 85 year-old next door neighbor!  So sorry, but that’s not on us”, they say!

These are all variations of the same  theme — offering to sell someone a product or to provide a service at one price, and then charging another higher (sometimes significantly higher) price after the purchase commitment has been made.  Caveat emptor, some say!  This is a general rule of law that says that the purchaser assumes the risk of the purchase.  The presumption underlying this concept is that the seller will take advantage of the buyer at every opportunity.  “We need consumer protection!”, cry some folks.  “We need regulations, reporting, and penalties with teeth”, they say.  To them I say, “How are you doing on stopping those crank calls by putting your name on the Government’s “do not call” list?”  I have put my name on that list multiple times, just in case it takes more than one to finally get properly registered.  Have I seen any reduction at all in the frequency of the unsolicited telephone calls?  Au contraire!  Despite my best efforts to protect myself, I seem to be getting more of these calls than ever before.

When was the last time you carried one of those coupons you received in the mail for a $12.99 oil and filter change into the nearest Jiffy Lube (or equivalent) store?  The last time I tried to use one of those coupons, I escaped with a special low price of $44.50, by the time they added surcharges for the size of my car’s engine, additives, a cabin air filter, and a few more “essentials”, none of which I had ever heard of prior to driving in with my coupon in hand.  It turns out that the $12.99 oil featured on the coupon would destroy my engine in just a few miles, they said.  In good faith, they really could not recommend it!  I could use a much better grade of oil, but the cost would be higher.  And, because my car was fairly new, they told me that I really should be using that really high-priced synthetic oil.  So much for the coupon, I grumbled to myself, as I signed up for the $44.50 oil and filter change!

Speaking of coupons, a year or so ago, I received a scratch-off game in the mail from some hard-to-identify source, offering some pretty attractive prizes.  So, coin in hand, I scratched off the 3 squares and, yes, to my amazement, I WON!  Not only did I win, but I won the grand prize, which was something like $3,500 in cash.  All I had to do was show up with the game card in hand, verify my age and identity, and they would hand me the prize money!  Well, I did not just fall off the turnip truck!  So, I carefully read the small print on the game card.  No way was I going to be hoodwinked out of my money!  Indeed, the small print contained no conditions seeming to stand in the way of collecting my $3,500.

The instructions said to go to a certain address to claim my prize.  This address turned out to be just off the freeway on the way to our cabin, so with wife Jan and the dogs in tow, on the way to the cabin, I drove to the location indicated to claim my winnings.  It turned out to be the parking lot of a struggling outlet mall on the outskirts of town.  The lot had been converted to a big new car lot, with tents, balloons, cars, and signs everywhere.  It was a hot day – very hot!  I got out of my truck, game card in hand, excited to claim my prize!  I told Jan that this would not take long, so no need to even get out of the truck.  I was not to be delayed, nor denied!  I was immediately set upon by a short, sweaty, fat man with an open collar about 3 buttons down and lots of gold and chest hair. 873115-003 Beads of sweat were pouring down from his face, making his shirt so wet that it clung to his body like a wetsuit – but I didn’t care!  He asked if I was interested in buying a car.  “Oh no”, I said.  “I am here to collect my prize money, because I won this game!”  The car salesman knew exactly what I was talking about.  He led me to the biggest tent and directed me to a large poster on an easel inside the door to the tent.  The tent was full of people sitting at card tables arranging financing for their new cars, sitting across from a cross-section of sweaty car-selling sales and finance personnel, all focused intently on their laptop computers.  My man asked to see my game card, and then he took it over to the poster, leaned over, put on his glasses, and came back to me with shocking news.  It seems that there was a small number on the bottom of the poster which must match a tiny, tiny number printed on the back of my game card.  If the two do not match, then the game card is not a winner, no matter what the scratch-off suggests.  There was no mention of this on the game card itself, although I confess that the card may have suggested that I visit some arcane website for the detailed game rules.  Anyway, without blinking an eye, the fat man handed the card back to me and explained that I was not a winner – offering no apologies for the inconvenience at all.  I suspect he had done this many times before!  But, he immediately returned to the script – “…are you sure that you are not interested in buying a new car?  We’ve got some killer deals here!”  Rage swelled up inside me!  But, I held my tongue.  I simply walked without saying a word, out the door of the tent, throwing my game card into the trash bin by the door as I left.  And, off we went to our cabin.  I wonder to this day if there was ever an actual winner of that scratch-off game – who knows, but I doubt it.

One of my favorites, and perhaps yours as well, are the satellite television vendors.  Every Sunday, our newspaper contains 4-color glossy brochures describing a variety of satellite television offerings, with free equipment, free multi-room installation, and prices that, at first glance, seem too good to be true.  The problem is, they are too good to be true.  The prices advertised are the promotional discounted 3-month (typically) prices.  After the discount period, the prices nearly double, and if you cannot afford the high prices, you are in a pickle.  You have had all the equipment installed.  You have no ready-made alternative.  And, depending on the vendor and the specific promotion, there may be early termination fees.

This subject cannot be discussed credibly without mentioning the sale of cars.  Yes, you know, when the time comes for you to purchase a new vehicle, you can get the “employee price”, or the year-end discount, or a loyal owner discount, or a first-time buyer discount, the Costco discount, or a discount because you are a combat veteran, handicapped, or because you are a particularly safe driver.  The thing is, the MSRP, which is usually the starting point, is meaningless, so the discounts are meaningless.  If and when you get past the discount deception and settle on a price for the car, then the games begin in earnest with the financing.  How about 6 months with no interest, or the first X month’s payments “on us”?  Then, after the dust settles and you drive off the lot in your shiny new ride having put only $500 down on a spiffy new $45,000 pickup truck, it will not be long until your monthly payments begin in earnest.  Remember, there is no free lunch!  Or, maybe your home mortgage loan has used up your current borrowing capacity.  Maybe you are saddled with a huge overhanging balance of student debt.  No problem, says the car salesman, I will just lease the truck to you.  That is much simpler.  Sure it is.  First, you give the salesman the keys to your current car.  Then, you put the same $500 down, you get a month “holiday” from making any payments, and then the lease payments begin.  But, wait a minute, it is not just the lease payments.  You will likely find after driving the truck for 3 years that you have fallen out of love with it.  When you go back to the dealer to turn it in on another vehicle, you may learn that not only do you have no equity in the truck being surrendered, you may well have to pay the dealer to take the damn thing back (depending on the residual value built into your lease, and also depending on the miles you have driven).  They make it so simple and pain-free at the front end – and the complications show up later!

