Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Keeping Up With The B-hive

“You can make the most of the distance — first you need endurance; first you've got to last.” —Neil Peart, “Marathon”

I hit the crack and flew.

Maybe it was only a second or two, but either way, the ground came fast. I fell forward to my left at about six miles per hour, tried to break my fall with my left hand, rolled hard across my left shoulder and upper back, did an awkward somersault and then sprung upright on my feet like a cat dropped from a rooftop.

"You've got to be kidding," I thought as I checked out the damage -- scratched and bloody hands, arms and legs. I could also feel throbbing pains in my shoulder and upper back.

But no knee pain in either leg, so I finished my run, much to the chagrin of the Mama when I returned home beat up and bleeding.

The week following my fall I kept thinking about the half-inch elevated crack I tripped over.  Just a half-freakin' inch. What an uncoordinated doofus. Mercy me, I'd never do that again.

Yet, exactly one week later, I hit another crack during another run and flew, nearly replicating the exact fall and roll up to the left, just as beat up and bloodied as before.

But still no knee pain in either leg, although Amy threatened to take my running away.

Life went on and fortunately so did running, three times a week, four to five miles a clip. I'd been running since the early 2000's, before I had even quit smoking, and had even started running a couple of 10K's per year (the Santa Cruz 10K and the Wharf to Wharf), finally reaching a personal best of 8.5-minute miles just a few months ago.

Right on, Brother Kevin. But deep inside my right knee, my meniscus had a secret it kept from me. A secret that revealed itself two months after my second fall: a small tear that sent a state of emergency to my brain while running one morning that forced me to stop and walk. I nursed it for a week and a half and then went for another run. Two miles in the pain returned and I had to stop. Then a Baker's cyst appeared behind my right knee, a result of my knee injury.

That was the middle of June to early July. In early August the MRI revealed the secret "for reals" confirming my meniscal tear, which then lead to a orthopedic consult and surgery just this week. All in between I continued to cross-train to keep up my cardio, knowing full well the knee wasn't getting any better.

I was never really worried about the surgery once I knew it was inevitable, even though Amy and I debated where I should have it done and by whom, until she and her fellow physical therapists convinced me.

I got to watch the entire arthroscopic procedure -- from the cleaning out loose cartilage to trimming my torn meniscus to draining the Baker's cyst to drilling holes in the head of my femur in order to draw blood and eventually create scar tissue.

Fascinating indeed. No, I was only worried about the rehab afterwards and the "get back to gettin'." Since Amy is a physical therapist who's already helped me to date, she'll continue to rehab me. Unfortunately it's only been two days and the pain has been horrific at times; I have no point of reference in my past having never had any injuries or surgery of any kind other than getting my wisdom teeth removed 30 years ago. Plus I have to stay off my right leg for at least a week, meaning living like a shut-in and relegated to an ice machine, our bed and crutches when I need to get around.

And in the end that's what I fear most: being physically inactive and unhealthy like my parents were before they passed away, although that was due to chronic and terminal illnesses, something I'm grateful I'm quite a ways from at this point.

Every mile I ran before my injury was a mile run for my life, my wife and my children -- and even more so my mental well-being, which of course affects everything I do for them and me and every mindful decision along the way. And for me, a healthy mentality fuels the writing I so love to do. Sedentary dark spirals on smack, not so much.

Fight back I will, even if that means limiting any future running and sticking to lower-impact workouts to keep both knees alive (and my head on straight), because keeping up with the B-hive is my moral imperative.

Otherwise Known As Kindergarten, Day One

The first day finally arrived. We watched as she put her new backpack on proudly, full of her favorite things.

We watched as she hung her backpack on her labeled hook outside her class, the butterflies quite visible on her face.

We watched as her new teacher pinned her name tag to her shirt, asking what her name was and telling her something about the new class.

We watched as she sat on the floor, newly assigned book in her hands, while her new classmates gathered in and around her with their new books.

We watched and waited for any tears, any sign that her discomfort would spill into her legs springing her to the Mama's open arms.

We watched as she talked with new friends about the books they held, comparing notes and context from other books they had at home.

We watched as she looked up at us and smiled, still a little unsure, but mostly comfortable in her new environment.

The weeks and days leading up to this one were filled with ebbs and flows of receding fear and growing confidence, especially the latter which came from her weekly martial arts class we starting earlier in the summer.

In fact, the months and years leading up to this day were filled with a developing above-normal intellect, and due to the auditory sensitivity and earlier delays she's experienced since early on, a thankfully consistent "other" developmental progression.

