Monday, June 30, 2008

Escape!

I was on the phone with a friend recently, a guy by the name of Smellie Hippie, when I mentioned that I would love to start a thread about my desire for birthday presents. My liberation from the womb deserves some kind of compensation, as I understand the process isn't pleasant for the escapee or the walking, talking prison. Alas, to start a thread about things I want at GitP might mean they'd make some kind of insane effort to actually get those things. They already came to my rescue when my brother was sick...I can't bring myself ask for more.

So, while the link remains in my signature for GitP, I don't think the masses are running here to read my every thought. Maybe some will be able to find this list, and they might even be tempted to get me these gifts...and if they are, contact me privately.

Here, then, is the list of things I would like to have for my birthday.

1. Blue jeans: Recently, someone aided me in the purchase of clothes, but the one thing on the list I couldn't get was jeans. I spoke with another party, and they seemed on the cusp of willing to get me the jeans, but that communication seemed to come to a mysterious end. This issue at hand is that my waist, thanks to decreased activity brought about by a severely arthritic foot, is expanding. If I don't get new jeans some time soon, a life will end when the button at my waist flies off and penetrates the vital organs of a stranger.

2. City of Hero game cards. Each pays off two months, and there are crimes to stop...or commit.

3. A copy of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, by Jeffrey Kluger and James Lovell. Since the release of the movie, I have been interested in reading the book the movie was based upon. And as we all know, the book is always better than the movie.

4. Every book currently available for D&D 4th edition. Why? "Because" seems to be a perfectly suitable answer.

5. A new set of pots and pans. Having lasted so many years, the water of Arizona has finally brought about the downfall of most of the set I've owned. Arizona water stains, you know. To be honest, I don't want new pots and pans, but I need them.

6. Movie passes. Lots and lots of movie passes. My addiction for movies based on comic books and graphic novels is reaching a point of withdrawal. There are lots of movies I want to see, and can't afford to go. Send me to the movies, dangit!

7. Gift cards to Wal-Mart. Yes, it sounds a bit strange, but Wal-Mart has the most reasonable prices around for numerous things I want and need. A stack of gift cards just might allow me to go on a shopping spree that can only be rivaled by the same kind of event that occurred when I first moved into my cave...ummm...apartment.

8. Another gift card I could use would be to a store called Bookmans. They sell used books, and what they sell tends to be in good condition...until I get through with them, that is. With a decently sized gift card, I could raid their shelves for Lost Moon, as well as numerous other books, CDs, DVDs, and who knows what other treasures I would find.

9. In a most unrealistic wish, I want a winning lottery ticket. And not one that's brought in some silly prize of $7. At least $500,000. That way, everyone can ignore the above list, I could pay back a friend who's done wonders for me over the last few years, and move out of this rat hole I call an apartment.

10. My last wish is only semi-unreasonable. An attractive woman who will love me for more than my good points, but for all my flaws. I confess that my list of flaws is lengthy. No one is perfect. But it would be nice to find someone who doesn't run the moment I start unfurling the list.

That's the list. What doesn't appear there is that which I already have: the wonderful folks at GitP. They still don't know what their efforts to get me to my brother meant, and still mean, to me.

Be well.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Open mouth...

...insert foot, and chew vigorously. That was my life. Much of my time was spent eating "sole food." I've gotten much better at such things, but I'm still capable of sticking my foot into my mouth up to the knee. Occasionally, the results are quite humorous. And here is yet another tale from my past that can sometimes bring a tear, and sometimes bring a smile.

I met Denise through a mutual friend, Bryan. We'd gone to her house to visit, and she spent much of the time poking fun at Bryan. Her wit was razor sharp, and she cut me a few times when I started becoming a wiseguy.

The next time I saw Denise was after she was recovering from surgery. You see, I was unaware of it, but Denise had cancer. I learned much more about her condition as I sat with her friends and family during an eight-hour procedure to remove as much of the cancer as possible from her spine and kidneys. A few days after the surgery, Bryan once again dragged me along to visit her, and I took the opportunity to make her laugh...A LOT! The old cliché says that laughter is the best medicine, but I was feeling badly that when she laughed, she also would frequently say, "Ow, ow, ow." I offered to stop, and response was, "You do and I'll scratch your eyes out." (Or something along that line.)

You will note that I never saw Denise without Bryan beside me. She was more his friend than mine.

There came a day, however, when I was bored out of my skull. None of my friends were available. I was off from work, and turned down when I offered to work extra hours, so I had a lot of nothing to get done. Thus, motivated by my stagnant state, I drove over to the hospital to visit Denise all by my lonesome.

Astonishingly enough, Denise was alone. After seeing the mass of people gathered during her surgery, I didn't think she'd ever be alone. But there she was, lying in her hospital bed, watching senseless daytime television.

I sat. We started to talk. And in short order, her and I were getting along quite well, discussing things many people couldn't connect with. She spoke of her cancer, while I spoke of my years with diabetes. People had a hard time understanding what it was like to be ill all the time.

As a prime example, Denise talked about her ex-boyfriend. As much as he loved her, he could not stand to be around someone so sickly. It takes a degree of emotional strength to handle such a situation, and he didn't have it. She wasn't mad about his breaking up with her, but she wished she could find someone with the fortitude to stand by her side.

A quick examination of my romantic life was made in my head. My girlfriend had just broken up with me because...well, she was a moron. Because I was young, pumped full of hormones, single, and recognizing that Denise was quite attractive, despite her appearance from chemotherapy, I made an instant decision. "How about this," I began, "you'll be out of here in a few days, so why don't you and I go out to dinner?"

It all happened so fast that it remains a blur in my head. She said yes, we exchanged phone numbers, and then I left so she could get some rest.

Three days later, the cancer won, and Denise passed on.

Yes, this would be the part that brings tears to my eyes occasionally. It seems unfair that a beautiful, vibrant young woman should die at the age of 18. Trying to view it as a positive, I told myself as often as possible that her suffering had ended. It sounds trite, but there wasn't much to her life at that point, other than chasing after the cancer that was refusing to leave her body.

The story doesn't end there, however. At the start, I mentioned my penchant to chew on my foot. Well, the moment was fast approaching when I entered the funeral home for the wake.

As Bryan wandered off to talk to other people, I was left to talk to one of Denise's female friends that I'd met at the hospital during the surgical vigil. This girl was also there when I was in Captain Comedy mode after the surgery. And so it was that I entered the tale of how I'd just asked Denise out, how she had said yes, and then died only a few days later.

Her friend shared her condolences by telling me, "Oh, man...That sucks."

"Yeah," I replied. "It does."

There was only a moment of silence, and before I could think about what my mouth was doing, I came out with, "You know, she could've just said no!"

I looked in shock at her friend, who was looking back at me...and then the two of us started laughing VERY hard! "Denise would have loved that one," she said, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.

Over the years, I've found that some people are offended by this story. They seem to think I was, and am, being disrespectful. On the contrary, Denise would have wanted people to joke and celebrate her life, not mourn her passing.

And let's face it...There's a grim kind of humor injected when you think a woman died to avoid a date with me.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lizzy

There are times when I wonder at the blessings in my life. Though I feel cursed on most days, little Lizzy, and her family, were a blessing.

It was October of 2003 when I experienced pain beyond measure in my left flank. Bloody urine not only earned me a dose of morphine, but a CAT scan, which revealed a 3 mm by 7 mm kidney stone.

What followed was an exercise in greed. The urologist I started seeing ordered tests, prescribed painkillers, and even performed a little exploratory surgery to see if there was any further problem in my bladder. In between such things, there was the occasional visit to the emergency room for another dose a morphine, a refill on painkillers, and more CAT scans to check the position of the stone. Then, after the urologist had taken the insurance company for all he could bill them for, he told me that the hospital where he had surgical privileges didn't have the equipment to remove the stone. Had he said as much when I first saw him, I wouldn't have wasted a painful month of my time.

I would have to start the whole process over again with a doctor working at another hospital. Being smarter than the average bear, I decided to cut corners. I was in pain again, and arranged to make a trip to the hospital associated with the new urologist. This facility was more advanced than "Dr. Greed's" hospital. By going to this other ER, their CAT scan results would be entered into their system, and when I visited the new doc, he'd be able to see the results on his computer, and we could skip right to scheduling the surgery.

Just one unforeseen thing lay in my plan. The day I went to the ER, now in November, New York experienced its first snow storm of the season. Over a foot of snow fell during the few hours I was in the ER. By the time I was ready to call a cab to go home, all the taxi companies had closed due to the weather. I was stuck.