What is to be done about all of this?  I am not exactly sure, but as I think about it, I am increasingly empathetic with the character D-Fens played by Michael Douglas in the movie “Falling Down”.  Fed up with the frustrations of modern day society that impede his every effort to get home for his daughter’s birthday party, D-Fens takes out his frustrations first by abandoning his car in the middle of stopped traffic on a freeway, then by attacking a Coke machine (with a bat), followed by an increasingly serious series of other attacks on people, places, and things.  The story does not end well for D-Fens. cokemachine That movie is reminiscent of the underlying theme of the movie “Network” – “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore!”  I guess what is needed here is perspective.  What, in the big picture, is really important?  Should the fact that you know you are getting slightly screwed in any number of ways every day rob you of the joy of living that day?  If you know that there are a million potholes out there on your daily path, should that knowledge keep you from venturing out?  “Life is not always fair”, we teach our children.  Perhaps we should listen to our own teaching.  Justice is an elusive bride!  We should vote with our feet, staying away from vendors whose sales tactics are particularly offensive.  But, we should not stop living our lives in joy, nor should we spend our lives in an ill-advised effort to correct every wrong or every injustice that we see.  There just are not enough hours in the day to do that.  Yes, bait and switch exists, and examples are ubiquitous.  So what?  I will take my business, and my daily concerns, in another direction.

You’re in my space! – A story of mice and men

When Jan and I were being trained to be therapeutic foster parents, we learned a lot about taking proper care of children with severe emotional and/or psychological disorders. We also learned self-defense techniques, a bit about first-aid, and we learned where to go for help if needed. One of the things that sticks in my mind was the concept of “personal space.” If I was listening correctly, I learned that this concept is extremely important, and is culturally inculcated (great word!) in each of us. We were told that in certain cultures, people are quite comfortable conversing while nearly “nose-to-nose”. Europeans have no problem with getting up close and personal. Italians are famous for conversing with their hands, in tight quarters. In the United States, however, we tend to get very uncomfortable if someone invades our space, even if only for a minute. If that person persists, we shift into a different mode – fight or flight becomes the order of the day. This becomes particularly important when dealing with highly-vulnerable children. We were told that tensions could often be reduced by just backing away. Space is all-important. Perhaps I am a little hypersensitive on that subject. OK, so I am writing today to describe an invasion of my personal space – such an affront to my sensibilities that I have contemplated acts that would not look good on the front page of the New York Times, should WikiLeaks develop the capability to read my mind.

If you have read one of my earlier blogs (https://johnscripps.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/how-can-i-connect-squirrels-and-income-tax-preparation-in-a-brief-blog/), you will remember that I am not fond of squirrels. So, I begin this story in that context. I hope you will understand. If you are a squirrel lover, I am sure that you are still a good person – but in my view, you are misguided. You may want to stop reading at this point. Anyway, I digress. About 2 months ago, I was asleep in our downstairs bedroom at our cabin when I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of some small animal scampering back and forth. It sounded like it was upstairs, and I was able to relax thinking that a squirrel or something was just running back and forth on top of the cabin roof. It was disconcerting, though, because the sound was pretty loud, and seemingly close to where I was sleeping. Jan was in Boise, so she missed hearing the racket. I was there alone at the time. The next night, sure enough, the little fellow appeared again. Now, I was worried, because it sounded like he (or she) was inside the cabin. This constituted a serious invasion of my personal space. Action was required.
I have no “critter-cam”, so I could not determine the genus or species of the intruder, nor was I certain where he/she was in the cabin. For the purpose of this blog, I will call this animal Ratso Rizzo. I searched throughout the cabin, but to no avail. I talked myself into believing that Ratso was just having fun up on the roof. Then, when son John was up at the cabin with his family, he reported the same nocturnal riots, and worse, food was eaten out of bags left on the kitchen dining table. Animal poop was starting to auglyratppear in lots of places. A small hole had been chewed through the upstairs floor. John reported that he and others actually spotted Ratso scampering around at night. They attempted to slap him down with a broom, but to no avail. The little bastard was just too quick for them. Are you starting to understand how the concept of personal space applies here?

On my next visit to the cabin, I had hoped that our little guest had decided to move on, but no….once again, in the middle of the night, Ratso enjoyed the run of the place. So, after a visit to Home Depot, I pulled out the big guns. First, I put a nice fresh block of D-Con poison bait into a cleverly-designed plastic bait station, and I placed that station right next to the hole in the floor, upstairs in our cabin. I then brought out the really big guns – two huge snapping mousetrap devices, each large enough to dispatch an animal up to, say, 3 pounds. These are big traps! I carefully baited each of the traps with peanut butter, and I placed them where I had seen the most poops in the cabin. Then, I went to bed with a big smile on my face. I dreamt of peace and quiet returning to my personal space, only to be awakened at 3AM by the sound of the critter once again. I listened carefully for the sound of a trap snapping on the little fellow. But no — I heard no traps snapping, just scratching and running sounds, just like before. In the morning, coffee in hand, I ventured upstairs to check on my poison. I found the plastic bait station had been moved about 15 feet, and was turned upside down. Some of the poison had been eaten, but not much. To my dismay, all of the peanut butter had been eaten off the levers on the huge traps, without setting the traps off. Not a trace of peanut butter remained. I thought to myself, why you little shit! I am going to really get you now!

