Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stepping Out on Faith

Today is going to be one of those days where you just have to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and move forward. I have resolved not to talk about job-related matters on this (or any other blog) and I am not, but today is going to be a day when I earn my salary and then some. I have made preparations for what is going to be, I fear, a few ugly conversations, and done my best to anticipate and prepare for some likely occurences. I know what the law says, and I have handled similar situations before. But I never get comfortable with this; I woke up at 3:45 and really have not gone back to sleep.
I have been living the way I live for a decade or so now--not in a smooth unbroken line, to be sure, but deviations have become fewer in number and shorter in distance, to the point where I would feel comfortable with a camera on me all day every day anymore. I have accumualted enough evidence that God will take care of me if I act according to principle and do, as far as I am capable of determining it, the right thing--it may not turn like I expect or want, but I will be taken care of. And this is one of those times where, unpleasant as I know some aspects of this are going to be, it is just time to keep it moving and do what needs to be done. It's not about my comfort zone, it's about a kid's quality of life. That's ultimately what I do for a living and why I get paid, and I can't lose sight of that simply because I fear dealing with a bewildered and upset parent and possibly law enforcement officials who are not aware of (to them) obscure state and federal laws pertaining to runaway and homeless youth.
That's what this about: fear. It took me several years in recovery to find out that most of my life, whatever I might have said or even thought, fear was my true Higher Power; what I was afraid of, directly and indirectly, dictated what I did. The greatest benefit of recovery has not been, great as it is, the freedom from chasing the next one, but rather being freed from the consuming fear of virtually everything that I could not directly control. And it's easier living this way, believe me; although I woke up earlier than normal, I had no trouble getting to sleep last night, and I have no doubt that whatever happens today, I personally am going to be fine. In combination with some of the things I posted about yesterday, I've really kind of taken stock, and realized that although I am not happy about being affected by pressure, I have not completely lost my way, either. And that is one thing about living this kind of life--when you do stray from your ideals but still are headed in the right direction, you end up with a manageable mess, something that can relatively easily rectified, rather than a train wreck or earthquake rubble to dig out from.
I don't know if I've said this very well, but alongside the unease is a sort of tranquility, too, an awareness that it will be all right. It isn't even so much fear of what is going to happen as a desire to simply have it over with; not a desire to have the cup pass as much as a desire to get the process started, so it's easier to move on. It's the waiting and the thinking that are the hardest to deal with.
As I am reminded every year this time, the part of the last week of Jesus' life that is termed the agony is not anything that happened on Good Friday. As someone who spent a fair number of Lenten Fridays as a youth at Stations of the Cross, I can tell you that the "Agony" was the night after the Last Supper, when Jesus was praying in the garden--thinking about what was happening and what was going to happen. There is no greater pain in the world than that of your mind dwelling on fear. And this is, while uncomfortable to a degree, certainly not agonizing.
It will be fine.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Bit of a Shock

It was some surprise that my daughter found it necessary to tell me yesterday that she has become afraid of me. Well, not the cowering in fear in the corner afraid, but that my mood has been more black and distracted and my temper shorter. I knew that unlike most other times in my life, I have been unable to completely leave the job at work--partially because I have gotten more post 5-PM phone calls this month than I have in the previous year. I also know that we have both just been incredibly busy. I felt bad that Sabrina' s team did not win her Odyssey of the Mind competition--but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glad it was done. We have enough burdens on our time as it is without that extending another two months.
Well, it's time to return to basics.  Today, Sabrina finally had her first period--and she called her mother, and not entirely because her mother is female and I am not, and not entirely because of embarrassment. It was also in part because she was afraid my reaction was going to be, "Oh, God, now what?"
It was a cold pitcher of water in my face. I was very careful today to not push her about it when we got home. And I did spend some time with her when she went to bed, and I told her that I know I have been grouchy a lot and that I am going to do better. Not trying, but going to.
And I will. She matters to me more than any of the rest of this, and I will be damned if I make the same mistakes that I see other parents have made that have led to my making a living doing what I do. With such a wakeup call today, too, that she is emphatically phasing out of childhood and into adolescence, I do not want to undo the work of the previous ten years by getting caught up in a bunch of stuff I know is ultimately unimportant. And I won't.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Review: $20 PER GALLON

$20 Per Gallon is Christopher Steiner's look at what will happen in the United States as gas prices inevitably increase as the stock of oil around the world drops. It is a fascinating book, as he correctly points out just how much we all are dependent on oil products, and just how much is going to change as the price rises. Most of it, beleive it or not, is positive, as some of the things many (including me) dislike about the world today (WalMart, huge agri-business, car culture, suburbia, globalization) will change drastically or disappear. What will emerge, Steiner beleives, is a world akin to the early 20th century, where cities were vibrant and necessary, rail was the primary mode of transport, and food was grown locally. And looking purely at the economics of his presentation, it makes sense.
Some of his vision--the move back to cities, for example--I have felt for several years are more or less inevitable. But I think Steiner is incredibly naive as to what is going to happen when oil starts to go up in price to unaffordable levels. One is that the powers that be, who have far more control over the political process than ever before, are not going to sit quietly by and watch their cash cows become obsolete. As a country, we will do stupid things like drill in the Arctic, destroy our land with deep drilling, and engage in sequels to adventures like the one in Iraq before we change in any fundamental way. A second is that there is an underlying assumption that electricity is going to remain cheap and plentiful--when a good portion of the electric supply ultimately depends on fossil fuels, too. Three is that the drastic effects of global warming are not really given much thought; the pressure on water supplies and the need for heat relief and obviation of chronic drought are not accounted for. The changes Steiner envisions may come to pass--but there will be revolutions that occur in the transition phase, and it's likely there will be a lot less of us around.
Still, this is a very interesting read, very thought-provoking, a Black Swan of sorts, and well worth checking out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sports Blahs

Maybe it's just a sign of maturity, as my 47th birthday looms only a few days away, but for the first time in my life, I can honestly say that there is no overriding interest in anything in the sports world right at the moment. When Syracuse and Xavier lost the other night in the NCAA tournament, my interest nosedived; when the Final Four is now revealed to be Hoosiers Go To College (Butler), one of the world's biggest cheaters (Bob Huggins and his West Virginia team), and two of the college basketball programs I loathe the most (Michigan State and Duke), the season is over, as far as I am concerned. I will watch nothing of it next weekend, not a single minute.
And it is that way with just about all sports right now.
  • Baseball is starting? Big Whoop--the Red Sox have won twice recently, but the Yankees are reigning champs, and the steroid fallout seems to be limited to Hall of Fame debates. "Cheaters do prosper" seems to be the message, and there are few more dull activities than watching a baseball game.
  • NBA Basketball is all right, I suppose--except this two-step-is-not-traveling rule is killing me, I don't really have a favorite team, and the most interesting thing about this season--whether the Nets would set the record for most losses--has been settled by their first two-game winning streak of the season.
  • Hockey? After a promising start, the Rangers have reverted to their offensively challenged ways of the past--forever, it seems-- and are not only going to miss the playoffs, but are torture to watch on TV, too.
  • NASCAR? The same guy wins every week, the same guy who has won the last 3 championships. It has potential because the powers that be have clearly decided to let them sort their own differences out on the track--which will lead to mayhem soon enough--but if Jimmie Johnson just keeps winning, who really cares? It will be like wrestling when Hulk Hogan was champ for a decade.
  • Golf? Only if Tiger Woods comes back and 1) isn't as good, and 2) fans and players give him a hard time for being a hypocritical narcissistic asshole. Well, there would, for me, be 3) he stays gone, but that isn't going to happen.
  • Football? 5 months away, and the end to the Viking season still hurts. Badly. I suppose that means I still care, and football remains the only sport that I will watch when my favorite team is not playing--well, college basketball, too, at least in the wintertime. But I really want Favre to retire because I really would like to see Donovan McNabb, whom the Eagles are going to trade, running the Viking offense. But that isn't going to happen.