Since the weather had slowed the amount of patients coming in, the ER offered to let me sleep on a stretcher. But I felt guilty about doing that. What if they needed that stretcher on short notice? No...I was better off trying to find some way of getting home.

Thus, I went up to the main lobby and asked what few people were there if they were heading toward Sayville, where I was living at the time. A married couple was getting off the elevator as I was asking, and the husband said that he could give me a ride after he and his wife made a run for a few things for their 12-year-old daughter, Lizzy. As an added bonus, he was driving a 4x4, meaning that the weather wouldn't be an obstacle.

During the ride home, he started telling me about how they'd almost lost Lizzy less than a week before. Lizzy had AML, the worst of the various kinds of leukemia anyone could have. Her blood pressure had dropped to some terrifying numbers like 60 over 20. Her will to live was stronger than the pull of death, but she was assured to be hospitalized for some time while they rid her of whatever infection had gotten into her.

What this gentleman didn't know was that he was pulling at my heartstrings. I'd lost my brother to leukemia when he was five and I was three. I was also stunned at his kindness. For all intents and purposes, I was a stranger. Yet he had no qualms about giving me a ride home. He refused what few dollars I had on me for gas. When I offered for him to drop me off at a main intersection near where I lived, he refused, insisting on door-to-door service.

Well, no one is nice to me and gets away with it!

Sayville is one of those small towns with a main road that has numerous little shops lining it. I had been filing for disability then, so my time was filled with nothing. I spent much of that free time wandering town, getting to know numerous faces of various employees and managers. After the act of kindness, I went to those familiar faces and told them the tale, as well as my plan to say thanks. And on the following Friday, I returned to the hospital with three bags of donated gifts for Lizzy, all provided by numerous people in Sayville.

The story would end there, except that I experienced complications after the kidney stone was removed. I ended up hospitalized, a mere two floors beneath Lizzy. My nurses were a bit irked that I would frequently leave my floor to go up and visit with Lizzy and her family.

During my brief stay, I noticed an attractive nurse's aid, and decided to do a little flirting. I never expect my flirtations to go anywhere, but I had a fresh story on hand to demonstrate what a great guy I was. When I finished explaining how I'd brought all those gifts for Lizzy, the young woman I was trying to flirt with asked in shock, "That was you?!?"

This was not the response I was expecting, and replied cautiously, "Yes."

She went on to tell me that I had become a legend within the hospital. Apparently some disabled guy, while filing for Social Security and living on Welfare, went out of his way to bring gifts to a severely sick little girl as his way of saying thanks for a ride home...a ride that was apparently of no consequence to the driver, as he lived just one town over.

I looked the woman in the eyes and said, "I didn't do it to become a legend, or to gain fame in any way. I did it because it was right." And at that moment, I realized that using the story to try and get a woman's phone number wasn't right. That effort was immediately abandoned.

Ultimately, this story has a happy ending of sorts. Lizzy is 16 now, rapdily turning 17 in a couple of months, thanks to a bone marrow transplant. She's positively gorgeous, and the sight of her pictures often makes me wish I was decades younger. When we chat online, she's quick to laugh. Though she is more devilish when it comes to making mischief, I consider her survival a miracle, and her to be an angel. She has a few more years to go before her remission is considered a cure.

From my mouth to G-d's ears, that miracle will be completed soon enough.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pay attention, ladies...

In my last exciting post, I mentioned Robin. While I have been dwelling on the past and regretting much of it, the years that are gone don't all hold bad memories. This is one that I think back on fondly, though the pain of a lost love comes with it occasionally...

Before she lost her leg to bone cancer, Robin was a dancer. It was her dancing that made her and her family aware of a serious problem. During the rehearsal of a routine, she was to drop to her knees, then pop back up. She went down...and stayed down. They had no idea that her dancing days were over.

In the weeks that followed, doctors believed she'd injured herself dancing, and that the swelling she experienced was from said injury. They gave her anti-inflammatory meds, and they seemed to work. The moment she was off them, the swelling returned in force. Further tests were done, and the cancer was revealed. It was climbing as fast as it could up her leg, with the predicted goal of getting to her lungs. As I said, 90% of the limb was removed, after which Robin endured a regimen of radical chemotherapy that almost killed her.

Skip two years ahead, to that fateful dramatics class in college, where I met her. What started out as hatred for one another eventually turned to love. I was so enamoured with her that I followed her across the States when she moved from New York to Arizona. I won't explore the drama the unfolded after the move. To summarize, we broke up, played head games with each other, and got back together.

A few things need to be noted before we get to the night of my 27th birthday.

First, during out dating, Robin had noted that she'd never danced again after the loss of her leg, and that she often missed it.

Next, upon moving to AZ, the radio was stolen out of my car. To compensate for this loss, I started bringing a CD/radio into the car with me. The astonishing heat of Phoenix, however, had an adverse affect on this radio. I left it in the car one day at work, and returned to the car to discover that it had started to melt! From then on, I took the radio out of the car with me when I reached my destination.

Finally, as all good couples should, Robin and I had a song. Mushy though some may find it, ours was "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion.

Robin made an effort to make my 27th birthday special. We weren't living together yet, so I went to her place, dragging my trusty radio along for the ride. She was a mean cook, and it was a manly meal that she prepared that night. After the veritable feast, she presented me with my gift...tickets to see Sting, who had a concert coming up in just a few weeks after. Since I was a huge Sting fan, I was floored.

But then I topped her gift to me with one for her.

My radio rested on the counter of her apartment. I gave her no explanation as I picked her up and placed her in the middle of the open floor of her apartment. She was quite skilled at standing on her one leg, and she stared at me, thinking I'd lost my mind as I left her there and moved to the CD player. I hit play, returned to her, and took her in my arms. Celine began to sing...and for the first time since she'd lost her leg, Robin danced...with me...a slow dance to our song. I held her close as tears of happiness fell from her eyes and onto my chest.

Am I filled with regrets from my past? Yes. But this was not one of those moments.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Fading

This one might be a long post, kids. Seems some thoughts have been plaguing me, and it's time to vent them. It's about the people who seem to fade from your life...

I've had two dear friends in the real world. These are the people that have lasted for decades in my life. The dearest to me is Julie, and the other is "Mush."

June 29th will mark it as two months since my brother was rushed to the hospital with a torn aorta. Just days later, I called Mush and asked him to help me get to my brother before he died. Mush told me that it was something my family should handle. His words of "encouragement" were more along the lines of words of doom. Then he was gone. He hasn't been back since. One would think such a serious event would be cause for him to pick up the phone and check in on me, but he hasn't. He hasn't even so much as called and hung up without leaving a message. My phone, with its malfunctioning caller ID display, would at least show enough for me to know if he tried. He hasn't.

He's been fading away for over a year now. I've had to chase him for the briefest of phone calls; he never calls me unless it's a return call. His life is filled with work and, when time permits, family. Believe it or not, I feel sorry for my old friend and his six-figure income lifestyle. I mean, if you work 12-hour days, are on call because you're a cancer doctor, and rarely have a day off...Can you really call that living? What kind of life is it when all of your time is spent racing to have the best? What kind of life is it when you have no time whatsoever to call an old friend?

We're polar opposites, he and I. He has no time and I have too much. As much as I want to, I haven't worked in eight years. Just the same, I can understand his life just enough to feel sad. Old friends take a back seat swiftly when your current life is what you must concentrate on.

But I miss my friend. I've been missing him for years, even though we were in touch. Well...I was in touch. I would call and leave messages, asking after him and his family. I would have to remind him to tell me how his kids are doing. And after one particular chat, Mush...We were on the phone, and I was talking about my various medical issues, when he said, "Y'know, Rob...Talking to you makes me feel old." That stung more than he would ever know.

And now...I think he's gone. Through his own lack of effort, I believe he has faded from my life for good. He hasn't checked on me after my brother's bout with critical illness. He has waited for me to chase him over the last few years. I simply can't afford to make so many phone calls in the hope that he might call me back.

So ends a friendship, faded into time like so many others in my past.

Then there's "my Julie." I haven't heard from her in weeks. She is, and always will be, "the one that got away." Mind you, the decision is mutual. She and I are not together because we both have a sense that we would kill one another if we were under the same roof. Oddly, because we are thousands of miles apart, we are incredibly close. More often than not, she and I will be on the phone, and we will have almost exact responses to the same situation. When we overlap in conversation, one of us is bound to say, "Hey! It's my turn to use the brain!"