I spent some time thinking about how best to reclaim my space. Yes, I thought! I have the failsafe answer. I needed to make it more difficult for Ratso to eat the bait off of the trap triggers. So, I cut two little blocks of cheese, covered them with peanut butter, and I then zip-tied them to the two trap levers. No more easy-peasy dining, Mr. Rizzo! “You are going to have to work for your food”, I thought to myself. With a broad grin, I put the two big traps back where they were the night before, knowing that the critter would return for more peanut butter. I also replaced the plastic bait station by the hole in the floor, just to see what would happen. Once again, I drifted off to sleep. I was in a happy place, thinking for sure that the intruder would be enjoying his last meal on this earth that night. I awakened to the same sounds of scampering, scratching, and then more scampering. I lay still, eyes open, listening for the musical sound of a trap snapping. No such sound could be heard, though. Puzzling, I thought. The next morning was a repeat of the prior day. My trip upstairs revealed that the plastic bait station had once again been moved a great distance, and turned upside down. There was no evidence that any of the bait had been eaten, however. I think the damn critter just moved it around to mess with me! Worse yet, the little devil had managed to eat all of the peanut butter/cheese hors d’oeuvres off of the trap trigger levers, leaving the zip ties in place! This is some kind of devil rat! Lacking a wartime declaration from Congress, I used my presidential powers to declare a state of war anyway.

I went to work on the doomsday machine. First, I concluded that the plastic bait station was a joke. Ratso was just using it for some sort of sadistic sport – trying to get into my head. So, I spent no time on trying to improve its effectiveness. I concentrated on the two traps. I knew that Ratso had been trained to know not only the location of the traps, but also that the traps were seemingly harmless and contained good food. So, building on that knowledge, I started by removing the ineffective zip-ties. I then selected two big blocks of poison bait out of the D-Con package, and I got my cordless drill and drilled a nice hole through each of them. I then zip-tied the two blocks of poison tightly to the trap lever trigger arms. Do you see where I was going here? I was outsmarting the little bastard! If Ratso tugged too hard on the block of bait, he would meet his maker in a quick, but violent way. If he somehow magically was able to eat the bait out from around the zip tie and the trigger arm, then he wins, but not for long. He has eaten the forbidden fruit, so to speak. I was so proud of myself that I could not wait to put the traps back in their places and to get to bed.

It was going to be a great night – a victory for Darwinian evolution. Mind over matter! I drifted off to sleep again. And, like so many nights before, I was awakened by the sounds of scampering, scratching, and running around once again. But, this time, the sounds seemed closer, and Ratso could be heard running up and down the stairs as well as rustling some plastic bags somewhere in the house. I said to myself, “He’s in my space big-time now, but not for long!” I literally ran upstairs in the morning to check the traps. My jaw dropped. All of the bait on both traps had been carefully removed from the trigger levers, once again leaving the zip ties in place! How did Ratso do that without setting off the hair triggers of the traps?! My only solace was that I knew that the devil rodent had eaten the poison, so I was confident that my space was at least in the process of being reclaimed.

Well, this all took place several weeks ago, and we visited the cabin again this last weekend. How did this all turn out, you may be asking? Well, upon opening the door to the cabin last weekend, my eye went immediately to a section of the carpet near the downstairs bedroom door. It seems that the rodent had ripped up this section of carpet for some reason – perhaps angry that I had not been there to feed him more peanut butter, cheese, or poison. He also chewed up the wood doorframe at the base of the stairs going upstairs, and the hole in the upstairs floor was larger than it had been during my earlier visit to the cabin. My hope was that this damage was done prior to the poison doing its job. So, Jan and I went to bed expecting that we would hear nothing more in the night. We were there for 5 nights, and yes, it was quiet as can be for about 4 of the 5 nights. Then, on night number 5, I once again was awakened by the sounds of scratching, running, and scampering about. Was I dreaming? No! I got up out of bed and the sounds persisted!

Where am I going with this? I have no idea. This critter is like nothing I have ever seen! He will not die, nor leave my personal space. Ratso may be the proof that Darwin had no idea what he was talking about! I am reluctant to keep a loaded shotgun by my bedside, but that may have to be my next move. Is there such a thing as a rat whisperer? Suggestions anyone?

Guilty or Not Guilty – That Is The Question

When I sawed a corner off the windowsill in my bedroom with a “toy” saw, I am certain that my Mom or Dad said “Shame on you!”  I was guilty, and the verdict coming down from them was that I needed to feel shame about my misdeed.  Earlier, I suspect that I heard the same thing as I failed to demonstrate command of that all-important toilet training.  Guilt, and feelings of shame, starts young.  I do not know where feelings of guilt/shame fit into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but I suspect that these emotions are among the most basic in our makeup.  They are not really a need, in the same sense that hunger is a need, but they are always there, waiting to bubble up at the slightest provocation.

guilt_carry-manI grew up hearing that the Catholics had a “corner” on guilt.  They wrote the book…or so I thought.  They suffered from Original Sin, and all Catholics were sinners.  They were damned and certain to go straight to hell if they did not confess their sins at every opportunity.  Later, as I learned a bit more about things, I came to understand that not all Catholics viewed sin in the same way – there were “hard liners” and then there were good God-fearing Catholics who saw no problem cutting folks a “bit more slack”.  But, guilt and shame were always there – they were like the obnoxious dinner guests who won’t go home.  Then, to my dismay, I learned that other people, not just Catholics, were sinners – myself among them!  That realization was big trouble – not only did I misbehave as a youth, but my misbehavior was continuing, and even getting more serious, as I matured into an adult!  “Get thee behind me, Satan”, I thought!  People started telling me that I should feel guilty about things I really had never thought about.  I was now embarked on a big-time “guilt trip”!  I am not alone here.  The pervasiveness of feelings of guilt is described beautifully in this “Essay on Guilt” (by EMS, http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/645198-An-essay-on-guilt).

Guilt (gilt)n

1 the fact or state of having done wrong or committed an offence.

2 responsibility for a criminal or moral offence deserving punishment or penalty.

3 remorse or self-reproach caused by feeling that one is responsible for a wrong or an offence. 4 Arch. Sin or crime

Guilt is something I deal with every waking moment of my day. Guilt is part of me, part of my identity, a governing force in my self-narrative. I am a sufferer of guilt, a victim of guilt, a casualty of guilt. But there is no deep dark secret that explains it; it just exists inside me. I possess a limitless supply of guilt, gratuitous and needless, eager to be of service, and forcing its way into my psyche after any action. Perhaps it is an affliction, an inheritance, a neurosis or a mania woven into my unconsciousness forcing itself to be heard, rapacious in its need and beyond my command.

