Saturday, February 18, 2017

Getting Old

As hard as I work and staying fit and healthy, and as much as I try to think young, I am becoming aware that time is catching up with me. In short, I am getting old. Getting gray hairs never bothered me, especially because that started happening so young. I eventually solved that problem with a shiny new electric clipper. I'm even comfortable enough with it to grow out the beard, which my wife had been begging me to do for some time, despite the fact that it's almost completely white. When I first really looked at it, I felt like it did make me look older, but now I guess you could say it's growing on me.

I sometimes catch my self giving kids speeches about things "in my day," when gas cost a dollar a gallon and hip-hop could barely get radio play even on urban stations. Still, that's not what has been making me feel old. 

I get plenty of exercise every day, probably more than I deserve, and until recently I had felt indestructible. I've had scrapes and bruises, pretty requested as a matter of fact, but never any broken bones, and certainly never any of the "old man" injuries - the trick knee, the loose ankle, the stiff back. Then, a little over a year ago, I must have overworked my shoulder muscles, because I noticed a sharp pain afterwards, always associated with certain positions and exercises, and instead of getting better, it got progressively worse, even after a long period of resting it. Realizing that I was favoring it throughout basketball games and wincing whenever I pulled off a compression shirt made me feel like one of those guys I always made fun of (just in my head, though) for trying to extend their youth and run with the young fellas.

The specialist, once I finally went to see him, said there didn't seem to be any tears or permanent damage, just some inflammation. Apparently, I have a weird collarbone that ends in a curve, and digs into the tendon as my muscles grow. So, all the work I've been putting into building muscle in my shoulders has aggravated the issue. He recommended taking some Aleve every day for a while, and doing some strengthening exercises to kind of retrain the muscle to fit into the space better. That helped, but didn't solve the problem. The problem was, he also said that I have to change my sleep habits as well. At the time, I was peacefully sleeping on my side, with that am fully extended upwards, and spending anywhere from five to seven hours in that position was tearing the tendon and adding to the pain. It took a couple of months to find a new sleep position that didn't cost me the function of my left arm, but since then, I feel completely back to normal.

Except for my back. Getting up from a bent or prone position takes approximately 50% longer than it used to, and I'm not entirely sure when this happened. It just seems as if one day I suddenly noticed that I was having to stop midway through straightening up to complete the task. And my ankle clicks when I rotate it. Oh, also, my left elbow gets stuck sometimes and I have to throw it out.

Even so, I'm embracing getting older. Every time I race, and see these sixty, seventy, and even eighty year old guys running a 5k or a sprint triathlon, I see life goals. I want to be exactly like those older men, not just "staying active" by walking the mall every Monday, but really pushing the limits of what their old bodies can do. I watch a video of Ric Flair deadlifting 400 pounds, almost twice as much as I'm lifting, and I get motivated. I really do feel like I'm fitter than I have ever been in my life, but I don't want to have the mindset that allows for deterioration. I want to get stronger as I age, not weaker. I may be fighting nature on that issue, and she may win, but at least she's going to remember my name when the fight's over.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Fickle and Fragile

Pregnancy is such a fickle and fragile gift. And unfair. Cruel even.

I write most of my blog posts in McDonalds, because they have sweet tea and free Wi-Fi and if there are distractions, at least they're the right kinds of distractions. Inspirations instead of obligations. I drop our little girl off at her dance school in North Miami at 9 AM, walk across the street to McDonalds, order my oatmeal and sweet tea, and try to write something worthwhile before I have to pick her up again.

We live in what we lovingly call "the hood." It's not that it's a bad neighborhood, or that bad people live there, but that bad things do seem to happen on a more frequent basis than in other neighborhoods.

Last Saturday, when I walked in to my McDonalds for my writing session, there was a young woman I'd never seen before sitting alone at one of the tables. She was a dark-skinned woman wearing a black tee and white sweats, with a tall coffee cup and a sandwich wrapper on her tray. She smiled at me and said something I didn't understand, so I said "hello" and waved to her. Then I realized that she wasn't talking to me, just herself. In fact, she kept right on having a quiet conversation with herself, or possibly with an imaginary person sitting across from her, the entire time I was waiting in line and ordering my food.