Julie moved in with her boyfriend. To be honest, he's more of a husband, and I happen to like this guy. He is caring for my Julie as none before him. The reason they moved in together - bought a house together - is that she's pregnant with his daughter. She already has a son from a previous marriage. With her life turning toward the care of children and a household, Julie is in the process of fading.

To be honest, I don't think Julie will fade from my life completely. Even should one of pass on, the other will always be in the other's heart. We share a love that transcends mere friendship, and has proven as strong, if not stronger, than the feeling that brings a couple to marry. Just the same, I don't think she and I will be in touch as often as we once were. I can't try to monopolize her time. I would never try. At the same time, I miss our weekly (sometimes daily) conversations.

At this very moment, I'm contemplating a call to her. Want to know how close we are? I can ask her flat out if she's fading from my life, and she will answer as honestly as she can. I will probably ask her that very question, and I find myself preparing for the answer.

Mr. Doom and Gloom strikes again.

Nothing is quite as painful, though, as finding out your lost love has moved on. This is the case with Robin.

She and I were engaged, once upon a time. She'd lost 90% of her left leg to cancer two years prior to my meeting her. I honestly didn't care about that. I loved her enough to ask her to marry me, and she said yes.

Alas, "life is what happens when you're making other plans." My health was coming apart, and I'd actually banished myself to the couch on a regular basis because...Well, I was hurting her in my sleep. I have no idea what I was dreaming, or what the psychological foundation was for my actions, but I was kicking her when I slept. Not nudging her in a fight for bed space or for the covers...KICKING! As my diabetes became more of an issue, I found myself having issues becoming intimate with her. Had we been married, she could have filed for divorce under a claim of sexual abandonment. (Wow, talk about being honest with one's self and others!) My health was taking such a rapid dive that I was having an issue with holding down employment.

While it was a shock when she left me, it was no surprise as I came to terms with it in later years. Bitterness lingered with the way in which she left, but I never truly wished her ill. I always hoped she would find someone and live happily ever after.

Over the last few years, a part of me has wanted to reach out and find out how she's doing. Did she marry? Does she have kids? Is her life what she dreamed it should be? I never did it. Why re-enter her life when I'm sure she's better off without the likes of me?

Without looking too hard, I found out that her life did move on. I received the usual junk e-mail that I should rejoin as a gold member of classmates.com. While I ignored the advertisement, I went to the site and started searching out names from my past. It was no great surprise to see that there were few changes. When I sought out Robin, however, I was in for a bit of a shock. Her last name was in parentheses, with another last name in place.

She'd married someone else.

Hundreds of regrets welled up inside me the moment I saw her name presented as such. Mine should have been that non-parenthetical name. Had I not been an idiot with my health and many decisions I'd made when I was younger, my life would have been joined with hers. Years ago, when I'd discussed her with my father, he'd said he didn't like her much. When I asked what made him say that, he said, "I just didn't like her." G-d bless Dad, but I honestly think he was simply trying to make me feel better, and that he did like her.

Now I am suppressing the urge to call her and ask if she's happy with her husband. I have no illusions about her coming into my life romantically, nor as a good friend. There's a part of me, however, that can't ignore the fact that we were in one another's lives for more than five years. I'm almost sure that she's wondered from time to time about me after I was gone from her life.

But somethings that have faded should stay faded.

Thus, my vow of trying to try to lead a life as regret-free as possible is undermined. Time and fate are the culprits. And me. Despite the claims I have great intelligence, I have been a fool in much of my past. I so desperately want to succumb to the depression that comes with these realizations, and yet I won't. I'm not even sure why.

I simply wish my past had not faded so much.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Graveyard

Wow. I mean, WOW! My adventures in preparing my apartment for the bombing in a few hours has proven to be a revealing, and startling grotesque, experience.

I'm a bachelor. It shows in the way I live. My place is a disaster area waiting for federal aid. For the most part, it's clutter and dust. Showing all the wisdom of a brick, I bought black furniture when I first moved here. For those that haven't noticed, Phoenix is a desert. When the wind blows, that dry air kicks up lots of dust. Just coming into my apartment on a windy day can introduce a virtual ton of dist. Thanks to my black furniture, it shows.

Scary as it is to move an object to find a sudden black spot amongst the gray, nothing was as nauseating as when I started cleaning under my kitchen sink. Tucked way in the back, probably from the first week of moving in, were several shopping bags I'd intended to use for trash. As each trip to the market has provided me with plenty of bags continuously, these other bags have sat for ages. When I moved them to clear the way for the coming bombing...

GAH! Horror of horrors! I think I discovered the place where all roaches go to die!

The issue was that my cat's food always provided the creep crawlies with something to eat. Everything else is sealed away. I tried spraying. Then I used traps, which seemed to work. My kitchen stopped crawling about a month after I laid those traps.

It never occurred to me that those dying critters had to go somewhere. Little did I suspect that they were crawling to the hidden corners beneath my kitchen sink to go to that great garbage dump in the sky. I found HUNDREDS of little corpses back there. This is not even a mind exaggeration. While their deaths are my gain...

EWWWWW!

My task of preparing for this seemingly minor event has been a major pain. Literally. The doc did, indeed, remove a toenail yesterday. Since it didn't bother me when I got home, I told a neighbor that I would not be needing help.

DUH! Not only has both of my feet been aching, but I've been up all night, working a little at a time to get this place ready. I've done about all I'm going to do. I would try to take a nap, but they'll be knocking on my door in a couple of hours to have me vacate the apartment.

But I really wish they'd given me more notice. This has been an experience I hope to never repeat. Ever!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bombs away!

My apartment complex has decided to bomb our apartments. As in, insecticide bombing. I would not be bothered by this in any way, except for several factors.

To start with, by law, they need only give a 48 hour notice in advance. Not a big deal if I wasn't the typical bachelor who lives in something that resembles a cave more than an apartment. Skins and bones from my recent kills are not far off the mark when you glance around this disaster area I call home.

Next, we have the feet from Hades. On the right foot, there is a severe case of osteoarthritis in the big toe and adjacent joint. On the left foot, there's an infection in the big toe, and the toenail is in danger of being completely removed at 12:30 PM.

All this would still not be an issue if not for the fact that the bombing process requires that I clear out my kitchen, bathroom, and closet to that the poison of the bombing can permeate the best known placed the critters hide in. How, pray tell, and I supposed to pull off all this work with feet that malfunction?

I've been trying to do it a bit at a time, but even with some of the most powerful pain meds, I can only last so long. What's more, extended activity on those same meds knocks me for a loop. I ended up taking an unscheduled five hour nap today from my meager efforts. To add to the fun, I may have worn away a bit of skin on my right diabetic, leaving me wide open to the joys of infection.

No part of me is looking forward to Friday afternoon, when I'm going to really have to do something about this place for the bombing. But it has to be done. I just wish it would do it on its own.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Too tempting

I couldn't resist. The call of the Muse...she is strong! I began a bit of research into Jesse James, and was surprised to learn how little I actually knew. Let's face it...you hear about him at some point during your younger years when they discuss the old west in elementary school, and then exposure by Hollywood taints your knowledge. By the time your "education" of the legendary outlaw is complete, you've got all the facts mangled.

Did you know Jesse was exhumed in 1995 for DNA testing? Neither did I. Did you know Jesse fought in the American Civil War (Second American Revolution for those in the South)? Well...I did, but forgot. It's not a focal point of his career. Did you think of Jesse as a murderous thief and gunfighter? He only killed when he had to, and his skill with a gun was no more remarkable than any ordinary man of the time.

There are so many points of history to play with, it's not hard to see how films have made a glorious mess of it all. The one thing that fascinates me about the National Treasure movies is that the historical myths and legends they toy with existed to an extent, and have merely tweaked a bit for the purpose of the story. So who's to say there isn't a "President's Book," and that any of the Presidents from 1865 to 1882 didn't make a note in there about Jesse and the supposed fortunes he stole? Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant (Hiram Ulysses Grant) were likely dealing with hard times, especially placating the South in a post-war economy. If Jesse, as well as other outlaws, had done their nefarious jobs well enough, the gold that went missing could very well have been preying on the minds of these two Presidents.

Could that gold be used to spur the economy today? Would a man sitting in the White House put an offer before an honorable character like Ben Gates to find the lost gold? It almost seems like that's what happened in National Treasure 2. That whole "page 47" business was left hanging at the end.