We all couldn't have done it without the loving support of all the teachers at Bridges to Kinder as well as our school district's speech and occupational therapists. 

We watched and waved, teary-eyed and proud, knowing Bea's journey has only just begun, and there will be many trials and triumphs ahead (with Bryce not too far behind).

The Mama and I walked away arm in arm, leaving Bea in her new world, otherwise known as kindergarten, day one.

“And it's noisy up there
(Noisy up there)
It rocks me like a mother
Copernicus and Fortune's Wheel
Plato, Mengele and the New Deal
And it's noisy up there
(Noisy up there)
It rocks me like a mother…”

—Ben Folds, “The Sound of the Life of the Mind”

Monday, August 18, 2014

Assumptive Judgment and the Big Rabid Beast

I spiraled downward into assumptive judgment, the simultaneous images appearing rapid fire in my mind’s eye.

First, there were our girls, Beatrice and Bryce, playing and having lots of fun at what they the “dinosaur” park (because of a climbable dark blue dinosaur statue), a fairly new playground nestled behind the Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz. There were two other girls playing as well, and Beatrice befriended one of them, a sweet, soft-spoken Asian-American girl about her age who I’ll refer to as M. Bea and M ran back and forth across the new playground “safety” bark, with Bryce in tow, all of them picking imaginary plants to feed the dinosaur, as well as real dandelions, grass and some of the bark itself. The Mama and I sat on one of the park benches and talked while enjoying the girls play.

Second, before I even sat on the bench and when I was up and down from it, I noticed at least four young African-American males hanging out about 50 feet behind us near the sidewalk of the adjacent street. While not quite “media” embellished ganster drug dealers, two of them did light up marijuana cigarettes and the smoke wafted across the playground (please note that pot has been decriminalized in Santa Cruz). Rap music and guys’ laughter within earshot, nothing really gave pause to the neighborhood or others playing in and hanging around the park, including other parents, children, teenagers and a few homeless resting in the pleasant summer breeze caressing the afternoon shade. Other people drove up, parked in front of the smoking guys, chatted away with them, and then departed.

Third, a police officer driving along Laurel, the main street at the other end of the park and community center, seemed to slow and the officer (I couldn’t tell gender or skin color from my distance) looked up the street where the young black men were hanging out. But then I noticed that the officer had only slowed because of the traffic on the street. A minute later, the police car was gone.

All the while we were there, I kept imperceptible watch of the perimeter, quite aware where our girls were in relation to the guys, ready to call out “Bea and Bryce!” and literally go get them if they ventured too far away.

At some point during my watch I looked up and saw painted across the back of the two-story community center section nearest us a wonderfully vivid mural. It depicted a casual group of obvious locals, old and young, men and women, skin tones ranging from crème to dark chocolate, dressed comfortably and looking out over the park and playground from a faux balcony.

And most of them were smiling.

When we did leave the park on our own accord, nothing eventful had happened other than Beatrice making a new friend and Bryce being her daredevil self on the playground equipment. Not once did the Mama or I mention to each other the guys behind us, nor did we even flinch when we smelled the smoke or heard the music, nor did I keep my phone at the ready with an itchy trigger finger. My discomfort still hung in the air like the pungent pot smoke still swirling around the playground, though; they could’ve been Asian, Hispanic, Eastern European, Caucasian – it didn’t matter to me. But again, there was no need for parental action.

Who cares, right? Do we get a gold star by our names because we didn’t whisk our fragile little girls quickly away and back into our car because of the supposedly unsavory element smoking pot in the park?

No, we don’t. And I’m not asking for one either. They weren’t hassling anyone and I couldn’t tell if they were dealing or just “chilling out” with their friends and smoking doobie.

I also have no idea what it’s like to be a young African-American male in this city or any other across America. I have no idea what it’s like to be profiled, harassed or unfortunately sometimes killed because of ethnicity and stereotyped circumstance. I will never portend to understand growing up in racially divided socioeconomic environments (although I did grow up in a "poor" socioeconomic environment).

I do, however, know a little something of what it’s like to be a police officer, growing up in law enforcement as a preteen on, my step-father being a police detective (on the force for 32 years) and my younger sister years later becoming a police officer (on the force for about six years).

My dad used to tell me that there are good cops and bad, mostly good thankfully (he was one of them), and soul-crushing reality that it can be one hell of a stressful job when constantly keeping the community peace with the real bad guys (and gals) usually a half step ahead leaving mayhem in their wake, with all the others in between. He also always acknowledged that police brutality happens, and like real life there is an unstructured spectrum of when it occurs and why. Plus, the fact that innocent men and women are sent to prison every year, sometimes locked up for years until new evidence has proven their innocence otherwise.