It feels very strange, I repeat. Half the time, there is not a single piece on ESPN.com I want to read, and sports talk radio is a turnoff, except for occasionally Mike and Mike or Mike Tirrico excerpts. And forget one of the other networks, because ESPN is the Best Damn Sports Network. I'm actually looking forward to more time to spend on the yard, to cleaning the house, to reading, to (gasp) maybe even dating.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

End of the Road For This Year

The Roosevelt Odyssey of the Mind journey for 2010 ended today. Being the state tournament, every team had a good performance, and I knew it was going to be difficult even before Sabrina's team performed to get a top-five performance. They came on and did all right, but it wasn't electric like the one in regionals-- you could tell the difference within a minute. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't sterling--and it was scored that way.
Still, the team was very disappointed; they did not see the other teams as much as Mrs. DeSanctis and I did, and so really don't know the odds they were up against. And I shared their disappointment, too, because all seven are in the fifth grade, and the middle school commitment to OM in the Binghamton just isn't there like it is in elementary or high school. It's doubtful they are going to get a chance for a few years again.
I have to say that part of me is not disappointed, though. The world tournament is spread over a week, and that's a long time to be gone at your own expense. But that doesn't mean that Dad does not feel Sabrina's pain, though. I tried a couple of standard pep talks--"everyone here were winners," " you did your best," and one I always found helpful in sports when I was younger-- "hey, the others here are trying to win, too, and they have talent like you do." It helped a little, but nothing much is going to help her tonight. And I had to drop her off at Shannon's, being it's a Saturday; she was already in her room by time I left here. She'll heal, and at some point she'll realize she and her friends accomplished remarkable things in two years.
Just not tonight, though.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Book Review: GUARDIANS OF THE REVOLUTION

Guardians of the Revolution is a history of a country that has not been in the news much since Obama became President, thankfully--Iran. Ray Takeyh examines how the Islamic Republic was created, the events that have shaped it, and the direction that he thinks it is going to go in as time passes. More than most regimes that were born in the overthrow of despots, it has retained its radicalism and many of its ideals--and its central insight is the things emanating from Iran that have made most of the world blink over the years have been the radical element--Khomeni in the first decade, but also his successors--manufacturing crises that isolate the country internationally in order to consolidate and maintain power. The ramifications of this idea made me pause; the nuclear program in Iran perhaps does need to be monitored on this and other ends a bit more closely, because as things stand now, at some point, under this regime and if its history holds, it could well use a nuclear weapon.
Having said that, the book is a bit of a tough read; it is definitely a scholarly monograph, which those interested in the subject will find interesting and the casual reader not so much.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fundraiser at Uno's

Tonight, as the latest installment in The Week That Never Ends, we had the Uno Chicago Grill fundraiser for Roosevelt. 20% of all meals bought between 5 and 8 go to the Roosevelt Arts Program, and Mr. Chilson was the guest chef for a portion of the time. Again, as in most Roosevelt events, a lot of faculty members were there, and I saw a number--more than I thought would be, because Roosevelt is not a rich district and Uno's is pricey--of families eating there. This is Sabrina's last year at Roosevelt, and I have heard about a dozen teachers tell me in the last two months how much they have enjoyed seeing her grow up over seven years--and also, as Mrs. Gates said today again, how much of a positive role model she is to the younger girls in the school. I have noted, without really commenting, all year that Sabrina has quite the entourage of younger kids that seem to gravitate to her--Kayla, Maria, Raegan, Bryonna, Krista, Sammie, the Arabic kid whose name I can't pronouce, Chrissy. They range from K through 4, as broad-based as it gets, and to me that's been one of the most encouraging things about my daughter--she is not mean, not a bully, and is already showing a heightened sense of responsbility and gratitude, of giving back to the community at large.
I cannot tell you how proud I am of her.
And another plug about teachers. They take a lot of crap in this area for how much they get paid and the benefits they get, and maybe in high and middle school, they aren't as dedicated--but I can honestly say that the Roosevelt elementary school teachers are worth every penny, or at least 85% of them that I have come across. I have never seen, for real, a large group of adults with lives of their own so willingly invest so much of "their" time, their leisure time, in the lives of the kids they interact with at the school. And beleive me, the kids notice, and the lesson gets learned, that you give the extra effort and invest in relationships all the time, not just when you are on the clock. I have been remarkably privileged in that my daughter has been educated not just academically, but socially, during her time there, by people who have taken an interest in her and 400 other kids not because they get paid to, but because they want to, because they realize that education is more than a standardized test score, but rather a preparation for a life as a useful, productive citizen--and that by giving back and giving freely of yourself and your time and your talents, you not only make the world and yourself better, but it makes you feel good.
And I could not be more proud of them, either. I am going to crying, no doubt, at fifth grade graduation, and all the tears are not going to be for Sabrina and the other kids.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting Goofy

I have been so go-go-go lately that I feel like I have forgotten what down time is. My job is very busy at the moment. Sabrina has about six things going on, and on top of is dealing with tween drama now as one Odyssey of the Mind team member wants to quit three days before states. Her mother is starting with her nonsense again, agitating for "extra time" (by the way, job 38 lasted for all of two days) and generally being a pain in the ass. Nancy upstairs is moving soon, and there is chaos at the house much of the time. I am trying to get the major stuff in the yard (chopping the Hedge from Hell to a height I can manage to keep trimmed without a ladder foremost) done before everything starts blooming. It seems as though there is not enough hours in the day.
The last thing I need is to be dealing with work matters at home. Yet I am having to do so, regularly it seems. My assistant principal friend at Johnson City and I joke about who's more workaholic, the one who sends an email at 5:30 AM or the one who is at the computer to receive it.. Good thing I only need about 5 hours a sleep a night. Otherwise, I'd be a zombie.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Heart In My Throat

I woke up with a feeling this morning that something bad was going to happen today. Nothing did all day, and frankly I had forgotten about the foreboding until I got to Roosevelt to pick up Sabrina at 4:00 PM. Sabrina normally has dance on Mondays and Wednesdays after school (in the school cafeteria, which serves double duty as the school auditorium; it's been quite the great program for seven years, since she was in pre-K), but since the Monday class is behind and the Tuesday class is ahead, Ms. Wendy gave the Tuesday group a few weeks off so Monday can get caught up. And there was no Odyssey of the Mind practice today, either; they are as ready for states as they are going to be.
So when I walked in the cafeteria, I was NOT expecting to be greeted by Olivia, one of those busybody kids that seems to always be the first one that tells anyone anything, that Sabrina had fallen on her tailbone and gotten hurt. I wasn't worried at first, because 1) Sabrina has a habit of exaggerating her injuries; she has been in the nurse's office often enough over the years that Mrs. Hecox once banned her for the remainder of a month from coming here "unless there's bones showing or blood pouring out one of the holes in your head.", and 2) I figured she has her phone; if it was serious, she or somebody would have called me. But as I approached the stage, it was clear that Sabrina wasn't faking, that she was moving like an old man and could not bend all the way over. I started getting pissed at first--how Italian of me--because I should have been called (especially since I found out it had happened at 3:30), but I talked briefly with Ms. Wendy, who has known Sabrina since she was a year old and is well aware of the china doll syndrome she exhibits, and I can't really blame her for not fawning over her, especially since she told Sabrina she could call me if she wanted to. I decided to take her to the walk-in, since there is an X-ray machine there; I really didn't feel there was a bone issue, but it doesn't hurt to get it checked out.
And the X-rays are negative; it is a bad bruise right around the next-last vertabrae. Ice three times a day, no heat, and the doctor warned Sabrina that tonight and tomorrow are going to be very difficult for her before it should ease around Thursday. I got a note excusing her from gym and I will have to see Mrs. Hecox in the morning to get her permission to ride the elevator for a few days. But it's a little scary to see a glimpse of what a serious injury might look like.
A glimpse I hope I don't get again for a long time, even the rest of my life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ignorant Twits

It has never ceased to amaze me just how many ignorant twits there are out there. I get upset when I hear their shrill hysteria on foreign policy matters, but at least there's something--SOMETHING--that could be painted as a half-legitimate concern in back of it. But on basic fairness questions, on matters that affect all of us and every element of society, to be hysterical in defense of the status quo that has bankrupted our future and made a mockery of "of the people for the people"--that pisses me off.
There is a nitwitted moron that works for an insurance agency locally that is fairly typical of the breed. She is as moralistic as they come, loves Sarah Palin, thinks welfare recipients should be drug tested, thinks Obama is Muslim, you get the idea--there isn't a Fox News propaganda plug that this bimbo doesn't parrot religiously. I realize that there is too much fertilizer and not enough seed in what passes for her brain, and I try really hard to cut her some slack, especially since her boss is a decent man. But she has posted a whole bunch of crap all day on Facebook about the health care plan passed yesterday; she quite possibly foamed at the mouth at the prospect. And I have to ask, why? What could she possibly have at stake in this to cause such rancor and bile?
Actually, let's review: 1) She's on marriage number 2. She acts like some suburban matron; she lives around about a dozen people in Endicott I went to high school with. Does she even realize that the political people she's in thrall to would be mortified to have her on their block? I don't know what her husband does for a living; I suspect he makes a decent one. But the only reason that it is her life is that she is half-attractive and managed to fuck her way into a decent second marriage. 2) It would be one thing if she was a hard working person who had a legitimate gripe that those who do not work as hard as she does are possibly getting something they don't deserve. But... I am reliably assured she is not exactly a demon for work. She is forever complaining about her job. She is on Facebook during work hours every day, sometimes posting four or five different times. In other words, this is hardly a model of hard work and devotion to the agency; she's a lazy screw-off. Who the fuck does she think she is to sit in judgement of other people, that they are not deserving of something so fundamental as basic health care? 3) And this is someone who works in the insurance field. She should know, better than most, how much abuse is in the current system, how claims are denied for no reason in the hope that someone won't contest the decision, how no effort is spared to avoid paying that which the policyholder has been faithfully paying their premium for years to have when they need it most. This is service? This is moral? This is something that should be defended like the Alamo? I can understand if her boss was like this: at least he's the one that's done the hard work for decades, that has built his business up and has at least earned his rewards in a crude sense. But a peon? What the fuck?
But I have found, disturbingly often, that it's the peons who let the greedheads get away with what they do, by convincing the ignorant and the stupid that somebody is getting a few dollars they don't deserve and need to be stopped--and while you're looking at them, you won't notice that the greedhead has taken everything that isn't nailed down and has screwed your dog just for spite, too, and then when you finally pay attention, convinces you that you should be glad to still have the clothes on your back. I understand why it happens, but it doesn't make it any easier to take or listen to. You would think they would understand the basic truth of Ben Franklin: "If we don't hang together, we assuredly will all hang separately." Those that would separate us need foot soldiers like this bimbo, to steal us and the country blind. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees...
Look, I don't know if this health care law is going to make everything all better. I suspect not, but I also suspect it will be an improvement over the present situation. If that means a few suits have to shell out a few thousand more in taxes so that they have to cut a couple days off their Cancun vacation and have to shovel their own goddamn snow once in a while and their beloved blowjob has to do with one less diamond pendant or their daughter can only have a wedding with 300 guests instead of 350...I'm not sympathetic. Stop squawking. You've had it your way for 30 years, and the country has gone straight down the toilet while you got what you wanted. Christ, Roosevelt didn't have it this bad, and Obama is certainly no Roosevelt.
Of course, Roosevelt was white....and that is certainly part of the hysteria, too. I have been surprised that no one has tried to kill Obama yet, but given the sad state of the Secret Service and the rabid atmosphere of the Limbaugh Lunatics, I wouldn't give too high odds that he is going to make it to 2013.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: PIRATE LATITUDES