As I said, some established writer is probably hammering out a script right now, with a team of historians calling daily to make further suggestions as to how said writer can improve the tale. Tempted as I am to start trying to write it myself, I doubt I'd get it right.

The thing about me, however, is that when the creative juices start to flow, sometimes there's no shutting them off. I opened Word yesterday and start working on an idea for a fictional blog. It's not that hard. Create a character, then start reporting his thoughts in a public forum, writing "in character." Even more tempting is the concept of not explaining that it's fictional, just to stir up some controversy. Would people believe the things I wrote? If so, would I get in trouble for some of those entries? And as a work of fiction in progress, how would one go about copyrighting a blog?

I'm going to go bang my head against a wall for a bit. You kids...Be well.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Coulda, woulda, shoulda: Writer's Rant 2

It could've been my idea. It would've been my idea. It should've been my idea. Alas, it wasn't my idea at all.

It kills me when I see a movie. Then I see its sequel, and I kick myself in the head, as I keep thinking I could've written a sequel to the original. So I think about writing yet a third movie, and before I know it, that movie has already been announced. Eventually, I start thinking about writing the 12th Spider-Man film. I should be finished just in time.

The same applies to novels. Surely the world is gleefully awaiting that book base on Tolkien's work, Gollum: The Revenge. How about the torrid details of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasely's relationship in a combination between the works of J.K. Rowling and a popular "men's" magazine, Harry Potter and the Letters to Penthouse? Silly as the ideas are, they still pop into the writer's mind, especially mine, and I wonder...Could I actually write a sequel to what's already out there? Far be it from me to besmirch the writings of others - and you can be assured that Harry and Ginny shall be untouched by my creative mind...but it's tempting to scribble out their adventures after Hogwarts. What, pray tell, does Harry end up doing once the war is over? Does he go on to battle the dark arts further? Does he take a quiet job in the Ministry of Magic as a janitor? Hey! Let's take the comic book route, having him put on a costume by night, and fight crime using magic!

The worst for me is when I see a movie or read a book and think, "That's very much the kind of thing I'd write." An old friend recently saw Iron Man and sent me an e-mail, recalling the days when we'd play a superhero role-playing game. Most specifically, he wrote of the scene where Tony Stark is working on the flight capacity of his armor and ends up literally bouncing himself off the ceiling. It was just the kind of thing that I would narrate during our gaming sessions. This is not to say the idea was stolen from me...but it's my kind of thing.

Science fiction and fantasy are not the only genres I concentrate on. I can do action, suspense, and mystery as well. Heck, I have a bit of non-fiction under my belt pertaining to diabetes; I'm sitting on an autobiography about growing up with type 1 diabetes. The result is me staring at my television at times, watching a show with the thought, "Not only could I have written that, I could've written it better."

I thought I'd brave the new series on NBC, Fear Itself. After two episodes, I'm still waiting for fear itself. I've seen boredom itself, confusion itself, and weak story itself. Bur fear? Rod Serling did a better job back when the TV censors were a lot tougher. What's even sadder to me is that NBC has been calling these one hour trips into nothing special as "movies." Cutting out the time for commercials, these "movies" are about 46 minutes long. Let me tell you, I'm so glad I'm simply losing time watching these supposed movies, because if I lost time and money seeing them at the theater, I'd be demanding my money back.

Along that same train of thought, where I could've done a better job at writing a movie, there are times where I want to take a human life over what I've seen. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is an example, in terms of the movie. Rowling favors the red herring in her novels, as well as plenty of sub-plots for filler. When it came to the movie, I had two major complaints. Mind you, I know that everything in a book cannot possibly make it into the film. My grievances are with what was used.

The first is the whole Rita Skeeter storyline. Use the character or don't use her. But to use her only a little, with nothing that actually pushes the story along? "Gimme that script! No, just hand it over! I'll write it! And when I'm done, you'll see how the character can be used for the story, and not as fluff for the film." Had they used her properly, she could have made a respectable appearance in the next movie. But, no...They botched it just enough to make her useless in the fifth film, in which she did not appear. When the last two films are released, Rita's pivotal role will now have less impact.

My other complaint is the scene where the students learn to dance. Not only was there no such scene in the book, but it was a complete waste of film. It did absolutely nothing to move the story forward. I don't need deep meaning in every scene, but this was ridiculous, as it had no meaning whatsoever. It was an exercise in poor directing, writing, and film editing. Someone needs to be taken out back and shot, and it's not me. I would've done it right.

Enter new found frustration. I have seen both movies, National Treasure and National Treasure2: Book of Secrets. Could they possibly taunt me a little more? What's on page 47? Does it have something to do with what they mention in the making of featurettes, where they speak of wealth lost from the likes of Jesse James? Should I bother opening Final Draft and begin writing National Treasure 3: Rebel's Run? I can start doing the research now, and manipulate historical legends just enough to make it as fascinating as the first two movies, along with a villain that...

Nah. Disney probably has writers on it already. I'll just sulk until it's released.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Have you hugged your floor today?

So...The New Paragon Huggers was growing, and, for some silly reason, was their leader. It was probably because I created the group, but I never really saw myself as the leader-type. The whole thing was supposed to be a joke!

Leader I was, however, and so I declared we should have a uniform. (All the cool kids were doing it.) Rather than say what the uniform should be, I suggested a little costume contest. People always help them in the most populated starting zone of the game, so I suggested we do the same, but only to decide what the SG would wear. Then I showed them my idea for a uniform.

The contest was over before it could start. Everyone took one look as what I'd created and deemed it one of the more interesting looks in the game. My idea was adopted without my being able to say, "Wait! Are you sure you don't want to have a crack at it?" One of our key members joined six months after the group was formed, simply because he liked our look!

Enter City of Villains, the expansion set to City of Heroes. The list of complaints goes on pertaining to bugs and the like, but some important elements were added to the game on the hero side. Prestige and bases.

Bases are integral for three things: storage of what your character can't carry when personal inventory is full, a medical facility where your character can appear when "killed," and teleportation pads to almost every zone in the game. So you could die in one zone, head for the base to heal, drop off some items, and then, instead of having to cut across several maps to reach a destination, you could use a teleporter. It's all just a touch more complicated than that, but those are the base basics.

Prestige is a SG's money cache. The more you have, the bigger your base can be. It's also a way of finding out if your group has managed to climb into the top 100 on whatever server is your home.

Here's where I was in for a bit of a surprise. You see, someone popped on one day and said we were in the top 100. I went and checked it out, and there we were, sitting at number 88. We were not the biggest group around, and a bug had caused a few groups to enter the top three spots with very little effort. But there we were, and I felt a bit of pride, even though we could fall off the top 100 at any moment.

We didn't. Instead, we actually started climbing the ladder! I could hardly believe my eyes.

As the concerned leader, I called a meeting of the top ranking members and had a chat. The Floor Huggers had one key rule at all times: HAVE FUN! It was interesting to see our group climb the top 100, but I didn't want our people to become members of some "prestige factory." If we kept climbing, great. If we didn't, that was great too.

And still we climbed. To my utter astonishment, we made it to number 24 before we started slipping downward again. Seems there are a lot of groups out there whose only goal is to earn, earn, earn. Not much fun to be had that way, but I kept my silence. We had our moment in the sun, and it was briefly glorious.

CoV also allowed me to set up a villain group (VG), the Rogue Isles Floor Huggers. My interest in running two groups, however, wasn't that high. Its rule fell under the maniacal hand of an in-game friend, and he's had a ball running the show. I've lent a mighty hand in aiding that side of the game, while allowing my dark side to shine while committing the occasional crime.

There are rumors out there that other superhero MMOs are coming. For the youthful, comic book geek in me, I'm hopeful that they'll learn from the errors of CoX. Meanwhile, CoX is all I have to allow my disabled self to fly through the world, fighting crimes, or committing them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dear Diary...

Today I robbed a bank, stole weapons from a government stash, kidnapped a high ranking businessman, set fire to a building, and broke someone out of jail. And I did it all in less than an hour. Not bad for a day's work.

But this is all quite common in City of Villains (CoV), a Massive Multi-player Online (MMO) game. This was an expansion to City of Heroes (CoH). Together, they tend to be called CoX. While other companies rush to try and get their fingers into the comic book genre pertaining to MMOs, CoH was the first. And with the exception of the release of CoV, all other expansions, more commonly known as "issues," have been free.

There's a lot to this game. At the same time, there isn't much. It's depressingly easy to do almost everything the game has to offer in terms of storylines, item creation, earning badges of accomplishment. The game's artificial intelligence is pathetic, and there are so many programming bugs that an exterminator would have a heart attack just looking at it.