I was really trying to focus on my writing, and a little on my oatmeal, but she was so distracting that I couldn't really get into a groove. I kept looking up to see what she was doing, especially when her conversation turned into a loud tirade, and then turned into her waving her arms, cursing as loud as she could, and pointing at the two older women sitting at the next table over.

That's when I realized how disheveled she looked. Not dirty, just off. Her sweat pants were riding so low I could see at least two or three inches of her behind, and not in a good way.

I don't know how those two older women just sat there and took all of that noise and foul language for as long as they did. At some point, when the woman first started cursing so loudly, it looked as if she was responding to one of the older women, who might have said something to her, and was now trying to ignore her. It seemed as if the older woman had told her to be quiet or something, and I just wondered why you would want to try to correct someone who is obviously mentally ill and unstable, much less argue with her.

After almost ten minutes of abuse, the older women got up and left. A few minutes after that, the woman in sweats got up to leave as well. And then I saw that she was pregnant, at least five or six months.

She walked outside, continuing her loud and vulgar conversation with herself, pacing back and forth, smoking a cigarette and waving it around in the air, punctuating her sentences by jabbing her cigarette at no one and knocking the ashes on the ground.

I closed my laptop and pushed away my tea. I felt sick. I couldn't think about anything but her smoking and ranting and her baby. I wondered if she had people who might want to know where she was, and how I could possibly contact them. I wondered what man would have gotten this woman pregnant in the first place, and who could take advantage of a woman in her mental state. I wondered what was going to happen when she went into labor.

For a moment, it looked like she had left, but then she burst back in and immediately got into an argument with the cashier and manager. From what I could tell, the argument started with her demanding that he fill up her large sweet tea cup with orange juice and him insisting that it wasn't the right cup and there are no refills on orange juice. I was just about to step around the table where he could see me and tell him that if she wants to drink thirty-two ounces of orange juice - then give it to her. If he needed money, just tell me how much and I'll buy the cups, too. But right then is when she started taking all of the bagged meals and trays off the counter and throwing them at him, on the floor, and across the dining area.

She started posing like a street fighter about to mix it up, and threatened the staff, the manager, and the customers nearest her, shouting about psychiatric prisons and prostitution.

But she's having a baby.

It took almost fifteen minutes for the police to arrive, and at first, it was just one small woman cop who asked her questions very firmly, but kindly, obviously trying to gauge her mental state. Soon, two more officers walked in, both male and both huge. The bigger one of the two seemed annoyed that the woman cop was taking so long to remove the problem, and started shouting down the pregnant woman, telling her that she was going outside. He took her by the arm and moved her towards the door.

I prayed that God would give her enough peace to get through the next few minutes without provoking these police officers, that God would grant them enough compassion and patience to resist getting annoyed or even scared, that none of them would tackle her, taser her, or shoot her. I prayed that she would be channelled right to the place that can help her most, that the next four or five months would be nothing but rest, detox, treatment, and mercy for her.

Because she's having a baby.

Maybe dreams and desires are infectious, or contagious, or maybe they have a life of their own. This last year was a tough one for our family, and especially for my wife. She earnestly and even desperately wanted another child, despite the delicate balance in our home and despite both of us hitting our forties. I was, to say the least, unwilling to go back to those days of diapers and sleep deprivation, and instead looking forward to more freedom as our youngest grows more independent. But ultimately, she won me over and we started trying. We went through two heartbreaking miscarriages in the same year, and I called it quits.

But the truth is that I really do want another child. I want another baby, maybe a boy, if God wills it. I just don't want to go through any more pain, or see my wife in pain, both emotional and physical, especially if the odds are really stacked so high against us.