When I first saw Pirate Latitudes at the library, I was taken aback, since I was pretty sure Michael Crichton had died a couple of years ago. I read the liner notes and saw that it had been found as a complete manuscript in his files, which made me even more hesitant; usually when a writer hangs onto a manuscript, it means they're not happy with it. But having read almost everything else Crichton wrote, I decided to risk it and checked it out.
And it isn't bad. It's not up to the standards of his best work, but the world of the 17th century Caribbean comes alive, and the story, of a hunt for a treasure galleon and the machinations around capturing it and then keeping the treasure, moves right along, with a bit of a twist at the end. The departure from Crichton's usual work is that there is no technological innovation integral to the story line, no larger point to be made, no odd plot diversion. Which, considering what a disservice State of Fear has done to the world at large, is probably a good thing.
This is not a review of State of Fear, but I have to add, in all fairness, that my loathing of the views expressed in that book, and of global warming skepticism in general, colors my perceptions of Crichton. I loved his work up until 2004, but his placing himself in the dark side camp swore me off his books for a couple of years (I did not read Next until last year because of that). I am not going to go off on a big rant about it, but there are three main points I want to make:
1) Global warming is real, and there is no reasonable doubt that fossil fuel burning is the major factor why. The evidence would stand up in any courtroom in the world.
2) If there is a constant theme in human history, it is that people value money above everything else. People can and will go to ridiculous lengths to justify practices that are injurious to all, most of all those like global warming where there is no immediate and egregious harm being done, if it affects their ability to make and continue to make money easily.
3) It is instructive that the skeptics have to turn to a novelist, and one as rich as Croesus and a child of privilege to boot, for their most eloquent arguments against global warming. What it means is that those whose job it is to know scientfic data and trends are being to be discarded in favor of the views of someone who writes fiction. This seems a curious state of affairs. I am not saying that the science establishment is uniformly correct, or that fiction writers cannot have legitimate views on scientific controversies--but in a case like this, where the vast preponderance of evidence is on one side of the scale, it means, to be blunt, that Crichton used his fame as a bully pulpit in the service of greed and privilege at the expense of our descendants' ability to live in a habitable world. Michael Crichton got his, in plain English, and failed miserably on the human obligation to make sure others have a fair chance to have the opportunities he himself had.
It doesn't make him a bad author, but it has to be said. And maybe his sudden catastrophic death from a fast-moving cancer was a sort of cosmic justice. Funny how that works.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Keeping It Down

Before I get started, yes, I know Ohio University killed Georgetown. And honestly, rarely have I been so glad to have been wrong; I've disliked Georgetown since the Ewing days.
On to regularly scheduled programming... I went to my home group last night and, rarely for me, didn't speak. There was opportunity, I guess, but I don't feel any pressing need just to hear my voice, and there were enough people there that had things on their mind that the 90 minutes passed. One thing Kathie mentioned I had also noticed, which was that a former sponsee of hers was in the paper yesterday, going to jail after getting busted with a pile of weed and crack in her apartment. The woman was six years older than the guy she was arrested with, and she is very overweight, and I am sure that the old familiar tale was in play here. It's sad, but the fact is that most people do relapse because they do not change or address fundamental issues that led to their using drugs to begin with. In this woman's case, there was sexual abuse at an early age, which led to eating issues, which led to hanging with a bad crowd when young, which led to more issues up to and including prostitution, and then a trip to rehab and some clean time. This woman tried harder than many in that she actually did have a sponsor, but even in the time I was seeing her every week at my then-home group two years ago, there were still red flags all over the place.
For starters, she was shuttling back and forth between AA and NA. A functional recovery means living by principle, and one of the most important principles is commitment. While AA and NA are similar, there are also fundamental differences, and by time one has been clean for several months, one should really have an idea of where one belongs. Continuing to attend both is a way of committing to neither, of playing both ends against the middle. It is nothing more or less than attempting to manipulate the recovery process to make as few choices and to do as little of the Step process as possible. To take the example germane to this particular case, this is a woman who was selling herself on the street for months to keep herself supplied with crack. What identification could she possibly have in AA? AA's famous first step reads "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol." Excuse me, but in years spent using and in the rooms of recovery, I have never met someone who was prostituting for a Big Bear or to fund Miller Time. Admitting that you are powerless over alcohol, in a case like that, is like admitting you are powerless over solar eclipses.
So why does it happen? For several reasons. One is that most AA groups frown on attendees speaking of anything other than alcohol-related issues. I have been to maybe a half-dozen AA meetings in eleven years since getting out of the halfway house; one reason why was that every meeting was dominated by white guys talking about how drinking caused them to lose their material goods. I am reliably assured that my small sampling is representative of most AA meetings in this and every other geographical area by those who attend that fellowship regularly. People are actively discouraged from talking about experiences with drug use, often explicitly told that "there's a fellowship for you people." The flip side is that, if you don't really want to get into recovery, that if you are just attending meetings to satisfy legal requirements or your case manager, and you have serious issues with your own past that you would prefer to ignore in the hopes that they will just go away if you do so, then going to AA meetings is ideal--not only do you not have to talk about your real issues, but you can't talk about your real issues. I don't know how many women who used drugs regularly ended up choosing AA in early recovery, but it's a huge majority--mostly because they don't have to confront the part of their addiction that they feel most ashamed about.
And the scenario plays out with disturbing regularity. There are secondary factors involved in this set of choices, too. One is that AA is overwhelmingly, blindingly white. NA is perhaps the most diverse little society on earth; race is much less of a factor there than virtually anywhere else--it is the one social milieu, to take one example, where an interracial couple raises absolutely no eyebrows from anyone. AA is not like that, and white women who had issues in active addiction with black men find AA to be the path of least resistance in recovery. It seems a shortcut back to "respectable society;" no one there needs to know what was done in the service of their addiction. It also, given the nature of our society, is where the money is--alcohol is less destructive to bank accounts than drugs, DUIs are easier to explain away to employers than drug arrests, white people start with more money to begin with, and there is less stigma attached to AA than other fellowships--and many women in early recovery have few resources and many wants. Bluntly, many find themselves in more sophisticated crypto-prostitutional arrangements, where they are using the one asset they know they have in order to meet their perceived needs. The downside is, of course, that the pretense cannot be kept up; at some point, sooner rather than later, the same feelings begin to arise and the same unmanageability
Not that everyone who goes to NA has a magic ticket to Candyland, either. Relapses frequently happen in our fellowship, too, and the same denial and attempts to take the easy way out as well. And even though we pay lip service to the idea that a drug is a drug, that it doesn't matter what you use, I have found that it does, to some degree. There are still, despite the proliferation of pharmaceuticals out there, two main divisions of drug users: those that use opiates of some form and those that use coke/meth--downers and uppers, in a crude sense. I am in the later category. My motor runs pretty high naturally, and I never saw the appeal of getting high only to nod out; I wanted to be aware that I was feeling good, to actively experience it. There are many differences between the effects of the use of the two groups, but I really wanted to address just one, really. One of the few useful pieces of information I got in in-patient rehab was from a doctor's lecture one morning; he pointed out that you often see old drunks, old dope-shooters, old pill-poppers, old weed smokers--but almost never do you see old crackheads and cokeheads. "The nature of that beast," he said, "is that you die, get locked up for a long time, or you get so sick of it that you stop and don't go back." Since at the time I was feeling very sick of the life I had been leading and had no real intentions of revisiting that place, his words got my attention, and I have seen their basic truth reaffirmed in a thousand ways and in a thousand people since. By time one gets to the end of full-blown crack addiction, there is nothing left of your life other than a pure animalistic robotic pursuit of a five-second high. At the end, I was scrambling for hours at a time to get a single bag, which would last me a few minutes, and yes, I was very aware of what I was doing and what I had lost and please God I want this to stop. When it did, and my head cleared, I never forgot what that despair and hopelessness felt like, and on the few occasions I entertained relapsing, I always remembered how badly I wanted to be off the merry-go-round when I was out there, and how utterly unable I was to do so. It has kept me from getting on it again, ever. It isn't about the picking up, it's about putting it down, for me, and I know that I was never able to put it down on my own. I had hit such a bottom that I am not going to willingly go back there. Period.
And I know most of the others in this area with clean time were at the same place and have the same mindset. There are about 20 people with as much or more clean time than me in the area. With a couple of exceptions, crack was their drug of choice. For us, addiction got the point of being such a living hell that there is literally no way that we will take a chance that we will return there. There are plenty of us whose lives are very chaotic--Danny and Kevin come to mind--but as crazy as their lives are, it is inconceivable to imagine them getting high again. It is just too painful to contemplate, as it has been for me. When a crackhead is done, they are done.
Opiate users never seem to get to that point. Why is that, I hear you asking?
One, I do not think that they sink to the same depths. A full-blown junkie is asleep half the time, and when jonesing is in serious physical pain as well as mental anguish. There isn't the same wide-awake intensity for days on end as there is for a crackhead.
Two, as one speaker I heard so memorably said, "When I was shooting up, I remember things like going to the movies, shopping, mowing the grass. When I was smoking crack, that stuff was a distant memory." And it's true. My own story on that front is instructive, if extreme-- my crack use extended from mid-1996 to fall 1998. When I got to rehab in November 1998--and I have always been someone who took pride in knowing what was going on in the world around me--I had no idea who Monica Lewinsky was. None. I knew there had been some kind of controversy about President Clinton and sex, but no idea of the details. That's how deeply single-minded, how devoted to the pursuit of the next one, my existence had become.
Three, opiate users by nature tend to be introspective, moodier, and quieter. They are acted upon rather than actors, and these are the sort of people who are more likely to hang onto emotional ballast. When they are looking to escape their feelings, it is a literal escape, into a sort of complete nether zone. Crack smokers want to feel good, too, but they want to be physically present as well, to do something while feeling good. Opiate users want to be in a dream world. It's a major difference, and the fantasy world, even after periods of clean time, still exerts a powerful hold on the soul of the opiate user, a sort of womb to return to if things get really bad in real life. The high life for crackheads ended up being a 24/7 hell; there is no appeal psychologically in even thinking about a return there.
The upshot is that relapse is a constant specter in the lives of opiate users. I have seen two dozen people with several years or more clean just in this area who were needle freaks relapse in the last decade, and I am sure that I will see dozens more. It's just a different dynamic at work. We pay lip service to the maxim that "no one is immune" to relapse, and I suppose in a literal narrow that's true. But I can tell you I can't imagine a circumstance where I would get high, and I can tell you the names of thirty people whose drug of choice was crack that aren't conceivably going to get high again, either. I can't really give you more than a couple of names of people whose drug of choice was an opiate that I am as certain that addiction is behind them.
And I can tell you that I am profoundly glad that I am certain of my own non-use. I am not going back there. It's like surviving a trip over Niagara Falls. Why would I want to do that again? The free fall sensation was sort of exhilarating, true, but I remember the horrible bump up at the bottom a lot more. I'm not getting hung up on the free fall sensation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Review: RIZZO'S WAR