But there is one aspect of the game that makes it quite enjoyable. You see, your character can climb as high as 50 levels. Way back at level 10, you can create a supergroup, or SG. This is what I did, using what would become my main character. And since this was a game, I would be taking nothing seriously.

I'll start with my character. I could not resist the urge to spoof the genre. Thus, I created a guy named "the Adjective Noun." The game allows you to establish binds, meaning that if I press a key, my character can say or do whatever I've programmed. I press I, and whatever chat channel I'm in, I announce to the world, "I am not the Incredible Hulk, the Amazing Spider-Man, or the Invincible Iron Man. I am...THE ADJECTIVE NOUN!" For the few with intellects in the game, this gets a good laugh.

During character creation, you can write a little biography. It's rare when you read one that's original in any way. I pushed my spoof further by writing in my bio, "Bitten by a radioactive toaster just as my mutant powers were coming into being, my pinky needed to be replaced with a piece wondrous technology that magically enhanced my natural fighting prowess. Since then, I have made the generic vow to battle for truth, justice, the American way, and all other hokey versions of said vow, just as soon as I get revenge on the people who killed my parents, best friend, favorite pet, or all of the above."

Nothing was sacred.

When I started playing some time ago, I was a member of the Paragon Floor Huggers. The game, you see, takes place in Paragon City, Rhode Island. Why Rhode Island? Probably because the 100 people living there wouldn't notice an entire city of superheroes. Those Floor Huggers had virtually no sense of humor. They spent too much time being downright mean to one another, as well as rude to newcomers, such as myself.

So I moved to a new server, made Noun, and come level 10, I created the New Paragon Floor Huggers. To ensure the spoof was obvious, I created the motto, "Because dying is what we do best!" As I said, nothing was sacred. There are ranks within a SG. Leader, Captain, Commander, etc. You have the option of leaving those ranks alone. But where's the fun in that? I tore a page from Fred Flinstone's book and recreated the ranks. From top to bottom, they are: Grand Poobah, Poobah, Sub-Poobah, Wannabe Poobah, and No Poobah 4 You.

Mind you, I fully expected my SG to have a membership of one, as too many people took the game way too seriously. Especially when it came to dying within the game. Death is not permanent there, but from the fits of anger people would throw, you'd think it was. When you die, you earn something they call debt, which you have to pay off immediately. It's paid with experience points. Paying off debt then means that you level slower in the game, as half your experience goes toward what you earned when you died. I didn't care about this. In fact, I would often make jokes while face down on the ground. "Ah, floor...My old friend." Or, "Hey! I found a penny!"

I was rather surprised when people started asking to join my group. I appreciated that they saw the humor in my creation, but really...Who would want to follow a lunatic like me?

Apparently, the answer is lots of people. We've had Huggers come and go, but there's been a core of people that have been with us from almost the start.

Meanwhile, I'm off to either do heroic or dastardly deeds. More to come in out next exciting episode. Stay tuned, true believers!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Evil as a good deed

Okay...So I've made it no secret that I'm disabled. Physically and mentally, I now have so much baggage that I come with a valet. Am I down about these aspects of my life? Of course I am. That's no reason why I can't put them to good use.

Recently, I've made some new friends, Mike and "Mouse." What can I say? Her nickname stuck in my head a lot easier than her real name. Mike is a fairly healthy 40-year-old. Mouse is a less-than healthy 38-year-old. While I attempt to stay on top of my various issues, Mouse makes promises to do the same for herself and then does a lot of nothing about them.

Mike and Mouse have been playing the role of babysitters for a couple that has taken to the road...literally. Leroy, the husband, is a big rig driver, and asked his wife, Deb, to come along for weeks at a time for company. Their goal is to earn lots of money in which to build a future for their four, absolutely adorable kids.

These kids, while adorable, are also troublemakers. But then what child doesn't make his or her share of trouble? The eldest is a little cutie named Lindsey. It's actually kind of fun watching Lindsey play Mouse for all she can, with Mouse caving in when the nine-year-old starts batting her eyes. It really is too cute, and all affected in such a way may vomit should they choose to do so.

Have we got all the characters in this tale straight? Good!

As a path toward the future begins to get paved, Leroy and Deb have apparently decided to name Mike and Mouse legal guardians of their kids should something happen to both of them. Let's face the facts...It's not out of the realm of possibility. Two parents on the road, working toward a solid financial future...Accidents happen. And an accident with an 18-wheeler has the terrible habit of ending with fatalities.

So I'm sitting with Mike and Mouse, discussing her act of stupidity by not acting on her illnesses, and Mike is right there, basically telling me that I'm wasting my time. He and Mouse have been together for almost nine years, and it has been a fruitless battle to get her to care for herself. She has gone as far as to physically battle him over such things as emergency room visits. I don't know what the blockage is when it comes to at least making regular doctor visits, but I'm not the kind of person who sits idly by and watch someone destroy themselves.

My first attempt to get Mouse to do something was a graphic talk about consequences. Mouse and I don't share illnesses, but that doesn't mean there won't be similar outcomes. Chronic illnesses have a nasty habit of causing slow, painful declines if not addressed. One of her problems is iron deficient anemia, which my father recently had serious issues with. I explained in as painful detail as possible what he had to endure to correct watermelon stomach.

No luck. Mouse has successfully done nothing.

My next attempt was to point out that while she's watching over four small kids, she is of no help to them when her body is failing her. How, pray tell, is she supposed to be a guardian, legal or otherwise, if she can't physically get out of bed?

Nope...Mouse was still in a full state of denial. As much as she shivered over the nightmarish images I described, she was in a rush to do nothing at all.

So I pulled out the most horrid description I could. This was not a whispered threat in private, but purposely done in front of Mike. If he hoisted me up by my shirt and rearranged my face when I was done, so be it. Some messages, however, cannot be delivered in a kindly tone, especially when the recipient isn't quite listening. Thus, I said, "I want you to imagine Lindsey, that absolutely adorable little girl, standing with tears in her eyes, desperately trying to reason out what's happened to you, and frustrated at how unfair it is while staring down at your body inside a coffin. By doing nothing at all to address you're illnesses, such a thing is not beyond the realm of possibility." As I said this, Mike was nodding the whole time, with the occasional verbal agreement.

Can I just say...? This had to be one of the most vile things to come out of my mouth in ages. Hours later, I'm plagued that the very idea even came to mind. Yet if scare tactics are the only way to get this woman to do what's right, then that's what I'll do.

There's a bit more to it than that, though. You see, I happen to like Mouse and Mike. It's been a long time since I dared to spend any amount of time with other humans and socialize. It's a great risk for me, as I'm accustomed to the pain of betrayal down the road. They are slowly becoming more than acquaintances. And it just kills me that one of my potential friends would choose such a self-destructive path. It's as bad as watching a loved one wander haphazardly down the road of drug or alcohol addiction.

Of course, I didn't simply leave Mouse with that horrific image of a cute little girl staring into a coffin. I explained a little about something I don't like to do medically, and that's to face the results of a blood test called a hemoglobin A1c. My results are never within that six to seven range doctors want, despite my best efforts. The knowledge that I can't get a handle on this thing irks me to no end. But I do it, because I know it's the right thing to do. And I keep trying, despite the fact that it seems I'll never get it right.

I just wish that human beings didn't have to learn the hard way. Why can't they just listen the first time, when sound advice has been given before the suffering begins?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Pocket full of miracles: Epilogue

As I mentioned, there were aspects of my trip to see my brother that I didn't get to cover. Having gotten a little rest, I think I should write about them before they slip from my mind altogether.

If you go back to part 1, you'll see that my Dad was unable to help. There was a bit more to it than that. My father actually didn't want me to go. He deemed it a waste of time, effort, and money. If I made it to every visiting period permitted for someone in the CCU, I would, at best, get to spend two and a half hours a day with my brother. I found this highly hypocritical of my father because, had he been up to it physically, he would have driven to TN from NY at twice the legal speed limit.

After all his misgivings about my going, he was ultimately pleased that I'd made the trip. If he couldn't get there, it was good for him to be there vicariously through me.

The trip also strengthened some family bonds. When my brother first returned home, I would speak to him every other day, mentoring him, as it were, in the ways of being physically disabled. Stu hadn't been hospitalized since he was five, and that was scheduled surgery. This radical dive in his health has been giving him a small taste of the life I've been leading for years. I didn't ask to become sick, and neither did he. It's finally clicking in his head I don't lead this lifestyle by choice; it's been forced upon me.