So I can't help feeling jealous, and angry, and puzzled when I see this pregnant woman. I don't understand how this is fair. I know that God loves me, and I'm definitely not looking for any "mysterious ways" lectures or pseudo-Christian platitudes. I just pray that this child is born healthy. It already looks like he has the world against him, including his mother, and it's not fair to him either.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


I took this last Christmas break as an opportunity to get the camping gear out again and try to take a longer trip with my youngest daughter, who had just turned four. Everybody else was invited, of course, but the only other person who showed any interest was my now-apparently-grown son, and he had to work. After the first one-night encounter with the great outdoors went so well, despite some minor glitches, I decided to extend the trip to three whole days, to really get the experience.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park - Hobe Mountain Tower
It looks like I have a real camper on my hands. Not only did my little girl enjoy every minute of the trip, but she keeps asking when we can go back. Normally I only go when the weather is pretty cool, which is a very narrow window down here in South Florida, but she's got me thinking about building one of those makeshift air coolers to keep the tent cool enough to sleep in. I can deal with the warm weather throughout the day - I expect the outdoors to be a little swampy down here, but I just can't sleep and sweat at the same time. I'm not exactly handy, but I think I can follow a YouTube instructional video well enough to put one of these together and add some more camping dates to the calendar.

Since there were some poorly executed aspects of the last trip, some of which were probably my fault, I tried to use all of my planning skills to make sure this one went smoothly, and just about everything did. The only two major failures were the fire (again) and the pillows (AGAIN).

I made sure to get everything I could possibly need to build a proper campfire this time, but for some reason, the fire spirits tormented me. I could get the kindling lit, and even a small fire going for a minute or so, but those log just would not light. And the thing is, I remember being so good at this when I was a kid. I was the go-to guy for campfires, so much so that I turned into a little bit of a firebug for a minute. Now, I can't seem to get anything to burn for longer than a couple of minutes. Thankfully, I was wise enough to bring the propane stove as a backup this time, so we could eat proper meals. On the other hand, I probably should have realized that it needed assembly before we left. It was still in the box, after all. I ended up putting it together while the sun was setting, and finishing it by the light of my cellphone. It wasn't until breakfast the next day that I realized that virtually every single nut and bolt was in the wrong place, but it still cooked quite a fine hot dog, so I'm still calling that a success.

The other mishap was the lack of pillows, which, given my obsession with pillows, can only be ascribed to some kind of psychological weakness, some Freudian trauma that probably needs exploring. Still, we made it through the first night, and my forgetfulness caused us to have to take a trip into town to Walmart to get four of the fluffiest pillows that can be bought at such an upscale establishment.

Also, we got the canoe out on the water together for the first time, paddling through the Loxahatchee River with all of its mangroves and wildlife. It really turned the trip into an adventure. I was worried at first about being out there on the water with a four-year-old, but we took all of the necessary precautions. All, that is, except for attaching the keel to the bottom of the inflatable canoe. While this didn't distract from the view or the fun of the ride, it did make it a lot harder to direct the canoe and keep it moving in a straight line, much more than I expected it would. There has to be some kind of life lesson there, but it escapes me right now. After about an hour on the river, my arms and back muscles were burning, and the baby was sleeping in the front of the boat. Still, definitely would recommend. 

As much as I hate not having the right number of pillows, or any pillows, or proper air conditioning, or refrigeration, or walls and privacy, I think that the best thing about these trip is not having stuff. Not having television, except for a movie to watch together after dark in our sleeping bags. Not having video games or other distractions between us. The reason she keeps asking to go camping is because it's just the two of us and non-stop forced interaction. We prepare our meals and eat them together, we talk through the woods or ride horses together, we take the canoe out together, and we even go to sleep together. There's a visitor's center near the campgrounds, and we can spend a couple of hours in the blessed air conditioned museum, coloring and looking at the exhibits together. It can get exhausting for me, and I definitely need some alone time when we get back, but while we're there, it's really just a good time. Not annoying or tedious or boring, just fun. And special.