Rizzo's War is that rarity in the 4-County Library system recently, a first novel, by Lou Manfredo. It is the story of a police partnership between Mike McQueen, a college-educated newly promoted detective clearly headed for higher things in the NYPD, and veteran detective Joe Rizzo, based in Bensonhurst. The standard detective elements are here-- two or three cases; the book, unusually, takes place over an entire year-- but the deeper and more interesting part of the book is the building of the a friendship and partnership, of the growing respect and affection between McQueen and Rizzo and the way it impacts the storylines. The last arc of the book delves into unexpected areas, and after reading way too many books about secret spook organizations recently, it was refreshing to read a story where there wasn't sixteen Byzantine twists crammed into the last 50 pages of the novel, where the villain was ordinarily venal instead of some Mephistopheles manipulating the entire world at his whim. It reminded m of my favorite television show of all time, Hill Street Blues, in some ways; the characters are recognizable real people, not perfect or stock characters, wrestling with gray areas and accomodating life's dilemmas while retaining a basic, but not watertight, integrity. This is a hugely entertaining and riveting novel; I am kind of sorry that at the end, Rizzo is headed for retirement. The book market is saturated with characters we've seen too much of; this is one I'd like to read more of someday.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

First Day of March Madness

Busy watching the tournament since I got home from work, so this won't be a long post. But I paid a lot more attention to the season than I normally do, and spent a long time on Sunday and Monday checking over matchups. So far in the early games, I am 6-1 in one bracket, 5-2 in the other ((had BYU and Florida winning in the different ones, and that game went to double OT; and the one loss was really hard to take; I knew Robert Morris could beat Villanova, and had them winning in both, but they lost a late lead and then the game in overtime), although it looks like Butler is going to easily beat UTEP. But I saw a lot of Vanderbilt and Villanova this year, and they are both the type of team that play to their opposition's level, which is dangerous in the tournament. Murray State shows up every game and won 30 of them, and Robert Morris plays very good defense, which I know frustrates the hell out of Villanova. I also knew Old Dominion, which has been touted as a tourney team all year and made no missteps, was better than Notre Dame, who wasn't even in the tournament picture a few weeks ago; when a team gets better when their star player isn't in the lineup, it's a pretty good sign that the "star" is the issue, and Harangody stunk up the court today. I suspected Baylor wasn't all that, but I looked at Sam Houston State and saw a team that can't be in the top 200 in the country; if Arkansas Pine-Bluff played SHS ten times, they'd win nine. Baylor should go down next round; Old Dominion is much more consistent than them, and Baylor just isn't that good. I really think the winner of the entire bracket was going to come out of the Richmond/St. Mary's contest, and I chose correctly in the end; St. Mary's is very good and has been all year, whereas Richmond peaked a little early. I think St. Mary's is going to handle Villanova easily.
Anyhow, the later games are about to start. Two very live 11 seeds are Washington (Marquette won five games in overtime and two others in the last seconds; while they lost some close ones, too, that tells me that they've been lucky. Washington hasn't played half-bad, is playing the best it has all season, and is tourney-tested) and San Diego State (Tennessee is another team that plays to its level of opposition, and SDSU has done well in a tough league all year). And one low seed with no chance is Ohio U.; they tried to give away the MAC championship game but failed, but also failed to impress). Let the games begin.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Number 38

I got a phone call from Sabrina's mother yesterday, telling me that she starts work at a local company today, working from 5:30 AM to 4 PM. I am actually glad for her; she certainly doesn't need to be on unemployment and add to her collective drain on the public treasury, which over the years, between various program (food stamps, HEAP, day care, straight up welfare in the past before the fraud conviction, WIC, PCAP, Medicaid) enrollments, must be approaching, if not over, six figures. And nothing has changed; she was talking yesterday about buying something or another soon (I try not to pay a whole lot of attention to what she says; it's just a prescription for agita)--the concept of saving for the next rainy day just has never part of her makeup. She is what she is; with her 36th birthday coming up, she isn't going to change, especially since her main strategy for trying to move up in the world is vanishing by the minute as the life she has led takes more and more of a toll on her appearance and whatever appeal she used to have recedes further into the background.
But I ransacked my memory last night, and came up with the above number, which is the number of different jobs she has had since June 26, 2000 (the day I walked out the door--of my own apartment, needless to say; like she would ever be able to pay for anything in Endwell. She lasted one month there--, never to return). In a way, it is a testament to the value of survival instinct. In another, it is a testament to every flaw she has--limited skills, no real determination to widen that skill base, and a paper-thin skin that leads both to denial that she has anything to learn and a real problem with accepting direction and authority. She has never understood that if you plan on clashing with your bosses and/or co-workers, you had better do something that is not easy to replace, or they will just show you the door very quickly. I have said for a dozen years that I truly do not know whether she is unable or unwilling to learn from experience, but she undoubtedly does not, and this is why this is the 38th job she has had in a little under ten years.
And in the larger picture, her life, her career as such, is what happens when the trends set in motion at the onset of the Reagan era operate unhindered. She is the paradigm of the unskilled consumer that made the upward redistribution of wealth possible in the last three decades. With a huge pool of people like her out there, unions and collective action have little chance to operate effectively. With a huge pool of people like her out there, there has been little sentiment for tariffs or other measures to keep cheap foreign goods out of the country--her meager earning ability has ensured that the cheap foreign stuff is all she can buy regularly. Cultural trends helped make her what she is--she was a mother at 19 (perils of teenage sexual activity); she is a true result of the media/advertising conglomerate (she is glued to the television, and her wants and desires both have been mislabelled as needs and have been elevated to the primary purpose for spending what little disposable income she has ever had. If ever there was a poster child for bread and circuses...); and she is the classic conservative archetype of the entitlement syndrome--she really thinks that because she wants it and someone else has it, she deserves to have it, too. The idea that she has to earn something only dimly enters into her consciousness, and the idea that some sacrifice in the short term usually ensures more options in the long term is just something as foreign to her as an African language would be--she is all about instant gratification, of "right now" thinking. And of course, her excuse for that is that she is afflicted with that classic medical justification for immaturity, ADD, also known as Peter Pan ("I don't want to grow up") syndrome. In some cases, it's legitimate, in school children perhaps. But not as a crutch for why a woman in her '30's can't hold a job. And if you're going to be asking the state of New York to pay for your painkillers, why not something, if it's truly an issue, for whatever they call ADHD in adults now? Because it isn't real, that's why.
Anyhow, the over/under on this job is 3 months. She made it six months at Dunkin Donuts, barely. I am just wondering how many more crap minimum wage jobs there are out there for her; 38 is an incredibly high number.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: COLLISION