I do not know why this happens except I feel guilty about my life.

I feel guilt over not spending enough time with my family and friends, guilt over how I treat my body, guilt over my comfortable life and guilt over the opportunities afforded to me. Regret leads to guilt, shame breeds my guilt and reproach feeds my guilt. I feel guilty about money, about spending and not spending. I feel guilty over housework and guilty when in employed work; I am flawed by other people’s assiduity and this nourishes my guilt.

I feel guilt over my sex, because I am female and do not have a picture perfect glossy appearance. My orgies of gluttony, unwillingness to starve myself, to paint myself and change myself to suit another person’s needs worries me, I consciously reject manufactured beauty, the artifice I should embrace, and this supports my guilt but conversely vanity consumes me. My lack of progeny shames me but my lack of aspiration even more so. I am a walking contradiction. My body humiliates me on a daily basis, by its effluence, its desires, and its monthly treachery. A paragon of ignominy, I go to great lengths to conceal any evidence of this and this makes me feel guilty.

My guilt grinds me down, eats away, and crushes my spirit until I am convinced I should lock myself away, unassailable from all the guilt-inducing elements of the world but this would be futile, as I am the origin. I would do penitence for all those my guilt tells me I have hurt. I would repent fifty times, a million times over, sleepless and discordant with ineradicable guilt, a fountain inside me ready to drench my nerves and fray my mind at will, an unavoidable religiosity in my thoughts.

I do not understand those who do not suffer from guilt on a daily basis like me. They disturb me but also excite me, I am locked in reverential awe at their dissolution whilst they laugh and roll their eyes at me. Yet if I decide to rally against my guilt and commit some minor offence, a missed phone call, a slice of cake, some selfish act, their accusations of complicity weaken my resolve. My culpability haunts me.

This affliction can be used against me, as an instrument of torture, of repression, an effective deterrent and a controlling force. I am subjugated by my guilt.

I’ve seen a counselor (sic), a lady with soft eyes and an understanding expression. She asked me to list all my triggers and communicate my fears, so I did, and I watched my neurosis sink into her placid pools, to be later reflected and deflected back at me through a process of realization (sic). I failed, left her attentions and disappointment palpable in the air. Wretched with self-reproach, I never visited her again, the irony sickening me for days.

My guilt is self-punishment. My guilt is vindication. I am a purveyor of guilt. My guilt is justification. I am guilt personified, and I can’t run away from it. It is just me.

Now, I suppose that feeling guilty might be a good thing.  If guilt leads to feelings of shame, and feelings of shame cause changes in behavior or attitudes that are considered more in line with social mores, then guilt serves a useful purpose.  It keeps us pointed in more-or-less the right direction.  One might argue that the civil rights movement in the United States grew out of tremendous guilt over the treatment of African Americans, and this movement had beneficial results.  Ditto, perhaps, with women’s suffrage – and there are countless other examples of societal changes most folks would consider desirable, arising (at least in part) out of feelings of guilt.

But, there is a flip-side to this coin.  I am not sure that making me feel guilty about having had a toilet training “accident” did much to solve the problem.  That is a trivial example, but I suggest that the raining down, day after day, of accusations of guilt can have really detrimental (even counterproductive) psychological results.  There is a bunch of stuff out there on the internet linking depression to guilt.  Indeed, one definition of depression is anger turned inward – shame on myself!  I have wondered why rape victims are sometimes said to blame themselves.  Or, why are victims of mental illness made to feel like they are at fault for their afflictions.  Why is there such a high suicide rate among soldiers returning from armed conflict?  The psychological roots of guilt and shame, and the unfortunate consequences, are nicely summarized by Mark Zaslav, PhD. in the following excerpt, taken from Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201604/shame-and-the-pendulum-blame).

When things feel wrong who is to blame?  The very question, particularly when it seems to dominate mental life, indicates a special vulnerability to feeling judged.  As I have stated elsewhere (Zaslav, 1998), along with envy, the tendency to affix blame is often associated with defenses against feeling shame.

At the heart of the feeling of shame is a wordless, private awareness that one is deficient, fundamentally “bad” or unworthy.  This feeling is so painful that it can be experienced as an implosion of self-esteem, accompanied by fantasies of disappearing altogether or not even deserving to exist.  When feeling ashamed we instinctively turn away or hide from other people.

Clinical psychologists credit modern psychological research for the emerging understanding of shame and its connection to blaming.  But the impulse to blame in response to shame is well documented in history and literature. For example, the Genesis account in the Old Testament, written thousands of years ago, explicitly notes that the fundamental human responses to shame are to hide and direct blame.

The familiar Genesis story, in which Adam and Eve were warned against eating of the Tree of Knowledge (knowledge of what is wrong) can be viewed as a brilliant allegory for the installation and demonstration of the human capacity for shame.  After eating of the tree, and newly vulnerable to shameful self-awareness, Adam and Eve initially hid from God in response to their sense of nakedness.  When confronted for having defied God’s instructions, Adam immediately blamed Eve for tempting him, while Eve blamed the serpent.   Only a few pages later, their son Cain kills his brother Abel in a state of envious narcissistic rage, blaming his brother for having deprived him of appropriate acknowledgment for his offering to God.  This focus on shame is virtually the first, and presumably most important aspect of human nature described in the Old Testament.  The characteristic human responses to shame management were well understood in ancient wisdom.

Consciously or unconsciously, if you struggle with chronic shame you tend to experience misfortune as a negative verdict on your very sense of self. 

It is interesting to me that Zaslav goes all the way back to the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, citing shame as “…presumably (the) most important aspect of human nature described in the Old Testament.”  He goes on to say that the natural human response to guilt/shame is to blame someone else or else to turn on yourself – to become self-critical – and I would add often depressed and dysfunctional.