The system wasn't perfect, and never will be, but it did work and does.

However, he most certainly would’ve argued with me if I would’ve had the chance to share Steven Pinker’s theory with him before he passed that worldwide violence is lower than it’s ever been in human history (backed up by lots of fascinating research data). The world of the 20th century, and even today, may seem like a big rabid beast held at bay by only rusted wire fence, but fortunately the combination of communities, democratic governments and our own collective higher consciousness and self-control, the beast has been quieted, an extended hibernation not seen since recorded time.

Except that when we’re closer to home and we read, hear and see the stories of young, unarmed black men being gunned down in the street by cops (most recently Michael Brown), regardless of what they did or didn’t do, communities are polarized, parents and families devastated, with the media underscoring the painful splits.

If that was my son? Or one of my daughters?

I remember watching the 1992 riots live on TV after the Rodney King verdict and thinking, “Holy shit. What if that was me being pulled out of the truck?”

All because of vengeful reciprocity and a longing for karmic justice. God help us all...

As we drove away from the dinosaur park, we passed the young black men sitting on the grassy knoll above the sidewalk. I only caught their images peripherally, because I wouldn’t look at them, couldn’t bring myself to, not really afraid but not willing to deal with my assumptive judgment and protective parenting either.

Was I ashamed? A little, but the picture I took of the community center mural prior to leaving had immediately wed to my higher consciousness, my self-control and my hope that diverse communities and law enforcement everywhere will continue to seek harmonious non-violent solutions to keep the beasts at bay, for our children’s sake and our children’s children.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Men of An Unremarkable Age

The pushups, situps, arm band toning and the walking workouts became the "running" joke. I first referred to it affectionately as my Olivia Newton-John workout back in 1989. That's when our annual trek to Chico started, five years out of high school.

But let's jump into the "way back machine" to over 35 years ago, to when a gangly, tall boy by the name of Robin Christopher Day befriended me. We were in the 7th grade at the time and in Mr. Franks "hot hockey stick" history class together. I say hot hockey stick because Mr. Franks had a sawed-off hockey stick he used to rattle the young minds in his class.

And rattle us he did. If you were out of line in class – slam – right on the desk in front of you. Scared the crap out of us every single time. He never physically hit any of us, and God knows no one really gets away with that today, but memorable it was.

During that first year of friendship Robby made me a cassette tape of two Cheap Trick albums and our rock and roll friendship has never looked back. Yes, a mix tape. Feel free to tease (while you reminisce the dozens you made for friends and lovers).

Fast forward to a fateful spring day at a swim meet our senior year in high school. Robby wanted to go with a group of us to the coast instead of his swim meet, and he knew perfectly well he wouldn't miss his meet for anything.

We returned early that evening to learn that he had broken his neck and crushed his spinal cord on a third false start. We rushed to the hospital to see him, and his mother claimed we were family so we could see him in the ICU the next morning when he was conscious.

Three months later he was brought by ambulance from the hospital rehabilitation center to graduate with our senior class, and I had the honor of pushing him into the football stadium and standing by his side throughout the commencement.

Five years later he moved to Chico and that's where we've been going to hang out with him ever since. Our mutual circle of friends had grown during high school and beyond, and since has remained more or less intact.

There are moments like Robby's accident that altered all our worlds dramatically, that forever bound us together, our lives and futures inextricably linked in a lifetime of friendship -- through all the personal tragedy, incremental joy, marriage, children, divorce, career success and failure, falling outs and ins, illness, injury (a recent bum knee for me), addiction, depression, and even death -- always laced with happy silver linings and much needed laughter.

You know, like a bunch of girls.

I write that not disparaging women at all. No, I write that because men don't have the same societal or genetic capacity to stay together in tight-knit support groups like women have for thousands of years.  

But us guys? We've managed to do just that.

Now we're all men of an unremarkable age, just north of prime, more so for Robby, getting together as often as we can, banking all those happy silver linings and laughter, plus a shitload of usually inappropriate "inside baseball" comedic catch phrases.

"Low T, low T!" (which is one of the milder ones)

As in, low testosterone alert. Hey, that's life, kids. So slip on those pink wristbands and headbands and let's get physical. The B-hive is a proud endorser of girlie-men everywhere.

Unremarkable is the new black anyway. Love you, my Brothers.