Collision is another Jeff Abbott thriller. This one is focused on the shadowy world of Homeland Security and private security contractors, with measures of identity theft thrown in. As in earlier Abbot novels, the body counts are high, the professionals move in some sort of nether world where they wreak all sorts of havoc yet manage to escape apprehension (apparently blowout strips aren't used by local police in the South, and the recuperative powers of shot people are amazingly brief). The plot rolls along and the suspense keeps the reader riveted, true, and I tend to agree with his basic idea--that Blackwater type of organizations are the biggest threat to all of us--and there is another deep op twist--recruitment of Arabs as our agents in the Arab world-- that isn't necessarily obvious or fabricated. It's an entertaining read, but ultimately suffers from enough flaws to warrant a sort of sheepish chagrin on the reader's part at getting so caught up in such an outlandish tale.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review: THE RANDLE REPORT

The Randle Report is a book published in the late 1990's by UFO investigator Kevin Randle. It is subtitled "UFOs in the '90's," and Randle, who has written extensively about UFO matters for his entire career, looks at several matters that were in the news during the decade--the alien autopsy film that was shown on Fox the most prominent, but several others. Not one stands up to careful scrutiny, and Randle, much to his admitted surprise, says so. I am interested in this topic and get older books out of the library simply because one could not get away from the subject during the time I was growing up, and now very little about UFOs and extraterrestial visitation ever hits the media. Part of it is because of the growing sterilization of mass media (as opposed to the Internet) but part of it is undoubtedly because, as Randle concludes, much of the phenomenon was bogus to begin with. I am not sure whether there were ever real "flying saucers," but I am pretty convinced that whatever there was at one time, it's not been around since about 1980.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

An Unusual Sunday

Sabrina is not here right now, which is not unusual for a Sunday morning, but I am not going to go get her in a few hours, which is. She was here Friday night to simplify the chorus details, and I let her stay at her mother's until I pick her up for school tomorrow morning. Her mother continues to slide toward a number of different abysses, but the most urgent one from what I can see is that she has no income other than unemployment; she hardly drives anywhere and couldn't even come up with $5 for a ticket to the festival yesterday. Part of me is sympathetic, but only a part, and a small part at that; this is where you end up when you not only refuse opportunities to better yourself for a decade, but construct a wall of denial and lack of responsibility so high that it cannot breached by any appeals to reason. Oh, yeah, and she's still dropping $50 a week on cigarettes.
Anyway, enough about Shannon; she is what she is, and she is not in a position to do any real harm to Sabrina anymore. I am going to have Rachel and Jessica here today, but what is unusual about today is that I am going to have to go to the office and work for a while. I vowed not to discuss job matters on this blog when I put it back up, and I will not go into any details, but there's a ton of stuff going on. When you add in that Sabrina is still very busy--Odyssey of the Mind has at least another few weeks, softball is beginning soon, spring concert will be coming up, dance is approaching recital time--and that with the upstairs neighbor getting married soon and moving into a home with her fiance (she owns this two-family I live in), I am going to be full-time property manager of sorts and possibly help with showing the upstairs to prospective tenants, too. I just cannot afford to get behind on what I am doing at the job, and with an unexpected chance to get some uninterrupted work done, with no noise--in every sense of the word--in the background, I'd be foolish not to take advantage of it. Especially since I have to go to Albany tomorrow to participate in a regular management meeting.

The Ulysses Grant story I often use when working with clients still applies to my own life, which I don't always remember. Grant wrote in his memoirs that when he first was given a command in the Civil War, he was petrified that he wasn't up to the job. When given his first objective, he found the enemy camp just as darkness was falling, and spent a sleepless night agonizing over whether he would be able to prevail the next day, whether he was capable of leading men to victory, whether the opposing leader was going to run circles around him. When day broke, Grant discovered the rebels had fled in the night, and he said that he immediately learned and internalized, and I am paraphrasing to apply to non-military matters, that the other people you are dealing with are as nervous and scared about dealing with you as you are with them. And most of the time, I remember that, and try to do what I do using my talents and abilities (and act with good motivations). Most of the time, it works out.
In addition to going to Agway, doing some yardwork (every bit of the foot-plus of snow that fell 15 days ago is gone, and yes, I am glad I do not live by the river anymore), mopping the kitchen floor, and spending the day with my daughters. It is beyond me how some people habitually complain about boredom or even find time to watch TV for hours a day. I sleep less than most people--7 hours is an eternity for me to spend in bed; most nights it's six or even less-- and there still aren't enough hours in the day to do all that I want and/or need to do.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pride

Today is a rare day for me. All three of my daughters are becoming very accomplished little people, but this is the first time I can recall where there has been overlap between their worlds, since Rachel and Jessica live with their mother in a different school district. But Jessica is in the County Music Educators Festival middle school band this afternoon, and Sabrina is the Grade 5-6 Chorus. I am always proud of all my kids, but this is really special, and the dream I have always had of the three of them considering themselves as family, which has been a very long and slow process, is slowly growing more secure.
Jessica has been very accomplished in music matters for several years now; she is an artistic type, very good at drawing as well as her various horns, and has been ahead of her age group since at least the 4th grade. Sabrina has a more varied base of talents, and it isn't quite clear yet whether one runs deeper than the others; today is very surprising to me, for example, because two years ago she was very disappointed that she was not chosen for select chorus. It is more proof to me that she has inherited most of Dad's gene pool; I cannot think of anything in my entire life that I have not been able to do if I tried my hardest to do it. And she has dedicated herself to making her singing ability much better, and it shows. I was truly amazed when I went to pick her up from choral practice this week and stood outside listening as the little group finished up; they are quite good for grade-schoolers.
But I am most proud of Sabrina for the way she handled a dilemma many adults would not have. The Father/Daughter Dance, a Roosevelt signature event that she and I had gone to for six years, since she was newly-turned 5YO in pre-K, was originally scheduled for February 26, but that day we got 13 inches of snow, so it was postponed until last night. Sabrina had been selected for chorus back in December, had begun practicing in late January, and had known for several weeks that the schedule was practice from 4-8:30 on the evening of the 12th, and from 9 until the concert at 3 on the 13th. When the dance was set for last night, we knew that the 3 girls in chorus--Sabrina, Nafisah, and Jemeishaw-- were not going to be able to do both, that if you weren't at all the rehearsals, you couldn't do the concert. I talked with Sabrina about all aspects of it, and gave her my input--that as much as a disappointment as missing the dance was going to be, it was the right thing to do, for her own long-term best interests, for her own enjoyment, for her own ego (she does like to be singled out as special), and for the sake of Mrs. Brigham and those who have put a great deal of effort into this concert and practice. She cried some for the loss of something special, but also realized that the chorus was special, too, and carried on. She and Nafisah, although sad to have missed the dance, made several new friends last night and really had fun together apparently. Jemeishaw? She told Mrs. Brigham yesterday, a day before the concert, that she was going to the dance, that the dance meant more to her than the concert. I have a hard time with that, especially since Jemeishaw's parents are still married and, unlike many Roosevelt kids, sees her father on a daily basis; it's the type of short-sighted, instant-gratification decision that I have devoted most of my parenting time to combatting in Sabrina. But Jemeishaw is not my child, and I don't know everything there is to know about that situation, so I am not going to say it was wrong or selfish.
But all the same, I am glad that Sabrina chose differently. And one of the things I told her when we were talking about it last week came to pass today; she mentioned, as we were leaving the house this morning, that the dance was over, but she still had her moment in the sun to look forward to today, and that she was going to feel mighty proud when Mr. Chilson announced her and Nafisah's accomplishments over the PA system on Monday morning to the whole school. And she is still on the good side of Mrs. Brigham, who is active in local theater and local music productions and can be a positive force for Sabrina for years to come. The concert is still five hours away, and I am looking forward to it, but I am already warm-and-fuzzy about how this has taken shape.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review: TOO MANY MURDERS