Dad has been calling more often, as well. Prior to Stu's hospitalization, my father would ask how I am. Silly me, I would tell him. I discovered along the way that he didn't really want to know the truth. What he wanted was for me to tell him everything was great. Now, oddly, he wants to know. He's in the hospital as I type, recovering from a procedure that stopped him from bleeding internally in his stomach. I've been calling to see how he's doing, and he's been asking me how I am. It's quite the turnaround. To sate his curiosity, I've given him quick updates, and then rushed the topic back to him. He's getting better and hopes to be out by Monday.

Meanwhile, some family bonds have been thrown into striking contrast to the above.

I have a brother even younger than Stu. This one's name is Barry. Upon receiving a call from Stu's wife that Stu may well be on his deathbed, my youngest brother did...nothing. Had Stu not picked up the phone and told Barry he was recovering, the latter would know nothing. He never followed up to see how Stu was doing; not even a voice mail or e-mail to my sister-in-law.

To hear my step-mother, whom I call "Mom," one would get a terribly clearer picture of Barry. He lives approximately three towns away from where she and my Dad now live. He doesn't call unless he needs something, and has yet to make any effort whatsoever to visit. I lost count of how many times she called him and his behavior "disgusting." She was so livid that I thought she was on the cusp of using foul language.

For me, none of this is news. I've been saying for years, "If you're on no use to Barry, then he feels there's no reason to call." When word reached him that I'd become homeless on Long Island in the middle of one of New York's nastier winters, he didn't even offer my so much as a couch to sleep on. He owns a house and couldn't help his brother! If he could see this blog, I'm sure he'd be more than insulted to know that he truly is the product of our mother.

On the topic of my mother, there is a bit too much to cover here. But she was one of the greater obstacles of my trip to TN.

Feeling pity for her, my brother invited her to move in. When that became a disaster, she found an apartment nearby. Without saying the actual words, everyone feared that she and I would see each other and start dueling with running chainsaws. I was the better "man" in this whole thing, braving a phone call to her to ensure there would be peace while I was in TN. The last thing anyone needed was for her to start a war and upset my sickly brother. Thankfully, I never saw her.

The greatest aspect of the trip was the trail of smiles I left as I crossed the United States. On the way to TN, it was the amazing story of how a bunch of online friends came to my aid when things looked grim. It was so much more than the money; they're emotional aid had even more value than that. I wrote to them when I returned, explaining that it seemed as though they'd filled me with positive energy, and I unleashed it on my brother while I was in TN. Then, on the return trip, the smiles continued as I was not only able to tell of how my friends made visiting my brother possible, but how my brother was stunning everyone by recovering so well.

These days, when I see people losing their faith in humanity, I tell them an infinitely more abridged version of this tale. While there is plenty of evil that humans inflict upon one another, there are those out there that know what love, caring, and respect are all about.

Be well.

Pocket full of miracles: Part 2

When we last left our hero, his brother was dying from a torn aorta. Said brother was also suffering kidney failure and a build-up of fluid in his lungs, and was on 100% oxygen. A stent had been placed to restore blood flow to the kidney. Meanwhile, Rob had called the only two people he thought could finance a trip to his brother - his father and oldest friend. The former couldn't pull it off, and the other not only refused, but cast a grim perspective on events...

Honestly, I didn't know what to do next. The offer had been made by someone on GitP to organize a fund raiser to get me to TN, but I feared that by making it a public event on the boards that everyone would start claiming a crisis and begging for money. The economy is like the Titanic here in the States, so almost everyone needs some kind of aid or another. What made me so special that I should deserve the help of others?

Well, I caved. I contacted "he who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men," and I guess he saw no evil in mine whatsoever. On 5/2, he established a thread to thoroughly explain what was going on, as well as organized with a friend a site where donations could be gathered.

Post number four on the thread kind of "called me out." "This is a classic scam," said the person posting. Well, who could blame him? People have been bilked out of thousands of dollars under the claim that there's a tragedy at hand. It was made clear, however, that if anyone wasn't comfortable with the idea of donating, then they need not do a thing. What's more, I made it as clear as possible that minors were banned from helping. As much as I needed the help, I was not going to take money from kids. (Some scam artist, eh?) Instead, I suggested that if they want to help, they could show the thread to their parents, and their parents could help if, and only if they felt comfortable doing so.

The thread served another purpose. It became a place for me to vent, as well as a way to keep everyone posted on Stu's condition. Though I seemed to miss actually saying it, I was being left with the impression that the doctors were hoping my brother would gain enough strength to surgically repair the tear. The greatest issue was becoming his inability to process oxygen. Even with a mask delivering 100% oxygen, his fluid-filled lungs would only allow for a 90% oxygen saturation in his blood. They were trying medications, but contemplating going in physically to remove the fluid.

At home, I was gearing up for what might well be a grueling trip. I was looking at bus fares and wincing. A day and a half by Greyhound there, and a similar trip back. I'd glanced at airline prices, but most wanted over $1400. A bus trip would be under $200, and I honestly didn't think the folks at GitP were going to gather much more than that. I also needed to arrange for my cat to be cared for, as well as see my doctor to get prescriptions refilled. The meds I needed could not be called in. Then there was the need to do laundry. It didn't seem like a lot, but when you're handicapped, a small list starts looking large.

My greatest fear was that I didn't know exactly where my trip would take me. Was I going to see my brother in TN, or was I going to end up going to NY for a funeral? Dissected aortas have a good chance of killing someone, and I was hanging by a mental thread as I started doing what I could in my corner of the world.

On GitP, I was receiving much more than donations. The prayers and best wishes kept rolling in, which did a great deal to keep my spirits up. As for the donations, they apparently ranged anywhere from $1 to a few people who chipped in $100.

In TN, Stu remained in stable but serious condition. They'd put him on oxygen bypass for a while, but were able to take him off it by 5/4. The doctors had also increased the amount of fluids he was permitted. This was a concern because they didn't want anything he drank to gather in his lungs again. When I would talk to Stu'd night nurses, they were cautiously optimistic.

Now, boys and girls...I named this and the previous post as I did for a reason. Here is where the miracles started to occurring.

The amazing human being that had started the whole donation thing gave me a total he'd be sending. I offered for him to take the money and make all the arrangements for me, but insisted he send me the money directly so I could use it as I saw fit. The total? I'd rather not give an actual amount, but after several calls, I was able to arrange for a last minute flight, as well as arrange for a motel stay of four nights! For those wondering, and to give them a nice plug, American Airlines offered a price far below the $1400+ that other airlines were daring to call their bereavement rates.

One truly amazing aspect about the money is where it all came from. Donations poured in from all over the world...Literally! Norway, England, Germany, just to name a few countries. I had a Sally Fields moment when I thought, "They love me! They really love me!"

The money was sent to me via overnight mail on 5/5, and received on the morning of 5/6. That evening, I posted my plans in detail on that thread on GitP. Not accounting for the time zones, I was to leave at 12:20 PM on 5/7 and arrive at 11:25 PM. What's more, someone from the forum offered to pick me up at the airport and take me to my motel.

My plans to see my brother were not what I really wanted in terms of time. I mean, he was only permitted two visitors at a time ever two hours for only half an hour. There would be a lot of time to kill in which I imagined I'd probably spend all of it just worrying.

Ah, but I had a pocket full of miracles, remember? I set out on 5/8 a little later than I'd planned, and thus realized I'd missed the first visiting period. I grabbed some breakfast, hung around for a while, and when the time was right, I called my brother's wife so she could escort me to my the critical care unit.

Well, that wasn't going to happen...because my brother had been downgraded that morning and was moved to a regular room! In an instant, my visiting plans were altered. I was able to spend hours with my brother.

The miracles didn't stop. On the first day I saw him, Stu couldn't talk for extended periods. If he spoke for too long, he would start gasping for air. Every time he adjusted his position in bed, it seemed to take a lot of effort. On the second day, his activities left him less winded. By day number three, it seemed as though his respiratory issues had all but vanished.

No one could understand it. Stu was FATALLY ill. It was as thought he was defying the laws on medicine. Not only was he recovering at an astonishing rate, but was doing so without surgery! His kidney issue had been handled with a simple procedure. His lungs were clearing rapidly with only medication and fluid restriction. The doctors had never seen anything like it, and their professional detachment went out the window every time they came to see Stu; they were all more than happy to see him.