This is all interesting theoretical stuff, but why am I concerned about it?  Why am I taking the time out of a beautiful sunny day to sit inside and write about such a dark subject?  Well, I suppose it is because I am bothered by the extent to which we, as a society (not just me personally) are bombarded by reasons to feel guilty about things for which we should not.  We are not guilty, but we are told that we are indeed awful people and “shame on us.”  Here is a current example.  In an editorial column in the Idaho Statesman (9/2/2016), Rabbi Dan Fink attempted to explain or describe what Jews think about Jesus.  His assertion is that Jews simply do not think about Jesus – Jesus is no more important in Jewish theological thinking than Mohammed or Buddha is to contemporary Christian theological thinking.  Point taken!  But, in making his case, Rabbi Fink says the following (http://www.idahostatesman.com/living/religion/article99584432.html):

…When I was in rabbinical school, I was taught to respond to questions about Jesus with something like this: “We Jews believe that Jesus was a rabbi or a teacher or a prophet who, in many ways, emerges out of the Jewish experience.” But that answer is apologetics, a half-truth, really, that reflected Jewish fear in the face of 2,000 years of persecution inflicted upon us in Jesus’ name. Yes, we Jews have thought of Jesus over the course of our history — but not in a religious manner. We thought of him as his followers raped and murdered and forcibly converted us. With that background, we came up with an answer to mollify our Christian neighbors. Thankfully, those days are past, at least here in the United States. I am grateful that most Jews now encounter Christians as dear friends, as colleagues, as husbands and wives and family members. Which means that it is now acceptable — no, it is a positive good — to recognize that we have profound differences in the way we approach religious life. I am happy that I can now unapologetically acknowledge that, thank God, we do not think alike.

I am aware that awful things have taken place in the name of religion in the past.  Awful things are taking place today, for the same reason.  I know that Jews were made to live in a ghetto in Rome, starting I believe at the direction of Pope Paul IV (in 1555) – for years and years and years.  That was terrible.  As a Christian, I am not proud of that, so yes, I suppose I feel some second or third-order guilt or shame.  But, I did not do it.  Rabbi Fink finds it necessary to remind the readers of the Idaho Statesman today that Christians persecuted Jews for 2,000 years, raping and murdering them, and forcibly converting them, along the way.  He then goes on to say that “all is forgiven” (my paraphrase).  But, it seems to me that at least in Rabbi Fink’s mind, all is not forgiven.  Not at all!  Otherwise, why bring it up?  This is not necessary to support his argument that Jews simply do not think of Jesus at all.  To my eye, this is just another example of a “guilt trip” being laid on folks unnecessarily and unjustifiably.  And, on top of the countless other guilt trips to which we are subjected, it is not healthy, and not at all helpful.

Let’s see – what are some other current examples of things for which I believe I am being made to feel guilty?

  1. Faith.  If I am a little nervous in an airport because a few feet away, I observe a bearded man with a backpack who is wearing long robes, I am discriminating against all people of Islamic faith.  Shame on me!  Or, if I am on alert because I am being followed down a dark street by a black man wearing a hoodie, I must be a racist.
  2. Wealth.  Wall Street versus Main Street.  The “top 1%” does not pay their fair share.  Accumulating wealth is a bad thing, so inheritance taxes should be increased.  If someone has been able to save more than enough money for a comfortable retirement, they should feel bad about having more than most folks.your-honor
  3. Success.  If we are not all equally successful, even though I had the same opportunity for success as you, then I should feel guilty about being the more successful one.  According to Bernie Sanders, if I am a large successful business, I am a threat to the working man.  Even though there might be tremendous economies of scale in my business, my company should be broken up, because the presumption is that I am abusing my economic power.
  4. Violence of War.  I should feel guilty if noncombatants are killed, even when the enemy purposefully hides in hospitals, schools, and among the general population.  I should feel guilty about the U.S. having dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even though the evidence is incontrovertible that our doing so saved tens of thousands of lives.  In fact, I should feel guilty about spending taxpayer dollars on armaments, period.
  5. Native Americans.  Our white ancestors treated them terribly.  I should be ashamed — it’s my fault.  They are due reparations.
  6. African Americans.  See my comments about Native Americans.
  7. Japanese Americans.  See my comments about Native Americans and African Americans.  We should not have put them in internment camps during WWII.
  8. Mexicans, undocumented.  I should feel terrible about kicking them out, even though they came into our country illegally.  We owe them education, health care, and eventually, full citizenship.  If I oppose sanctuary cities, I must be uncaring and cold-hearted.
  9. LGBT community.  They have been kept in the closet for too long.  I should feel guilty about how this community has been treated over the years.
  10. Law enforcement.  They abuse their power every time a black man dies at the hands of a white cop (“Hands up, don’t shoot”, as is decried from the pulpit in my church).  I should feel guilty about “stop and frisk”.  The City of Baltimore somehow owes the family of Freddy Gray $5 million even though our legal system has found no fault at all with the way in which he was treated by law enforcement.  Shame on me if I support law enforcement, and particularly if I am critical of this unwarranted payment of reparations.
  11. Gender.  If someone self-identifies as a member of the opposite sex, I should feel terrible about making him/her use the public restroom intended for his/her anatomical birth gender.  Indeed, abuse of gender identity is now illegal in San Francisco.  Moreover, today, the presumption of innocence no longer applies to allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination.
  12. Ethnicity.  I am white, so I cannot help discriminating against people of color.  I can never really understand people of color.  My whiteness makes me blind to racism, and if by chance I am privileged, shame on me for that.  The color of my skin brands me as a racist, period.

And the list goes on and on….  To be perfectly clear, I know I am guilty of a few things.  I will not bore you with my list of self-identified shortcomings.  My confession is of no particular interest to you, I am sure.  But, the point of this whole discourse is that I do not feel guilty about much of what I am told I should feel guilty about today – I just don’t!  And, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about not feeling guilty, either!  Moreover, I am getting a bit weary of the unwarranted use of the “blame game” to achieve social objectives – one result of which is a ferocity of class warfare, the likes of which I have never seen before.

Where wrongs exist, they need to be highlighted and righted.  But, where blame is unjustifiably directed in every-which direction 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, that simply needs to stop.  “Not guilty”, your honor!

“Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.” Rossiter W. Raymond, and transcribed into a song by Carly Simon

 

Trying to write something insightful about the subject of my recent brush with death scares the heck out of me!  By way of background, on the morning of February 8, 2016, I woke up feeling refreshed and fine – just 10 days “post-op” from my earlier double hernia surgery.  If you are curious, you can read my earlier February 3, 2016 post about that whole experience.  It reads a little differently than this one.  On that beautiful Monday morning, I went about my early morning activities as normal, including meeting a repairman who came early on that day to repair our back driveway gate.  I was beginning preparations for a scuba diving trip to Belize scheduled for February 18th.  By about 3:30PM, however, while Jan was at our son’s house (since about 11:45AM) to babysit our grandchildren while the parents worked (a normal day for her as well), I found myself in excruciating abdominal pain, barely able to walk or even speak.  For lack of a better idea, and because Jan could not leave the kids alone, I mustered up the strength to dial 911 to summon an ambulance.  I knew I was in trouble.  I just did not know why, nor had I any idea of just how much trouble I was really in.

 

The ambulance arrived within 5 minutes, and I met the EMT’s at the front door, holding firm onto the doorknob to keep from falling to my knees.  They plopped me down onto a gurney, wheeled me out into the ambulance, checked vital signs, got on the radio to the hospital, and administered morphine to try to manage my pain (unsuccessfully, I might add).  Fortunately, the hospital is only about 7 or 8 blocks from our home here in Boise.  At this point in my blog, I could go into a long discussion of the exchanges with doctors in the ER, or getting more (and heavier duty) painkillers, or Jan’s arrival at the hospital, or the CAT scan, or the race down the hospital corridor as my bed was pushed at what seemed like a full run to the operating room.  I was in and out of consciousness, I believe.  So, my recollections of the hours after I arrived at the hospital are not reliable.  But, I do remember a few things clearly.  I remember a doctor’s voice (I could not see his face) saying to me after the CAT scan that, “…well, at least now we know what is wrong with you!”  I remember some doctor telling me that I was hemorrhaging out a branch of my femoral artery into my abdomen.  I remember after my second or third dose of morphine that someone said I needed fentanyl for my pain.  Parenthetically, days later, my now retired game warden brother-in-law told me that Idaho Fish and Game uses fentanyl to tranquilize elk in the wild!  I recall, though, that the fentanyl worked.  Those elk have nothing on me!  I also remember being freezing cold, and being wrapped in rolled-up warm towels as I lay in bed awaiting surgery.  Jan talks with much more clarity than me about those hours.  But even Jan had her pre-op meeting with the surgeon cut short by the surgeon stating that there was not time to talk further – that I needed surgery immediately.

 

After surgery, I was kept in the operating room until the doctors were certain that the bleeding had stopped.  They had plugged the leak by inserting a catheter into my femoral artery and snaking it up to where the problem was located, and there they inserted tiny metal micro-coils, which caused my blood to finally form a clot (a process complicated by the anti-clotting drug I take routinely for stroke prevention).  For those of you with medical training or interest, they “embolized” me.  Jan was told that I would be alright, but that I had survived a real “squeaker.”  One doctor told her that had I not called 911 when I did, I would likely not have survived to make it to the hospital at all.  The surgeon who saved my life later confided to a third party, without revealing my name or anything other than my general medical condition, that “…when that old man (his words, not mine!) arrived in the ER, he was pretty much toast!”

 

OK, so enough of the medical stuff and the drama of that day.  It has now been just over two months since February 8th.  I now feel fine, my color has returned, my strength is almost back to where it was before my bleed-out, and I feel like I ought to say something really insightful about the whole thing.  To my frustration, though, I find that my thoughts are not particularly inspiring or revealing.  I lived, then I nearly died, and now I live again.  That is my story.

reaper

What has changed for me?  That is a really tough question!  I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is faith.  Was this some sort of cruel rebirthing process?  Is my God a cruel Deity?  No, I believe in a loving God.  Was it intended (imputing motive to the Deity) to teach me something, to prepare me for something, or whatever?  I do not know.  I think too often we attribute divine purpose to what are really inexplicable life and death events.  I did not experience any of the oft-cited death or near-death visions – my life did not flash before my eyes, there was no dark tunnel with a bright light at the end, no angels, or anything like that.  I felt only pain, and I felt totally helpless and dependent on my God and the skills and wisdom of the doctors and other healthcare professionals.  But, I can say with certitude that the experience has, if anything, strengthened my faith.  Not sure why, but I know that there is something really big, and good, beyond this fragile existence of ours.  Perhaps the fragility of life is the lesson I was being taught on February 8th.  My faith was also strengthened by the outpouring of love and support from so many friends and family.  Love, to me, is faith in action, and so faith ruled the day in the weeks following my emergency ride to the hospital.

 

One thing I know for sure.  Life is precious, and not as “certain” as one might think.  My handshake with the grim reaper has altered my perspective.  As Bonnie Raitt sings “life gets more precious when there’s less of it to waste.”  “Ouch!” say those of us born before, say, 1950.  But, this has everyday implications.  Priorities change.  For me, concern over accumulation of wealth, for example, has really gone away.  I have no more interest in keeping score in that way.  Fancy cars and other toys have never been of much importance to me, but now, I really have no desire whatsoever to indulge in profligate spending.  What, you might ask, about saving for a rainy day?  Well, I respond, it was not raining on February 8th – that was a beautiful day.  I do not think that the keeper of our “life clock” pays much attention to the weather forecast.  That is not to suggest, mind you, that saving is no longer important.  It is vitally important to maintenance of quality of life.  There should always be a savings cushion.  But, saving for savings-sake makes little sense to me anymore.  Without guilt, I can now spend my children’s inheritance if I choose to do so.

 

Carpe diem, some say.  Now, I understand better why people say that.  “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” is a poem written by English Cavalier poet Robert Herrick in the 17th century.  Herrick understood what I am talking about.

 

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,

The higher he’s a-getting,

The sooner will his race be run,

And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,

When youth and blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,

And, while ye may, go marry:

For having lost but once your prime,

You may forever tarry.