Too Many Murders is Colleen McCullough's latest, her belated entry into the homicide-detective sweepstakes. I don't know if mystery suspense series have always been this prevalent and I just wasn't paying attention, or whether this is some new trend. I suspect the latter, as in other entertainment mediums, most obviously movies, the sequel or the series, the "safe" play, is what gets the bankroll to proceed. McCullough has been famous since the 1970's, but dropped from the public eye when she stopped writing the trashy Thorn Birds novels and penned the magnificent Roman series, which took historical fiction to dizzying heights. She has, in the last decade, moved on to other pursuits, including the exploits of Detective Carmine Delmonico, a homicide detective in a very thinly disguised New Haven, Connecticut, in the late 1960's.
McCullough is a better writer than most who write these sort of stories, and the plot, immensely complicated (twelve murders in a single day) never unravels or becomes fantastic or unbeleivable. They are connected, of course, and the unraveling of the threads, the peeling away of layers, is artfully done. There are a few minor anachronisms (a character mentions a "fax", which I am pretty sure was not around in 1967) but overall this is a real good yarn. McCullough is getting on in years and going blind, according to press reports, and it's likely that this is going to be her bread and butter for her remaining years. If not quite up to the monumental standards of her Roman work, it certainly is enjoyable to read, and of much higher quality than not only the usual potboiler fare, but also of the established titans of the genre like Grisham or Cornwell. If she sticks with the Delmonico series, he will be right up there with Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch as the most interesting and sharpest current fictional detective.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Children's Television

With little interest in television programming--none that does not have to do with sports, frankly--my daughter pretty much has the television lineup to herself. I do monitor what she watches, closely, though, because I cannot exaggerate how important it is to healthy mental development that I do so. Most of this crap will, no kidding, rot minds. It is that bad. And it does shape behavior.
I know this beyond doubt because long ago, at least five years ago, I noticed a very close correlation between how well and reasonably my daughter was behaving and certain shows she was exposed to. When she was allowed to watch That's So Raven, Cory in the House, and the all-time worst catalyst for crappy attitude, Fairly Oddparents, I had my hands full with a mouthy, lazy first grader whose contempt for all adults, but especially me, oozed forth unbidden like some rancid goo seeping out of the ground at an abandoned landfill. Those shows were banned outright. Others like Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody joined them for extended periods on the verboten list. She lost interest in Hannah Montana as a result--thank God-- and she isn't a fan of the doofus twins anymore, either, but there are a few others that are closely monitored now-- Sonny With a Chance and Glenn Martin, DDS come to mind. For a show to get on the list, it has to feature prominently kids being wiseass geniuses lording it over clueless and feckless adults, and parents who pay little or no attention to their children. There are other shows out there that aren't great, but she either doesn't like them that much or aren't all show/every show with the bad parts, although Wizards of Waverly Place is very close to a spot on the banned list. And I do make exceptions for shows that do feature prominently the things I don't like, but somehow are funny in spite of it, funny to an adult-- Drake and Josh is the classic example, with Spongebob and iCarly also included in the mix.
I should also, in the interest of fairness, point out that there have been and are a few really good children's shows out there--Kim Possible, Lizzie McGuire and That's So Fabulous from the past, and Phineas and Ferb now. And in the interest of accuracy, the all-time worst, even worse than Oddparents, is currently on Nickelodeon. It's a comedy that isn't funny about a boy band that isn't any good putting up with every cliche adult ever to grace the mind of a bored scriptwriter. It is beyond awful; it makes me physically ill when I even hear commercials for it. I am speaking, of course, of Big Time Rush, and it is the most awful television product I have ever seen. I see stuff like this, and I wonder, out loud, "Someone got paid for writing this shit? And someone was convinced that it was a good idea to produce this? My God, I could do ten times better than this."
If I cared enough, that is. In the immortal words of a guy I went to high school with, "Television is shit." Give me the Internet anytime.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

5th Grade Society

A friend of mine from high school posted a picture of my third grade class on Facebook the other day. I was surprised by how many kids I remembered, since I stopped going to Catholic school after the fourth grade, and I had honestly completely forgotten that Rob, the guy who posted it, was even in Catholic school with me. There were a couple of things that I noticed about my picture, one humorous and one not. The humorous was that even in the third grade, in a Catholic school that required them, I was not about to wear a tie; I am the only boy in the picture without one. And two, I remember those dark black glasses I had that were to be a cause of serious grief when I got to middle school, which started in seventh grade at the time I was in it. I will never, ever forget the ten months of total psychological torture that was the seventh grade; I was humiliated, most of all by my supposed friends, on a daily basis because of those glasses. I got wire rims in the eighth grade, contacts in the ninth, and began to excel in football and hockey, too, and the social pariah status passed as quickly as it had arrived. But I'd be lying to you if I said it merely scarred over; the wounds didn't need much alcohol before they ripped open when certain people were in the vicinity, and fifteen years later, I didn't show for someone's wedding because, ultimately, he was my primary tormentor in the seventh grade--even though we had buried the hatchet and been ostensibly close friends for most of the time since.
And even more than what I do for a living, this is why I keep a special look out for the kids in Sabrina's classes that get picked on. I asked Sabrina the other day whom she thinks gets picked on, and I got Kyle's opinion tonight, too, and there were several kids I knew got a hard time. Some, while I don't condone it at all, I at least understand why it happens; two kids who claim they are gay in grade school are going to get crap, no matter if it is right or not, and they do at least have each other if no one else. But there were a couple that initially surprised me, even though upon examination I guess I shouldn't be. But hearing that Carl (not his real name)  gets picked on bothered me. Carl's a little odd and spacey, and not particularly athletic. But he's smart as a whip, pretty funny every time I see him in a droll sort of way, and if nothing else, his mother works at the school. But even more, Carl's loner tendencies have been exacerbated by the fact that his aunt, his mother's younger sister, got sick last year and, horribly, didn't recover and died; she couldn't have been more than 35 years old. Kids get shook up by this kind of stuff, and sensitive ones even more... I don't know what I can do, or if I should even do anything. Parents want their kids to be like Carl--smart, in Odyssey of the Mind, really good in the band, good natured. He certainly doesn't deserve to be tormented by kids who are going to be in detention in five years or less.
Sabrina, and more importantly some of the adults at the school confirm this, does not pick on anyone regularly, and generally goes out of her way to try to be nice to everyone. That's what I like to hear. I also, though, breath a sigh of relief that she doesn't get picked on, too. Let's hope that continues as she gets older.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: GAME DAY

Game Day is an older book, a collecton of newspaper columns by Thomas Boswell covering the seventies and eighties. Boswell has an exalted reputation among American sportswriters, and perhaps it is deserved-- his prose is easy on the eyes, unlike someone, say, like Mike Lupica. I found this collection interesting because they covered a lot of subjects from my youth-- the Olympics back when I cared about them, some football, Georgetown (Boswell wrote for a
Washington paper, and lived there all his life) basketball, tennis and golf. The most space is devoted to Boswell's main passion, baseball, which seems to be somewhat quaint in the pre-steriods era, but nonetheless it was from the heart and very high quality. The most touching was the pieces on Donnie Moore, the former Angels reliever who committed suicide a couple of years after surrendering a home run with the Angels a strike away from a pennant; they still pack a bit of a wallop, over twenty years later. And thankfully, his later hero worship of Cal Ripken, Jr., is not present in this collection.
I have no idea whether Boswell is still writing; I think his longtime newspaper no longer exists, and he has to be in his sixties or even seventies by now. But there are worse ways to spend a day or two than by reading his body of work, if you are a sports fan.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Book Review: PANIC

Panic is a thriller by Jeffrey Abbott that has a seriously ridiculous plot, a Berry-esqe body count, uber-powerful villains that could never exist in the real world without detection, and more double-and triple--crosses among various spooks than seems possible. Normally, I would be seriously disappointed in a book like this, but, seriously...
You can't put it down. And the plot twist at the end is seriously surprising, and made all the sketchy stuff that came before it worth it. I intend to read more of Mr. Abbott's work. I am not even going to attempt to describe the plot; it's just too byzantine, from the first pages. But it somehow all works.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Review: THE DEAD HAND OF HISTORY

The Dead Hand of History is not some theoretical treatise by a professor, but a murder mystery by Sally Spencer. Spencer has a long series of Lancashire, Britain mysteries, of which this is the first I have read. The British police forces are organized differently, which takes some getting used to, and this book is set in 1973, which allows for an exploration of the side issue of a female chief inspector dealing with sabotage from Neanderthal members of her own force. The mystery itself is well-done, with several twists, and justice is served, as always.
I have noticed that our library hasn't gotten any new books in over a month. Some of this is due to budgetary concerns, but I was talking to one of the staff the other day, and she also said that since the county library was merged into the larger four-county library system, it seems the Podunk libraries get taken care of before the main one, which makes no sense to her (or me). The library is also moving in a non-print direction, much like society; there are now 60 computers in the public library, and five shelves of movies, and the staff member said that electronic media are getting increasing emphasis, because that's what the people want, essentially. I can understand that, but there are a whole bunch of us out there that still like to read actual books, too, and I hope we are not forgotten.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Binghamton Play Day