To everyone's astonishment, Stu went home on 5/15. One nurse from the emergency room put things in true perspective when she told him, "I'm working here 20 years. In all that time, I have never seen someone come in with your condition and walk out again." In other words, he should have died! Instead, he's home now and still on the healing path.

I needed to tell this tale to keep some kind of record of events. There are a few other things about all of this that I haven't covered, but perhaps I'll save that for another post. Meanwhile, it was nice to carry around all those miracles in my pocket for a while.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pocket full of miracles: Part 1

People call me inspirational. They see me, a disabled man about to turn 41 in July, sitting at my computer and trying to help any and all I can with words of advice and kindness. Mind you, my ego is often deflated, so I don't see anything spectacular in some of the things I do. Others, however, have a different perspective.

It was a drawn out drama at Giant in the Playground (GitP) when I first arrived there. A young man was threatening suicide on the other side of the globe, and I seemed to come out of nowhere, doing all I could to prevent a boy of 16 from ending his life. I was not the only one. Plenty of folks became involved, but I seemed to be the one leading the charge. The in-box for private messages would often get filled by people cheering me on, and telling me how wonderful I was.

Then came the revelation that we were all being scammed. The 16-year-old was an attention hound, and he was privately, emotionally torturing as many females on the forum as he could. It was a real mess, and a lot of people came away with a sour taste in their collective mouths over it.

Still, I was celebrated as being some kind of wonder on Earth. As I mentioned in my very first entry, they know me best there as "Bor." Well, some of them took up the chant if, "Bronze Bor! Bronze Bor!" A few others tried to declare me a Saint, and I did all I could to put a stop to that quickly. "I'm just a normal guy trying to do the right thing."

The incident, however, made me aware that there were plenty of people visiting the Playground who had things they would love to get off their chests. With that in mind, I began "The Depression Thread" and invited any and all suffering some kind of emotional distress to ask for aid.

All was well for quite some time. As will happen when people gather in the same place frequently, dramas unfolded and closed. Some people were less than thrilled by my popularity, while others simply didn't care. Then there were those who knew me, and they seemed to become great fans of my very existence.

This establishes my presence at GitP. The real story I want to tell is coming. What needs to be understood is that some of the information was gathered in bits and pieces. This telling is the assembled product.

My brother, Stu, had been out of work since November. His quest for employment relocated him temporarily from Tennessee to Texas, where he would learn to drive a big rig. It would cost time and money, but the payoff, rumor had it, would be worth the investment.

As luck would have it, part of this education involved a physical. The physician that check my brother out said his blood pressure was high. Too high. I don't know the exact number, but I believe it was around 175 over...something. The doctor, due to liability issues, could not prescribe any medications to my brother, and if he stayed any longer, he would be financially committed to the school. He called his wife back in TN, told her to set up a doctor's appointment, and was then on his way home.

Back in TN, Stu's wife goofed. Sure, she set up the appointment, but failed to mention why it was needed. Had she mentioned the blood pressure issue, the appointment would not have been set for three weeks out.

Stu reached TN, and now it was his turn to goof. He failed to call to verify the appointment and its reason. Without knowing he would've been seen immediately, husband and wife waited for the first week in May to roll around.

April 29, with their four-year-old son at school, and a wife that works nights, what, I ask you, are a married couple to do while all alone?

Wipe that grin off your faces, you filthy-minded people!

On second thought, keep it...because you're correct. I don't know the details. I don't want to know the details. Whatever they did in the privacy of their home is their business. But the result was that Stu thought he'd pulled a muscle in his chest. Warmth is good for a sore muscle, so he took a hot shower...

...and when he stepped out, he told his wife to dial 911. He thought he was having a heart attack.

Meanwhile, here in AZ, I was enjoying yet another evening of nothing spectacular. My cat and I were cuddling on my futon, watching I don't know what on TV around 6:30 when my phone rang. The LCD for my caller ID has been semi-functioning for years, but I could still make out enough of my father's name. My mind instantly did the math; it was 9:30 in NY, where Dad lived, and a call at this hour at that time for him was usually some kind of bad news. As the years go on, I keep fearing that it will be a call about him being deathly ill. As a result, I was pleased when it turned out to be Dad.

We started out with small talk, but Dad seemed oddly distracted. He finally came out with it. "Look, Rob. Stu was taken to the emergency room around 1:30 this afternoon. He's in a critical care unit with a torn aorta."

The next 24 hours are a blurred mess in my head. There were a lot of phone calls made to find out my brother's condition. I spoke to his wife a few times, but she didn't understand half the medical terms that were being thrown at her by doctors. I did some online research and didn't like what I was reading. It doesn't take much to get the fear pumping, and mortality rates above 10% for so much as a hangnail will make me crazy with panic. Thankfully, I was given the password to get detailed information, so it became a daily ritual to call his wife during the day and then a nurse around 11:00 PM Eastern Time (when it was quieter at the hospital) to receive updates.

But that first day...Oh, that first day! Swelling from the tear was choking off circulation to Stu's left kidney, and it had stopped functioning. As a result, fluid was gathering in his lungs. The word was that they were going to operate to repair the tear, and if the kidney was necrotic, they'd remove it.

What kept running through my head was that my brother was dying, and I'd never told him the three most important words on Earth: "I love you." With him in critical condition, there was no chance of speaking to him on the phone. Even if I could, lungs filled with fluid made it impossible for him to speak at length. My greatest urge was to get to him, and there was no way a man on an income as limited as mine could pull it off.

I mentioned this at GitP on The Depression Thread. What else could I do but simply vent my fears and frustrations? That was when I received a private message suggesting that the Playground could make a trip to TN possible. While I was sorely tempted to jump at the opportunity, I postponed the offer. "Let me see if I can find another way out there."

My father is not made of money, but he has lots of air miles saved up on his credit cards. I thought that he'd be able to basically get me to TN for free. Alas, the use of miles needed to occur at least 10 days in advance of a trip, and for all I knew, Stu would be dead at any minute. Thus, Dad couldn't help.

The next call was to a guy I've known for almost 27 years. He is an MD PhD practicing radiology oncology in FL. He has a beautiful wife, three kids, a house with a pool, and many luxuries that I simply do without, such as cable, a cell phone, satellite radio...Surely my old friend would be willing to leap to my aid in my time of dire need, right? Unfortunately, I reached him while he was with a patient. I asked him to call back, to which he agreed, but hung up without hearing my plea, "It's an emergency."

I made a rare call during the day to the hospital to find out how the surgery went. I'd been misinformed. It was only a procedure to look at the tear and to install a stent that would restore blood flow to my brother's kidney. All had gone well, but my brother's oxygen saturation had dropped down to 79, and was now on 100% oxygen.

Hour passed. I didn't know my old friend had missed the "It's an emergency" part of our earlier call. So I phone him again after business hours, and he had time to talk. I explained the situation to him. "If you can't do it, I'll understand completely," I said, "but do you think you could help me get to Stu?" Had I not actually heard the response, I would not believe it. He declined, telling me that this was really something my family should handle. In terms of my brother's condition, my friend's words of encouragement were, "I hope he has his will in order." He finished the call talking about our old hobby of collecting comic books. I played it off as trivial and went along with the superhero banter...but as I hung up the phone, I was stunned. Did my dear old friend really dismiss my brother's dying like we'd been discussing the weather?!?

My only other friend whom I could call about such serious matters, Julie, simply didn't have the money. She was my emotional rock throughout this whole thing, but that was all she could do. Trust me...That was enough, what with her being six months pregnant. If it was within her power, I know she would have driven from NY to AZ, pick me up, and then drive me to TN. But that was never going to happen.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Epic Story: Writer's Rant 1

Oh, come on. You know you have one rattling around your braincase. It has characters that are conflicted about numerous things, an impossible goal, and a villain so evil that you just know your audience will love to hate him, her, or it. And for those who have that epic story in mind, you have done one of several things, or perhaps a combination of them.

The first, and probably most common thing to do with a great saga is to not write it. Why bother? "There's no such thing as an original story." Whenever I mention a story of mine, entirely too many people say, "That sounds like (insert movie or book)." Okay, okay, okay...It may sound like that, but it's not that story. Mine is...well, MINE! It's my spin of something, involving my characters doing things I dreamed up.

Ah, but that's part of the reason you haven't started writing it. Let's say you have the greatest fantasy story ever imagined just waiting to get out of your head. You start thinking of other great fantasy writers and their epics, and suddenly yours seems to fall short. Why, they've even used bigger words! You certainly have no talent for taking up a page and a half to describe a tree. That's usually where some part of your mind turns Shakespearean: My writing doth sucketh.