 

All of this brings me back to the quotation contained in the title of this posting – “Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”  I cannot seem to get the Carly Simon melody out of my mind as I recite this verse.  Death is nothing but the limit of our sight, sings Carly – there are seriously important implications to that assertion – and if you are a Christian, it is more than an assertion, it is a promise!  We really cannot see very far into the future, so I suppose it is logical to conclude that we should live our life on this earth as if it could end sooner, rather than later.  That applies to today, tomorrow, and every day until our eyes close for the last time.

 

I am not sure that this is particularly insightful.  But, if my health scare was of any importance at all, it was a real “priority checker.”  I need to remember that lesson every morning when I wake up, and in the evening when I go to bed, and frequently throughout each and every day.  That’s all……

View from down under……..way down under!

About 2 weeks ago, following months of low-grade localized pain in my midsection, I noticed that I seemed to be growing a new body part.  A visit to Wikipedia suggested to me that this new appendage was not only unnecessary, but under certain circumstances, could be harmful.  And, it was ugly.  It was kind-of a cross between an arm, a leg, a nose, and a bizarre reproductive organ.  It reminded me of those science-fiction movies where alien beings take over the bodies of earthlings, and you can see them slithering along under the skin before they pop out and do something really nasty.  Thinking I may be dreaming, I followed the progress of this new intruder over time – for several days, anyway.  It was not a dream, or not a good dream, anyway.  It seemed to be thriving in my “Middle Earth” region, liking the heat, humidity, or whatever.  It was growing.  And, it hurt.

 

So, with the gentle (not!) encouragement of Jan, I reluctantly made an appointment with my primary care physician – a lovely lady who generously made time in her schedule to see me the same day that I called.  Now you gents out there will understand this – I do not know what I dreaded more – the growing appendage in my midsection, or the prospect of having my lady doctor strip away every ounce of male dignity during her examination.  Sitting in her waiting room, I wondered again if I had just dreamed this thing up – that perhaps it really did not exist at all.  Maybe if I got up and went home, I could check the next day and reschedule a visit with her if the nasty little bugger was still there?  My mind was playing tricks on me – but the pain in my gut reminded me that my little friend (I will call him “Oscar”) was insisting on getting up close and personal with my lady doctor.  OK, so I stripped down to nothing and put on those blue hospital-issue shorts that are made out of recycled bandages, or something like that.  I shudder to think where that material might have come from!  The rest of my exam is likely described better in your imagination.  The shorts were useless.  Suffice it to say that the doc confirmed that Oscar was, in fact, an inguinal hernia.  My doctor didn’t just fall off the turnip truck – this was not her first rodeo!  She was certain of her diagnosis, and apparently Oscar had progressed to the stage where she felt it important to have Oscar surgically slapped-down – and the sooner the better.  So, she called a nice surgeon fellow and arranged an appointment for me with him about 3 days later.  In the meantime, my primary care doc thought it advisable to have an abdominal ultrasound done right away to reconfirm her diagnosis.  That appointment was made for the next day.

 

Now, having suffered every indignity known to man, it seemed that I had to start all over again – this time at the imaging clinic where a young lady whom I had never met before (was she, in fact, a doctor?) was to have her way with my nether regions.  This was adding insult to injury!  Once again, you know the drill – strip down, lie on your back, and submit to a gentle warm massage with some device that resembled an electric toothbrush, without the brush.  She did not even bother with the blue shorts.  She would pause, then move on, then pause again, and then move on.  I wondered if she was just toying with me?  Oscar was very patient to endure all of this, and he made no attempt to run or hide.  So, my newest lady doctor (?) friend was able to confirm on the spot that Oscar was a bad little actor needing to be bounced out of the inguinal actors’ guild.  My appointment with the surgeon was now a certainty.

 

The meeting with the surgeon went well.  This was not quite as traumatic for me, because this fellow was, in fact, a fellow.  You know guys – we have to stick together.  What is a little poking and prodding among male friends?!  But, there was a bit of a surprise coming out of this appointment.  It seems that Oscar was not alone – there was a previously-undetected Little Oscar on the other side of my nether regions.  I had a double inguinal hernia!  Oh joy!  Surgery was scheduled for the next morning – check-in at 5:30AM, surgery at 7:30AM, and then go home as soon as the docs felt I was no longer a danger to myself or anyone in close proximity.

 

Here is where my description of events gets a little fuzzy.  Not sure if it was the propofol, or the oxycodone, or what, but I have my own view of what took place in that operating room.  It may not be totally factual, but it works for me, and seems to logically fit the circumstances of my recovery.  I liken the surgical procedure, which was technically called a “laparoscopic double inguinal hernia repair with mesh”, to a tennis match at the Australian Open.  Bear with me here.  I believe that the object of this surgery was to install a tennis net, taught, from pole to pole across my abdominal wall.  Done properly, this net would then serve to keep the balls on the right side of the net, so to speak (forgive me for that!).  But, to install this thing, the game is made more interesting by the fact that the surgeon is operating blind, and instead of using short, sharp little knives, forks, and spoons, he uses these long, awkward instruments that he pokes into your stomach from faraway places, just to make the game more interestinAustralian_Open_logo.svgg.  One hole is over on the side, perhaps where the linesman sits to call faults and aces.  Or, maybe that is the players box – not really sure.  One hole is way up above my belly-button.  This would be where the baseline play originates, and where the doctor would attempt to test the integrity of the net by firing passing shots from every possible angle.  But, in order to properly install the net from these remote entry points, the awkward tools employed by the surgeon must find their way through a maze of pink things.  Sometimes, the tools get lost along the way and have to retrace their steps.  Then, they attack once again from a different angle.  Pushing and shoving sometimes results.  And, to keep the roof up so that better lob shots can be initiated from the baseline, the doctor pumps the abdomen full of gas, making a kind of quivering piñata of the whole abdominal cavity (aka Rod Laver Arena).  When the doctor is satisfied that the net is firmly in place, he simply removes his tools and then stands back – way back – as he lets the gas out of the abdominal balloon.  Easy-peasy!  No more Oscar!  No more Little Oscar!  Game, set, match.

 

I am now in day 5 of post-op recovery.  I am no longer a pretty face.  My shape is a little different, my coloring is way different, and I have an uncontrollable desire to play tennis.  But, if my sharing my story with you will ease your mind (as you or someone you love goes down this road), it will have been worth my time in writing it.  And, really, I can poke fun at the doctors, but they are amazing.  The technology is amazing, and I am really, really grateful for the medical care that I have received.