Today was the first of what I hope becomes an annual tradition in the Binghamton school district, the elementary school Play Day. From 8:00 AM til 10 AM, each elementary school was supposed to send one girls team, and from 10 until 12, one boys team, for a series of twenty-minute games against each other.
Roosevelt ended up with 14 girls and two teams, which is good because Woodrow Wilson didn't send any (they didn't have any teams at Odyssey of the Mind last week, either; what's going on up there in the First Ward/Ely Park?). Sabrina got split into what I thought was the stronger of the two squads; the very best player in the school, Elizabeth, was on the other team, but with Sabrina, Madison, and Reilly on the team, I knew they were going to be a handful, and they were. They beat Franklin 18-2, and then, due to some scheduling snafu, the two Roosevelt teams combined for the last game and beat up poor Franklin again (it was 20-0 at halftime, and I think they delibertately stopped keeping score in the second half).
In between, there was a game against Coolidge, the East Side school. Coolidge abuts Roosevelt, and there are several blocks where the family can choose which school their kid attends. As the Chilson regime at Roosevelt has become more entrenched, and the tolerance for bad behavior and casual attitude toward schoolwork has lowered dramtically, most of the sketchy kids in those blocks have ended up at Coolidge, and there is some bad blood there--and it showed on the court. The Coolidge kids played rough, complained about calls, and several wanted no part of the handshakes after the game. And I can't prove it, but I am 80% sure that one of their players on the sideline gave them an extra two points on the scoreboard when no one was looking; I watched the whole game and I am real good about keeping track of scores in my head, and I am positive they only scored four buckets, not five. But the official result was a 10-10 tie. And last week, at Odyssey of the Mind, Coolidge had two teams. One I didn't see perform, but I saw they finished at the bottom of their division, with substantial penalties. The other was in Sabrina's team's division; their skit was sort of original and entertaining, but also featured a kid rapping a serious putdown of one of the characters--real nice stuff.
The irony of all this is that Roosevelt is the school of the North Side, which is supposedly the roughest of the Binghamton neighborhoods other than Center City, while the East Side is supposed to be one of those older, more established, and less fragmented neighborhoods, with a significant portion of the families there employed and owning their own homes. There is a perception that neighborhoods with those profiles should produce children with better character and who achieve higher. That is not the case. And like so many other things about our kids, it has everything to do with parental and teacher involvement. There were almost twenty Roosevelt faculty there today that were not coaching, refereeing, or involved with the event; they were there simply to support the kids. Of the 14 participating kids, the families of twelve were there--even Abby's mother, who made Abby put on the Islamic veil on her tenth birthday last year and almost never shows up at school events, was there, and she actually was animated and moving up and down the sidelines. I did not not see comparable support for the other teams.
Even Sabrina's mother was there. Sabrina is there on Friday nights for the most part now, and Shannon did bring her today. Of course, Shannon thought she was going to play one game and be done, complained when Sabrina was taken out of the game, and left at 9:00 because allegedly the younger son was not behaving--although quite frankly, I thought it was the best I've ever seen him act in public in his life. His main sin seemed to be asking for something to eat; she told him a number of times she didn't have money to buy him anything. But it was an excuse, I am sure; an hour inside without a cigarette is about the limit of her endurance. So Dad got to stay till the end, and brought her to her mother's afterwards. I told Reilly's mom that her mother, at least at the moment, is supposed to be taking her to Reilly's party tonight--and got just the slightest roll of the eye and a little smile. I hear ya, Angela, I hear ya...
Anyhow, it was quite a special little day. And Sabrina, who is probably the tallest girl in her grade, is more the Magic Johnson type than the Shaq type; she is the best ballhandler and ball distributor they have. Most of the time, she hits the open teammate with a pass, and has gotten pretty good about not picking up her dribble in the corner. She has a future with not only softball, but this game, too, which Mr. Woodford, her school PE teacher, noted long ago, but today, Ms. Lemon, who coaches the JV team (and whose day job is teaching kindergarten at Roosevelt), made a point of saying to me when the games were over that she never realized Sabrina "was this good at basketball." So I have a feeling that next year at West Middle, another activity is going to be added to her mix.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Review: COLUMBINE

I vividly remember the day the Columbine tragedy happened. I had been out of the halfway house and back in the area for a week, and that was the day I went and saw Shannon's family for the first time since Sabrina was born. Sabrina was in foster care, but her older son had just turned 5 and was living with her brother and sister-in-law (two of the world's worst human beings, but that's another story), and this was the first chance I was getting to see Jacob. I got up there, and they were all clustered around the television, watching CNN and the drama unfolding there. I immediately made a comment about the wisdom of allowing a 5YO to be seeing bodies lying on a lawn, and very shortly afterwards it was made clear to me that the visit was over.
I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to Columbine after that; that year it dominated the media, if Dave Cullen's Columbine is accurate, but I was busy trying to put my life back together and really wasn't too into what was happening outside my little recovery circle. And the subject never came into focus over the next decade; it just was something that had happened in the country. It was not until last spring and the American Civic Association massacre that happened across the river from my office that I started to even think about the event, and eventually led me to get this book out of the library when I saw it was there.
What I thought I knew about it was, I discovered in its pages, wrong. The media story has been, since it happened, that two misfit loners packed shotguns and targeted jocks and snooty girls for death. The reality was much more chilling and frightening; the two had guns only to pick off stragglers after their bombs went off, and if the bombs had exploded as they were supposed to (they were apparently badly wired), the entire school would have been incincerated and the death toll would have been in the thousands. And the two were not loners and not outcasts and not Goths and not Trench Coat Mafia; they had friends, they did well in school, they were not freaks at all. So why the media portrayal? Because 1) that made it easier to sell a "story" rather than report what the story actually was, and 2) it reduced the event to the standard villians/heroes movie script that most of the population has come to demand of the media portrayal of this world. After fifty-plus years of immersion in a television culture, I think the results are in and clear that it has warped two generations beyond repair. Truth means little, reflection and independent thought less; not only can most of us only deal with sanitized, scripted versions of reality, we now expect it, and have rapidly lost any ability to delve beneath the surface, to assess reality on its own terms. This is dangerous and fatal to not only a democratic society, but on a much deeper level of functionality. The drop in American productivity and the moronization of the American work force are directly tied to the pervasiveness of TV; to make a long story short, with every succeeding decade, at least until the Internet became ubiquitous, the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy diminished for an increasingly large number of people. These are the people that are adults and in positions of responsibility in all walks of life across the nation now, and they aren't up to the task. The Columbine event was horrific on its merits, but the smooth, almost seamless pigeonholing it into standard, prevailing media myths did no one any great service and severely limited the ability of those who most needed to to learn from the tragedy. The ones who got this point earliest and most pointedly were the residents of the area; it was instructive that on the one-year anniversary, the students and parents who attended the school joined forces and formed a human chain to keep out the media from around the school--and the media screamed like some kind of injustice was being done. The kids and parents had no illusions about who had been helpful and who had not in the aftermath of the event, and for a brief shining moment, were able to keep the wolves at bay.
But an even more distressing disregard for truth took place on two other fronts. One, I suppose, is understandable and not without precedent. The police bungled their response on the day of the massacre, and contrary to what was put out to the media, not only had a very good idea that Eric Harris, the more dominant of the pair that killed, was seriously disturbed, but attempted to hide and obliterate the evidence that had been accumulated for two years prior to the event that the young man was a very sick puppy. It happens to a degree in most, if not all, events of this nature, but the coverup here was particularly egregious and unfortuantely a large factor in allowing the erroneous myth to take hold. It is human nature to deny responsibility, but that doesn't excuse it when it occurs, and probably even more inexcusable to attempt to do so when that institution's very existence is dedicated to making sure the rest of us live up to our responsibilities and to set in motion consequences when we don't. There are a lot of people in the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department who should be in prison for obstruction of justice and various other associated charges; that they are not is something I personally find abhorrent, but many law-and-order types would disagree, preferring to beleive the fantasy that when those charged with upholding the law don't follow it, there must be larger, benign considerations other than covering one's ass in play. It's another media-fed fantasy, that the "good guys" put our interests ahead of their own, and one most of us willingly buy into, even if there is ample evidence that it is false much of the time.
The other assault on the truth continues to the present day, and it comes in an even more incongruous forum. There were books written about one of the dead youth's last words being an affirmation of her faith in Jesus, and the evangelical movement latched unto it immediately and turned it into a cottage industry; a best-selling book was written about it, and can easily be found disseminating around the country even today (Google the words "Cassie Bernall"). There is a small problem with the story; it is provably, demonstrably, and beyond the shadow of doubt untrue. It is another example of a good media story getting substituted for fact, and becoming "reality." The distressing part about this particular story is that one would think that people who claim to live by the highest moral standards would at least have the decency to make sure the story was true before exploiting it--but even more disgustingly, they blatantly, even violently didn't back off when the story was exposed as a myth, to the point where many "Christian" apologists take the position that the actual truth of what happened is irrelevant. I can only blanch when I wonder What Would Jesus Do if he heard this crap... To make a long story short, if your message is that I need to come to Jesus and live morally, and you have to resort to fabricated bullshit testamonials to bolster your case, where you have to invent myths of this nature in the midst of a gigantic tragedy, and you have to insist that the false is true in order to further the message, then keep your message, because your actions scream much louder than anything comes out of your mouth. My faith in God doesn't need to propped up by lies, and my evidence for God's positive role in my life is not based in falsehoods. You would think it would be self-evident that it wouldn't be, that God does not work through falsehoods, but for many apparently it isn't--although the only thing that it "isn't" is "of God." It is another symptom of the lack of depth and intellectual curiosity pervading this country, although in this particular area it long predates the advent of televsion. It's one thing to not take evangelicals seriously; I never have. But it's another to know that they are knowingly using falsehood to try to win converts to their cause. To me, that sounds very much like they are agents of the power that they are ostensibly asking us to reject. For my own spiritual health, I'd rather just steer clear of all of that and take my chances on living by principles. I guess we'll find out whose way is better when we are dead, and what Jesus really thinks about those allegedly acting in his name, but I can say that my experience has been that living the way I do is a lot more rewarding than I suspect they find in their pursuit of "the Enemy."
And as mentioned, the Columbine event has an added resonance for those of us in Binghamton now, in the aftermath of the ACA shootings last year. Some police strategies were supposed to change as a result of what happened at Columbine, but there wasn't much evidence of it on Front Street last April; it sure seemed like they did what the police did at Columbine in 1999, with possibly the same--people bleeding out when a more vigorous response might have saved them--results. I don't know that for certain, and BPD hasn't caught much heat since the event happened, but I remember thinking that day, as I stood in a parking lot a block away and watched absolutely nothing happen for two hours after the building was sealed off (in fact, no one went in the building until every politician that matters from Congressman on up was on the scene, but that's another story) there was no reason that building had to be surrounded for hours when no shots were fired after ten minutes. But there were major differences between the two events, too, and I suppose that it was handled somewhat reasonably and responsibly.
This is an excellent book, thought-provoking and disturbing, informative, and a valuable piece of scholarship that ought to get more attention than it will, because it exposes a lot of sacred cows and doesn't mince words, whether talking about the perpetrators (Eric Harris was almost certainly a psychopath, and was from grade school onward), the media, the adults, and most especially the police. It also very movingly tells the stories of healing among the survivors as well.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reflecting on Living Clean