Another thing you may have done with your epic is start writing it. You've gotten over the hump that you're not as good as published writers and that the story may not be completely original. So your word processing program, whatever it may be, has been opened a score of times to start it...and restart it...and delete everything to start yet again...etc. Some time down the road, you hope to throw a grand party just for reaching page 10. After said party, you will probably go back and erase everything to start again. Perhaps, at this point, you have a favorite spot on the wall where you can bang your head in frustration. This spot even has a dent that molds to your head perfectly.

Finally, you may have written your epic to completion. Congratulations! Now, if only you could perfect it. This portion needs editing, that section needs a complete rewrite, and the ending seems kind of weak to you. Now is the time to begin the eternal edit. That's right. Your manuscript will never see the light of day because it will never be good enough in your eyes. If you have yet to create that dent in the wall from repetitious starts, now is the time for your flash to become familiar with more unyielding materials. Be warned: a brick wall will hurt.

My friends...or whoever may be reading this...I am here to tell you that I've experienced all of these things. That is, almost all. I've avoided banging my head against a wall. It annoys the neighbors.

The bane of my creative existence is also my baby, The Summer of Magic. The novel has seen so many rewrites that it barely resembles what was originally scribbled. I have even converted it to a screenplay. The sequel, The Heroine's Fall, has been started at least a dozen times. The two to follow that, Winter Games and The Spring of Eternal Youth have yet to see a single word typed. My muse's greatest love plagues me regularly. I fear it may have been repaired so many times that it can't be fixed anymore.

Now is the time when I wish the phantasmal image of Robert Jordan would appear before me like Obi Wan for Luke to advise me. "Rob...You must go to the New York system. There, you will learn the ways of the writer from Author-Master, Peter David."

Alas, seeking a mentor hasn't worked out so well. Mr. David has chosen to ignore my e-mails, despite the fact that it was his Rabbi that connected us.

And here, my friends, is where my morning meds create a haze over my brain, derailing my train of thought. There may be more later. But before I go, I wanted to let you know that these posts see little editing, if any at all. I run the spell check, but that's it. Thus, if the wrong word appears, but is spelled correctly...Well, you can see what may happen after that.

Oh...It's also time to start adding that for which I am most well-known at Giant in the Playground. It's a simple wish to all...

Be well.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

INT. ROB'S STUDIO APARTMENT - DAY

This apartment is the epitome of a bachelor's cave. Layers of dust cover his unfortunate choice of black furniture. The walls are devoid of pictures or posters. The books on a small set of shelves have all fallen over, with one pair of hardcovers supporting an incense boat. Bathroom mats, for some strange reason, are neatly folded in a corner that is certainly not the bathroom.

Rob, age 40, is a neither handsome nor ugly. He sits at his computer desk - a disaster unto itself - and stares at his computer screen. This screen is surrounded by various cards affixed with a tacky material; each card is for one doctor or another, with appointments scribbled on them.

On the screen is Blogger.com. And Rob, it would seem, is stuck for an idea of what to write about...

This, it would seem, is a common scene in my life. Of course, it's not always Blogger.com that awaits some idea to hit my muse. Final Draft and Word have their turns. However, it's not that I'm stuck for an idea for this blog. It's that I don't know what to write about first. And do I speak of myself, and only myself, or should I speak grand words of wisdom about my views of the world? Or should I do both?

For that last, yesterday was a perfect example. After braving the shower of DOOM, I went off and had blood work done. The waiting room was filled with people, including a family that stretched three generations. All women, from grandma to the three-week-old infant. Right out of the gate, we were on dangerous territory, as we all began discussing politics. My views were taken fairly seriously, right until I got to John McCain. "I'm afraid that if he wins, he'll get so excited that he'll have a heart attack and die Election Eve!"

The laughter started, and I knew I had my audience. Since I'd taken maximum strength Percocet to be able to make the trip, my opiate receptors were firing away, and I was goofy as can be. Well...Not so much goofy as comedic.

This family was there to have blood drawn from the infant. When the mother went to answer questions from the receptionist, both were less than quiet in the small waiting room. Asked what the baby had been eating, the mother said she was breast feeding. Perfect normal. Perfectly natural. Alas, I am an adult, heterosexual, American male. I was off and running on the apparent obsession human males seem to have with breasts. I kept it as clean as possible because they had a nine-year-old with them. By the time they left, the mother of the infant had been laughing so much there were tears brimming in her eyes.

As you can see, there's an array of topics I could cover. And here I am, writing a topic about topics. Whodda thunk it?

What's more, I'm tempted to post excerpts from my writing. I'm constantly telling people, "I write a really good story...I just don't write it well." Thus, I'm tempted to show off what I can write, but not how I write it.

Mayhap when my muse settles on something, I'll come back and say more. Meanwhile...

FADE OUT

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Shower of DOOM!

Have you ever found yourself dreading something that should carry no fear whatsoever? I'm not speaking of a phobia. No, a psychological trauma can easily explain away such fear. Instead, I'm talking about a rational fear that has been deemed irrational.

How silly is that? "A rational fear deemed irrational." Who experiences something that ridiculous?

Well, I do. I'm facing such a situation right now. It's the Shower of DOOM! (Dun dun DUUUUN!)

This whole thing may be new to some, so allow me to explain. Come September, I will be a type 1 diabetic for 34 years. Over recent years, I've been having severe issues with my feet. One such issue was a case of osteomyelitis; it was an infection in the third metatarsal of my right foot. I spent 27 days in the hospital receiving IV antibiotics, and another two weeks with a catheter in my chest doing the IV meds at home on my own. The bone disintegrated to the point that walking managed to snap it. Nothing like a pathological break for my troubles.

Since then, I have feared such an infection. Why? Well, it could lead to the removal of body parts if it doesn't clear up, and the amputation of a foot would hinder my ability to count to 20.

Those are the basics. We now move on to yesterday's doctor appointment.

On the way there, I noticed something going on with my left big toe. I'm one of those geeks that wears socks and sandals, and there appeared to be a stain at the tip of the toe. I decided to wait until I was in the exam room before looking at it, hoping all the while that I'd simply spilled a drop of my morning coffee on it.

No such luck. I won't cover the gory details, but whatever seemed to be coming from my toenail was tinged with blood. The doc saw it, said it's infected, and prescribed antibiotics. He even went as far as to say he might have to remove the toenail. What I don't understand - and I expressed this disbelief to the doctor - is how it became infected. I've been making a greater effort to care for my feet, especially since my right big toe was broken last October and has become severely arthritic.

Once again, my desire to put a comedic spin on serious situations came into play, as I explained to a friend that I have DTS...Doomed Toenail Syndrome. His response was, "A doomed toenail does not a syndrome make."

Speaking of DOOM, there's the shower. It seems completely unconnected, right? 'Tis a cleansing adventure filled with water and soap. I don't disagree. The issue at hand is that a shower will soften the nail, perhaps loosen it, and rinsing away all that soapy goodness might well carry some stray bit of bacteria to the toe. Yes, it's already infected. I just don't want to add more to it.

The bonus to all this is that I have to go get blood work done this morning, as well as pay rent, and...well, life stuff. Maybe I should just go with my plan of having my feet removed and replaced with roller skates?

Monday, June 2, 2008

My First Blog

Right up there with "My First Chemistry Set," except this has less of a chance of poisoning the cat.

I've always wanted a blog. I can't exactly explain why. It might very well be the word "blog," itself. "I have a blog." It sounds a great deal like a condition you should have your doctor check out. "I have a blog, but I was given antibiotics and it should clear up shortly. And don't worry...It's not contagious."

One has to wonder why someone would blog, (now a verb), and simply not keep a journal. Well, I've done the journal thing, and the only one reading it was...me. So I kept a log of my thoughts without any kind of feedback, and would often wallow in the misery brought about by my constant whining about one subject or another. As I would review my musings, there was always the stray thought, "Am I crazy? Or is the rest of the world off its rocker?" Here, in a semi-public format, I might well get some feedback that will either confirm I'm knitting with only one needle, or that the people of Earth are playing with incomplete decks.

A lot of what I say here may well be said, or has been said, on Giant in the Playground. I'm known there as Bor the Barbarian Monk. It's a place chock full of strange, lovable characters, and the place where I feel most "at home on the web."

As for what happens next with this blog...I suppose we'll all - including myself - have to wait and see.