When bad things happen to good people…..what is one to do, or say…..does professional golf give us a clue?

In 1946, Viktor Frankl wrote a book, the origin of which grew out of his incarceration in a concentration camp during World War II.  His theory, which he called “logotherapy”, postulated that even in the worst of conditions, the extent to which an individual could identify a positive purpose in life and then immerse ones’ self in imagining that outcome, could significantly improve his or her ability to endure the horrible conditions.  This book was entitled “Man’s Search for Meaning”.  It has become one of the most influential and widely-read books in America, according to some sources, having sold over 12 million copies.  Examples that seem to fit Frankl’s theory pop up all the time.  In Laura Hillenbrand’s book entitled “Unbroken”, she tells the true story of Louie Zamperini during his WWII incarceration by the Japanese.  Zamperini was singled out for tortuous abuse by a particularly nasty captor – nicknamed “The Bird”.  Zamperini was beaten nearly to death by this man, and found strength in a positive purpose, a thought, a dream really, of some future day during which Zamperini and his fellow prisoners of war would rise up and capture “The Bird” and throw him off a cliff.  That might not have been a positive outcome for “The Bird”, but it surely gave Zamperini a sense of purpose when he needed it.  It was this dream that sustained Zamperini – similar to the theory postulated by Frankl in his book written shortly after the end of that same war.  Tibetan Buddhist practice includes extensive use of visualization, which is really a misnomer, since the practice centers around the focused use of one’s imagination (not eyes) to achieve heightened states of awareness, peace, and well-being.  Some believe that by positive visualization techniques, Fijian firewalkers can actually change their physiology, permitting them to walk on burning embers without suffering any injuries.  Professional golfers are often advised by their caddies (prior to hitting a shot) to “see the shot” in their mind’s eye.  Indeed, these visualization techniques are credited by many to having improved the quality of their play.  Frankl’s logotherapy has perhaps found a modern-day sports equivalent in seeking to have positive golf “swing thoughts” – particularly when the round of golf may be going badly.  All of this is interesting (perhaps not?), but gains real significance in the context of seemingly devastating life events.  These might include the loss of a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or a child.  The unwanted loss of a job, while not as earth-shaking as the death of a family member, loved one, or friend , is nevertheless a deeply traumatic event.  And job loss happens all the time, all around us.  We just do not notice.

I am currently a witness to two such circumstances – admittedly not comparable in scope to the suffering endured in the concentration camps of the 1940’s, but pretty-darn serious for the folks involved.  These are two young breadwinners, both of whom have been laid-off, depriving their families of a principal source of income, not to mention casting a dark shadow over the breadwinners’ purpose(s) in life.  Although we are often advised from the pulpit that “…you are not your house, you are not your car, and you are not your job,” try to explain that to someone who has just lost their house, their car, or their job.  These are serious matters, not to be trivialized.  I know a bit about what I speak.  I too have been laid off – twice, actually – and neither time, due to any misbehavior, negligence, or ineptitude on my part.  The first time, I landed on my feet, running.  A new job was soon waiting for me, and so the trauma of that first layoff seems not so great today.  But then, six months later, I was laid off again, this time from that same job that I had just started.  What a shock!  Our family was far from being financially secure at that time, and it turned out that no jobs were waiting for me – none at all.  I looked for a job for 8 months without luck.  Jan had to go to work.  We scaled back.  Once a week, I stood in the unemployment line, seeking unemployment compensation to help make ends meet.  How could this be happening to me?  I was a Stanford MBA, for goodness sake!  My self-confidence took a big hit.  The sky had fallen.  I had no clear positive vision of the future that I could immerse myself in – I had no idea where I was headed.  I had no positive “swing thoughts.”  I felt lost, and except for Jan and my children, pretty much alone.  Church helped – a lot, actually.  Well, fast forward to today.  I ended up never getting a conventional job.  I got a job offer from myself, and found that I really liked and respected my boss(!), although he never paid me what I was really worth.  My self-employment career lasted over 25 years.  Life became, and remains, good.

But, getting from the unemployment line to a renewed sense of purpose arising from productive work was no walk in the park.  So, my mind returns to these folks who, at this very moment, have just learned that they no longer have jobs.  Perhaps they are lucky enough to have a positive Frankl-like vision of the future to which they can cling.  Both families take comfort in their faith, and perhaps that same faith provides the positive future vision that will see them through these difficult days.  I hope so.  I really do.  Scripture is full of amazing images and promises offering comfort to the afflicted (Psalm 23, just for one).  Both of these families consist of good people, and both breadwinners have focused their working efforts on doing good things for other people.  I would like to think that when their Deity takes a peek at their work here on Earth, he/she will make everything better for them, and the sooner the better.  But, there are no guarantees, right?  Millions of Jews in the concentration camps died – and did not deserve to die.  Most, too, were good people.  I have no doubt.  So, I guess Frankl’s genius was in recognizing that in terms of survivability, it was the process – the struggle – that sustained people in tough times.  If I remember my college reading, the struggle was the essence of the doctrine of existentialism.  It is all about the struggle.  It is the process of living that defines one’s self – not one’s accomplishments or track record.

All of this is kind of interesting, but leaves me with a hollow ache that there is little that I can do to help these folks who find themselves unemployed.  I am no longer “in the loop” from an employment standpoint.  I cannot caddymagically point them to a job.  My Linkedin network is largely a bunch of old retired people and definitely does not overlap with the skill set of our unemployed friends.  I would be a hell of a positive character reference, but nobody is calling me asking for my input.  I share with our unemployed friends that cold pit-in-the-stomach feeling that comes with not knowing what the future holds.  And, I ache with the knowledge of what an involuntary job loss can do to one’s sense of self.  I long for justice, but justice does not always come in our time.  So, I guess I am left with the hope that during these uncertain and scary days, our friends will be able to immerse themselves deeply in positive thoughts about positive outcomes.  Maybe the best I can do is pray that this happens for them – and if they want me alongside, to be like a caddie standing behind them encouraging positive “swing thoughts” along the way.