I know I shouldn't take my recovery for granted, and I don't think I do--I pray every day and when facing a situation t hat requires principle, and I am very much aware of something my first sponsor Brian used to say a lot--"if nothing else today, don't add to your Eighth Step list." I've made a lot of good choices in the last several years, and even the missteps have been recovered from largely because they were not undertaken with base motivations. I am grateful that I live the way I do; I am not awash in chaos and pain like many around me.
I have been thinking about the dictum "God doesn't give you more than you can handle" a lot recently. I mentioned the other day how busy I have been with Sabrina, and there is plenty going on real life, too--work related, to be sure, but also major changes coming--middle school; the climax of the long downward spiral of Sabrina's mother's tale; the owner of this house getting married and moving; leaving me as basically the caretaker of the property; changes in the role I am playing in the community. It can be a bit daunting. But I do not really feel like I am careening out of control, not at all. It's like being behind the wheel when you're two hours into a four-hour trip and it starts snowing heavily; it's just time to bear down and concentrate on what's in front of you, and let the time pass as you do what you need to do. I'll get there, eventually.
Other dictums that I have heard over the years mean more than they used: "Rome wasn't built in a day" and my father's personal favorite, "Never go to bed with a woman that has more problems than you" have had special resonance recently. I am concerned in several different areas, but I have to say, at least today, none of that concern is for me directly--I know I am going to be all right if I do what I am supposed to do. I am not afraid anymore.
And whenever anyone asks me, I tell them that has been the biggest gift of recovery: not the freedom from active drug addiction, although I am certainly grateful for that, but the freedom from fear, from feeling afraid about any number of things I have little or no control over and causing it to dictate what I do and how I live my life. I simply don't have that to any great degree. I'm not stupid, testosterone-fuelled fearless; I'm not about to drive 80 through a snowstorm or poke pit bulls with sticks or confront angry musclebound drunk guys. I do think about the future, and feel trepidation and certainly do not wish for some things to happen--but it does not govern, does not determine, what it is that I end up doing.
And I am starting to see, the older I get and the more uncertain the world becomes, what a blessing it really is.
Editing note: I finally learned how to edit my timestamp so that it actually reflects what time I wrote the post. The default setting, one of my friends who is an IT tech for a living informed me, is not that of where I am, but of the server that Google uses, which, for this application, is Pacific Time. Which explains why one question that was asked of me when the blog was suspended was why I appeared to be working on it in the middle of the day. Anyhow, it is now on Eastern Time, as it should be. From this day forth...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Partners

Both Sabrina and I have been so busy recently, it has been hard to find time to eat and sleep. My daughter has been attending a softball clinic every Sunday, has been deeply involved in Odyssey of the Mind (although this week she has caught a short breather), has dance practice Mondays and Wednesdays, intramural basketball 2-3 times a week, and is practicing for all-county chorus twice a week. In addition, she was chosen to play for her school team in the all-school district girls basketball tournament this Saturday morning, and Reilly's birthday party is Saturday night. My crushing caseload, budgetary manuevering, and adjusting to new realities at my job, by comparison, seem rather manageable, but nonetheless I am not looking for ways to spend my time, either.
The last obligation we have in a regular week these days is Partners, a parent/youth initiative sponsored by the school from 6 until 7:30 on Wednesdays during the winter. Sabrina chose the science module, and we have done things like build volcanoes, demostrate vortexes, fingerprinted each other, and a few other activities. It's generally fun (although there is one pair of brothers that are extremely annoying, and Sabrina is the only girl who took science) and a pleasant diversion.
Today we put together and painted a crude model of the solar system, using Styrofoam balls. Kind of silly? Perhaps. But for an hour, the burdens of the world were forgotten, and I was lost in my own childhood again (I thought astronauts were the coolest people on earth when I was in grade school, and I harbored dreams of being the first man on Mars for a few years. I was actually worried that by time I grew up, someone would have been there already. Silly me). AS is usual anymore for activities that require a regular commitment from feckless parents, the ten kid/parent sets that started back in January have dwindled to four, but today, thankfully, the tag team annoyances were at the other table, and it was just us and Kyle and his mom at our table. Since Kyle has been her buddy since pre-K (and I really wouldn't mind if Kyle and Sabrina ended up liking each other, the only boy she knows I can say that about), and he is also on her OM team, it was a very easy 90 minutes tonight. And even though her model isn't to scale, and some of the colors are undoubtedly inaccurate--it still is a fine effort for a fifth-grader. And she does know all of the planets, which few of her peers (or their parents, I would venture) do.
Partners has another two weeks of activities, and then a big free dinner for paricipants on the 24th. I noticed today that attendance has been taken all along; if I know Mr. Chilson, those who made a week or three instead of the eight scheduled are not going to get a free dinner on the school district. And I couldn't agree more with the idea. We put the effort in, and I really don't feel like sharing the rewards with those who didn't.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review: THE KING OF THIEVES

The King of Thieves is Michael Jecks' latest effort in his Knights Templar series, now approaching the two dozen mark. The intrigues of the later Middle Ages are the background of the book. It is set in the year 1325, with three English knights sent to France to assist in trying to bring King Edward II's recalcitrant wife Isabella home from the court of her brother King Charles IV of France. The political intrigues are soon subsumed in a series of hard-to-connect murders, some carried out by the title character, and in the intrigues surrounding a power struggle in the Parisian underworld. The unfamiliar medieval world comes alive very early, and by the middle of the tale the reader is at home in the Paris of 1325 as they would be in 21st century America. The mystery is somewhat convoluted but gripping, and the book passes the test of historical fiction, in that the motivations of the main historical characters pass the common sense and how-do-people-normally-act tests. It also realistically portrays a world indescribably more filthy in its everyday existence than ours, and those are the sort of details that always catch my eye as to whether the author has done his homework or is simply choosing an exotic setting for a formulaic murder mystery. I intend to become more familiar with the series.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Here We Go Again

This past week was rather hectic on the personal front, and would have been even more so if the major snowstorm had not eliminated a trip out of town and postponed the Father/Daughter Dance. But in the midst of all this, while I was trying to figure out when and how Sabrina would get to her mother's, I was told that she had been "let go" by Dunkin Donuts. I continue to be amazed by Shannon's inability to hang onto a job. She took the day off on Friday; she claims she called in, they claim she didn't--at least according to her. I don't know the real story, and with Shannon, you never get the real story, but the bottom line is she is unemployed again. She says she has filed for unemployment again--doesn't seem like it, but she was at DD for almost six months--and asked me yesterday if I thought she would be able to get her child support from Christopher's father increased. I told her she could certainly try, although if there is one couple Family and Support Court are sick of seeing, it's them... the sad part of this is that you can pick a random date from anytime in the last six or seven years, and chances are that something like this is going on in her life. Sabrina spent 16 hours there this past weekend, and showed absolutely no distress at not being able to stay there longer. She does love her mother, but knows she cannot depend on her, and no longer even fantasizes that she will be able to at some point in the future.
Shannon's legal troubles are not over, either. I do not bring the subject up, because I am sure to get lied to, but I know that there is still more to come on that front, too. As wobbly as I feel my life has gotten at times recently, I haven't been that close to the edge, not by a long shot. And I intend to keep it that way, too, as much as I can help it.